Nero nudged the controls of the gun-cutter as he completed the maneuvers to dock with the captured Gamoran raider. As soon as the airlock finished cycling, his companions rushed toward the command bridge and he followed. He cast a woeful glance over his shoulder at the gun-cutter, uncomfortable with trading it in for the unarmed and damaged raider. Nero knew that the small craft’s weapons and defenses would do little against the Gamoran light cruiser presently stalking them, but he had still felt less helpless aboard the gun-cutter.
As Nero reached the command bridge, Shen Tygan was already updating Lokus.
“… plasma torpedo! It’s approaching the debris field around Palados and definitely homing on us! What are we going to do? We can’t fight in this wreck!”
“We need to get back to the Holy Enterprise,” Lokus answered angrily.
“Stand aside,” Nero interjected as he dashed to the piloting station. “I’ve outmaneuvered torpedoes before.”
The raider responded slowly and Nero worried that this flight would be more desperate than anticipated. He began maneuvering through the vast debris field leftover from the devastating battle between the Gamoran invasion force and the Sinerian defenders.
The rest of the Sinerian crew jumped into action. Phi Rho 81 deployed his utility mechadendrite and interfaced with the ship’s systems, tweaking engine parameters to squeeze the most optimal speed possible from the engines. Lokus seated himself at the sensorium controls and concentrated intensely on the active augury, feverishly tracking the torpedoe’s progress and any debris fragments of dangerous size. Alarak joined the seneschal, nervously peering over his shoulder at the displays.
Suddenly, Lokus cried out in delight. ”The torpedo struck a wreck and exploded!”
“But the Gamorans have launched another one,” Alarak announced, bringing Lokus’ attention back to the display.
Lokus hailed the Enterprise on the vox, issuing orders to have it set a heading that would put it between the raider and the enemy ship as quickly as possible. Nero reviewed the readouts and saw that the Sinerian ship wouldn’t reach them in time to intercept the next torpedo unless they were able to pick up speed.
“Phi Rho,” he called over his shoulder, “I need more power.”
“Engine performance is currently optimal,” the explorator responded in his metallic voice.
“We need better if you don’t want to end up as glowing dust!” Nero emphasized.
“Understood,” said Phi Rho. “Boosting speed. Note that the engine’s operating profile is now outside of recommended safety parameters.”
“I’d rather that risk than to take our chances with the torpedo!”
Alarak called out a warning and Nero quickly adjusted course to avoid what looked like the bridge section of a cruiser ahead of them.
A worrisome vibration was felt throughout the ship as Nero and his companions pushed the damaged vehicle to its limits. Riggs’ impassive demeanor cracked into a frown and he joined Alarak and Lokus at the sensorium.
“The raider’s machine spirit is strong,” Phi Rho reassured the others.
“Almost clear…” Nero called, seeing the edge of the debris field.
“We’re out!” Riggs exclaimed excitedly, before quickly regaining his composure.
“Out of the debris,” Nero commented, “but that light cruiser is still bearing down on us.”
“Nero, get us aboard the Enterprise,” Lokus called.
“We need to get out of this system,” added Riggs, “we’re in no shape to fight that ship.”
“Let’s take the gun-cutter to get over there,” said Nero.
“We need repairs for the Enterprise and for this leaking space bucket,” said Lokus.
“Footfall is the closest port for repairs,” Alarak offered.
“I’ll be able to make my way back to Terra from there,” said Tiberius.
“Then it’s settled,” Lokus concluded.
Nero’s eyes never left his console as the conversation continued around him. Being free from the debris, he was able to make straight for the Enterprise. Despite the adrenaline pumping through him, he cracked a smile. Maybe one pilot in ten could have pulled off what he had just done, and even then, not with a damaged ship. There was no way the Gamoran ship would catch them now.
“We’re in range,” he reported to the bridge at large. “Let’s get to the gun-cutter and back to the Enterprise. Someone else can fly this wreck to port.”
There were no arguments as the Sinerians made their way aft. In moments, they were space-borne and rapidly closing the short distance to their flagship. They passed a handful of shuttlecraft heading in the opposite direction, carrying the captured raider’s new skeleton crew from the Enterprise.
Nero and his companions wasted no time making their way to the Enterprise’s bridge after landing the gun-cutter. As they marched through corridors, dozens of crewmembers caught sight of Tiberius. Some saluted, others cheered or were simply stunned, but there was no question that the rogue trader’s presence was a welcome boost to morale. Nero kept his expression serious, but smiled inwardly, feeling that his family had been at least partially restored.
As soon as they reached the bridge, Nero took control of the helm once again. He began a set of maneuvers designed to disengage from the enemy light cruiser and close on the Mandeville Point. The Gamoran torpedoes would no longer have a chance of catching up to them.
