Author : Julian Miles

“Twenty-nine, twenty-eight…”

She felt the first bead of sweat follow the knap of her close cropped hair before running cool and smooth down her jaw and into her uniform collar. It was so quiet on the bridge; she swore that her exec had heard it.

“Twenty-five, twenty-four…”

Sixty people made less noise than a creeping cat as they watched the dizzying host of screens. Beyond the shutters, warp space sang to their dreams. No-one had slept much in the last eight months.

“Twenty-one, twenty…”

It had taken twenty years to reverse engineer Borsen warp technology, five more to work out navigation. Four years to build the first warp dreadnought. Even now, the Borsen still did things with warp that made grown scientists cry.

“Seventeen, sixteen…”

This was the crux. The first warp dreadnought, Excalibur, hurled like a vengeful spear at the Borsen homeworld, loaded with atmosphere igniters and stealth fighters for a genocide raid to finish the war that mankind was no longer confident of winning.

“Thirteen, twelve…”

Providing the bastardised warp technology brought them out at all, of course. Command had decided that since the Romala debacle, speed was of the essence. This test flight would also be the greatest raid at the furthest distance by the biggest warship ever built.

“Nine, eight…”

She thought of spring in Providence, her daughter playing on the swing while her husband made Irish coffee on the range. This was why they all fought. For all the families, ensuring their children had a world to grow up on and a future worth living.

“Five, four…”

A vibration ran through the two kilometres of the Excalibur, causing wide eyes and white knuckles for every one of the thousand plus crew. She prayed to a god hopefully nearby that they would see real space again.

“One. Phase transit.”

With a disconcerting lurch, the Excalibur arrived in the Borsen system. Sensors awakening galvanized people into frantic motion. They had to be on target in moments. She smiled a thin smile as the shutters withdrew. Time to see what colour your air is, you bastards.

“Oh god. Sir?”

At first, she just could not absorb it. The system had no planets. The reason was right there, waiting. It reflected the distant sunlight from its myriad surfaces, and she was sure that she could see the Excalibur reflected in one of the facets facing them. She gathered herself, years of training and bitter, bloody combat culminating in a defining command moment of grace under pressure;

“Exec. Shipwide, please.”

The general broadcast fanfare rang hollow.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived and I am sure you see what I do. No-one could have envisioned this. Please, stand down and make your peace with whatever gods you hold dear.”

She regarded it. So big. Could you call something the size of Jupiter a spaceship? The movement and weapons detectors homed in on the behemoth’s one acknowledgement of the Excalibur’s presence. The figures coming from the mass detector alone lit the board red with scale queries. Her second expressed the thoughts of all present with the rendingly appropriate line of defiance, prayer and dark humour;

“Sweet Lord, for what we are about to receive…”

She felt her face become calm as she watched a railgun the length of Texas send a projectile the size of Rhode Island at them. Her words ended the data stream that reached Earth eighteen years too late;

“Dear John, remember me. Raise Millie well. Love from Captain Mum.”


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