Empire’s End Part 2 – The Last Crusade

Empire's End Part 2 - The Last Crusade

High Lord Beauregard sat in the command chair of his dreadnought.  Named Caliban’s Fury (after the emperor, blessed be his name) it was now a broken and battered mess.  The fleet had been decimated, reduced to a small fraction of what he had brought.  What was left were all damaged … every last one of them.  The only exception was the colony ships and some other non-combat vessels.  The enemy had taken great care not to fire upon them.  Whether they viewed them as not a threat or had a moral aversion to killing civilians he could not say.  He only knew that every one of his ships that fired on his enemy had been utterly devastated. 

He rested his brow on the palm of his hand.  How could this have happened?  They were the sword of the empire.  Their crusade was just and holy.  They had been sent out to cleanse the galaxy and extend the territory of their god emperor.  How could his holy armada have been defeated so soundly.  It made no sense.

When the oracles had first detected this world, there were no indications of military strength of this magnitude.  They were told that this species was still in what was the equivalent of their past renaissance period.  He had known that the trip would take nearly four hundred and seventy years.  Due to traveling at relativistic speeds and the time dilation that it caused, the trip would only seem like a few years to him and his crew.  There was no way that they could have developed this level of technology in this short a period. 

He thought back to just a few short days ago.  So much has changed since then.  His faith was foundering and threatening to bring down everything that he had ever believed.  As his mind took him back to relive these last few days, he sat back and closed his eyes from the headache that was coming.

“Your Immanence,” one of the slave technicians knelt before him.

He looked at the pathetic little man before him.  A pitiful excuse for a human being that had gotten himself into debt and was ordered into slavery by a magistrate to satisfy his creditors.  The high lord had purchased him due to the skills this man had in naval operations.  Before finding himself a slave, he had been an operations officer under the high lord’s command for several years.  Now, he looked on the man with disgust.  How could a man let themselves fall so far?  It was beyond his understanding.  He bought the man and brought him along on this crusade.  Hopefully, he would distinguish himself enough to justify granting his freedom.  If not, he would die a slave.

“Report,” came the high lord’s curt reply.

“Yes Immanence.  We will be dropping out of relativistic speeds into normal spacetime in a few minutes.  I have set the sensors to begin a detailed analysis of the entire system the moment the divine halo dissipates.”

The divine halo was a bright energy field that surrounded a ship or fleet when traveling at near the speed of light.  It was made up of massive amounts of nucleonic radiation and other high energy radiation that required all ships to be heavily shielded and armored.  It was also very bright, which required that all windows be shuttered to avoid blinding anyone that may try to look outside the ship.  They called it the divine halo and believed that it meant that the blessings of the god emperor were with them.

“Very good.  Report the moment we have any findings from the scans.”  The slave bowed so low that his forehead touched the deck and then scampered away before his presence offended his Immanence.

This was the moment that he had waited for three and a half years and four hundred seventy years of normal spacetime.  His crusade would begin shortly, and he would bring honor to the empire.

The shudders on the command center windows began to retract as the divine halo dimmed and disappeared.  The sensors came to life and began scanning the entire system.  That’s when all hell broke loose.

“Your Immanence,” the technician called out.  He was terrified both at what he was seeing on the screen but also the idea of telling the High Lord what he was seeing.  Maybe he would get lucky, and the High Lord would grant him a swift death.

“Speak,” came the High Lord’s annoyed reply.

Having great difficulty maintaining his composure, the technician began.  “We are detecting massive defensive fortifications around the target world.  There are,” his voice choked up a bit from the shear terror of what he was about to tell the High Lord.

“Unless you want to be publicly lashed for insubordination, I would highly advise that you spit it out before my patience runs out.”  The High Lord looked directly at him with a menace that could melt through the hull.

He regained his composure and continued.  “There are over thirty-five thousand ships of various sizes forming a picket line between us and the planet.  They have several ships that are nearly the size of this ship.  About half of their ships, though, are roughly the size of our destroyers.  A quarter are similar to our battle cruisers.  The rest are smaller attack craft akin to a corvette class.  It is unclear if those larger ships carry any fighter craft or bombers.”

