Prepare to cue "B5: In the Beginning"'s soundtrack, please. The track... should be obvious.
The Hall of Khans, Katyusha City, Strana Mechty
The Hall of Khans had seen better days. Sixteen Clan banners - formerly seventeen, but the Snow Raven surrender had provoked the others to remove it - remained, but a number were accompanied by empty chairs. The Blood Spirits and the Smoke Jaguars were no longer represented, long lost or cut off on Huntress and York and in the Pentagon, and many Clans had impossibly young or impossibly old Khans taken from the depleted ranks of their Clans' Bloodnamed.
Kael Pershaw, the aged and half-artificial Loremaster, showed his years more than he ever had before. He called the Grand Council to order as he usually did and ceded the floor to Cyrilla. Cyrilla stood in the resplendent uniform of her Clan, complete with wolf mask. "My fellow Khans, the day has come, and we will soon face our deaths. I ask now that all confirm the completion of your lists for those young who we have sent to the Svoboda to pass on the genes of our forebearers."
One by one, the attending Khans affirmed such. Cyrilla found herself struggling to keep her spine straight, the years catching up decisively with her. When the final remarks were made she nodded. "Then all that remains is to await the enemy landings." Cyrilla turned to a screen prepared against the wall. The screen flashed and a man wearing the Diamond Shark naval uniform appeared. "Star Admiral Jason, report."
Jason McKenna, once a Snow Raven who had been accepted into the Sharks following the Raven surrender, nodded from his place on the bridge of the McKenna's Pride
. "Enemy ships have begun to arrive, my Khan. They are moving toward us at a high speed. We will be in their weapons range within twenty minutes."
"The fleet is ready?"
He nodded. "Every warrior ship and aerospace fighter we have left is awaiting the enemy. We have orientated ourselves so that the enemy will not hit Strana Mechty with stray shots." The middle-aged man's jaw clenched. "We may not be able to deliver a blow against them, my Khan, but we will not break the line. We will hold until we have all fallen."
The use of words common in Clan oathes was well-placed, and Cyrilla nodded at them, the sentiment of the words now so painfully alive. "Thank you, Star Admiral. Seyla.
Cyrilla watched McKenna's image blink out. With the coming death of their society, it occurred to Cyrilla that every communication, every announcement, was now filled with the words and phrases of Clan ritual. It was, perhaps, the only thing they had left for themselves, their future stolen and their society at the mercy of the executioner's axe.
"My Khan." Pershaw's voice brought Cyrilla's attention. "The technicians tell me that we have an incoming communication from the enemy fleet."
"And now to face the executioner one last time," Cyrilla whispered to herself, so lowly that only Pershaw could hear it. He gave her a solemn nod, and it occurred to her that the customary tension and contempt between their Clans had disappeared from his behavior toward her, as if they were no longer worthy of attention. "You may put him on."
Cyrilla looked back the monitor. After a few moments, an image flashed onto the screen. It was a single man, standing tall in a room with lit work stations in the background and uniformed people standing at them. The man's black and red uniform, complete with a four-star rank insignia on cuffs and collar, was crisp and well-kept. He looked impossibly young, but all present knew that the enemy had genetic manipulation technology that in some respects was greater than their own, including the secret of delaying the aging process. Waiting a moment, Cyrilla pulled off her mask, much to the surprise of the assembled Khans, preferring to speak with her killer face-to-face. "I am Cyrilla, leader of the House of Ward, ilKhan of the Clans," she announced in a firm, though not rough, voice - looking more like the stern grandmother figure than a warlord.
"Admiral Robert Dale, Allied Nations Star Navy, speaking from Enterprise
," was the man's response. Cyrilla looked into his face, and it made her think of someone who was not very pleased with what he was doing, like that of a warrior finding out he would have to fight a close sibko mate in the final match of his Bloodname tournament. "By order of the government of the Allied Nations, in conjunction with our allies the Rasalhague Republic and the Federated Commonwealth, I have come to either accept your surrender on the terms announced by my government or to impose the terms on you by force."
