With a flare of energy, the shield crackled, brightened, then dimmed dramatically. The ship seemed to lurch slightly, but nothing else happened.
        "Report, Jacobson," he ordered the engineer.
        "Sir, shield number six is down by 75 percent. No internal damage. As Lieutenant Commander Joprin surmised, the explosion was equivalent to a type-IV drone."
        Folomar grunted. We certainly can't handle many more of those. He studied the tactical screens intently. I believe this is going to work. I think I can safely launch our probe drones now.
        He gave the order. Within seconds, eight probe drones joined the four previously launched, and began seeking the Space Manta as the ship and the electronic warfare fighter launched their drones. The fighter continued following them in until they reached 60,000 kilometers, then turned to clear the area.
        "Continue to close." I know this is not the plan, but I'm not going to take a chance on not getting the information we need. Two probes from the probe launchers may give us the added information that we need to call this mission a success.
        The big cruiser swept in closer. The first volleys from the Manta began to spatter across the forward shield. They were forced to shoot down another parasite as they reached 60,000 kilometers and then yet another one as they closed to less than 40,000 kilometers.
        "Launch both probes!"
        "Launching probes, Captain!" Garner replied.
        Wham! A massive volley of organic shrapnel sheeted across the front shield. The shield wavered and then dropped. Wham! Wham! Wham! Sledgehammers of molten fury began to walk across the primary hull. Folomar could hear the damage reports begin to flood in over the communication channels that Ensign Ross was monitoring. The ship shuddered at more impacts.
        He held onto the sides of his command chair with an iron grip. The next few seconds would be the difference between life and death for his crew and his ship. With the probes launched, they were free to leave. He flipped the ship-wide intercom switch.
        "All hands, brace for emergency turn!" He flipped the switch off. While most people and items should be secured, there was always a chance that someone could be severely injured if they did not brace themselves against what was to come.
        "Helm, prepare to execute the turn. Turn 180 degrees! On my mark, MARK!"
        The helmsman did not acknowledge the order. His hands flew across his controls. The Powell snapped into the emergency turn, every system, stanchion, and brace on the ship struggling to hold it together against the forces that fought to tear it apart.
        The Powell straightened. Behind it, three more parasites separated from the Manta. With a whine of damaged and protesting engines, the GVX headed for the three fighters that were waiting patiently for their approaching carrier. His intercom buzzed.
        "Folomar here."
        "Captain, we've got the data we need!" He didn't need any help to identify the voice of Doctor Prouter. She continued excitedly. "The only way to kill that thing is to fill it full of lead until it cain't move anymore. If we keep sitting here, you'll make a blister, and we'll all have to sit on it a long time!"
        "Thank you, Doctor." He flipped the intercom off. "Garner, get us out of here! Ross, order all the fighters to meet us at Alpha as soon as they shoot these stragglers off our tail and destroy the two we're still holding! Then we'll decoy the Manta sufficiently far enough away from them so that they should be safe from pursuit. Also, have one of them check the location where Snake one one and one two were destroyed for POIS pods." He didn't bother to verify Prouter's findings. He knew that Jones and Joprin would have already done so. The Powell was in no shape to continue the fight. We're lucky that we still have the power to disengage.
        But they did have the power, and as the fighters destroyed the remaining parasites, he ordered a turn away from them. The Manta, as he had planned, turned to follow them. As soon as he judged that the monster was no longer a threat to the fighters, he ordered a transition to strategic warp. The monster dwindled behind them. Despite the complexity of the organism, it was apparently limited to tactical warp speeds. Folomar gave a sigh of relief and patted his command chair affectionately. You came through for me once again old companion. Thank you.
        He surveyed the damage around them. The survey mission was over for now. The rigors of combat and the emergency turn required a trip to the nearest repair facility. There they would undergo repairs, re-supply, and refurbishment. It would be a nice break from the rigors of duty. He felt himself begin to relax.
        His gaze fell upon the list of casualties. Several names had now been added to the list. The thought of relaxing at the repair station disappeared. There would be no relaxing at the repair station for him. Not until I finish the letters. My duty is to the families of the fallen.

Space Manta

        The creature inwardly voiced a primal scream. The prey, that it had come so close to devouring, had eluded it. Now, it could no longer sense the food beast. Desperately, it searched for some sign of its presence, or of the smaller defensive animals that had separated from the beast, but it could detect nothing.
        With a roar of anguish and ravenous hunger, it turned for the heart of the nebula. It canted its wings and tacked against the pressure of the starlight. Its body automatically shifted into an energy conservation mode. The creature had expended a lot of energy on this hunt. It would be years before it regained the lost energy and ventured from the nebula again.