The Destruction of the Righteous Fire

        Personal Log. Admiral Drafus Melasto, Captain, PFI Righteous Fire.

        The Righteous Fire. The largest and most powerful ship in the Phoenix Fire Imperial fleet. Powered by a unique, total conversion, antimatter power core, and on route to the Largo Mon star system on the edge of the Milky Way Galaxy; some 1500 light years from any known inhabited system and nearly 1800 light years from heart of the empire, 800 from the declared territorial edge marked by the most distant of colonies.

        The universe exists in cycles. Cycles of life and death, cycles of creation and destruction. They exist at all levels, from the microscopic vibrations of an atom, to the eons long life of a star. Without these cycles, the universe as it is would not exist, at least not as it does today. One of those cycles, one which has a great impact on the life in the universe has been mapped by many civilizations. The Mayan′s of Earth, the Trevola of Karethi′s Star, or the Th′kreel of the Th′ek Collective.

        In each case, their calendar is a circle, no actual end and no beginning, and yet they are each some of the most accurate calendars ever created by any civilization. Just an unending cycle like so many others, but with one big difference. They have tied the reset of their calendar to a very specific cycle, one that is not as obvious to most, unless you back up a great distance and look at history of any given culture, and life in the universe in general, as a whole. The fifty thousand foot view I heard it once called.

        When you do that, you find that something happens shortly after the reset, something happens, and things are never the same. It had reset when the Spanish made first contact with the Mayan′s on Earth, and now they exist only on the one colony they established. The Trevola experienced their Mark-levos reformation and committed mass suicide, were they not monitored, they would be just another curiosity, a civilization that ended themselves and cared about only by some anthropologist some dozen millennia from now.

        It doesn’t always happen right away, but you can, if you know to look, trace it back to events during the reset year. It is strange, but as a student of history, and commander of the most powerful ship in the fleet, I cannot ignore the evidence I have seen. I do not know the reason for these cycles, but the stretch back in time all the way to the fabled events of The Death. Assuming you believe that The Death actually happened all those billions of years ago, everything tracks back to that moment, as if whatever happened then set these cycles in motion.

        We are right in the middle of a reset, and I see the signs of the change, the paradigm shift that always accompanies the reset. The change of hands of the crown to Prince Kraltapa, now Emperor…, his orders regarding non-humans, and the destruction of Tree-Dosa using this very ship and it′s main cannon, fueled by the antimatter core that is the heart of the ship. An Antimatter Acceleration Laser. A beam cannon unlike anything I could have convinced in my nightmares, something I refused to accept the full destructive capabilities of until I saw it fired.

        The new Emperor is a zealot, and his threats against Fleet Admiral Phoenix, the being whose name the Empire is based on, who all those thousands of years ago helped the old Arfos protectorate pull itself out of civil war and become something I could be proud to serve, but now… Now I have doubts. Yet, the new Emperor is just getting started, it is possible that he will calm down, that he will temper his fervor, but I doubt that will happen, and I will find myself in the position of possibly turning against the Empire my family has served faithfully, in all its forms, for the past 5000 years.

        As soon as he came to power, there was murmurs of rebellion. That is in and of itself unremarkable, it happens every time power changes hands, but this was different, this was more than just the typical dissonant′s and disaffected, this was something more. Given what I have seen of him thus far, I cannot blame them. Families destroyed for daring to love someone that wasn′t human. Friends dragged from their homes in chains. This is not the Empire I knew, not the one I signed up to serve, and I suspect that the rumors that Kraltapa poisoned his father have far more merit that most suspect.

        Now, almost a year from the destruction of Tree-dosa, things have progressed. The rebellion is something new, very real, and their tactics have shifted in the last two months. I am not sure what the change has been, and the intelligence services have assured the Emperor that there is nothing new. I don′t believe that, I have seen it, something is different. They are more daring, more prepared, actually tactical in their attacks. This is no longer the rebellion of general citizens, they now have the ring of military leadership and experience.

In an amazingly daring raid, they were able to capture the power core destined for the Righteous Fire′s sister ship while it was on route from Cheeketh where it was built. However, time marches on, and events like this have a momentum of their own, much like a snow ball rolled down a mountain, by the time is reaches the bottom it is something much more dangerous than when it started. Just as it can take a great force to stop or change the course of that snowball as it nears the bottom, so too do events like this take on a life of their own.

 

~

 

        Setting down the pen and pushing back from the desk, the glowing text of his personal log floating in the holo-display. ″I just don’t like the feel of this. We found out where they were too easily, even having the stolen power core, they were too easily able to mask its signature. How did they get it all the way out here on the edge, beyond the populated edge, where only pirates and prospectors scrape out an existence. It took capturing a Rebel, who was all to happily told us where to look. It doesn′t feel right.″ His desk comm unit buzzing. Keying the answer. ″Yes?″ The face of a young ensign appearing on the screen.

        ″Sir. You told me to call when it was time for the meeting.″

        ″Right, thank you ensign. What′s our status?″ Sitting up and hitting save and encrypt on his log entry.

        ″ETA to Largo Mon is two hours. Present velocity is 25 mark, standard.″

        ″Very good. Inform senior Admiral Deborak that I will be there shortly.″

        ″Yes sir.″ Looking uncertain.

