As Task Force V returned to the Ristavron system in triumph I was met with some good news. A plan had been worked out to conclude operation Canned Sunshine. The cage around the star would be reconfigured from an energy containment device to an energy transmission device. This was possible because the cage was a mass of nanotechnology which could change its form at will. Triggering the detonation would activate the final command in The Horde’s programming. Negating their reason for existence and halting their consumption of solar systems, hopefully.
The force of detonation would be distributed among various different dimensions of existence. The energies involved were mind bogglingly large. A completely different level of power compared to anything humanity had ever considered screwing with. Even the original failed Web-Way experiment wasn’t believed to have involved anywhere near this level of energy.
Energies that weren’t dissipated into the aether would hopefully be transformed into matter. Not just the gases, rock and iron left over by stellar detonation but various new and potentially useful elements, theoretically. Fusion and fission transmuting matter into energy may have been proven science but doing the reverse had not yet been done.
When the smaller star fell into the larger one the whole thing would detonate. As to when that detonation would occur, that was unknown. There were too many variables to calculate an accurate number. On a cosmic timeline it would happen soon. It was dancing on the ragged edge of falling.
So we decided to give it a push. When you are talking about the energy needed to move a star you speak of figures that are beyond the ability of most minds to comprehend. The largest single bomb found in the Iron Hand cache, the 40 Megaton Olympus Bomb was but a tiny firecracker by stellar standards. Fortunately we weren’t going to have to move the falling star very far. Even better, we were going to be working with the basic forces of the universe, not against them. One of the first things you learn tinkering with electrogravity drives is that you are always better off working with the energies of the universe than trying to defy them. Still, even though all we needed to do was the merest nudge of a star this was going to demand an absolutely absurd amount of power.
I sent a message back to Earth. I was going to need something that I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to use. That said I could hardly imagine a better circumstance to use it. The locomotive sized nuclear torpedo the Martians had made to end human civilization Drakous had shown me had been shipped to Earth where I had a few technicians quietly working on the mocked up pile of parts over the past few years as Project Chicxulub. Named after the crater in the Yucatan where the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was believed to have come down. Chicxulub was originally intended as an ace in the hole. As the war had gone on it had become strategically irrelevant. But I had kept funding the accursed thing anyway. I was glad I did. Though it took a bit of work to reconfigure it from a civilization killer to a star shover.
The 8, 20 megaton bombs that made up the torpedoes payload were reconfigured to detonate simultaneously instead of being dropped one at a time. The bomb’s yield was souped up with a rich blend of Lithium deuteride and an inner shell of Transphasic Matter to enhance the force of the fusion explosion. The missile was then given an outer shell of materials that would cause most of its energy to be directed forward instead of dissipating into space. Finally, it was given a guidance system and an electrogravity drive. The devices designation was the Mark 33 torpedo.
By the time the engineers got done packing every nook and cranny with blast enhancing materials there was very little room left for the electrogravity drive and less for any sort of onboard power source. This was going to be a very specialized device. Couldn’t really call it a weapon because it would have been useless in any form of space combat except perhaps as a planet killer launched from a heavy cruiser on a suicide mission. A very mean dog on a very short leash. It was estimated that the Mark 33 Torpedo was going to have a yield in excess of 4,000 megatons.
That was not going to be enough. So two more of these absurdly powerful torpedoes were assembled. It was estimated that firing these in rapid sequence they would provide the baseline of energy needed for triggering the detonation of Eta Carine. I would have built more, but the materials to do so simply didn’t exist in the needed quantities and it would have taken at least a year to make the rest of the needed parts.
There was one last complication. Normally we would have let The Singers drop these bombs. However since they were vulnerable to the energies being pumped out by Eta Carine they were going to let humans pilot their ships. It was an awkward arrangement, but we had no other options. No other ships in the galaxy had the ability to drop the mark 33 and get out of the blast radius in time. We certainly weren’t going to trust The Horde with three of the biggest bombs in the galaxy.
