Here’s a fun little short story for you all!


The Weight of One World by Robert Corrado

Maris scowled at the image of the planet on the large telescreen before him.  He resented that the council had placed such a weighty decision on his shoulders.  He’d been able to avoid it for the duration of the voyage, telling himself that he had to focus on matters of ship security, or navigating the best possible course among other nonsense.  He had acted like a cancer victim in denial.  A tumor grew inside him and the knowledge of that tumor he’d pushed as deeply into his subconscious as possible but the unpleasant feeling he carried with him every day that a confrontation with it was inevitable persisted.  It had been a long voyage from the Milky Way and so he’d had plenty of time to push that tumor deep.  Now it stared him right in the face from the telescreen.  Balt, his second in command coughed loudly from behind him to get his attention.

“Yes Balt?”  Maris asked, his eyes glued to the telescreen, but Balt seemed hesitant to deliver.

“The Council would like a status upda…”

“FUCK THE COUNCIL!  Am I clear?”  Maris hissed the retort without turning from screen.

“Yes sir.”  Balt meekly took up his previous position behind his commander.

The Annihilator was the grandest ship in the armada and Maris was her captain.  The ship currently occupied a low orbit around the miserable planet that still sat serenely in the center of the bridge telescreen.  Maris had given the gun crews authorization to target the grey sphere just moments after their arrival but still had hesitated when it came to the order to fire.  They could have been bombarding the planet for hours already.  Even the ship’s largest battery was prepped to fire but sat silent, her maser cannon.  It ran the length of the ship’s entire spine and its energy could turn every drop of water on the planet to steam and ignite the atmosphere into a fireball.  Maris persisted in his hesitation.

It was no easy thing to commit genocide.  There were aliens down there and they were dangerous.  Others of their kind had killed so many of Maris countrymen that the death toll could scarcely be counted even by computers.  He should want to pull the trigger, end the war for good.  The knowledge that once this planet was gone that this species would be exterminated left him feeling sick, and also very angry.  The council had given him vague orders.  When you arrive, determine the level of threat, and then respond to that threat to insure the safety of our people.  The subtext however had been clear; they expected him to deploy the maser; to destroy the colony utterly.  The official orders allowed the cowards in the council the comfort of knowing they had not officially committed the living creatures on the planet below to extermination.  Maris railed inwardly against the impatience oh his masters.  How dare they?  Not one among them with enough spine to make the decision themselves yet they demand a status update! ?

Maris spat.  Politicians!  What are they good for except filling graves!?  Ultimately, Maris conceded to himself that the species that they contended with was dangerous enough to merit the level of force that the council expected.  Maris had fought the aliens since he was barely a cadet out of the academy, and now as an admiral he had the opportunity to end their threat for every future generation.  Balt had sidled near Maris again and spoke to his captain, a nervous flutter in his voice.

“The planet is haling us sir.  A peace envoy wishes an audience.  Will you hear this envoy sir?”

Maris considered carefully.  Perhaps talking to this envoy would give him the clarity he needed.  He needed to be certain that extermination was the right course of action.  Perhaps the alien would show its hand, reveal to him some evil intent in their species future that might steel his resolve.  Then again, the envoy might evoke sympathy, perhaps even pity in him.  If he were swayed by that and stayed his hand would that decision come to haunt the future of his people?

“I will give this envoy an audience.”  Maris had almost whispered it and it was probably for the best that he had not seen Balt’s dismayed reaction to the answer.

The telescreen changed from the small greyish planet to the face of Maris greatest enemy.  He’d seen captives, and been up close to them before.  They violated all of his senses, and looked so utterly different from his own kin that Maris could hardly keep himself from wincing at the image before him.  It was a female of the species and disgusting to behold as all of them were.  The horror before him did not wait his bidding to speak but instead began as soon as she could see she had the admiral’s attention.  It’s harsh and ill-formed speaking parts barked out an unrecognizable string of sounds that pained his ears, but the translator within the ship’s computer did not delay for long.

“We are unarmed.  We beg of you.  Grant us mercy.  Grant us life.”

The image on the screen widened its maw and bared its teeth to Maris.  It was how they showed friendship a behaviorist had once told him.  It was all the impetus Maris needed.  His resolve had grown to the size of an unassailable tower.

“Balt.  Open fire.”  Maris sighed as if all the worry of the world were lifted from him as the words were uttered.

“Yes sir!” Balt responded, wide-eyed.

The telescreen changed back to the image of the small grey planet.  The ship batteries began to open fire, pummeling the world and causing blossoming explosions on its surface.  The maser punctuated their barrage, its beam colliding silently with the center of the planet and turning its surface at first red and orange as the atmosphere completely ignited and then to ash grey and cinder black over a period of a minute or more.  The campaign had been so long, starting in the Milky Way and ending all the way out here.  This was it, the last planet in their ancient empire and Admiral Maris could hardly believe the thing was done.  The image of the alien’s snarling visage still stained his mind’s eye and he feared that even with the eradication of the species he’d never forget it.  Balt placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t worry sir.  No one will mourn the extermination of the humans.”



