No Place for Us
by Thomas R. Willits
|Table of Contents|
“No Place for Us” began
in issue 172.
|part 3 of 5|
“You haven’t taken them from me yet,” Hawker insisted. “I suggest you surrender now.”
There was a brief laugh from the channel as Shartran reacted to his orders.
“I think it is you who should surrender, Commander,” General Shartran said and gave him a suspicious glare. “If you’ll check with your station you’ll see they’re now under attack. I’ve sent a dozen of my scout ships on ahead to keep your forces there busy. They won’t be joining you here today, I’m afraid. I’ll give you a minute to confirm, Commander. It’s the least I can do.”
Then a brief smile and he cut the transmission. Commander Hawker brought up communications with the station. A second later Reese was on his screen.
“What’s the station’s status?”
“The station’s under attack,” Reese said distracted. “I’ve launched all available fighters but we’re having trouble keeping up with the attacking ships. They’re scout ships. I can’t get to your position yet. Can you hold them off for a while?”
“Negative,” Hawker said disappointed. “You made the right decision. Protect the station.”
“What’s your status? Did they take the bait?”
“Not exactly. I’ll inform you of our status later.”
He cut the transmission and surveyed his own ships and the two transport vessels. He saw Major Dexter’s ship near his own. The seventy ships lined up behind them controlled by General Shartran lay waiting for their orders. He had been true to his word. He had not ordered an attack yet, giving him time to check the status of the moon station.
The channel beeped again. Shartran. He flipped the ship to ship channel on and he was face to face with Shartran again. Hawker noticed he still wore his smug smile. The smile was one of an assured position or an upper hand. Either way he had both.
“What are your terms?” Commander Hawker asked.
“Ahh,” Shartran soothed. “A wise decision. I am determined and I will use every available resource I can but I’m not heartless. I choose to avoid bloodshed when I can and I’m glad we can agree on that. Now order your convoy escort to back off. Surrender the transport vessels and return to your station. As soon as we have them I’ll order my scout ships to stop their attack.”
“How do I know you’ll keep your word?”
“I suppose you don’t have any real assurances,” Shartran reasoned. “But it’s better than the alternative. You can see you're outnumbered here today. You have absolutely no chance of winning.”
“Very well,” he grumbled. “Give me a moment to inform my escort ships.”
Before Hawker switched off the viewer there was that same smug smile from his face. The smile, Hawker reasoned, was quite irritating. He rubbed his temples gently trying to figure out how he could have let this happen. Major Dexter had been his second in command for a long time. She had been stationed there before he had arrived himself. It was possible she had deceived them this whole time, keeping her true intentions concealed until she was needed by Shartran when the time was right.
But concealed for years seemed unlikely. A second possibility was she was turned and had defected at some point. Possibly on some mission away from the moon station. Both scenarios were hard to accept.
He had trusted Dexter more than any of his senior staff. Reese was a bit edgy and liked to take matters into his own hands. Peters was a good officer but rarely liked to take chances, for which he failed to make promotion at the last crew evaluation. Taking chances was part of the territory. He brought up his targeting scanner and aimed it at Major Dexter’s cockpit. Taking chances was all part of the territory.
He felt for the button just under the main flight controls. His thumb pressed against the surface of the trigger and rested there. The desire to push was overwhelming. Betrayal was the most difficult feeling to overcome. He felt his finger grow heavy and the button slowly moved inward.
Suddenly he ripped his hand from the controls and gripped his right hand with his left and held it tight. He wanted so much to go through with it. The process would be so easy. But the result would be their ultimate destruction. It took more will than he thought he had not to destroy Dexter now while she was right in front of him. Instead he opened a channel to his entire fleet and informed them of the situation and his new orders. Abandon the two transport ships.
Surprisingly he didn’t hear much argument from his officers. The escort ships moved away from the transports and joined Hawker and his fleet. Once the escort joined Hawker’s squad he gave the order to return to the station.
The swarm of ships were already surrounding the transports preparing to board them. It was a humiliating sight. The transports had been completely automated since their launch from Alem Kor. This whole plan was Dexter’s idea, probably inspired by Shartran himself. The miners were now stranded on Alem Kor. After the ships were clear, the channel opened again.
“I’ve recalled my scout ships,” Shartran said happily. “I’m glad we could avoid bloodshed today. You made the right decision, Commander.”
“What are you going to do now that you have the transport ships?”
“I suppose there is no reason to wait,” Shartran said openly. “You might as well know so you can prepare. I intend on taking your station and Alem Kor. Once I have the station, Alem Kor will be an easy target. You’ve been very cooperative today and I’m sure if you’re a reasonable man you will be just as cooperative when I return to take the station.”
“You’ll never take the station!” Hawker shouted furiously.
“Let’s be reasonable, really. Your supply lines are cut off. You are now dangerously low on supplies. I control them and I will not allow any ships to pass through. You’ve been abandoned out here. No one is coming to your aid. I have more ships diverting from Eyos. You’ll be hopelessly outnumbered. Did you think you were outmatched today? When I return to your station you will beg me for mercy. And now I have your transport ships. I’ll be able to land my ground troops and take the station by force if necessary. So I will give you time to think it over. I know you’ll make the right decision. It has been a pleasure, Commander.”
Before the screen flicked off there was that smile again. Hawker’s rage inside began to ensue. But he forced it to subside and deal with the situation at hand. They were fleeing from battle in shame. Surrendering the ships was the last thing he had considered happening today. And the station was now in jeopardy. Surely Eyos would send ships to aid. They would have to, now. Another channel was coming through. It was one of his own ships. He opened the channel and saw Dexter’s face on the screen.
