Authors: Eric McMeins
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Military, #Space Opera
“Hold still,” Sky ordered him.
“You shouldn’t be out here,” Cole said as he heard the first of the rockets fire into the sky. He tapped into the video feed from those rockets and watched as most were shot down or impacted some slight form of shielding. None made it through.
“No one should be here. This place is a butchers shop,” Sky said as she rammed a needle into the exposed skin of his chest. She reached back into her bag and applied a few brilliant white patches to his wounded chest. She finished it off with a large gooey drop of replacement suit. It grew and joined with the rest of his suit, and he once again had a fully functioning combat suit. Cole ignored it all as the second wave of rockets flew out from their position. He zoomed in on the targets. Multiple hits this time and a few of the weapons exploded.
“Thanks,” he said to Sky as she helped him to his feet. “Now get back underground.” She paused as if to say something, but reconsidered and turned and ran back to the tunnel. More rockets streaked off into the distance. Cole’s blood suddenly ran cold. More rockets found their target this time, but the rest of the weapons were turning towards them. They didn’t have any shield to protect them from the fire.
“Fall back!” Cole screamed into his com. “Full retreat now!” he shouted. That’s when everyone else seemed to notice what was happening. Officers began screaming at their troops to get back into the tunnel, but the rocket firers launched another round. “Go, go, go! Get the hell out of here!” More Worlders were falling back now, but the Roche guns opened up. Cole was pin-wheeling his arm and pointing at the tunnel entrance when the first rounds hit the ground. He was picked up and thrown bodily to the dirt. Smoke and dust clouded his vision, and he tried to regain his breath.
Stumbling Worlders fell over him as they scrambled to get to the safety of the tunnel. His audio sensors heard one more round of rockets go out. He smiled at the nerve of those still firing the rockets. Then the second round hit and he was once again picked up and thrown to the ground. His nanites were screaming about a concussion and other internal problems. Cole didn’t care as cool unconsciousness flooded his mind.
Captain Glendale sat staring at the readout in front of him. It wasn’t good—not at all. He was the current Captain of
and in charge of the alliance fleet. He had commanded all of the ships in the Second Battle of Nixa. He had formed the wall of battle and directed the ships under his command to attack. His ship had plotted and surveyed the system hours before the rest of the fleet had arrived. He, along with his AI counterpart, had assigned targets, shifted vessels, and handled coordinating the rescue ships that had attempted to pull survivors from space and dead ship’s wreckage.
Everything had gone according to plan. He had arrived in the systems hours before the rest of the fleet had left the staging area. He had meticulously done his job and had the battlefield mapped and ready for his ships. The technology at his fingertips was amazing. He had been a Sub commander in Her Majesties Royal Navy for the better part of the last ten years, and it was because of this that Cole had chosen him to lead. He had refused the rank of Admiral, being used to answering to captain, and accepted the commission. Cole had assumed his experience in commanding a ship and tactics would make him the best candidate for the job. He wished he had this tech on board one of his subs. He would have ruled the seas.
They had finished their assessment of the system and had decided it was much the same as it had been when Cole had been there, so he sent no stand down order and waited for the fleet. They arrived right on time. The human ships slightly ahead of the allies. He instantly started to broadcast movement coordinates and feed the ships their firing data. He watched as the great behemoths streaked across the night sky and formed the shield wall. The ally ships moved with precision to their appointed spots. The Roche reacted just like Cole had hoped. After spending the last few days jumping at shadows, they finally had a real enemy to face. The bonus to having the human fleet as a screen for their allies was twofold. First, their interlocking shields created a safe zone for the allies and their bulk, and signatures hid those of the ships behind them. The Roche thought they were up against a much smaller fleet.
The attack went perfectly. They chewed up Roche ships at maximum range and the ugly buggers couldn’t even fire yet. They lost dozens of ships before they even got in range. But once they did, the true battle took form. The allies darted in and out of the safe zone created by the shields, at first. But when the first human ship was finally overwhelmed and destroyed, it created a gap in the defenses. A gap that took time to fill and left the ships behind the gap vulnerable. One hour, that’s the time he had to buy to ensure the destruction of the Roche fleet. He hadn’t needed it all. Unfortunately the two ships that needed a full hour to recharge their jump engines, had been destroyed. That cut his leave time to forty-five minutes. Those two ships saved a lot of lives. All in all, he lost a half of his human fleet and only a quarter of the allies. The anti-gravity net had been successfully deployed and the remains of the fleet, with all the survivors they could find, made the warp on time. They had come out just a few light minutes away from the outer edge of the system. Nixa’s two suns were bright on the screen in front of him for the next fifteen minutes. The net activated, and all the gravity the sun had, disappeared for a fraction of a second. Long enough for the core to expand and the sun to explode.
Unbelievable, to say the least. Glendale had been zoomed in as far as he could on the system, fearing the net would be disturbed and the plan would fail. He had seen the sun flash bright—brighter than anything he had ever seen in the moment before it exploded. Hell fire expanded out in a massive sphere. It enveloped everything in its path, including the Roche. There wasn’t a ships shield that could have withstood that explosion. The ball of fire expanded as far as it could before it broke apart. Some collapsed back into the now dead star while the rest bled off into space. Some washed over the planet of Nixa but the heavy shielding was more than enough to ward off the weakened blast. The readings of heat and radiation were off the scales.
Now, though, that was the problem. The Roche were gone—hell everything was gone from the system, except the planet. Safely tucked inside its shimmering shell, it was safe from the deadly radiation that hung in the system like and invisible cloud. His ships couldn’t operate in that morass. Hell, he couldn’t see any further than the outer edge. The radiation was blocking his scans. Coms were down, as nothing could penetrate the massed radio waves given off by the sun. The radiation was even messing with the P2P and it couldn’t connect with the planet.
