Edward woke to the sound of the ship intercom. Something about someone being needed somewhere... The sound echoed off into nothing outside in the corridor too late and too loud to allow his slumber to remain undisturbed. Now suddenly and uncomfortably conscious the room became more focused and his awareness reached past the warm blankets of his bed.
He grudgingly peeked one eye open and took a brief assessment of the time keeper and murmured his disapproval at what it told him. After a few more moments of continued disagreement with the time keeper he resigned himself and conceded it must be correct. The warm comforting sheets were a tragedy as he pushed them aside. He gradually sat himself up in bed and rested his elbows on his knees. Edward stared at the floor there for a few moments and then rubbed his aging eyes and face realizing he hadn't shaved in days.
He closed his eyes once more and placed them in his hands again. He paused there, face in his palms, eyes closed, still in denial that he needed to rise fully out of his much needed pill induced sleep… Fighting the overwhelming desire to lay down and go back to sleep he held his ground there on the edge of the bed teetering ever so slightly away from facing the pressures of the universe outside. Thoughts and vague impressions tumbled through his mind from the dreams again… He rubbed his neck and pleaded mentally with the thousands to forgive him. To allow his heart some peace, free of the endless guilt and scaring from their loss and his own. He raised his head and looked through the dim light at his hands. They were still calloused from the years of gripping the flight controls on his old fighter. He missed it. How simple it all was and of course the panicked thrill of how fragile the line was between life and death as he zipped in and out making attack maneuvers with his squad mates.
Finally after some of the effects of the sedatives wore off he stood up with a resigned grunt and flipped on the lights. The room was the familiar sterile gray of a military officers cabin. There where the ever familiar metal walls and floor with some amendments to try and offset the drabness. On the wall to the right of his bed there was a small portal for a window. He walked to the window and looked out into the darkness. There glinting in the light of the distant star they orbited were the signs of the huge mass of ships that was the majority of his armada. He sighed to himself as the pressures of the universe swung back into his mind. This was going to be the greatest battle he had ever been a part of. The memories of the thousands and his old fighter spilled over again as he thought of the coming destruction and lives sure to be lost in the struggle. It gripped him as always. Battling fear, doubts, and guilt he fought for his confidence and strength to face it as he always did at the end every new day cycle.
To everyone he was the Admiral. He was invincible, cold, and calculating. He was their leader and they all depended upon him for a clean victory and to get them all through alive even if he knew he couldn't make it true for all of them. In a fight like this it was all about how much death and destruction he could inflict on the enemy while trading an ‘acceptable’ portion of his armada, his people, to the dark. People were sure to die. What gave those deaths purpose and meaning in his mind was that they would die fighting for him and for their empire. They would die protecting their homes and their way of life, they would die for victory against the odds. He could always promise their deaths would not be needless. He just couldn’t convince himself…
Edward reached over to the bedside shelf and flipped on his comm pad checking the alert status just to be certain… still on standby. It had been 4 days now. Each day seemed like it would be the one. Comm channels had been alive with speculation and rumor but in the end no order was ever given. He knew the decision to launch was a hard one to make. With the state of the universe these days he understood the reasons for delay. It seemed that their small empire, once the largest in this region and uncontested, had expanded and found vastly greater enemies on all sides. The wars of course had begun long before he was born. His entire life had been filled with them.
Ever since he was old enough to enlist he had been a part of the fighting. Long ago, after his wife was claimed in the struggle he pledged silently to become an agent of death. Nothing was left for him save the faint pop and hiss of the enemy ships bursting apart in the endless void of space. He had helped bring victory to his people time and again… and now finally his efforts and the efforts of all those he had seen die in the fighting were coming to a turning point. This battle… this last horizon in the cosmos would be the final turning point for his empire. It was the reason for the delay in launch orders. If he and the armada failed the council could live to see the empire die within a few short years. If he could bring victory once more they could live to see their enemies die off or join in a few brief months. It all rested on his shoulders to make sure it was a victory… All he needed was the order to launch...
