The battle of the Durga system was something that no one wanted to leave to chance. The entire allied fleet contributed the bulk of their assets to this mission. Reconnaissance indicated that the imperials had put everything they had into defending their final Capitol. Once Thau fell everyone was expecting a big fight. The thing about big fights as opposed to small ones? The only real difference is the numbers and stakes involved. There is always the consideration that they might win.
Once I boarded the Montana. I was delighted to find both Sasha and Drakous aboard. Drakous had come out to see if his energy neutralizers were working properly and Sasha was aboard because the El Dorado was down for maintenance and she really wanted to see the final battle of the war.
My Martian friend was a much different being than he was when he first started to experiment with 5meo. Slimmer, stronger and ye gods those eyes. They didn’t smolder with consciousness anymore. They blazed like no set of eyes I had ever seen. I couldn’t decide whether to bow at his feet, run away or stare into them. All I could say to him was.
“Man, your gaze is withering!”
“You know I seem to be hearing that a lot lately.”
After handshakes, reports, decoding and readings of orders. It was time to get going. The biggest collection of warships in human history assembled. The battleships Aotearoa, Ark Royal, Artemis, Athena, Bayern, Catherine, Cosmos, DaVinci, Kiev, Holstein, Hood, Intrepid, Jean Bart, Kierkaggard, Moskva, Munich, Novgorod, Sachsen, Shinano, Volga, Warspite and of course my Montana backed up by dozens of cruisers, corvettes, a few carriers, hundreds of fighters and quite a few Auxiliary Fleet assets.
We spent a week straight just topping off our respective magazines. I suppose if we had been making a movie it would have been an overly long lock and load montage going well past the point of overkill and into the realm of a joke. Since this was going to be a direct action mission without a particularly long trip to the target various creature comforts were taken out. Minimal food was packed and extra ordinance was stuffed into every nook and cranny. Made for a slightly nerve wracking trip to the target. If someone were to drop a box of shells in the wrong place an entire ship could have been blown to kingdom come from the inside out.
There was also the concern that the enemy might try an ambush or something on the way to the target. But the trip to the Durga system was noticeably uneventful. They really had pulled everything back home for the final battle.
Once we jumped into the space around their Capitol I could scarcely believe our luck. Nine battleships, dozens of heavy cruisers and numerous smaller support vessels surrounded the planet in a ring of steel. We wanted a big final battle with these bastards and they were going to grant it. I made one final transmission to the fleet. “Alright everyone, that what we have worked so hard for these past two years is right in front of us. If anyone wants to take their ball and go home now would be a good time to say so.”
Silence on all frequencies.
“All hands to battle stations, let’s finish this.”
I ordered the Montana ahead full. Our armor was still the strongest in the fleet, even the DaVinci couldn’t take quite as much punishment from plasma blasts as we could. The forward batteries fired at the lead capital ship, it took a dozen shots before the damn thing collapsed in on itself. By then it’s fighters were approaching and it was time to start maneuvering furiously as their fighters had the annoying habit nowadays of carrying their own great big bombs.
As the Montana advanced, the German contingent, led by the Holstein moved into position to do as much damage as they could. A little bit of cooperative training, some experience in combat and the rest of the German fleet had developed into excellent close range brawlers. As they advanced the Russian fleet fired their long range weapons into the enemy formation. This was the wildly successful tactic that the Russo-German fleet had developed. People from both countries had their own poetic names for it. Among English speakers it was generally known as a double whammy. While Russian lasers recharged, German ships closed range and killed the enemy. It required careful planning, excellent piloting and utter trust that no one would get shot in the back, accidentally or on purpose.
Usually it was just the Holstein, AF ships and a few squadrons of fighters advancing while the Russians shot from a distance. This time it was four German battleships, the DaVinci and my Montana advancing on the enemy. The Germans had to throttle back a bit to keep from outrunning Big Blue and her new sister ship but we were able to advance in a line ahead formation and right before we entered enemy plasma range we cut loose.
Rather than present a nice clustered target for the Russians to massacre from a distance the enemy formation was scattering. Even in the vastness of space though it’s not all that easy to break up a gigantic formation all at once. Compounding matters is the fact that a six kilometer long ship powered by thrusters instead of an antigravity drive doesn’t exactly move all that fast.
