Author : Beck Dacus

I was told that, when I awoke, I should expect the thunder of battle to have already started. But when the doctor woke me, his face calm, if not bored, I heard only the low rumble of my fellow crewman babbling about something. I would soon learn what that “something” was.

“Welcome back, Sergeant Mansing,” he said.

“Heyo to roo troo docatorr,” I slurred, swirling back into consciousness.

“I’ve got big news for you. I don’t think you’ll like it.”

“I’m arredy dead, aren’t I?” I said, my speech returning.

“No, quite the opposite. The only people who are going to die in the next few months are idiots and unfortunate spacewalkers. We were beaten to our target.”

My recovering mind was shocked. “What!? But… we did the Wait Calculation! Nobody should’ve beat us here!”

“Nobody has. Their weapons have. We should’ve seen it coming, really. Come walk with me.” He helped me out of my freeze casket, allowing me to sit on the casket’s rim and rub my legs before tapping my knee with a little mallet to see if my reflexes still worked. Then I waddled to the window with him, holding onto his shoulder until I could hold myself up. What I saw almost made me fall over anyway.

Alardaana had been annihilated. Red seas of lava burbled on its surface, the comforting crest of an atmosphere at its limb completely absent. Even its moons looked like charcoal embers. “W-what happened?” I nearly whimpered.

“The computer analyzed the damage the moment it saw this through its telescopes, about a lightyear out. It wasn’t relativistic missiles, obviously. If that was enough to kill them, they wouldn’t need to send us here. No, this was far more sinister. Not only has the surface been sterilized by what was probably gamma radiation; the structure of the planet itself took a beating. The most likely explanation so far is a gravitational wave strike. You see, Mansing, that’s why the Wait Calculation lied to us. That only determines when interstellar explorers will overtake each other. Not armies. Not weapons.”

“But… but why didn’t it hit us? Wouldn’t it have plowed through us on its way here?”

“No way. We took an arcing path here to avoid any defenses they might’ve set up directly between our star and theirs. Guess there was more wisdom to that than we thought.”

“Oh my God. This is horrible!”

“More so than you might think. Further analysis of the scene indicated damage inflicted by bubbles in spacetime collapsing on impact with the former atmosphere, releasing immense amounts of energy. A warp bomb.”

“You mean they sent a weapon that can travel faster than light!?”

“Looks that way.”

“Well… why are we here then? Why didn’t we just turn around? And why’ve you waited till now to tell us this!?”

“No use in telling you earlier, if you think about it. And if we didn’t die in battle here, we were always going to use the resources in this system to refuel and resupply. Bringing all our fuel, water, food, and air for the whole trip would’ve been stupid. But we can’t ransack their supplies now; we’ll have to mine everything from asteroids.”

“I, uh… I’m not sure I want to go home. Not when there’s people there who can do this. Who *would* do this.”

“To be frank, we’re out of options, Sergeant. Do you have a better idea?” The doctor walked back to the freeze caskets. Opening one up, he peeked at the soldier inside, and said, “Hello, Ensign Trillar. I’ve got some bad news.”