The repairs were completed too hurriedly. That was one theory. It was rumored among the populous that the damage inflicted by the Shawmut invasion had been more serious than even the Admiral and Captain of the Millenium Falcon could know. A small contingent made a compelling argument for sabotage, either as a parting shot from Bellicose and the Shawmuts, or an advance black operation by the Werblin. In any case, the first clue that something was amiss came shortly after the MF left drydock (though why it was called a drydock was anyone's guess, since there was no free liquid in space). First, the MF shook violently.
"What the hell was that?" Ryan looked around the bridge. It was a rhetorical question, as it was evident from the blank looks on the bridge that no one had a clue what they had just encountered.
Second Lieutenant Konz, a centerpiece of the Captain's Guard, looked at him quizzically. "Did we lose an engine?"
Ryan checked the monitors, "No, those systems are good." He looked out at the starfield and noticed it first. The stars wobbled. The rest of the bridge crew followed his shocked gaze.
"Jonesy," he said to Lieutenant Julio Jones, "go to the GFDM and check out the warp drive."
"Aye," said Jones over his shoulder, already running.
Ryan checked to insure the warp controls were disengaged, as he watched the starfield carefully. "We need to be sure we're in the right place when the Werblin arrive," he said thoughtfully.
Suddenly, the MF shook violently again. The stars didn't wobble this time, they lurched. And then they disappeared.
* * *
Rumbutter's communicator beeped.
"This is Delando," he piped.
"They're gone, man, they're just gone."
Rumbutter recognized the voice, his inside contact with the Millenium Falcon. "Who's gone?"
"All of ‘em. The MF. It's gone."
Rumbutter was riveted. "Gone where?"
"We don't know," the caller wailed. "They were on their way to the presupposed interception point, and then they just disappeared...no, wait...they're back..."
"They're back?" Rumbutter felt like his mind was wading through molasses.
"Damn, now they're gone again. Oh, god, the Werblin just skipped."
"Skipped?" Rumbutter's brain was almost completely out of gear now, as he struggled to piece this thing together.
"Yeah, skipped. They entered the system right where we thought they would, but we're not ready...oh, jeez..."
Rumbutter could see it now on the monitor feed. Something was definitely wrong with the Millenium Falcon. It popped into view, wavered, then disappeared. Then it popped into the same space again. The Werblin were quicker to figure it out, and poured fire into the spot where the Millennium Falcon intermittently appeared. The hits were coming...
* * *
Captain Ryan dodged flying hazards on the bridge, trying to avoid a debilitating injury. He snapped at Ensign Holmes, "See if you can protect that side long enough to get Tony out there...he's all we have left!"
Konz was struggling to block flying debris, and Ryan had to continue dodging the onslaught.
"What the hell is going on?" yelled Second Lieutenant Rodgers.
"Space time anomaly," said Ryan grimly. "I think we have a problem with the Gavimetric Field Displacement Manifold."
Rodgers jumped in the way in time to deflect some flying debris that Ryan didn't see coming from the side. "Jeez, I hope Jonesy's all right."
"Me, too," said Ryan. He stepped up purposely to the MF control panel, grabbed the controls and stared out at the battle zone. It wasn't just the stars anymore. Even the Werblin were wobbling.
* * *
Rumbutter watched as the Millenium Falcon absorbed hit after hit. They gamely fought back, and it seemed in the latter stages of the battle, they were regaining control of the ship. Rumbutter began to regain control of his mind. He started sending Sparks, after his contact within the MF support crew reconnected a contact stream with the ship.
"White out, may not return."
"Gonzales reaches 200 consecutive battles with a hit on the opposition."
"Jones out, no information on his condition."
On some of the Sparks, he carefully placed links for "more information," designed to steer Sparkle readers to the Galactic Journal/Planet's pay for premium content site.
Finally, he sent his last Spark of the battle.
* * *
Captain Ryan sagged in his chair in the wardroom, surrounded by the detritus of battle. The Millenium Falcon had been hit hard again, perhaps harder than it had ever been before. The smell of the room was acrid, and somewhere a severed connection arced intermittently. The space tugs were towing what was left of the MF back to its home base for repairs. Several officers stopped to offer condolences, or encouragement. Finally, Vice Admiral Koetter came in. He'd made a special trip from his Skybox battle view pod.
"Matt, you did all you could."
"Thank you, sir. I'm afraid it wasn't enough."
Koetter sighed. "We've taken some shots. You've lost a lot of weapons. Don't blame yourself."
"I'll try not to, sir."
After Koetter left, the gloom resettled in the wardroom. Ryan thought it couldn't get worse. Then a warp drive mechanic knocked at the broken door, tears streaming down his dust-caked face.
"I'm sorry to bother you here, sir, and I know I'm not allowed. But I thought you'd want to be one of the first to know."
Ryan looked at him, heart sinking. "What is it?"
"It's Jonesy, sir. We found him in the GFDM. He got exposed to the antideuterium and it melted the adamantium pins in his leg, along with some other impacts."
"How bad is it?" Ryan expected the worst, but not the answer.
As the mechanic spoke, a sob broke from his throat. "He's gone, sir."