Commander Vaslova gave her orders calmly and succinctly. Others in the midst of the battle seemed frantic and confused.
Understandable, a flicker of thought ran through her brain, considering the damage to the ship and senior officers, badly wounded and off bridge. Sitting in the charred captains chair, Lenor was temporarily in command and doing her best to hold together a reduced, and shaken crew.
"Hard to starboard, helm. Stay on this vector. Tactical, stay frosty. We'll cross their bow this time. They'll be swinging back," she said with impunity. "With their near side blinded, we'll have them. And don't hold back. I want a full broadside. We've still got the four launchers and that'll be enough. Deploy the shield particles in three, two, one, deploy." Tiny missiles shot out of the port side of the ship, then exploded into a combined dark cloud. A nearly opaque, semi permeable cloud of lithium, iron and titanium dust, charged to a specific radioactivity, filled the space between the two ships. The camouflage dust raced towards the enemy battle ship. It would effectively blind the Kilari vessel, while Commander Vaslova's own targeting computers had already been calculated. Lenor Vaslova had the upper hand, this time. "Stay calm, everyone. We've got this battle won," she stated, secretly hoping they did.
"Yes Ma'am," answered tactical and the replacement helmsmen, in unison; The first helms person having been killed.
She waited anxiously for their last maneuver to catch the elusive interplanetary ship. For an hour, the enemy had evaded them in a fierce back and forth battle. Shooting and shifts of advantage had damaged the two. Though badly crippled, both were still lethal.
It was the last Kilari ship left. The rest of the invading force and earth's ships were destroyed. Vaslova's craft was half destroyed. the Tendor, of The Union of Planets fleet, was the last and only ship capable of defending earth, now. This near in to the home world, the Kilari craft could and would destroy terra if not for her intervention. If Lenor did not manage the situation to their advantage, properly and quickly, earth would die. It was up to them and her, in case of point, to kill with extreme prejudice before the Kilari dropped their biologic poisons into earth's atmosphere.
"Fire force field," Vaslova commanded, with a solemn voice. As the shielding drew closer to the Kilari vessel, the cloud between the ships compressed, becoming denser and less visually permeable.
Vaslova spoke to the helmsmen, now. "Steady," she said, coming up out of the command chair and placing a hand on her helmsman's shoulder. "We've got them."
As she had predicted, the enemy ship turned, again, and was now in range. "Fire at will," she said.
Tactical fired at the moment of lock. All hands watched the clocks with anticipation. The protective force field measures they'd sent on ahead, followed closely by the deadly ordinance, tucked discretely behind it, protected and cleared the path to the enemy ship. The accuracy across the kilometers of space was assured.
Physically seeing trails of flame coming out of the dust, as the four torpedo spread neared their ship, the Kilari returned fire with counter measures, trying to prevent contact. But the shields in front of Vaslova's attack held and the Kilari defenses failed. They were shooting erratic and blind until it was too late.
Everyone aboard Tendor, seemed to be counting off the seconds before the torpedoes impacted. The numbers, on the main targeting screens decreased. The silent explosions and subsequent concussions were seen but not heard or felt, from so far away. It caused an uproar in Tendor. The Kilari ship was destroyed.
What remained of the enemy craft -- wasn't much to brag about.
The news spread from the bridge to the crew of the Tender like wild fire. They knew they had gotten their adversary, though Tendor was still in a bad fix. The remaining men and women were desperately trying to minimize further damage, sealing compartments, restoring life support, and putting out fires. The victory gave them the extra incentive, and time, to continue but they were still fighting for their lives.
Lenor Vaslova took no joy in the death of the enemy. She was relieved the tactic had worked, but she was not really a part in the celebration, herself. The ship was still threatened, as was the well being of one-third of the remaining crew, still left alive. Their own debris was scattered both within and without the ship. Shattered machinery systems, decks, plating, and bulkheads and in every space and direction, much of the artificial gravity having failed, they were in constant danger. Fires were still raging in several locations as well as on the nearby enemy remains.
