by Michael Priv
            Will this insanity ever end?
            “Sparky, Matilda reload! All stations stand ready. Code Red checklist!” 2nd Mate’s voice, thick with urgency and desperation in my earpiece. I shudder. Matilda discharge? Here? Suicide. No time for the Code Red safety procedure anyway.
            “Yes, Sir! Matilda reload. Sparky out.” I shout back. “Baltu, power to the bleed capacitors, Start Code Red. Now!” I yell to my only remaining crew, the Second Lineman Baltugirbaldorge—and that is just his first name…
“Ette, no!” he screams, mouth agape, eyes wide with horror, “Suicide! Can’t fire Matilda so close to this damn planet. We’ll fry!” Baltu bleats in his usual irritating falsetto, staring up at me incredulously now and waving his tiny arms in the air. “Suicide, Ette!”
            “Non-compliance?” I bellow. “Order on deck! No Ette here, Second Lineman, you understand? I’m not your girlfriend. Either the Power Drive Commander or Sparky per the Regulations! Get a grip!”
            “Yes, Ma’am!” my diminutive Second Lineman squeaks exactly per the Regs, his hands already frantic on the keyboard, hardwired into his chair console station. Better. No non-compliance in His Majesty’s Space Navy, no Sir, not on my watch.
            “Discharge mark 100, work the main engine!”
            “Yes, Ma’am!”
            We are a flurry of motion in our power plant Control Room. It is really a three-person job. I lost Bull to an accident earlier. Just the two of us left running the power plant now.
            The battle monitors above my head indicate that our Destroyer initiated a maneuver which, with any luck, would bring us behind the huge enemy battle base with the enemy hull shielding us from the yellow planet not even a thousand miles away.
            Matilda is not a weapon. It is just a surplus power discharge system—essentially a capacitor—which is designed to bleed excess power, generated by our power plant, out into the open space to prevent overload and an explosion of the power plant. In this case, the immense surplus power discharge blast would bounce off the nameless planet nearby, knocking off anything alive larger than a lady bug—if there was any life there—then return as a backlash and wipe us out. Theoretically, we’d have a survival chance if we managed to sit out the worst of the backlash behind the massive battle base hull. What an impossible maneuver! We must be really desperate. We are really desperate.
            On the battle monitors overhead I see a multitude of small dots circling all around and converging upon us from all directions. Judging by our constant half-rotations and lurching pattern, some of our starboard sensory equipment is gone. A blip that represents one of the enemy fighters on the monitor flairs up for an instant and then vanishes. Our firepower overwhelmed their force screens. Too bad we won’t overwhelm much of anything else for a while. I am cutting down the power to our guns already to create the surplus energy that we need. 
            2nd Mate’s voice, ringing with anxiety, “Sixty seconds, all stations! May Great Minda be with you all!”
            The count-down just indicates that exact instant when we fire Matilda or die. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the degree of my readiness to fire. At my end, first I have to have 100% on all the power levels. We are getting there. Only then could the bleed-out capacitors start absorbing the excess power.
            The ship rocks in earnest under enemy fire now with the minimal force screens to protect us. Lights momentarily flicker off and on, sirens blare, indicating structural damage. All the minimal levels are calculated and constantly adjusted by the main computer that we lovingly call the Ogre. I hope the Ogre is right. It usually is.
            “Power on easy!” bleats Baltu.
            We are not going very far now with the power plant output essentially going nowhere but directly to the bleed capacitors.
            Baltu is a Rikuyan. He is dark, small and hairy, about half my size. He used to tell me, staring straight up into my eyes longingly, that he liked to make love to large women. Have to admit that his attention used to cause a certain minimal stir in my loins. Not any more, though. Not since I promised myself to Din. I am Din’s woman now.  My dearest Din...
            Baltu is typing feverishly on his console and working the Power Grid panel now, I am pounding in my weapon energy codes to adjust the gunnery output while reducing the life-support levels—carefully—coordinating with Ogre on the interface link. Tables and algorithms are streaming down my main diagnostics screen--too much data and way too fast to be of much use, but I get the gist and make slight adjustments.
