The Will of Terra
TF 136 had seven days before the Ceresians arrived. They spent six of them in preparation.
Intelligence analysts worked round to clock, identifying constellations of suspect ships. There were three such groups surrounding Minas Station, a mix of civilian ships and orbital patrol ships, between fifty to eighty kilometers from the destroyers and their partnered ships.
Eight more clusters were scattered around the area of operations, beyond the blockaded zone but within weapons range of the task force. Nuclear freighters, one and all, with huge payloads and powerful NTRs.
Most were simply civilian ships traveling in convoys, or a couple of patrol ships observing the Terran blockade. Three of these constellations, however, circuited the space stations surrounding Minas Station, staying barely long enough to exchange cargo and top off their tanks.
Their crews did not disembark.
Which was suspicious. Why wouldn’t the crews leave their ships? No shuttles came to pick up crew members, no command modules detached to fly to port. The ships were manned at full strength 24/7.
Not only that, the ships maximized their transit time. When they pulled in or out of a station’s orbit, they fired their engines briefly, just enough to get going or to cancel their velocity. They were preserving their delta-v in a place where propellant could be bought for pennies per pound. That made no sense.
Their radiators and drive signatures were well within civilian limits. Close inspection with telescopes and active sensors revealed no weapons or armor packages. But… their behavior was suspicious. Suspicious enough that Silva had ordered the Enterprise to track all three constellations every second of the day.
As the days passed, the warships executed a series of subtle maneuvers. Short burns to reposition vessels. Slow pivots to present weapons towards suspicious ships and Minas Station, and slew the vulnerable engines away from them. Shuttles soared across the vast emptiness, the Marines stepping up their operational tempo to inspect and clear every ship they could.
The Marines worked from the outside in, choosing to inspect ships that would require the most amount of time and delta-v to access. They started with isolated ships, then small clusters, slowly working their way towards Minas Station. It was long, tedious work, but with every inspection they removed a potential threat from the board. They hadn’t found any contraband—nothing worth reporting, anyway—which went a long way to ease Silva’s fears. At the end of the six days, all that was left were the three constellations clustered around Minas Station.
And the three convoys the analysts had flagged.
As the clock ticked down, the Terrans stepped up their preparations. They checked and double-checked critical systems. They squashed bugs as they revealed themselves, fixed minor problems before they could become major ones. They blocked out hours to run TF-wide exercises.
They ate, they drank, they rested.
Now, at last, Silva secured himself at his console in the Combat Information Center. He beheld his empire, a small team of officers and ratings around him, ten blue triangles on the tactical display surrounded by red, yellow and white streaks.
Waters, also strapped into her seat, looked at him.
With a grim nod in response, she reached for the intercom.
“General quarters, general quarters. All hands, man your battle stations. Prepare for imminent combat.”
Klaxons rang throughout the ship. Silva retrieved his helmet from under his seat, fitted it to the collar of his spacesuit, then plugged the helmet into the life support interface in the bulkhead behind him.
He was getting old, his fingers forgetful. By the time he was done, everybody around him was in their helmets. A bad look. But they were too focused on their tasks to notice.
“Commodore, the ship is at general quarters,” Waters reported.
“Very good,” Silva replied.
The destroyers reported in almost all at once. The entire constellation was now at full alert, ready for combat. Silva took a deep breath, then reached for the radio.
“Minas Station, this is TSF Enterprise. We repeat our lawful demand: return our captive ships, crews and cargoes; and hand over the terrorists responsible for hijacking the Louisiana.”
Four times a day, every day, Silva had issued his demands on the guard channel. Every single time, Minas Station had studiously ignored him. Other spacers took the time to jeer at him. Like Minas, he ignored them too.
Today, however, was different. Today he would give them something they could not mock or ignore.
“Minas Station, this is Enterprise. You have one hour to comply with our demands. Failure to do so will result in escalation.”
This time, Minas responded.
“Enterprise, we reject your demands and denounce your blockade as an act of Terran imperialism.”
The speaker was the gravelly-voiced man who had first spoken to Silva when the Terrans had arrived at SEL-5.
“There is no need to escalate,” Silva replied. “Neither of us wants them. Simply return the ships and—”
“How about you return home, eh?”
“We’ll only return when we have our people and ships back, safe and sound.”
“That’s not going to happen. We don’t have them.”
“Then tell us where they are.”
“We don’t know. We can’t possibly know. We’re not responsible for the actions of every single ship that pulls into our port.”
