"Dogs of War" by Casie

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Lake Pendleton, Colorado, Earth. 102 ABY, Ninety-two years Since the Fall, 2098 Earth Relative

"Tell us a story, Grandpa." Nick begged, circling with his siblings around his Grandfather.

"Yes, please?" Corry added, giving Grandfather her best puppy-dog eyes. "Tell us one of your stories. You know how much we enjoy them."

"I suppose I have a story left in me for tonight." Grandfather sighed, teasing his grandchildren. "Which one do you want to hear?"

"Tell us about Auntie Corry and Cousin Casie and Uncle Blaine." Michael, the youngest of the seven grandchildren, said before any of the others could speak.

"Please, Grandfather? We'd enjoy it ever so much." Rowan, the most prim and proper of the grandchildren, added. "Perhaps the one about when they first encountered the Shivans. Some of us could benefit from learning a lesson from the story." She added, throwing a haughty look towards Anton, the black sheep of the family.

"Rowan." Grandfather said sharply, before continuing on. "Alright. Get me a cup of tea and a few scones and I'll tell you."

"Right here, Father." Connie said as she entered the room carrying a over-sized silver platter. "Tea for you and I, hot cocoa for the children, and scones for everyone to share." She added pointedly, looking directly at Michael. "That means everyone gets some, understand Michael?"

"Yes, mom." Michael squirmed under his mother's gaze. "Sharing means everyone gets an equal portion to start, and then we ask if anyone wants any more before we take seconds."

"Good lad." Grandfather said before Connie could say any more. "Gather 'round now." He cleared his throat a bit before beginning. "Seven times seven, the Wheels of Time turn. I'll tell ye a tale of long ago. Of battle, of heartache and woe. Seven again, the years fly past. I'll spin ye a story of friendship and peace at long last....."

Captains Log, 91:1:1 2042 Earth Relative.

We are returning to station after discouraging yet another probe by the Liandri Corporation into our sovereign territory. The crew acquitted themselves well, as I expected. Not to put too fine a point on it, we achieved complete surprise on the Liandri vessels, destroying seven of eight ships and heavily damaging one, currently in tow. As I speak, the crew of the surviving vessel are being debriefed by Intel. As usual, they claim themselves to be honest merchants. Highly doubtful, considering we observed no less than three heavy destroyers and two cruisers. One of the other destroyed vessels may have been a supply ship. To my surprise, we pulled this entire action off with no casualties whatsoever. Not even any equipment loss. I shall, of course, be filing an incident report with the full details to the Empress' office. I think that the Empress will be very interested in the crewers we captured. One of them even served with us at Farpoint, albeit briefly. One Tasha Hawkins, former medical adviser to TAG Command. Very interested indeed.....

Casie paused the recording as a triple chime sounded, announcing someone was waiting just outside her ready room. "Enter." She said, glancing up as her Tactical Officer, Lieutenant Von Pinn, entered and came to full text-book perfect attention.

"At ease, Lieutenant." She returned the salute, before glancing back at the duty reports scrolling by on one of her monitors. "What is it?"

"We have the first reports from the debrief, Fräulein Admiral." Von Pinn reported.


"Our intel was correct."

"They were carrying devil dogs?"

"Ja. Approximately two thousand of them."

"I see." Casie noted dryly. Two thousand devil dogs, properly known as 'Fun-sized Mobile Agony and Death Dispensers' were nothing to sneeze at, considering nothing short of a full heavy weapons platoon could stop a single Dog. For them to be carrying two thousand of them.....something didn't make sense. "Anything else?"

"They were also carrying a large crate containing a ship the likes of which we've never seen before."

"Intel figure out anything about it yet?"

"Nein, Fräulein Admiral."

"Dismissed." Casie said, returning the Lieutenant's salute as he came to attention once again. "Wait, one last thing. After you leave, ask Field Marshal Averre to meet with me, at his convenience."

"Ja, Fräulein Admiral." With a final salute, Von Pinn left the room, and Admiral Lady Dame Casie Ann Connolly, First Imperial Republic Fleet, leaned back in her chair and tried not to weep. It was hard not to. Who wouldn't cry, were they in her position? The wars had taken their toll on her. Not only had she lost her arm in battle, but she had been run through. Twice. Only the lucky placement of a sarc had saved her that time. And there was that time on PYF-8895, where she had been captured by the planetary government and experimented on. That had left her in someone else's body. It had turned out that the planetary government had wanted a mole within Rogue Squadron, and had somehow decided she was a good choice. The end result of that was that she was now a Squib permanently in a human body. Even now, she still didn't fully understand the mechanics behind what had happened.

