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The Dark Sea War Chronicles

Volume I

FIGHTING THE SILENT

BRUNO MARTINS SOARES





Copyright © 2017 Bruno Martins Soares

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 9781549840098



Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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For Tiago, my nephew (a.k.a. Shorty).





CONTENTS





INTRODUCTION

EPISODE 1 - First Shot

EPISODE 2 - The Convoy

INTERLUDE A - Tourists

EPISODE 3 - Back

INTERLUDE B - S62

INTERLUDE C - Dead

EPISODE 4 - Recovery

INTERLUDE D - Survivor







ACKNOWLEDGMENTS





Thank you to all my friends and partners who helped me so much, including:

Luís Madeira Rodrigues

Célia Cambraia

Nuno Madeira Rodrigues

Leonor Hungria

Cláudio Jordão

Rodrigo Martins Soares

Rodrigo Rahmati

Susana Almeida

And many others!











INTRODUCTION





Kaptin Worf Tinnzer scratched his itchy beard as he waited for his crewmen to complete their tasks on the bridge of S62.

Usually, no one shaved in the service. The Styllmarinne was an elite service unlike any other in the Riggsmarinne, the fierce Space-Navy of the republic of Axx. Silent Boats, or Styllebuutz, were out in deep space for much longer stretches than average ships, supplied out there by special vessels, pirate traders, occasional merchants and lonely outposts. They were isolated for a long time. So the men didn’t shave. At one point, the Addmiralis had tried to introduce shaving machines in the service, but no one actually used them. It had become an honor thing, a badge of the bravest, the famous beard of the Styllemarinners. They wouldn’t wash either, so after a day or two, there would be this characteristic omnipresent stink. So omnipresent, in fact, that they would fail to notice it at all.

He thought of his wife, Sondra, and of his young son, Worf. He hoped they would be okay. They were far from any important target down there, in the castle, the thousand-year-old family home in the middle of the woods. As safe as they could be.

Worf looked through the visor from his seat in the center of the bridge. Silent Boats didn’t have scanners all around because they messed up the refracting camouflage. They had typically three probe levels with very small probes circling around the vessel. The captain’s visor was a bulky face-covering helmet Worf had to slide down pushing a button on the arm of his chair. As his left fingers managed more buttons, the chair was made to rotate, giving him the view of Space around the Silent.

“Kapt, a message from S60, she’s here as well.”

“All right.”

That was the third boat. They were ready. It was time. Worf looked at the enemy. More than 40 vessels. A loaded convoy.

“Has 63 set the time?”

The instructions were that the first boat on the scene would take point and coordinate the attack.

“Just a minute, Kapt.”

“Ask them about the position as well.”

“Yes, Kapt.”

“As it is, might as well follow them all the way to Webbur.” Said Rukt, the Navigator.

S62 had been in position for over 20 hours, now. If this were a normal operation, the attack would have occurred many hours ago. Worf knew the men were starting to get impatient. He pushed the button, and the helmet went up, freeing his head.

“Might as well service our ship in the Brury moon also.” Continued the Nav.

People laughed. Worf’s calm, cold voice, crossed the bridge:

“That’s enough, Rukt.”

They all settled down. They waited. Finally, the Comms Officer looked at the Captain.

“Time set to 30 minutes, Kapt.”

“Alright. They gave us position?”

“Position B. Starboard side.”

“Alright.”

Lüivettenand Urster smiled as he approached with a tea cup in his hand.

“It seems they’re going to chain us up out here as well. Ver-Kaptin. I’d rather we were free as before.” He whispered.

Worf sipped the tea. Urster had spiked it, as usual.

“We’re at war. We have to be effective.”

“What would they know about that?”

Worf was displeased with the comment. He lowered his voice so only Urster would hear him.

“Careful, Urster. This is no place for politics.”

“My point exactly.”

Worf clinched his teeth.

“Enough. I’ll put you in the brig myself. This is not politics, it’s good tactics.”

Since Urster’s brother had disappeared in the Tribunal’s Seichr prison, the officer’s remarks had become more and more bothersome. Every time he opened his mouth, Worf feared for him. Even on a small ship like this where the crew was tighter than family, there were people loyal to the regime. They could all get in trouble, if Urster didn’t stop his dangerous comments.

For now, Urster backed off. The Engineer, Karolu, entered the bridge. Worf knew something was wrong. What would he be doing here as they were minutes away from action?

“Ver-Kaptin.”

“What is it, Karolu?”

“I’m sorry to bother you at this hour, but I need to warn you.”

Worf sighed.

“The reactor?”

“Yes, Kapt. It’s fine now. But if we need to fight...”

“How much time would it run if it cracks?”

“One hour, one day, one week. Not sure, Kapt.”

Worf thought for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders.

“Nothing we can do now. We’re committed. Just take care of it the best you can. If all goes as usual, we won’t have to fight.”

“Nothing usual with this operation, Ver-Kaptin.” Said Urster.

Worf looked at his second, raising his eyebrow.

“We’re committed.” He repeated.

“I’m just saying. Anything could happen.”

“We’re committed.” Said Worf once more. They all paused. Finally, both Urster and Karolu backed down.

“Yes, Kapt.”

“Yes, Kapt.”

Worf finished his tea in silence, while the whole crew prepared for the attack. There was nothing more he needed to do. They all knew very well the business of the day. Finally, Urster looked at him.

“We’re ready, Kapt. ‘T’ minus 5 minutes.”

Worf looked up, nodded, sat back on his chair and pushed the button, so the helmet descended on his head. In seconds, he was looking outside. Black all around. Through the zoom and the enhancement protocol, he could pick up the ships on his bow.

“All right.” He said, with his head inside the helmet. “Do we have the targets’ ID confirmed?”

“Yes, Kapt. Merchant ship Solio, 800k, and merchant ship Harvy, 700, are the first.”

“Escort?”

“The nearest threat is the Nyban, a Corvette. Old class. Not much firepower.”

“All right.” Worf’s helmet showed him the enemy vessels. “Let’s not push our luck with the reactor. We get the first two merchants, and we leave.”

“Yes, Kapt.”

“Time, sir.”

“All right. Increase to covert attack speed. Torpedoes?”

“Ready, Kapt.”

“63 is engaging, Kapt. Position A.”

“All right. Rukt, we’re deviating. Get us on target.”

“Yes, Kapt. Sorry, Kapt.”

Worf rotated his chair to look at where S63 should be at that point. He had no visual on the other ship, but the friendly ID signal was pulsing a blue dot inside his helmet, so he knew where the other ship was. And also... In a strange move, an enemy ship was getting in an awkward position. It was decreasing speed and falling behind.

‘What is that frigate doing?’ Thought Worf.





