When humanity doesn’t have a seat at the table, someone has to be their voice
“It’s now or never,” Lars shouted, his figure crumbling as static blurred the communication. “Command has ordered a full assault! We’re out of time! You have to decide now!”
I hesitated, drawing the last few seconds of indecision to stare out of the bridge window at the blue and green orb floating in space. So many people. All with desires and hopes, united in solidarity for survival.
Through the chaos on the deck the red phone rang and I knew time was out. That would be Mars command sending a full attack order on Earth. I ignored it, even as my crew gave worried confused looks through the glass-paned comms booth.
“Eileen!” His voice had become desperate, a tone I had never heard from Lars, most certainly unbecoming of the Admiral of the Earthen Fleet, yet understandable under the circumstances.
“I’ll put the order through now,” I said, standing up and straightening my shoulders. “Following command is no longer an option.”
Relief spread across Lars’ face, softening his features, the way I was used to seeing them. “T-minus five minutes then, like we planned?”
“Five minutes,” I confirmed, tucking my hands behind me and letting them rest at the small of my back.
With a final nod and glance of understanding, Lars’ image dissipated.
“Admiral,” a young bright-eyed petty officer said, joining me as soon as the comms booth door whooshed open. “Command has been trying to reach you, Sir.”
I stepped back on the deck of my bridge, being sure to control my facial expression so as not to cause any undue notice. I responded with all the authority of the Admiral of the Mars Fleet, “Gather the crew. I have an announcement.”
The petty officer drew his hand to his forehead in salute and turned away without complaint. His staunch response gave me pause. I shook it away immediately. It was not the time for second-guessing myself. Not when so many lives were at stake.
The crew assembled in a strictly linear fashion as outlined in basic Mars Fleet training, awaiting my news. Their faces ranged from serious to concerned, to frightened. I looked at each and every one of them before I cleared my throat and spoke as plainly as I could.
“In a moment’s time, I will be ordering a complete evacuation of this battleship.” I paused as a visible reaction washed over my men. “To clarify, this is not a drill,” my voice broke slightly so I coughed trying to dislodge the lump that had formed there before I continued, “I expect everyone to fall back on their training during this operation and follow fleet protocol.”
Their faces were united in shock, and my conviction wavered. They gawked, inaction wafting from them like cheap perfume. “You are dismissed,” I added, effectively swinging them into a flurry of activity.
I let out a deep exhale through pursed lips just as, from the corner of my eye, movement caught my attention. Through the large floor to ceiling windows of the bridge, I made out the tiny specks of escape pods shooting into space from Earth’s battleship, revealing that Lars had kept up his end of the bargain. Now, it was time for me to keep mine.
I picked up the bridge’s phone, feeling the hard but smooth material in my hand, as I flipped back the plastic cover on the ‘all channels’ button.
Then, I pushed it.
A resonant squeak told me the intercom worked and was now broadcasting to the entire battleship. Silence filled the air as those on the bridge stopped what they were doing. I brought the device up to my mouth.
“Attention all crew.” A pause, as a collective hush pulsed through the ship. “This is Admiral Catlow speaking. I am ordering a code six, full evacuation of this vessel. Please halt all work and proceed to your designated escape pods as quickly as possible. Remember your training. This is not a drill. I repeat this is not a drill.”
I put the phone back in its holder, activated the code alarm system, and rested my palms on the blinking dashboard in front of me. After giving myself a moment to regain my wits about me, I pulled up the evacuation schematics flinging them to the widescreen on the wall. I noticed some escape pods were already activating, signaling my message had been received.
Through the flurry of activity, I heard the distinct sound of my XO’s voice. “What the hell is going on?!”
I twisted in his direction and saw the scowling middle-aged man interrogating one of the officers. Once he saw me, he stomped his way across the bridge, gave me a half-hearted salute, and fumed, “Why are we evacuating? Was this an order from command? Why was I not informed?!”
I glared at him. He was always questioning my orders, why not this one too. Although, perhaps this time he was right to. I was about to destroy our battleship after all. I stood up tall, feeling the thickly starched fabric of my suit stretch as I did. I imagined billions of people on Earth clearing store shelves, hoarding supplies in their bunkers, locking shut steel doors, parents consoling their children, everyone simultaneously awaiting doom or salvation.
I was unyielding in my confidence as I snapped back, “Commander Cruz! You will follow my order! Code six protocol stipulates we are to ensure all souls have been evacuated from the vessel before we proceed with our own evacuation. Do your duty and see to these souls! You are dismissed!”
I turned on my heel and marched to the widescreen on the wall, telling myself not to look back. I didn’t hear anything further, other than the sounds of shuffling boots on metal flooring as officers ran about completing protocol checks. I took this as a positive sign that he had moved on.
The widescreen ahead displayed a map with green dots flickering to red, each color change indicating another launched escape pod. Mars’ fleet was notorious for the best-trained soldiers, and I didn’t doubt the whole ship would be fully evacuated within fifteen minutes.
I glanced in the direction of my own escape pod located right on the bridge. There were two, one for me and one for my XO. Because evacuation protocol was designed to cascade through the battleship ranks, Commander Cruz would need to evacuate before my pod became functional. The Captain was always last, assumed to go down with the ship should such a sacrifice be needed.
