Centered on the targeting screen and highlighted by the pulsing blue reticule, the moon seemed small and insignificant. It hung alone before a backdrop of utter blackness, reflecting the rays of the Canborek sun as though sending out a beckoning signal. It possessed no atmosphere to provide even minimal protection from uncounted generations of punishment it had suffered in the form of violent impacts from meteorites and other objects traversing the Canborek system. Even from the ship’s current distance, the evidence of this abuse was clearly visible, with uncounted craters marring the bulk of the moon’s surface. Other terrain features—mountains and canyons—also were observable.
“Targeting telemetry is locked in,” reported Bnira, the crew’s weapons specialist. Shifting in her seat, she turned so that she could look down from her station at Jodis. “Primary weapon will be at full power in less than three linzatu.”
Glancing up at his shipmate and close friend, Jodis nodded at the report. “Very well.” Once the antiproton particle cannon reached full power, it would require only another linzat or two to carry out what in stark reality was little more than a test of the ship’s capabilities. Only after this trial run was completed would the true mission begin. Even the ship seemed to know this, as Jodis could feel the reverberations coursing through his console, the deck plating beneath his feet, and every surface of the cramped cockpit as power from nonessential systems was channeled to feed the vessel’s mammoth armaments. The Poklori gil dara was a ship created for a single purpose, and everything and everyone aboard was here for no other reason than to support that goal: win a war, now and for all time.
As Bnira turned back to her station, Jodis heard her grunting and muttering a string of vulgarities as though to herself. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
“I think these restraints are trying to kill me,” Bnira replied. “I need to adjust them.” As with everyone else operating stations on the command deck, she was held in her seat by a harness to prevent her from floating out of her chair. Each seat had been custom designed and molded to fit its intended occupant to maximize protection, and this included the integrated restraint system worn across the body. “It feels like it was set for Ehondar.”
Jodis could not help a small laugh as he thought of the Poklori gil dara’s diminutive engineer, who at this moment was overseeing all onboard systems from his workspace several decks below the cockpit. The accomplished technical specialist was of slim build and modest height, presenting the appearance of an adolescent. Only the deep lines in his dark, weary face betrayed his true age.
As for the special seats and their restraints—including those plaguing Bnira—they were necessary, as no gravity plating had been installed in the cockpit, thereby allowing the ship’s designers to take full advantage of the space. The command deck’s eight workstations—one for each member of the crew—were positioned along the bulkheads as well as what would be the cramped chamber’s floor and ceiling. While Jodis’s station faced forward, Bnira’s consoles were mounted above him and to his left. The other stations, each dedicated to the oversight of major systems, were vacant, as the rest of the crew had moved to the engineering spaces deep in the bowels of the ship. Behind Jodis, a pressure hatch led to a narrow tunnel that connected the command deck to the rest of the vessel’s interior compartments. The hatch was locked, and the cockpit could be jettisoned to act as an emergency escape pod in the event of catastrophic damage to the rest of the ship.
“Add it to the list,” Jodis suggested, doing his best to suppress another laugh at his friend’s expense. “We will address it later.”
Despite the numerous cycles he and his crew had spent training for this mission, all of that preparation had taken place using simulations and mock-ups of the Poklori gil dara’s systems and work areas, while the ship’s construction continued during that same period beneath a shroud of near-total secrecy. Consequently, Jodis and his team had spent only a minimal amount of time aboard the vessel. It had not taken long for the crew to discover that not everything was the same as it had been represented in their simulators. While the vital systems and other major features were performing within acceptable parameters, Jodis and the others had found a string of minor discrepancies that did not detract from the ship’s operational status despite being inconvenient or simply irritating to varying degrees. Some of the computer software had not been properly installed, requiring adjustments and other modifications to bring it up to specifications. Even the targeting scanner had required realignment before it could be used, making it one of the first problems to be remedied once Jodis and his crew boarded the ship. As for Bnira’s seat straps, they were but the latest addition to a growing roster of annoyances, but they could be corrected. Such trivial tasks would just have to wait for a more appropriate time.
Ignoring the weapons technician’s complaints, Jodis returned his attention to the targeting scanner and the moon displayed upon it. The sunlight playing across its drab, battered topography offered the momentary illusion that this was not an inert astral body but instead a planet like the one it orbited. It was a cradle of life to be protected rather than destroyed. While that was true in a minimal sense, the moon never would be able to sustain a civilization on its own. It was a resource, exploited by the people of its host world for the diverse array of mineral ores, and to that end was home to a handful of military outposts and mining facilities scattered across its surface. Orbiting Copan, the Canborek system’s third planet, the moon had been claimed generations earlier by the Golvonek, the powerful civilization from the neighboring world, Uphrel. It had taken far less time for the moon to become yet another key point of contention in the ongoing war between the Golvonek and Jodis’s people, the Raqilan.