"Keep us from colliding with that debris, helmsman, but stay nearby, where possible," the commander ordered. Dangerously floating, too near her ship for safety's sake, the jagged remains of the battle, in the remains of other dead and floating ships threatened them. In addition, the floating rogue ordnance was a serious worry. Both from the Kilari's ships and theirs. It was going off from time to time on the remaining ship hulls, still, due to the armed devices striking debris. But fires in the remaining structural pieces on their craft was still a huge threat, too.
Below decks, the space burns aboard Tendor began warping and buckling Vaslova's ship into finer bits of wreckage as continued gas explosions, oil and chemical burns reeked havoc in diverse sections of the mighty battle ship. They were extremely hard to control, once started. Though ships company was slowly winning even those battles, the Tendor was still a very dangerous environment. The predicament they were in left little room for celebration for the acting Captain.
Besides looking way better than the Kilari remains, still out there with the main body of twisted framework only several hundred meters away, now, Tendor was just holding on, but not by much. The rest of her fleet was pulverized. Lenor doubted there would be any survivors on the Kilari ship, but it was as large as theirs. There might be pockets of survivors.
After surveying her screens and boards, and slowly seeing things getting under control, Commander Vaslova depressed a button and asked, "Fire control--Bridge. Lieutenant Warren. How many flight capable persons can you spare for a rescue mission?"
There was some pause before the crackle of his voice came across her sputtering headset. "Possibly, five men, Ma'am. We're still trying to get a couple more fires under control before what's left of the magazine blows."
"That has to be your top priority, Lieutenant. But when you can manage it, assign three of them to shuttles. I've already ordered two Marines to each and told them to suit up. Have them search for survivors aboard the Kilari pieces. They're drifting our way and away from us, fast, so hurry if you can. We need to know more about this murderous race."
The Lieutenant acknowledged her command and signed off, Vaslova hearing the background chaos, below decks, in the struggle for the ships existence.
The Kilari had shot their wad and lost, in their latest attempt to destroy the home world. But it was getting costly, their war against humanity. And would get costlier for both sides, very soon, unless something dramatic happened.
The distant terran outposts and spies, in and near the next spiral arm of the galaxy, had reported a huge fleet coming their way. The Kilari had pulled every resource and gathered nearly every ship, intel' and recon' knew of, and had amassed an enormous killing armada. It was sure to test the limited resources of this world and other colonized systems, in their arm of the galaxy.
The Kilari armada, would be here in two years, the tacticians had told the World Union, and through them, the loosely knit, Union of Planets. They expected minimum losses of all their inhabited world populations, terra had colonized, with earth included, of forty to sixty percent. Their military was not exempt, or factored in. It was expected to have greater losses. They feared for the planets in the path of the armada. If not complete annihilation, there would be very few survivors.
The vagueness of the Union of Planets had at last taken the Kilari threat, seriously. Too many years of apathy and attempted diplomacy had failed. They all, for the most part, had began to build war ships at maximum rates, thank God.
Five weeks after the battle, Lenor Vaslova left the planet side pentagon with her own command. Promoted to Captain and decorated by her own former ships captain, she had been acclaimed and emulated for her handling of the battle with the Kilari. From the President of the Union of Planets on down. It had been hard to take.
After her ship was nearly destroyed and her Captain and exec' badly wounded, she had managed the battle almost single handedly; Thus, preserving earth with supreme effort through tenacity, skill, and courage. Somehow, through her leadership and knowledge of maneuvers and their ships capacity to withstand as much damage as it had, and an uncanny sense at creative tactics on her part, Vaslova had won the day. As was said of her, during ceremony, "With a superior ability to overcome severe obstacles in the face of battle," she had triumphed and saved her shipmates and Captains craft.
Capturing a few Kilari for interrogation and study, was just icing on the cake. No one had ever done that before.
Her aide, a petite yet impeccably sensitive and well dressed yeoman whom Lenor relied on in private counsels quite a bit, asked what her plans were for the remaining evening.
