Chapter 11
Escape

Location: ESS Ticonderoga, Outside Union Space
Date: Wed 10 Jul 121
Time: UST 2213

It had been a hellish 36 hours, but Eva couldn't rest yet. The Shellies weren't resting, so neither could she. She had another four hours to go before she could take another stimpack, but she was already feeling the buzz wear off. Hopefully this would all be over before then.
She had spent eight hours in the substation on Deck 9 with Jeff, studying all the materials on the Kasfeys and doing as much as she could to restore power from there. As she feared, the saboteurs had destroyed the circuits to the engines, so those would have to get swapped out before main power could be restored.
It took another two hours before the Engine Room was secured and she could get into the real work. Jeff had devised the story for her to use. During the shootout between the Specials and the saboteurs, Eva made her way into the maintenance tunnels to call for help. The disruption of internal comms and the chaos of repelling the boarders delayed the response while she did what she could from the substation.
Of course Jeff was nowhere in this story, which was fine. The things he was doing would raise too many questions. If the situation was any less desperate, people might look to poke holes in the story, but it was plausible enough that no one questioned her too vigorously.
Back in the Engine Room, she was able to call in the EM team to replace the circuits, which took a few more hours, and main power had been back up since about 1600. However, they made it look like they were still on emergency power in most parts of the ship on account of Jeff's plan, which Eva somehow managed to sell to Commodore Frazier.
The plan was to make all the preparations for the spacefold while maintaining the appearance of being crippled. Covertly, CS would be locking on to as many targets as it could. Right before they made the spacefold, they'd kick in full power and open up with all batteries, leaving the Shellies with a good sting to slow any possible pursuit.
That wasn't the hard part of the plan. The hard part was convincing the Commodore that she could not only work the Kasfeys, but that she had actually been trained by Captain Huang on the side as a contingency operation.
Commander Gunmoontree's gullibility ultimately saved the day. When considering the late Captain's paranoia and his fixation on her, Commander Gunmoontree actually thought it made sense that Captain Huang had specially selected her and had given her such a hard time to deflect any suspicion from his actual plan. When he put it that way, Eva almost believed it, too.
The Kasfeys were meant to be operated by at least a half dozen people, so Eva had to select people with the adequate background and clearance to help her out. Just giving them the basic course took a couple hours, about as long as she'd given herself to get familiar with the systems. Ever since then she'd been working on the calculations needed to make the spacefold. Because they were outside the network, the nearest beacon was several gims away, which made it difficult to get oriented. A process that would've taken seconds in Union space required painful minutes that were felt all the more keenly given how close they were to their escape.
While she was waiting for the latest update of the nav data, she found herself coming back to a problem she'd been trying to work through as soon as they were able to get some proper sensor feedback. The big Shelly ship that the boarders were coming from, it had docked with the Ticonderoga and clamped her in place. There wouldn't be any way to break free without tipping their hand. All the other Shelly ships could open up on them and destroy the Tico before she could make the spacefold.
The answer had come to Eva a while back, but she'd been weighing the risks the ever since. Jeff had given her a little ear piece and a near invisible patch to place on her voice box so she could communicate with him subvocally. It had been a while since they last talked, but she thought she needed to run this by him.
"Jeff?"
"What's the status?"
"We should be able to activate the spacefold within the next ten to fifteen minutes."
"What's the snag?"
Unsurprisingly, he figured she wouldn't be contacting him just for an update.
"You've been running a counter-hack on the Shellies, haven't you?" she asked.
"Yeah, why?"
"Do you think you could disable their systems?"
"It's certainly possible."
"I don't think we can break free and get the distance we need to make the jump, so I'm going to try to take it with us."
"You're what!?"
He sounded angry.
"Just hear me out," Eva said. "I make the first jump so we're clear of the rest of the Shellies, then we can break free of this big tub and meet up with the rest of the battle group."
Incredulously, Jeff asked her, "Have you seen the scans on that mother? She's packing more than enough firepower to take us out all on her own."
"That's why you're going to shut her down."
The line went silent.
"Jeff?"
A few seconds passed before Jeff came back on the line.
"Okay. You let me know when we're one minute to spacefold."
"Will do."
