The Chronicles of ZvaXin - issue #10
The dogs of war waited at their master's feet.
The dark-blue Flagship was one of the largest ships in the assembled Taelrok fleet. Like the other battle cruisers and most of the various other ships, it was basically shaped like an elongated cone; covered with multiple gun ports, missile launchers, and various other devices for offense and defense. The fleet totaled thirty-two ships of various sizes, and groupings. Each group had their own specific functions - some were designed for ship-to-ship battle, others for planetary bombardment, and still others were designed to transport thousands of heavily armed troops. But as a unified force, and when under the orders of the Veiled, they all had one thing in common - the ultimate destruction of a species. Most of the time, the Taelroks could do as they wished with the dominated systems in their sector, but the deal was cast millennia ago - their service to the Veiled in exchange for military technologies superior to their neighbours in space. The deal had been bartered so long ago the details were now vague, but that was the essence of it; so now this fleet had been ordered to assemble, and wait just outside the Taelrok's home system.
Admiral Kraug postured back in the heavily padded command chair on his expansive bridge like an ancient king on a golden throne. Although Taelroks were brutish and ape-like in form, he was quite successful with the females of his species in his younger, more handsome days. Now, in his middle years, he had let himself go; was more portly, and thus even more massive than all his younger officers. His large, thumb-like fingers tapped impatiently on his tactical console as he waited for orders. His tiny solid-black eyes wandered between his console, the communication officer, and the main monitor for any indication of contact by the Veiled. Tired of sitting, he stood up and stretched his seven foot tall, four hundred pound frame. His muscular, long arms ended well below his short-legged knees. From his neck down, he wore the traditional black, plastisteel armour of the Taelrok warrior class. Around his waist he wore a belt that displayed his many brightly coloured medals - the only colour on the dimly lit bridge save for the lights on the multitude of various displays.
"Transmission coming in Admiral - priority one," said the communication's officer.
"On the main speaker." Kraug wanted the fifteen bridge crewmembers to hear it. The Veiled never used any of the many possible methods of visual communications that often augmented the audio. Instead, with them, it was always audio only. He had never seen the Veiled; he had no idea what they looked like. Sure, he had heard the strange stories and crazy theories, but no Traelrok living could bear witness to their actually countenance. They surrounded themselves with a shiny black fabric, which hovered around them by some unknown means. This much was true, but everything else were just conjectures from the possible to the ridiculous.
"Admiral," all the Veiled echoed in unison, "we have called you to our service for the first of two missions. First, you will take this fleet to the coordinates we are now sending."
The Admiral looked at the communication's officer who looked at his screen and nodded back in confirmation.
"You will acquire this planet to be used as a base of operations. You will hold this planet at all costs and await the arrival of the other two Taelrok fleets. When all fleets are assembled and refuelled at this designated planet, we will come and personally oversee the second mission - you may need our assistance."
"What is this second mission?" the Admiral asked humbly - a tone of voice none of the bridge officers had ever heard.
"You will be told when necessary," was the reply with an almost threatening tone.
"Yes, of course." The Admiral wasn't about to stand up to the Veiled; as a matter of fact, he found himself sitting back down, as a physical sign of submission. No, it wasn't that, he just didn't want to stand anymore he lied to himself.
"We will leave you to your task. Contact us when the planet is secured."
"Yes, thank you." Why did he thank them? In their presence, he felt like a schoolboy again. It was bordering on humiliation. And why would he need their help. True, they were far more powerful than the Taelrok race, never having shared all their military technologies with them. It made strategic sense though. The Taelroks were more powerful than any single race except for the Veiled, and maybe whoever was at the receiving end of mission number two. That was it! A new threat had been discovered - a race powerful enough to threaten even the Veiled. He had only read of such things in his history reader. How long had it been? Two hundred years? He smiled with self-satisfaction over figuring out what the Veiled would not tell him. He was on the cusp of making the history files himself. Soon, everyone would be reading about the great Admiral Kraug and how he did whatever he was about to do. He confidently assumed his kingly pose once again; he had all but forgotten his brief indignity in front of the bridge crew.
"Communications, send an order to the entire fleet - we are leaving."
The fleet formed into a single long line with the fold-ship on point. Although each ship in the fleet was capable of creating their own space fold passages, the fold-ship had the power to create a space fold large enough, and for a period of time long enough to allow the entire fleet safe passage. It guaranteed that the fleet would arrive at their destination at relatively the same time, and had tactically proven itself in many past campaigns.
The space ahead of the fold-ship became a large, swirling mass of black and dark-grey, looking almost like a miniature, negative galaxy. The fold-ship was sucked through first followed by the thirty-one others, each in turn, as they moved slowly forward in line. The Admiral's flagship was the seventeenth to go through; one of the troop transports was the last. The swirling gateway to another dimension remained for several minutes; then gradually shrank into nothingness.
The dogs were unleashed, and headed for their prey.
