The noise of the alarms dims somewhat: the machines have reasoned that by now we are either awake or dead, and, if awake, we need to be able to talk one to another.
Various indicators show that a vast array of missiles have been launched, and for a second I kid myself that I can feel them leaving their berths. But I can’t. For all their awesome power they are too small, the ship too gigantic for this to happen.
A first wave is on the way, then a second. A few minutes later a third leaves on slower individual carriers : they will hang back until the first explosions have pinpointed the assailant. It is a simple, basic process : the missiles of the first waves are optimised for raw power, they are also primed to explode just a little too late, to create a wall, a background of fire and radiations against which the enemy will show up sharply.
Slowly that way we fight our real opponent, which is the immensity of space. Slowly we erode it, slowly we grind it down, until we locate the small volume that is our real goal.
And then we strike.
They are strange warheads, this third wave’s, and I must admit I do not fully understand them. I know that they deliver a massive E.M.P. blast from which no ship system can recover, no matter how heavily protected. But they also do strange things to the very fabric of the Cosmos.
It is a process similar to the one that powers our ships at supraluminic speeds, but here it is let loose, uncontrolled, savage. For a brief instant it deforms the grid underlying our three dimensional universe. It is a very brief instant: after a mere few milliseconds, the universe pushes back and the laws of physics reassert themselves, but it is enough. Enough to mangle and destroy any structures, any ships that happen to cross this space at the time.
They are fast, this pirate ships. An eye blink and they are out of the target zone. But it is too late already. Once they were elegant things, beautiful creatures; now they are mangled beyond repair, grotesque version of what they once were.
The pirates inside them may well still be alive. The destructions visited them are large scale, they usually leave small things like bodies, and sometimes even parts of spaceships, whole and functioning. But the ship themselves will never go anywhere again. We can leave those inside them to die slowly as their supplies of air, water and food run out.
Should I feel something? Shame? Concern? Guilt? Back at peri-Central we were always told it was important to feel something for the deaths we cause. Responsibility. That it was the only reason for us to be here, instead of having the war prosecuted by machines.
I lied to him, you see. I know he killed people before. A lot of people. Hell! He’s killing people right now as his missiles once again tear interstellar space apart. It’s just that I do not think it matters anymore.
I have suspected for a long time that this war was a sham. That nothing we do here really make sense. The explanations we have been given never really made sense. They are flimsy and self-contradictory as if our masters couldn’t be bothered to think of better ones. The suspicion has lasted for so long that it has now become a kind of certainty, without any definite proof needed to tip the balance.
And Emile must suspect it too. He is, I know, a more moral creature that I could ever dream to be, but still I can see him now launching these terrible, awful missiles with reckless abandon. He too, somehow, does not believe it matters.
The only thing that stops me from opening up to him is the nagging thought that, maybe, he could also be part of it, be a part of that deception.