[Author’s Note: This is a novel I wrote about fifteen years ago. It was my first attempt at writing anything longer than a history paper or short story. I’ll be putting it on here on Wednesdays and probably posting my thoughts about it on Thursdays. Everything is tagged under Nightwind Wednesdays. As is my custom there will be a Thursday post discussing the lessons I have learned.]
Luna Base, United Commonwealth
May 30th, 2356
1210 Terran Standard Time
Horatio stared numbly at the viewscreen at the front of the bridge. Footage from the search parties played out before him, documenting the destruction of Luna Base. Destruction he had caused. Never before had a weapon been fired from an Earth Command ship at an actual living, breathing target. He had ordered the first shot. And what a shot it was.
Even with years of experience and centuries of tradition, the Earth Command Navy had failed. Nothing could possibly have prepared him for taking a life, especially in this way. He was a monster. He should have realized the Base was just ahead. Should have ordered Lieutenant Commander Bixby to hold her fire. He could have stopped it from happening. But he hadn’t, and now people were dead because of him. Innocent, decent people were dead, their lives taken by his hand.
Horatio sat in his chair, expertly holding himself in place with his legs. He opened the worn, leather bound Bible on his lap and searched for some consolation, any consolation. But how could he be forgiven for what he had done? What could he do?
“I never took you for a religious man,” the Executive Officer said quietly.
He looked up. “When my father retired from the Navy he became a preacher,” Semmes explained. “I was raised in the church and have carried what I learned there for my entire life.”
Bixby nodded, “I never went myself, always thought that science had proved all that stuff wrong.”
“Do you still?”
She closed her eyes and covered her face, taking a deep breath. “To be honest,” she finally said, “Yes. I think humanity’s pretty much managed to nearly destroy itself over and over again, whether we’re blaming God or not.”
Horatio smiled weakly. “I do believe you’ve hit the crux of the problem, Lieutenant Commander.” He leaned back and looked at the ceiling for a moment before closing his eyes. “All we need to do,” he said slowly, “Is to look at what had happened recently. Riots, fighting, killing, death. We’re no better now, even with three hundred years of peace, than we were for thousands of years of war. We just do it in more terrible ways.”
Semmes shrugged. “My dad believed in it, but I never really did. When I don’t know what else to do, though, I go back to where he did. I guess it’s just a comfort thing.”
“Sir,” she said, “Please don’t blame yourself for what happened. I’m the one who fired the missiles. It’s my fault.”
“No, it isn’t.” Horatio sat up. “It’s my ship, my command, my responsibility. I should have realized what the commander of the Dragon was doing.”
“There was no way you could have known. The Dragon itself blocked out the view. I’m the one at the tactical board. I’m the one who should have seen it.”
He shook his head. “Let’s not blame anyone on this. We could blame the Dragon for running. We could blame the manufacturer of the missiles for not making a fail safe. For that matter, we could blame the builders of Luna Base for putting it where they did. But we won’t get anywhere with it. It happened, and now we have to deal with that.”
“And for that,” she said, gesturing at the Bible, “You turn to God?”
“I can’t think of any better place,” he told her.
“I thought God was supposed to be dead.”
“Philosophers and scientists have tried to tell us that for centuries,” Horatio offered a tight smile. “It’s no more right now than it was when Nietzsche said it.”
The tactical console beeped. “Looks like we’ll have to get through it quickly, Sir,” she said, adjusting the main screen to show a tactical map of the area around the convoy. “Dragon‘s attacking the convoy again.”
“Call Fernandez. Tell him we’re out of the fight for now.”
Bixby called the smuggler. A moment later his voice crackled over the comm system. “We’ll get rid of this pest, Horatio,” he said. “We’re entering weapons range on Dragon now and the Glory will be in range in about five minutes.”
Semmes checked the display and saw that the Brick‘s icon was indeed close enough to the Dragon‘s to engage. “Alright, Benito,” he replied. “Be careful.”
“If I was careful I wouldn’t be out here with you, Semmes,” the other man joked. “Don’t worry. The convoy will be safe.”
The call cut out. On screen the two icons maneuvered, attempting to gain an advantageous position for the engagement. At the top of the screen a new icon popped up, identified as the Morgan’s Glory. It moved rapidly toward the engagement zone, still too far away to influence the battle.
The belligerents flashed at almost exactly the same time, indicating weapons fire. As the initial salvoes connected, a series of alphanumerics below the labels updated, indicating damage suffered. Only lightly damaged, the ships fired again.
