“…six Lunar class cruisers, four Overlords, one Mars class…” droned the random ensign from tactical, scratching at the mottled scruff that covered his neck. The boy looked as if he’d aged years in the short time since the Fleet had come under attack. They all did, most likely. Certainly none of them had slept.
Admiral Jann Kolten pinched the bridge of her nose to try and stem the pain and weariness of pure fatigue. She’d lost track of the hours since the attack, since pulling the fleet out of the Station’s warzone. Had it been a full day? Days? She’d done nothing besides marshall the remaining resources and organize them into what would pass as a coherent battlegroup. Exhaustion warred with euphoria in her mind as she listened to the numbers come in.
Thirty eight cruisers, nine light cruisers, and sixteen assorted squadrons of escorts had rendezvoused with them. Slightly more than a third of the Black Fleet. Under normal circumstances, the sheer scope of such a force could defend a sector. Or conquer it. However, given what was known about crippled or destroyed ships, the traitors’ contingent of the Fleet outnumbered and outclassed them. Not one of the three Battleships had succeeded in resisting the cultists, and the last count of surviving ships before they made warp translation put them at a three-to-two disadvantage, give or take.
The commanding officer of every single ship of the Black Fleet that remained loyal to the Imperium now looked to her for orders. The situation was hopeless, or nearly so. Internally, Jann made a decision. One she’d been dreading since the very beginning.
“That’s that, then.” Jann did her best to look imperious when inside she felt like vomiting. “There’s no other choice before us. We cannot let the Adversary take the Station. Even with a diminished Fleet to guard it, it still has the power to destroy worlds. Systems. For all we know, they could jump directly to Terra and annihilate the Throneworld.”
The eyes of every officer seated around the hololithic command table looked up, but few seemed surprised. Primarily, she saw resignation in the faces before her, all having come to the same conclusion as she had.
Jann brought up a schematic of the station on the hololith, and pointed to one of its primary structures. “The Command Citadel. Without it, the traitors won’t be able to access the Station’s primary weapons systems. We will translate in as closely as possible, and concentrate all of our firepower there.”
One captain - she couldn’t remember which - shook his head sadly. “The Citadel is designed to withstand even Nova Cannon bombardment. There’s no chance we’ll be able to penetrate its shields and hull before we’re ripped from the sky.”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I am aware. There’s no single weapon on these ships that can destroy the Command Citadel. Even our combined weaponry at full strength wouldn’t be able to punch through. We have only one thing remotely capable of destruction on that scale - the ships themselves.”
The room went silent.
“If - if - we can pilot these ships directly onto the Citadel, it could work. The shields are strong, but not that strong. My engineering crew has been running simulations of this possibility since the evacuation, and it’s the only way we can hope to defeat the enemy.”
She watched as the officers looked to each other and murmured with concern, with hope - and a few with disbelief.
A lone voice called out from amongst the din. “Admiral. What…” asked an older woman “are the chances of success”
Jann sighed. “Approximately ten percent.”
“Your ships are you own.” Jann said, “This is a suicide mission, and I won’t order you to sacrifice your lives and those of your crew. I will pilot M-17 into the Citadel. It may be enough, but I do not want uncertainties. I want to know that when this is over, we gave all we could to keep this atrocity from reaching further into our Imperium.”
Jann closed her eyes, saying a moment’s prayer. “All who are with me, stand.”
At first, nothing happened. Her heart sank - with only her own ship, there was hardly even the chance of victory. It was the older woman - Captain Seaholm, she remembered - who stood first, saluting. Then a mustachioed Commander beside her. One by one, the remaining officers of the Black Fleet stood, until every chair was emptied.
Jann smiled, her eyes welling with tears. “Thank you. Thank you all. Whatever today holds, it is an honor to serve with all of you. Be seated, and we can plan the assau-”
“Admiral!” a voice sounded from the command deck. “A ship has translated into realspace, bearing three-zero-four mark two-eight-seven, heading this way. Identification codes belong to the Rocinante. A rogue trader vessel, ma’am. They’re hailing us.”
Jann whirled around and marched to the comms console. “What the bloody hell are they - give me that,” she said, snatching the handset from the confused ensign.
“Vessel, this is Admiral Jann Kolten, commander of what’s left of the Omega Station Defense Force. Turn your ship around. Run. One of the greatest weapons ever built by man is being assaulted by its enemies, and we plan to sell our lives in order to stop them. Go back to the Imperium. Warn them. Let them know that when the Black Fleet died, it did so with honor, in the line of duty. Now, go.”
There was a moment of static interference before the handset crackled to life. “Message received, Admiral. The Emperor smiles upon those who would stand between His people and their enemies.”
“Thank you. Good sailing, vessel. Who am I addressing?”
“I am Daedalus Copernicus of the Emperor’s Holy Inquisition, and if you don’t mind, I would very much like to join you in your mission.”
An Inquisitor? Here? Jann shook her head. It didn’t matter. There was no time for questions.
“That’s a negative, Inquisitor. The Imperium’s future may rely on you using whatever powers you have to warn the closest Imperial Navy assets, and any other Imperial forces you can. Please. We appreciate the offer, but your ship wouldn’t last a minute in the firestorm that’s about to be unleashed.”
“Admiral, our chances may be better than you think.”
Chimes rang out from the comms consoles. Jann watched as the viewscreen showed multiple local translations. Troop carriers. Battleships. Even the warships of the Adeptus Astartes. Her mouth hung open. Hope had arrived.