The Chaplin’s War by Brad Torgersen

I’ve been reading, The Chaplain’s War by Brad Torgersen and it is a wonderful read. It starts with the tale of a Chaplin’s assistant who finds himself interned in an alien prison after he was captured in a human war with the alien Manti’s. The Manti’s, enormously technologically superior to humans, able to brush them aside and lacking any conception of what a deity is, no spiritual life at all. The story moves around, showing how the Chaplin wound up at the center of everything and able to change the fate of countless species forever.

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Brad kindly provides a snippet on his website too

Guns blazed. Human guns. Mantis guns.

The room rocked again from the concussion of enemy fire outside the frigate.

My ears were ringing when the captain and I both looked up to see the general and all of his people sprawled bloodily across their side of the room. The Queen Mother had peppered them with projectiles, their bodies pulped and grotesque. Though it seemed the Queen Mother had fared little better. She was down. Or, rather, her disc was down. Sparks spat from numerous holes in the disc’s armored surface. Sabot rounds, I thought. The Queen Mother’s forelimbs scraped and scratched futilely at the deck, her triangular head cocked in my direction and her mouth half open, the teeth looking wicked and deadly.

Her mandibles chattered ferociously, but the disc made no sound. Its translator was rendered useless, along with its weapons.

The Professor—unharmed—floated forward from his previous spot near the far wall, then stopped as the doors were cast open and armed marines flooded in. The instant they saw the general lying dead, they raised their rifles to fire—having previously dispatched the Queen’s guards, per Sakumora’s plan.

Seeing this, Captain Adanaho shrugged me off of her and stood up, shouting, “Stop!”

The marines hesitated.

“That’s a direct order,” she said for emphasis.

The room rolled with concussive grumbling.

Lights flickered.

“General Sakumora, sir,” said an alarmed voice through the speaker on the general’s table, “there’s a feedback loop in the deflection matrix. We’re absorbing hits, but we can’t say for how much longer.”

The Captain stared at me for an instant, then she looked to the Professor, whose forelimbs dangled dejectedly in front of him.

“I’m assuming you didn’t know the Queen Mother’s plan either,” she said.

“That is correct,” said the Professor. “Though I knew as well as you that the situation was unstable. Had I known the Queen Mother intended to incite conflict, to force us to war, I’d never have come.”

More thunder, more flickering lights.

“Then it seems you’re destined to die with the rest of us,” I said, feeling the cold, dull ache of certain doom closing around my throat. I instantly rued the day Adanaho had entered my chapel.

But then again, was it better to die on Purgatory, alone, or on a Fleet warship among my own kind? Was either of these options preferable to the other? I tried to remember what Chaplain Thomas had once told me, about keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of death, and discovered I couldn’t quite remember his exact words.

The Queen Mother continued to scrape and scratch frantically at the deck, her disc become worthless. It seemed suddenly that the mantes—even this, the greatest of her kind—weren’t all that terrible once you took away their technological advantage. Without the disc, she was as mortal as any man. With the frigate bucking beneath us and the captain and I struggling to keep our feet, I almost laughed as I watched the supreme leader of the enemy struggle helplessly.

Now you know how we felt!

I wasn’t sure if I’d merely thought it, or shouted it.

The captain and every other human were looking at me.

That’s when true disaster struck.

Kakraooooummmmmmm!

The lights vanished entirely as the room tilted ninety degrees and hurled us to the port bulkhead, then back across the space to the starboard bulkhead, before leaving us floating free. Orange emergency lamps snapped on and I fought a savagely instinctual desire to vomit—zero gee proving to be every bit as terrible in the bowels of the Calysta as it had been onboard the shuttle.

Marines flailed and then lapsed into their microgravity training. It had been too long for me, so I kept flailing, eventually feeling Adanaho’s grip on my left ankle. She levered herself up into my face and shouted, “The deflection matrix is falling apart! We’ve got to get to a lifeboat!”

“How?” I said, almost spewing my last meal into her face.

She turned her head, seeing that the marines were way ahead of her. They’d instinctually latched onto and levered each other like extension ladders, until one of them could get a grip on something solid, thus bringing them all into contact with the walls or floor or ceiling.

“We just need to get outside!” she said loudly.

