Black & White
John’s head rose from the depths of the stacks of flimsies surrounding
him as he sat at the table in one of the many planning rooms of the
Republican Fleet Base. All around him his staff was scouring through
intelligence data that Gemmell was certain they shouldn’t have been able
not, otherwise I might have a clue what you’re talking about.”
a father.” Gemmell waited as he watched Crichton’s face congeal and go
pasty gray. “It also seems like your boy takes after you. Not even seven
days old and he engineers a coup declaring himself emperor of the
Imperium. An amazing feat considering he can’t talk.”
felt like his world was snapping into focus even as it was spinning out of
control. He was a father. That news alone should have filled him with joy.
But the knowledge of who held his son put an end to that. It all made a
sick kind of sense now. Nothing had been what it had appeared to be. It
had all been a set up from his ‘rescue’ to the attempt on his life.
All along he'd thought he was the one manipulating things, and now he has
found out that he had, in turn, been manipulated.
Winkler isn’t it? He’s declared himself, what? Regent? Temporary
emperor? until the boy is old enough to rule in fact as well as name?”
Him as well as most of the members of your High Command. They apparently
acted out of loyalty to the Imperium by removing a weak emperor and
appointing your child in his place.”
“Jesus.” John felt
drained. He could see the plan now. He even realized that it had been
changed since his apparent death. The original would have been for him to
take the throne and be Winkler’s puppet. So his death would have been a
devastating blow if it hadn’t of been for… “Fuck.”
from the beginning. Right from the fucking beginning.” John’s voice
had started as a whisper but ended in a full-blown roar of anger. He
lurched to his feet and scattered the flimsies onto the floor with the
sweep of one arm.
was far from how he had expected Crichton to react to the news. A joke
perhaps or a vicious barb in return. But this display of rage shocked both
him and Crichton’s staff, who were by now openly staring at their
commander as he stalked about the room, swearing loudly and shouting
things that made no sense to anyone. Almost as if he were holding a
conversation with someone who was invisible.
up now John.” Scorpius’s voice whispered in his ear. “You can’t
me, alone, damn it.” John felt his rage running out of control. He
needed to hit something, to feel something physical. He drew back his fist
and with full force smashed it onto the wall. He kept it pressed hard
against it for several seconds before withdrawing it leaving smears of
blood behind. Ever since his encounter with Aeryn, Scorpius had been his
constant companion; always talking to him, commenting on his thoughts,
ideas and even his most secret desires.
can’t John, you know that by now. I’m with you permanently, unless you
return to the Uncharted Territories.” He made it all sound so
reasonable. Go back and be a hunted criminal. Running from planet to
planet, always watching out for danger, never knowing if he would survive
that day. It seemed like heaven compared to this. But he had sworn an oath
to destroy these things, and he intended to do it.
not going back there.” He stated fiercely and loudly, ignoring the
worried glances of his staff members.
have no choice in the end John.” That was the one thing John thought he
hated most about Scorpius, his calm, assured voice. He always sounded is
if he knew more than you did and if their past meetings were anything to
go by, he just might. But John knew one thing more than Scorpius and that
one thing was enough to start a chase that was still continuing in this
Gemmell's shout brought him back to his more pressing problem. He glanced
around at the trail of destruction he had left and into the pale, worried
faces of his staff.
was his less than dignified response but then nothing about his recent
actions could be classed as dignified, or even entirely sane. He flexed
his hand and winced, certain he could feel bones grating together.
you… all right?” Gemmell's question couldn’t have been worse. John
reacted to it like a bear poked with a sharp stick. With a red-eyed
murderous glare John strode over and leaned towards Gemmell, his face
stopping inches away from his.
fine. Hey who wouldn’t be in my place? My uncle got me to make a woman I
loathe pregnant so that he could overthrow the emperor and put my son in
his place.” He stood back now, breathing heavily. The room suddenly
seemed too hot.
stuck in a region of space where almost everyone knows, not thinks, but
knows I’m a mass murderer. My uncle who has just tried to have me killed
now rules the only region of space where I might have had a reasonably
pulled at his collar and loosened his uniform tunic before removing it
totally. “And for our bonus round, we have a race of psychopathic aliens
destroying everything in their path for no good reason.” In disgust he
threw his jacket onto his vacated chair and stood staring at it. All the
while ignoring Scorpius's barbed comment.
Gemmell said. It was all he could think of.
You think I’m crazy? Well surprise, surprise, maybe you’re right.
I’ve been chewed up and shat out more times than anyone should be in a
dozen lifetimes. And I’m pissed off.” John said softly, his voice
barely a whisper.
knew he had to do something to break Crichton out of this mood; and fast.
