This was a story I wrote a few years ago, back when I entered my intermediate stage of writing. There are a few problems with it that I’ll address in the commentary.
Last Stand of the Athena
General Dennis gripped the arms of his chair. An intense flash of light streamed across the bridge of the flagship Athena, covering it in orange and red hues as if the ship pointed into the sun. The light faded and the battle resumed through the holographic display.
The massive Horizon Corporation’s carrier frigate, Columbus, had been blown in half. The long neck connecting the bridge to the oversized holding bays had taken a direct hit, severing the two parts of the ship in a single explosion and leaving the smooth, rounded command center at the front silently turning in space. The massive cargo bays of the aft section continued forward as blue trails of plasma spewed from the still active engines. They burned for a moment, blowing away shards of the broken ship, then puffed out. The shape drifted through the mass of debris in front of it, colliding with parts of battleships, defensive flak, and rubble hurled from the alien ships as it floated past General Dennis’ battle group.
The remaining forty-eight large battle cruisers stayed in formation around the Athena, releasing beams of concentrated light. Their ranks defended the Horizon Corporation’s massive interstellar gate. This was the gate they came from, and they had to defend it at all costs.
The Nexus fleet had arrived and engaged defensive positions just in time to meet fleet of Corrupted ships as they entered the gravity well. The Columbus had released the short range frigates from its holding bays at the start of the battle. Minutes into the fight, the Columbus now degenerated into rubble, along with dozens of other large cruisers and frigates.
“General, sixty-seven percent of our close range frigates are down.” An ensign at the front of the Athena’s bridge called out. Six holographic displays surrounded him, all showing the locations of frigates and defense platforms around the planet Geolith.
“Is our flak doing anything?” General Dennis said.
“Not that I can tell.”
Why am I not surprised? He thought. The chains of metal, hurled through space at thousands of miles an hour could rip through alloy like paper. However the alien ships had some kind of energy shield that deflected the flak away, making it useless.
“What about the gauss cannons?” He asked. Unlike the flak, projectiles from the cannons weighed several tons and traveled through space at thousands of kilometers a second. They could deal the kinetic equivalent to a nuclear explosion concentrated to the area of a human palm.
“Uh, one second.” The ensign fumbled through the displays, trying to find the correct data. He stared at the screen, looked at the General, then turned back to the display.
“Say it, say it now.” General Dennis ordered.
“They were working. But all gauss cannons are offline.”
“Um, unknown, sir.”
Dennis nearly stood up, but stopped himself half way. He sat back down and ran his finger nails down his cheek. “All of them?” He couldn’t hide the anxiety in his voice. If the ambush failed, then there’ll be no way to defeat these things. He thought.
“The only things standing are the cruisers.”
“And their status?” Dennis said.
“We’ve lost twenty-four percent.”
That many? Good Sol. “What about alien losses?” General Dennis cringed, immediately regretting the remark. Dammit, I don’t even want to know.
“It’s hard to tell. The mines were effective. I’d say about forty or so ships destroyed.”
General Dennis saw that the mother ship hadn’t moved. It simply floated in the center of the Corrupted swarm. They’re toying with us, He thought. “Networks, get me FTL frigates.”
A boom echoed through the ship. Proximity alarms screamed throughout the bridge. Holograms puffed into existence, displaying warnings and hull configuration data. “What the hell? Status, now.” General Dennis yelled.
“Um, uh.” A ensign at the Integrity station glanced around his monitors. He stopped at one and sighed. “It’s only a piece of wreckage sir.”
Dennis nodded, then turned to the Networks technician who seemed to remain calm despite the hit. “Networks, get me the Sol-damn FTL frigates now.”
“Understood,” he said.
He’s on sedatives. How can anyone be this relaxed? General Dennis looked at the battle through the screen. The mother ship remained where it had been since the start. Dennis could see no weapons firing from it. They’re just watching us being slaughtered.
He turned back. “Networks,” he yelled.
“General.” The voice came through from the FTL frigates. The voice in the communication disturbed him. It held the same kind pacification the Networks technician displayed.
General Dennis clenched his fist and gently pounded the arm of his chair. Of course they’re calm, they’re millions of kilometers away. He sighed, gaining his composure. “I want eighty percent of your FTL missiles on the mother ship. Save the remaining twenty percent in case we need them. Fire when ready.”
“Understood, engaging SS-Link Systems.”
