Chapter 8 - Dawn

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Terris shoved away from the table, sending his chair skidding into the wall. His heart pounded in his chest as he watched the white spear of light lance into the Arian home world. The flash of luminescence was of an intensity the young man would not have believed possible. When the light faded, the once beautiful planet glowed like molten lava. Even from the distance of the deep-space recorder, he could see the world nearly sheared in half with pieces of it already disintegrating into the distance.

"It was populated?" Terris delivered the question as a statement of fact to be confirmed, his finger pointing at the now motionless holographic image.

The Commander seemed to have aged several decades over the past few minutes. "Billions." His whisper was an echo of infinite sadness. "From all appearances, they were no different from us. Taller, fairer of skin, slighter of build, but basically the same. Two arms, two legs, two eyes of varying colors. Voices similar to ours, but a language we have yet to decipher. They called it Aria. That we do know. In their language, it means 'home'."

Terris' blue eyes were rimmed in red as they darted to the silvered space stations in his field of view. The sole ships close to the recorder stopped and turned to face the distance where the planet was dying. Terris could almost feel their confusion and disbelief.

"It was their home world, Captain. The origin of their species." The tone of Tyronden's voice made Terris look up into his haunted eyes. It sounded as if the man took personal blame for the catastrophe.

"Commander, this was an accident. A horror without equal, but an accident nonetheless. You cannot blame yourself."

"I do not. Nor do I blame the Arians for their attack on us. Each shot my fleet fires against them is unjust, even if fired in defense. Those people have every right to demand our genocide." The young pilot's stomach twisted and he reached out to lay a hand on Tyronden's arm.

"No, they don't. No one here is responsible for this. This happened hundreds of years ago."

"Truth. But that does not make them any less deserving of revenge. They seek it and I do not fault them for it. I will fight, but the war that is coming makes me feel... wrong. I know that these were good people who simply had no answers. And even if they did, their loss would make even less sense."

Terris understood. He didn't yet comprehend the factors involved in accelerating a ship to the incredible speed that it had achieved before impact, but he knew the odds of striking any planet, much less an inhabited one, were staggering in the endless expanse of space. The survivors, those who dwelt in the other regions of the system would have an answer as to why their home world was lost; would know that those they loved and cared deeply for, were stricken from the universe, because of a cataclysmic accident. How could a anyone process such a thing?

The young man took a shaky breath and righted his chair, but did not sit. He planted his fists on the table and hung his head wearily.

"Can we stop the war?"

"We have sent emissaries to their solar system. None have returned. The few Scouts that have made it back without direct contact say that the Arians have cannibalized their fleets of exploration to build engines of war. We do not know the size or capacity, nor the armaments. What we do know is that their zeal will make them a powerful foe. We have begun to convert our fleets for defense, but they have several centuries advance on us, the resources of an entire solar system, and a population that outnumbers us a million to one. Either way, peace or conflict, this war will be done quickly."

"You sound like you've already given up."

"There was nothing to give up to begin with, Captain. This war was determined before it began."

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