Space 2315, Chapter 4

Admiral Nancy Moore looked up at the sound of her flag captain, Avery Brooks, coming onto the flag bridge of the super juggernaut ACS Dwight D. Eisenhower. He gave her a precise salute and she returned it before sitting back down. At the moment, the ACF fleet was at rest relative to the main space habitat cluster in the Mendus Star System. As was expected, the space colonies as well as the planets being strip-mined all surrendered to the Allied fleet as soon as the Battle of Mendus was over.

It was either that or be subjected to precision orbital bombardment. That was a prospect that the admiral didn’t look forward to visiting upon other humans. She also didn’t want to do it because she had no idea where it would end. If one side started doing it, the other side would respond in kind. Those kinds of tactics had the potential to escalate until people started bombing cities as well as military targets. The blood would run waist deep before anyone came to their senses or both sides literally drowned in the blood of civilians.

This far from the Sol System, in what was known as the “Outer Colonies,” anti-Human Federation sentiment ran deep, though not deeply enough for the Mendus to join the Allied Colonies for Freedom in revolt. For now they had no choice but to accept Allied military occupation. Some in the system gladly welcomed the ACF as liberators while others regarded them with barely veiled hostility.

The Allied fleet also managed to capture the vast local shipyards intact before the Human Federation ships could destroy them. Mineral caches as well as some freighters and warships were captured too. Those same ships now had prize crews aboard them and were almost on their way back to the system’s many jump gates.

Nancy looked back to the repeater plot from the communications station on the flag bridge. On it was a HFBC broadcast telling of how the Human Federation Space Force performed recently. They even carried a statement from the admiral commanding the fleet that left the Mendus System which simply said, “I came through and I shall return.” Nancy wondered if Admiral Kimery, her former student, was aware that she was quoting the American general Douglas MacArthur. Moore had no doubt that Kimery knew that.

Captain Brooks listened to the news broadcast, his expression becoming more and more amused the longer he listened. Cracking a smile he turned to his admiral, “Ma’am, from the way those guys sound they hit us so hard all they have to do is regroup, turn around, smash us, and march on Altair after that. The war will be over in days, not months or years. What was it they once said, ‘You will be home before the leaves fall from the trees’? I’ve heard some bullshit from newsies in my time but this has to be the worst. If they try something that foolish so soon we’ll give them another good lick. And maybe another one after that for good measure.”

Nancy glanced up at him, “We may and we probably would. But how much would that next lick you speak of cost us, captain? If they develop a counter to the virus it’s back to slugging matches. I don’t like slugging matches and we don’t need pyrrhic victories. We need to be better than them.”

Brooks pointed at the holo-image in front of them, “We haven’t lost as much as they’re claiming, that’s for sure! They sound as if more than half of our fleet was wiped out. In fact, we barely lost anything. Thank God for that virus we developed.”

He handed her a datapad, “The most recent damage assessments and repair status updates, as you requested ma’am. We lost only a few destroyers and few light cruisers, but otherwise the fleet was largely undamaged. We’ve also gotten the jump gate back online and coded to our IFF transponders. The Feddies won’t be able to jump a fleet in just like that,” he snapped his fingers for emphasis. “Meanwhile we can. Reinforcements, auxiliaries, and army troop transports are already on their way.”

“Any word on new construction?” the admiral asked while looking up.

“From what I heard, our shipyards are running at full tilt around the clock, racing to produce new warships,” Brooks replied. “Those mineral caches should come in handy.”

“We better be,” Moore answered, standing up to look toward the back of the flag bridge. At one time there was a Human Federation Space Force plaque on the bulkhead. It was forcibly removed and replaced with an Allied Colonies plaque. The plaque was of eighteen stars around a single sword. Each star represented a star system in the ACF and the sword represented their unity and strength. “Yeah, we better be. Most of the ships in the Allied Fleet are those left over from the initial coup against the Human Federation. We’re going to run out if this war turns into what I think it will. And it just might if the Feddies get their heads out of their asses.”

“I see what you mean admiral, and so does the president and Congress. The people see that too.”

“I sure hope so, for all our sakes.”

Brooks remained silent for a few moments, following his admiral to the star map near the back of the bridge. He reached into it, pulled up a view of Mendus along with the neighboring star systems on the map. Behind them was ACF space, and to the front, closer to Sol, was Human Federation space. “What are you thinking ma’am?”

“I’ve been giving our next move some thought. I think that it needs to come quickly while the Human Federation flails about, trying to recover from the bloody nose we gave them.” Admiral Moore spun her hand in the air before leaning in, “I think it’s about time for the right hook. First I’d like to take advantage of some of our other mobile forces, use them to distract the Human Federation from our real goal. I’d like to contact Vice Admiral Ishigawa of the Third Fleet and have him and elements of the Second Fleet begin harassing the shipping lanes in the border systems,” she pointed to ones in question, “to try and get the Human Federation defenders to shift themselves out of position.”

“After the First Fleet has been repaired and resupplied, I’d like to make a raid into HF space. I think that this target will send the right kind of message to the Human Federation. No place is safe for them, not even some of their so-called fortresses.” She reached into the holo-display and grabbed a star system, expanding the view on it by pulling her hands back and outwards. It was only a few jumps away from Mendus. Her fleet could be there within two weeks between jumps in hyperspace if they made good time. The fleet would have to jump from system to system, or sometimes across them completely, pausing every now and again to recharge their hyperdrives.

The hyperdrives built up massive amounts of heat that had to bleed off before they could be recharged safely. The entire process took a few minutes to complete, but everyone on both sides begrudged every moment, especially if you had to make a quick jump back into hyperspace. The energy-to-heat ratio was directly proportional, meaning that for every joule of energy used up in transit, more heat was created. You couldn’t add more energy into the engines before they cooled down; otherwise you risked ruining those engines, or worse, a catastrophic overload. Many ships were lost with all hands in the early days of FTL exploration.