Several hours later it came. He was just sitting down in the command chair on the bridge when the Comm Officer shot up out of his seat and slowly turned toward Edward. With a terrified look in his eyes and a single, simple, nod he said it. Ed smiled and stood up. “Broadcast to the fleet”… After a shaky moment the Comm Officer ran his hand through his hair and then rapidly across the council. “Comm open sir”
“This is Admiral Edward Gibson. After weeks of preparation and waiting we now have our orders to launch. Begin launch prep for your Jump drives and send your launch formulas to the Fleet coordinator to check your arrival times. All of our ships should drop into the LZ within 30 seconds of each other. Do not fail to comply. If you fail to arrive on time you will be failing your empire, your home, and your families. I need all of my ships on time. This battle is the culmination of hundreds of thousands of careful calculations coming to this simple conclusion. Not to mention the same number of lives and loved ones lost in this war to bring us here. We have fought and clawed our way outnumbered by our enemies for the last 200 years to come to this final engagement. This will be our turning point.
This will define us as an empire and as a people. Our performance here will be a testament to all those who have fallen so that we could be here this day to win this ancient war for them. We will bring a new dawn of peace over this age of wrecked dreams and worlds. You will receive your assigned targets in flight. Do not deviate from the target list. Destroy them. Pour every ounce of pain you have into your efforts. Vengeful efficiency is what will win this battle for us. Our departed watch us as they always have. Show them we have not forgotten. Show them in the coming battle how we honor our dead. Show our enemies the wicked faces of death and vengeance!”
On the bridge he saw his crew not cheering, but instead remembering and boiling, the anticipation of the coming fight red on their faces. He sat down in his chair and gave a nod to his pilot to prep the ship for launch…
[Time to LZ]: [000:00:59:10]… [000:00:59:09]… [000:00:59:08].. [000:00:59:07]
“At 30 minutes until LZ prep the ships weapons and run one last check to make sure we are at maximum capacity when we slip to combat speed.” Edward looked down at the intel reports showing the enemy fleets to make sure that there were no mistakes on his target list and that all the battle groups were targeting the weakest points in the enemy fleets. He was pleased at the meticulous, cold efficiency of it all. He had sent scouts every day for the last month just to make sure the intel was up to date and accurate. Many had been discovered and killed in the process but the information was priceless. He had spent the last 4 weeks planning every aspect of the attack with his officers. It was a brutal, shocking, assault meant to surprise their enemies and destroy their lead vessels in the first few minutes of the fight... Everyone just had to do their part. He rubbed his neck feeling the tension and his tender scar.
[Time to LZ]: [000:00:00:03]….[000:00:00:02]…. [000:00:00:01]… [ARRIVAL].
The ship rumbled as it slipped back under light speed. Already he could see the huge gray mass of enemy ships zooming in closer as the ship slowed it’s progress down to combat speeds exactly within firing range. The scouts had been accurate. He sighed with slight relief. His hair stood up on the back of his neck…. This was it. “Target the lead ship in our target cluster. When we are within range Fire, do not wait for my order.” He looked down at the display in front of him and was coolly relieved to see that most of his fleet carriers were already reporting their fighters launched and away. The timing was perfect.
The Fleet coordinator threw several images of the coming battle up on the main screen. As he took in the images a knot formed in his belly as he saw a small division of enemy frigates already smashing into a portion of his fleet carriers. The Comm Officer shouted a warning just as Light erupted on the screen and several of the carriers where hit by the incoming warheads. Edward grit his teeth and turned his attention to the enemy targets. There were no more orders to be given. Everyone knew what to do and how to do it. The outcome of this battle now rested on their shoulders. It was just him and his small battle group verse the enemy. This was the way he liked it. He watched as his group approached the enemy cluster, the enemy admiral’s personal battle group.
