“Granite Base, this is Alpha-1. Launch Sequence stand-by.”
“Roger Alpha-1. Begin activation sequence.”
I listened to the comm chatter from Launch Control and the pilots while my goggles displayed vast amounts of information. The engine bay information window was bordered in red that turned to yellow as the Icarus’ power plant ramped up for blast-off. There were only two weapons pods, both defensive in nature, though I wondered how effective they would be should we pop out of the mountain only to find a thousand Kai warships waiting for us. I cycled through the acceleration creches, finding my parents’ two rows down from me, both a healthy green.
“Admiral Shaw, we’re cleared for launch,” the pilot’s voice said over the comm. Captain Jun was a female according to the display data next to her name, but she sounded like the gruffest, toughest Marine my brain could imagine.
“Roger that,” my father replied in a tight voice. “Let’s light ‘em up and get the hell off this rock ASAP.”
I turned my attention back to the engineering window. The fusion reactors had been steady at five percent until a few minutes ago when they began to slowly climb into the thirty percent range. I watched, holding my breath involuntarily, as the numbers inched into the low forties, then suddenly ramped up to ninety before leveling off and continuing their journey to one hundred. I expected the ship to vibrate or hum just like in all the movies, but I felt and heard nothing. I wasn’t sure if the gel in my creche was dampening any sensations. I could still hear the muffled noises of the last few sailors climbing into their own creches after securing the rest of the passengers.
A klaxon wailed throughout the ship loud enough that I could hear it clearly even through the thick gel holding me in place. I clenched my stomach muscles in anticipation. I’d been on an orbital shuttle before and had always been both frightened and impressed at the sudden forward motion they performed when taking off, but I’d never been on a ship this size while it was blasting off from a planet. The tactical channel lit up at the same moment I finally felt the vibrations of the thrusters as they ignited.
“Daedalus Command, we have inbound hostiles bearing two-seven-niner.”
“Formation Delta on my command.”
“Sixteen battleship class, thirty-two cruiser class, sixty-four destroyer class. Standard Kai attack formation.”
“Signal-5, we have translation at D-8, estimated seventy light minutes out.”
“Roger Scout-2. Tracking now.”
“Let’s lock those fuckers in before they cut the Wire.”
“Command, this is Hurricane. Secondary translation at L-31.”
“Highlight and report, Hurricane.”
“Jesus fucking Christ. Jesus. They’ve brought the fucking Four Horsemen.”
“Hurricane, maintain comm protocol.”
“I’m sorry, Command. But if you’re seeing what I’m seeing…”
<sharp intake of breath> “Good lord.”
“Signal-5, do you see this?”
“Signal-5, Roger. Four hundred inbound bogies. Repeat, four-zero-zero inbound.”
“Activate Orbital Defense Grid. Track and report but maintain standby.”
“Maintain standby? What the fuck? They’ll wipe the platforms before we get a shot off!”
“Roger that.” The voice sounded bored, far more disinterested than I would have after hearing more than seven hundred Kai capital ships had just translated into the Daedalus system.”
“Hurricane, what is your status?” After a few seconds of silence, the voice from Command tried again. “Hurricane, status update? Hurricane? Captain Marks, respond or ping for an emergency extraction.”
I felt my heart lurch in my chest from both the knowledge that Captain Marks was now most likely orbiting Daedalus-II in a cloud of debris, then another from the sudden thump of the engine restrictors disengaging.
“Stay calm, Denny,” my father’s voice said in my ear. “If this wasn’t so tragically serious, I’d say enjoy the ride.”
The gel went from barely viscuous to rock-hard in an instant, triggering the memory of my mother’s warning about not goofing off. I heard a phantom snap of bone as I imagined one of my legs bending at an odd angle when the gel hardened. My mind panicked at the thought it would be too rigid, too immovable to allow my chest to rise and fall with each breath, not to mention the sudden terror of the gel hardening inside of my lungs. I wanted to scream at the conflicting sensations of being trapped within a piece of marble and the ease at which I was still able to breath.
A second thump rocked the Icarus half a second before I felt the ship begin to climb out of its launch pit. I used my eyes to pull up the launch window in my goggles. The display showed Icarus as a green rectangle slowly rising from the wireframe mountain. Two hundred kilometers above Icarus’ rectangle was an ocean of other icons, ranging from bright green to angry red. The orbital defense platforms were a harsh orange, each tracking targets that would take at least ten hours to enter the weapons’ effective engagement range.
I pulled another window up next to the launch data and read about the Kai weapon ranges. According to Command, the battleships alone could wipe out the entire grid from their current location. My heart sank further as the display updated and I saw thousands of angry red lines begin to separate from the Kai fleet toward various locations across the solar system. The attack had begun, and it would end before we had a chance to get in a single shot.
