Our war of faith took to the stars

Laid waste among the gods

Our minds and souls were torn apart

Until all remained was dust

---

We fought, our faith, it drove us on

Yet none of use could see

The swords we swung, the spears we shot

No victory would yield

---

So filled with hate were our hearts

And blinded were our eyes

Thousands fell around ourselves

The stars were blood-red drenched

---

One hundred years had passed before

We put down our swords

Our faith had fled, we lost the path

Our brothers lost their lives

---

We took a step toward the light

Ours souls no longer heavy

We pray to you, please pray for us

So we may find the path


Approx. 16:30:00 Earth Time (GMT), January 3rd, 641 NC (New Calendar)

The twin suns of the Beta Doradus system cast a cold blue light on the colonized world dubbed DNS-4551, better known as Cote d'Azure. The planet's blue seas seemed to glow in the blackness of space, and the dark side of the world was blazing with city lights, casting a definite luminescence into the void. Stars glistened and twinkled in the background, and a swirling sapphire-colored nebula far in the distance completed the image.

Several hundred million kilometers distant, a point of space began to bend and unwrap from around itself. This rupture in the fabric of the universe started out small and steadily grew larger, creating a disorienting effect and producing sights fully viewable only through the help of all eleven dimensions of spacetime. Soon the rupture grew large enough to accommodate the titan mass of the two-kilometer long Delta Confederacy flagship Down a Broken Path as it passed from an artificial wormhole and into normal space.

More folds in space began to appear, and soon tens, hundreds, thousands of destroyers, cruisers, battleships, and carriers passed into the system. The few local vessels that were patrolling this far out were annihilated with a combination of railgun shots and short range guided spearhawk missiles. It was impossible to miss the massive battlefleet as it jumped in-system, so the local authorities were already mustering a fleet of their own. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Cote d'Azure, it wouldn't nearly be enough.


Admiral Joshua Mankey sighed deeply to himself as he gazed absentmindedly out of the bay window that extended across the majority of the forward end of the bridge of the Down a Broken Path. The window gave an excellent view of the system, and an excellent view of the herculean fleet that would bring and end to the so-called "d'Ani scum."

Josh felt his stomach churn in his gut. D'Ani scum, indeed.

Josh had grown up in a privileged family on a large planet called New Singapore in the center of Delta Confederacy controlled space. Like any other schoolboy, he learned about the Deltan political system: every ten years the Council of Hierarchs on Deltan I would elect one of the six Houses—political units based primarily around a single wealthy family—to run overall administration of the Confederacy. Although the primary job of the Houses was to run trade and maintain economic stability, as well as control a small portion of the military, the elected First House held a great amount of administrative and legal power. Mankey belonged to House Cirral, the First House for the past 30 years. All had gone well, until about fifteen years ago when House d'Ani and House Tjaro challenged Cirral's rule, claiming corruption among the House Elders that was spreading to the Hierarchs.

Outside the window on the bridge, Josh could see a few of his fleet's destroyers engaged in a battle against a small strike cruiser. The destroyers won—the hulk of the d'Ani cruiser that had challenged them drifted slowly past the Down a Broken Path, silent, glorious explosions rocking its hull. Mankey said a silent prayer for the brave men and women who had died aboard that ship.

Josh had first joined the Navy with young, patriotic blood coursing through his veins. He started out as a fighter pilot stationed at the defense outpost Flawed Legacy. He spent the first seven years of his career at that station, and had great fun doing it. Being a pilot was a fun job, especially since Flawed Legacy was so frequently attacked. Josh had been proud to serve his House.

Now...not so much. Josh's first mission as captain of the destroyer Shine On Sylvester had torn apart his loyalty to his house and thrown it to the ground. He had taken part in an orbital nuclear bombardment of a world just like this one. Actually, he couldn't remember the name of that world anymore. There had once been a time in which he would attempt to learn all the billions of names of people whose lives he had helped to end, but that time had long since passed. He'd seen too much carnage to worry about a single planet anymore.

As the Cirral fleet and the Down a Broken Path drew nearer to Cote d'Azure and the defending fleet, Mankey's gaze centered on the planet itself. He wondered exactly what percentage of the population was children and what percentage was elderly or infirmed. He wondered what the kids were doing right now...eating, sleeping, studying in school, playing kickball...

He quickly pushed these thoughts out of his mind—he couldn't risk crying in front of his crew. The last thing he wanted was to be suspected a rebel, arrested, tortured, and killed. Still, he mused, it wasn't such a bad option...

