Part IV: Unshakable Resolve

It wasn’t until after Garret and the soldiers under his command had wrapped and secured the bodies of Sergeant Anya Patel and Private Jose Maldanado that he endeavored to answer Private Anders’ question. Jose had been rushing for—and made the most successful attempt at reaching—the navigation console. His objective had been clear: take the ship out of warp.

“It seems to be the core part of the warp sickness,” Garret began, his surviving contingent of five awakened soldiers circled him on the bridge. “It’s commonly known that experiencing sustained amounts of time in warp space invokes madness. The Solarian Monarchy has kept many of the details regarding this madness classified. However, given that we are in open rebellion against the Monarchy, I can share the information I have with you, should you be interested.”

He looked around the circle. The initial contingent of awakened soldiers hadn’t asked Grace’s question. However, at the time, they had all been regaining their bearings. They’d been so consumed with the initial shock of it all. They’d also been too busy restraining the first of their number who’d succumbed to the madness.

Captain Andre Freeman and Private Grace Anders exchanged a long look. Ensigns Williams, Carth, and Jacobs remained silent. Captain Freeman cleared his throat. “I’d like a more detailed explanation, sir.”

Another glance around the circle conveyed no objections. Garret sighed. “Very well then. Here’s what we know.

“The symptoms are consistent: visual and auditory hallucinations, combined with headaches, nausea, and symptoms of uneasiness. I doubt I need to describe these to you in any further detail.”

Indeed, he was experiencing such symptoms even as he spoke. The crimson haze occluded nearly everything immediately outside the perimeter of their circle. Snaking tendrils of darkness crawled across surfaces that, upon being touched, revealed no contamination. And then there was that wretched buzzing that tried to whisper words into his mind.

“No one has identified exactly what causes these sensations,” he continued. “Any science team the Solarians deployed was lost before any substantive data could be retrieved. The most prevalent theory states that the warp exudes a kind of radiation that disrupts neurological activity.

“What this theory does not explain is why the reported symptoms are so consistent, and why the message received is always the same: ‘Get out, get down.’ Perhaps it is a biological imperative. On some level, our minds know we find ourselves in an unnatural environment. It might thus be understandable that we would hallucinate stimuli driving us to leave said environment.”

He felt like he should say more, some concluding remark that would inspire confidence in the awakened crew regarding their ability to survive this. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind. Jax was not one for lying to others for the sake of their feelings.

Grace Anders broke the silence. “Why don’t we, then? Why can’t we just drop out of warp space and figure out what went wrong?”

Captain Freeman spoke up. “Warp space doesn’t work like normal space. If we drop out in the middle of our plotted course, there’s no telling where we might end up. That includes ending up in patches of solid matter like asteroids, moons, or planets. Sol’s light, we could end up in the center mass of a star for all we know. Warp space doesn’t take into account the presence of physical objects in normal space-time. The risks are too great.”

“But is it possible?” asked Ensign Williams, a young blond man who seemed to be in his early 20s. “I mean, it’s not like we’re completely safe staying in warp space, right?”

“Debatable,” said Ensign Jacobs. He had reported to Garret earlier that he was with the engineering team. “We could start the spin down early, but it’s not an immediate response. We would also lose the AI navigational sensors that are normally engaged when coordinating an emergence point. There’d be no dodging any small objects in the way, and like Captain Freeman has stated, no avoiding large masses either.”

Garret nodded. That matched his understanding. He waited a moment to see if the others had any questions.

Anders had one more. “So, what malfunctioned? Why are we awake? And why are these goddamn sirens sounding?”

Heaving a sigh, Garret said, “Ensign Carth, can you tell the rest of the group what you told me earlier?”

Jason Carth looked uncomfortable at being called out but complied with the directive. “Radiation wave,” he reported. “With most of our sensors offline for the warp, we can’t determine much more than that. It could have been anything from an interstellar mine to a supernova.”

“But you were all brought out of hibernation before me,” Grace continued. “Did that mean there were two waves? Could there be more coming?”

Garret nodded. “We experienced a second wave around the time when you awakened. That’s why we were monitoring the lift. In our experience, we were all drawn to the bridge. We assumed that anyone else would find their way up here.”

“Then was I the only one who woke up in the last wave?”

Shit. In the aftermath of the current incident, Garret hadn’t considered there might be others awake. They should have still been monitoring the elevator.

