William sat back in his command chair of his Otranto, scrolling through various job listings and reports. These days that list was topped with a warning and link to an ever-growing page of disappearances. He wasn't taking it lightly, but with his tactical cruiser manned by his faithful friend Harvey, he felt little fear, he knew his friend was at him back and he would always be ready to charge to the defense of his healer when needed.
"Got a message for you. Its Harvey."
William sat back and took the call, watching the man's face appear on a screen. "Whats up Harvey?" He asked, feeling no need to be formal with the man who'd pulled his ship out of the fire many times.
"Just wanted to tell you that I'm going to go going out soon. Got a bit of a job." The man replied.
"Alone?" William asked. "Is that a good idea?"
"The man is a good friend of mine, so the crew and I are willing to do it dirt cheap for him. If you are worried about those disappearances, I get it, but I'm headed out near the Red Sands battlefield. Most of those MIA are out system a bit."
"I don't know... what if you get jumped by someone?" Willliam asked.
Harvey shrugged. "I got weapons and auto-repair."
William frowned. "How about I go with you anyways?"
Harvey frowned at that, looking a little distracted. "Its not much money to split, I'm just doing this as a favor..." He paused. "Give me a moment, let me check something." He cut the com call and William waited.
A few minutes later Harvey was back with a grin on his face. "The man doesn't mind! says he'll even give me a bit more money, but it still ain't a lot. So he just want a scout of some of the canyons out there, heard that there was some good scrap to be had, but no one wants to go check for the amount of money he has. So unless there's already some powerful vultures there, we should be fine."
"Lets lets spin up the warpdrive and get this party started!" William said dramatically, pulling a laugh from his friend and the bridge crew, motioning to his officers to prepare the ship for a jump to Mars.
It was nighttime on Mars, the dark canyon walls rising up around them as the destroyer hovered protectively above the tactical cruiser skimming down near the ground, taking in detailed records of the bits and pieces of debris they were finding. Nothing big yet. If something had died out here after a battle, it wouldn't be very well known, most people didn't want to put the effort in scavenging off a planet, not enough room to flee if someone comes down on you from above.
William watched his officers working while keeping an eye on the visual of his tac cruiser.
"Picking up some strange readings ahead. hard to make out what it is." His tactical officer said as she adjusted her sensors. "Kind of faint, might be other vultures, but the canyon walls are bugging out my readings."
"Keep an eye on it." He answered, watching as Harvey's ship pivoted and ran around a corner. "Helm, keep up with him!"
Two different 'ayes' answered him and the destroyer surged forward to follow, swinging around the corner to follow and protect the tactical cruiser.
"Holy..." Someone murmured quietly.
It was the first remains they'd found. A Jutland and a Zmey, both dead on the canyon floor, the Jutland seeming balanced precariously atop the Zmey. Even in the dark shadows, it was easy to see where fire from battle damage had burnt and warped even the toughest of hulls.
"Where's Harvey?" William asked after a moment.
"He's not on my sensors." Tactical said.
"Communications can't raise him either." The man sitting there with his headset on piped up. "Just getting some sort of encrypted message, haven't seen this type before."
"Look a tactical cruiser can't just disappear, it isn't a cloaking ship." He said as studied the information available to him. "Com, can you at least track the direction of that message? Perhaps we'll find the tacnapper there There has to be something."
The man nodded and doubled down on his console. "North, under the arch of rock."
"Thats a dead Nox." Tactical corrected as the ship swung in that direction and passed under the dead ship. "I'm getting a lot more return now, a lot of debris and sensor clutter, no wonder scavengers haven't been here yet. I'm readying the guns, just in case."
William nodded, watching his crew get to work on trying to locate their tactical cruiser and his friend. He watched the ship pass another wreckage, a pile of corvettes and bombers, and then a destroyer fused with what was left of some poor dreadnought, two artilleries rammed into the walls of the canyon like some strange art installation. It was extremely unsettling to see as most of the positions had to be impossible to achieve by mere chance.
"SIR! Look up head in the clearing!"
William looked at the visual and in the darkness, right in the middle of the clearing, floated Harvey's tactical cruiser, the Ceres was unharmed.
"Thank god." William breathed a sigh of relief. "Raise him for me please." He waited until Harvey's face appeared on his screen, the man looked at him blankly through the screen. "What the heck do you think you're doing scaring me like that!?"
"...Did you follow His words?" The man said and William felt a stab of confusion. "To here, to this place?"
William looked at the visuals of his surroundings and felt his face drain of blood. Piles upon piles of ships may at the bottom of this clearing, some still clearly smoking from recent death.
"Okay your buddy is going to need to do his own scavenging, this ain't right Harvey, lets warp out of here."
"Yes I brought Him a gift."
The line was delivered by Harvey, but the private link had changed to a general channel. He watched as from the shadows tactical cruisers of all types slunk out to surround him, like rats eyeing their next meal. William probably would of laughed at this had it not been so weird, and even if tactical cruisers weren't high damage, enough of them around each other could make them impossible to kill.