“Enemy weapon launch!” sqwuaked a voice that was quickly drowned out by hundreds of other voices reporting in.
“Signal-5, Blue Wing engaging.”
“Good luck, Blue-1.”
I knew as well as the comm operator that Blue Wing would be lucky to last more than a few minutes against the two hundred ships in the Kai fleet near their location. I was sure Blue-1, Captain Merpeesh, knew it as well.
I watched with fascination as the small defense wing translated almost into the middle of the Kai battle fleet. It was a risky move that almost always ended in disaster, but everyone seemed to know the stakes in this fight. As hard as it was to surprise the Kai in the vacuum of space, they seemed confused as sixty heavy bombers and strike fighters suddenly disappeared from their sensors. Blue Wing was sixeteen light minutes from the Kai then suddenly less than fifty thousand kilometers. Unless the Kai possessed sensors far superior to what humans used—or had somehow hacked our tactical Wire—the time lag would keep them thinking the humans were still accelerating toward their positions.
My tactical display instantly updated as Blue Wing appeared within the Kai fleet. Many shouts of fury accompanied the thousands of grey lines that flew away from the human ships. Within a minute, those shouts of fury were screams of pain, surprise, and defeat as the Kai opened up on the smaller human ships. The tactical information claimed Blue Wing had effectively destroyed two Kai light cruisers and heavily damaged one of the battleships before everything went blank.
“The Wire is down!” someone shouted over the comm.
“Wire down,” repeated another voice, this one much calmer. “Use your last position updates to engage accordingly. Justice-3, you are free to engage. Orion Wing set course for 185-040.”
“Icarus, we have you on scan. Proceed to EP-12.”
“Roger that,” Captain Jun’s voice said, still rough and gruff. “What’s it look like?”
“You’re clear for eighteen light minutes. Enemy is engaged and should keep their attention.”
It became hard to breathe as I watched the Icarus’ icon rise out of Daedalus’ atmosphere and begin turning toward a flashing blue marker labeled EP-12. It became harder to breathe while listening to the cries and screams from the unlucky humans who engaged the enemy around the system. I felt tears leaking from my eyes. The way the gel seemed to absorb them was the oddest, strangest sensation I’d ever experienced. I didn’t want to hear anymore and was glad when the comm traffic died.
“Emergency Wire is down. Repeat, emergency Wire is down. We’re on our own, kids.”
I thought it was an odd thing for Captain Jun to say until I saw the small smiley-face she’d sent to me. I smiled at the thought she knew who I was and was talking directly to me, then frowned when I remembered I couldn’t send her a reply.
“Eighty seconds to boost,” Lt. Hesh announced.
I pulled up the Icarus’ command window and sifted through the data. In another minute, the Icarus would unleash her other two fusion thrusters and take us from a 2g acceleration to nearly fifteen g’s.
“Stealth unit engaged. Shutting down externals.”
I watched as each of the Icarus’ exterior active sensors went dark. I wondered how stealthy a giant, reflective ship could truly be with a ten thousand kilometer trail of fire extending behind it. I was surprised when I checked the passive sensors to see that there was almost zero exhaust visible. I searched through the database until I found a document explaining how the Icarus was fitted with the newest engine management module which would allow the ship to reach fifteen g’s of acceleration with almost no visible exhaust trail, though any infrared sensors would light up like a star going nova.
After ten minutes, I became bored. Nothing was happening on any of the tactical readouts other than the Icarus’ AI trying to weave a larger picture based on information that was no longer coming in real time. The AI assumed all of Blue Wing had been destroyed as well as the defense network around Daedalus-VI. A fourth Kai fleet could translate on top of us and we’d never know it until our bodies were ejected into space from the explosions of multiple Kai missiles turning us into a grisly mix of confetti made of metal and flesh.
“Are you okay, Dennis?” Mom asked me via the internal comm network.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Are you sure?” Dad’s voice said in my ear.
“I’m okay,” I answered. “It’s boring without the Wire.”
“Honestly, Dens,” my father said, “it’s probably the best thing. The sounds of war… You’re not a little kid anymore, and you’re going to have to grow up faster than your mother and I want you to, but some things you just don’t need to hear for hours on end.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “I heard enough.”
“The good thing is that there’s a treasure trove of information about our journey to check out,” he said.
“Like what?” I asked, glad I didn’t have to burst into tears at the thought of the Daedalus system’s fate. “And when can I move around again? I have to go to the bathroom. And I’m thirsty.”
“Not for at least ten more hours, honey,” Mom said. “We’re locked in to the jump point under heavy acceleration. It’s going to get more uncomfortable soon. If you feel yourself falling asleep, don’t fight it, okay?”
“Why?” I asked, my voice trembling.
