Compel Bast stood before the mirror on the inside of his stateroom's wardrobe adjusting his maroon dress uniform. To honor the visiting Aslan he wore the kilted version adopted by the Marines because of the numbers of Aslan having served or in service to the Imperium. Compel had seen the prowess of the Aslan in battle during the Sword Worlds campaign of the Fifth Frontier War seven years ago. They could be vicious warriors but were guided by a moral tradition stronger than that of even the Imperial Marines. If war was coming to the Trojan Reaches it would be most unfortunate to be in opposition to the Aslan. Compel finished adjusting the single breast high-collar tunic pulling the front to straighten his medals and ribbons. He adjusted the waist of the space black kilt so that the pleats fell as they were supposed to, then he centered the uniform's belt buckle. He adjusted his maroon beret so that the Imperial Starburst was prominent over his right eyebrow. Finally he dusted lint from his maroon shoulder boards with their three black five-point stars indicating his rank as a Force Commander.
"Aren't we the sweetest thing?" laughed Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion from the door well of the stateroom. Davion stood with his arms crossed leaning against the door well. He also wore his formal navy dress uniform for the occasion. Davion's uniform was completely black, from the high collar of his naval tunic to the tips of his highly shined pull-on boots. The basic cut of the navy uniform was similar to the Marine's, a formal long sleeved stand-up or high collared groin length tunic, trousers tucked into mid-calf pull-on boots. A belt fastened outside the tunic at the waist. Instead of black subdued five-point stars on his shoulder boards Davion wore three silver stars centered on two broad gold strips running the length of the boards.
"May I remind you, Commander, that this banquet was your idea," returned Bast smiling at his close friend.
"And an excellent idea it is too I may add," smiled Davion as he entered the other man's stateroom. "How better to know the intent of the enemy than to ask him?"
"Humph," replied Bast as he turned from the full-length mirror on his locker door. "If only it were that easy."
"They are barbarians, Compel, nothing more, nothing less," quipped Alex Davion as he made his way to his friend's personal supply of alcohol.
Bast quickly returned, "As a people they have been our greatest ally, they fought with us against the Solomani Confederation. There are Aslan regiments in the Imperial Guard on the capital Alexi."
"So I have read in the histories at the naval academy, but those are histories of days gone past, of lives already lived. What have the Aslan been to us Compel? Aggressors, aliens bent of taking the lands from us that our people have fought and died for over hundreds of years," Davion paused to sip his drink. "They are the enemy and should be dealt with accordingly."
"Just remember my friend," Bast offered as he made himself a drink, "There is an Aslan officer somewhere not that far away from us right now that is saying the same thing about you."
Smiling Alexi set his shot glass on the counter then turned and walked to the door of the cramped stateroom, "So much the better my friend."
Three bells ringing over the ship's general announcing circuit interrupted their discussion, "Attention all hands, prepare to receive arriving Aslan boat party; senior officers to the quarterdeck, that is all."
Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion turned to look at his friend before heading for the quarterdeck. "Well my friend, let us go meet the enemy." Force Commander Compel Bast gulped his drink hurriedly, shook his head then followed Alexi Davion to the quarterdeck of the light cruiser.
The two men worked their way along the passageway from the senior officer's quarters to the so-called quarterdeck. The quarterdeck was actually the entrance foyer to the two boat decks where the ship's boats and other auxiliaries docked when the starship was in orbit. The external approach to the boat deck for the Gionetti-class cruisers was from the aft with the bay doors just over the main engine exhaust nozzles. The boat deck actually consisted of two bays that straddled the ship's meson spinal mount and was accessed from the rear of the ship.
It did not take the two men long to make their way to the portside quarterdeck. The two most junior of the ship's thirty-five officers were waiting for the two senior officers when they stepped out on the deck. Davion quickly inspected their uniforms noting deficiencies that he said would be noted on their next fitness reports. Bast smiled knowingly as he moved off to the side. He nodded his head slightly to the marine corporal in charge of the four-man honor guard detail then left them to their own to make final preparations for the arrival of the Aslan. The marines were also in their formal dress uniform for the occasion. The five marines wore their rank on shoulder boards, branch patches, and individual decorations on maroon dress tunics. Bast was pleased to see that the five marines also wore the black kilt honoring the Aslan that have fought in the past for the Imperium. The marines all work black leather harness that carried ammunition pouches and bayonet for their service rifles. The marines snapped the heels of their mid-calf pull-on boots making a loud crack when the corporal called them to attention. When the corporal ordered them to salute, the four marines in unison brought their KG56A2 4mm gauss rifles to the present arms position. Bast was pleased with their drilling although the corporal seemed disappointed and continued the drill. Eventually the corporal relented and after adjusting his own maroon beret, turned and ordered them to rest in place until the Aslans arrived.
