Black & White
Winkler barked as he stood glaring at the sensor screen that now showed
icons for unknown ships just arrived in system. His anger flashed to
boiling point at the delay at answering his question but cool logic
quickly overtook him. The sensor net had to have time to refine its
readings before there could be any identification. But then none was
really needed, there were only two groups of ships expected, John's
Dreadnoughts and the Alien fleet.
sensor net reports six ships arrived in-system. Profiles match Warlock
class Imperial dreadnoughts, my Lord Regent,” the scanner tech finally
announced as the information flashed on the main sensor display, ship
names and profiles being attached to each of the icons that were even now
streaking for earth and this station.
him. He always has to follow through his promises.” He muttered quietly
but not so quietly that Dietz who had come up behind him didn’t hear it.
going on?” she asked, whispering directly in Winkler’s ear, hoping to
make him start. She failed. He simply glanced over his shoulder and
returned his basilisk-like glare to the main scanner screen.
arrived, no doubt just before his invited guests.” He waved at the
screen, his hand making a grasping motion as if trying to rip the ships
from the screen.
we ready?” Dietz asked solemnly, secretly enjoying Winkler’s anger and
frustration no matter how well controlled.
course we are, I didn’t rise to Sector Command by being unable to plan a
battle. Once these alien ships are far enough in-system, we’ll use the
Knossos portals behind Jupiter to bring the fleet through. Trap them
between two groups of massed fire, this station on one side, the mobile
units on the other with the Fleet backing them up.”
making this station and the earth targets? Lures to draw them in? Are you
crazy?” Dietz's voice rose octaves in shock and anger. The sheer
audacity of the man to put her in such danger never mind the earth
if you believe it unthinkable then there is a good chance these aliens
will too and attack.”
I am on this station, and my son of course.”
is the safest place for you both to be Amy. The earth is going to receive
quite a battering before this is over. Besides I wasn’t about to leave
you on Earth, if we die we do so together thanks to my ingrate nephew,”
Winkler snarled not quite at her, it was more a general statement on his
in his defense we did try to kill him,” Dietz reasoned aloud, trying to
seem reasonable to get more of a rise out of Winkler.
for that he condemns millions perhaps billions of his fellow humans to die
for the sake of his own revenge?” Dietz choked back laugher at this.
When had Winkler become so moralistic? This is a man who would have
cheerfully let an entire sector be ravaged to use it to his own political
course he would. He’s as cold a bastard as you are.” Winkler simply
glared at her before turning his attention to the flashing icons
representing John’s ships as they sped their way toward the station.
orders Lord Regent?” the commander of the station asked respectfully as
the flagship and get me Cohortach Crichton. Route it to my office. Join me
Amy?” Without waiting for a response he turned and walked away.
was no need for this John, you could have simply talked to us.” Dietz
said. She was standing at Winkler’s shoulder as he glared at the image
of John being displayed in front of him.
And how long would I have survived if we talked?” John was astonished at
the reaction of the two in front of him. The alien fleet had arrived in
the Sol system and all they could think to talk about was what they saw as
are family, we should have been able to work this out without you bringing
an apocalypse to the people of earth.” Dietz's sincerity was so
obviously false that Winkler broke his death stare at John to glance at
her with incredulity.
as self absorbed as ever Amy. This isn’t about you or what you did. This
is about survival. About taking actions that were necessary though
unpleasant. This is about taking our only chance.” John sighed knowing
how little of what he said would get through to them. Actions always spoke
louder than words and this time his actions did indeed appear to be
selfish and self motivated, at least to all but the most neutral observer.
you think you're overstating the case slightly John?”
I don’t. And obviously neither did Winkler there, or you would still
have the entire fleet here. I don’t like him, in fact I would go as far
as to take him off my Christmas card list, but I do respect his tactical
took some prudent precautions. Well I did, it would seem.” Winkler
finally spoke, he had allowed Dietz to do all the talking until now to
allow him to judge just how willing to have his revenge John was and the
result left him disturbed. He couldn’t get a read on him and he should
be able to.
frightening isn’t it!” John glanced at his own plot showing the vast
armada of ships following in the wake of his own ships, slower than they
were capable of, obviously fearing a trap although their sensors were just
as bare of contacts as John's.
in my intelligence said anything about a fleet this size, we thought
perhaps four or five battle groups not anything like this.” Winkler
mused allowed, making eye contact with John. Aeryn who was standing
outside the range of the pick up sensed some sort of unspoken
communication passing between the two men and from the suspicious look
that Dietz gave both of them she did also.