Cole had warned them this might happen. He had ordered them to stay out until the area was safe enough to drop the planetary shield so he could bombard the enemy ground forces. The AI had estimated one hundred years minimum for the cloud to disperse enough to fly in system. It couldn’t come up with an estimate for when the shield could be lowered. He did what any good captain would do. He repaired his ships and looked for an opening. He contacted the other ally captains and asked for help or knowledge that could be useful in this situation. Runner ships had been sent out to home planets and to the crossroads of the galaxy seeking information or aid. None had been forthcoming though. So he sat and he stared and contemplated the last order he had received from Cole. It echoed in his head.
“If we can’t be saved, leave. Take charge of the military, pay our debt to our allies, and find us a home. Don’t waste time on the dead,” Cole had told him.
He desperately wanted to follow those orders, but he couldn’t. In fact he never told anyone about them. He would find a way, if there was one to be found.
Split stood at the controls of the ancient machine. He was surrounded by twelve warriors in full battle regalia. It was a solemn occasion for them. They had waited for this moment for fifteen thousand years, and it was finally here. This machine that had stolen their planet from the galaxy was about to return it to a new home. A home where it could once again have an atmosphere and they could live on the surface. All they needed was for the strange Worlder who referred to himself in the plural to set the coordinates and enter the code. They stood in silence, and waited and watched.
Split was concerned and confused. They were well aware of the audience to their rear and that they were expecting a show. Even if the damn machine had worked, they didn’t think much would happen. A slight tug on their body, or maybe a blurring of sight as the planet was yanked back into the galaxy. Nothing to get excited over, but the damn thing hadn’t worked.
It was in working order all right, but it was refusing to leave. They had entered the coordinates that would make this place a permanent fixture orbiting around Nixa, an overly large moon, but a moon nonetheless. They had then entered the code, and all had been in the green. Until a split second before they warped. The screen had simply read, ERROR UNAVAILABLE. That was it. No explanation. No workarounds, just sorry but go to hell you can’t go there.
Split sighed and slumped their shoulders. They turned to face the upturned faces of their allies.
“Something is wrong,” they said to the dwarvish beings. “The warp drive will not allow us to go to that particular place.”
“Why? I thought that’s where you needed us to go?” The leader of the group asked in a gruff voice, clearly disappointed that nothing had happened.
“We do not know, but we are going to find out.” Split shoved his way through the small crowd and began to run back the way they had come. In a short time, he was at the door to the surface and was cycling the airlock. He turned to the beings behind him.
“We will return. Something is blocking the planet from warping. We will find what it is and remove it from our path,” he said to the larger crowd.
“Why don’t we go somewhere else then?” one asked.
“Because the planet can only move one more time. The next move is its last, and we have no back up location close enough to be an effective base for you to strike from. It has to be Nixa, and it has to be close to their planet. We will leave the fleet of ships here with you as good faith of our return. We shall only take a small scout ship from here. We will be back as soon as we can.” With that, they turned and left. Hal had himself loaded up onto the smaller ship and was ready to go when Split walked out. Both were worried and anxious to get going. They took off from the planet’s surface and raced away as fast as the ship would go. Finally clearing the gravitational pull of the planet, they warped back to the galaxy.
“Oh, well that explains things,” Hal said. “They blew up the second star in the Nixa system. All that radiation and other debris from an explosion that big is what’s keeping the planet from jumping.” Hal was the master of stating the obvious, at least that’s what Cole always said. Split tended to agree right now.
They had warped in as close as they could and found themselves on the outskirts of a changed system. A system so flooded with hot radiation, it would be unapproachable for a long time.
“Look,” Hal said and zoomed in the view. “Nixa is still there, some kind of shielding I suspect.” Again with the obvious.
“Was the destruction of the sun on purpose though?” Split muttered aloud. “Or an accident?”
“From what records I have, Nixa’s planetary shielding wasn’t capable of stopping a blast that big. So either Cole brought the super shields or the Esii did. We have to assume if it was Cole, it was part of his plan and his fleet is around here somewhere, or ditto the Esii.” Hal was debating the odds on that proposition.
“Only one way to find out,” Split said as they took control of the ship. They began to charge the warp engines and sailed ahead at full speed around the system. Someone had set the mother of all ambushes. they hoped it was Cole.
Hours later, they found the survivors of the battle. Human ships, along with ships of many designs and nationalities.
“We are impressed. Cole managed to bring many different beings together for this attack,” Split remarked upon seeing the fleet gathered to their front.
“Look at most of them. They all suffered in one way or another at the hands of the Esii or Roche. There, Archones, their home world was nearly sterilized by the Roche and their orbital infrastructure was crushed by the Esii when they found out Admiral Nasser had found a human and his homeworld. The rest have been thrashed by one or both races in the near past. They wanted in on some revenge is my guess,” Hal observed.
“Contact the AI in the command ship. Find out what happened and what their plans are. Tell them to keep it a secret though. We don’t have time to answer questions.”
“Jeesh, grumpy much?” Hal quipped, but bent himself to the task while Split began to collect data on the system. It didn’t look good, not one bit. In moments, Hal was back and relaying the battle plans and then the actual battle for Split to see. They watched as the audacious plan unfolded. It worked, too well. They had destroyed the enemy fleet, gotten safely to the ground, and raised the shields before the sun went nova, but now were stuck on the planet with a billion or so Roche.