The corporal was the first to see Captain Aart enter the quarterdeck foyer through the iris valve hatch and shouted, "Captain on deck!"
"Carry on," was her automatic reply, then she smiled and moved to greet her two senior officers waiting near the actual airlock door. "This is my first actual meeting with an Aslan, I hear they are huge."
"Yes ma'am, they're huge alright. Two meters is short for them," offered Bast. "They're brawny too, huge amount of physical strength even for the females."
"Aslan shuttle arriving," interrupted the duty officer's voice over the ship's general announcing circuit causing everyone to stop talking and move to their positions for greeting dignitaries coming aboard ship.
"Correct me if I am mistaken Mister Davion, but would males be part of a trade mission? I thought merchant activities were strictly the purview of the females?" queried Captain Aart.
"Yes ma'am you are correct, but there will probably be a number of males on this mission, as security or as representatives of the clan patriarch while the ship is away from home."
"Really, who will come though the airlock first, the male or female?" Captain Aart continued her questioning.
"The dominant male ma'am, most definitely," interjected Bast, "to ensure the safety of his party. They believe that each gender regardless of circumstances has a specific role to play. The males are always first concerned with the security of the party, second his honor and prestige among his peers."
"Its no wonder they have been such valuable allies over the centuries," replied Captain Aart. "I look forward to finally meeting one of them in person."
"You will be impressed ma'am," offered Compel Bast. Davion gave Bast a sideways look of disbelief attracting his explanation. "I have fought beside them in the Fifth Frontier War during the Sword Worlds Campaign. They are the consummate warriors, fearless, loyal, honor bound. I have a great respect for them."
"You make them sound unbeatable, invulnerable," returned Davion before the Captain could respond.
"Oh, they bleed red blood, the same as we do; I know that for a fact," answered Bast.
Captain Aart interjected, "Gentlemen, let us hope it does not come to that, ah look, they are arriving..."
All eyes turned to the air cycling mechanism and its indicator for the boat deck airlock. The marine corporal called his detachment to attention and then to present arms to salute the Aslan dignitaries. The younger naval officers all quickly rechecked their uniforms making final adjustments as the iris valve hatch began to contract exposing the approaching Aslan for the first time. Captain Aart straightened with obvious surprise at the actual size of the giant warrior approaching the hatch from the Aslan boat.
The lead warrior crossed the several meters from the boat's hatch to the bay hatch in a heartbeat. He was huge, nearly two and half meters tall. Also surprisingly he wore a full suit of combat armor save the helmet and gloves. His armor was bright red in color with tattoo like inscriptions and illustrations adorning his shoulder plates and torso. Behind him followed a half dozen more warriors that were just as awesome if not more so.
"They are all males..." commented Compel Bast as a frown began to form on his brow.
The Aslan leader stepped through the double line of the flanking marine honor guard to Bast and asked matter of factly with a brutish accent, "You are the protector of this ship?"
"I am Force Commander Bast, Imperial Marines. May I present to you Captain Blenda Aart, our ship's captain." Compel Bast bowed quickly at the waist snapping his heals, then straightened and indicated the Captain with a his left hand.
The leader turned slightly gesturing at Bast to the warrior coming up behind him then turned to face Captain Aart. The leader then bowed and went to one knee, an act that pleased Captain Aart causing her to smile innocently as she glanced at Compel Bast.
Bast's expression immediately changed to one of interest to one of concern as he began to shout, "No...." At that instant the Aslan leader began to rise like a leviathan from a great sea, as he stood he brought his right hand back and up exposing the palm toward Captain Aart. From the wrist was his extended dewclaw, a razor sharp horn unfolded that was the length of the Aslan's padded palm. With a quick swipe the Aslan brought the dewclaw across the upper torso and throat of Captain Aart with a deep slash that sent her blood squirting into the air and lifting her fully from the deck. In that same instant the second Aslan reached to grab Bast by the tunic. Then with all his might threw the Imperial Marine commander mightily against the near bulkhead. As Bast slid down to the floor the Aslan extended his own dewclaw and impaled him in the lower abdomen holding him pressed against the metal wall. Then pandemonium broke out in the narrow foyer as the Imperial Marine honor guard reacted and the rest of the Aslan party rushed from the boat deck.
