Author: toadie
Rating: R
Summary: John Crichton is not the man he thinks he is.
Notes Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’
- Friedrich Nietzsche 1886
Archiving: Please contact the author for permission.
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Black & White

Part 15    

   

   

In space, there is nowhere to hide when the shooting starts. All you can do is hope that your defensive systems operate with greater efficiency than your opponent's offensive systems. Even then, this only holds true if your enemy has equal numbers to your own. When they outnumber you easily three to one, then you have to finesse the fight to achieve a tolerable outcome. But that’s not to say that space doesn’t have features, it has asteroids, comets, moons and planets. Therein lies the key.

No one fights just for the hell of it. There are many reasons people might start a fight, but in the end it all comes down to one thing, not political power, not prestige but resources. Not simply metals, they could be mined from almost anywhere in the universe, no the one true resource. Living space, room to walk and breathe without worrying about a failure in the air system. So in the end, a living breathing habitable planet is nothing but one big huge immobile target. Everyone knew that, and humanity had relearned that lesson many times over before the founding of the Empire.

That was why they created the biggest, baddest orbital planetary defense system in the known galaxy. It was an immense two-tier facility that totally encircled the planet. It bristled with missile tubes and close-in energy weapons. It was supported by a fleet of parasitic ships permanently assigned to the defense of the mother world. Ships the size of dreadnoughts but without the massive drives that made FTL travel possible, that extra volume being used instead for even more missiles and beam projectors. Ton for ton these ships were the most powerful in existence, until the advent of the Warlock class dreadnoughts and even then, they were barely a step below the massive new ships. Plans had been drawn up to create a new class of parasite ships based upon the new tech utilized in the Warlock ships. However, it had been deemed an unnecessary diversion of resources from the program designed to replace the ships lost in the earlier battles with this implacable and unknown enemy. After all, Earth was far away from the fighting the chances of an attack seemed so remote as to be laughable. Earth now stood as a huge beacon, emitting such a huge electromagnetic signature that it would be impossible to miss.

All these things flashed through John's mind as his ships re-emerged from Q-space to find nothing waiting for him. No ships appeared on his scanners, not even the regular cargo cycler ships plying their endless journey between the moons of Jupiter and Earth. Earth shone in his scanners, but that was it. No fleet of ships awaited his arrival. No fleet waiting to break the coming tidal wave of alien ships.

John was stunned as he stared at his scanners. He had planned for everything, but he never thought that even Winkler would abandon Earth, the seat of Imperial power. Everything had been based on the premise that earth was too important and too valuable to lose, but now it was lost for no gain.

Something wasn’t right though. Everything seemed too normal. His ships had been in normal space for minutes now. They had reappeared over ten light minutes from earth, right in the center of the detection grid. So there should have been some response by now to their unscheduled arrival. But there was nothing, not even the standard navigational beacons that should have littered his screens with transit information. Information that could be used to designate targets for an enemy.

The more John studied his limited information the more certain he was that something was in the wind, but what he didn’t know. Had his warning reached Winkler and he had prepared for the coming onslaught? Was this some new security measure he had implemented? Or had he truly abandoned earth to its fate?

His ships had been underway since they emerged into the Sol system. Heading straight for Earth, he had managed to claw enough distance away from his emergence point that when the alien ships emerged into normal space he had gained enough speed to keep well clear of them as he led them directly toward the defense grid.

#

“Where are they?” O’a’lack shouted at the scanner tech as soon as his ship had emerged from Q-space, before the scanner signal had even managed to propagate through local space and return a signal. Several seconds later Second of Command approached with the scanner report.

“They are just over a light second away First. They are heading for the third planet in this system. Sensors report a massive electromagnetic signature from it. More than ten times anything we have previously recorded for this species of vermin,” he stated, his voice calm even as he eyed O’a’lack warily.

“One of their home worlds?” O’a’lack leaned forward studying his own screen as the scanners' data started to appear.

“Perhaps. If not, it is certainly one of their important worlds. So far we have only begun to resolve the data we have been receiving from the sensors but we have identified a massive structure in orbit of the planet.” Second had a bad feeling, this system was clearly important but the only drive signals in the entire system came from the fleeing ships before them. A system such as this should be alive with signals, and for that reason alone he was glad he had gone behind O’a’lack's back.