“I should have destroyed you while I had the chance,” he said discouraged. “You created the malfunction on the station, didn’t you?”
“I’m sorry, Commander,” she said sympathetically. “I wish things could have happened differently. I wish there was time to explain but I must go. You see, he is my husband. I’m sorry I let you down. But in my heart I believe in his cause. He will get what he wants. Do as he says and no one will get hurt. Please.”
Before Hawker could respond she cut the channel. Her ship was somewhere behind them on a different path. He stared at the black screen, disappointed she had vanished. She was quite an officer and also quite attractive. But that didn’t change the fact that she was the enemy.
Hawker tried to think back when she had the time to get married. She had always been busy with her career and she always put her career first. Perhaps when a person is determined enough anything is possible.
* * *
The main control room was just as he had left it. Reese stood up as Commander Hawker entered and surrender his chair to him. Actually he was a little relieved to no longer be in command of the station. Only on a few rare occasions he had been left in charge but never in the middle of an attack. He stood by and waited for instructions.
“Station status?” Hawker inquired.
“Minimal damage,” Reese answered. “All systems are functioning. We kept them busy out there and away from the station most of the time. It’s just those scout ships are so quick and maneuverable. We were unable to disable any of them.”
“You did the best you could, Lieutenant Stay here. See to any repairs that are needed. I’ll be in my office. I must contact Eyos. Keep me advised of anything out of the ordinary.”
Hawker left the control station for his office. He wanted a drink. He sat in his chair and turned on the computer console. He started a communication with Eyos and began recording. He didn’t know where to begin. Basically the worst news a commander could give: everything had gone wrong, nothing had gone right.
“Request immediate instructions, Command. We have lost two transports to Shartran. He is preparing for another attack on the station and he means to take it over. He plans to take Alem Kor as well. We are low on supplies, ships and men. We need immediate assistance. We will not be able to defend the station in our present condition. Your immediate response is requested. Thank you.”
He ended the recording and dispatched the message for Eyos. It would be over an hour before he heard anything back from the command center on Eyos. He opened the cabinet behind him and grabbed a large glass and a bottle of his best liquor, something he had been saving for a special occasion, but he opened it and poured himself a glass. He drank nearly all of it before setting the glass down.
After he had his second glass he stumbled his way to his quarters and found his bed. He slept deeply. His dreams were rattled with startling images of battle and bloodshed. In his dreams Shartran had defeated him and had taken over the station and the mining planet, Alem Kor. He left no survivors.
He rose quickly out of bed as the communicator chimed in the other room. Eyos, no doubt. He checked the time on the wall and he had been asleep for over an hour. The sleep felt like days to him. He entered his office and sat down at his desk again. The recording was displayed on the screen and he started the transmission. How many ships would they be sending? He hoped for an entire squadron but at this point anything would do. After he engaged the playback he sat back in his chair and waited for his instructions.
“We understand the severity of your situation, Commander Hawker,” the person said. “We’ve been monitoring a large group of ships on our long range scanners that were diverted to your location. We were unable to stop their advance. We have greatly misunderstood their numbers. What we thought were a small group of rebels has turned out to be a large faction.
“Actually it’s turning out to be even larger than that. Eyos has erupted into civil war while you’ve been away. We have withheld some information from you so that your mission would not be affected. But we must regret to inform you now that we can not afford to send any ships or supplies to your station. All of our resources are being used here on Eyos for the safety of the planet and its surrounding territories.
“We understand if you cannot see to the safety of the station and the planet under these circumstances. However we also cannot give orders to abandon the station, either. A decision of that importance must be granted from the council. They will not give such an order as surrendering would greatly strengthen the faction’s forces and weaken ours.
“We understand if you cannot defend the station, and we will not hold you personally responsible. We wish you the best, Commander. If you choose to fight and defend the station, may God have mercy on your souls. Good luck.”
Commander Hawker could not believe the words he had just heard. He checked the origin of the transmission for authenticity and that it was genuine. They had purposely withheld vital information about the war. The situation on Eyos was far worse than he had realized. But he did understand now that they had been abandoned. Shartran was right in what he had said.
Hawker’s anger grew at the thought of Shartran being right. Hawker thought about what the message said. They would not give an official order to turn over the station but basically said they would understand if he chose not to fight. If they did turn the station over, it would certainly have an impact on the war.
The most terrifying thought was that surrender would be on his watch, under his command. He had been taught never to surrender, even if it meant losing lives in the process. Even though he would not be held personally responsible, anybody on Eyos who knew about honor would brand him as a coward. The decision wasn’t an easy one to make.
Hawker slowly entered the main control room. Reese was still at the command chair, overseeing operations. Everyone seemed busy with something. Peters was on duty and seated at his station. Hawker thought about the words he had heard. He found it difficult to tell the crew he was ordering their surrender. There really was no decision to make. The choice was the logical one.
“Commander?” Reese said seeing him enter. Commander Hawker walked into the center of the control room, everyone watching him. They had never seen the expression that was on his face right now. The look of defeat.
“Prepare to evacuate the station,” he said calmly. “We’re surrendering the station.”
The room was silent. Everyone was unsure of what to say or whether even to say anything. Peters looked at Hawker then looked away. No one could believe what he had said, but no one wanted to argue either. Hawker saw their disappointment.
“We will not be receiving any aid,” he told them. “Eyos is practically under civil war right now. There is too much happening close to home. We aren’t exactly a priority on their list. Command has given me the decision to surrender the station, and I must make the appropriate choice here. We can not possibly defend the station against Shartran’s forces.”
“We can make a stand here,” Sergeant Peters argued. “We can fight them off. We’ve never lost a battle before.”
Copyright © 2005 by Thomas R. Willits