The destruction of Krix facilities on Aultra was absolute. The Alliance Fleet had more than enough time to accomplish its deadly task, while leaving several large areas that still housed old human buildings intact. The Krix never used captured installations or technology for some reason. They would level the cities and build their own with the salvage.
With time to spare before the enemy fleet arrived to retake the system, the taskforce moved out of orbit, reformed, and headed for the jump-limit. One at a time, the huge ships were enveloped by self-generated force fields similar to their defensive shields. The vessels then began to fade from view. They became translucent until hardly visible. With the ship’s mass phase shifted into ex-space, they accelerated away in a burst of energy.
Ex-space was another dimension parallel to the physical one, only it was far more expansive on a molecular level. This meant that moving a set distance in that dimension was multiplied by fifteen hundred times in this. Keeping a small portion of the ship’s mass in this dimension gave them the advantage of being able to scan and communicate in both. The Krix didn’t have that capability. They had to fully jump into either.
Besides its strategic value, the development of the ability to instantly move into ex-space also cut travel time. Ships use to have to accelerate to the brink of light speed then make a full jump into ex-space. With the limits of inertial compensation systems that could add days to the trip. Ships also had to slow down in the same manner once they arrived at their destinations.
The phase-drive did put a ship into ex-space without a run-up, however once there a vessel still had to use its engines to steadily increase its speed to take advantage of the dimension. With far less of an inertial effect in ex-space that rate of acceleration could be increased dramatically. Once up to speed the Alliance fleet could travel at a rate of four light-years a day. The journey back to Earth took only four days before they dropped out to decelerate into the system.
Aurora was getting lunch in the officer’s mess when a voice sharply chirped, “Hi!”
Her head whipped around to find Lazell standing next to her with a big toothy grin.
“Sorry if I scared you,” she said in a small voice.
“You didn’t scare me, you startled me.”
“Sorry I startled you?”
“Looks like we have a good lunch today,” Lazell said as she grabbed a try and followed her down the serving line. Aurora glanced back a few times only to be met by that cheerful, smiling face. Her hair was changed to jet black and in three long braids, two off the sides and the third standing straight up. The girl’s hair was dramatically longer.
“What’d you do to your head?”
“I always change my hair. I like to experiment.”
She then chatted on about the various styles she’d had recently and how they reflected things that were happening in her life. She stopped in mid-sentence when she saw how Aurora seemed to be getting annoyed with her.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “am I talking too much? I tend to do that some times. It’s a terrible habit, I know, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.”
“Look,” Aurora interrupted her endless prattle. “I just want to grab some food and turn in. Okay?”
“Oh,” the young woman said quietly, “I’m bothering you, I’ll go.”
Aurora stopped her. “You don’t have to go, just relax.”
“You’re right. I can’t believe so many people got killed. I never got a chance to make friends with them, and they’re gone. Just gone, like that.
“I just have a bad feeling. Something bad is going to happen. I can just feel it, can you?”
Aurora just looked her in the eye, an apathetic look on her face.
Lazell gave a meek smile. “I’ll be quiet now. I promise.”
At the end of the line Aurora swiped her meal card and headed for her usual spot, a small two person table in a quiet corner. She’d only just sat and started unwrapping her utensils when a try was placed opposite her. Lazell plopped down and flashed her smile.
“I usually eat alone.”
“Oh,” the girl said pleasantly. “It must be nice to have some company for a change.”
Aurora sighed heavily. “Alpha Flight is over there. Why don’t you go pester them?”
“They don’t like me,” she said with a pout. “How come nobody likes me? I’m nice, I like to have fun.”
“You’re new. New people get killed.”
“I made it yesterday. Maybe I can make it the next time, with your help,” she said hopefully.
Aurora was about to demand she leave, however Lazell was already eating. Plus she did sympathize, a little. Lord knows what line of bullshit the recruiter spewed out to throw a silly girl like her into the meat grinder.
“You’re also annoying.”
“Some people have told me that. I just like to have fun with people. Those are the people I like to have the most fun with.
