Two hours later, dozens of flag officers and dignitaries of Belladrix and Terranis sat within a small auditorium aboard the Bastille, the flagship of the Belladrix naval garrison. They rose to their feet as another man entered through a door at the front. His uniform was the most ornate of anyone in the room, the customary black edged in gold and bearing twice as many ribbons as the next most decorated man. The insignia on his collar and wrists marked him out as a Grand Admiral, the senior military commander for the entire system. On his right breast his Solar Alliance emblem gleamed in the dim light, and his name was displayed below it. He nodded to the assembled men as he stepped up to a podium, his face lit from below, and the wall-sized display behind him flared to life.
Grand Admiral Renoir du Saniel bore a standard military haircut, his blonde hair beginning to turn gray with age, and his moustache was the same shade. He manipulated the controls of his podium, and the wall display showed a projection of the system. At its heart, the star of Delta Gamma 520b gave its familiar yellow-white glow. Near to it were two smaller, rocky worlds, Minthos and Dethos, then Belladrix and Terranis glittering like jewels in the darkness, and finally the blue and brown gas giants of Porthos and Garos hovering like lone sentinels at the outskirts of the system. Dozens of smaller icons flittered about, revealing the positions of orbital stations, human-made ships, lone asteroids and in-system comets. At the edge of the system and moving inwards, a half-dozen baleful red icons, each looking like a specific ship class, drew the eyes of everyone in the room.
The Admiral hit a button and the wall display turned three-dimensional, extending into the air before him and over the heads of the assembled crowd. He quickly slid on a control glove and stepped out from behind the podium.
“Two hours ago,” he began, his voice thick with an accent of one of the Old Earth nations, “our main traffic control satellite picked up an inter-system jump event. These ships arrived outside established routes, and scans quickly determined their make and nature. Ladies and gentlemen, the Great Enemy has arrived.” Ripples of murmurs and gasps of disbelief cut through the room, and Renoir held up a hand for silence.
“Yes, I know the official word is that the Judgment War is over. After three hundred years, we have finally defeated the Great Enemy and sealed the portals between our universes, at the cost of the near-annihilation of our species. But just because we’ve finally stemmed the tide of their reinforcements doesn’t mean there still aren’t an unknown number of ships drifting through space, looking for easy targets. It’s not hard to imagine they’d view us as one.”
“Can’t we contact Earth and try to request reinforcements? Or even sector command?” a Captain spoke up.
Renoir shook his head. “This was classified, but I think everyone deserves to know, especially if I don’t survive this battle. Earth is gone.” A collective gasp shook the room again, and the Admiral spoke up over the noise. “A Great Enemy fleet of hundreds of ships was detected heading for it about six months ago. After they entered the system, all contact ceased, and all attempts to reach someone, anyone, has failed. I’ve heard rumors of scouts and even entire battlegroups being sent to investigate, but none have returned. Whatever has happened, if anyone is still alive there, there’s no way for us to reach them. The Senate, the Heads of State, the Chiefs of Staff, they’re all gone, presumed dead.
“With the loss of central command, individual sectors have taken it upon themselves to run the day-to-day operations of government, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say the Solar Alliance has effectively fallen. No one can decide where to centralize our operations, and we simply don’t have the resources to keep in touch with all the worlds still standing, nor even figure out which worlds ARE still getting by with humans on them. Thousands of planets have been stripped of human life in the last three hundred years, and our military is at less than a quarter of its fighting strength from prior to the war.
“All contact with sector command was also lost two weeks ago. I’ve kept that information under wraps as well while I try to figure out what to do. It seems my hand has now been forced. I’ve tried reaching other nearby systems, but I’ve gotten either silence or reports they’ve got too many problems of their own. We are essentially on our own. Therefore, I’m declaring martial law across the entire system until the Great Enemy has been driven back.” The civilian representatives in the room shot to their feet and shouted in protest, but du Saniel ignored them.“Clear the civilians. It’s time to discuss strategy.”