“Malady and the Skyreign have made planetfall,” said Grace aloud, as Janeth patrolled the bridge, familiarizing herself with it.
“The fleet there?” Janeth faced her.
“Two capital ships have been destroyed,” Grace replied, “the remainder has broken orbit and are leaping towards us. It would appear that the fleet already headed here had stopped just twenty million kilometres away.”
“So they’re regrouping,” Janeth concluded.
“Is this a common tactic?” asked Wilhelm as he followed her.
“No,” Janeth shook her head, “have they changed tactics in fifty years? Likely. However, this does seem completely uncharacteristic of them. They never leave a planet unattended. At least one vessel is always in orbit.”
“I can confirm that,” said Grace, “in my experience as a cruiser, I was never allowed to leave a planet’s orbit until another vessel arrived. Surveillance was constant.”
As the conversation went on, Janeth tuned her ears into the radio chatter coming from the leftmost portion of the bridge, which served as a fleet command centre. Numerous control officers gave orders for ships to space out, assume formations, confirm or change designation codes, report any sensor readings, merge or separate, refuel and so on.
“So disciplined,” said Janeth, “rarely was such discipline seen in Behraan.”
“You may not remember this,” Wilhelm stood beside her, “but you trained some of these officers, Jiin.”
“Still getting used to that name.”
“It’s yours to get used to as you please,” Verner shrugged, “or—what do you call yourself now? Janet?”
“Janeth,” she corrected, “I guess after three thousand years, a name can go through so many changes.”
“As can other things,” Wilhelm said, looking at her ears, “your ears were much more pointed, just the other day to me. You appear just as young, but your face has changed ever so slightly. Time can change even the timeless.”
“The remainder of the Behraanese fleet has joined with the first one,” said Grace, “and they have all resumed course for us. They will arrive in five minutes.”
“Lock onto their signatures and fire upon the first target that appears!” Wilhelm shouted to the fleet command.
“Belay that!” Janeth stood in front of him.
“Behraan always sends in decoys first,” Janeth stated, “gets their enemies to waste energy and ammunition. They then send in payloads at leap, which weave past fighters and find their way into capital ships, while we’re busy shooting at nothing.”
“So—what do we do then?”
“We lay down torpedoes in open space,” said Janeth, “and we wait until we have a visual on the real fleet. Then arm the torpedoes.”
“Make the order!” Wilhelm commanded.
The command was immediately received and the control officers changed their tones.
“We still have their barrage to worry about,” Janeth added, “we need to fire our countermeasures the moment they arrive.”
“You heard the admiral,” Wilhelm said again to fleet command.
“They will likely bring in leap inhibitors,” said Janeth quickly, “Grace, you know what they look like?”
“They started integrating them into many capital vessels,” Grace said, “they no longer dedicate ships to that one role. It is a specific tower on them. I can identify them, for I was the first vessel to have one installed.”
“I’ll leave it to you to relay that information then,” Wilhelm nodded to Grace.
“Receiving a transmission from the Behraanese Carrier, Maker One,” Grace announced, “shall I open a channel?”
Janeth spun around to the screen, stepping more towards the central part of the bridge, sitting and nodding to the screen.
A face she knew rather well. The face of General Alvoa.
“Vick,” Janeth’s brows raised, “surprise, surprise.”
<Admiral?> he tilted his head, <Admiral Janeth Sehra? You’re alive!? And—all this time, I thought he was kidding....>
“The Imperator seldom jests,” Janeth leaned her chin on her propped fist, “You’ve gotten old. And—is that Damaal?”
Damaal looked up from her console, closer to the screen and smiled, <Jan?>
“You seem to know everyone,” Wilhelm smirked, “seems nothing’s changed.”
“You have your mother’s eyes,” said Janeth to Damaal as she shrugged in response to Verner.
Damaal opened her mouth to speak, but refrained.
<I see you have retrieved the Sacred Vessel for us,> said the General, <Very good work. So, this is what you’ve been up to, all this time.>
“You know I can’t let you take this ship,” Janeth shook her head, “and you know your fleet is badly outnumbered.”
<Janeth, please,> he continued, <listen to reason. This ship rightly belongs to Behraan. It is your duty to hand it over to us.>
“I beg to differ,” Wilhelm stood and faced the screen, hands behind his back, “I am Captain Wilhelm of the Unity Starship Terraniia. This is not only a ship, but for all intents and purposes, a nation. Attempting to seize this vessel will be an attempt to seize a nation, and under galactic rules, any such act is an act of war. Turn around, now, and there will be no bloodshed. Let us go in peace.”
