Tragedy and time had an eerie relationship to one another.
For the people of the domed cities, the spire-like station towers, the cave-bound in the quarries, the workers at the geothermal plants, time was a concept that they brought with them through the ages with little in the way of a natural association. Their world was always dark, at times darker, at times less. Time was unbound from light, and it moved ever so slowly in their cramped ships and the tight halls of their stations and the labyrinthine paths of their great cities.
Time seemed to move the fastest just before a calamity.
In the disputed territory around the Thassalid Trench, the Union Cruiser Comrade Stoller and an Imperial counterpart, the Sacrosanct, spotted each other via sonar and moved to within a kilometer of one another. Both were patrolling territory that they claimed as their own. There was no ceasefire between their nations; but torpedoes and coilguns were not immediately primed.
Inside the command room of the Stoller, the ship’s Captain, who sat between the stations of the electronics, sonar, communications, and ballast/rudder control personnel, saw one of her communications officers turn from her large, wall-mounted console to speak to her personally.
“We received an acoustic text from the enemy. They have identified themselves as the Sacrosanct and wish to open laser communication. Should we respond?” Said the comms woman.
“Put them through but be on the lookout for electronic warfare.”
Captain Mirasol Fuentes had a calm, confident, serious tone.
With her hands behind her back, she stood up from her chair.
On the wall, a camera captured her upper body.
Atop the Stoller’s fin-like conning tower, a hatch opened to reveal a swiveling blue laser transmitter and receiver head, the size of a human body. This device synchronized with its equivalent from the Sacrosanct to establish a laser communication. Stoller’s camera feed was transmitted to the Sacrosanct, and vice versa. Despite the sophisticated technology, the feed was poor. Both Captains saw each other’s screens tearing and blurring. Biomass density was high.
“I am Captain Mirasol Fuentes of the Comrade Stoller. Imperial ship, you are in the territory of the Laborer’s Union of Ferris, Lyser and Solstice, allied with the free peoples of Campos Mountain. We can escort you to Imperial territory peacefully, but you must turn around.”
Mirasol wasted no time staking her position.
Her imperial counterpart scoffed at the notion.
“Well, I am Duke Groessen of Sverland, milady, and I am here on orders of my sovereign himself, the Emperor! My mission in fact, is to restore the acoustic network relay at Thassalid, which you occupied during your bloodletting 20 years ago and left to rot, and which is by rights ours.”
Mirasol recalled that during the revolution, the Imperials routed much of their acoustic and blue laser communication through the relay at Thassal to alert their border forces of the uprising.
This allowed the revolutionaries to predict their every move by intercepting the messages.
Since then it had gone silent. Neither side used it. It had become a symbol of détente.
“It has been decades since the relay at Thassal has seen maintenance, let alone actual communications.” Mirasol said. “That being said, the Thassalid Trench is Union ground, Duke.”
“Would you truly fire on a ship carrying out a strictly infrastructural task, Captain?”
On the video-screen in the Stoller, the image of the Duke could be seen to play with his mustache. A smile could have been made out, had it not been for the screen tearing over his face.
“I would fire on a ship invading our territory.” Mirasol said.
She was unwaveringly serious. Around her, the crew began to fidget at their stations.
“I would not expect any less from slave-blooded rebels and bandits!”
“With all due respect, Duke, these poor bandits defeated the mighty Imperial Navy over this very trench, so I would not take for granted your freedom and peace when navigating here.”
At that moment, the geothermal vents in the Thassalid Trench sent a swell of water and gas up between the erstwhile combatants. It was a small and common upwelling from the trench, which had not been notably unstable in those months. This modest surge was enough to make the laser communication between the ships untenable. Mirasol and the Duke could no longer continue their argument. Their last words to one another were garbled. Their visages on each other’s screen torn into a pair of inhuman, twisted rictus out of which no intentions could possibly be gleaned.
Both ships withdrew their laser transmitters.
Neither ship sent acoustic messages from then on. There was no more discussion.
There was no meaningful underlying reason for what happened next.
Time simply went at a breakneck speed when it came to the instant of tragedy.
Wire-guided homing torpedoes launched two at a time out of the underside of each ship.
Topside coilguns emerged from their hatches and the seals on their barrels did break.
Fore and aft gas gun stations on each ship fought fiercely to intercept incoming torpedoes.
Ordnance exploded all around the ships, whether from fused coilgun warheads or the tricky maneuvering of guided torpedoes, forming massive pockets of vapor and pressure that rocked the hulls and the respective crews. Despite the advanced armor and great manufacture of the ship hulls, designed to withstand the pressure of even the abyssal deeps, cracks formed, and water entered.
Neither ship had an advantage and therefore neither ship survived the brutal salvoes.
Who fired first? Why was a shot even fired? All answers died with them.
Time beckoned. History obliged. Tragedy followed. Never answerable, never accountable.
Years of an inevitable tension were released in the span of mere minutes.
Weapons roared, the currents parted, and human life, as always, ended in the wake.