"Very well." Cyrilla nodded stiffly. "The Khans of all the Clans refuse your terms. We pledge all of our remaining active duty ships, aerospace craft, and warriors to the defense of Strana Mechty."
Admiral Dale's nod was almost mechanical, acknowledging their intent to fight. "If I might ask, ilKhan, why?" Cyrilla detected the change in his voice tone. "Your Clans have already lost thousands of warriors. You are heavily outnumbered against our forces, which enjoy an insurmountable edge in technology over you. All you are doing is guaranteeing the deaths of those you lead."
At that, Cyrilla Ward nodded. "Yes, Admiral Dale, you are correct. We have no hope of even stalemate. If we fight we will be ground under by your forces. There would be wisdom in surrender, to preserve our lives, and trust that perhaps we could find a new meaning to our lives." She sighed, and a grandmotherly smile - one full of weariness and infused with the fatalism of a woman who knew her time was drawing short anyway but yet benevolent in it's appearance - crossed her wizened face. "But I am too old. I have lived as a warrior of the Wolf Clan my entire life, Admiral. It is the only way I know how to live. The new world you create upon our ruins may be a nice one, perhaps even better than the one we have created here, but I have no place in it. And I have lost far too many kin and friends to abandon the society they died to defend."
Cyrilla didn't require eyes in the back of her head to know some eyes were looking at her intently, full of disgust and contempt. There were diehards still here, who had barely acceeded to the idea of keeping some of their young out of the struggle to ensure the continance of the Founders' bloodlines and who most certainly would not appreciate her remarks that another way of life might be better than their's, but Cyrilla was far too old and far too experienced to care much. She had long known the kind of lives the lower castes lived, and while her upbringing meant she saw it more as a sign of their greatness than anything else, she was also aware that other ways of life might be gentler and better for their well-being than the life of labor and sacrifice demanded of them by the Clans. In the end, it didn't much matter, for the Clans were going to die, and Cyrilla could only hope that they knew a happy existance afterward.
"Nothing could persuade you?" she heard Dale ask. "Nothing could convince you that surrender would be best for your people?"
"I'm sorry, Admiral, but no. My people are rather set in their ways, and like me I fear they - particularly the older ones - could not function in a new society." Cyrilla took in a breath to continue, lest the communication end before she spoke upon the matter that she cared most of. "But, Admiral, not all of us will be fighting. Our youngest warriors, those who have never seen battle except in their training and their trials, are not going to be fighting. We have brought them to the Svoboda Zemylya, as we call it, to remain with the chapels we have dedicated to our Founders for the battle. They will surrender, and all I ask is that you keep the Svoboda out of the fighting. Our forces will remain away from it to ensure the safety of the people there."
There was some mumbling off-screen that Cyrilla couldn't make out, but Dale clearly heard it, for he leveled an angry glare at the speaker. He turned his attention back to Cyrilla as she waited patiently. "Very well. I'll inform my ground commanders that the Svoboda is a non-combatant zone."
"Thank you, Admiral." Cyrilla nodded gently. She could see the man's hesitation, his desire to avoid the duty he had been placed with wrestling with the sense of duty he undoubtedly possessed. There was a clear benevolence there; this man did not hate her, did not hate her people, no matter what he thought of their system, and felt that the violence to come was unnecessary and, perhaps, the fault of his people and not her's. This was someone that Cyrilla decided deserved a measure of respect. "Perhaps if the Fates had been kinder, you and I might have spoken in happier circumstances, maybe even as friends."
"Perhaps so, ilKhan. Perhaps so." Dale nodded. Having nothing better to say, he finished by saying, "Farewell, ilKhan. Enterprise
out." At that, remark, he disappeared from the screen.
Cyrilla turned and could see the people looking at her, some understanding, some apathetic, and some perhaps trembling with rage at how she'd spoken. To hell with them
, was the thought through her mind, and aloud she simply said, "I suggest that we adjourn now, and that all of our units be readied for action."
Without complaint, the Grand Council session ended.
