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    Stellar
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Lucid Truth - 1. The Mars Gambit

Approximately 215,000 years before present day.

In the subtle fringes of the orbital space, a ship burst into the vacuum, entering above the untouched horizon of the new world.

Its arrival was elegant and lively, the form of it a mirror of its poetic motion. A long symmetrical shape, with perfectly angled geometric quadrants, there was a pleasant appeal to the proportions. Modular through separated segments, it was still connected and unitary; the whole girded in a pale opalescence, the light glittering off sporadic patterns across the hull. Seamlessly smooth but for graduations due to the larger necessities of function, the marvel of engineering that was a pre-Sundering cruiser slowed to a crawl, gaining a stable orbit.

From within, there was a spike of energy.

Below, several hundred kilometres above the surface, the ship's lone occupant rematerialised on the viewing platform in a brief glow of quantum translocation. Body turning to face the other individual present, he gave a greeting, feet thumping on the metal as he strode across the diamond.

"Hail, Dagen." Sulin spoke, his voice low and resonant in the ancient Mishith tongue. "For what purpose do you call me here, brother?"

"Your thoughts are consumed by the endless war. I know it." Dagen lifted his superior left arm, and laid it upon the shoulder of his older sibling. The gesture was small, but the familial comfort it offered went far beyond any verbal sentiment. "We were born into a fortune unlike any before it, a wealth of spirit and knowledge that our blood and stone is made for. Yet, our inheritance became a trial, and even as we are upon the very brink of universal power, it is forced to remain fallow and unfinished."

"Much is lost. I cannot speak of our past as such mysticism." Sulin stared down at the planet below, his gaze sweeping the atmosphere, the vast curve stretching in all directions. "It is a cold reality, to me. The cataclysm has reduced us to nothing. We are the merest glimmer of what we were. I am the marshall who was given a losing war from the first moment." He turned his head to Dagen, all four eyes focusing on his brother. "You do know it. Innumerable confrontations occur from which we are forced to flee, each defeat compounding the failure of the last. The wraiths come, they best us, they consume, and we must run again, or perish. There is no ending to this that will redeem us, no recourse that will save all our hidden protectorates from the certain annihilation that awaits them when we are vanquished. My resolve will never waver, but what joy is there in this ultimate truth?"

"You asked my purpose in this summons." Dagen spoke softly, and he met his brother's attention. There was a strange upward lilt to it, an odd positivity that seemed misplaced and foreign. "You are the commanding bulwark our kin chose, but I am also the guiding counsel they selected. Our society has learned the mastery of prediction through many cycles; from the intuition of our blood, and the stoic accuracy of our stone. Knowing aforetime due to precise calculation has long been a strength, but now ... brother! I have practiced the quantum focus, furthered it, taken it beyond. The great unknown mire of the distant future -- it can be seen, far past where our best predictions fade into suggestion and bare indistinct probability. It can be seen, understood, altered, directed."

"Then," Sulin queried, "have you uncovered some impossible sequence that gainsays their imminent success?"

"For us? No." The denial was direct and flat. "We will fail, and we will die."

At that, Dagen raised his superior right hand, and with a dextrous flick and twist of a clawed finger upon the control podium's sensor, a command was given. The observation platform the pair stood on sped downward and forward at incredible speed. In appearance no more than a thin metallic diamond shape a half dozen metres a side, the platform was apparently uncovered, but hemmed with a self-contained invisible boundary that extended shortly above it and kept in the atmospheric interior. Frictionless, inertialess, it zoomed in close to the surface with magical agility, until it was hovering not more than a kilometre aloft a series of plains and savannas, in the midst of a continental landmass.

"No, you shall go back to the bastion world, where your indomitable will must transform it into a fortress fit to contain our strongest few. It is there all our surviving defenders will gather about you, and there the battle for this final cluster will undoubtedly occur. The Enemy is now only three gates, perhaps four, from entering this stellar spiral. Your preparations must be swift, and there you shall stand with your love, the great guardian Kirak of Garet-Sul, and her sister, and the mindful one, Unchosen Mesot, 289th of Meset's devotees. They will come for you, brother, as our military predictive analysis has confirmed, and you must hold them. It will be a siege, but all intent is in delay, until they breach the last lines. When they do, you must -- you must -- use the final weapon. All their strength on this side of the Veil will be there, and perish in that moment, but so shall our opposing kin, and you and the three with you also."

"Delay, for what?"

"That I may take all our remaining civilian kind to two worlds, where I will hide them, and give them a grace for their blood, and a foundation for their stone. They will become separated, sundered, and invisible to the Enemy's hunt. In turn, I will be caught before the end, slain in service of this deed, but ... every part of our sacrifice will enable the future, the distant future. Our foe will return -- no future iteration can prevent this, not while the original scar is unhealed -- but our defeat can force the Enemy to revisit diminished, weakened. Still powerful beyond reckoning, but constrained to lesser means, compelled to subterfuge and guile and crude methods. Even more, brother, your consciousness will survive, as will your companions, and mine! Our deaths will not be permanent, as we can hide in the quantum fastness, unseen and unknown."

"What good can we do as spirits of mind, bound within the unified force?"