It was a conflict which had raged since long before Jodis’s birth and been the focal point of reality his entire life. Nearly all of Raqilan civilization had been affected by the generations-long struggle between Uphrel and his own planet, Henlona. The resources of both worlds had been all but depleted, necessitating expansion to the other planets and moons orbiting the Canborek sun. Though supplying the ongoing war effort was of prime importance, of course, there also was simple survival to consider, as even if hostilities ceased today, it still would take uncounted generations to recover from the war’s effects. It was uncertain if either planet would be capable of sustaining their respective populations, but government and science leaders on Henlona already were developing plans for larger, permanent space-based habitats as well as colonizing the system’s remaining planets. Though such information typically was not shared with the civilian populace, Jodis knew that according to the most dire predictions, if drastic action was not taken, the planet of his birth would be incapable of sustaining life in less than five generations.
Perhaps, Jodis mused. Perhaps not.
“At last report,” he said after a moment, “there still were personnel on one of the outposts who had not yet evacuated the moon.”
Without turning from her station, Bnira replied, “We have not received any new status updates. Our observation satellites recorded all but one of the transports assigned to bases on the moon lifting off and heading away on trajectories which should return them to Uphrel.” After a moment, she craned her neck to once more look down at him. “Our orders have not changed.”
“I am aware of that,” Jodis snapped. Looking away from the targeting scanner, he paused to study the moon through the curved transparent barrier forming the command deck’s forward observation port. Though he tried to resist it, he still felt a momentary hesitation grip him. It was true that the moon was a legitimate military target, and advance warning of their impending attack had been communicated to the highest echelons of the Golvonek civilian government and the leadership of their military forces. By now, both parties were aware of the Poklori gil dara and the simple fact that nothing in their remaining arsenal was a match for the mammoth warship. Still, given their principal, ultimate objective, was this demonstration of the vessel’s power truly necessary?
Yes, Jodis reminded himself. Setting aside the moon’s value to Golvonek so far as its location and wealth of resources, the truth was that the ship’s primary particle beam weapon had not yet been tested. Such trials had been all but impossible, given the Poklori gil dara’s sheer size and the capabilities its design boasted, along with the unquestioned need to keep the massive vessel’s existence a secret until it could be launched. As with everything else, Jodis and his crew had been forced to train using computer simulations that utilized algorithms and other data to hypothesize the scope of the cannon’s power and effects. Now, however, the time for practice and pretending was past, and there was no hiding the ship from the Golvonek. No other options remained to him except to follow his orders.
It is time.
An alert tone sounded from above him, and Bnira announced, “Weapon is at full power.”
“Stand by to fire,” Jodis ordered. With his selection as commander of the Poklori gil dara and all the preparation required for their mission, it had been many cycles since he had last seen actual combat. The familiar sensations of anticipation were awakening every nerve in his body. He shifted in his seat, feeling his muscles tensing. With one last look at his targeting scanner, Jodis pushed himself into his seat and braced for whatever was to come.
His order was followed by Bnira pressing the appropriate control on her console, and in response, lights and indicators across the small command deck flickered as power was drawn from every shipboard system and fed to the particle cannon. Even the vessel’s immense engines wavered for a moment in reaction to the new demands being made of them. Then, all of that was lost amid the fury of the Poklori gil dara establishing its reason for being.
Jodis threw a hand up to protect his eyes as the cannon fired, a great, broad beam of brilliant, pulsing red-orange light erupting from the port which was the vessel’s prow. The effects inside the ship were immediate as the bulkheads groaned in unison with the howl of energy surging forth from the weapon’s power generator. Despite the array of thrusters installed all along the hull—all of them controlled by the onboard computer to maintain the ship’s position—Jodis’s stomach told him they were being pushed backward from the force of the unleashed energy.
“Maintain fire!” he shouted over the increasing din, and stared through the forward viewing port as the beam crossed the void separating the Poklori gil dara from its target. It struck the moon’s surface, and Jodis saw the impact as the energy pierced the pale, arid soil. A ring of dirt and debris pushed outward in an expanding circle. Cracks—deep, dark fissures illuminated with the same golden hue as the beam itself—appeared at the point of contact, expanding and widening with each passing moment. As the cannon continued to drive its focused antiproton stream into the dead satellite’s core, Jodis felt his jaw slacken while watching immense portions of the moon beginning to separate.