        He took pride I knowing his people, and recognizing when they were not comfortable. ″What is it ensign?″

        ″Sir. If I may ask. Why are we rushing to a system with no intrinsic value, so far from Imperial space?″

        Shaking his head slowly. ″I wish I knew ensign. Inform me of any changes to our status immediately.″

        ″Sir.″ Saluting and cutting the connection.

        Standing, he turns off his log unit and locks it in his secure drawer. He kept a secure and encrypted log unit, one that was never connected to any network or system. A old habit passed on from the earliest days of his family, when strife within the universe had peoples personal logs and thoughts turned against them. Now, with the changes and the new emperor, he was glad it was a habit he had kept.

        He then turns and exits his cabin bound for the war room and a meeting he had been dreading ever since the orders came down. Track down and reclaim the stolen power core, at all costs, and the fact that Admiral Deborak and the new Emperor would be on board to oversee the operation. Walking briskly, he reconsiders the changes in the tactics of the rebels, and the other events that had brought them so far outside the boundaries of the Empire, and just as he reaches the War room door, comes to the same conclusion. Something about this was just not right.

 

~

 

        The Largo Mon system, the same time.

        ″Sir! Long range scanners have picked up the Righteous Fire, inbound at 25 standard. ETA Two hours.″

        ″Excellent. Just as I expected of those overbearing idiots. What′s the status of the power core?″

        Checking another display. ″In place and all connections check out. The AI is online and all systems are operating at full capacity.″

        ″Give the order. Evacuate the system. All but required personnel are to board ships and leave the system. As soon as everything is finished, I want this system completely devoid of life.″

        ″Orders going out sir.″ Turning to look at the shadow hidden figure in the command chair. ″Sir. Do you think this will actually work?″

        ″It already has, now get out of here. I know you are not mandatory personnel.″

        ″But sir.″

        ″I said go. All of you.″ Addressing the room in general. ″There is nothing left for you to do. I have my own ship, now get yourselves out of here.″

        ″Sir.″ Turning and getting up, the last of the control personnel run from the control room towards the ships docked at the base.

 

~

 

        The Righteous Fire War room, an intelligence officer starts the briefing as the Captain walks into the room and takes his seat. The Emperor and the Senior Admiral already there, along with several aids and advisers to the Emperor.

        ″The Largo Mon system consists of one, older, B-5 class star, one small, rocky planet near the star in a 15 standard day orbit, and a very large and erratic asteroid belt near the habitable zone. Scans of the belt suggest that it was a potentially habitable world that was destroyed for some reason. The belt and the planet appear to have been stripped of any usable metals, for what purpose we are not sure, nor when this occurred as the system had not be surveyed previously.″

 

~

 

        In the Largo Mon system, following the evacuation order, the system begins to experience a massive exodus of ships and beings, as they scatter in all directions. The system having been stripped as noted by the Righteous Fire Intelligence office of all its usable metals to build a ship capable of taking on the Righteous Fire.

        The system, quickly drains, and where once there was thousands of ships and millions of beings, within a half hour of the order, is down to three beings and two ships. One of those ships, the system was strip mined to build, the other, if its true origins were told, is ancient, nearly as ancient as the being commanding it.

        Sitting at one of the earlier abandoned consoles, monitoring the evacuation. ″It is almost time.″

        Speaking from behind him. ″Almost time for what?″

        Standing and turning to face the source of the voice. ″Time for the Phoenix to be reborn.″

        ″Honestly Tory. I would think you would have given up on this by now.″

        Smiling. ″You know me Jarvis. I can never leave well enough alone.″ Turning to respond to a tone from the console signaling the completion of the evacuation. ″Good.″ Reaching down and keying the radio. ″Systems activate.″

        Over the room speaker. ″System online. All sections green. Power at one hundred percent. Engines online and in stand by. Awaiting orders.″

        Glancing back at his friend again. ″Activate protocol seven, seven, four, delta, seven, omega.″

        ″Password authorization?″ responds the voice over the speakers.

        ″Black Phoenix.″

        ″Code?″

        ″Mouse Trap.″

        ″Accepted. Mousetrap online. Protocol engaged.″ The connection cut a moment later.

        Turning to the his friend. ″Well Jarvis, it′s done.″

        ″Yes it is, but what about all those people on the Righteous Fire that are going to be killed, just because they are a part of the crew?″ Concern on his face.

        Smiling mischievously. ″Not to worry. That has already been taken care of.″ Walking out of the control room and heading for the only ship still docked at the asteroid base, Jarvis following.

        Soon, even that ship is gone, and the system devoid of all life, only one ship left. That ship rivaling the Righteous Fire in both power and size, looming silently near the star. It awaits the arrival of the Righteous Fire, its only reason for existing. It sits, hidden deep in the glare of the star, with only a minimum of power operating to keep things ready to go at a moments notice and those system cool.

 

~

 

        The War room of the Righteous Fire.

        The intelligence officer pulls up a holographic display of the system based on scans and visual reconnaissance. The full attendance of the meeting including Admiral Drafus Melesto, the newly crowned Emperor, Kraltapa, and Fleet Tactical Commander, Senior Admiral Joseph Deborka, as well as the ships senior command officers, navigation, tactical, and senior enlisted.