General Update and Fun Announcement

Good afternoon friends and fans,

With so much work going on with my regular nine to five it has been so difficult to keep regular updates coming.  I’ve got a few more memes I could share but they are so politically incorrect and offensive that I’ve been hesitant (laughs).

In addition to those fun side projects I have been putting in time on two novels, one will be the kickoff of an epic fantasy trilogy, the other will be a mind-bending science fiction novel.  Progress was slow but steady until recently hitting some stumbling blocks with where I want to take these characters.  So as artists are wont to do from time to time… I’M SWITCHING GEARS!  The plan is now to put out for all of you a fun compilation of stories that I will be titling Second-hand Science.  This compilation of science-fiction stories will include between 10 and 15 short stories and a novella.  It will be the size of a full-length novel cover to cover and centered around the theme of parallel universes, alternate dimensions, and the travelers, heroes, and villains that inhabit them.  I think you’ll enjoy.  Keep checking in for a reveal of the cover of the upcoming book as well as the back cover blurb.  A website for the book will launch shortly as well.



Something New For Those That Have Read The Fifth Column

I’m not going to apologize for my lack of updates because hey… I guy has to eat and my regular nine to five has been quite demanding.  That being said I thought of a fun little exercise I think we all can enjoy.  Keep in mind this will be a lot more fun for those of you that have finished my novel (hint hint).

The format is simple.  I’m going to throw out some actors that I think would be best to play the roles of the characters in the novel and you’re going to tell me if you agree or if you think I’m totally off.  I’ve got three entries for this week and I think if this proves enjoyable I can add more characters in later udpates.  Let’s see how this goes shall we?

Michael Pena as Roman Pulido: Up until recently seeing him in End of Watch, I thought Michael Pena only had comedy chops. I think the guy is a serious actor and could pull off a small cameo role like Roman Pulido very well. The scenes he would have would require some chops but he’s not going to have to carry the entire film.
George Clooney as Jefferson Silva: I think Clooney is perfect as the older veteran soldier. I think his confident swagger would make a good foil for the next entry.
Christian Bale image
Christian Bale as William Rache: We all know Bale can be brooding (seen any of the latest Batman films anyone?) He is perfect for this role with one possibly minor, possibly major problem. He’s getting almost too old for this role! Who knows what they can do these days with the magic of Hollywood though right?

What did you think of my picks? Agree? Disagree? Not quite sure because you have not read the book?  Get a copy at



Written Word Wednesday Clocking In Late, But Clocking In STRONG!

Rabbit Hole

By Robert Corrado

The two men crouched in the foxhole in silence until the younger trooper drew a blade and began loudly fitting it to the end of his assault rifle.  The other trooper looked at him with a mixture of embarrassment and incredulity.

“Man, what do you think you are doing with that knife?!”

The younger man looked up from his project at the soldier addressing him, sporting an incredulous look of his own he opened his mouth to speak before being interrupted.

“I know exactly what you are doing so don’t even bother.  You think that toothpick attached to the end of your rifle is going to save your ass if the sissies bushwhack this position?”

The younger man looked back down at his rifle and the bayonet laid beside it on the foxhole’s earthen floor.  He looked back at the older soldier and quietly shrugged.

“Yeah, you don’t know do you?”

He looked at the ceiling of the foxhole and shook his head as he spoke.

“I can’t believe I keep pulling perimeter watch with the damn rabbits.  How long you been in the infantry kid?”

The younger soldier answered immediately.

“Two months!  Just got transferred  from CampLacerta.”

The older soldier chuckled to himself, and began shaking his head again.

“So they send me a fresh off mama’s tit rabbit to help keep the platoon cozy tonight.  You just got here from boot?  That means you ain’t even been in the infantry yet, today is your first day.”

The younger man frowned, looked away, and then back to his weapon.

“Alright, I guess I better show you some tricks of the trade so we don’t get our butts blown off tonight.  You just keep your mouth shut and listen up, you can do that at least.”

The younger man looked back at the older intently.  The older man hefted his assault rifle, holding it in one hand by the forward grip and resting the stock on the front of his thigh.

“You may have heard of this in boot but here is a refresher course.  This is the Vegan Arms VLT-29 Assault Rifle.  We call her ‘Velvet’ for short.  I am sure you know the basics of how it works but there are some tricks too.”

The younger man interrupted the soldier speaking with a question of his own.

“Why do you call it the velvet?”

The older man nodded in frustration before speaking again.

“I told you just to listen, I was getting to that part.  One reason we call it the velvet is the VLT prefix but more importantly we call it the velvet because its smooth.”

“What do you mean smooth?”

“The velvet has a high rate of fire and due to its design, very low recoil.  So it shoots smooth and it shoots fast.  She can be temperamental though so you have to watch out.”


“Exactly, velvet don’t like to be dirty you understand?  You get any dirt or grime in the chamber and show’s over you got a jam and by the time you got it cleared some sissy has his hands on your throat.  So whatever you do make sure you strip and clean velvet once a day.  Got it?”

The younger man nodded but kept his gaze focused on the assault rifle.

