I wasn’t going to do this, but I am so pleased with both finishing Parallax and how the ending turned out that I just had to share it with you all. Of course now I have final edits and a book cover to worry about, but this is a big deal for me. The final count is at 98,425 words or 394 pages, making this the longest story I have ever written in my life. Enjoy:
Though nothing came over the intercom, Pratt could see from his displays that DuBois and the Pis were trying very hard to override the Self-Destruct System. Outside the bubble, the Signiferian warships were becoming visible in the distance. Damn you, Xia, he thought bitterly. I trusted you to have my back.
He ducked down in his seat as several gun metal gray ships appeared over the Bubble way too close for his comfort. The ships ranged in size from the familiar Marcus Aurelius to several smaller armed merchant cruisers. All bore Militia markings and were taking up a spherical formation that placed Artemis at the exact center.
Pendrake’s voice echoed throughout the ship. “Sorry we’re late, Artemis. We’ll take some of the heat off you, Jack, while we escort you to the Jump Point.”
Pratt smiled as he keyed his throat mic. “Roger that, Marcus Aurelius. Remember to set your tracking systems for…” He made a quick calculation. “About twenty degrees to either side of what your sensors and eyes tell you. These ships use a phase-shift system to appear one place while actually being elsewhere.”
“Deadly too.” A long range projectile cluster struck one of the smaller merchant cruisers, knocking out her outrigger engine pods and causing her to fall out of formation trailing brightly colored plasma and smoke. He boosted power to the engines as the formation started moving. “Any word on the reinforcements?”
“System-wide Comms are still spotty at best.”
Pratt considered Koren’s Gift in his shirt pocket, but decided against it. The last thing anyone would want is to expect The Hegemony to drop their problems to aid some human border system. “Weapons, get ready to engage incoming hostile ships and projectile weapons. We need to do everything we can to help our escorts and ourselves.”
They were traveling at least 1/8th the speed of light, but it still seemed like they were crawling along toward their destination. The scanners showed a bleak picture of a green mass of friendly ships surrounded by a steadily constricting ring of red. The distance to the Jump Point was shrinking by the kilometer, but green dots were disappeared equally as fast. However, Pratt’s Indirect Firing Solution was bearing fruit as the band of Signiferian ships were being thinned out one by one. Both sides traded laser fire for projectiles and cluster munitions before a gap appeared in the red lines ahead.
“Guys, it looks like we’re going to make it.” Pratt called out. “Get ready to Jump.”
The Jump Beacon appeared in front of them, its one red and blue cyclops eye blinking its welcome as they approached. The Militia Force allowed them to move ahead while they covered the escape.
Pratt desperately wanted to feel some optimism as he entered in the ship’s access codes. They were this close to being home free and nothing appeared to be stopping them.
An error message scrolled across his main screen: Incorrect Code…Access Denied…Please enter Authorization….
“What the hell is up with the Jump Access Code?”
“Sorry.” DuBois yelled back. “They were updated and I forgot to give you the new one. Hang on while I send it.”
Before Pratt could rein in his anger, the Space in front of the ship rippled and flexed before disgorging a large rounded hull with several projections radiating outward to sharp points like spines on a sea urchin. He flashed back to the first encounter at Gorashto, but this ship looked meaner and more menacing as it released several smaller ships that immediately pounced. Six of his eight defensive turrets were knocked out of action, the armor was heavily compromised, and the engines were showing signs of imminent failure. But the new access code appeared on his screen and he entered it to an affirmative reply.
“You son of a bitch.” He snarled as his left hand hovered over the last self-destruct switch. Once he threw it, twenty seconds would remain until the ship’s fusion reactor safety locks would be disengaged and a second star would appear. “If I’m going down, I’m taking you bastards with me.”
He keyed his mic. “DuBois, it’s time.”
Her voice was defiant yet resigned. “I understand. How long?”
“You will have twenty seconds after I throw the switch, plenty of time to launch the escape pod if you don’t waste time with the Checklist.”
“Are you sure there’s no other way?”
