The last enemy vessel detonated, washing the Alliance forces in hard radiation. Fragments of metal pinged off the hull of the corvette Athena.
“Incoming transmission, Captain. It’s the Admiral,” the communications officer reported. Captain Sardis nodded, and the an image of the Admiral appeared before him, standing by the rail over the control pit.
“Well fought, Captain,” the Admiral said said slightly too loudly, the adrenaline of direct combat still fresh in his veins, “But there is another fleet that threatens Sol system. To properly defend the home system we need to concentrate our forces.”
“What are you orders, sir?” Sardis asked, already knowing the answer.
“Our fleets are currently dispersed between the First Systems in a defensive formation. No single battle group is large enough to properly engage the incoming assault. We need to send word to Sol of the impending attack. The Athena has the greatest jump range of any of our vessels. If you leave for Sol now, there will be just enough time to alert the battle groups. Your orders are to proceed to the Sol system with the intelligence we have gathered and deliver it to High Command,” the Admiral had a steely glint in his eye. He knew as well as Captain Sardis what he was asking was impossible.
Sol system was forty light-years away. Even pushing the Athena’s reactor to maximum, it would take three jumps to cover that distance. They only had time for two.
“Understood, sir,” the Captain said, “It’s been a pleasure serving with you.” The Captain gave a sharp salute, and the Admiral responded in kind.
“Over and out,” the Admiral said and blinked out of existence.
Captain Sardis took a deep breath before he stood and strode out of the bridge. The Athena was minuscule compared to anything else in the Sol Space Force, and the walk to engineering took less than a minute. Chief Engineer Phillipides was hunched over a control panel, completely oblivious to the Captain’s presence.
The Captain knocked on the bulkhead to get his engineer’s attention. The thickset woman started and spun her chair around. The bags under her eyes were a testament to the hours they had all put in during their most recent engagement. Combat in space was like old Earth submarine warfare. Hours of boredom followed by seconds of terror.
“We have new orders, Chief. We are to make best speed back to Sol and deliver important information about an imminent attack. We only have enough time for two jumps,” Sardis couldn’t read her reaction.
“That… we can’t do that,” Phillipides looked at him, then away.
“There is a way,” the Captain said, grimacing. They both knew the solution, but they had to go through the motions.
“I’ll have to overload the fusion core,” the Chief Engineer said, “The risk of containment loss is insane.”
“We don’t have a choice. Not only was this a direct order from the Admiral, it is the only way to defend Earth. How can we refuse when doing so would condemn billions to death?” Sardis had a white-knuckle grip on the door frame.
“Sir…,” she trailed off, her eyes losing focus for a moment. A second later she looked him in the eyes, “Engineering won’t let you down, sir. I’ll pas the order on to the rest of the section. With a few tweaks we can make it happen.”
A muscle in Captain Sardis’ jaw twitched. He thrust his hand toward the Chief. She stood and gripped his wrist as he gripped hers. A moment passed before they broke contact and saluted in unison.
The first jump had gone smoothly. They had known it would. While they had taxed their drive to its limits, nothing catastrophic had happened. The next jump would be the true test. Chief Engineer Phillipides had found ways to increase their reactor’s output that, under normal circumstances, would be unacceptable violations of safety protocol. They had no other choice.
The Captain pressed a button on his chair and addressed the entire crew, “All hands, hear this. Sol expects that each of us do our duty. Prepare for jump,” he pressed the button a second time to end the address, “Comms, the millisecond we enter the Sol system, get that message out.”
“Aye, sir. Command entered and set for automatic transmission,” the young sailor was shaking.
“Jump,” the Captain ordered.
“Sir, its the Athena, they just jumped in system. They’re transmitting encrypted data,” the watch station officer looked at his commanding officer, “There’s something wrong with their reactor, sir, they…,” a cataclysmic wave of static came over the comm channel, and the officer flung his headphones to the floor, wincing.
“The Athena just exploded, sir,” another sailor reported, “but they finished their transmission. They won at Marathon!”
A cheer went up from the sailors present, but the Station Commander felt a wave of cold wash over him. He watched through the porthole as a point of light blossomed, expanded, then faded. They had won. With this new information they would win again. But every victory had a cost in blood and, one day, it would be their turn turn to pay that price.