Pryde Rock - Third Orbital Plane

August 13, 3321

Smoke filled the bridge of the cruiser Odin, control panels sparking from overloads, as Mathius Pryde coughed a speck of blood onto his black leather jacket. The chains noting his rank lay somewhere in the wreckage covering the floor but he didn't feel like looking for them right now. He leaned back in the captain's chair and held his chest tightly as the captain and the remains of the bridge crew tried to pull the poor cruiser back together. A glance over to the cracked displays showed him the last two destroyers trailing her, venting atmosphere from dozens of rents in their armor.

"You should leave, sir," the captain whispered again softly enough for the rest of the bridge crew to at least pretend they couldn't hear and Mathius blinked as he realized it was for the second time.

"No," he whispered, glancing at the captain's ripped uniform, a souvenir of the Aesiran's last assault. The Odin survived, but a dangerous feedback loop in her power systems and the explosion of her magazines had left a quarter of the ship in rubble. The Aesiran should have finished them off after that salvo but they'd not gotten the chance. "The Loki sacrificed herself to take out their flagship. We have a chance of winning now. And even if we can't, I'd rather die here than down on the planet. There's nowhere any of us can run to even if we wanted to. And maybe we can stop them."

"Why should we have to stop them? Why are they coming for us?" the captain asked in confusion. "We didn't do anything to them!"

"How would you like it if the Shang started using names like George Washington or Abraham Lincoln?" Mathius asked, his voice tired.

"Well, I'd probably be annoyed," the captain from Kansas muttered. "But I wouldn't start a war over it!"

"It never occurred to me that they would either," Mathius returned. "But they're warriors who seem to think we're dishonoring them. And they are much more warlike than we are."

"That's refreshing," the captain whispered mockingly. "For once, somebody more warlike than we are."

"Captain, we have no choice but to fight them or let them through," Mathius noted simply and then paused as another cough ripped through him. He wiped the blood off his hand and grimaced painfully before continuing. "If we surrender, we'll be lucky if they kill us. If we fight and die, they might see us as honorable enough to leave the civilians alone. Or at least allow them to join the Alliance of Asgard. And if we win, we might even be able to pull the Aesiran in on our side of the Great War for once. The Pelorans and the Arnam could use all the help they can get against the Roder and the Shang."

"What makes you think the Aesiran can make a difference?" the captain whispered. "The Shang have already overrun the Arnam systems and shattered their fleet. The Pelorans are on the ragged edge of losing against the Roder and once the Shang fleets redeploy to Condat warp point junction they'll fall too."

"But if they follow the Arnam here, that will give the Pelorans more time to fight the Roder alone," Mathius whispered.

"Sir, with all due respect that's insane. You're daring the Shang to follow them here, and the fleet's already gone as is."

"The Arnam gave us a system to live in," Mathius whispered back. "We were common mercenaries and they helped us out here. We owe them. We have to repay them."

"With our lives?"

"If necessary," Mathius noted with a voice of iron.

"Yes, sir," the captain whispered.

"And think about it this way. If the Shang follow the Arnam here and run into the Aesiran…well, the Aesiran are rather territorial. They might take exception to that and attack the Shang."

"Even if we're dead?"

"It's possible," Mathius muttered. "Look, we've both seen all of the reports. The Shang and Roder were more powerful than the Pelorans and Arnam thought. The Pelorans can't win without help. And if they fall, nothing will stop the Shang from rolling over the Terran sectors. The only ones powerful enough to tip the balance now are the Aesiran. Whether we win or lose here, having the Aesiran here will increase the chance that they will get involved."

"And what if they decide to attack the Arnam or the Pelorans?"

"Then the war will end sooner," Mathius whispered with a painful shrug. "The Pelorans will lose without the Aesiran."

"But are the Aesiran really powerful enough to tip the balance?" the captain muttered and turned back to the main screen showing the remaining four Aesiran ships on visual as they closed on the planet again. "Look's like they've finished deciding who's in command now," he projected loud enough for the bridge crew to realize they were supposed to hear it. "Tell the Thor and Baldur to prepare for a final charge. We stop them here and now. The Arnam are arriving with what's left of their fleet in a few days. Let's make sure they have somewhere to land!"