"I'm going home, Leonard. I'm tired after shaking so many hands. The post ceremony celebrations were too long and too filled with congratulatory back patting and speeches that's given me a headache. I've been fighting for hours not to believe all the bull-shit. No one deserves that much praise."
Her aide smiled with understanding. "Perhaps not," he said, stepping forward to straighten one of three medals received that evening with a bandaged hand. It was the ribboned one about her neck, hanging between her breasts. Completing his task with full respect, he stood away, again. "Still, you did save the world, Ma'am. You almost have to expect that kind of accolade." He paused. "Is there anything further I can do for you, tonight, Captain Vaslova?" he asked, lightly emphasizing the newly appointed title with a small grin.
His attentiveness was touching.
"No thank you, yeoman," she told him. "You've been more than helpful, today. And thank you for steering me clear of some of the obnoxious, heavy handed, upper echelon of admirals and politicians."
Yeoman Leonard smiled.
"I'll see you tomorrow on board the transport at zero-nine hundred. Have a good evening," she said.
He bowed, as was customary to his superior. "Thank you ma'am," he said, saluted crisply and backed off, then spun and left, following Vaslova's returned salute.
Leonard 'yeoman' Knox had been her aid since making commander. He was an intelligent confidant, and talented aid, even a friend at times. Lenor owed a lot of her composure to his example and sound advice. Even in the midst of battle, he was invaluable. Able to take over at various functions, when needed, as he had been in this last skirmish. She had recommended him for The Medal of Valor, as well as a Purple Heart. His left arm was still in a sling with burns to both hands.
Lenor watched him leave, bouncing down the wide stairs to a military air taxi. He ought to be an admiral for all his wisdom, she thought.
She looked up and gazed out over the wide, green, open landscape that used to be North East Missouri, when it had been part of the old United States. It was now the governmental capitol of the World Union and centralized governmental for the Union of Planets; The vast conglomerate of solar systems that had joined forces, to some degree, for economic and military advantages, the wilderness of the galaxy demanded.
The Kilari were the second, and worse, genocidal race they had encountered but they had unified the worlds more than any other one factor.
The vast gardens, open fields, monuments, and enormous, widely spaced buildings, stretching out as far as the eye could see were beautiful. Even from up there, on Lenor's top of the stairs and vantage point, the entire world and this complex and what they represented, seemed to her worth fighting for and preserving.
The people of these worlds were her motivations to serve in the Navy. She strived to always do her best, as taught by her parents. Not to gain notoriety and place high in the rank and file, but simply to say, she'd done her best. When she finally went home, back in old Russia, Lenor wanted her father to be proud of her.
Taking the granite steps slowly to the base of the multisided, man made, accropoliptic octagon of rock and iron, Vaslova began thinking of the Kilari. They were man kind's newest, common enemy. Their goal was genocide, pure and simple, and that thought rattled her. They would then greedily take over the worlds they conquered. The plan had always worked for them, across their galaxy arm, in their remote sector. But these humans, across the next spiral arm, had thwarted them like none other.
The rumblings in the senate for newer and bigger ship yards, was seemingly, the only way to combat the incoming armada. Resources would be stretched to the limit for this upcoming war. Lenor prayed it would be enough. They were good, these Kilari. Too good, in Lenor's thinking, and underestimated by most politicians in the past.
Seven months into her new command, Lenor was summoned to Fleet Command, and given a sealed packet by a joint staffing of the sixth admiralty. She opened it in front of them, staring down at the, For Your Eyes Only, orders.
She was to report to the base, known anciently and still commonly, though inaccurately, as Area 51. They referred to it as, 'an undisclosed base, ' but she assumed correctly, where she was headed. Even to this day, no one knew it's actual designation because, it did not exist, did it? And after the war of the world that had nearly destroyed the planet and humanity itself, the area had grown to the size of Texas. The entire state of Nevada and then some, from all the surrounding former States, were being utilized for testing and development. Security was extremely tight and rigorous, with consequences for trespassing, deadly, as it always was...