He took a breath and continued.  “We are also detecting orbital defense platforms which make a grid around the entire planet.  Reading indicates around seventy-four thousand of them equipped with a variety of particle cannons and mass drivers.  It seems that the mass drivers have been placed near the planet’s rings so that they can use the rocks that make up the rings as ammunition.  There is one manned station in geosynchronous orbit over what appears to be a military command complex on the surface.  It will give instant line of sight comms between the station and ground command.”

How could this be?  They were still using domesticated animals for personal transport when his crusade left Earth.  How could they have come this far in less than five centuries?  It made no sense.  Had the oracles been wrong?  He silently scolded himself for his thoughts.  The oracles were ordained by the emperor.  To insinuate that they had made a mistake was the same as saying the emperor had made a mistake.  Gods don’t make mistakes.

“There is one more thing to note,” the technician continued.  “Their military equipment bears some similarities with ours.  It’s as if they looked at us and made some assumptions about how we made our ships and then tried to build their own.  The result is something that bears certain similarities but is also alien.”

The High Lord was incensed.  “There is no way that they could have seen us while we were in the divine halo.”

“Your Immanence, that is not entirely true,” the technician cowered in fear of what kind of punishment the High Lord would exact for him to have the audacity to correct him.

Instead, the High Lord seemed to relax and turn fully toward him.  “By all means, enlighten me slave.”  The cold and calm demeanor was worse than if the High Lord were enraged.

“Your Immanence, the types and amounts of radiation given off at near light speed could be analyzed and give indications as to the elemental composition of our ships.  It is possible that they could have detected some of our more exotic materials which would give them an idea of where to start looking to duplicate our type of energy production.”

“Also, the amount of gravitational lensing would give them an idea of our mass.  As light approaches a large mass like a star, planet or … our armada, it will bend around the mass.  The extent to which it will bend is based on the mass of the object.  If they understand the concepts of gravitational lensing, then it is possible that they would be able to detect the mass of our fleet.”

“Lastly, the shape of the halo is determined by the object traveling at relativistic speeds.  It’s shape determines the shape of the halo plume that surrounds the ship.  If they were able to use this factor to determine the number of ships coupled with knowing the mass of the fleet, it is feasible for them to calculate average size and composition of each ship.  Warships tend to be larger than merchant or exploratory ships, and colony ships tend to be the largest.”

“All of these factors taken together mean that it is reasonable to infer that they may have known that this was a colonization mission with a sizable military contingent.  It is, however, doubtful that they would have had the sensor fidelity to detect us at all before about eighty normal spacetime years ago.  That is if they detected us the moment that we were able to be detected.  It is more likely that they detected us about fifty years ago, give or take a decade.”

The High Lord sat back in his command chair.  “So, forty to sixty years?  Even if they detected us sixty years ago, that is not enough time to build this type of military force.”

“Look at us, your Immanence.  We went from horse and buggy to the moon in about sixty years.  It took another century for us to colonize our first extraterrestrial body, but we moved fairly quickly.  I believe that their observations of our fleet, along with a good understanding of basic scientific methodology, have accelerated their development.  Couple that with the desire to defend themselves, and you have a serious motivation to innovate.  What is the old saying?  Necessity is the mother of all inventions.  I think that is how it goes.  Our galactic empire has stood for a thousand years.  We haven’t experienced necessity in a long time.”

The High Lord was perplexed.  This was supposed to be a cakewalk.  The fleet would purify the planet.  He would rule as planetary overseer for ten years while the colony was set up and basic infrastructure was built.  Once the shipyards and military academies were at full capacity, he would name his successor and return to Earth.  He would report to the god emperor of his success at purifying another world.  The emperor would give him his reward.  He would drink from the divine waters of life in the royal gardens.  The waters granted immortality.  In truth, it contained nanobots that continually regenerated the cells of the body, killed pathogens, and healed all wounds.  They would replace the standard implants he had which prolonged life and granted rapid healing.  Only the royal family were allowed to drink from the waters of life unless invited to do so by the emperor himself.  The emperor rewarded commanders who expanded his divine empire by offering them the waters of life.