“I’m gonna have a lot of fun with your Bogan.”
Her sudden dark tone caught Aurora’s attention again. When she looked up, an almost sinister expression flashed back to its happy, carefree norm.
“If you help me,” Lazell said, “I can help you.”
“How can you possibly help me?”
“You seem sad all the time. I can help with that. I can make you laugh.”
“Please,” Aurora scoffed. “Don’t waste your time.”
Lazell sat quietly eating. Aurora tried to ignore her forlorn look.
“I just thought that maybe you were lonely. I’m lonely. Nobody likes me. They all look at me strangely.”
“It’s not you, well, it’s not all you. It’s this place. It’s everybody dying.
“How can you be happy all the time? We are facing the end of our species ya know.”
“Yeah, but it’s no reason to be depressed all the time.”
Aurora shook her head and kept on eating.
“I just want to live,” Lazell said quietly. “That’s not a lot to ask for. I’ll be your friend either way.”
“I don’t need or want a friend.”
Lazell spoke barely above a whisper. “I do.”
“Fine. You want some advice that might help you last a little longer?”
She was about throw out some dark retort like ’don‘t get shot‘, but saw the eager expression sprout on the girl’s face.
With a heavy sigh Aurora told her, “Ducking and weaving doesn’t mean shit. You can just as easily weave into a round. It’s all spray and pray. If you’re gonna get hit, then you’re gonna get hit.”
Lazell nodded rapidly and listened intently. Her breads reverberated with the motion.
“Alright, the Krix always try to stay in a large groups to maximize their firepower. They expect us to do the same. It really doesn’t make a difference, fifty ships shooting is the same no matter how you go in. Stay away from the group. They always concentrate on large formations. If you’re under some idiot that wants to fight on their terms, try to get to the outside. Most Krix fire is going for the center. Don’t worry about that with Sterett. He has a vague idea what he’s doing, he always break us into flights.
“Always try to break them up. They’re shit in one on ones. If you can get one or two alone, hound them down. And always remember you can out accelerate them. You’re faster and smarter than them. Think, don’t just act. But never ignore your instincts, they can save you too. I’ve seen your record, you’re good.”
“Thank you. I’m your friend now,” Lazell declared with a smile.
“I really don’t need a stalker.”
Earth, the year 2103, Armageddon was at hand. Despite massive propaganda campaigns and media attempts to downplay the situation, panic had spread throughout the population. Terror and desperation ruled. Martial law had been declared in most of the major cities. Not to fight off the impending invasion, but to keep the residents under control. The moral decay, which had been growing since the turn of the millennium, erupted into a firestorm of riots and looting. Civil disobedience was rampant. Some people acted out on the dread of the approaching apocalypse, while others saw it as just another excuse to act out.
Overpopulation had long since drained the frail planet’s resources and taxed its food supplies. Earlier Krix raids had only thrown fuel on the fire of decay. The recent influx of advanced technology didn’t help much. Most people viewed the aliens with suspicion at best. Advanced medicines and genetic treatments, that greatly extended the life span, were only available to those who could afford them, and didn’t do much for long-term overcrowding predictions. The rest of it was either military hardware or priced out of reach. Aultrian attempts at social reforms were considered a plot to subjugate the population.
Some, however, welcomed the refugees of the Grand Alliance. As members of this once powerful nation they felt that they had become a greater people, as short-lived as that might be. Signing the Unification Agreement had thrown the already troubled world centuries into the future, and there was no time for adjustment.
After two centuries of covert contact with various Earth governments, the Aultrians had simply announced themselves. Governments collapsed as politicians went scrambling for cover or tried to hide their role in the “big lie”. The social ramifications were only beginning to set in when the people of Earth learned about the Krix, the hard way. There were few choices other than accepting unification with their long removed human cousins. The Aultrians had walked in and taken.