“Warp jump in sixty minutes,” Nero called. “Alarak, it’s time to do your thing.”
“I will prepare for our journey to Footfall,” the navigator replied and left the bridge.
“We’ll have you out of here safely in no time,” Lokus reassured Tiberius.
“I’d like to say a few words to the crew,” the rogue trader replied. He keyed into the ship-wide vox and began in a solemn tone.
“Attention all personnel, this is Tiberius Sinerian speaking. You have certainly heard stories of the Gamoran betrayal and perhaps even believed me to be dead. Well, I am standing on the bridge of the Holy Enterprise at this moment to assure you that I, and our dynasty, are very much alive. True, we have suffered losses, but in every crisis there is also opportunity. The Emperor smiles upon those who persevere! You are all now serving aboard the official flagship of the Sinerian dynasty. It is a great honour and one that your children and your children’s children will remember.
“Already, we have reclaimed our colony on Shinfuken and have begun to rebuild our fleet. And the Gamorans will not go unpunished for their crimes against us, I promise you that! Soon, I will make my way to Terra and lay our grievances at the feet of the High Lords themselves! I will leave you in the hands of my most capable and trusted lieutenants. There are yet untapped allies and opportunities for us in the Koronus Expanse. Do your jobs with honour and you serve the Emperor’s will.
“That is all.”
Tiberius terminated his address. Nero exchanged a look of pride with Lokus at his rogue trader’s words and he noticed that even the newcomer, Riggs, was not unmoved by the speech.
“Now,” Tiberius said, turning to his senior staff, “you said Mazer is in stasis? Take me to my nephew.”
Lokus’ eyes widened slightly, but he nodded and led the way off the bridge. Nero, Phi Rho 81 and Riggs followed behind Tiberius and his retinue.
The group entered the apothecarium where they found Shen Tygan returned to his usual duties. The nervous medic brought Tiberius to the stasis chamber that held Mazer Sinerian. Tiberius wilted visibly as he contemplated his nephew.
“What are his injuries?” the rogue trader asked quietly.
“He… uh… well,” Tygan stumbled and looked helplessly at the others.
“He suffered minor head trauma during our initial conflict with the Gamorans,” Phi Rho stated drily.
“Oh?” Tiberius replied in surprise. “But why does he need to be kept in stasis then?”
“What Phi Rho means,” Lokus jumped in, “is that Mazer collapsed during the Gamoran surprise attack. He suffered a severe blow to the head and we cannot be certain of the extent of the neurological damage. We could not afford to risk his health, as I’m sure you can appreciate, and we could not be certain we could trust anyone to help. The Gamorans seem to have agents everywhere we turn.”
Tiberius nodded. “We can’t be too careful. It would be best to keep him in stasis until I get back to Terra.”
“That would be best,” Lokus agreed.
Nero exchanged a look with Riggs, who frowned in confusion but said nothing. Nero decided that staying out of the conversation was definitely the right approach.
“Rest assured, I will find Mazer the very best care,” Tiberius continued. “I promise that your captain will return to you in excellent health, regardless of the expense.”
A short while later, Nero breathed a sigh of relief as the Enterprise translated into the warp. The Sinerians had not succeeded in reclaiming Palados, but with Tiberius rescued, a new ship added to their fleet and the gift of the gun-cutter Tiberius planned to leave them with, Nero felt optimistic about the future for the first time since the Gamoran surprise attack.
The journey to Footfall proved to be free of disturbances and even faster than Nero had hoped, although the Enterprise returned to real space uncomfortably close to the void colony. Nero frowned, this was becoming a habit. He would have to have a word with the navigator.
Even before the Enterprise completed docking, an army of dubious characters hailed the Sinerians to offer services and wares. Alarak disembarked and headed off into the markets in search of a Heretek for some cybernetic augmentation. Riggs left with him. Lokus chose to do business with a withered man with oversized augmetic eyes who introduced himself as Fitzgig. Nero listened without interest as Lokus haggled over the price of parts and repairs.
“You’ll ruin me, but fine, fine, it’s a deal,” replied Fitzgig on the holodisplay.
“Wonderful,” Lokus replied. “I’ll leave you to finalize the technical details with my companion, Phi Rho 81. I’m off to purchase a little something for me. Perhaps a Mordian power sword…”
Lokus left the bridge while Phi Rho began discussing the specifications for the new modules to be added to the raider.
“I need a name for your second ship for my records,” said Fitzgig.
Phi Rho 81 shrugged and looked impassively over at Nero. The void master cracked a half-smile as he answered. “Why, it’s the Renaissance, of course.”