Apologies for the delay. No internet and having my time eaten up means I'm definitely not finishing this project, but I will persevere! Also, to make up for it, I'll try my best to go for daily samples from now on. Hopefully THAT will keep me going, heh.
Through the datastream, he felt the call to withdraw. Disappointment edged his emotions, disrupting the calm he was otherwise immersed in. He softly muttered one of several familiar cantos to himself, and his irritation subsided. They would call for him in time. And he would be ready.
An hour later, what was left of du Saniel’s command staff gathered in the auditorium as before. The last of the officers from the Tycho shuffled in, their uniforms more dirtied and frayed than they had been a few hours earlier. The Admiral had changed into a fresh uniform, and the others avoided looking at the hint of annoyance in his eyes, knowing they were technically out of regulation. The overall mood was much more subdued; everyone was tired and haggard from what they had gone through. Only Renoir showed any kind of energy, and his was not a positive one.
“That…” he began, pausing for an instant to make sure everyone was focused on him. “…Was atrocious.” Immediately the other officers began to hang their heads and look intensely at their feet, though a few tried to muster some semblance of pride before du Saniel’s tirade. “I expected you to follow my plans to the letter, stay close to each other, and destroy that Humbaba without major losses. Instead we lost two,” he held up a pair of fingers to emphasize his point, “TWO of our ships, and we only destroyed our target because Captain Polshka crashed the Midori into it!
“Gentlemen, what little advantage we had in this battle is now gone, and we are now horribly outnumbered. Our best hope at this point is to slow them down enough to allow our civilian population to escape the system and seek refuge in another system.” He hit a button on the podium, and the display revealed a close-up of the local space around Belladrix and Terranis. The remaining Great Enemy armada was significantly closer to Belladrix, now passing the Lagrange point. There were icons indicating the location of the last battle, plus orbital stations and civilian craft that had been destroyed in the fleet’s passing.
‘If I may, sir,” Captain Maddox stood, clearing his throat. Renoir narrowed his eyes for a second, then nodded. “I can’t help but feel your demands of us are beyond reasonable expectations. Many of us have had no experience fighting the Great Enemy, and even having experience is not necessarily an advantage against them.
“Furthermore, why are we not evacuating the system? If we have no chance of stopping the Great Enemy, we should use what resources we have to evacuate as many civilians as we can and seek refuge in another system.”
“Because, Maddox,” du Saniel said without hesitation, “I will not abandon this system. I did not spend twenty years battling the Great Enemy before coming here, only to lose everything I have built in this system in a single day.”
“Of course, I understand the desire to defend such things,” Maddox replied. “It is no secret you’ve been heavily involved in civil and social programs across the system. The complaints by the civilian government have been unceasing for years. But I can’t help but wonder if you are allowing these things to cloud your judgment in this matter.”
The Admiral froze for a moment, almost as if he had been physically slapped. Were the illumination greater, the assembled officers might have been able to see the vein on his forehead beginning to throb. Instead, their only hint of his feelings came a moment later when he quietly said, clearly with great restraint, “Anyone below the rank of Captain…get out.”
Those officers excused began to shuffle out with noticeable haste, and a moment later, only the three remaining ship Captains stood before du Saniel, with Captain Legun off to one side. Another moment of silence passed before du Saniel spoke, quietly again.
“So… is this a consensual opinion, or is it only Captain Maddox that has lost his mind?” Captain Vandimere of the Brattain quietly cleared his throat and said, “This is…a unanimous opinion.”
“That’s it, then? In a time of war, my leading officers decide to engage in mutiny against me because they think, after decades of service, I would let petty emotions cloud my judgment?”
“Sir, we’re not attempting to munity against you,” Captain Maddox spoke up again, his voice a little more forceful in response to the accusation, “Simply to advise an alternate course of action. The Great Enemy fleet has not yet reached Belladrix. We have time to evacuate the system and maximize the preservation of civilian life. We can still-“
“I will NOT abandon this system!” Renoir roared as he took a step forward, his face passing through the drifting holographic representation of Terranis. “Not after everything I’ve done for the people here.”
“And that is my point, sir. There is far more at stake here than simply your ego!”
“This is not about my ego, Maddox! There…” the Admiral paused as he struggled with his thoughts. Should he tell them what he knew? The secrets he discovered in this system? “…There are things here that must be preserved at all costs.”
“What? What is so important we should risk annihilation to protect?!” Maddox seized upon du Saniel’s flagging anger.
“Even with our current situation, and though I trust you all completely, despite your recent indiscretion here… That is classified. I cannot tell you. You must simply trust me. This system must NOT fall, or else what is left of humanity may be doomed.”
The Captains stood in silence for a moment, trying to process the information. Captain Vandimere spoke first. “So… is this why we had twice the standard garrison for a Marginworld? We’ve always wondered about that. Perhaps it is fortunate. With only three ships, we would all likely be dead by now.” He turned to the other two Captains. “Gentlemen, I think perhaps we should set aside our disputes for now. However we feel about the Admiral, he is still the senior officer present, and the most experienced in fighting the Great Enemy.” He looked back at Renoir. “I trust you have a new strategy for us?”