Quietly, the recon probe slid around the blue and green orb of Dunnan Gal, leaving the night behind. It had used the system's many satellites to move into position, using a dozen slingshot maneuvers to avoid using its own drive. The Dominion still had a presence in Dunnan Gal, and while the probe was an unmanned vehicle, it was also unarmed, slow, and something one did not want to lose in the kind of war the Clanholds had been fighting or the past year. Once it had entered the star's gravity well there was no way it could outrun an Ashani patrol or slip back into the safety of foldspace.
The *deceptive* safety of foldspace, Warleader Gerrel thought sourly as he watched the probe's feed in the theater command post thirty-nine lightyears away. Conventional wisdom had it you couldn't fight a battle in foldspace. Only pirates preyed on lonely merchants there. Too chaotic, lousy detection and combat ranges. No way to ambush someone in a warship or make use of superior maneuverability or weapons ranges. Only, the Ashani had done *just that* to the relief force his clan had sent the minute they had learned of the Dominion's attack on the system. And it had cost his Clan Dunnan almost a thousand ships - and their home system.
He knew he was present in the command center only as a courtesy. For all intents and purposes, Clan Dunnan no longer existed. What few tens of thousands still remained would be swallowed by another great clan soon through marriage and adoption. That the elders had guaranteed him. At least he would not have to suffer the shame of seeing his people degraded to clanless pawns.
He felt a bout of pain race through his hands and was surprised to see he had wrapped them so tightly around a console that the white of his knuckles shone through his bronze skin. The tattoos covering the right side of his face itched. He had long ago realized that to be an effect when he felt embarassed. But nobody seemed to have noticed, and he was content to leave it at that.
Stroking his braided chin beard, he walked to the front of the ops center where most the others had gathered in front of the large screen. A year ago it had been a black as deep as the night. Now gray had almost completely replaced it, just as a haggard and haunted look had robbed him of his air of confidence. He cleared his throat.
"Operator, magnify read-outs, please."
"Aye, sir. Recon One-Seven-Seven is doing passive scans only at this stage," he pointed out. "I can give you a magnified image, but surface data gathering's restricted to what emissions she picks up and with how the VI correlates what we get with the pre-war data."
He concentrated on the large display. One after another, radiation blooms popped up, accompanied by warning signs. They were only the tip of the iceberg, he knew. This wasn't the first recon flight and, after all, the hundreds of smaller impact craters were clearly visible even at this resolution. Dunnan Gal presented itself deceptively peaceful, it's storm-tossed atmosphere almost devoid of clouds. Those storms had washed almost all the dust out of the air again, letting the sunlight back to the surface.
"Any signs of life?" Dunnan Gal had been an important world, full of industry, home to more than 1.6 billion people.
There were none. "If the bombardment didn't get them, the nuclear winter, the fallout and the collapse of infrastructure most certainly did," the operator stated evenly. "I'd be surprised if there are more than 10,000 people left down there."
But Gerrel didn't even listen to him anymore. He just stared at the tomb his home had become.