Captain Claudia Blake of the union ship Valkyrie slumped in her metallic command chair, an empty water bottle, lined with neon pink Ignite crystals, rested limply in her hand.
This was likely to be her last shift in command of this old scrap heap of a space boat, and she couldn’t decide if she would miss it.
Some part of her wished that Rosa Mendez, her sentimental second in command, had left her in the tiny, cramped cell of the brig to stew over the last twenty-four hours on her own.
Instead, her bridge officers sat diligently around her, monitoring their posts with a professionalism she found difficult to replicate.
Just a few hours earlier, she had been on a routine patrol of the Trojan Line. Scanning a few asteroids for future mining projects as they patrolled up and down their section of the line, monitoring for smugglers and lost souls.
They all knew they were there to keep the Jovians from crossing, and they all knew that the battered old tech of the Union was about as effective as using mint gum to plug a hull breach.
So when the Valkyrie had received a distress call from a mining station in the demilitarised zone, Blake had known better than to respond to it.
She had known better, and yet her gut told her what she needed to do, and now there was one less mining station in the DMZ, and after her court martial there would be one less captain in the Union.
But even if Blake wanted to summon grief and self-pity, she couldn’t. What kept eating at her was the Jovians. They had crossed the Trojan Line, attacked a mining station, and broken the Trojan accord. The Union should be outraged, there should be retaliation, a strengthening of the border, a preparation for a possible invasion, or at the very least a bloody inquest.
Instead, they were burying their heads in the sand and pretending everything was fine.
Blake’s fist pounded the arm of her command chair, and Lieutenant Adriene Kelley, the new blonde pilot at the helm, glanced back at her and then quickly returned her gaze to her monitor.
“Yeoh?” Blake shifted in her chair to look at her comms officer.
“Yes, captain?” Lieutenant Harry Yeoh replied.
“Where are they now?”
Yeoh stared at her blankly for a moment. “Who, captain?”
Blake stood and crossed the metre and a half to the comms station. “The Jovian fleet,” she said in a half whisper, aware that both Mendez and her security officer, Lt. Commander Samson Garba, were listening.
Yeoh’s eyes widened a little, and he began frantically tapping at his console. He paused, frowned, and began another furious round of tapping. He was a quick and clever officer. It shouldn’t be taking him this long to access the Jovian transponder signals. Blake tapped her fingers on the comm station console, biting her tongue to stop herself from asking again.
“They’re gone, captain.” He looked up again, confusion and hope rippling across his features.
“Gone?” she asked dumbly, “What do you mean ‘gone’?”
The Jovians had amassed at the border with thousands of ships, likely their entire fleet. Not enough to take and hold the entire Union, but they didn’t need to. A lightning-fast strike, while both Ceres and Vesta were at their closest points to the Jovian system, made sense. Scurrying back to Jupiter after one brief skirmish in the DMZ did not sound right.
“They are not on my scans captain, wherever they are now, they are not at the border.”
“So you were wrong?” It was Mendez, suddenly behind Blake. There was no accusation in her voice, just genuine surprise.
Blake shook her head at the young woman foolish enough to place so much trust in her captain. “I’m wrong more often than I’m right, Mendez. You should know that about me already. Admiral Kwon certainly does.” She remembered Mia Kwon’s disapproving face shimmering through the quantum network as Blake had broken the news that Hildas-Bravo 95 had been destroyed. She’d have to face the woman again at her court martial and she was far from looking forward to it.
“But you know the Jovians,” Mendez insisted. “You’re the only one out of all of us that has faced them before, and you were right about what they were going to do at Hildas-Bravo 95.”
“Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong. Maybe they really were there for legitimate reasons.” Blake leaned on the comms station, feeling twice her age and like a dumb kid all at the same time.
“Bullshit,” Mendez replied.
Blake stared at her second-in-command. Had the younger woman lost her objectivity? Perhaps the regulations about fraternising with fellow officers had a point, after all. She should never have started a relationship with her. She should never have done a lot of things.
Blake turned back to Yeoh. The poor man was stuck between their bickering and didn’t know which way to look. But he could put an end to it.
“How far do our scanners extend?” she asked.
“About 4 million klicks, but the larger the distance, the fuzzier the data.”
“That should be enough to follow the Jovian Fleet all the way back to Ganymede. Can you give me any idea where they are?”
“It’ll take a few minutes,” he said, already tapping frantically.
Blake nodded and turned to the viewscreen, leaning against the comms station. With no data to show, the bridge’s viewscreen appeared like any other window. The sky was black save for one distant star; their own.
“I can’t find them, captain.” There was an almost imperceptible hint of panic in the young man’s voice and, had Blake not known him so well, she would have missed it.
“Is it a problem with our scanners?” she asked, but he shook his head firmly.
“No. Everything else is normal. There are no other anomalies. It’s just that the fleet is… gone. But really gone. Even the Cronians don’t have the technology to move a ship out of range that fast, let alone a whole fleet.”
“What does that mean?” Mendez asked.
“It means,” Blake replied, her belly filling with a heavy dread she hadn’t felt since the days of the Trojan Wars. “They’ve gone dark. They’ve switched off their transponders and moved their entire fleet into stealth mode.”
“But…” Mendez stared at her, alarm tainted her features. “That means…”
“It means a Jovian Invasion has already begun.”
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