Aboard the Undefeated Battleship - the Thorsten
Blockade above Zeta-5
During the start of the invasion
Blockade above Zeta-5
During the start of the invasion
Oscar Pawlowski paced the Captain's quarters nervously. The invasion was in progress, troop transports have landed at their designated spots and soldiers have entered the underground tunnels. Security teams in the command center monitored and coordinated their progress, but it was going to take some time before there was any news from them. The Grand General knew he was supposed to be there, looking all calm and offering words of support, but he just couldn't do that right now. This is not how the invasion was supposed to go. Losing the Horizon changed everything and Oscar had great doubts about the land invasion. The planet was a death trap. And now other nations tried to interfere with the conflict. The war was supposed to be long over before other sides would have had a chance to meddle in, stick their noses where they didn't belong.
Now the Undefeated found themselves dragged into yet another prolonged conflict, with their resources already stretched thin. He couldn't see the Xandalian ship from his window, Zeta-5 was taking up most of the view, but he knew it was out there and wondered what was going on there. The decision to not send the Undefeated representative to join the talks might have seemed strange, but it was a matter of plausible deniability. Right now, if things went south (and it was starting to look like they might), they could still throw most of the blame on the ECU. After all, it was their war, the Undefeated were only here to support their allies.
Five steps. That was the whole length of his room on the Thorsten. Not nearly enough to blow off some steam by walking there and back. Normally, he would go for a run or swim or go to a shooting range to be alone for a while, but what could he do, stuck in this huge metallic coffin with hundreds of other people?
He tried to take a walk along the ship’s corridors, but he kept running into people, saluting him, congratulating him on winning the battle, or just wanting to worm into his favor. The ship was half-empty with part of the troops down on the planet, but it was still too crowded to his liking. He kept choosing the hallways with fewer people which eventually led him to the engineering section. It wasn’t completely deserted, technicians wandered around carrying some tools and weird metallic parts of some mechanisms, but other than respectfully moving out of his way (and whispering when he passed them), they paid no attention to him.
Somehow he ended up in a huge hall with a large metallic container in the middle. Cables, pipes, and various conduits crossed the room in wild angles, all leading to the central structure. Oscar assumed it was the ship’s main reactor and curiously came closer.
“Well, well, look what the sabercat dragged in.” A sudden voice from behind him made him turn around and grab his gun. He had it pulled out of the holster and pointed to the person, finger on the trigger, all within a blink of an eye. Some instincts never go away.
“Claire,” he sighed, putting the gun back. “Didn’t hear you come.”
Claire lifted her leg, showing him the bottom of her shoe. “Insulated rubber soles. Makes it a tiny bit safer with all the electricity. So, what brings the Grand General to the underdeck?”
The way she always spat the words out, making his greatest life achievement sound like the biggest insult. “Well, I thought I would check on the reactor.”
Claire squinted. “Sure, sure. And you are here, because…?”
Crap. Oscar realized that this was probably not the reactor and that he had no clue what it was. Why did he even come here? Up on the bridge, nobody would talk to him like this, making fun of him because he didn’t know what some mysterious metallic box was.
“You have no idea what this thing is, do you?” Claire shook her head.
“Honestly, no. So why don’t you tell me?”
“Sorry, General. I don’t have time to give VIP tours.”
She turned away and he suddenly felt the urge to stop her, realizing that he actually wanted to talk to her, even though she mocked and insulted him. Maybe even because of that. Claire was one of the few people that dared to oppose him, not agreeing with everything he said. It was refreshing to hear a different perspective. “Claire, wait. Please?” He could give her an order and she would probably oblige out of fear, but that was not what he wanted.
The woman stopped for a moment before turning back to him. “Fine. But don’t touch anything.”
A wide grin appeared on his face. When was the last time someone actually gave him an order? “Yes, ma’am.”
“This is one of the main deflector shield generators. You know, the thing that stops the ship from going boom-boom when other ships go pew-pew against it.”
“I’m not an idiot.”
