Time for another flash fiction challenge from TerribleMinds! This time the story had to be a mix of two subgenres chosen randomly from a list of twenty. I got ‘Shapeshifter’ and ‘Military Sci-Fi’ so, of course, I came up with a tale about werewolves in space! or something similar, at least. Anyway, I had a lot of fun writing it. Enjoy!
Jeremiah forced himself to remember that no one designed spacecraft craft controls for four paws. He struggled to reign in his emotions as the Relentless drone tore through the hull of the cargo ship at the heart of the caravan. Deep breaths. Calming breaths. Ignore the stale taste of recirculated air. Calm. Focus. Sweat matted the thick hair on his arms. Please stay arms, please. The young pilot banked left, away from the caravan. Better shots than him could take out the small probes. Jeremiah knew he couldn’t hit the wide side of a storage bay if he didn’t have his targeting computer engaged. No. Hunt the source. Hunt the Relentless. Tear their throats. His mouth felt cramped. He ran his tongue over rows of too sharp teeth. Focus! If he lost control on his first solo mission, the Terrans would never let him into the Galactic Fleet. He had to prove worthy.
“Mr. Collins, is everything alright?” Mary Nguyen, Captain of the Moonlight Ravager, spoke through his comm.
“Everything’s fine, ma’am. Just need to stretch my legs a little bit.”
Jeremiah turned his attention to the darkness of space. Relentless fighters delighted in suffering. Terrifying if they captured you, but also their biggest weakness. A sane enemy would launch the drones from a safe distance and come in at their leisure to clean up any stragglers and retrieve the cargo.
“Mr. Collins, if I may ask, what in the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Jeremiah realized he had new orders coming up on screen. Return to formation. Tighten the perimeter. Wait for the next wave of drones to rip through them like damp tissue.
“Sorry ma’am. Interference is fierce out here.” He tried making static noises. “My computer’s gone on the fritz.”
“Get back here, pup!”
“What was that? You’re cutting out.”
He switched off his radio. Fingers. Stay fingers. Please Luna, let him hold on to a Terran form. Even if he cost himself any shot at a career in the GF, he had to hold it together long enough to save the other skimmers in the convoy.
Engines powered down. Ride low and slow. Silent. Just like Jackson taught him. Acknowledge the rage. Acknowledge the fear. Let it pass through. Jeremiah’s brother bought him everything he knew about Terrans, about the Galactic Fleet. If it wasn’t for Jackson, the council would have never let Jeremiah start training, much less take this final test. He eyed the orders on his screen. The test he was about to blow.
Engines completely off. A dart loosed in a tavern’s common room. Drift in the direction the first round of drones came from. Nothing on the sensors, but that didn’t mean much when fighting the Relentless. Jeremiah glanced behind him. Convoy still in view, but too much longer and they’d be out of sight. The dreadnaught had to be nearby.
Worry gnawed at the put of Jeremiah’s stomach. Markholktz raiders could have easily stolen Relentless drones. Had he sacrificed everything to chase shadows? No. Jeremiah had to trust his instincts, without them he was nothing. Every fiber of his being vibrated with the certainty a Relentless dreadnaught waited somewhere nearby.
He’d flown far enough away from the convoy that he couldn’t see the hundreds of technicians swarming the full of the giant cargo ship, doing everything in their power to complete repairs before the next strike wiped them out.
Except there didn’t seem to be a next strike. Nothing out here but dead, silent space, full of the light of a million moons held at bay with only a thin bit of translucent shielding.
Jeremiah’s hand hovered over the ignition button. Give up the drift. Give up his pride. Limp back to the fleet with his tail between his legs.
A light flashed only a few meters off the side of his skirmisher. Only for a moment, but seconds later, a new drone appeared on his radar. Jeremiah slammed the ignition on and spun his craft towards the source of the flash. He fired two painter missile into the darkness and was rewarded with the appearance of the dreadnaught on his radar.
Jeremiah howled triumphantly. If he could see the bastard then the rest of the convoy, including Captain Nguyen and her class four battlecruiser, could too.
His triumph withered as the darkness in front of his exploded into light. The dreadnaught, nearly five hundred times the size of his one man craft, dominated the space in front of his, and it loosed a barrage of tactical torpedoes.
The young pilot flipped his radio back on as the first barrage of seekers hammered into his skimmer’s shields.
“Think I got the comms sorted out, Captain, but I’m not sure how long I’m going to be able to keep them up.”
Jeremiah fired everything his tiny ship carried. Skimmers were designed to mark targets for battlecruiser and fend off small arms, but if he focused everything on one spot, he might be able to breach the hull of the Relentless ship.