EPISODE 1 - FIRST SHOT





“Look at that! What a sight!” Lara was looking down through the glass towards the surface of Webbur and the rotating spaceport. What a sight! I thought, but I was looking the other way. The fleet was already quietly assembling in formation, getting ready for the voyage. It was beautiful. It was in a ‘spine formation.' A beautiful slick formation. (Little did I know it would soon become obsolete.)

I looked at Lara. She was still sighing at the planet. Her lovely petite ear sliding out from beneath the smooth blond hair with a little help from a finger. I smiled to myself and looked back at the fleet. The courier-corvette was climbing at a steady acceleration rate towards the big ships. The 2nd Fleet of the Webbur Union. One of the strongest in the system. The 1st Fleet, the First Admiral’s fleet, also known as the Home Fleet, stayed close to the planet. The 3rd Fleet, the Outer Fleet, patrolled the vast desert frontier to put in check the menacing fleets of the Cold Empire. And the 2nd Fleet, my fleet, the Inner Fleet, controlled everything from here to the sun. No one else had such imposing ships. Not even the Kingdom of Torrance, with its magnificent legacy, and certainly not the Republic of Axx, for all its might. (Little did I know that would also change.)

And there she was. At the fleet’s center, my ship. Admiral Hedde’s ship, the W.S.Magnar, a 120-battery 1st class Battleship. You could hardly take your eyes off her when she was like this, her flank to the sun, surrounded by her subjects.

“I was talking about Webbur.” Lara was looking at me, a smart smile across her face. I jumped inside. Not because she caught me looking the wrong way, but because she smiled at me and, for some reason, it always made me jump inside, surprised.

“Y-Yes, I know.”

She smiled and, through the window behind her, I caught a glimpse of two more of the Fleet’s Colossus: the W.S.Taurus, a 90-battery 2nd class Battleship; and behind her, the W.S.Viker, a 70-battery 3rd class.

“Is it true they give astonishing balls at the Magnar?” she said.

I blushed.

“Sometimes.”

I looked out the window once more. Around the big ships, three destroyers were getting into a flank-protection position, and a fourth was on point, ahead of the Magnar. Two small 32-battery frigates traveled ahead and Syrius¸ the small but fast courier-corvette, was transporting us in. The 10 billion-ton bulge supply ship W.S.Warhog, and the smaller repair ship W.S.Pleeto completed the fleet, traveling behind and below the Taurus. 12 beautiful green-red-and-gray ships that spread wonder and might across the whole system.

“When’s the next one?”

I was having a hard time thinking. Lara and I had been getting closer and closer these last few days, and the thought of leaving her at her post on the W.S. Orink, a 4th class 50-battery destroyer, flanking the Magnar, and not be with her for weeks, kept me in a constant state of shock. We had written many messages to each other, said many things online. But only in the last few days had we really been together, physically and mostly alone. And it still made me nervous. And it also made me excited and air-headed. And that had to stop really quickly because a Webbur warship is not a place to be nervous or air-headed. Or excited, for that matter. The problem was: I didn’t want it to stop.

“Well,” I said uncomfortably (I was still uncomfortable). “I suppose when we arrive in Torrance, an allied planet, with all fanfare, the Admiral will want to give a ball. I suppose…”

“Would a cute little nurse like me get invited?”

“If she was asked by a steady flag-ship junior officer like me, she would.”

“Well…”

(Oh! Her smile… Her smile…)

“Should I be preparing for it, then?” She tilted her head, provokingly. (Oh! She tilted her head…)

“I guess you should…”

“Mr.Iddo, this is you, I believe” interrupted the master-of-the-corvette, warning me to get ready to leave and board the approaching Magnar.

I looked at Lara. She looked at me. It was a look of small desperation. She smiled. Joy and sadness in a smile. We looked around, trying to spot any on-looking eyes, and then we managed a fast, faint and intense kiss.



*



15,000 people lived and worked on the Magnar. It was an impressive beast. It was made out of 12 different huge compartments, called hulls, with six ports and six starboards. Each hull was basically independent and could be isolated from the rest. It had its own hospital, cafeteria, sleeping quarters, gym, working areas, warehouse, armory, and gravity controls. Each hull harbored about 1,000 crew members. If attacked or depressurized, a hull would be blocked, cut off from the rest of the ship. It was calculated that the Magnar could lose 5 or 6 hulls before the ship became inoperable. The hulls were numbered: odds for port and even for starboard. So 1st Hull was at the bow on the left, and 2nd Hull was at the bow on the right, and 3rd Hull was on the left behind the 1st Hull and so on.

Besides the functions the hulls divided between themselves, like launching spacecrafts, managing the engines or conducting research, each hull was also responsible for 10 ten-tube High-Caliber High-Explosive missile batteries. The tubes could be fired in rapid succession so at any one time the Magnar could have on course the massive number of 1200 HCHE missiles. Together with the Taurus and the Viker, the big warships of the fleet could fire more than 3 thousand warheads at one time. Not counting destroyers and frigates. This was mighty power indeed.

The Main Bridge tower was a different ship segment than the main hulls. It lived for the Bridge. Even though every hull had its own commander, its own master and its own way of living, the Tower (as it was known) harbored almost a thousand people simply concerned with managing the whole ship, the whole fleet, and answering to the Admiral himself. It hosted more commanders, senior officers and junior officers than the whole of the ship combined, besides the Admiral, the Captain, and the First Officer. The commanders and officers of the main Commands and the C-Team, all lived there. Just above the living quarters were 5 Command HQ’s, each made of a common working area and an office for the Commanding Officer. And the C-Team HQ, which had three offices: for the Admiral, the Captain, and the First Officer. Above the HQ’s, was the Bridge. And above that, with a breathtaking view and already out of the protection of the armored main hull, was the Admiral’s dining room, rarely used except for impressing special visitors. Then, the Captain’s observation deck, for looking with naked eye at the ship and fleet, on the rare occasions it was needed. And finally, upstairs were the main upper deck sensors and antennas, with the occasional T-guy poking around.



*



I put my bag in my locker next to my bunk and looked in the mirror. I wouldn’t stay in the cabin long, I’d rather present myself for duty as soon as possible, and one does not present oneself to senior officers in a slack uniform.

“Hey, Byl! Glad you’re back.”

I smiled, turned around and grabbed Ploom’s hand. I shared the cabin with three other junior officers, and Ploom and I were the oldest ones in the flagship.

“Hi, Ploom. What do you say? Tight ship?”

“Yep, seems tight so far.”

“Juniors?”

“Tight. No sissies or assholes.”

“What does the master say?”

“Not much, so far.”

“That’s good. Who’s this?”

Behind Ploom’s large smile came a dark-faced shy boy, the youngest possible, trying to get into the pea-like cabin.

“This is Gaddy. He’s with the T’s.”