Lenor had absolutely no idea what these new orders were about. She did know she wasn't to take her ship. They had immediately relieved her of that duty, the orders read.
It worried her about her maneuvers, during the last war games. She may have embarrassed the admiralty by theoretically pulverizing their defenses and ships, winning the mock battles with such decisiveness. It had been her third time at bat, as a Captain, under those games, and had hit home runs each time. She prayed this wasn't some kind of admiralty-pouting punishment; Being exiled to a do-nothing assignment. She loved her small cruiser and it's company. But orders were orders.
"Any questions you might have for us, Captain?" Asked the lead admiral of six, seated behind their long curved desk of mahogany.
"No Sir. The orders seem clear enough, sir," she bowed.
"Very well, then," the speaker for all of them said. They all rose out of those expensive leather chairs and returned her bow. It was an act of rare respect for a junior officer, especially for one of such a young age as Lenor. An honor she'd never expected to receive in a million years. "God speed, then, Captain Vaslova." he said.
She bowed, again, in return, lower than her superiors, of course, saluted, and exited the echoing room. She was directed to and boarded an awaiting transport. Someone would pack her things and bring them along, some time later, she was informed, if it hadn't been done already.
Something other than punishment seemed to be in the brewing stages, here, and she seemed to be in the thick of it, but hoping it wasn't a suicide mission. The idea of that was not an appealing thought she cared to entertain.
Shortly after boarding the shuttle, Vaslova was required to sign yet another type and more stringent, Official Secrets Act, document. She did so without reluctance. It almost felt exciting to do so.
The development base of 'Area 51' seemed very basic and unflattering. Plain, in fact. Just masses of hangers, runways, power plants, engineering and test facilities, and nothing but sand, rock, and mountain in between. The blast furnace of the desert struck Captain Vaslova more impressively than anything else could have, stepping off the shuttle craft that had flown her in. They got into the waiting air car. It quickly hustled Lenor and her military attachment, her junior Air Force guide and two armed Marines, to an underground roadway of huge dimensions.
They must have driven for kilometers beneath the earth and finally came to an antiseptic looking, man-made cavern. It was an enormous hanger and in it, off center and looking tiny for the size of the place, was a unique looking craft hovering just above the permacrete flooring.
It was a small, flat looking craft, as attack ships went, if that's what it was. Barely two-hundred meters long, she estimated. The nose flared horizontally and tapered outward, dramatically, from center to the knife-edge of its sides. The outside edges of the aft end were much thicker, shaped with wing-like structures, for heaven's sake. It was a lift-body craft and capable of atmospheric maneuvering. Simple aero-dynamics. Lenor knew it to be space worthy, too. It had to be its main function. The center, both top and bottom, were humped and gently tapered into the flaring wings. But there seemed to be no exit area for propulsion, just a long, sleek, tapering line of form, without vertical stabilizers. Clearly, this was something very secret and new to the world of propulsion and engineering.
Lenor couldn't help but believe this was her reason for being ordered here, to command or co-command this small, but deadly looking thing. It was anodized in pure flat black chemistry and heat coatings. It seemed faster than any craft she had ever seen before, just sitting there, and probably was. A real 'hot-rod, ' as they used to say.
"Welcome, Captain Vaslova," said a man, approaching in a white lab coat to meet her. He was followed by two other persons, dressed similarly.
His arm extending, offering his hand, he said, "I'm Senior development engineer for the Ark Angel, Evan Krittner. You may have guessed you have been brought here to command it?"
"Yes. I surmised as much. It's an elegant looking ship, sir. Beautiful lines and very trim. A real performer in function, too, I assume?"
Her comments seemed to please him.
"She is beautiful, isn't she?" he said, glancing. "And yes, her function is unique. We're very proud of what may some day become a common design for future space craft. It has some very special features you will need to be concerned with, before departure. Things you should be aware of as her Captain. We're here to walk you through them, if we may? I'm afraid it will have to be a rushed indoctrination. There is a time factor involved, I'm told."