That aside, the wars had taken an emotional toll on her as well. Too many friends had been lost. The Admirals Moore and Burn at Farpoint, Rowan at Tatooine, Cooper at Borleas, Admiral Fel, Captain Sinclair, and most of the Hunter's crew over Coruscant. Barely a third of the full compliment had survived, and most of them were gone now, killed in battle, dead from some disease or other, and even a few victims of assassination. Even beyond those she had known, the wars had had a high price. The Duk'hang and the Yuuzhan Vong both had been stopped.

As fate would have it, the former New Republic had very little to do with stopping either. Both races had simply met over Coruscant and fought it out, raining debris and destruction down over the planet. After they had significantly weakened each other, the remainder of the Combined Fleets had jumped in, destroying the remaining troopships and cruisers. Even that had had a terrible cost. Most of the Combined Fleets had been destroyed, or so severely damaged that the ships had had to be scuttled. Although official numbers were still unknown thirty-five years later, it was estimated that over seven trillion had been killed in the fighting. Three generations of men, women and children, soldiers cut down on far flung fields of battle, innocent civilians slaughtered like cattle. Thirty five years later, the memories still haunted her. Memories of countless cities bombed into rubble, bodies strewn amongst the carnage. She still remembered landing on her homeworld and seeing the bodies laying twisted and broken, left to rot where they had fallen, soldiers and civilians alike. She had stepped in something then, and, upon looking down, nearly lost what little food she had eaten when she stared directly into the eyes of a child, disemboweled. Those eyes stared back at her now, lifeless, pleading for a rescue that had come too late. Too late to do anything but bury the remains.

A triple chime interrupted her thoughts. Sniffing a little, and tugging on her uniform jacket to straighten it a bit, she called out once more "Enter."

As the doors hissed open, a tall, strongly built man entered. His once red hair was dominated by white and grey, and an eyepatch covered his left eye. Above and below it, the outlines of a scar were visible on his battle-scarred and weather-beaten face. Aside from that, and the change in uniform, now a dark hunter green trimmed in crimson, rather than the beige tunic and trousers that had been the standard day uniform of the former New Republic Armed Forces, Field Marshal Lord Blaine Thomas Averre looked much the same as he had thirty-five or forty years ago.

"You wanted to see me, Scottie?" He asked, using her old nickname, a nickname dating back to their days with Rogue Squadron.

"Yes. Have a seat." She responded, not entirely sure how to phrase the intel she was about to tell him. When he had made himself comfortable, she continued. "Intel has completed their analysis of the debris from the battle. They've also given me the preliminary transcripts of the debriefs. The transports were carrying devil dogs."

"More? I thought we had seen the last of them back on THX-1138. Or was it DHK-4774? I can't remember now."

"Apparently they have a new factory up and running. Perhaps analysis of the captured ship will provide a location."

"Perhaps." He agreed, noting the tear streaks on Casie's face. "You've been crying again." It wasn't a question.

"Yes." She nodded. "I really wish they were still here. We so could use their help against the Liandri."

"I know the feeling. There's not a day that goes by that I don't miss the Admirals. Hell, there's not a day that goes by that I don't wish Crontauer was here for me to beg advice from."

"You? Begging? Never happen in a million years."

"You ever try to keep one of them ARC Troopers in line?"

"Once or twice."

"OK, now try keeping an entire battalion of them in line. Sithspit, try keeping an entire corps of Marines in line when one of the battalions is strictly commandos. You'd be begging for advice too."

"How did it come to this, old friend? Two people like us, saddled with the responsibility of policing an entire sector with an army of clones and a fleet made up of a single heavy cruiser, and dozens of over-age corvettes that we stole from countless shipping companies, slapped guns on, and called them 'light cruisers'. Every night I pray that I'll wake up to find that this is all just some horrible communal nightmare."

"That's just it, Casie. You and I, we're survivors. You, me, Andy, the others. We all have one thing in common: we survived the two worst enemies that the NR ever faced and we came out on top. We are elite."