“Good.  Velvet also doesn’t like being fed too many bullets.  You load in a magazine with all 40 rounds in there you are going to jam her up.  When you get your mags from supply you always take the first three rounds out of the top of each mag.  Keep them handy though in your rucksack cause getting extra rounds from supply is a whole different kind of head ache.  You understand all that?”

“Yes, sir.”

The older soldier shook his head again in frustration.

“Don’t yes sir me man!  Do I look like an officer to you?  You’re making me sniper bait kid!  Now keep sharp and stay quiet, but don’t fall asleep, and pray we don’t get bushwhacked tonight…”

The two soldiers hefted their rifles and took up their positions in the small foxhole.  Two hours passed before one of the men spoke again.  It was the younger of the two.

“How long do we have to wait until we know if we are bushwha…”

“Shut the hell up I am picking something up on the motion sensor!  It’s faint but its beyond the perimeter about 30 meters out.  Grab that thermal scope and check it out at eleven o’clock.  Hurry up for god’s sake man!”

Dumbstruck the younger soldier fumbled around the foxhole for a large set of well-worn thermal binoculars and clumsily raised them to his eyes.  He slowly swept to his left and back again, his mouth formed a frown of frustration halfway through the second sweep.


The soldier shrugged.

“Not a damn thing man.  Must have been an animal.”

“Well if its an animal then he is big and he brought some large friends along.  They are moving slow but I am picking them up.  Six blips in cover formation and if they arent putting off heat then we have a serious problem.”

The younger soldier’s face began to contort.

“I may be fresh from boot but if you are telling me I don’t know how to read a god damn thermal scope then you can take your years of experience of shove them up your puckered…”


The older soldier dove from his end of the foxhole into his younger comrade, both of them falling in a heap on the earthen floor of the foxhole.  Before they had even hit the dirt the foxhole’s well-camoflauged roof and ceiling erupted into flame and splinters as over a hundred red tracer rounds blew through it.  The burst propelled most of the burning debris completely off the foxhole.  Suddenly the younger soldier was shoved against the wall of the foxhole, he looked up to find his partner speaking loudly in his face, helmet off, blood issuing from a cut above his right eye.


The older trooper then backed away into a crouch, bringing his rifle up to his shoulder he began to release bursts of fire in the direction of the tracer fire.  The younger man was terrified but he did as he was told.  Squeeze, squeeze, hold.  Squeeze, squeeze, hold.  His eyes were transfixed on his partner’s face.  Teeth gritted in desperation, and lit only by the muzzle flash of the booming VLT-29 at his chest he looked every bit an angel of death.

At the end of a delayed fuse the claymores erupted, tearing foliage apart and setting it aflame.  The tracer rounds had halted in the wake of the blasts.  The veteran had ceased firing and crouched low in the foxhole, breathing heavily.  He looked over at his younger comrade and shook his head.  The younger man spoke through a hoarse, dry throat.

“Why didn’t they scream?”

“Because only live targets scream rabbit…”

The radio squawked at the two men.


The adrenaline had exhausted them.  The older of the two hesitantly took the handset and responded.

“Delta 121 to HQ.  We’re ok.  Over.”


“Delta 121 to HQ.  Roger.  Over and out.”

He slowly set the handset back on the receiver, began reloading his rifle, and whispered under his breath.

“Thanks for the advance warning.”

White knuckles gripping his rifle the younger man cut through the silence in the foxhole.

“What are we going to do?!”

Cradling his rifle in one hand, the veteran tossed the young man the motion sensor.

“We are going to follow orders.  Use motion to track them, they wont give off any thermal.  When you spot them call them out.  Tighten that strap on your helmet.”

He frantically tightened the strap and fumbled with the sensor’s dials, then wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his arm he settled into his position.  Ten minutes passed in agonizing silence, the jungle, like the men, held its breath in anticipation.

“I’m not picking up anything.” The young soldier whispered.  The veteran didn’t respond, eyes keen and focused down the sight rail of his velvet.  Another five minutes and the younger soldier’s whisper broke the silence for a second time.

“I’m firing a flare.”

The veteran looked up from his rifle in shock and began shaking his head and whispering.

“You’ll give away our posit…”

The crump of the flare launcher resonated through the dark jungle.  At the apex of it’s flight the flare would detonate and burn, bathing the area in its eerie green glow.

It burst high and without an audible sound, dimly lighting the shredded ground in front of the foxhole.   As it neared earth the men crouched with mouths open, aghast, they surveyed the monstrosities before them.

They moved with an alien gait, boxy in form with a dull metallic sheen that answered the flare’s glow.  Camouflaged in the manner of the jungle they waded through, they advanced ponderously slow.

The veteran mouthed a silent prayer and squeezed the trigger.

The first target’s chest crumpled like tin foil before the onslaught.  The attackers reacted quickly and tracer rounds lit up the night as the flare’s life ended.  The younger soldier flung a grenade into the hungry darkness and was rewarded with the stark, silhouetted debris of his victims flying in all directions.  The veteran yelled to his comrade in the maelstrom.