Big Blue and the DaVinci poured close range railgun fire into their lead battleship while the Germans tore up the bulk of the formation. The doomed battleship advanced, attempting to ram the DaVinci. This had become an alarmingly common tactic among the Imperial Navy. Though a strange one, all but a handful of Earthling ships could run circles around most Imperial ships.
DaVinci began evading the ramming attack. While the enemy battleship desperately tried to run over the DaVinci I fired a nuclear bomb right at their rear end. Then something new came at us. It was shaped differently than the usual enemy ship. Much more streamlined than the usual bathtub shaped scow. About the size of one of their heavy cruisers. It opened up with a variety of weapons. Not just plasma bolts. It was firing torpedoes and railgun rounds. I ordered a volley of everything we had at this thing. It barely slowed it down. Something told me that this was something a bit different than the usual fare. So I made a call that there was a new type of enemy warship on the table and did the usual thing that Allied Fleet crews did in this situation. We dipped down into the upper atmosphere of the planet. Into that netherworld where neither space based or planetary based weapons worked all that well.
Well…. As Big Blue entered the atmosphere, a few foolhardy enemy space fighters followed us down. Air and gravity got them before I could. Then I got a nasty surprise. Even though we were in the upper mesosphere of the planet radar indicated that two hundred enemy atmospheric fighters were rising up to meet us. Seems they had rigged some of their biggest baddest twin engine birds with rocket engines and reaction control motors. And some really badass long range missiles.
I launched the Herons, soon joined by a couple dozen Bugatti’s and Lavotchkin’s. Our fighters still had the advantages of height, energy, controllability. It was glorious, the sky was black, blue and alive with fire. Rail guns left traceries of flame as the thin air caught fire from the friction of their travel. A communication came over from the Athena. The enemies battleships had been enveloped. The main body of the fleet was picking them off one by one. Then other news came, our fighters, badly outnumbered needed help. So we headed over to the site of that battle.
Careful use of certain controls on your antigravity drive allow your ship to preform incredible maneuvers. Although this is a bit of a strain on the fuselage and you run the risk of snapping your wings off. However if you can maintain control you have the ability to snap the plane around like a cobra. These Drankmastarian atmospheric fighters had been modified with reaction control motors to theoretically permit the same ability. Unfortunately for them they did not have an antigravity drive to keep them in the air while they did these incredible moves. They also didn’t have the essential gravity dampening effect of our drives which caused their pilots brains to be liquified by the centrifugal force of their moves.
Still, even with them falling out of the sky attempting to do these moves, outnumbered five to one was still some pretty bad odds for our pilots. I called out to them, “all friendly fighters in the planets atmosphere. Execute maneuver Alpha 5, bring them to me!”
All our fighters broke off as quickly as they could and rushed towards us. “All secondary batteries, prepare for continuous fire, watch your friendlies.”
From all directions they came, and in all directions they died. Waves of disintegrator energy, shafts of laser light and an ocean of flechette darts sped out at the attackers. Everything was on fire all at once, tons of metal impacted the ship. Jaques shouted, “we can’t keep this up for long, we are going to empty our magazines in a few minutes!”
Then as quickly as it started the flood of fighters stopped. With the rest of the fleet reporting that the bulk of the enemy space fleet had been neutralized I figured that it would be a good idea to get away from the swarm of fighters rising from the planet. “Helm, get us back into space.”
The hull stopped making noises. Relief washed through the ship. I relaxed into my chair, I noticed that I was pulling the padding out of the chair. I asked, “alright everyone, prepare damage reports. I want…”
I was cut off by a massive impact. “Con, radar, it’s that new ship! They are right on top of us. Sorry I must have lost track of them amongst all the clutter.” I screamed.
“Evade, call for help. Get me a shooting solution. In that order!”