“Transferring data.” The Networks technician said.
They won’t see this coming, Dennis thought. The long range frigates had formed on the edges of the system. None of the ships could see the planet from their distance, and they needed a slipstream uplink from the Athena to target the enemy vessels. Each ship had six missiles attached to the hull outside, with each missile equipped with a faster-than-light drive. The FTL drive sent the projectiles hurtling through slipstream, non physical space, faster than light itself. Each projectile was undetectable, untraceable, and held several grams of antimatter explosives. The tactical advantage was worth the cost.
Across the view screen, the larger alien ships stayed close to the mother ship, protecting it. They looked like sea urchins, creatures that once lived in the oceans of Earth. The short range frigates flew around them, deploying drones that would latch onto the enemy ship’s hull and burrow into it. The displays highlighted each ship as it buzzed around the larger alien vessels, like flies surrounding a corpse.
The urchins would periodically fire beams of energy, erasing dozens of blips on the overhead hologram. The battle cruisers near the Athena fired their beams as cover, but the interfering debris distorted the light, weakening the lasers. By the time they found their target, the damage was negligible at best. General Dennis calculated as his eyes darted from screen to screen. He realized the flak disadvantaged his fleet more than it harmed the enemy. Where the hell are those missiles?
An alarm sounded inside the bridge. Light warped around the mother ship as space-time twisted from slipstream interference. Each of the missile’s warheads entered real space from slipstream and detonated on impact. Explosions flashed around the mother ship.
General Dennis leaned back in his seat. He knew the near impossible odds to detect something coming toward you from slipstream. When the explosions cleared, General Dennis could see the damage done to the mother ship. The spines and fins that ran along the ship now turned in space around the impact site. Blobs of superheated molten metal floated away from the wound. “Intel, status on the hit?” Dennis said.
“No observable change in radiation, gravity, or electromagnetism from the mother ship.”
“Unknown. They seem to be functioning normally.”
“But they were hit dead on.” Dennis said.
“Actually,” the ensign said. “EMC and radiation levels are increasing.”
“I’m picking up spacial anomalies.” Said another.
“No sign of the short range frigates on sensors. They’ve been wiped out.” Someone added.
No, this is bad. We’re so screwed. Neither the General nor the battle planners had considered what weapons or defenses the aliens possessed. The horrendous long and rounded black blob, with spines and fins all displayed in every direction, held some sort of power that had destroyed the Columbus and the short range frigates. Now it seemed it could defend against the FTL missiles.
General Dennis’ hands shook as he gripped the chair. His palms moved over the coating of sweat on the panel underneath. “Order the battle cruisers to fire everything.”
The battle cruisers around the Athena began to glow red as their weapons siphoned more power. Their beams arced through space, vaporizing the debris, turning them into clouds of shimmering dust. The supercharged beams bent around the hull of the mother ship, missing it entirely.
General Dennis, along with his crew members, stared at the image on the screen. They watched the alien craft warp the laser’s light around itself. Their final attack did no damage. None said a word. What do I do? General Dennis thought. What do I do? They want me to say something. His eyes darted from display to display. Formation orders, damage statistics, energy readouts, scans, none of it provided a way out.
“Order the, the gauss cannons…” Dennis’ voice faded to a whisper. No, they’re gone, he thought. “Do the battle cruisers have…?” He shut his eyes. The flak does nothing, the beams are useless. He hunched down, putting his hands over his head. No, no, we’re trapped. They’re going to destroy us. His nails dug into his forehead. We’ve failed. His task was to defend the gate, win or die. General Dennis’ head rose up. “Networks, send a communication to the Horizon Corporation, tell them to open the gate.”
The crew looked at the General. He glanced at them, passing each face. “Well, do you expect a better answer?” Still they didn’t respond. “Do I have to say it again? Networks, now.”
They all turned back to their consoles.
“Send word to the other ships, we’re retreating.”
The Networks technician turned to the General, staring him, disdain in his voice. “No word from the Horizon Corporation.”
“Fine, I’ll override it. Hack into the gate’s management computer, we’ll force it open.”
“General,” The Networks technician continued to stare. “We’re getting transmissions from the other ships.”
“What do they want?”
“They want to fight.”
Heroes, they all want to be fucking heroes. General Dennis watched another ship go critical in the formation ahead. It spewed fire into space as its systems destructed, the core collapsing. “Ignore them. Send the order again. We’re getting out of here and that’s final.”