Cyrilla Ward's image disappeared from the communications screen. Immediately afterward, Dale levied a second angry glance at the defiant, hate-filled visage of the Iron Jarl. "That was completely and totally unacceptable!" he growled in as stern a tone as those around him had ever known.
"It is the truth!", Miraborg shot back. "These barbarians
invaded my homeland and murdered my people without pause! Need I remind you of the massacre on New Bergen? The slaughter of our troops on Leoben and Verthandi? And now you speak to them as if they are anything other than the inhuman savages that they are! They never showed mercy, why should we?"
"Why should we? Because mercy is the one thing seperating us from societies like the Draconis Combine, that's why," Dale retorted. "Making peace isn't just about crushing your enemies. Your people are proof enough of that. You were crushed by the Combine, but that didn't bring peace, just centuries of violence and turmoil until you won your independence again, the hard way. My responsibility, Jarl, my
responsibility, is not just to my subordinates but to the peoples I serve, and that means I have to do everything possible to ensure that our victory here is won in a way to foster reconciliation with the native populace and an end to violence for the long-term. Otherwise in a few decades, perhaps even centuries, the worlds here will simply rise up and cause another conflict in their desire to throw off an authority they despise for another. And I will be damned if I will allow your desire for vengeance to lead to that!"
For a moment, the two men - one standing, the other rigid in his wheel-chair - glared contempt at one another, and finally Miraborg simply turned away, ceding the contest.
An uncomfortable pause covered the Enterprise
CIC for a short while. A subordinate officer broke the silence by announcing that they had entered firing range of the assembeld Clan armada.
Miraborg promptly sneered and remarked, "Perhaps we should hold fire until we are in their firing range, Admiral? It would be fairer and more sporting that way."
Dale once again shot a glare at the hateful, spiteful man nearby. "Yes, you'd like that, wouldn't you Jarl? We could wait until then, prolong their suffering for a while longer as they wait for us to destroy them, and then tease them by presenting them targets. But I am not a sadist." He looked to an officer. "Fighter complements are to target their opposites. All ships, open fire."
The ships of the Allied fleet promptly opened fire.
SLS McKenna's Pride
Star Admiral Jason McKenna took in a breath, steeling himself for the end. The enemy fleet was arranged in echelon, their bow guns being all that was necessary to destroy his force.
The Clans had assembled every ship they had left. Armed DropShips, WarShips - with even the Prinz Eugen
and McKenna's Pride
- aerospace fighters, all gathered in formation to block the enemy path toward Strana Mechty.
The fire that came on was ferocious. Torpedoes from the enemy's destroyers and cruisers raced across the distance swiftly, followed by a barrage of fire from particle cannons, nuclear-disruptors, and railguns. To the left and right of the McKenna's Pride
, Dropships burst open like crushed eggs or simply disappeared when hit directly by enemy torpedoes. Point-defense fire struck out at the fast-moving torpedoes, and some torpedoes were even destroyed before they could get in range, but more than enough got through. On the ship's side the Hell's Horses' ships Gold Knight
and Red Knight
were torn apart by direct torpedo hits. The last Coyote Warship, the battlecruiser Blood of the Coyote
, took a torpedo hit that tore off it's bow, dying afterward from a direct hit by the DNS Normandie
's 260mm plasma cannons.
The aerospace fighters maneuvered and evaded, but they too were claimed. Far off, anti-fighter missiles from the Enterprise
's fighter contingent claimed one after the other. Some fighters were destroyed by their desperate pilots trying to intercept torpedoes, sacrificing themselves to try and preserve the ships for a few moments more.
Jason McKenna watched his ships die one by one, giving repeated orders for them to undertake evasive maneuvers and fire when the enemy reached range... and then he died. The front dorsal turret on the DNS Missouri
focused it's 270mm particle cannons on the McKenna's Pride
. Three beams of energy sliced through the ship like it were an animal being carved for a meal. McKenna and his bridge crew were vaporized as the blue beam passed through the bridge effortlessly. Where the beams hit armories, what they didn't vaporize detonated from partial hits heating them to that point, and a series of internal explosions tore the guts out of the flagship of Aleksandr Kerensky.