"We will not remain so. When the time comes, I will reinhabit a Mishith body, one of my own descendents, but you, and the others?" Dagen's attention focused on the continental vista in front of them, waving grass and clumps of trees, unfamiliar animals crowding into sprawling herds as they thronged over the flats, waded through streams. "You will know an alien skin, a new species that we will leave clues for, join through biological mechanisms, give aid to." With another gesture, the platform surged forward, the landscape becoming a blur, before halting seamlessly. The land below snapped into focus, and they were above a small gathering of creatures.

It was a tribe of not more than a dozen individuals, standing and crouching over a recently-killed carcass of some local herbivorous grazing beast. With dark brown skin, they had patches of hair on the head and over the body, two arms holding stone-tipped spears, and they moved upright on two legs. Not even half the height of either of the two observers, they seemed no more than a scrawny ill-conceived variation of the impressive Mishith physique, many magnitudes of cultural and technological devolution from what was surely required for any celestial war.

"There. Do you see them?"

"Dagen." His gaze fixed upon the creatures, primitives to his senses in every possible way. "We were mistaken once before, with the Zhirn Sigaa. If we are to entrust the future of our entire race, and the cosmos as a whole, to these children -- if they are even that, they seem barely suited for a protectorate designation -- then, what guarantee is there they will not grow to be the same? What guarantee is there they will be capable enough at all?"

"There is none," Dagen spoke plainly, and he and his brother regarded one another in that moment. "Except that ... out of every possible species worth uplifting, theirs is the only one that has allowed a future where we win. I have explored probabilities of a vast number, and ... the greatest hope is with them. Our chance is small, the path delicate, the care required immense, but they can do it. They have many flaws, and are full of emotions, conflicting wants, selfish desires, destructive impulses. Still too, the capacity for greater aspirations, noble intentions, generosity, love. They may appear as simple infants today, but, brother ... their potential will surprise you."

Silent for a minute, they observed the tribe together.

It was difficult for Sulin to imagine becoming one of these things, much less achieving any kind of triumph over the most voracious, incomprehensible foe existence had to offer.

How could their salvation come from such base origins?

"Did you see how it would end?" he asked. "If our only victory can be through a scope so narrow, then the final possibilities must be few, and limited."

"You know the reasons, as I know them, that the fate of the Enemy's motivating consciousness, its mind, cannot be divined by the quantum unity as it exists today. Not yet. But, everything preceding that? If -- and only if -- all events proceed to their intended conclusions, then the crucial battle will take place here, above their very homeworld, this place that they will name Earth. It will pass through five stages, beginning with ... "

-o-0-O-0-o-

ASSAULT

"In a fury that aims to win quickly, through overwhelming strength, the Enemy strikes."

-o-0-O-0-o-

He had only just sat down at his desk, returning from a late lunch at the station's cafeteria, when the alarm sounded.

It was not any standard alarm.

It was not a drill, either.

The sound that blared through his office, through all the rooms and corridors of the command's superstructure, was singular and unique.

One purpose, one message.

All hands to action. Earth is under attack.

The moment was unforgettable, and for the first few seconds, Konstantin Andropov could not believe that it had arrived.

The alien enemy was here.

Immediately, his holo-display filled with notifications, requests, attempts at communication from a dozen sources, with more incoming. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath.

This is my life's purpose, he repeated it to himself. My charge to keep.

I must not fail them.

Opening his eyes, he stood.

With a quick flourish, Konstantin dismissed all but the most urgent military communications. Minimising and storing them, he extracted his embedded rank protocol. With a single verbal command, the docked fortress ship was selected, and the protocol was transferred to it.

He knew what the standard procedure was for the top tier of command personnel, but Konstantin had no intention of being stuck in a stationary location, even one so well protected as Majesty. The defensive capabilities of the command superstructure were well layered, one of only five orbital locations with as much inbuilt protection, but the danger presented by their foe was so extraordinary that he could not trust mere armour and weaponry alone, prodigious as they were.

Opening a side compartment in his office's wall, he extracted a combat vest and a Tokarev pistol. Donning the vest, he pulled his uniform jacket over it, and finally, he loaded the pistol, and holstered it. He wasn't sure if Kerensky had located his original gun, the same that arrived with him from Lucere what seemed like a lifetime ago, or if it were merely a faithful replica, but he didn't care.

A weapon of Russian design at his side was reinforcement enough.

Then, lastly, the announcement.

"Open a channel, fleet-wide, maximum priority."

The AI beeped, and there was a momentary pause before the opening chime rang out, signalling the broadcast's beginning.

Konstantin began to speak.

"This is the supreme commander. I will make this brief. Our enemy is here. The first shots are being fired as I speak these words."

There was a second of pause, and he struggled to keep the emotion out of his words, his tone rising as he finished what he had to say.

"Do your duty, for your comrades, for your families, for all of mankind! Let NONE reach the surface! It is US, or THEM! Fight them, and KILL THEM ALL! Andropov OUT."

Immediately after, the door slid open and a pair of guard marines were ushering him out. Hurriedly, the trio exited, moving along the station's inner concourse. Through the exterior bay windows, he glimpsed numerous ships pulling away from the dock, the military vessels coming about sharply to make haste to their battle groupings. Civilian craft were mostly gone already, shrinking outlines as they descended rapidly toward the relative safety of the Earth's surface. The stretching line of Alpha 3 had emptied, the long row of disconnected ports and umbilicals a jarring view that reinforced the severity of what was happening.