The leader had followed through after slashing the captain and charged the marines standing at attention nearest him. He had come down on the nearest young marine impaling him in the upper chest with his dewclaw and drawing his bayonet with his left hand as he forced him to the ground in a heap. He then stepped over him and spun, slashing the second marine with the bayonet as the young man attempted to use his rifle to parry. The Aslan that had impaled Bast used his body to throw at the Imperial Marines standing at attention nearest him forcing them to attempt to catch the marine officer delaying their own defense. The Aslan warrior used their confusion to close and kill them with little effort.
A third Aslan warrior stepped through the threshold of the boat deck and faced Alexi Davion as the first two warriors finished their work on the Imperial Marine honor guard. As he rushed forward the Imperial Marine corporal who had commanded the guard stepped forward to intercept slicing at the Aslan's thigh with his drawn cutlass. The razor sharp blade slide across the laminate plating of the combat armor without effect other than to draw the warrior's attention. The Aslan turned and drove his powerful right fist toward the young corporal who deftly evaded the attack spinning on his own left heel bringing the cutlass in a high arc over his shoulders with this full strength to slice across the Aslan a second time again without effect.
Behind the third warrior came the fourth and fifth member of the Aslan assault team. They seem to be focused on the fact that Alexi Davion was still standing and directly to their front as they entered the mayhem. Suddenly a set of hands grabbed Davion's shoulders from behind and yanked him violently backward and to the right. Davion wisely went with the momentum as one of the two junior naval officers stepped forward and rushed the oncoming Aslan tackling him around the waist without affect. The second junior officer guided Davion toward the portside access door with a great shove. The lead Aslan was infuriated by the feeble attempt of the young naval officer to attack him. With tremendous brute strength the Aslan jabbed his dewclaw straight down into the spine of the young human lieutenant clutching his waist driving him to the deck with a pierced heart. Then the Aslan arched his own back raising the bloodied dewclaw high into the air and roared a primeval scream that sent chills down Davion's own spine as he made his way through the access door and into the adjoining passageway. Davion slammed himself against the far bulkhead turned looking back through the door in which he had been guided in time to see the second junior lieutenant closing the hatch and turning to face the enraged Aslan.
As the hatch slid closed Davion jumped to the general announcing circuit repeater box on the nearby bulkhead. "Repel borders, I say again repel border. This is Commander Davion, the ship has been boarded by a hostile force, starboard boat deck." Gasping for air from his excitement Davion changed track, "Bridge this is the First Officer, go to General Quarters, man battle stations! Lieutenant target the largest of the Aslan ships and engage immediately!"
"Sir?" the muffled reply from the repeater speaker sounded distant.
"Blast, man, you heard me - fire on the bloody Aslan, do you hear?!" shouted Davion back at the speaker.
As Davion waited for the affirmative response the door slid open and a bloodied with gore Aslan stepped through to face him. Davion assumed a brawling stance while backing away from his new attacker. Davion recognized the Aslan as the one that had been engaged by the corporal. In his left hand the beast carried the corporal's cutlass by the blade, the handgrip extended up into the air. Snarling the Aslan jutted the cutlass hilt out toward Davion as if to offer it to him. Then he said in brutish Anglic, "Take human, die with honor."
Davion instantly grabbed the handle of the dead marine's cutlass and backed away balancing it in his right hand to face the Aslan. The Aslan roared loudly then rushed the much smaller human, backhanding him with his now empty left fist. The impact of the blow knocked the wind out of Davion and sent him reeling to the deck stunned.
"Imperial Navy, huh!" howled the Aslan as he loomed over the now prone Davion. Behind the menacing Aslan, Davion could see the other warriors rushing through the door and on into the passageway heading forward toward the bow of the ship.