“That is not a satisfactory answer. All of Sol saw the Louisiana enter your orbit. It is your responsibility to ensure her safety. By failing to do so, we will hold you responsible.”
“Hah! Do your worst.”
“One hour, Minas. You have one hour to accede to our demands.”
Everyone in SEL-5 had heard the conversation. Everyone reacted.
Warnings resounded across civilian radio channels. Ships burned away from the region. Patrol ships moved to protect their home bases. Fixed installations braced for impact.
The three suspicious convoys continued drifting through space, remaining on course.
Silva hailed TF 136 on the constellation-wide encrypted channel.
“Prepare OPLAN Alpha. Execute on my command, or if you see hostile activity, whichever comes first,” Silva said.
The operations plan was the first of five he had prepared, covering the most likely scenario. And the deadliest.
Seconds crawled past. Minutes oozed along. And suddenly fifteen, thirty, forty-five, fifty-five minutes had passed.
No response from Minas.
No movement in the blockaded zone.
No change in vector among the three suspect convoys.
The end of the hour arrived. Then a minute passed. A second. A third. Still nothing from Minas. Nothing from the surrounding ships and stations. Silva whispered a soft prayer under his breath. So did more than a few of the astronauts around him.
Four minutes. Five.
“All ships, execute OPLAN,” he ordered.
Warship radiators glowed, more brightly than before. Laser engines warmed to life. Armored shutters irised open, exposing delicate adaptive lenses.
Silent explosions rocked the Minas patrol fleet.
Dozens of narrow high-intensity laser pulses hammered fragile hulls. Radiators exploded, spewing clouds of superheated coolant into space. Shrapnel ripped through Whipple shields.
In the blink of an eye, all six Minas orbital patrol ships were neutralized.
Without radiators, heat would quickly build up inside the ships. Computers would melt, circuits would slag, crewmembers would boil alive. All that was left was surrender or—
Missiles rippled from the patrol ships in a single, massed volley. Scores, hundreds of them, streaking away to target the three manned warships.
Silva cursed. The Minasians had chosen to go out in a blaze of glory. There was no way this would end well.
As the warship lasers cooled and recharged, the laser star stepped up. Beams of ultraviolet lasers, invisible to the naked eye, slashed through the darkness. Every shot struck an incoming missile, blowing it to bits. But there was only one laser star, and a horde of incoming missiles.
The ships scattered. Nuclear microbombs erupted, propelling the Terran warships away from the missiles. Radiators swiftly retracted into armored hulls. Banks of point defense lasers scourged the incoming swarms. Short-range missiles ripple-fired, seeking out leakers. Coilguns swung around, preparing for last-ditch intercepts.
“Minas constellation radiators are glowing hot!” An astronaut warned. “Drive plumes spotted!”
Blockaded zone or no, no one wanted to get caught in a military engagement. Stray kinetics sailed on forever until they struck something. Chemical ships blasted off, seeking safer orbits. The atomic rockets, working from a cold start, desperately warmed up their nuclear engines. Life pods burst from the stricken patrol ships.
Other objects separated from the constellation.
“Captain! The merchies of Minas Constellation are discarding their cargo pods!”
Less mass equals higher acceleration. Simple enough. But there could be anything in those pods, including…
Red triangles streaked from the pods.
“Pods contain mix of missiles and drones! Thirty seconds to intercept!”
“Scramble the deployed drones!” Silva ordered.
The Stinger drones surrounding Minas Station awoke. Liquid methane and oxygen ignited in fiery plumes. The Enterprise’s computers shared sensor data, assigned targets, calculated vectors. As one, all sixty drones swarmed the Minas constellation, lasers and railguns flashing.
Tiny pellets struck missiles at stupendous speeds, blowing the fragile munitions apart. Lasers dueled in the dark, the drones knocking each other out. Swarms of drones and missiles interpenetrated. Warheads detonated like strings of firecrackers, taking out friend and foe alike.
The remaining Stingers closed in on the now-helpless Q-ships, ripping into them.
There was no hope. No escape. Not for mere NTRs, huge and unwieldy. All they could was pivot towards the drones, presenting their narrow nose cones in hopes of minimising their target profile.
A blizzard of balls and lasers washed over the Minas Q-ships. Every ball struck with the power of thrice its weight in TNT, scourging large sections of hull plate. Lasers lanced into the bowels of the ships. Massive explosions sent vessels into uncontrollable death spirals. Wounded ships tumbled slowly, bleeding coolant from dozens of holes, now out of the fight.
