An inconceivable notion not even four months ago. Severt plunged his hands into a small basin, turning the clear water crimson as he scrubbed them clean. Whatever he’d told the others, he’d never truly dared hope his war was a winnable one. Six months of planning following Katie’s death, three months of convincing the others to join him, and another nearly six months of fighting. The Supreme Republic be damned, they weren’t all-powerful in this galaxy, and he, Severt Nordis, had proved it. They couldn’t ignore him now.
Severt pulled his hands from the icy water and shook them dry. He looked up into the small mirror hanging above the sink and was surprised, not for the first time, at the aging face he saw before him. Time had been creeping up on him; he was into his late forties now, and the years of mourning and stress hadn’t helped. Wrinkles creased his forehead and deepened his cheeks in ways they never had before. Severt looked down again, slipping a small picture from its place in his front jacket pocket. The ever-young face of his wife smiled back at him, looking just as she had on their wedding day, no trace of the illness that would claim her before she’d reached her fortieth birthday. This was the way he wanted to remember her, not as the frail, exhausted woman whose hair and smile had both been stolen while the SRM sat back and did nothing.
He’d spent the last months of her life sending petitions to the local hand of the Senate on Ganymede, begging them to rush approval of the legislation that would allow Eris doctors to use their new technology to save her life. He’d received word less than a month ago that the first of those petitions had finally reached the courts to begin the approval process. He shook his head, stuffing the picture back into his jacket. He hadn’t been able to save Katie, but he would make sure the Senate learned a valuable lesson about the costs of its bureaucracy.
Severt straightened his jacket, ignoring the tears and dirt staining the once-expensive fabric, and headed for the door. A body awaiting burning lay by the door—the others would come for it soon. As he opened the door, a cheer arose from those waiting outside. Severt affixed his calm, confident smile to his face and stepped out, fist raised in victory. The grounds surrounding the capital building smelled of blood and smoke. The cheers came from the two dozen of his people who’d survived through to this final battle, a pitiful amount compared to the eighty they’d started with six months ago.
“We’ve done it!” He called, prompting another round of cheering. “The SRM’s representatives are dead, and this colony is ours!”
Another cheer rose as the others gathered around him. They were a tired, dirty, and pathetic-looking group. He was deeply proud of all of them.
“This is only the beginning!” He continued, “Today we have begun a war sure to shock the complacency of the galaxy for centuries to come. The SRM cannot continue to ignore the actual needs of its people so long as they—so long as we demand change. Our voices will only be the start.”
As he spoke, he could see his followers standing straighter, smiling wider, as if it was truly sinking in that they had actually done it. “Christon, the representative of the Return Autonomy group that we’ve been working with, has assured me that our victory here has bolstered groups across other mining colonies to begin a true war against the SRM. There are even influential people on the moons of Jupiter who are on our side, though he couldn’t give me names for their safety. This battle is ours, but our war isn’t over. Bring your families to the capital, after it is cleaned it will become our base of operations. You’ve all given up much for this success, and we have lost even more, but it hasn’t been in vain! We are victorious!”
The others cheered for a fourth time, this cheer lasting the longest of all of them. Severt moved out through them, clapping one on the back, hugging another as they dispersed. The fight was over, but the work had hardly begun. Burying their own dead and burning the enemy would only be the start. Getting the area ready for their families to move in would fuel each of their abilities to keep moving. Severt’s chest ached with that same desire, one that he wouldn’t be able to fulfill.
“Severt! Severt!” Ann’s voice screamed out behind him, full of panic and dread.
Severt whirled toward the sound, his whole body tensing. Had they missed someone? Was their victory not complete after all? He found Ann standing near the door to the capital, but he saw no enemies near her. Instead, she stared up at the sky, mouth agape in fear. He followed her gaze as horror mounted within him. Swarms of star-like black dots in the upper atmosphere surrounded a larger, yet still barely distinguishable dot hovering above them. A warship. The SRM had sent a warship against them.
Time seemed to stand still as he screamed for the others to run. An inevitable certainty crushed him even as he yelled the call, the knowledge that it wouldn’t matter. The missiles launched from orbit would flatten this city and likely half the moon before the SRM was satisfied. As the others scattered, running for the outskirts, Severt could only fall to his knees and watch their doom approach. His hand found his jacket pocket once more, pulling out the picture he didn’t dare look down at, for fear of his tears falling upon it and ruining the image.
He’d failed her. He’d failed them all.
What a joke.