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 16    

    

“Report!” 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.

“The 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.

“Damn 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.

“What’s 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.

“John's 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.

“Are we ready?” Dietz asked solemnly, secretly enjoying Winkler’s anger and frustration no matter how well controlled.

“Of 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.”

“You're 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 appalled her.

“Well, if you believe it unthinkable then there is a good chance these aliens will too and attack.”

“But I am on this station, and my son of course.”

“This 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 feelings.

“Well, 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.

“And 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 ends.

“Of 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.

“Your orders Lord Regent?” the commander of the station asked respectfully as he approached.

“Hail 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.

#

“There 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.

“Talked? 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 his mistakes.

“We 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.

“Still 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.

“Don’t you think you're overstating the case slightly John?”

“No 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 abilities.”

“I 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.

“Yes, 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.

“Nothing 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.”

“I thought you were... exaggerating, trying to excuse your failure as well as your survival. You have done it before.”

John 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.

“So what now?” he asked plainly.

“We 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.”

#

Winkler 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.

When 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 Imperial navy.

Earth 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 Sahara.

Winkler 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.

“What’s 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 became critical.

“The 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.”

“Enemy 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 station.

“None. 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.”

“How 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.

“They 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.

“Missiles?” The life’s blood of the station might be energy but it’s heartbeat was the missiles, without them it couldn’t survive.

“We 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.”

“What 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.

“All 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.”

“Yes but you don’t know John.”

#

A 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.

The 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.

Again 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.

For the hundredth time he wondered if he had done the right thing.

“Yes 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.

“Reading 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.

“Just 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.

“Oh? And what am I thinking?”

“You're 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.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I am not…” he halted as Scorpius seemingly appeared behind her, leaning against the bulkhead.

“Yes 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.

“Shut 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.

“Fine, 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.

“Wait, Aeryn, I didn’t mean you…” John said to her back.

She stopped but didn’t turn to face him as she asked, “There is no one else here, so you must have meant me.”

“No, 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 attack.

“Oh 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.

“Are 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.

“Not 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.

“You will John? My, my, my. I am looking forward to hearing what story you plan to tell her.”

#  

“Well?”

“First, what you ask…”

“I do not ask, I order. I am First of this fleet my very word is law within this fleet, when I speak you obey.”

“Yes First, I understand, but…”

“No ‘buts’ you slime. Obey or I’ll replace you with someone who will and you will not enjoy what I do with you.”

With 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.

The 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.

When 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.

###

“Status 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.

This 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 light units?

As 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 enemy queen.

There 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.

John 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.

Closer 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.

John 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.

Eventually 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.

As 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 the enemy.

Still 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?

#

Aeryn 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.

She 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.

Little 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.

He 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.

#

Winkler 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.

It 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.  

 

 

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