Zahn and the expeditionary force had reached Hardika just as the new galactic cycle began. Feverishly they had worked to establish communications and initiate active scans of the surrounding systems.
The situation was more desperate than we had feared. Although we had beaten the Anka to this arid, empty world, our new scanners showed their main attack fleet was surging towards our exhausted troops with their single, solitary scout ship.
All thoughts of further expansion were quickly abandoned and Zahn’s authorisation to retreat was ready to be datastamped. High command wasn’t willing to lose one of their most experienced commanders so cheaply. Privately they knew the Anka were winning too many battles already.
On Hardika the sun rose lazily over the horizon, in stark contrast to the mad rush of panicked figures seeking to evacuate from its surface. But even as they busied themselves, every eye was drawn skywards…
They all saw it, sliding gracefully across the sky.
A perfect ring silhouetted against the crimson sun.
Apparently shielded by a moon when they had first arrived, the hulking, ancient warp gate seemed intact and as soon as Zahn’s carrier approached, its systems began powering up.
Desperately the tactical computers of the Empire whirred, replaying countless strategies, using this new scrap of information to try and save Zahn’s crew and their newly claimed conquest. In an instant Zahn died a million times, the planet was lost again and again. It seemed the Anka were victorious in every reality.
For all the laser diodes and artificial intelligence subroutines it was Zahn himself who came up with the out, that one way to keep the world and his life. We only had 3 warp gates linking our existing 14 star systems and the cost of ever constructing more would have been crippling to our economy. Indeed, to some parts of our race they were religious artefacts, messages from the Gods themselves.
Defensive fleets were poised to consolidate our claim, but would arrive minutes after the wretched invaders. To make matters worse scans showed our enemies own velocity had already increased. Their defensive Stronghold on the shattered moon of Tau must have possessed a similar relic.
Zahn’s plan was to destroy the gate, but the timing had to be impeccable. It must be offline only minutes before the enemy fleet would arrive. Even then the two fleets, the Anka aggressors and our valiant defence forces would arrive at the same instant. It would be only Zahn’s lone carrier with its detailed scans of the system and frenetic battle preparations that would gift us the defensive bonuses we needed to annihilate the hellish spawn screaming towards us.
It took less than four hours to retrofit a sublight drive to the gate, a redundant shuttle was cannibalised for the process, and at the allotted mark Zahn used remote access to steer it into the heart of the ancient red star.
As it was consumed in a blue flash Zahn whispered a quiet prayer for all those who were about to die, both alien and friend.
The Battle of Hardika was inevitable, but even before it started the cost of the fight was too high…