I’d never traveled in an acceleration creche on a warship during combat maneuvers. I was used to 1g trips in and out of the systems when I went anywhere with my parents. I was suddenly afraid of the kind of gravity that could knock me out.
“It’s just better when you sleep through it,” my father said in a gentle voice. “Listen to your mother. She’s been through worse than what we’ll face far more times than anyone else on the Icarus.”
My mother had been in real engagements with the Kai, and I knew she was an expert at handling the crushing forces of heavy acceleration and maneuvering during a real fight against capital ships. For some reason, it wasn’t reassuring.
“When we hit ten g’s,” my mother said, “you’ll feel like your eyes are too big for their sockets. Turn off your comm and just close your eyes. At fifteen g’s, it will feel like a heavy mattress is pressing down on you while your classmates pile on top of it. Sleeping through it is the best thing you can do, but you’ll feel it after you wake up.”
“How bad will it hurt?” I asked, more afraid than before.
My father chuckled. “Like you’ve played soccer for an entire day and night. But it’s normal. If you keep yourself busy, you won’t even notice it.”
“Okay,” I said, deciding to trust them even though I was nearly in a panic with fear. It was a good thing the gel material was rigid, as it helped me calm down and stop shaking.
“We’re at eight g’s now,” Mom said. “In about twenty minutes, you’re going to feel it.”
“Okay,” I said, pulling up Icarus’ navigation window in my goggles. “But I still have to pee.” My fear began to slide into shameful territory as I imagined the pressure—or the gel material itself—making me lose control of my bladder.
“Remember what I told you earlier,” my father said in a serious voice. “It’s unpleasant to think about but no one wants to ride in their own waste, so you can be sure that’s been a primary feature.” He sent me a wink over the text comm.
“Gross,” I said, sending him back an emoji of a tongue sticking out.
When my urge to relieve my bladder became the focus of my attention, I began to sift through the mission data for Icarus. Icarus was a new ship, christened only six months earlier, but had no specific classification. The tonnage numbers rated it as a cruiser-class vessel, but it was unlike any naval cruiser I’d ever seen or read about.
Icarus carried no weapons other than anti-projectile flak cannons which were recessed within the rear mid-quarter of the ship. There were no lifeboats on the Icarus, which made me nervous all over again. The ship’s power plants were rated for use in heavy battleships, which gave it a rated top speed of almost 40g’s. I blinked when I read it. Thirty was pushing it for the top combat pilots in the entire Terran Navy, and only during the briefest, most extreme maneuvers. My nerves weren’t relieved when I looked at the internal ship data and saw that our acceleration creches were theoretically rated for 48g’s.
I noticed the cargo areas carried biological material and pulled up a new window. I thought I knew what “frozen embryos” were, and I was definitely familiar with the terms “sperm” and “egg.” I scrolled through a massive list of columns and unintelligible codes labeled “DNA Pool.” There were at least one million entries. Immediately following that was another list, this one a DNA pool for all of the humans currently on the Icarus.
I found my name in column #482. Dennis Ryan Shaw, age twelve, male, 139cm height, 36.28kg weight. Brown hair, green eyes, O-positive blood type. The next columns were gibberish codes and labels that meant nothing to me, though I knew I could easily look them up. I’d tried that on the first name of the first list and had been bored to tears instantly by chemical breakdown data along with what looked like a lot of weird math. I spent a few seconds finding my mother and father in the list, then Sergeant Valmon and Captain Jun.
I spent a few lingering seconds looking at Captain Jun’s age. She sounded like a gruff, veteran Marine but was only twenty-two years old. I felt a weird sensation and wondered if I was having my first crush, something Dya had teased me about for the last year after no longer pretending to gross-out over girls. I pulled up Captain Jun’s picture and closed the window almost as quickly when my heart skipped a beat. I felt ashamed yet curious and strangely warm.
I wandered in and out of data storage nodes, learning as much as I could about the strange ship. Most of the information was mundane and uninteresting. However, I kept coming across names like “Task Force Nightfall,” “Codename: All-Stop,” and “Project Genesis.” Genesis rang a bell, and I remembered the conversation with my father in his office.
I was just getting started pouring through the “Genesis” files when the pressure began to finally become painful. The navigation window showed Icarus was traveling at just over eleven gravities. As if knowing suddenly broke the protective barrier keeping me safe, my legs, arms, and chest felt as if a mountain had settled on me. My eyes felt too big for my head, just as my mother said they would, and it became hard to close them.
Icarus hit thirteen g’s less than three minutes later. I was in agony. The darkness closed in on me and I panicked, unable to control myself. I didn’t scream. I couldn’t, which made the fear in me explode tenfold. It felt as if I was no longer capable of breathing. I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. The last image I saw was a split window, one with the Icarus rolling over into fifteen g’s, the other the opening paragraphs of “Project Genesis” and the word “seedship.”