Writer’s Note: Instrument of Surrender (Part Two) was published originally in Jump Point 4.6. You can read Part One here.
Crescent’s crew rushed to battle stations. Starmen, startled awake by the unexpected announcement of Tevarin enemies, now poured from the crew quarters. Engineers double-checked the ship’s power plants and battery bays to ensure every last bit of juice would be on line.
The bridge buzzed around Commander Wallace. Somehow this felt both familiar and completely foreign to her. She’d been in battles before, but never in charge of one. She’d seen firsthand the destruction of Virgil I — the plumes of smoke rising from formerly verdant fields, orbital bombardment craters the only remnants of what was once an emerging metropolis.
Commander Wallace had seen just how far the Tevarin would go to win this war. She couldn’t let the same fate befall Crion.
“Commander, a warning has been sent to Crion,” XO Coburn stepped to her side, personal data pad in hand.
“We’ve also dispatched a drone to the main fleet, though there’s a good chance they won’t receive it in time to make a difference.”
“That’s why we need to do everything we can to slow them down.”
XO Coburn nodded then continued, “One final update, sir. Prisoner Lime made it to the
brig. Paredes has been assigned first watch.”
Prisoner Lime, who called himself Hickory, had slipped to the back of Commander Wallace’s mind. What if Lime was right? What if he did have the Instrument of Surrender on his ship, and this war was finally over? Yesterday’s expected comm drone from command never arrived. It might be a coincidence; it might not. Lime was right about the Tevs being in system. There was a chance he was telling the truth about this too.
“Have we located his ship yet?”
XO Coburn scowled, “No, sir.”
“Let me know the moment they do.”
“Of course, Commander.”
Still, it wasn’t something she would risk the lives of millions on. People like Lime are always playing an angle; why else would he, a wanted criminal, flag down their ship for a ride?
“Sir, our scouts just reported that the Tevarin fleet has entered the asteroid belt.”
Commander Wallace crossed to a terminal and overlaid the system’s extensive network of early warning sensors on the hologlobe. Entering the asteroid belt meant they didn’t want to be detected. The moved aligned with the many after-action reviews she had read about other Tevarin attacks.
When the Tevs struck civilians targets, they did so with little to no warning. They preferred to move in quietly, strike hard and fast, then retreat before support appeared. When executed correctly, the results were devastating. Commander Wallace knew from Virgil there’s no feeling more helpless than responding to an attack that’s over before you arrive.
The Tevarin war machine fed on chaos and the flames of fear. Corath’Thal had even recorded a series of vids that often forced their way onto the spectrum through pirate broadcasts. The vids justified his guerrilla tactics and excoriated Messer for taking their homeworld away. Corath’Thal claimed that no Human world was safe until Jalan was under Tevarin control once again.
“XO Coburn, the Tevarin are sacrificing speed for stealth. That gives us a chance to quantum travel ahead and set up a defense of Crion.”
“It does, sir . . . ” His words had stopped, but it was obvious he had more to say.
“Now’s not the time to hold back.”
Coburn glanced at his feet, then proceeded, “Even if we rush to Crion, we’ll never be able to set up a viable defense. We don’t stand a chance battling them in open space. Their force is too big and their capital ship’s phalanx shield too strong.”
Her body temperature spiked as nervousness poured out of every pore. She was certain everyone on the bridge could feel the tension coming from her. This was not the calming presence the commander of a ship should project.
So Commander Wallace closed her eyes while her thumb and forefinger squeezed the bridge of her nose. There had to be another way, she thought, but what options were left?
Commander Wallace finally opened her eyes and looked at the hologlobe. Her eyes settled on the asteroid belt. She zoomed the hologlobe in on the belt, and watched the Tevarin fleet slowly making their way through it.
A thick silence settled over the bridge. No one dared to speak as everyone anxiously awaited orders.