        Admiral Deborka turns from his examination of the display and data. ″What is our ETA captain?″

        Glancing up at the display and a number floating next to the representation of the ship. ″Forty five minutes sir.″

        ″Good. At ten minutes, I want the ship to go to full combat alert.″

        ″Understood.″ Nodding to the first officer who begins to key the order into his comp. ″Will we be running a drill sir?″

        ″This will be no drill captain.″

        ″Understood. If I may. The crew is extremely keyed up, and rumors abound as to why we are here. I personally have major misgivings about this whole operation, especially given that my crew and I have been kept in the dark as to the real purpose of our mission.″

        Turning away from the captain. ″I am sorry captain, but that information is classified.″

        Turning from the display, the Emperor smiles. ″Go ahead and tell him Joseph. There isn’t enough time for the rebels to do anything, or for any warning from a spy to reach them in time to do anything.″

        ″Yes your highness.″ Turning back with a slight bow.

        The others present fading carefully out of the glow of the display, knowing not to get involved. The captain looks between the Emperor and his superior. ″Rebels sir?″

        Nodding sourly. ″Yes Captain. Rebels. As I am sure you have heard the rumors of the Dragon′s Claw rebellion, and specifically the theft of the new antimatter power core meant for the Righteous Fire′s sister ship. They are not rumors.″

        Pretending to be surprised by the revelations, he had his own sources. ″Not rumors sir?″

        ″Correct. According to a reliable source, and corroborated by long range scans and reconnaissance probes, the rebellion has been building a ship to take on the Righteous Fire. They intend to use the stolen power core to give it the power needed to do so. As you know, the Righteous Fire′s own antimatter conversion core is what gives it the power to be untouchable by any conventionally powered ship. It gives the Righteous Fire′s weapons more power than they can use, and givies her the ability to maneuver like a fighter. According to the data we have, the rebels have been using the ample materials of the Largo Mon system to build a ship capable of giving and taking the kind of punishment only the Righteous Fire can deliver. Especially backed by the power the stolen core could provide.″

        The intelligence officer steps just into the glow to speak, before fading back into the shadows. ″Sir. According to records and scans, the Largo Mon asteroid belt is densely packed and the majority of the asteroids have highly unusual orbital patterns with lots of collisions. Mining it would be impractical at best.″

        Smiling. ″Precisely. Which is why, though they have been building for over 3 years, even before the rebellion was known widely, they are still far from complete.″

        Glancing towards the Emperor. ″Then why risk the Righteous Fire.″

        Raising his royal staff and swinging it through the display, disrupting it for a moment, as if to smash the rebels. ″As a message captain. We will show these rebel fools that there is nowhere in the galaxy they can hide.″

        Inwardly cringing at the idea of a pointless show of force, but still bowing slightly. ″Yes your highness.″

        Turning back to the two Admirals. ″Besides. They have had to use the systems resources. IF they had tried to import the materials, the Empires ever watchful eye would have noticed. As it is, we still did, and according to our sources, they have not yet installed the core. Nor are there many craft in the system for that matter. Only those needed for the industrial and mining operations, just another ploy to try and prevent us from noticing what they were doing. A ploy that will be their undoing. Our sources tell us that this ship was to either cripple or destroy the Righteous Fire. The rebels would then strike at the Empire itself, with the Righteous Fire out of the equation. They will not succeed! The people will never turn against the Empire. Come Joseph!″ Turning and exiting the room.

        ″Yes your highness.″ following like a lap dog.

        The display goes out and the lights come back up in the room. After the door closes behind the Emperor and Senior Admiral, the captain turns to the others. ″Okay. You heard them. Prepare the ship, and expect combat. This is unlikely to go as smoothly as he is convinced it will.″

        With a collection of sharp salutes, the room empties out, leaving just the captain and first officer. ″I don′t like it sir.″

        Turning to his first officer and friend. ″I know Carl. I don’t either, but we have no choice, yet. I can′t pull us out of this fool operation until there is sufficient danger to jeopardize the Emperor, only then can I override him. Until then, we do as we are told.″

        ″Aye Sir. But is the Fire not out of the way, all the way out here.″

        Shaking his head slowly. ″We have..,″ glancing at a display on the wall. ″twenty five minutes until we arrive in the system. Get the crew ready. I will make an announcement, and make sure that the pilots are all awake and ready.″

        ″Aye sir.″ Turning and leaving through the door to the bridge.

 

~

 

        Turning the display back on, the room filling with distant stars. He zooms in on the Largo Mon system. ″Carl is right. We are out of the way, and without any support. I hate this.″ Looking at the display, something catching his attention. ″Strange. Why build the ship so close to the star and away from the belt. It makes more sense to build it near the edge, or at least in orbit of the planet. I get a really bad feeling about this.″

        ″As well you should.″ Says a deep baritone voice from behind him.

        Spinning to see who spoke and reaching for his side arm, he finds only a small gold coin floating in the air, tumbling slowly as it might do in zero G. ″Who?″

        Sounding as if from the coin. ″I once offered you a job Drafus Melasto. Should you ever desire to see me again and discuss it again, hold this coin in your hand and call out my name.″

        ″I don′t know your name. How did you get in here? Where are you?″ Scanning the room, finding himself alone, save for the floating coin.

        "You will if you have the need.″

        The coin drops, no longer suspended by whatever force was holding it up and he instinctively snatches it out of the air as it falls. The ships intercom chiming. ″Captain to the Bridge.″ Pocketing the coin unconsciously, he walks though the door and onto the bridge.