"No, we're just incredibly lucky." Casie shook her head. "Blaine, I'm not one of your Marines. You don't need to inspire me to fight. They fight because it's all they've known. Me, I fight in the hopes that one day, a child somewhere won't wake up every day wondering if this is the day that a bomb will drop into her life, killing her family, or her. I fight so that no child will ever have to know the fear of war, wondering if today their number will be called. I've been there, and I pray to all the Gods that ever have been that no one else will ever have to be there again."

"I know, Casie. I know. It's just that I spend all my days working with the ground-pounders. Down in the mud, killing face to face while you're up here in a nice clean ship shooting off artillery at people kilometers away."

"Common argument from every soldier." Casie sighed heavily, dropping her hands into her lap. "Blaine, you know better than anyone that I've done my fair share of killing up close and personal. How else did you expect me to get run through? Hellsteeth, remember Second Beta?"

"Yeah. I remember a mouthy corporal trying to tell a colonel how to do her job."

"Heh, you had a valid point, even if your delivery was less than eloquent. You probably didn't know this, but up on that bridge, there was two females and a pair of ugly brutes."

"I saw the bodies. Rowan took the two females and one of the brutes out. The other one got slotted after it chased Mayina down."

"Nope. Rowan killed one of the females. I killed the other. Along with one of the brutes."

"But you were out cold...."

"After-effect of taking out the first female."

"Big dumb and ugly get you?"

"Nope. Tall smart and sadistic two conked me. You remember how Big Dumb and Ugly died?"

"Wasn't paying much attention. Too focused on trying to get you girls out of danger."

"His throat was ripped out."

"You mean.....?" Blaine asked, eye wide with stunned amazement.

"Yup. Killed him the old-fashioned way. No weapons, just skill versus skill."

"That was a long time ago, though." Blaine noted somewhat dryly.

"Too long ago." Casie affirmed. "I'd much rather go through that again than live this reoccurring nightmare."

"Copy that."

"Heh, you know what's funny?"


"After all this time, neither of us ever outranked the other."

"Except when I was still a smart-mouthed corporal."

"You really didn't know me back then."

"Good point. I..." Whatever Blaine was about to say was drowned out by the triple chime announcing the presence of someone standing outside the door to Casie's ready room.

"Enter." Casie said, straightening up in her chair. As the doors hissed open, she mouthed the word 'later.' to Blaine, who nodded once.

The doors fully opened to admit Lieutenant Von Pitt again. " Fräulein Admiral." He said without preamble. "We have just received word that the Empress desires to meet with you. She commands our presence in Sector Alpha-One. With the Admiral's pardon, I have already altered course to that sector. ETA One hour and five minutes."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Casie said. "Inform Commander Desoto of the Empress' imminent arrival and ask her to have her best company assembled in full dress uniform in hangar Aruek-Three fifteen minutes before Milady's arrival."

"Ja, Fräulein Admiral."

"If I may, Admiral?" Blaine asked, his eyes indicating Lieutenant Von Pitt. Casie nodded her acquiescence. "Lieutenant, inform Colonel Soral that he is to have Null company in full dress in Hangar A-3 fifteen minutes prior to the Empress' arrival. I want their armour shining."

"Ja, Herr General." With a final salute, Lieutenant Von Pitt departed to fulfill his tasks. When the doors had sealed behind him, Blaine turned back to face Casie.

"I wonder what brings Milady out here?"

"Don't know." Casie replied, sighing a bit. "But I've got that proverbial bad feeling about this, so it's definitely serious."

"Have you ever known the Empress to not be serious?"

"Once or twice, a long time ago. I'll have the full debriefs sent down to you as soon as they're in."

"Thanks. See you on the flight deck, then."


With a final wave, Blaine left Casie's ready room to go to whatever it was infantry did to prepare for meeting ones Empress. In the mean time, she had reports to do.

"I hate reports......"

Sector Alpha One, 2042 Earth Relative

"Attention on Deck. The Empress' Shuttle is on Final Approach. Honor Guard, Aten-hut!"

"You wanna know something, Blaine?" Casie muttered, tugging slightly at the collar of her dress uniform. She hated the thing. After all, she had never liked wearing a skirt, and the high, stiff collar only made it worse.

"What?" Blaine returned, tugging at his collar also.

"I hate wearing these kriffing things. I swear, if I ever get my hands on the rodder who designed these uniforms, I'm going to strangle him."

