This story is by Tim Nicol and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Admiral Peter Kane stood tall, straight, and silent on the darkened bridge of the flagship that bore his name. A dim light reflected off the smooth metal of the reconstructed half of his face. A murmur of anticipation was the only sound.
Outside a red gas giant slowly eclipsed a dim dying sun. Space was thick with the unnatural straight lines and pointed curves of Admiral Kane’s fleet, dark shadows against the glimmering stars of the infinite beyond.
In the quiet an ancient proverb floated into his mind; ‘we are stardust, and to stardust we return in the end’. He shook it away. Such thoughts were ill omens before battle.
Behind him a boot scuffed on the polished black floor.
“Permission to speak freely, sir,” said the familiar voice of Captain Star, commander of the flagship. He nodded in reply.
“I thought to congratulate you for ensuring our final glory was not denied us at the Tau Ceti talks,” said the Captain. “The diplomats would happily have traded our hard won advantage for a negotiated peace”.
“Thank you Jade,” he replied, “and today we prove our point. We will crush the Federation Navy leaving no need for deals with a treacherous enemy to end this war.”
He paused before continuing, “Did you hear that Senator Wills stopped me on the way to the President’s office? He said there is a powerful coalition for peace building across both sides that would end the war, at any cost. Such talk would have been treason in my younger days. And then he said that the public on both sides couldn’t handle another Nadeshda.”
Captain Star’s face was disdain, “What would he know of Nadeshda?” she said with venom.
The question caught Admiral Kane off guard. What could anyone know unless they were there? He knew. He had been there all those years ago, crammed into one of the ten thousand burning comets that lit the sky above the pulsating blue storm of the barrage from space. He had been there when the landing craft doors dropped and they charged into the maelstrom atop their human chimera steeds, bear-like hounds that appeared more cyborg than beast in their battle armour.
For months he had lived as a million died, until that moment when a worm like metal monstrosity lunged from beneath the ground spitting fire at Kane’s battalion, killing half before it was subdued, and leaving him staring helplessly at the bloodied stumps of his legs and the remains of his chimera, a mess of flesh, metal and wires on Nadeshda’s icy plains.
He breathed and recited the mantra that helped him cope and spurred him forwards; victory comes with sacrifice. The bold invasion of Nadeshda deep in Federation space had turned the thousand year war in favour of the Union of Democratic States. He forced a wry smile, half flesh and half metal, for Captain Star.
“We shall ensure that Nadeshda was not in vain,” he said.
A voice from below broke his introspective mood.
“Captain Star, we have received warp speed communication probes from the other fleets. All are in position ready to jump to the attack zone. Jump time in thirty minutes.”
“Excellent news,” replied Captain Star, then continued, “Admiral, it is time for you to address the fleet.”
The Admiral paused to languish in his anticipated triumph. Over half of the Russian Federation Navy would be at their secret rendezvous at Obdan, unaware that the Union Navy was about to strike with overwhelming force.
He cleared his throat and began, “In a few moments we will launch to the Obdan system…” But the sound of an alarm stopped his oration.
“An incoming ship?” asked Captain Star.
“Yes sir,” replied a young lieutenant, “dropping out of warp speed now at the edge of the solar system.”
“Put your screen through to my viewer. Is it Federation? A scout?” said Captain Star.
“This isn’t just one ship,” replied the lieutenant with alarm as more shapes rapidly appeared on the screen. She waited a moment before continuing, “one hundred ships sir, Russian Federation. It’s their third fleet.”
A shocked murmur spread through the bridge, cut short by the Admiral. “They mustn’t get a scout or warp probe away, launch blue and white squadrons immediately to flank them.”
Captain Star relayed the order. Within seconds four massive monolithic battleships passed the bridge window. As they accelerated away the view of their giant blue propulsion units was partially blocked by the remainder of the squadrons; a flotilla of predatory conical gunships with their giant parabolic laser amplifiers and a wing of sleek ovular battle cruisers. Soon they were all just distant flashes of light as they engaged the enemy.
The Admiral paced. Could this be a coincidence? This solar system may be on a warp jump route. But his thoughts were again cut off by an alarm.
“Sir, more incoming signals,” said the lieutenant. “Two behind us and one near the Federation Third.”
“How many?” asked Captain Star with concern.
“Hundreds. Sir, this is the first, second and fourth fleets of the Federation Navy. The First is moving to cut us off from white and blue squadrons.”
The Captain looked stoically at the Admiral, “Sir, I regret to inform you that we are surrounded and our force has been cut in two.”
Then she leaned in and asked quietly, “Do you think it was Senator Wills?”
“Perhaps,” he replied after a short pause, “but either way I did not heed his warning.”
Captain Star’s nodded respectfully and took a step back, “Your orders sir?”
Admiral Kane felt tired to all the bones that were still his own. ‘To stardust we return’ he thought as the first blasts of concentrated white light struck the outer energy shields of the USS Peter Kane and rippled his view of the attacking fleet and the stars beyond.
“Form a line,” he ordered in a voice still strong and defiant, “all ships fire at will.”