"I'll show you the Imperial Navy," growled Davion as he parried the outstretched hand of his tormentor who was trying to pick him up, "when I blow your ships to hell." Davion scrambled to get to his feet, feeling the broken ribs on his right side under his arm as he tried to again lift the cutlass. "Alright you demon, come and take me."
The Aslan reared his head back and laughed a guttural laugh then crouched himself in the attack position of his kind, his dewclaws on both wrists out, all his fingers fully extended as if to catch a ball. Davion knew his chances to defeat this Aslan in full combat armor with a cutlass was impossible. The laminate armor would deflect any attacks he would make with the blade. His only chance would be to make a critical strike at a joint or at the neck of the Aslan. He also realized that in his weakened state he would not survive another strike from this monster.
Suddenly the ship was rocked with a tremendous explosion that caused the lights in the passageway to flicker. It was a gut busting explosion that caused the entire 30,000 displacement tons of the Akagi to groan. In the instant Davion realized the Aslan shuttle had just self-destructed in the cruiser's boat deck he was driven to far bulkhead by the collapse and buckling of the starboard or inboard wall. He lay there for an eternity, feeling nothing, thinking nothing. Until he realized the lights were now red and he could smell burning flesh, industrial lubricants, and other odors associated with onboard fires. A girder had shielded him from the crushing impact of the explosion. As he struggled to right himself and turn on to his stomach he noticed the body of the crushed Aslan centimeters away from him in the wreckage.
"What next?" he groaned to himself as he pulled his bruised and battered body from the small cave formed by the twisted metal of the wrecked wall. The crushed bulkhead blocked the passageway forward of his position, so he turned aft and headed back toward the portside engine room. He moved slowly now adding a dislocated shoulder to his broken ribs. The pain was incredible with each step an exercise in willpower and self-control as he fought to stall off unconsciousness.
Two navy starmen in red coveralls from the engine room came upon him and tried to help ease him to the deck but he protested and ordered them to get him to the bridge. On the way they encountered a squad of marines fully outfitted in light combat gear. Davion confiscated the noncommissioned officer's sidearm and directed them forward to intercept the marauding Aslan. The marine sergeant used his communicator to pass on from the bridge that the Aslan had been engaged and defeated by the marines shortly after they had made their way from the boat deck. Davion then confiscated the radio from the sergeant and ordered the marines to take him to the bridge. Two marines ran forward with their gauss rifles at port arms and led the way for the party, yelling to clear the passageway. One young marine hoisted Davion up onto the back of a second who carried Davion like a rucksack and sprinted down the corridor behind to two lead marines. The sergeant ran behind them all with the rest of the squad in tow.
The marines carrying Davion burst onto the bridge of the light cruiser like demons bent on destruction. The young marine carrying the First Officer moved quickly to the captain's chair and deposited Davion heavily ignoring the commander's obvious pain. The sergeant moved quickly to see to Davion's pain with a combat medic kit while Davion slowly straightened himself in the seat.
"Report!" shouted Davion while he watched the marine sergeant treating him with professional, distant interest.
"Sir we are assessing the damage caused by the explosion in the portside boat deck. Our meson spinal mount is heavily damaged, as is the portside maneuver engine. The Chief Engineer indicates the damage is marginal and that he probably can repair the actual components themselves. He says it looks a lot worse than it really is, it could have been far worse."
"I'll reserve that opinion for myself Lieutenant, continue your report," corrected Davion. "Are we dead in the water?" he then questioned.
"No sir, we can still maneuver but it will take longer to reach our full battle speed. The power plant was not damaged so we have full use of our secondary fusion, laser, and missile batteries," reported the duty-engineering officer.
The marine sergeant stood and moved to the side, as he did he waved his marines to the back of the bridge. Davion looked past the standing NCO and addressed the weapon's section of the bridge crew, "Chief, what is the Aslan flotilla's status?"
"Commander they are maneuvering to engage us, time since the attack began is fifteen minutes," shouted the chief petty officer running the fire control team.
"Fifteen minutes..." pondered Davion, the universe for him had changed in only fifteen minutes. "Run up a firing solution on the heaviest Aslan ship."
"Done, sir; I started running the problem as soon as you called the bridge," smiled the chief petty officer as he turned to face Davion. "Of the ten ships approaching us sir their total displacement is only 6,400 dtons. The two larger warships are only 1,000 dtons each, the two escorts even less at 600 dtons each. The four merchants weigh in at 800 dtons each."
