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Jon Messenger

Fall of Icarus

PROLOGUE

“Captain on the deck!” the navigator yelled, as the small crew on the bridge of the Liberator leapt to their feet. Captain Hallith stepped off the lift and ran a hand along the bony ridges near his thinning hairline. Sweat beaded on his pudgy face from the exertion of walking down the long halls of the Alliance Cruiser. Where the sweat droplets fell, they pooled in rivulets along the sharp, bone protrusions that ran along his jaw, cheeks, brows, and at the base of his hairline. The Uligart smiled at the disciplined crew manning his bridge.

“At ease,” he said softly.

The cramped bridge of the Alliance Cruiser was small enough that his nasally voice carried clearly across the room.

The crew took their seats, as the Captain took his at the top of the tiered rows of seats. “What’s our status, Mr. Paporus?”

The ship’s Tactical Officer, a large Oterian, reviewed the day’s logs as he spoke. The Tactical Officer stood well over seven-feet tall. His tan fur-covered body seemed grossly disproportionate on the small bridge, so much so that his jutting horns nearly scrapped the low ceiling as he moved. Captain Hallith only half listened, knowing that today’s review would be dreadfully similar to yesterday’s, and the day’s before that, and the day’s before that. The Liberator, an archaic vessel that was refurbished for its current mission, was assigned the duty of patrolling the Demilitarized Zone between Alliance and Empire space. Established in the Taisa Accord nearly one hundred and fifty years previously, the Demilitarized Zone became a virtual barrier, existing of nothing more than sparse star systems and open space, but an invisible knife’s edge through which ships from neither side would cross. The Captain only accepted the position as a means for promotion, knowing that during a time of peace between the two organizations, job opportunities along the Demilitarized Zone held great potential for further advancement within the Fleet.

Until two days ago, Captain Hallith’s job consisted of little more excitement than intercepting merchant vessels that travelled too close to the Demilitarized Zone. His crew boarded only one ship suspected of smuggling and, even after only a miniscule amount of illegal contraband was found, he threw the entire crew of that ship in the brig. Two days ago, however, Captain Hallith received a Top Secret communication from High Command. The blanket message, sent to all Captains patrolling the Demilitarized Zone, notified them of a potential new threat. Intel reported that a small fleet of deadly Terran Destroyers left Earth’s orbit and had been spotted in Alliance occupied space. If that were the case, Hallith realized with a small amount of excitement, a direct engagement with the Terran Empire would catapult his career. He would be guaranteed a Fleet command position, instead of being delegated to a small, refurbished vessel like the Liberator.

Shaking free his fantasies of command, Captain Hallith noticed a worrisome expression on his Navigator’s face. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ninarath. What was that you asked?”

“I was merely asking what you thought about the rumors of a Terran invasion, sir,” the Avalon asked in a soft, musical voice as he adjusted his white, feathery wings.

Captain Hallith always thought the Avalons looked like a sickly race, with their deathly pale skin and anemically thin bodies. He tried to avoid looking for too long at the Navigator’s slightly sunken cheeks.

“Do you really think there’s a possibility that there are Terran Destroyers in Alliance space?”

“Well, I think about it quite a bit, to be honest,” the Captain replied, shifting his weight into his comfortable chair. The chair had been one of the few items Captain Hallith was able to specifically request during the rebuilding of his old ship. “But it’s really hard to say how much truth there is to rumors about Terran attacks. Need I remind all of you that this isn’t the first time the Liberator has been put on alert for a potential Terran threat? You’re all too young to remember, but there was a time when everyone thought the Empire would attack at any moment. During those days, we were almost always on alert.”

The Captain settled into his chair, sliding down until he was able to rest his head against the back cushion and rested his hand on his full belly. “I think it would be a great opportunity to put the Empire in its place for violating the Taisa Accord, but I don’t really put much stock in there actually being Destroyers out there.”

“Sir, I have a contact,” the Communications Officer chimed in. “It looks like multiple ships.”

“Probably merchants off course,” the Captain replied dismissively. “Send them the verification code.”

“And what if it’s not a drill, sir?” Ninarath asked.

“What’s that?”

“I’m just wondering what would happen if we later found out that there really were Destroyers in Alliance space. What if all this isn’t a drill?”

Captain Hallith chuckled to himself. “Son, there hasn’t been a major conflict between the Alliance and the Empire in one hundred and fifty years. However, you’ve all trained extensively on how to conduct ship-to-ship combat. I think the Terrans might just be a little surprised if they were to go toe-to-toe with the Liberator.”

“Sir?” the Communications Officer interrupted again.

“What is it, Mr. Chenowitt?” the Captain asked of the Uligart.

“Sir, the ships aren’t responding with any friendly frequencies.”

The Captain furrowed his brow. “What are they replying with, then?”

“Nothing, sir,” Chenowitt replied, a hint of nervousness on the edge of his voice. “I’ve hailed them repeatedly on the major communications bands and have received no response.”

“And the FIS?” the Captain asked, referring to the Friendly Identification System, a computer system that automatically sends a ship’s designation when probed by Alliance Fleet requests.

“Nothing at all, sir. They’re flying in complete blackout and radio silence.”

“Smugglers,” the Captain muttered. He brought a microphone to his lips as he turned on the internal ship’s radio channel. “Attention on the ship. This is Captain Hallith. We have unidentified ships rapidly approaching our positions. All hands, report to battle stations.”

Captain Hallith pushed the microphone away and turned to his Navigator. “Helm, bring us about and give me full forward view.” The wall in the front of the bridge flickered to life, revealing a wide expanse of empty space. Slowly, as the ship maneuvered, distant dots swung into view.

“Give me magnification on those vessels.”

The image of the ships grew closer in bursts as the camera magnified in stages. They grew from distant dots to sleek, aerodynamic silver bullets. As the image grew closer and crisper, the Captain was able to see the shiny silver hulls of the six large ships. Along their sides, thin colorful pinstripes painted in overlapping patterns on the silver armored exterior of the vessels finally gave him their identity. Behind each of the six ships, the stars shimmered from the hot exhaust as their engines burned at their absolutely hottest, propelling the Destroyers toward the lone Alliance Cruiser.

His jaw dropping in surprise, Captain Hallith began barking orders to his crew. “Helm, bring us fully around and give me full speed! Tactics, arm all weapon systems!” He tugged hastily at the microphone beside him, nearly pulling it free from the wall. “All hands to battle stations! Terran Destroyers have crossed the Demilitarized Zone! This is not a drill!”

The Captain shook visibly as the Liberator accelerated, slowly building forward momentum from their worn engines. The forward view screen spun to reveal the space behind, showing the six

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