"It would be better if the children died with us."
Ron looked away from Rita as she finished the sentence, biting his lip to keep the erupting emotions inside his heart from exploding and ruining this last hope. As he took a deep, wavering breath, he gathered his thoughts for one more attempt.
"They would live." His eyes narrowed as he watched for her reaction.
But she only stared back in silence.
"I know, we've failed terribly. All our plans, ruined now." Ron cleared his throat, pushing his rising emotions aside as his vision blurred momentarily. "The 'M' ship is well stocked with food and supplies. We figured almost fifty people on board with us, a year's worth in case the worst happened. And now it has ..."
A thick silence settled between them.
"We could order it so easily," Ron whispered. "At least your two children, and my Jaric, would live."
Rita closed her eyes, obviously fighting back her tears. "They won't have anyone," she whispered. "Loneliness will kill them."
Ron waited, watching her shoulders begin to shake. The harsh ceiling lights glinted off her auburn hair fell as she buried her face in her hands. A stifled sob pierced the room.
She is so beautiful. Her husband, John, had been Ron's closest friend before his death at the battle of Kaldon. His own wife had died not long afterward, having allowed their only son, Jaric, to take the final slot on the last starship out of LondonPrime.
These last two years Ron had felt such emptiness inside his heart, inside his life. Life without Karen had almost been unbearable. It had only been working so closely with Rita, integrating their AI program into the 'M' ship, that had kept him sane.
Sweet Rita, Ron thought again. If only things had been different. If only there had been more time.
If only the world were not ending.
Dr. Ron Byron walked over and placed his ebony hand across her shoulder.
"Let them go," Ron whispered reassuringly. "Let them live."
Rita looked up, her blue eyes filled with sadness. "They'll have no one to love them. No one to care for them." Rita's face grimaced as though some great, powerful force were destroying her. Her breath grew rapid and shallow, but still she forced her words. "They'll be alone. So alone, Ron. It will kill them, even if the T'kaan don't."
The room around them lurched.
Broken glass exploded all around them as dozens of jars crashed to the laboratory floor. Screaming, Rita fell into Ron's arms.
For a brief, eternal moment, complete darkness filled their senses. In a flicker, the lights returned. But now they knew how short their time really was.
"The final attack has started." Fearfully, Ron looked at the ceiling. Almost one mile through the solid rock above his head, the fated event had begun.
"We're running out of time, Rita. Send the instructions to the 'M' ship," Ron pleaded.
Without warning, the door opened.
General Lo strode inside with two of his senior aides. His face was a scowl as he looked around the littered room. But as Lo started speak, the officer to his left whispered into his ear.
"Save our children. Now!" Ron whispered urgently.
Rita wiped her eyes quickly and stood to face the imposing form of Lo, almost as if she hadn't heard Ron.
"Is the detonation sequence for the weapon ready?" the general asked.
Rita's face broke into a tear-stained grin. She laughed at General Lo, a brief and false sound.
General Lo glared at her and then turned his harsh gaze to Ron. "The entire T'kaan fleet has closed on us like alien vultures to watch the final kill. They've beaten us into a corner and forced our hand. I see no humor in this."
General Lo looked up toward the surface and the fleet above. Surprisingly, he too laughed. But his laughter was that of one who still has one last ace to play. "We're going to show them that the human race doesn't just roll over and die, aren't we?" He laughed again, looking from Ron to Rita.
Rita's laughter stopped with a sudden finality.
Ron felt his stomach tighten, felt his mind suddenly seem to detach from his body as the general's laughter faded. Lo now faced Ron, waiting for an answer.
"It's ready," Ron said.
Rita leaned upon the computer. "Yes, it's been ready, General. You know that. We kept the processes active and waited for the T'kaan to come."
The room shuddered again from mighty explosions far above on the surface. Once again the lights dimmed, but they did not go out completely. After several flickers, the lights returned -- but not at full strength.
"Yes. They thought we would just run to the last planet and roll over. Waiting for the inevitable." General Lo snorted. "We gathered the last of our ships, the last of our armies to our home world to fight them. We hoped their entire fleet would show up for the final battle -- and they did." Lo chuckled. "Now we'll show them what the human race is made of."
"The final battle," Ron said with feeling. As he spoke he slipped his hand into Rita's hand, willing her to send the message. This was something that he didn't want to do on his own, not without her full agreement. But he would if it came to that.
Rita stared in disbelief at Lo. "What will this do, General? What will it really do? After all, we're already dead."
The general's confident smile faded. He watched her a moment and then took a step closer. Ron put his hand out to stop him.
Lo stopped, staring into her defiant eyes.
"We'll take them with us, Doctor. We'll take them down with us. That's what this last little project will accomplish." His face came closer. "Most important, they won't be able to eat our dead bodies."
Rita looked away in disgust.
"You know, Doctor, I was so hoping your precious 'M' ship would have made it here. If only we could have produced a fleet of them." The general shook his head slowly. "They would have defeated the T'kaan. Easily." He sighed deeply. "We sent the first ship to its destruction against impossible odds even for a super warship. But the second one, well, she proved unstoppable in battle. A real killing machine, able to think for itself, without the need of a crew." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "If it had come we could have ordered it to take out their stragglers for us. Now, we'll have to depend on Project Samson to do it all." The general smiled.