 

~

 

        Upon entering the Bridge. ″Exec. Why did you have the word passed for me? I was in the war room.″

        Surrendering the command chair. ″Apologies sir. We are twelve minutes out.″ Leaning into the captains ear. ″I have been trying to contact you for 10 minutes sir.″

        ″I see. I must have been more preoccupied than I realized.″ Fingering the coin in his pocket.

        ″Of course sir.″

        Shaking his head. ″Time to system?″

        The navigation officer responding as the Exec takes his normal position. ″Ten minutes.″

        Turning to the Exec. ″Go to full combat alert. Code Echo.″

        ″Sir!″ Keying the all ship while punching in the necessary codes, a very specific alarm consisting of a tooth rattling bass thump and a high pitched bell sounding throughout the ship along with the Execs voice. ″Ship to full combat alert. Code Echo. This is not a drill. All pilots man your craft and prepare for immediate combat launch.″

        This goes on for about 2 minutes, at which point all stations report ready and the alarm is stopped, leaving only the lights in their combat state. The combat officer turning from his station. ″Sir! All stations reporting in. All craft are maned and ready for launch, all positions are at combat ready, weapons are charged and ready to fire on command.″

        The captain nodding. ″Excellent, and better than drill.″ Glancing at the stop watch the Exec shows him, the combat officer smiling briefly as he turns back to his console. The Captain then keying the intercom on his console. ″Crew of the Righteous Fire, this is the Captain. I have now been authorized to tell you why we are here today. Until about an hour ago, even I was not briefed on the true reason for this mission, due to its sensitivity. We are going to the Largo Mon system, which has been used as a base by the Dragon′s Claw rebels, and is where the rebels have been constructing a ship meant to destroy the Righteous Fire.

        According to intelligence, the rebels have stolen the power core meant for our sister ship which is still being built. The rebels are planning on using it to power their own ship. Intelligence reports that the construction of their ship is incomplete and the power core has not yet been installed, although it is in the system. Our mission is to destroy the rebel ship, any other rebel ships or bases in the system, and recover the power core. As intelligence believes that the rebels do not know that we are aware of their operations in this system, resistance is expected to be light, but I want everyone to be prepared for the worst. May the Phoenix bless us all. Good luck and good hunting.″ Killing the intercom and glancing at the Exec who gives him an agreeable nod. ″Time?″

        Navigation responding. ″Five minutes.″

 

~

 

        In the Largo Mon system, the completed ship floats silently, waiting. Lurking on the far side of the star from the Righteous Fire′s approach, waiting to spring upon her once the Righteous Fire is deep in the systems gravity well. A trap well set and ready to be sprung.

 

~

 

        Navigation speaking up. ″Sir. Dropping to Sub-light in one minute.″

        ″Thank you Nav. Steady on course.″

        ″Is that as close as we can get captain?″ Asks Senior Admiral Deborka as he and the Emperor step onto the bridge.

        ″No sir. However, it does give us maximum surprise, while allowing a full sensor scan of the system.″

        ″Understood. Carry on then.″ Moving to one of the observation chairs.

        ″Captain.″ The Emperor stepping forward and turning to face the Captain.

        ″Sire?″

        ″We need not be so cautious. Go as deep as you can and then launch the advanced fighters.″

        Cringing internally. ″Yes your majesty. Navigation. As deep as you can get. Combat. As soon as we are stable, launch fighters in a Metric seven configuration. I want a full power, active scan of the system as soon as we are out of jump.″

        ″Aye sir!″ in unison.

        ″New time to sub-light. Eight minutes, at approximately 3 million from the outer edge of the systems belt.″

        Smiling triumphantly. ″Very good Captian.″ Turning back tot he main view port.

        Moving from the observation chairs and taking up position in the spare command chair, the admiral looks over the readings. ″How can we get so close Captain?″

        ″The system belt is thin in this area, meaning the gravity well is shallower, allowing us to get deeper into the system before being forced to drop to sub-light.″

        ″I see, and weapons status?″

        ″All weapons are charged and ready. All craft are ready for launch. Do I have battle override sire?″

        Glancing at the Emperor who gives a nod. ″Yes Captain.″

        Nodding. ″Combat. Prepare to fire on any craft in the system. Prepare for mine and asteroid clearing.″

        ″Aye Sir.″ Commencing to issue fire orders to the weapons stations and preparing the final launch sequences. The Combat officer turns to the captain. ″Authorization code sir?″ Having reached the point where only the final safety was in place, requiring the captains code. It wasn’t that he didn’t know it, but with the Admiral and Emperor on the bridge, he wasn’t going to break protocol and not ask.

        ″Bloody Flame.″ Answering without looking up from his his study of early readings.

        Entering the code into the system and watching as the overrides went into place and the safeties, accept for the local fire control safeties, released. ″All weapons and craft ready sir. Only local trigger safeties locked while in transit.″

        ″Thank you. Prepare some initial firing solutions for asteroid clearing.″

 

~

 

        Seven minutes of silence later, the Navigation officer breaks the nervous quiet. ″Sir. In system in 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1….. Hyperdrive shut down. In system engines and maneuvering thrusters on line. Commencing system scans.″

        Combat speaks up. ″Computer targeting control engaged and locked to Navigation obstacle tracking. Shield up and at full power. Advanced Fighters in the tube and launching.″

        Engineering speaking up. ″Environmental systems on combat standby. Dampers on full. Emergency teams and Damage Control teams at Standby Ready. Power systems at 75% and ready for 150% as needed.″

        ″Very good.″ Looking at the view screen and the sensor readings as they stream in, still wondering about the wisdom of their mission.