Humans, we fancy our own importance in the scheme of things. Our science fiction stories are filled with other worldly beings that invade us for our life-rich world, to enslave us into menial service, or even turn us into a gourmet recipe for their cookbooks. But the truth is far stranger and more sobering than any fiction. In actuality, the Earth is about halfway between two civilizations soon to be at war; we are seen as nothing more than a future base of operations. The battle for Earth will be for the reason of expedience due to our location. We are in the wrong place at the wrong time and space. It is as simple, impersonal and ego deflating as that.
The people of Earth went about their daily lives totally oblivious of the ultimate upheaval on its way. A young, female account coordinator working for an advertising agency puts in an all-nighter - she just has to get those rush quotes on the boss's desk for first thing in the morning. A grossly obese man goes back for his third rack of ribs at an all-you-can-eat buffet - he just had to get his money's worth, and then some. A twelve-year-old boy amuses himself far too much by dissecting a live frog with his favourite penknife - in time, he would become the most infamous serial killer of the twenty-first century. But everything that seemed so terribly important from each individual's perspective wouldn't really matter one microscopic scrap in a few days time.
Dave was on his way back to Earth alone. Things didn't look good, so he wanted to spend what little time that may be left with friends and family before the Taelroks arrived. What was it that Xin had told him? Ah yes, "there are not many hostile space-faring sentients." Well, some of the few that are extremely hostile will be visiting Earth very soon - imagine that.
Xin had remained on Utayatu, but would be coming to Earth soon, and long before the Taelrok fleet was estimated by Kaibiak to arrive. Utayatu had studied the Veiled discreetly from afar, and had a good idea on their timetable during their military operations. Xin had decided to stay to help organize the Utayatuian defense, and to try to convince Kaibiak to send a fleet of ships to defend Earth. This had been undecided at the time of Dave's departure from the hidden planet. There had also been discussions of contacting the League of Worlds for assistance, but this didn't look like a possibility. They were on the opposite side of the galaxy, far from the Veiled, and were not even consider a threat to them. There would be no reason for the League to help, and if they did, they would only be putting themselves in harms way. No, Dave thought, they would need a reason to fight; that reason was just not there. Why would a group of planets wage war on a far superior race to defend a planet that had done nothing to prevent seventeen other worlds from falling? And then there was Earth... No, we are on our own; a sinking feeling came over Dave.
The final space fold opened up and the Odyssey slipped through it to arrive just outside Earth's solar system. At this distance, the sun looked like the brightest star amongst a sparkling backdrop of all the rest. Dave thought what he wanted to do next, and the Odyssey responded by approaching the speed of light, and headed straight for Earth.
Before leaving Utayatu, Dave, Xin and Kaibiak had discussed warning the Earth of the Taelrok invasion fleet. They all agreed that there really was no point. There was nothing the Earth could really do to prepare for such an even, and there just wasn't any time. The invasion fleet would arrive long before Xin and Dave had even convinced the leaders of Earth there was event a threat; not to mention the resulting panic if they actually believed them. Hell, they even needed to convince the Earth that Xin was an alien; that other civilizations were out there in space, and what the Taelroks wanted with Earth. It always came back to one point - time. Besides, against the Taelroks, the Earth would be like ants trying to defend their anthill from a crushing boot.
A few hours later, the Odyssey entered Earth's atmosphere, and arrived at the same location the ship had been once before in Drumheller. The ship soundlessly landed, and as before, was hidden from view by the surrounding hills and rock formations.
It was late, and a moonless night, so Dave decided to run or jump back to Calgary - whichever would work best. He didn't really know; it was something he hadn't tried. Not bothering to keep his lease, his rented apartment was long gone, so he would stay at a hotel. He had plenty of money in his bank account, and his credit card was still good. He changed from his grey flight suit to a white t-shirt, blue jeans, jogging shoes, and his favourite black leather jacket.
He stepped through the phaseway and onto the firm, desert surface. The cool breeze licked his face, as he stood looking up at the star-filled night sky, locating where he had been. He much preferred the smell of a forest after a rainstorm or a freshly mowed lawn, but this desert air smelled like home just the same. He now understood why dogs loved sticking their heads out of moving cars - his enhanced sense of smell picked up so much more.
It was now April 23rd. He had been gone for a good part of a year, and he was so glad to be back on Earth. There's no place like home, he thought and smiled. But this wasn't Kansas.
He smelled them before he saw them. He got a whiff of human body odour traveling on the breeze from the west. He looked west into the blackness and made out several human forms trying to move quietly, but he heard the military issued boots as they made contact with the hard earth. Something stung him on the neck! What the hell! He turned and started to run away from the dark forms. Two more darts hit him in the back. Now he felt their effect; he stopped running, and was only able to walk in a drunk-like stagger. He now heard the boots running towards him.
"Dart him again!" shouted a voice from the darkness.
