In the end it took quite a long... much more than the promised "sooner". It's school's fault
Chapter 12: Out of the darkness…
Crystal Palace, Alire, Ilya
Altarian Republic, Altaria, Altair system
“You’re not in position to make demands, fleshling. We are disinclined to acquiesce to your request.”
Eleys found really hard staying calm, but she managed to. The Yor ambassador was really annoying.
“Probably you’ve misunderstood me. I was –”
“Not possible. My auditive system has clearly identified your intended vocal output.”
I swear on the name of my family, I’ll manage to have his chips all over this room someday…
“I hope you’ll pardon me, ambassador. Those are really difficult times…”
“That’s irrelevant for the intended subject of this meeting.”
The Altarian whispered.
“What can we give you in exchange for that?”
“I have previously replied to that. We’re not going to have a trade agreement.”
“We’d have no interest in giving you the crystal you have designated as the Telenath.”
“The Dread Lords are advancing, and that’s our only hope to stop them!”
“That’s something not in the Collective’s best interests. Your time has come, fleshlings. The strongest will prevail.”
“Do you really think the Dread Lords will let you alone?”
“For the moment, our objectives and theirs coincides. Your time has come, fleshlings.”
Eleys stood up, hitting the negotiation table with her new bionic arm, bending the metal under her fist. Not that that impressed much the Yor.
“Listen to me, you useless pile of scrap metal! I’ll try to put it plain and simple, so that you’ll understand: you don’t give us the Telenath, the Dread Lords wipe us out, you’re the next on their list!”
“That would be illogical. The Precursors would be too weakened to begin a war of aggression against our Collective. We’d annihilate them by sheer numbers.”
“It’s something the Coalition hadn’t managed to do twelve years ago! Why should you be successful?”
“We’re more efficient than you fleshlings. We will prevail.”
“Why not fight together? It’d be more advantageous for both of us, and -”
“No. We’ll follow our first course of action. Be aware that any attempt to obtain the Telenath by force will be doomed to fail. This is the end of this diplomatic meeting.”
TAS Galatea, Earth, Sol System
“All units, focus your fire on Frigate 34!”
“Aye, sir! Transmitting orders!”
“Helm, 20 degrees port! Gunnery control, I want another torpedo volley before now!”
“Bridge, gunnery control here! We’re frying the cooling fans! They weren’t designed to sustain this rate of fire!”
“Do what you can, and something more, gunnery!”
“Sir, we – no, the weapon systems – need a break, or they’ll breakdown!”
“The Kaiser is down! The Kaiser is down!”
Amanda swore. Another ship out of service.
“Sir, we have a transmission incoming from Washington!”
“I have no time, now! Comm, order the Warspite and the Orion to try an outflanking manouver!”
“Sir… the CED is transmitting encoded retreat orders!”
She paralyzed in the middle of the bridge, feeling that everyone’s eyes were pointed on her.
“Orders are to break the engagement and reorganize for a better planned counterattack. If we stay here, they’ll crush us one by one, till we’ll have nothing more to fight with…”
“Nuts! I’ll die with my ship, rather than live with the remorse of having fled the most important battle of my career!”
“Sir, it’s a single planet against a whole race. If we loose the most of our fleet here, we won’t be able to effectively form new battle lines to fight elsewhere. The Dread Lords will have their happy rampage time anyway.”
“You’re right.”, she finally admitted. “Send the retreat order.”
The remnants of the Terran fleet much more than happily left the field of engagement. Only a handful of vessels were fully operative, most had been scratched, battered and ripped by enemy Doom Rays. Yet they still flew, somehow.
The Dread Lords had taken heavy losses, too. Barely forty ships were still alive, from the initial two hundreds. Wave after wave of human offensives had hit them much more than anyone would have thought at the beginning, yet they had won. With slow manoeuvres, they began their descent toward geostationary orbit and bombardment position.
“What are you doing, helm?”
“Uh… engaging hyperwarp, sir?”
“Did I told you we were going anywhere?”
“Oh, no. The fleet is retreating. Not me.”
“Oh, shit.”, someone murmured.
CED Headquarters – The Pentagon, Washington, D.C.
North American Federation, Earth, Sol system
Such a bitter taste.
Ross stood up from his command chair. Around him, everyone looked stunned, as if they’d never thought this could happen. Oh, yes, fighting the Dread Lords would have been hard and difficult and bloody and whatsoever, but I the end they would have won… Or not?
Actually, the answer looked too much a loud, resounding “NO”.
Well, he and Amanda had tried. Tried and failed… Only a miracle could have saved Earth, now.
“What’s going on, now?”
“Sir, I read multiple subspace anomalies near Venus! There’s something massive coming out!”
