The underbelly of the starship, lit like a sprawling metropolis, reflects off of Sorna's visor. A small red text flashes in a corner of her visor, informing her that she is out of ammo. All around Sorna are bright spheres — her fellow pilots exploding in vibrant hues of blue. They burn bright like tiny stars under the massive starship.
The shields around the Fringe Cannon under the starship drops. A brilliant white beam of death surges over Sorna's head as she pulls the control yoke towards her, cementing her name in history.
But in that moment of hyper-awareness, all she cares about are the faces smiling at her from a small display at the corner of her vision — a young boy bundled in the arms of an auburn-haired woman leaning against a smiling Sorna.
Liylia kicks off her mangled fighter, drifting aimlessly under the enemy starship. There’s nothing more she can do. Under the city of lights passing over her, she is insignificant, less than an insect. Spheres of light and fire are scattered above and below her. All around her are explosions and burning debris. Parts of fighter crafts whizz around in every direction. It’s only a matter of time before one of them rips through her suit or helmet. Or perhaps one of them will hit an exposed reactor core. Her eyes dart from one ball of fire to the other and from one flaming wreckage to the other, seeking out her wife. She must be safe. One of them has to get back home to Mars — to their son.
The mouth of the Fringe Cannon opens and the lights around the cannon disappear, indicating the S3 shields are down. Liylia knows what’s about to happen. Helplessly, she watches a bright white beam blast forth from the mouth of the cannon. She looks towards Mars as the blinding death smashes into the Martian flagship. In a few minutes, the laser will carve a large hole through the MSDF Joseph M. Carter and win the war for the UNSF.
Liylia unhooks her standard-issue plasma blaster and aims it at the cannon.
“Bang,” she says. It’s about as effective as shooting at it.
She catches sight of a small speck of light as it races up towards the cannon. Liylia’s heart beats faster and faster as she tracks the small point of light.
Michael eases off the acceleration on his Katana Bruiser the moment he sees the mouth of the Fringe Cannon open up. All his wing had to do was keep the Martian BX-Beetles from sneaking around under the UNSF Asimov. Once its cannon fires, the battle is over. As his mind relaxes back to visions of the promised land of blue skies and clear oceans, a shooting star crosses his visor. He blinks, then immediately steps on the acceleration, praying to make it in time.
Silvia slams her fist on the emergency stop button near her radio display. On it, an enemy fighter shoots towards the Fringe Cannon. The glass shatters.
"Shield breach," she shouts, suppressing the stinging pain of glass shards embedded in her hands.
"Shield up!" commands the Captain of the UNSF Asimov as warning sirens blare across the ship. "Halt cannon."
Deep down The Asimov, in the control room of the cannon, Iqbal drops his clipboard and leaps to the emergency lever near the gunner. As he leaps through the air, his hands stretched to their limit, he sees the gunner's hand almost on the shield control lever. Iqbal curses the Captain for giving the command in the wrong order and the idiot gunner for following it exactly. The last thought in his mind is this: cannon before shield.
Sorna sees the S3 shield begin to form around The Fringe Cannon. She reaches under the cockpit and pulls a small lever then pushes it back. All unnecessary equipment, water, oxygen, and empty fuel tanks eject from the fighter. The onboard computer removes all limits on speed. A countdown begins on her visor display indicating the imminent collision. The lights around the cannon begin to reappear. Sorna reaches out a hand to the image of her wife and son. She takes her other hand off the control yoke and grips her thaali.
The explosions around the streaking enemy Beetle fighter draw Michael’s heat seekers. Neither conventional nor laser guns hit the fast-moving target. It’s going to crash into The Fringe Cannon. Katana Bruisers are designed to hunt. Nothing matches its top speed. He reaches below his seat and disengages limiters. With the BX-Beetle locked by his computer, Michael’s fighter blasts off with unfettered speed. So what if he won’t get to see the promised land. His children will, and so will their children; live, not survive on a planet that hates them.
Heat-seeking missiles whizz around Liylia, heading towards the fireballs around her. By the time she registers the Katana Bruiser in her visor’s rearview display, it is no longer behind her. As it whizzes past her she puts together what’s going on. She was lucky to have her blaster out and aimed in the direction that the fighter was heading. She tries to target the enemy fighter, but without a computer, none of her shots hit the fast-moving target.
The moment expands in Liylia’s mind. The Beetle slows to a crawl as does the chasing Bruiser. The exploding spheres stop expanding. She sees every piece of debris, every fighter craft part, even small balls of red blood, and blue water. A hand drifts past a patch of space above the Katana Bruiser. She sees an exposed reactor core right next to the hand.
She pulls the trigger, sending the world back into chaos and frenzy.
The reactor core explosion is large enough to engulf the enemy fighter, but before Liylia has a chance to confirm, pieces of debris, pushed outward by the explosion, slam into her. They pierce her suit and helmet.
A small patch of auburn hair flows out of the hole in the helmet.
Sorna ignores the explosion in her visor’s rearview display. Above her, the S3 shield comes online, like a honeycomb wave moving around the cannon. She’s going too fast to steer.
“Shield up!” reports the gunner as the tip of Iqbal’s middle finger grazes the cannon’s emergency lever.
Across the solar system, in the battlefield, in homes on Earth, in shelters on Mars, in command centres and bunkers, soldiers and civilians watch a new star lit up the space between the Earth and Mars in brilliant hues of blue. It would diminish in a few hours, before finally fading away, but at that moment it drew the attention of all of humanity. In that moment, the war was over.
From The Second Planetary War, Chapter XII - The Turning Point (p. 432)
Military historians differ on the exact cause of the explosion of the UNSF Asimov. Martian historians generally attribute it to the sacrifice of Captain Sorna Mello who carried out a last-minute kamikaze attack on The Fringe Cannon with some help from her wife and fellow pilot Captain Liylia Mello. Whereas historians from Earth generally attribute the explosion to either human error or the failure of failsafe systems to properly kick-in. Both views are based on distant observations and recordings of communications obtained from the black boxes of other ships that survived the explosion. As the black boxes onboard The Asimov did not survive the massive explosion, we may never know the truth.
However it happened, the explosion of The Asimov was the turning point in the war. The Brandon-Clarke beam had penetrated almost 15% into the Martian Self Defense Force’s flagship, the MSDF Joseph M. Carter. Its destruction would have rendered planetary defense, especially against The Fringe Cannon, untenable. As it happened, the explosion of the cannon not only destroyed The Asimov but wiped out over 80% of the UNSF fleet, handing victory to Mars.
More significantly the exotic matter created during the high energy explosion opened up the possibility of interstellar travel, making resource scarcity on earth a non-issue. As the saying goes, the universe finally got fed up with our wars and told us to go sit in some distant corners of the galaxy, far from each other.