His comrade tossed him a grenade and he scooped it up with his right hand as his left continued to fire the assault rifle at the advancing figures.  With his teeth he pulled the pin and wound up for the throw.  He felt a sharp pain in his hand and his arm felt light.  Suddenly, he couldn’t hear anything.

The soldier’s arm from the forearm down, still clutching the primed grenade, was blown against the back wall of the foxhole.  The younger soldier didn’t think of what he was doing when he dove onto the severed limb and explosive.  The veteran fell back against the side wall of the foxhole, gritting his teeth, he watched as his comrade was lifted a half-foot from the floor by the grenade’s blast.  The only thing he could hear now was the handset at his side squawking its orders as his reality exploded.  He lifted it to his bloody lips, his voice as calm and cold as ice.  His eyes transfixed to his comrade’s mangled form as he spoke.

“Delta 121 to HQ. Over.  Position is overrun by hostile forces.  I need sat bombardment on my exact coordinates.  Repeat, I need sat bombardment on my exact coordinates.  Expedite.  Over.”


A boxy figure loomed over him like an angry god.  He reached for the Viper sidearm in his harness holster before his good arm was gripped by frost-cold steel.  It stared at him with a single red eye as it crushed the bones in his wrist to pulp.  The pistol pattered innocently on the foxhole’s earthen floor.

The old soldier spoke his last words through a white-toothed grin before fifty yards in all directions were incinerated by a column of fire from the sky.

“Let me teach you rabbits how to call in artillery!”




Written Word Wednesday: Man Against Machine!

Man and Machine

McCall clutched his assault cannon close to his chest and gritted his teeth in grim anticipation.  A nod in Vargas direction was the signal, and McCall’s partner received it all right.  Vargas spun from his position behind an upright steel girder and let loose a steady stream of  rounds from his weapon.  His power armor whirred as he advanced, an orchestra of hydraulic humming and metal-clanking footsteps.  McCall gritted his teeth again, the return fire from their pinned-down quarry had not come yet, but McCall knew it would.

Vargas continued his advance up the narrow corridor, releasing shell after shell from his weapon into the darkness that lie at the end of the hall.  There was a pause in the deafening noise and then what McCall had been waiting for came.  It was lower, louder, and sounded far more powerful; a larger cannon, the kind only mounted on C.A.I. units.  McCall and his partner had found their quarry indeed, and it didn’t look like it wanted to go quietly.

Running from his position behind the steel girders McCall immediately noted the white muzzle-flash at the end of the dark corridor.  McCall fired as he moved, aiming for the flashing end of the cannon.  The power armor he was wearing seemed to be moving slower than usual but for now he knew he was safe.  A C.A.I. unit mounted massive firepower and was deadly accurate, but would not acquire a new target until its current target was surely eliminated.

Bright sparks lit up across the front of Vargas’ assault armor as the large-caliber weapon at the end of the corridor hurled rounds at him.  The enemy weapon’s loud report resounded through the tight chambers but inside McCall’s mind was only silence.  Any hesitation on his part would result in a quick death.

McCall just kept firing and advancing.  Vargas slowed pace and his right leg dipped, he leaned on the wall for support.  Further bursts of fire from the enemy impacted with Vargas.  His armor relenting, he crumpled, blood and viscera splaying across the walls of the narrow corridor.  McCall did not hesitate; he could not afford to.

His rounds began to find their mark and a bright shower of sparks lit up a dark, hulking silhouette.  McCall kept the trigger on his weapon depressed and was rewarded with rattling explosion and the sparking of hot flying metal, as the monstrosity’s weapon arm was torn free.  In his armor McCall sighed relief.

“Click” his weapon was now empty.

The one-armed assailant stepped into the low green light of the corridor.  Its mangled shoulder sparked and hissed like an angry cobra.  McCall began to back pedal as he frantically attempted to load a new magazine into his weapon.  The beast began to advance, slowly at first, but then more quickly as it realized McCall’s intentions.  It moved with in a fashion both alien and human and with a speed beyond its appearance.

McCall grinned as he felt the relieving “snap” of fresh ammunition  sliding into its position.  Unfortunately he was already too late.  Raising his weapon to fire, McCall noticed all too quickly the four-digit talon hand now gripping the business end of his assault cannon.  He felt a pull and the weapon was gone, flung into the darkness behind his opponent.  His grinning turned into the gritting of teeth.

A mechanical appendage thrust at him and clamped down like a vice on his neck.  Panic began to invade his mind as the metal monster lifted him from the ground and smashed him against the wall.  He suppressed it and attempted to break the mechanical beast’s grip.  It was futile and he gasped, his armor constricting and buckling around his neck.  He stared into the single, cold, red eye of his killer and it stared back.

McCall reached for his vibroblade, a weapon of last resort, and with all the strength left in him drove it into the behemoth’s metallic torso.  Once again its grip tightened and McCall gasped and squinted his eyes to fight off the pain of death.  He twisted the blade and drove it deeper.  The monster’s red eye transfixed upon its prey.  He pushed and twisted the blade while gasping for life.  The machine faltered, its legs collapsing as McCall’s knife tore through the leg gyro systems.  Onto the cold, hard floor they fell in a heap but the machine’s grip held firm and McCall felt the life being crushed from his body.  The adversaries stared at one another in their deadly embrace.