Before my crew could get a shooting solution, or even evade, half the fleet opened up on the new ship. Physics being what it is, though the cruiser had the shielding to withstand the blast it was redirected from its present location. To a position entirely too close to my ship. Turbo lag, from the mechanical distance between the throttle and the engines meant that we were not able to get out of the way in time. If the helmsman hadn’t already been throttling up to evade they would have pancaked into us. As it was they clipped our tail. Five recorded attempts to ram Allied Fleet ships and the one time they succeed is because they were shoved into us by the force of our own fire.
Montana did a 100,000 ton backflip as we got caught in the cruisers tail assembly. The engines did not remain at full power. They were not functioning properly because electrogravity drives are not designed to run at full power while attached or very close to an extremely heavy object. It was a design safeguard since the early days when an electrical ship pilot crashed because he threw the throttle to full instead of easing it forward. Chen got us out of that pinch, she had the rear turrets fire everything they had at the enemy ship. That got us loose, but not free. The enemy ship began to heat up in the atmosphere.
For a nerve wracking two minutes we fell with the cruiser to the planet. The previous record for reloading the main guns was six minutes. The guns were not fully charged, Chen fired them anyway. It made sense, we weren’t sending these across a solar system and we didn’t want to blow our own tail off.
Once we were clear the helmsman shoved the throttle up to 75% power. Dangerous, but this was no time to be stingy with power. The engines still did not function. Jacque screamed and started switching in backup systems. “Okay, that should give us one quarter engine power. The engines hummed, they did not roar. Then the hull started shuddering again. Sasha observed in a quiet voice. “They are firing on us, they are going to die with us and they don’t care, they are firing on us.”
A plan formed, well, it wasn’t really a plan. More an educated guess.
“Helm, reverse polarity of the drive. Continue evasive maneuvers.”
Chen shrieked, “don’t you fucking idiot! We will fall faster than gravity.”
“That is exactly the idea, captain. We have to get away from that cruiser. It’s either blow up now or go splat in a few minutes. I’m just buying us some time, helm!”
The helmsman reversed the polarity. Instead of the electro-gravity drive being repulsed by the planets gravity it was attracted to it. Internal gravity ceased to function. The outside temperature rapidly increased as we plummeted through the upper atmosphere on a truncated trajectory to the planets surface. Reversing the polarity this close to a planet seemed like a really dumb idea.
The altimeter read 100,000 feet and falling, rapidly. Things had stopped shaking in the upper part of the hull. I yelled, “reverse polarity, give me 40 percent power. Try to direct inertia from a downward motion to a forward motion.”
The helmsman flipped the polarity. But the engines weren’t able to deliver more than 30 percent power. He started turning the ship, back and forth to try to slow her down. I looked up with the external cameras. Miraculously some of them hadn’t been melted by the heat. Above us was the flaming wreckage of a two and a half kilometer long starship. Huge chunks were flying off of it. Secondary explosions were about to start. Wether we went splat, or were caught in the blast of that thing we were toast. I seriously thought of giving one last line like, “it was an honor to serve with you all.” But there wasn’t time. I looked around my bridge, and all I could think about was how much I loved these people.
Then the engines came back on to full power. Chen ordered, “take us down behind those buildings. They might provide some protection from the blast.”
In another peerless act of flying the helmsmen were able to slam on the brakes of our decent. That would have been impressive enough. Then they took us down into the city below.
We were driving a flying battleship at an altitude of 900 feet over 300 mph. I have no doubt we hit a few things. Fortunately it was nothing big enough to tip us over. The lower we went the slower we went until we dipped below some of the larger buildings. Then this world ended.
The cruiser either blew up or hit the ground. I don’t remember much after seeing a few buildings shatter like they were made of glass.
I was knocked out of my seat. I must have hit the latch on my seatbelt by accident I was facedown on the deck. I coughed up some teeth and felt that I was bleeding from a variety of places. It didn’t feel too serious. I looked up and saw that everything not bolted down had been tossed, and a few things that had been bolted down were not where they should be. Toes, fingers, legs, knees and elbows functioned. I tried to push myself up. But I didn’t have the strength to get up yet. I reached for my medical kit in my command chair. As I was administering some clotting agent to my head, left shoulder and left lower thigh I asked.
“Anyone still alive?”
Sasha groaned and mumbled, “for now, but I don’t know how much longer I got.”
