There seemed no method to the madness that broke out. Endriss watched Visk prepare to give the order, his hand raised, set to fall, the firing squad awaiting their signal. Then everything fell apart.
The bulkhead was blasted off the wall, allowing in a number of troops—armed men wearing the insignia of Ila’s Voice. No one knew who was shooting who, who the enemy might be, who was still friendly. Only one side of the fight seemed privy to that kind of info. Bullets sliced the air, cutting down one person after another, death indiscriminately stealing the breath and blood of soldiers, all scattering, some toppling to the deck.
In the commotion, Endriss thought about one thing. Quickly scanning the deck, keeping low as the firefight continued, he found Visk on the ground. Rushing to the commander, finding him still alive, with what strength he could manage, Endriss dragged Visk from the hangar and out into the passageway. As he moved, a number of armed men surrounded them, guarding them as they went; as if by instinct, Endriss didn’t doubt these men were still their comrades.
They stopped at the midsection of a particular corridor, outside the door to the med bay. Endriss, having looked over Visk, saw that two rounds had landed in the commander, one in the arm, the other in the side of his abdomen. Through the bulkhead, ignoring the medical officers confusion inside, Endriss found an emergency kit and returned.
There would be no time to remove the actual slugs from Visk, but a numbing spray and some bandaging, combined with his nano-net’s efforts, would at least get him back on his feet. Baring his teeth, his eyes closed tightly, Visk endured the stab and burn of having his wounds so hastily dressed. Breathing heavily once the procedure was finished, he panted one word to Endriss and the others.
Once he caught his breath, helped to his feet by Endriss and another guard, Visk resumed command.
“Get me to the hangar deck,” he said. “We need to secure that bay, make sure the remaining ships get out of here safely.”
“What about the FTL residue?” Endriss asked, pulling the commander’s good arm over his shoulder, following his directions even as he asked. “Won’t the enemy vessels outside still manage to track them?”
“We’ll give them enough time,” Visk assured him, straining as he walked. “The op’s not over yet.”
The sounds of battle from any corridor made them change course on their way to the main hangar. With time, Visk was able to walk on his own, yet their advance through the ship was slow. By the time they arrived at the hangar, the entrance was finishing up a skirmish. The last of a few soldiers outside the bay fell to the deck, shot dead by others beyond the bulkhead.
“Identify yourselves!” a voice demanded from inside the hangar as Visk, Endriss, and the rest of their team approached.
“Commander Visk, and the master of the guard,” Visk called back, ignoring the stabbing in his side. “Plus a few others, allies.”
A few men came out to meet them, providing cover and escort back into the bay, closing the bulkhead behind them.
“What’s the status of the away ships?” Visk asked immediately.
“All scheduled ships have departed, sir,” reported the hangar’s chief. “We managed to hold off the insurgency, prevent them from taking out our parties as they boarded.”
“How many FTL-equipped vessels are left?” asked Visk, looking over the now bare deck, emptied of many of the spacecraft it normally carried.
“Two— no, three,” was the reply. “Most of them were used in the evac, but there are some left.”
“Perfect.” Visk turned to the team that had led him this far, including Endriss. “I need anyone who’s not ready to die to get aboard those three ships and rendezvous with our allies, while there’s still time.”
A lengthy pause was all the response he received.
“Did I stutter?” Visk roared with newfound life. “Move your asses!”
Sheepishly, the team began to split, some heading for the remaining vessels as others stayed behind. Among them, Endriss remained where he was.
Visk approached Endriss in particular, pulling him away from the group.
“I need you to leave now,” Visk told him plainly.
“Sir, I can’t do that,” protested Endriss. “You need me here. I’m not leaving.”
“I don’t need you here, Keitimas; I need you with the rest of the revolution.”
“What are you—?”
Swinging Endriss about, grabbing him by the shoulders, Visk looked squarely at his junior officer.
“Listen to me. We lost this battle, but the war is not over. You hear me? This war is not over.”
Visk could feel Endriss squirm in his grip as the gravity of their situation became all the more apparent.
“We failed here, Keitimas,” Visk said in a hushed voice. “We screwed up everything, and now it’s too late. But we’re not dead yet. The revolutionaries know our hierarchy; they know you rank below only me.”
“What’re you saying?”
“I’m going to clean up our mess,” Visk said firmly, his face close to Endriss’. “You know I’ve got a backup plan for everything, and today’s no exception. As for you, you need to carry on what little success we had here. This fight isn’t over, and the others will need someone like you to see this through to the end. Do you understand?”
Visk could tell Endriss was fighting to keep it together, to remain the dignified soldier he had always been. He could also see how hard this was on him.
“Is that an order, sir?” was all Endriss could manage to ask, fighting the trembling in his own voice.
“Yes,” was Visk’s response, “but not from your commanding officer. From your brother in arms. Go—finish what we started.”
With that, Visk started for the hangar’s exit, leaving Endriss where he was. So long as Keitimas Endriss survived this, he told himself, they would still have a chance; and as for himself, he would stay behind and attempt to atone for his mistakes. The mistakes that had left who knew how many of his own loyal crew dead.
Visk heard Endriss call out to the surrounding crew.
Turning around, he half-expected Endriss to have him seized, relieved of command, something to toss him on one of the outgoing shuttles—but he knew Endriss was better than that. Instead, he found Endriss standing at attention.
“To the commander of Ila’s Voice, salute!”
In unison, with all the vigor and respect they had shown before their operation had taken its dark turn, each member of the crew honored Visk.
Resisting the urge to be overwhelmed by what he felt he did not deserve in the least, Visk mirrored their salute. There they stood, men and women who knew each other by name, and some who knew each other only by their common cause—together bound.
The crew returned to their work, and Endriss joined the small cloud of escapees as Visk proceeded out of the hangar with a number of soldiers ahead of him and behind.
“Where can we take you, sir?” asked one of the leads. “Anywhere you need, we’ll make it happen.”
Visk knew exactly where he needed to go. It was the last opportunity he would have to end this bloody operation once and for all.
“Get me to the command deck.”
So they traveled deeper into Ila’s Voice, amid the carnage still playing out.