“What is its purpose?”

“Unknown but something that large must mount defensive, perhaps even offensive, weaponry. It must have taken them years to construct and the amount of resources it would have taken is staggering.”

“Very well, the ships seem to be fleeing towards it, so we shall destroy it and the ships before we destroy the planet. Give the necessary orders. All ships are to proceed to that planet and destroy it.”

If only it were that simple, second thought. Something was wrong, very wrong. He could sense it but he also knew that without something more definite even to mention it would be risking censure if not death. But he had a duty to those serving under him.

“Ah...”

“Why do you hesitate Second? I have made my orders clear. Follow them!” O’a’lack turned on Second like a school bully, ready and willing to inflict punishment for any deviation from his will.

  “Sir, this world must be important to these vermin. If it were one of our worlds we would have a fleet protecting it. They just seem to have this station, as huge as it is, it is immobile, we can use our ships' speed and agility to strip it of its defenses.” Second went slow trying to lead O’a’lack to the realization that they could not simply charge into this system without extensive scouting; without knowing what they were charging into. But he felt no hope of succeeding. He knew the First was blinded by a combination of overweening pride and a lust for revenge against those he thought had slighted his honor.

“Your point Second? My patience wears thin with each passing moment.” The threat was plain.

“Where are the ships to help defend this system? They must have ships!” Second pleaded for understanding.

“They have lost many ships to us, they obviously stripped this system bare to continue fighting.” The dismissal stung Second, he had worked and struggled to maintain the fleet under O’a’lack's less than competent command and so far had succeed in minimizing any detrimental effects of his ham-fisted orders.

“But...” he said in a tight voice, anger bubbling below the surface, ready to explode.

“No more, Second. I have given my orders. All ships to destroy that station. Then vermin ships. Then the planet.”

“At once.” He turned to obey, in his own fashion.

#

Missiles streaked through the heavens as the alien fleet launched wave after wave at the station and was responded to in kind. Massive explosions seemed to tear at the very fabric of space. The non-material shield collapsed around the anti-matter warheads and bloomed into deadly white-blue flowers of blinding intensity. Ships burned like chaff but they kept coming. Wave after wave poured fire into the station, causing shields to flicker and collapse. Warheads struck the station gouging huge holes in it, but it kept fighting.

By now hundreds of ships had thrown themselves upon the station only to be destroyed. Gaping glowing holes ruined the station's once pristine precision, as it spun and spat death towards those who would destroy it and the planet it protected. Aboard the station Aboard the station Winkler gripped tight to the stanchion, watching the plot as ship after ship vanished only to be almost instantly replaced by two more.

Once more he cursed John's name. At the same time he cursed his own. His entire strategy had been to lure these aliens in and pin their attention on the earth and it’s defense grid, then bring in the fleet and the parasites from behind using a Knossos portal hidden behind Jupiter. But he hadn’t taken into account John's reports on the aliens' tactics. He had dismissed the report as alarmist.

He watched as John’s ships stood defiantly supporting the efforts of the station taking losses of their own. Of the six ships John had started with he was down to four and one of those wasn’t going to last much longer. Again Winkler sent the signal to the main battle fleet ordering best speed, but only one ship at a time could travel through the portal and when you were dealing with over a thousand ships it took time. Time, Winkler feared, he could not afford.  

#

Ledonis reports total life support failure,” Haig called. Tension shrouded the bridge, as the reports came in, each worse than the one before. So far they had lost Moloch and Ishtar and now Ledonis was about to be destroyed also.

“Signal them to abandon ship. They can do no more good in their condition.” Haig turned and found John behind him, his hands gripping the back of Haig's command chair so tightly his knuckles were white. Behind him was his new and ever present shadow, the enigmatic Aeryn Sun. He still hadn’t been able to work out the dynamic of their relationship and suspected that might also be the case for the two of them.

“Yes sir.” He turned and issued the order but he also kept his ears open as he heard Crichton and Sun start to talk in hushed whispers behind him.

“So this is your plan?” Aeryn said quietly. She stood at his shoulder watching the same information as John. Watching it was easier than watching John flinch each time a missile broke through the screen thrown up by the station and impacting on the station or worse, earth. So far only four had hit the planet and two of them were ocean strikes, but the reports of the death tolls were still coming in. Anyone living on a coast was in danger of being killed by a tidal wave.