"They didn't expect us to be here and attacked us the only way they could have under the circumstances, from the inside," thought Davion aloud.
"Sir," the chief petty officer interrupted, "Each of their ships is streamlined and is capable of planetfall."
"You think they are here for something on the planet chief?" responded Davion.
"Yes sir," answered the chief petty officer.
"With four 800 dton merchant ships?" returned Davion.
"They intended to hijack something, chief? What?" questioned Davion.
"Spice," answered Major Connopo Brionii.
Davion painfully turned to see the man who had just spoken out of turn, "Major Brionii, I am glad you're still onboard."
"We were loading our equipment in the starboard boat deck when this ruckus began. What a mess, we just secured the port boat deck, its is a shambles. Compel survived, barely. But Captain Aart is dead as well as all but one of the marines and starmen."
Alexi Davion sat up straight in the chair, quietly allowing the impact of what Major Brionii had just said fall on the bridge crew. "Alright chief, the weapons officer died on the boat deck, you're in charge of weapons from now on. Ready your batteries and fire on the Aslan when ready."
"Aye-aye sir," responded the chief petty officer.
The graveyard silent exterior of the Akagi came alive with activity as the starboard side turrets aligned themselves with the approaching Aslan flotilla. Slowly the great ship began to turn her bow away from the planet and toward deep space as her starboard side maneuver engines fired to life, thrusters fought to keep her aligned on course despite the growing pull to the portside due to the quiet port engine.
"Underway sir!" called the petty officer manning the helm from the forward most command console.
"Very well, steady as you go helm," ordered Davion from the captain's chair.
"Firing conventional munitions sir!" called the chief petty officer from the gunnery station.
"Give me the numbers chief," returned Davion to the chief's announcement.
"Aye-aye sir," answered the gunnery chief petty officer, "missile batteries 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 18, and 20 firing first salvo!"
"Very well," Davion eased off his right side straightening his back to relieve the pain. The next twenty minutes was an eternity as they all waited for the telemetry on the missiles to come up on their computer screens.
"Battery 2 is a hit sir!" finally reported the gunnery chief, his further report was muffled by the cheers of the starmen and marines from the news of the hit on the Aslan. "All targets hit sir, all missiles detonated on impact."
"Very well damage assessment chief, also ready your lasers," ordered Davion.
"Aye-aye sir," replied the gunnery chief
Davion then thumbed the intercom switch on his command console, "Sickbay send a medic to the bridge as soon as you can."
"Force Commander Brionii, you're taking command of the Akagi's marine complement, we will not be needing the Romar Marines, your men and women will do just fine. Prepare your people for search and rescue operations for the Aslan, I would like some prisoners to interrogate later."
"Aye-aye sir!" Force Commander Brionii jerked to attention with a loud snap of his heels, bowed slightly at the waist then departed to gather his own staff.
"Runner!" called Davion, "help me stand, starman." The young crewman helped Davion off the captain's chair to his feet. Slowly with some aid he walked to the fire control console to look at the current telemetry data scrolling on the dark screens himself. Eight enemy ships, two 1,000 dton hulls, four 800 dton hulls, and two more 600 dton hulls. The gunnery chief had assigned one missile battery to each hull, with the additional two extra salvos going to the two larger ships. Starships since the dawn of the interstellar era thousands of years ago all had thick alloy hulls penetrated by turret sockets, hatches, and avionics fittings. They were all rugged made of the owning peoples' toughest materials. With conventional munitions it was impossible to actually kill the crew of a starship unless you resorted to nuclear weapons or meson weapons that penetrated the hulls and attacked the personnel and instruments inside with lethal radiation. Naval battles generally consisted of two forces standing off at between one or two light seconds distance pounding away at each other until one or both were completely stripped of external fixtures such as turrets with their hulls cracked leaking hydrogen and oxygen.
Davion approved. The first of the bigger ships had taken hits on the forward turrets and the maneuver engines; the second large ship took a hit on fuel tanks and was loosing ignited hydrogen. Next came the data on the apparent merchant ships. On the 800 dton and one of the 600 dton ships the missiles destroyed weapons turrets reducing their overall fire power, the last ship took a hit on its rear as it turned loosing one of its maneuver engines.
Davion pointed to one of the radar repeaters, "Incoming fire chief."
