To The End, The Bitter End

"Main Gun in ready position, standing by." Claudia shifted her gaze to another readout. "Energy reading at present niner-five-zero."

Lisa winced internally. "The Admiral was right. That's only enough energy for one shot, so make it a good one." She glanced at her radar display. It would not do to have friendly forces taken out by the Main Gun's firing. As she started clearing the picture, her eyes were drawn to a particular blip - one with an instantly recognisable tag. "Rick!" she shouted into her mike, "Rick Hunter, is that you?"

The voice that came back was hesitant, almost disbelieving. "'Lisa! I must be hearing things!'"

Lisa wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. She swallowed hard to rid herself of a lump in her throat. "No you aren't. I'm aboard the SDF-1, Rick. We're preparing to fire the Main Gun, so I strongly suggest you get out of there."

Rick's voice was full of mirth. "'You don't have to tell me twice.'" Outside, Skull-one flew alongside Khyron's ship. Behind him two more Valkyries came into line as Miriya and Max's voice filtered through the Comm channels. "'There's Rick. Let's fly cover for him, Max.' 'Roger.'"

Lisa glanced at her controls, a sense of urgency building. "Hurry up, Veritechs! The firing sequence is already engaged!"

"'Come on, Rick!'" yelled Max over the Comms. "'Let's get out of here!'"

"'Right behind you'," came the reply. All three Veritechs went to Fighter mode and kicked in the afterburners, propelling them away from the targeted cruiser.

Gloval waited a few more seconds to ensure their safety, then "Now fire!"

"Aye-aye," replied Claudia. "Main Gun firing!" Around them, the bridge shook as the Main Gun began to discharge. Almost at once, a warning buzzer sounded. "Warning on magnetic bottling. Something's wrong!"

"Trying to divert power," announce Lisa in what she hoped was a matter-of-fact voice. "Routing power from main engines."

Claudia's voice pierced through the ragged scream of the Main Gun. "It's too late!"

Out through the transparent expanse of the bridge, the crew watched as the beam from the SDF-1's main gun coalesced out of thin air, then suddenly broke apart and blowtorched outwards, encompassing the ship's weapons array. Part of the beam grazed Khyron's cruiser, scoring a great gash upon its port underside.

Sirens and klaxons were sounding their death-dirge all around the bridge. Gloval ignored them as he watched the Zentraedi ship continuing its advance on them. On either side of the bridge, the gigantic tines of the Main Gun were melting and disintegrating, as if hit by a thermite charge. "Status report!"

"'Main engines have shut down'," came the reports from around the bridge. "'We have lost main power.' 'Auxilliary batteries at twenty percent.' 'Flame-out in thrusters two to six. Thruster one now overheating.' 'Loosing attitude control.' 'Zentraedi ship now on collision course.'"

Gloval snapped his safety-belt on. "Everybody hang on!"

Khyron's cruiser accelerated toward the SDF-1. It plowed straight into the Fortress's left shoulder, shearing it from the rest of the ship. Thrown off by the impact, Khyron's cruiser twist slightly along the horizontal, its engines smashing against the side of the SDF-1's command tower. The cruiser continued on its descent once past the SDF-1 and plowed into the ground, erupting into flames as explosions racked it.

"Bozhe moi!" The exclamation came from Gloval as he straightened himself upon his chair. "Everybody all right?"

Around the room, answers came back to him - Claudia had knocked her head on her upper console, Vanessa had a broken arm, Kim was favouring the left side of her ribcage, both Sammy and Lisa were shaken but otherwise unhurt. Smoke poured out of the damaged consoles, disappearing slowly through cracks in the ceiling. Outside, the large plexi-dome covering the front of the bridge tower had shattered and pieces of it hung limply from the upper supports.

Lisa broke out a hand extinguisher and proceeded to douse the consoles. "Two control centres destroyed in less than an hour. This just isn't my day."

Claudia looked up from her displays and smiled. "At least we're still alive to complain about it. Commo's down, though - we can't call for medics, we'll have to get to them ourselves."

"Sammy," asked Gloval as he struggled to unjam his seatbelt, "go and see if you can raise help."

"Yes, sir!" answered Sammy before disappearing through the door. She returned just as quickly. "Captain Gloval? We have a problem, sir - the stairwell's been crushed."

Gloval sighed. "And the lifts?"

"There's no response and I think the doors are jammed."

"Well, girls," said Gloval as he finally untangled himself from his seat, "it looks like we'll have to wait for help to get to us."

"It might take a whil-" Lisa got no further; the emergency lights on the bridge turned amber and a klaxon began to sound.

"We have a malfunction in the bridge tower's gravity generators," announced Claudia.

"What's the situation?" asked Gloval.

"They've begun a massive power-buildup. Computer estimates five minutes before blowout."

"'Blowout'?" repeated Sammy

Claudia turned to face the rest of the bridgecrew. "That's when the generators overload in a massive gravity burst."

Vanessa was heard swallowing hard. "That is not good."

"Claudia; any chance of this malfunction being seen to in the next four minutes?" Gloval was mentally crossing his fingers, already knowing the answer.

"It'd take at least ten minutes to get at them."

"Very well, then," sighed Gloval. "Evacuate the bridge. We'll have to take the escape pod."

Lisa smashed a plexiglass case on the side of her console and punched a button. The circular design at the centre of the bridge began to rotate as it unlocked and lifted to open the chute that led to the bridge's dedicated escape pod. She and Captain Gloval approached the chute and peared inside. "I only hope the pod still wor-"

An explosion sounded just above both their head. Gloval looked up and shoved Lisa forward into the chute. With a yelp, Lisa disappeared down the darkness just before part of the ceiling fell onto Gloval and the chute's hatch, sealing it.

"Captain!" Gloval groaned as Sammy started to clear the debris from his body. "Captain, are you all right?"

"I have felt better," admitted Gloval. "Lisa?"

Claudia nodded. "She made it down the chute. Any moment now." Beneath their feet came a soft rumbling that signalled the automated launching of the escape pod. "Two minutes 'till blowout." she added softly.

"I guess we missed the last train out of town," joked Gloval as he pulled out his pipe and tobacco pouch.

"CAPTAIN!" Sammy's voice sounded strained, on the verge of hysteria. Gloval and the others turned towards her as she looked at the captain, tears streaming from her eyes, her chin quivering. "There.. there's no smoking on the bridge, sir." she stated with a restrained sob.

He looked at her, then at his pipe. "I... I was just holding it," he recited from memory, "I wasn't going to light it." Sammy smiled through her tears.

Closing his eyes, Gloval laughed.

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