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Art groaned as he rolled around on the ground, the soft dirt evoking memories of his childhood. He had grown up on Ceres, living in one of the habitats set up by asteroid miners. They had grass there, imported from Old-Earth back when asteroid mining had been new. That was more than two centuries ago now, his father had told him, but the family had always kept the grass green and alive. It was one of the few living vestiges of Old-Earth, and they had watered it even when water was scarce.

His eyelids suddenly fluttered open, as he ran his hand slowly through the patchy grass. He hoped for a moment, against his better judgment, that he had somehow woken up back on Ceres, with his family still alive. That hope was crushed when he sat up and realized that he was surrounded in darkness. It was not the absence of light, for he could feel the warmth of the trinary sun’s beams around him, but instead the oppressive dark of blindness. A small panic began to rush through him, as he reached out frantically grasping as anything nearby. His hands found nothing in the dark, as he stumbled around, hoping to anchor himself.

The fear had become immense now, with no sight to guide him and no idea of where he was, Art was losing his mind. With a frustrated roar he punched the air in front of him. Much to his surprise, the punch landed with a satisfying thud against bark. He could feel the heat lingering on the tree, and as his hand touched it, he fed a bit of heat back into it. Like a glowing infrared map in his mind, he could sense heat all around him, taking the form of the dirt, the trees, and even the fine pebbles littering the ground. He let out a sigh of relief.

Art could feel his own warmth, fear pierced by newfound hope. His lungs were overwhelmingly hot, at least 400 Kelvin, but it didn’t bother him. In fact, it felt quite reassuring, as if a reserve of energy was at his beck and call. With a jubilant laugh he let out some of the heat, flooding the room with an ambient warmth and revealing the terrain to his senses. He was a couple dozen meters away from the exit, with a circular hallway beyond. The lights were on outside the room, the glow of electricity registering uniquely to his heat vision. It was time for him to pay Cyrus back for the massacre on the Integrity.

-----

“I need every available warhead to fire upon the ship with the Solenoid Beam! We cannot be caught in that again.” Cyrus yelled into his communicator; the order being relayed to his commandos.

“Paragon reports that the third ring has been cleared out, and that they can begin detachment procedures.” Rel said, the Predictive AI expert frantically trying to provide Paragon with as much data as possible. His claws made a cacophonous noise as they scratched at the keys.

“We need to time this impeccably. Losing the third ring would leave us without our primary thrusters.” Cyrus said, wiping sweat from his brow. “Fighters should be out in a minute, time another salvo of warheads to fire concurrently. Have everyone aim for the cruisers and split across them evenly. They’ll need to use up every decoy they have to survive this.”

While the command cabin waited for the fighters to get into position, Cyrus ran over to the master navigator. A native to the planet Uru, navigator Iridon was diminutive in stature, with a bulbous head balanced precariously on frail shoulders. His race’s affinity for space travel had propelled them to be the first on the galactic scene, and they had since kept that edge, mastering many of the astral sciences. Iridon worked faster than some AIs at developing optimal vectors of space travel, and so Cyrus had come over to devise their escape plan.

“We’re not getting out of this system, are we?” Cyrus spoke telepathically to him, already knowing the answer. They had left the Gravity Triad far too soon to have picked up the speed necessary for inter-system travel.

“Not soon. There is no efficient way to return to the Gravity Triad based on our current vector. Our best course of action is to completely redo our launch; perhaps off a nearby moon.” Iridon replied, used to Cyrus’ unnerving telepathic speech.

“Do any of them possess an oxygen-rich atmosphere?”

“None within minimal vector adjustment.”

“Find the best one and tell me as soon as you have the vector charted.” Cyrus telepathed, already dashing back to his central podium.

The strategic display projected a massive model of the battlefield into the air, highlighting the GALPOL cruisers and carriers. The current prediction had the carriers breaching within 10 minutes. More than enough time for Cyrus’ plan. He had the display focus on his own fighters, 20 elite jets equipped with a powerful warhead and standard ion weaponry. They were pulling evasive maneuvers around the carriers, which had their own ion weapons. Around the battlefield the debris and heat of the prior warheads and subsequent decoys formed a cloud that sensors couldn’t fully penetrate, leaving static blurs on the projection.

“Warheads, fire as soon as you have a clear shot.” Cyrus spoke into his comms, watching as the central cruiser retargeted its Solenoid Beam. The other two cruisers still hadn’t fired their weapons, having been out of range of ion weaponry, and not wanting to destroy the precious cargo that the Oblivion carried with warheads.

Like a lotus in bloom the warheads erupted from each ring before homing in on their targets. Although programmed on a specific vector by the rocketeers before launch, the missiles were guided in flight by the ship’s Predictive AI. As they soared forwards catching up to the fighters, they formed a brilliant pattern; constantly shifting to dodge ion torpedoes. Cyrus watched anxiously as the plan unfolded. They had to get those missiles perfectly placed, and with the rocketeers’ job done, it was all up to Paragon now.

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