In the mid distance, the only remaining ship: the Phalanx.

Waiting for him.

"Sir." The marines hustled him into the transit capsule, and the door sealed shut, and then they were shooting away along the rail. The journey was done in seconds, coming to a rapid halt under the starboard wing of the fortress ship, and the door snapped open. Then it was out again, around a corner, through the connector, and Konstantin was onboard. The airlock closed behind him, the final occupant present, and there was a thrum of power as the manoeuvring thrusters kicked in seconds later, the ship's bulk beginning to pull away from Alpha 3.

He was escorted to the elevator, and then ascended up a half dozen floors to the command deck. The doors slid open to reveal the Phalanx bridge interior. A wide square area, with a secondary lower tier of workstations at the bow end, there were approximately twenty personnel present, most of whom were engrossed with holo-screens; some engaged actively in fleet comms, others flicking through tactical data and allied movements in real-time, some attending to the ship's own systems. The captain, a tall solid Latina woman, was talking to her XO as he entered, and the moment she saw him, they both turned, saluting smartly.

"Captain Santiago, Lieutenant Paxford." Konstantin returned the salute. "Captain, dispense with formalities. We are at war." He was stern, direct, but fair. "I want to know the sit-rep."

"Yes sir." Santiago strode across to the primary command console, in front of the captain's chair, the other two following. She summoned a tactical map of the Earth, the view around it populating with a sea of hundreds of battle group and squadron tags, themselves branching into thousands of individual ship designations. Pointing first to the layer of scattered loosely-spread ships beneath everything else, she described them.

"CS-Space's remaining functional assets were combined with our reserves. Comprising unrepaired Taiqing expeditionaries, non-retrofit, unattached, or older vessels, they're holding in lower orbit, enacting shield protocol."

"And the primary deployment?" Konstantin indicated the larger numbers above. "Operational strength, positioning?"

"Current operational strength is 68.5%." Santiago was stone-faced at the presentation of numbers, the undercurrent of anger at CorpSec-Space's costly Taiqing failure not making itself seen. "Three fleets are positioned in standardised doctrinal locations, as the enemy vector matches the 'Single Thrust' hypothesis."

One of the major takeaways from Ayize Mthembu's observation of the xenoform marshalling point had been a complex capture of the psychology behind their application of force. Based on simple behavioural interactions between classes of alien ships, including an analysis of precedence and hierarchy, a lot of insight had been gained from somewhat scant information. A consensus between both CorpSec-Space and the military had profiling experts concluding that the enemy vastly preferred, but was not limited to, striking a narrow corridor of attack with sufficient force to pierce through to landfall.

In all likelihood, it meant that the majority of the alien advance would come from one angle at high intensity. The military's defensive strategy was modelled around this probability, with the targeted geographic zone's quadrant fleet facing the incursion directly, while the bordering neighbour quadrant fleets concentrated their forces closer in support and reinforcement. Consequently, the hemisphere of the Earth opposite would be lightly defended, but it meant a shifting response that countered whatever avenue of attack was chosen.

"I see the First, Third, and Fourth." Konstantin pointed to Beaumont's First, over eastern Asia and North America, the static positioning clearly indicating that this was the quadrant where the alien vector would hit. Lugor's Fourth was holding steady beneath the First, across Oceania and South America, clustering nearer to the equator and Indochina. By contrast, Jiang's Third was hurrying to bolster central Eurasia, to cover the gap left by the absent Second.

Kerensky.

"Where is the Second?"

"Here." Santiago panned the view upward, showing the fleet scrambling, in rapid transit back from the moon. "The admiral's prep regimen includes cohesion drilling exercises in low-grav formation. Fifteen minutes daily, all wings through lunar orbit."

Fifteen minutes.

They had chosen the one window when they somehow knew an entire defending fleet was out of place.

The choice of timing was deliberate.

The enemy knew exactly what they were doing.

"Sir." Paxford was drawing his attention back to the defensive cordon over Asia. The view zoomed to the First again, their groupings most thickly concentrated in geostationary patterns above China. "Rings five and six are fully engaged and firing at will. One through four will begin momentarily."

The map expanded past the inner and outer layers, through the boundary, to finally display the alien attackers.

Konstantin's breath caught.

The cluster of icons was enormous, less an armada and more a swarm.

Automated boundary defences were active, but being swamped, the throng destroying them as it rapidly approached.

Reaching out, the Russian touched the cloud of red symbols. A number popped up in front of him as the calculations were performed, and even as he stared, it was increasing. The rate was slowing as the final alien stragglers arrived, but it continued to climb.

Over one hundred and sixty thousand.

The thrusting spear outnumbered the First Fleet's shield by more than five to one.

"Strategic projection is saying this can't be everything," Paxford continued, his eyes scanning across a brief pop-up of flashing text, arriving fresh from the real-time analysts scouring the changing situation. "Numerical estimates are underestimated. There's a class-numbers mismatch. They're holding back. There has to be more."