“Wilhelm, is it?” Alvoa hummed, “your Behraanese is perfect.”
“What you’re hearing is our translators,” Wilhelm shook his head, “I never spoke a word of your language in my life. But I hope my message to you is clear, just the same.”
<Perfectly,> said Alvoa, <so, if you don’t mind, I’ll clarify my disposition now. Even if you defeat this one fleet, we do control half this galaxy. We do have thousands of fleets at our disposal. What sort of chance do you stand in a galaxy that has gone on without you, running from a Dominion that has eyes everywhere? From an Imperator that can find you anywhere?>
<Warning!> Grace said throughout the ship, <incoming Behraanese signatures from behind the Sixth planet. Sensors detect six hundred and forty-two unique capital signatures. Estimated time of arrival: two minutes. We are surrounded.>
Fleet command’s officers almost started to panic as they spread out the fleet and launched fighters that had been held back.
“How did we not see them!?” Wilhelm shouted to the sensors officer.
<Last chance,> Alvoa stated, <Surrender. Now. And there will be no bloodshed. Fail to do so, and we will still seize your vessel, regardless the casualties.>
“I remember you,” Grace said slowly, stepping towards the screen, “Vicken Alvoa. You were a Captain, when we first met, many years ago.”
<Seems as though you’ve resumed your old ways, Grace,> he replied, <and you know, crewmates aside, you can choose for yourself. You are the ship. Just like before. Join us again, would you?>
“I would not,” Grace said coldly, “I remember Kelvik. I remember ten years of my life I lost in a pitch-black prison cell. I remember fifteen more that I lost to your sick experiments. No. I would not join you. And if you must attempt to capture me, I implore you to try! For I am Grace of Behraan no more. I am Grace of Earth. Grace of the Motherworld. And should your fleet come forth another metre, you shall know wrath!”
Silence, as that of the endless void of space.
<Then you leave me no choice,> Alvoa sighed, <Pyramid! Fexus! Poerl! Bu-->
Grace squinted angrily at the transmission and quickly cut the transmission.
Janeth and Wilhelm looked to each other, puzzled. Janeth then stepped forth, “what on Bentor just happened!?”
“He was attempting to activate the killswitch in my chip,” Grace said shakily, “he nearly succeeded. Had he, I would have died.”
“How lowly!” Wilhelm snarled, “are you alright!?”
A flicker of rage entered Grace’s eyes, as she looked towards the two, “two hours remain until I may leap to Theyradaas. Until then—I wish to see that man not—not dead, but—humbled. I want to put him in his place, and for him to forever remember it. I want him to rue the day he planted this chip in me.”
Wilhelm nodded in agreement, then to Janeth, “wise choice of host, Jiin. She’ll do fine. I like the whole wrath bit.”
“We need to find a way to deactivate that killswitch,” said Janeth, “I don’t want that kind of weakness to be exposed.”
“Only Alvoa himself can activate it,” said Grace, “teaching it to anyone else will come to no avail.”
“Stick to the plan,” Janeth yelled to fleet command, “fighters cover bombers. Bombers hit the capitals. Corvettes handle the strike craft. Capitals, take the pressure off the smaller craft but don’t stray from the fleet. Behraan likes to pick off stragglers. Ultimately, defend the Terraniia. It’s your ride out.”
“Here they come!” said one fleet command officer, as a precise three-dimensional image projected in the middle of the room, showing all of the vessels in a two-million kilometre range, mostly as dots, with some being zoomed in on by enclosed boxes in the view.
Close to all this action was Titan, the sixth moon of a massive ringed gas giant known to the modern galaxy as Suragaa Six, but known to Grace and the Unity as Saturn.
“Target their gravgens,” Janeth added, “bring us closer to the gas giant. Strike their gravgens once you find them. Usually close to their engines as it gets its power from the engines instead of the reactor. The planet will do the rest of the work for us.”
“Sharp!” Wilhelm grinned, “you heard her. Take out their engines while you’re at it. Even if their gravgens do work, no engines means no escape from that planet’s gravity well.”
“Rather intelligent yourself,” Janeth smiled.
And so began the first battle. A battle so silent, at such a dark corner of the system, that had there been no energy discharges, explosions, leap signatures or radio signals, the battle would have been invisible to the rest of the galaxy.
But this was not the case. The whole of the galaxy knew the very second the first shot was fired, and it came from Maker One.