The Falling Star was magnificent. Miles long and miles wide, it’s crew measured in the tens of thousands. The design was second to none, no other ship in the Independent Colonies fleet came close to matching its power. And it was only one of dozens in the hundreds-strong fleet sent by the Independent Colonies to crush the last outpost of Terran imperialism: Earth.
For a ship so large, its observation deck was comparatively tiny. But the old man that was sitting in that room remembered fighting in the war in a small torpedo boat squadron that could’ve fit in this room. He was one of the few remaining that had seen this war start, one hundred and twenty years ago, and it was no longer his war. His war to protect his home had turned into a God-given mandate to destroy Earth completely. He was tired. Tired of the interviews, tired of the speeches, tired of the patriotic support to crush the monsters on Earth. Getting on the Falling Star was no challenge to such a war hero as himself, and some took it as a blessing, as if he was bringing the spirits of his fallen friends who had fought in the first battles to now bless the last one.
But he was here to die. He told no one this, although he hoped some of the observant ones suspected. He did not come here to see them to victory. He came to watch them die. He came to watch this magnificent fleet buckle and crumble. He came to be vaporized by a blast of energy, or be sucked into the pure vacuum that had claimed so many of his friends. And he was here to apologize.
With his age, even with the enhancements modern medicine could give him, his memory was fuzzy. He could hardly recall her face anymore. But he could recall her voice, her touch, her smile… He could recall the love in her eyes, before this war, before Earth turned against her children (Or he children turned against her, depending on your side). He knew she was dead. She had left with the last ship of Earth nationalists. He knew she came from one of the colonies on Luna, Earth’s moon. And he knew, in his soul, she died in the Luna Campaign, 50 years ago. He was here to apologize to the woman he loved and here to join her in death.
As the Falling Star and the other hundreds of ships dropped out of faster-than-light travel, he felt the familiar momentum in his bones. Something they haven’t corrected, even with modern technology. And that brought a rare smile to the old man’s face.
And he felt the momentum again, as the ship’s massive engines geared up, accelerating towards the small dot directly ahead: Earth. Even with his old soldier’s eyes, he could see the small blinking lights of billions of defense mines, laid out in rings reaching far away from Earth, rotating, deadly. It took almost fifteen minutes before they tripped those mine’s programming. He saw those blinking red lights start to drift towards them, getting more and more dense until there was a red crescent between them and Earth.
Point-defense guns took action. Thin lines of energy, both visible and not, started streaking out by the billions. The old man could see another ship just ahead of them, and could see the beetle-like point defense turrets firing wildly at the ever-nearing mines. The old man, though he came here to die, hoped it was not here, not by some mine that ripped away this compartments pressurization. He still wanted to see the rest die.
But he could watch one ship fall, towards the middle of the one the arms of the fleet. First one mine hit, and the ship lost a point defense gun, then another, then another, then another, until there was a steady stream of red lights turning into explosions, until the ship was nothing more than a broken frame traveling by momentum, destroyed until the mine’s computers no longer recognized it as a threat. It started to drift out of formation, and a few shots from the still-functioning ships on either side of it reduced it to slag.
But firing their main cannons drew energy away from their point-defense guns, and that entire wing of the formation had to reorganize to better defend those ships. Those ships survived, but not without being wounded to some degree, and the old man could see atmosphere and bodies and bits of machinery drifting away from wounded ships. Treasonous as the thought was, the old man congratulated the people of Earth.
The mines slowed the fleet down, but did not stop it, not by a long shot. The fleet powered on, bits of debris bouncing off of hulls. The old man could see Luna slipping behind the blue orb of Earth, the massive energy cannons on the dark side unable to fight in this battle. But even as Luna slips out of sight, Earth’s own fleet stands between the Falling Star and the planet. It is the second largest fleet the old man has seen, second only to the one around him.
It was almost unbearably tense as the two fleets drew nearer to each other, waiting, waiting, waiting until they were in range to fire accurately. Just before the battle started, the lights dimmed, and he could hear the change in the ship’s systems that said that power was now being fed into the main cannons. Red emergency lights came on as an almost blinding blast of steely blue energy shot across the void, joined by dozens of others on both sides.
Shields lit up with impacts, dropped to fire a blast again, then raised once more in time to deflect another blast. He could see the exhaust trails of fighters and bombers as they sped past their main fleets, racing to meet each other in the middle, forming a new line of blasts and explosions as a massive, whirling dogfight formed between fleets, until the dogfight was swallowed by the two fleets as they finally met in Earth’s orbit.
The thrill was always the same, the old man thought. You could never forget that your life was only as long as your ship’s hull held out, and that you were surrounded by others who want nothing more than send you to the void. It was beautiful and horrible, the battle. Blasts and missiles back and forth, fighters and bombers trying to avoid shots and complete their mission. He could tell, whoever was captaining the Falling Star, they had their mind on the glory. Shields raised to maximum, pushing the acceleration, blasting straight through the enemy. He wanted to bomb Earth and wasn’t going to get sidetracked.
And he got what he wanted. He found a hole and dove in, pulling into a low orbit, turning the ship to face the planet from the side, beginning bombardment. The shots seemed to go, impossibly far, before blossoming into fires. Fires large enough to be seen from space.
They didn’t deserve this, the old man thought. This was monstrous. None of the rebel worlds, even at their lowest point in the war, had been attacked like this. This was just barbaric.
The old man pulled his attention from the planet below him, to see two ships bearing down on the Falling Star. Destroyers, or cruisers, he thought. He could see some point defense guns but they seemed to just be a ship built around the rather large main cannon he could see jutting out from them. It was almost comical, until one of them opened fire. Curious, the old man started counting off, tapping his hand against his cane, counting away the seconds… 20 seconds. Impressively long. Either they were so desperate that they didn’t care if they overloaded their guns or they had some new breakthrough. The old man hoped it was the latter.
He could see the strain on the Falling Star’s shields with each shot. The ship wasn’t made to hold out against blasts that long. The shields would pop and then… that was it.
Realizing it wouldn’t be long, the old man stepped up to the viewing window, leaning on it, closing his eyes as he spoke, in a broken, weary tone, “I’m sorry… I was wrong. I should have left with you, but… I wanted glory. If it’s any consolation… I’ve never been truly happy, since the day we separated. Never found anyone I could love as much as I loved you.”
The old man looked up and saw another blast, straining the shields to the breaking point, as he finished, “I’ve lived a life full of regrets… but I’ll die with none. You understand.” And as he heard the muffled explosion somewhere deep inside the ship that said the shields just gave out, he smiled, his first real smile in decades, and he continued to smile, as the beam scarred the hull, passing over the window he was leaning on and causing it to explode outwards, and the smile was the last thing he ever did, before flying out into the vacuum, painlessly vaporized by the blast, because for the first time in decades, he was with the woman he loved.