This mission was going to require two people to crew each of three ships. A bombardier and a pilot. This mission demanded the finest pilots, regardless of nationality. The three best pilots available were Ernst Udet of the Auxiliary Fleet, Flight Captain Lucas Brenneke of the ANZSA Commonwealth Air Forces and Captian Robert “Bob” Hoover.
The Singers had reconfigured their control systems so that we could operate their ships. It was surprisingly easy, their holographic controls were reprogrammed into a decent simulation of a yoke, throttle, rudder and ancillary controls, gauges, sensors and whatnot.
However… they had millennia of experience flying these vessels. In spite of our pilots relative skills, this was like handing the keys to a Corsair to an unusually bright orangutan. This was a whole different universe of flight compared to even the most powerful ships ever crafted by the hand of man.
We spent two months training for the mission. It would have taken much longer if it hadn’t been for a recent breakthrough by the engineer Richard Holk back at IEC Main. He had made a very interesting device. They looked like simple elastic headbands with little microchips in them. The sort of thing that vitamin shops sell to boost vitality with magnetism or radiation or some mythical energy source
Holk’s device was actually the first step forward in telepathic communication in thousands of years. Allowing the mental equivalent of a secure, peer to peer, encrypted communication system. Essentially you could only read the thoughts of whoever else was wearing a headband tuned to a specific encryption as opposed to broadcasting your every thought, dream and desire for the entire galaxy to hear and use against you.
Unfortunately it had similar side effects as a communication stone. Just not on as extreme a scale. Using it was still almost as insanity inducing as a madness gun. It required absolute focus and personal secrets would still leak out.
Besides the three pilots there were three bombardiers. Me, captain lieutenant Yuri Arkipov, the finest marksman in the Russian navy and lieutenant colonel Jimmy Dolittle, the most decorated officer in the USAAC. Between them, Brenneke, Udet and Hoover I could barely keep track of who I was and whose life I had lived. By the end of two months of exhaustive training I could speak fluent German, dream in Russian and my flying and marksmanship skills were honed to an edge I didn’t think was possible.
The leaky and imprecise brain interface meant that there were no secrets between the six of us. Despite all the confusion of having someone else’s thoughts and memories in our heads we formed a pretty good team. These were men that I had respected during the war. After we had our minds linked I loved them as much as I loved my own family. They became a part of me and I a part of them.
January 2 1938, everything was ready. I was pretty confident that the mission was going to work. But there was always that voice of doubt nagging me in the back of my mind. As I slipped my headband on Ernst Udet yelled at me with the voice in his head.
“Hey, knock off those negative thoughts woman, you want us all to crash?”
I tried my best to relax and think positively. My mind envisioned a warm sandy beach. I couldn’t help but see Sasha waiting there for me. This was going in the wrong direction. I heard Doolittle’s voice, “you know, I have really enjoyed our time together Admiral, I really have. But it’s kinda hard to focus with a thought like that strutting around in my head.”
I tried to concentrate on my equipment, Lucas whispered. “Victory.”
That cocksure loudmouth had turned out to be the best user of Holk’s Headbands. He was able to maintain calm and coherence when everyone else was losing their minds. He was a calm and clear mirror for us, allowing us to see ourselves as we were and make the needed adjustments. Given his cocksure, arrogant behavior in the past this seemingly made no sense. But the war had humbled him more than it had humbled the rest of us. Seeing most of his squadron mates die had smoothed over the rough edges of his personality and tempered his will.
I calmed down, let my hands find my controls. I focused on the comfort of the chair. The “hard light” control interface with the Singer ship. Everything was where it needed to be.
There was no cry of tallyho! Just one last radio message to Ristavron 4 traffic control. Take a few deep breaths. Do our final checks, then shoot off to a star 8,000 light years away.
