An Act of War
Sixteen women and twelve men sat around the table, an elliptical platform made of deeply stained oak. The room itself was small, and matched the shape of the table. A single screen circled the room from floor to ceiling, the door not even visible, displaying a blend of artistic and natural visages. It currently gave off little light, the current scene resembling a planetarium.
The main illumination came from the volumetric display - hologram - hovering over the center of the table. It displayed a set of three hundred and some blue and purple dots, in a rather tight formation. They were superimposed over another image, a toy model of the solar system itself, sun and planets represented by yellow and purple dots, respectively.
They were a hunted people, a part of humanity which the Solar Consortium willed not to exist, calling them aberrations, threats to their vision of humanity's conquest of the galaxy, with the Consortium leading the way.
One of the men spoke softly. "If we spare some of them, they might assume that there is a limit to the cannon's firing capacity." Another voice, female, followed him. "Worse yet, they might be right. This is borderline outside-context..." There was a brief silence, then a slight ping. "Relations calculated and programmed." The computer's feminine voice stated plainly. "The fleet will pass through the first optimal zone in fifteen minutes." The voice sounded soft and considerate, in no small part because it was.
"We have until they reach Saturn's orbit to fire." Another man commented. "But if we drop them all, they will spin this into a slaughter." A woman's voice responded "We're not prepared for a conventional attack. Or a follow up one if they feel like testing our limits."
"Do you know which ship he's on?" a more androgynous voice asked. A woman nodded in response. "That one." She gestured at it delicately, before sighing. Another man spoke. "It's an open secret that we're planning something, perhaps he wants to go-" another man cut him off "-a lot of them have been saying that, but they're expecting a more glorious end, I'm afraid."
Time passed in silence, the loudest noise being the soft beating of twenty-eight hearts. The computer's voice broke in again, softer than the first time, truly sympathetic. "Five minutes, I must begin arming the system. Have you made a decision, Carrie?"
"Four months huh? Solar? That's a long trip..." Jared's voice was rather solemn. He always missed her on these voyages. "Well, send a reply when you get this! There's no need for you to wait, I mean, what else do you do on that ship?" Besides coordinate the largest starfleet ever assembled? Sarah chuckled and flipped the screen off, assembling her uniform. Her dork of a husband could wait. At least her children were more reasonable about her time.
A number of people often asked why humans went on these missions. Robots would certainly be a lot less squeamish, true, but those in power did not like the precedent that set. To say nothing of matters of responsibility - there were innocents out there, on that station. Decisions needed to be made that, even in the 23rd century, no one liked to leave to a machine.
She stretched and left her quarters, making her way towards the center of the ship, bouncing between handholds almost weightlessly. The ship was in constant deceleration, which provided a moderate amount of gravity - enough for things to fall at least, if slowly. She made her way towards the command center - the 'bridge'. Clinging to a centuries-old term still amused her, thinking about it.
The command crew saluted when she entered, a wave of her hand and they returned to their own private duties and drills. Most would not be needed until they actually reached their target, and then, most of them would be piloting hunter craft, seeking out and exterminating those aberrations and traitors lucky enough to have evacuated.
Sarah had to admit, she had a lot of respect for their audacity, if not their intelligence. Putting no stock in the rumors that the renegades had a trick up her sleeve, she openly mocked those of her personnel that suggested such. Though would never admit her respect publicly, she expected it was a common sentiment. Orders were orders however, and she could not deny that, if left alone, these aberrations were a threat to the utopia the Solar Consortium was trying to build.
Still, these operations were not very popular. Opposition was particularly strong on Earth, many of whom thought these hunts by the Solar Consortium were rather hypocritical. As if no one on Earth ever tried to enforce their will beyond their reach.
These... runaways were not beyond the reach of the Consortium.
"We're approaching the Trojans, maam." Lieutenant Farold reported as she sat down. "No interceptions." An audible kff-kwoom sounded across the ship at almost the same time, making everyone on the bridge jump as a tiny rock slammed through the shields and into the ship's deflectors. After a tense second the bridge crew laughed nervously.
She nodded. Of course, none were expected, but at this point, her fleet was still moving at a notable fraction of the speed of light - it paid to triple check. The rock that just hit them weighed in at a few grams at most, and much bigger rocks were out there, though all of the dangerous ones have been tracked for decades.