“What about the FTL missile frigates?” The Network’s technician snapped.
“What about them?”
“Are we just going to leave them here?”
Dennis stared into the eyes of the Networks technician. Their grey hue had blue lines of cybernetic implants. General Dennis wanted him off the bridge. He wanted him court marshaled. But he had to get out alive first.
The ship shook as a beam from one of the alien ships passed close to the hull. The magnetic field of the beam pulled and twisted the metal armor of the Athena. The lights blinked as the energy assaulted electronics within the ship. Between flashes of light, the Networks technician’s eyes glowed in the darkness, still staring at the General. When the lights returned, General Dennis huffed at him. “We’re retreating, that’s final. Close the gate when we’re through.”
“Understood, sir.” The technician turned back to his monitor.
The bridge turned red as another beam cut around the ship. The General ducked this time. The other battle planners told him not to go through the gate under any circumstances. But they weren’t here now. They didn’t see the black masses of pure oblivion. General Dennis looked up, realizing he still breathed. One of the surrounding battle cruisers floated in front of the Athena. Both halves slowly parted from each other, metal glowing where the beam had severed the ship.
We have to get out, now. The General thought. He held onto the arms of his chair alerts sounded through the bridge.
The Networks technician’s voice broke through the beeps and screams of warning sirens. “General, the Horizon Corporation has told us not to open the gate. They say it will endanger the Nexus if the Corrupted get through.”
General Dennis’ heart burned. “I, I don’t care. Open it anyway.”
“Yes, sir. Performing military override.”
The ring behind the line of battle cruisers shined white as energy swirled around it. The waves of energy became a vortex, wrapping around itself like a fog. The haze met in the center, forming a brilliant burst as the cascade of forces formed the wormhole. “Order our ships out, now.” General Dennis said. “We’re going through the gate.”
The Athena, the largest battle cruiser and flagship of the Nexus navy, slowly turned about to enter the gate. The smaller surrounding battle cruisers did the same, facing the gate first. The ships waited for the Athena to finish her turn.
Through the display, General Dennis saw the swirling energy being drawn into the focus of the gateway, beckoning the ships to enter. “Okay, call the retreat. Get us the hell out of here.”
A ringing noise sang through the ship as the Athena’s sub light engines burned. The vessel moved forward, then stopped. The screaming of the engines grew louder as the output increased. Dennis looked around. “What’s going on? Status?”
“I don’t know. We’re stuck in some kind of distortion.” An ensign replied.
“Full throttle, I don’t care if we have to melt the core, just get us through. Fire the lasers, flak, everything we’ve got.”
Warning alarms yelled. Holograms flashed into existence. Red text signaled core overheat, electrical field damage, and laser overload. The General could feel thuds through the seat of his chair as the cannons launched flak towards the enemy fleet. Blue streaks of particle beams slashed toward the alien ships.
More warning holograms appeared. They blocked General Dennis view of the main screen, tinting it red and orange through the transparent displays. The other cruisers ignited their sub light drives and accelerated first toward the gleaming ring. General Dennis shifted in his seat. He vied for a glimpse of the wormhole. The frigates around the Athena disappeared into the vortex as they passed the gate’s event horizon.
The Networks technician spoke slowly and low, his voice barely audible over the whines of alarms. “General, transmission from the FTL missile frigates.”
“I’m pulling it through.”
General Dennis raised his arm. “No, don’t.”
“General,” the commander of the FTL frigates spoke through a haze of static. The interference of the gate and the alien ships distorted the connection. “What are you doing?” He said.
“Commander, we need you to cover us.” General Dennis ordered.
“General, why have you opened the gate?”
General Dennis leaned forward in his seat, still grasping the arms of his chair. “Commander, I said we need cover. Direct all remaining missiles at the mother ship.”
“General, the gate-“
“You let me worry about the gate,” his voice quivered. “Just give me the cover.” He yelled.
The commander of the FTL frigates closed the communication. Ringing deafened the ship as the engines shot blue rays out into space. Still, the Athena stayed at dead stop.
“Sir, the Corrupted are moving in.” An ensign shouted.
The beams did no damage to the enemy ships, and only signaled the Athena’s panic. Still they fired, like the last thrash of a dying animal. The mother ship led the rest of the alien crafts forward.