We took position one light year from Eta Carine. We held there for about a half hour allowing the sensors to drink in data for final checks. The Singers had been nice enough to drop a few satellites nearby on hit and run visits. We also received some telemetry from the Horde’s preposterously large machine via badly translated radio signals.
Final checks? All green. Telemetry read that nothing had noticeably changed. Everything was ready to go. A flittering of concern rippled from the mind of Jimmmy Dolittle to our minds like a pebble dropped into a pond. It was not fear, just one last breath as you stood on the highest high diving board in the history of humanity.
Ernst and Jimmy’s ship started accelerating. Even with the most effective inertial dampeners available they were pushed back into their seats by the force of acceleration. They were going to use the slipstream system that the Singers used to travel faster than light to get close to the star. Launch the torpedo, stay in normal space just long enough to confirm detonation. Then slipstream out of there.
Slipstream isn’t like going through the Web-Way, you see everything around you in normal space. Ernst and Jimmy saw the entirety of the Hordes machine. It was kinda like a Faraday Cage, though of an absolutely mind boggling proportions. Covering an area as vast as Earths solar system out to Jupiter. The whole thing scintillated with energy and mechanical motion. It was drawing in ungodly amounts of energy just to power itself.
Ernst blasted above the upper surface of the device. He was flying close to it because there was less energy and crap in the way that would incinerate or ablate the surface of his ship. They could see the smaller star being sucked into the larger one. Just as they got inside of firing range Ernst took his ship out of slipstream, four tenths of a second later Jimmy fired. The Torpedo, urged on by the inertia of coming out of faster than light travel had the briefest moment to arm and seek its optimum position of detonation.
The warhead detonated, the smaller star moved ever so slightly. Dolittle triumphantly gave a roar as he stated, “first torpedo successfully detonated. All telemetry indicates optimum blast! See you all back at Ristavron!” With that, he and Ernst removed their headbands and our link to them was severed.
Now it was Lucas and Yuri’s turn. Their run was proceeding much the same as the first one. Bob asked if he could take his headband off before his run. He believed that he would be able to fly better without three other people’s thoughts rattling around in his head. I allowed it and I was left watching the run all by myself as Bob began powering up the engines.
The second torpedo launched. It found its target and detonated. Lucas took a shallower angle over the Horde machinery. I tried to get the thought to them that was a bad idea. The thought didn’t make it in time.
Lucas and Yuri’s ship clipped part of the mechanism a millisecond before it dropped into slipstream. There was no pain, they just died instantly as their bodies were torn apart molecule by molecule by the force of suddenly being thrown ass over teacups at a quarter of light speed. It felt like I had just been stabbed in the heart. There was no physical pain, Holk had been concerned that something might happen if someone was killed while linked mentally but apparently not. It was just the knowledge that I had just lost two of the people that I was closest to in the whole galaxy.
As Bob accelerated the ship I couldn’t help but be entranced by what I was seeing. The incomprehensibly huge machine, spinning, changing, forming, reforming into different fractal shapes. The impossible beauty distracted me from the searing agony of having two friends die. Bob asked if Lucas and Yuri were clear. I lied to him and said that they were fine, but that he should take a vertical angle of escape.
I bit my lip and looked straight ahead. The mission had to be completed, mourn later for now I had a really big bomb to drop. The final targeting coordinates appeared on a heads up display. Tracing a path all the way to the surface of the falling star.
We were wearing sunshades thicker and darker than welding goggles. We were protected by the insanely tough hull of the Singer ship. Still my eyes felt like they were boiling out of my skull as I tried to maintain focus on the tiny spot of targeting coordinates above the blinding light of the falling star. Above the brighter light of Eta Carine. Every second felt like an hour as we got closer.
Bob’s took us out of slipstream, instantly engaging maximum reverse thrust. He angled the ship for launch. We were traveling sideways as the launch bay opened and the biggest warhead created by the hand of man fired smoothly out of the ship. Its electrogravity drive sent it barreling towards the falling star. Drawn by the incredible gravity of the giant star. I yelled,
“on target, all green! Punch it Bob!”