This man controlled enough firepower to destroy a planet in minutes and a
fanatical crew willing to follow him through hell if he said that’s
where they had to go.
so you’ve got the shitty end of the stick. It happens,” he said
harshly. He was gratified to see Crichton jerk up startled and glare at
him. “Now sit the hell down and try to relax. You said you had a plan
and I have backed you as far as I can without knowing it. Now I’m
starting to get people breathing down my neck to know what this plan of
several seconds Crichton merely stared at him. Then he slowly made his way
back to his seat. Gemmell pulled up a chair and sat across the table from
him, silently, waiting for him to start speaking.
it’s really simple. So simple even the idiots running your navy should
be able to understand it.” John knew this was unfair but at the moment
being fair was the last thing on his mind. He had lost everything now. The
only thing he had left was his oath to stop these creatures, but the cost
of his plan tore at his soul. “It goes a little something like this. I
sneak through Imperial space. I wait find and engage the enemy. I run like
hell and hope they follow. I lead them into the biggest fleet of ships
ever gathered around earth. And we hope like hell that’s enough to stop
them.” He looked up as he finished talking in time to catch the surprise
and shock that flickered across Gemmell's face. A small smile settled on
his face as Gemmell started to talk, his voice steady but still uncertain.
you insane? There are billions of people on earth. If your plan fails they
are dead and even if it succeeds there's a chance they’ll all die.”
Gemmell was quite proud of his even tone as he spoke but judging from the
small smile that appeared on Crichton's face his control hadn’t been
are seven point two billion people on earth. There are over four hundred
and seventy billion sentient beings that we know of in this portion of the
galaxy. A large chunk of that is human. If we don’t stop these aliens in
a decisive manner, they are going to swallow us all piecemeal until they
are the only ones left standing.” John leaned back in his chair and
stared at the lighting panel above him. In a quiet voice, Gemmell barely
heard, he added, “it’s simple math.”
you think I know the risk?" he snapped impatiently. "But in the
end it’s going to come down to fire power and that’s on the aliens
side. Even with every ship in the Imperial fleet in orbit around earth
they would be no match for them. Except for the defense station. With that
and its parasite ships, we stand a good chance of stopping them at best
and at worst crippling them enough so that you might be able to finish
what we started.”
that’s the only way you can think of?” The plan was insane, Gemmell
knew this, anyone who even considered it must be insane. But it also might
work. Worst of all, Crichton might be right; maybe it was their only
chance. But that didn’t make it any less insane. To lead a ruthless
enemy to the home world of humanity and unleash it upon a large but
unprepared fleet was madness. Neither side could disengage from the other.
The aliens because they weren’t able to and the Imperials because to do
so would doom Earth.
I know better than anyone how these aliens think. They are relentless.
They will keep coming until they choke you with their own dead if they
what do you want us to do”
“Well you have three
choices really. You can stand back and do nothing, which some people will
favor but that’s a bad choice. In the end that will cost you more than
you believed possible. Your second choice is to join the fight and help to
destroy these creatures.”
to stop me and doom yourselves.”
failed and still dare to return?”
First Dan’t’an slowly prowled his way around Third O’a’lack.
“You have no shame and no honour in your soul. Your ancestors cry out in
shame of your actions and failure.” First's
voice cracked like a whip. He had gathered all those of rank to watch his
shaming and ultimately his execution of Third O’a’lack.
stood stoically, not meeting anyone’s eyes, his posture stiff and
subservient. Waves of barely restrained rages flowed from him;
everyone watching could feel them like a physical presence. Only First
Dan’t’an seemed not to
them. He continued to harangue Third, trying to provoke any response that
he could use as a pretext to end his life with even less dignity than that
reserved for one accused of cowardice.
you nothing to say? Have you nothing you wish to apologise for? Are you so
lost to honour you can’t see your shame?”
Third stood silent. Not moving, not reacting in the slightest. He knew the
ritual humiliation as well as any. Often he had been in First’s place,
condemning a sub-ordinate. The anger he felt at being treated as such by
one he considered an inferior only helped him stoke his anger and steel
his resolve. The time would come but not yet. Not quite yet.
stopped circling him and reached out his hand, into which the ceremonial
daggers were placed. “As one of the blood, counted as a leader of the
death is proscribed in law. I condemn you and sentence you to it. But you
have one last chance of an honourable death, a chance to redeem some
measure of your soul if you act.” First thrust the dagger
Third and stood waiting.
remained unmoving. Not even his eyes moved towards the knife.
