Space Opera: A Story by Peter J. Wacks
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Wilhelm tapped the conductor’s baton against the side of his stand, glancing at the audience with his posterior eyestalks, while his anterior orbs faced the orchestra. A full auditorium tonight. The pressure of thousands of eyes watched behind him, eagerly awaiting the performance, sent a pleasant shiver down his notochord. The auditorium hushed, silence spreading on bated breath. Tonight's Tri-Galactic Philharmonic, the introduction to his favorite operatic saga, would be brilliant, would be beautiful, would be everything expected of a master conductor, and more.

He gazed at his orchestra. Every player was ready to fulfill their role, every instrument was ready to produce music unequaled anywhere in the galaxy. The lights dimmed. Wilhelm once again tapped the batons held in his upper arms on the edge of the stand. Everything was poised and ready. He closed his eyes, savoring the moment. He lived in the perfect silence, the harmony in silence…

His hand moved upward, unfolding the story…

The overture’s first notes breached the quiet—a butterfly emerging from the cocoon. The opening bars—heavy with cello, percussion, and bass—reverberated through the audience, who all watched from the inky blackness of the auditorium; a thousand eyes that glittered in the darkness like stars in the night sky. On Wilhelm’s cue, the brass launched in, like massive warships landing their jump drives around a planet.

* * * *

Admiral Tal studied the screens on the bridge of the command ship Valkyrie, ignoring the brash music of the proximity jump klaxons. His entire fleet appeared, a perfect unspooling of their drive cores, surrounding the dark side of the planet below. Eighteen ships, each one the size of a city, assumed a hemispherical formation above the planet surface. He scanned the bridge’s monitors, eyes intent while his mind boiled in the pre-battle chaos.

This battle was not his preferred command. With all the dangers of the universe, to be fighting other humans seemed ludicrous. But these people had started a civil war over not wanting to join galactic society, and that was a threat to the whole human race. To be barred from galactic trade, expansion, and culture… his colony could have been cured by an Accolian Serum, but these people, the colony of New Oceana, had voted against it, then declared war on Earth. That was when he had come back from retirement to fight for Earth. His fingers tightened into a fist.

“Ready!” he commanded his X.O. “Prep all fleet fighters for launch.”

The tactical monitors flashed green, and Tal yelled at the artillery officer. “Artillery, prep the Planet Busters! We're late! The colony may have already launched their defenses. Hustle!"” Lower ranked officers scurried about the bridge, quietly prepping the ship’s attack systems.

Tal watched the tactical command screen carefully. A klaxon, indicating that the ship’s planet buster energy weapons were ready to deploy, sounded, before being counterpointed by a new, shrill alert siren. There was a tempo underlying all of the alerts sounding on the bridge, a crescendo which would climax with the gentle squeeze of the first trigger pulled. Planetary defenses had been ready for the fleet’s jump, and scans indicated a counter attack launch was imminent.

“Ready defensive measures. Bring up shields, now! All ships.” he commanded. “Fire planet busters, on my mark…” He watched the reactor core meters until the weapons were about to overload, then shouted, “MARK!” At that command, all of the Earth’s galactic class battleships fired the massive energy bombs. Each one had a guided reactor at its core, capable of corrective targeting once in the atmosphere.

Bursts of golden-green energy, surrounding the targeting cores, arced from the Earth fleet, silently pulsing through space towards the planet below. They would slow when impacting the atmosphere, but, despite the lack of speed, they could ravage continents and win a battle by themselves.

* * * *

Wilhelm pointed at the brass section as his baton kept the battle’s tempo, and they dropped an octave, giving the piece depth, enfolding the remaining movement’s higher ranges.

* * * *

The planet-busters hit the outer atmosphere, ribbons of energy flashed deep crimson as they struck the planet’s gaseous shell. Fighters swarmed silently up from the surface, dodging the actinic helixes of light spiraling downwards toward the planet. Countless tiny dots flared into life across the globe below, growing in size, reddening as they shot up through the atmosphere. First a score, then hundreds, then thousands burst through the upper mesosphere into space. The pitch of the battle was about to change.

* * * *

Wilhelm gestured rapidly with his lower pair of hands, signaling the woodwinds and strings to enter the symphony. Dum Dah Da-ah… The engines of a thousand fighters joined the music on wings of breath and vibration. With another motion of his lower hands he launched the deeper woodwinds; all while keeping the two tempos steady with his batons: His right for Earth, and left for the colony of New Oceana.

Admiral Tal watched the red lights crowd the edges of his command displays. Every Klaxon on the bridge screamed shrilly; Tal had to shout to be heard over the cacophony of off key alarms. “Tactical, launch all fighters! Engineering, get my orbital shields in position! Command, I need eyes on planetary defenses. Go, go, go!”