"I don't know. The collars are a bit tight, but the rest of the uniform seems to be comfortable enough."

"You're not the one in a skirt."

"Touché," Blaine whispered as the two flag officers stopped just beyond the safety perimeter where the shuttle would land. Behind them, one step back and to the left or right, stood both their Executive Officers, Colonel Sir Kale Soral to Blaine's right, and Captain Sir Alq Veers to Casie's left.

* * * * *

"Milady," Clone Pilot CT-5322, aka Commander Bernie 'Sicko' Finch, said as he entered the Empress' chambers and came to attention. "Ashleigh is docked, and your Honor Guard awaits. Any further orders?"

"No. Return to your duties Have the crew stand ready for a quick departure. We will not be here long." The Empress said, staring impassively at a computer screen.

"As you wish, Milady." Sicko saluted again before turning on his heel and departing.

* * * * *

With a slightly audible hiss, the boarding ramp for the Farpoint-class Shuttle Ashleigh lowered. As it did so, several pairs of booted feet made their way down the ramp. Those feet, belonging to four ARC Troopers, turned and formed up two to each side of the ramp. Behind them, a robed and cowled figure glided down the ramp, giving neither audible footsteps nor visual strides. Behind the figure, for that appeared to be neither male nor female, marched a second group of four ARCs, along with a second figure. This figure was garbed in the traditional cream and red of an Intelligence Officer. Above her uniform, her red hair, twisted into a braid, stood out against the stark backdrop of shadows and ARC Troopers. Even with the uniform change, Director (NavInt-R/Dev) Lady Dame Mayina Devaro looked exactly like she had when she was still with TAG Command.

The figure itself glided to a halt just in front of the two Flag Officers and their subordinates, all of whom bowed stately, military bows.

"Milady." Casie said, her left arm pushing aside the gilded hilt of the dress sabre hung at her side. "Welcome onboard. My ship and my crew are at your disposal."

"Milady Empress." Blaine added, his own pose matching Casie's. "How may I serve you?"

"Arise." The Empress commanded. "I understand you captured a Liandri freighter and her crew?"

"Yes, Milady." Casie replied as she came back to parade rest.

"I wish for Director Devaro to examine it."

"As you wish, Milady." Casie said, before turning to Captain Veers. "Captain, escort Milady Devaro to the captured freighter. Take an escort group with you."

"Aye aye, Ma'am." Veers saluted, before escorting Mayina towards the door. As he reached the door, he signaled with one hand, and a detachment of Commander Desoto's troops followed the pair out the door.

Once they had left, the Empress turned her cowled head back towards the trio of officers still patiently standing at parade rest. "Colonel Soral. See to my other guest. He should be in his quarters aboard my ship. Commander Finch will show you where those are."

"As you wish, Milady." Colonel Soral replied, bowing again. This act of tradition done, he moved past the silent groups of ARCs and up into the shuttle.

"As for the two of you, I desire your counsel. Shall we adjourn to your ready room, Admiral?"

"By your command, Milady."

* * * * *

"You seek counsel, Milady?" Casie asked as she sat down behind her desk. On the other side, occupying the two chairs, sat Blaine and the Empress.

"Yes, I do. One thing, though. We are amongst friends here. There is no need for protocol." The Empress said, drawing back her cowl to reveal her face. One half of her face was smooth and clear, displaying neither blemish nor wrinkle. The other side was, for the most part, burned and disfigured by blaster fire in some long-ago battle. Normally, this was covered by a half-mask, but for some unknown reason, Empress Corry Vrecken had decided to forgo the mask. Not that either officer was scared by the site. After all, everyone from the old days had scars of some sort.

"As you wish, Corry." Casie said simply."What's on your mind?"

"You know of my son, Sam, correct?"

"Yes. Last I heard, he was going through ATC."

"He's completed that. He made Lieutenant Commander."

"Congratulations." Blaine said, propping his feet on the edge of Casie's desk. He ignored the dirty look Casie shot his way. "What's the problem?"

"No Fleet Commander will take him in as anything but a Ship's Captain. While his scores are good enough to get him the Lieutenant Commanders' bars, they're not good enough to warrant a CO appointment. He needs practical experience under a serving line officer. He can't get that anywhere because of his relation to me. So..."