Ensign Williams spoke again. “I took the liberty of locking down the elevator, sir. No attempts have been made to utilize it. Either Private Anders was the only one to experience a pod malfunction the last wave, or any others have not attempted to access the bridge.”

It was so nice to have good people. “Thank you, Ensign. You read my mind.”

“No problem, sir.”

The group went quiet once more. Eventually, it was Grace who spoke again. “How much time before we arrive at New Gaia?”

Garret glanced at Andre Freeman. “Thirty-six hours, sir.”

A day and a half. They could last that long. They just needed to take appropriate precautions. “We’ll sleep in shifts,” Garret declared. “Eight hours on, eight hours off. Captain Freeman, you Ensign Carth, and Ensign Jacobs will sleep for the first shift. Private Anders, Ensign Williams, and I will take the second. Do your best to make yourselves comfortable. We’ll all remain on the bridge in case there are any incursions.”

Or if one of us decides to go crazy, he thought blithely. It was the best course of action he could think of at the time. The fates of more than just the six who were present were at stake. If their mission proved unsuccessful, the entire rebellion might fall.

And that was one thing that Jax could not abide.


Grace awoke from a sleep far deeper than anything she’d experienced outside of cryo. That was saying a lot given that she was sleeping on steel deck plating with only her arm as a pillow. Said arm was now numb, and her shoulder was sore as hell.

She forced herself up and tried to focus her bleary eyes. Had she awake before her shift? If she’d been laying bets, she would have sworn someone would have woken her for her watch rather than her waking naturally. That was, of course, assuming she’d have managed to fall asleep on her own, which she had obviously succeeded in.

Captain Freeman was asleep in a chair at a console a short distance from her. He was on the first shift, right? Shit, had he fallen asleep on duty? Williams was still down to her right. Was anyone keeping watch?

“Relax,” Garret reassured in his dulcet tones. “I let you and Williams keep resting. The guard was exchanged per protocol.”

Grace’s eyes followed the direction of the voice to find General Jax standing propped against the back of the command chair. In the execution of his authority, that would be his chair to occupy. Right now, though, he leaned on it as if he disdained the damn thing and everything it stood for.

She ran a hand through the mess of her blonde hair. She noticed then that she’d neglected to tie back her locks upon waking from cryo. As a result, her tresses were now well and thoroughly tangled. Good thing she didn’t have anyone to impress with her appearance right now.

“How long was I out,” she croaked, rubbing her eyes.

“A little over twenty-six hours,” Jax reported without looking at her. Instead, his eyes were on the forward viewscreen which displayed the erratic and illusionary colors of warp space.

That meant she’d slept through her entire shift. Williams too. “Captain Freeman let you monitor us alone?”

“I conversed with Captain Freeman in the last hours of his shift. I assured him I would wake you when I needed you.”

Grace couldn’t stop the frown that twisted her face. “Seems like you put an awful lot of faith in your self-control. Don’t you think that was a bit risky, given the lives still on this ship?”

Jax turned, narrowed eyes staring her down. Only then did she realize she had been rebuking a superior officer. Not just a superior officer, but the superior officer. She managed a half-hearted, “Sir,” as she lowered her gaze.

“It’s okay, Private Anders. I don’t expect you to understand.” He turned his eyes back to the forward viewscreen.

That had been the last thing Grace had expected him to say. She made her way to her feet. “Help me understand, sir.”

Another narrow-eyed glance. “What has you so interested?”

“Permission to speak freely?”


“I want to know why you’re bearing the weight of an entire crew while we’re stuck for—” she paused to think for a moment “—roughly nine more hours. Particularly when you need to be ready for combat command upon emergence from warp space.”

Garret voiced a deep-throated chuckle. “Private Anders, are you invested in this fight?”

A sudden chill ran through her. It was enough to silence the buzzing, enough to almost clear her vision of the omnipresent haze. Did he know?

“Of course, sir,” she replied perfunctorily. If he knew anything about her treachery, she wasn’t going to confirm the suspicions. Regardless, her concerns were still valid.

Even though Grace fully expected this incursion to fail against the entrenched Theracite and Solarian forces, she had planned to make a convenient exit on a drop ship at the earliest opportunity. The Solarians and their allies forces would protect her for the intel she possessed. Further, she wouldn’t be an expended asset. There would, undoubtedly be other survivors from the encounter. She could reconvene with Gaian forces and continue her espionage operation going forward. She was a critical asset. They needed her.

She just had to make it off this dark-fated ship first.

