I awoke to the taste of my own blood. Caught unaware and half out of my impact webbing the blast had thrown me awkwardly from my chair, my head ricocheting against the console to my left. Ship time indicated I had blacked out for only a handful of seconds, the pain made it feel like days. Sensory warnings already flickered at the edge of my vision, my arm was broken in multiple places and neural overrides had settled into place to prevent the onset of debilitating pain. I didn’t need my implants to know that my lip was split open, the taste of blood in my mouth ensured I was aware of that. The radiation exposure warning that demanded my attention explained the burning heat emanating from the side of my face, a worry given I was acutely aware of what was required to penetrate the considerable shielding that lined the hull of the Guardian class IGS Aari.
My crew, barely a segment into their first tour, were struggling to function, unsure of their priorities in light of the sudden battering we had taken. “Stat Op! Tactical, sound off,” my command cut through the bridge alerts on a priority channel, feeding directly into the ears of the crew. “Shields stabilising, laser batteries alpha through delta online. All squadrons initiating immediate combat launches.” Lieutenant Narra’s report summarised what my own screens had already confirmed but her verbalization of our readiness lifted a noticeable weight from the rest of the crew. I turned to my right, where Ensign Issa was cocooned within the navigation pod. “Helm, sensory replay.”
There was a slight delay in her response, no more than a second but enough to betray distraction. I knew from the initial medical reports that her clone twin in engineering had received a serious injury, likely bad enough to disrupt the neural link between them. The potential feedback from unexpectedly severing connections had, on occasion, been reported to render the active twin catatonic, so the quiet “Aye Captain” as she fully engaged the pod came as a relief. “Logs report the appearance of a gravitational sinkhole, duration 135 milliseconds, local increase approximately 15 thousand times Earth standard. Triangulation places likely origin point at 2.9 million kilometers ahead with an exponential strength increase at the epicentre.”
The Ensign didn’t need to add that directly ahead lay the lifeless planet of IK3576-D, host of staging post three and home of the 3rd, 5th and 11th fleets. Of far greater concern was the shockwave that had hit us, only gravitational collapse munitions, crushers in naval slang, produced such an effect. I knew instinctively that the scale of the sinkhole meant the unremarkable planet, and the crews stationed in orbit, were gone. Their mass compressed in a near instant, held together by an artificial gravity field just long enough for nuclear fusion to occur. Tens of thousands of lives extinguished by a single warhead, an entire planet gone. The devastation was why gravitational weapons were banned across known space, no spacefaring civilisation was willing to risk their complete and utter annihilation in such a manner.
My shock was interrupted, if only briefly, by Lieutenant Sar. His voice, normally so full of warmth and energy, was quiet, flat. Scared. “Captain, telemetry coming in from the jump gate. The relays… The relays are reporting total communication failure with staging posts four through seven. They’re just gone…” His report hung in the air, silence descending over the bridge. With a single strike action the rebels had taken out almost a third of the loyalist forces, hundreds of thousands of souls dispatched to the judgement halls of their ancestors. The war for control of the Gerandas Empire had begun.
It was also, I was sure, already lost.