McCall may have been unconscious when his blade’s final thrust destroyed the beast’s power unit.  He didn’t know.  He awoke to the sound of voices chattering on the comm.

“Captain McCall are you there?  Come in Captain McCall.  This is Bravo team.  Do you read?”

The steel claw of the mechanical beast still held his neck firmly, however more loosely, and McCall could breath.  Its now unlit mechanical eye still gazed silent hatred at him.

“Captain McCall answer me.  What is your status?”

McCall still didn’t answer; his eyes turned toward Vargas, sprawled across the metal floor of the corridor, still clutching his assault cannon, a small trail of smoke issuing from its barrel.

“Captain McCall do you read?  This is Bravo…”

“McCall here.  Tango Two-Seven is clean but Vargas is down.  Bring the meat truck.  I am switching on my beacon… come pick me up.”



Reward Yourself With This Original Short Story for Written Word Wednesday!

Beyond Odyssey by Robert Corrado

* * *

The Bordering Worlds Region, 2301 A.D.

The 174 violent minutes of the battle near Odyssey had left a semi-dense cloud of ship wreckage and expended munitions over a five square-light-week area.  Converging Commonwealth and Federal fleets had engaged one another at what would have been considered point-blank range for star ships of the modern age, with fast-firing kinetic weapons designed to tear their targets to scrap.

They had no choice really; fate had struck both combatants a cruel blow and by blind chance they had terminated their voyages at roughly the same time and within effective range of the brutal weaponry they employed.  The ships were too hot to engage with alternative weaponry, their bend drives having just exerted immense energy to create naked singularities.  Events that bent the space-time between two points of travel by inflicting massive forces of artificial gravity were no light task, but they made crossing vast distances in space possible.  They called such a singularity the spark for one reason.  It generated an intense and brilliant light, and additionally, an intense level of heat.  Ship crews referred to it colloquially as the nickel.

The battle near Odyssey would be mulled over and questioned for many years by military experts, analysts, and historians.  ‘Impossibility’ they would say.  ‘What are the chances?’ they would ask.  The sheer improbability of two opposing fleets engaging their bend drives within a compatible time window to arrive at a near-similar destination in the vastness of space was undreamed of.  Conspiracy theories would be offered by both sides in the conflict of course as well as uninvolved observers.  Was there collusion between the two commanding officers prior to the battle?  Could a malicious third party have rigged the outcome through clandestine manipulation?  In the end though, the theory that would trump the others seemed the most plausible; the universe was cruel and reminded mankind of Murphy’s Law occasionally.

The carnage was unprecedented.  The ships were so hot that they couldn’t be missed by their opponents’ sensors, packed densely into formations designed to enhance communications efficiency, and all within the range of one each others kinetics.  With dread the commanders gave the orders to fire, knowing full well they were destined for mutually assured destruction.  Evasive action wasn’t possible and launching countermeasures would be a pointless gesture given the range between and sensor profiles of the ships.  Modern space war craft were not designed for this engagement.  The waging of interstellar warfare had taken a five century leap into the past, to the age of wooden ships trading cannon broadsides.  Fleets that were built to fight in cat-and-mouse, highly-advanced electronic warfare over weeks and months had annihilated one another in just less than three hours.  A military catastrophe to be sure, but not all the combatants had met their predicted grisly end in the melee.  During the chaos of the battle some had held their weapons in reserve, and allowed their hulls to cool sufficiently to avoid thermal and infrared detection.  They now drifted through the wreckage of their enemies and comrades, using that wreckage to mask even their magnetic signatures from detection.  As they drifted they prepared, silently deploying weapons and countermeasures into the void for future use.  These survivors had witnessed the most ghastly engagement of modern space warfare, but that had been under unimaginable circumstances.  In the twilight of that horror, those that endured were now in their element, and they were hungry for revenge.

The FSS Dire Wolf drifted silently through a cold, dark miasma of scattered ship wreckage and frozen bodies, like a shark swimming through a cloud of chum.  She was 100 meters long, with clean smooth lines, and black skin that blended seamlessly into the star field.  It stalked through the debris for prey, and as it drifted small remote platforms were being released from exterior mounts on the hull.  It carried a crew of seven men and women, still in shock from the most terrifying and violent space battle in man’s short history in the stars.  In shock yes, but determined none the less not to become additional casualties in the aftermath of that battle.  The compartment they occupied was tightly packed with instrumentation and monitors and devoid of gravity.  Each of them was locked by their booted feet, thighs, chest and head into contoured couches, their arms free to move over the various consoles surrounding them.  The couches were laid out in a circular pattern like the spokes of a wheel, feet at the edge, and heads toward the center.  They wore form-fitting grey vacuum suits.  The chamber was dimly lit with indicator lights and data feeds, and it was designed to orient the crew with the main thrusters below them, as if the crew were lying on their backs on a bed in which the mattress was those thrusters.  This was to insure that when the ship accelerated the g-forces would push their bodies into their couches, which were built to compensate for such forces.  The chamber bleated with klaxons and instrument alarms but beyond that, the crew lay silent in the gloom.  The captain of the Dire Wolf’s voice cut confidently and in stark contrast through the metered hum of ship processes.

