Winners Take All

It seemed the sky itself was on fire. Ruby and sapphire beams crisscrossed in midair, arcing toward dozens of growing white points of light—cruisers from the Accord descending like falling stars on this most noncompliant of colony worlds. With all the firepower it was easy to forget it was nighttime.

“Randolph, get your ass over here!”

The young lieutenant did as he was told. The air crackled and smelled like a chemical fire.

“Comms are down. I need you to run double-time over to Firebase Jackal like you took a ghost pepper suppository and they’ve got the only aloe plant in the goddamn universe. You understand me?”

The general always had a special way with words—a real battlefield poet. Randolph nodded.

“Find Colonel Wayne. Tell him the Shackamaxon can’t jump until the gate station crosses over the horizon.” He smacked Randolph’s helmet. “Move, son!”

Randolph sprinted out of Battalion HQ to the hangar and straddled a flycycle, jetting out into the bright light of midnight warfare before he even activated the windshield array. The planet was already decimated, but symbolically it still mattered as a point of principle. The scorched black rock beneath the cycle had a natural shine that reflected every beam and kinetic burst in the tattered sky. There was so much smoke and burning ozone that he couldn’t even see what was being shot at anymore. Tonight was a pivotal moment in history, he thought; one that would not be celebrated.

It was a night of carnage.

He arrived at Firebase Jackal and asked for Colonel Wayne.

“The colonel’s dead.”

“Well then who is in charge? The Shackamaxon can’t jump. We need to—”

He was knocked to the floor and a hot white light crept over his flesh, up his pants and down his neck. He rolled over and saw an Accord cruiser had come down on top of Battalion HQ. The general was dead now, too.

He wondered in that moment if winning had ever been possible—for either side.

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