Blips sounded out from the blaze of the engine’s roar. The remaining FTL missiles appeared out of slipstream and crashed into the aft section of the mother ship. The Athena rocketed toward the open gate. The ship shook and buckled, warnings blearing like a hundred panicked cries. The Athena had been released, but damaged, and it slowly turned as it approached the gate. General Dennis watched the vortex encompass the view screen, its radiance filling the bridge around him. The Athena disappeared into the vortex.
The alien mother ship approached the open gate, still operational despite the attack. It glowed as it began to accelerate. The smaller ships of the swarm formed behind the giant spined monster. Space warped around the top of the gate as the final volley of FTL missiles appeared out of slipstream. Their warheads connected to the ring, spewing fire, metal, and waves of energy out from the wormhole. The vortex imploded, collapsing upon itself in a blast of energy.
The chorus of warning alarms died away. The bridge turned dark, now lit by the holograms. Stars turned outside the view screen. The Athena drifted in the desolate void of empty space.
General Dennis sat back in his chair, sweat dripping from his forehead. The ringing of the engines lowered to a gentle hum, leaving only the sound of hazard alarms and alerts of critical damage. The rest of the crew remained at the monitors, checking the surrounding area for hostiles, planets, other ships, or signs of human settlement. Some checked damage ratios and hull integrity estimates. Everything seemed to be running within limits.
“General, propulsion systems shutting down.”
General Dennis pushed his eyebrows apart with his thumb and middle finger.
“Nothing on scans, General.”
Dennis breathed deep, trying to calm himself. He looked up at the lights above him.
“No sign of the rest of the fleet.”
He wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Hull integrity is green.”
He stood up.
“The core is running hot, engineering wants us to stop here for a while.”
“Good, yes, do it.” He sighed and turned to leave the bridge. “Captain, you’re in command. Take us home when,” he breathed deep, “when the core is cool enough.”
General Dennis stumbled back to his room, fighting fatigue. He clung to the railing as the elevator took him to his deck. He kept the lights off when he entered his cabin.
Artificial gravity beckoned him to his bed. He fell to the sheets, adrenaline still circulating in his body. He thought about what had put him in that chair. Being the best tactician in the accumulated fleet did not prepare one for direct command. I should have remembered, “too much ambition makes you look ugly”. They were the words of his brother back home on Gelidin. He had been too eager to move through the ranks, and wanted not only to help make the battle plan, not only be there when it was used, but to be the one leading it.
He looked at his desk. There would be plenty of time to relax. He could easily indulge now. His body felt hot, itchy, hyped up on neurotransmitters. He needed a rest; he needed Huloid.
He searched the compartments of his desk. The military banned controlled substances on interstellar ships, but Dennis needed his Huloid. He found it in a locked box inside another locked box in his desk’s containment file. He opened both, and brought the plastic cylinder to his bed.
His breath wavered as he held the cylinder to his chest. Normally he could inject himself on the neck or arm, but he knew medics looked for signs of needles. His chest hair would cover it up.
With a twist and a snap, the cylinder injected its serum into Dennis’ chest. He lay back on the bed, feeling the chemicals take over his body. The heat faded away as his muscles relaxed. “Door, lock, grade seven.” He said before falling into dreams.
He felt cool at first. The chemicals of Huloid made his body tingle and gave him the sensation that he floated in nothing. It wasn’t the same as zero gravity. Zero G could be uncomfortable, especially for the sinuses. To Dennis, this felt like swimming through air.
White encompassed him; it covered the whole universe. Weight pressed up against the pads of his feet, and he realized that he stood on solid ground. Air circled around him. It contained tiny bits of fluff that felt cool to the touch. They grew cooler, then colder, freezing almost. The fluff stuck to his body. He tried to shake it off, but it seemed to encase him. He looked closer at the fluff; it was snow.
Jaycon Dennis realized that the trip had taken him to a very bad place. He stood on Gelidin, his home planet. The wind was a blizzard, the fluff was snow, and the ground was ice. Grey mountains stood like shadows over the horizon through the haze of spinning white. Just below their peaks were the arctic rainforests.
Dennis shook when he realized where he was. He stood on the ice fields of the frozen sea. He wanted to move, but the pads of his feet remained fixed. He tried to pull them up with his arms but they still didn’t budge. “Help me,” he shouted to the blizzard. “Someone help me.” He had to get off the ice fields. Bad things lived under the ice fields.
