When the Bell Tolls
Von-Triton sat at his desk looking out at the poll numbers as they roared in. Ellen Cross was up by two points in almost every sector of the Coalition. That couldn’t happen. Even now, the Empire crept closer to Osiris with every passing day. Their warships crashed against Coalition defenses, and what could he do but watch? If Ellen Cross won the election, she would fight this war the way she fought everything: with misinformation. She’d deceive the public into believing they were winning. She’d delude herself and her nation right up until the moment that the Empire landed soldiers in Primus – their first city: the hub of power through which the many governments of the Coalition gathered. The dream, only a few centuries old, would perish in the wake of her incompetence.
“Are you ready to do it?” asked his aid.
Sophia stood there, her blond hair pulled into a bun, and her piercing blue eyes convicting him of the crime he had planned on committing. Richard Von’Triton would be the next Coalition Director. Whatever the cost. He had to be.
“Not yet.” He didn’t want to steal the election – democracy was the foundation of the Coalition – a few minutes delay seemed to relieve some of the pain in his chest.
If anyone ever found out that he, the beloved Admiral, the hero of the Great War, had committed such an act of treason against the very ideals he fought for, the Coalition might very well fall apart. If he did nothing, that outcome might be certain anyway. There was no good decision. If it ever came out that Sophia Trotsky, hero of the Battle of the Tin Can Sailors and the Admiral of the First Fleet aided him – there would be chaos in the streets.
Chaos the Coalition could ill afford.
“I don’t want to do this.” He spoke to the air around him as he reached for his famous pipe.
“She will destroy our nation if you don’t.” Sophia sat down.
The last time the two of them were in this office alone it was to discuss her future. He’d given her the Earnest E. Evans. A ship the young woman made a legend within the fleet. Remember the Evans was still a battle cry that echoed through the corridors of every ship in the fleet.
“Yes. But if we breach our ideals to save them – what values have our ideals?” He lit the pipe and inhaled the famous Kadeshian tobacco, limited in supply these days.
“That judgement is best left to the historians.” Sophia grimaced. “Our grandchildren can debate the finer points of philosophy to their hearts’ content. Assuming the Coalition survives.”
Von’Triton nodded. “When did you get so wise?”
“When I started fighting a war.”
She used to be the vision of beauty – her face soft and approachable. Now Sophia had stern creases around her mouth and eyes that made her terrifying to approach. She was an Admiral through and through, and she bore the weight of those pins proudly. While Von’Triton was considered the hero of the war, thus far, Sophia was nicknamed ‘Triton’s Blade’ for a reason. She was the Admiral he used to cut through Imperial lines. She would – almost without fail. The Empire had a different name for her, The Spider: because she ensnared entire Imperial battlefleets in her nets.
Now they needed to ensnare and cut through an enemy inside the Coalition. Ellen Cross. The woman who provoked this war through her tariffs and embargos. She poked an angry wounded beast and entirely failed to flee.
“She is up three points. We have one hour before we stop counting.” Sophia gave him a look – that look.
The sharp now or never gaze that held beneath it such a finality. His soul would forever be forfeit should he choose to engage. His soul for his nation.
“Ms. Trotsky, please leave my office.” She had followed him down this road far enough.
“You are dismissed.”
With a quick salute, Trotsky turned and marched from the room. There was only one person in all the Galaxy who could command Admiral Trotsky like that. Well maybe two. He smiled, remembering Zhou: Sophia’s wife. Either way, Von’Triton was grateful in that moment to be one of them. Picking up his holocom he ran his hand over his computer and called up his contacts in the polls. An image sprang to life atop his desk, casting eerie blue light dancing across the darkened room.
“Do it.” He spoke the words so succinctly, so absolutely.
His own heart stumbled at hearing the calm in his voice. Words that pierced his soul and left it to die at the bottom of his heart, bleeding out like a soldier in one of the trenches.
With those words the bell tolled for him – but the Coalition would go on. Sophia’s grandchildren could debate the morality of his decision. He would ensure they had the chance. He closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair – and awaited the news he now knew would come.
Von’Triton would be the next Director.