This time the Dragon gained the upper hand. Shifting to amber, then to red, the Brick‘s icon displayed serious damage to several systems. The weapons and shield indicators dropped to zero and the power indicator displayed only minimal readings. The Gold Brick was out of the fight, and possibly the war.
The icon for the Dragon flashed a third time, then a fourth. For the second time in half an hour Horatio stared at the viewscreen, completely powerless to stop a tragedy. The Brick’s icon faded completely to black, indicating nothing was left of the ship.
Horatio stood up and attempted to take an involuntary step toward the screen. His Bible shot off toward the center of the room. Without gravity and no longer held into his chair he floated up toward the ceiling. “No,” he said quietly. “It can’t be. No.” The icon stubbornly refused to relight. Throwing his head back, he screamed a deep, wordless, primal scream and dropped to his knees, weeping and broken.
An avenging angel, Morgan’s Glory swept in from the top of the screen, all weapons firing. More heavily armed and shielded than her counterpart, Glory was more than a match for the damaged Dragon and her tired crew.
The rogue patrol ship engaged the smuggling vessel for several minutes, slowly separating from the convoy. Finally realizing it was overmatched, Dragon made for deep space at flank speed. Glory did not pursue, returning instead to the wreckage of the Gold Brick.
“Order the search parties back to the ship,” Horatio ordered, wiping the tears from his eyes. “And return to the convoy.”
* * *
“Thank you for what you did back there,” Horatio said, staring out the observation window. “If you hadn’t driven off the Dragon there might have been no more reason to fight.”
“I just did what needed to be done, Commander,” Tina Morgan shrugged. “With you at Luna Base and the Gold Brick…well, I just did what had to be done.”
“No, you didn’t, Tina,” he shook his head, “Fernandez died because of me. You could have just left.”
“I don’t even want to hear about that, Commander,” she said. “Right now we can’t afford to have you second guessing yourself.”
“Why?” he asked. “I was at Mars when Dome 2 blew and couldn’t do a thing about it. I just blew up Luna Base and I sent Fernandez and his crew to their deaths. What good am I? I’ve been in the Navy for twenty years and the first time something really important happens I completely screw it up.”
“Quit blaming yourself, Commander,” she said. “At least you’ve been trying to do something to improve the situation. The people on the Dragon and Wyvern haven’t done a single thing to help the situation. If you want to fault someone, fault them.”
Horatio turned away from the window. “That’s not good enough, Tina.” He made a fist. “I can’t just blame this on other people.”
Morgan stepped around the table in the middle of the room and stood eye to eye with Commander Semmes. “Where do you get off, Horatio?” she asked coldly, “Deciding that you are God?”
“I haven’t decided I’m God.”
She snorted. “You haven’t, Commander? So how else do you explain the fact that it’s your decision who lives and dies?”
He turned back toward the window. “I didn’t say it’s my decision, Tina,” he said.
“Yes, you have,” she said, “All I’m hearing is that Horatio Semmes is responsible for every death in this war.”
Horatio sighed heavily and turned to face the smuggler. “You’re right, Tina,” he said. “I guess I just wasn’t prepared to have to face seeing people die.”
“No one was, Commander,” she said. “And I can’t imagine what you’ve been through in the last couple days, but I know you’ve done the best you could.”
“Yes.” She took her turn to look out the window. “Benito died because you asked for his help, that is true.”
“That’s funny,” Horatio turned to face her. “I thought you were supposed to be making me feel better right now.”
“I’m trying,” she said, growing frustrated. “But you won’t let me.”
“As I was saying. Benito died because you gave him a reason to die. He died doing something that was greater than himself.”
“He died for the people on Europa and Tethys,” Horatio shook his head at his lack of insight. “He didn’t die for me.”
“You’ve got it now,” she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. “I don’t know what to tell you about Luna Base, but I can tell you the Gold Brick was not lost for nothing.”
“Thank you, Tina,” Horatio smiled at her.
“You’re welcome, Horatio.”
“So shall we go make sure Benito did not die in vain?”
“By all means,” she said, turning to leave the room.
Midway Atoll, Earth, United Commonwealth
May 31st, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
2042 Terran Standard Time
The small, jet black shuttle set down on the helipad at the stern of the New Jersey. Robert Laird stepped out to meet it as the ramp opened. An overweight, shifty-eyed man stepped out.