My eyes slammed shut as we sped away as fast as the engines could drive us. I prayed for the torpedo to reach its target. As the ship began cooling down I opened my eyes.
The Mark 33 detonated. The smaller star fell into Eta Carine. Then the fireworks started. Bob and I watched from a relatively safe position above the machine four light minutes away.
The initial detonation was consumed by the Horde’s giant machine. The cage funneled the energy into a great spiral fractal pattern. The fractal grew bigger and bigger. Then exploded into infinity. It shot off in all directions across over a dozen planes of existence. I swear though I could see it forging a colossal new network of Web-Way paths between the gravity wells of every star from here to Earth and beyond. For as long as the energy took to dissipate Eta Carine was going to be a third web-way root as the force of its detonation was distributed across the universe. What couldn’t be harvested or transmuted into matter formed into a giant beam that exploded from the center of the explosion off to realms unknown. Hopefully that wouldn’t hit anything alive.
Bob released the holographic yoke. He was breathing heavily, sweat had beaded off the both of us and been flung backwards through the ship in spite of the inertial dampeners. He asked, “so, is everyone okay?”
I slipped off my headband, “Ernst and Jimmy are on their way back to Ristavron. Lucas and Yuri didn’t make it. They hit the machine on the way out. That’s why I told you to angle us straight up.”
His face became curled with pain. “Why didn’t you tell me!?” He almost screamed.
“I needed you to focus or we would wind up just like them.”
He looked away, I didn’t need a link to his mind to see the anger and distress on his face. I hoped someday he would forgive me for my lie. He solemnly took one last look at the energy being spread across the galaxy. He grasped the controls and started us back to the Ristavron system.
The celebrations of the end of both the war and the gamma ray threat had already begun as Bob and I landed back on Ristavorn 4. Dolittle had radioed ahead as soon as his ship dropped out of slipstream. There would probably be even bigger celebrations happening on Earth once word got back there. Earth, Earth was all I could think about. It was time for me, my crew and my ship to go home. Right after picking up a few passengers.
I took Big Blue back to the planet Yttrium. It looked like the planet was starting to heal from the insanely long war we had ended. Before landing I was told that not every human on the planet had agreed to leave. There were a couple hundred people that decided to stay. But the overwhelming bulk of the planets remaining human population, 3,543 people, had decided to repatriate to Earth. Montana was a big ship, but there was no way that she could carry even half that many people all the way to Earth. Fortunately I had other options at hand.
Embarkation camps had been set up on Yttrium wherever there were humans left alive. They were brought to orbit on IEC support ships and Auxiliary Fleet craft. When the survivors broke the atmosphere of the planet a distant shimmering light that they could see above the planet at night took on a shape that must have spooked them when they first saw it in detail.
After years of careful restoration work The Zilnj had been restored from a battleship to its original specifications as a colonization ship. It was the ideal tool for the job of hauling almost four thousand humans across the galaxy. It took days to get everyone aboard. On the way home more ships joined us. Eventually the homebound fleet grew to a force of 108 Allied Fleet ships. We crowded the sky over Earth.
Montana escorted the first shuttles down from the Zilnj to a large quarantine facility set up just outside IEC Main where the refugees from Yttrium would be processed. Among the legions of nurses, doctors, advisors and customs officials who would be processing the refugees stood a tall woman in late middle age. Aina Phillips, the last survivor of the Earthling slaves who were kidnapped by Martians thousands of years ago. When she found out that I was bringing thousands of humans back to Earth she had insisted rather strongly that she should be there when they arrived.
The refugees had been given dark sunglasses and sunscreen so they would be better able to handle the bright sunlight of a cool, clear late Montana winters day. I can’t even try to summarize how overjoyed they looked to be back in their ancestral home.
Mrs. Phillips was moved to tears. The Martians had not permitted any Earthling but her to survive Martian captivity. But on this day another long lost branch of humanity was coming home.
