Beyond the Sky: Chapter 40

Mutually Assured Destruction

  “Your codes, sir,” Warmaster Nellan demanded, again. “Now.”  
“This is madness!” Prime Minister Wirar put a hand over his chest pocket. “We’ll be destroyed, for sure!” He recalled the official fallout shelters, and his tours thereof, but knew then as now they were little more than lavish tombs.
Nellan pointed to the projection boards. “Any second now, hundreds of Malgie missiles are going to appear on those screens, and if we don’t retaliate before they arrive, all will be lost.”
Then it’s lost!” Wirar shouted. “Firing back won’t change anything, our fates are written!”
“That is the enemy!” Nellan hissed.
“I’ll not be party to the death of millions!”
Delvar looked aghast.
You useless parliamentary windbag!” Nellan snapped his fingers, guards approached with pistols drawn. Reaching into the Prime Minister’s pocket, he produced his codes. “Your verification?”
Wirar straightened up, and remained silent. Nellan tossed the plastic slip aside and turned to an officer:
“Call up Themedian Mountain, issue new codes!”
“It’ll take time, sir!”
Nellan glared.
On the balcony above, the doors burst open.
Father!” Princess Takji bounded in, followed by a hulking Trinn whom Wirar took for a bodyguard or secret agent. She paused, ears folding back as she took in the War Room chatter and alarms. King Delvar, standing below, looked like he saw a ghost.
“How?” Delvar said, as she reached him.
“It’s...” she paused, “Long story.”
“Spirits help me; you shouldn’t be here! You must get out of the city, the Malgies will strike at any moment!”
“You mustn’t launch!” Takji said, and blurted, “It wasn’t them!”
Nellan turned back from the launch-control console. “And you know this, how?”
She glanced back to Toras. He said:
“My investigations in Jepsei suggested a plot by Deep Ones and Stilt-Striders to recover and detonate a nuclear weapon to provoke an international confrontation.”
“Bold claim,” Nellan said. A phone rang, he lifted it. “Excellent. Majesty, we may proceed with launch.”
“Sensors show missile siloes open in both Mespreth and the Amalgamation,” Heather said.
“This is it.” Benson buckled his harness. At what point should he start firing into open siloes? “Remember folks, every warhead we scrag is a city saved!”
No!” Takji moved towards the console, Delvar grabbed her arm. The officer entered the third code, and the monochrome screen flashed a confirmation prompt.
Delvar said, grimly, “What choice do we have?”
The boards still showed no missiles. Yet. “Call them! Call the Malgies, propose a stand-down. They don’t want this any more than you!”
“Shall we proceed with launch, My King?” asked Nellan.
Takji met her father’s eyes. “Please.”
The general-quarters alarm continued blaring, Benson did nothing but listen. Seconds crawled by, then a minute.
Heather tapped her screens. “It should’ve happened by now.”
Challenger’s tracking displays remained unchanged: nothing but satellites, space stations, and a few odd rocks snagged by Lemuria’s gravity.
Delvar spoke into a yellow phone. “I understand and sympathize, High Minister. Yes. Agreed.” He hung up. “Cancel the launch.”
Takji let out her breath. The launch officer hit a button, and the infernal numbers disappeared from his screen.
“I’ve agreed to a five-hour phased stand-down, and a withdrawal of all forces, Mespreth and Amalgamation, from the Forsaken Lands pending an investigation into the cause of this blast.” All across the War Room, people cheered. He rose from his chair and went over to Takji. “I—we owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you. You’ll make a fine Queen, one day.”
His expression upon reaching Prime Minister Wirar was far less pleasant. He hissed, “Be glad this is secret, or you would hang for treason! I expect your resignation before day’s end!”
Captain Benson leaned back, and wiped the sweat from his brow while his bridge crew rejoiced. This planet would live, at least one more day. “Stand down from general quarters, and recall our people.” He stood. “I’ve got one hell of a report to make.”

Cover image: by Arek Socha


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