The massive battleships disgorged swarms of fighters, squadron upon squadron moving to intercept their colonial counterparts. Planet and fleet made their next moves simultaneously. A salvo of blue pulses, as formidable in power as the descending planet-busters, raced from the surface to attacking fleet. As these deadly energies approached their targets, massive sections of each battleship detached from their parent vessels. The orbitals—little more than maneuverable armor plates— drifted a safe distance away from their parent ships before positioning themselves via rocket jets between the fleet and the surface weapons.

* * * *

Wilhelm snapped his upper wrists to the side now that the orbitals were in place, then gently lowered his batons. The orchestra responded, its volume dropping to a teasing susurrus. Wilhelm cued his first chair violin. She was a Sylaxian, a tripedal, tentacled race masterfully adept with stringed instruments. Standing proudly, she launched into a complex solo that sounded like multiple violins playing in unison, though it was only her instrument soaring in flight over the hushed orchestra—a single, focused voice in the battle.

* * * *

Major Thomasson, a virtuoso of flight, adjusted the yaw and roll of his fighter, diving to intercept the incoming colonial fighters. His squadron followed in perfect formation behind him, a dance of thirty-two ships eager to engage as they began their descent from orbit. The leading enemy squadron was almost close enough to break out of the refrain and crescendo into violence.

He glanced at the sensor array. “Break into wings now, my devils! Wings one and two flank sun side, three go moon, and four, play sniper. Mark!”

A brief burst of static resolved into voices over his com.

“Wing one, acknowledged.”

“Wing two, gotcha, boss man.”

“Wing three, headed out! Good luck boys!”

“Wing four, one shot, one kill; we’ve got your back.”

Thomasson grinned, sizing up the oncoming horde. Earth’s fighter corps was outnumbered at least two to one, but that didn’t concern him. His squadron was one of the best, and the fleet had devised a plan for dealing with just this contingency.

“Launching cover, choose your targets on three. One. Two—” He pulled the trigger, firing all forty of his fighter’s SPARCs. The SPARCs, Spatial Atmosphere-less Reactive Combustible, missiles blasted away from his ship and streamed towards the enemy.

“—Three.” He laughed.

“Nice. I hate you sometimes, Major.” That was from Wing Two.

“Engaging missiles now, hope you all have your target.” Thomasson did a quick visual double-check, confirming that enemy fighters had all maneuvered clear of the incoming SPARCs. They had. He thumbed the trigger guard, flipping it up, and hit the ‘munitions destruct’ button next to the trigger. His timing was perfectly matched to the rest of the squadron leaders.

With the SPARCs launched, Wilhelm signaled the cymbals and snare drums. Rapid pulses of percussion saturated the tonal landscape created by the violin, filling out the solo like a monsoon flood as the beats and crashes grew in volume.

SPARC missiles exploded. Loaded with alloy powders, they created a glittery silvery screen between the battle fleet and the closing planetary forces. The planet’s entire hemisphere sparkled in the darkness, blanketed in shining silver already beginning to dissipate. Thomasson had only seconds. Sensor screens on both sides went black, unable to penetrate the metallic cloud, but Earth’s invasion forces fired weapons nonetheless, using specially coded predictive algorithms to track their invisible foes through the screen. Bursts of light peppered the silence of space as colonial fighters perished by the thousands.

“Yeahhhhhh boyyyyyyy!” Major Thomasson screamed in jubilation as his fighter ripped through the dust cloud, revealing the mass destruction they had wreaked. “Enemy forces seventy percent destroyed, go get ‘em!” Around the planet, two hundred other squadron commanders echoed his sentiment. Voice after voice cheered as the alloy smokescreen dissipated.

* * * *

Wilhelm blinked back a tear from his eye, the triumph in death of this part of the piece spoke to his compassion, a private missive to the conductor. Furiously signaling, all four batons wove through the air, and the entire orchestra to launch into life. The music swelled, each section fully rejoining the movement, until the whole battle was once more being played.

* * * *

Massive shockwaves shook the fleet ships as the planetary weapons impacted, and half a dozen Earth battleships erupted like miniature suns. The planetary defense weapons had finally scored their hits, tearing through all the orbitals and wiping out a third of the command ships. In the blink of an eye, six hundred thousand lives were lost.

Admiral Tal watched amidst the shouting and klaxons, a bastion of silence amid the pandemonium, hiding his shaking hands. He had just lost friends, colleagues, Earthmen. He was a good, seasoned commander, however, and wouldn’t surrender to his fear or to the overwhelming loss. He straightened his shoulders, ignoring the devastation, the cacophony and the bridge chaos. “Update…” He commanded tersely.

His X.O. scanned the tactical summary screens. “Enemy fighter force at nineteen percent. We’re at ninety six percent. Orbitals are gone, though, and six battleships destroyed. It should be over soon, sir. We have twenty seconds until planet-busters hit. Surface is powering up round two, but they’ll need at least thirty seconds, sir.”

Tal grunted. “Focus on supporting our fighters.”

