Author : Beck Dacus

The engines stopped burning after a full year of deceleration, and all the ships turned to face their destination. The mechanics triple checked the cannons before opening their compartments, and did touch-ups on all the fighters before deploying them. When the fleet was ready, Commander Ankerbjin looked to his navigation officers and asked, “What enemy movement are we seeing?”

For a time, no answer came. Then one said, “None, sir. We detect no ships converging on this location, no weapons locking on, and no emergency lockdowns on any of the planets, looking at their energy signatures.”

Ankerbjin grunted. “Continue scans of the system. Hold tight for several hours, wait for the light from the distant edges of the system to reach us. Once we have a better lay of the land, we’ll be able to attack.”

Hours did pass, and the aliens seemed to be taking no defensive actions against the arrived enemy fleet. Even stranger things started happening four hours after the engines quieted.

“Sir, you ought to see this.”

Ankerbjin rose from his command throne at the center of the bridge to lean over the shoulder of one of his navigators. He looked at what was on the screen. “Tell me what I’m seeing here.”

“The ships… they’re converging on their own planets. Planets whose power outputs are spiking. Certain structures on those planets are *really* lighting up.”

“Certain structures? Weapons! They’re preparing to fire surface batteries at us!”

“And not just on the planets. You know that structure we identified around their star? That’s powering up too.”

“Good God.”

“Well, sir,” one of the bridge engineers said, “we anticipated something like this. It only took a year to get here from our perspective, because of time dilation, but for them we took nearly a hundred. We knew their technology would come a long way before we even started our attack. That’s why we brought so many ships along with–”

Starlight stopped shining through the giant forward window, the tiny lights indicating planets winking out with it. The navigators’ lidar screens also went dark.

“What the hell just happened!?” Ankerbjin barked. “Are they… blocking electromagnetic radiation from getting to us? Is there something obstructing our view?”

“How could there be if we’re still seeing stars?”

The bridge was silent for a minute. Then the same bridge engineer said, “Shit. Advanced technology indeed.”

The whole room looked at him.

“We thought, with a hundred years to prepare before we arrived, the aliens would advance in defensive weapons technology. They might create forcefields, build surface batteries, megascale energy weapons. But I think they took a different approach. Those structures on the planets, and around the star? I think they shunted the entire system away from here. They picked up what they were trying to defend and sent it somewhere else, their whole home system. We spent a hundred years traveling to a place that might as well have been… imaginary.”

“Well– where did they go?” Ankerbjin stuttered.

“Dunno. Could’ve gone to an alternate dimension, for all we know.”

“So what the hell are we supposed to do!? How do we win?”

“I don’t think we do. This is like… like pacifist’s checkmate. There’s nothing for us to do now but turn around and go home.”

There was arguing. Fighting. Rallying. Mutiny. But in the end, Earth’s assault fleet powered up their ships, turned away from empty space, and began the century-long journey back home. Defeated.