"...ordered to change course and divert directly towards the Bacto warp bridge. I repeat..." Warrant Zorga couldn't understand the sounds rimself—the language was called English, according to the translation device's readout—but was relying on the machine to render the words into ris own language. Re settled ris nerves and mentally prepared rimself for the confrontation to come.
"We do not have fuel to change course to Bactara," Zorga put on ris most matter-of-fact voice, unsure if this tone would carry properly across the translator. "In order to comply, we would first have to return to Pakatu Selo."
The response followed within a second or two after the translation completed. "You will not be permitted to return to Pakatu Selo." Zorga had expected resistance to this idea. Pakatu Selo was the seat of Zorga's own House of Moti, armed to the teeth and an enemy of the ESF. If the transport returned to the station, the frigate chasing them would be unable to follow and enforce its will.
"We have a problem, then," re answered. A longer delay followed this time.
"They are building power in their laser batteries. Warrant Fen, begin evasive pattern." Subcommander Kana barked orders from the scopes console, the post gre gremself had chosen as the flight's leader. Their little transport had no real defense against thermal lasers, except to dodge them entirely. As the ship lurched, Kana spoke again. "They have launched missiles, our counterlasers are arming."
Zorga turned back to ris console. "I am telling the truth. We are physically unable to comply with your orders. I beg you—"
Outside the viewing window, a missile exploded, far enough away that it must have been triggered prematurely by the transport's small counterlasers. "Two more missiles incoming," Kana announced. "Also, one... unknown signal?"
A bizarre sequence of sounds emitted from the comm system, a cacophony unlike anything Zorga had heard before. The system's status screen glowed with the message, "Unloaded language recognized", and Zorga quickly pressed the indicated button to load the new language.
Almost immediately, the ship lurched hard. Damage klaxons blared as the atmosphere began to rush from the command deck. Subcommander Kana pulled the emergency lever to seal the deck's door closed, and the howling rush of wind mercifully settled to a quiet hiss. It was fortunate that all three of the crew happened to be on this deck, though there may be damage to their cargo.
"Structural integrity is compromised," Warrant Fen called out. "I can't engage more than one-quarter thrust without tearing us apart." Almost immediately, more damage klaxons sounded—overheating systems. They were slow enough now for the thermal lasers to get a lock.
"One more missile still incoming," Kana announced. Without engines to help dodge, there was simply nothing to be done. All three watched their display as the final missile drew closer, before veering off at the last second.
"We're alive!" Fen exclaimed, then looked puzzled. "We're alive?"
The ship's instruments showed the missile now moving away from them, as if it had been slingshotted around a black hole. Zorga turned back to ris communications console, now showing two separate sources of transmission. The translator had finally—after the eternity that had been the last fifteen seconds—finished loading the new language's matrix.
"...will pay in kind for the murders inflicted on my brothers," came the new voice.
"I hope that's not talking about us," Kana said.
"No, this is the new ship, the, uh..." Zorga looked at the display for the identity of the language it was now receiving. "They're speaking a language called Symtrayan?"
Kana nodded slowly, gris mind reaching into the recesses of gris studies of alien life through the Orion Arm. "Symtraya. A spacefaring lifeform. If I recall correctly, sentient, but primitive, and unable to leave their home star system. What the hell is this one doing here?"
"Revenge?" Zorga offered helpfully.
"And doing it well," Kana noted the scope readout. "The Human ship has lost the main power." The battle outside seemed to have quieted down a bit. "Perhaps the Humans will be more willing to—"
A blinding fireball exploded in the window, the unmistakable light of a fusion core explosion. The Symtraya had destroyed the crippled Human ship. The crew froze, waiting for the Symtraya to turn its weapons, whatever they were, on them. The creature moved towards them, slowly coming into view of the window, and as it did so the damaged infrastructure of the transport creaked. The smooth white skin formed into a long cylindrical shape, with a pair of stubby wings forming a wing delta on the back half. The creature's eyes, or what appeared to be eyes, drew close to the viewing window.
"Can you receive my signal?" uttered the translator. Zorga jumped out of ris skin, having virtually forgotten it was even active. The creature was speaking—to them.
Zorga gingerly engaged the comms. "We receive your signal. Our boundary is breached and we request your mercy in recognition of your superiority." Re hoped the Bactaran custom of surrender would be honored by this alien.
"You have no need of my mercy, for you have not drawn my anger." The crew relaxed visibly, and Subcommander Kana began checking the systems to start working damage control. "Your vessel is damaged. Are you capable of self-repair?"
Zorga looked over at Kana, who waved off a "no" gesture without looking up. "We are still examining our damage to find out."
"Your structure is unsound." The Symtraya moved preternaturally smoothly, circling the damaged ship, inspecting it. The ship's frame creaked again, as if something huge was climbing around on it. "This hole is quite large."
Kana spoke to Zorga. "We might be able to repair the breach but the skin is too far bent. We don't have that much autosealant."
Warrant Fen was already fitting blerself into an environmental worksuit. "I'm going to try and bend it back, but I don't know how tough the skin is."
Zorga turned back to the comms. "Would it be possible for you to... bump us gently to help bend that skin back?" It sounded like the craziest idea in the Arm as soon se re said it, but it couldn't be unsaid. Fen stepped into the airlock and began to cycle the pressure.
"I can do better than that. If your crewmate possesses any ferrous metal, they should keep their distance until I am finished."
Before Zorga could inquire, a cacophony tore through the transport's hull, screeching and creaking metal. Fen stared through the airlock's window as the hull bent back into place. Soon, the massive breach was reduced to a narrow crack.
"I will hold this in place while you seal the breach." The airlock finished its cycle, and Fen got to work on what remained of the breach.
"Your generosity is appreciated," Zorga began. "And your value is recognized. What is your name?"
"The name I have earned is the Dreamer."
"Have you considered joining the fight, Dreamer?"
"What is the fight?"
"The war between the Bactarans and the Humans. From the looks of things, you seem pretty eager to kill Humans."
"The answer is no."
"My vendetta was against this captain, who held my family and me in captivity for decades. I have no such wish to destroy other Humans. I will not join your fight."
Zorga squealed softly in displeasure. "It's not entirely our fight. We have been helping the other Houses remove the Humans from their homeworld."
"Their homeworld—it is not your homeworld as well?"
"We are House Moti. The seat of our House lies on the Pakatu Selo station in this system."
"Then why do you fight the Humans? They do not threaten the station."
"We fight because it fighting is our gift. We need only find a worthy cause, and we are there to fight."
"A worthy cause..." the Dreamer's voice sounded wistful, somehow; re wondered how much of that was the translator.
At that moment Subcommander Kana called out. "That's the last seam! Zorga, ask the Symtraya if he can release it slowly."
"Did you catch that, Dreamer?"
"I am relaxing my hold," the Dreamer answered. The ship creaked as the metallic alloys stretched, testing the limits of the autosealant.
"The real test will be when we fire our engines," Zorga said. "We'll have to move at half thrust to minimize the risk."
"You are traveling to Pakatu Selo?"
"That's correct," Zorga said. "We need to get some real repairs... or maybe to sell this ship for scrap, who knows."
"I will travel with you."
"You'd do that for us?"
"That and more, friend Zorga."
"What do you mean?"
"I wish to hear more of this conflict. I may have been wrong about you."