“Why?” A voice returned from the silent storm around him.
“Ransen?” Jaycon Dennis yelled.
The man seemed to materialize out of the snow itself. He stood in front of Jaycon Dennis with his arms crossed, a familiar scowl on his face. A black and red military uniform clung tight to his body, showing the bulging muscles underneath. “Look at you.” He said.
Ransen Dennis, the eldest of the Dennis clan, had the scars of a great warrior. A gash remained on his forehead and eyebrow, just as Jaycon Dennis had remembered it. His black hair had been trimmed to military issue. The beard that all Gelid men wore resembled only stubble on Ransen. A compromise with the military officials had allowed him to keep the sign of a warrior.
“Please, help me.” Jaycon Dennis whined.
“You know this isn’t real, right?”
Jaycon Dennis’ body jerked as he fought the ice beneath his feet. “It hurts, help me.”
“It doesn’t hurt. Your fear and pain are only in your head.”
Jaycon Dennis stopped, but still slouched in the presence of his elder brother. He couldn’t bring himself to look at his face.
“Is this what happens when someone doesn’t keep you in check?” Ransen said.
“What do you mean?” Jaycon Dennis returned.
“You understand exactly what I mean, you just won’t admit it.”
Jaycon’s lip quivered. “I did what I had to.” He yelled.
Ransen walked up to him and lifted him off the ice. With a simple thrust Ransen tossed him away. Pain hit Jaycon like a shockwave as he fell to ice. His brother approached, putting his boot on his chest. “Don’t you remember what it is to be Gelid? Didn’t you take the rites?”
“Yes,” he whimpered.
Ransen yelled down at him. “Did you take the rites or not?”
“You didn’t well enough.”
“I did. I harvested the kraken.”
“The rites aren’t a pass or fail test. They are on a continuum, like everything else.” Ransen pointed down at him. “You didn’t do well enough. I had to help you, everyone had to help you. Don’t you remember that day?”
The ice boomed beneath him. The sound caused chills through his body. He recognized it.
Ransen raised his finger to his face, running it along the scar on his forehead. “That day, Jarken almost died, and I got this. You didn’t fulfill your rites. That’s why father let you go into space. He knew you couldn’t be a harvester or a warrior. Had you done well, you’d have stayed on Gelidin. But you didn’t, you failed.”
“No,” Jaycon Dennis could feel tears running down the sides of his face.
“You are a master tactician, Jaycon, but it was my name and reputation that carried you through the ranks, not just your skill. You knew that, and you abused it. You weren’t content with simply being a good tactician. You wanted something you were too weak to earn on Gelidin. ”
Jaycon Dennis sniffed. “Why are you doing this to me?”
The ice began to crack as Ransen turned away. “I am not a hero, but my death did have worth. Can you say the same for yourself? What about your crew?” The snow spun faster, covering Ransen in a blanket of white. “What about the men you left behind?”
The ice cracked around him. He could feel water rushing up to the surface like a geyser. The spray flew into the sky, turning to frozen mist. “I’m not a coward.” Jaycon Dennis murmured.
“Show me.” Ransen Dennis said as his form disappeared into the silent blizzard.
Jaycon felt something heavy and sharp wrap across his body. He had always imagined what a kraken tentacle felt like as it constricted around someone’s torso. His thoughts on that sensation always imbued him with a feeling of nausea, and now it was just as he expected.
Spines dug into his chest as the kraken’s feeler wrapped tighter around him. It felt as if his ribs would break, or his stomach would bulge out of his mouth. Water encased him as the kraken pulled him down. The light faded, and darkness surrounded him. The pressure against his body increased. Jaycon Dennis went limp, and the pressure and pain overtook him. His mind went black.
He opened his eyes to see vomit covering the carpet in front of him. He had rolled off his bed, and expelled his most recent meal on the floor he now lay on. His muscles felt slow and numb. The drug still affected him. He got up sat on his bed. He looking down at the stain on the floor, and shivered, tears falling to the ground.
The gate had destabilized and thrown them out at a random location along the path of the wormhole. The Athena had been released from the wormhole 45 light years from the Nexus, the hub of all the Horizon Corporation’s gates. Every habitable star system connected to the Nexus via the gates, and the Nexus itself held the majority of the human race’s population.
After three weeks of slip stream and solitude in his quarters, General Dennis now sat on the bridge of the Athena again. “Networks, open a transmission.” Dennis leaned back in his chair. The crew around him was the same group of men he shared the bridge with the day of the battle. None had said a word to him since the start of his command.