            “2nd Mate, double Bristol guns down to twenty percent, Riders are still at fifty-eight! Sparky out,” I report into my comm piece. Our main guns are basically useless now and the eight small ones are down to a bit over half-capacity. We can no longer penetrate the enemy force screens even with sustained fire. But we continue firing with same intensity just to conceal our intention to fire the Matilda. The enemy has skillfully herded us to this planet specifically in an attempt to capture us by neutralizing the Matilda. Now we are forced to fire the Matilda regardless.
            Just seconds left. I love you, Din. I feel my heart squeeze painfully and bitterly. Din, my lover, is the Special Ordinance Officer, just a couple of compartments away. My dear, dear Din. We are both from Ro. Din and I, we want kids when this insanity ends. Several. He would make such an excellent father, so gentle and patient. We wanted to grow old together. Will that ever be?
            “Sparky, twenty seconds! Count-down in ten. Make me proud! 2nd Mate out.”  
            “Yes, Sir!”       
            The count-down starts. Sirens blaring throughout the ship. We quickly strap ourselves. I mumble a quick prayer to the Eternally Kind Minda asking Him to keep Din safe. I would not ask for myself. I never believed in Minda—up to this instant. Is it too late..?
            “...four... three...” here we go, ready or not “... two... one!” I hit the discharge button and our Corsair heaves and lurches mightily. As we keep sliding into the safety of the Battlebase shadow, the blow of backwash turns everything up-side down. There is an explosion somewhere, sparks flying from my main control station. The force literally rips my console chair out and hurtles it sideways across the room, slamming my body hard, something snaps, something hits me on the head. The last thing I see is a heavy auxiliary power cell unit flying through our small Control Room straight into Baltu’s small body. 
            And the dead body of the Second Lineman Baltugirbaldorge is the first thing I see as I regain consciousness. My little friend. Baltu’s chest is crushed by the runaway auxiliary cell blown off its strapping. I cannot focus and feel absolutely nothing below my neck. I feel many things above my neck, none of them good.  Dead silence envelops me comfortably on all sides. My mother is smiling at me, her dear face framed in soft auburn hair I knew so well, whispering, “Sleep, my baby, sleep.”  Her voice gently washes over the painful raggedness of my heart, healing, calming.
            Where am I? Why is everything so silent? I strain to understand and finally realize that the explosion blew out my eardrums. The world is heaving up and down around me, like a boat on stormy sea. Up. Down. Up. Down.
Must get up and check on the others. I am an officer. I have to check on Din, too. I cannot move. “Din!” No sound comes out. Or is it just that I can’t hear the sound? Do sounds exist if you can’t hear them? Of course they do.
            Boating with my family, fun-filled sunny day, lazy waves lapping the bow. My father taught us to fish. I caught a cute silvery one and let it go. My brother Luniy laughed and called me a sissy. I open my eyes. “Hi, Luniy!” My brother is standing over me, muscular and young, looking at me, smiling. I love you, my big brother. Have I ever told you I loved you? Probably not.
Things clear up a bit. Oh, the man standing over me is not Luniy. How disappointing. It is the Signals Officer Burak. He is not smiling. Not even a little. I guess he is the highest ranking officer now. He is giving me an injection in the neck.
            Is it a sedative or poison? The euthanasia pump is red, it is locked in a separate zipped compartment of my emergency kit. I do not see the color of the pump or how and where it came from.
          “Burak, don’t kill me,” I am begging now, “it’s just a concussion, I’ll be okay, I can still run the engine room. Please!”
No sounds come out. I close my eyes. I am too tired to contemplate the insanity. Was it the sedative or the poison? The red pump or the blue pump?
            I feel good. I feel calm. We’ll be all right, Din. I love you. We’ll be all right. I’m gently falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, falling, fa...
                                                                                                                                                                                   © 2014 Michael Priv. All Rights. Reserved.