A warship pulls rescue duty on a dying planet in a war against an enigmatic enemy
The warpship Vigilant didn’t do rescue missions. Saving people from dying planets wasn’t in their line of work.
The Hegemony’s lead battlecruiser’s mission log read like a handbook of where to go if you want to participate in an active war. Her crew was tested, blooded and as experienced with the enemy as any.
They had lost comrades, escorts and fighters, fought alongside diverse alien fleets, sometimes leading, others supporting. They had grown used to the tension, always ready to spring into action.
It was the only thing that kept them sane, this constant threat of war. Because when they didn’t have war, they had time to think. Thought brought clarity. Clarity was the last thing you wanted to have when fighting an instellar war.
Clarity made one aware of the truth. The Hegemony was losing. They were losing. Which is why so many chaffed at this particular mission. There would be no chance at victory. Only the opportunity to watch the enemy claim another planet.
There were no support ships in this quadrant. No one else better suited for rescue missions at any rate.
“We’ve arrived on station, Captain, no enemy waverider activity,” helm officer, Ensign Willis completed her scan of the star-system out to ninety AU.
“Take us into orbit above Maris III, then prepare for insertion. Maintain condition three.”
“Achieving standard orbit above Maris III, maintaining condition three, aye, Captain,” the tactical officer responded.
“Switch to secondary systems and perform high resolution scans,” Ensign. The Executive Officer, Commander Nial, looked up from his station after checking ship’s internal status and crew reports. Waveriding is a disruptive technology and easily detected.
It was still a good thing to check for lower energy transport. If the Lathans were using some other drive technology, they could concievably still be in system. “All stations report green, Captain. We are still completing repairs from the last operation. Complete readiness in three hours. Launch crews standing by for evac.” The XO was even less thrilled about this mission than the Captain. He has been all but spitting venom upon reciept of the ship’s orders.
Captain Obioye called up his holographic display in front of his console and accessed the central planetary defense network. Less than ten percent of it responded. It was as expected.
The Lathan had dropped a hellspore.
“All hands, this is the Captain. We are above Maris III for evacuation of any scientists who may still be alive. The planet has been compromised by a hellspore and is currently under major seismic activity. There are at least three supervolcanos active. Several others will become active in five hours. Save as many people as you can. All wings stand by to launch. We are making atmospheric drop in two minutes. Good luck.”
It was a textbook operation. Seventy evacuation shuttles left the Vigilant, their design honed by dozens of such forays into such atmospheres of dying worlds. The Hegemony’s engineers had become quite good at reacting to the challenges created by the struggle against the Lathans.
This did not change the fact no one knew what the aliens wanted. Some planets they destroyed, others, they colonized with their biotech. There was no telling what they would do when they came across a planet.
Obioye had been on the command deck for over twenty-four hours nonstop. The XO suggested he take some time for himself and he had retired to quarters. The Vigilant trembled slightly under the strain of protecting itself from the now hostile environment.
After taking a brief meal, Obioye slept. He dreamed of the paradise that was once Maris III. His internal chronometer woke him in exactly four hours. His return to the command deck was met with consternation. Twenty eight ships had not reported back yet.
“We’re out of time, Captain. The mega-eruption’s pyroclastic discharges are increasing to an intensity that it’s affecting the ship. We have to go.”
“As you were, commander. We don’t leave until everyone’s on board. That is how rescue missions work.”
The commander, a Riorchian, flared his aggressive neck frill and hissed, “if we don’t leave here in five minutes, no one will be leaving here at all. Sir! The ship is taking quite a beating.”
“Your complaint is duly noted. Move us closer to the returning ships. Maybe we can make their return trip a little shorter. Helm, re-calibrate the jump drive, we’re going to jump from here.”
“Captain, that would destroy the planetary ecosystem, possibly shatter the planet’s crust due to gravimetric shear from the jump.”
“Look into that scanner Ensign and tell me where you think anyone’s going to be living here for the next five hundred years? The Lathans’ hellspore has done it’s work. This planet is over. The Hegemony can bill me.”
The ship rocked as pyroclastic lighting discharges cascaded from its energetic shields. The tension on the bridge was palpable. There were eleven shuttles struck by lightning. Two were lost with all hands. The rest were limping home.
The Vigilant dropped lower into the atmosphere trying to meet the crippled ships before they were lost in the now worsening atmosphere.
“Supervolcanoes are erupting all over the main continent. We are one hundred kilometers from an eruption site,” Ensign Willis reported.
“Commander, we need to do a snatch and grab.”
“The Commander turned to his console and reported over the ships comms, “All launch bays stand by for ships coming in hot. All fire suppression teams and medical rescue teams stand by. Support engineering mechasmics report to launch bays six through sixteen.”
“Holo display, predictive engines track and coordinate landings.” Obioye looked at the ship’s computerized predictions of success. If nothing changed, we would lose four more. Over four hundred lives lost.
“Tactical, can we increase speed?”
“Yes, Captain, but I must remind you we are heading directly toward the erupting supervolcano.”
“Then try not to bump into it.”
The shuttles came in fast. Lined up, stacked four at a time. The landing bays they crashed into would require days of maintenance. Two mechasmics were lost, their A.I. cores were unable to be salvaged. They died ripping into a lightning-struck shuttle that had lost control. Only their hardened bodies could get close enough to breach the hull and make it possible to rescue the people on board.
After everyone was rescued, the mechasmics were killed as the shuttle bay exploded. The explosion was contained, however, and no other lives were lost. Each sentient robot was invaluable, capable of doing the work of ten men in environments hostile to organic life. They will be missed in the battles to come.
Commander Nial whispered as the last shuttle crashed aboard. “All ships accounted for. Sir.” Nial didn’t do contrite well. It didn’t suit him.
The approaching supervolcano loomed large in the holographic display. A terrifying plume of night-black smoke shot into the already dark sky, cut with flashes of red and yellow lightning.
“Okay helm, punch it.”
The waverider engines kicked in, creating a singularity window surrounded by electrical discharges drawn to its electromagnetic envelope.
The warp-ship Vigilant vanished into the singularity’s wake. On the other side of the wormhole, smoke and molten magma surged into space behind the Vigilant before the artificial wormhole’s singularity closed.
A world just died. Captain Obioye bristled at the thought.
The scientists were saved, but their research was mostly destroyed. Another planet destroyed in this war of attrition. No further along in understanding what the Lathans wanted.
“Captain Obioye, Hegemony Military Command is on the Ansible wanting an update.”
And now the explaining begins…
Pyrrhic Victory © Thaddeus Howze 2015, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based author who work has appeared in magazines, including The Huffington Post, The Enemy, Quora.com, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, the Examiner.com, Scifiideas.com and Astronaut.com. You can follow his mad rantings on Twitter or on his blog at A Matter of Scale.
His speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies including: The Future is Short II (2015), The Future is Short (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2013), Genesis Science Fiction Anthology (2013), Scraps (2012), , and Possibilities (2011). He has authored a collection of short stories called Hayward’s Reach (2011) and a novella called Broken Glass (2013).
You can get a taste of his speculative fiction right here on Medium.com or head over to Hub City Blues for a diverse collection of speculative fiction covering anything from superheroes to Lovecraftian deities from beyond the stars… If you really like it, you can buy his books from Amazon or support his work on Patreon.com.