“Done.” The Network’s technician said, finally breaking the silence.
“Nexus, this is the allied flagship Athena. We are in slipstream heading toward your position. We need docking clearance.” General Dennis said.
The crew waited. Through the holographic screen the electronic hub lines flew past the ship. It gave them the indication of movement through open space.
The station replied after some time. “The Athena? Is this a joke?”
General Dennis shook his head. “Nexus, we’re in need of docking clearance.”
The response came after a minute of silence. “What’s your serial number?”
“This is General Jaycon Dennis of the Alliance vessel Athena. Serial number NTS-2367-02.” He sighed, waiting, listening to the low hum of electronics. No response came for some time. Dennis watched the kilometers count down at the bottom of the screen. “What the hell is this?” He said to himself.
“We’re within telescopic visual range.” An ensign said.
The General waved his hand as if to brush the comment away. He tapped his fingers on his chair, still waiting. “Networks, what’s the lag time?”
“About fifty seconds, decreasing.”
General Dennis drummed his fingers faster. “Okay. Systems, prepare to dock. I don’t care what they say. I need to get off this ship.”
“General, I think you should really see this.”
“Fine, put it on screen one.” General Dennis expected to see the Nexus, a massive ring space station. Instead he saw a giant silver sphere in empty space. Countless space ships, illuminated by the HUD, moved around outside of the globe, emerging from circular openings in the metal surface.
“By Sol. What is that?” General Dennis said.
“Sir, designations say it’s the Nexus.”
“That is not the Nexus.”
The response arrived from the station. “General Dennis? You’re, uh, cleared to dock.”
Thoughts consumed Dennis’ mind. He tried to figure out why the station looked the way it did. And where was the fleet? The voices of the crew around him dulled to a murmur. They now directed the ship themselves, seeing that their commanding officer was now in a catatonic stupor.
How? This isn’t right. How could the station have changed so much in only three weeks? He blinked. Three weeks. “Someone, anyone, give me the date and time.” General Dennis commanded.
The rest of the crew stopped for a second, looked at him, then back to the monitors. An ensign read the date and time: 14 hundred hours, Tuesday, January 25th, 2754.
He stared at the Nexus. “Networks, what’s the time stamp on the transmissions?”
“Uh,” the pause from the normally placid Network’s technician made the General’s heart beat faster. “17 hundred hours, Sunday, March 14th, 2909”
The gate, he thought.
“General Dennis,” the Nexus transmission said. “You’ve certainly made the last of my shift interesting.”
Throngs of military men met General Dennis and the crew as they left their ship. Among the crowds of humans, General Dennis could see strange creatures encased in bodies of blue metal, their faces hidden behind dark face plates. Some humans had metal and technology sculpted to their bodies, holograms floating around them. They spoke to themselves, lights blinking around their bodies as they narrated the event. With the help of armed guards, the crew of the Athena made their way safely to the transporter ships that crossed the interior of the Nexus.
The Nexus had been redesigned as a hollow metal sphere. A shell of alloys and protective fields encased it, giving the inhabitants protection from interstellar debris and cosmic rays. Buildings and ecosystems lined the inside of the shell, with massive towers connecting it to the core in the center of the Nexus. The Nexus that General Dennis had known possessed an antimatter reactor core, which powered the space station and its gravity reactors. The gravity reactors pushed objects away, applying artificial gravity when the station resembled a ring. The same process produced gravity inside the shell of the sphere. It allowed an entire ecosystem to exist on the inside of the shell.
General Dennis’ transport ship floated over cities and buildings, sometimes passing over green areas with trees. What was once only a turning wheel in space was now an artificial planet, though a completely backwards one. The curvature on the inside of the station made General Dennis woozy and disoriented. The ship stopped at a docking port on one of the towers connecting the shell to the power unit at the center of the sphere.
General Dennis met his escorts when the ship docked. One was a woman dressed in some strange flowing robes, which shimmered under the lights as if the fibers were made of metal. General Dennis assumed the other man to be a soldier. Holograms covered his body like solid plates of armor. The light appeared to have a physical form.
“General Jaycon Dennis.” The female escort said as they walked down the hall.
Dennis didn’t respond. It sounded as if the escort spoke to herself.
“I never thought I’d meet a man from the history books. You’re practically stellar.”