She rolled her eyes but didn’t comment on that. “There are four main generators to make sure the shield is spread evenly around the whole ship.” She kept talking about the different components for a few minutes. Oscar understood about half of the things she said but kept listening and nodding. The technobabble kept his mind occupied and he didn’t have to think about what was happening down on the planet. What hell did he send his people into? “... and if you yell ‘donut’ really loud in the reactor chamber, it will actually create a huge donut for you.”
“Nothing. You aren’t even listening to me.”
It was true and she caught him red-handed. “Sorry. I can’t get my mind off the invasion.” She snorted but didn’t say anything, even though it was obvious she wanted to. “Look, if you have something to say to me, just say it.” Since when was Claire the one to hold back?
“I’m not an idiot either. People have been executed for saying things.”
Ah, so she was afraid of him. Understandable, he did threaten to have her killed. But now he really wanted to hear her opinion. “I’m not gonna have you executed. You have my word on that.”
“Fine.” Claire sighed. “You are stupid.”
“Well thank you for such constructive criticism.” Oscar turned to leave. What was he expecting?
“You didn’t let me finish. You are stupid for dragging us into this stupid war. What were you hoping to gain? Even if we win, what good will come out of it? Other nations will see us as the warmongers we are, we will only make more enemies, nobody will thank us for destroying some robotic menace. These are normal people you are murdering here. Who cares if they replace some parts of their bodies? Dammit, even if they were using genetic engineering to turn themselves into fucking unicorns, that’s none of our business! You followed your insanely fanatic allies into a pointless conflict which has already cost us resources, time, and most importantly, lives.”
Oscar sighed. She was not wrong, but she didn’t see the bigger picture behind his decisions. How could he refuse to help their allies, even if the conflict pretense was a bit shaky? What was he supposed to do after the Horizon was destroyed? Was he to call off the invasion, admit defeat, and run back to Ellara? In his world, the only response to force was an even bigger force, that’s how it works. The weak lose, the strong win. And he couldn’t allow the Undefeated to be the weak ones.
But at what cost? It was like she put a bug into his head that kept drilling through, shaking all the beliefs he had and decisions he made. What a devilish woman. For a brief moment, he regretted letting her out of the cell.
“Hey, you want to see something cool?” She asked him after a few minutes of silence. Did he really look so bad she felt like she needed to distract him? “It’s not very useful,” Claire continued as she led him to a lab. “But it looks awesome.”
The lab was separated into two parts by a thick glass wall. The part they were in was filled with screens and various measuring devices. The other part was empty, safe from a small metallic box hanging mid-air. “Hmm,” Oscar nodded. “Really cool.”
“What? No, that is just a magnetic suspension field. There is a tiny version of the shield generator in that box, we use it for experiments.” She pressed a few buttons on a control panel and the air around the crate shimmered slightly. “Now it has a shield, just like the Thorsten. We were experimenting with different frequencies of the electromagnetic modulators, trying to see how they affect the shield strength and power consumption, and we discovered this.”
Oscar watched the box as it started to shimmer and then suddenly disappeared. “What happened? Did you destroy it? Or teleport it?”
“No, it’s still there. Using this modulation, the plasmatic shield around it refracts the light in such a way as if it went right through, making whatever is inside basically invisible. It even fools the sensors. Look there, it tells you the room is empty.”
Oscar stared at the spot where the crate supposedly still was, his mind already buzzing with ideas. And some ideas they were. “You were wrong, you know.”
Claire frowned. “It’s not cool?”
“It’s extremely cool.” Oscar laughed. “But you said it’s not very useful and I very much disagree. Can you use it on the shield around Thorsten?”
“So, I show you something amazing and you immediately want to use it for your warmongering? How typical. And no, I can’t use it on such a big shield, it is extremely unstable. If I had some better magnetic material, I could maybe try to put it on some smaller ships, like the Scout class, transports, or fighters, but nothing as big as a Cruiser, not even talking about Battleships. With the materials we can mine in our system, all I can do is make a box disappear. Maybe you could use that to smash someone’s head?”
“Hmm, maybe. Send me the specs on the material you need. The world is bigger now, let’s see if someone out there has something we can use.”