The sky beyond our starship was streaked with light. The bright beams of lasers, the blazing flowers of exploding warheads, the glowing wakes of crippled engines and flames tearing through ruined hulks.
My eyes watered from the acrid smoke. Breathing made my throat ache but it was better than the alternative, just like being on the bridge of the Remus was better than being anywhere else in the fleet. We sat at our stations, trembling hands working the controls that still functioned, caught in one last moment of defiance. If we could smell the burning systems from here then we would all burn soon.
“Fire everything you have!” Admiral Salter yelled. “Every beam and torpedo, every bullet and bomb. Make the bastards bleed!”
“We’re doing it, Admiral,” I replied, wiping the sweat from my brow.
“Then why aren’t the stars burning?”
I swallowed and forced myself to face him.
“The stars still blaze, Admiral. Their light is hidden by the battle.”
“Why don’t they blaze brighter, Tollard?” He glared at the red console above my station. “Why aren’t they bursting apart to swallow up this wretched mess? Why aren’t we going down by the light of the Never Bombs?”
I shrank from the intensity of his stare.
“What good will killing the system do?” I asked.
“It will teach others to fear the wrath of the Republic. You think we built this weapon to sit on it? Launch the bombs!”
Gripping the back of my seat, I stood to face him. A fearful, lizard part of my brain betrayed me, one hand reaching for the controls. Obedience had a power beyond thought, but I forced my hand back and forced myself to stand firm. My fingers gripped my sidearm tight, the bite of cold metal reassuring me of my body’s obedience.
The priests said that I was damned if I disobeyed a superior, but I was damned if I was killing planets of minions. Better to ride the wave to Hell alone than to be flung down by furious ghosts.
“The war is lost,” I said. “Never Bombs won’t stop that.”
Across from me, Gonda looked up from the shield controls, wide-eyed with shock at what was playing out. Her fingers darted across her console, redirecting the last dregs of energy, keeping our defences from collapse. I wasn’t going to waste these last minutes she had bought us.
“Do as you’re told, Tollard.”
The Admiral drew his sidearm and pointed it at me. Despite everything, the blackness of its barrel filled me with dread. When all you have is moments, they become more precious.
“Then stand aside and I’ll do it.”
I drew my own sidearm.
“I won’t let you.”
I heard a thud and felt pain rip through my shoulder a moment before my own finger tightened. My shot hit the floor and I fell, blood streaming across the deck.
I forced my shaking hand up, trying to aim for the admiral, but it was too late. In three swift strides he had reached my station. His foot clamped down on my forearm and he reached for the Never Bomb controls.
“If the Republic burns, then we’ll burn the sinners away too,” he said.
He flipped switches and twisted dials. A countdown began, sixty second to give a commander thought before unleashing total destruction.
Tears streamed down my face, drawn by more than the smoke. There was only one way out of this.
Every millimetre of movement filled with pain, I raised my wrist and pointed my sidearm. I squeezed the trigger. There was a thud and Gonda sprawled across the shield controls. A second shot smashed those controls apart.
Alarms howled. The ship shook as shields collapsed and enemy fire hit.
Bright light blazed across the viewscreen.
“The stars are burning,” Admiral Salter said with a wide grin, oblivious to the clock running down behind him. Thirty seconds until the failsafe passed and he could launch the bombs.
Long enough for us to die.
Another flash and the screen went dead. A bulkhead gave way and smoke billowed onto the bridge.
“The stars are burning,” Salter repeated like a priest reading from the Great Verse.
I sank limp onto the deck. In the final moments, stars blazed across my vision, but the universe around me was safely dark.
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Lies We Will Tell Ourselves
A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.
A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.
A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.
We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.
Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.