“You can see the telemetry the same as I, Ariel. We have bad guys behind us and fresh Mama Baddie in front launching small fry. I don’t see any other option. I take Artemis down her throat with a 97.835-Megaton bomb tucked away inside. She goes boom and Mixton’s safe.”
“But you’ll be dead.”
“Small price to pay.” He sighed. “In any case, if I’m dead they don’t have their prize and maybe they’ll go back to wherever they came from.”
“I don’t like this.”
“You don’t have to like it. You just have to do it. Now get your collective asses in gear.” He flipped the last toggle switch, expecting Artemis to give him an audio warning. It didn’t. He reset the switch and tried again with the same null result. Frustration set in and he pried the casing loose to peer inside. The last wire had been severed, the leads melted away from a stray electrical short. He snapped the casing back into position and cursed silently. “DuBois, are you and the Pis still there?”
“Yes, Jack, we haven’t gone anywhere yet.”
“The Self-Destruct is fried. I need you to go and manually set the reactors to overload. Then get the hell off my ship. Please.”
Another impact from a Signiferian weapon struck the hull farther aft. A look at the status screen told him that they were now targeting the engines, trying to slow him down for capture. The lights flickered and he heard commotion below. “What’s going on?”
“That last shot scrammed Reactor 2 and tripped the emergency bulkheads, Jack. We’re trapped on the Bridge with Emergency Power.”
Pratt slammed his hands on the control panel several times. I can’t lose another person under my charge, he thought. How to get out of this?
“Okay, resume your stations. Here’s the plan. Pis, I want every last bit of power redirected into forward propulsion and the Hyperspace Engine. Life Support, Batteries, every last watt you can scrounge up. We’re going to hit that Jump Point if it’s the last we do or die trying.” He paused. “Oh, and disable the Safety Protocols. We need them off if this is going to work.”
What was left working on his control panel lit up with an intensity he hadn’t seen before in an electronic system. Engine output indicators quickly exceeded their maximum ratings and overload warnings sounded throughout the ship. They were followed up by collision warnings as the Signiferian Capital Ship drew uncomfortably closer.
“Artemis, this is the UEUN Jupiter. We have been monitoring your communications. Alter your course Fifteen Degrees to Port. We’re coming in.”
The Geo-Class Battleship was the largest warship in the Union Navy’s inventory, second only to the carriers. It was big enough to blot out the sky above him, its ten-story high gray hull bristling with enough power to destroy medium to large asteroids from a ring of turrets large enough to park Artemis inside and crew complements that rivaled the entire Mixton population. Everything about it was big, mean, and fully committed to the task of dispensing death and destruction to anyone foolish enough to incur its wrath.
Pratt coaxed Artemis under and around the battleship’s three extended cooling vanes and steered toward the Jump Point.
“Thank you, Jupiter. Is there anything we can do?”
The Jupiter’s Captain struggled against a not-so-well-concealed chuckle.”Negative, Artemis, but thanks. I think we can handle it from here. I understand that you have an appointment with the Jump Point. We’ll make sure you keep it. Jupiter out.”
“Arrogant…wait a minute, they’re right.” Pratt shook his head and dove for the event horizon. As he cleared the combat zone, he noticed the Jump Point fluctuating, literally rippling outward, the distortion waves buffeting the ship with ever increasing intensity. Before he had realized it, the Hyperspace Engine had locked on and they were beginning to tumble.
“Something is wrong with the Jump Point.” He announced, closing the Bubble. “This is going to be a bumpy one. Hang on.”
They jumped. Then reappeared. Then jumped again, the process repeating itself several more nauseating times before they left Normal Space. Everything onboard the ship went dead, with the exception of the smell of ozone that drifted up from the Bridge and the faint woosh of handheld fire extinguishers.
After a few more minutes, the remains of emergency power kicked in and he was able to lower himself back down to the Bridge. There, he noticed a gaping hole in the rear bulkhead that had been cut away. Behind the hole lay the remains of part of the ship’s electronics.
He looked DuBois and the Pis. “Let me guess. We have a new problem.”
End of Book One