Thursday, February 4, 2016

Short Story: Last Stand

Last Stand

“Admiral Fletcher.” The voice came over the intercom. “The enemy fleet is arriving in the system, as expected.”

“Alright. Any numbers yet? Types?” He asked, still leaning his head back on the leather chair, his eyes closed.

“Looks like a thousand sub-capital ships screening a large number of battleships and carriers. They're still coming out of translation space, so we don't know how large a force it will be.” The voice of his assistant, Colonel Joel Jamison filled him in.

“Has the council decided to fight or flee?” He asked, he knew they had already decided to fight it out here in this system. Out of the tens of thousands of solar systems, this one was of sentimental value for the Pulse Alliance. They would send all of the forces they could gather against this invading, unstoppable enemy.

The Noran were right, humans were stupid. This was shaping up to be the biggest battle of any war since humans spread across the galaxy. One would think there was nothing to fight for when there were so many worlds and star systems to choose from. They would be wrong, humans always found a reason to fight.

Admiral Fletcher stood, straightened his uniform and put on his cap. He would lead this fight from the command center. It might be hopeless, but the battle would be fought. The Pulse Alliance allies had all dropped out, they had nothing at stake. They had joined the Pulse just because they wanted to kill some of the Unitred.

The Union of Red, or Unitred, a centralized tyranny that had grown to control a good fifth of the galaxy and this wasn't enough for them. The Union of Red's central government had become dependent on Uber-crystal sales for its economy. Then the market for them collapsed as alternatives appeared. They saw the Pulse Alliance as traitors since they had been allies once.

Fletcher walked into the command center, dominated by a giant round table covered with holographic projections of the system. There were holographic presentations of all of the vessels, the room had never been so bright. Thousands of vessels on each side, the Pulse fleet gathered around the Mother Station that had always acted as the seat of PA government power.

Enemy carriers, battleships, mixed fleets stretched all around the solar system with swarms of sub-capital ships to screen them. “Swarms” was descriptive to a point, for they were large in number, but these Unitred formations were well-disciplined. They were much more organized than the Pulse fleet, made up of free men and women for the most part.

“We will lose this battle.” Fletcher acknowledged, “But we will make a stand first.”

A holographic image of Kurvin Wiesel, the Pulse Alliance Defense Director, appeared in front of the Admiral. Fletcher would have liked to kick the man out of an airlock. Wiesel was a replacement for Belinda Thomas, who had made this battle and the downfall of the Pulse inevitable. She had fled on one of the last Pegasus League ships to abandon the field, rumors were that she had accepted an appointment in their defense establishment. Wiesel was incompetent, but at least he hadn't ran away yet.

“Admiral. All we can ask of you is to do your best. Put up a brave defense of the Mother Station, even if losing is inevitable.” Wiesel told him.

“Yes, sir. I understand, sir.” Fletcher responded, amazed at his own ability to hold his tongue. The council was asking him to throw away the lives of thousands of men and women to make a statement, a waste of life. It was not something he wanted to order them to do, but he would do his duty even if he secretly hoped all of the Pulse crews ran away.

The hologram Director of Defense vanished. The men and women around the command center was waiting for his orders.

“Okay, show me where our capital ships are.” He told them and they began highlighting them over the table.

“Admiral, we've been told to hold the capital ships back.” Colonel Joel Jamison told him, “They want you to use the sub-capital ships first.”

They, the council, wanted to save their precious capital ships until the last minute. How many of them were under orders to escape after the first wave or two? How many council members were already out of the system? How many had fled with Belinda Thomas?

“Do I have any bombers?” Admiral Fletcher asked and saw a few highlighted ships. These could become very stealthy and make a hit and run attack on some of the enemy formations. There weren't enough to make a dent in an enemy fleet as large as this one, but it would make a statement. Isn't that what the council had asked for?

Admiral Fletcher highlighted one of the enemy Carrier-Command vessels near the far side of the solar system. “Have we any deep scans of these ships?” he asked. The sensor arrays had been destroyed by some of the first Unitred forces to enter the system.

“Interesting. I don't recall a capital ship being among the first in, but the scans do show one.” Colonel Jamison told him. The image appeared in the air in front of him.

“Could this be that same vessel?” He asked, “The antenna array and this appendage underneath is different than the other carrier-command ships.”

It was subtle but the difference was real. Possibly this was their main command ship, maybe there were high-ranking Unitred officials there for the final battle. It would be their style to want to watch the final dispatching of their foes.

“Have the bombers target that ship.” He ordered, “Let's move around some carriers and see if the enemy responds. This waiting game is annoying.”

“Have groups A1 through C25 move outward from here for a million kilometers. Let's see if they'll move inward in response.” He watched as the forces moved outward from Mother Station, freeing up some room to maneuver. There were just so many ships on both sides that once the fighting started, it would be one huge incomprehensible mess.

“Maybe we should ask the Director one more time about letting everyone translate out of here. There is no need to sacrifice so many lives for a statement. There's a million solar systems we can go to instead of fighting for this one.” He had told Colonel Jamison a day ago, the answer came quick. In no uncertain terms he was told to make a stand.

A flash of red on the holographic representation got his attention. “What was that?” he asked but he already knew that one of the stealthy bombers had not made it to the target. There were a few more, all of them taking a different route.

“Advise all ships to power up and prep all weapons.” He told one of the people around the command table. “Looks like we are committed to this.”

Colonel Jamison walked up next to him and whispered. “There was a stealth transport docked with Mother Station a while ago, it seems to be moving away now.”

Admiral Fletcher nodded. The council, or at least some of it, would escape while leaving everyone to die. Cowards. There were a dozen other alliances and federations that would welcome them all as members. Why commit to this pointless battle?