Their surviving missiles continued. At such range, there was no escape. Not from a swarm.
The Terrans had to blast them out of the sky—and brace for impact.
The warships had fully retracted their radiators. Now entirely reliant on onboard heat sinks, they had to juggle a menu of point defense options. Short-range defensive missiles rippled forth, their cold gas launchers adding little to the thermal load. Lasers blasted drones to shreds. Coilguns fired projectiles that unfurled into large umbrella-like screens to absorb incoming fragments.
The kinetic buses partnered with the destroyers now revealed their armaments: hundreds of tons of point defense missiles, enough missiles to engage every single seeker. More missiles swarmed forth, burning on high-speed intercept vectors with the incoming missiles.
The Minas missile buses separated.
Before there were only sixty-seven missiles to deal with. Now there were twenty, even thirty times that number. Submunitions the size of soda cans closed in on the Terran ships, each carrying a fragmentation charge. They were tiny, they were easily destroyed with a single shot, but there were so damn many of them—maybe too many to destroy.
All this Silva watched in equal parts fascination and horror, unable to tear himself away from the screen. By space standards, the engagement was nearly point-blank. Barely a minute had passed since the opening volley, and already scores of men were dead. And, he knew, more would die soon.
Absorbed by the massacre, he almost missed the next surprise.
Alarms rang in the CIC. An alert popped up in his feed. An officer reported the bad news.
“We’re being painted! Vampire! Vampire! Vampire!”
The suspect convoys had dumped their cargo pods. The pods blossomed into swarms of missiles. Five hundred in all.
All aimed at Enterprise and her element.
They must really hate us, Silva thought dryly.
More information streamed in. The missiles were capital ship killers. Boosted on powerful oxygen-methane rockets, they closed in at stupendous accelerations, greater than even an NPP ship could muster.
“Brace for evasive maneuvers!” Waters warned.
She rattled off a series of instructions. The reaction control systems fired, spinning the ship around. Microbombs detonated far below Silva’s feet, sending tremors through the hull. Silva clenched his fists and gutted it out.
Intelligence estimated the missiles had a delta-v of a mere three and a half kilometers per second. Easy enough to outrun; the Enterprise had over a thousand times that much delta-v. But there were hundreds of incoming missiles surrounding the element, approaching from every possible vector. They couldn’t dodge them all.
They didn’t have to.
The laser star switched targets, now burning a path to safety. The kinetic bus launched a mixed volley of missiles, point defense missiles to engage engaging the threats the laser star couldn’t engage in time, long-range anti-ship missiles to hunt down the Q-ships. The Enterprise and the CLS ship readied their weapons for point defense. All four ships retracted their radiators.
The manouvre had left the destroyers vulnerable. But there was nothing else Silva could do.
The first batch of vampires arrived.
Submunitions broke free and exploded into storms of shrapnel. Point defense lasers blasted away until they overheated, vaporizing what they could, then closed their shutters. Coilguns fired their last shots. Defensive shells plowed through the shrapnel clouds, attempting to catch as much incoming frag as they could.
It wasn’t enough.
The Lexington took the worst of the fire. Hypervelocity fragments scoured her stern. The heavily-armored reactor and engine compartments survived, barely, most of the surface diamondoid plating scoured to reveal the composite anti-spalling layer beneath. The decks forward of the engine were holed completely and exposed to space.
Thousands of seekers homed in on a kinetic bus. It discharged all its defensive munitions in a token attempt at self-defense, but there was too much mass in the battlespace, and every blast generated even more deadly fragments. As the shrapnel tore into its hull, secondary explosions ripped through the ship. The kinetic bus snapped into half, then shattered into a half-dozen smaller pieces. A dramatic way to die—but it was only a robot.
The other warships took fragmentation as well. But it was only frag. They spent their energies on the surface of the hull and penetrated no further.
Most of the missiles chasing the Enterprise burned out. Their propellant tanks expended, they soared harmlessly into empty space. The threats ahead of the Enterprise disintegrated in the searing light of the gigawatt ultraviolet laser. The kinetic bus took care of most of the missiles to their flanks. Enterprise’s pointdefense lasers engaged the few threats that survived the long-range fires. Even the CLS ship got into the action, picking out high-velocity frag with her point defense lasers.
That left twenty missiles approaching Enterprise’s stern from behind, where no laser or missile could touch them, no sensor could even see them.