A Moment in Time
Raven sat at the bar. The music pulsed around her like a heartbeat. She was waiting for her contact who said they had something truly remarkable. Something she’d been looking for since she first heard the legend of Nina Campbell and her mission into the abyss for divinity. A goddess and empress both. How quaint. The bar shifted colors, and a male dancer, with abs chiseled like a god, came towards her, swinging on the poles. Honestly, for once, that wasn’t the most exciting thing that would happen in the bar today. Regardless, a few Imperial credits found their way from her data-chit to his as she touched her wrist to his muscled thigh.
This was the life of the Union. Shangri-La’s spires were coated in flickering holographs enticing the most basic desires of the organic mind. It was a refreshing change, if she were being honest, from the conservative nature of the Empire. Sweeping up her drink, she downed the Shamballa scotch in a single gulp letting the fire wash down her throat. Another positive. In the Union she was of drinking age. Not so much in the Empire.
“Raven Lockwood.” Her name skipped across the thunderous boom of the bass.
Turning she saw a blue skinned figure approach. Lanky, almost ridiculously so, with long spindly arms, six fingers, and no nose that made him seem inhuman. Of course, he wasn’t human. He was a Geksheeshan. The stranger tilted his head, clicking his forked tongue as he sat down: the Gecko was listening for something. Through this noise, she couldn’t image he’d find much. Then again, he chose the spot, not her.
“Professor Hu Ywen.” He extended a lanky six fingered hand.
She took it. “I take it you are my contact?”
“Yepper.” He winked, before casting nervous glances around the place.
He was clearly trying to be at ease, but his lack of practice showed. When dealing with archeology, especially regarding Emperors and Empresses, things could get dicey. When dealing with Nina Campbell: doubly so. Hu’s unease was beginning to seep into Raven’s cool as well. She was a treasure hunter, it was true. Her life wasn’t exactly one of safety, but the Gecko clearly had never done anything under the table before. However, it enhanced the legitimacy of his claim that he had some knowledge about her desired target.
Though Raven had pure intentions – if only just this once.
This was a piece of history that had called to her since she was young. The minute she got a whiff that there was more than just myth to the tales involving the mythical expedition into the Galactic Core to look for the Lektherman holy land, she was on top of it.
“Look I can see you are new to this, so let me give you some advice.” She pushed her empty shot glass over to the bartender – between the legs of her attractive entertainment. “Don’t look so nervous.”
“I know.” Hu rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s just that this isn’t something a lot of people want uncovered. Especially the Order of the Divine Throne.”
“What does a dead cult have to do with anything?” Seriously – the Divine Throne was a cult that died out sometime around the beginning New Galactic Age.
“Everything.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out something wrapped in manila cloth and put it on the table.
The bartender returned Raven a full shot glass. She swigged it down before taking the cloth. She’d paid good money for this, and honestly wasn’t expecting much. However, right now with the jumpy Blueskin next to her, a strange quiver ran down her spine. The kind she got when everything was about to go very wrong.
Carefully, the cloth came free of what lay beneath. A small device, probably six inches in length. It was laced with visible gold wiring, and circuits. That was odd. Copper circuits hadn’t been a thing for a thousand years, maybe more. Her heart skipped a beat. Most data today was time-crystal based, meaning that data was transferred through subatomic channels. Pulling out her scanner she ran a quick wave over it. A word cropped up on the side – too small to read with the naked eye.
Her heart stopped. The Erebus. Nina Campbell’s flag ship through the GLA wars – and the ship she left on her expedition. The ship that had disappeared without a trace two thousand years ago, and Raven was holding a piece of it in her hands.
“Is this for real?” She turned to look at the Gecko.
“What’s on it?” she asked.
“I don’t know. There is no technology easily available today that can even read the data on that thing. All I know is it’s from the Erebus and it’s dated after the Empress disappeared.”
“That means someone has found the ship.”
“Yes – though the person who gave this to me said it was in their family for generations.” He rubbed his neck.
Movement caught her eye, a black cloak flicking through the crowds. Her heart stopped for a moment as she searched for the figure but could see nothing. Swallowing, she stood up and wrapped the chip in the cloth, depositing it in the safety of her jacket.
“Follow me,” Raven hissed to Hu. “We are being watched.”