I chuckled and semiseriously ordered.
“Everyone who is not currently dead please tell me what condition my ship is in.”
Chen dragged herself back to her console. “It looks like the cruiser impacted thirty miles from our position. But that was still close enough to fuck us up good. Damage control teams report there is some hull buckling, most of our weapons are inoperative. The ZPR is still online, electro-gravity drive is not functioning. It looks like we aren’t going anywhere anytime soon sir.”
I observed, “well, it took everything they had, but it looks like they finally killed the Montana.”
Drakous blurted out, “don’t write off this asset just yet sir. I admit she’s a mess but I think we might be able to salvage her. The damage is not all that bad, I might have her up and flying within a couple weeks.”
Sasha coughed out, “we have crashed on a planet ten thousand light years from home. Surrounded on all sides by freaks who are trying to kill us. Exactly how are you planning to repair the hull with lunatics on all sides and above us.”
I dragged myself to the nearest window. “Uh, my dear commodore, I don’t think we have to worry about anyone trying to kill us. I think they are all dead.”
All around us was destruction. It was unlikely that anyone could have survived the blast. It looked like a particularly large apartment building had blocked most of the force of the explosion. The Montana was covered us in wreckage. It was horrible, the detritus of a thousand lives were sprayed all over our bow.
The Schleswig-Holstein and a hundred fighters descended on us. Followed shortly after by the Artemis and a dozen cruisers. Some support ships followed which would hopefully be able to dig out the Montana. I had my staff and some equipment transferred to the Artemis. Then I got in a Heron to take a little tour of the city.
Beyond the immediate blast crater the damage tapered off. That wouldn’t stay like that for long. The wreckage of their fleet would fall out of orbit at some point. When it did this planet was toast and they probably knew it. It was a damn big city, stretched off into forever. A bit reminiscent of New York City. Though much bigger and clearly more high tech. It was rather sad to see that the fires caused by falling spaceship debris were quickly getting out of control. As I weaved between the buildings now and then weapons fire would rise up towards my little Heron. But it had no noticeable effect. This entire planets agricultural base, and several neighboring planets entire agricultural productivity had to be directed to this place. This entire city was like a parasite harvesting the wealth and resources of dozens of planets for its own ends. Without food coming in soon this parasite would turn on itself. The casualty count would probably run in the millions.
I felt a bit guilty for a moment. Then I remembered, this was the Capitol. This was where the privileged lived off the herds of slaves off on other planets. This was the universe returning to balance, though at terrible cost.
I pulled up and away, dodging a spray of plasma fire. I landed back on the Artemis and began preparations to negotiate with whatever was left of the enemy. Everyone was hunting for the imperial president. The figurehead that these knuckle dragging savages could look to to see that the game was over and they had conclusively lost. Their senate building had been completely annihilated, along with a bunch of other important government buildings by an errant shot from the Novgorod. Search teams from the fleet spread out, there was no doubt that the imperial military was attempting to do the same and get their civilian leadership off the planet. Hundreds of people were attempting to get off the planet but they were intercepted. Their orbital elevator was captured by a Japanese light cruiser.
After five days of searching president Johinklip Javerbaum was captured. His security detail had taken him to an underground bunker complex. The complex was discovered by the Eutopian’s peerless signals intelligence and secured by the Russians. It was good to see them working together. But it was better to see that this was was about to be over.
The surrender ceremony was going to take place on the St Petersburg, as an acknowledgement of the resources that the Russians had spent on the war. President Javerbaum wanted the surrender to happen on the Schleswig-Holstein because of its terrifying reputation. As it happened the surrender ceremony was going to have so many participants from the fleet alone that holding it on any one ship would be impossible. So a somewhat undamaged castle was found and the ceremony would happen there.
While I was getting my clothes ready for the surrender ceremony Sasha barged into my stateroom. She saw the suit I had laid out and giggled. “You can’t be thinking of wearing that to this event.”
“What? It’s my best suit, it’s one of the first Saville row suits made after London was rebuilt.”
“But it’s a suit, it makes you look like a civilian.”
“I am a civilian.”