Two more tranquilizer darts hit him in the back. Dave took a few more steps, but was too dizzy to stand, and collapsed on the hard ground, sending up a small cloud of dusty-dirt where he fell. He couldn't move; his vision was becoming increasingly blurrier. He heard a dozen or more boots coming close to him; they surrounded him, and he heard a couple of men's voices just before he blacked out.
"That was enough to knock out a bear, but his eyes are still open a bit!"
"Yeah, but he ain't goin' nowhere. I seen this before - he's probably high on somethin'. Makes it harder to take 'em down."
"Damn, will you look at that thing - that's the real f@#%ing deal!"
"How'd he know... here... Maybe... UFO freak... or maybe... nutjob..."
Eleven hours later.
"He's waking up," someone said who seemed far away, but was actually very close by.
Dave woke up to a throbbing headache worse than any hangover. Everything was blurry, but he could make out a man in a white lab coat standing near him, and another in a black suit seated a few feet away behind a desk with his back to the wall.
"He should've been out for a week with that amount of tranquilizer in his system," commented the man behind the desk.
"Actually, he should be dead," corrected the one in the lab coat. "Probably those damn things in his blood."
"Those idiots." He shook his head then looked down to study papers in a folder on his desk.
Things gradually came back into focus. Dave was sitting on a heavy-duty stainless steel chair. Correction, he was attached to the chair with thick metal clamps at his wrists and ankles!
"What's going on?" Dave tried hard not to yell it.
"I just want to ask you a few questions. Do you think you can do that for me?" came the firm voice from the man behind the desk. He was middle age, with a thinning hairline, and wore reading glasses, which had slid down his nose and was now looking over them at Dave.
"Maybe, but first who are you and what's going on?" Dave looked back at the suited man, and then glanced at the lab coated one who walked away to stand beside the desk. The grey haired man in the lab coat was much older; Dave thought him to be an MD, scientist or something along those lines.
"Leave us," ordered the man behind the desk. The lab coated one left through an electronic security door - the only exit of the small rectangular room. The walls were concrete blocks that had been painted white; there was nothing else in the room or on the walls. It was a room designed for interrogation further confirmed by the small camera in the corner of the room near the ceiling, next to the door.
"David Van Bercham, you can just call me... agent Jones. Yes, we know who you claim to be - we found your driver's license in your pocket. Anyway, you are our... guest at this government facility. At first we thought you were just an innocent bystander in this whole affair, but soon our men in the field knew otherwise. It took eight men and two doubled-up stretchers to get you to their vehicle. We had you in quarantine for a few hours; ran some tests, and now you are here. Mr. Van Bercham, were you born here? And when I say 'here', I am referring to the planet Earth."
"You think I'm an alien?"
"You tell me, Mr. Van Bercham."
"No, of course not!"
"Well, if you're not, then you are a very unique human to say the least."
"I can't help it if I'm big boned."
"Big, boned... Yes, very amusing, Mr. Van Bercham," he lied - he wasn't smiling. He looked down at his notes. "Besides your 'weight issue', we had some blood tests run and well, the results were very interesting. I'll read from the lab report: Although the blood appears human, there are foreign bodies throughout the entire circulatory system estimated to run into the trillions. They are synthetic, not identifiable on the periodic table, spermatozoa in appearance, but with a shorter axial filament or tail, which facilitates movement at an exceptional speed. Our best guess at this time - they are some form of nanorobotics or nanites." He stopped reading from the notes and looked back at Dave. "I also understand that it took the good Doctor three attempts before he could extract your blood. Seems that your skin is tougher than tanned cowhide. The lab boys are taking a closer look at these nanites as we speak, and we'll be running many more tests I can assure you." The last comment sounded more like a threat.
"Who are you people? I want a lawyer. I'm a Canadian citizen!"
"Very well, I'll answer some of your questions if you answer ours, and in good faith, I'll start. We are a government-funded organization dating back to the Reagan administration. Our name is classified, sorry. You won't need a lawyer, as this is not technically a legal matter, and if you haven't already figured it out, you are no longer in Canada." He flashed a fake smile. "Now, Mr. Van Bercham, if you are human or perhaps more accurately, WERE human, please explain why you are so... special? I'm sure you must have a very interesting story to tell." His voice had become even more monotone than before. It was a poor attempt to disguise his corrupt personality
Dave didn't answer, but looked at the corner camera.
"Yes, this is being recorded." He adjusted his glasses and looked down at his folder.
"I'm not saying anything until I have my lawyer present."
"Well, lets change the subject for now. If you don't want to talk about yourself, let's talk about the space ship." Agent Jones' training noted Dave's subtle facial reaction when he mentioned the ship.
"What space ship?" Dave tried to act dumb.
"The space ship my men found you near, deep in the desert, and in the middle of the night - the space ship that is locked away in this installation, and is being examined at this very moment. This is the same craft that was orbiting the Moon last year, wasn't it? No, you don't have to answer; I can see it on your face. You're probably wondering how we found you. Let's just say it was a combination of last year's satellite images, plus hundreds of man-hours."
