News traveled quickly, it seemed. Persons in expensive-looking suits and frenzied-looking aides ran through the halls of the green glass-covered Presidential House on Silesias. Two of the President’s agents led Nalia through the crowds, towards a reinforced elevator. They rode down, deep below the surface of the mega-city. From time to time, one of the agents spoke quietly into his communicator.
She spread news of the invasion through every system she passed. Some worlds had responded. Some did not. At the Republic capital, they tried again and again to contact the President, but comms were clogged. When they finally reached someone in her office, they had to spend an hour convincing the harried and disheveled secretary that they needed to speak to the President at once. He relented and relayed the message that the President wanted to talk to her personally.
The arrival at Silesias had been smooth. Air traffic control allowed the Yasothon to dock at a military starport near the capital. From there, the men in red and black security garb escorted her alone to the President. To her surprise, her ride in the aircar through the city was calm. The citizens walked down the streets, attention consumed by their datapads, perhaps unaware of the invasion bearing down on the Republic.
The elevator rapidly descended to 50 floors below the surface. The doors opened to a pure metal hallway and the agents led her to the Situation Room. Inside was pandemonium. High-ranking military officials argued with each other and technicians rattled off status updates from their consoles. The President stood at a large globular holo, surrounded by members of the Defense Cabinet. The holo, overlaid the dispositions of enemy and friendly forces on the positions of all known worlds in the Republic. Nalia gaped at the size of the opposing forces. The red tide threatened to swallow up the entire representation. Their forces looked minuscule in comparison.
The President spotted them and waved them over. The agents escorted Nalia to the front of the holo. She noted the glowering faces of the men and women of the Defense Cabinet. President Haines looked haggard, as if they had just roused her out of bed. They grew silent as Nalia approached.
“Ah, here is Captain Sargire,” announced the President. “According to Atranas and the messages we received from outlying worlds, she has first-hand experience with this crisis we are facing now.” She slowly nodded at Nalia.
Nalia’s back grew straight. “Yes, Madame President. I was there when the fleet materialized in realspace. Admiral Vendrian opened the Gate that allowed them in.” She heard groans from among the group. “They poured in vast numbers. First Fleet is gone. We need—”
“Can they be killed?” interrupted a gruff-looking bald man in an admiral’s uniform. Nalia recognized him as Defense Commander Putnik, the man that oversaw all the Republic fleets.
She cleared her throat, “Yes, if we put enough power to weapons, they’ll eventually succumb.” Taking a breath, she used her most convincing tone. “But even if we fight back, and Admiral Atranas will agree, there’s too many of them. What I say next will be hard to take, but I must say it. We must evacuate.”
The President raised an eyebrow. “Evacuate what?” she asked.
“Everything!” Nalia caught herself before yelling at too high a pitch. Almost everyone in the room stared at her. She heard murmurs around her as they discussed the desirability and feasibility of such an option.
Haines raised her hand. “I’ll be the judge of that. Right now, I believe it’s too early to take such a drastic approach.” She stared at Commander Putnik. “Admiral, catch us up on what’s happening out there.”
Taking a datapad out of his coat pocket, Putnik started his presentation using the large holo. “Right now, we have detected multiple signatures of the incoming forces, too numerous to count. We are unable to get any more specific. We just know that a lot of them are heading to us. And towards the Zenks.” He zoomed in on the section of the red tide closest to Republic space. “According to analysts, we have fleets approaching to these three initial worlds. Haven, New Jeddah, and Temperance. The first fleet will arrive at Temperance in approximately an hour.” Nalia shuddered, wondering if she was too late. Putnik zoomed out again and focused on another section. “This group is heading straight to our core worlds. Their first destinations appear to be Silesias and Huangshan.” He paused, wiping his forehead. “We have around seven hours.”
The President spoke first. “What about our fleets? Can we get defenses up in time?”
Nalia noted a cold bead of sweat roll down the side of the commander’s head. “We can send small picket forces to New Jeddah and Haven at this time. Our other fleets are out of position and won’t reach the first worlds in time. And Third Fleet is nowhere to be found.” He glanced at Nalia.
“What do you mean our fleets are out of position?” The President asked in a raised voice, pounding the base of the holo display. “Do we have anything at all?”
Commander Putnik shook his head. “I can pull Second and Fourth Fleets to Silesias and Huangshan before their arrival. That will leave all outer systems with nothing. God knows how they’re going to defend themselves against this onslaught.”
Haines paced back and forth. She held her forehead in her right hand. “We need to send an immediate evacuation order to each of the target worlds. Get as many out as possible. Especially here.”
“We’ve already done so. But…” Putnik hesitated. “Even if we mobilize every civilian and military ship, only a fraction is going to make it out, especially here. There aren’t enough space-capable craft available. We should—” his communicator beeped. He listened intently. “Ah, we now have visual of the fleet at Temperance.” He connected the holo to the FTL transmission from the planet. The holo changed to a view of a camera orbiting a world with vast plains and mountains. Nalia saw a large domed city on the coast of one of the continents. It looked almost peaceful. The entire room became quiet as all present looked at the screen. At first, they saw nothing. Then, a few seconds later, the husk of a frigate spun by in front of the feed. A giant sphere accompanied by thousands of smaller ones soon followed and approached the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. Nalia heard gasps around her.
The President tapped the base of the holo. “Have we established contact?” she asked.
“Temperance Government has been transmitting a surrender message in all possible languages for the past half hour. No response,” responded the commander, his face grim.