The Geksheeshan turned a shade of sky blue she didn’t think was possible before he nodded and stood up. Brushing her pistol, Raven made sure it was there. If worst came to worse, she’d defend herself. Though a mystery now hung at her thoughts, as her childhood dream toyed with her mind. Who found The Erebus and when? Furthermore, was the wreck where they found it? And of course, how did she get there?
They made for the exit – and the beginning of a journey she’d longed to take her entire life.
The hardest part was how quiet it was. Utterly and completely quiet. That’s not what Luke thought he would face going to war. He thought he’d grow used to the artillery fire pounding around him like raindrops, and constant battle. If only. That would be so much easier. But so far war was silence. Silence that burrowed into his skull and tormented his every moment. For from the depths of silence came death – the type you never saw coming. The Empire had conquered world after world from the Coalition – but that didn’t make the battlefield safer. If anything, it made it worse. For in the darkness of the night the Coalition fought harder, quieter, and deadlier.
Here, on Providence, they’d fought Coalition forces for years, and had yet to take the planet in full. They wouldn’t give up, and that meant they were lurking out there in the night. Mosquitos, or something similar, buzzed around his head. Luke called them mosquitos because they were annoying and hurt when they bit him. They didn’t look quite right: perhaps they were mosquitos once. Providence had been a human colony for nearly a thousand years.
Around him sat his fireteam. Most were asleep, but Luke and Hecate were awake, on watch. Somehow, they were supposed to see approaching soldiers by starlight. In a jungle. Yeah right. They had to rely on their ears. Well Hecate could use her nose too. As odd as it was to have a lumbering one-thousand-pound gorilla-like-dog alien – a Lycanth – on his side, her sense of smell was a boon to the squad.
“When I get back from this deployment, I’m gonna eat a cheeseburger.” Luke spoke the words, but most of him felt them.
The sweet salty taste of the meat, mixed with the cheese and the dripping sauce that would fill his mouth with an explosive residue. Ancient food, sure, but the best kind there was. A classic from long ago that filled him with delight.
“I’m heading straight for a hotel, and gonna sleep for a year straight,” Hecate whispered back.
“No kidding.” Luke cast her a glance. “I could use eight hours of uninterrupted sleep too.”
Hecate laughed. “Best of luck with that. You’re more likely to find a pot of gold beneath a rainbow.”
Luke would settle for a juicy hamburger over a pot of gold, platinum, or just about anything else. The silence was broken only by the snores of the rest of the fireteam. Then something rustled in the bushes. He glanced in that direction; Hecate had heard it, too. Her massive cannon was in her arm a second later, and Luke pulled his carbine to his shoulder. The Hemlock sat heavily against him as he aimed down the sights, looking for the sound’s source.
“Maybe it was one of those big things with the long noses.” Luke forgot the name of the fauna but they were like giraffes with stumpier necks and a huge nose.
Hecate sniffed and made a fist and began to sign to him. Two humans. One Goration. Three other scents.
Luke nodded as the words came up on his heads-up display, in case he forgot his sign language lessons. It was time to get the team up. He kicked the sergeant in the side. The man grunted and sat up. A moment later the fireteam was silently awake, gripping their weapons and preparing for battle.
No IFFs were being transmitted.
That meant they weren’t Imperial soldiers. As Luke scanned the forest, he thought he caught a glint. Just a flash. As if something metal had met the starlight for but a moment. What he’d give for a moon other than a rolling ball of rock in the sky. Anything to illuminate the forest.
A solider went down in a blue flash of light. Luke was blinded, even for a moment. When sight returned there was a dozen figures charging towards them. He took aim and fired. A green bolt of light leapt through the trees, joined by plenty of others. Another solider went down. He only squeezed off a few more shots before the Coalition forces were on them.
He fought for everything he was worth. His energy blade popped into life at the end of his Hemlock, and he jabbed forward, catching a soldier in the gut. The man howled and collapsed. An explosion left fires blazing next to him as Hecate fell to the ground, her yellow blood pouring from a slash through her armor. Then hot fire pierced his back, and a blade of gold glistened through his chest.
It didn’t look real.
Not at first.
Nor did it hurt. Instead, his body collapsed beneath him involuntarily and the world began to spin. Feet roared passed, uncaring, as the sound of pain and death echoed across the forest for a moment longer. Then all was silent.
As the world passed, Luke took one final breath.
Man – he was gonna miss out on that hamburger.
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