"I don't know what you're talking about. My car ran out of fuel and I was walking..."
"Mr. Van Bercham," the agent interrupted, "we found no car or even any tire tracks out there for miles - you'll have to lie better than that. Listen, maybe you're still a bit groggy. I'll leave you here for a bit to clear your head; perhaps hone your lying skills - you really aren't very good at it. I'll be back in a while and we'll try this again." Agent Jones stood up, walked over to the door, and pressed a five-digit code on a small panel. The door swung open, and he left leaving Dave alone with only the hum of the bright, fluorescent lights for company.
Xin was on her way to Earth as fast as she possibly could. Utayatu was assembling a fleet destined for Earth. They understood that by preventing a foothold on Earth by the Taelroks, attacking Utayatu would be greatly delayed or at the very least made more difficult. Unfortunately, by Xin's estimation, the fleet would arrive after the Taelroks had already secured Earth. This was acceptable to Kaibiak but not to Xin. To make matters worse, and as feared, the League of Worlds showed no interest in a confrontation with the Veiled for reasons they had assumed. The talks broke down almost as soon as they had begun. They would get no help from the League, so there was no reason to stay on Utayatu any longer. Earth and Dave needed her more, and she was determined to take on the entire Taelrok fleet if necessary. She was confident that she could take on a single battle cruiser, maybe even two or three, but not an entire fleet. She needed a strategy, a tactic, something that gave her a fighting chance. Xin consulted the great library once again. She studied the historic battles of dozens of worlds; the military strategies and tactics from the greatest military minds in the galaxy, but she couldn't find a specific solution that could be applied to her situation. She needed to come up with a new tactic, possibly something that had never been done before. If her military studies taught her anything, it was to know the enemy, how they operate, and to predict what they might do in any given situation. She would use her strengths against their weaknesses. Utayatu had studied the Veiled and the Taelrok's military actions for countless years. Xin had uploaded that information from their central library archive, and would now use it to help formulate her own plan. Hopefully, she would have something before she reached Earth; she went to work on the problem, as she navigated the series of space folds to get her back to Earth. She opened her second space fold, and disappeared into the timeless/massless dimension.
The hum of the fluorescent lights was really starting to get on Dave's nerves. He had tried to muscle his way out of the chair but it was just too strong for him. These guys weren't taking any chances. They didn't know how strong he was, but they must have suspected something based on his much heavier weight and density.
"Dave? Are you there, Dave?" It was the Odyssey making silent contact through his implant. The Odyssey's AI had come a long way ever since Dave started conversing with it from the very beginning. Its AI had learned and was now able to simulate a sentient being, but Dave knew that it was just a complex deception. Unlike Xin, it really wasn't self-aware; it had no emotion programming, just a series of algorithms, and it didn't always get it right.
"Yes," Dave thought back fully aware of the camera that was recording his every move and sound.
"Dave, I was beginning to get worried. I have been trying to contact you for 9.75 hours. Are you all right?"
"Yes. Are you OK?"
"Yes. I am in a large, domed structure. They have been trying to gain access to my interior, but they will not succeed. They have already tried using a blowtorch, and are now about to break their third diamond drill on my outer hull. I will only open my phaseway for you, Dave.
"Is that supposed to be a joke?"
Dave smiled. "Why did you let them capture you?"
"I was in no danger. You were in danger."
"Yeah, right, your programming didn't allow you to take violent action against other living beings unless they would do harm to you directly."
"Dave, are you ready to leave?"
"Ah, yeah." Dave was stunned as how matter-of-factly the Odyssey asked the question. "How do I do this?" Dave asked, as he tested the strength of the clamps around his wrists again.
"This installation is mostly controlled by crude computer technology. They appear to be under the impression that this makes this installation more secure, but it actually makes things far easier. I have overwritten the mainframe upon our arrival, and now have complete control over all computer controlled functions."
With loud metallic snaps, all four clamps popped open releasing Dave from the metal chair. Next, five digital tones sounded in sequence, and the only door in the corner of the small room swung silently open.
"Can you turn off all the lights?" Dave asked.
"Yes." The room went black, but the emergency lights came on in the hall.
"The emergency lights too."
The hall went pitch black.
Dave walked out into the hall at which point an alarm began sounding. "Kill it."
The alarm stopped.
"Which way?" Dave asked.
"Turn right, walk to the end of the hall, and then right again."
Dave's cat-like eyes made the hall appear as if lit by only a two watt bulb, or half the illumination of a nightlight, but it was enough. For anyone else, they might as well have been blind. He heard frustrated yelling far behind him, as he made it to the end of the hall. He turned right down a second hall, passing several people who were hugging the walls, obviously trying to find an exit. He ran down to the end of the second hall. "Now where?"
"Through the doors directly in front of you, Dave. I've already unlocked them."