Lenor felt it curious and almost humorous that Krittner presented the introduction as a question. She was here under orders, after all. Perhaps it was mere politeness on his part. Either way, she was anxious to know about the ship.
It appeared to be an awesome, almost mystical, piece of machinery. It must have capabilities she could only guess at and knew its development and performance had to be superior to anything ever made. She wondered if it was a spy mission she was being assigned to? That's what this place was all about, after all, secrets and exotics. But what was its actual purpose? she pondered. And why was she chosen to command it? There were plenty of good pilots around. Why her and why now?
Those were the burning questions. Questions, she was certain, would be answered soon enough as she made her reply, to the last question, enthusiastic. "Please proceed, sir. I'd love to hear about it," she exclaimed with her best pretty smile.
"Briefly stated, it's equipped with a new type of intergalactic propulsion drive, we've been developing for the last fifty years. It is the fastest ship to ever fly. Stage after stage of experimentation has perfected the design and though used in spy craft, for a number of years, there were always quirky design elements. They have all been worked through and eliminated.
"Although experimental, the ship should serve you well for your upcoming mission, which of course, we know nothing about. The base generals, I understand, will be briefing you on your tour of duty, here."
Lenor nodded understanding, her hands clasped behind her lower back.
"Well," Krittner said, mildly slapping his hands together. "Lets get into the functions. You will need very little real knowledge of them, but some of the basics will certainly be helpful.
"Most adjustments and maintenance will be handled by two very advanced robots. They're quite capable and redundant, but know everything there is to know about the ship and don't be afraid to rely on them, heavily. One is a back up, of course, but unless damaged, they'll both serve you well. I understand the voyage will be several months long, that's the reason for only one human officer. Limited space and life support for such a small craft."
As Krittner went through the briefing tour, Lenor was shocked at the ships abilities. It was capable of faster than light travel of almost limitless speeds and duration, though held to a specific maximum velocity. That was only because lack of experimentation at higher, ridiculous speeds, was as yet unknown as to the crafts reaction.
As it stood, the ship seemed vulnerable, to Lenor, as it had no shields other than the simplest form for inner atmospheric travel. Speed was its protection. Once up to cruising velocity, the 'Collatal' effect took over. That rare physics phenomenon formed an impenetrable force field around the craft that could prevent any known weapons penetration, or space debris, from damaging the ship.
The Ark Angel was designed for one purpose and that was to deliver a new weapon system. It was of such deadly force that the other two scientists, explaining it, feared and hoped it would never be widely known about. It was only to be used in extreme predicaments of survival, as was now before the Union of Planets. Lenor was shocked at its capability and could fully understand the need for extreme secrecy in its regard.
The flight controls were very much like her old interceptor, Vaslova felt. She had sufficient experience coming up through the ranks as a pilot, in the beginning. This craft, initially, seemed straight-forward, but it was very unique in several respects. And she was amazed with the simplicity of most it's systems, with the exception of the weapon. It was adjustable, thank God, for all its horrible power.
She understood, post briefing, why the engineers spoke of it with such respect. They tried to instill, successfully, the magnitude of its destructive force. There was nothing else like it in the arsenals of weaponry she'd ever heard of. Nothing was as powerful.
The ships briefing took about two hours, an hour longer than expected. Lenor felt she had a good overview of the ship. With all her refining questions concerning the craft, which seemed to please Krittner immensely. The Ark Angel, after all, was his baby, but she felt ready for the next phase of her orders.
The base honchos were actually another panel of two men and one woman. All of them, Air Force generals. Vaslova hoped there would be no prejudicial feelings with her being a Naval officer, but there didn't seem to be. They were quite respectful and supportive in briefing her on the mission, which, as the briefing progressed, seemed more dangerous than she hoped.