The tactical officer looked up at him. "I've got 27 of them on screen, the sensor fog beyond that I can't tell if more are hiding." She whispered.
"Okay Harvey, jokes over." William said. "I'm leaving and you're coming with me."
"HAIL." Came the cacophony voices over the channel and he made a cutting motion to the communications section and the man threw his hands up in confusion. He couldn't close it. "HAIL. PRAISE HIM."
"This is getting old, helm, get us out of here." William snapped.
"Can't! Warpdrive is getting gummed up, it won't jump us out!"
"Oh Great Savior, Our Protector, Our Sword, Our Life, accept this gift so that we may bask in your eternal light!" Someone chanted over the channel over the various continuing to cry 'PRAISE HIM', getting louder and louder as the Otranto's crew tried to make sense of what was happening.
"Praise be unto Him, the Immortal Dreadnought."
An alarm shrilled in warning.
A dreadnought warped in in front of the destroyer, old and massive, the ship had obviously seen its share of battles. He wasn't even sure what type it was, and right now it didn't matter.
"Helm get us out of here now." William snapped.
The destroyer surged forward and up to clear the walls of the canyon, over the dreadnought. As it passed the dreadnought it unloaded everything into the old ship except the nuke, they were too close for that. He felt his ship rumble as the shields took their first hits and that uncloseable channel was filled with unintelligible screams as the dreadnought turned slowly to pursue. Not even a scratch. The swarm of tactical cruisers was faster and were already flowing over the walls of the canyons like vermin after him. The ship launched its first salvo of torpedoes into one of the pursuers and it didn't do anything, the light of their healing painting the swarm in lime green light and a spider web of lines that moved and flowed like a creature of its own.
"make us disappear helm!" William said as watched his shield gauge begin to blink red in warning. The ship nose dived down into a canyon, twisted around a corner, brushing the ground like it had wheels. "Kill everything that has power."
"But Sir we..."
"I Said KILL IT."
The ship's power died and it came to rest under a small arch. This probably wouldn't work, but they needed to get away from the swarm. One or two they could deal with, not 20+.
"Alright what the f..."
"Not now." William cut the man off. "Helm, see about getting the warp up, com try to burn a message through the sensor clutter, we need some help."
Hours felt like days as they sat there, trying to get a call out for help or repair the mysteriously broken warp while shutting down and going quiet whenever a tactical cruiser flew over. They hadn't been spotted, yet. The rocks were beginning to gain shades of red, speaking of a close approaching day. Either they would be stuck here till help stumbled over them, or they move somewhere with less jamming. Risky, but they could not sit here forever.
"Alright, take us up carefully." William said, watching as the Otranto rose out of the canyon and above the arch. He was about to command full speed ahead, get them out of here.
"So that's where you were. Nice hiding spot."
William looked down in surprise at Harvey's grinning face and William knew him well, that wasn't a smile he'd ever seen on his face before. "I will hurt you next time I see you, pulling a prank like that. Don't do stuff like that to me, you'll get us both killed!" William sighed. "Can you at least lift the jamming or whatever you're using so I can warp out of here and we can go get a beer?"
"Do you praise His name? Bask in the light of His glory and grace?"Harvey said the smile growing wider as the tactical cruiser moving closer, almost touching noses with the destroyer. "His word is no laughing matter, you are a gift, what is given is taken." Harvey paused looking out with the blank expression again. "Praise be unto Him, the Immortal Dreadnought."
"PRAISE HIM!!!" the scream near deafening as tactical cruisers began to surge up out of the canyons around him and surround him, bathing his ship in harsh whitish purple beams, burning away the hull layer by layer. "PRAISE HIM!!""PRAISE HIM!""PRAISE HIM""PRAISE PRAISE PRAISEPRAISEPRAISEPRAISEPRAISEPRAISEPRAISEPRAISE" the chanting continued as the destroyer attempted to push through the swarm, the destroyers weapons doing nothing to the tactical cruisers around it all the while damage warnings blared at the crew as their ship began to fall apart.
Then silence, the purple beams disappearing. The swarm parted.
The dreadnought was here, its broadside aimed at the weakened Otranto. William gripped the arms of his chair, staring with hatred, fear, and confusion at it. "Launch the nuke." He said, it was their only hope, and even this close, he wasn't getting out of here alive. Least he could do was hurt it before he went down. "It was a pleasure to fight with you all."
Both ships fired, and then the dreadnought turned away from the expanding ball of flames that had once been a destroyer, its swarm of tactical cruisers close behind, and nuclear hellfire exploded around it.
It emerged unbothered and its tactical cruisers gathered around it, murmuring their praises while their healing beams smoothed over their god, to await the next gift for Him.
Praise Be Unto Him, the Immortal Dreadnought