Ed was tense with anticipation. Taking down this fleet and the enemy admiral’s ship was as much about winning this war as it was personal. He wished he could see the man’s face as he received the reports of the size and timing of their landing. He had specifically tailored his own battle group to hit this special target. He watched the range tick down to the magic number and without a word the ship vibrated with a resonate hum. Light flashed across the scene in front of him as the entire universe erupted in a spectacular display of destruction.
The bridge temperature rose 3 degrees as the full force of the hungry, impatient, weapons where finally unleashed at the enemy. The faint, familiar smell of burnt ozone filled the bridge. Outside thousands upon thousands of ships clashed into each other firing everything that man’s imagination had created for the purpose of destruction.
It was organized chaos. It was beautiful and terrifying. An earthquake rocked the ship violently as they took a direct hit from an enemy battleship. “Shields down admiral”..His duel with the enemy commander would have to wait…He ordered a small group of frigates to make a strike against the offending enemy battleship. His ship lurched into a roll as the ship took another hit. Engineering reported the left port thruster had failed. Unconcerned Ed made no initial order to correct the roll. By rolling the ship he was putting a fresh plate of armor between him and that battleship. “Continue the roll for 180 degrees then compensate. Accelerate toward these coordinates”
Ed inputted the numbers on his display for the pilot. Flashes of the battle outside flickered across the bridge like a strobe light out of control. The sound of debris bouncing off the hull of the ship reminded him of rain on an old tin roof from his past. On one screen he noted the enemy battleship breaking apart across the nose and middle. His frigates had been fast and accurate. The ship plowed forward, rolling downward in a spiral like a whale cresting and falling back into the ocean. He ordered a barrage of point defense weapons as they landed into a vast wave of enemy fighters. The thrill and grace of these huge ships dancing their dance of death was so profound to Edward that he felt his chest heave with the emotion of 200 years of war coming to an end one way or another this day.
Feeling the spirits of all those before him who had perished in the wars guiding his ship he scanned the images and reports. There was so much information in such a large battle it was hard to stay focused. In a quick half breath he was aware of a danger behind his ship. He ran his hand across the console throwing in some fresh coordinates for the pilot and sending a brief message to another commander in his battle group. The massive ship veered steeply up into a vertical maneuver. In a rush he hollered at the pilot. “Accelerate NOW! FULL SPEED!”
Outside a large swarm of enemy heavy bombers fell into formation charging Edwards’s ship. He knew they would overrun his ship but he had a surprise for them. Ahead, above his ship hundreds of fighters changed course and dove directly at them. It was like watching an endless flock of birds swooping into toward a swarm of locusts. Ed smiled, pleased that the message was received. The fighters soundlessly flew past his ship in the vacuum of space driving into the bombers with terrible efficiency. As the bombers were being consumed he ran a search for the enemy admiral’s ship. Still leaving a trail of venting fuel from the damaged thruster his ship lurched forward, deeper, and faster into the chaos hungry for the object of it’s hunt.
“There!” Edward saw the tall tail shape in the images and reports streaming steadily across the screens. He sent an order through his comm. Officer and collected his battle group back into formation for a fresh assault on the enemy cluster surrounding their Capital ships. “It’s ours now… It’s time”. With the rage of a life time of war and fallen loved ones he lost himself in the dance. Through a life time of experience and war he could see it all as if he were watching the entire battle over head. He could feel every practical of debris bouncing off his hull. He became the spirit of the ship, and the heart of the fleet in the same instant. His senses honed in on the target. He could smell the sweat on the enemy admiral’s forehead. He could hear his heart pounding with fear. Almost unconsciously Edward gave out a flurry of orders to be carried out… the fleet moved around his words as an extension of his body responding as if by a simple thought. A fresh wave of heat and ozone washed across the bridge as a powerful pulse of destructive light sliced through space leaving a savage scar across the bow of the enemy ship.