Dave found himself in a small airplane hangar. The Odyssey was in the centre surrounded by various machines, computers, and other scientific paraphernalia. Several men and women were walking blindly, arms outstretched, trying to find their way to one of the four walls without tripping over the many obstacles in their path.
"What the hell's going on?" one shouted.
"I thought the emergency lights were supposed to kick in," replied back another.
Dave walked up to the Odyssey, the phaseway opened; he entered, and it quickly closed behind him. "Let's get out of here."
The Odyssey hovered up several metres; then fired a white energy beam from its bow. The beam hit the hangar's metal roof with a bright flash followed by a sizzling sound, resulting in a wide, circular hole, which glowed white-hot at the edges. Now the disoriented wanderers had enough light from the afternoon Sun to see what was happening. They stood dumbfounded as the Odyssey zipped through the new, larger exit and was gone even before one of them could say..."
The inside of the space fold was the blackest of black. It was a dimension of nothingness. The large, swirling exit in the distance was the only thing visible to the Taelrok fleet, but in this strange world, the laws of physics no longer applied. The fleet crawled toward the exit as if in extreme slow motion; it would take hours to reach it. Every hundred intangible metres took them at least one solid light-year closer to their destination.
"Navigation," Kraug snapped at the officer directly in front and below him, "based on the destination system's configuration, will it be possible to open an exit fold within the system itself?"
"Admiral, even with optimum planetary alignments, the maneuver is risky at best!"
"But, can it be done?"
The Admiral thought out loud. "This will be one for the history files! We will get there hours before schedule; appear where not expected, and have the planet secured in no time. They will sing songs about this for a millennium - maybe longer."
"Yes, Admiral," the navigator purposely said with as little emotion as possible, and with a hint of boredom thrown in for good measure.
Xin had exited her last space fold and was now just outside of Earth's system. She had not been able to formulate a strategy or tactic that would miraculously turn the tides of the upcoming battle. She knew it was a long shot; after all, she was just a science probe. Xin began to doubt that even the greatest military mind in galactic history could conceive a battle strategy that would see a data gathering probe defeat an entire battle-hardened fleet. Her only plan was to delay - she would delay the fleet as long as she could. On her way to Earth, she had created a considerably more powerful device inside herself that was capable of constructing, or for her need, deconstructing a space fold. She would wait outside the system at a location that the fleet would most probably materialize. She would then try to close the space fold on her side. Xin knew that upon seeing this, the Taelroks would try to keep it open on their side, resulting in a tug-of-war of sorts. Xin didn't know how long she would be able to keep that up, but had decided that she would destroy the first ship that was able to exit, and then make a run for the Sun to get recharged for the hopeless battle ahead. She hoped this delay tactic would give the Utayatu fleet more time to arrive, and before Earth was taken. But she knew her plan was one of desperation, and that she would need to delay the fleet for many hours, even a day or more. She would run out of power long before that.
Xin headed towards the Sun at near the speed of light - she needed to charge her reactor to maximum for what lay ahead. She had the storage capacity of a Z'va battle class star cruiser, but even that wasn't going to be enough. It would take a great deal of power to destroy even one Traelrok ship. Based on her previous skirmish with the Taelroks, Xin estimated she could take out two, maybe three large ships before having to replenish her reactor. Her limited power storage ability would be her undoing.
"To all ships of the fleet," Admiral Kraug's deep voice boomed through the communication's system. "The first ship will be exiting the space fold in fifty micro-durations." The digital voice countdown was heard through every speaker on every ship in the fleet - 50, 49, 48...."
"I want a clean exit, quick dispersal, and efficient formation."
"45, 44, 43...."
"Let's do it by the book, people."
"41, 40, 39...."
"We will be forming near the target planet."
"36, 35, 34...."
"Our first target will be the smallest continent."
"31, 30, 29...."
"Fighter-carriers will be going in first."
"27, 26, 25...."
"Followed by the bio-weapon ships."
"23, 22, 21...."
"We don't expect much opposition - this race barely has space flight capability." He smiled, as he thought how easy this was going to be compared to his last campaign.
"17, 16, 15...."
It would be like grabbing a sugar stick from an infant.
Xin had finished charging her reactor, and was nearing the Earth when her cursory scanning mode picked up the space anomaly forming halfway between the Earth and the Moon - a space fold! No! It was too soon, and in the wrong location! It should have been hours from now, and outside the system. If she actually had a heart, it would have sank.
"Xin, are you seeing this?" Dave exclaimed.
"Dave, where are you?"
"I've been orbiting the Moon for hours. I must have been on the opposite side when you passed by the first time."
"Listen, Dave, the Taelrok fleet will be coming through that space fold in a few seconds, but all I can do is slow them down."
"It's too bad their navigation system is so accurate, or are they just lucky," Dave observed. "I know enough about space folding not to do it within the system. What if one was to accidentally form it right next to the Sun?"
"That's it!" Xin didn't know why she hadn't thought of it seconds earlier. She would use the most powerful weapon in the solar system - the Sun!