More.

"Chyort!" Konstantin swore, a fist banging metal. With a hand wave, he activated his rank protocol, the console accepting his authority, and opened a blank video channel. "Comms, get me a link to each fleet command. Especially Second, I need Kerensky!" He looked at the captain. "Santiago, keep us in direct transmit range of Delta 1, we can't lose coordination. If that station goes?" He left the words hanging.

"Aye sir." The captain turned away sharply, snapping out orders to the helm.

Before Konstantin could speak another word, there was a ping over the tactical holo-map. The First Fleet's deployment status changed, the entire umbrella of associated vessel icons going from muted medium-blue to a brighter intense shade.

"Sir." The XO took a deep breath. "The perimeter has been reached. Admiral Beaumont is actively engaging the enemy."

-o-0-O-0-o-

On the bridge of the heavy cruiser Marseille, Jean-Claude Beaumont stood tall, hands behind his back as he watched the incoming tide. Before him, in a broad arc that narrowed as it closed the distance, a horde of enemies beyond what he could have imagined.

In all his years as an officer for the federal military of Earth, nothing had prepared him for anything quite like this.

The artillery emplacements had begun firing first after the boundary turret rings. On his order, they had delayed until the damage-efficiency probability peaked, slightly under maximum range. Timing it to take advantage of optimal firing arcs and reducing enemy reaction speed, the hyper-kinetic shots tore trails through the mass of ships where they impacted. The smaller companion-fire rail weaponry and standard flak cannons followed in turn, being shorter range, and seconds after that, the outer screen. Vanguard fighters were accelerating, formations breaking as they initiated aggressive evasion; hundreds of Valkyries, Peregrines, Fauchards, colliding with thousands of Disciples.

The swirling maelstrom of bright human fire met a flying wall of biosteel; a dim blurring of alien projectiles, laced with exotic energy, entwining through it in a simultaneous hail that smashed into the next layer of screen. The rest of the central outer screening layer was already committing; thousands more fighters following, and with them destroyers and corvettes. Engines blaring, their stronger armaments opened up as the vanguard was obliterated, a deluge of alien ships breaking through the mess of explosions and wreckage.

Undisturbed, focused, Beaumont ignored the chatter, only accepting the communiqués that mattered to the moment at hand. Officers directed fresh information to him second by second, and for a half dozen he examined the queue of high-level requests and queries, and rapid-fire, dealt with them in quick succession.

Dismissed, altered, confirmed; enough for then and there, with more to come.

Then he was on the strategy again. The enemy was fully engaged with the Single Thrust, and he ordered the peripheral battle groupings in closer, concentrating yet further into the centre. The lines shifted, the captains of the First obeying as best they were able, but then, the inner screen was reached.

The mixed layer of light cruisers and mobile artillery was already active, the disintegrating outer screen barely slowing the mass of Disciples pushing through it. Peppered in the invading throng were the larger Emissary cruisers, but they were rarer than they should have been, strangely under-represented in the push, and the heaviest class was entirely missing. Noticing this discrepancy bothered Beaumont, even as he was engrossed in the clamour of hundreds of things happening at once.

Why?

For what purpose would they delay engagement with heavier firepower?

Alien casualties were climbing, and even though their thrust had not yet been blunted and only marginally slowed, the Fourth Fleet was clustered on Beaumont's flank. If it came down to it, Lugor would reinforce his position, and Jiang also if the situation became truly dire. They would choke the interlopers with tonnes of steel, blazing shrapnel, human blood and bone, pure tenacity, if that's what it took.

They would grind them to a halt.

No, Jean-Claude's lip curled in sheer contempt, they could withstand these abominations. He could not countenance an enemy strategy that could overcome human defence. The capital ships were activating their countermeasures, the largest vessels in his fleet angling to fire their mounts through the blasting hell of fire and metal, which came closer by the minute, their fighter complements circling and ready. The ships of the line were massed and prepared, and even on the fringes of the battlefront, an amalgam of his shattered groupings were counterattacking and harassing the salient from the sides. Their discipline intact, a mixed composition of whatever had survived and regrouped, Beaumont felt pride in their harrying creativity.

If this was to be their Thermopylae, he would let nothing past. No secret paths, no cunning tricks; just a slaughter, in the defence of Earth.

"Sir, FCS vectors are green, all mounts," the tactics officer called out to him, knowing his weapons hold on the back-line, including the command ship itself. "Permission to fire."

"Granted." There was no reason to delay it further. If they were able to land hits, then they should land them. "Relay that to the line. Maximum effect."

"Aye sir."

Finally accepting the request from the Phalanx, the video window opened, and Konstantin Andropov's face appeared.

"Commander. Not much time for chat." His eyes darted to the fleet notifications, his attention never fully leaving the tactical information feed. "We are slowing them."

"Keep it up." Andropov nodded curtly. "I know how it looks, but this strategy can handle the numbers. When the Second arrives, we'll stall them completely."

"Understood. Might need core support from Lugor before- ... wait." Beaumont cut himself off, his speech stopping abruptly. Flicking the view to the central alien salient, where the mass of scout-destroyers was driving the attack forward, the image resolved to fully rendered video from the basic tactical, and he was met with an unexpected sight.