“Yes.” John said in a whisper as the information flooded through his mind and he seemed to feel each and every death he blamed himself for causing.

“Working well is it?” she knew her words were harsh but she had to jolt him out of his self-pity. Too much still rested on his shoulders for him to fold now.

“Aeryn look, I really don’t have time to get into this with you.” He said briskly, his shoulders tightening defensively and hunching slightly.

“Why not, we both know that you're just a spectator now. Nothing you can do can change how things are going.” She kept her voice calm and level even as she wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be ok. She took one step closer to him and almost gave him a hug before she managed to stop herself, startled that she would even imagine doing so.

“My people are dying for me Aeryn, the least I can do is pay attention as they do it.” He sighed and relaxed a he watched Ledonis finally succumbed to the deadly fiery breath of nuclear fire.

“John, you can’t blame yourself for this. It had to be done, you said so yourself.”

“I know it did, and with each death I die a little inside because I caused this. I am responsible for everything that is happening here.” John tore his gaze from the plot and turned to face her with a tired smile.

“You did this to save life John. The price might be heavy but how much heavier do you think it might have been if you had allowed these aliens to spread unchecked across the galaxy.” She looked up at him and found herself shivering as she looked into his eyes. Once they had been so alive and captivating. Now they were captivating in a different way, like those of an animated corpse. Cold, hard and dead.

“That’s no comfort Aeryn. None at all.” He turned back to the screen to watch as it reported more death.

“I know.” She whispered her had hovering at his back almost touching, almost offering comfort.  

#

Winkler sighed in relief when the signal finally arrived. The fleet was now in Sol, making its way at best speed around Jupiter’s gravity well taking aim at the rear of the aliens’ fleet. Finally, something seemed to be going right.  

#

“First, we are detecting ships closing behind us. They match the profiles of classes we have battled before, but they number over a thousand this time.” Second felt calm now. The sort of calm that only occurs when everything that could possibly go wrong has and you know it can get no worse.

“Then destroy them.” Panic resounded in O’a’lack voice. His eyes bulged insanely; his movements were jerky and inconsistent.

“We are trapped between vast amounts of firepower, if we turn our backs on the station to destroy the ships then the station will vaporize us. If we stay locked on the station the fleet will be virtually unopposed in our destruction.” The slow anger that had been burning in Second was starting to come to the fore, but even now, he couldn’t contemplate taking actual action against O’a’lack.

“I want that station destroyed now!” O’a’lacks voice was high and shrill as he screamed the order, knowing full well that it was impossible to do in time to save his fleet made him all the more desperate to have it done.

“Yes First, we are attempting to do that, but it is much tougher than we suspected. It bristles with defensive lasers; maybe one in thirty of our missiles get through. The only reason we have caused so much damage is that we are launching hundreds of missiles in each salvo.” Second sighed, his anger replaced with resignation. He was dead, they were all dead, and they had no hope of surviving being caught between the fleets and this station.

“Then close and use our own beams on the station.”

“We tried that and none of the ships survived long enough to even get to range, let alone fire. We are in orbit of this planet, it is a tricky thing to balance speed with maneuverability in such close and confined space.”

“Then don’t bother with matching trajectories, simply order the ships to ram the station.” Second was silent as he puzzled over this order. Surely he couldn’t mean… one look at O’a’lack was enough to verify that he did indeed mean it.

“I... No First… you can’t order…” he stuttered in shock and dismay. He had to follow his orders but it seemed unconscionable to deliberately order those of the People to act in such a manner.

“I gave you an order Second of Command. You should think carefully before disputing it.”  

#

“See what you have wrought John! Does it make you proud?” Harvey whispered in his mind.

“I took the action I felt necessary, I brought them to you and from what I can see, you plan is working well enough.” He hissed back trying not to attract too much attention.

“But what of the dead John. The dead civilians that even now are dying by the thousands on earth from missiles targeted on the planet that have to be ignored because the station must survive to defend it? What of them.”

“Go away Harvey, I ain’t playing no more.” His teeth grated as he tried his best to ignore the phantom in his brain.

“Oh John, you know your course now, you have to return now, it’s the only home you have left.”

 

 

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