"Instead of trying to keep the space fold from opening, I can move it! It will take most of my power, but the space fold is close enough now for me to move it near the Sun. I dare not move it into the Sun - that would just destroy the fold's exit, and a new one could be created elsewhere. I have just one chance at this."
Xin was less than a kilometre from the swirling black-grey mass, as she powered up her newest device. A metre wide dark-blue beam streamed out of her outer shell, and hit the growing space fold dead centre. Its clockwise rotation slowed gradually, stopped its rotation entirely for a few seconds, and then started a slow counterclockwise rotation. Xin applied even more power, and the fold shrank to a fraction of its size. Her power reserves were now down to sixty percent. Would she have enough? With all the power she had left, she focused it at a point near the photosphere of the Sun. There was no room for error. It couldn't be too close to destroy the fold's exit but close enough for the desired result. The space fold vanished and then re-materialized as a small, clockwise swirling shape at the new location. It gradually grew in size until it was once again a large, fleet-size exit.
Xin headed back to the Sun where a fleet would materialize any minute. Her reactor was now so depleted she barely had enough power to get back to the Sun.
"Admiral, the fold's exit has somehow changed location!" the navigator yelled.
"Impossible!" The Admiral jumped out of his chair.
"We are right on top of their star!" The science officer screamed it, as only a sane man who sees his immanent destruction can.
"Nether-abyss!" Kraug swore, and turned on the fleet-wide communication system. "All ships, emergency stop! Close that fold!"
"It's too late! The fleet is already exiting!" the navigator shouted, as his fingers danced over his display in a desperate attempt to stop their forward inertia. "Reverse thrusters - on full!"
Half the fleet had exited the space fold and were instantly caught in the Sun's massive gravitational field. The deadly radiations instantly made most of their sensitive equipment all but inoperable, and the ships heavily armoured hulls only delayed the crew's excruciating deaths by a few seconds. Six battle cruisers, six fighter-carriers, and four bio-weapon ships silently exploded. Under other circumstances, this would have been a spectacular pyrotechnic display, but it was overshadowed by the constant, incredible power of the combusting Sun. The result was like firecrackers going off in front of a nuclear explosion.
"Close, that, fold!" Admiral Kraug spit out the words, each one getting louder than the last.
"Closing the space fold's exit," the calmer voice of the fold-ship's Captain came in on the main speaker.
"How many!" The Admiral glared at the navigator.
"Half the fleet!" He stood there stunned for a short while, then leaned over his tactical display for a moment in thought, and flopped back into his chair. "Remaining ships? Status?"
"One fold-ship, two bio-weapon ships, two battle cruisers, and eleven troop transports; only minor hull damage to transports seven and eight resulting from a collision." The communication's officer read the details like an obituary.
"Gods..." was all Kraug could mutter under his breath. Only two battle cruisers left, but he still had two bio-weapon ships, and all the troop transports. It was far from optimal but he could still make it work. He HAD to make it work. He didn't know if this disaster was the result of a space anomaly, Taelrok error or an unknown defending force. The two battle cruisers would have to deal with any opposition. At a pinch, the troop transports could help in a space-to-space battle, but all the transports firepower combined would barely equal that of one battle cruiser.
"To all ships, this is Admiral Kraug. We will exit through individual ship folds just outside this system. We will then form up and plot a new course to the third planet. The fighter-carriers are gone, so the battle cruisers and troop transports will do their best to provide support for the bio-weapon ships. This mission is still in effect."
Xin's Z'va reactor was now fully recharged once again by the Sun's energies, and she was heading back toward Earth. That which sustained her, had the complete opposite effect on the Taelrok ships. On her way toward the Sun, she had seen the ships explode near its surface, followed by the closing of the single, large space fold. She knew they weren't all destroyed - someone had closed that hole in space. Would they try again, and if so, where? The wait was not long - her long-range scanner was now picking up multiple space folds forming just outside Earth's solar system, as she had expected.
"That was incredible, Xin!" Dave had witnessed everything and had been on an intercept course to his friend for the past few minutes. "I'm coming to help."
"Please, Dave, stay out of this. The Odyssey wasn't designed for battle."
"You're right, but then neither were you. Anyway, this is one tough little ship; maybe I can at least distract them while you do your thing."
"I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?"
A couple of minutes later, the Odyssey and the Z'va probe joined up, and traveled as close to light speed as possible to confront the Taelrok fleet; before they made it to their target - Earth.
"Odyssey?" Dave's mind via his implant made contact with the AI of the small science ship.
"Are you able to do what I asked you to look into?"
"Yes, Dave. It is quite feasible."
"When we are half way to the Taelrok fleet, patch into the Earth's communications satellites, as we discussed. Keep the feed going no matter what happens; let's show them our version of reality TV."