A little spark of hope.
The men in the control room furiously begun to tip on their computers, till someone yelled: “Friendly IFF! It’s the Shivans!”
“About time, damn! Open a channel!”
Arnor cruiser, the Moon, Sol System
“And you call this flying a ship?”
“What’s wrong with this, Colonel Jenna Casey?”
“That’s more… being flown… I don’t know if I give the idea… And it’s quite impossible to maintain a straight course! Don’t you have a cloche or something like that?”
“You’re experiencing the symbiosis. It’s something new for your race… but one day you’ll –”
“Okok… I trust you.”, she rudely interrupted the Arnor. He was too poetical for her… too likely to digress even in such a situation. And she was having her hand full with piloting the cruiser. As she had said before, it was a strange and unique experience. Though she was conscious to be a separate entity from the ship, at the same time she was the ship… more or less, that was the basilar concept. The full extent of that relationship was well beyond her imagination. It was something unique.
“Suggestions for a battle plan?”
“Follow your heart, Colonel Jenna Casey.”
She held back a long string of profanities. Never try to get an useful answer from an Arnor in a reasonably short time…
Dark red vessels were emerging from transpace near Venus. She knew that… how she was sure of that was another question.
Nemamiah wrinkled his forehead.
“Shivans…”, he spitted out in disgust.
TAS Galatea, Earth, Sol System
“We’re here to help, Human. Looks like we’ve arrived just in time. Proceeding to engage enemy forces. Stand clear of the destroyer ships Qhiah and Yamis.”
“Received, Admiral. Breaking off our attack.”
A silent ‘thanks’ was murmured from everyone in the bridge, despite Amanda’s icy look. She sat down on her command chair, visibly annoyed. She hated being put apart during a decisive fight…
“Captain, keep us on this course… Gunnery, ready to fire a last combo at my or-.”
Suddenly, they hit her.
In her mind.
She was in an endless foggy, dark plain… with nothing but shadows moving menacingly around her. She felt completely alone… defenceless… vulnerable… she couldn’t move. And they were laughing at her! Why… I can’t… Why…
Voices booming in her head.
Her second in command was knelt on her, slapping her face.
“Sir! Wake up, damn! Wake up!”
She stayed there, immobile.
“Medic! A medic!”
Two Altarians stormed in the room.
Captain Ford stared at them.
“What should we do?”
The newcomers quickly checked her, and then they shook their heads.
“Nothing. There’s absolutely nothing we can do… She has to win on her own. Otherwise…”
Crouched in that dead wasteland, Amanda was silently praying.
Not me… Not me… Why me? Please!
You’ll die. You can’t even imagine what you went against…
Around her, another battle was taking place. The Shivans spore ships had opened fire against the Dread vessels, forcing them to scramble to dodge the lethal biological weapons. The Galatea somehow managed to withdraw from the engagement area, with minimal damage. As the distance between the Galatea and the leading Dread frigate increased when the Terran ship engaged her warp drive, the psychic grasp on Amanda’s mind slowly diminished, till she felt that invading presence fade away.
I’ll be back, earthling. Next time you won’t be so lucky.
Arnor cruiser, the Moon, Sol System
“Yeah! They’re retreating! And we didn’t even fired a single shot!”
“Follow them, Colonel Jenna Casey.”
“As you wish, Nemamiah… time to show them how does it feels being hunted down…”
TAS Galatea, Venus, Sol System
“Are you sure she’s ok?”
Alan Bradley’s hologram was menacingly looking Captain Ford.
“Quite, sir. That’s what the Altarians have said. She only looked a little bit.. shocked, but that’s understandable, I guess. Having someone else in your head shouldn’t feel too good.”
The President’s face brightened.
“Try to help her… do what you can. I need her back in command of our Navy as soon as possible.”
“Yes, sir. She’s now in her room, and-”
“Stay with her. Always. That’s an order, Captain.”
“Aye, sir!”, he saluted.
“Excellent. Bradley out.”
Wow. One day you’re the second in command of a battleship, the next you’re assigned to Admiral-sitting. Such is life. Muttering to himself something not too pleasant about the President, he walked towards her superior’s room.
“Ah! Mio ben solo in terra… mi guarda, mi conosci…”
“O padre mio”!
“Oh qual mistero! Che fu? Sei tu ferita? Dimmi…”
“L’acciò… qui mi piagò…”
“Chi t’ha colpita?!?”
“V’ho ingannato… colpevole fui… l’amai troppo… ora muoio per lui…”
“Dio tremendo… ella stessa fu colta… dallo stral di mia giusta vendetta… angiol caro, mi guarda, m’ascolta… parla, parlami figlia diletta!”