After some niceties and generalities were expressed, the lead speaker of the three told her: "The Kilari race, Captain, is as widely spread as we are, from all accounts available. But they have a weakness of concentration in power on three planets. Unlike our own that is generally spread out, throughout all the planets, more or less, equally. This concentration is a vulnerability. Even though earth remains the central law giving planet, we do not maintain centralized populations of leaders, here, as you are probably aware of, or manufacturing, nor military. Your mission, first and foremost, is to destroy the armada, already in-route. Then proceed to those three worlds and take out all shipping and satellites in orbit, with the exception of the final one. It is a heavy gravity planet and location of their centralized military complex. That one, we want you to wipe the skies of; We want it completely destroyed.
"We know this may come as a shock to you as you will be killing billions. But it is the least we feel that can be done to demonstrate the power we possess, and are willing to use against their every world. If they do not desist and decease their genocidal policies, they will have none. They can either make peace with the Union of Planets, and rule themselves in a manner befitting an advanced race, or die. They may join the Union and be governed by mutually agreed upon policies, sometime in the future. However, if they refuse to surrender, after your return, and they continue to harass any planet of the Union, we will win the war -- utterly -- by sending that ship you've just seen, out again."
Vaslova was silent for a moment, her brows slowly rising and would have been shocked, if not for the logic of it. She appreciated the full measure of the statement, verifying it by asking, "Meaning, you'll kill their every world with this weapon system?"
"Exactly. That is the Unions decision. If they continue on the course they, themselves, have set in motion, to destroy us and any other intelligent species, we will retaliate. My question, to you, Captain Vaslova, is this; Can you do this? Kill billions of Kilari on our say so, understanding why we have decided on such a dramatic and sadly necessary action?"
The speaker didn't giver her a chance to answer as he continued.
"Can you do what they have in mind for us? Can you destroy an entire race, if your superiors deem it necessary?"
Lenor took one of her deep breaths before answering, keeping eye contact as solidly as her conviction to duty. What other choice did human kind have? she thought. When a group of people or race has chosen to kill others without regard for the sacredness of life, with no reasons other than power, greed, or just plain malice, what choice did the attacked have but to defend itself?
"Yes, Sirs, Ma'am," Lenor nodded to the one female general, "I can and will. It is our only choice."
The generals looked at each other and then back at her. "Very well then," the speaker said. "After a few test flights, we will expect you to begin your assignment as quickly as possible. We don't want that Armada to even approach our space, much less engage any of the inhabited planets in its path."
"I understand, Sir."
"We also have another little surprise for you, you may or may not agree with. One of the captured Kilari, you took prisoner, several months ago, is going with you."
Lenors features rose again with, as he said, with surprise.
"We know how if must seem the wrong thing to do on a mission such as this. But we have interrogated him and scanned him in every known way and feel he will be a safe and cooperative passenger, though a confined one, on the journey. Of all those twenty-seven Kilari you took prisoners, this fellow was the librarian aboard the battleship you destroyed. He is a student of history and his views of his races current policy of genocidal conquest is based on the militarists of his people. He claims it wasn't always so, and like us, he feels it is completely wrong of his countrymen to act in the way they have been. They were as peaceful as anyone, at one time, he claims. He will fully cooperate with us to bring an end to another, most destructive conflict. We trust him, to a point, and that's why he will be confined for the duration of the flight except if and when you need him to communicate to his home worlds and people.
"We want an answer from them immediately, as to their future intensions, if possible. If we don't get a peaceful resolution to this Kilari situation, then there will be no Kilari. That is the policy of the Union of worlds. Can you, again, submit to such a plan, Captain?"
"Yes, sir, I can." God forgive me, she thought, but I can. What other rational position is there?
"As a side note and possibly the most important thought for you to consider and accept would be this one; You, in particular, were chosen for this mission due to your ability to tactically come out on top in all kinds of scenarios, during actual combat and the war games of the last year. We hope our confidence in you is justified. Your ship has only the one offensive weapon and flight is your best and only defense. If you are somehow caught in any kind of gauntlet where capture is inevitable, you are hereby ordered to use the self destruct sequence in the ship that will instantly reduce the craft and yourself to atoms. Captain Vaslova, we cannot have this craft captured. It is unique and carries such destructive power that it would surely be the end of human kind if a race such as the Kilari possessed it. Is that understood?"