The ship's blazing alarms forcibly awaken Cordieu. Heart racing, eyes wide open, adrenaline pumping, he hurriedly makes his way to the ship's bridge – he had been sleeping in uniform. As he enters the bridge an explosion aboard the vessel causes him to lose his footing, and Cordieu goes crashing down, hitting his head on a console which knocks him unconscious.
“Ugrhhh...” Cordieu blinks a few times and glances around; he was in the ship's medbay. He arduously gathers the strength to sit upright, only to be chastised by one of the medical staff.
“Woah, woah, woah! Easy now, Cordieu”, says the staff member. He places his arms on Cordieu and readjusts his position so he sits upright instead of slouching. “You took quite a hit to the head a couple hours ago. You're lucky you got hit on the temple instead of having your eye gouged out!”
Cordieu squints his eyes, “Rilos? What the hell are you doing here? Where's Doctor Nita?” He rubs his bandaged temple.
Rilos frowns. “Doctor Nita was killed in the explosion which caused you to lose your balance, as was Tressler, Mopai, Harku, Salvina, Orkot, and umm...Doris. We were able to escape, luckily. Captain Ko has promoted me to Chief Medical Advisor. Lucky me, huh?”
“Christ. Well I'll be sure to avoid getting sick...wouldn't want to have you check me out.”
Rilos rolls his eyes and pierces Cordieu with a shot. “The captain wants you to report to the bridge immediately”, he says with a devilish grin on his face.
Cordieu slumps off the bench and caresses the site where he was injected. “Asshole...”, he mumbles as he exits the medbay and starts toward the bridge.
He greets some of the engineer crew who were patching up a segment of the hallway he was walking in. Cordieu was in dire need of a real night's sleep, a luxury which he had not enjoyed for the past three days. The rogue drones have stepped up their attacks, and as a result much of the crew was suffering from sleep deprivation. His uniform is wrinkled and ripped in certain places. Notably, the shoulder patches which would normally have a logo of the Federation sewn in had been torn off – all the crew had their patches torn off.
“Lieutenant Cordieu reporting for duty, captain.” The bridge was undergoing repairs, the last attack had left a few broken panels, destroyed light fixtures, and blown out consoles.
“At ease, lieutenant. How are you feeling?”
“Fine, I guess. Doctor Nita certainly taught Rilos a thing or two...”
“Good, good.” The captain walks over to his chair and takes a seat. “We lost the Devor and Sarkon”, sighs the captain. “That puts us to just three of our original seven. At this rate I'm not sure if we'll make it out alive.”
“Don't say that, Ko. We've fought this long and have survived thanks to you. I'll be damned if I have our captain give up on us now.” Cordieu takes his position beside the captain and examines the damage report. “Hmm...I suggest we abandon the Doma and salvage what we can. Their crew would be distributed between us and the Camille. We can retrofit the remaining half of our drone bay to make accommodations for the new crew.”
Ko nods, “It shall be done. Colonel Jovah, I'm tasking you with organizing the execution of these plans. Lets try and get the whole operation done within two hours. If the recent attacks have suggested anything, it's that the rogue drones attack roughly every two to three hours.” The colonel nods and exits the bridge.
“Rest up a bit, Cordieu, I need you to be at your finest when the drones---”
“Sir, I am at my finest. I can perform my duties plenty well enough.”
“I wasn't asking, lieutenant. Report to your quarters, now”, replied Captain Ko strictly.
“Yes, sir”, mumbles Cordieu, and he exits the bridge. When he finally enters his quarters, he collapses on his bed. Every muscle in his body aches, every vain pops up on his skin, every inch of his skull feels the throbbing of his brain, all of this due to lack of sleep and stress. Cordieu kicks off his shoes and walks over to his desk. He was never one to keep a diary, but he started the day after the drones turned. He figured, if by any chance he and his comrades didn't make it, that some traveler would stumble upon the ship's wreckage and scavenge the valuable account of events.
“Hmm”, he hums as he flips through the pages. Cordieu finally arrives at an empty page and begins writing his fifteenth entry. “Still no sign of any other survivors...We visited another gate today, but it, like every other fucking gate was locked down. The captain has ordered a halt in the transmission of deep-space distress signals, the drones seem to somehow lock on to their frequencies and track us down. I know for a fact those motherfuckers have received them...why haven't they unlocked the damn gates? I hope the suffer agonizing deaths.” He continued, “This whole operation was a mistake. Operation Spectrum Breach...psh, I hope those basterds will pay for the extreme greed they revealed themselves to have. Relying on drones more so than humans to expand their borders so they can reap the profits. If we make it out of here I...” A knock on the door interrupts Cordieu. He sighs.
“Hello, Dayanne. What brings you here?” Cordieu slouches against the wall as he greets the woman who was knocking.
“Just thought I'd stop by and check up on ya...Mind if I come in?”, she responds. Cordieu motions with his hands and she steps inside. “Hope you haven't been doing too bad. You should be glad the captain gave you a break because of that nasty hit to the head you received.” Cordieu shrugs and returns to his desk to continue writing.
“Do you think we'll make it?”