"So you'd like me to take him in, ride his arse, and turn him into a Damn Good Commander." Casie interrupted. "Right. Question is, which ship do I kick him to? Half my ships are skippered by a light commander. Those that aren't, the skipper would try to cede command to Sam. Right now I don't need any replacements myself. That brings us back to the original problem. Where do I put him?" As Casie came back to the original problem, the triple-chime interrupted her. "A moment, Milady. Enter."

The doors opened to reveal Lieutenant Commander Leroy Jenkins, who entered. As soon as the doors closed, he moved towards the trio, drawing a dagger from behind his back.

"Corry Vrecken, in the name of the Empire Redux, I sentence you to death. DIE!" The young man screamed as he swung the knife down towards Corry.

The second that Jenkins had pulled the knife, Casie had reached for the gun hidden under her desk. She drew it, training both barrels on Jenkins. A split-second later, the would-be assassin lay dead on the floor.

"Wonder what this Empire Redux is?" Blaine mused, staring thoughtfully at the dead body.

"Don't know." Casie replied, turning to look back at Corry. Her gun, as rapidly as it had appeared, had vanished. "What I do know is that I need a new Sensors Officer. Think Sam would be interested?"

"Yes he would. Very well, Admiral." Corry said as two Security Non-Coms removed the body of the assassin, for later inspection and autopsy. "I will have Lieutenant Commander Vrecken report to you at 1500 hours. I will also have Director Devaro look into this so-called 'Empire Redux'. Now, " She continued once the two Non-Coms had departed. "There is one other thing I wish to discuss with you...."

Captains Log, 91:5:17, 2042 Earth Relative

Lieutenant Commander Samuel Vrecken has acquitted himself well over these past five months. I placed him under the tutelage of Captain Veers. The two work well together, and Alq has mentioned that he feels Sam will be ready for an XO berth soon. Beyond Sam's training, nothing of great note has occurred in the last five months. We keep discouraging probes by the Liandri every once in a while. I have the crews running drills to keep them on their toes, but they are the finest crews in the Navy and to do many more drills in the near future would only serve to dull their edge. We did get a report from Director Devaro, NavInt-R/Dev shortly after the assassination attempt on Empress Vrecken. According to Intel, the Empire Redux is a splinter movement that is attempting to supplant the various governments with the "Second Galactic Empire". Naturally they wish to see the galaxy ruled by human males once again. So far, NavInt has nothing solid on their bases of operation. As far as I'm concerned, they're just small-time criminals. Mayina also passed on the news that she's completed the examination of that mystery ship the Liandri had. It appears to be either some form of heavy reconnaissance craft, or a light attack craft. The species that created it appears to be a previously un-encountered species, although the design characteristics do bear some resemblance to Duk'hang craft. Mayina has chosen the name "Shivans" to describe the species, until we get a clearer picture of the race.

"Admiral." Casie's built-in com panel buzzed. "We're receiving a distress call."

"On my way." Casie called, already moving towards the doors that led to the Bridge. "Report." She added upon reaching her command chair.

"We've received a distress call. Point of origin is a Liandri outpost, about ten minutes away. It's an automated beacon."

"Lay in a course. Three Quarters of the fleet is to remain here in case this is a trap."

"Course laid in, Admiral." The ensign manning the astro-nav station called.

"Signals to fleet confirmed and authenticated." Comms relayed. "They're ready."

"Then it's time for us to go to work." Casie remarked dryly. "Captain, sound General Quarters."

"General Quarters, Aye." Veers hit a switch on his control panel. Throughout the entire ship, warning lights flashed in accompaniment to a deep two-toned siren. On the bridge, a cacophony of voices called out status reports.

"Aft torpedo tubes locked and loaded. Midship rail guns online. Bow chasers armed and ready. Broadside torpedo tubes online. Turbolaser mounts online. Aft chasers online. Beam cannons charged and ready. 105mm grazer mounts loaded and tracking." Guns reported.

"Shields to maximum. Inertial dampers fully functional." Someone else called.

"All engines are green. Hyperdrive online and ready to go." Engineering relayed.

"Flight crews to their ships. Hangar bays are set for action." CAG reported.

"Admiral, we are at general quarters." Veers said gravely, turning towards the older woman.

"Very well, Captain. Helm, bring us about. Course as set by Navigation. Jump when ready. Comm, relay course to all accompanying vessels. They are to jump when ready."