Technical-Command, or T-Comm, was one of the five commands that made up the Captain’s team on the bridge. The other four were Navigation, Signals, Logistics, and Weapons. Ploom was with the N’s, and I was with the S’s. We both belonged to the C-team, and that’s why we had accommodations in the Main Bridge tower, just below the center of command, ready to get to our posts at a moment’s notice.

“Nice to meet you, Mr.Gaddy.”

“Please, call me Tym.”

“A T’s Tym,” joked Ploom.

The fourth bunk in the cabin belonged to Hekk. He was a Marine lieutenant, a W., the Marine liaison on the bridge. If I knew him at all, he would be at the gym right now. In a few hours, I might be able to join him for some martial arts training.

“So,” said Ploom, closing the door of the cabin. “Are we going to war?”

I sighed while I closed the top button on my uniform.

“Why would we be going to war, Ploom?”

“Oh, don’t give me that, Byl. Axx is a hair away from getting up Torrance’s ass. And Torrance is our ally. If they go to war, we won’t be far behind. Isn’t that the reason we’re going on this trip? Letting the blue-eyes’ know the torries won’t stand alone?”

“If you say so, Ploom.”

His face had a red surge of irritation. Of course, he was right. And I was in a better position to know because I belonged to S-Comm. All intelligence came through me. And I could tell him because he was C-team. He would be on the Admiral’s bridge and had clearance. But Gaddy didn’t. He worked at the T-Comm HQ, down in the belly of the beast, not up in the upper tower. And if Ploom was enough of an idiot not to care about it, I wasn’t. So I stood ground and faced his stare until he backed down.

“Mr.Gaddy!” a strong voice came from the corridor. It was Sandars, the master-of-the-tower. His head popped inside. Gaddy turned his head.

“Hmmm? Sir?”

“Don’t «Hmm-sir» me! You’re not a God damn cow!”

“Yes, sir!”

“And don’t call me «sir»! I work for a living!”

“Yes, Master Sandars!”

“You’re a Tech-boy, aren’t you, Mr.Gaddy?! I’d think you lads would have the sense to check your SCD’s once in a while!”

Embarrassed, Gaddy turned on his Ship-Communication-Device, forgotten on his collar.

“They’re calling you down below on 2nd Hull, if you please! On the double!” roared Sandars. Gaddy stormed away. The master looked at me and nodded. “Glad to see you on board, Mr.Iddo.”

“Glad to be here, Mr.Sandars.”

As they left, I turned to Ploom.

“Don’t go around talking about war like that, Ploom! It’s a hot topic, and not everybody has clearance. We need to be careful.”

Ploom smiled.

“Oh, never mind that. Just tell me about Lara!”



*



Most of the ship’s inner corridors were well lit but narrow. Yet in a day like Launch-Day, even the wide main grid corridors were difficult to walk in, and everyone bumped into everyone. And just as the rest of the ship, the Tower was full of chaos and confusion on the corridors and escalators. There is a regular joke among space-sailors: «It’s not by chance it’s called L-Day.» This is because about 60 to 70% of all the confusion going on in the last few days before a launch is caused by Logistics crew members running around all stressed up. At any other time, they would be as active as anyone else. But just before L-Day all the pressure is on them, making sure everything is on board and in the right place. As I made my way up to S-Comm HQ, I kept dodging L-guys left and right, and I swear that up to this day I don’t know how these guys don’t get hurt more often with the speed they run all over the place on L-Day.

I finally got to Signal-Command HQ and found out Commander Zell, the C.O., was not in.

“Admiral’s quarters,” they told me.

Good. That would give me time to look at the last signals coming in and get some work done.



*



Zell leaned back from his desk and finally looked at me in his quiet manner. This was the first time I was his first lieutenant. The previous one had been promoted to a senior post in a warship of the 3rd.

“Had a nice leave, Mr.Iddo?”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Had a chance to look at the signals?”

“Yes, sir. Nothing major, sir.”

“I need you to update the buoys’ codes.”

“Done that, sir.”

“Then you need to figure out the compensation for the software upgrade and check in with Navigation.”

“Done that as well, sir.”

Zell raised an eyebrow. I smiled inside. It wasn’t easy to impress him, and it felt really good.

“And…?” asked the C.O.

“I’m sorry, sir?”

“What did you get? What was the compensation?”

“Minus 1, sir.”

Zell raised the other eyebrow and looked at his tablet on the desk.

“That’s it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Minus 1?”

“Yes, sir.”

He twisted his mouth, satisfied.

“That’s not bad.”

“No, sir.”

He kept looking at his tablet, checking the numbers.

“They verified the calculations?”

“Not yet, sir.”

“Tell me the minute they do.”

“Yes, sir.”

He leaned back again and looked straight at me, once more.

“Nice leave, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Don’t expect another one for a while. Not until we get to Torrance, anyway.”

“I won’t, sir.”

“The fleet will launch at 1800 hours. You’re dismissed, Mr.Iddo.”

“Sir!”



*



“Viker is clear to launch, sir,” I announced. “That’s the last one.”

“Very well, Mr.Iddo,” responded Zell, then turning to the Admiral. “All clear to launch, sir.”

The Main Bridge is a very special place. It usually accommodates around 18 crewmembers. It has 5 Weapons stations, 3 Navigation, 3 Signals, and 3 Technical. And also the L-commander (we called him the quartermaster, or the Q.) or his substitute. Then there are three high chairs, each one behind and above the other: the First Officer’s chair, the Captain’s chair, and the Admiral’s chair. Officially, the ship was commanded by the Captain, leaving the Admiral to command the fleet. But nobody had any doubt it was Admiral Hedde who actually headed the Magnar. Hedde had risen through the ranks and never really gotten over the pleasure of leading a battleship. And Captain Simmas was happy to abide, as he deeply admired and trusted the Admiral.

“Ok,” said the Admiral, a small solid looking man with impeccable white hair and red and gray uniform. “Tell them to launch, Mr.Zell.”

“Signal to launch, Mr.Iddo.”

“Yes, sir! Launch, launch, launch!” I gave the orders to the other ships of the fleet, while I heard the Admiral calmly order:

“You can launch, Captain.”

“Sir.” Nodded Simmas, and then to Navigation: “Half speed ahead, Mr.Tumm.”

“Yes, sir,” said the N-Commander “Half speed ahead, Mr.Ploom.”

“Yes, sir.” said Ploom.

And the engines started to roar,the whole ship trembled, and we started to move.