The enemy flagship recoiled and rocked back slightly but quickly compensated and steadily turned against the blast to return a greeting of it’s own. In an instant Edward ordered a sudden roll while keeping his nose pointed at the cannons of the enemy ship. He limited his ship’s profile while keeping the enemy ship at a broader angle to his own. In a slow steady arch his ship strafed to the side dodging the deadly bolt. Much like a predator circling it’s prey the weapons recharged and readied for the next pounce. Ed knew he had the advantage and relished it but knew better than to waste it in revelry. He unleashed another destructive barrage into the same location as before… this time he smelled blood as a violent depressurization in the enemy ship erupted from the fresh wound. The hull breach pushed the enemy cannons further away from their target and gave Ed an even better angle at it’s soft underbelly. A powerful shock resonated through his ship with a heavy impact… and then another. He instantly assessed his surroundings and realized that in a desperate attempt to save their flagship the enemy had begun suiciding their fighters into his ship in the vain hope of giving their commander a chance to recover.
Another violent impact pushed his weapons off target and caused an array of red warring lights to come to life flashing across various stations in the bridge. In a burning rage he ordered the black night around them alive with weapons fire. His point defense weapons unleashed their fire at the incoming specs of metal. His own fighters swarmed in to his defense as well. Another violent shock rocked the bridge as another one made it through. His ship began rolling down below his target plane of attack. On the screen he could see the enemy flagship turning it’s cannons on him. He saw the red glow come to life in it’s weapons. Just as the wounded beast lashed out once more the attack was obstructed just in time by a frigate in Edwards fleet. The small sturdy ship evaporated before his eyes into a swirling mass of white hot metal, venting gas, and lost lives. Dropping below the explosion and attempting to correct the angle of his weapons Edward still descended uncontrollably below his plain of attack. He took in the enemy ship and the swarming enemy fighters… He saw his solution… With a quick highlight he targeted one incoming fighter and sent out a group wide message. ‘Let this one through…’
As the fighter tore through space brushing past each slice of light and dodging each missile to vengefully find it’s path through the chaos to it’s target it heedlessly slammed into Edward’s ship near the rear engines precisely where a black scar had already been burned into the hull. The Battleship absorbed the shock in slow motion and contorted around the impact. The ship unable to broker the impact tore across the far side of the collision. The aft engines went dead and contorted in an unnatural angle as the nose of the vessel was forced upward in the violence... The enemy flagship looming above as Eds weapons swung into line. It was time… it was his… at last. “Fire” he said feeling as though it was his last breath. From the nose of the broken vessel pure hate spewed forth from the weapons. One last angry purge to silence it’s enemy. The blast plowed into the open wound of the enemy admiral’s ship and gutted what remained of it’s stable structure. The ship burst into shrapnel at it’s bow and secondary explosions rippled through it’s core. The spectacular blaze illuminated the faces of the bridge crew.
The red warning lights adding’s their glow to the bridge telling their story… Ed screamed with delight as his broken, dying, ship tumbled slowly into the nothingness. In the silence of space the cloud of new debris pinged off the hull bringing with it the finality of an evening rain on an endless age of war. The day was won. Ed was done... he heaved back down in his captains chair as the bridge crew hurriedly evacuated to the escape pods… A tear ran down his cheek… he stared at his hands and felt them all there waiting for him… All the ones he had lost. He knew they were there.. He was coming home… He mentally bowed to them all honoring them one last time. The alarms and frantic warning lights blurred, the hissing of oxygen venting into space filled the bridge. The vibration and secondary explosions of the broken ship…. everything merged. They all became open arms, sad eyes, and a soft whisper… ‘Come home… Rest now… Sleep’. He closed his eyes and welcomed their embrace finally relieved of his guilt and the pressures that had always constrained his heart. He was at peace at last. The dark sleep overtook him as his ship vented it’s last breath into the void of space.
Story sent by Sardaukar17 for the AE Stories event.