Alone In The Night

Chapter 1 - Death in the Silence

To any of the nearly 60 billion citizens of the Terran Empire, this was a typical day. All businesses were operating as normal; every social system on the myriad of worlds controlled by humanity combined to form the symbiotic pattern of mercantilistic co-dependence that had remained in place for more than a century. All in all, this was a good day. For most of mankind…

On the other side of known space, more than 6 thousand light-years away, near the distant alien world of Voltath, a violent crisis was raging on the brink of war. Including those men actually involved in the altercations, only a handful of individuals on Terra even knew there was a problem. The Terran Empire had not engaged in an official declared war since their disastrous first contact with Horticans in 2359, the first alien species Terrans had encountered. There, minor cultural misunderstandings had led to 13 years of interstellar war and cost millions of lives. Terra's colonies had been devastated, and the Empire desperately wanted to avoid it happening again. Interstellar war was an ugly business that was seldom profitable and always very costly. The truth, however, was becoming more and more difficult to conceal from the Terran public.

When Terrans first encountered Voltath ships, they of course powered down all weapons systems to show they had meant no harm. The Voltath then responded with what they saw as a sign of respect, their weapons armed and fully powered. The Voltath culture used that gesture as a sign of great respect, meaning they assumed the other ship to be of greater power, and thus warranting defensive measures. Unfortunately, the Terrans responded with a warning shot and a heated demand that they power down weapons. The Voltath misunderstood the warning and responded with an identical gesture, mimicking the Terrans in an attempt to communicate, as they did not use hyper-accelerated photon trails to carry messages as Terrans did. The next shot from the Terrans pierced the Voltath ship's hull and powered down their weapons forcefully. What resulted was a multi-ship engagement that resulted in the destruction of 5 Terran ships on the line and cost almost twelve thousand lives. The Voltath government had officially declared war after that disastrous first battle, and had been screaming their outrage louder and louder every day since the whole mess started. All hell was breaking loose, and the Terrans needed a decisive turn of events to get the other side to the tables and attempt to clear up the misunderstanding before the Empire was forced to reply in kind with the declaration of war that would certainly cost hundreds of millions of Terran lives, and could cause the Empire itself to collapse.

An ultra-secret closed-door meeting was held on July 14, 2486 to discuss potential plans for turning the tide of the "war". Many plans were debated over the next 2 weeks, but the group was no closer to a solution. Emperor Constantine Krasnikov IV had signed a declaration of war, to be made public on August 30th, giving the Empire 47 days to come up with and execute a plan for victory. On July 28th, a plan was finally approved by the Emperor to solve the Voltath problem once and for all. It involved a single battle cruiser, the Ares, and one undercover operative. This operative would break into the Voltath capital, confront the leader, thus forcing the negotiation of a peace settlement, while the battle cruiser roamed around on the edge of the Voltath sphere of influence, distracting the Voltath fleet. This distraction would allow the small vessel with the operative to penetrate to the home system. The operative would be 1st Colonel Xander Hort, a highly decorated and well-respected member of Terran Special Forces. However, one factor that had not even entered the minds of the planning council was the existence of one disgruntled, and high-ranking admiral and none could have possibly predicted what his involvement would cause.

Fleet Admiral Jerec DuGalle had been a career naval officer his entire life. He entered the academy at 15, the minimum age, rising through the ranks quickly and with much distinction. Upon receiving the plan at his command station on Alpha Centauri, he drafted his own secret directives, altering the orders to the battle cruiser from a distraction mission to one of direct and total assault. He also sent a communiqué to the Voltath Primarch, whom he had been talking with secretly for several days, describing the mission of the covert operative and telling him how and where to intercept him. In one day, he set in motion a plan that would secure forever the Terran Empire's place as the dominant force in the known galaxy.

It was early in the morning on August 15th, 2486, as the Terran Imperial Warship Ares phased out of hyper-dimensional space and entered orbit of their next target. Sigma-Epsilon-Kappa, as it was described on the Terran charts, was a relatively small supply depot, but a very important link in the supply line to the Voltath outer colonies. As Captain 1st Class Drake Raynor tapped nervously on the arm of his command chair as his ship was brought int into a geo-synchronous orbit over the largest continent. When he felt the eyes of his executive officer, Commander Rawlings, looking at him from the duty officer's chair beside him, he took a deep breath and began to dish out his distasteful orders.

"Navigator, confirm geo-sync orbit of target."

The navigator tapped a few controls on his console and said, "Aye aye, Captain. Geo-sync orbit confirmed."

Drake then turned to his operations officer, "Lieutenant Kelson, confirm clear of enemy traffic, then bring the weapons systems online and lock the proton cannon onto the primary target. Prepare to fire a full charge."

"Aye aye, captain." After a short delay of tapping on keys he added, "No enemy traffic detected in the system. Weapon fully charged and locked on target."

As Raynor entered this action into the ship's log via the console on the left arm of his chair, he took one last look at this world. It was remarkably like Earth in many ways. The shape of the continents was similar, the water was the right color, and there was even a category 3 hurricane raging across the largest ocean, looming closer to a large island, like a broom about to sweep away a dust-bunny. As he took a moment to permanently burn the image in his memory, he turned again to his operations officer.