I told you, it was in MY report.”
thought you were... exaggerating, trying to excuse your failure as well as
your survival. You have done it before.”
froze inside at the oblique reference to a history he
wasn’t wholly responsible for but carried the entire guilt for. Then
with a long exhale he let it pass. This was not the time to even think of
exorcising those demons.
what now?” he asked plainly.
fight, first them and if we both survive,, each other,” Winkler reached
for the cut off switch before adding, “and I plan to survive John, it
might be best if you didn’t.”
cursed up a storm as again the station was battered with wave upon wave of
missiles. This station was built with so much point defense weaponry it
would take a force of unconceivable size to threaten it, unfortunately
just such a force was outside hammering away at it’s defenses. Peeling
them back one by one. The saving grace for the station was the slow
rotation the designers had specified. Emergency repairs could be thrown
together as damaged sections rotated away from the battle, giving the
station a longer life expectancy.
he had devised his "oh so clever plan" to hide a Knossos portal
and simply use that to bring his ships through once the enemy was
committed to an attack was working just as he hoped. Even thought he had
vastly miscalculated the attacking force the station would last long
enough to see off this fleet with the aid of the mobile units of the
would never be the same however. A few of the missiles aimed at the
station missed and plunged into the atmosphere even with the valiant
efforts of the point defense weapons, and where each struck it detonated.
Being a planet of two thirds oceans meant most of them hit water, which
caused huge tidal waves to sweep across the world devastating cities
hundreds of miles inland. This coupled with the lashing of salt water rain
hammering down in the surface, wind speed averaging more than one hundred
miles an hour and a temperature drop resulting in it snowing on the
had struggled plotted and killed to achieve his one true love. Power. And
now the biggest most important symbol of that power was being taken away
from him a little more each time a missile escaped his defenses.
the status?” Winkler asked the harried commander who was feverishly
coordinating the battle, not the one outside the station, but the one that
raged inside, the battle to repair as much damage as possible before it
station is taking a severe battering but the Fleet is in formation and
making best speed for the enemy's flank, they estimate contact in under an
hour. We will easily be able to last that long,” he replied, before
adding under his breath, “I hope.”
response?” Winkler was only half listening to the station commander,
most of his attention was on the seemingly numberless lights clustered
about the station, some of them breaking off to make attack runs that
ended abruptly as they ran head on into streams of energy from the
All ships are still concentrating their fire on us. They even started to
send ships in closer but our energy weapons are taking care of them
without too much additional damage.”
are we for energy?” That was the one true weakness of this station;
energy. So much weaponry took a vast amount of energy, and without it, the
sophisticated weaponry was just so much orbital junk. Earlier there had
been several jolts and secondary explosions, obviously something had been
hit, and it wasn’t the magazine or they would all be dead, that only
left the energy plants.
destroyed two of our energy plants but we have massive redundancy built
into the system, also the damage was limited to the area adjacent to the
plants, when they designed this station they designed her well.” The
commander touched the bulkhead almost reverently before focusing his
attention back on Winkler.
The life’s blood of the station might be energy but it’s heartbeat was
the missiles, without them it couldn’t survive.
have depleted our ready launch reserves. We're restocking each munitions
bunker as its launcher cycles out of ranges, but even with the mechanical
assist it is a huge job, The system just wasn’t designed for this rate
of fire or this many targets at once.”
of Cohortach Crichton's ships?” He looked at the small cluster of
friendly colored icons clustered about the station, each time he looked he
hoped they wouldn’t be there, but they represented a valuable resource
in his continued survival. The seems to be the target of more than their
fair share of missiles, whatever John had done to these aliens, they
certainly were trying to repay him.
I have are rough estimates Lord Regent, but by the number of missiles they
have launched, assuming they had full bunkers to begin with, they should
be running quite low by now. Of course they do have the long range AM
energy weapons but against this many targets it would be suicidal for them
to bring such attention to themselves.”
but you don’t know John.”
thin haze of smoke and the terrible smell of scorched ceramics filled The
bridge of the Warlock. Only a
small percentage of the missiles reached the defensive envelope of John's
ships but in terms of thousands of missiles a small percentage was enough,
they had lost two ships and now a third was doomed to a fiery death.
Warlock herself wasn’t too
healthy. Already she had received more than a dozen direct hits and only
survived due to her extraordinarily powerful shields coupled with her
integral armor. Yet for all the damage John wished that more missiles were
targeted upon him and not on Earth, already continents alternatively
burned and drowned. The coastline of the Earth he knew so well were gone,
maps totally redrawn by anti-matter explosions.
he was thrown to one side as the point defense stations intercepted a
missile. But when dealing with anti-matter explosions even a near miss was
dangerous, giving off massive
amounts of radiation and a large enough shockwave to penetrate through
even the near vacuum of space.
the hundredth time he wondered if he had done the right thing.
you have!” Aeryn said in reply to his thoughts. John started slightly
before swing around to face her, confused and a little shock at her
voicing an answer to his internal monologue.
minds now Aeryn?” he joked uneasily, unnerved. Here he was in the midst
of a battle, death perhaps seconds away and all of a sudden he was more
afraid of Aeryn.
yours and only because it is so easy to do.” She smiled as she spoke,
but her worry was apparent. John had taken so much onto himself. He had
been the planner and instigator of all that was currently occurring, his
self-flagellation was evident to anyone watching.