The actual evacuation time ended up being thirteen minutes thirty-seven seconds, which filled me with pride. As I stared at the screen nearly full of red dots I thought, children will one day read about this in history books.
Two green dots remained, slowly blinking in and out of existence. I took a long look around the bridge as I walked through the aisle, running my fingers over the uneven surfaces. Lars would be evacuating soon if he hadn’t already. I glanced toward Earth’s battleship as it floated peacefully among the stars, and visible just beyond, the planet glowed in the light of the sun.
I arrived at the dashboard I had been moving toward and pulled up the navigation screen, tapping my finger over the surface. I grabbed my handheld from its location on my belt and slid it into the slot to begin syncing the two programs.
“Eileen! What are you doing?”
It was my XO, yet his voice had taken on a more somber quality than usual. Without even looking at him, I knew that he was aware something was out of place.
I called on all on my confidence to push through as I responded, “syncing with the ship, just in case.”
“Just in case what?” His reply was too quick. Too accusatory. My mind fluttered with limited options on what to do.
“You need to evacuate.” I tried changing the subject, but he was not fooled, it only strengthened his rebellious resolve.
“I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on.”
I wanted the best for my fleet, so when I was given the option on who to choose for my XO, I chose Lenny Cruz. Which is why I knew he wouldn’t let up because I wouldn’t.
I sighed, took a few steps toward him, and making my tone more conversational, asked, “Do you realize that Mars Command has issued an order to nuke Earth?”
Of course he didn’t, because it was a need to know operation highly classified for top leadership only. The information noticeably seeped through him dragging any color he had with it, then he shook slightly and asked, “So, why aren’t we nuking Earth then?”
I scoffed. “Because I won’t be held responsible for the deaths of billions of people. I won’t do it, Lenny.” My handheld beeped behind me, indicating it had finished syncing with the ship. I glanced at it, then back at Lenny.
Lenny’s eyes flashed to my holster and I instinctively followed his gaze, then back at him with squinted questioning contemplation.
His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. Then, his hand jerked and I grabbed my gun shooting a round of stun discs directly at his chest, sending him stumbling back and into the dashboard directly behind him.
I ran to the first aid kit, pulled out a sedative syringe, ripped off the cap with my teeth, and plunged it into the muscle of his thigh. He let out a shriek, then quickly fell unconscious.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I helped lower his head to the floor.
It took me the better part of ten minutes to drag his limp body to the escape pod. I lifted his right hand up to the reader and the door slid open. I flung him into the solo seat, strapped him in, and stepped back to wipe my forehead of the thin sheen of sweat that had erupted there.
I ran back to the dashboard, grabbed my handheld, and saw more than several blinking missed messages from Lars. Time dwindled as Mars or Earth (or both!) would soon send reinforcements. I sprinted for Lenny’s pod, pressed the release button, and catapulted it into space. A loud click let me know my own pod was now active and ready to be boarded.
Working quickly, I strapped myself in and with a final inhale ejected the pod. My head was shoved back against the headrest as the pod propelled from the battleship and toward Earth’s moon base.
As soon as the pod’s speed stabilized, I pulled out my handheld and sent Lars a comms. The handheld chimed almost immediately. My thumb urgently tapped the answer button and I said, “Lars!”
He responded, “Am I glad to hear your voice!”
His tone brought the kind of happiness I could only relate to when I received my wings because suddenly, I knew what I had just done was okay. More than okay, it was right.
Twenty minutes later my pod docked on the moon base and a few minutes after that I was jogging into the main lobby. It was an old, long abandoned, Earthen military enclosure and, besides Lars and myself, no other people had been there for ages.
The lobby was our favorite place, namely because of the large glass windows providing views of the moon’s landscape. It stretched out as a vast silvery dessert surrounded by black space speckled to infinity with stars.
The tap-tap of my boots against the stone floor echoed around the high ceilings. Once I reached the middle of the room, I stopped. The momentary silence was followed by hurried footsteps coming through the hallway on the opposite side. Lars’ figure appeared in the large doorway, and as we made eye contact, I took off in his direction.
Our paces slowed as we neared each other, stopping completely once we were close enough to embrace. The oversized windows loomed behind us, painting a dark starry sky as a backdrop. I reached down and pulled out my handheld; Lars did the same.
“Ready?” I asked.
I opened the device, entered my code, and reconfirmed it. I then scanned my fingerprint and ordered Mars’ battleship to full blast, modifying its trajectory. Next to me, Lars did the same with Earth’s.
With this final action complete, he stepped into me, wrapped his fingers through my short amber hair, and brought his lips to mine. It was a soft sweet embrace of mutual understanding, not at all like the passionate encounters of the past.
We turned to look out into the great abyss of space as our battleships propelled at extraordinary speeds away from the moon, away from Earth. My eyes squinted at the brightness of the fire trail the ships left in their wake, watching freely as my charge sailed into a treacherous storm.
I rested my head on Lars’ shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around mine. We watched in silence as the battleships collided. Even as the cosmic boom of ultimate cataclysmic collision lit all the space around us, we remained still.
© Andie Ski 2019