        In the hangar bays and launch bays, there is controlled chaos. Crewmen running here and there, ensuring craft are ready for launch, maneuvering them onto their launch sleds. Pilots trying to finish a last drink of coffee or bite of an energy bar as they sprint for their craft. The alarms for launches, the screams of people trying to talk over the roar of turbines and rocket motors. The ship thrumming with the steady thump against the hull as fighters and other craft launch.

        The tingle of static on the skin of those near weapons stations as their capacitors charge and discharge. The zap as they fire to clear a path through the asteroid belt. On the bridge, the Intelligence officer, looking over the scans and readings, is getting nervous as nothing both rock is being picked up by the sensors. He starts to wonder if this was all just an elaborate drill to test their reactions and loyalty.

        Suddenly, the scans find something, and a moment later, he knows that they have their quarry. A lone ship, just floating past the limb of the star, but showing no other signs of energy output. ″SIR!″

        ″Yes?″ Turing to the Intelligence officer.

        ″The system is effectively bare.″

        The Senior Admiral stands and speaks before the Captain can respond. ″What? That’s impossible! I have seen the scans and recon myself. The system was full of ships and equipment.″

        ″There is nothing here now sir. Nothing but rock, and a single ship, but she appears derelict. No discernible energy output, though she is still in the stars coronal shadow.″

        ″Where!″ Stepping forward.

        Putting a display on the main screen. ″Approximately 20 million from the star. It was hiding on the far side when we entered the system and is just now coming into view. We will be able to get a better scan in a few more moments.″

        Taking control back, the captain speaks up. ″I see. Navigation, take us in. Best possible speed. Combat. Be ready for anything.″

        A few minutes later, just as the Righteous Fire is leaving the asteroid belt and turning towards the other ship. ″Captain! The ship. It just went active. She went from zero power output to full power, weapons hot.″

        ″But that would fry the crew just turning things on like that.″ Exclaims the Admiral.

        ″Damn.″ Curses the Emperor.

        ″Sir. Scans show her fully operational and a match for us in size and power output. She′s at least 50 in length.″

        The emperor stumbling back in disbelief. ″Impossible! Our source wouldn’t lie. We paid too much for the information.″

        Looking at the prince with a raised eyebrow, and the dumbfounded look on the Admiral. ″That′s the problem.″ Turning to the combat station. ″Combat. Launch all fighters and reserves. Launch 4 nukes with proximity fuses set at ten thousand meters.″

        ″Aye sir. Ten thousand.″ A moment later. ″Weapons away.″

        ″Captain! What are you doing?″ Turning and demanding an answer.

        ″Blinding them Admiral, and maybe we will get lucky and she won’t be as sturdy as she looks.″

        ″But those missiles will be detected and destroyed long before they get in range.″

        ″Not these Admiral. They burn up to speed and then coast on cold gas thrusters for maneuvering.″

 

~

 

        The rebel ship begins launching its own fighters and powering its way up from the star towards the Righteous Fire. It finds, and destroys, all but one of the missiles, which only lightly singes the hull. Intent on destroying the rebel ship, the Righteous Fire charges into the system, ignoring the few space mines it finds. Those doing as little damage as the nuke did to the rebel ship.

        The two ships meet just inside the orbit of the systems lone planet. They begin a slow dance, neither seeming to want to make the same move, sizing each other up silently, abusing each other with scans, looking for a weakness, for an opening. Their fighters swarming around the ships like angry flies around a carcass.

        The Emperor, growing impatient, overrides the Captain and Admiral, ordering the fighters to attack and all weapons to open fire. In moments the space between the ships is filled with silent explosions as fighters are destroyed. Lances of energy hotter than the star next to which the battle rages, flash between the ships. Holes and deep rents appear in the hulls of both ships as they pound at each other like boxers, each maneuvering for a better firing position.

        Several hours into the battle, both ships are badly damaged, with few fighters left on either side, most belonging to the Righteous Fire. The difference being that the fighters from the Righteous Fire return to the ship for repairs, refuel, and rearm, whereas the rebel fighters just drift, or attempt suicide runs at the Righteous Fire.

        As the tide of the battle turns in favor of the Righteous Fire, her fighters moving in and making bombing runs on the rebel ship, targeting her weapons. Having no more clear defense, losing several of her more powerful weapons, and clearly losing the battle, the rebel ship turns and runs. The main cannons that had been keeping the Righteous Fire at bay no longer a factor, the Righteous Fire gives chase, hammering the retreating ship. Then starts to back off as the Captain orders a more cautious pursuit.

        The Emperor stepping forward angrily. ″Captain! What are you doing? We have them! Take them now!″

        ″Sire. They are moving too close to the star.″

        ″Can we take the heat?″

        ″Yes, but the radiation...″ Trying to protest, but knowing that the Emperor was going to overrule him before he even speaks the protest.

        ″No! We make the kill! If we wait and go around, or take a different course, they may escape us, or muster new resistance. No. We must do it now. Kill them!″

        His face going read in anger. ″Understood Sire. Nav! Take us in. Damage Control. Order all non-essential personnel to deep shelter. Full registration of all personnel who must stay on station. Combat. Charge main batteries for planetary bombardments.″ Standing and stepping towards the screen.