“Mr. Laird, good to see ya,” the pilot said, extending his hand.
Robert took the offered hand. “Please,” he gestured toward an open door with his free hand, “Join me inside.”
“This is a fine ship you have here, Mr. Laird,” the scout said, looking around appreciatively. “I’ve seen pictures of it, but ain’t been this close before.”
“I’m sure,” Robert nodded, disguising his disgust at the man’s lack of sophistication. He would have to speak to Jared about the quality of the operatives he was recruiting. Fools and failures were not acceptable. This man was both.
Laird walked down a series of passageways, making sure to go faster than the corpulent failure of a man would be able to comfortably tread. He eventually led the man into a small conference room.
“I need to speak to this man alone,” he told the room’s only occupant.
“Okay, Robert,” Lesley, his personal assistant smiled at him and stood up. “I’ll be outside if you need me.”
“Good,” he said.
Both men watched appreciatively as she left the room. As the door closed he turned to the table. “Please, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the newly emptied chair.
The pilot raised his eyebrows. “That’s…that’s a fine looking woman, there,” he licked his lips. “Did you ever, you know?”
Robert rolled his eyes at the completely inappropriate gesture. “That is none of you’re concern,” he said coldly.
“I gotcha. Enough said, Mr. Laird.”
Realizing he could not win, the leader of Earth Now got straight to business. “Tell me what happened with Semmes’s convoy.”
“Well, Mr. Laird,” the pilot rested his elbows on the table. “I tailed the Phoenix outta Mars base, hidin’ in the drive shadow. Then, ’bout halfway between Mars an’ the moon my sensors indicated Gold Brick was scanning me.”
“You let one of the ships see you?”
“I didn’t ‘let’ it see me, Mr. Laird,” he held his hands up defensively. “Gold Brick seems to have had military grade sensors. They jes’ didn’t bother to tell me ’til it was too late.”
“That’s pathetic,” Robert told the man. “Because you messed up my plan may very well fail.”
“Sorry, Mr. Laird,” the fat man paused. “But if you don’t mind my askin’, Mr. Laird, what do you have against all them people in the colonies, anyway.”
“Actually, I do mind, you pathetic excuse for a man,” Laird said, drawing his pistol.
“Please, Mr. Laird, don’t-”
The report from the heavy caliber weapon rang loudly in the enclosed room. A single trickle of blood ran down the pilot’s forehead from the newly made hole as he slumped backward and fell off the chair.
The door opened and Lesley ran in. “Are you okay, Robbie?” she asked, frightened.
“Yes, I’m fine.”
She slowly scanned the room, looking at Robert, then the unarmed body of the dead man. Her eyes widened as realization dawned. “You…you killed him, didn’t you?”
“But why? What did he do to you?”
“Same thing you did, Lesley,” Robert said, fixing her with cold, angry eyes and raising the gun again. “Failed me.”
“You have learned what I am really doing. You are now a liability.”
Her jaw worked up and down soundlessly as she tried unsuccessfully to speak. Robert pulled the trigger again without flinching.
As Lesley crumpled to the ground, Robert removed his ear plugs and pulled out his communicator. “Jared, get in here,” he said into the small device.
The spy stepped quietly into the room a minute later. “What do you need, Sir?” he asked.
“Dispose of these bodies.”
Laird stepped over the body of his assistant to the door. “Oh,” he said, turning back to the operative, “I hear several members of the military have resurfaced and are attempting to regain order. I plan on letting them know I disapprove of their actions. Tell the Captain I plan on using the New Jersey for that task.”
“Right away, Sir.”
May 31st, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
2152 Terran Standard Time
Nightwind dropped into low orbit over the mottled brown and blue third planet of the Ah’dag system. The ship had transited to the system nearly a day and a half before, but had avoided approaching the single inhabited planet until they had gathered enough information to equip the landing party to deal properly with a first contact situation.
“The translator has been programmed with the languages that we’ve been able to pick up from radio transmissions,” Ensign Lindros informed the command crew and landing party gathered in the main conference room. “There shouldn’t be any troubles.”
“Excellent work, Ensign,” David complimented. “I’d like you to join the party, however. Just in case.”
“Anything else?” David asked. “Mark?”
The Ops officer nodded. “I’ve analyzed the level of technology and the possible threat that could be posed if they turn out to be belligerent.”
Templeton activated the main display screen. “The technology level of this planet is roughly four centuries behind our own,” he said, bringing up a technology tree. “They appear to have developed jet engines, rocketry and atmospheric analysis indicates atomic weapons have been used on more than one occasion.”
“They also have low level orbital satellites,” Commander Gregory added.
“Yes,” Templeton nodded. “And we have now entered their detection range.”
David studied the screen. “Has there been any reaction, hostile or otherwise?”
“No, Sir. Everything seems calm.”
“Is there any danger to us from the planet?” David asked.
The Ops officer shook his head. “If they managed a direct hit with a nuclear device we’d be in trouble, but I highly doubt they can provide any other danger.”
“Good enough,” David nodded. “The landing party will be led by Commander Gregory,” he said. “Any translation that is needed will be provided by Ensign Lindros. And these two fine Marines,” he gestured to the burly men sitting at the other end of the table, “Privates Nait and Lee will be rounding out the group and providing security.” He stood up, signaling the end of the meeting.
The assembled crew members filed out of the room, leaving David and Walter alone at the head of the table. “You ready for this, Walter?” David asked.
“Yes, Captain,” he nodded, “I’m still not sure it’s actually happening, but I’m ready for it.”
“Not sure it’s happening?” David raised an eyebrow.
Walter chuckled. “The idea of going down to a planet and making first contact with a completely alien species just seems crazy, Captain,” he smiled. “It’s almost like there’s no way it can be happening, at least not to me.”
“Well,” David offered, “I can go down if you want.”
Walter raised his hands. “That’s okay. I think I can handle it, Sir.”
“Good man. Now let’s get to this. I’ll be on the bridge if you need me.”
They left the conference room and turned in opposite directions. David headed up to the bridge and Walter down to the shuttle bay.
Walter entered the bay and approached the shuttle in the middle of the main floor. Chief Petty Officer Winston Carter stepped out of the doorway in the back and nodded. “She’s all ready to go, Commander,” he said.
“You’re our pilot, Chief?” Walter asked.
“Yes, Sir,” the short non-commissioned officer said. “Couldn’t leave you in the hands of just anybody.”
“I think you just want in on all the missions that involve visiting other planets, Mr. Carter,” the Executive Officer responded.
Carter shrugged. “Wouldn’t you, Sir?”
“I guess it depends of the planet,” Walter smiled.
“Well I think it’s a terrible idea!” an upraised voice from the back of the bay cut through the conversation. Both men turned to see Ensign Lindros and the two Marines, now fully arrayed in battle gear, enter.
Walter cleared his throat. “What seems to be the problem, Ensign Lindros?” he asked calmly.
“These, these…barbarians,” she announced, gesturing at the Marines, “Seem to think we’re going down to the planet to start a war.”
“Oh?” Walter asked. “What makes you say that?”
“Just look at them,” she said, incredulous at the XO’s lack of understanding. “They come in here like they’re about to get into a fight.”
“Did you ever stop to think, Ensign,” Walter asked levelly, emphasizing her rank, “That the Captain and I could have discussed this very issue and decided to have a fully armed escort on this landing party for a reason?”
She stopped short, deflating. “I, I guess it didn’t occur to me, no. Sir.”
“Then please to me a favor, Ms. Lindros,” he said, “And stop jumping to conclusions.”
“Aye, Sir,” she said, turning to walk away.
“Not command material,” Carter snorted when she was out of earshot.
“Hey, don’t tell anyone about that,” Commander Gregory laughed, elbowing him. He and Carter had served together on many occasions, including the XO’s first tour of duty.
“Sorry, Sir,” Carter pushed the elbow away, “I didn’t realize it was still a sore spot.”
The senior officer nodded, attempting to suppress a smile. “Very well, Chief Petty Officer,” he said, “You’re forgiven.” Unable to avoid it any longer, he broke into a wide grin.
Ensign Lindros walked up the ramp to the hatch of the shuttlecraft followed by the two Marines. As Private Nait stepped onto the ramp Walter grabbed his arm.
“Don’t worry,” he told him, reading the overwhelmed look in the man’s eye. “All you need to do is make sure we’re safe down there. With any luck you won’t even need to take the safety off your gun.”
The Marine nodded silently. Commander Gregory patted him on the shoulder then stepped around him and into the shuttle.
When all five crew members were aboard Petty Officer Carter closed the hatch and powered up the engines.
The shuttle drifted out of the main bay and pointed toward the planet below.