“No, you led a fleet to the edge of the universe. You may not have a commission from some government but people look up to you as a military commander. That demands something a bit more impressive.”
She summoned an adjutant, he brought in a uniform wrapped in plastic. It was similar to her distinct white uniform. Except it sported epaulets with five stars on them. She explained.
“I had my tailor put this together. I took your measurements the last time we slept together. Anyone ever tell you that you are a very deep sleeper? Highest grade Egyptian cotton with a silk liner. I know you like my uniform, so I figured that I would get you one as a thank you for not getting me and my people killed.”
I took it out, it was absolutely beautiful. I laughed and asked, “you do know if I walk out there wearing this our secret is out. At the very least people might think I am part of the pirate fleet now.”
She rubbed my shoulders and turned me towards a mirror. “Aren’t you the one who said, ‘who cares?’ Besides, the war is over, you need to strut out there in all the grandeur and glory you have earned.
So I did, I got more than a few glances when I arrived at the surrender ceremony wearing a uniform. I had decked it out with all the medals that I had been given by various governments since before the war began. I wasn’t the only one who seemed a bit overdressed. Admiral Rickover and captain Stipetic were both wearing their full formal uniforms for the first time I knew of. Even the Eutopos Combat Fleet staff had dress uniforms made up for the occasion. So at least I knew I was in good company.
The surrender was held in a grand ballroom. The room seemed impossibly massive. The walls were covered in fine carvings made of all manner of precious materials. Mostly gold, boy these people loved their gold. The floor was entirely made of lapis lazuli, or some local stone that looked just like it. It made for a breathtakingly beautiful contrast.
A document of unconditional surrender had been written up and signed by all fleet commanders before the ceremony began. It was simply a matter for what was left of the Drankmastarian military leaders and civilian government to sign it. They did so grudgingly.
Finally it was the presidents turn. He picked up a pen, but before he signed he announced, in clear English. “Let it be known that I thought that going back to Hamajadi, sorry, Earth. Was a bad idea, that gods would be waiting for us when we got there. You may not be gods, but you have bested us in honorable combat.”
He signed the document and walked over to me. He was a short man by the standards of his political caste. We saw almost eye to eye. He extended his hand and asked. “No hard feelings?”
I couldn’t help but reply, “why would we have any hard feelings? We won.”
As I shook his hand I could feel exhaustion seeping out of him. He had doubtless been through a year of sleepless nights and probably looked forward to being voted out of office soon. Or perhaps he would simply keel over and die from the stress as so many of his minions had.
Admiral Santander came over to me and whispered in my ear. “He was a huge supporter of the contact project. It would never have happened if he hadn’t signed off on it. He is attempting to make himself look good in the history books. So what do you say to making him look silly in those books.”
Suddenly Santander stood back and started pumping his fist, “speech!”
Everyone soon joined in, except Rickover and Stipetic. Both of those guys knew I wasn’t much for speeches. Even Sasha joined in, traitor.
“Well, I don’t have a speech prepared. So let me just say thank you to everyone in the fleet. This would have been a pretty short mission if it had just been me and my Montana out here. Across ten thousand light years and fifty battles you have never failed to rise to the occasion. You have given your treasure, your time, your blood for our civilizations and our freedoms. There is nothing I can do to repay you. But I will spend the rest of my life…”
I started to compulsively cry at those words. I pushed back the tears and finished. “Trying to. Now, the war may be over, but we have to secure our peace. All enemy warships will be interred and disarmed. We will establish a transitional government to allow a somewhat peaceful end to the Drankmastarian Empire. I will complete my mission to find the source for the toxic energy that contaminates every star system the Web-way touches. Since I will be working on this project I have no time, or the skills for civilian administration. So I resign my temporary commission as command admiral.”
A few murmurs came up from the crowd. I pointed to admiral Rickover “and he ought to resign too. After a couple months with him in charge we will probably be facing an interstellar guerrilla war.”
He replied, “oh hardey har har.”
“Am I lying?”
He shrugged his shoulders and replied. “Probably not.”
“Anyway, that’s more than enough of berating my fellow fleet officers. We can iron out the details later. For now, eat, drink, be merry. The was is over, we won!”