Gateway: The Gates of JanusEngineering Team’s Lounge, Working Quarters, Deck 317
Sol Gate, Delta Serpentis
5:32 PM Terran Standard Time, April 22, 2390
“To Earth.” Dr. Emily Velasquez raised her glass of Aldebaran nectar, savoring the faintly sour scent. After untold energy drinks and all-nighters, the good stuff was that much better.
“To your home.” Her colleague, Dr. Nebwawy, hesitated for a moment before returning the Terran’s gesture. They could barely hear the clink of glasses over the din of their colleagues’ raucous cartoon marathon.
“Oh, and to a trillion GCs’ worth of government funding.”
Nebwawy was as silent as usual, but Emily noticed him returning her toast with great relish. The gangly, beige Vasudan paid the wider celebration no mind.
Emily brushed that one annoying strand of black hair out of her eyes. She'd spent an hour fretting over her green, semi-casual ensemble, and was happy to have a semi-private chat with her coworker rather than risk spilled drinks at the main party. At least the outfit nicely accentuated her tan, slightly-pudgy figure.
Out the lounge’s massive viewport, another Earther diplomatic transport arrived from Sol through a cyan vortex. Fifth one since the Gate had fired up. The compact, slate-gray vessel- Corvus-class, Emily recalled- flew by the viewport. Dr. Velasquez stood up and waved; she thought she caught a glimpse of gray-uniformed EA crew waving back through the viewports.
The Terran engineer chuckled. “Pilots are pilots, Earth or Alliance.” She took a sip of her nectar, making sure to swish the Vasudan drink around her mouth to get just the right tangy flavor.
Nebwawy let the conversation hang for a few interminable seconds. Even after Emily's eight years working beside the Vasudan metallurgy expert, he was still as hard to read as ever.
“Four decades ago, Khonsu of fond memory proposed a great work. One by which both our species would be safeguarded forevermore.”
Emily took a few seconds to parse his reference, then her smile went taut. “I know, a people birthed in sorrow and all that, but can’t you just let us Terrans have our one moment of peaceful reunion with our lost brothers? Sheesh.”
“Merely a timely caution, Emily. No fleet or great project can shield us from this harsh cosmos. We cannot let it catch us sleeping.”
Emily avoided his gaze. I do not want to have this conversation again.
She glimpsed four trails of plasma, pulling off from the defense fleet and stopping behind the Corvus. The EA transport came to a sudden halt.
Eager for a distraction, she gestured to the scene outside the viewport. “Look, our glorious fleet just caught some Earther smugglers. Better not turn into a diplomatic incident.” She forced a chuckle.
Nebwawy gazed intently at the little tableau. Then he swiftly stood up, motioning to another group of plasma trails approaching the Gate. And another. And one of the massive Hecate-class destroyers, rumbling into motion.
Emily’s shoulders tensed. “It’s just an exercise, right?”
The dulcet tones of the PA cut off Nebwawy’s response. “All personnel, Code Zeta Four. Repeat, Code Zeta Four.” Shutting down the Gate, and all personnel to duty stations? But why, unless-
A massive cerulean vortex sprang into existence, disgorging a grey-plated and t-shaped warship. For four slow seconds, the behemoth thundered past the viewport, like an onrushing storm blotting out their vision. Our Father, who art in heaven…
“What do the Earthers think they’re-“ “-told you they’d backstab-“ Engineering Team’s celebration devolved into chaos as they dropped popcorn bowls and bolted for the exit. The screen cut out as the Gate’s emergency protocols kicked in, while the lights dimmed and turned a harsh red. Blue exit paths flashed into existence on the walls and flooring.
Emily was still transfixed, gripping the table as warship after warship followed the behemoth. A cloud of plasma trails boiled out from the EA fleet, engulfing and extinguishing the Allied fighters. Silver flashes cut through the blackness, stabbing into the Hecate. The old Terran warhorse weakly returned fire, striking a decelerating H-shaped destroyer with her azure lances, but to no visible effect. Flashes of fusion bombs heralded the Hecate’s end, as her ruptured reactors consumed her in a fireball. All over in three minutes.
She felt a vicegrip on her shoulder, a surprise from the gangly Nebwawy. “We leave. Now!”
Forcing herself to her feet, Emily turned away and bolted out of the lounge with Nebwawy at her feet. “Thanks.”
A brief nod. He was plainly keeping pace with her, as they chased after their departed colleagues. A noisy mass of humanity was boiling out the doors and pressing in around them, cutting the two off.
“All station personnel, we are under attack. This is no drill.”
“Nebwawy, guess you-“ “-oh, sorry, sir-” –she slipped past an elderly Hispanic man as they rounded the corridor- “were right.”
For once, he looked her in the eyes. “Now, we wake.”