Another deep chuckle. “You aren’t invested like I am.” He looked away.

“Then tell me, sir.”

He didn’t answer at first. He only stared into the insane kaleidoscope shown on the forward display. His chest heaved with a deep breath. “I’ve staked my entire life on this rebellion, Anders. I’ve given up everything precious to meet to see this fight to its end. It’s going to take more than a few hallucinations and frayed nerves to make me stop now.”

When it seemed like he wasn’t going to elaborate, she prompted, “Go on.”

After a brief hesitation, he acquiesced. “We were the first to give up ambrosia during the Fountain’s Drought. As a result, my son looks as though he could be my grandfather. My wife is long dead. Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews… those that are still alive don’t even recognize me. I gave up my family, my legacy, to provide freedom to New Gaia, Nova Solace, and Zion Ga’al.”

The General dipped his head, bringing a heavy hand to his temple. “I know whatever this thing, this abjuration of the warp, says, is all in my head. It’s not me. I have no fear of the warp. I know, with absolute certainty, that if we do not succeed in our mission, my sacrifice will be in vain.”

Jax turned to Grace. Even without his gilded tricorn cap and cape, the general framed an imposing figure. Despite knowing the parties to which she’d sold her soul, Grace felt the sudden urge to kneel.

“That is why I let you sleep, Private Anders,” he concluded. “There’s nothing in this universe that will dissuade me from our mission. You and the others need your rest. In a few hours, we will determine whether all these sacrifices—mine, yours, the crew’s—have been worth it.”


Garret did sleep briefly after his conversation with Private Anders, but only once Captain Freeman and Ensign Williams had awakened. By then, there were only five hours left in transit. Garret slept for almost three of those. He awoke from his quick slumber with as much alertness as the warp would allow him.

When they were within one hour out, he unlocked the navigation console. He studied the interface and failed to hide the frown that contorted his mouth.

“What’s wrong?” asked Captain Freeman, appearing just over his shoulder.

“I’m not sure,” Garret replied truthfully. According to the mission timer, the ship should have started its spin-down process. Currently, they were still traveling at maximum warp.

He inserted his ring finger into the console. “Ship, initiate warp exit protocols, authorization ‘Jax-Gamma-64213.’” He felt a tiny needle pierce the pad of his finger and the expected tingle as the ship scanned his neurolace to confirm his authentication.

The ship’s soft androgenic voice chimed in Garret’s ear. “Error. Warp-exit systems corrupted. Proceed with manual override?”

Shit. He was afraid that had happened. “Override confirmed. Begin immediate spin-down and cryogenic awakening protocols. Transmit order package delta-omega to all ship personnel. Begin emergency maintenance to damaged systems immediately.”

“Warning,” the ship chimed. “Preliminary analysis reports thirty-four hibernation pods have opened prematurely. One-hundred, sixty-seven are non-responsive.”

Garret was glad that the message had been delivered privately into his earpiece rather than aloud to his cadre of companions. Thirty-four? Damn it… where had the others gone? Were they safe? What had they been doing this whole time?

And the others… one-hundred, sixty-seven non-responsive pods. One-hundred, sixty-seven soldiers lost. They hadn’t seen combat yet.

“Ignore no responsive pods. Awaken the others.”

“Acknowledged,” said the ship.

Jax pulled free of the interface and turned to his companions. “We’ve done all we can,” he said, answering the unspoken questions in their eyes. “We have one hope of making it out of here alive. That hope is total victory. Either we liberate Ourea from Solarian control, destroy the Theracite occupation force, and link up with our allies planet-side, or we die. We either die fighting, or we die in a Solarian internment camp.”

He straightened to his full height, banishing all doubt from his mind. “I, for one,” he continued, “have come too far to give up now. This is a day that will be marked forever in the interstellar histories. I, for one, refuse to have it be the story of how the Rebellion crumbled. I refuse to let that be my story, my legacy.

“We are here because we believe in the right for mankind to be self-governing. We are here because we have rejected the notion that some tyrant at the ass-end of the galaxy has the right to abuse his citizens and rape our worlds to further enrich his personal treasury. We are here because we think there is a path forward for humanity: one that does not require the slaughter of any person, planet, or species that refuses to bend their will to the crown.”

He fell silent for a moment, letting his words sink in. After a span of heartbeats, he lowered his tone, taking in his soldiers with a single sweep of his gaze.

“I have only one question for you now, my friends: ‘Are you with me?