Aultrian history told of how their people had been transplanted from some other world, four-thousand three-hundred and fifteen cycles, or years, before. That event was the date at which the Aultrian calendar started, the Day Of Arrival. There was no doubt that some other highly advanced alien form had seeded both Aultra and the planet Carmella. The long standing questions were who and why? Another debate was whether the human race originated on Earth, or somewhere else. Genetics proved the races were related, and despite the evidence humans had been on Earth long before Aultra, there were still those who pointed elsewhere for their origin.
These debates and controversies were only beginning to blossom when the war drove the two diametrically different peoples together under one strained government. The notion growing among the people of Earth was if they were really equal members of this nation, why did Aultrians still command the fleet that defended them? Especially when they made up a vast majority of the population, even before the loss of Aultra. Decisions that could spell life or death for the entire race were being made by outsiders. Earth still held its own space fleet, but it was greatly outclassed by the aliens.
A number of large orbiting stations hung over the blue planet. The largest of which was Gateway Station, the United Earth Space Consortium base. In the previous decades, a multinational organization had been formed to build the giant rotating barrel. The Consortium had managed to outlast many conflicts and much strife on the ground. It had become a unifying and common goal for the factions that made up the planet’s world government. With an outside enemy to point the finger of blame at, leaders and politicians had put the Consortium forth as a necessity in economically bad times.
Aultrian technology had made vast improvements to the station. Only one of which was artificial gravity. The bulk of the structure still rotated to maintain gravity in the populated decks, which turned about the center axis. A docking platform, added to the station’s center, made landing much easier. Shuttles no longer had to match the rotation to dock. The platform held a stable position as an outer sleeve that supported connecting struts to the rest of the station, rotated around it.
Nearby the UESC station was the newest addition to the mix of orbiting structures. When completed it would dwarf everything else in orbit, the Alliance military repair and construction facility. Construction had begun shortly after unification over sixteen years before and progressed at a fevered pace. Nowhere near completion, the station was however operational. There was open super-structure over most of its distorted form. Off to one side, an open section of beams and girders surrounded a docked Ittala Class ship. The Es-star was the last of the four surviving heavy carriers. When completed, that area would be a pressurized docking bay for two of the mammoth ships.
Another bay, which had already been enclosed, contained the damaged Excalibur. She had taken priority by order of the Marshal. The forward part of that bay held the barely recognizable form of a carrier under construction.
“Gateway Station, this is GAF Oronos. Request permission to approach.”
“Copy Oronos,” responded the traffic controller, “welcome home. You are clear to resume your previous station.”
For diplomatic reasons Marshal Reen still maintained his headquarters on Gateway Station. As soon as the fleet reached orbit, he called his top officers together for a strategy session.
With the Oronos still on its approach vector, a shuttle taxied from the main hanger to the port landing-bay. It was a standard Aultrian shuttle with a single tail atop its twin engines, tapered fuselage, and short down swept wings that spread out as they reached the blunt rear of the ship. Once cleared the small craft accelerated out the forward end of the bay and banked off as it left the Oronos.
Vice-General Yanex sat staring out a view port as the turning surface of Gateway Station loomed closer. The different textures of the station’s hull told of its many additions and modifications. Yanex couldn’t help wondering why he wasn’t heading for the Alliance platform instead. He wasn’t one for politics and didn’t quite understand the need for tact in some matters.
The shuttle slowed and made its approach into the docking bay. Once inside the main chamber it was directed to one of the smaller compartments, which opened along the wall. With the door closed behind the landing shuttle, the smaller bay was pressurized and the passengers were free to disembark. Yanex wasn’t the only passenger, but he was the first off. Flashing an ID at the security checkpoint, he made his way to the nearest elevator followed closely by his aid. The elevator paused as it waited for its shaft to align with one of the moving struts, then traveled to the outer ring of the station.
The Alliance had its own curtained off section with its own security measures. After passing through additional checkpoints, Yanex entered the large conference room and found his seat. Being the most junior carrier commander he sat at the far end of a large semicircular table, which made up the first of several rows that ascended to the back wall. After flipping through the notes and reports left for him, Yanex watched as his fellow ship commanders filtered in. Noticeably missing was his old wingman, the commander of the Excalibur, Colonel Marcone of Lot. A discrete inquiry revealed that his friend had lost his command, although no one was quite sure why.