“Have these forces move out another million kilometers too.” Fletcher indicated some two hundred sub-capital ships near Mother Station. Thirty of these were rigged to deploy torpedoes, which would move toward enemy formations and then drift until something came close and then they would explode like mines in the ocean.

The vast majority of those would be easily destroyed by any space vessel, but sometime sin the heat of battle one might not notice these weapons.

“Commodore Wilkie.” He addressed a man on the other end of the table. “Have you task forces start their fast approach at the enemy concentrations as planned. Now.”

Two groups of twenty-six vessels started moving in different directions. They built up speed rather quickly as they accelerated towards the enemy swarms. None of the main formations had yet fired a shot. The common accepted rules of war state that destroying the stealth bomber ships don't really count as offensive but defensive.

The hologram of the Defense Director appeared next to him again. “Admiral, this is taking too long, is there a problem? Do you need to be replaced?”

Fletcher looked at the holographic display of the man with disdain. “I am studying the layout of the enemy forces and considering our best options for attack.”

The holographic director rolled his eyes. “Meaningless, you'll never find a weakness, the Unitreds are far too powerful, the Pulse Alliance won't defeat them, look at how many there are! Just attack them and get it over with.”

“Director. There is no honor in a frontal, uncoordinated attacks. That is lunacy. You are asking me to order all of these men and women to commit suicide. At least let me make their deaths as effective as possible.... sir.” Fletcher responded.

The holographic was starting to fade. As if it was being sent from farther and farther way. He glanced at the colonel who nodded and went to a work station.

“Listen Admiral, we need to make this happen as soon as possible. It is pointless to try and formulate a winning strategy against these odds.” The Director said, “If I do not see progress in five minutes, I will replace you.”

The connection ended and the holograph winked out.

“Admiral, he's on board that stealth transport that just left the Mother Station.” Colonel Jamison said.

The Admiral nodded and reached for his tablet computer, he touched a button that activated the communications switch in all of the Pulse Alliance. The Noran had always refused to intercede into human affairs but they always sounded worried about this war. Fletcher wondered if the coming slaughter would end their worries or shock them.

“This is Admiral Jebediah Fletcher, Arch Commander of the Pulse Alliance Fleet. The Council has ordered that we make a final stand here, at the Mother Station. They want us to make a statement here at the last battle.” He told all of those listening. “I want all vessels ready to engage....”

“Admiral. Look at the bomber target.” Someone alerted him. He checked the holographic images over the wide table and saw that the one he chose as the target had taken some massive damage. Then it flashed and showed even more damage. Nearby flashes showed that the stealth bomber ships which had conducted this attack were now destroyed.

“Order lines one and two to engage the leading elements of the Unitreds, tell them to retreat if there is any sign of a capital ship.” The Admiral ordered.

“Open a channel to the carrier Kayax.” He told one of the assistants. Quickly it was opened. “The cowardly council is fleeing after ordering us to commit suicide. There was a stealth transport leaving the station a few minutes ago, I think you should make sure that they don't leave.”

In response a voice replied, “I understand, Admiral. Kayax out.”

The first sub-capital elements of the Unitreds had engaged the forces that the Admiral had moved forward. Both sides were losing ships at a similar rate, but with the Pulse outnumbered by a wide margin this was not a good thing.

“Order them to withdraw.” The Admiral said.

“Admiral, the Kayax has fired upon the stealth transport. Much of its outer shell has been lost, it's not stealthy any more.” Colonel Joel Jamison said. “Should I order them to take the council and others prisoner?”

Fletcher shook his head. “Negative. What would be the point of taking prisoners in this hopeless situation? We have orders.”

The Kayax fired again, a minor weapon that took out the main engines of the transport, it would never be able to enter translation space now. The transport was now drifting toward the enemy vessels arrayed and prepared for battle. The Admiral opened a channel to the Kayax. “Return to previous position.”

The floating transport was soon surrounded by enemy vessels.

“We're receiving a message from the transport, sir.” Jamison said. “It's not a hologram. Just audio.”

The Admiral nodded. Through static and other distortions the voice of the Defense Director of the Pulse Alliance was heard.

“What is happening? The council has been attacked, now we are surrounded by enemy forces. Admiral, explain this!” The angry voice said.

“This channel is not secure Director. I would advise you to surrender to the Unitreds, or go down fighting, your choice.” Fletcher told the man, “Seems like your situation is hopeless, better make a statement.”

He picked up his tablet again. “This is Admiral Jebediah Fletcher of the Pulse Alliance. The Unitreds have captured the council and other high officials of the Pulse Alliance. The Alliance is over, I would suggest those vessels with the ability to move into translation to do it now. For the rest of you, I suggest you ask free passage out of here.”

“Excellent, Admiral.” he heard behind him. He turned to see the holographic representation of a Noran with its triangular heads and long necks. “The Noran leadership is impressed with you. We have also learned that the Unitreds are under orders to give all of your vessels free passage. Now that you no longer have a country, I have a proposition for you.”

The holographic map showed the Unitreds had opened up lanes for the Pulse Alliance ships through.

“What kind of proposition?”

“The Noran want to have an official, what is the word, diplomatic contact with humans. Your name is now being considered for this.” The alien holograph was saying. “We believe that humans could use our guidance or advice. Not that they will always listen, of course. We have no illusions.”

“Took you long enough.” Fletcher said. “I will conditionally accept the offer. Although, I might be arrested and put on trial by the Unitreds.”

“The Noran will see to it that you are free.” he was told, the Admiral was a bit surprised, “Our separation has not benefited either of us. It is about time that we start talking with our neighbors.”


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