Chapter Thirteen

In Earth Orbit, the Reagan

The Reagan's captain pulled the admiral aside, hearing the latest order. "Sir," he said quietly, glancing around to make sure no one else could hear him, "I don't think the fleet has enough ships to do that."

Yevgeni stared at the man, incredulous. Then he nodded the man aft to his cabin.

Once the two were in and the door closed, Yevgeni asked irritably, "Have you forgotten how these Military Colonies got started?" Before the captain could answer, Yevgeni bellowed, "Find some damn rocks, put some microfusion engines in them, get people on them, and move those fucking ships!!! NOW!"

The wide-eyed captain nodded and left to carry out the order, smartly. Yevgeni shook his head. He'd've given the necessary orders himself -- and he knew fully well they needed more ships to do this. He didn't need the ship's captain to point out the obvious. But now that the captain had done so, the captain had opened himself up to the admiral's wrath, and a little more responsibility.

Yevgeni turned on the radio, to find a jazz music station from Earth.

When the time came, Xara and company were back on solid ground. It had taken the Colonies five days to get everything ready. When Yevgeni saw the final report, he nodded and said, "Begin."

The navigator and communications officer leaped to the call. The word was given.

Aria, the Imperial Court

D'ra'yan was drinking a soothing cup of tea when the aide came to his side and whispered in his ear. It was a good thing the aide had come that close and quietly delivered the message; D'ra'yan nearly dropped the teacup when he heard it.

The Colonies had returned, but not with one ship. With forty, most of them space rocks. Big ones. They were demanding to speak to the Emperor directly. They were also entering orbit, throwing all traffic up there into chaos as they bulled their way in.

If they drop one of those rocks on us... re-entry will only take three minutes, at most... Not even the Primes could react that fast. D'ra'yan hurried to the war room, which hadn't seen an attack on Aria in centuries.

Obviously -- as if the sudden unconsciousness two weeks earlier hadn't made it evident -- Task Force Three had failed utterly in their mission. After consulting with three top generals, he knew he would have to speak to the Terrans up there. They had him under siege, and he knew it. Still, he grabbed a microphone and said very firmly, "This is Emperor D'ra'yan."

The translators went to work. "This is Admiral Yevgeni of the Terran Military Colonies. I'm not going to waste words on you, Emperor. They obviously didn't work last time. Where is Captain Peters?"

"Your Captain Peters is dead, Admiral!" Though he knew he was seriously in trouble, he still held an imperial righteousness in his voice. But he didn't push it.

"As I suspected. And Three Rivers?"


The admiral didn't respond. D'ra'yan thought he knew the answer why. Several missiles -- and a few Primes -- were climbing rapidly to attack the Colony warships. After several more seconds had passed without the admiral's bluster, D'ra'yan started growing a new confidence. This Admiral didn't have the stomach to destroy him. Which gave him the advantage.

Then he felt his skin start to tingle, and a funny, unpleasant feeling came from his mouth. For half a second. Then an officer yelled out in surprise. His hands had jumped off the keyboard, as if he'd been burned. But he hadn't.

The admiral's voice filtered down gravely. "I warned you, Admiral. We were willing to seek peace, to let the past remain the past. You ignored our offer and attacked us once again. Thus, this will be our final message to you."

D'ra'yan was surprised. What did he mean by that?

The admiral went on after his pause. "As of now, the planet Aria is under interdiction. There will be no communications between Aria and her empire's estates. There will be no traffic from Aria to other planets, or from other planets to Aria. There will be no one coming to your defense. Our business is now concluded, and there will be no surrender accepted from the Arion Empire."

The Emperor, outraged, answered him. "You speak to me of interdiction??? You dare to tell me the Empire will not serve Aria? Remember your words, Admiral, and eat them as we slaughter you! We are coming for you, Admiral, and you will not see the light of day again! We..."

"Emperor," a general said quietly, breaking his superior's rant. "They're not listening anymore. They've left."

"That's not all," the man whose hands flew off the console called out. "I've lost contact with six warships which were closing on Aria from outside our immediate area. It just... stopped."

Another voice, a woman, spoke next. "Sir, the capital city is in complete darkness."

"Darkness? Did they detonate an EMP above us?" her immediate supervisor asked.

"No, madame. It's still mid-afternoon. I mean complete darkness, like night-time."

:"How can that be?"

"That's according to the reports I'm getting, Colonel."

D'ra'yan left the war room to see for himself. His eyes confirmed it when he came to a window. It was pitch-black outside, except for the city lights. Not just black, he realized, but completely black. The stars were gone. "What..."

It was only then that Edgar showed up at the Emperor's side. They could only gape in wonder at the uniform clear skies above them. The two of them stared at each other, speechless.

A chill wind came upon them through the window.

Inside the brightly lit chamber, one of the war room's three generals spoke hesitantly to the Emperor. "Sir, it's been confirmed repeatedly. Our star is missing, as is every other planet in our solar system. We appear to be alone here."

D'ra'yan could not believe it. He -- along with half the planet -- was shocked into silence.

Edgar had trouble himself with the idea. "Where the hell are we?" he asked.

The general had an answer ready for him. "Sir, to be honest, we really don't know. We've managed to locate some galaxies, but none that look familiar from this distance. Our military forces here on the planet are still intact, but..."

"Out with it, man!"

The general hesitated. Then he realized there was no way around it. "Sir, the nearest stellar mass appears to be more than ten thousand light-years away. We can't find a singularity out there anywhere."

Edgar suddenly knew exactly where they were, and whispered it aloud. "The intergalactic void..."