Chuck Wendig is back on the job with our Friday flash fiction challenges, and in honor of May the Fourth commanded us to write a space opera, in 1500 words or less. So, more like a single aria from the opera, but I went for the melodrama of an early Star Trek episode. It's just under 1200 words.

Long Odds

“There’s no way we can win, on the face of it.” Captain Kira Andashar of the Earth Federation Starship Endurance didn’t believe in sugar-coating matters to her officers. “The invaders outnumber us three to one, and based on what they did to EFS Consequence they outgun us by far as well.”

“Should we surrender, then? Or run?” Lieutenant Albert Percival knew better. His captain wasn’t the surrendering sort, and they’d already proved they couldn’t outrun the aliens. When he asked his question he heard a few gasps, and at least one snort of derision. He ignored them and waited for the answer.

“We fight. And dammit,” Captain Andashar raised her voice, “we will win!”

A few young officers cheered, but Percival and his fellow lieutenant, Sharra Stonebrook, exchanged glances. How the devil were they going to do that?

“I hope she has a plan,” Sharra muttered to Albert. “Because I sure as hell don’t see any way.” Knowing what was coming next, the two remained as the other officers followed orders to return to their stations and prepare for battle.

Captain Andashar looked at her lieutenants. “Well? Any ideas?”

Despite the grim circumstances, Albert laughed. “I had a feeling you were going to ask that. To summarize, do I have any ideas how a single starship with suddenly obsolete weapons can defeat three alien ships with weapons we don’t even understand? Short answer: no. Not a clue.”

“Me, neither,” Kara Andashar replied. “But we’re going to need an answer in about 30 minutes, so we’d better start thinking.”

#
Twenty minutes later, the captain was at the con, her officers in place, and all prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible in the defense of their planetary system. The patrol had a simple sweep of the outer limits of human space. Endeavor and Consequence had expected to turn up nothing, as the sweeps had for three centuries.

There always had to be a first time, Kara thought. She didn’t know she’d said it out loud until Albert answered.

“And unless we get very lucky, it’ll be the last, too.”

“Shut up and prepare for battle.”

Lieutenant Percival considered the controls under his hands. Sharra had the conventional weapons. What he had was the comms unit and control of the thrusters used for take-off and landing. Under his captain’s orders, he was going to turn the latter into a weapon, though if he handled the former right, perhaps they’d not need them.

The alien ships drew closer, and they were truly alien. They looked like a drug-induced hallucination of an octopus. These ships stayed in vacuum. They would be torn apart trying to enter the atmosphere of any planet that could support life.

Sharra said it aloud. “Damnation. If the ships look like that, what do you suppose the aliens look like?”

“The kraken,” Captain Andashar answered. “I don’t want to find out.” She was the only one who had seen the message sent from their sister ship seconds before it was destroyed by the aliens. Now, her face set and grim, she prepared to exact what revenge she could.

She hesitated, then ordered, “Send the message.”

Albert hit the button to send the pre-recorded message. They’d argued a bit over the wording, settling on the straightforward, “You are violating Human Space. Surrender to inspection and penalties for destroying EFS Consequence, or we will be forced to destroy you.” He wondered how they'd respond to that.

His translator flashed almost at once. He flipped a switch, looked at the message—they had decided not to broadcast into the bridge without checking first—and flipped a switch so everyone could hear.

The aliens had responded with a suggestion that was anatomically impossible, at least for humans.

“I don’t think that’s friendly,” was the captain’s comment. “Shields up. Fire photon torpedo across their bows, and send the second warning.” Behind her back she crossed her fingers. Their shields had never been tested. Until now there had been no enemies in space save a few pirates whose limited armament required no special defenses.

The second hail produced a repetition of the middle-finger message. A moment later Endurance shuddered as the photon torpedo launched. They all watched the viewer to see the results. Nothing. The alien ship didn't hesitate. Then a flare of light, and the bridge shook, knocking Lt. Stonebrook from her seat. She gave a yell of pain, but dragged herself back to her seat, fastened the landing straps, and grabbed the weapons controls. Chaos swarmed around her, but she focused her attention on aiming and firing a succession of torpedoes at the same spot on the lead ship.

"Damage report?" Captain Andashar demanded. Reports came in from all over the ship. Damage, but nothing fatal. The chief engineer suggested they could handle a half a dozen strikes before hull breach or loss of controls.

“We’ll never make it!” Captain Andashar couldn’t tell which of her officers yelled it, but she shared the feeling. Nonetheless she commanded, “Silence, there! And stay on your station!”

Now that she could see what the enemy weapons looked like, she began taking evasive action.

“Dammit, Captain!” This time it was Lt. Stonebrook. “How’m I supposed to aim when you do that?”

“Unerringly,” the captain shot back before the next swoop.

Sharra Stonebrook landed two more hits on the prow of the alien ship before the next shot struck Endurance. This one damaged their left thruster. Captain Andashar smiled grimly, and compensated in her next swerve. So did Lt. Stonebrook. Her fourth hit on the alien ship took spectacular effect. The empty space left behind revealed the second vessel.

“Captain! Third ship is at our rear!” The warning startled most of the crew, but Lt. Percival heard it as his signal. Flipping his screen to the rear view, he watched as the alien ship drew closer, ignoring the shouts and alarm bells, and the shudder of another hit on their shields. Through it all, he heard the captain’s quiet voice.

“Let it get close enough, Percival. Don’t panic.”

He let it get so close it almost had its nose up the thrusters, the whole ship shuddering from the repeated attacks on their shields. When he ignited the thrusters, the enemy ship vaporized as Endurance shot forward.

“Brace for impact!”

Sharra Stonebrook was already braced. Ignoring the pain from her injured shoulder, she maintained a steady fire with her torpedoes and blasters as the ships careened toward each other.

The third torpedo took effect. The impact of another enemy shot was followed immediately by the impact of the explosion of the alien ship.

Damage reports flooded in. Kira Andashar picked herself up from where the impacts had flung her, ignoring blood running down her face from a cut on her head.

“Navs! Map a course for the nearest base. Have we power?” The string of reports and commands seemed to last forever. Someone strapped a bandage on her head, but no one left stations except feet first until the ship nosed into the docking station, like her captain bloodied, but unbowed.



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©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2018
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