His posture shifted
from one of subservience to one of arrogance. First threw the dagger to
the floor, the sharp sound of it bouncing off the
decking rang out in the silence.
he condemns himself before us! He deserves to die in the most shameful way
possible. He so lacks in honour and courage that he ran from vermin. He
allowed himself to be trapped by them and his command to be decimated by
was now striding about the open area, playing to those watching, his arms wide-spread,
his voice echoing in the silence.
ships he left with.
of our most powerful ships. And he brings back barely ten; even those are much
need of repair. We are alone, our resources
scarce. Our mission to cleanse the vermin from this space so that we might
live in peace is
And this one fails us. He fails not only you and I, but our entire race.
Our entire history is one of safeguarding
our people against all threats and he allows them to escape.”
turned swiftly and strode back to where Third stood. Ritually he knelt and
took hold of the knife he had discarded earlier.
among us and failed. For that failure he must die. For he is without
honour. And without honour he has no soul. And one without a soul cannot
be of the people. He
from those watching. This ceremony was ancient and spoke to their blood.
The very words seemed to echo eternally through the ages only to be heard
now, in this place.
you ready to die?”
prepare yourself, for your death comes.” With that First lunged forward
with the knife as a shot rang out. First’s body slumped to the ground
and the knife slid from his dead hand. Third closed the distance between
them and stood over the body, gun in hand.
is a bind. Nothing binds me.” He shouted out, to the shocked onlookers.
Never before had something like this happened and they had no idea what to
do. With the death of the Second and now the First, that left the Third in
command. No one could condemn him or accuse him, for he was supreme in
blood and position.
command now. And I command that we return to the attack. We shall crush
these vermin into dust. And then scatter it among the stars themselves.”
dropped his weapon disdainfully upon the body of the First and turned to
the disposal of the ‘garbage’.
hated waiting. If he had a top-ten
of things he hated, the top three places would go
waiting. Over the last week he had managed to find things to distract him
but that’s all they were, distractions. When they were over it was back
ships were powered
down inside a nebula to avoid accidental detection while he waited and
that just made things worse. The stars had once fascinated John but even
these were denied to him inside the nebula. So in the end it
always came back to waiting. He knew he could have simply taken his ships
into the territory now occupied by the aliens and hope for the best. But
that was too dangerous, his people had given him their loyalty and he wouldn’t
repay that by taking risks even he knew were foolish. Sometimes in war you
to take risks but they must always be
reasoned and calculated. If you gambled big and
were a hero, but if you gambled big and lost, then nothing might be left
of what you were fighting for. So in the end it all came back to one
sighed and glanced around, grimacing when he saw Aeryn standing to one
side of the room staring at him.
there something I can help you with?” he
Ever since she had come aboard she had seemed to be going out of her way
to grate on his nerves. Wherever he went,
she was close behind.
half expected to see her when he got out of the shower, staring at him
with the same flat expression.
just following my orders.”
drive me insane?”
was ordered to observe you. To ensure that you followed your own plan and
didn’t feel it necessary to do anything the Republic might count as
questionable. Commodore Gemmell himself gave me these orders.”
whole plan is questionable Aeryn but it’s also our only chance. I
believe that, and I think I have convinced your Commodore Gemmell of that
He seems to have managed to convince his commanders of that truth as
said nothing in reply and simply continued to stare at him. John shivered
slightly and turned his back on her, remembering just how it was she had
come to be aboard
want an observer on your ship.” Gemmell said without preamble as he
walked into his office to find John waiting for news on how his
presentation of John's plan had gone over.
In case I decide to run away? Or bomb a planet for fun if I get bored?”
John's voice held a tired note,
was trying to keep his tone light but failing miserably.
like that… yes.”
if I don’t agree then you’ll not act as we discussed?” Resignation
coloured his voice. He knew he had no choice but accept but he was damned
if he was going to do it without expressing his distaste for their
is the one condition we ask for our involvement in your plan Crichton. I
don’t think it’s that great an imposition.” Gemmell had by now sat
behind his desk and slid a folder of flimsies over to John. John picked
them up and started to study his proposal to see what areas had raised the
most objections. As he had expected it was the use of earth as bait to
draw the enemy in.
so who is it going to be? Some brain dead drone from your fleet
spoke without raising his head as he studied the
minutes of the meeting. Gemmell had been in it for hours. John wished he
could have presented his plan himself but as Gemmell had pointed
plan stood a good chance of being vetoed just because it was his plan. If
he at least let Gemmell present it, there was a chance they might be able
to look beyond his name and
see the true
of the plan.
actually they left the choice up to me.” There was something in Gemmell's
tone that warned John that what was coming was something he wasn’t going
to like very much.
good for you. So who you pick?” He asked suspicious of the smile that
was starting on the face of the man opposite. He knew they disliked one
another and for Gemmell to be smiling he knew what was coming wouldn’t
“Well, I have seen how
charming you can be if you want to be Crichton, so I had to pick someone
who wouldn’t fall for your glib tongue.”