The Montana was guided slowly and carefully from the quarantine facility over to the IEC Shipyards. I felt my Big Blue battleship settle gently into her maintenance slip. Where she would undergo extensive maintenance.
Right before the crew ran off to be with their families I made one last announcement over the intercom.
“Crew of the Interplanetary Expedition Company Battleship One Montana. Being your commander has been the greatest honor of my life. No one could have been expected to do more with what you have been given. I have one last order. Go home, be with your families and get some damn sleep!”
I clicked off the mic and looked over at the Montana’s captain and stated, “especially you Bob!”
He chuckled and replied, “will you be doing the same?”
“No, I have one other thing to do first.”
He looked stunned, “you have moved thousands of people across a galaxy, detonated a star and won the biggest war in human history. What in gods green Earth could you possibly have left to do?”
I checked the calendar on my slate computer and smiled at him,
“one word captain, Carnival!”
I flew down to Brazil in my two seat Corsair. I was listening to the local radio as soon as I came into range. The music possessed me, I became antsy. I was just about dancing in my seat. Then the city of Rio came into view. I locked my sensors onto the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Taking a moment to study the magnificent new soapstone and concrete statue.
I landed at Santos Dumont airport. I reached into the back seat for my duffel bag and climbed down the planes ladder. As soon as I hit the ground I noticed a distinct streak of red, heading towards me at a dash. I dropped my bag and ran to her.
The already wild party of Rio de Janeiro Carnival had been set on fire by the revelation that the war was over and that we weren’t all going to be cooked by gamma rays. I am told I had a pretty good time. I honestly don’t recall too much. It was just a wild blur of booze, music, narcotics and dancing. So. Much. Dancing. I was never much of a dancer, but hey, I had told someone important to me that I prided myself on living like a person who was going to die soon and finding out that I was going to go on living for awhile longer put me in a pretty good mood.
My clearest memories of that week were marching in a parade with staff from a dozen nations militaries and an aerobatic display. The Russians and ANZSAC’s had a large contingent in the area. The Russians found a use for their ridiculous Mosin-Nagant bolt actions. Spinning them and occasionally firing blanks as they marched in parade formation.
I wasn’t marching with them though. I was a few yards behind them, walking with Sasha and her friends. All of us in full uniform. The IEC and Auxiliary Fleet had combined our presence in the area into a very impressive force of a little over two dozen people in our Sunday best. As small as we were compared to the big military outfits this was just perfect for me. Those who knew who we were knew what we had done during the war. Those who didn’t would find out in time. This war may have been started by a government. But it was ended by free beings.
During the wild ass party the night after that parade I made a suggestion to a South African major about whom I don’t remember anything except that he had to be at least six and a half feet tall that it might be be fun to do an aerobatic display with our respective nations fighters. The next day, still drunk from the night before I was told that he had arranged everything for this display. Including inviting a couple other countries fighters to the demonstration. Seems I had outlined a pretty detailed routine. I really didn’t want to do an aerobatic routine with a hangover so I downed three shots of vodka and went flying. It was stupid and reckless I wholeheartedly admit, but really cool.
The routine started with me flying over the Atlantic Ocean with a Scimitar on my left wing. Then a Horten-Gotha fighter formed on my right wing. Shortly after that a French Bugatti-Deperdussin 111p Superbug appeared on the Scimitars left wing. We were all flying across the Atlantic towards Rio at 300 miles per hour around 400 feet above the water. As we crossed Cocabana Beach we split upwards into a starburst. We each had our own segment of sky over Rio to do whatever maneuvers we felt like. I should have just flopped around at altitude, but that damn Scimitar pilot. He just had to come down over a beach and hover in front of the crowds close enough for people to reach up and touch his plane. Like a dolphin allowing tourists to swim with it. I had to upstage him.