Almost at once, the Professor was there.

His disc moved effortlessly, seemingly unaffected by microgravity.

“Grab on,” he said, a forelimb stretched in our direction. I reached for it and took it, while Adanaho stayed attached to me, and the Queen Mother stayed attached to the Professor’s other forelimb. Her disc trailed drops of mechanical fluid as the Professor began to tow all of us for the nearest open exit. If the marines desired to fire, nobody pulled a trigger. Perhaps because there was no way to shoot without killing both the captain and myself? Fratricide being frowned upon, especially when superior officers are involved.

We emerged into the corridor beyond. The gore of dead mantes was everywhere. The marines had done their work well. I suddenly felt embarrassed and mournful. The Queen’s guards had saluted me as I entered, then paid with their lives for that trust. I gaped at the nearest of them, his young face split in two and his insect’s brain oozing out.

That did it.

I turned from Adanaho and emptied the contents of my stomach, which spluttered away from us in a thick, chunky stream.

“Where?” the Professor said sharply to the captain.

Emergency bells were chiming, and an automated vocal warning was issuing from every speaker.

HULL BREACH. VACUUM CONDITIONS ON MULTIPLE DECKS. PROCEED TO YOUR NEAREST SAFE DUTY STATION. REPEAT, HULL BREACH . . .

“There!” Adanaho said, almost climbing up my back so that she could point over the Professor’s shoulder.

A row of hexagonal hatches had opened along the walls, much further down the corridor. Personnel were piling into them. Each hatch was ringed with yellow and black caution striping, with tiny beacon lights spinning rapidly at the corners.

“Find one of those,” Adanaho said.
Though the ones closest to us appeared positively choked with people, all clamoring for escape.

Grrrrakkkkaaaaanngggggkt!

The guttural grinding sound of metal announced to even my inexperienced naval ears that the Calysta’s remaining moments were few. A wind had picked up in the corridor—air bleeding out into space. Men and women screamed, redoubling their efforts to seek escape.

For a brief instant, the Queen Mother and I locked eyes—hers as alien as the Professor’s had ever been—while we clung to the Professor’s separated forelimbs. I could not detect emotion behind her alien, multi-faceted gaze, but her contorted body posture spoke of both fear and pain, while her mouth gaped in a show of murderous rage. I’d have let go of the Professor in terror at the sight of those tractoring incisors if I didn’t feel sure that the Professor, and the mobility of his functional disc, weren’t the only hope I had.

And besides, there was the captain to think of. She clung to my back like a bear cub.

Suddenly the Professor moved in a new direction. Opposite the way we’d all been looking. We shot down the corridor, headed aft, bumping aside crew and marines alike. A few gunshots rang after us, but in the panic of the moment they went wide, embedding themselves into the bulkheads.

The wind spiraled up to become a gale-force howl.

Now, humans no longer floated or pulled themselves along the corridor. They were vacuumed away, shrieking.

My ears suddenly began to hurt.

I wanted to yell at the Professor—to ask where he thought he was going—but then I saw it: an open emergency hatch, unblocked.

The Professor’s disc moved toward it at best possible speed.

We passed through the doorway and the captain had the good sense to reach out and slap the panel just inside the threshold. The doors to the emergency exit snapped shut with a loud clang. Suddenly we were all flattened against the hatch as the lifeboat spat through the disintegrating interior of the Calysta, following a predesignated route. Rapid egress shafts honeycombed the ship—as with all Earth war vessels—such that it took only moments for the lifeboat to be disgorged into the emptiness of space.

We floated free as the force of our acceleration ebbed. I found myself at a small porthole, catching a glimpse of the Calysta as she spun away—in my eye view—from us. There were huge wounds in her belly, punctuated by the gradual fragmenting of her exposed bones as new missiles from the mantis armada continued to home in on and decimate the frigate.

Then the Calysta flashed. Her reactors going up.

I jerked away from the porthole, having been strobed almost to blindness. There was a human coughing sound behind me, and the additional noise of mandibles skittering and scratching out the mantis native language.

I rubbed my lidded eyes and then opened them, seeing through purple spots that it was only the captain, myself, the Professor, and the Queen Mother aboard.

We were alone.