What makes the Main Bridge of a warship a really special place to anyone who knows it is the surroundings. Even though we’re in a solid wall armored sphere inside the ship, the walls all around us mimic the surroundings picked up by the sensors of the ship so, in fact, the bridge’s stations’ platform seems to be suspended in space, with nothing holding us. If you look up, down, left, right, forward or backward, you will see the space around the ship, the stars, the planets and the other ships. And the rotating stations are used to do just that: look everywhere. To someone not used to it, it gives you nausea, disorientation, and chills. But after a while, it grows on you, and it fascinates you. Especially when the whole fleet is starting to launch next to your home planet, and the movement becomes apparent. It’s a fine spectacle. We called it a mimic display, or MID, for short.

I looked up and to my left, to a 3D hologram of the whole fleet suspended above my head. It was called the FCD, the Fleet Constellation Display, or simply the Constellation. It showed at each point the relative position of each ship in the fleet. I looked at the image of the Orink and imagined Lara looking at Webbur from a destroyer’s watch as it flew by in lovely colors. I looked back at the starboard and believed for a moment I could see a glimpse of the real destroyer, guarding Taurus’ flank.

After a few minutes, the Admiral got up, straightened his uniform and left, saying:

“The ship is yours, Captain.”

“Sir!”

The Captain waited a bit more, then exchanged some words with the First Officer and finally said:

“You have the ship, Mr.Orrey.”

“Sir!” And the Captain left, and Mr.Orrey turned to the rest of the bridge. “Officers are free to resume shift schedule.”

And all the senior officers responded: “Yes, sir!”

And Zell turned to me and Dalto, the other Signals’ junior officer on duty on the bridge (a new man, focused face, brown curls), and said:

“I’ll be retiring now. Mr.Iddo, you wait until we clear the last moon and then you can go. Mr.Dalto will do first shift. Mr.Orta will relieve him afterward. You all have the shift schedule in your duty folders already. Mr.Dalto, anything you need, first talk to Mr.Iddo and then me. Understood?”

“Yes,sir!”

“Carry on, then.”



*



Things started to go awry 6 days after L-Day. I was doing the graveyard shift on the bridge. Tumm, the N-Comm, a baldy and experienced officer everyone respected, was in the First Officer’s chair, handling the bridge. And there were only 4 more people around: 2 in Navigation, 1 in Weapons and 1 in Technical.

For many, space traveling can be boring. It’s always the same view, mainly black, with a starlight fabric on the immense horizon. Nothing really changes for many days in a row. But I liked it. It’s peaceful. Quiet. Gives you time for yourself, your thoughts, and to breathe. The quiet hours on duty on the bridge, for me, were always a treat.

We were heading towards the Dark Sea. That’s the vast empty space between the Mirox asteroid belt and the Eeron asteroid belt, towards the sun and the inner solar system, where Torrance and Axx faced each other. The Dark Sea was a dangerous place for many, where only pirates and bold merchants and armed supply convoys ventured, away from the influences of the armed forces of the different planets. It was also the 2nd Fleet’s Area of Operations, where we were sent most of the time, to catch some overachieving pirate or assert Webbur’s influence in the region.

I was minding my own business, looking at the empty, maybe thinking of Lara, when an orange sign popped up on my console. It was a warning from a Level 8 probe. I straighten up on my chair.

“Contact, sir. Level 8, 10-and-10, sir.” (Meaning forward-left-high.)

Tumm looked at me.

“What kind of contact, Mr.Iddo?”

“I don’t know, sir. I can’t see it. But it’s popping up on my screen. Two probes. Level 8.”

“But you can’t see it?”

“No, sir.”

Rumens was on point at Navigation, so Tumm turned to him.

“Where are we, Mr.Rumens? Is it a rock already?”

“No, sir. We’re still a day away from the Mirox.”

We were all quiet for a few minutes. Nothing happened. Tumm turned to me again.

“How much time until you have to send another batch out, Mr.Iddo?”

“78 minutes, sir.”

The Magnar and the fleet surrounded themselves with 12 levels of probes. Level 1 was the nearest one, the last-resort level, where the most immediate threats would be detected before reaching the sensor level of the ships themselves, 0-Level. And then there were 11 consecutive levels of probes, until the 12th, the farthest from the fleet. Probes were Signals’ responsibility, along with communications. As they all had limited fuel and speed, they would be left behind after a while, and we needed to periodically send out another batch of football-size probes.

My console was silent. I could sense that Tumm was intrigued and uncomfortable. Two contact warnings from two different probes at Level 8 could hardly be a mistake, even though the probes seemed unable to show us anything. But Level 8 meant whatever it was had passed undetected through three levels of detection. One would be normal, two acceptable, but three? Maybe it was one of those strange natural phenomena space sailors are always rumoring about.

Then, another flag popped up on my screen.

“Contact, sir! Level 6, 10-and-10! No image!”

No one said anything, but I could hear Tumm touching his buttons, no doubt calling for higher rank officers on the bridge. After just a few minutes, several people started coming in. Young officers started to man their stations. Zell came in as well. He didn’t speak. He just sat down beside me and looked at the screens. Finally, First Officer Orrey came in and sat on the Captain’s chair, looking at his screens.

“Where are we, Mr.Tumm? Is it a stray rock?”

“Still a day away from the Mirox, sir.”

“Very well. The ship is mine. Resume your duties.”

“Sir! First Officer has the bridge.”

Tumm left the First Officer’s chair and went back to his N-Comm station. Orrey was in command. Everyone on this bridge was a well-respected and hand-picked experienced officer, but Orrey was a special one. Commander Zell had once told me he would be a brilliant admiral, one day.

“Mr.Zell, would you please get word from the Kark and the Lion to what they are seeing?”

Kark and Lion were the two destroyers on the fleet’s larboard flank. As I was on ‘probe duty,' Zell contacted the ships himself.

“They confirm contacts, sir. No images.”

Then the Captain got in and said.

“I have the bridge.”

Orrey immediately got up and sat on his own chair, saying:

“The Captain has the bridge.”

Simmas sat on Captain’s chair, and everyone was silent while he got up to speed reading his screen.

“Red flag!” I almost shouted. “Level 5, 10-and-10! No image, sir!”

‘Red Flag’ meant a linear movement through three levels of probes, signaling there was a definite movement towards the fleet’s ships. And there was still no image showing up on the screen. I had an irrational burst of shame for the probes not being able to see the contact, but it was easily overcome by a slight burst of fear and excitement.

“The Kark is clearing the boards, Captain.” Said Zell.

“Ok,” responded the Captain. “Clear the boards.”

‘Clearing the boards’ was a first alert procedure. It meant all non-essential activities going on or planned for the next few minutes would be postponed or canceled. Nothing should be on the Boards of Activities but what the bridge would order. Everyone on the bridge got suddenly very busy calling everyone else on their Commands.

Orta, a brown hair nice guy who was my colleague in S-Command, finally got here and took his place. I glanced at Zell’s screen and saw the signal: «To the fleet: Magnar is clearing the boards.»