He now seemed less confident about his place as the next to receive the blessing of the emperor.  This was the culmination of his entire life’s work, and it was all falling apart.

A young commander at the communications dais turned toward the High Lord.  Young was a relative term.  She was nearly eighty years old, but, due to the implants and gene therapies, she looked like she was in her mid-thirties.  She sat in a command chair (smaller and less ornate than the High Lord’s of course) on her side of the command deck with ten technicians manning several terminals on the comms dais.

“Your Immanence.  We have an incoming transmission from the demon ships.  They are attempting to send us what looks like a rudimentary translation matrix, though our computers are having a hard time analyzing it.”

These creatures.  Even their language was heretical to the empire.  The High Lord thought for a moment and looked over to the comms dais.

“Commander, open a channel on the same frequency that they are transmitting.  I will address them and inform them of their fate.”

“Yes, your Immanence,” the commander replied as she input a few commands into the controls on the arm of her command chair.  “Channel open.  Press the button on your command chair when you wish to begin your address.”

He took a moment to steel himself.  He sat up straight in his command chair and adopted a regal posture.  After a moment he pressed the button on his chair.

When the screen came to life, there stood the demon.  It was a frightening creature.  It was bipedal with three fingers and an opposable thumb on each of its four arms.  It had slightly greenish colored skin with dark patterns resembling the stripes on a tiger.  In the background were several other creatures with the same greenish color of varying shades.  Each had unique patterns on the green skin.  They had thick ropes of what could only be described as something like tentacles but behaved like hair cascading down the head past the shoulders.  Black with ornamental rings on individual strands. 

He shook off the shock of these ugly creatures and began.  “My name is Reginald Beauregard, High Lord of the Holy Order, fleet commander of the Divine Crusade.  I claim this system in the name of the god emperor Caliban, divine ruler of the Terran Empire, the holy lord that brings peace and justice to the galaxy.  In his name we will cleanse this place of its vile infestation.  We will destroy the demons who defile the emperor’s world with their unholy presence.  We will plant our banners upon your bones.  Pray to whatever foul, evil deity that you will.  We are coming.”

He waited for these demons to translate his message.  He wanted to gauge their response.

The comms commander turned to him again.  “Immanence, they are sending us an updated translation matrix.  It appears that they have sorted out our language and we should be able to communicate seamlessly once we install the new matrix.  Cyber Knights are scanning it for potential malicious software before we install it.  Estimate thirty more seconds.”

He waited, and he waited.  Finally, the translation matrix installed.  The creature startled him when it spoke … in imperial standard.

“Hello, can you hear me?  Can you understand me?  Is the translation matrix that we provided working correctly?”

The High Lord stood. “Yes, the translation matrix is working perfectly.”

“Good,” the creature said.  “I am Grand Admiral Folok’chon, supreme military commander of all Ontarian forces, second only to the Chancellor of the planetary congress.  Your previous message came through before we finished the translation matrix.  I would not want to misunderstand you due to a faulty translation.  Could you please reiterate your last transmission?”

The High Lord restated his message.  When he was finished, he regarded the Ontarian Admiral to see what he would do.  Would they fight, surrender, or try diplomacy.  It didn’t matter.  Imperial doctrine mandated that he wipe them from the galaxy.  All who are not human are unholy demons.  Death is the only wages due to them.

The admiral shook his head, the tentacle-like hair swaying back and forth.  “That’s pretty much what we initially translated.  We have known for the last sixty-three years that you were coming.  We knew that yours was a colonization mission.  We knew you had a large military fleet.  Some speculated that your warships were to force us out so that you could take our world and enslave us.  Others thought that you simply brought warships to defend your new colony and that you may not even realize that this world was already inhabited.”