The room was called to attention when Marshal Reen entered, followed closely by his two top fleet-generals, Fleet-General Sheckess of the Ittala and Fleet-General Bella, who was in-charge of defending Earth. Reen made some opening remarks then sat at a large desk with his fleet-generals to preside over a discussion of new developments. It was an open forum, an advisory council. People who wanted to speak would turn on a light in front of them until called upon. Reen was open to any idea or suggestion from his officers; however the decisions were his alone.
After a discussion of old business, Reen rose and announced, “On to better things, I am pleased to announce that operation Home Fire was a complete success. According to intelligence drones, the Krix fleet at Carmella appears to be standing down.”
The woman seated next to Yanex leaned over to whisper, “Except the damn thing nearly blew up.”
Yanex nodded sullenly.
General Bella looked up at her boss skeptically. “The bulk of their fleet still remains in that system.”
“Yes,” Reen spoke to the entire room, “however, additional forces have pulled back to defensive positions. They haven’t launched a major attack without the majority of their fleet since the last time we drove them from Aultra.”
“Yes sir,” persisted Bella, “it’s still thirty-five carriers. That’s more than enough to walk in here with.”
“That may not be such a bad thing,” said Sheckess.
“How so?” Bella turned to him.
“Well,” said Sheckess, “we have sixty percent of their fleet in one spot. Just how big of a hole can that new weapon make?”
“Right now,” the woman next to Yanex shouted, “none.”
The laughter that arose was a sign of the common concern for the reliability of the weapon. It was put down by a wave of the Marshal’s hand.
“What I’m saying,” continued Sheckess, “if we could destroy that fleet, it would turn the war in our favor. The way they think, they’d be afraid to concentrate their forces again.”
“That sounds nice,” said Bella, “but there’s no practical way of doing it. Even if we could depend on that prototype, that fleet is spread throughout the entire system. They’re not going to just line up for us. We also may not have the advantage of surprise that you had at Aultra, which was a stroke of luck, I might add. Intelligence reports that they have a new detection system.”
“There’s no way to know if they have that system installed at Carmella, or if it would even work from a ground based station,” Sheckess fired back.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Bella. “The weapon is unreliable. We can’t risk the remainder of our fleet in an all-out attack. It would be foolhardy. We should wait for them to come to us.”
Reen quieted their bickering by saying, “With barely thirty squadrons we’d be crazy to invite them here.”
“I’m not proposing that we send them an invitation to an ambush,” Bella responded, “just that we should be more cautious. We lost two full squadrons in this last campaign. With the immediate threat of an attack averted, we should take this time to restore our present units and develop new ones. We’re finally starting to deploy new units at an acceptable pace.”
Reen paced in-between the desk and curved table. “I appreciate and understand your point, General, but the longer we wait the stronger they become. We have an incredible advantage here,” he turned toward her. “We need to use that advantage.”
A light flashed on in front of an officer at the table. The Marshal acknowledged him by pointing in his general direction. “Perhaps it’s time for the Grand Tour again, sir,” said the officer.
Cheers and shouts of agreement rose from the room. “Here, here,” cried Yanex. He’d been a squadron commander during the last Grand Tour, which had been little more than a rampage through enemy territory, hitting lightly defended military and industrial targets, then ambushing the ships that responded. The campaign was successful at breaking a major siege that was occurring at the time. Although cut short by a lack of resources and mounting casualties, it had forced the enemy to divert a large portion of their fleet to protect their home worlds. That was about the time that the Krix began arming their fighters with a new cannon that rendered Aultrian fighter shields useless.
Reen smiled at the enthusiasm. It had been far too long since the meeting had been filled with such optimism. The very thought of turning things around had greatly raised spirits. He fielded a few more suggestions and calls for an assault before taking back the floor.
“People,” Reen strode about the center of the room, basking in the energy of the moment. All of the past defeats were now going to be turned around. All of the massacres would be avenged. “Clearly the situation calls for a major offensive.”