"Aye." Comms replied. "Signals to fleet. Received and Authenticated."

"May the Force be with us." Veers muttered.

"Indeed." Casie replied, and then added, somewhat cheekily. "Or as they say on Earth: 'Saints preserve us.'"

* * * * *

The task force headed by HMS Aquitaine reverted to real space a little less than ten leagues from Modula II, the only inhabited planet of the Modula system. In orbit around Modula II, fairly centered over the only major population center, lay a single ship. Its classification was unknown, as were its fighter compliment, crew compliment. In short, everything about the ship was a complete mystery, other than its origins and combat capabilities. The latter was evident by the destruction the ship was raining down on the planet. The former was known via the analysis done on the captured Liandri freighter.

"Shivan warship in geo-sync orbit over Modula City, Admiral. Designation Moloch. It's launching fighters." Lieutenant Commander Samuel Paul Vrecken reported from the main sensor station. "Seems they've spotted us, Admiral."

"Launch fighters. Fleet is to move in and get between Modula City and Moloch." Casie ordered.

Aquitaine's fighters boiled out from her massive hangars. Led by Commodore Andrew Novak, the fighters formed up into a massive screen in front of the fleet. Ahead of them, the Shivan vessel rotated in space to confront this new threat.

Back on the bridge, Casie intently studied the tac-screens. Unbidden, the lyrics to an old Tau'ri song sprang into her mind.

"Come the reaper sing the song bringing death to everyone..." She muttered.

"Pardon, Admiral?" Veers asked, not having caught her words.

"Just an old Tau'ri song. It would seem our friends out there don't like us."

"So it would seem." Alq replied, glancing at his own tac-screens. "Uh-oh. They're launching something."

"Admiral! Moloch is launching fighters. Three flights, designation Cancer, Libra, Dragon." Sam called.

"Fighters to intercept. Burlington and Actium will support the fighters."

"Aye, ma'am."

"Helm, get us along side that ship. Guns, the second we're in range, open fire."

"Aye, ma'am."

With a massive surge, Aquitaine leaped forward, her drive engines propelling her onward towards the inevitable confrontation. All around the massive cruiser, the support ships increased velocity to keep up.

As the distance closed, the Shivan vessel called Moloch opened fire. The first volley caught Actium squarely on the nose, and the smaller ship lurched drunkenly, trying to avoid the second volley. She half-succeeded. As Actiumturned to port, the second volley caught a hefty blow to her drive section, causing it to explode. This act further propelled the small ship further along her course. Lacking direction control and the means to stop, the fragile half-ship jetted along before slamming into Burlingtons broadside. Both ships exploded in a gout of white flame.

In response to the attack and subsequent destruction of two of her support ships, Aquitaines massive cannon opened fire. The first salvo caught Moloch squarely on the bow, shoving the smaller ship backwards. The second salvo slammed into Molochs ventral hull, boiling away armour plating and causing part of the ship to decompress. Several more volleys demolished the ships underbelly.

Amazingly, Moloch survived the onslaught and opened fire again. This time, she ignored the larger Aquitaine and fired on one of the smaller light cruisers supporting Aquitaine. The one that Moloch targeted, HMS Skyline, shuddered under the furious assault, before finally exploding in a sheet of white flame.

"Admiral, Commodore Novak reports all opposing fighters destroyed. He requests orders." CAG relayed.

"Have him detail half his fighters to CAP. The rest are to make attack runs on that ship."

"Orders relayed."

As the two were speaking, several more volleys had been exchanged. Several slammed into Aquitaine, decompressing areas of the ship. Damage control teams were already at work sealing off the affected sections.

Moloch had been heavily damaged, but she was still putting up a serious fight. Her salvos targeted both HMS Aquitaine and HMS Redoubt, the sole remaining support ship. The damage to Moloch, however, was extensive. Large areas of the hull had been ripped open to hard vac. Support beams were exposed, warped and twisted. It was amazing that she could even function in such a state. She fired again, targeting Aquitaine.

"Admiral, Moloch is powering up her drives." Sam called from the sensors station.

"Acknowledged. Keep up the bombardment." Casie replied, before muttering to herself. "The down becomes an empty shell come and spend a day in hell. Why now? Why that song?"

"Admiral, if I may, it appears that the enemy is preparing to flee. Would it not be better to simply let them go?" Veers asked, secretly wondering why his commander was singing to herself.