“Yes, sir. Tactical— small and medium weapons ready, target planet side. Engage cookie cutters and synchronize with fighter trajectory computers. Fire all weapons!”

The twelve remaining battleships glowed yellow and orange as hundreds of ballistic and energy weapons charged to life and fired. Light streaked across the conflict like fireflies dancing to unheard music on a cloudy night.

* * * *

Wilhelm flattened the baton in his upper left hand, ordering all of the high-toned instruments into silence. Bass notes shook the very auditorium, ominous, dark, and overpowering.

* * * *

Amidst hundreds of cubic miles of shrapnel and floating wreckage, laced with swarming fighters and radiant weapons fire, a massive energy wave ripped through the entire floating field of deadly flotsam. It sent ships and shrapnel alike spinning.

Another of Earth’s battleships was now wreckage. Weapons rotated towards the moon as the remaining Earth forces repositioned. A juggernaut class ship, four times the size of Earth’s most formidable battleship, had been hidden by the colonists behind the planet’s one small moon. Now it made its move.

All eleven remaining battleships opened fire, every instrument being used, every trigger pulled, lighting up the juggernaut till it was brighter than the moon behind it. Yet still it continued to fire. And with each apocalyptic burst from its positron lances, a battleship would explode.

Tal cursed silently as one of Earth’s battleships, the Archimedes, vanished in the telltale green spark-burst of a jump spooling. The Valkyrie and the Imperius poured the last of their formidable magazine stores into the girded colossus, but it was futile, the juggernaut was too heavily armored. Earth’s triumphal march had turned into a dirge of desperation. Tal knew they had lost.

* * * *

Wilhelm jerked all four of his arms to a stop, then signaled the deepest basses and percussions. A lone cello’s poignant note of despair cut through the melancholy ambiance.

* * * *

Green Saint Elmo’s Fire erupted from the juggernaut’s main weapon battery, the plasma danced outward along the ship’s once impregnable armor. Archimedes’ aft became briefly visible as the Earth battleship unspooled from its micro jump into the juggernaut’s heart. The resulting explosion shattered the unstoppable juggernaut, the noble Archimedes, and also fractured the small moon, wresting it from orbit.

Chunks of moon drifted towards the plant below, a lunar apocalypse of fragmented death. Meteors formed, arcing through the battle’s flotsam and reducing it to dust as the moon headed towards the planet. A single chunk, about one third of the moon’s original mass, ponderously wobbled, gently drifting away towards the deeper portions of the solar system. Golden light changed to red on the surface below as the planet-busters finally struck, destroying tectonic plates and reducing the colony to rubble across the globe.

* * * *

Wilhelm signaled the Theremins and bass drums. Jarring, otherworldly sounds crashed into the symphony, rising and fading like a pulse.

* * * *

Tal watched, unbelieving, horrified, as the fragments of moon struck the devastated planet below. Volcanoes erupted as magnitude nine and ten earthquakes shook the planet’s landmasses, firestorms blazed across the planet’s face, consuming everything. Lightning swarmed and danced thickly through the atmosphere, a maelstrom of pure annihilation. The planet was dead, uninhabitable, an epithet declaring ‘Humanity Warred Here’.

* * * *

Wilhelm gently nudged the orchestra to segue with a steady harmony, changing the tone and feel of the piece to the aftermath of the despair.

* * * *

The battle was done. The colony, part of the dissenting voice in humanity’s unified government, had been crushed. But it was only the first, and war had now been declared. The remaining fighters jetted around the battlefield, collecting survivors. It didn’t matter whether those collected were Earth fleet or Colonial. After the devastation this encounter had wrought, every human life was worth saving.

* * * *

Wilhelm meticulously silenced each section of the orchestra, leaving only a lone bass drum beating to the rhythm of a human heart, and a solitary violin to speak quietly to the audience.

* * * *

Admiral Tal, alone in his ready room, splashed water on his face. The cold shock wouldn’t ease the grief in his red limned eyes, nor wash away the still falling tears. “What have we done?” he softly asked his reflection. “What have we done?!” His reflection refused to respond, and only watched him wrestle silently with his guilt.

* * * *

Then violin and drum fell still. The house lights rose.

Wilhelm wiped his own tears away as the audience broke into thunderous applause. He turned to face the standing ovation, motioning back to his musicians to stand also. Together they bowed.

He let it continue for about thirty seconds before tapping his batons together over his head, a signal for quiet. The audience retook their seats.

Wilhelm cleared his throat. “Thank you ladies and gentlemen. This concludes the overture to the opera Humanity; a struggle against inner nature to join the galactic parliament. There will now be a thirty minute interlude before the curtains rise on Act One, in which three years later, now promoted Ambassador Tal struggles to find the qualities which will redeem humanity by joining the Monks of Compassion on the planet Korge. Please avail yourselves of the refreshments in the lobby and stretch your limbs.”

* * * *


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