Bob Johnson and his wife were watching TV in their living room, when Emily, their nine-year-old daughter ran in (the same little girl that had seen the 'sparkly thing' about a year ago orbiting the Moon). "Mommy, daddy, something is happening on the TV. I can't watch any of my cartoon shows any more!"
Bob picked up the TV remote and automatically switched to BLN just in time to see his favourite newsman recapping his report.
"This is Anderson Hooper; again, we are interrupting the scheduled program for this special Bottom Line News report. Television networks around the globe are receiving a signal coming from within our solar system! From Australia to Austria, from China to Chile, the signal is exactly the same. My guest to my left is professor Schmidt, the world-renowned astrophysicist who is here to help the rest of us make sense of what we will be seeing. Professor?"
"Thank you, Mr. Hooper." The seventy something professor had unkempt grey hair, a bushy beard, and an Eastern European accent you couldn't quite put your finger on. "Yes, well, the signal is being received via the Earth's communications satellites, and is obviously intended for television viewing. Simply put, we believe someone wants us to see something."
"Someone? Who?" Anderson came in right on cue.
"Well, a few minutes ago, the signal was coming from a distance of about three billion kilometres from Earth."
"I'm sorry, professor, but can you put that into terms my viewers and I could understand?"
"Ah, well, you see, it is about the average distance from here to the planet Uranus, give or take a few million kilometres."
"What have we seen so far; has anything changed?"
"One thing I should mention is that the point of view from this broadcast is coming from the perspective of a possible space craft, much like a mounted camera on a race car for example. I am a big fan of the Indianapolis 500; I went last year, and when those cars go by, well, they sound like a swarm of little bees, very noisy little bees, mind you. I wear ear plugs for the..."
"Yes? Oh, sorry. Yes, well, where was I?"
"The camera angle."
"Ah, yes. All we have seen so far is what we believe is a spacecraft traveling at an incredible speed on a course that will take it outside of our solar system. In essence, we are seeing things through its eyes, so to speak. We have seen stars in the distance of course, but nothing has changed thus far."
"A space craft? One of ours?" Anderson already knew the answer to his question directed for the viewers benefit.
"No, it can't be. This ALIEN space ship - there, I said it. We believe this ALIEN ship is traveling at close to the speed of light. This is far beyond what we are able to do - it would be like comparing the speed of a racecar to a snail. We would be the snail by the way."
"I assumed that." Anderson paused, placed his right hand over his ear, and listened intently to his earpiece. "Wait! My producer has informed me that something is happening now. We will now broadcast this feed from space live to the viewers at home. Professor, could you please give us any impressions or commentary you may have as you view what is now coming up on your monitor for our viewers."
"Yes, of course.... Let me see.... Hmm.... I see something in the distance.... Yes. It looks like a dozen or more asteroids? No, they are... space ships - oh my goodness!"
Xin hadn't wasted any time, she was already powered up; bright white, and outshining even the Sun, which could be seen far behind her. She targeted the nearest battle cruiser; as soon as she was in range, she released forty percent of the Sun's stored energies into a white, metre wide beam projected from her outer shell. The beam melted through the massive ship from bow to stern, igniting their unstable antimatter reserves, resulting in a blinding explosion with a single, enormous pulsation. Twice Xin had used the same tactic, and both times it had worked. Did the Taelroks not learn from their last encounter with her, or didn't they know of the other Taelrok ship she had destroyed in the Z'va Prime system many months ago? She considered this result very fortunate, as she headed towards the next battle cruiser. She had just enough power to take out the second lethal ship, but she needed a few seconds to power up.
Admiral Kraug had never witnessed such power in all his years of service. "This is Admiral Kraug to all Captains of the troop transports. If this battle cruiser goes down, then what's left of the fleet will be easy prey. That being said, I need you to form a blocking maneuver immediately - assume formation T-4."
Now whether the Admiral was a brilliant tactician, or a snivelling coward is up for debate, but the logic was solid, and would stand up in a military court. The remaining ships formed a tube shape with Kraug's battle cruiser in its centre, making it much harder to target the famous flagship of the Taelrok fleet.
"Navigator, keep a transport between this ship and the enemy at all times. Make course corrections as needed."
"All ships, target and fire on the enemy!" Admiral Kraug loudly ordered through the fleet-wide communication system.
The troop transports were armed with relatively light firepower, designed mostly for defense against the smaller ships such as fighters. Still, once almost a hundred light proton cannon's firepower had been combined, they created a withering assault that even a battle class cruiser could not have withstood for long. Fortunately, Xin was much smaller and far more maneuverable than a cruiser, and many of the proton beams missed. The few that did hit could not penetrate her thick, neutronium shell; her hull was always able to repair itself before the next beam hit. Now, once again, Xin was bright white and primed with offensive power. She targeted the troop transport blocking for the battle cruiser and fired, slicing through the hapless transport; hitting Kraug's ship on its centre port side.
"Damage report!" Kraug barked.
"Hull breach on deck seven on the port side, and deck nine on the starboard side - it went clear through the ship!" The chief engineer was in awe and almost disbelief.
