The Abregado Debacle – Flash Fiction

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A year ago, this would have been an unthinkable act.

Colonel Michael Hyatt settled into the hardened seat of his Nebulon-C Raider. His pre-flight checklist complete, he flashed a thumbs-up to the deck crewman below and angled toward the waiting launch tube. He registered the violent shove as the magnetic coils hurled him into deep space, with the ease of man midway into a bender. He shook his head as numbness crept through his arms and legs and set course towards the sparkling jewel dominating his view port.

Abregado Prime was a tiny by most standards, on the periphery of colonized territory. A series of lush tropical islands near the equator served as home to over one billion inhabitants. Women, children, workers, and tourists; Each a citizen of the Free Colonies. Full of monkey-faced creatures, and exotic — albeit tasty — fruits, it was the sole producer of the rarest and most expensive coffee beans.

In hours, nothing will endure but a life-sucking ball of super-heated magma.

Colonel Hyatt filled his lungs with recirculated oxygen and let it roll out past his lips resembling smoke from the cigar he planned on smoking later. Just another bullshit day in the line of duty.

Eight months ago the organic stardrive was a short blurb the in the history books, the science long since abandoned after the invention of the Varner Quantum-Drive. Mankind had unlocked the secrets to faster than light travel. Hyatt recalled covering drive mechanics during his first year of flight school. Under the best circumstances, reactions were uncontrollable, the worst causing a cascade failure with enough fury to crack a ship from bow to stern.

That was before the Voor’haas emerged from whatever black hole had born them and wreaked havoc across Union worlds. A race of butchers. Their blackened ships visible only by the void cast upon the backdrop of stars, in stark contrast to the fleet of shining silver beacons, each emblazoned with the emblem of the Union.

What limited intel his security access had granted left Colonel Hyatt terrified. The Voor’haas technology merged cybernetics and organics with flawless precision. The alien vessels were near invisible to normal sensors. Not that it mattered since Voor’haas could regrow entire sections of their ships mid-combat while their weapons ate through your hull plating faster than a hot knife through fhangor pie. Early estimates of their numbers counted Union forces out-gunned by more than double. The stardrive — the heart of every ship in the fleet — is where the real horror lies. Union scans showed that the drive processed organic material. Thinking of the lives it had cost to garner that vital piece of information made him shudder.

An unstoppable fleet powered by life itself.

Even now, millenniums after their discovery, the Free Colonies harvested Herillium crystals from local asteroid belts. Sleek, nimble mining ships could be seen darting in and out of the fields breaking apart the larger asteroids while others swept in to haul the smaller pieces back to imposing refining facilities. Pulverized crystal powder is super-heated to burn out the impurities and mixed with other fossil fuels to power the Quantum-Drive. More than once a vessel has overshot its target and crashed, or collided with another craft jockeying for the same rock. Hell, Hyatt recalled reading of a ship that lost control of its payload sent a massive boulder crashing into the station. That incident alone had accounted for the deaths of over five hundred souls, and millions of creds worth of damage. A loss that paled compared to what the Voor’haas had taken from them.

Military command decided it was inhumane to leave citizens of the Union to be consumed. Instead, they opted to throw out the laws of military conduct — along with their sense of morality. Bombing the civilian populace on the surface avoided direct conflict with the Voor’haas along with denying them their source of fuel. A quick, decisive strike to end the lives of a billion people. No capture, no pain or suffering, only a flash of intense light and heat. Anyone with the ability to evacuate had long since boarded a commercial liner or found other means of escape. To haul the remaining population off world required time and ships from a combat zone weakened by constant enemy incursion. Scorched-earth was a more efficient and sound use of military resources.

The Colonel took control of the stick and kicked off the auto-nav as his nimble fighter thundered into the upper atmosphere. The rickety jarring flight path smoothed out as he angled his fighter through the cloud-rack and into sunny skies. His instruments read green across the board; a textbook re-entry. A scrolling readout counted five minutes to target. The brass had been kind enough to choose targets far outside populated areas. The locals couldn’t see them coming, and his pilots avoided direct confrontation with their victims.

Twenty-three other pilots, selected by random lottery, spread out around the globe. Each was to deliver a payload of Devastator tectonic bombs to specified target. None of the pilots knew if the explosives they carried were live, or duds programmed to simulate their counterparts minus the devastation to the planet’s crust. Command told them if was for their welfare. Less accountability once back onboard. It was neat and clean.

Colonel Hyatt was career military, but he was no fool. No one returned unexpurgated from war. Not his pilots, his crew, nor his friends and relatives on his home planet. His choices affected everyone. He glimpsed his helmeted figure reflected off the glossy instrument panel, a frown crossing his lips. You’ll be the hardest to face. Echoes of this atrocity will reverberate throughout the galaxy. This deed forever changes you. You don’t come back from this.

A year ago, this would have been an unthinkable act.

The solid tone of a targeting solution echoed through the cockpit. Thumb held over the red button on his flight-stick, Colonel Hyatt closed his eyes at the approaching horror and depressed the trigger. Not waiting to see if his bombs hit the target, he angled his fighter up towards the warm solace of an icy drink.