“Get the hell out of there, Collins!” Nguyen’s voice echoed through the cockpit.
Jeremiah wanted to do exactly what she ordered, but he knew that as long as he kept firing the dreadnaught couldn’t vanish into deep space.
“Sorry, ma’am. You’re breaking up again. Guess I didn’t get this radio working as well as I thought. Just… Just do me a favor and light this big bastard up.”
He switched off the radio and fired another round of missiles. A gout of fire burst from the point he’d been hammering. A breach. Jeremiah howled again, his manic laughter mingling with the warning beeps coming from his console. Panic mingled with his triumph. He’d die, but at least the dreadnaught would be destroyed. One less Relentless ship to slaughter his people. Their mothers and fathers. Their sisters and brothers. Jeremiah choked down a sob. He’d die a hero. He’d do his people proud.
Jeremiah dodged the return fire as best he could, but a few torpedoes smashed through the remnants of his shields. His navcom sparked, filling the cabin with the acrid scent of burning flesh and fur. No more evasive maneuvers. Time had run out.
A bright light filled his view screen. The Moonlight Ravager had reached them and targeted his breach with the omega cannon. Jeremiah caught one quick flash of light in the afterimage before the enemy ship exploded in a cloud of debris.
Jeremiah flipped the radio back on. “Captain Nguyen, could you spare a poor cub a tow? Navcom’s shot and I’d rather not float off into deep space.”
High pitched beeping drowned out the Captain’s reply. Incoming ordinance. The parting gift of the dreadnaught. Jeremiah’s ship filled with sparks and heat and pain. Then nothing.
Jeremiah woke, much to his surprise, in far too much pain to be dead. He lay curled in a ball on an examination bunker, his paws covering his snout. Sharp antiseptic scents assaulted his nostrils. Double damn. He’d disobeyed a direct order, but worse, he’d lost control. He’d shifted during his test mission.
He focused hard, rearranging his features, trading his natural form for his Terran one. Fingers, hands, not paws. The bodily reshuffling caused pain to explode along his arms, fur no longer obscuring the burns that covered him. Jeremiah stifled a yelp. Hot, yet cold. Goosebumps covered his skin. Freezing.
He barely had time to pull on a hospital gown when the door burst open. Captain Mary Nguyen strode through, a nurse cleaning desperately to her arm.
“Ma’am, he’s in no shape for visitors! He needs time to heal,” the nurse said.
The Captain’s gold eyes narrowed and she barred a mouthful of razor sharp teeth at the man holding her arm.
“Run away now, little Terran, and I might let you tend to whatever pieces of him are left when I am done.”
The man scurried backwards, the med bay door closing as he passed through. The giant military woman turned her gaze on Jeremiah, making no attempt to smooth her features.
“You idiot! You almost died out there! On your damned test run! In all of our history in the GF, you’d be the first pilot stupid enough to get killed during their stability test!”
“I’m sorry Mar-“
She snarled at him. “That’s Captain Nguyen, cub. Though what should I expect from someone dumb enough to go after a dreadnaught in a skimmer? What were you thinking?”
“They killed Jack!”
Her eyes hardened. “Rhetorical question. You weren’t fucking thinking! Just charging off to die and leave the people that love you behind to mourn.”
Jeremiah swallowed. “I’m sorry ma’am. I am.”
“Seven years, married to your fool of a brother, fighting at his side. Do you know what his last words to me were?”
Jeremiah’s chest ached, and it had nothing to do with his battle wounds. Other wounds, still raw, after all this time. He shook his head.
“‘Take care of Jere.’ All he wanted was for you to be safe. And you go and do this.”
“I’m headed planetside, aren’t I?” he asked.
A lifetime of dreams of flying, dashed because he couldn’t control himself. He wouldn’t cry though. Not in front of the Captain.
She stepped back, her features smoothing. “Much as I hate to admit it, you passed the test.”
“But I shifted?”
“Only after you fell unconscious. Believe it or not, that’s still a pass.”
“But I disobeyed an order?”
The Captain smiled wide.
“Not just one, two. That’s why you don’t get assigned to a skimmer fleet. I get your ass, and you’ll be lucky to ever get off sanitation duty. Unless of course you’d rather go home?”
“No ma’am.” Jeremiah didn’t even have to think about it. Sanitation on a battlecruiser beat being stuck on the ground any day.
He caught the faintest hint of a smile tugging at her cheek as she turned away. “I’ll inform the Council. Ensign.”
Jeremiah’s triumphant howl startled the nurse coming in to check on him. He’d done it. He’d passed. He’d done his family proud.