"Yes sir, point defense has it covered with the lasers sir," returned the gunnery chief who had ordered the laser batteries to act as point defense engaging incoming missile fire early in the battle. The two men watched as the laser batteries knocked out the returning salvo of Aslan missiles from the first ship. The second Aslan ship's missile barrage went wide and spiraled into the planetary atmosphere behind them. Two salvos from the merchant ships also fired wide of the slowly moving Akagi to blow up in the atmosphere behind the wounded cruiser. The two last salvos faired much better closing in on the Imperial warship in the wake of the lead missiles and avoiding the laser fire. The exterior explosions could be heard throughout the cruiser as the missiles detonated rupturing the Akagi's own wing fuel tanks dumping 340 tons of ignited hydrogen into space as a single fireball before the rupture self-sealed.
"Damn them, fire another salvo of missiles chief," ordered Davion as he leaned heavily on the edge of the console to relieve some of the pressure on his side. The gunnery chief waved to a fire control operator setting at the console to signal missile turrets to fire on a new fire control solution which accounted for movement over a 40,000 kilometer distance since the first salvo. Then the chief also ordered the lasers to join the attack and relieved them from counter missile fire duty. This time all missile batteries fired since the ship's aspect allowed all batteries to come to bear. The lasers actually beat the missiles to their target firing at the speed of light even though they were fired second. This intensified attack ripped the Aslan to shreds. Multiple turret explosions were detected as well as massive fuel gas explosions. Two of the Aslan could be detected drifting from formation indicating total loss of steerageway due to loss of their maneuver drives. But unbelievably they kept coming.
Davion stood stiffly watching the surviving six ships that were only fractions of his size continue to close with his cruiser. Radar imagery indicated scarred and marred hulls that still retained their distinctive curved shapes. The telemetry indicated that most if not all their turrets have been reduced to wreckage. Because of the weapons mix that the chief gunner had used the crew would be safe in their disarmed and cracked hulls, they would be leaking fuel and possibly atmosphere, but they themselves would still be alive in their ships' interiors. They had been wise to attack the Akagi's meson gun with their Trojan Horse tactic. The cruiser's meson gun would have sliced through their hulls like a hot knife cutting butter. No they had been very wise indeed to cripple the meson gun, it probably saved most of their lives.
Davion walked back to his command chair and collapsed into it, "Gunnery Chief, reduce their engines to slag." Then Davion turned to the flight operations console, "Navigator, what is the Aslan vector and speed?"
A navigation petty officer stood and responded to his question quickly, "Sir the Aslan cruisers are on a course that will intersect with the planetary mass in about two and a half hours.
"Very well," Davion then addressed one of the officers, "Lieutenant, calculate where the Aslan will end up and pass that word on to the naval base on the planet so they can prepare for falling debris. They will be better equipped to rescue the Aslan on the merchant ships and escorts in near orbit than we will be able to do. Then calculate the trajectory of the two 1,000 dton warships. I want the command crews of both of those ships brought to the Akagi for interrogation, relay those instructions to Commander Brionii." At that point Davion finally passed out from the pain, exhaustion, and the injuries to his body.
Two hours later three of the Akagi's five 50-ton cutters were closing on the lead ship of the two disabled Aslan Aositaoh-class cruisers drifting nearer to an uncontrolled decent into Romar's atmosphere. On the flight deck of the lead ship Force Commander Brionii leaned over the pilot's shoulder to get a better look at the damaged starships. "Wow, that thing is really shot up pretty badly isn't it?" he said to no one in particular. Brionii keyed his throat mike and addressed his team of fourteen marines and the flight crews of the three cutters.
"Alright boys and girls this is how this is going to go down," Brionii began his hasty operations order. "The two escort cutters will fly past the target ship and turn to act as support for us as we close with the planet's atmosphere. The third cutter will deposit us on the hull of the Aslan cruiser so we can insert into the interior through one of the damaged turret access hatches or a functional personnel hatch. Remember the Captain wants prisoners so don't kill every thing that moves, and be careful of pressurized spaces that will explode on you if you try to gain access without bleeding off the interior gases first." He paused for a moment as if considering one last variable, then continued, "All right. Suit-up, lock and load."