        Aye sir.″ Echo′s the bridge crew.

        ″What level sir?″ Asks the Combat Officer.

        ″I want this over. Now. Charge for planetary destruction.″

        ″Sir?″ Not believing what he heard.

        ″You heard me Combat.″

        Standing and putting a hand on his shoulder. ″Captian. That will leave us powerless for several seconds.″

        Glancing at the concerned face of his exec. ″Noted. Combat. Split power for two volleys.″

        ″Aye sir.″

        As the Righteous Fire closes the distance, putting her back in firing range of the rebel ship, massive amounts of power begin to build up in her main cannon’s, the storage capacity of her power core reaching it′s absolute maximum. Her cannon′s so full of energy that they begin to glow from the excess.

        Enough energy to crack a planet open and destroy it. This is why the Righteous Fire is so feared throughout the Imperium and beyond, and why they have maintained power for so long. Once before she had charged her cannon′s like this, and an entire world of fifty trillion beings died.

        The rebel ship runs, trying to use the star to slingshot itself, to pick up the speed it needed to get away by falling into the gravity well of the star. Getting really close to the star, using the gravity to give it a boost and the stars corona to help shield it from its pursuer. Yet, as it nears its closes point to the star, a massive explosion near its engines shakes the ship like a toy, and she loses all power, drifting dead in space, and caught in a death fall into the star now that it no longer had engines to pull itself free.

        The Emperor yells triumphantly. ″HA! The heat must have been too much for them with the damage we did.″

        ″Sire. I recommend we back off as call in support. I have a bad feeling about this.″

        ″What′s the matter Captain? Afraid of vicotry? Or are you a rebel sympathizer?″

        ″No Sire, but I do not believe we have done that much damage. Besides, we ourselves are damaged.″

″Nonesense! This ship is invincible!″ Glowering with the taste of victory.

        ″Sire, you may yet get us all killed, but until then. Navigation. Combat. Kill her!″

        ″Sir.″ in unison. No one on the Righteous Fire, save the Emperor is happy with the situation. Even the Senior Admiral looks nervous, having the same instinct as the Captain that something was off.

        The Righteous Fire moves into firing position, coming to a stop relative to the other ship. Not liking the idea of doing this, knowing well to trust the Captains instincts. The Combat officer confirms the order. ″Sire. In position and ready to fire.″

        Glancing at the Emperor who grins manically and nods. ″Fire! Fire!″

        A moment later, the ship rocks as it unleashes two torrents of energy, each powerful enough to crack open a planets crust and punch down nearly to its core. The drain so great on the Righteous Fire′s systems, that all screens go dark, ventilation stops, lights go out, and the engines extinguish. Within thirty seconds, power is restored, the engines start coming back online, and they start to take stock of what happened.

        The shots passing through the engines and forward weapons areas. Unfortunately, they did not hit the other ship dead center. The Righteous Fire is going to see her death coming.

 

        Standing over the Combat Officer. ″So, how is your aim ensign?″ asks the Emperor, eager to revel in victory.

        ″Both shots connected sire. One to the forward weapons area where her main cannons were, the other to her engines.″

        ″Very good lieutenant. As soon as you have the power, finish her off.″

        ″Yes sire!″ Smiling as he recognized the spot promotion the Emperor had just given him.

        ″That may not be necessary sire.″ Says the captain.

        ″What do you mean captain.″ Turning.

        ″Look.″ pointing to the screen as the display shows the rebel ship rocked by explosions as flames erupt into space. ″She is beginning to break apart.″

        ″Congratulations Captain. You′ve done it! Victory is yours.″ The Emperor facing the screen grins at the sight. The Captain is not paying attention, huddled over the sensor console with the Intelligence officer and Exec. Turning to see them huddling. ″Captain?″

        ″That′s it. Focus on that ship. Zoom in. I want to see exactly what is going on.″ The Captain looks up. ″Navigation. Get us out of here, best possible speed!″

        ″Aye sir.″ The Righteous Fire turns and begins to slowly pull itself away from the other ship and the star looming next to them.

        Walking towards the huddle of officers. ″Captain, what are you doing? Don′t you want to celebrate your victory?″

        ″Not just yet sire.″ Glancing at the Emperor and Admiral, who is watching the now receding ship with a frown.

        ″Sir! You were right. The explosions do have a pattern, they are all right at the hull surface.″

        Turning back to the Intelligence officer and the sensor console. ″Let me see.″ A sinking feeling hitting him in the pit of his stomach. ″By the gods. It′s hollow...″

        The Emperor, looking over their shoulders. ″What did you say?″

        Ignoring the Emperor, the Exec points. ″Wait, there. Focus there. Near the forward section.″

        ″What is that?″ Demands the Emperor.

        Standing and stepping past the Emperor. ″On main screen.″ The screen shifting to show a zoomed in view of one of the rebel ships cannons hooked up directly to something very odd. ″That Sire is the power core for a standard ship, a cruiser by the size of it, attached to the remains of one of the ships cannons. This is a trap.″ Stepping quickly to the Navigation console.

        ″A Trap?!? Impossible! No one but the Admiral and I knew of this operation.″

        Looking up at him. ″No one but the informant you paid to tell you about this place, and it is not impossible, it is happening. Thanks to you we have been caught in it just like a mouse to the cheese.″

        The Intelligence officer speaking up. ″Sir, there is a massive power build up at the center of the rebel ship.″

        ″Get me a scan. Navigation. Engineering. We need to be out of this system, now!″

        ″Working on it sir. You′re getting everything we have.″ Respond Engineering.