On the bridge the view screen flashed with a blinding green light, then went darker as the light filter on the view-screen did its work. From space it seemed there was a giant ball of green energy growing in front of the ship between tips of the curved wings. When the ball was almost the size of the primary hull disk, it stretched into a tight beam of energy directed onto the planet's crust. As the beam impacted, waves of green energy rippled across the surface of the land and oceans as the alpha charged energy was released into the very atomic structure of the planet. As the beam continued the release of its deadly alpha energy, the ripples spread farther from the impact point to engulf the entire sphere. When the beam terminated, the ripples faded and disappeared. Then the planet began to crack like a giant egg; great green rays shone like Jacob's Ladders from the cracks. The cracks then began to lengthen and widen until the planet itself fell apart like a crumbling cookie in a child's hand. As the light expanded and became even brighter, the planet blossomed like a supernova, and went forever dark. What had once been a planet teeming with life, was now a lifeless field of charred asteroid debris and molecular particles.

As the light from the spectacular event faded from the view screen of the Ares, Captain Raynor sat back in his chair tenser than ever. Though it was the most powerful weapon humanity had developed, and possibly the most powerful in the galaxy, using it at full power left a ship without power for almost five minutes. If an assault force chose now to attack, there would be nothing Raynor could do about it but accept that God had chosen that time for him to die.

Once power had been restored he relaxed in his chair and spewed his last order for the day to his navigation officer, "Lieutenant, take the ship out of the system and, when clear, set a course for the next target and engage at best possible speed."

"Aye aye, captain. We should clear the debris field in six minutes. Best speed should get us to our next objective in roughly three days."

As Drake rose from his chair all eyes on the bridge, save the helmsman who was inputting the new instructions into the nav-computer, followed his movement. Though he stood just shy of six feet, Drake Raynor had a presence that could not be ignored. He moved behind his chair and headed toward the 'lift, pausing only to issue orders.

"Commander Rawlings, the bridge is yours. Inform me of any changes or complications in the mission. Notify me when we engage the hyper-dimensional drive. Good day, gentlemen."

The only response that he received from his speech was a salute and "Aye aye, captain." from his executive officer, who remained in the duty officer's chair. The Captain's chair was for the Captain alone.

From space, the warship banked like an eagle as she changed her course. Like all vessels of her class, she was shaped to be unmistakable from any other ship. Her central hull disk, 20 decks thick, contained most of the vital systems: engines, computer cores, and fusion reactors. From the sides of the disk, the wings swept out, curving toward the front, the tips ending in 2 front facing ion lasers. Designed as a manifestation of the power of the Empire, and to invoke fear in enemies, she was very alone and vulnerable out here, a condition her captain was not used to and did not like.

When he entered his cabin he removed his uniform jacket and threw it on the bed. Then he walked into the bathroom, stared into the mirror for a time, and splashed some water on his face. All throughout this mission he'd had a nagging feeling that something wasn't right about this situation. At first he just brushed it off as a manifestation of his hatred of the proton cannon. He, like the many sea-faring captains of 18th century Earth, preferred the honor of one on one, or ship-to-ship combat. This new weapon was so devastating, so absolutely powerful, that it ended most wars as fast as a button could be pushed. Even so, simply erasing a planet from existence was not his idea of war; it was more like genocide. Wars in this era no longer seemed to be won by suppressing the military of the other side, but by completely annihilating the offending civilization. The battle for galactic stability had evolved into a mammoth rat race, where the rats that could not keep up were simply smashed like so many roaches under a boot. Honor, in general, no longer had any meaning in this galaxy, and Drake found that unsettling.

As he reentered his stateroom, he finally was able to shed his constant appearance of total isolation and seriousness. The Captain of a ship was a figure to be feared and respected. As a result, he seemed and was isolated from every other member of the ship's company. Raynor allowed his fatigue and restlessness to overcome him as he slowly removed his uniform shirt and shoes, as if he were peeling off a rubber covering that constantly hid his real self. He plopped down heavily in his 300-year-old easy chair, heaved a massive sigh of relief, and poured himself a drink from the decanter that was sitting on the table next to the chair. Sitting next to it were a single glass, a bucket of ice, and the book he was currently reading for perhaps the 9 millionth time: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was an original copy, the only still in existence, but certainly not the only great work Drake kept with him. The words of the great authors of history: Verne, Dumas, Doyle, Hugo, Forester, and others had comforted him through every trial he had ever faced and provided dreams and goals since his early youth. Today, like so long ago, he still turned to their pages, crispy and brown with age, whenever he felt the galaxy was getting too much to handle. The crack of the binding as he opened the book resounded like a gunshot through the cabin, making him feel more relaxed than he had in days while the unmistakable smell of old paper cleared and filled his mind like a potent drug allowing his thoughts to roam. But even as the centuries old words of Jules Verne softly lulled him to sleep, he was unable to shake the feeling that something was horribly wrong, and was about to jump up and bite him in the face.