He quickly moved through the tight pressure door of the flight deck into the back of the cutter. It was a tight squeeze with his suit of Redding battledress on. The navy technician was waiting with his distinctive Imperial Marine helmet and gloves for the battledress. The starman snapped the helmet in place automatically activated the holographic imagery giving Brionii a hyper accurate view of the world around him enhanced by heads-up-displays of data from the suit's active sensors and computer database. With the battledress sealed and a quick systems check completed Brionii reached for his LEMB-20 gauss rifle, then after a routine function check, moves to the front of his depleted platoon of marines. In the battledress the women are indistinguishable from the men, they all appear to be the same in two-meter tall the grey-white armor of the Imperial Marines. The compartment lights go to red letting the navy technicians to get to their pressurized safe areas before the compartment is depressurized for deployment of the troops. In his battledress Brionii felt very comfortable, like he was wearing a sports shirt and shorts rather than almost a metric ton of armor.
Suddenly the red light shifted to a green color, Brionii turns to see the hatch cracking, residue gases that were not completely evacuated escaped the cutter through the growing crack as well as dust and other small articles of debris. As the hatch opened wider Brionii can see the scared and battle-damaged outer hull of the Aslan cruiser as if it were the surface of a crater marked asteroid. The hull of the Aslan ship was now the ground and the surrounding stars the sky.
"Alright marines, spread out and find me a rat hole to use," he ordered abruptly. At once the fourteen surviving marines fanned out searching for a safe breach in the hull that they could use to gain access. Brionii himself moved toward the bow of the ship, the area that took the brunt of the missile and laser attack during the battle. In his peripheral vision Brionii noticed another marine walking toward him. By the gait the marine had he could tell it was Ship Sergeant Bernie Anthelme, his top sergeant.
"Skipper I don't think there is anything alive on this hunk of metal. Its tore up pretty bad, our missiles are made for taking on other warships, not these things. They're little better than customs cruisers," offered Ship Sergeant Anthelme.
"Top," one of the junior marines interrupted the two leaders' talk with some critical information.
"Good ahead Janet," Ship Sergeant Anthelme answered the call.
"We have a gash that penetrates the hull over there on the portside. It has an interior crew hatch that has a slow leak."
"Roger, the Skipper and I are on our way," Ship Sergeant Anthelme waved Brionii forward toward the waiting marines. Then he made an all call for the rest of the platoon to rally on Private Janet Aseka's beacon. Most of the marines are already there when the two walk up to the gash in the hull. Brionii stepped to the edge and peered down inside the hole in the hull. He activated the dual lamps on the sides of his helmet illuminating the wreckage of the room. Two of his marines are already down in the hole searching it for additional structural damage.
"Alright we don't have a lot of time here, set up a perimeter, get your assault team ready Top. When your ready crack that hatch and let's get to this."
"Aye-aye sir," Ship Sergeant Anthelme waved for his squad leaders to get organized. The marines organized themselves into three four-man teams. The first team moved into the wrecked compartment and forced open the damaged hatch. The hydraulics of their suits allowed them to anchor themselves against the violent venting of atmosphere from spaces on the other side of the hatch. Once the door was open the first team of marines moved inside the Aslan cruiser with their 20mm gauss rifles at the ready, Ship Sergeant Anthelme followed them in. Next came the second team that moved off in a different direction, toward the aft of the derelict. Brionii and the last team was the last to move in and they maintained security of the breach point to act as a reserve if contact was made.
"Ok marines, on an Imperial starship of this size there is slightly over a dozen crewmen so watch your selves," cautioned Brionii as he stood on the deck of the corridor where they had breached.
"Yes sir. Skipper, OK looks like we're moving through a common area. It's a vacuum so there is no indications of survivors." Ship Sergeant Anthelme was with the team moving toward the bow of the ship. The search was arduous due to the low light and the extensive interior damage, fortunately the ship's internal power was good, so the internal gravity field was still operating. However the hull had been breached so the interior of the battered starship was a vacuum, no atmosphere.
"Commander this is Private Gilberto, we've discovered their suit locker, its empty so they are suited up."
"Roger marine, everybody copy that? Gil verified that they have suited up during the battle so they still may be here hiding," he relayed to his troops.
The now derelict Aslan cruiser still had power, only the turrets and the external engine exhaust for the maneuver drive had been destroyed. During battle most small starship crews suit up in their vacuum suits to avoid casualties from hull fractures that leaked fuel and air into space. This cruiser had managed to fire one or two salvos of missiles before its turrets had been knocked out. Brionii knew there had to be crewmen still alive onboard.
