The Doomed Voyage: Part 1

From the logs of Hoplite Sutton Asher: Two million credits. That was the price of my soul. And if I’m being perfectly honest, he could have bought me for less than half that. I’d grown

From the logs of Hoplite Sutton Asher:

Two million credits. That was the price of my soul. And if I’m being perfectly honest, he could have bought me for less than half that.

I’d grown up poor—too poor to buy my way out of the draft when the war broke out. So I got sent off to a training base in the outer colonies for six months before being handed a rifle and shipped out on a battle frigate. It took another two months to reach the front lines. And by the time we did, the war was over.

Not that it’s any excuse for what I did.

Word filtered down from the upper ranks that our ship had been requisitioned to carry some high-ranking officer and his retinue back from the front. All I could think was: great, two more months of mind-numbing drudgery just so some over-paid, blood-soaked warlord could get home a little sooner.

That’s when General Anthony Cantrell contacted me with his offer: two million credits, all mine, as long as General Calix Weston didn’t make it home.

I didn’t know why one general would want another dead, but at the time, that hardly seemed like the most important point.

Now, I’d never killed a man—heck, I’d barely even fired my rifle before—but I figured a little accident would be enough to get the job done. I waited until we’d left the fleet behind to get started. Engineering wasn’t really my strong suit either, but it seemed to me that a minor conduit explosion wouldn’t be too hard to arrange.

The general’s quarters were on a separate level from us common soldiers, so there wasn’t much risk to the men and women I’d spent the last few months with. Just the brass and his entourage. A simple clog at the end of the conduit junction should have been just enough to blow out a few rooms, nothing more. But I must have gotten the ratios wrong.

Instead of torching a cabin or two, the explosion I set off ripped our battle frigate in half.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget that day. The sounds of screaming men and metal, all swallowed in the heartless vacuum of space. The searing, unbearable heat as the hunk of frigate that sheltered me dove madly into the atmosphere of a planet I hadn’t even realized we were approaching.

My last thought, before the forces of gravity drained all the blood from my brain granting me a merciful oblivion, was: I never wanted this for the rest of you.


“Martel! Give me a hand, there’s another one down here.”

Pain and heat flooded through me and—slowly—consciousness followed.

“Sir, we should be looking for a troop carrier, or a drop ship, something that can get us all off this rock, not more mouths to feed.”

It was pitch dark, but somehow I knew it wasn’t night. No dream or nightmare that I’d wake from either.

“I’m not leaving anyone.”

Something pressed me flat against the decking and held me there. I tried to push myself up, but my body refused.

Maybe it’s the weight of my guilty conscience.

Something shifted above me. I strained to turn toward it, but my head wouldn’t move. A light flickered briefly above me, then a crack opened in the blackness, and then a window.

Two men strained at what was left of an access hatch. After a moment, one slipped down into the darkness with me. “Can you move, lad?”

“N-no.” The word slipped from my mouth into the decking.

“Martel, drop us a light.”

The man above unclipped a beacon from his belt and let it fall.

The red glow filled the little cabin, and the first man let out a low sigh.

“You’re in a bad way, but I think we can get you out of here. Just hold on.”

There was nothing I could do but wait and listen as he heaved the weight off my back.

“I won’t lie to you, lad, this next bit’s going to hurt.” His confidence was disarming, despite the promise of his words. “But bear with me, and we’ll get you back in fighting shape in no time.”

Painful didn’t begin to cover it.

He peeled me from the bulkhead like an egg from a pan, leaving globs of my flesh where they’d melted into the decking.

I shrieked and spasmed until my mind fled back to the comfort of unconsciousness.

When next I awoke, I was laying in a makeshift shelter. My face and arms had been bandaged, but pain—or at least its phantom—still clung to me.

Sunlight shone brightly through the cracks in my hovel.

How long was I out? And where was I now?

The door opened, and a man stepped in. His uniform was as torn and scorched as mine, but there was no mistaking it for anything but a general’s.

And there was only one general on our ship.

“Good, you’re awake.” I recognized his voice instantly.

“You saved me? Sir.” I winced and tried to salute, but he waved the gesture away.

“Save your strength, lad. We’ll need every able-bodied man we can get if we ever want to leave this rock.”

He doesn’t know I was responsible for the explosion.

I lay back down. “You should have let me die.”

“Too many good men have died, Hoplite. I refuse to let this cowardly attack claim any more than it already has.

Cowardly. Stupid is more apt.

“What’s your name?”

“Sutton Asher, Sir.”

“Pleased to meet you, Hoplte Asher. I’m Calix Weston. And I swear on my life, we’ll make it back to Ithacor again.”

“If I may, Sir, what happened?”

What does he know?

He nodded grimly. “I’m not entirely sure myself. Best I can tell, there was an explosion on the command deck, which cascaded through the power conduits until it hit the main engine, shattering the whole frigate. My men are out looking for anything that might be salvageable from the wreckage.”

“How many survived?” I could barely force the question through my lips, even though it was the only thing I could think of.

“So far, we’ve only found twenty-eight.”

“Twenty-eight?” My voice caught in my throat.

There had been over three hundred men and women stationed aboard my ship.

What had I done?

The general didn’t speak for a moment. “It seems only our half of the ship made planetfall. The other is still in orbit. Until we can get up there, there’s no way to tell if they fared any better than us.”

Another man burst into the room. “Forgive the intrusion, General, but we’ve found a functional carrier. It’s designated the Odyssey.”

“Excellent. Get some rest, Asher, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us.” He rose to leave.

“Why did this happen? What was so important that we were rushing you back to Ithacor?” I didn’t try to hide the pain and anger in my voice. Though most of that rage was reserved for myself, the idiot who made this happen.

“I can’t say for certain. I was going home to be reunited with my wife. She’s a prominent voice in the assembly and we’ve both made plenty of enemies since this war started. Any one of them might have had reason to try and kill me. But I don’t know how they managed to sabotage our ship mid-flight.”

For two million lousy credits.

To Be Continued…

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