Every sailor and every Marine was wide awake by 04:00. Breakfast was served on all the ships at 04:15, robotic chefs preparing reconstituted eggs and cryo-preserved sausages along with copious amounts of coffee. By 05:00 everybody was ready, waiting at battle stations even though combat was still an hour away. Finally, the League ships stopped teleporting five AU’s out.
In his private suite, Meena removed Admiral Kwan’s plate and brought it to the kitchen as he headed for the door. She returned and kissed him on the lips before he walked out.
“Tonight,” he said, I’ll take you down to Seychar. I’m sure there’s a governor’s mansion or some other suitable residence worth confiscating. We’ll enjoy a night under the stars instead of in the midst of them.”
She smiled sweetly up at him and said not a word as he left.
On the bridge, Kwan called into the ships and addressed all personnel, every man and woman under his command.
“Ladies and gentlemen, where we are about to go is where this war started. This is where it all began. Seychar rightfully belongs to the League, but we never paid much attention to it. Too many other things distracted us. Then they found gold. An entire planet of gold ore. It’s a small planet, mind you. But it’s still a planet practically made of gold. And the Republic sought to wrest it from our grasp.
“They won. At the end of the day, three years ago, they won the battle. They had a solitary ship still in the sky while we had none, and that counts as a win. And those Republican bastards have been mining that planet ever since. The gold they’ve dug up has financed their side of the war, and they have made more and more ships, and they have attacked us again and again, and they just won’t quit.
“But now it all ends. In less than an hour, we . . . the League Navy . . . the Fifth Fleet with combined elements from the Sixth Fleet . . . we are going to make this right. We are going to take back what is rightfully ours and put a stop to this conflict. We are going to remove the biggest source of gold from the Republic, and then we’re going to move on Diego itself.
“It started here. Now, we’re here to end it!”
Everyone on the bridge of the Reliant erupted into a roar. The holoscreen switched to the bridges of other ships, StarCen showing the Admiral everyone within the sound of his voice cheering him.
Once the hubbub died down, Kwan called for a Captains-only conference. From there he outlined the battle plan again. Their Eagles would be going in first against the 15 Republican ships expected to meet them in the Seychar system.
“StarCen is diverting significant resources to this next jump. Instead of coming in batches of five every second, she’s going to bring us all in at once. She is now positioning us in the optimal configuration for what we expect are eight ships orbiting Gotha Mu. We will appear and surround them, then move swiftly to take them all out.
“Are there any questions?”
The Captains remained silent.
“Then, ladies and gentlemen, I will speak with you again tonight from the surface of Seychar.”
Smiles lit up the holoscreens as all the Captains signed off.
Admiral Kwan looked up at the ship’s clock, the numbers floating near her pilot. The time read, “05:58”
He said, “Captain . . . prepare for departure.”
A total of 91 ships appeared suddenly around Gotha Mu. They popped into formation, perfectly surrounding the center of the planet. Immediately, the Eagle-class ships near the front adjusted their positions to aim at the Republican warships in orbit.
On the Thomas Paine, an alarm sounded and the lights flashed red. Commodore Severs and Captain Strand were both on deck. They turned to the main holoscreen, showing the view from one of their destroyers. Stars were blocked out by ship after ship. So many vessels filled the screen, few stars could be seen between them.
PLAIR said, “As expected, Commodore, the Fifth Fleet is here with support from the Sixth.”
“Very good. Evacuate all our ships from orbit around Gotha Mu.”
Before the League vessels could begin firing, all eight Republican destroyers surrounding Gotha Mu popped away, reappearing near Seychar.
On the Reliant, Admiral Kwan nodded, as if expecting the move. The ship they were closing in on, an Eagle-class like the Reliant, had suddenly disappeared.
He said, “They have withdrawn to the populated planet. This one is ours. Prepare to advance.”
“Sir . . .”
Kwan and Captain Nichols both turned to a young ensign manning one of the holoscreens. He pointed to a grid of the solar system floating in front of him. Seychar featured over a dozen flashing red lights. Gotha Mu had 91 flashing green. Between the two, he pointed to a solitary flashing red icon.
The ensign said, “They have one ship halfway between here and there.”
Kwan walked over for a better look.
He said, “StarCen, identify this ship.”
“I am unable to, Admiral Kwan.”
Kwan and Nichols exchanged a glance.
Kwan said, “Is this their new class, StarCen?”
“I believe so, Admiral Kwan. I do not recognize anything from this distance.”
Nichols said, “Perhaps we should take steps to eliminate this ‘lone ranger’ first, sir? We can pop over and get a closer look.”
“Maybe. But what can it do at this distance? We see no drones. It’s too far away to shoot at us. If it stays out of the way, it’s not a problem.”
On the bridge of the Thomas Paine, Severs said, “Fire when ready, Captain. Let’s unleash a little hell on them.”
“Aye, aye, sir. You heard him, boys and girls. Fire the star gun and take them out.”
Deep within the engine room of the Thomas Paine, her five Wu Drives began humming. Ordinarily, a ship needed only one Wu Drive, but the advances of war made Republican engineers realize the benefits of having more than one. Right now, all five concentrated in mutual effort, pulling a huge swath of energy from deep within the nearest star.
Each machine teleported out a chunk of Seychar’s sun, the increased power plant on the ship working to grab part of the star from one of its deeper points, at the edge of its core and radiative zone.
The immense energy required to port pieces of the star’s heart sapped the entire ship. Sailors in the Paine looked up as lights dimmed overhead. They felt themselves grow lighter as the ship’s artificial gravity weakened.
Then it was over. Five separate chunks, each 100 cubic meters of raw sun suddenly popped into existence in the middle of the League fleet.
Uncontained from the enormous gravity well from which they had been snatched, the balls of starlight expanded instantly, with devastating effect.
From the main holoscreen of the Paine, the crew watched as a lone camera on Gotha Mu’s surface showed the sky above erupting into light.
Sun, raw natural energy, expanded and wiped out the ships around them.
On the bridge of the Thomas Paine, Severs nodded in satisfaction.
“Do it again,” he said. “Take them all out.”