That was one hurdle out of the way. The actual spacefold was going to be more difficult. The field generated by the Kasfeys wasn't large enough to encompass the Shelly ship, but if Eva boosted the output, it should be possible. Theoretically, at least. It hadn't been tried during Captain Huang's tests of the Kasfeys during Operation Pandora's Box, but according to the Kasfeys' specifications, it was possible to increase the radius up to 60%. All she needed was 40.
It would put a lot of strain on the engines and she could very well burn them out. That'd leave them stuck with that big Shelly monster for company, but if it was disabled, they could either pound away at it until it popped or just hightail it with their regular engines.
Using the standard field, it might just shear off the extra and it might do something else. Eva didn't have any experimental data to go from, so she didn't want to take any chances. She only hoped the other ships nearby would take evasive maneuvers once the Tico opened fire on them. She didn't want any other Shellies tagging along for the ride.
Taking advantage of the virtually unrestricted access Jeff had given her, she brought up the radar data and cross-referenced it with her projected field. They were clear on all sides except for a dreadnought holding position 250 meters below them. It was just barely out of the range of the standard field, but with the expanded field she had the same problem she started with.
She got on the horn with the Skipper. She wasn't used to talking to flag officers, especially not ones as famous as Commodore Frazier, but he was having her report directly to him. Compared to when she first had to tell him and Admiral Mfume her plan, this wasn't half as bad.
"This is Frazier," the Commodore said. "Tell me good news, Chief."
"We can make the jump in ten, sir," she said. "But we've got a problem."
"Don't tell me problems, Chief. Tell me solutions."
"We've got a Shelly dreadnought in our radius. On my mark, sir, I want you to concentrate as much fire as you can on the dreadnought on the ventral side."
"We won't be spreading the love as much that way."
"I know, sir, but getting out of this mess is our priority."
"What about the big cap ship that's got a hold of us? Tracker data shows we've got people inside."
"Well, sir, my idea was to jump to an intermediary point, away from the rest of the Shelly fleet. There we can break free and jump to the rest of the battle group. It'll take time before we can jump again, so if you want to launch a rescue mission, that'll be when you want to do it."
"That sounds like a plan."
"Is CS ready to fire?"
"It'll take a minute or two to readjust to the new target. I'll get back to you. Frazier, out."
Eva continued to monitor the Kasfeys. They weren't liking the increased output she was demanding of them, but they were holding together. Exactly one minute before the jump, they'd power up and open fire. It was also when Jeff wanted her to contact him.
She watched the timer count down. It wouldn't be long now.
"What's the status, people?" she asked the others working on the Kasfeys.
"Engine 1, all green."
"Engine 2, all green."
"Engine 3's at nominal, Chief. It should make it."
The Number 3 was iffy, but they didn't have any choice.
"Chief, this is Frazier," the Commodore said. "We have a firing solution. On your mark."
"Aye-aye, sir."
To her crew, she announced, "T-minus one minute! Get ready to engage!" To Jeff, she whispered, "It's time, Jeff." And, lastly, to the Commodore, she said, "On my mark, sir. Three, two, one... Mark."
Forty seconds...
One hundred twenty missiles, eight torpedoes, forty-four laser arrays, sixteen light particle cannons, four heavy particle cannons, six microwave cannons, twelve ion cannons, and two plasma cannons all fired simultaneously, most of them at the dreadnought directly below them.
Thirty seconds...
The impacts from the missiles were pushing the dreadnought back. Would it be enough?
Another volley from the cannons.
Twenty seconds...
The dreadnought was out of the radius, but the other ships were moving into position and charging their weapons.
Ten seconds...
Incoming fire. The shields should hold.
Nine...
Eight...
Seven...
Six...
Shields down to 60%.
Five...
Four...
Three...
40%.
Two...
One...
...
...
Everything was still.
Did it work?
The screens were all blank.
Stay calm, she told herself. This is supposed to happen. It should boot back up in a few minutes.
The ship didn't rumble or shake, so she didn't think they were still taking fire. She wanted to call the bridge, but she knew navigation and CS would be down for a while, too.
"Stand fast, people," she told her crew. "We should be back in business soon."
Eva stared at her watch. The seconds seemed to pass like minutes, the minutes like hours. Finally she heard the beeps as the system went into the POST. It took about a minute for the boot sequence to complete. She logged into the master terminal and ran a diagnostic.