“Regardless of speculation, we knew that we needed to prepare.  Our technology at the time was nowhere near where it needed to be to stop you, so we studied your fleet.  It was hard to glean any useful information through the energy bloom around your ships.  Slowly, but surely, we gathered enough knowledge about your technology to begin constructing all that you see here.  Ten years of developing the technology needed and fifty years to build have seen to the fortification of our world.  We used the ship technology that we got from you to build massive mining ships in the first 5 years.  We sent them out to mine all the raw materials we would need to build everything that you see.”

He paused for a moment.  “In a way I should thank you.  The impending threat that you posed forced us to stop squabbling amongst ourselves.  We were once a fractured world where nation was pit against nation.  Now, we are a world united in common purpose.  There is no more war on the surface of our planet.  The energy technology that we developed by studying you has led to the elimination of energy sources that polluted our planet.  Hunger and poverty are no more.  There are plenty of resources for everyone.  Your invasion fleet helped us to get to that point.  So, thank you.  This,” the admiral stretched his four arms wide, “is all because of you.”

The admiral held his grin for a moment longer before his smile took a dark and ominous downturn.  This new expression was universal and needed no translation.  The High Lord immediately knew what this body language was communicating.  It was a warning.

The admiral continued with a new, more menacing tone.  “Our technology may still be a little behind yours, but I believe that we have made up for that with numbers.  You will find that ‘cleansing’ our planet will be more difficult than you planned.”

The admiral stepped a couple paces closer to the recorder so that his face filled the entire screen.  “On Ontaria, we have an old saying.  I do not wish to fight you, but if we must, then come at me.”

With that the screen went blank. 

“Channel terminated on their end your Immanence,” came the commander’s voice from the comms dais.

Another commander, in the weapons pit, spoke up next.  “Immanence, we are reading massive energy buildups all along the enemy fleet.  Shields and weapons are all powering up simultaneously.  There are massive electromagnetic distortion fields near the planetary rings.  Analysis indicates that they are loading their mass drivers and powering them up.” 

The weapons commander stared in complete shock at what he was seeing.  He turned to the High Lord.  “Immanence, their mass drivers, they aren’t using thrusters attached to accelerate the mass.  Their mass drivers act like giant rail guns.  That is what the massive EM fields are that we detected.  They are launching mountain sized metallic rocks out of rail guns with electromagnets powered by nuclear reactors!”

This was unbelievable.  Mass drivers were usually only used on stationary targets due to how slow they moved.  Accelerating a mass as big as a cruiser up to fifty or sixty kilometers per second took a lot of time, and they were very hard to maneuver.  You would attach ion thrusters at points around the mass to be accelerated, and then the computer would control the acceleration and orientation of the mass until impact.  From launch to impact could take more than a half an hour.

It appeared that these Ontarians had a massive supply of metallic rocks in the form of a ring around their planet most of these rocks were the size of a small mountain back on Earth.  With the metallic properties of the rocks, that meant that they could be accelerated using electromagnets instead of thrusters.  They would lose any maneuvering post launch but would gain speed.  The computer estimated that these mass drivers could accelerate their mountain-sized ammunition to speeds just below relativistic thresholds.  This is as fast as anything can move without experiencing time dilation.

The computer had calculated two things.  First, the mass accelerated from these giant rail guns would take approximately twelve seconds to reach their maximum effective range.  Secondly … his fleet were in those guns’ maximum effective range!

The weapons commander yelled out, “Massive power surge from those mass dr… Incoming ordinance!!!”

“On the fleetwide command channel commander,” the High Lord shouted as he pulled the mic down from his headset over his mouth.  The comms commander pointed to him to indicate that he was live with fleetcom.

“Incoming fire.  Initiate evasive maneuvers and return fire.  Target the flagship and that orbital defense station first.”

The High Lord watched his screens.  All over the fleet giant rocks were whizzing by his warships.  Some of them struck home though.  That opening volley took out forty-seven warships and a few support vessels.  Surprisingly, none of the projectiles were aimed anywhere near one of the colony ships.