        ″Sir. It is the stolen power core, but the readings are weird. It is on some kind of power build up spiral.″

        ″Let me see.″ Glancing to a side display. ″No….″ His voice falling almost silent.

        Engineering speaking. ″Confirmed sir. That′s a self destruct power build up.″

        The Emperor looking around and clearly lost. ″Captain? Self destruct? What is going on?″

        ″A bomb sire. A really big bomb, the size of a small asteroid, made of anti-matter, and set just for us.″

        Realization crossing the Emperor′s face. ″A bomb!″

        ″Engineering, I want to know the safe distance, and do be generous. Navigation, I want to be farther than that distance, yesterday.″

        ″Sir!″ Working the engineering console feverishly, the captain walks towards the engineering console.

        The Emperor steps in his way. ″Captain!″

        Shoving the Emperor out of his way. ″Not now Idiot. Engineering?

        ″Based off of our power core, plus twenty percent sir. Blast radius to three million, with a nova level shock wave out to fifty million.″

        ″What?″ Spinning towards Navigation. ″What′s her distance from the star?″

        ″One and a half million sir. The star has her and is pulling her in.″

        ″May the gods have mercy. Navigation. Engineering. How soon can we jump?

        Navigation turning to face him. ″Ten minutes sir.″

        Shaking his head and knowing the answer isn′t going to be what they need. ″How long until detonation, and what will her distance be from the star?″

        ″Five minutes to detonation, and she will be approximately one million from the star.″

        ″Navigation?″

        ″Working on it sir!″

        The Communication officer looks up with a concerned face. ″Sir. I have an incoming transmission from one of the rebel fighters.″

        ″A transmission? On screen.″

 

        The display changes from the view of the receding ship as it falls into the star, and the tactical displays of the bast and shock wave radius. The face that appears shocks them all, a face that was not human, and that was supposed to be dead, if the Emperor were to have been believed, killed at the Emperors own hand. Grand Fleet Admiral Tory Phoenix.

        ″Good morning gentlemen. I am, as I am sure you have determined, using the fighter as a signal relay. I cannot have you tracking where I go now can I?″ Smiling wickedly. ″I would also hazard to guess by your mad dash away from the Killer; that was its name, or at least what I called it; that you have figured out what has transpired here today. Admiral Melasto, I was saddened when I heard you had taken command of the Righteous Fire. However, that cannot be helped. I respect you greatly and had hoped you could be recruited. You recognize the patterns to things, but the Righteous Fire must be destroyed for the good of all.

        Emperor Kraltapa, your ambition and mindless bigotry has needlessly ended the lives of billions, including now the crew of the Righteous Fire. We have nothing against a properly structured empire. It is one of the only effective ways to rule and control a large interstellar community. However, one run with the kind of iron fist and impotent rage you have displayed, cannot be tolerated.

        To the crew, I pray your souls will forgive me when they return to the eternal flame. You have two minutes from the end of this transmission. Good by. May the gods be kind to you in your next life.″ The captain stands stunned, having recognized the person on the screen.

 

        The Communication officer speaking up again. ″Sir. Transmission has been cut.″

        Stepping back and almost falling into his command chair. ″Two minutes…. Dear gods.″

        Running to the center of everything, then getting in the Captains Face. ″NO! This is impossible! I cannot die! I am the Emperor! I …. ″

        The Senior Admiral dismisses the Emperor by decking him, causing everyone to look at him in astonishment. Turning to face the captain with a smile, and shrugging. ″His highness was overcome with the stress of the situation. Carry on Captain.″ Dragging the Emperor out of the way, then kicking him in the face and groin before walking off the bridge. ″Stupid, arrogant, little bastard!″

        Navigation turning from their console. ″Sir?″

        ″Yes?″

        ″Are we really going to die?″

        ″It looks that way son. What′s our distance?″

        Turning back to his station for a moment. ″One hundred million sir. We′re in the clear!″ Brightening up.

        Slumping in his chair. ″How soon can we jump?″

        Looking again. ″Still about five minutes, we only just crossed the orbit of the planet, but are accelerating well.″

        Nodding. ″I see… Then no, no we are not.″

        Looking at the captain confused. ″But sir, we′re clear of the blast range.″

        Speaking for the capatain. ″He means that the bomb wasn′t mean to destroy us directly.″

        ″Then what was it meant for sir?″

        The bomb detonates, and the monitors showing the remains of the other ship white out and then go black. Other monitors show the explosion from their actual distance, as it takes a chunk of the star in its annihilation fury, the shock wave ringing the star like a bell. Between the sudden loss of mass, and the shock wave, the stars core destabilizes and begins to collapse. ″I mean that it was meant for the star.″ Sitting up strait. ″Scan the star directly.″

        The Intelligence officer turning to look at the Captain, horror on his face. ″The star. Sir. It′s going to…″ He doesn′t need to finish his sentence. The star, destabilized by the explosion, goes Nova. Those on the bridge of the Righteous Fire can sense the unbridled fury of it, even though it is soundless.

        ″Are we out of range of that? Can we jump before that gets to us?″ Asks the Captain.