“Of course we will. Sooner or later they are gonna have to unlock those gates, and when they do we can jump the hell out of these regions.”
Dayanne slumps her head, “I don't know...its been only two weeks and our 'fleet' has already been reduced to less than half. I'm starting to lose faith in all honesty.”
Cordieu stops his writing and turns towards her. “We are gonna get through this. Trust me.”
She stares back at him with a blank face. “You should be using this time to get some sleep, I'm sorry I bothered.” She gets up and exits without allowing Cordieu a chance to say goodbye. He rests his hand on his forehead, and massages his temple gently. Cordieu finishes his sentence then closes the diary. He slumps over to his bed and quickly falls asleep within moments of shutting his eyes.
Cordieu awakens six hours later, not by the ship's alarms, but by his own personal alarm clock. The rogue drones had not launched any attacks, oddly enough. Cordieu was suspicious and quickly slips on his boots to find out what happened. The rest of the crew faithfully and tirelessly continue to finish up repairs aboard the battered Dominix hull. Components from the Doma have already been retrofitted on the ship, or are in the process of being retrofitted. Two new small blaster turrets have been added, with four more underway. The Camille is also looking in much better shape than it did eight hours ago. Seeing the determined spirit of the two ship crews fills Cordieu with pride and energy, something he has not felt in quite a while.
“Greetings, lieutenant”, says Captain Ko, “you look rather well-rested.”
“Thank you, sir. Have we not been attacked?”
“Oddly, no. Seems the drones have retreated for now. I suspect they are gathering their forces for a large assault, but it's anyone's guess at this point.” Ko motions for Cordieu to follow. “Come here, I need to show you something.” The captain leads Cordieu into a makeshift lab where they are greeted by Dayanne.
She grins softly at Cordieu, “Nice to see you again, lieutenant. I am assuming you want me to brief the lieutenant in on our findings, captain?” He nods, and she motions the two gentlemen over to her table. “We recovered a fledgling rogue drone during our last encounter. When it came in, it was badly damaged and seemed to have no real dedicated role. In just the course of several hours, however, something shocking has occurred. The fledgling itself seems to be adapting. A little robotic arm grabbed one of my calculators and the thing attached it as though it were an armor plate!”
Cordieu perks an eyebrow. “That's rather disturbing. If this little shit could do something like that imagine what the bigger ones can do...”
“Exactly, that's why I suspect the drones haven't attacked in over six hours. Perhaps they are adapting, they know well enough of our tactics – they are evolving to outsmart us.”
Ko interjects, “That is why we must outsmart them. I have ordered the crew to scan for suitable planets that can sustain life. Hiding out on a planet may be our only chance of eluding these drones.”
“What?!”, cries Cordieu. “Sir, with all due respect, that would be suicide! We need to keep moving, settling in one place they will certainly find us and destroy us.”
“That is why we misguide them. Our crew and that of the Camille will evacuate in shuttles while the two ships act as bait and warp off in a random direction...but there is a problem. In order for the bait to work out effectively, multiple warps would be required to throw the drones off course. Our navigational computers are damaged to the point where warp coordinates must be inputted manually.”
Cordieu frowns, “So basically a few unlucky souls will have to sacrifice themselves for an escape attempt that may not even work out in the end...”
“It's a risk we have to take, Cordieu. We are basically out of options at this point. My order stands.”
“But, sir---”, the ship's alarms blaze before Cordieu could finish his sentence. The ship rocks as it receives payloads, and the three make their way to the bridge. Everyone in the bridge trembles at the sight of what attacks them.
A monstrous drone the size of a battleship cruises just off the Dominix hull. It has a support fleet of various cruiser and frigate size drones that swarm the two vessels.
“What the hell is that?!”, cries one of the deck officers.
“Captain, the Camille's shields are gone, they are reporting severe damage”, a crewman shouts.
“All hands, battlestations! Open fire on the battleship drone! Concentrate all heavy blaster batteries on its engines, all small blaster batteries focus fire on the frigate drones”, commands Captain Ko.
The ship shakes heavily as the Camille bursts into flame and dust in a matter of seconds. The battleship drone now focuses its fire on the lone Dominix.
“The Camille is down, sir! Orders?”, a crewman whose voice is thick with fear responds.
Ko remains silent, still in shock by what just happened.
“Shield are compromised, decks A through E have taken massive damage, hull integrity failing!”
Cordieu glances over at his bewildered captain. His face is motionless and pale. He knows exactly hat his captain is thinking. Cordieu glances out the window at the massive drone swarm surrounding their ship. Dayanne holds him tight and slumps her head on his chest, tears streaming down her face. He holds her back, and caresses her hair softly. Cordieu stares at the center of the bridge's floor, where a giant logo of the Federation has been pressed into the steel. Back then, he saw this seal and felt a surge of pride in being a part of the Federation. Now, he feels a rage of unimaginable proportions at the empire that abandoned him and his crew, and left them for dead against the onslaught of these rogue drones. He sighs and closes his eyes as the hull of the Dominix begins to buckle. This is the fate of those left behind in what is now known as the Drone Regions.