He keyed up a channel specifically for the vessels that were not designated as warships.  “All non-combatants back off.  It appears that these Ontarians do not wish to target civilians.  We have already had support vessels caught in the initial salvo, apparently not by design.  Standoff fifty thousand kilometers to the rear and above the plane of the system so that you do not take fire.”

All along the fleet, non-combat ships peeled off and retreated to the designated staging area to await the conclusion of the battle.

At the same time the civilians were falling back, the imperial warships opened with a salvo of their own.  The particle cannons were the first to lash out, but at this range, they proved ineffective at penetrating the Ontarian shields.  Next, their plasma cannons coughed out their radioactive spray.  Like a miniature solar flare, the superheated plasma sped toward the enemy ships.  Just before the plasma discharge reached the flagship, a giant rock crashed into and through the plasma, taking the brunt and liquefying the surface.  It then continued in a straight line to the ship that had fired the plasma cannon.  These Ontarians had fired their mass driver to shield their flagship by allowing the “ammunition” to absorb the plasma shot.  He had never seen anything like it. 

“Get is in closer,” the High Lord ordered.  “We have to get close enough for our particle cannons to take out their shields.

They would never get close enough to find out if their particle cannons could punch through those shields.  What the High Lord could not have known was that the Ontarian ships were armed with particle cannons as well, along with rail guns and plasma missiles.  What he also could not have known is that he would enter their effective combat range before they would be in his.  The battle was over before his fleet could fire a third salvo.

He sat in his command chair with his brow resting in his hands when the comms commander spoke.  “Immanence, the Ontarian flagship is hailing us.”  She lowered her gaze as to not attract his ire.

“Put it through,” he said, defeat in his voice.

The screen crackled to life.  Static and visual artifacts danced within the transmission due to the damage his ship had taken.  Through the distortion, the face of Grand Admiral Folok’chon was clear.  He didn’t look happy about his victory.  In fact, he looked a little sad.

The admiral began, “Your fleet is defeated.  We do not desire your eradication.”

“Why not,” the High Lord asked coldly.  “That is exactly what we were going to do to you.”

The admiral regarded the human for a moment.  “We never wanted this conflict, and we still don’t.  We are a people of peace who unfortunately have had the opportunity to know the horrors of war.  It is not something that we are proud of or something that we desire.  We wish no harm to any sapient species.  Not even you.  We have an old saying that I hope will translate well.  The best way to kill an enemy is to turn them into a friend.”

“On our home world, we had a similar saying.  It stopped being used over a thousand years ago, before the formation of the empire.”

The High Lord hung his head for a moment and then looked at the screen.  “The emperor was wrong about you.”  He looked around the room at the officers that were on the command deck.  He had just committed a capital offense.  He thought that they would attack him, tear him limb from limb for his blasphemy.  No one moved.  They all nodded their support for him.  Text messages began flooding into his data pad on the arm of his command chair.  Messages of encouragement from the ship commanders of the fleet.  They urged him on.

He continued.  “You are not the demons that we were told you would be.  You are a noble and honorable people.  The emperor was wrong,” he repeated.

“If our god emperor is wrong then he cannot be a god, and if he is not a god then he is unworthy to rule.”

All over the fleet were cheers and fists pumping in the air.  They had seen the perfection of their god emperor destroyed, and now they had turned on him.

“We will take our fleet back to our home.  We will blot out the heretic that calls himself a god.  We will rid the galaxy of his evil rule forever.  The empire shall fall, and we shall build a new society to take its place.”

Every human across the fleet started hitting their fists against their chests.  It settled into rhythmic drumming that made the blood rise in the High Lord.

The Admiral was still on the screen and could be seen on every screen in the fleet.  He held out his hand to get the attention of the humans.  The drumming settled and silence fell over the fleet.

Grand Admiral Folok’chon, supreme commander of the Ontarian defense forces spoke three words.  “Want some company?”

And so began the last crusade of High Lord Reginald Beauregard and his new Ontarian friends.

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