“Oh! Ch’io taccia… a me… a lui perdonate… benedite alla figlia, o mio padre…”
[Rigoletto: Ah, my only joy on earth … look at me … say who I am …
Gilda: Ah, my father!
Rigoletto: I'm mystified!… What happened?… Are you wounded? Tell me...
Gilda: The dagger… wounded me here...
Rigoletto: Who struck you?!?
Gilda: I deceived you… I was guilty… I loved him too much… now I die for him!
Rigoletto: Great God in heaven! She was struck by the bolt that I, in righteous vengeance, loosed! Beloved angel! Look at me, listen to me! Speak, speak to me, dearest child!
Gilda: Oh! Let me be silent! Forgive me, and him. Bless your daughter, my father…]
Opera. Ford chuffed. Only her CO could like something so old-fashioned. She was there, sunk in her armchair, looking that old theatrical representation. He knocked on the door jamb to announce his presence.
“What’s up, Captain?”, Amanda muttered without turning her eyes off from the holograms in front of her.
“The President is worried for you, sir. He asked me to-”
“I don’t need help. Not now, at least… it’s too late. Many thanks.”
“Yes. Sure.”, he sighed. “Oh, and the CDA found Admiral Alvarez… or what’s left of him. He was a bloody mess in a lane near the Docks in Copernicus. Probably he’s been assassinated by a Dread agent just before the attack.”
“Another death. Will this ever end?”, she asked to no one in particular.
“Not that you are watching something much happier…” Ford sceptically looked a crying hunchback over a dying girl.
“Lassù in cielo, vicino alla madre, in eterno per voi pregherò…”
“Non morir! Mio tesoro, pietade… mia colomba, lasciarmi non dei… no, lasciarmi non dei…”
“Lassù in cielo, vicino alla madre…”
“Oh mia figlia!”
“…in eterno per voi pregherò!”
“Non lasciarmi non dei!”
“Per voi pregherò!”
[Gilda: Up in Heaven, near my mother, forever I’ll pray for you…
Rigoletto: Do not die! My treasure, have pity… my coulomb, you must not leave me… no, you must not leave me…
Gilda: Up in heaven, near my mother…
Rigoletto: Oh my daughter!
Gilda: Forever I’ll pray for you!
Rigoletto: You must not leave me, you must not!
Gilda: For you…
Rigoletto: Do not die!
Gilda: I’ll pray for you!]
“Italian, I guess.”
“Yes. Verdi’s Rigoletto… one of my favourites. The hunchback is Rigoletto, a court jester, and the girl is his daughter Gilda. She had been raped by the Duke of Mantua, and Rigoletto had hired a killer to avenge her honour, but she loved the Duke, after all, and when she discovered her father’s plan she decided to sacrifice herself to let her beloved live. The killer gave Rigoletto what he thought it was the Duke’s corpse, and the joker just discovered it’s his daughter’s…”
“Se t’involi qui sol, qui sol rimarrò, non morir o qui teco morrò…”
“O mia figlia!”
“O mia Gilda…”
“Addio! Lassù… in ciel…”
“Lassù… in ciel!”
“Non lasciarmi… non dei!”
“Pregherò… per voi… per voi… Ah!”
“Gilda! Mia Gilda! E’ morta! Ah! La maledizione!”
[Rigoletto: If you go away I shall be alone here, do not die or I’ll die here with you…
Gilda: …no more…
Rigoletto: Oh my daughter!
Rigoletto: Oh my Gilda!
Gilda: Farewell! Up in Heaven…
Rigoletto: you must not… die…
Gilda: Up in Heaven!
Rigoletto: You must not leave me! You must not!
Gilda: I’ll pray… for you… for you… ah!
Rigoletto: Gilda! My Gilda! She’s dead! Ah! The curse! ]
“Bah. I can’t get the point.”, he commented as the orchestra reached its climax as Rigoletto fell on his daughter’s dead body. “The curse?”
“It’s quite a long story. Rigoletto has been cursed by Count Monterone, whose daughter has been raped by the Duke, too. The jester mocked the Count when he asked justice to the Duke, and so…” she noticed his emotionless face. “You don’t like opera, don’t you?”
“Well, no. And frankly-”
He was interrupted by the bleeping sound of his communicator.
“Excuse me, Admiral… Ford here. Yes. What?”
She jumped out of her armchair as soon as she heard his worried voice.
“What’s the matter now?”
“The M.A.G.I. network. The supercomputers are tracking an anomalous energy reading in the uninhabited Gamma Centauri star system. And it’s definitely of Dread Lord origin. Looks like we’ve got more trouble on the way.”