The Disciples were peeling away, the single front opening like a flower blossoming as they dived in all directions to the sides, en masse, drawing the battle with them. In between, in the growing bubble of calm space, surrounded by alien and human wreckage alike and no longer hidden by its own screen of Disciples, was a sole alien ship.

A new alien ship.

One that no human had laid eyes on before.

Larger, squat, tank-like, and with a fan of inflexible spines around it, the front of it hatched to reveal an apparently hollow interior, empty except for ...

... a subtle visual distortion.

Some kind of contained energy field.

There were simultaneous flickers at the spine-tips, beads of foreign light appearing at each point, and all of them together began to run down their corresponding connectors toward the central mass of the ship, in a synchronous ignition phase.

Beaumont's blood ran cold.

He swiped his hand furiously to the target lock, and then activated an emergency broadcast.

"All free ships! Lock my target and FIRE!"

Around Beaumont's command ship, the cruisers and line vessels turned, reorienting themselves and their weaponry, and began to shoot.

Out of the barrage of spaceborne fire, the first three of dozens of volleys of rail shot managed to strike the target, on the lower and ventral port side, and upper starboard. They impacted the thickened armour, but didn't manage to cause any serious damage

Five hundredths of a second after that, before anything further hit, the ignition phase ended, the signal reaching the centre.

In the same exact second, the entire inner mass of Disciples cloaked.

The new alien ship burst open, an invisible cosmic force exploding from within, in a violent release of power that grew with incredible speed.

The last thing Jean-Claude Beaumont saw was an expanding spherical shockwave of rippling space-time, tearing through the capital ships of his fleet like paper, as it rushed outward to meet him.

-o-0-O-0-o-

Konstantin could only stare, in utter incomprehension.

One second, Admiral Beaumont was there, stalwart and steady, doing his duty.

Then, he was gone, the profile vanishing from the supreme commander's communications window in a haze of static, leaving only three; the present Third and Fourth, and not-yet connected Second.

In a blink, the Marseille was destroyed, along with the entire centre of the First Fleet, including every single heavy line ship. The explosion had wiped out the surrounding fixed orbital emplacements right to the fringes of the contact zone, and most of the skirmishing screen vessels were gone also. The smallest craft had endured it the best, the lower mass seeming to take less damage from the distorting forces, particularly the Valkyrie and more recent iterations of the Peregrine. Though, what was left of the fighter corps was scattered.

The First Fleet was decimated, its command hierarchy eradicated.

Fewer than three thousand ships remained.

Operational capacity of 8.3%.

More than that, the enemy Disciples had uncloaked again, untouched by the blast, something about their momentary phasing invisibility having rendered the effect harmless.

They were already spreading out in a new formation.

The Russian was snapped back to reality by Admiral Lugor's voice.

"All groups moving to cover." The Fourth Fleet was scrambling into the enormous hole left by the annihilation of the First, the vanguard powering into the gap at top speed. Lugor's normally cagey expression was instead intense concentration, and a sheen of sweat was on his forehead. "We're spreading thin, and most of the LR turrets are dead. Jiang-"

"I'm with you. Four corvette SGVs are attaching to yours. My line is a strong east, hard to your flank."

"Lugor, do NOT let them through!" Konstantin was staring at the membrane of human ships forming, like regrowing skin over a wound, and it seemed perilously lean and fragile. "They CANNOT reach the surface!"

"Aye," he snapped back, stressed. "Everything's free, no fire restrictions."

"Commander." Jiang's addendum was halting, surprised. "They're not pushing. They're changing strategy."

She was right.

As human reinforcements continued to pile into the opening, the peeling petals of Disciples were coalescing into four branching tendrils that snaked wider. They were crashing out laterally through the defences, but were beginning to angle inwards.

No longer a single thrust, but ... four.

With the heavy casualties inflicted on the enemy in the opening attack, even after the destruction of the First Fleet, they were still outnumbered two to one, and that was taking everything into account, including the CorpSec reserves and uncommitted vessels. Not only that, but the Second Fleet was just reaching the boundary defences, over the Arctic polar sector.

Now, with humanity weakened and unable to draw as much focus to a single flashpoint, the aliens would split their attack.

Not enough ways to lose offensive strength, but enough to divide the constitution of the defenders.

What was unfolding seemed to be indefensible and inevitable.

They were going to lose the war in space.

"A multi-pronged attack. Only one needs to work." He growled. "We need EVERYBODY! Where is Kerensky?!"

"Commander!" The signal was finally established, and the Russian admiral's face appeared in the vacant spot, a perfect repartée. "We are inbound. I saw what happened. This defence will NOT work!"

"It HAS TO!" Konstantin yelled, the captain and XO next to him flinching from the volume. "We've got to TRY! Bring your ships in! Cover the Pacific!"

"It won't! They are BLEEDING us!" It was not often anyone saw Kerensky express strong emotion, but here it was as pronounced as Konstantin's own. "We continue a passive trading response, we will lose!"

On those words, the approach of the Second Fleet began to level off, and Konstantin stared at the cluster of linked battle grouping icons as they rose again and began to glide towards the flank of the alien swarm, where two of the four sprouting tendrils of vessels had emerged.