He walked to the front of the room amid the cheers. There, a holographic display of the Carmella system appeared in mid-air. Numerical data estimating the Krix strength there flashed underneath. Reen raised his hand to the floating map, “This is our best target. To destroy this fleet would be a major blow to them, strategically and psychologically.”
Bella jumped to her feet, “I couldn’t agree more, sir, but it doesn’t change the fact that the tool of our deliverance can’t be depended on. Nothing can happen until the Vortex Weapon is operational, fully operational.”
Reen felt the cold chill of reality. Even the aggressive Sheckess couldn’t dispute that fact.
“The weapon is not operational,” Sheckess had to admit. “I’m not even sure the prototype can be repaired without the maintenance report. We clearly can’t proceed at this time.”
Reen turned his attention to General Gazar, who was in-charge of the dock and fleet wide maintenance. Gazar stood at attention when called upon and was unprepared for the meeting. He tried to explain that the ship had only been in his possession for a day.
“What can you tell us?” Reen demanded.
“Well sir, the structural damage looks worse than it is,” Gazar explained. “If I pull some crews off the new ship, we can handle that with no problem.”
Reen gave a nod of approval.
“The real situation is that the thing burned out four of the six reactors we put in her.” Gazar shook his head. “We only have two new ones available and they’re marked for the Es-star. Production of new power units is at a crawl due to the primitive manufacturing base here. If that thing is going to waste reactors every time it’s used, the rest of the fleet will come to a stop.”
Reen returned to his desk and sat down. That wasn’t what he wanted to hear.
“It’s as I’ve been trying to explain, sir,” Bella leaned over to whisper. “The modernization programs are moving too slow. I’m running into bureaucracy at every turn. They won’t even discuss nationalization, and I won’t go into the recruiting situation.”
After a pause, the Marshal thanked Gazar for his input and told him to report to him as soon as he had more information. The jubilation was gone. Once again his heart sank.
“We have the tool to save ourselves,” he called out in his frustration, “only it doesn’t work.”
The scuff of a chair and an angry voice broke the ensuing silence. “It does work!”
Professor Maxamillion Cromwell had been granted admission after the meeting had started. He had taken a seat at one of the outer tables and listened to his work be maligned by imbeciles. Every slight at his invention was an attack on him. It built up in him like bile until he could take it no longer.
“The technology is sound,” Cromwell stated as he stalked to the front of the room.
“Then why are ten of our people dead?” Bella asked. Reen quickly silenced her by grabbing her arm.
Cromwell did not take criticism well, any kind. These buffoons had no idea what was involved, nor were they worthy to have it explained to them. His anger was getting the better of him. He tried not to scream hysterically, that would be undignified.
“It is the application that has failed,” Cromwell said angrily. “Had you not used inferior materials in the construction of the prototype, there would have been no problem.”
“Professor, that ship was built to your specifications. With the best components that are available,” Reen said calmly. He was trying to calm the man while still saving face in front of his officers. As much as he didn’t want to upset Cromwell he had an image to uphold.
“Apparently my invention is far too advanced for you,” Cromwell said smugly.
Reen’s voice sounded strained. He tried to give the appearance of being in control as he sat back with his arms folded and stated, “Be that as it may, Professor, but we need a working weapon. We need it today, not in twenty cycles; and we need it reliable. We don’t have time for trial and error.”
Cromwell was incensed. He had to one better that fool, he had to win, to be on top. What could he do? What could he say? The weapon was the best he could make it, and he’d never admit that he was stumped.
Cromwell turned his back to the room to hide any sign of indecision and there it was, the floating map of Carmella. Like a flash it popped into his head. He’d solve their problem for them and once again they’d worship him. His place in history was secure. The man threw out his chest and turned to face the doubting stares of the room full of officers. With as much showmanship as he could muster, Cromwell pointed back at the map, at the star in particular. His finger actually pierced the glowing hologram and he jerked it back slightly. The very next instant, when he realized it wouldn’t burn him, he shoved it back in. He was met by only baffled looks.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” announced the Professor, “Carmella’s sun.”
