“Bold is getting hulled!”
“Majestic is breaking up!”
“Gallant has sustained heavy damage!”
“Avarice is reporting multiple hull breaches, they're losing power!”
The reports kept coming, one after the other, as more and more ships received damage and were knocked out of the battle.
“Don't let them through!” Commodore Andora Steele roared from her command chair. “If they get past us, we won't have a home to return to!”
She need not have reminded her crew of that, they all knew what was at stake here, all knew that a loss here meant the end of not just the war, but of their people. Even if it meant every ship and its crew went down, their homeworld would not fall while a single ship of the fleet remained in orbit.
Andora could not recall what event had led them to this point. Whether it was the Arbolis campaign or the Styraki disaster or any number of the other major battles that had been joined in the century long conflict, it was impossible to tell. What was evident was where those battles had lead: to the doorstep of her people and their homworld. It was all or nothing now, there was no other option but battle now. No room for retreat or surrender.
She snapped out of her thoughts. “Report!”
“I am detecting multiple Thanatos missile launches from the enemy fleet.”
There was a long pause, and as the tech responded, his voice was cold as ice.
Andora's heart sank. “Order the planetary batteries and orbital stations to concentrate their fire on those missiles! Do not let a single one through!”
“Commodore, there aren't any orbital stations left, they're gone. The planetary batteries aren't responding either.”
Andora keyed the communications panel. “All ships, break off and engage those missiles!”
Despite the death battle her forces were engaged in, every ship did its duty, breaking away from their foes, exposing vulnerable portions of their hull to engage the deathly threat descending on their world. The Thanatos missiles were part of a set of weapons their foe had developed called 'planet killers' if even one of them hit...she shuddered. No. None of them would get through.
She watched as the fleet closed in on the missiles, several more ships vanished on the screen as they were destroyed in their mad dash to intercept the missiles. As she watched, two of the missiles were destroyed by the combined fire of the light cruisers, frigates and battlecruisers that reached them first. However those same cruisers were annihilated moments later by the warships of their enemy. The destroyers and heavy cruisers were next with the battleships on their heels and her own dreadnought, the Aegis of Thessa, quick to join them. Another round of missiles were destroyed by their combined fire but now the enemy fleet had come in close and were engaging ship to ship, creating a screen for the planet killers.
“The Magnificent just rammed one of the missiles! Brace for—!”
There was no time to brace for what came next. Designed to kill planets, the missile obliterated the Magnificent and sent a shockwave through the rest of the fleet, destroying friend and foe alike. The deck of the Aegis kicked and bucked, knocking Andora from her command chair to the deck as the entire ship shook as if its very hull would be torn asunder. When at last the violence stopped, she staggered to her feet, toppling to one knee and looking around at her shattered bridge.
“We—we're trying to find out ma'am...all systems damaged...we're—“
Andora turned her gaze towards the sensor officer.
“Three of the missiles, they're—“
Her eyes widened. “On screen!”
The display screen flickered and fizzled for a moment before a grainy image of the planet behind them came into view. Andora's eyes widened as the three missiles came into focus.
“No.” she whispered as the first missile penetrated the atmosphere and struck the surface. “No no!” she shouted as the second missile impacted and the crust cracked. “NO!” she screamed as the final missile struck and the planet began to fall apart.
Her husband, her sons, little Maya...all of them gone in a matter of seconds! She stared at the screen as the planet flew apart, and then something snapped. Her tears stopped. Her emotions cut short as her eyes glazed over and she regained her feet.
She slapped her communications panel. “All ships. Form up on the Aegis of Thessa.”
Her voice was a cold monotone and cut through the sobbing cries of grief from her bridge crew as she continued her broadcast.
“To every man, woman and child that hears this. The Aegis of Thessa is gathering what remains of the fleet. Once we have formed up, we will leave the system. Any civilian vessels that are warp capable are advised to form up within the fleet. We will defend you to our last breath.”
She severed the link and sank into her chair, staring blankly at the screen as the planet shattered.
“Ma'am...the fleet is responding, that blast disrupted the enemy as well, they're withdrawing, licking their wounds...I don't think they expected the Magnificent to ram that missile...they weren't prepared for the blast either.”
She nodded mutely, watching as the last vestiges of her homeworld broke apart. It no longer looked like a planet, but an orb shaped asteroid field. Thessa was gone. It took twenty minutes for the fleet to fully assemble, and another thirty after that for what surviving civilian ships there were to join with them. They rested in the center of the fleet, beneath the shadow of the massive dreadnought who now bore the bitter name of its own failure.
Andora stood up and looked around at her crew. Their faces said everything. Despair, defeat...they were beaten and to the bottom of each of their souls they all knew they'd failed in their duty to a degree unheard of in the history of the sector. She took a deep breath as prepared herself for what was to come next.
“All ships, move out, we are leaving Thessa.”
The fleet's engines ignited almost as one and they began to move away from the asteroid field that had once been their home. Several ships opened fire on damaged enemy vessels as they passed, their cannons and missiles taking meaningless vengeance on their crippled foes. The enemy vessels resisted as best they could but there was no mercy for them. Like sharks, the fleet assaulted them mercilessly, tearing them apart in singleminded barrages of fire that even the mightiest dreadnoughts couldn't weather.
When they were clear of what remained of Thessa's gravity well, Andora gave the final order of her official command. Beyond this point, there would be no more certainty, no more knowing what came next. This was the precipice upon which they waited and there was no return once the final step was taken.
“All ships, home in on the Aegis' warp signature. Warp.”
The fleet vanished. Each ship winking out of existence in a rippling expansion of flashing light as they sped into space, following the massive warship into the beyond.
Andora sank into her chair and raised her command display. What was it she had saved? ...if anything.
A dreadnought, three battleships, two battlecruisers, three carriers, seven heavy cruisers, ten light cruisers, thirteen destroyers, fourteen frigates, and seventeen corvettes with assorted support and strike craft formed her fleet.
Of the civilians there were nearly triple that number. Everything from small warp capable personal craft to massive liners, tankers, and freighters. There was no way to know how many people were on those ships...how many sub-warp craft had crowded aboard the larger ships, how many terrified people were crammed within their hulls? She closed her eyes and leaned back in her command chair. What would they do now? Their dominion was gone. Thessa had been the last bastion of their people and it was gone as well...and would their foe follow them into deep space?
They had to find a new place to call home...a new start...for all of them. She reached into her uniform's breast pocket and pulled out the picture of her family she kept tucked there. Her own face smiled up at her, alongside her two sons, daughter, and husband. They were all gone now...save for herself...she clenched her eyes shut as she crumpled the picture in her fist. Tears flowed unbidden down her face as she cried silently, no one on the bridge said anything.Whether out of respect for Commodore Andora Steele, Protector of Thessa, or out of personal grief it mattered not. Silence reigned in space as the tears of millions fell amidst the ashes of the stars.