        ″No sir.″ His voice shaking. ″We…. We cannot sir.″

        They all watch silently as the star dies. The wave of destruction approaching at what seems almost like a walking pace, the radiation blast having already passed and cooked a few minor systems. ″Time to impact?″

        ″Fifteen seconds sir.″

        Looking at the faces of his crew, illuminated by the surreal light of the stars death. The captain feels something hot in his hand. Looking down he finds himself clutching the coin, and a name flashes in his mind, the name of the person on the screen moments before. Closing his fist around the coin and closing his eyes, he screams out the name. ″TORY!″

 

        Time freezes. The Captain keeps his eyes shut for many moments, until he can do so no longer. Opening them, he snaps them closed again, before opening them again slowly. He see′s the blast wave mere miles from the ship, frozen like a fly in amber. Looking around he sees the people around him also frozen in mid motion, screaming in place silently.

        ″You almost waited too long my friend.″ Says a deep voice from behind him.

        Staring at the frozen wave of destruction. ″So I see. Who are you?″

        ″A friend, and your new boss.″

        ″What about my crew, are they all dead?″

        ″History will record that the Righteous Fire was lost with all hands. The Emperor miraculously transported home, relatively unharmed. The empire will claim the Righteous Fire was here studying some anomalies in the system, a lie the rebels will squash quickly. The Emperor, having been touched by the gods, will work with the rebels, bringing them to the table to actually address their grievances, reforming the empire back to what it once was.

        A great memorial will be built to the Righteous Fire and her crew, and you specifically, the Emperor remembering your wise caution and seeking to emulate that. All of which does not mean, however, that you and your crew need actually die.″

        ″What do you mean?″

        ″You have already saved your own life. You have also given every member of your crew a chance, but none of you will be able to return to this part of the universe for a thousand years, should you live that long.″

        ″Fine by me, but how are you going to get us off of here?″ Turning and looking into the eyes of the large humanoid German Shepard with Deep blue and white fur.

        ″I have frozen time Captain! I think I can pull off removing your crew and you. Check the starboard view port.″

        Walking over cautiously. ″A ship? How? Where did it come from?″

        ″It has been there since you entered the system, just a fraction of a second out of step with you. We have extended the field of its temporal drive to include the Righteous Fire, thus holding it, and us, suspended approximately one second before its annihilation. We will transfer all personnel who choose to go. We will then jump clear, leaving the Righteous Fire, and any remaining crew to their fate.″

        ″I see.″ Sitting back in his chair. The bridge doors open, the bridge flooded with a red light, and everyone starts moving again.

        ″Oh my god!″ Yells Communications.

        ″Julin!″ Navigation.

        ″Dave!″ Yells Damage Control, while engineering just screams, and the Intelligence officer just sits there crying.

        Combat looks up at the screen, down at his console, and back up again. ″Well I′ll be. It′s stopped.″

        ″Not exactly. We′ve stopped.″ Says the new person.

        Combat turns to the new person. ″What do you mean we?″

        ″Check your watch.″ Smiling.

        Looking down. ″It′s stopped.″

        The Exec stands, and looking between the Captain and this new persons. ″Captian?″

        Shrugging. ″Not completely sure Carl.″

        Still Smiling. ″I am here to offer all of you a new lease on life. If I may use the intercom Captain.″

        ″By all means.″

        Stepping over to the communication station, the Communications officer stepping away quickly. The Exec, steps up. ″What are you? I don′t recognize the species.″

        ″I am Malgorian sir.″

        ″But, you are all supposed to be dead.″

        ″Nearly so, but not quite. He saved us, just as he is now offering to save you.″

        ″Who?″ Asks the Captain.

        ″I think you know Captain.″ Keying the intercom. ″Greetings crew of the Righteous Fire. I am Dravis Tar Lutan, Captain of the Kelvic Crest, currently along side you. I am here to offer you a new lease on life. However, before you leap at this opportunity, know that there are things you must understand and agree to. Anyone seeking to accept may collect in the hangar bay where you will be given the information to make your decision, and should you be agreeable, will be ferried to the Kelvic Crest. We leave in six hours, or once all personnel that are leaving the Righteous Fire have transferred.″

        The Captain then keys the intercom. ″This is the Captain speaking. This is real. If you leave, you leave everything behind, family, friends, everything. As your captain, I ask only that you consider the offer being made.″

        Turning to the bridge crew. ″I will be processing those of you here personally, should you choose to join us. So if you have any questions, ask them now. If you go, you cannot change your mind and return home. This is a one way ticket. Stay, and I am sure you know what happens then.″ Nodding towards the display of the looming shock wave.″

 

~

 

        Of the fifteen thousand personnel aboard the Righteous Fire, five thousand choose to accept their fate, their reasons their own. The rest, transfer to the Kelvic Crest over the following 12 hours, with an additional hour given to those remaining and stragglers. Once everyone is transferred, the Kelvic Crest seems to fade from the space next to the Righteous Fire.

        No longer protected by the temporal drive, time begins again where it had left off, one second from impact. Events occurring exactly as described. The Righteous Fire and all aboard are reduced to their component quarks, and a whole lost of energy. The only difference being that the core of the Righteous Fire takes 2.0081 instead of 2.00801 seconds to destabilize and explode. Details.

        As for the fate of Admiral Melasto and the surviving crew of the Phoenix Fire Imperial Ship, Righteous Fire. That is a different story….

© D.C.Ballard 2019