The stricken Confederate flagship bore inexorably down upon the last surviving Alliance planet, debris and weapons fire rebounding from its massive black prow like ping pong balls off a Volvo. As the ship roared silently through a field of rubble from the planet’s destroyed moon, an enormous rock brushed against it, scoring the paint beneath its mile-long identity plate as though some gargantuan unseen hand were underlining its name on a cosmic blackboard: The End of All Things. All around a swarm of Alliance fighters and destroyers sparked and spat at the mighty behemoth as it began to decelerate, easing its 400-mile bulk into the approach vector that would lead it to its final rendezvous, its reason for being, and ultimately, its death.
Yes, The End of All Things was dying. The mechanical virus introduced into its management core by Alliance infiltrators was killing the ship like a cancer, and with it was perishing the last hope of the Confederacy. For The End was more than a flagship. It was a weapon of planetary-mass destruction. Its designers had harnessed the unfathomable power of gravity and turned it into a usable force that could shake apart a ship, an asteroid…a world.
It was never meant to be used; the terrifying, apocalyptic destructive power of the sector’s first and only planet-killer was supposed to be the ultimate deterrent, the incontrovertible argument that was to bring the leaders of the Stellar Alliance swiftly to the negotiating table to sue for peace after 170 debilitating years of war and implacable conflict. And it might have worked – if it wasn’t for the fact that their enemy had the same fears and weaknesses as the Confederacy senators. They too had been preparing an ultimate deterrent, and as their spies gathered intelligence on The End of All Things, and set about to sabotage it, the supercomputer strategists in whom the Alliance had placed their trust synthesised, and speculated, and simulated, and came up with the inevitable conclusion for which no organic life-form would take responsibility: the only sure way to escape destruction was to strike first, without warning, without quarter…without delay.
So they acted. Fifty destroyers of the Stellar Alliance fleet were hurriedly equipped with modified weapons capable of delivering the crowning achievement of a century’s scientific research – a viral toxin so potent and swift that whole planetary populations could be wiped out in a few days. Indeed, said the scientists, fire enough missiles at strategic targets around a planet simultaneously, and this “operational success time” would be reduced to a matter of hours…and that is what they did. First crippling spaceports and orbital shipyards so that no-one should escape, the Alliance destroyers visited each of the 22 planets of the Confederacy within the space of 50 hours, punching enough viral torpedoes through their enemy’s overstretched defence nets to ensure the annihilation of all Confederate life.
The first target was naturally the hidden spacedock where The End of All Things was nearing completion. The destroyer charged with this vital mission, the Hope of Redemption, dropped out of hyperspace with its fighter guard and barged its way through the perimeter defence, just in time to see a colossal black bulk easing away from the dock and powering up its main engines. For the Alliance saboteurs had been captured as they tried to make their escape, and the Confederate engineers and crew had scrambled in a state of high alert to get their mighty ship ready to fly. The cascading effect of the ingenious mechanical virus that had been introduced into its vital organs was irreversible, but they had managed to slow it right down. There would be just enough time for the mission.
The Hope of Redemption took one shot to pierce the spacedock’s wall with a viral torpedo and then turned its attention to the great ship itself. Every weapon in its arsenal blazed and screamed and pounded on the unyielding hull as The End came slowly about, swinging its secondary weapon turrets ponderously into position. Finally, in desperation the Hope’s captain ordered his ship to ramming speed and prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice…and then The End of All Things opened fire. Silently, invisibly, two focussed gravity beams played over the destroyer’s body. One second later the Alliance’s Hope of Redemption shattered into a million pieces, along with the yapping flotilla of fighters sent to guard it. The Confederate flagship turned lazily, wound up its hyperspatial engines, and disappeared.