The President tapped her fingers faster. She was about to say something when a bright flash from the giant sphere interrupted her. A vast mushroom explosion and shockwave consumed the city on the continent. In its place, a vortex of flame, kilometers tall, touched and penetrated the edge of the atmosphere. In quick succession, more flashes of light followed from the rest of the enemy fleet. They covered the planet’s surface in fire, consuming the grasses and plains on it. An explosion came into view in front of the planet camera. The feed cut off.
All stood in stunned silence. Nalia wished Admiral Atranas was present. “1.2 billion people,” President Haines murmured. A few moments later, the room erupted in chaos. Technicians shouted rapid-fire reports. Military officials yelled orders, some conflicting with each other. Communicators beeped in endless repetition. The President made no action to stop the chaos. Then she grabbed Putnik’s arm. “Send out a Republic wide evacuation alert. Get as many big ships as possible. Gather as many people as you can.”
“Where will they go? None of our designated evac points are safe.” The commander’s voice shook.
“I don’t know! Anywhere!” The President shouted, spittle flying from her mouth. “And get the damn fleets in position. We are not losing any more worlds.” Nalia thought better than to argue with her. Haines looked ready to assault anyone who disagreed. Defense Commander Putnik tapped some buttons on his datapad.
A Presidential agent stepped up to President Haines and whispered in her ear. She took a breath and calmed herself down. “I’ve just gotten a priority message from Admiral Atranas.” She looked to Nalia and Putnik. “You two, come with me. The rest are dismissed.” The Cabinet dispersed, with some protest, heading to their respective offices, although Nalia wondered what they could actually do. The President and her agents led them down to a side hall. They entered a nondescript door into a small conference room.
Sitting down, the President activated the comms receiver. Nalia and Putnik also sat. Admiral Atranas’ face appeared, distorted, on the conference viewscreen.
“I hope you have some good news.” Haines sighed.
Atranas shook her head. The video transmission showed a slight delay. “I’m afraid not. I’ve been using gridspace anomalies in the area to avoid detection by the enemy. Some of the systems near me have evacuated as much of their populations as they could. Their ships are with us.” She paused, “We received transmissions about Temperance.”
Defense Commander Putnik’s communicator beeped, its suddenness making Nalia jump. He listened to the incoming message. “Haven’s been hit,” he announced.
The President gritted her teeth. “Admiral, I’m recalling your fleet. We need you to defend Republic space.”
“I highly advise against doing that, Madame President. We don’t have the numbers,” replied Atranas, her voice garbled from the long-distance FTL transmission.
Haines pounded her fist on the conference table. “You will come back! That’s an order. You will stand and fight. And you will fight this war until you can fight no more! Do you imagine how many people will be left behind if we run? Any other act besides defending the worlds is cowardice!”
“Madame President,” Atranas said, her voice slow and measured, “This is not a war, but a catastrophe. Every minute we detect more ships coming through that Gate. We cannot fight.”
The President scowled. She stood up and paced for a few moments. Finally, she pointed at Commander Putnik. “What do you think, Istvan?”
The bald man wrinkled his nose. “I’m inclined to agree with Atranas. It’s simple math.”
She looked to Nalia. “And you?”
“The odds are against us. Well, we don’t even know the odds. We’ve never faced this threat before, not even with the Zenks. I have to agree with the admiral. We need to evacuate.” Nalia pulled her hand up to her face. “But the question is: where to?” Nalia rubbed her cheek.
Haines threw her hands up. “I can’t believe this. Our finest trained soldiers, able to look death in the eye, telling me to cut and run?”
“We simply don’t have the ships,” Putnik responded. “I can do what you ask, but it’s a fool’s errand. You understand that as well as anyone, Madame President.”
She looked at all three of them. She paced again, trying to will reality to her vision. It failed. “Alright, fine. It seems there’s no other alternative.” She put her hands down in front her and looked back at the screen. “Admiral Atranas, what do you suggest we do?”
“Right now, we can continue evacuating worlds that are a ways away from being hit. Hiding near the gridspace anomaly has appeared to work so far. We’ll gather here and plan out from there.” The admiral brushed the shoulder of her uniform. “I also require the services of Captain Sargire.”
Nalia nodded. “Acknowledged, Admiral.” She glanced at the President.
The President took a deep breath through her nose. “Then the evacuation will proceed. We will follow your plan, Admiral. I hope to God you find a solution.” She paused for a moment. “We will instruct any and all evacuees to head to your position. I will send as many members of the government as I can too you.”
“What about you, Madame President?” asked the admiral.
“I will be staying on Silesias.” Nalia and Putnik jerked their heads toward her. She raised her hand before they could protest. “I will not abandon the Republic. If it goes down, I will go down with it. Billions will be left behind. I will not leave them. The presidency will be handed to the next appropriate person in the line of succession when I am gone. There will be no argument, understand?” Nalia gulped.
“So it goes, Madame President,” Admiral Atranas replied. “Will there be anything else?”
“That is all, admiral.”
“Godspeed. Atranas out.” Her face blinked out into darkness.
“I will stay, too,” said Putnik. “Fight a delaying action until as many as possible can make it out.”
All three sat in silence. Nalia looked down at the table. She felt her hand being touched. The President looked at her with a small smile. “I know this is a large burden. I have every faith that you will accomplish this task. Lead our people to safety, would you?” Nalia’s dared not look up.