“Update me on the remote deployment Mr. Talbot.”

“Out of four deployed I’ve got three of the remotes giving me a clear signal even through the wreckage Captain.  The RKV, 2-Terawatt Particle beam, and the Spoofer are good and can engage on your command sir.”

An RKV, or ‘Relativistic Kill Vehicle’, was a long range weapon which could only be fired once after deployment.  It operated by accelerating an explosive warhead to near-light-speed, and once within the target zone, detonating that warhead.  This showered the area in all directions with hyper-velocity shrapnel particles.  Some crews referred to them as ‘space shotguns’.  A particle beam operated on a different principle entirely, charging atomic particles and directing them in a stream into a target at near-light-speed.  It was the scalpel to the RKV’s sledgehammer, and it could be fired as many times as there was available energy to do so and sufficient means to cool the weapon between shots.  The spoofer was not a weapon at all but a defensive device; the spoofer was a decoy.  When activated it would simulate the bright luminescence of a ship’s bend drive engaging, creating the illusion of two ships engaging their bend drives instead of just one and giving the actual ship engaging their drive even odds that an enemy would target the spoofer instead of them.

“And the shifter?”

“Disabled by a high speed particle.  Visual scan just shows the transmitter out though.  She’s drifting farther out but after minor repair we should be able to redeploy.”

Another defensive device, the shifter employed an intense gravity field to bend light.  It could be deployed near a ship to mask their true location from the enemy, bending the light seen by a visual observer and causing that observer to see the ship in an alternate location.  In this instance, its remote platform drifts helplessly, unable to securely communicate with the Dire Wolf.

“Can it still receive tight beam laser transmission?”

“Yes sir, but that would give away our positio…”

“I’m well aware of that Mr. Talbot; I don’t plan on sending it from the Dire Wolf.  We aren’t going back for the shifter but we can’t just leave it out here either so have one of the other remotes send a tight beam self-destruct command to the shifter after it fires.  In fact, go ahead and make it the RKV since I’m positive we’ll use that one early.  If anything it will make the RKV platform look more like a ship.”

“Yes sir.”

Mr. Talbot’s hands seemed to ceaselessly hover over his controls as he addressed the captain, quietly tapping keys and dragging his fingers over sensory pads.

“Unfortunate to lose one, but good work overall Mr. Talbot.  Ms. Santos, are the sensors giving us anything to shoot at yet?”

“I’ve got nothing in the infrared or thermal.  There is too much other radiation coming off the wreckage to use anything else.  Shall I devote more processing to visual scanners?”

“Not yet.  It will just pick up more wreckage if anything.  Stay sharp on the other spectrums.”

Suddenly the crew chamber is alive with activity.  Beeps and whines, blinking lights and monitors coming to life with new data flood the chamber with information.  From the exterior of the Dire Wolf it could never be predicted the furious level of activity occurring within, her dark-skinned hull continued to slice through space, lethality humming in anticipation just below her surface.

“I’ve got nickels blossoming within the wreckage field.  Processing tells me they’re 47 light-seconds out.”

The captain grins to himself beneath his vacuum helmet and visual read outs.

“It appears someone’s making a run for it.”

The ships were larger than the Dire Wolf, and older.  Their bend drives were not as advanced, working twice as hard to generate the singularity they needed to bend reality and get as far from the Dire Wolf as possible.  These were not sharks in the oceans of the void, but rather prey fish, and their instinct was flight.

“Inefficient bend drives captain, they are taking forever to heat up but thermal is kicking back signatures.  They look like transports.  Commonwealth, Mule class I’d guess, processing tells me two but that much heat could be masking others.”

“Let’s not wait to find out.  Mr. Talbot you may fire the remote RKV on those nickels when ready.”

The RKV’s remote platform was a sleek black cylinder.  Panels ejected from its walls and then the RKV itself, looking like nothing more than a small black sphere burst from the end of the cylinder in a puff of white vapor.  A brilliant burst of atomic light snapped into life and then immediately died and in its wake the RKV was gone.  The RKV would continue to ignite nuclear pulses in a continuous stream, each pulse pushing the bullet closer and closer to the speed of light.

“Standby.  Primary nuclear pulse engaged.  RKV is in cycle.  Targets are still at 47 light-seconds out.  RKV will accelerate to 94% of light speed in three seconds.  Total ship-time to target stands at 51 seconds from primary pulse.”

“Is my damaged shifter platform self-destructing yet Mr. Talbot?”

“Tight beam was just sent from the RKV.  Shifter destruction is imminent, best estimate at 30 seconds.”

A lance of crimson light speared out from the darkness into the heart of the spent RKV platform as it sent its tight-beam communications laser to the damaged shifter platform.  It never got the chance to finish its transmission before the heat of that lance fused its control surfaces and mangled its form.  Internal coolant fluids expanded into superheated vapor and jetted from the dying platform in a myriad of directions.