We waited. Then I heard a calm voice coming from behind and above me.

“Mr.Iddo, put the flags on the MID, if you don’t mind.”

I looked and saw Admiral Hedde looking at me.

“Sir!”

I sent the four warnings from the probes into the mimic display, for all to see. The little flags seemed to appear in the middle of the void, out there in the dark. They had all turned red, of course, showing the linear movement.

“So the last was 8 minutes ago?” asked the Admiral.

“Yes, sir.”

“I see. So we don’t know where it is, could be anywhere. Captain, get the alert up a notch, will you?”

“Yes, sir. Battle stations, Mr.Vallard,” ordered the Captain to W-Command. “Mr.Zell, send the signal.”

“Yes, sir. Mr.Orta, battle stations everyone.”

“Sir!”

Orta began sending signals to everyone in the ship, while Zell sent the signals to the fleet. «To the fleet: Magnar called battle stations.» And then the Admiral spoke again.

“Mr.Vallard, get all odds ready, if you please.”

“Yes, sir! All odds ready!”

‘Odds’ meant all port-side HCHE and projectile-defense missile batteries. From 1st Hull to 11th Hull, on the left, the W’s would be ‘cocking’ their guns.

“Odds ready, sir!” announced Weapons.

“Thank you,” said simply the Admiral.

And then Zell:

“All vessels called battle stations, sir.”

“Very well.”

Everyone was focused on their consoles. For a few minutes, nothing happened.

“Anything, Mr.Iddo?” asked Mr. Zell, at half voice.

“Negative, sir.”

We kept waiting. Several minutes went by. The Admiral asked:

“How far are we to the Mirox, Mr.Tumm?”

“A day, sir.”

“Hmm… Too far…”

We waited a bit more. The Admiral gave another order.

“Get the Syrius to circle port, please, Mr. Zell.”

“Sir!”

Zell sent the signal, and the fast courier-corvette went on patrol on the larboard side of the fleet. After several minutes, Zell spoke again.

“Syrius is signaling no-contact, sir.”

“Very well. “

The quiet wait went on for almost an hour. I kept looking at my console, but no new lights showed up. Nothing. And then the Admiral said:

“Ok. Signal to free the boards, Mr.Zell.“

“Sir!”

And a signal was sent to resume all activities.

“Whatever it was, it’s not there now.” Added the Admiral, getting up. “Mr.Orrey, please get everyone downstairs. We need to talk about this. “

“Sir!”



*



I was invited to go as well. There was always a junior officer from Signals in a special C-Team meeting so that external communications could be monitored from within the room. Now that I was second to Commander Zell, I was the one in. The Admiral headed the C-Team HQ conference table, and the Captain and First Officer were there, as well as all main Commanders (with the exception of Commander Mahar, from Technical, who had the bridge at this time). I was in a corner, manning the Signals’ station.

“Well,” started the Admiral. “What just happened?”

Everyone stayed quiet for a moment until Mr.Orrey said what most of us were thinking.

“I would say a Silent, sir.”

‘Silent Boats.' That’s what we called the sneaky invisible little ships pioneered and developed to perfection by the Axx Republic. Many had them. There was even the rumor of one or two falling into the hands of pirates. But only Axx had them in number and relied on them the most.

Commander Torney, the Quartermaster, a skinny man with a razor sharp nose, made a nauseated face.

“That’s impossible. No Silent can be out here in the middle of nowhere, stalking us. Not on this side of the Mirox, anyway. It wouldn’t have the range.”

Orrey twisted his mouth.

“That we know of…”

Captain Simmas cleared his throat.

“Mr. Zell, could it be a pirate ship? Supplied somewhere within the Mirox belt?”

Zell shook his head.

“The last reports tell us of no pirate activities from here to the Raven dwarf planet, sir. The Dark Sea buccaneers have been especially quiet, we’re not sure why. ”

Orrey spoke again:

“Of course, they would be especially quiet if there was unusual military activity in the region.”

“What kind of unusual military activity? Whose?” asked the Q, frowning.

“I think we all know what Mr.Orrey is talking about,” intervened the Admiral. “If it was a Silent, she had to be from Axx.”

“But that’s impossible, sir.” Returned the Q. “We’re too far.”

“They’ve found a way,” continued the Admiral. “Does anyone have any other possible explanation for what happened?”

No one said a thing. The Admiral nodded.

“I can’t imagine any reason for a pirate ship to threaten a Webbur fleet like this, can you?”

“Defiance?” suggested Tumm. “For some of these lads, it’s a way of living.”

“They would defy us by attacking a convoy and looting tourist ships. Not coming into this side of the Mirox and menacing the 2nd Fleet.” The Admiral waved his hand. “No. It was a Silent, for sure. And it was a military one. And that means someone is flexing its muscles. And I would say it’s Axx.”

The room went quiet again. And at that precise moment, as if on cue, I got a signal on my screen. A priority signal. And I froze. I read it once and again. And finally, I got up, approached the table and said to Commander Zell’s ear.

“Priority signal, sir.”

The Admiral called:

“What is it, Mr.Iddo?”

I straightened myself up and looked at him, timid.

“Priority signal, sir.”

“Yes?”

I hesitated.

“Spit it out, man!” shouted the Q.

“It’s war, sir,” I said. “Torrance declared war on Axx.”

They all looked at each other, startled. Admiral Hedde leaned back.

“Well…” he said. “There it is.”



*



“Are we at war?”

Lara’s beautiful face showed her fear and worry on the screen. The war had been announced to the fleet a few hours ago. But only now had I been able to call her.

“No, not yet,” I answered as calmly as I managed. “Torrance is our friend and ally, but neither the President nor the Council have made that decision.”

“But they will, won’t they?”

“I don’t know, Lara. I don’t know. For now, I think we’re spectators.”

“But are we still going to Torrance?”

“I don’t know. The Admiral is maintaining course… I think he’s waiting for orders.”

She gave me a sad little smile and was as beautiful as ever. I wished I could just raise my hand and caress her soft skin, remove the stray hair from her forehead, raise her chin and kiss her pink almost-trembling lips. Her voice sighed through the channel.

“So there’s not going to be a ball, is there?”

‘A ball’… What a lovely girl… It was not the enemy she worried about.

“I don’t think so, Lara.”

She lowered her eyes, with true sadness.

“Oooh…”



*



“So? Where’s the buoy?”

The Admiral’s voice echoed through the bridge. Zell looked at me, uncomfortable. Everyone looked at me.

“Do you have it, Mr.Iddo?” asked Zell.

“Negative, sir. Silence all around.”