"What are you doing?!" He pointed a finger at the holo-image of the admiral, shaking. "This is NO time for risks!"

"Konstantin!" Kerensky switched to Russian, his eyes glaring with inspiration and resolve, and he spoke rapidly, spitting the words. "I know these bastards, understand them, studied them more than any of you! They are clear as glass! Psychotic opportunists! Too clever, too hungry! They will bite at the bait like a rabid dog, and I will rip out their guts!" Back to English. "I know what to do. Trust me, Konstantin. They will PAY for Beaumont."

Konstantin stared at his closest confidante out of the senior officers, the one who had supported him through all the insanity of this role so far.

If anybody had the strategic cunning and lucky smarts to make this work, Kerensky was the man.

Perhaps a brilliant stroke of insanity really was what this moment needed.

"Maxim," he responded in Russian. "God save us all, and if you fuck this up, I'll shoot you myself."

"Fair," Kerensky grunted, a smile flitting by, and then the communications were cut again, his command portrait vanishing.

"What- ... what the fuck is he doing?" Jiang's reaction was somewhere between absolute disbelief and despairing anger.

The Second Fleet was pulling up even further, out of the boundary line of fixed defences. The formation began to morph into a wider flatter structure, a shape ideal only for static positioning, with the ships in a large forward-facing curve. It was badly suited for any kind of attack, and Konstantin was holding his breath as the fleet approached the xenomorph throng.

Then, two attack lines dissolved, the ships turning to pull up and out. A massive chunk of the invading horde switched direction, more than a third of the total, and broke away to beeline from wherever they were towards the isolated human fleet closing on the flank.

Bait.

"Maxim." This time Konstantin whispered it to himself, amazed, fearful, but also confused. "How? What is the hook, where is the trap?"

-o-0-O-0-o-

Across the bridge of the Kirov, the admiral strolled. His choice of flagship was the largest standardised warship design available, eschewing the more common subclass variant. Like all those serving him, he wanted his standard bearing vessel to be the greatest example of what could be.

When Maxim Kerensky asked for the best, he got it.

His position in the admiralty had long been secondary to the older, more traditionalist, Frenchman, but his relationship with Jean-Claude Beaumont was never treated as anything other than a friendly rivalry. In bureaucratic terms, they had often fought over methods and competing strategic initiatives. Differing opinions about the efficacy of doctrine and its application were first, but also the choice of psychology when it came to promoting and training officers.

Both had rigorous expectations, but each viewed duty and responsibility through a different lens.

Beaumont had instilled a love of the military organisation as a whole, an adherence to the values.

Kerensky, on the other hand, inspired loyalty on a personal level, and his subordinates were fiercely devoted, and sometimes deathly afraid, of the man himself. He demanded, and usually received, performance quality of an elite level.

Now, Beaumont was gone, and the Russian found the insult of his death stung in a much more personal way than expected.

Jean-Claude deserved more than that.

Reaching the command console, the admiral casually tapped the broadcast icon, and began to speak conversationally to the entire Second Fleet. Confident, he continued it even as the xenomorph breakaway closed on their position.

"Comrades, the enemy is about to give chase. We are too tasty a morsel to ignore! On the other side, we'll have an audience of four hundred million souls. They will get a fireworks show to remember." Tapping another icon, Kerensky passed the new fleet schedule and deployment instance to the bridge officer, who added the modified tactics plan and distributed it out to everyone. "I expect you all to follow the timing to the letter. Plan 16-E5.7, Nuova Firenze waypoint, swift about-face. Jump on the mark."

Watching a moment or two longer as the enemy rushed in, the admiral mused that he was surprised one of his handful of unlikely planned scenarios had actually occurred.

He hadn't thought it realistic that he got to put one of his many contingencies into effect, but ... he definitely was ready.

He had been ready for this degree of counter-insurgency for decades, ever since he had joined the federal military's fleet corps, as a young man.

Well, it was time to put that anticipation to the test.

Kerensky hit the initiation.

Mark.

The Second Fleet reappeared over the solar system's fourth world. Beneath, on the surface of Mars, a patchwork of cities and outposts lay, adding dashes of green and grey to the inhabited zones, hemmed by environmental regulating stations and meteorological stabilisers. Above the capital city, the Mars command's premier station orbited, the sole guardian of Earth's smaller sibling. It was late afternoon, the line of night creeping across the red planet to Nuova Firenze.

As soon as normalisation occurred, two seconds after the jump, the implementation began.

The entire fleet came about, reversing direction and spreading slightly into an even wider arc, now a giant concave bowl shape. Like clockwork, every ship moved into position, precise and well-drilled, all of it finished in ten seconds.

On twelve, the xenomorph pursuers appeared directly 'behind' the fleet's centre, in a perfect catch-and-kill location, ready to use the Disciple's high mobility to strike the humans as they fled to the surface.

Fifty-four thousand ships.

Not today.

With a swift punch of a virtual button, the admiral activated the hundreds of diffusion stealth mines, scattered in a broad field across the opening approach to the Mars command. Each was a replica of a customised design, stolen from CorpSec-Space five years earlier. Caring little for the corporatist semi-transparent duplicity when it came to subverting the rules, Kerensky had made sure the scientists at the red planet's R&D division were extremely comfortable and well-resourced. Reverse-engineering technology that just happened to magically fall into their laps was a bonus from their point-of-view.