For the third time the lights dimmed as the terrible explosions ripped the planet above. As suddenly as it had started, the low rumblings far above on the surface quieted.
"The orbiting battleships have stopped their bombardment," Colonel Baker said, stepping close beside Lo. "The fighters and assault ships will be launching en masse now."
Lo turned to leave but stopped in mid-step. He drew a deep breath and spoke. "I go to give my last order. The last order," he repeated, his eyes glazing over. "I go to give the most historic order in the history of our species, Doctor." He shook his head. "I only wish someone would know how mankind died -- would remember our species. And how we died with honor." He walked away shaking his head.
They watched them go in eerie silence. Both of them felt the sudden chill that seemed to grip their entire beings as the door shut.
There were only minutes left now.
"Do it, Rita."
"I can't. I can't!" Rita sobbed as she stepped away from him.
"Yes, you can." Suddenly he took her back into his arms, like he had always wanted these last months. He drew her close as she struggled. But her struggles stopped when she realized what was happening. He held her, pressing his face next to her soft cheek. The warmth of their bodies sent the deadly chill away.
"Please," Rita whispered with a puzzled look in her eyes.
"Give them life," Ron whispered back. "Send them."
Rita's face was still pressed against the softness of his ebony cheek as she answered. "They are the last humans, Ron. Wouldn't you rather die than to live a life of complete solitude?"
Ron closed his eyes, drawing sudden comfort from her closeness.
She pulled her head back.
"As long as there's life, there's hope." Ron looked deep into her blue eyes. "We never know what tomorrow will bring. But as long as there is a tomorrow, there is hope."
She searched his eyes as he held her.
"Give them their tomorrow, Rita. No matter how hard their challenges will be and no matter how alone they may be." His ebony face bent closer. "They will be alive."
His warm breath brushed her face.
He kissed her -- long and lingering. The minutes passed as they held each other in combined silence.
"I will." Rita said it so softly that it was almost unheard.
In that moment the explosive chain reaction began. All around them the room shook and rocked as though in the grips of a titanic earthquake. Both Ron and Rita lost their footing and fell together onto the floor as falling debris crashed all around them.
"It's happening!" Ron shouted. "Lo's started the reaction!"
Rita was already crawling to her workstation, and even as the reinforced ceiling began to fall upon their heads, her hands furiously typed the final message. The rain of debris bruised and cut at her hands, but still she forced them on. A large piece of the ceiling fell crashing across her shoulders, knocking her down. With renewed urgency she rose up and scrambled to the computer. Her fingers flew over the keyboard.
Seconds were all that was left now.
But it was finished. A message only a mother could send -- a message to the 'M' ship.
Her finger pressed the Transmit button even as the room suddenly grew bright around them.
Five milliseconds later, the explosion swept through the room, consuming everything as it swept toward the surface of the planet. The raw power that had been unleashed was destroying the very atomic structure of everything in its path as it expanded outward at an exponential rate.
Seconds later, now expanding many times faster than the speed of sound, the destructive power erupted up through the planet's surface.
The T'kaan war fleet, gathered in close orbit to witness the final destruction of yet another race, watched their sensors with sudden shock.
Across their alien viewscreens the planet's surface suddenly melted -- evaporated -- in a blinding flash of pure, all-consuming energy. In another split second, the atmosphere spewed in all directions amid mountain-size chunks of rock and debris that heralded the death-cry of the entire planet. In that same instant, the haughty T'kaan knew their own deaths were imminent.
The horned battleships turned as the fighters screamed out toward the safety of the stars far away.
But it was already too late.
The solid wall of energy, preceded by a horrific shockwave, lunged out with unimaginable destruction. And with each millisecond it grew larger and closer and stronger.
As the tattered remnants of the atmosphere flung past the first frigates and fighters in lowest orbit, the blinding wall reached them. Like miniature toys the mighty warships disintegrated, smashed into molecules of nothingness in ten thousand separate flashes of light, as if ten thousand stars had suddenly went out all at once.
Inexorably, the wall of destruction rose from the gutted world below.
Even before the battle cruisers could finish their turns in mid-orbit, they were smashed to pieces and their infinitesimal fragments carried along farther and farther with the unending wave of destruction.
The massive semicircle of this destructive wave was now astronomical in size as it roared out into space.
Over one hundred kilometers from the planet's surface, from the position where their mighty weapons had pummeled the planet's surface in preparation for the last ground assault, the total destruction reached even the mighty T'kaan battleships.
They had completed their turns and were ramping up their hyper engines for the jump that would save them.
But the blinding wall of energy reached them first. As the battleships crumpled and exploded in dozens of titanic fireballs, the wall approached the last squadron of the T'kaan war fleet.
The Great Horned ship and its entourage of warships had begun to flee. All in vain. Even as the edge of the expanding, all-consuming wave slowed, its destructive force reached out and began to tear apart the most sacred part of the T'kaan fleet.
The T'kaan ships farthest from the dying world ramped up their engines to flee. The T'kaan warlords howled out to one another as the terrible power gripped their ships. As their tentacles reached vainly toward their viewscreens and their greatest need, the Great Horned ship, they watched in despair as it began crumbling as if in slow motion before their unbelieving optical organs. They watched the unthinkable happen. And their soulless hearts stopped beating in shocked unison even as their own warships buckled.
The Great Horned ship died.