You might think from books or fictional recordings that an asteroid belt is a compact agglomerate of rock dangerously bumping against each other and getting you in trouble. In reality, it’s more like a sea with a light population of icebergs, where you spot one or two rocks once in a while. However, it forced passing ships to change course several times and, at first, many would get lost as navigation became difficult and many of the minerals in the rocks themselves would interfere with some sensors. Using the sun for reference didn’t always work, and many times travelers would come out of the asteroid belt in a very different spot than what they originally estimated, facing the sun but far from course. If fuel had been carefully rationed for a specific trip, it could turn a regular travel into a nightmare. And so, Webbur had set a string of navigation buoys on the Mirox asteroid belt, as did Torrance on the Eeron. Following those buoys’ signals, any traveler could maintain course within the belt and come out where they should on the other side, along the path from Webbur to Torrance and back. Equipped with sophisticated pulsar navigation, the 2nd Fleet hardly needed the buoys, but still, it was procedure to use them whenever the course made it convenient. Yet, the first buoy seemed to be missing.

“Are the calculations correct, Mr.Zell?” asked the Captain. Everyone was on the bridge for the entrance into the Mirox. “Do we have the correct contact codes?”

“Yes, sir.” Stated my C.O. without a doubt in his voice. “All calculations were rechecked and verified by Navigation. The buoy should be here.”

The bridge was silent for a few moments. Finally, the Admiral spoke:

“Then can we find the next one, please?”

“Set your course, Mr.Tumm,” said the Captain.

“Sir!”

I felt relieved by Zell’s statement. He had trusted me and defended me without hesitation. In a moment, everyone stopped looking at me, and I could breathe again. What if I had made a mistake? Was that possible? I couldn’t imagine how. But where was the buoy? There was no signal anywhere.

“Rock, sir. 10-and-7.” Said Orta, who was on the lookout for asteroids. Although ships could sometimes be confused with asteroids, most of the time the rocks had a particular signature. When crossing a belt, there was always a man on the special scanner fixed on Level 7 probes used to find them. This time it was Orta.

“Rock. 10-and-7.” Repeated Zell, out loud.

“Compensate starboard.” Said the Captain.

“Yes, sir.” Said Tumm.

The Magnar continued on course for a while, to where my calculations indicated would be the second buoy. But… nothing. Nothing was there.

“Mr.Iddo?” asked the Admiral.

“Still nothing, sir.”

“Are we in the right place? What does the PTS say?”

Tumm, in Navigation, turned to junior officer Rumens, who was in charge of the Pulsar Triangulation System. Pulsars have very stable positions, so they’re perfect as navigation references.

“We’re in the right place, sir.” Relayed Mr.Tumm.

“So where the hell is the damn buoy?” The Admiral got up from his chair.

I couldn’t answer that question. No one could. I heard someone whispering something in the back and realized Mr.Orrey must be conferencing through the closed channel with the Captain and the Admiral. This went on for a few minutes. Finally, Captain Simmas ordered:

“Mr.Tumm, full speed ahead towards the third buoy, if you please.”

“Sir!”

“Mr.Zell, report any contact whatsoever, please.”

“Sir!”

I couldn’t understand that last order. It was not a custom for the Captain to give redundant orders and that was obviously a redundant order. I had my eyes glued to the screens and my ears wide open to the head set. Of course, I would report any contact. What was that all about, anyway? Maybe they didn’t trust me. Maybe they wanted Zell to check the sensors as well. But he didn’t seem to be looking at the console. He was looking out into space, deep in his thoughts. And a quick glance showed me the Admiral and the Captain frowning, worried. What were they expecting? Suddenly, I got it. They were expecting foul play. They were expecting to learn that someone had been destroying, dislocating or stealing the buoys. The Silent, that is… They were expecting the Silent. This was a battle! Declared or not, we were at war already!

“Rock.” Said Orta. “12-and-1.”

“Rock.” Repeated Zell. “12-and-1.”

“Compensate port.” Said the Captain.

“Yes, sir.” Said Tumm. “Compensate port.”

A green blink on my console!

“Contact!” I shouted. “Navigation buoy number 3! 1-and-2, sir!” (Meaning forward-right-high).

“Range?” asked the Captain.

“20-measures, sir!”

“Navigation?”

“We’ll reach it inside an hour, sir,” Tumm responded.

“When’s the next batch due, Mr.Zell?” asked the First Officer.

“122 minutes, sir.”

A ship can’t launch probes in the middle of a fight. If a fight prolongs too much beyond the deadline for a probe batch launch, the ship could become long-distance blind very quickly. And a few minutes before the deadline the probe net would be already beneath 100% capacity, as some probes would already have dropped back and out. But if a batch was launched too close to the moment of contact with the enemy, the probes might not have time to lock in their paths before the ship started its combat maneuvers and might get lost in the process, escaping into deep space or even crashing against other probes or other obstacles. And the enemy didn’t have the habit of announcing when it was coming into contact…

Then…

“Sir!” I shouted. “I’ve just lost contact, sir! The buoy! I don’t have a signal anymore!”

Whispers filled the bridge. The Captain ordered:

“Mr.Tumm, set course for the fourth buoy, please. Full speed.”

“Sir!”

And then the Admiral:

“Mr.Zell, send a signal to the fleet, if you please. Get me the destroyers’ and frigates’ probe report, on the double.”

“Sir!”

After a couple of minutes, Zell reported back.

“The Orink and the Dolymph have the lowest count, sir. 61 and 69. All the others are above 100.”

“Very well. Signal the Kark, the Lion, the Carba and the Friel to go ahead at full speed and find the fourth buoy. Tell them to clear the boards as they do so and exercise caution.”

“Yes, sir,” responded Zell.

Destroyers and frigates were much quicker than tier-one warships, so the Admiral was sending them ahead on a hunt. I felt cold sweat. This was exciting. This was a battle!

“The Lion is asking for ROE, sir.” Said Zell.

“Free to engage, Mr. Zell.” Answered the Admiral. He was not kidding around.

“Free to engage, yes sir.”

“They’re not going to play with us on this side of the Mirox, that’s for sure.”

I looked at Orta, he looked at me. The Admiral had given the order to engage. He was not kidding around! The whole bridge seemed to burst into excited whispers.

“BE QUIET, MEN!” shouted the First Officer. “This is the Admiral’s bridge!”

We were supposed to be examples. We were supposed to be disciplined men. I forced myself to look at my screen. This was a battle! The system had been at peace for 60 years! And now we were at battle! War was coming! The older officers would have been in the Pirate Wars, but if the Admiral was right and the Silent came from Axx, well… these were no pirates…



*



The next couple of hours were tense. The fleet kept moving towards the sun and the fourth buoy.

“Signal from the Lion, sir.” Started Zell.

“Go ahead.” Said the Admiral.

“They reached the buoy, sir. It’s exactly where it’s supposed to be. No other contacts, sir.”

