“Divine wrath in ten seconds, take cover!” Ymir’s voice was quiet in Helen’s ear, and she winced as a railgun shot bounced off her shield in a spray of glittering blue sparks.
“No. Someone has to bottleneck them, and everyone else is gone beside the civilians.” Helen replied, crouching down as she smiled to herself. “Besides, I can take it.”
“You crazy—” Ymir began, but his voice cut out as Helen threw her mana into her shields, all the while never letting up on the trigger of her cannon.
The barrels of Heavenly Fury spun with a loud whine, and it sent crackling bolts of plasma flying downrange at a horrendous pace. The aliens ducked as they skittered along on their three legs, trying to return fire, fire which bounced off her glowing azure shield. Then the blazing white pillar of light descended from the heavens on them, and Helen let go of the trigger as she leaned forward.
The blast wave nearly knocked Helen back anyway, and her shields began shrieking the warning for an imminent failure, something which they hadn’t done through the entire preceding battle. For a moment she worried that they might, but the moment passed and she looked on the ground before her with a grim smile.
Where the white transit line had cut through the mountainside was now a crater dozens of meters across and glowing where the stone had turned to glass under the orbital fire. None of the aliens who’d been swarming through the pass had survived, and she lowered Heavenly Fury for the moment. Normally she couldn’t use the plasma cannon quite so freely, but with the rest of the squad gone… well, it wasn’t like anyone else needed access to the power feed.
“Good job, they’re gone for the moment. How’s the evacuation going?” Helen asked, though she dreaded the answer. Not nearly enough of the population had been able to get to the evac sites before they’d been overrun, and only a handful had gotten to the command center.
“Hellish, of course. These monsters are worse than the demons.” Ymir replied grimly. “All the evac ships on the ground are gone except yours, and the last of the militia went silent three minutes ago.”
“And in space?” Helen asked, glancing back at the planetary defense’s command center. What she would’ve given for modern technology, rather than the ancient facility she’d had on hand.
“Three of us are holding back fifty alien cruisers, so how do you think it’s going? I was damned lucky to get off that shot for you at all!” The man exclaimed, then growled in frustration. “Still, only a half-dozen more ships need to make it through the gate, so I’d recommend getting you and the civs into the ship and getting out of there. Lock down the command center for us to come back for, and all that.”
“Sorry, Ymir. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Helen replied, spotting a bit of movement on the other side of the crater. As the alien began unearthing itself from the rubble she sighed and raised a hand, killing the microphone as she chanted her spell.
An energy bolt spell wasn’t terribly difficult or powerful under normal circumstances, but this was hardly normal. The amplifiers in her armor drew on the command center’s power core to empower it still further, until the golden orb crackled with dozens of times the energy that it should have possessed. Then she pointed, and the bolt lashed out to crack the armored shell of the alien like an egg and splattered its purple guts across the mountainside. Normally she’d be worried about biological contamination, but her orders rendered that worry moot.
“What’re you talking about? You need to get through the gate so we can shut it down, already!” Ymir protested, his voice angry. Helen could understand why, since they’d been occasional lovers for a good part of the last couple of years.
“I have different orders, I’m afraid. Command has learned that somehow these creatures can use even deactivated gates to travel through our network, so we can’t leave them behind and deactivated, not anymore.” Helen spoke softly, turning back toward the command center and approaching at a slow pace. It looked like a glittering temple of white stone and with a golden roof, the towers all holding shining crystals containing the glory of the sun through all hours of the day. It wouldn’t stand under a determined assault, she knew, but it didn’t have to. She continued calmly. “Only my squad has the command authority to blow the gate, and it can only be done from the command center, so that’s my job. Yours is to get all the civilians you can through the gate first. You’d best follow them, but I can’t force you.”
“Are you insane?! That’s all but a suicide mission, Helen!” Ymir protested. “You have a daughter! Plus, what about the civilians who took refuge with you?”
In front of her the doors slid open slowly, with a gravity that Helen appreciated most of the time. Now, though, they moved too slowly, and she started down the halls at a quick pace. Most of the walls had enchanted paintings adorning them, but she didn’t pause to look at the breathtaking images of the capital, or of the heroes of the Empire. As in all the official construction throughout the Empire, the walls were flawless, with intricate patterns in gold, silver, and blue playing across them. She was just glad they were functional as well.
“Insanity would be valuing my life over everyone else in the Empire. Besides, I’m not going to die, Ymir. The blast wave will take at least three minutes to reach the command center, and that’s plenty of time to go into temporal lockdown, which will protect me and the civilians until we get reinforcements.” Helen replied grimly. “I’ve seen some reports and based on them, I’m going to be under full-scale assault down here until the lockdown hits, but the base should hold out longer than that, even if it’s on the old side. Then it’s just a short wait for me until someone comes to rescue me. As for Diana, she’s safely back in the core worlds. That’s why I joined the military, remember?”
“A short wait for you is a decade or more for everyone else. Normal space travel is slow, and that assumes they send an expedition immediately.” Ymir said, his protests slightly weaker now. She suspected he was coming around, as much as he might be arguing.
“I know. But I’ll be safe along with the others, whatever you may think. Your job is simple, to stay alive so you can hit me in person.” Helen said, then grinned. “Not that it’d hurt much, given how you punch.”