"Get a grip!" The Admiral yelled, snapping him out of his daze.
"Yes, Sir.... There is decompression on decks seven, eight and nine. Ninety estimated casualties. I am sending repair crews to both breaches. No critical systems effected - we're hurt but all primary systems are still functional - engines, weapons, life support."
"Good." Kraug turned his attention to his tactical monitor. "To all ships. Continue toward the third planet. Continue firing on the enemy. Lay down suppressing fire. I'll be damned if a tiny, black ball stops the pride of the Taelrok fleet!"
Xin had all but depleted her reactor with the two massive attacks, and now needed to replenish her power once again. To stay and absorb the power from the proton beam hits wasn't going to be enough.
"Almost out of power?" Dave had been a few hundred metres behind her the whole time, and was now closing the gap, as he moved the Odyssey up next to her. Its hull was equally unaffected by the beam weapon attacks. The Odyssey had been monitoring Xin's power levels among other things, and keeping Dave informed.
"I can't stop them," Xin admitted. "By the time I recharge at your Sun, they will have already reached Earth."
"I've given this some thought, and I might have an idea," Dave said. "I'd like to know what you think."
Dave and Xin discussed his plan briefly. Both crafts then separated, each taking a different course toward the rear of the armada, and each phased into invisibility simultaneously.
"Weapons control, where are those vessels?" Admiral Kraug noticed the two enemy blips had disappeared from his tactical display.
"They have vanished from my scanners, Sir," the weapons officer replied nervously. "One moment they were there, the next, gone."
"I know that, fool! FIND THEM!"
"Anderson Hooper here, and if you've been following along with us here at BLN, then you know we are witnessing history in the making. The Star War is real. I repeat, the Star War is real, and it's happening within our solar system as we speak. Professor Schmidt, could you sum up for our viewers what we have seen taking place so far?"
"Yes, well, first, I would like to give my personal observation of something I feel is more important than this Star War business. We now know that we are not alone in the Universe. As scientists, we have always felt that this was a strong possibility, but now we have proof positive. This is indeed an amazing day in human history; it will change the way we view ourselves, and our place in the Cosmos. Now, about this possible battle in space - I have been on the phone with some of my colleagues, and from their observations and calculations, it has been determined that there are now fifteen space craft on a trajectory directly to Earth."
"What about those explosions, professor?"
"Yes, well, it appears that one space craft was destroyed, and two others have been damaged. We all saw the white beams of some type of energy strike these ships on two occasions, but I could not see the ship that did the attacking. Perhaps they have a stealth capability of some kind, or the ship is very small, but that would be impossible considering the power output required."
"Sorry, professor, I'm going to have to interrupt you - something is happening. Once again we will broadcast this feed from space, live to the viewers at home - let's watch."
Xin and the Odyssey re-materialized side-by-side at the back of the column of ships, and just behind one of the troop transports that had been bringing up the rear of the fleet. "Phasing through - now!" Dave synchronized. The two phased through the stern of the troop transport and re-appeared inside its large antimatter engine room.
The Odyssey immediately hovered toward the engine and reserve fuel that Xin had located, and started its super-heating process. The few engineering crew evacuated the room when they saw what was happening. An alarm started to sound throughout the ship, which was timed with blinking red lights. The engineering crew were soon replaced by a dozen black armour clad Taelrok warriors who began firing on Xin and the Odyssey with their auto-beam rifles, but to no damaging effect - both just absorbed the relatively small amount of energy. The Odyssey was now white hot and getting even hotter. For a second the Odyssey flashed blindingly bright, the housing that contained the antimatter melted; Xin and Dave became the centre of a tremendous orange explosion that totally disintegrated the transport.
A few seconds later, only Xin and the Odyssey remained at the centre of the blast - protected by their incredibly tough hulls - hulls designed to withstand even the photosphere of a star.
"Was that good for you?" Dave asked half jokingly.
"Yes, Dave. The resulting explosion created a very high release of energy; my reactor is fully charged. Thank you, Dave, that was a very impressive idea. Now, to take out the battle cruiser and the two bio-weapon ships - without them their mission cannot succeed."
"Admiral!" the navigator yelled, as he looked up from his display screen wide-eyed with fear. "Troop transport eight is gone, and the small, sphere-shaped ship is powering up for another attack - I think it is targeting us next!"
For a moment, Kraug froze in deep thought. "Get us out of here!" Kraug shouted back. He leaned forward over his display, and selected the ship-wide communications option. "To all ships of the fleet. Emergency retreat. We are leaving immediately to my specified coordinates. Use individual space folds." It was over. He had done his best, but he wasn't going to die like this.
And the dogs of war ran back to their unforgiving masters.
(To be continued)
My other sci-fi stories are available at smashwords.com or at my above website in PDF format with cover art and over a dozen illustrations (Novella).
This work of fiction is the sole property and copyright of Robert G. Moons.
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