Author's Note: This is a tale born of a flashback. It takes place while Bran Varnas was still an Alliance officer and covers one of the pivotal moments of his life and his career.
Historical Note: The events of Sacrifice occur 6 years before the events of Space Odyssey.
The stench of seared flesh and burning circuits filled his nostrils as Bran stared at the holographic representation of the mission’s utter failure. He and Captain Freyagard of the Auspicious had been ordered to escort a high speed convoy of critical medical and other supplies to the beleaguered Alliance outpost on Saldesh III. The Yolandans were pressing hard in that sector, and the loss of the Saldesh system would leave the Alliance war efforts crippled. Because of this, the convoy had been deemed a covert operation and had been assembled in complete secrecy, with the escorts only informed of the mission upon arrival. Intelligence and Command were absolutely sure that knowledge of the mission was completely secure and totally safeguarded. And yet somehow, the Yolandan strike force had hit them at their most vulnerable point in transit. Now they were caught -- like birds in a snare.
Bran’s knuckles were a bloodless white as he gripped the edge of the command systems holo display. He frantically but systematically wracked his brain, running through a myriad of scenarios, trying to figure a way out of their dire tactical situation. He quickly discarded the standard Academy taught solutions as worthless and set about devising his own strategies to try and salvage something. The freighters they had been tasked to defend were nothing more than free floating metal shards – space debris. Green and Red fighter groups had been overwhelmed by the superior Yolandan numbers and wiped out. His destroyer, the Redoubtable, was badly battered and her sister ship, the Auspicious was little better. And three of the five Yolandan ships that had ambushed them were still in action. They, too, had sustained damage, but Bran couldn’t be sure how significant. All he knew was that they appeared to be in far better condition than the two Alliance destroyers.
Staring through the holographic tactical projections and damage reports, he looked at the pinched face of his XO. His features were smeared with soot and sweat, a trickle of blood flowing from a small gash in his pointed ear. The thin rivulet trailed through the grime, streaking the dark blue collar of his uniform tunic a lurid purple. His eyes were drawn to how the blood coated his commander’s pins, tainting the silver sheen with a dark red hue. Returning the stare, his XO replied calmly, “It.. it doesn’t look good, sir. Th..the cruiser and destroyer have cut us off from Auspicious and the other destroyer is coming around for another pass. W..we can’t take much more of this battering.”
”I know, XO. I know.” Returning to his contemplations of the projection, an idea began to germinate. Measuring the distances, he decided it could work. The Yolandan was coming about to bring her main batteries to bear, but very sluggishly. Bran reasoned if they could get in firing position first, they could rake the enemy vessel then evade it long enough to rejoin the Auspicious. From there, both destroyers would be able to make good their escape.
Eyes alight, he turned to the third figure around the control display, his Tactical officer. Her face and uniform were caked with grime and the soot of blown circuitry had dyed her braids near black. One hand rested against a pointed ear, holding on to her earpiece as she listened to the reports coming in from the rest of the ship. Sensing his stare, she turned towards him, her green eyes aflame. Mentally plotting their course, he queried, “Tactical, what is forward shield status?”
Tactical replied in her usual clipped tone, voice unwavering, “Sir, we have 53% power to forward shields, but Engineering is reporting issues with the generator cooling systems. They can’t guarantee they’ll survive another attack.”
”They’ll have to hold. Navigation, turn to 274 mark 320. Maximum speed. I want to rake them from below. Tactical, full torpedo and cannon spread on my mark.”
The Redoubtable surged forward, engines roaring, trying to catch the Yolandan destroyer before she could finish her turn and bring her main weapons to bear. The space between the two battered starships melted beneath the Redoubtable’s powerful sublight engines. Bran stared at the displays, watching the range tick slowly into optimum firing range. It would be close, but they would get there first.
Suddenly, the ship lurched and shook, rocked by a powerful explosion. Bran and his officers fought to keep their footing as the ship sloughed off to starboard and away from the turning Yolandan. While Navigation fought to get the Redoubtable back under control, Bran got his feet under him and shouted, “What the hell was that?”
His Tactical officer turned to him, green eyes wide in disbelief as she listened to her headset. Voice almost shaking with shock, she answered, “Engineering… Engineering reports that forward shield generators coolant failed. They overheated and the generators exploded. Backups have failed. Forward shields are down. We’ve got fires on four decks, damage control and medical teams responding.”
Bran and his XO exchanged a look, neither mind able to come up with a plan as the Yolandan destroyer swung around and brought the wounded Redoubtable into her sights. Eyes locked onto the tactical hologram, he shouted desperately, “Navigation, hard about, try to get our aft shields to them. Emergency power!”
”Enemy ship firing!” shouted his XO, and Bran saw the lances of a torpedo barrage streaking for his unshielded ship. What was left of the point defense autocannons opened fire, trying to whittle down the incoming weapons, but with limited success. The surviving torpedoes plunged onward. His helmsman, Lt. Corthala, desperately tried to evade, but the torpedoes were too close and there was no time. The wounded ship wasn’t turning fast enough. Gripping the console’s edge, he bellowed, “All hands! Brace for impact!!”
