Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
A flickering light spasmodically turns the twisted wreckage into a black and white sketch of a chaotic mess. The illumination comes from a workspace lamp, it’s shade torn away during the bombardment that ruined this flagship.
There’s a glint in shadows. A half-empty bottle of ‘With a Bullet’ bourbon emerges to be placed carefully next to the battered lamp. A grimy hand, protruding from what were once pristine officer’s whites, retracts into the darkness.
“Hello, little beast. Who sent you?”
Teriela Masson, the owner of the arm, leans forward and steadies the lamp. The drone swings to get a better view of this tattered Admiral. In doing so, it reveals the perfect Union Roses etched into its tiny flanks.
“Good timing, drone from home. How lovely to see the unbesmirched emblem of those we died for.” She chuckles: “Nearly as pristine as the history you’d write to cover this dirty deed.”
It hovers, activity lights bright, signalling lights off.
“What, no praise for the woman who supported your betrayal to this inglorious conclusion?”
The woman reaches down, lifts herself a little, and drags an upturned ammunition box forward. Sitting back down, she winces, then extends her right leg and points to it.
“Shrapnel. Likely to be bone shards from my lovely Lieutenant. He threw himself between me and the blast that finished this deck off.”
She takes a long drink, puts the quarter-full bottle down, then grimaces sidelong at the drone.
“You’ve escaped, haven’t you? The entire uprising was a diversion. A million people put their faith in lying thieves. We’ll be lucky if ten thousand of us remain to face whatever justice the Thorns of the Union Gold mete out. All that propaganda about ‘making a better history’. There’s no way this is a coincidental outcome. You deliberately threw twelve colonies into bedlam.”
The signalling lights blink rapidly, staccato Z-code spelling out: ‘You delayed them longer than expected’.
“I fought to save people who believed. Not for a cause I’d started to distrust.”
The light flashes in reply: ‘You still fought’.
She picks up the bottle and drains it.
“As I intimated, I fought to limit the evil you begat.”
The bottle spins away to smash unseen.
“I fought because either way, I would have a victory.”
A short sequence: ‘How?’
“I’m presuming you loaded everything from the storehouses on Largo Four? It certainly looked like the sort of loot greedy cowards would take. All those containers of treasure and fine wine.” She leans forward: “My marines added a three shielded boxes and a receiver. The latter being the only way to deal with the Ulam Chambers in the former. I’m no kind of expert, but my people told me such units – taken from three Ra-Class nuclear pulse drives – could produce very big explosions if set up correctly.”
Teriela smiles: “About now, your security people are laughingly informing you that they’ve already found and disabled the receiver – assuming your security is competent, of course. Did you know that a clockwork timer to release a spring is all you need to trigger an unconstrained antimatter injection into the reactive mass? That receiver wasn’t to set anything off, it was to let me warn you of my paranoid mistake in time for you to eject those boxes and reach a safe distance.”
The drone goes dark and drops like a stone.
“Time’s up. I win. You don’t get to write the history.”
Reaching back into the shadows, she pulls out another bottle of bourbon. With a rueful smile, she starts drinking.
“Bring on the court martial.”