“We’ve got a problem Captain.  Processing is telling me that a laser just vaporized the RKV remote platform.”

The captain’s voice never wavered.  It was as calm and severe as the open ocean moments before a roiling storm front.

“They took the first piece of bait.  Do we have a locus on that beams’ point of origin yet Ms. Santos?”

The sensor officer’s hands moved with fluid precision.

“I’m routing it through to the guns just now.”

“Good work.  Update me Mr. Talbot.”

“RKV is moving at 98% to light speed and is 30 seconds from splash on the target zone.  I’ve got the locus on that beam but it’s only a visual, shall I fire?”

The gunner’s voice nearly cracked with anticipation in asking the final question.  The captain didn’t pause.

“Engage with the particle beam only Mr. Talbot.  Fire.”

At just under the speed of light, a stream of excited neutrons penetrated the dark blanket of space, deployed from its own remote platform and emptying its capacitors of an entire nuclear power plant’s worth of energy to do so.

The sensor operator’s brow furrowed in the aftermath of the stream’s flight.

“Nothing’s there sir.  Complete miss.”

The captain nodded and his mouth curled in a wry gesture.

“A shifter no doubt.  I believe we are about to lose the remote particle beam.  They should be radiating a lot of heat very shortly Ms. Santos.”

The deadly crimson lance arced out of the darkness once more, this time ending the operational life of the Dire Wolf’s remote particle beam.  In the instant of impact, nuclear reactant cooked off in a dazzling lightshow before imploding on itself.

“You were right Captain, the same frequency laser just knocked out the particle beam platform.”

“Get me that heat source Ms. Santos, I don’t want any more visuals.  Mr. Talbot, give me the status on the RKV.”

The destruction that the detonated RKV bullet had wrought could not be seen by the naked eye even if the crew were floating outside the ship in their vacuum suits.  The targets were almost a full light minute away, but the Dire Wolf was equipped with a number of sensor systems that could be employed to paint the grisly image visually to her crew.  Magnetic readings showed the crew on their visors three targets awash in the magnetic field created by the RKV bullet’s final nuclear detonation; an electromagnetic pulse.  They did not look like ships anymore but fragments of ships.  Singly, one was able to maintain its whale-like figure, but chunks of it were breaking off and its cooling system was bleeding magnetically charged ferrofluids into the void.  The bright sparks that represented their flight to safety had been blown out as micro-particle shrapnel from the RKV tore mercilessly through their bend drives.

“ Direct hit captain!  Two transports are completely destroyed and a third has sustained heavy damage!  She’s bleeding ferro heavily.”

“Good work Mr. Talbot.  Ms. Sant…”

“I’ve got it!  It’s routed!”

The captain grinned at her interruption of his question, taking no offense.

“Mr. Talbot, prepare the spoofer for activation, then engage that heat source with the Dire Wolf’s own particle beam. “

“Yes sir!”

Internal readouts and warning lights dimmed, and then flickered, and the ship briefly shuddered before invoking a second lethal stream of particles, this time from the Dire Wolf herself.  The hit was only glancing, but it was enough to heat the target to critical levels.  The target was smaller than the Dire Wolf, a true escort ship, an 80 meter long Commonwealth frigate.  A massive burst of ferrofluid expanded outward from the ship like a dust cloud and her drive and thrusters had fused, leaving her a drifting hulk.  Amazingly, crew areas were still sealed from vacuum and had maintained some semblance of life support, but this ship would do no more fighting anytime soon.

“Direct hit!  They are firing chemical flares sir!  They’ve struck their colors!”

The captain did not seem to share the elation of his crew.  He massaged the front of his stubbly chin with his thumb and an apprehensive silence settled over the ship.  There was a pause in the silence and then he spoke cold, and methodical, as if reading directions to someone from a manual to no particular listener.

“Cold launch two V7’s from the tubes and have them maintain a lock on that ship.  Prepare to burn on my command.”

“Yes sir!”

Two black cylinders fired from tubes in the underside of the Dire Wolf.  They were missiles.  There were no bright drive flames to mark their passing.  They were launched “cold” so to speak, and would drift until needed later.  Their microprocessor brains locked in on the crippled commonwealth frigate and could spend eons of time in that state before being given the call to launch and travel to their planned destination.  The captain acknowledged the launch and paid it no further mind, his thoughts turned to his next course of action.

“Now give us a short bend and burn to put the Dire Wolf on the point I’ve marked in navigator as Alpha.  I want our nickel to pop in perfect sync with that remote spoofer.”

After having compromised its position by firing its own particle beam, the Dire Wolf needed to move.  Its bend drive was highly efficient, able to create bends in space-time at a rapid pace.  Once the nickel was at full blossom and the bend was stable, the Dire Wolf could engage its nuclear drives and hop the bend.  Then it would disengage the bend drive and space-time would spring back, righting itself, and placing the Dire Wolf far from its location of origin.  This obviously would draw the attention of any additional hostile forces in the area, and so the captain had cleverly deployed a spoofer some distance from his ship that would completely mimic the bright burst of the Dire Wolf’s spark.  This was by no means a failsafe countermeasure, but two targets instead of one gave any aggressor even odds of firing on the wrong spark, and with the high efficiency of her bend drive, the Dire Wolf could be long gone before a second shot.