“Ok,” nodded the Admiral. “Tell them to launch an extra batch and keep the boards clear. How much time until we reach them, Mr.Tumm?”

“About an hour, sir.”

“Very well.”

The whole bridge had entered a special focus of some kind where no one seemed to be distracted by anything. Everyone was there, present, going about their tasks in a quiet, confident manner.

“Probes, Mr. Iddo?” asked Mr. Zell.

“Probes ready, sir. Launch in 20.”

“Proceed.”

Zell looked up, to the Constellation, and I followed his eyes for a second. The fleet was cruising in a diminished ‘spine formation,' with the three big battleships in the center, one behind the other, and the bulky Warhog and the discreet Pleeto a bit lower in the back. The Orink was a bit behind and starboard, closing the formation, and the Dolymph, a frigate, was ‘on point,' up ahead, along with the Syrius.

I looked at my console and announced:

“Probe launch in 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. Launch.”

We felt a slight vibration going through the ship, as dozens of probes left their launch tubes and found their way into deep space.

“Rock.” Said Orta. “11-and-8.”

“Rock.” Repeated Zell. “11-and-8.”

“Compensate starboard.” Said the Captain.

“Yes, sir.” Said Tumm.

“Mr.Zell.” Then started the Admiral. “Please ask the Dolymph and the Syrius to keep inside the circle, if you don’t mind. Let’s not widen the formation too much.”

(Orange light!)

“Yes, s…”

“CONTACT!” I shouted. “Level 9! 9-and-10!” (Left and high!)

Everyone seemed to jump in their seats. Everything got quiet for half a second.

“Image?” asked Zell.

“No image, sir.”

“Where’s she heading?” asked Orrey.

“No vector, sir.”

“Clear the boards!” ordered the Captain.

And suddenly, everyone seemed to be speaking to someone else and doing something urgent.

“On the MID, if you please, Mr.Iddo,” asked the Admiral, behind me.

“Sir!”

I sent the signal to the mimic display. But then…

“Contact! Level 8! 9-and-9! No image, sir!”

Everyone looked out there, to the signal. I heard the Admiral whispering:

“What’s he doing?”

But we only had to wait a couple of minutes. Then I was shouting again.

“Red flag! Level 7! 8-and-8, sir!”

The Silent was approaching and quickly descending towards our bellies and backs. I could almost see the Admiral frowning behind me, trying to figure out the enemy captain’s move. He said quietly:

“She’s coming for a fight. Put them to work, Captain.”

“Battle stations!” shouted the Captain. “Get all odds ready, Mr.Vallard!”

“Sir!”

“Quickly, Captain. Quickly.” Said the Admiral.

“20-degrees port, Mr.Tumm!” ordered the Captain. “Battle speed, if you please!”

“Sir! Battle speed!”

“Rock!” Called Orta. “1-and-5!”

“Ignore it!” Said the Captain. “Keep turning!”

“Mr.Zell, the Dolymph and the Syrius to circle port. On the double.” Said the Admiral.

“Sir!”

Through the Constellation, I could see the Magnar leaning left and speeding up, although the gravity controls made us believe it continued straight and slow.

“Contact! Level 7! 8-and-7!”

“I don’t think she’s coming for us.” I heard First Officer Orrey say. The Silent was still getting back and lowering the horizon.

“DAMMIT, MR.VALLARD!” shouted the Captain. “WHERE ARE MY WEAPONS?”

“All odds ready, SIR!!” responded the W-Comm.

I looked at the Constellation. The fleet was now getting in a line, gaining speed and curving to the left. All ships were battle ready. Only the Dolymph and the Syrius were far to the right, out of the Constellation display.

“Get us a target, if you please, Mr.Iddo.” Said the Admiral.

“Doing my best, sir!”

I looked at my console, scanned the probes. Nothing. Where was she? There!

“Level 5! 8-and-7, sir!!”

“She’s heading astern, sir!” said Orrey. “She’s going for the butt.”

“She’s going for the Warhog.” Said the Admiral.

The supply ship! Of course! Without a supply ship, the fleet could never get to Torrance. It would have to turn back. But the butt of the fleet… The Orink was back there! Lara was back there!

“Get me a vector, Mr.Iddo!” said the Captain. “I need a solution!”

I looked at the Constellation. The Orink was on the starboard side of the fleet. On the other side of the Warhog. So far, away from the threat.

“MR.IDDO! VECTOR!”

“No image, Captain! Only a blink! Too fast for triangulation, sir!”

“She’s at Level 5, Dammit! How close must she get?”

“The last batch didn’t lock, sir! We’re not at full capacity!”

“Then tighten the levels, lieutenant! Get me a vector!”

“Just keep turning, Captain, keep turning.” said the Admiral. “Mr.Zell, do we have the Dolymph and the Syrius?”

“4-and-3, sir! Heading right for us.”

“Tell them not to wait for orders. Just attack. Clear us from the top, get to the target and attack!”

“Sir!”

“Mr.Orta,” called Orrey. “Keep looking for rocks, if you don’t mind. We wouldn’t want to be crashing against an asteroid at this point, would we?”

“Sir! All clear, sir!”

And I shouted again:

“Level 4! 7-and-7, sir!”

“She’s diving fast.” Said the Admiral.

“Mr.Tumm!” called the Captain. “20-degrees port, 30-degrees-down. Let’s get our bow deep, if you please!”

“Sir!”

“We’re going to lose her.” Said the Admiral. “She’s going to get us before we circle.”

And then Orrey:

“We need the Orink, sir.”

My heart missed a beat. The Orink… But Admiral Hedde still had some ideas.

“Captain, fire blind.” He ordered.

“Mr.Vallard, blind solutions. All odds, two tubes per battery.“ Said the Captain. “As close as you can to that red flag, please! Half a measure forward.”

“Sir! All odds ready, sir!”

“Fire!”

“Fire!”

The whole ship trembled as 120 HCHE missiles left their tubes in odd hulls 1 to 11. We looked to the left and saw the white tails of the missiles as they traveled towards the black space.

“The Viker is firing as well, sir.” Said Zell. “Blind solutions.”

I looked back and saw the Viker firing and the tails of white smoke flying at 75,000 miles an hour towards the empty space.

“The Taurus is firing, sir.” Said Zell. “Blind solutions.”

We couldn’t even see the tails of our missiles anymore, and then we lost sight of Viker’s and Taurus.’ And then the explosions, far away. A series of small orange balls of fire surging here and there. But the area was too large. At this speed, the area got too large. The last missiles hadn’t even exploded yet, and the Admiral was already issuing the order.

“Mr.Zell, signal to Captain Turrell that the Orink must get in there. Protect the Warhog at any cost.”

“Sir!”