"Contact! Commander we have contact with enemy troops in the engine room aft," the sudden report came over the suit radios.
"Top hold your position, I'm taking Team Three and moving to the engine room."
"Roger sir, holding," returned the Ship Sergeant.
Brionii quickly led the other marines of the third team aft along the corridor that the second team had used. Lying on the deck in the middle of the corridor was one of the marines, his chest punctured by a 4-millimeter dart from a light gauss rifle. The other three were crouched against the bulkhead behind plumbing or equipment cabinets. At the far end of the corridor Brionii saw that a pressure hatch had been left open to provide a clear line of fire down hallway's length.
"Alright use a frag grenade," ordered Brionii.
"Talbot on two..." the corporal ordered, "One...TWO!" Suddenly the corporal swung around the cabinet and let loose a stream of 20mm gauss needles around the perimeter of the open door well at the far end of the hall. The image of the heavy damage within the engine room from the 20mm darts was surreal in the total silence of vacuum. Then Private Talbot reached around from behind the exposed plumbing he was using for cover and lobbed a grenade into the far door. The resulting explosion was horrendous and totally silent. Immediately the three surviving marines charged the engine room, with Corporal Pudkiirka in the lead. As soon as the corporal hit the door well he leaped forward into a roll somersaulting into the engine room and immediately was hit by a hail of automatic 4mm-needle fire from Aslan ambushers. Two of his four attackers were successful in penetrating his armor with their automatic firing gauss rifles killing Corporal Pudkiirka instantly. Private Janet Aseka quickly swung around the corner of the hatch and directed a four-round snapshot burst from her own heavy gauss rifle toward the direction of Pudkiirka's killers. The 20mm darts of her LEMB-20 tore through the covering machinery as if it were paper. She was able to nail two of the Aslan crew with her initial burst of needles, grounding them both. She quickly moved to close with the remaining two Aslan crouching behind some ruined equipment that been shot to pieces by the exchange of fire. The Aslan were in vacuum suits giving her a slight advantage in her battledress.
"Moving in behind you Janet," called the other member of her squad as he moved to cover the other side of the engine room.
"Ok I'm bringing in Squad Three, you two set up to cover them," ordered Brionii over their radios. They both acknowledged as the other marines moved in to sweep the room. As the new marines moved through the doorway Aseka detected movement and her suit targeting computer moved her target reticule to the location in question. She immediately opened fire with another four-round burst from her gauss rifle. She was rewarded with a third downed Aslan crewmember.
"Only one more Skipper," she called over the radio. She began to move forward to get a better look at the three she had already downed. As she disregarded her instructions to hold position to cover the third squad's movement the fourth Aslan crewmember's sensors picked her up. Fortunately despite the technology, the sniper's single shot failed to penetrate her ceramic plate armor, Aseka was able to return fire hitting her assailant mortally wounding him.
She stood supported by the battledress as she wavered inside unbeknownst to her fellow marines. This time had been close, she had almost paid the ultimate price for being sloppy on the job.
"Good job Aseka, you’re the new corporal for second squad." Brionii patted her on the shoulder as he moved past her to check the mangled Aslan bodies. Slowly she turned to see Remial checking Pudkiirka's vital signs on the battledress' external readout panel located on the suit's torso.
"He is going to make it Janet, I still got vital signs. He is still in there."
"Skipper, request permission to haul the corporal back topside to the cutter," called Aseka to Brionii. The Force Commander turned and gave her the thumbs-up signal. Together Remial and Aseka pulled Corporal Pudkiirka to his feet and began to move him to the breach point. Once the two marines got the corporal back on board the cutter they began back until they heard the Skipper declare the ship secure and ordered the teams back to the cutter. Aseka watched her fellow platoon members come out of the derelict carrying bodies of Aslan and one marine. The Ship's Sergeant was carrying a satchel she assumed was full of computer records or the ship's log. Slowly in ultimate silence the marines loaded back onboard the cutter then sat in their positions as the small boat closed its cargo hatch and lifted to return to the Akagi. They had lost six marines and some navy starmen today at the hands of the Aslan, and these were apparently only merchants, not warriors....