The viewscreen showed nothing but seemingly motionless white dots, mostly stars, but also, one special one. One planet. It did not look to be approaching terribly fast, even at their speed, but there was a bright cyan circle around it signifying their objective. Or rather, a point some seventy million kilometers in front of said planet.
The rebels had already named the planetoid they were going to try and carve their superstation out of, but Sarah did not care to learn it. There was no need to - her fleet would launch its weapons from a billion and a half kims out, and that would be the end of them. They would then patrol the region, seeking out stragglers, and, luck prevailing, they would be back on Mars in a few months. Still, even the initial attack was a day away. She was only awake now because, no matter how sparse the Trojans were, she did not care for any chance of dying in her sleep, or losing her ship.
A notable klaxon took everyone by alarm once again, and a translucent display of the ship showed on the viewscreen, showing that the rear shields had just been half-ablated.
"The Halifax is GONE!" Ensign Lien screamed. "Tornado and Thornwood neutralized, th-" a bright flash flooding the viewscreen cut her off, and another klaxon call came as the ship's port shields were nearly vaporized. The ensign continued "The Sun Tzu, Coroquay, and Osaka-" another flash, followed quickly by series of loud, explosive booms, made by something very large tearing through the ship at high speed.
"Part of the Olympus just tore through us! Decks eight to ten have been compromised!" her Commander yelled as another thwoom sounded, a piece of another ship glancing off the hull.
"What the hell is attacking us!? Change course damnit!" Sarah yelled, though Drake had long since done so. As had other ships, several of which no longer existed anyway.
"Sensors aren't picking anything up! Our ships are-" Another flash of light. The computer's voice spoke up. "I am estimating that between thirty to ninety percent of ship mass is getting converted into energy."
"RELAY THAT!" Sarah yelled, referring to the fleet command on Mars.
"Confir-" and her vision turned to white. It may have soothed her soul, but admiral Sarah Tamerane, her ship, and her fleet, were no more.
Two hours later...
Jean watched the screen carefully, as she had been watching it for an hour now. It was rather silly, she knew, but she did not want to miss it. Her heart fluttered as tiny flickers of light began to show just to the left of the Sun, about twice a second.
It seemed a bit inhuman, firing this monstrosity at such an extended range. The people on those ships were sentient. They believed, until their final instant, that eternity stretched before them. And here they were taking that from them. There simply would not be enough left of anything in that region to recover much from, beyond the fact that it would take weeks to get to all of the debris.
They also believed that her kind -'Aberrations' and those that supported them, were not deserving of this eternity. The Martians - and the councilors above them, seemed to like their power, and were reluctant to see a new force of any kind develop that could dethrone the Arean reign.
After nearly three minutes, the flickering stopped, and she lowered her head, looking to a short man watching yet another screen.
"Are they gone, Haviv?" He nodded solemnly.
Welcome to the space age, where battles take seconds and wars years. She thought to herself.
Jean took a deep breath, and flipped on the station intercom. "Ladies and gentlemen of Ouranos Prime. We are safe." Loud cheers reached her ears through the vast corridors. For the first time in their lives, the 'aberrants' would know extended peace.
Mars would be back, and with a vengeance, but that would take time. A great deal of time, and the people of this great work would be able to prepare.
The next battle could be as much as a decade off, according to projections. She bit her lip at that. A lot was going to happen in ten years, and the Consortium would not be wont to send such a pittance the next time.
"This... Jovian Massacre, do we have any idea how it was done?" Councilor Eric Traffelt paced slowly.
"Yes, councilor, we're fairly certain, actually. Radio and other luminous events suggest a superluminal progression - a tachyonic effect. It is speculated that Ouranos Prime must have fired some sort of weapon even before we saw the explosions." The woman shifted her feet slightly, but spoke firmly, with intent.
"That was over half of our fleet. They are well aware of this..."
She nodded. "Councilor Wong has already begun drafting a proposal-"
"Admirable of her, but that's not enough."
"Send a missive to the other councilors. It is my ... feeling, that a full declaration of war is required for this... atrocity."
"No hostile action had yet been taken. They could have fired a warning shot. This utter extermination of life in this day and age cannot be tolerated."
She bowed. "I will contact them, sir."
