by Maurice X. Alvarez
Copyright © 2009 Maurice X. Alvarez
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The General stared at the blank screen before him. Moments before he had been in conference with the President. The news was not good. He banged his fist against the arm of his padded chair. “Planetary invasion is unheard of,” he grumbled.
“But we're not being invaded, Sir.”
The General turned and glared at his aide who simply shrugged. “We're not,” persisted the aide; he'd worked for the General long enough to be allowed this kind of candor, particularly in private. “We're being blasted away piece by piece, starved… everything but being invaded.”
The General dismissed his aide's opinion with a flip of his hand. “Yeah, yeah. Isn't that enough. Eventually there won't be anything left to invade; then they'll just move on in.” He turned to a wall map of the world. “The President's right, though; the Toldrans are too precise in their attacks. They must have agents here and in key positions.”
“I can't imagine how that's possible,” the aide rejoined. “Yes, their strikes have been too accurate for coincidence. But they're not getting intel from the ground, not after they destroyed all ground transmitters and COMSATs. And the city shields prevent them from scanning for targets from orbit.”
“Yet after the shields fail, the damned furheads immediately target the generators and blast them to rubble. Immediately! And that's considering we've relocated generators around the globe twice!” The General shook his head. “No, my friend, they're getting intel, very good intel at that.”
Nineteen hours ago, ten Toldran battle cruisers had concentrated their full offensive batteries on the city of New Port. The city shield had held for the better part of an hour. But it had never been designed to withstand that kind of barrage. Once the plasma emitter burned out, all it took was a single cruiser to blast the generator complex into rubble. Then the Toldrans had picked off the weapons factories one by one. When that was done, the barrage stopped. Around the world, in city after city, it was the same story. Not only had the Toldran's known how much firepower it would take for the shields to fail, they had precisely known the locations of the shield generators.
The General shook his head in frustration. A full hour. For eight of the nine cities attacked, the Toldran cruisers had had a full, uninterrupted hour to park themselves in orbit and hammer at the shields. Before their third attack, a “space navy” had been hastily cobbled together. The General had argued that this navy, consisting of weaponized space shuttles and civilian space vessels, would be no match for the Toldran ships.
But when the third attack came, the ragtag fleet was deployed and promptly decimated. Two ships survived by virtue of being furthest from the Toldran fleet. They were recalled and redeployed to the Toldran home planet, their mission to report back everything they could gather with the array of scientific instruments they still had aboard. That had been the General's original proposal, the one that was ignored in favor of the pointless attack.
No one was ignoring the General any more.
There was a knock at the door. Absorbed in his own thoughts, the General hadn't noticed when his aide had left the office.
“Come,” said the General. Through the door entered the Chief of Intelligence. “Oh, it's you. Come in. Take a seat.”
The Chief sat in one of the polished, pseudo-leather chairs in front of the General's desk. Normally the President conferred with all her Chiefs of Staff, but the situation was such that protocol was giving way to practicality. The General had never thought much of protocol anyway.
“Any word from the two navy cruisers?” asked the General.
“They're still under radio silence. Our best estimates have them at seven days from Toldra.” The unspoken “if they haven't already been destroyed” remained so. “What did the President have to say?”
“She's preparing to surrender.”
The Chief nodded. It was no surprise, by now; it was expected if not overdue. “Let’s hope they accept.”
“Why wouldn't they?”
“They've got nothing to lose. We don't even know why they're attacking, much less why they're doing it they way they are, leaving our cities intact. Best theory we've got is that they want to do as little damage as possible so they can just move right on in. Maybe Toldra's got an overpopulation problem. Who knows? But if that's the case, what makes you think they're gonna leave any of us taking up space?”
The General considered this. “It makes sense. They haven't deployed any infantry because they don't have to. They're just cutting off food and water supplies… they're letting us starve.”
The Chief nodded. “And power. The elements and natural attrition will do the bulk of the work for them. Then they'll mop up what's left.” He hesitated for a moment.
