This story is by John Wood and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Admiral Sylas Vulro stood on the deck of “The Miranda” with a peace one can only discover among chaos.
Below him, voices warred against each other as the communications crew redirected a barrage of distress and confusion. Their captain cooled the rising tension with a practiced manner, just as he was drilled to. Yet not even training or experience could compare to reality.
Reality was harsh.
Reality demanded commitment.
Sylas looked through the view port, watching as the Russian Federation’s vast armada swarmed from the Ullairan asteroid field. They emerged like a raging horde; descending with a vengeance and unleashing salvo after bright, hot salvo, seeking a single target.
Admiral Peter Kane, Hero of the Coalition.
A galaxy filled with civilians, and only Kane had swayed the dim populace. Only he had succeeded in gaining the trust needed to fight, winning the unseen battles in the people’s hearts. His exploits were given the same regard as legends. They spread farther and farther, encouraging colonies to join his cause, as well as the Coalition’s cause, without hesitation. It was said that he beat back the Velaris Incursion with only a handful of cruisers, defending thousands of poor families from the terrible Federation… Strange, how quickly stories could grow. However, what intrigued Sylus the most, was how a few deaths rallied an entire population. So simple, yet so effective.
There was a minuscule thrum, felt as much as heard, as the engines flared into action. Captain Oraen flew up the flight of stairs with sharp steps, joining Sylas’s position.
“Admiral Vulro.” Oraen’s voice was unfaltering, but there was a look in his eyes that could not be buried. “Admiral Kane’s fleet has been ambushed and we are receiving dire calls for aid. I have signaled for Jones and Yetari to assist. We won’t have long before the whole of the enemy force will have engaged, overwhelming the Admiral’s fleet.”
Sylus gave an easy nod. “Continue.”
“We cannot hope to achieve an overall victory, but we can still save Admiral Kane. By moving in, we will drive back the Federation’s forward wave and draw their attention, giving the Admiral more time to focus on escaping. Jones and Yetari should be within range to bolster our efforts shortly after, and with luck we will only suffer a few casualties.” There was a pause as the captain considered his words. “At least, as few as could be expected.”
“Proceed,” Sylus decided. “Bring us within sixty kilometers of Admiral Kane’s ship. We shall do what we can from there.”
“As you command.” Captain Oraen said, resuming his watch over the crew.
Sylus directed his attention to a holographic display that outlined the fervent retreat before them. It was no longer difficult to determine which ship bore Kane. His entire fleet had broken formation, driving themselves between the Federation and a single cruiser, using their hulls as a veritable wall to defy any attempts to harm their beloved leader.
Kane was most certainly bellowing orders, demanding they stop sacrificing themselves. But just as certain, his words would fall upon deaf ears, and more than likely prompted several officers to hold him down instead. Loyalty blew in directions of its own design.
“Redirect your force. There will no doubt be enemy artillery positioning themselves just inside the asteroid field.”
The Captain looked, twisting his face in concentration as he reviewed the display.
“But,” he hesitantly asked, “Surely they will be outside an accurate range… wouldn’t it be more prudent to focus our efforts against the destroyers currently forcing their way to Admiral Kane?”
Sylus hid an irritated sigh. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this.
“Send Jones and Yetari wide and push the artillery back in their holes,” he commanded. The captain attempted to press his point but was quickly overruled.
“This is not up to discussion, unless you would like to explain why you failed to protect the Council’s prized Admiral, depending on presumed knowledge of our enemy’s capabilities? All information we have on the Russian Federation could be an attempt to mislead us toward incredibly precise disasters. Did you happen to forget that our reports of this area failed to mention the force we currently face? All it takes is a single source above reproach to bring ruin. I say again, redirect your force.”
“As you wish, sir.” The captain retreated, his posture humbled and ashamed.
It was harsh, but to maintain precision, some things were unavoidable. Explosions blotted against the black as the Russian Federation tore a path to Kane.
Sylus watched the ships drive closer and closer, ignoring everything but the prize they were promised.
History would speak of this as the very turning point for the war. A massive outcry for vengeance would soon break free, erupting much like a supernova might.
“We are within range sir! What are your orders?”
Sylus closed his eyes. A small device, taken from his pocket when no one was watching, felt cold and harsh against his skin. There would be no turning back now. He clasped both hands behind his back and pressed a thumb to the device, whispering a soft goodbye.
A blinding flare of light engulfed the battle, incinerating every ship unfortunate enough to be caught near Kane’s cruiser, friend and foe alike.
“Dear heavens,” a voice whispered below.
Sylus had prepared a speech for this moment. But now, listening to the pained silence on the bridge, it felt too forced. He needed to inspire, and that could only be done by expressing what he truly thought.
“What are my orders, Captain? Let all who bear witness understand the sacrifice Admiral Kane has made today. Ingrain this unforgivable atrocity in your minds, so we may share our pain, and rally the Coalition Empire in a way Admiral Kane could only dream of.”
He left the bridge, returning to his quarters with heavy steps and a final thought.
Battles may be won with heroes, but wars were won with martyrs.