“What about it?” Reen asked cautiously.
“Here is the power to destroy your enemy,” Cromwell announced. “A steady stream from the Cromwell Device, without the focal point equations, can pierce the surface of this star. The influx of anti-protons will then serve to destabilize the core of the star. Thereby causing it to go supernova.”
Cromwell had an evil grin. The more he thought about it, the more he liked it. Imagine the power to destroy an entire solar system. That’s all he was doing, imagining. Even though one of his side projects was for a form of beam weapon, he hadn’t pursued the concept very far. But that didn’t stop him. He had the room enthralled. The murmuring voices and gazes of excitement only drove him on. He strode about the room spouting numbers and theories as if they were his own. Confident that no one would challenge him. After all, he barely understood them himself, surely no one else would.
Yanex certainly didn’t. However, he did understand people, and he knew when someone was feeding him a line of garbage. A look of skepticism from the woman next to him was confirmation. For she knew a hell of a lot more about stars then he.
When Yanex’s light went unanswered, he rose to his feet.
“Professor,” he called out.
Cromwell froze in mid-sentence. Who dared challenge him? He spun around to face the man who threatened him. Ready to deflect any question that may be sent his way. Any except the one he got.
With all attention on him, Yanex spoke the unspeakable. He asked the most damning of all questions. “Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?”
“What?” Cromwell exploded. “How dare you dispute me!”
Yanex didn’t back down. “You’re talking about destroying an entire system, that’s if you can actually do it. Our whole fleet will be there!”
Reen jumped to his feet, “Be silent General! Sit down!”
It was too late. The delicate ego that was Professor Cromwell had been shattered. He reacted the only way he could, like a child. Cromwell cursed them all and stormed from the room. With a glaring look back at Yanex, Reen chased after him.
Yanex fell back into his seat, he’d done it again. Opened his mouth at the wrong time. When would he learn? Hopefully never was the opinion of the woman next to him. She laughed with delight and told him that he still had the biggest stones in the fleet. Others applauded or laughed, after the Marshal left of course.
The staff meeting was adjourned for the day after the commotion. Vice-General Yanex accepted an invitation from some of his fellow officers for a drink. Most of them had served together at one point or another. As the fleet grew smaller, they got closer.
The group was granted special treatment at one of the station’s civilian establishments frequented by the aliens. One drink turned into many as they talked about old times and speculated on what was next. Most agreed the course of their fate would be set in the near future. Yanex regretted that his ship was going into repair. He didn’t want to miss the coming action, but hated the idea of taking a job under someone else.
As it grew late, the crowd thinned out. When there were only a few officers left, they moved from their private table to the bar. It wasn’t long afterward that Yanex noticed a familiar face at the other end of the bar. He excused himself and made his way over to his old friend. Colonel Marcone hadn’t been there all night, but he had been drinking. Mass indulgence hadn’t relieved his resentment. It wasn’t the first time he’d lost a job, but damn it he was right! Or so he thought.
Marcone had a smile and firm handshake for his old squadron commander.
“I heard,” Yanex said, “tough break,”
Marcone just shrugged. “He’s gonna get us all killed, Yan.”
Yanex didn’t speak to that, he couldn’t agree more, Cromwell was a dangerous man.
“I think it’ll be a while before we can get you another ship,” Yanex said. “I got a slot in my crew, if you’re interested.”
Marcone didn’t answer right away. The thought of taking a step backwards in his career disturbed him.
“Hey,” Yanex added when he didn’t get a response, “it beats sitting on the ground.”
Marcone reluctantly shook his head, “Thanks’ Yan.”
Yanex smiled and patted his old friend on the shoulder. They spent the rest of the night drinking and indulging in other chemicals. With his tongue loosened, Yanex let out his resentment of Cromwell and railed against the idea of reverting to civil rule. His disgust of bureaucratic hypocrisy made even Marcone uncomfortable at one point.
