Through the sphere of annihilation, there was another world.
A world with a surface. A great desert, a horrific war.
There was another. A world of travelers who tried to change the past.
A third. A place where magic was not already dead but dying.
Then a vast Ocean, a vast Ocean that was unkind and uncaring, alien to its subjects.
Countless other worlds that all changed when they viewed the purple glow.
Worlds that danced on a knife edge, driven by violence universal to all humans.
It was entrancing. Unknowable, indomitable, illuminating, wrong, evil, violent—
Actions rippled across a time and space that was all vast like the Ocean and that conducted the waves of consequences that reached farther than anyone could have imagined. Histories bore witness to the tearing apart of planets, the reconfiguration of continents, the rise of ideologies, the power of nations and peoples to create and destroy. All hinged on the ability to touch one another even when one saw nothing to touch, nobody to reach. All of it lit under the purple glow.
Somewhere, their history reached a peaceful resolution.
That was all beyond the sphere. Their actions had already rippled.
And their Ocean could carry those ripples far, far away, to change everything.
Murati sat straight up in bed. She wanted to scream, but instead she gagged.
Her mind was filled in thoughts that were drifting away in a pattern of hex-shaped scars on her very soul. When she had forgotten everything, everything that she so briefly saw it could not have possibly qualified as learned, she was in a white room, in a bed, attached to a machine.
In the next instant, someone’s arms wrapped around her.
Karuniya was screaming and kicking her feet and thrashing against her.
“I can’t believe you! You idiot! I hate you! You’re nothing but trouble!”
Murati looked down at her face and saw her weeping pathetically, her eyes bloodshot.
“I’m sorry.” She said.
Karuniya paused for a brief moment, sobbing, sniffling, before thrashing again.
Through her own tears, Murati held her partner close, silent and unmoving.
Neither of them kept track of how long they stayed like this.
It was calm, peaceful. It was the kind of peace that allowed the sheer weight of the violence they had both endured and committed to wash over Murati. She felt as if she stood under pressure hose and everything she had repressed was coming down upon her. She cried not only because she loved Karuniya and felt so safe and happy to sit still in embrace. She also cried because she had the sounds of bombs going off in her head, the red mist trailing from downed vessels seared into her eyes, the fear, the palpable, skin-tingling fear and rush of having to fight for her survival.
In a sense, the void left after the battle was both relieving and unnerving.
She eventually came to grips with everything that happened. She smiled, and ran her hand gently through Karuniya’s hair, and the shaking just beneath the tips of her fingers dissipated. She was not in the cockpit of a Strelok, not out in the endless ocean where nothing could be fully seen. Instead she was in a hospital back at Thassal Station. She had been out for ten hours.
“Everyone probably knows you’re my girlfriend now but who cares.”
This was Karuniya’s description of the state she was in when they dragged Murati back in a Strelok that showed clear scarring from an Agarthicite sphere of annihilation. They cracked open the Strelok and the mechanics pulled her out, applied first aid. No water had gotten into the cockpit, thankfully, and pressure was never lost. But Murati would not wake, and her vitals were weak.
Ensign Shalikova had also been in this state. She was being treated elsewhere.
“They bed people up by alphabetical order. I dunno.”
Karuniya responded weakly when Murati asked where the Ensign had gone.
“You need to forget about soldier stuff for a bit and get some rest.”
“You too.” Murati said, smiling weakly at her.
“Oh, shut up! None of that silent, stoic, dependable stuff. I’m in charge now.”
In charge of what, Murati did not know. Karuniya did remain rooted by her side.
“We won, right?” Murati asked.
Karuniya beamed. It was an incredibly, indisputably Murati response.
“Fifty-nine downed Imperial vessels, including all of the Dreadnoughts.”
“Solceanos defend, that’s incredible.”
So incredible it prompted Murati to swear on her parents’ God.
Nodding rapidly, Karuniya declared, “The Imperial Southern Border Fleet is all gone.”
During the Revolutionary War, and then the border skirmishes that followed, they had been the great enemy looming beyond the confines of the Union. The threat of annihilation that trained every day to slaughter them all if needed. And yet, they had proven a poor enemy. Had the Empire grown weaker, or had they grown stronger? What lay behind this sudden turn?
Murati laid back in her bed and sighed deeply.
“What’s that about? You should be elated. You’re a war hero now.” Karuniya said.
Not a war hero; a hero of one battle.
“This war has barely begun. The Empire has a lot of fleets.” Murati said.
“Well, you’ll be pleased to note, HQ is moving a ton of stuff over here.” Karuniya said. “We were told we’ve got reinforcements now that bring Thassal back up to 50 ships, and we have 100 ships tugging in a whole Bathysphere that will be used to berth and maintain the force. So, we’ll have one of the biggest fleets the Union’s ever assembled in Ferris. You can relax now.”
She narrowed her eyes and her voice became sarcastic as she watched Murati’s expression grow even more pensive as the conversation went on. It was almost delivered like a=— threat. Murati, as always, smiled and humored her girlfriend when she put on that venomously sweet tone.
“I guess that is a relaxing piece of news. Anything else out of the Empire?”
“Not a peep. They haven’t even sent us a scary text message over the acoustic network.”
Despite the connection at Thassal having been severed, the Empire and Union still shared some parts of the same acoustic network, a way of transmitting computer data across long distances at extremely poor bandwidth. Diplomatic text messaging was possible through this, though rare, and both sides viewed an acoustic message coming from the other with great suspicion.
Higher bandwidth connections required shorter-ranged laser communications. Laser relays were fully shut off between each nation. They had no laser connections and would never trust such a thing at this juncture should it be proposed. Texts, however, were not unheard of. Almost every one of the past skirmishes between the Empire and the Union, as bloodless as they were, ended with a flurry of messages and ultimately, an agreement between Solstice and Rhinea to a détente.
For the Empire to be quiet, after their most flagrant violation of the peace against the Union to date — Murati did not know whether to worry or take heart in such apparent disorganization.
“I see you’re thinking about war stuff again.”
Karuniya stared at her, crossing her arms.
“I’ll relax. I’ll relax.” Murati said.
Her girlfriend heaved a long sigh and averted her gaze, looking at the other patients.
Some of them were far worse off than Murati. Their next bed neighbor had no visitors and clear signs of barotrauma. Red, bloodshot veins; and an amputated limb even. There were a few people extracted from escape vessels who had been knocked about violently, bruised all over, with many broken bones, alive only by a miracle. Karuniya seemed to glance over them.
“Ugh, now I’m not able to relax. I keep thinking about what you said. War is inevitable.”
Murati nodded silently.
She was also thinking about everything she had said and done.