“There's a new development. I didn't mention it earlier, afraid it might have been a fluke from the way it was discovered. It seems the Toldrans may be testing a new weapon.”
The General's eyes opened wide, his brow creased in surprise. “You have proof?”
“Before the last two Sky-net satellites went down, they recorded an energy burst within Boktor's city shield. Like I said, this was overlooked as an anomaly since the sats went down as they made the transmission. Boktor was attacked the following day, a precise strike that took down the shield and generator in less than an hour. Too coincidental. The sats were destroyed, but through the defense grid, I linked a sensor array to specifically detect any kind of unnatural energy bursts.”
“And?” The General had moved to the edge of his seat.
“And we've been able to detect two such bursts in each city that's been attacked so far.”
“But what does it mean? How do they get through the city shield?”
“That's what we're working on. We've only been able to detect their occurrence. No one has ever seen it, and data salvaged from destroyed generator plants has shown no anomalous readings. Whatever those bursts are, they're initiating from within the shields.”
“There must be a Toldran among the evacuees. He's going from city to city placing some sort of transmitter that pinpoints the locations of the generators.”
“We considered that. But the bursts are not always near the generators.” The Chief flipped through some data on a data pad. “In fact, in only two cases has there been a burst in the vicinity of a generator, and those were at least a quarter klick away.”
“But that makes no sense. Have the areas of the bursts been scanned?”
“Scans are inconclusive. By the time we get there, there's nothing left for the scanners to detect.”
“By the time you get there— what do you mean?”
“Well, with all that's going on, I haven't got the manpower to get an operative there immediately.”
“My men are at your disposal. Train them, do whatever you have to do to get them ready. I want someone there five minutes before a burst.”
“The President is holding an emergency Council session in forty-eight hours. I want reports on all the data you've collected along with factual conclusions and theories. And if a burst happens between now and then, I want an immediate investigation and results in my hands. This may just be what we need to prevent our surrender. I need all I can get to convince the Council.”
As the Chief left the office, the General was already contacting his artillery commanders. If these bursts were any indication of where a strike was going to take place, he had to restructure the defense grid.
* * *
“When was the last time you got any sleep?”
The General's eyes snapped open. The Chief was pale and gaunt-faced, his khaki uniform noticeably looser on his frame. The General wondered how he himself must look to others. He ignored the Chief’s question. “I've managed to convince the President to postpone the surrender,” he said instead. “We were in conference for eleven hours.”
“How long've we got?”
“Until we show that this information is saving lives. Failing that, surrender will be immediate. So tell me what you've got.”
“You already know about the burst in Retland.”
“Yeah. One burst, negligible residual energy—”
“There was another. My team was on it almost instantly. They put every kind of scanner in existence on it. Nothing.”
The General mulled this over quietly.
“But then they tried something different. They hit the area with amplified samples of the residual energy. And they got something back. Brain waves.”
The General was very alert. “What are brain waves?”
“The brain emits an electromagnetic field. Our scanners are not programmed to detect them since… well, for obvious reasons.”
“How do you know these didn't come from the team?”
“They were focused in one particular location. The focal point showed on displays as a six-foot tall by four-foot wide rectangle about six inches from the ground.”
“What the hell is it?”
“What is it?”
“A transdimensional doorway.” The Chief paused. But the General was silent. “I think they're sending intelligence operatives here to gather information on the shields. Such a doorway would be completely immune to shielding. It's something we had been working on before the war broke out. It was to have been the last link in the planetary def-net. The ability to mobilize infantry and artillery from any location on the globe to any other location instantly.”
“But why don't they do that, send troops through?”
“It's unnecessary. They're defeating us without losing a single life or committing any hardware. A small group can easily slip into a city, gather intel and report back.” He held up his hand, anticipating the General's next question. “We've checked all computer cores at each of the evacuated cities. They all show signs of tampering.”
The General pounded his fist into his hand. A beeping from his console interrupted what he was about to say. A field commander's face appeared on the screen.