“Oh, shut up, Helen. Just for that I’m going to work out until you’re rescued. You’re going to hurt when I hit you.” Ymir retorted, then paused and spoke more softly. “I’m going to miss you, though.”
“I’ll miss you too. Give them hell for me, would you?” Helen asked, and she felt the command center query her implants and cause the doors ahead of her to slide aside, the multi-layered doors nearly a half-meter of the heaviest armor and enchantments the Heavenly Empire could forge. Or, to be more accurate, the heaviest armor and enchantments they could forge half a millennium before.
“I will. It’s going to be hard to catch up to your kill count, but I’ll do my best.” Ymir replied, then paused and said. “Alright, I’m signing off. The last of the evac ships just went through the gate, and I’m going to run the gauntlet.”
Without waiting he cut the connection, and Helen smiled, shaking her head as she stepped onto the circular platform in the center of the command chamber, a platform crafted of crystal that glowed with inner light. She murmured softly, knowing no one would overhear. “Obviously he didn’t want to break down over the comms.”
The chamber was broad, with several chairs for other soldiers to manage defense teams. Unfortunately, the attack had been so sudden that there hadn’t been time to get reinforcements into the system to help. Instead, Helen’s team had done their best to defend the various evacuation sites in the major cities with the militia’s help. Even if they’d been overwhelmed in the end, her squad had done her proud, allowing at least two dozen evac ships to get out that otherwise would’ve been blown out of the sky.
Linking her mana to the station core, Helen extended her arms and wings and commanded. “Retrieve and refit armor and weapons, prepare for an Apocalypse level event. On my authorization, prepare the Heavenly Gate for absolute dissolution.”
A shimmering figure of azure blue and purple appeared in front of Helen, her expression and figure one that had often reminded Helen of her mother. As she did so, the armor encasing Helen shimmered and vanished along with her weaponry, leaving her wearing the skinsuit she normally wore most days. Helen didn’t descend to the floor, though, instead bobbing in the air as she lowered her arms and let her wings rest as the command center held her gently.
“Acknowledged, Virtue of Might. The Heavenly Gate is open and awaiting a single vessel’s passage,” the avatar replied sternly. “Infidels have violated the holy spheres and are descending on this holy place.”
“Of course they are.” Helen muttered, once again wishing that this temple’s programming wasn’t so out of date. She’d have given a few organs to have an up to date AI, instead of one the dumb, stilted avatars that were so common in older colony systems. She took a deep breath, glancing at the celestial map spinning through the air, depicting the star, the planets and all the ships and stations that had been lost, as well as the handful of satellites that still survived. Dozens of alien warships were chasing one lone ship toward the brilliant icon of the gate, while still others were raining icons toward the command center. After a moment she nodded and stated. “Prepare all wards and meet them with holy fire. Once the vessel has passed through the gate, proceed with the Heavenly Gate’s absolute dissolution.”
“Acknowledged. May they know heaven’s wrath and fall before it,” the avatar replied with just a hint of emotion. “Imprisoning the essence of time will take two minutes. Do you wish for the Temple of Might to avoid absolution?”
“Of course.” Helen said, and when she didn’t say anything more, the avatar fell silent as well. Moments later screens flashed into existence showing the land around the command center, and Helen’s lips thinned slightly.
Scarab-like assault vehicles and the three-legged soldiers the aliens favored swarmed like insects, and behind them she could see the tall, spindly figures of the alien commanders, with their six lower legs and four upper limbs. They were well-armored, she knew, but the sight of them amused Helen. They normally didn’t participate in battles directly, which meant they likely knew that the stasis field was coming and were hoping to survive. She intended to make them regret the attempt.
“Let them see heaven’s wrath.” Helen ordered simply.
The towers of the temple flashed brilliant white, and Helen heard the structure thrum as it drew deeply on the power core, which was drawing on the star itself for its energy. From the towers lashed out beams of glowing white plasma that shredded land and aliens alike. Some of the enemies could withstand their touch, at least for a short time, and the aliens reacted in turn, throwing themselves forward and unleashing a sudden barrage of energy fire of their own as strange purple beams slammed into the shields surrounding the command center.
“The last vessel has passed through the Heavenly Gate. Beginning absolute dissolution.” The avatar spoke softly, and its voice paused as the icon of the gate grew even more brilliant, and a sparkling wave of energy began expanding from it. The icons of the alien vessels vanished before it, and the figure spoke again. “Absolute dissolution complete. Imprisoning the essence of time. Heaven’s wrath will be curtailed by the holy light the imprisonment will require. The infidels may deal some damage to the Temple of Might, and some may avoid absolution should they remain close.”
“Very well.” Helen said, watching the plasma dim and grow less powerful. Folding her arms, she sighed and thought longingly of the gate.
There was little she could do but watch as attackers exploded, and the shield of the command center eventually failed. Then the alien weapons began to scar the exterior of the building, sending rumbling echoes through the structure. All the while the glittering wave of destruction moved closer to the planet, and she saw alien ships vanish.
“Don’t die, Ymir. It’s only going to be moments for me.” Helen murmured. Then she smiled and added, softly. “If you don’t find a new lover, anyway. You always have been good at that.”
Helen felt the instant the stasis bubble began to activate as a soft pressure on her skin.
Then there was nothing but darkness… but only for a moment.