"Sir, our scanners are picking up the defense fleet. They're holding in orbit around Triton. Initial energy readings indicate they exceed our expected numbers."
The way Lieutenant Grant's voice trailed off at the end was an anomaly. I've known the man for fifteen years. Been on three campaigns with him. He had the face of a rock and the temperament to match.
I hate that my voice is raspy. Makes me sounds like the villain in a bad movie, but we make do with the hand we're dealt. Speaking of hands, I notice mine's clenched a bit too tight around my command console.
"Initial scans indicate they outnumber us 5 to 1, sir."
The bridge of a battleship is never truly silent. There's always little beeps and tings as the computers do their calculations and updates and whatever else it is they do. I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about them, but they make everything go around. They're the background noise though. You read in manuals about how the bridge crew is meant to be silent, but they never are. There's chatter about the next docking, or about new kids and failed relationships.
The beeps are awfully loud.
"I see. Tell the fleet to form up in Alpha formation."
My voice. I'd wanted that to sound commanding and inject strength into my crew. At least they're trained well enough to do what I ask.
I find my XO talking quietly to the helmsman. A quick flick of my eyebrows has him striding over.
The main viewer twinkles with the lights of the enemy fleet, like the teeth of a desperate animal waiting to fight to the death. I don't blame them. Every species is different, a product of nature and evolution and whatever else the scientists would have you believe. But something shared across all life is the instinct to survive. It's no different for the enemy. We'd beaten them back across the whole sector, but here they are.
It had been way too easy. They were retreating too quickly, giving up worlds and systems far too cheaply. I was sure something was wrong, but High Command in all their "wisdom" had attributed that to fear. Fear. Hah. As soon as we'd jumped into the system, the computer beeps had told me that jump drives were inhibited. I'd walked into their trap, or rather been ordered into it. Blame the stupid senate. All sitting on their comfy chairs, jowls flapping as they’re consumed in delusions of grandeur. Stupid men.
"We're not going to win this one are we?"
"Sir, the glory of the colonies and your skill are second to none. Victory is assured."
He taps a button my command console. A brief hum as the silence field projects outward.
"Cut it, Tom."
"Things don't look great. What's the plan, boss?"
"If you're asking if I have a trick up my sleeve, I don't. How can this slip past Central Intelligence? I get that there's always errors in the reports but to be off by a factor of 10? I'd have had better intelligence if I'd asked the dog to woof me the enemy numbers."
"We can't run. Warp inhibitors are on the surface. We'll have to cut through them and that's probably going to take half the fleet. And if that happens, nothing's stopping them from pursuing us and bombing Terra to nothing."
I must've grinned unconsciously.
"I know that look. You've just thought of something haven't you?"
"Yes. I wish I hadn't though."
He stays silent, waiting for me to continue.
"Wars only last for as long as the people are willing to fight. There's two ways to make that happen. You either break the will of the people, or you kill them all. The entire enemy is concentrated right in front of us." I can feel my tongue in my mouth. It's brushing up against the back of my teeth. I hear myself swallow.
"You can't be serious. You would exterminate the entire race?"
Tom was always a bit pale, but I'd never seen his face that devoid of color before.
"There's 13 billion people down there, excluding the personnel in the fleet. That would be an act of genocide on the scale of nothing seen before. It'll be your end. Even if you're not prosecuted for war crimes, you'd be reviled across the entirety of the colonies. No one would serve under you again."
"If I don't do this, there won't be any colonies to revile me. Sometimes wars don't need heroes."
He meets my eyes. I can see the tumult of emotion in them. He knows this is the only way, but he feels like striking me down. I'd lose the crew after this. I might even just off myself. There's a thought.
I tap the button and the silence field fades. The beeps are the only reason I know it's down. Every eye on the bridge crew is on me. I'd led them for close to 15 years at this point. We'd had our losses, but I'd kept them alive for this long. Determination, hope and fear. All at once.
"Give me fleet wide." A shrill whistle and I'm addressing the fleet.
"This has been a long campaign, but here we are. The battle to decide it all. The enemy outnumber us. They outgun us. These are indisputable facts. But we will be victorious. For the glory of the colonies, we must be victorious. Follow me and glory will be ours!"
I cut the channel and turn to Lieutenant Grant.
"Fleet is authorized to deploy singularity cannons. Target the moon’s core."
I feel the mood in the room turn from quiet determination to confusion as they wonder if they've misheard me to revulsion as they realize they haven't.
Grant's hearing is fine. He just wants to have heard something else.
"Target. The. Moon."
His eyes glint. His mouth presses into a tiny crevice on the edifice that is his face. He relays the orders. I massage my temples. This migraine... Around me the crew's faces are a mix of betrayal and disgust. We're the good guys. The heroes. We're the glorious Pan Colonial Fleet. We don't resort to genocide.
Grant's console is a mess of lights and beeps as the captains of the fleet make sure to place their objections on the record. I don't blame them. 'I was ordered to' is a terrible excuse for what they were about to do, but it was enough to help assuage their guilt. I owed them that at least.
I look back to the view screen. The enemy fleet's holding position. I doubt they've considered we'd destroy their moon. Why would they? That's not how wars are fought. What's the point if there's no spoils?
By the time they realize, the singularity cannons would've destabilized the moon beyond repair. Earthquakes and Tsunamis would eradicate their home world, before the pressure causes the planet to explode, a gigantic bomb at the heart of their fleet. They'd be too shocked to think. Too appalled, too paralyzed to retreat.
Their homes. Their families. Their very children would be the shrapnel that tears them apart. I don't expect much to be left after. At least not enough to be a threat to my fleet to clean up. We would "win". Though I'm not sure what that word means anymore.
"The fleet's ready, Sir." Grant's voice is emotionless. He doesn't meet my eyes.
Maybe the villainous rasp suits me after all.