If you missed the start of Alien Secrets, Flight of the Kestrel book 2, here is the link. To help your imagination, my idea of First Officer Nathaniel Parks is a blond Vigo Mortensen.
Parks looked up from Tanu. 'Get him to sick bay and then report for duty. We’re going to have the Casparans on our tail.'
Within minutes battle stations sounded. Everyone scrambled for their breathers and tethers, in case of a hull breach. The bridge crew, Darrow, Parks, and Chambers all strapped in. Reuel arrived at a run and strapped in.
'Tanu is in sick bay, sir,' he reported.
As Reuel took over the scanner station Chambers told him two Casparan pursuit ships had been detected. Immediately a third ship registered.
'Captain, the Bokans have found us again,' Reuel said. 'One ship coming on screen now.'
'Damn!' Darrow said and opened the comm channel. 'Commander Blackwell, can you give us any more speed?'
'Negative, Captain, we’re flat out.'
Darrow closed the comm and turned to Reuel. 'Ensign, any PACT vessels in the vicinity?'
'Negative, Captain, and the nearest base is ten hours away.'
'Shout as soon as the ships get within firing range. Lieutenant Chambers, stay on course until the last second, then evasive manoeuvres. Commander Parks, make sure you have weapons lock. Polarise the plating.' Darrow opened the comm channel for general broadcast. 'Attention all hands. Brace for evasive manoeuvres and possible impacts.' He turned to Parks. 'No chance you can pull Balitoth's comms trick?'
'Not with two separate enemies I’m afraid, Captain.'
'Kill the alarm,' Darrow ordered.
The bridge became silent as the crew poised for action. Darrow was sure he could hear his own heart beating.
The comm channel beeped. 'Captain, this is Doctor Nefar. Tanu has gone.'
'What do you mean, gone?'
'He seemed to be semi-conscious. When you gave the order to brace, I turned away to secure my equipment. When I turned back, he was gone.'
'You’ll have to deal with it yourself, Doctor, we’ve got our hands full up here.'
Reuel called from the scanner station. 'Firing range in five seconds.'
'Fire at will,' Darrow said.
The Casparan ships were spherical, hard to identify the front until the guns deployed. They had two pairs of forward facing guns and only one pair to the rear. They were highly manoeuvrable, rolling about like manic billiard balls.
They came in hot and fast, side by side, raking Kestrel from nose to stern with laser fire. Kestrel banked sharply and dodged most of it, but not all, and scored two hits on one of the ships but missed the other. The Bokan ship kept its distance, letting the Casparans do the work.
Parks succeeded in locking the plasma cannon on one of the Casparans, trying a short burst allowing for deflection. The sphere fired forward retros coming almost to a dead stop, Kestrel’s plasma burst wasted on empty space. Parks hissed in frustration. The two spheres reversed course, rapidly accelerating, streaking under Kestrel’s hull, their lasers blistering her plating.
Parks fired a spread of six torpedos. The Casparians separated, rolling away and launching counter measures to confuse the guidance systems. Neverthless, two torpedos locked on.
‘Yess!’ cheered Parks, but too soon.
One struck a glancing blow, the detonation throwing the Casparan ship to one side, but an EM Pulse fried the other's circuits sending it spinning useless into space.
Darrow's fingers twitched as he watched the fight, willing his men to succeed. He thought of the rest of the crew: anyone not on the bridge was preparing for damage control, including being tethered in case the inertial dampers failed. So far, polarising the external plating had coped with everything.
The Casparan ships came round for another fast pass, lasers tearing and scorching the hull, blasting the sensor array, Kestrel’s eyes and ears. Parks locked on and fired forward cannon. Plasma flares lit up the blackness around Kestrel’s agile attackers as they pulled out of range, turning to resume their attack.
'The long range scanners are out of action,' Reuel reported.
'Starboard plasma cannon's hit,' said Parks. 'Still fires, but no targeting.'
'Chambers, move us away from the Bokan ship as you manoeuvre,' said Darrow. 'We don't want to be a sitting duck for them too.'
As the Kestrel moved, the Bokan ship moved with her, out of the fight but ready at a moment's notice. The Casparan ships came round again. Parks kept firing, and there was jolt after jolt as the Kestrel was hit. Although larger with greater fire power, the Kestrel was still one against two, and the nimble Casparans were proving hard to hit. And whoever won, the Bokan ship was waiting.
Reuel called out, 'We can’t take many more hits, Captain. The thrusters are hit. Aft plating is buckling.'
The bridge door opened and Tanu come to stand beside the captain’s chair. Darrow only became aware of him as Tanu leaned towards the view screen, his face creased with concentration and his fists clenched. Darrow opened his mouth to send him away, but his throat constricted and his vision went red. There was a roaring in his ears, then nothing.
* * *
When Darrow regained consciousness, the first thing he saw was Chambers on the floor and Tanu slumped over the helm console.
Darrow gasped, 'G… get away from there!'
Tanu lifted his head. 'It’s all right, Captain, I was only bringing the ship to a halt, so there wouldn't be an accident.'
Darrow found himself staring at Tanu’s forehead, where the central triangular lump glowed bright red. Tanu’s eyes were bloodshot and his face was so pale it matched his grey jumpsuit. Darrow shook himself to clear his head.
Darrow turned to the scanner station, where Reuel was recovering and checking the readouts.
'There is nothing there, sir, only debris.'
Tanu bent to help Chambers up, and nearly fell out of his seat. Chambers got up in time to catch him as he passed out. Reuel looked over at Tanu, at the glowing triangle, and paled with shock. He got up, the scanners forgotten, and backed against the wall muttering 'Rayt, Rayt.'
'What happened?' asked Parks, getting up from the floor.
'We’ll discuss it later. Is everyone OK?' Darrow opened the comm. 'Doctor, Tanu is here - you’ll need a stretcher, and bring your med scanner, we all need checking over.' He turned to Parks. 'Are you OK?' Parks nodded. 'Check all sections, get a damage report and see who else was affected.'
* * *
Parks reported that injuries were restricted to bumps and bruises from the loss of consciousness. Everyone on board was mentally affected to some degree by whatever had happened, but the bridge crew got the worst of it. The effect was weaker further away from the bridge. Balitoth was called to duty on the bridge so Darrow, Parks, Reuel and Chambers could meet in the captain’s room.
'Lieutenant Balitoth,' Darrow said before they left, 'a sweep of the area looks safe, but keep a careful watch. Stay in touch with Commander Blackwell about the state of the engines, we may need to move fast and at short notice.'
'Did the scanners show up anything in the last seconds we remember?' Darrow asked Reuel once the door was shut.
Reuel blinked several times to focus. 'Er, nothing Captain. No other ships, no anomalies.'
'What about weapons damage? We scored a good many hits.'
'One ship was crippled, minor damage on others. None of them showed any sign of being about to explode. Certainly not all three.'
Chambers said, 'The Bokans were not even in the fighting.'
Darrow turned to Chambers. 'Anything to add, Lieutenant?'
'There must be something out there that caused it, and whatever it was affected us too. Any word from Dr Nefar?'
Parks frowned and waved a data pad. 'I’ve got initial med reports on all crew members. It was some kind of brain seizure, apparently centred on the bridge. Most of us are recovered, but Tanu took it badly - probably because he was already weak. The scanners didn’t register any kind of beam or force field that could have caused it.'
Darrow sighed in frustration. 'Well, keep on digging. If there is some phenomenon out here, this region will have to be flagged as dangerous to all shipping. In the mean time, collate the damage reports and what repairs are needed. We'll meet in an hour. Dismissed.'
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz