I woke blearily in the white bedroom of my mother’s starship to a faint beeping sound coming from the cockpit. There was no comforting sound of my friends chatting in the next room. No smell of food cooking in the kitchen. No sign of anyone, except for me, alone in the vastness of space.
I tumbled out of bed, and before doing anything else, I checked the time on the Code-Alpha signal.
I shut my eyes for a moment. I could hardly believe what my life had been for the past eight or nine days... I couldn’t remember how long it had been since seeing Duhrnan’s threat. I had more time to prepare for the attack on Earth than anyone else, but I still didn’t feel ready. We had one day left. It wasn’t enough time, but I’m not sure if any amount of time would have been.
My fur was a mess. I threw on my armour and black cloak, and stumbled into the cockpit.
When I entered the dark room, overhead lights activated, and the grey wall above the controls faded until it was a window. I peered out at the stars stretching before me, pooling around my starship. Then I took a seat, and flicked off the alarm which had been warning me that I was about to exit slipspace. I tapped a button on the ship’s computer and a holographic display awoke in front of me, showing the detailed schematics of the Shade Beam. I sighed deeply, and curled my fingers into fists.
The ship’s engines lowered in pitch, slowing, and space beyond the windshield snapped back into place. Before me was a blue and green planet; planet Earth glowed with the light of its sun. And I could see a mass of starships gathering on the far side of the planet, in the direction of its moon.
I inhaled the scent of fresh plastic, and wrapped my fingers around the controls, gently skirting around its orbit.
My gaze fell to Earth. I could make out the continents behind the swirling white clouds. Slowly I crested its shadow side, passing a silver satellite, and continued to fly toward the glowing white moon and the armada of battlecruisers that gathered there.
I shut my eyes and breathed slowly.
Then I pressed my finger into a plastic button on the dashboard, activating my communications channel.
“Joëlle,” I said shakily. “I’m back. Where are you?”
I was escorted to the Kronos by a squadron of TAU fighters. Joëlle was waiting for me in the hangar when my ship touched down. The hangar was full of commotion, with military officials and soldiers bustling about, but as I stepped out of my ship and my feet pressed onto the smooth, cool floor, our eyes met.
She ran over to me, decked out in her combat gear, as usual. She was smiling, and her purple dreads bounced with each step. She shoved her way through the crowd.
I walked toward her, blinking, overwhelmed by the bright lights of the hangar, and the deafening sound of the ships taking off and landing. I had only awoken minutes ago.
“Osax!” Joëlle said. “You made it!”
I nodded silently as she reached me. I looked down at her, and she looked up at me. People passed all around us. I remembered when we first met, in the vehicle bay at the base on Voren. Before all of this happened.
“Did you do it?”
“Yes,” I said. I held my arm out and activated my gauntlet. The schematics hovered above my hand, and we both stared at the translucent form of the Shade Beam as it slowly spun in the air between us. People had already been looking my way, being the only skyther in the room, but now a crowd circled us, watching. They were all here to defend Earth.
The massive room seemed to quiet. Joëlle’s brown eyes gazed into me.
“Osax? Where’s K? And Jonathan?”
I lowered my hands slowly, and my head and ears curled downward. The hologram disappeared. I screwed my eyes shut and clenched my fists. I could feel all their eyes on me. In the blackness of my mind I could see Omega, K, and my mother. I felt the heat of a fiery explosion, yet my hands felt cold, like they were pressed up against the glass of K’s stasis pod. Her expressionless face filled my mind.
“What?” said Joëlle.
“K’s heart stopped. Jonathan put her in a stasis pod, but...” I nearly gagged, trying to hold back a sob. Tears welled in my eyes, and ran down my cheeks, and I tasted salt. My body began to shake.
I breathed in slowly, and after a few seconds, I rubbed my eyes and face, blinking them open. I looked at Joëlle.
“He stayed behind,” I said.
Joëlle looked stunned. “I don’t know what to say... I didn’t expect anything to happen when you were down there, it seemed like a perfectly safe mission-”
“It was,” I said, shaking my head. “It was perfectly safe. But there was nothing we could do. K just... She just-” I exhaled sharply, and bowed my head, tensing my shoulders and arms.
I felt Joëlle’s hand on my arm. “Osax...”
“I’m fine,” I said, pulling away. I wiped my face once more, and looked away from her toward the opening in the hangar. I stared at the planet beside us. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, hesitantly.
“I’m fine!” I blurted, whipping around to face her. My arm shot out, pointing toward Earth. “Duhrnan will arrive in twenty-four hours to destroy Earth! How I feel doesn’t matter! All that matters is that we stop Duhrnan, and destroy the Shade Beam. We need to destroy it!”
I panted. Saliva dripped from my mandibles. Joëlle recoiled, clearly hurt, and I was hit with a pang of guilt.
Then I heard the voice of my old friend, Fiona. “You’re right, Talcorosax.”
The crowd parted behind Joëlle, and the admiral walked through the opening. She approached us waving her robotic hand my way, and I tried to relax my posture.
“Fiona,” I said, bowing slightly.
“Admiral,” said Joëlle.
Fiona nodded to us each. Her eyes carried heavy bags beneath them, and she looked exhausted, but forced a smile nonetheless. “You’ve got the schematics?”
“Then follow me. We need that analyzed, ASAP.”
I was alone on the observation deck, waiting for the analysts to complete their work, when Joëlle climbed into the dome-shaped lounge, breathing quickly.
“They found a weakness!” she declared.
I glanced over to her, then uncurled my legs and swung them over the side of the couch. I inhaled slowly. My limbs felt heavy.
“K was here, you know.”
“In this room, with me. Weeks ago now, but still... She was right here.” I looked up at the glass dome above us. Thousands of white dots sparkled before my eyes, but they felt so cold.
Joëlle hesitated, taking a step toward me. I was only vaguely aware of her presence. “Osax... Do you want to talk about it? We have a bit of time...”
“Look,” I said, avoiding her question. Joëlle followed my gaze.
Just then a fleet of skyther ships had arrived in orbit around Earth, and began their rendezvous with the TAU army.
“So you called for Astraloth’s aid,” said Joëlle.
“Of course I did,” I said. “Stopping Duhrnan is a matter of galactic importance. We’re eager to come to Earth’s aid.”
“Even though the TAU built the Shade Beam without telling the skythers?”
“Yes,” I said. “We don’t have time to be angry with the TAU right now. We need to work together.”
Joëlle nodded. “I agree. I’m glad you see it that way,” she said. “You know, just because some humans are bad, doesn’t mean we all are. I know from what you’ve seen we probably all seem selfish, or evil. But we’re not. I can’t help that you’ve had some bad examples though, what with the people who made the Shade Beam, and the Brotherhood, and Jonathan-”
“Jonathan isn’t evil,” I snapped.
Joëlle sighed. “I don’t- I don’t know... Maybe you’re right, but... he betrayed us. He would have had us all killed. I don’t know how you can forgive him.”
“Well, I can’t make you forgive him.” I stated.
“True.” Joëlle frowned. “I want to forgive him... But... Well, now he’s gone.”
“He’s on Voren. He’s not gone.”
“For now he’s on Voren, but he’ll probably fly off into uncharted space soon,” she said.
I blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Back on the Firebrand, before Duhrnan attacked Astraloth and we followed him to Malum, he kept telling me about how he wanted to take a starship and fly off into the stars... to start a new life away from galactic society. He wanted to build a home on a distant planet and forget about the troubles of politics and the military. I asked him why he hadn’t done it already, and he said he still had other obligations... That he had some hope for the world.” She tightened her jaw. “I think he was talking about the Brotherhood... and now that Ryner is dead, and the Brotherhood must be scattered, he probably doesn’t have any reason to stick around. Being a member of the Brotherhood, even if he betrayed them, he’s technically a fugitive, too, so...”
“He said he would look after K.”
She shrugged. “Maybe he will. When he told me about his dream, I asked if he’d be lonely. ‘Not if you come with me,’ he said.” She chuckled, weakly. “I guess if he brings K...”
“But she’s not a-” I exhaled. “She’s in a stasis pod. She wouldn’t be much company.”
“What’s the difference to Jonathan, being alone on Voren or alone somewhere else?”
I shrugged, and then sat in silence. My gaze fell to the floor and my mind began to wander.
“Hey,” said Joëlle, retaking my attention. “Come to the mission briefing with me. Please.”
I met eyes with her. There was such intensity in her gaze; a firestorm of emotion, but she kept it so well contained behind her eyes.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”
The briefing room was circular, and almost funnel shaped, with rows of benches descending closer to the middle. The benches were full of humans in military uniforms. In the center was a small platform for Admiral Fiona to stand on as she presented the findings and outlined her ship, and the fleet’s mission. Meetings just like this were being held on every cruiser in the TAU fleet as we spoke, in preparation for the upcoming battle.
The admiral pointed with a holographic stick at the schematics of the Shade Beam which displayed in the center of the room, just beside her on the platform, projected from holographic generators on the floor and ceiling. Joëlle sat next to me in the front row, and I leaned on my hands, elbows pressed into my knees. My legs were restless, constantly shaking. I had become accustomed to the smell of plastic mixing with the synthetic atmosphere of my mother’s ship, meant to mimic the air makeup of Astraloth, but Kronos’ air smelled strangely like Earth.
We were eight minutes into the briefing, and every minute that passed felt agonizingly slow.
“...and its shielding system should be fully functional.” Fiona pointed to the outside hull of the ship. “This means that it cannot be damaged from the outside.”
The Shade Beam looked like a gargantuan grey cone. The main barrel of the weapon was a small opening on the flat side of the larger end, but the hull was outfitted with countless auto-turrets for taking down smaller assailants.
I raised my hand. Fiona looked at me, and raised an eyebrow. I got the sense that I wasn’t supposed to interrupt the presentation, but I had never been to a TAU military briefing before and no one had actually told me the rules.
Fiona cleared her throat. “King Talcorosax, would you like to add something to the briefing?”
Everyone’s eyes shifted to me, and I stood up cautiously. “We’ve had to deal with this before. Duhrnan’s mothership had a shielding system which couldn’t be penetrated. Instead we had to enter and sabotage the ship from the inside, so that it could self destruct. That’s how we destroyed the mothership, and that’s how we’ll destroy the Shade Beam.” I lifted my head high, scanning the room. Hesitant faces looked back at me. “Sorry to interrupt, Fiona, but we don’t have much time. There must be a way to get aboard the ship. That’s what we need to know.”
The attention of the room turned back to her. She shifted onto her robotic foot, and took in a deep breath. “Thank you, King Talcorosax.” She turned her attention outward. “What the skyther King said is true; our only chance at destroying the Shade Beam is to destroy it from the inside. But our analysts have discovered that there is no docking bay. There are no entrances. There is no interior of the vessel.”
Although surely everyone in the crowd intended to be silent and attentive, they all began to murmur at once and the room erupted with sound.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What about the pilots? How do they get onboard to control the ship?”
Fiona’s blonde hair flicked around from beneath her hat as she turned to me. “There are no pilots. The Shade Beam flies itself.” She pointed toward the center of the hologram, and it expanded, zooming in until a vague orange glow appeared. “This is the ship’s brain. An organic structure embedded within the core of the ship’s systems, it receives commands from an external source, but can think for itself. It’s a form of artificial intelligence.”
A bioweapon, I thought.
“Our strategists considered ways to destroy the brain, thus disabling the Shade Beam entirely. But there is no way to do so from the outside, so we are met with the same problem.”
“Then what do we do?!” cried one of the pilots in the back. His voice was met with a chorus of agreement and fear. The tension in the air was thick.
Fiona raised her hands to silence the crowd. “There is one way to destroy the Shade Beam.”
I leaned forward. She pointed to the front of the cannon. I didn’t like where this was going.
“The barrel of the weapon is thirty-six meters wide, and it’s a straight shot to the power source of the ship. If we can hit the core directly with a high-impact weapon, such as an energy-missile, it should do enough damage to overload the core and self destruct. That means firing straight down the barrel of the gun.”
The room fell silent.
“The Shade Beam’s cannon is sealed at all times to compensate for this, aside from when the weapon is about to fire.” She pointed to the hologram. The muzzle looked small when compared to the overall size of the ship. An animation played showing the covering of the barrel splitting into countless triangular pieces which folded outward from the center of the circle until the barrel was completely clear.
“Twenty-five of the fleet’s ships will be outfitted with a guided E-missile strong enough to destroy the core and set off the reaction which will destroy the Shade Beam. The fleet only has the twenty-five missiles, and each one will be assigned to an elite starfighter. That means those twenty-five ships are our only shot at saving Earth.
“RT Officer Joëlle,” she said.
“Yes, Sir?” Joëlle replied.
“You are the best pilot aboard this ship, and I’m assigning you to be the Kronos’ E-missile bomber.”
“Aye, aye,” Joëlle said. She seemed surprisingly calm. I turn my gaze to the floor, brows furrowed as the admiral continued her briefing.
“The rest of the fleet will be tasked with fending off Duhrnan’s army and protecting you and the other bombers. The missiles have already been programmed with the Shade Beam’s core as the target, and the appropriate flight path down the shaft of the cannon. Each missile has a smart AI that should be able to find its way to the core if you are in front of the cannon and within five hundred meters of its opening when you launch your missile.
“The covering opens sixty-four seconds before the cannon fires. It takes approximately three and a half seconds for a high impact E-missile to fly the entire length of the barrel, from the tip to the core. Longer if you are firing from a bit of a distance. That means you and the bombers have at most sixty seconds to react to the cannon opening its maw. Miss your shot, and the Shade Beam gets a chance to fire at Earth.
“One more thing,” said Fiona. “You have specific orders, Joëlle. Your ship has a cloaking device- unique among the fleet. Use it once the fighting begins to protect yourself and the E-missile. Only uncloak once you are in place, and it is time to launch the bomb.”
“Yes Admiral,” said Joëlle.
Fiona turned her attention to the room at large. “Now I’m sure you’ve all heard the rumours about Astraloth, and yes, it’s true, as King Talcorosax told me; the planet survived the Shade Beam’s attack by being sent forward in time. Unfortunately for us, Earth doesn’t have that kind of defense mechanism. If the Shade Beam fires, Earth will be disintegrated. Entire species will go extinct. Ecosystems will be lost forever. Billions will die, and even those who were able to evacuate will never get to go back home.
“So make sure it doesn’t get a chance to fire. Your squad captains have more details. This is not a drill, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be easy. But you’re the best of the best- That’s why you’re in this room. So go. Do your best.”
In the hangar, preparations were going swiftly. Beeping hover-lifts zigzagged between jogging pilots and soldiers in blue uniforms. Engineers and mechanics worked together to perform system checks and maintenance on a squadron of fighters. I watched from my seat on a metal crate as a group of three mechanics on a rising hover lift worked with Joëlle to install the E-missile to the top of the Firebrand. A few more mechanics carrying toolboxes and spare parts exited the ramp of the Firebrand, and I followed their gaze to the front of its sleek silhouette. The four E-guns at its front swivelled left and right, then up and down. I could make out another mechanic on the inside, behind the red-tinted windshield. He was operating the newly repaired weapon controls, and lifted his hand to flash the mechanics outside a thumbs up, before standing from his seat and making his way out.
Joëlle climbed down a service ladder which was driven away toward the next ship, followed by the mechanics on their hovering platform. She brushed aside some violet hair, and met my eyes. My ears lifted slightly as she smiled my way.
She took a seat on a crate next to me, and we both stared at the Firebrand. Mounted in the center of the Firebrand’s roof was the E-missile, a three-foot long and one-foot wide cylindrical bomb which tapered at the front. It was equipped with an energy propulsion engine, and was held in place by thick metal clamps.
“The missile is installed and linked up with the ship’s computer system,” said Joëlle over the clamour of the vehicle bay. “The Firebrand is looking good. She’s all ready.”
I nodded. “How about you?” I asked. “Are you ready?”
“Well, we have eleven hours,” she said, checking the Code-Alpha emergency broadcast on her holo-gauntlet. “I’m planning to sleep soon. That’ll give me a good eight hours of sleep, plus some to prepare once I wake up.”
I nodded in agreement. “That’s a good plan. I should do the same... if I can manage to.”
She sighed, and we sat in silence. I noticed her flick toward the fleets outside. White skyther ships drifted about, mingling with the grey and blue TAU vessels. I could tell Joëlle was eyeing the skyther battlecruisers.
“Why aren’t you there with them?” she asked. “You’re their leader now, after all.”
My ears drooped. “Maybe, but I’m not a military leader. And I never asked to be King. I haven’t even had my coronation ceremony yet.”
“I know,” she said. “But... I think you’ve really come into yourself, in terms of leadership. I think you should go to them.”
I stood up. “I... understand,” I said. I looked away from her. “You never could forgive me for what I did, could you?”
“What?” Joëlle said. “I just don’t understand why you’re still here, when your people are out there.”
I closed my eyes. “Maybe you are my people. But I guess you could never forgive me for what I did on Voren...” My body felt so weak. I could hear Joëlle breathing behind me, contemplating her response.
“Osax...” she said, slowly. “I could use a copilot. If you want to help...”
I slowly turned to face her, with half-closed eyes and lowered ears. She gazed up at me with a thin lip and sorrowful eyes. I sighed shakily.
“I let you down, Joëlle. I let your team die. They were like your family-”
“Osax,” she interrupted, raising a hand. Something shifted in her eyes. “I- The thing is...” She frowned. “I should have told you sooner. You know, my squad... those people- They weren’t really like a family to me.”
I titled my head, perplexed. “But you said-”
“I know I said that,” she replied. “And I wanted that to be true. But to be honest I hardly knew them. That’s why I never talked about them. They were a group of other RTs who had known each other for a long time. They were like a family, but, I was new. Their new leader. We had only been working together for a few months, and none of them really warmed up to me, as much as I wanted the company. Obviously it’s hard when people die under your command, but- Really, I’ve never felt comfortable being alone. And I knew I would be, when the tower was destroyed. My chances at becoming close with them were gone. And I’d have to continue on all by myself until I found a new team.” She screwed her eyes shut and held her breath. “I have monophobia.”
“Monophobia?” I asked.
“It’s a catch-all term for the fear of being alone.” She scratched her head awkwardly. “For me, I notice it usually when I’m alone at home, or in space... Or just anticipating being alone.”
“Interesting,” I said. “And... that’s why you let us all come aboard your space ship so readily.”
She gulped nervously. “That was definitely part of it, yes. But I also knew I needed help tracking the mothership. And,” she said, looking into my eyes, “you ended up really caring for me. I can see that.” Her eyes were damp. “Even Jonathan cared, as much as I hate to admit it.”
She was opening up to me.
“I think K cared too,” I said.
Joëlle looked away, towards the planet and the ships which gathered around it.
I looked at her carefully. “But if you don’t want to be alone,” I said, “why did you tell me I should leave?”
“Because I’m working through it,” she said. “I don’t want to be controlled by fear. I know logically that I can handle things on my own. Fear isn’t logical, but I know I can overcome it through exposure. Back on Malum, I had to save myself from the Brotherhood agents, and then I had to save you, on my own. It didn’t go exactly as I planned, since I found Jonathan instead of you, but I realized then that I don’t need other people to feel safe.”
I nodded, and my ears lifted. “You have always seemed strong and independent to me, Joëlle.”
“I guess the secret is I don’t often feel that way,” she said. “Anyway, that’s not the point. I’m telling you this because you are my team, Osax. And you’re my friend. And I don’t need your help, but I could use it, and I do want it.”
Slowly, I sat back down on the crate next to her. “Alright, Joëlle,” I said. “I’ll be your copilot. I was hoping I would be anyway.”
She smiled, and wiped away a tear. When her hand fell back to her side, her grin flared with confidence. “Okay. Well, I need to sleep; you probably want to go back to your ship-”
“No, actually,” I said. “I’d rather sleep in the Firebrand.”
She smirked. “Aren’t the beds a little small for you?”
“I got used to them,” I said. Then I gestured to the white orb I had flown here in. “And that ship doesn’t feel like mine. It still feels like my mother’s.”
She nodded. “Right. Well, you’re welcome to stay on the Firebrand.” She glanced toward the ship. “I think she misses you.”
My eyes fluttered open, gazing straight up at the bottom of the bunk above me. My body lay motionless. The Firebrand’s familiar humming made me feel calm. I sat up in the dim light of my room. I inhaled, breathing in the scent of my blankets. They smelled like me. They hadn’t been washed since Joëlle took us all aboard her ship when we left the Kronos weeks ago. Which meant the bed above me probably still smelled like K.
I shook my head as a heaviness pulled against my heart. K was gone. I couldn’t believe it.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, and my eyes landed on the bedside table. A tiny wrist device lay there: the loro nano-suit I had stolen from Duhrnan’s mothership. I had forgotten about it entirely until then, and wondered then what happened to K’s suit. Maybe she was still wearing it.
My ears sagged, and I stood up. I began to put on my armour, and pulled Joëlle’s black cloak over my shoulders.
In the cockpit of the Firebrand, Joëlle and I swallowed the last bites of breakfast. The lights in the cockpit blinked innocently. Joëlle wore her silvery-blue armour, “just in case,” but her helmet rested on the floor by her chair. I placed my now empty glass of root beer on the counter to my side. It only took me a few seconds to drink it all.
I exhaled. “How are you holding up?” I asked, turning to her.
She shot me a sidelong glance. “I’m- What kind of question is that?” She snorted. “I’m fine, Osax. Just a completely normal day- Nothing to worry about.” Her sarcastic tone was exaggerated.
“Fair enough,” I said, shuffling in my seat. “I’m... I’m with you, you know.”
She smiled at me softly. “Thanks.”
My holo-gauntlet beeped, alerting me to a new message.
“The admiral wants to speak with me, I’ll be right back.”
Joëlle nodded. “Alright, Osax.”
Outside in the hangar, Fiona greeted me. We stood beneath the Firebrand; my mother’s ship was parked not far away. The hangar was beginning to empty as starfighter pilots took off to regroup out in space.
“Talcorosax,” she said gruffly, “what are you doing?” Her gaze challenged me, and she spoke quietly. She had taken me away from the remaining starships, and we stood alone in the center of the room.
I furrowed my brow. “What do you mean? I’m going to help Joëlle. I’m going to help fight the-”
She waved her hands in my face. “This isn’t a joke.” She frowned. “People are going to die. We might all die.”
“I know,” I said, sternly. “That’s why I need to help!”
“But you’re the King of Astraloth! If you die, who will lead the-”
“No! Don’t tell me what to do,” I exclaimed. “You’re all risking your lives to defend Earth because you choose too. Well, for a time Earth was my home too! And I’m going to protect it as well. You need all the help you can get. You might need me.”
Fiona’s face froze. Then she sighed, closing her eyes briefly. She looked so tired. “Friend,” she said. “I just want you to be safe.”
“No one is safe while Duhrnan is still out there and the Shade Beam still exists,” I said.
We stared at each other for several seconds. At last Fiona replied. “Okay.”
“But you know this is basically a suicide mission?”
“It’s suicide not to fight,” I said. “We have to.”
She pursed her lips. “True.”
We had been waiting in formation for nearly an hour.
We didn’t know where the valicorr would appear, so the combined armies of Earth and Astraloth formed a wide net-like shield that covered the entire planet, protecting it from all sides. The ships were spaced relatively evenly.
Some people had wondered whether Duhrnan would actually follow through on his threat. But I was certain he would show up. I was certain that he wanted the fleets to converge. He wanted to wipe out all our military strength in one motion. And he was such a glutton for drama; of course he wanted to stage the biggest space battle our societies had ever seen, and utterly destroy us. But he didn’t know that we had the plans to the Shade Beam. He didn’t know we had a chance, however small it was.
When Duhrnan arrived, the fleets would orbit the Earth and converge on his army. The twenty-five bombers outfitted with E-missiles, like the Firebrand, would make their way as fast as possible to the Shade Beam and try to block its cannon, covered by the rest of the fleet. Joëlle’s computer showed a list of the twenty-four other bombers. Next to each ship on the computer display was a blinking green word “OKAY” representing the live signal feed we were receiving from each vessel.
We would wait for the Shade Beam to start its firing sequence, and then launch the guided E-missiles down its barrel, destroying the weapon.
I scratched my chest fur nervously, standing in the cockpit of the Firebrand just behind Joëlle who sat in the pilot’s seat.
“Now might be a good time to take a seat,” she said. I nodded, and sat down beside her at the weapons console.
We stared out the windshield. We were just one tiny piece of the network of ships that hovered above Earth, but we were an important one. Skyther and human vessels surrounded us to our left and right as we looked out toward space, away from the Earth at our flank. The sun beamed in at us, illuminating the cockpit in a bright white light, casting dark shadows on the wall behind us. Thousands of stars shone unblinking in the blackness, and all was quiet except for the hum of the ship and the faint communications of the fleet coming through Joëlle’s helmet.
I watched the blocky white numbers of the countdown. There were only seconds left, and then Duhrnan would arrive, and the fight for Earth would begin.
I tightened my grip on the weapon controls, and held my breath.