Star Questor - Episode 001: Ambush

Inspired by the likes of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Jack Swift, Brick Bradford, Don Dixon, Speed Spaulding, John Carter of Mars, and numerous other space heroes featured in the pages of pulp magazines like Amazing Stories, this post is the start of an ongoing sci-fi adventure. Each episode is just a thousand words or so in length, and the focus is on space thrills and action. 

Episode One - Ambush

The long range sensors were the first systems on the ship Dark Rider to notice the threat, almost too late, but not quite.
"Hostiles detected," the ship's computer, an artificial intelligence named Rider, said, and Star Questor Sheen thought he heard an edge of fear in the AI's voice.
"What kind of hostiles, Rider?" Sheen asked.
"Robots," Rider told him. "From the patterns they're flying, I'd say robots, and they are definitely hostile. They're shooting at us. Two of them."
"Can you handle them?" Sheen asked.
As if in answer, the bridge rocked and Sheen was thrown sideways against the safety harness holding him in his command chair.
"They are fast, well armed, and they got in close before I saw them," Rider told him. "I can't identify the craft type or class. Their capabilities are unknown."
"Okay," Sheen growled, teeth chattering as the bridge again juddered to hits from incoming rounds impacting the shields, "but can you handle them?"
"I'm trying," Rider said. "I have a good view of them now. I'm putting them on your screen. Have you seen anything like these two units?"
"No," Sheen said, squinting at two bronze arrowheads as they maneuvered against a backdrop of stars. "Never seen the like. But they don't look like Buzzers."
"No," Rider agreed, sounding distracted. The ship's computer was obviously putting a lot of processing power into calculating spreads of fire that might catch their maneuverable adversaries, leaving little computing power left over for talking.
"They sure can dodge," Sheen observed.
"Yes," Rider said, still too preoccupied to generate naturalistic responses to what he was saying.
"Oof," came involuntarily from Sheen's mouth, as all the air exploded from his lungs. It felt like the Dark Rider had been instantly displaced a few yards to starboard.
"Shield breach," Rider informed him. "Enemy fire is impacting the hull."
"You don't say," Sheen croaked, between gasps for air. "Have you managed to hit either of the hostiles yet?"
"Yes," Rider said. "Their shields are holding. No structural damage has been caused."
"And us?"
"We have taken structural damage," Rider confirmed.
"We're going to lose this one, aren't we?" Sheen asked.
"The hostile autonomous fighters outclass us in weapons power, maneuverability, and possibly also shields. Our chances of defeating them are slim."
“Okay,” Sheen nodded, “then I guess it's time to run. Let's get out of here, Rider. Full speed, ahead.”
“Complying,” Rider said, and Sheen felt himself pressed back into the cushions of his command chair by massive G forces.
“Are we losing them?” Sheen asked.
But before Rider could answer, again the bridge bucked and shuddered, and the hull made some noises that Sheen did not like at all. It was a sound like metal being torn as easily as if it was paper.
“Structural damage is becoming unsustainable,” Rider said. “The hostile units are gaining on us.”
“Can we jump to faster than light speed?” Sheen asked.
“We just lost an FTL vane,” Rider informed him. “Without it-”
“By the powers!” Sheen cursed, interrupting the AI's damage report. “We can't outrun them, we can't outfight them, we can't jump… What can we do?”
He slammed his hand into his control console in rage, his eyes glinting as he glowered at the hologram screen projected in front of him. He saw the two bronze arrowheads, now close enough that he could make out the guns mounted in flexible turrets at the noses, and flashes of light that meant those guns were firing at him. The hostiles looked impressive, he had to give them that. They were almost like angular works of art, as if the artist had tried to capture speed and solidity in bronze. Their dull, glossy angles stood out in sharp relief against the dark of space, like the folded wings of moths.
“What are these things?” Sheen asked, as his eyes followed their swooping flight paths, and then he saw a nearby moon. “Wait. That moon.”
“What about it?” Rider asked.
“I have an idea,” Sheen told him. “We go close, use it for cover.”
“Hide, you mean?” Rider said.
“Hide, yes, exactly,” Sheen said. “Give me the helm.”  He grabbed the joystick in front of him, his eyes locked onto the moon. He had done this maneuver once before, and now he was straining to remember exactly how it went. He felt a surge of confidence well up within him. “I can do this,” he told Rider.
“The moon is too far away, even at maximum speed,” Rider said.
“Shut your mouth,” Sheen growled. “I can make it.”
The bridge was slammed so hard that Sheen felt something pop in his chest, a rib most likely, and his hand came off the joystick.
“Structural integrity is failing,” Rider told him.
“By the powers!” Sheen yelled. “Who are these guys? Why are they attacking us?”
“They're not,” Rider said. “They're breaking off the engagement.”
“What?” Sheen gasped.
“The two hostile autonomous fighters are moving away,” Rider repeated. “They have stopped firing at us.”
“What?” Sheen said again, still unable to believe his luck. “That's great. So we're going to get out of this?”
“Not necessarily,” Rider said, after a pause. “We are in an unstable orbit around that moon, and our sublight engines just went offline. We're going down.”
Sheen slumped in his command chair, noticing now that the constant subliminal hum of the engines was gone. With the FTL engines missing a vane and sublight drive offline, the Dark Rider was dead in space, just waiting for the massive moon to pull it down.
“I could repair the engines,” Sheen offered hopefully.
“Not in time,” Rider told him. “I would instead recommend enjoying the view.”
Sheen gazed at the moon, still oncoming because the last thing the engines had been doing before they died was that they had been pushing the Dark Rider at the giant ball of dirt with all their power.
“It is a good looking moon,” Sheen said. “Is that an atmosphere?”
“Yes,” Rider told him, “and the bluish green is a biosphere. A lush environment of rain forest and patches of savanna.”
“I'm not going to die,” Sheen said. “I'm going to land this tub.”
“Gravitics?” Sheen ventured.
“There’s not enough power in our gravitic generators to stop us falling out of orbit,” Rider said.
“Maybe not…” Sheen said, before unclipping his safety harness and running from the bridge.
“I mean it,” Rider called after him, from speakers on the bride. “You should just relax and enjoy the view. It will likely be the last thing you ever see.”

The story continues in the next episode - Episode 002: Skyfall

Star Questor takes place in the same universe as the sci-fi series called Dark Galaxy, which starts with Galaxy Dog

What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet brings to light an ancient archeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy.

While you wait for the next episode of Star Questor, the entire Dark Galaxy series is available to buy from Amazon. Just click the link to learn more about the world of Star Questor and Dark Galaxy.