“Cease fire,” he ordered, his gaze riveted to the viewing port and the horrific scene unfolding before him. The moon was continuing to come apart, enormous sections pushed away by the force of the particle cannon. A haze of debris surrounded everything, cascading in all directions in a growing cloud.
From above him, he heard the astonishment in Bnira’s voice. “That is unbelievable. I know the simulations taught us what to expect, but that is still the most incredible thing I have ever seen.”
Jodis ignored her comments, his attention instead fixed on his own instruments and status indicators. An instant later, a collision warning pierced the air of the confined command deck.
“Scans are registering the expected shock wave!” he called out. “Full power to forward defenses.” Reaching for his console, he activated the ship’s internal communications system. “This is Jodis. Brace for impact!” As with the cannon, the Poklori gil dara’s protective force fields had not been tested under actual combat conditions. Though all indicators showed the generators for that system were functioning as projected, there was only one way to gauge their effectiveness.
Jodis gripped his seat’s armrests just as an unseen force slammed into the vessel. Though the force of the impact was far less than he had anticipated, it still was enough to trigger another wave of alarms as he felt himself jostled in his seat, his body straining against his harness. All around him, monitors and status indicators flashed and blinked, and Jodis heard the steady thrum of the engines waver as the ship struggled to withstand the onslaught.
“Force fields are holding!” Bnira called out, her anxiety palpable as it laced her words. “But there are power fluctuations across the ship.”
The wave was subsiding, a fact Jodis could verify from instrumentation as well as his own body and ship. Outside the viewing port, he could see the expanding debris cloud steadying as maneuvering thrusters worked to retain the ship’s present position. A quick glance to the targeting scanner confirmed what he already suspected. “Engaging our withdrawal course heading,” he said, his hands moving to the helm controls on the console.
“Jodis,” said a new voice, filtering through the internal communications system, “this is Ehondar. We are registering several shipwide overloads and circuit faults. None of them appear to be serious, but they will take time to repair.”
Before Jodis could respond to the engineer, a new alert tone sounded from the targeting scanner, and he saw that the computer-generated readout now depicted several new contacts. Thirteen red indicators had appeared at the lower edge of the screen and now were moving toward its center and the larger green icon representing the Poklori gil dara.
“Incoming Golvonek ships,” Bnira said, turning once more in her seat. “According to the readings, it appears to be an entire attack squadron.”
A Golvonek military response was not an unexpected development, of course. The enemy would be marshalling ships for deployment the instant their deep space scanners detected the Poklori gil dara. That action would only be accelerated once it became evident that the massive ship was the source of the threat communicated to the Uphrel planetary government and the moon that until moments ago had orbited the planet Copan. In fact, Jodis was surprised it had taken the Golvonek military leadership this long to send out any sort of reaction force. They now were on their way, and Jodis knew the commanders of the ships approaching them would not be swayed even by the demonstration of immense power which had just been provided.
“An entire attack squadron,” Jodis said, his gaze fixed on the targeting scanner. Though computer training scenarios had shown the Poklori gil dara as more than capable of fighting multiple enemy ships, the mammoth vessel’s effectiveness was impacted as the number of opponents increased. Simulated engagements against a full squadron of Golvonek combat ships had been inconclusive, with the enemy contingent winning nearly as many of those fictitious encounters as it lost. In simpler terms, there was no way to be certain that the approaching armada could be defeated.
“Prepare to cover our withdrawal,” Jodis said before keying the control to open the communications channel. “Repairs will have to wait, Ehondar. Enemy ships on attack course. Stand by for defensive action.”
It is a new age of exploration, and the U.S.S. Enterprise is dispatched to “the Odyssean Pass,” a region charted only by unmanned probes and believed to contain numerous inhabited worlds. Approaching a star system with two such planets, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew find a massive alien vessel, drifting in interstellar space for decades. Sensors detect life aboard the derelict—aliens held in suspended animation. Thought to be an immense sleeper ship, the vessel actually is a weapon capable of destroying entire worlds...the final gambit in a war that has raged for generations across the nearby system. Captain Picard is now caught in the middle of this conflict and attempts to mediate, as both sides want this doomsday weapon…which was sent from the future with the sole purpose of ending the interplanetary war before it even began!
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