"War eh?" Her husband said as he poured the tea, looking out over the Atlantic from her arcology unit. Janice sighed. "David has already gone down to enlist, Paul." He sat down across from her. "It's not like they'll be launching the attack tomorrow, or even next year, dear." He smiled. "The Consortium may be greedy, but they ain't stupid."
Janice closed her eyes. "He's joining just to see space! How can... there's just so much black out there, what's so wonderful about it!?"
"Plenty of room." Paul said.
"Apparently not enough for the Council and anyone else." She grumbled.
"You're just angry because now you don't want anyone to win."
A red mark on Paul's face served as a reminder of her only response.
Antony Smith saw the newscast with a solemn, respectful gaze. His grandnephew was in that fleet, captaining one of the smaller vessels. It had a name - Perseus, but that was of no matter now. It no longer existed. Neither did his grandnephew, or many of his friends and crew.
He let out an exasperated sigh. Did the Solar Council really think their prey would never fight back? It was an obvious, classic trap. People do not create megastructures without the intent of being noticed. They wanted the fleet to come. They wanted to let the Consortium - or at least Mars - know that they could fight. In a way, the news felt rather refreshing, even.
Antony looked down at his wrist, pondering the damage done to it from the accident earlier today. He was repairing it himself - refusing the medical droid's assistance, favoring a test of his own learning. The wrist could only barely be recognized as a derivative of the human skeleton - it could do some very inhuman-looking things, if need be.
The skin was splayed open, his forearm locked in place on the table. A rather slick-looking black-red substance that substituted for muscle was pushed aside, as he slowly picked out pieces of the shattered ball joint. He was taking his time, but, within the hour, he would replace the joint, and another hour would bring it to full strength.
The coilgun ricochet that shattered the joint had an order of magnitude more energy behind it than the gunfire that he half-remembered pulverizing the same hand at Omaha.
The same hand, over two hundred and fifty years ago... He was nineteen then. That bullet simply passed through his wrist and proceeded to make a fair dent in the helmet of the man behind him.
It would be doubtful if that same shot would even pierce skin now, but that was a moot point. A rebound hit from a gauss rifle fired at low power still managed to penetrate and shatter a metal-composite 'bone'.
Men could still die, it was just a matter of scale. He was but one of a few thousand men to have survived into their third century. Women seemed to have an easier time with age... He couldn't deny that it got to him, the desire to pass on the torch. In a way, he already has, and that brought him some comfort.
The never-ending progress of Science had given him many things. The use of his hand, the return to the prime of his youth, a new body, the ability to learn once again. He made it a point to become fluent in German as soon as the tutor was certified. Even that was decades ago.
He finished picking out the last piece of shattered composite, replacing it with a freshly grown joint structure, designed to conform to the shattered edges of what was left. He slowly pulled the 'muscle' tissue back over the joint, noting the gaping hole where the round had passed through.
It would heal on its own. He peeled the skin back over the muscle, pressed it shut, and it looked human again.
He made a fist as he released his right arm. He was still biological... sort of. He could still father children, with assistance. Given the proper supply of nutrients and surgery, they would seem just as invulnerable as he was.
He was still sapient. Still alive, and could still die. That made him human, no matter what the protesters said.
The vids were discussing the possible declaration of war. It made him chuckle, slightly. They spoke of the Jovian Massacre as some unprovoked atrocity, as if the nascent rebellion did not have a right to live on their own, as if life belonged separate from death.
The reality was plain to most of those on Earth. The Consortium, like so many before it, was unwilling to pass on the torch, especially so soon after they just grabbed it. Or rather, they got caught in a moment of stagnancy, and something new... something else, has been discovered.
Antony transported what effects he cared for onto his ship. Unlike some of the others sponsoring Ouranos Prime, he did not have a whole lot to his name. It did not matter, he could still help. He had his body - a beta strain - and did not forget the tricks he learned during World War II. Or since.
They claimed it was the 'aberrants' who killed his grandnephew, but he would not be fooled. The real killers were the ones who instigated the conflict, and forced the defenders to take such drastic action. Perhaps he was a little cold, casting away the death of his own blood so.
Perhaps, in accepting his new body, he did become a little less human.
It did not matter. The Council would learn the price of their actions, maybe in a decade, or perhaps a century later. But, eventually, they will come to pay it.
For all the hustle of technological development in the past three centuries, one thing was certain.
Time was patient.
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