The ship bucked and shuddered as the torpedoes slammed into the Redoubtable’s armored hull. The shock threw Bran and his crew from their posts and the air filled with sparks and smoke from overloading consoles and ruptured conduits. Pain blossomed in his shoulder as a piece of broken panel tore through it. He crashed to the deck, landing next to the lifeless body of his comm officer, Lt. Algeron. As Bran lay on the shattered and bloodstained deck, he could hear his ship screaming under the terrible assault, her hull breaching, her struts and conduits shattering, her crew dying.
His ship now spinning and burning, the captain struggled to the central console, miraculously still working. If the computer was to be trusted, the situation was grave. Huge holes gaped in the forward sections of the ship, fires raging in almost all still pressurized forward sections. His tactical officer and XO both struggled to their feet. Blood and tears rolled down his tactical officer’s face as she read off the list of damage. Breaches on nine decks. All forward weapons down, main launch bay destroyed. Over a third of the crew dead or dying. Sickbay gone. Stopping the dreadful litany, Bran demanded, “By the gods, Jaheira, what do we have left?”
”Mectrix drive and main drive beta and gamma are still operational. Main reactors. Aft shields at 20 percent. Precious little else.”
Bran’s response was cut off by his XO. “C.. Captain, message from the Auspicious.”
Bran nodded painfully and a grainy holo image appeared in the display. Bran’s heart caught in his throat as her face appeared. It was a mere ruin of the once beautiful visage. Most of her beautiful golden hair had been burned away. The left side of her face was a glistening mass of blistered black and red skin oozing blood. Her uniform blouse was a mangled tatter of charred cloth and blackened flesh. The shreds that were once the left sleeve now dangled unnaturally loose and empty. But those eyes, her ice blue eyes, were still sharp and true.
”Can you still maneuver? Do you still have hyperdrive capability?” demanded the shattered face in her accented lilt.
”By the gods, what happened to you?” was all he could manage.
”Plasma leak. But no time for that. Do you still have Mectrix drive capability, Captain?
”Yes. That’s about it.”
”Then I’m ordering you to retreat while you can,” she commanded, voice devoid of emotion.
”What! I’m not leaving you here! You’ll be destroyed! It’s three against one! I still have some weapons,” shouted Bran incredulously.
The blue eyes melted and the pain came through. “The Auspicious can’t retreat. Our Mectrix drive is out, and we aren’t going to last long enough to repair it. So, I’m going to buy you time to escape. I’m uploading logs to you now.”
Defiantly, he answered, “I am not going to leave you to these butchers! Evac your crew to my ship, I’ll get us out of here.”
”No time, and you know it. I’ll make the cowardly bastards pay for our dead with many of their own. I’m going to ram their command ship.” The tone of her voice said more than her words. There was no debate, no argument. It was the only way. She had made both a command decision and a personal decision before she had ever hailed him.
”There has to be another way,” he nearly begged.
”There isn’t. But at least I will have a warrior’s death. Now go,” the blue eyes did something they never did before. They pleaded. “Please.”
“Branwen, no.. please.”
”There is no other way. I’m sorry.” She paused for just a moment and Bran could see a small tear glistening in the corner of her eye. “Never forget that I love you,” she whispered and raised a charred hand to her blackened lips then extended it palm out. She smiled once more and then her face slipped into the mask of command. “Now, get out of here. Auspicious out.”
“I…..” Bran thrust out a hand to try and capture the image but it disintegrated around his hand, replaced with the image of the Auspicious accelerating towards the Yolandan cruiser, drawing off her destroyer escort. He was aware of his XO and his Tactical officer both trying to get his attention, but all Bran could do was stare at the display and watch the Auspicious on her final charge. He felt his XO grab him and shake furiously. “Captain! Bran! Your orders?”
Face pale as death and tears streaming, he turned towards him and said, “Khalid, she’s.. she’s gone.”
“I know Bran, but your orders?” demanded Khalid. “S..Sir, don’t let her sacrifice be in vain,” he added in a low tone. Bran blinked with the realization of what Khalid had said.
“Full retreat,” whispered the broken captain, “and may the gods have mercy on my soul.”
Khalid nodded and shouted orders as Bran stared numbly at the holo display. Released from his X.O.’s grasp, the captain collapsed into his command chair. Tears carved furrows in the grime on his face as his dark eyes watched his wife’s ship speeding towards their would-be executioner. The remaining Yolandan vessels full attention was on the fast-approaching threat, hoping to stop it before it reached its obvious destination. They poured fire into the ship but undaunted, it charged through them to its final objective.
Her enemies now engaged in trying to protect their own command ship, the Redoubtable laboriously turned and prepared for the jump to hyperspace. Just before the destroyer leapt into hyperspace, the Auspicious slammed into the Yolandan cruiser, bathing the darkness of space with a bright but short lived star. Its light quickly dissipated and the emptiness of the vast void of space paled in comparison to the emptiness that filled Bran’s heart as the scene evaporated from the holographic projection.
A Space Odyssey - Sacrifice
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