Which didn’t mean they were defenceless.
“Deploy xasers on my mark,” Waters ordered. “Three… two… one… Mark!”
As one, the four ships of the element discharged a single fat cylinder from their engine tubes. Hurtling through space, the cylinders popped open and spilled out their contents.
A single microbomb, but much smaller than the propulsion bombs. These bombs didn’t have to be big, just big enough.
A circular frame ringed each bomb. Long rods extended from the frame, held out on movable arms. Sensors mounted on the cylinders fed the devices targeting data. The arms shifted, pointing rods on target.
The ships lased the microbombs.
Four nuclear blasts erupted as once. The rods absorbed a fraction of the tremendous energy of the blasts and transmuted into tight beams of directed X-rays.
Just like that, all twenty missiles vanished.
The ships initiated another blast, a true propulsion charge, clearing away what fragments had survived the hellish explosions.
Soon after, the Enterprise’s long-range counterstroke arrived.
The methalox missiles expended the last of their propellant and deployed their submunitions. Some were frag seekers. Others were long-rod segmented penetrators. Ship-killers, designed to weather a hail of incoming laser fire and punch clean through military-grade armored hulls.
The Q-ships’ defenses were… inadequate.
Rods skewered the hostile ships at ludicrous velocities. The munitions blasted through the hull, through compartments, through decks, and out through the other side, leaving clouds of shrapnel and plasma in their wake.
Coolant, propellant and fluids burst from the massive wounds. The fragments added insult to injury, widening and deepening the massive holes, letting out even more air, shattering even more of the interior.
For all the damage, spaceships were hard to kill. A ship could lose most of her compartments and keep on going, so long as her vital systems remained untouched. Many of the long rod penetrators had struck with too much velocity, coring their targets without doing significant lateral damage to the rest of the ship. Against the thinly-armored hulls, the frag was arguably more lethal. Most of the Q-ships went dead. Not all.
Those that survived, the destroyers hunted down. Having weathered the missile barrage, the destroyers now extended their radiators. The moment their lasers cooled, they went to work, pounding the Q-ships with long-range laser fire. They didn’t use their remaining kinetics. They didn’t have to.
With the Q-ships unable to defend themselves, it was a slaughter.
The Enterprise and her element pivoted around and burned again, killing their velocity. The laser star continued firing, taking out a ship. The only sensible thing Minas could do now was to surrender, and maybe, just maybe—
The laser star exploded.
Silva blinked. Leaning forward into his display, he tried to make sense of it. The icon of the laser star had turned gray, white shrapnel sprayed outwards, but there was no indication of what had hit it.
“What the hell happened to our laser star?” Waters asked.
Hamilton—strangely, incredibly, magnificently—hailed the Enterprise.
“We spotted an ultraviolet laser flash,” Hamilton reported. “It came from Rostock Station.”
“Captain, estimate the laser is in the five gigawatt range,” an analyst reported.
Rostock Station. A first-gen SEL-5 colony, a hollowed-out M-type asteroid rotating on its long axis. Composed of millions of tons of nickel-iron, it was naturally armored against all but the most devastating of blows. And with all that mass, it could easily absorb the enormous heat of a gigawatt-class laser. One they had built without Terran Intelligence learning about it.
Thirty thousand kilometers away from the task force, it could easily shred every Terran ship with that stupendous laser long before the Terrans reached their engagement envelope.
“Enterprise, this is Rostock Station. We cannot abide any attempts to dominate our system. You will cease your illegal action immediately, extend your radiators and burn for Earth.”
Silva grabbed his mic.
“Rostock, this is Enterprise. We are here on a counter-piracy mission. By acting against us, you have declared yourselves hostis humani generis.”
“Save your breath. You will extend radiators immediately and burn for Earth, or we will destroy you. The choice is yours.”
“Commodore, what do we do?” Waters asked.
A dozen eyes fell on Silva. Silva gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. He’d hoped it hadn’t come to this, but Rostock—a heretofore neutral station—had forced his hand.
“I authorize the release of special munitions,” Silva said.
He unzipped a pocket on his suit and removed a key on a chain. He inserted it into a keyhole at the edge of his console.
“Sir, what are you planning?” Waters asked.
“Target the laser on Rostock Station with lances.”
Her eyes widened.
“Sir, twenty-five thousand people live there!”
“We target the laser.” He closed his eyes and pressed his hands to his helmet, covering his face. “Collateral damage is acceptable.”