"Captain, a word of advice someone once told me: understand a race's art, understand a race's mind. Look at the design of their ships. Forward weaponry is maxed out, but what about their aft weapons? So far they haven't shown anything heavy there. Only a few flak turrets harassing our fighters. Ergo, they will stand and fight."

"I hope you're right about that, Casie."

"Trust me."

"Admiral!" Sam called, moving away from the sensor station. "Moloch is accelerating! Course projection shows them to be headed directly for HMS Redoubt!" Right as the young man said this, a sudden barrage from Moloch shook the cruiser. Without warning, one of the auxiliary sensor stations exploded, killing the young ensign who had been manning it instantly.

Off to port, Moloch slammed full speed into Redoubt's broadside, and both ships vanished in a colossal sheet of white flame. The shockwave caused Aquitaine to pitch wildly for a few seconds. All over the ship, crewbeings caught flat-footed were tumbled around violently. Then, as soon as it happened, the effects vanished.

Casie muttered a particularly vile word. "Damage report."

"Sections twenty-one through twenty-five are compromised. Evacuation under way. Commodore Novak reports one flight down, three of four pilots are EV. All fighters accounted for. All support ships have been destroyed, Admiral." The ensign manning the engineering station reported. "Commander Averre says her crews will have most of the damage repaired by the time we reach space dock."

"Total casualty count?" Casie asked, turning towards Surgeon Commander Crosben's hologram. She had brought that up right after the auxiliary sensor station has exploded.

"Including the other vessels, I'd put it at around nine thousand, five hundred, give or take. I can have an accurate number in about an hour." Crosben said, scratching at his chin. "I'd put wounded at around five hundred or so. Probably a third of that is critical. Half the remainder is walking wounded. The others aren't critical, but they won't be going anywhere any time soon."

"Ok. Start salvage operations, people. And call in the rest of the fleet. We're going to need help cleaning up this mess." Casie sighed. In her head, the song once more came to her, unbidden. "Lay the wreath across the flag fill another body bag. Guard of honour standing proud put your son in to the ground..."

Earth, Sol system. 91:5:21 2042 Earth Relative

Casie stood at a railing, staring off into nothingness. Below her, the streets of New York were jammed, as they always were. As she stood there, one finger reached up to touch the medallion hung around her neck. The medallion was a badge of rank, of sorts. It identified the wearer as a Grand Admiral, the best of the best. She had been promoted for single-handedly negotiating the truce between the Imperial republic and the Liandri, following a battle in which she had protected a Liandri outpost. Like all promotions, this one had a cost. And that cost had been paid. In blood.

The noise of a door opening behind her snapped her out of her revere.

"Can I help you, Senator?" She asked, noting that her uninvited guest was Senator James Thatcher, of the Gamma Draconis Sector .

"I just wanted to congratulate you on your promotion, Grand Admiral. We need people like you. You're a tough woman. Too tough to be moping about the peons lost in combat." The Senator told her, taking a step closer to her.

"You really think they're just peons?" Casie asked, her eyes glinting dangerously. "Because to me, they're more than that. I just did the hardest duty known to any commander. I told nine thousand five hundred and forty two families that their kin won't be coming home."

"Hrmph, so they're dead. Your point, Admiral? After all, what use are soldiers except to use to advance ones career?"

"How ironic. All those brave souls died to protect you, and here you stand talking about them as if they were nothing but wet droids. Good day, Senator!" Casie snapped, before stalking off.

"Where are you going?" The Senator called after her.

"Unlike you, I still have a duty to perform."

Lake Pendleton, Colorado, Earth. 2098 Earth Relative

"And that's the end of the story for tonight, my children." Grandfather said, yawning a bit. "It's time for bed."

"But Grandfather, what duty was it that Auntie Casie had to do?" Michael asked, hoping that Grandfather would continue the story.

"The same duty every being in the military has: protecting the lives of others with her own."

"Say your goodnights, children." Connie told the kids, brushing crumbs off her skirt. "Father is tired and needs his sleep."

"Night, Grandfather." The children chorused before they were shooed off to bed by their mother.

"Good night, my children." He replied, yawning again.

"Good night, father." Connie added, before going off to tuck the children in for the night.

"Night." Was the expected reply, and with a last yawn, Kale settled back into his chair for the night. Within seconds, he was snoring.