While the diagnostic was running, she went around and logged her crew into their terminals. It was all she could do for the time being. Going back to the master terminal, she furrowed her brow at the sight of all the error codes cropping up. So far it didn't look like anything she couldn't manage, but it was going to take extra time. She only hoped Jeff was able to disable the big Shelly ship. That'd help a lot, but there were still the boarders to deal with and if Commodore Frazier was serious about launching a rescue operation, she'd have to account for that, too.
Speaking of Commodore Frazier, he came on the line.
"Damn fine work there, Chief," he said happily. "I don't know how you did, but you did it." His excitement was short-lived, though, and in a graver tone, he continued, "But we're not out of the woods yet. How long until we can make the next jump?"
"I'm still running a diagnostic, sir," Eva replied. "It'll be at least three hours, maybe four."
"Keep me posted, Chief. We're going to flush these bastards out of our ship and bring our people home. I want the engines running when it's time to make our getaway."
"I'll do my best, sir."
"Stay on top of it. Frazier, out."
Eva breathed a sigh of relief. No, they weren't out of the woods just yet, but they were almost there. It was still too early for it, but she pulled her second stimpack out of her pocket, opened it up and jabbed it into her thigh. The autoinjector let out a faint hiss and she winced from the sharp but brief pain of the needle. She needed to be on the top of her game. Her work had only just begun.

* * *

Well before Bianchi--no, Eva--left the engineering substation, Jeff had gone back into the maintenance tunnels to stay out of sight when it looked like help might be coming for her. He hadn't been a fan of her plan to take the Sheolite mothership (or whatever you called it) with them, but he talked to N and she agreed to help him bring down the ship's systems. It really wasn't that hard. Their computer tech was actually fairly old, a good forty years behind the times, mostly Union manufacture that was probably stolen during their raids.
Their crypto was a little hard to crack just because they used a quaternary code, which was unlike anything used in the Union. It wasn't that it was too advanced--as the most sophisticated ciphers in use were coded in base-32. It was just different. Basic systems still used binary, but more complex ones tended to use hex or octal. They skipped quaternary. About the only thing it was good for was genetics.
The novelty of the coding aside, it was practically overkill for Jeff and N to take it on together. They were able to get everything in place for when Eva gave the one-minute warning. After that, it was as easy as flipping a switch.
MY HEART WAS POUNDING SO FAST THERE AT THE END.
"You don't have a heart."
YOU ARE TOO CRUEL, MR. WALLACE. PERHAPS IT IS YOU WHO DO NOT HAVE A HEART.
Jeff didn't like it when N toyed with him. It was actually a relief when she was preoccupied with the Sheolite computer.
"Did you get any useful data while you were playing around?" he asked.
I DO NOT KNOW HOW MUCH I WANT TO SHARE WITH SUCH A CRUEL MAN.
"Have it your way."
YOU ARE NO FUN, MR. WALLACE. YOU COULD AT LEAST INDULGE ME BY BEGGING JUST A LITTLE.
He didn't care enough to stoop so low.
PERHAPS YOU ARE GOING TO ABANDON ME NOW THAT YOU HAVE FOUND A NEW GIRLFRIEND. YOU HAVE BEEN STALKING HER FOR SOME TIME AND NOW YOU GOT TO BE HER WHITE KNIGHT. SHE WILL REMEMBER IT, I ASSURE YOU.
"I'm only interested in Eva's usefulness to me," Jeff insisted. "She was my ticket out of this mess. Our ticket. Nothing more."
IT IS SOMETHING MORE THAN THAT IF YOU ARE ON A FIRST NAME BASIS WITH HER. EVEN WE DO NOT SHARE SUCH INTIMACY.
Intimacy? What nonsense. He knew N loved to torment him, but this was just obnoxious.
No doubt spurred on by N's teasing, his thoughts strayed to when he first got Eva into the tunnels, reaching into her pocket to pull out the multitool, straddling her while he cut the zip-ties, being chided for staring at her ass, which he wasn't until she brought it up...
He caught himself absently flexing his hand, the same one that reached into Eva's pocket and felt the smoothness of her thigh. He'd never touched a woman like that before, even if it was entirely incidental.
He clenched his fist and shook his head vigorously.
Damn that N. How could he let her play with his head so easily? He was never going to get out from under her thumb at this rate.
Focus, he told himself.
Eva was doing her bit and he needed to do his. He needed to be ready to assist however he could.
Eva...
Damn that N!