General Dennis stared onward. He didn’t know what stellar meant.
The soldier nodded. “The Last Stand of the Athena. Back when I was in conditioning, we had an entire class devoted to historical battles. That was the one I always remembered. The first great space battle.”
General Dennis stayed quiet. Are they expecting me to say something? Should I say something heroic? “Okay,” he said. He clenched his fists. Dammit, that’s not heroic.
The two stepped aside when they reached a door, and bowed as it opened. Dennis walked through slowly, looking all around the chamber. It reminded him of pictures he had seen of the ancient chapels on Earth. The ceiling stretched high above, coming to a point at the top of the room. Banners and streamers hung from the walls, and lights hovered in space above him. Two figures stood in the center of the room. One was a human, dressed in ornate and shining robes of purple, gold and silver. He talked to an alien, a Zailan.
Fear and joy mixed inside General Dennis. They’re still around. He thought. General Dennis’ battle at Geolith, his only battle, was an effort to save the Zailan race. The Zailans had raced across the galaxy, fleeing from a disease that turned them into horrible berserkers. The Zailans called them the Corrupted, and they had slaughtered billions of their race throughout the galaxy. Eventually, the Zailans found humans, and pleaded for assistance. With the use of Horizon Corporation’s interstellar gates, the Zailans retreated into human space. Immunity from the Corrupted’s disease, meant the humans led the defenses. General Dennis had been the commander and tactician behind the first stand at Geolith. The very battle he lost.
The human noticed General Dennis, nodded to the Zailan, and walked up to him. He grabbed Dennis’s hand and shook it. “General Jaycon Dennis, it’s exquisite to see you.” He kept shaking. “Hero, and now time traveler. You have no idea how much ecstasy this brings all human and Zailan kind.” Finally, he let go of General Dennis’s hand.
“Um, thank you, sir. And you would be?” Dennis said.
The man leaned backward for a moment, then smiled. “Well, I suppose I can’t charge you for not knowing who I am. First Admiral Jonz Conway, Overseer of Nexus Defense.”
General Dennis snapped to attention and saluted.
The Admiral laughed. “Stop that. I should be saluting you.” He smiled. “It would be nova to see you again General. I have a network ready for you-.”
The Zailian cut in. “Can’t you see he is distressed enough already?” The alien stood behind the Admiral. Dennis could see his shining, featureless face. “Let him settle. Additionally, you said I could exchange words with him?”
“Yes, yes, you are very correct.” Admiral Jonz Conway saluted and bowed to Dennis. “Goodbye General Dennis, or rather, Arch Admiral Jaycon Dennis.”
Dennis paused. Nausea turned his stomach. “Excuse me?”
“I’ll explain more later.” He shook Dennis’s hand one more time. He turned to the Zailian and bowed. “Another time, Indas.”
“Indeed, thank you.” The Zailan bowed in return.
The Admiral left the two alone. The Zailan went over to the other side of the room, and sat down at an oval shaped bench. He motioned for General Dennis to join. Dennis nodded and obliged, but sat as far as he could from the Zailan.
“Thank you for joining me here, Arch Admiral.” The Zailan said.
He nodded, “Uh, thank you.” Dennis had seen Zailans before, but never this close. He looked across the alien face, intrigued by how their skin seemed to glow with an almost metallic shine.
“I will try not to make you tardy for other points of interest. However, I really would like to speak to you.” It said.
“Okay,” Dennis’s eyes darted around the alien.
“I am Indas.” The Zailan then made several humming tones. Human ears could not pick up the subtle harmonic phonemes of the Zailan language, let alone fully translate them. “I am the last of my race to exist during your time.”
Dennis jerked back. “You mean you’re the last Zailan?” No. He thought. Dennis leaned down, covering his face with his hands. Oh Sol, what have I done?
Indas’s head twitched. “I think you misunderstand me. I am not the last Zailan. General Dennis, I sense distress in your metabolism. What’s the matter?”
Dennis looked up at Indas. “You mean you’re not the last of your race?”
“I am not the last of my race. I’m sorry. I’ll speak clearer. I am two hundred and five Nexian years old.”
“That is still Earth years, correct?” Dennis said.
“Yes, Earth years are still the standard. I lived during the time of your battle.” Indas nodded to him. “I am the oldest Zailen, one among many. Zailans still live because of your deeds at Geolith.”
