The Shtushaze came out of the wormhole in the region closest to the
A featherless, leathery bird thing with an extra pair of limbs in front
of its wings perched on the railing of Mathias' command dias. Himshil
had sent it to allow Mathias to keep in touch during the journey back
to the Everton Imperium. Ripper had been taken off of the bridge
because he kept sneaking hungry looks at the thing.
"Prince Mathias," the bird-thing chirped, "Representative Himshil wants
to know why we have come out of the wormhole so dangerously close to
"On our way here," Crown Prince Mathias Kubinyetz began, "our wormhole
was snapped by a stray Q-lightning bolt. It was quite violent and we
were forced to transit this region in sublight drive. So, I ordered
that we shall transit this region at sublight velocities on this trip,
to avoid such a nasty backlash again."
"Very well. Himshil says that is a very wise and insightful course of
action. He asks if you want us to unfurl the solar sail."
"No, the sublight engines of my ships will still push Shtushaze faster
than the solar sail will."
*PLEASE HELP ME*, a voice rang in Mathias' head, and, in fact, in the
heads of all the crew of Mathias' Flotilla. They all dropped to their
knees, clutching their heads.
"What's wrong?" asked the bird-thing in a very frightened voice.
"You didn't hear that scream?" Mathias asked back, just coming to his
"What scream?" the bird-thing asked. Mathias ignored it and addressed
his bridge crew.
"Scan the area for ships," Mathias ordered. "I believe that was some
sort of telepathic distress beacon."
"Your highness," reported the sensor officer, "All of our scanners are
blocked by the bulk of the Shtushaze."
"Tell Himshil," Mathias ordered the bird-thing, "that my Flotilla must
temporarily leave the Shtushaze to investigate something."
"He says that's alright," it replied. "He also wants to know if you
want us to continue under our own power."
"Yes, please do so. My Flotilla may be some time at this. Meet us at
these coordinates," Mathias turned back to his crew. "All ships
disengage from the Shtushaze."
Mathias' Flotilla backed out of their docking pits on the Shtushaze and
formed a defensive formation. That done, all sensors began to probe the
space around the ships in search of the stranded vessel.
"Your highness," reported Commodore Arpadi. "We have a small biological
vessel sitting very close to the storm front. It's dead, by all
indications, and the crew won't last long once the storm hits them."
"Major Numoth, send a blade of Attackers and a Combat Shuttle to get
the crew off and haul the ship to us, if possible." Mathias ordered.
"How many Infantry do you want on the Shuttle?" Colonel Riseman asked.
"Two Hands ought to be enough." Arpadi suggested.
"Do it." Mathias commanded.
"Vessels away," Major Numoth reported minutes later.
The ten Attackers formed a defensive cordon around the odd ship. It was
shaped like a small shark and was obviously dead or dying as small
pieces were beginning to fall off.
The pilot of the Combat Shuttle made a quick decision to force a
boarding rather than waste time searching for a hatch. The bow doors of
the Shuttle bumped into the side of the shark-ship and formed an
air-tight seal. The doors opened and the Infantry cut a hole in the
side of the ship using a laser. Inside was a series of fleshy bulkheads
and massive circular sphincter-doors.
"What was that?" one Infantryman asked another as he heard an odd
"I don't know. Sounds like a big rat." Suddenly a reptilian humanoid
with folded wings seemed to appear out of nowhere.
*Who are you and what are your intentions?* a voice said in the heads of
"We were sent to respond to your distress call. What's the problem?"
The first Infantryman
*Very well then. There's not much time. The Kip is disintegrating as we
and all of my companions are unconscious from oxygen deprivation.*
"Show us the way," They followed the
reptilian into a small room where three elves, two humans, and one
near-human lay on the floor in varying states of unconsciousness. Three
Infantrymen each picked up two and carried them over their shoulders as
the other Infantrymen provided cover to ensure that this wasn't some
sort of trap. Once everyone was aboard the Shuttle, the bow doors
closed and it pulled away from the ‘Kip'. The Shuttle proceeded
directly back to Mathias' Cruiser while the Attackers created a gravity
well directly behind themselves so that they could drag the ‘Kip' back
with tham. About halfway to the Cruiser, the Kip completely fell apart.
"Your highness," Major Numoth reported. "The alien vessel has
disintegrated. The Attackers will now proceed back at best speed. The
Shuttle is aboard. Infantry is having their armour decontaminated and
our guests have been placed under quarantine in sickbay."
"I want any genetic material found on the armour placed in cold storage
for later examination," Mathias ordered. "That ship was a single,
living organism. If possible, I would like the remains examined for
data at a later date."
"Of course, your highness," Commodore Arpadi said. "A species of
creatures indigenous to space could be a notable strategic asset."
"Please tell Himshil that we are coming to meet him now," Mathias said
to the bird-thing. It managed to restrain itself from pointing out
that almost every species in the Codoj was indigenous to space.
"He says he's pleased to hear that. The approaching Q-storm is making
Minutes later, Mathias' Flotilla was back in position on Shtushaze
surface and underway.
with Jeremy Hussell and Carolla Goller