“Drive is warmed up to 3000 Kelvin.  Remote spoofer is following suit.  Processing is displaying the bend to me now.  Two nickels at full blossom sir.  Initiating burn on the thrusters.  Standby.”

Klaxons howled as new information made its way from the sensors to the crew; dangerous information.

“There is another ship sir!  Picking up what looks like hyper-velocity slugs on the magnetics!  The spoofer platform is gone!”

Kinetic slugs tore the spoofer platform to shreds, extinguishing its spark and leaving the solitary spark of the Dire Wolf fully exposed and vulnerable.  The captain’s voice remained calm and even throughout despite the realization that his enemy had just rolled the dice on a 50% chance and lost, and that it could of gone as easily the other way.

“He’s got to be close to that platform to be using kinetics.  Ms. Santos, find him for us.”

“I’ve already got him sir.  Not hard to find.  He’s heating up his bend drive.  Routing the data to gunnery sir.”

“Does the damn fool think he got us?  Mr. Talbot?”

“Our bend and burn is complete.  We are on a drift trajectory from point alpha sir.”

“Calculate a firing solution on our new friend.  We can’t let him leave the party without a parting gift, can we?”

“No sir.  We are a little hot though from the bend.  We have to bleed some temperature first.  Give me a moment captain.”

Magnetically charged ferrofluid struggled to quickly bleed off heat from the Dire Wolf.  It would be far too dangerous to attempt to fire the particle beam while this hot.

“Ms. Santos?”

She shook her head in disbelief at what her visor was telling her.

“His bend drive is still getting hotter.  Has he not bothered to check his sensors and notice our heat signature?”

The captain dissected the enemy ship’s dubious behavior with the acumen of a skilled surgeon.

“Or, more likely, he knows he’s now out of range and is trying to make a run for it before we cool off enough to fire.  He would not have engaged the spoofer platform with kinetics if he’d had anything with a longer range.  Probably a utility or repair ship with minimal weapons trying to get in a lucky shot.  What’s the status on the other ships?”

“The transport ship is still bleeding ferro and now oxygen as well.  She’s done for sir.  The combat ship appears to be an Adder-Class frigate.  She’s bleeding a lot of ferro as well and has sustained critical damage to her bend drive by the looks of it.”

The ship’s gunner chimed in, his demeanor now more stoic after digesting the fact they were all almost killed by the ship that was now desperately trying to escape retribution.

“I’ve got that firing solution sir.”

“Fire at will Mr. Talbot”

The particle beam licked out of the Dire Wolf once more, invisible to the naked eye.  The only way you knew when it had fired was if the nature of your target had changed and told you so.  In nervous anticipation, the captain indulged himself a slight grit of teeth behind shut lips, perfectly alright to him as long as none of his crew saw him the least bit shaken.  The anticipation did not last long as the infrared sensors delivered an image to the crew of a small utility craft being torn in two by a charged-particle juggernaut.  Its still-growing spark died but was immediately replaced by the rippling secondary blasts of stored ammunition and reactor mass.  Unblinking, the images left fading tracers of color in the captain’s eyes.

“The Adder appears to have seen what we did to her comrade.  She’s firing another round of chemical flares sir.  Shall we break silence and hail her?”

The captain stared at the after-image of the utility ship’s death for some time before answering.

“I don’t think so Mr. Talbot.  Engage her with the drifting V7’s.”

The gunner’s jaw dropped, speechless, but the sensor operator had no trouble finding words.

“But sir they’ve struck their colors!”

The captain was unflappable.

“I’m aware of that Ms. Santos but they only did so to give their little friend a chance at a kill.  Fool me once Ms. Santos…  Mr. Talbot?”

“V7’s just went hot sir.  Time to target is nine minutes, six seconds ship time.”

The captain finally allowed the muscles that had been tensed beneath his vacuum seat the opportunity to relax.  He hoped his crew had not noticed them, and his voice rang as calm through the cabin as it ever had.

“Good work Mr. Talbot, and good work to everyone.  We’ve come through another hairy one it seems.”

The sensor image revealed the stricken frigate in full detail; it laid in a cloud of its own ferrofluids, its drive and thrusters a mangled tragedy.  Another salvo of bright purple chemical flares signaled once more in futility that it had surrendered.  Two red dots slid across the image towards it, closing faster and faster as the missiles they represented accelerated under heavy thrust.

“They’re firing another round of flares.  It’s pitiful sir.  Only nine minutes left to live.”

The captain knew what his crew felt, but the universe was a cold place, and to survive in the cold, men had to be cold.

“They knew full well the risks and they accepted them when they set foot on that ship, and in nine minutes they will have died valiantly for their country.  Save your pity, and grant them your respect.”

Shortly, the V7 missiles gave the frigate’s crew a magnificent cremation, and the Dire Wolf drifted for some time before its spark abruptly lit brightly anew, like a flipped light switch waking them all from a bad dream.