They were giant winged dragons emerging out of the dark sunspots of the star. They had scales that ranged from bright red to blue white, each with identifiable patterns. Their heads were dragon-like, but with curtained mouths like baleen whales. Against the background of the turbulent star it was hard to say how big they were. But soon the Captain was saying that each of them was a lot larger than the Wooden Shoe. There were a lot of them and they were coming fast.
“Warp us out of here,” said the Lieutenant.
“Agreed,” said Lord Elphinstone. “We gain nothing by engaging these things.”
Captain Tchulik Chreste said, “We’re still down on power. We’ll have one good jump and then we have to recharge. We’ve got over 75 percent on weapons, but when we go there, that’s where we stay.”
“Do it, said Dr. Ransom.
“Hang on to something,” the Captain said, and they jumped.
The star was no longer visible, except perhaps as a dot in the general field. “Well, that was--” Senhor Capoeira Capybara began--
--when one of the dragons blinked in nearby.
“--A bad idea,” the Lieutenant finished for him.
Two or three more dragons blinked into existence.
“Monsters who can warp,” the capybara said. “Who knew?”
“Which makes them more than monsters,” the Captain sighed. “Everybody back to your cabins and activate your gun controllers. And that means you too, Jeanette. Every hand to the guns.”
Jeanette hustled down the corridor, as Tchulik’s voice filled the air. “Since they seem to live in the interior of a star, we should bring up our projectile weapons first. We didn’t use them much on our passage into the Wild Reach, so our stores should be full. Where energy won’t do it, exotic warheads may. I’m not inclined to optimism at this point, however.”
Jeanette sat down in the chair that was fused with the bulkhead and rested her hands on the arms. The view came up, and she didn’t like it: over a dozen of the dragons circling inwards towards the ship. It was set up familiarly for her: she went up to a corner to a separate area and cycled through the available weapons, selected the nastiest projectile weapon and brought up the targeting crosshairs.
“Despite their looking like dragons, they don’t seem to breathe fire,” said her father over the comm, “so I suggest we wait until they get closer before opening up.”
“Sensors indicate that their bodies are hot enough to damage the hull if they come en masse, so not too close,” said the Captain.
One of the dragons broke from the circle, and came in. Jeanette started to fire, and so did everybody else.
Some of the projectiles just turned into plasma fireballs, which didn’t affect them at all, so Jeanette switched to rounds that were smaller but hyper-dense. She liked the sound of muonium-iron, which she knew was a bad basis for selecting, but she was rewarded with gaping holes torn in the wings.
The ship was slammed over and over, but Jeanette had very recently been through a lot worse, so she fired without pause. Although she was hitting time after time, she wasn’t getting anything like satisfying damage, and she knew that they would lose at this rate unless something changed.
Tchulik threw off the artificial gravity, and though it made her stomach lurch, the ship began to spin more rapidly, which threw off some of the dragons. Then there was a truly pleasing flash as a dragon’s head splattered into pieces. “Pauli-degenerate shells work!” Said the voice of Lord Silvertyger Elphinstone, and Jeanette switched to those, even though she had by far the least of them.
Momentarily gravity kicked in again, and Tchulik distorted the shields. The Wooden Shoe grappled the headless dragon, and drew it around the body of the ship. More and more the Captain whirled the ship so that the claws of the dragons bit into the corpse instead of the hull.
The battle seemed to be one they would be one they were winning slowly, with the Wooden Shoe being tougher than anticipated, but Jeanette knew that everybody was thinking that they could easily lose--especially if more dragons decided to leave their nests in the interior of the star.
The environment around them was getting so dirty with plasma, bright dragon’s blood and debris that it was impeding the imaging, and Jeanette, careful of losing the Pauli-degenerate shells, was firing less often. They were still making hits, but Jeanette was fighting off the detached-gamer voice inside her who was saying that they were beginning to lose.
Then they came.
Five, six, seven dull black asteroids blinking into place around them, each a hundred times the size of the dragons. From the tapered end of each of them, holes opened with petal-like doors blooming open, revealing brilliant light.
From the openings massive columns of energy flashed out at the dragons. The dragons didn’t incinerate, as Jeanette, watching fascinated, had hoped, but they did begin to burn in their own plasma. One or two of them exploded, and that caused the rest to blink out, running for home.
Comm screens came to life aboard ship. “Hailing the ship! Please identify yourself!” a voice came.
“We are the Wooden Shoe out of the Moon of the Moon, and very glad to see you!” Tchulik responded.
“We are kind of amazed to see you. The Stardrakes are exceedingly rough opponents.”
An image took shape on the screen, and what she saw made Jeanette say to the Captain, “Put me on! Please!”
“I’ll explain later! It’s important! Please!”
“Ahoy the Asteroid! We have come an awfully long way to be with you!” And she held up her white-gloved hands towards the image.”
The uniformed man, skin dark brown with long straight black hair, said “Good god.” And he held up his own white gloves in answer.
Tchulik brought up the images of Terence Ransom, Senhor Capoeira Capybara, O Tse, and the Queen of Hearts, all holding up their white gloves.
“We have come to join the fight against Deep Chaos,” O Tse rumbled.
“I was afraid of that,” said the uniformed men, his face a mask of sorrow.