His thoughts once again drifted to his past, and to lost opportunities. He remembered when he was once given the opportunity to rebel, to fight back against the House that had stolen away his innocence—but it was not to be. He remembered clearly standing over the crippled form of one of his closest friends, struck down by Josh himself, as Cirral soldiers moved in to arrest him. He had been too weak. He couldn't fight back, even when the door to do so had been wide open. Not even friends and family could help. Twice more would he be given the chance to rebel, and twice more would he not have the willpower to reach out for that chance. He was in despair. He couldn't fight it. Some preprogrammed portion of his brain just kept telling him what to do, to go along with it, to not let anything change, all the while another part of his mind was ripping him apart for his cowardice.

That's what he was, a coward—too weak to even speak out against not only the horrors others around him were committing, but also against his own mortal sins. He was too weak to quit, but just strong enough to continue.

It's true, Mankey thought to himself. I am a coward.

"Sir." Shaw Fujikawa, the ship's tactical officer, called up to Admiral Mankey. "We're within weapons range of the d'Ani. Cruise missiles and long-range railguns are locked and loaded."

No, don't do this, cried one part of Mankey's brain. This is your chance. You can try and stop this. Just try.

What other choice do I have? cried another part. If I try to stop them they'll just kill me and someone else will take over.

But you can't just stand there and do nothing, let alone actually—

"Sir?"

Mankey's programming kicked in. "Fire."

The Down a Broken Path fired a succession of five railgun shots, followed by a small volley of long-range archer missiles. Other ships in the Cirral fleet began to follow suit, firing off their own line of projectiles.

The d'Ani fleet returned fire. Their own attack was pitiful in the face of the Cirral onslaught, but this was the most they could do. The d'Ani fleet commanders realized that relying on standoff tactics would be suicide, and broke formation just as the Cirral volley began to reach them.

Energy shields flared as the railgun slugs bore down on the d'Ani vessels, casting a red glow on their hulls. As they broke formation the archer missiles came down on them. Shields pulsed to a brilliant, blinding glare as explosions flared and shrapnel glanced to and fro. The shields of one d'Ani cruiser flickered and failed, and its fate was sealed as a well-placed slug tore through its engineering section and into its fusion reactor. It detonated. Luckily, surrounding vessels were already well out of the way, and the explosion didn't damage them.

The d'Ani's scatter tactics wouldn't do much good, however. The Cirral carriers deployed their fighter squadrons, and soon space was swarming with small zooming bombers: anacondas, each bearing a small armament of tactical nukes. The battle was over in a matter of minutes.

Mankey's heart filled with dread as Cote d'Azure grew ever larger in the window. He knew what was coming. Already a small squadron of destroyers was peeling off from the main fleet and going ahead, to make sure no freighters or passenger vessels carrying refugees attempted to escape through the system's jump gate.

Slowly the fleet began to surround the planet. When this was finished, all Mankey had to do was say the word, and the bombardment would begin.

A tear trickled down Josh's cheek, and he quickly brushed it away. So this was it. Yet another world's seas would boil and lands turn to glass. And he was too weak to do anything about it.

"Sir." It was Fujikawa again. "All fleet ships are in position. Awaiting your orders."

Joshua silently nodded his assent, hellfire burning in his heart.

All at once, every ship in the fleet launched an array of black lotus nuclear torpedos. Thousands of them bore down on the planet. To Josh, they looked like so many tiny beetles descending onto the blue world.

The first of the planet busters struck the surface. What was once a large island became a furnace, awash with light as the nuke boiled and burned away its crust. An entire island chain was covered with the glare. The tsunami created by the shockwave would be deadly, but Josh knew that no one would be left surviving when it hit the mainlands.

More nukes hit, and more and more of the planet began to glow and simmer and boil. Soon the whole world would be one glowing, glassy mass. Josh couldn't bring himself to look. If he tried he would simply break down and cry like a baby. It was best to just not think about it.

Mankey excused himself from the bridge, leaving his second-in-command in charge. It was at the point where he was no longer needed to give orders, and he could leave. The crew would excuse this as a minor eccentricity. They already knew him to be slight introvert.

Josh took to his quarters, closing and locking the door shut. He leaned his back against the wall and sank to the floor, pulling his knees close to his chest. He swallowed, trying to choke back the tears. It didn't work. It came out in one soft, quiet rush. Josh sat there and weeped for a few minutes before getting up, washing his face, and combing his hair. He went to his desk and keyed the intraship communication system and called the bridge.

"Are we done here?" He tried to keep his tone level, but he could tell his voice was shaking.

"Yes sir. Troop carriers have already deployed marine dropships for the clean-up op. A small squadron is staying behind here in case something happens, but we can return to Cirral space."

"Good. Take us out. Head for the jump gate."

"Aye aye, sir."

Josh shut off the comm and lay down on his bed. He planted his face in his pillow and once again tried to stop the tears as they rushed to his eyes.

It would be a cruel and ironic twist of fate, then, that when Joshua Mankey returned to the Cirral homeworld he would be granted the Naval Medal of Honor, an early promotion to Grand Admiral, and the honorary title Joshua the Strong. His parents would be so proud.