When the black ships came gliding out of the night, dark against the stars, we should have known the end was upon us. Perhaps we would have if we’d had eyes to see at the time. We had been blinded by then and all chance of saving ourselves, all hope of Mimir’s survival, had already been utterly obliterated.
— From the personal journal of Rachel Farragut
19 Decem, 5249 PD
Lindsay watched the bombers against the clouds, startling slightly as she realized they were lifting higher instead of descending for another pass. She poked Kara hard in the ribs and pointed upward.
“Look,” she breathed as she peered up past the leafy canopies that were their cover as they sheltered in a copse of trees a few hundred yards from the vineyard’s property line. “They’re lifting. They’re running.”
“Running?” Kara grimaced. “Are you sure that’s what they’re doing?”
Lindsay’s stomach gave an uncomfortable lurch and she swallowed. “I sure as hell hope so.” The alternative isn’t something I want to contemplate. I’m not even quite sure I know what the alternative would be, but I know it’s not going to be something I’d like.
“Me too.” Kara edged out from under cover to get a better look. Gray clouds were moving in from the west and the wind was stiffening. “Maybe there’s a storm coming. Maybe they’re breaking off because of it.”
“Hopefully that’s it.” Lindsay sucked in a breath, looking down over the rolling hills toward the sea. They were on Kara and Gabe’s property, now, property she knew almost as well as she knew the woods where she’d grown up, the woods she lived in now. She closed her eyes for a moment, taking a slow, deep breath. She could smell the smoke that drifted on the air, could taste the fuel and exhaust from the fighters and bombers.
So many minds. So much fear. She shivered. Kara squeezed her shoulder.
“Reel in,” her friend murmured. “It’s not worth it.”
“It’s always worth it,” Lindsay said, swallowing hard. It was only half a lie. She knew what she might be doing to herself. Her hand unconsciously strayed toward her belly, showing no sign of her pregnancy at this early stage.
I can’t wonder what this is going to do to all of us right now. All I’ve to do is find Brendan. That’s all I have to do.
A thought brushed against hers, faint and frail. She latched onto the sense of Brendan, relief making her knees momentarily weak.
I thought you were dead. I was afraid you were dead.
The sense of him was weak, but it was there. You’d know if I’d died. Are you safe?
“For the moment.” She murmured the words even as she pushed them to him. Kara grimaced, squeezing her arm.
“You found him?”
Lindsay made a ‘sort-of’ gesture with one hand, biting her lip. Where are you?
As safe as I can get for the moment. Freder and the inspector are here. Winston’s hurt worse than I am, I think.
Lindsay swallowed hard. How bad is it?
I think I busted my ribs. Not sure what else. A lot of pain.
She could feel it nibbling at the edges of her own consciousness. Her breath quickened. They had to be close. She caught Kara’s hand and darted out into the open, heedless of what might see them.
“Holy shit, Lindsay, what are you—”
“They’re close! I can feel his pain, they’re close.” She tried to use their bond as a guide, tracking the bright thread that tied them together in her mind’s eye.
Don’t let me go. Don’t stop talking, Brendan. Stay with me.
She felt his pain spike and winced herself. His thoughts were weaker now. Trying. It’s hard. Hurts a lot.
“Just hang on,” she whispered. “We’re coming.”
We? Who’s we? What are you—Lin! Lin, no. You can’t.
She actually laughed. Too late.
“There!” Kara jerked on her arm, spinning her to the side. “They’re over there.”
Lindsay blinked, eyes stinging as a gust of wind blew smoke from a smoldering bomber in their direction. “How do you know?”
“Just trust me,” Kara said. “There’s a cellar beneath that fuselage. They’ve got to be down there if they’re close. They’re sure as hell not out in the open, are they?”
Brendan? Are you underground?
Yeah, he thought back. One of the cellars, I think. Hard to tell. Vision’s blurry.
Lindsay grimaced. He must have hit his head again, too, which made her even more worried than she’d been a few minutes before. No one needed him to undo all the work that Ezra had done to patch him up again.
Shit, where’s Ezra?
Probably at home with Alana. Keep talking to me, Lin. I keep trying to pass out and staying conscious is getting hard. Starting to drift.
Her lips thinned as she and Kara broke into a dead run. Just hang in there, Brendan. I’m coming. I promise, I’m coming.
• • •
Tomasi looked away from her console and toward Marshal Windsor, who stared at the video and sensor feeds that their evacuating fighters were still broadcasting. They’d keep broadcasting until they were out of range; standard operating procedure. It was only a matter of time, though, before they were well out of range, traveling to their destinations on the Marshal’s orders. “Yes, sir?”
“Anything from that fleet that’s coming in?”
Tomasi checked her boards just to be sure, then shook her head slightly. “No, sir. They’re running silent. I’m not even picking up ship to ship, but…well. It looks like they took out some of the long range relays and sensors before they moved in for the kill.”
There was a collective wince and shudder that ran through the staff in operations at her poorly chosen words. The young pilot turned her gaze to her console, stared at her hands.
Windsor’s hand fell on her shoulder. “It’s all right,” he murmured. “We were all thinking it. You’re just the one that said it.”
“Yes, sir,” the girl said quietly. Windsor’s fingers flexed and he stepped away.
“Marshal, the bombers are pulling back,” someone on sensors said quietly, as if they feared shouting would somehow shatter the fragile control they all maintained, as if speaking louder would leave them all utterly shattered. “Do you think that maybe they’re leaving?”
“Not bloody likely,” Windsor said, heart sinking to the level of his boots. “This is what it was like at Mimir.”
“They’re here to kill us all,” someone said. “They want our planet.”
“Ships are moving into geosync. They may be setting for orbital bombardment.”
No maybe about that. Windsor closed his eyes. I love you, Rachel. I love you. He took a deep breath. “How many over Nova Spexi?”
“Looks like three, sir.”
“Gunports are cycling open.”
So this is how it ends. Windsor cleared his throat. “It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.”
All they could do was watch as the visual feeds showed the first of the blasts two heartbeats before the ground began to shake with the effects of the bombardment.
The first siege of E-557 had begun.