From Kerensky's perspective, once the alien reliance on gravitational detection had been discovered, the potential combat applications had been fascinating. Pulling a few strings in the Martian colony to enact a rushed mass production effort in under two weeks had yielded quite the boon.

The proximity detectors on the mines activated near instantaneously, recognising the mass of alien ships. All at once, the space about them was filled with gravitational ripples.

Up and down.

Spikes, and troughs.

Like a storming sea, the spatial medium was a blustering splashing chop of destabilised gravity. Ghost pings of non-existent ships appeared and vanished just as quickly, bubbles breaking and reforming. Phantom signatures of nothing would spawn and shift, like battle groupings appearing behind, beside, above, between, except ... not.

Confused, distracted, the cohesion of the alien force dissolved, breaking as each individual Disciple's intelligence was drawn in all directions, unable to focus on anything but the mess of conflicting sensations, signals -- everywhere, on all axes, for kilometres.

From behind the fleet, an enormous curving grid of five hundred spaceborne emplacements, the largest calibre hyper-kinetic weaponry available to mankind, was activating. Together, the turrets swiveled as the AI picked targets, the artillery aiming between the massed human ships with a co-ordinated efficiency.

They began to fire.

Two seconds later, the capital ships of the Second Fleet, in absolute dedication to the admiral's plan, followed up with their own guns.

Leaning forward, gripping the edge of the command console so tightly that his knuckles hurt, Maxim Kerensky stared at the image in front of him, rendered in perfect high definition.

Behind, the subtle red glow of the Martian surface. To the sides, above and below, the giant arc of his assembled fleet, a staccato of repeating flashes as they shot their weapons. In front, wave after wave of incendiary projectiles, smashing into the disoriented enemy in a superheated flurry.

All of it, flawless.

The bridge crew of the Kirov had stopped what they were doing too, and were staring at the imagery.

After a dozen seconds there were screeds of hundreds of torn enemy ships floating, even as the unending cannonade cut further in.

After two dozen, the theatre was filled with glowing wreckage, which began to drift beyond the zone.

After four dozen, the artillery fire was piercing all the way through, the shots exiting out into space, with not enough significant mass left to slow them.

At one minute, the communications officer ordered a fleet-wide halt.

In concert, the order was obeyed, the weaponry falling silent.

Before them, a field littered with thousands of dead enemies.

Nothing but alien debris.

"Sir." The tactical officer was staring at the numbers, the analysis of the damage, and then she was looking up to his command console, dazed, in complete awe, her voice soft but rising. "They're dead. All of them. There are NO life signs. They're ... dead."

"Holy Christ," the helm officer whispered. His eyes were glazed, and he stood, the other officers imitating him, as he turned to face the admiral. Without a pause, he began to slowly clap his hands. The others were joining in, and then the room was filled with the sound of applause, and cheering.

His left hand curling into a fist, Kerensky let go of the console and straightened, his cheek twitching as allowed the smallest sign of satisfaction, a momentary grin.

Yes, this was enough.

It would be a cold day in hell before any alien bastard could beat human ingenuity.

Calming his bridge crew with a wave of the right hand, their raucous behaviour dying down with the simple motion, he nodded in muted appreciation and acceptance, the gesture understood by those with him.

Then, he punched the fleet broadcast again, and drew in a sharp breath.

"Your discipline allowed this. The success is yours, but we are not done yet!" Maxim Kerensky's voice boomed through the comms of the Second Fleet's ships, thousands of ears listening intently, the mood buoyant after the utter victory of the Mars gambit. "All vessels prepare to jump! We return to Earth! The commander needs us! Humanity needs us!" He laughed, slapping his palm on the command console's surface. "There's killing to do ... so let's get to work!"

And ... so it begins.

The story picks up with an exclusive focus on the homeworld. For those eager to find out what's happening at Dagen's Grace, don't worry. Chapter 2 will be dealing with that.

For now, I give you the start of the chaotic defence of Earth, and the glorious ambush of the Mars Gambit. If humanity survives, Maxim Kerensky is going to go down in history!

Thank you for joining me, and I hope you will all enjoy the ride. There's a LOT to come! I promise I will do my best.

Copyright © 2021 Stellar; All Rights Reserved.
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Thank you for reading, as always! For story discussion, please feel free to post in my thread here. Comments and questions are welcome!

Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

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And now the curtain has risen on the final act.  I can’t wait to see how it works out!  

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It’s great to see the return of this amazing world of Shay, Mira, Konstantin and allies. It’s disappointing to not see the appearance of my favorite characters but the build up to that moment was not lacking. The summary narration by the ancients themselves is a great intro to battlefield earth.

The exact timing of the final battle remains elusive but the introduction of the bowl blast by Kerensky shows great promise for the earth forces and human defenses; a strategy that would have been voided by any of the greedy actions to strip Shay of his hidden powers and act as a brute force against a collective alien intellect.

A fantastic return for the Aspects of Dawn series!

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On 6/7/2021 at 11:06 PM, xleroc said:

And now the curtain has risen on the final act.  I can’t wait to see how it works out!  