And what am I thinking?”
trying to convince yourself that there was something else you could have
done. That maybe, just maybe, this is all about revenge for you and damn
the people on that planet.”
be ridiculous, I am not…” he halted as Scorpius seemingly appeared
behind her, leaning against the bulkhead.
you are John. Tell her. She already knows. Look at her, so concerned and
worried for you. Just think, it wasn't so long ago she actually wanted to
kill you.” With a cold grimace that tried to pass for a smile, Scorpius
approached Aeryn to leer at him over her shoulder.
up!” he snarled, denying not only Scorpius's statement but also his
entire appearance. It was only a few seconds later he realized with shock
that his nemesis had not only shut up but had vanished, leaving a shocked
and angered Aeryn behind.
wallow in your own misery if you want.” With a angry flip of her hand
she turned on one heel and made to march out of the bridge, only to
stumble as the ship was once more rocked by a near miss. In an instant
John was there, helping her regain her balance until she jerked herself
forward away from his grasp and wobbled to achieve her own balance
unaided, before continuing her march out of the bridge.
Aeryn, I didn’t mean you…” John said to her back.
stopped but didn’t turn to face him as she asked, “There is no one
else here, so you must have meant me.”
I didn’t, it’s just... Well, I… it is hard to explain, just…
believe me, I didn’t mean you.” John knew he was making no sense and
that he owed her a full explanation of almost everything, but now was not
the time. Not here. Not in public. Not ever if they didn’t survive this
very concise John, you would have convinced me easily.” John jerked as
he heard Scorpius’s voice in his ear; felt his breath on his neck. He
refused to turn knowing that he would see Scorpy hanging over his shoulder
with his viciously smug and superior smile.
you all right John?” John cursed as he jerked again with surprise to
find Aeryn had somehow managed to turn around and close the distance
between them in the few seconds -- what he prayed were only a few seconds
-- that Scorpy had distracted him.
now Aeryn, but later. I’ll explain it all to you later. I promise.” He
reached out to her and squeezed her arms gently with his hands before
turning back to the bridge to watch as his ships died one by one for him.
will John? My, my, my. I am looking forward to hearing what story you plan
to tell her.”
what you ask…”
do not ask, I order. I am First of this fleet my very word is law within
this fleet, when I speak you obey.”
First, I understand, but…”
‘buts’ you slime. Obey or I’ll replace you with someone who will and
you will not enjoy what I do with you.”
a pause that lasted but moments but felt like an eternity to Second of
Command, he turned and reluctantly issued the orders he was so reluctant
to relay. That all the light elements of the fleet, destroyers and light
cruisers were to close with the station, sacrificing themselves to get
close enough so that their brethren might get closer still, until it was
possible for ships to ram the station.
deaths of the crews of those ships were of no concern to First of Fleet
but they were to Second of Command. This was a battle that should not be
fought, a worthless sacrifice. What if this was a major planet of the
vermin in this sector, it was but one planet and the might of the fleet
was about to be blunted if not destroyed to cleanse it. One planet no
matter how populated or developed didn’t warrant such a sacrifice, the
crippling of this fleet.
the population ships finally arrived in this sector of space they would
find little or no trace of the fleet. Only the fact that they had failed
in their sacred duty to the people would be noted, their families
disgraced over their failure, perhaps even having their names erased from
the scrolls of remembrance. All for petty jealousy and a thirst for
revenge. Perhaps the former Third, now First, had it right, some rules and
customs were ties that bound to tightly and should be discarded before
they choked you to death.
change!” Haig's voice rang out over the din on the bridge, focusing
John’s attention squarely upon the plot showing the alien fleet changing
formation. The heavy ships, everything above a light cruiser, were
wheeling away from the station preparing to defend against the advancing
fleet coming toward them.
left the light units to challenge the station, but that made no sense to
John, they had been gradually wearing the station down using all their
firepower, what could they possibly expect to achieve simply using the
he watched missile were exchanged, the light ships always coming off worse
in the exchange, but they were advancing. John's brow furrowed in
concentration as he stared at the screen desperately trying to see what
the enemy intended. The ships were closing on the station, absorbing loses
as if they didn’t matter. Energy weapons lashed out from the station
now, brushing ship after ship with death. But still they came, dozens
them. Hundreds of ships died but still the survivors closed. Their plan
was suddenly obvious to John, the tactic not unfamiliar, he had simply not
heard of its use on this scale before. Sacrifice your pawn to take the
could be no doubt of their intention now. They didn’t intend to survive,
but these units sought to achieve what the heavier units of the fleet
could not, the destruction of the station through any means.
stood in mute shock as all around him the business of survival took place.