At any cost. No… Lara… And I looked at the Constellation and saw that the Orink was already moving, not waiting for orders, just speeding up and heading for the Warhog almost as if she was going to ram her or board her. And then I saw it. The sign. The warning sign. In my panel. I shouted.

“TORPEDO!”

‘Torpedoes’ are missiles that are at first propelled by invisible gas and laser catalysts until they are close enough to the target, undetected, and then they’ll fire up the engines to accelerate and zero in and make sure the target doesn’t escape. And they are powerful. Very powerful.

“Dammit!” Said the Captain.

“Torpedo! Another one, sir!! Heading for the Warhog, sir!!”

“What’s the Orink doing?” Said Orrey.

The past few hours had been amazing. Incredible. Literally incredible. As if I was watching some big special effects movie somewhere. Maybe in my mother’s couch, laughing loud with my friends, drinking soda and eating chips and popcorn. Like I wasn’t there, living all these exciting, scary adventures. Like the danger was somewhat of a joke some big clown was playing on us. The last few hours had been something of a blur. I moved as I was trained. I called it as I was trained. It felt unreal. But nothing as amazing as what happened then, in the next few seconds. A sight I would never be able to erase from my head. Everything like a dream. An amazing dream. A bad dream.

The Orink made the most incredible maneuver I would ever see in all my years in space. Incredible. Incredibly dangerous. Incredibly bold. Incredibly suicidal. The 50-battery destroyer was about to hit the Warhog, and then she climbed and… she rolled. Like a fighter-jet. She just rolled. And she over passed the supply ship from above, and… offered her belly to the torpedoes.

No sound is carried in space. But I heard the first explosion. Deep inside my mind, it went like the loudest bang, snapping my brain in. My mouth was open. My eyes hurt. The fire was burning holes in my irises. It was obvious to all of us that the Orink lost hundreds of people just on that first explosion. And there were immediately more explosions, secondary, of fuel or ammunitions exploding. Whole pieces of the ship were being torn apart.

Lara…

And then the other torpedo hit her.

Lara…

It was a fatal hit. We knew it was a fatal hit. I knew it was a fatal hit. The destroyer was unrecognizable. There were more explosions. She was breaking apart. Breaking in half. I couldn’t believe it. We could see bodies of people being thrown into space, many of them with flames that extinguished almost immediately. All of them dead or dying in seconds.

Lara…

I couldn’t see blonde hair. I tried to spot it, spot it in any of the bodies, but it was too difficult to see, too far, too fast.

Lara…

“That’s it.” Said the Admiral. “Burn the probes.”

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What I was feeling. I couldn’t believe I was there, seeing it. I couldn’t believe Lara was there, living it.

“Mr.Iddo!” Called Zell. “Burn the probes. Now.”

I think I said: “Sir!” My hand moved on its own. It lifted the protection, and it pressed the button. And then the light. The bright light. And then black.

‘Burning the probes’ was a desperate move. It meant blowing all probes in a flash of white light that illuminated an immense area. Like the flash of a camera. The probes would be useless afterward, and the ship would be medium-to-long-distance blind until new probes were deployed, but for a split second everything illuminated by the light would be ‘visible’ to the ship’s sensors.

For a split second, the virtual environment around us shut down so we wouldn’t be blinded by the bright light. All went black. But then it switched on again. And she was still there. The Orink. Disintegrating. No survivors. Not for long. Not long enough. They would all die. No hope.

Lara…

“CONTACT!” I heard myself shout, my eyes mechanically looking at my screen. There it was. The Silent. The image of the Silent, the slick dark boat. The killer. The murdering bitch. Preparing to fire again. Finally uncovered.

“SOLUTION!” Shouted Weapons.

“ALL ODDS FIRE!”

“ALL ODDS FIRE!”

And then the whole Universe vibrated violently with the echoes of 500 missiles roaring through their tubes and jumping into action. The tails of white smoke blocking the field of vision.

“The Viker is firing. The Taurus is firing, sir!” Said Zell.

I couldn’t see the Orink. I couldn’t see it anymore. And then the missiles got further away, and I could see it again. And the missiles started to explode, and we saw the Silent with our own eyes, finally, and she was exploding. And the Orink took another torpedo, a last torpedo, and exploded even more, surprisingly, the wreck exploded even more. And the Silent exploded. Big, huge explosions of hundreds of missiles hitting their target. Her death very quick. Much quicker than the Orink’s. Much quicker than Lara’s.

Lara…

“Target destroyed, sir…” I whispered.

Looking back, I remember no one celebrated. Not on that bridge. We must have been all in shock. All looking at our colleagues, our comrades, and friends… and lovers, losing their lives in a terrible… unbelievable… hell.

“Did the Taurus and the Viker have their probes burned as well, Mr.Zell?” The Admiral seems to have asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then tell the Dolymph she’s the eyes of the fleet, now, if you please.”

“Yes, sir. I beg your pardon, sir, shouldn’t we…?”

“There won’t be any survivors, Mr.Zell, but please signal the Pleeto and the Syrius to have a look.”

“Yes, sir.”

Useless… It’s useless…



*



There were no survivors from the Orink.

It had been a brilliant trap. Carefully planned and executed. The Silent had lured the destroyers and frigates away with the buoys’ distraction. And then attacked the weakest point in the fleet. The supply ship. Without all those supplies, the fleet would never reach Torrance. Would never project its strength and its image on the side of Torrance. Would not be in the way of the first wave of Axx attacks on the Kingdom.

In the end, it succeeded.



*



Commander Zell told me to sit opposite his desk and explained it to me.

“We’re turning back, Mr.Iddo. We’re not going to Torrance. The Navy still can’t believe the 2nd Fleet almost got beat by a single Silent Boat. The Admirals are astounded. And the President thinks it’s too dangerous to let the fleet go into the inner solar system, now. We would be sucked into a war we clearly are not prepared for. So we’re turning back.”

“Then we lost the battle, sir?” I was stunned. Lara had died for nothing. The Orink had been lost for nothing.

Mr.Zell sat back in his chair.

“To be honest, Mr.Iddo, I’m not sure. The consequences of what happened will take some time to sink in. I don’t think we can keep looking at the war and the Navy the same way we were. We can’t assume we have the most powerful ships in the system anymore. Not if they’re close to useless against these Silent.”

“But Torrance…”

“Torrance will have our help, don’t doubt it, Mr.Iddo. Webbur will figure out a way to help it. It must. But for now, the fleet is keeping out of danger.”

I didn’t know what to say. I sat back and lowered my eyes to the floor.

“I know you had friends on the Orink.” He said.

I looked up.

“I also had a lot of friends there. And I will miss them. But be sure of one thing, lieutenant…”

He hesitated.

“What, sir?” I whispered.

“Many more will die before this is over.”

And he was right. Before it was over… I would just lose count.

But I would never forget Lara.


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