The stage is set and the players are on it! Don't forget to give me a like if you enjoyed the chapter, and subscribe to the story if you want to get updates!

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Great to have the story back. Been waiting with bate breath 

your writing is fast paced, well written and overall except 

keep it up

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38 minutes ago, Buddy1691 said:

Great to have the story back. Been waiting with bate breath 

your writing is fast paced, well written and overall except 

keep it up

Thanks for your support! Just want to echo that if you're enjoying the chapters, don't forget to like them, and to follow/subscribe to the story if you want to be informed of further updates :)

Thanks again for reading.

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Masterful stroke by Kerensky with the Mars gambit, exciting way to open the final chapter of this great saga. Thanks for continuing this awesome story.

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4 hours ago, Goodie said:

Masterful stroke by Kerensky with the Mars gambit, exciting way to open the final chapter of this great saga. Thanks for continuing this awesome story.

The admiral knew what he was doing, and boy did it pay off!

Thank you for commenting. :) It's my pleasure to give you more of it. I hope I don't sound like a parrot at this point with the "like/subscribe" spiel, but please do consider following if you'd like to be kept up to date! Again, I appreciate you reading!

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I left this chapter sitting in my notifications for a while. Already having practiced years of patience waiting for this, I had to make sure I was in the proper mood for this extraordinary treat. Today I finally felt like I could give this story the reading it deserves, and I have to say: It definitely didn't disappoint!

I was a bit skeptical at the start with that over 200,000 year flashback, but it ended up providing some nice additional backround to how everything came to be, and then we were thrust right into the action with the assault on Earth. Even though it has been a while since my last reading of the first two books, I didn't have much trouble getting back into it. I admit I have no clue anymore how they got the intel on Alien ship classes and numbers (did Shay and entourage transmit their findings?) but that didn't really stop me from thoroughly enjoying this chapter.

Thanks for continuing this great saga Stellar! Trust me, I will always be eagerly awaiting the next chapter, even if it might take a while for me to read and comment on it after its release, as I have to make sure I am 100% in the mood to immerse myself in the world you have created.

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2 hours ago, Scary said:

I left this chapter sitting in my notifications for a while. Already having practiced years of patience waiting for this, I had to make sure I was in the proper mood for this extraordinary treat. Today I finally felt like I could give this story the reading it deserves, and I have to say: It definitely didn't disappoint!

I was a bit skeptical at the start with that over 200,000 year flashback, but it ended up providing some nice additional backround to how everything came to be, and then we were thrust right into the action with the assault on Earth. Even though it has been a while since my last reading of the first two books, I didn't have much trouble getting back into it. I admit I have no clue anymore how they got the intel on Alien ship classes and numbers (did Shay and entourage transmit their findings?) but that didn't really stop me from thoroughly enjoying this chapter.

Thanks for continuing this great saga Stellar! Trust me, I will always be eagerly awaiting the next chapter, even if it might take a while for me to read and comment on it after its release, as I have to make sure I am 100% in the mood to immerse myself in the world you have created.

Thanks for commenting.

The flashback provides a recap of the final part of the Tale of Sundering, outlining Dagen's knowledge of the upcoming last stand at Lucere, the splitting of their race to hide it, and his long-term plans to influence humanity in the distant future. Most of this information is alluded to in Veil of Shadow but here it's sharpened from vague legendary description to concrete detail.

The information about the xenomorph fleet was left behind in orbit of Callisto, Jupiter's moon, in the middle of the second book. Definitely use the previous work as a reference if you must, because there will be times when specific things are represented that need the prior basis to make sense. Can't make it to the end of a trilogy in any other way, unfortunately.

I'm glad you enjoyed. More will certainly be coming as soon as my beta readers are done with it.

 

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On 6/20/2021 at 9:07 PM, Stellar said:

Thanks for commenting.

The flashback provides a recap of the final part of the Tale of Sundering, outlining Dagen's knowledge of the upcoming last stand at Lucere, the splitting of their race to hide it, and his long-term plans to influence humanity in the distant future. Most of this information is alluded to in Veil of Shadow but here it's sharpened from vague legendary description to concrete detail.

The information about the xenomorph fleet was left behind in orbit of Callisto, Jupiter's moon, in the middle of the second book. Definitely use the previous work as a reference if you must, because there will be times when specific things are represented that need the prior basis to make sense. Can't make it to the end of a trilogy in any other way, unfortunately.

I'm glad you enjoyed. More will certainly be coming as soon as my beta readers are done with it.

 

I've really enjoyed this story and have been waiting for the third book for some time.  I've not found it the easiest to drop back into.  To do it proper justice I've decided to go back and re-read Veil of Shadow and then move into this one.  Back in a bit.  😁

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I found this chapter a couple weeks ago and was impressed but confused.  I discovered this was the third part of a trilogy and stopped reading this to read the first two books.  I could not be more impressed!  

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19 minutes ago, CincyKris said:

I found this chapter a couple weeks ago and was impressed but confused.  I discovered this was the third part of a trilogy and stopped reading this to read the first two books.  I could not be more impressed!  

So now all the dramatic stuff makes sense, huh? :)

Glad to hear it!

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