“Sir, Retland is under attack,” the Commander reported, his excited voice betraying his recent promotion to the rank. “Your new deployments have been activated, and we've already taken down two Toldran battle cruisers.”
“How many in total are there, Commander?”
“How is the city shield holding up?”
The Commander read from a pad handed to him. “It's holding steady. We've gained twenty minutes by taking down the two cruisers.”
“Excellent news, Commander. I'll bring up the live feed here.”
The screen switched to a live tactical feed of the attack. The General looked up and found the Chief smiling. Then he realized that for the first time since this invasion began, he too was smiling.
* * *
The General spun in his seat as the door to his office flew open.
The Chief skidded to a halt in the doorway. “Oap… sorry. Madam President.” He inclined his head at the image on the screen.
“Please stay,” said the President. “I understand it's your team that's responsible for this turnaround.”
“With the General's leadership, Ma'am.”
“You've restored people's hope, beginning with mine.”
“I have greater news.” He closed the door behind him. “We've intercepted a Toldran intelligence team. We have the device.”
“You've gotten sleep,” said the Chief, sitting.
Bright-eyed, the General looked up from the screen in his desktop. “And you've been eating better.”
The Chief felt his face. “Had it been showing?”
“It had. What's the latest?”
“We've figured out how to activate the cube. It has that one black face...” The General nodded, remembering their earlier discussion on the topic. “That's what does it. But you won't believe this. The cube doesn't just activate the doorway, the cube is the doorway. It expands to form the doorway.”
“What kind of technology are we talking about here? If we weren't able to build one of these…”
“It's nothing we've ever seen before. We took a peek at the internals through a panel in the back, but there was nothing there we could understand. The Toldrans didn't invent this either.”
“Then there's more life out there?” He meant “more threats”, but there was no reason to add the unknown onto the current situation.
“Why not? Before the Toldrans, there were those who said we were the only ones.”
“But why would they assist the Toldrans by giving them this kind of technology?”
The Chief thought about that. “Perhaps the Toldrans invaded them as well.”
“If their tech is so advanced, I doubt it. But go on. Tell me about the doorway.”
“Remember the brain waves that allowed us to detect it in the first place, well, it turns out that thought controls where the doorway opens to. If you want it to open in a particular place, imagine that place as you step through the doorway. And there you are!”
“So you have control over it then?”
“Oh yes. It's very simple, really. There's a tab that protrudes from the top of the doorway, but we haven't determined its purpose yet.”
“Then let's put it to use in our favor. Tell me if this sounds possible based on what you know of the doorway: have someone imagine the inside of an attacking Toldran cruiser, then send through a bomb or two.”
“I'll run some sims and let you know.”
“Excellent. We'll try this little experiment with the cruisers first. If that works…” He trailed off, his eyes distant. He didn't even notice when the Chief left. Planetary defenses were up by ten percent since they had learned to anticipate attacks. While it was an improvement, they were still only reacting to attacks, and the Toldrans were already altering their tactics; no new energy bursts had been detected.
The General knew that the only way to win this would be to go on the offensive. Toldra could only produce so many cruisers; if he could take them out faster than they could be produced, then he could start production of a real defense fleet. Maybe they would never get to the point of defeating Toldra, but they would at least get to equal footing. And that would change everything.
There was a strike the following day on the city of Gresco. Without warning, ten Toldran cruisers opened fire simultaneously on the city shield. Planetary defenses responded quickly taking out four cruisers. Another four exploded from within. The last three retreated.
“To success,” toasted the General. He and the Chief held their cups high then drank.
“Ten cruisers,” laughed the Chief. “They've got to overkill since they can't get inside information anymore. That must have been their only doorway-cube.”
“But we've also lost our advanced warning.”
“But not our advantage.”
“No. Not yet. And I intend to keep it that way.”
The Chief peered at him. “You've had something else in mind for the doorway since yesterday. What're you planning?”
“Our two recon ships are one day away from Toldra. I want to give them a fighting chance, dammit. I want to use the doorway to attack Toldra actual.”
The Chief raised his eyebrows. “Wonderful plan,” he murmured. “We haven't encountered any limitation to the doorway's range. There should be no problem connecting it to Toldra from here.” Half to himself, “No one's ever been to Toldra. I wonder where the exit'll form if we simply imagine the planet.”
But the General wasn't listening. “Let's do it then. Before tomorrow.”
“I've got just the man. He's been the most successful at opening the doorway to just the right location on the ships so that we only need to deploy one explosive.”
“I'll inform the President. She'll want to witness this.”
“Ready when you are, Madam President,” the General said. Out of camera view, his hands gripped the arm of his chair anxiously. While he heard the activity from the President's war bunker through the audio connection, he was watching the live video feed from the test facility where their expert tactician was idly fiddling with what looked to the General like a basic die, minus the markers.
“We're ready here,” the President's voice rang clearly over the voices of her chiefs and other top military.
In the gray windowless room on the screen, the tactician, nodded. He looked ordinary, but he had everyone riveted. He was one of the military's top talents when it came to finding weaknesses in the enemy ships, and he was the best bet for analyzing Toldra the same way. His mission was clear: find the weakest defensive point on the planet and deploy a fusion device directly into it. First, he had to find the weak spot. The challenge was that no one had ever been to Toldra; all they knew was what they had studied from surveillance video and photos.
The man pressed the single black face and stepped back. The blue-glowing doorway opened, splashing its light across the large metal case that contained the weapon to be delivered through the doorway. The man appeared to be concentrating, and indeed the doorway was changing before their eyes.
The blue doorway flashed bright red. A shrill whistle grated its way out of the tinny speakers at the General's console. On the screen, the tactician recoiled from the sound. He rushed to the red-flashing doorway, his hand outstretched, reaching at once for the tab at the top, perhaps to shut it down. The General watched as a brilliant flare overloaded the cameras, and the screens went dark.
It took fourteen hours before they pieced together what had occurred. The reinforced bunker and the test facility that had housed it were gone, incinerated in a blast that would have done significantly more damage had it not been contained by the structure of the bunker. The transdimensional doorway was gone, and no trace of the cube was found despite an intensive search through the rubble. The conclusion of the report that the General read was that there was insufficient information known about the device to know if it had been destroyed by the blast or by a malfunction.
The Chief burst into the General's office. “Twin Recon just finished their flyby,” he reported, referring to the two recon craft by the new mission name. “The transmission's coming through.”
The General patched it through his terminal, and the screen behind his desk lit up, filled with the animated face of the Captain of Recon-1. He was speaking with someone from the mission control room.
“We've been getting some strange readings on the scopes for the last tweleve hours,” reported the Captain.
Messages had been sent to the Captains of both ships to inform them of the failed doorway test. It was assumed that a similar blast would have affected whatever was on the other side of the doorway. What they did not know was if the doorway had ever reached Toldra. The Captains of Twin Recon needed to know about the operation so they could report back of any evidence that Toldra had been affected. However, due to transmission delays, the messages would not yet have reached them.”
“Deceleration maneuvers have had most of our instruments pointing the wrong way, but we're turned around now an— By the gods! By the gods!”
A chill fell over the General's office. The look on the Captain's face was one of horror, not surprise. Something nagged at the General's mind.
“Recon-2 please confirm,” called the Captain of Recon-1. “Are you seeing what I'm seeing?”
There was a pause.
“We confirm, Recon-1,” came the answer. “Massive tectonic activity around the planet; the atmosphere is… it's burning Toldra has been destroyed. Repeat, Toldra has been destroyed.”
And then it dawned on the General.
“We did it,” he gasped. “We didn't imagine a ship or a city… we pictured the planet. We opened a transdimensional doorway into the core of a planet. We've destroyed the planet. We killed them all.”