“DO IT!” Silva roared.
Muttering under her breath, Waters retrieved her own key, inserted it into her console, and turned.
“I confirm the release of special munitions,” Waters said.
A sharp hammerblow reverberated through the ship.
“Laser strike! Surface damage only,” an ensign reported.
“Enterprise, this is Rostock Station. This is your final warning. Burn for Earth immediately or we will burn you down.”
Waters looked at Silva.
“Drone control, engage the laser at Rostock Station with lances. Obtain targeting data from Lexington and allied ships. Navigation, point us at Rostock Station. All hands, brace for laser strike.”
There was no way to evade a laser in space. The best they could do was take the fire on the heavily-armored nose.
This was going to suck.
Four missiles leapt from the kinetic bus. Almost immediately, Rostock Station screamed on the guard channel. Silva ignored the hailer. The time for words was long past. He crunched himself down and braced.
A thunderous pop echoed in the bowels of the ship. The floor quaked under Silva’s boots. The lights flickered.
“Captain! Reactor deck took a hit! Both reactors are offline! We are down to emergency power!” the Officer of the Deck called.
“Damage control teams to reactor compartment immediately! Engineering, get the reactors online now!”
In any other ship, that would have been a mortal blow. Not Enterprise. Her backup fuel cell could keep her in the fight. The engine drew power from the microbomb blasts and did not need the reactor to function. The carrier continued her pivot, slowed but unstoppable.
The four missiles separated, streaking towards Minas on a one-way course.
Another gigantic blast hammered the ship. Closer this time, above his head, so close the entire compartment trembled.
“Captain! We’ve lost contact with the bridge!”
“XO, set ship on AI maneuvering! We have to complete the pivot!”
Microbombs burst in the darkness below. Non-essential systems shut down, preserving critical coolant and power. Silva lurched against his harness, tensing himself against the g-forces.
The missiles split open. Four warheads leapt off each missile bus and streaked towards Rostock Station. They were still tens of thousands of kilometers away. A hopeless distance for most missiles to cover under fire.
They were not like most missiles.
A third explosion roared through the ship. Diamondoid vaporised, alloy crumpled, compartments vented into space. Silva braced himself for the worst.
“Captain, we took the hit on the nose plate. Aft sensor dome offline.”
Silva exhaled. Sensors were replaceable. Men were not.
And Rostock had just made their last mistake.
The warheads detonated.
Sixteen thermonuclear fireballs illuminated the deeps of space. Like the popping of lightbulbs, they emitted a glare of blinding white light, and faded into nothing.
In space, a nuke released most of its energy as ionising radiation. At point blank it would destroy a ship. As little as a kilometer away, it would do little more than singe the paint and blind a few sensors. Detonating a nuke tens of thousands of kilometers from a target was useless.
A regular nuke, that is.
These were nuclear explosively forged projectiles.
Within every warhead, the hellish heat of the nuclear blast forged a tungsten projectile. Roughly the size of a fist, each slug hurtled through the void at ten percent of the speed of light.
Silva had anticipated that Rostock would try to shoot down the missiles. That was what he would have done. Why would someone launch missiles at you from so far away unless he was confident he could hit you with them? Instead, Rostock had tried to take out the Enterprise—and Silva with her.
That was their only mistake.
Destroying Enterprise, while no doubt satisfying, would not stop the missiles. Once the they were in flight, only their destruction could save the station. And now, it was too late.
All sixteen slugs slammed into Rostock Station. Even with the Lexington feeding the missiles targeting data until the final moment, thirty thousand kilometers was still thirty thousand kilometers. Even the slightest inaccuracy, a misalignment of a mere one-hundredth of a degree, would cause a clean miss. Simply striking the target was a major accomplishment. Hoping that they would destroy the laser, and only the laser, was a bridge too far.
“Captain, there’s no more laser fire from the Rostock,” the officer of the deck added.
“Point our telescopes at Rostock,” Silva said.
Only one telescope had survived the laser bombardment. It revealed a glowing, misshapen rock, surrounded by thick clouds of dust and vapour. Enormous craters pitted the side that faced the Enterprise. Chunks of nickel-iron broke free, exposing the hollowed-out interior to space. Rostock began to spin the wrong way, tumbling end over end, spewing more mass into space.
Over the guard channel, ships and stations screamed.
“Enterprise, what the fuck have you done?!” Minas Station demanded.
Silva closed his eyes. He hadn’t wanted any of this. But they had forced his hand.
