Pieces of debris and human bodies floated past as the pilot wormed the shuttle through the clouds and towards the waiting hulk of the Bismarck. Talia had made trips like this several thousands of times during the war; some were anti piracy missions while others were fights against aggressive races. All ended up the same way: lots of dead people and bodily fluids everywhere.
Totally unnecessary, she thought. I hope these people are proud.
That defined everything up to that point and it led her to sigh softly. During the course of the War, she’d seen enough death to drive a person insane, but none of it compared to the Cabal’s attempt to seize control of human space.
If they tried, there’d be a push back and then interstellar war, which would inflict worse chaos than the Sladen and Creoth. Those two at least kept their battles between themselves and their proxies, but the humans wouldn’t. Trillions would die, and could she sit back and let that take place?
And the answer to the question was a resounding “no.” Too many innocent races would be victimized, and most had been friends with her people. That’d leave her stuck in the middle and having to defend her friends over the innocents humans.
Flotsam bounced off the shuttle’s windows, which allowed Talia to banish the brooding thoughts away. Thousands of humans died in the matter of ten minutes and the warrior wished she could bring them back. The ended lives, the loss the loved ones would feel, would be on her hands for all eternity as were the millions that preceded them in the War.
The crews of those starships sold their souls for money and power, she thought. But I don’t feel any better after this battle than I did in the past.
The Bismarck’s shattered hulk grew larger as they approached. Black scorch marks surrounded each gash in her battle steel, and Talia could see through them and out the other side. Humans might think their technology was good, but the Valiant just gave them a taste of how weak they were.
They rode in silence for several minutes as the pilot tip toed towards the hanger bay. He set the craft down with such skill that if she hadn’t been watching, she never would’ve known they’d landed.
“Stay on station, Lieutenant.”
The rifle sitting on the seat behind her gave Talia pause and allowed her to think again. No matter how well marines thought they controlled an enemy ship, a single ambush could have deadly consequences. She learned that lesson the hard way during a piracy operation and it cost the lives of her executive officer and eighteen soldiers.
A pair of armored marines flanked the officer that approached Talia. The woman’s ivory skin and red hair complimented her blue eyes and made a nice contrast to the white battle suit.
“Commander,” she said, “I’m Lieutenant Martha Wannatabe. Captain Alexander is waiting on the Flag Bridge.”
“How many survivors?”
“Two hundred out of a crew of four thousand.”
“Were you able to glean any information for their databanks?”
“Despite it all,” Wannatabe said, “They erased their databanks.”
“I expected as much, but I didn’t have the manpower to secure the vessel.”
“These guys are taking the term ‘tight lipped’ to the extreme. They won’t even say their names.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
A ceiling support had fallen, crushing several crewmembers, splattering their fluids on the bulkheads. How many times during the war did she enter a ship and both see and smell the same things? The holovids back on Gahlza romanticized the actions of her and her sisters while completely ignoring the true horrors of war.
She couldn’t take her eyes off the scene before her until several seconds passed by. Politicians always disgusted her because they found it so easy to send young people off to die, yet didn’t have to face any of the consequences of war. Never once did they have to see the dead and the dying, smell the blood and the feces released by the body.
If they experienced what I did, she thought, they’d never survive.
While the need to protect the human colony from certain destruction made the battle necessary, she found the silence of the men and women involved to be ridiculous. The people aboard the Bismarck were guilty of piracy and crimes against their own people, which would result in their executions, so why not talk? Once again the humans amazed her with their stupidity and their brutality.
It’s enough to make me wonder why I fight for them, she thought.
Wannatabe lead her down a side passage as they cut across the ship to reach its main corridor. A fire had torn down the hexagonal shaped hall, scorching the walls, damaging the overhead lights and leaving a cloud of smoke behind. Red sparks rained down from damaged light fixtures, lighting up the smoke and giving the area a good approximation of hell.
A corpse leaned against the starboard wall and Talia couldn’t tear her eyes away. The fireball scorched its uniform, wiping away insignias, leaving behind blackened flesh, and its mouth remained open in a silent scream. A sickly sweet and acrid smell similar to charcoal filled the air and it lingered in the warrior’s nose. Around her the marines paled and waited patiently for her to finish her examination.
“I hate killing,” she said. “What a waste.”
“Ma’am?” Wannatabe asked.
“All of this, Lieutenant. It didn’t have to happen. Now there’s ten thousand more lives on my damn hands.”
“Better them then us.”
Talia snorted. “Yeah, tell that to the parents who lost their child or the widowed wife or widower. Better yet, how about you tell the children how their parents won’t come home again.”
“I have family on Nelleysford. I’m glad they didn’t kill them.”
“Wrong way to look at things, Lieutenant, because it’s very short sighted. You may be safe today, but nothing guarantees tomorrow. Think big picture.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There are threats out there that would give you nightmares, Lieutenant. What’s to keep an unknown alien force from wiping things out?”
Wannatabe chewed on her lip. “I’d say nothing would.”
“Now you have the reality of the situation.”
“Are you saying there are aliens out there?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”
“I hope not, they might not be friendly.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. The majority are.”
“You sound like someone who’s sure of that.”
Talia chuckled. “Who me? I just think they’re out there. Hell, some might even look like you.”
The lift slowed a stop, bringing the conversation to a close, before the doors slid open to reveal a shattered bridge. Once again the familiar sight of destroyed computer stations and dead bodies on the floor greeted the warrior. Each corpse represented another life cut short due to her actions and Talia set her jaw and then forced herself to follow Wannatabe up a set of stairs to the Flag Bridge.
Surprisingly the room wasn’t as badly damaged as the main bridge. While three staff members lay dead on the deck, covered with a white sheet, the majority of Rickman’s staff remained unharmed. Soot covered the Admiral’s gray uniform, turning it black, and his body language was that of a man resigned to death.
A middle aged man in battle armor approached.
“Commander, welcome aboard. Captain Robert Alexander, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I wish it could’ve been under more pleasant circumstances.”
“De’Zahna,” the Admiral interrupted. “You come to rub salt in the wound? Perhaps to gloat?”
“I don’t revel over the deaths of ten thousand people. If you do, then you’re sicker than I thought.”
“And this comes from someone who blatantly blew a crippled ship out of space?”
“I’ve seen a ‘crippled’ ship come back and bite me in the rear, so I wasn’t taking any chances.”
“You’re a ruthless bitch, you know that?”
“I’m a bitch? Really? It’s been less than two weeks since I woke up because some brilliant person thought it’d be a good idea to bring me back. This isn’t my time, so all I’ve wanted to do is learn how to belong instead of fighting.” She strode over to the chair and picked Rickman up one handed and then pulled him close to her face. “And know what? You’re fucking making me!”