Dennis glanced at him. “Wait, what do the history logs say about me?”
“The firsthand accounts come from the men on the cruisers you saved.”
General Dennis squinted. “You mean the cruisers that went through the gate first?”
“Correct. You defied orders and opened the gate. That much is clear. By opening the gate, you risked the Corrupted passing through. If they found the Nexus, humans would be unable to counter attack. However, they didn’t, thanks to your efforts. Your gamble saved thousands.”
General Dennis looked down. This doesn’t make sense. I just wanted to get out. I didn’t do it for them.
“The final reports say that you stayed back to secure the gate. They say the Athena went into a frenzy to protect your men.”
That’s bullshit. Dennis thought.
“When the ships appeared at the Nexus, they relayed the reports to command. The information of the battle enabled us to find a way to effectively fight The Corrupted.”
I bet the logs say nothing about the FTL frigates I left behind.
“General, Arch Admiral Jaycon Dennis, you are a hero to all human and Zailan. If you had not opened the gate, we would have never received tactical knowledge of the battle. Many more human and Zailan spirits would have been lost. That is, if we survived at all.”
Dennis stared at the floor.
“I still sense distress in your metabolism still. Are you okay?”
“Do you want the truth about what happened?”
“Of course.” Indas said.
General Dennis held back tears. “All the stuff about me being a hero, it’s all bullshit.”
“I don’t understand.”
He lifted his head. “It’s wrong. The logs are wrong. I didn’t open the gate to save everyone. I opened it so I could save myself. I hacked into the Horizon Corporation’s computer and forcefully opened the gate. That ‘frenzy’ to protect the frigates? It was nothing more than a last resort, which didn’t even work. The FTL frigates saved us all. I ordered them to take out the mother ship while I fled.” Jaycon Dennis ran his hand through his hair. “I left them behind to die. Now history says I’m a hero when I’m really a coward. The real heroes are the FTL frigates. And what do the records say about them? Nothing.”
The Zailan put his arm on General Dennis’s shoulder. “Fear is a powerful drive for humans.”
Dennis sniffed, wiping a rogue tear from his face.
“Whether from foresight, heroism, or serendipity, the results of your actions are the same. You helped win the war.”
“…all because I ran.” General Dennis whispered.
“Those feelings are something you will have to put to rest yourself.”
Dennis remembered the dream he had of his brother. He remembered Ransen’s words: “I am not a hero, but my death did have worth. Can you say the same for yourself?” General Dennis rubbed his thumb across his fingers, feeling the roughness of his skin. Honor, name, reputation, the words pained him every time he thought them. “Show me”, his brother had said. Show them.
Arch Admiral Dennis nodded. “I want proper recognition for the men of the FTL frigates. History should know what really happened, even if it makes me a coward.”
Indas stood and extended a six fingered hand to Arch Admiral Dennis. Dennis rose and shook the Zailan’s hand. “I understand,” Indas said. His voice held a soft, warm quality. “History has given you interesting pretext, Arch Admiral. Your deeds will speak louder than your words.”
“I know. I just want to tell the truth.”
“And you will.” Indas bowed. His long metallic robes swept around him as he turned and walked to the door. He stopped and looked back as the doors slid open. “Arch Admiral Jaycon Dennis, I don’t think you’re a coward, and I think the others will understand.” Indas raised an arm and waved. “We shall meet again.”
This story was inspired by the game Sins of a Solar Empire. If you’ve played it, then you can probably see its influence.
This was one of the first short stories that I tried to get published, and for good reason, it wasn’t.
Aside from the punctuation issues when it came to dialogue, one problem was that the plot was pretty predictable as far as time travel went. The alien was a bit too cliche, and could have been replaced with any other formulaic alien trope without affecting the plot. In hindsight, I should have put more effort into making the aliens unique. One of the biggest problems I feel is that the ending is lazy. There is no moment where Captain Dennis is forced to confront the general populace about his place in history, and instead breaks down to an alien in private. There is a lot of tension in the former, almost none in the latter. There’s nothing at stake if Captain Dennis reveals his folly in a personal conversation, while in contrast he has more to lose if his announcement is broadcast to all known space. That makes a difference, and it’s one that can make or break a story. In this case, I think it breaks it. Perhaps one day I’ll go back and revise it, but with everything else on my plate, I figure that, at least until then, this piece is worth reading and worthy as an example of what not to do.