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Death of a Starship

by Jay Lake

Second battle of 3-Freewall, more than a baseline century past

Z-flotilla’s gone over to the rebels!” shouted one of the comm ensigns. Sweat beaded on the boy’s shaved scalp. He was still young enough to be excited by combat.

NSS Enver Hoxha’s battle bridge was wedge-shaped, command stations at the narrow aft end, a giant array of displays at the blunt forward end, everything finished out in military-grade carbonmesh and low-intensity gel interfaces. A dozen duty stations were arrayed before and below Captain Saenz, eighteen officers and enlisted laboring wet-backed and trembling in the service of their own imminent death. Everything reeked of panicked men and distressed electronics.

Commander Ulyanov leaned close, his bullet head gleaming sweat bright as the ensign’s. “They’re not firing...yet. With respect sir, we’re done. All the other capital assets have gone over or been neutralized.”

Neutralized” in deep space meant decompressive death for hundreds or thousands of crew, the survivors scattering like sparks from a bonfire in lifepods which were more likely to be used as ranging targets than ever be rescued within their survival windows. Except in a civil war, when it could also mean officers lined up in boat bays and gunned down by excited sailors acting under mutinous orders.

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