Dale watched the battle quietly from the CIC of the Enterprise
. Morgan Kell stood off, watching as well, as did Miraborg.
Victor and Kai had come to the CIC as well. They had remained silent during Dale's conversation with the ilKhan and his argument with Miraborg, and now they were transfixed by the magnified image screens showing the explosions flowering one after the other in the heart of the enemy fleet. The explosions began to decrease in number until finally, after several minutes, they stopped. An officer reported, "All enemy vessels destroyed, sir."
"Signal SR craft to go find survivors. Bring us in to medium orbit." Dale looked to Victor and Kai. "Gentlemen, now that this phase is over, I believe you have troops to join. COB, please escort Major Steiner-Davion to the hanger deck and arrange for his return flight to the transport with his unit."
The door opened and Morgan joined them as they walked down through the corridors of the monstrous Enterprise
. A lift took them to the hanger deck and to a waiting shuttle. Kai climbed in behind the pilot, but Victor stopped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked back and up at Morgan. "Are you ready for this?" Morgan asked.
"Yes," was the reply.
"Remember, they're desperate, and not all of them will be as accepting as the ilKhan. Be careful." Morgan let go and stepped back. Victor nodded at him and closed the hatch. He found a seat by Kai and slipped on the harness as was protocol.
As the shuttle was being lifted to the launch deck, Victor looked over at Kai. "So this is going to be it. Feeling okay?"
Kai nodded at him. "Yes. I got the feeling, though, that the Admiral isn't."
Victor replied with a shrug. "I'm not sure I liked the way he dressed down Miraborg. The man has a right to be angry. We all do, after everything the Clans did. I lost a lot of good people on Trellwan."
"I'm not saying you're wrong, or he's wrong, but...." Kai's attention was diverted to something. "What's that?"
Victor looked out the cockpit window now. On a different catapult to the one their shuttle was being rigged under, a large wreath was being fixed by men in vac-suits. The two watched until their shuttle shot out of the launch deck and into space.
slowly entered the debris field of the destroyed Clan fleet. Her deflector screens pushed debris away from her, as the other ships did with their own, and she continued on her course for orbit. As the fleet moved through the debris, a wreath was thrown from the rear-facing launch deck opening of the Enterprise
. As the ships moved through, suddenly each targeted its guns toward empty space, and one by one flashes of energy erupted from each.
On the bridge of the Enterprise
, Admiral Dale looked out at the debris and snapped off a firm salute in time with the harsh bellowing of the Chief of the Boat, which prompted every other man and woman on the bridge to do the same. Across the ship, all personnel stopped and remained at attention for the respectful moment of silence, those near any kind of viewer saluting toward space as was ordered. The steps were repeated on every ship of the fleet, even those transports carrying Rasalhaguan and Tanite troops, most of whom were perplexed at why the Alliance crews had suddenly stopped and done so.
When the moment of silence passed, Dale walked over to the bridge's comm unit and put himself on, having it patched to every ship in the fleet. Lifting the receiver to his mouth, he began speaking. "Good morning. This is Admiral Dale speaking to all ships. You have done a fine job today. The enemy fleet has been annihilated in the quickest time possible. Now it is our place to watch and wait while our comrades in the Army, the Marines, and the Allies' ground forces finish the work we started."
"For those of you wondering about the gesture we have just presented, all I can say is that no matter the faults of their society - and there are many - the Clansmen we just killed were brave men and women who gave their lives for what they believed in and for the society they and their ancestors created here. If we must hate the society they made, it is only fair that we recognize their courage and willingness to die for it. This helps us remember that our foes were human, and that their people are human, and that they deserve respect and dignity as we do. By doing this, we improve the chances that this war will not lead to another one, and that the peace to come will bring reconciliation and a common devotion to peace. To the men and women who are about to enter battle, I say this; Good luck and God bless you all. Our hopes and prayers are with you."
Dale reached down and switched the comm unit off. He nodded to the bridge crew and promptly left. The next phase in the battle was out of his hands.