Earth space was full of purpose.
Much destruction had already taken place there, and much more seemed to be at hand. Omega was coming, and the Earthers and their allies were going to try to stop him, once and for all.
The preparations for that last battle were evident everywhere in the system. There was no panic, just a quiet and grave certainty that a movement of destiny was soon to take place. The Earthers knew that the last battle was nearly upon them… and they didn’t know how it would end.
Sitting in his pinnace as it climbed out of Earth’s atmosphere, Supreme Consul Setter Caine, leader of the Earther people, silently reflected on the possibilities. This wasn’t the first time the wolf had sat in a pinnace, climbing to his ship waiting in orbit, and wondering about the fate that awaited him and his people.
The last time he’d thought this way had been over four decades before, on the eve of the arrival of the human Quest Fleet. It had been a much simpler time then. The Earthers had been a young and idealistic race, facing none of the issues that now plagued them…
Setter winced as the bad pun crossed his mind, and sitting across the aisle from him, a giant bear named Ursla chuckled.
You need to be more vigilant with your internal dialogue… puns like that undermine the serious thinking you’re doing.
“Don’t get carried away with the telepathy thing,” Setter managed to smile despite the gravity of his thoughts. Of course there were new challenges before the Earthers – Omega had unraveled the Genesis and Freetown colonies, had shattered the Larosian Empire and was now armed with ships and weapons augmented by Krogg bio-technology – all challenges that Setter, as First Lord of the Admiralty forty years before, could hardly have envisioned, let alone overcome.
But Setter wasn’t the same wolf who had fought the Quest Fleet forty years prior, and his Earthers certainly weren’t the same people.
For one thing, thanks to the drugs created by Celia Lazarus – now the Earthers’ leading expert on Omega – every Earther had access to the telepathic center of his or her brain. That was rather important.
Beyond that, though, was the great history of the last forty years. The Earthers had learned much from their war against the Kroggs – they’d learned about sacrifice and confidence, about doing what they promised they’d do, and doing it in a way that reflected their beliefs. The lessons had been learned at the expense of the blood of many friends… but they’d been learned all the same.
And they had earned new allies along the way. The humans had stood with them the longest, but they were now falling victim to Omega far more easily than anyone else. That was perhaps to be expected – the plague had originally been designed to kill humans, after all.
There were the Larosians, the noble alien race that lived by honor and now stood by the Earthers in the same way the Earthers had stood by them during the Krogg War. And there were the Kroggs, reformed since their defeat, and determined to become close allies of the race that proved the undoing of their old, fanatical Queen.
The Alliance of these four races – Earthers, humans, Larosians and Kroggs – was a formidable one, and perhaps it would be a match for Omega.
Perhaps, when the plague came to Earth space and faced the Allies’ best fighters, he’d be destroyed…
No. No that couldn’t happen, really. Omega was too immense, too powerful. A sentient plague who, thanks to a botched attempt to destroy him, had been able to take control of uninnoculated bodies, Omega had billions of minions. To wipe him out would require eliminating not just each of them, but each cell infected with him across the cosmos.
No Alliance of races could hope to achieve that sort of end through a feat of conventional arms.
So when Omega came to Earth, all the Allies could hope to do would be to turn him back – to keep him from occupying the planet, from killing every last Earther he saw. Because that’s certainly what he wanted to do.
Killing the plague, once and for all, would inevitably be Setter’s job. Setter and Ursla, along with Sarah Manchester, Pat Conroy, Graham Manchester, and Christine Schaeffer had missions to accomplish. Theirs was a long-shot plan, but it had a chance of succeeding.
And if it did succeed, it would mean the end of Omega.
Setter’s eyes flicked to the case sitting on the seat next to him – to the box containing Celia Lazarus’ cure.
If that cure worked, it would be a miracle… if it didn’t…
Come on now, no point thinking like that. We haven’t even left yet.
Setter blinked himself out of his thoughts and looked across the aisle at Ursla again, “You going to give up on talking altogether?”
Laughing brightly, Ursla shook her head, “I’ll start talking when you stop pondering morosely. This is either going to work or we’re all going to die… which I admit isn’t a particularly confidence-inspiring state of affairs, but we might as well laugh anyway.”
With his eyebrow climbing, Setter slowly started to smile again. Andra Ursla had that right – he couldn’t change his plan now. Everything depended on it. So perhaps it was best just to smile in recognition of the fact that they did indeed have a plan.
A couple of weeks earlier they wouldn’t have even thought it possible to plan anything against Omega, but now they had a real chance.
That’s better, see, Ursla offered her telepathic encouragement, and Setter nodded in agreement.
Looking out the view port next to his seat, Setter at last caught sight of his destination. Battered and still hewn open by Omega’s ramming assaults at Freetown, ENS Orion stood nonetheless proudly at grav anchor, its scorched hull still glinting in the light of the sun.
Wounded but still ready to fight, just like us, Setter thought to himself.
The pinnace closed to land.
As Setter and Ursla descended the ramp from their craft, the cure case locked under the Supreme Consul’s arm, a familiar figure approached them.
First Lord of the Admiralty Labrador Forepaw had been Setter’s Flag Captain aboard Orion when the Quest Fleet had arrived, and now he greeted his two old friends with a smile and a nod.
“Battered but proud,” Lab said as he waved to his former ship. “It doesn’t get easier to see it in such bad shape… but knowing now that it’ll get a chance to fight again… makes me feel better.”
Replying with a smile, Setter nodded, “It really couldn’t be another ship. It has to be Orion. Same way it has to be us.”
Lab looked back at Setter and his smile ebbed away, “Yes… you’re right about that.”
A pause was in order, and the silence gave Setter just a second to listen to the emptiness of his old flagship. There was no one else aboard Orion – the ship’s great hull was empty but for these three and their pinnaces.
“Zed has confirmed that the automation systems are all in place, including the final program. He says he can’t promise it’ll be fit for an intense gunfight, but it should get the job done for you,” Lab continued after a moment.
Zed Dune, probably the best engineer in the fleet, had personally overseen the rigging of this ship for its mission. If the enterprising white wolf said Orion could do the job, then Setter believed it.
“Good,” the Supreme Consul said at last. “We’ll depart on schedule. Meantime, Andra and I better start getting things set up here.”
Lab nodded, “I’ll be back on Venerable if you need me.”
With parting nods, Lab headed back to his pinnace. Ursla and Setter exchanged glances, and then went to work.
There was much to be done.