The civilians continued screaming into the guard channel. The Terrans manouvred their ships, coming to a standstill. Waters dispatched damage control teams across the ship. Engineering reported Reactor One was back online.
And spoke into the mic.
“Attention all stations on this net. This is the Enterprise. We arrived in SEL-5 on a counter piracy mission. Minas Station refused to accede to our demands. As we engaged in a police action, Rostock Station fired upon us with their station-mounted laser. We retaliated with nuclear munitions.
“We did not want this. We did not choose this. The intransigence of Minas Station forced us to escalate. By siding with Minas, Rostock sided with the terrorists and pirates. By using their station-mounted laser, they placed their people at risk. We fired only when fired upon, only after suffering grievous damage to ourselves.
“Now hear this. Task Force 136 is armed with enough nuclear munitions to destroy every ship, station and installation in the system. What you have seen earlier is only a fraction of our payload. Our remaining missiles are loaded with nukes. We can turn this entire system into radioactive rubble without further loss to ourselves.
“We have not come to subjugate you. Keep your way of life. We ask only that you return to us what is ours. Resist us, however, and you will be utterly destroyed. This is the will of Terra.”
“Enterprise, are you mad?!” Minas demanded. “You can’t do this!”
“There is nothing you can do to stop us,” Silva said.
His heart pounded a tattoo in his chest. Guilt and shame racked his nerves. Still, he kept his voice steady, his tone even. He could not show weakness, not now.
“You’re going to kill your own people!” Minas replied.
“You admit that you are holding our people. Wonderful. Release them, and their ships and cargo, right now.”
A long pause.
“You’re bluffing. You’re not going to kill them,” Minas said.
“I never said we would. I will, however, point out that your station radiators and solar mirrors are within weapons range. I will also point out that you now do not have enough ships to evacuate your station.”
“You’re going to kill them anyway!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It will take a long time for your station to cook under its own heat. Long enough for us to inspect every ship leaving the station, and the entirety of Minas Station. Of course, any resistance will be met with nuclear weapons. And should we find that our people are not in the station, we have no reason to allow you to keep your station.”
“In other words, you’ll destroy us anyway.”
“You are currently too inconvenient to destroy. But if you continue to resist, you become too inconvenient to leave alone.” Silva paused. “That goes to all of you listening in on the net. We don’t care how you choose to live your lives. But if you so much as touch one hair on the head of any Terran, we will ruin you.”
“You… you’ve become the enemies of all mankind.”
The words stung. Deep. This wasn’t why Silva had signed up for the Space Force. On the other hand, he’d come all this way. The only thing he could do now was see it through to the bitter end. He had to finish the mission.
He could pray for forgiveness later.
“You love your people,” Silva said. “So do we. We love our people so dearly we will shatter worlds to bring home even one lost lamb. Do not test us. Comply with our demands and we will leave. Fail to do so, and we will escalate. These are your only options.”
The speaker for Minas sighed into the mic.
“We have your word? That you will leave when your people are returned?”
“And when we have the terrorists responsible for the hijacking of the Louisiana.”
“We want a guarantee.”
Vae victis, he was tempted to say. But such a move would surely make Terra the enemies of the entire Solar System for all time. Instead, he tried a different tack.
“You can see we do not have anywhere near enough ships and forces to sustain a prolonged occupation of SEL-5. You can also see we have more than enough firepower to destroy the entire system. We have no reason to stay here any longer than we have to, and there is nothing here that we don’t already have. Accede to our demands, and we will leave. That is all the guarantee you will have.”
Minas Station sighed again.
“Send us an envoy. We can discuss terms in private.”
“No, you send an envoy,” Silva insisted. “Better yet, you come here yourself. We will talk face-to-face. We will secure justice and repatriation.”
“…Do we have any other choice?”
“Very well. We will contact you soon with details. I must ask for a ceasefire. There will be no more violence on our part.”
“We will hold fire—only if you hold yours.”
Minas laughed bitterly.
“We have no more fires left.”
Silva slumped into his seat and covered his face with his hands. Waters made reassuring sounds, but he waved her away.
He’d won. He’d enforced the will of Terra. He’d placed every pirate and every terrorist in the Solar System on notice. All rogue stations and colonies will now think twice about preying on Terran ships and cargoes.
But at what cost?
He closed his eyes, and all he saw were ships and stations, slagged and scrapped and shattered, spewing volatiles and debris and people, tumbling forever into the endless dark.
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