The night wasn’t quite so festive for General Gazar. He had to give a better account of repairs to the Excalibur. Consequently, he spent most of the night in the repair bay overseeing operations. With very little sleep, and a pounding headache, he made his way to the morning meeting with the Marshal.
Generals Sheckess and Bella were already waiting in Reen’s private office. They each took seats around the oversized desk and awaited the Marshal. The room was modestly decorated and had a large picture window along the back wall which gave a rotating view of the outside. Actually the window faced a mirror that reflected downward to a view port, the floor was toward the outer hull of the station.
The three officers rose when Reen entered the room and he quickly put them at ease, telling them to be seated as he reached his large chair.
“What good news do you have for us General Gazar?” Reen asked as he settled in.
“Not much, sir,” Gazar replied. “Produce four reactors for me and I’ll clear her in fifteen days. Otherwise she’s holding for parts.”
Reen grimaced at that. Before he could say anything, Sheckess spoke up, “Rip ’em off the Oronos. She’s going into the dock anyway.”
Reen gave Gazar a look that stated, why didn’t you think of that?
“Easier said than done,” Gazar replied. “I can’t bring the Oronos in until the Es-star is cleared. That’s at least twenty-five days, and she’ll be incomplete at that.”
Reen began rubbing his hands impatiently. “What’s the status of the Es-star?”
Gazar sighed, then stated, “The structural damage is repaired. The biggest holes, she only has three out of eight reactors. I’ve got two more to install, but that still leaves her short.” Gazar rubbed the side of his face as he tried to think. The throbbing pain made it difficult and it shown on his face.
“The next biggest hole,” he continued, “she’s missing five main guns. Secondaries are looking better and I’ve got a list of other stuff that’ll red X her.”
“You can’t pull the reactors off the Oronos outside?” Sheckess asked.
“Without the dock cranes it’ll take three times longer,” Gazar responded.
Bella finally spoke up with, “Why don’t you pull them off the Es-star? She’s already in the dock.”
In disbelief Gazar said, “I’ve been five months putting her back together. You want me to pull her apart?”
“I want the Es-star on this mission,” Reen commanded. “It’s too important.”
“Yes sir,” the assertive Bella responded, “but you’ll have to wait for her. Right now, the Oronos is operational.”
“Marshal,” said Sheckess, “the Oronos is heavily damaged and she’s still down a landing bay. She shouldn’t have been on the last mission let alone this one.”
Reen turned to Gazar for answers. After a pause Gazar conceded, “Right this moment, the Oronos is a better choice. She’s only down one reactor and she’s got a full weapons pack.”
“What about the structural damage?” Reen asked.
“It’s mostly first and second hull breaches,” Gazar said, “not much beyond the third. She’s pretty shot up, but other than the landing bay, the rest, ah, really isn’t that bad. Not much worse than the rest of the fleet.”
Reen thought a moment as the others bickered back and forth. Finally he announced, “We’ll go with the Oronos. Pull what you need off the Es-star.”
Gazar gave a reluctant nod.
“When we get back,” he continued, “you can cannibalize the Oronos while she’s modified for the new weapon.”
“If things don’t go right?” Sheckess asked.
“We’ll deal with it,” Reen stated as he leaned forward. Softly he said, “I can’t express how vital this operation is going to be.”
“We’re defiantly going then?” asked Bella.
“I don’t see that we have much choice. The longer we delay,” Reen trailed off. “Well, sooner or later they’ll come for us. There’s no way we can hold them off, even a smaller force. If we can’t deliver a decisive blow before that, well, I think we all know what must be done. The survival of our race is essential.”
Reen turned to Bella, “If this should go badly, you’ll be left in command. You know what your duty is under Chapter Fifteen. The Es-star should have enough power to get into ex-space.”
He looked over at Gazar, who gave a sullen nod.
Reen smiled at him, “Get some sleep General. The rest of us will convene after lunch to start work on a battle plan.”
Reen slowly stood and held a hand out over the desk. “May God be with us,” he stated in a solid voice.
The others also stood and placed a hand on top of his in a sign of unity. The last was Bella, who grabbed a hold and said, “May He forgive us.”