It was in that moment, when his soul slipped away, that the attack began.
Fifteen thousand ships, from the combined Earth-Hlendi Union Alliance, swarmed like locusts around the nebula containing the Vault of Utopia. Nuclear missiles streamed like fireflies into the gaseous abyss, detonating through its mass, sending rippling gravity waves spiraling outwards. The Hlendi Union ships then launched their EM mines which, once detonated, caused parts of the nebula to coalesce in great gaseous whirlpools and ignite the fabric of space with raging stellar infernos. Throughout the spacescape many stars bloomed into life, as untold trillions met their final doom. When it was done, when the glorious armada finally halted its assault, no one in those ships could ignore the screams and wails that pierced the soundless void, bringing every man and woman to their knees in shame and sorrow.
But they were told it had to be done.
The Vaudras was slow getting back to her dock at Soxcio Harbor, as she had borne the brunt of the percussive blasts from the destruction of the Vault. Her engines were thrown out of alignment, and could no longer be configured to produce the reactions necessary to attain any multiple of light speed. Almost a quarter of the Earth Fleet was in a similar circumstance, and they trailed far behind, a few collapsing along the way, their containment fields breaching in massive fiery pulses which mirrored the millions of stardeaths they caused.
Duroix, Commander of the Vaudras, stood with his thick arms folded over his wide chest, watching as the stars sailed by as if he were their owner and protector. Usually the one to crack a joke when times were tough, or play-fight with fellow officers to relieve the tension, now he stood, immobile, mirroring the emotions of the crew around him. He had the eyes of a predator, focused on what lie in the shadows, and the teeth to match, punctuated with incisors that threatened when he smiled.
"Final results are in," said Captain Foudre, as he lumbered down onto the command deck, otherwise called the nexus. He always looked out of place in the grey, cramped spaces of the Vaudras, a man better suited to either commanding ground forces or sitting at a desk in Axis Fleet Control. He was always hitting his head on the metal bulkheads above him, or scraping his burly arms and shoulders on the consoles set tightly around him, always making a mess of his blue and white command uniform. With long, blonde hair and eyes of a pearl-blue, when stationary he appeared as a Norse god; unfortunately, it all faded away the minute he moved his awkward body. He came and stood next to Duroix, finally standing up straight-one of the few places in the ship he could do that comfortably. Duroix knew that, so he always chose this place to reflect on the mission at hand.
"You can all mentally access the results on the IN-web," repeated Foudre a little louder, irritated at their silence. No one in the crew on the nexus turned to look at him, no one even acknowledged that he said anything. They merely sat or stood before their stations, focused on the displays, pressing this or that glowing button in mute response to what they saw. Finally, Duroix leaned over to him.
"No one’s much interested, Foud. I don’t think anyone’s going to be much interested for a long while."
"Yeah, I know," replied Foudre sullenly. They made an odd pair standing together-Foudre with his alabaster skin, Duroix with his rich, sienna complexion-but more often than not they acted as literal brothers, best of friends, who tended to anticipate each other’s reactions. "I guess we all knew that going into this mission. But, it was for the good of humanity, and-"
"Cut the crap, Captain!" yelled Crische, the System Monitor, angrily moving her stool around her station to face him. She was rarely one to hold her temper, a fact that had denied her multiple promotions, despite her obvious talents. She was short and buxom, with fire-red hair and a lightning-quick temper. She spoke with a Cockney accent that always made her appear dimmer than she actually was. "I know I’m about done with hearing all the stupid propaganda Fleet Control’s been shoveling at us for the past ten months. Well, it’s done," she stated with finality. "We did it. Just let us get the ship home, and let us be."
By now, Foudre had lost all patience for Crische. "You know, I could have you court-martialed for that."
Crische shrugged, moving back behind the clear blue glass obelisk that was her station, her white and black uniform hanging in disarray around her lithe form. She was getting a little more padding around her mid-section, and it made her look sloppier than she was. "Not like I’m going to be around after we dock anyway. I’m about done, and I think that goes for a whole lotta people."
She leaned against the glass, absently cuing up this status report or that, her long red hair hanging down over her face. Duroix had always felt some physical attraction to her, and if not for his position, as well as the fact that he was married, he would be consoling her now in his bed, rather than watching her vent like that.
"This is the worst part, Captain," whispered Duroix, leaning in close. "I mean, the deed’s done, and we’ve won. Now is the time of waiting, of living with ourselves. The adrenaline has faded, the anxious fear of who will survive and who will die, and all we’re left with... is regret."
Foudre leaned against a bulkhead next to him. "Regret, eh? You’re not the type for that, Dur." No one he knew allowed time for any thoughts like that before they began their mission. It was always doubtful they’d succeed, doubtful they’d survive the explosive blasts, doubtful they’d escape the gravitational pull of millions of newly-formed stars. But they did, much to everyone’s chagrin. Foudre looked around now, seeing on their faces what he felt in his heart. "I wish we all had died out there."
Duroix chuckled. "Now where would we have gone, if we had?"