So in a drunken haze I flew through the financial district, on my side, way faster than any sober person would. Then up and around the mountains all around the city. I settled into a hover just above Christ the Redeemer and started flying around his head with smoke on, making a halo over the statue.
When Lent began I limped back to the out of the way airport where I had parked my Corsair. I had told the staff there to not let me pull another stunt like that again. I did not permit myself anywhere near my plane until after Carnival was over. Now that it was I was half guiding, half dragging a semi conscious Sasha Rockwell back to my bird. She was completely checked out. She had drank so much that I was a little worried that she might have brain damage. I threw her in the backseat like a sack of potatoes. She was so light, just muscle and bone. A slightly twisted thought skittered through my mind. Another reason to like girls, there was no way I could have dragged some big hairy passed out guy all the way to the airport.
I looked at her for a moment. I couldn’t believe how much I loved her. She was what I had always looked for in a person. Someone who would bring out the best in those around them. I was overwhelmed with love, this moment was just so perfect.
I buckled her seatbelt and started trying to clamber in the front seat. Then I heard a distinct sound. The sound of a Singer stomping towards me. I slid off the ladder to the cockpit and asked the creature right before it came into view.
“Can I help you?”
The Singer stated, “you have been very hard to find lately.”
“Well I didn’t know you were looking for me. If I did I would have come looking for you. So, once again my silicon friend, what can I help you with?”
“Are you going to fly that ship in an inebriated state?”
“Of course not, don’t be silly. It’s all automated, I just press a couple of buttons and away it goes. The wonders of tech, tech, tech, burp. Technology. Anyway why do you care if I go flying around drunk? Aren’t we all just delicate little bags of saltwater and dust to you. Doomed to an existence the merest twinkling of an eye no matter how much we extend our lifespans? Come to think of it, I recognize you. You have been following me around haven’t you? People may think you all look the same, I see differences. The way the light refracts off you. The shape of your bodies. So, tell me, why have you been following me?”
The Singer leaned backwards. It was generating noise, strange since it didn’t have its extensions out. It didn’t sound like a choir of people singing anymore, it sounded singular, like a human voice. It began collecting and crafting light into an image, an image of a human. Mother of God not just any human, it was me! The hologram spoke, in my voice.
“I have been practicing to do this for years. You want to know why I spend so much time around humans, and especially you?”
I nodded, unable to speak. Before it spoke it dawned on me. “You are one of the Singers who were created at my factory aren’t you!?”
“Yes, you saw into our minds and we saw into you. Most of the others from my brood saw the broken, temporary nature of humanity and wanted no part of it. They left Earth and relegated humanity to an odd memory. My fellows who met with the Russians tried and succeeded to make their Czar more like us. I was different, I tried to see things from your perspective. I have been learning about you ever since I was born. Your consciousness impinged on me.”
I was overwhelmed, humbled to the point of speechlessness. I felt my mouth moving, but I couldn’t get any words out. The Singer spoke again.
“Ever since I became conscious I have dreamt of doing this. I tried it once before but your body was too full of toxic energy. I would like to induce a state of non-dualistic consciousness with you. I will not do so if you do not consent. I will be saddened by this if you decline.”
After years of being surrounded by beings going on about the wonders of non-dualism. This seemed as good a time as any to try it. I nodded and went into a neutral, symmetrical position.
Energy started flowing around everything. Imperfections in the hologram faded away, then the image itself started to dissolve into an infinite fractal pattern.
It was everything, it was nothing. It was the universe revealed at once. An explosion of infinite light and love. It was conscious, it was alive. I could see things for what they were, not the illusions that I had been led to believe for so long.
As I came back into the illusion of duality. I was gasping for air as a warm rain began to fall. The hologram was dissolving. The Singer had been using it to guide me through the experience. I said to it.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, see you around human.”
There wasn’t a hint of malice in that last word. I looked up at the clouds drifting by. My hands went to my face, then the rest of my body. Checking to see if I was still all in one piece as the Singer walked off into the morning sunlight.