Shields reinforced. Missiles fired. Point defense stations working
feverishly. Yet it was as if this had all vanished. All that was real was
the large cluster of ship icons on his screen making to intercept the much
larger icon of the defense grid.
they came and still they died, but there were simply too many to stop. The
station had never been designed to defend against such an insane tactic.
It could easily hold its own against a fleet numbering in the thousands
composed of massive ships of war. And now a few hundred of the smallest
and lightest ships in a fleet were going to bring it to its knees.
railed at his inability to change fate or even affect the outcome in the
slightest. Here he was on the most powerful battleship ever constructed by
any known race and he was impotent. His ship had been battered to pieces
around him, that it survived and had any capability to fight amazed him.
He could move and he could fight but there was nothing, not one thing that
he could realistically do.
one ship managed to ram the station, the explosion seemed too large to be
simply called an explosion. The titanic forces released rivaled the sun in
brightness and heat for seconds as a self sustaining reaction to place
briefly, converting the very material of the station into fissionable
material that consumed itself. A second ship struck, repeating the damaged
of the first, now entire sections of the station were swinging loose, no
longer held together by the forces of gravity and engineering. Some arced
down into the atmosphere altering the orbit of the station slowly and
inevitably drawing it down, inexorably to the planet.
he watched first one, then two, then a dozen life pods left the station,
soon near space was crowded with fragile little pods filled with people
but not enough to account for the entire crew. Perhaps they had decided to
keep fighting as long as they could, or, more likely, Winkler had ordered
no one to leave their posts. Whatever the reason it was perhaps the
wisest, for where could they go? The planet offered no refuge as
firestorms raged over its surface, jumping oceans and consuming anything
in their path. Friendly ships were on the other side of an alien fleet
that was minutes away from destroying the most powerful defensive station
ever conceived. Any missiles fired by their own side that missed stood a
good chance of immolating them, and even John's ships stood a good chance
of killing hundreds as they maneuvered for survival and returned fire on
for all that John was amazed at how few life pods there were in actual
terms. It seems the arrogance beaten into imperial officers and crewers
was holding strong. How could any alien prevail against the Them?
stood to one side, not watching the disaster unfolding on the screen, what
was going to happen was plain for all to see. Instead she watched John.
For all she had said and done, she knew he blamed himself for every single
death that came about as a result for his actions and with good reason.
But without each death here and now, there would have been a hundred later
on. It was cold comfort she knew, but it was comfort. All she had to do
was make herself accept it as truth and then work on John.
studied him, comparing him to the man he used to be. In many ways he was
unchanged but there was a hardness to him now. His naivete had been
stripped away, leaving only a naked scarred psyche.
things jumped out at her. He rarely made jokes anymore, even the
infuriating ones where he knew she had no hope of understanding and he
would be forced to make a bad attempt at explaining the so called humor
behind it. Granted, the time she had spent with him had little cause for
joy or mirth in it. Whenever she had witnessed his interactions with the
crew the warmth of his conversation amazed her. He was always ready with a
smile and a joke, but as soon as the conversation was over, he reverted to
type instantly there was no transition.
was being consumed by duty and guilt. Like twin cancers of the heart and
soul, slowly robbing him of the ability and the desire to live. For now
all she could do was watch. So much had changed between them that she was
uncertain where to begin, or even if she wanted to. Their relationship,
whatever it had been was gone for good, now it was up to them to forge a
new one. What a pair we are,
she thought, an emotional cripple
and a crippled emotionalist.
sat immobile like a rock on the command deck of the station. The lights
flickered and the pseduo gravity fluctuated from weightlessness to three
Gs. Still he remained silent as another ship hit and tore off yet another
section of the station. So far loyalty alone held the people in his area
of the station, so many others had left, even Amy and the boy had fled
taking his stealth shuttle, leaving him to savor the ruins of his plans.
Everything had come to fruition and that fruit had turned out to be
rotten. He had gambled the Imperium and had lost. His plan had been sound
and would have worked, should have worked against any enemy but these. So
many ships, so many ships they considered expendable. Now with this
station gone the might of the Imperial fleet was descending into a meat
grinder at slightly worse than even odds.
was all gone, the fleet could no more not engage the enemy than he could
move from his chair. Earth, the symbol of the Imperium, of the entirety of
humanity was a burning wreck with billions dead and billions more dying.
They cried for revenge. How ironic. Revenge. but then to live by the sword
doesn’t necessarily mean to die by it. An anti-matter explosive would do
just as well.