Crewmen line the corridor, whooping and applauding, as the President of the Western Alliance strides down it. Cameras follow him and precede him, broadcasting the sight to all the Alliance-held colonies and ships.

He's smiling and waving at the crew and the news cameras. At a pair of thick steel doors leading to the shuttle dock he stops and faces back down the corridor, looking into the cameras with his trademark lopsided smile.

"Men and women of the Alliance," he says, "I congratulate you. You have held firm and remained steadfast through five years of hell. Now, that hell is over. When I and the Premier of the Eastern Coalition sign the peace treaty on Europa in one hour's time, the Sol War will be over at last."

More cheering.

He smiles and nods, giving a victory salute, until the noise dies down. Then he keeps speaking, painting a glowing picture of the future.

On board the flagship of the Eastern Coalition First Fleet, at a window of the forward viewing platform, a man stands.

A broad-shouldered man, his frame still strong despite having run to fat, his chin still firm despite having tripled. The gold insignia of the Premiership gleams on his peaked cap.

Sweat runs down his brow. His hands are clenched fists by his side. He watches the looming shape of his ship's Alliance counterpart draw closer.

A bald, bareheaded officer waits respectfully at a distance. All is silent.

The Premier bows his head.

"Our Father who art in heaven, aid us now." The murmur is so quiet it is practically inaudible.

He straightens, takes a deep breath as a diver does before the plunge.

He speaks without taking his eyes off the Alliance ship.

"Commander Olmanorff, begin the attack." His voice is harsh but quiet.

The officer salutes.

"Yes, Admiral." He takes five strides to a shell of holoscreens, a helmeted man sat in their midst.

"Signal Lieutenant, initiate Operation Kutuzov."

A messenger runs up to the President, cutting him off in mid-speech.

The President reads the note. His face crumples inward, turning white. The paper falls from his shaking fingers.

"Dear God, no…"

He raises his haggard face to the quizzical cameras. He opens his mouth to speak, but no words come out.

An admiral picks up the paper. He reads it quickly and blanches.

"Action Stations!" His voice breaks and he shouts again. "General Quarters! General Quarters! All hands, man your battle stations!"

Confusion reigns as the gathering fragments, panic ensuing.

With a whirring of motors, robotic arms load a twenty-five-kilo oval of steel into the firing chamber of the Coalition flagship's main gun. The door clicks shut and the chamber begins to hum as the magnetic coils charge. Computers fine-tune the gun's aim and then, with a deafening clang and crash that echoes in the battery, the monstrous coilgun fires. A faint tongue of plasma jets forth silently from the muzzle, wreathing the steel shot in a pale corona as it hurtles towards the Alliance ship at thirty thousand metres a second. The blaze of the impact, directly on the prow of the ship, is as bright as a star for a split-second. When the glare fades, the bow is a gaping riven crater, shards and strips of shattered shocked steel streaming out in a glittering halo.

As the Coalition ship's gun readies to fire again and her secondary armament opens up, flickers in the fabric of space announce the arrival of the rest of the Coalition First Fleet.

Swarms of fighters, gnats beside the behemoth hulks of the ships, spill from their steel guts in billowing clouds.

Roiling streams of plasma spurt from the muzzles of the other ships, blasting gaping wounds in the Alliance craft.

All is chaos, as the Coalition tear the Alliance apart.