The Jericho cruiser weapons tower was unlike anything else. Sergeant Nicholas Finigan had never seen anything like it. It was a half-dome, with several instrument panels and what could only be described as a glass coffin inside. The coffin occupied most of the tower’s scarce space. The interior of imperial combat vessels was not particularly comfortable, especially compared to the chic felling of the Federation starships. But this… it was a completely different level of discomfort. Curved surfaces, sharp corners, broken lines. The gun tower of the Seventh Seal, it seems, was not at all supposed to have a person in it. Indeed, most of the ships of the Deceased were remote controlled. However Nick tried, he could not figure out where to sit, what to hold on and where to push.
The cruiser was heavily vibrating — the recoil of kinetic guns and enemy hits ran along the hull of the entire station and the docked ship. With every moment, the vibration became stronger and suddenly… stopped. The next moment a powerful push followed. Nick collapsed face down. He closed his eyes in anticipation of a blow to the surface of the coffin, but there was no blow. Instead, he seemed to be frozen in a limbo, unable to understand where the top, and where the bottom was. For a second he thought that artificial gravity had turned off. But opening his eyes, he saw in front of him the outer hull of the Station, stars shimmering in the indescribable distance and approaching enemy ships. There was no gun turret, not even a viewing window. Nick realized with horror that nothing separated him from the vast expanses of space. He screamed, but there was no sound. He tried to breathe, but could not…
He spent two minutes as a captain to die from depressurization.
But there was no pain, no cold. Nick carefully put his hands in front of him and realized that he hit something. Slowly he began to push himself back. The next moment, the gunner felt as if he emerged from under water. Before him, the smooth surface of the coffin flickered. Nick was submerged in it up to the shoulders. The coffin consisted of some translucent gel, most reminiscent of jelly from an army ration. This gel was on his battered clothes, in his hair… and in his lungs. Nick realized that he was not breathing. He did not need to breathe. The gel supplied him with the necessary oxygen and extracted carbon dioxide. Something similar was used in cryogenic freezing in the Imperial Army.
Gathering all his will, Nick sank back. Trying not to panic any more, he found a barely noticeable holographic screen. The symbols were unusual, but the weapons were always about the same. Here is the range finder, here’s the crosshairs, here’s the charge, here’s the heating gauge. He waved a hand and the holographic screen came to life, obeying his movements.
‘Captain?’ - Nick clearly heard the pilot’s voice.
‘Dariusz?’ — the gunner uttered the name and heard his voice slightly distorted through the gel.
— We undocked. Going at suborbital speed. There is visual contact with the enemy. Three interceptors at 1 and 3 o’clock.
It was an old system of orientation in space, ancient even for the Empire, but here… Nick quickly found the numbers showing the horizontal and vertical position of the guns relative to the hull of the ship. Before him there were values from two to five horizontally — the right side. But when he turned his head to the left, the image moved to the bow of the ship. His gaze literally moved across the cruiser’s hull.
Out of the corner of his eye, Nick saw the cable being pulled from the station meter by meter, as the panels where it had once been diligently laid came off. But it was the pilot’s job to create such a distance from the station so as not to damage it during the jump. All attention was focused on the approaching enemies. He could clearly see them. Same as last time. Interceptors.
With each second they were closer and closer. Dariusz led the cruiser gently, as if through a dense veil. We need to let them get closer… Nick clenched his fists and felt a slight resistance of the gel. Obeying this gesture, guns appeared from under protective plates of the seventh seal. But it weren’t the familiar kinetic guns.
Those were lasers.
To hell with close distance, to hell with caution and to hell with these drones!
The gunner did not even have time to rejoice — he immediately opened fire. A few seconds later, and together with the shields the guns of the Seventh Seal burned through the drone. It was literally cut in half. Two other opponents immediately broke the order and swerved in different directions. Nick released the imaginary trigger and sharply moved the barrels to the right target. The interceptor entered a nosedive, trying to escape from the cruiser’s hit zone. The gunner shot several short volleys, pushing the enemy to the right, to the station. A series of flashes followed. The gun turrets were firing. The cross flow of kinetic charges from two points turned the drone into a cloud of debris in a matter of seconds.
Where is the third? Red dots and numbers flashed on the display: nine to eight.
Nick jerked back and his gaze was on the left side. He immediately saw the drone, spraying fire on the cruiser’s hull. Another volley of the laser, the drone goes to the right, then maneuvers up and again disappears behind the hull. And the screen flickers with three more approaching targets.
Nick restrained himself so as not to swear. He was alone and without the right implants. A person is simply physically unable to cope with all the weapons of such a huge ship.
The gunner followed the enemy, trying to finally burn his shields.
— Engineering compartment! Damage Report! — he yelled.
The answer was silence.
— Doctor! Do you read?
— Prepare to jump on my command.
— Yes… captain!
As the irritated voice of Al-Khali was silenced, Dariusz appeared once again:
— I read strange indicators from the lower deck.
— Which ones?
— We’re not alone on board.