“Ah, so the good Captain
Ramirez is it? Well at least she’s competent even if she doesn’t like
me very much.” John let out a silent sigh of relief. Ramirez might like
him about as much as dog shit on her shoe but at least he could work with
serious Crichton. If your plan works out then I’ll be taking my ships
into combat. I’m not going to handicap myself by giving you my Flag
Captain at such a time.”
“Then who?” he wrinkled
his brow in confusion. There were many people that Gemmell could appoint
as an observer. But John knew only a few people and from Gemmell's
reaction it had to be someone he knew, but he couldn’t think of anyone
he knew connected to Gemmell senior enough for the position that disliked
him enough for the beaming grin Gemmell was sporting.
at first I thought perhaps one of my staff, but again I felt it best I
keep them with me. And then it struck me. I had the perfect candidate
right under my nose.” It was all John could do not to lean over the desk
and choke the truth from him. He kept a tight reign on his anger though.
His plan was going to be implemented with the aid of the Republican Navy,
he couldn’t afford to rock the boat at this late stage.
Suspicion laced John's voice as he waited for the blow he knew was to
think you are acquainted with Lieutenant Aeryn Sun?”
here he was with his constant shadow; a woman who seemed to hate him to
his very core. What made it worse was that for all she knew, he had hidden
the greater truths from her. She was a constant reminder of everything he
had lost from the very second he had been changed. In that moment he lost
her and his innocence. He had never before thought of himself like that
but sometimes you never know what you have until it's ripped from you.
This is why the truth of his fight with Stammell was a closely guarded
secret. He had asked that it be kept quiet and Gemmell had acquiesced much
to John’s surprise.
glanced over his shoulder and met Aeryn's gaze for an instant before he
turned away from her again.
was torture for her. He was there and was, for all intents and purposes,
her commanding officer. He had made this very clear when she had arrived
on this ship. He would stand for no disrespect in front of his crew. If
she had a problem she could bring it to him in private.
very presence seemed to grate on her nerves. His voice caused muscles in
her back to spasm and the sight of him made her hands clench into fists.
Yet she stood still and did as she had been ordered. She observed. The
first thing she noticed after coming on board was the intense loyalty
Crichton seemed to generate in his crew. It was all professional and
respectful but she could tell that each and every one of the people she
met was in Crichton’s thrall.
seemed that this was one aspect that remained of the John she knew. When
he made friends he made them for life. And when he made enemies he made
dangerous and powerful ones. As she stood and stared at his back she
wondered just how many other aspects of John might still remain.
what? All we do is wait?” Ramirez asked quietly as she stood beside
we could advertise the fact we have almost the entire Republican Navy
parked in a dense asteroid field less than thirty light years from earth
in direct contradiction with the one and only treaty we have ever made
with the Imperium. But I think that would be a bad idea considering that
they have three times our number of ships also parked less than thirty
light years away around earth.” She ignored his sarcasm, as she knew
just how tense he was. This might be Crichton's plan but it was his
recommendation that brought the Fleet to this place. He no longer had
control from this point on. Admiral Forrester was in overall command of
know that. What I meant is shouldn’t we try to get closer? After all, it
will take an hour for us to travel that distance and from the little we
know of the alien ship capabilities that is just about enough time for
them to charge their jump engines and escape.”
if all goes according to Crichton's plan, then they won’t try to escape.
They’ll see earth as a great big juicy target and an important one from
the size of the fleet gathered around it. He expects that they will keep
fighting until either they win or are destroyed.” He closed his eyes as
he imagined the destruction he was soon going to witness. He could feel
that the waiting wasn’t going to last much longer. He just wondered if
he would be strong enough to carry the burden of so much death and
a insane plan.”
it is. I also believe he is right and it is our only chance. You’ve seen
how they fight. All or nothing.”
Arwen Dayton sat on her command chair in her small and cramped bridge.
Around her people were moving smoothly, like a precision machine. Moving
slightly to let others slip past as they carried out their duties. It was
hot all over the ship as most systems were either powered down or running
on minimum power.
ship, like its brethren from Crichton's Fleet Carrier, had been overhauled
and upgraded using spares from the Warlock class battle cruisers. There
sensor capabilities now let them scan vast areas of space for the enemy
ships and Crichton had taken advantage of this by spreading them out to
form a chain of detector stations along what he thought to be the aliens'
most likely route of advance. Twice in the intervening week she had
received orders to reposition deeper into what was now considered no-mans
land. It was almost time for them to be ordered to move again.
detecting ships matching known alien classes approaching the system.”
well, launch probes along their estimated path and refine your
information. Comms, contact Cohortach Crichton aboard the Warlock
and inform him that we have alien ships heading insystem, numbers unknown
at this time. Nav, move us in closer.”