There was only one thing of any real interest in the solar system that she intended as her final target. A massive lone space station named Persepolis. There were some mining operations there in the asteroid belts, as well as some small self-sufficient colonies and a ski resort on the fifth planet, but for the most part, only the station meant anything.

“The Persepolis station is a huge transit and trading hub for most of the Outer Colonies and the former Fringe Colonies.” She smiled up at her flag officers who now clustered around the star map. “We’re those former Fringe Colonies and look at us now, looking right into the heart of enemy space, holding one of their oh-so-precious resource nodes and shipyard locations.” Her officers smiled at the irony that the “fringe world yokels” nearly took the head off the Human Federation. “If we can successfully raid it, and take the caches of weapons and other supplies, we can seriously put a dent into the economies of the Outer Colonies. We can also hit any freighters or transports that attempt to enter or leave the system until word of our raid gets out.”

“There is however, the matter of a small garrison there ma’am. By small, I mean real small,” Commander Alisa Jackson, the admiral’s flag intelligence officer, mentioned as she pointed to the holographic table. “The local garrison is hardly worth mentioning. According to the most recent reports from spies in-system the garrison is lax, under-strength, and behind on refits. In short, they’re easy pickings for us. If I were in charge of the HF’s Fleet Command, I’d be thinking about putting that particular rear admiral out to pasture. We shouldn’t be facing anything more than three battleship squadrons and a heavy cruiser division and their escorts. Call it sixteen or twenty battleships and any fixed defenses versus our entire fleet.”

Nancy turned to Lieutenant-Commander Sadie McNally, her flag ops officer, “How soon until we’re able to get underway?”

Sadie looked down at a datapad in her hand, “Our initial reports show that we should be able to get underway within three days ma’am.”

Nancy looked around at her flag officers, “Three days to finish repairs and resupply. Let’s see if we can get that down by at least a day. Get that message out to the other ships of the fleet; make resupply the number one priority. I want us underway in two days.”

“Yes ma’am!” they replied.

Admiral Moore stood in the fleet conference room surrounded by the holographic images of the captains of the First Fleet as well as those of elements from the Fourth and Fifth Fleets added to her own. “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The First Fleet will advance on Persepolis within the hour. Our plans are to hit targets along the way in an effort to destabilize and break the hold that the Human Federation has in the region.

“Remember, we’re only hitting targets of opportunity along our march. If we can hit any targets, we will, but if things are out of our reach, we’ll hit them on the way back to Mendus. Fourteen days to Persepolis, fourteen days to get back. It shouldn’t be that bad. Let’s move out!”

The images faded away until only herself and the image of her flag captain remained. He was grinning from ear to ear, “We’re going to hit them another lick, right ma’am?”

“Yes captain, one more, and hopefully, many more licks after that. Get ready, it will be a bit of a long haul.” Her flag captain nodded his head before his image disappeared. Coming back onto the flag bridge she heard her captain relaying orders to his watch standers on the ship’s main bridge over the repeater. Nancy refrained from giving him any further orders regarding his ship, seeing as how the Dwight D. Eisenhower was his ship after all. She was the admiral aboard, a guest at worst. She could issue him orders regarding the fleet but not his ship in particular. She, as the admiral, really had no control over the ship that she was on, only the fleet as a whole.

The fleet formed up around the super juggernaut, coming into formation with the Eisenhower at the center of Formation Delta Two. In Delta Formation, the fleet was broken into four formations, each in a diamond pattern. Formation Delta Two Four contained all of the auxiliaries, as well as some ships that still needed light repairs. The First Fleet started moving to the end of the solar system, accelerating to 0.4 light and was due to reach the jump point within a few hours.

For now, there was little that she could do until after the jump was made. Taking her leave of the flag bridge Nancy went down to her stateroom. Outside there were two powered armored marines in red and gold standing at attention. They exchanged salutes before she headed into the room.

The admiral’s stateroom was the size of an apartment on Altair with almost all of the amenities of a modern home planet-side. The stateroom contained a full kitchen, dining room for her and her staff, a living area, a bedroom and a head, conference room, and an office. Nancy retired to her bedroom and prepared to take a shower. Until the fleet made the jump to hyperspace there really wasn’t much for her to do. Even so, it would take a little less than half the day to travel to Mendus. Then the first jump would take about two-and-a-half days to reach a star system called the Trenor System, plus about another day to transit the system. According to the star charts, there was only one inhabited, yet barren, rocky planet with a small shipyard for local maintenance.

After that, it was a five-day jump across the Alcon System, an empty star system that was uninhabited, except for some pirates that may or may not have set up shop there. That was not her fleet’s problem. Her fleet wouldn’t jump back into normal space, instead choosing to keep going onward to the Grips System, stopping at the edge to assess enemy positions, recharge their hyperdrive engines, and raid the system. That should take another two days. From there, it was another two-day jump to Ileps System. The fleet would raid any supplies and destroy the shipyards there too if possible. That was another two days. Then finally a four day jump to the Tigris Star System, home to the Persepolis station.

Nancy called up the route on her star chart. It showed that the fleet would be moving deeper into Human Federation space, and then curving around at an angle to hit the Tigris Star System at the apex of their arch. It wasn’t a straight line course to the Tigris System. That would make it too obvious their destination and the HF Space Force could reinforce the system to a fare-thee-well. She had no intention of lending them that kind of help. Following the raid there was the other half of the arch back towards the Mendus Star System, hitting as many of the “Outer Colonies” as they could on their march back. With any luck, it would be a glorious ride and a major blow to the morale of the Human Federation.

She called up the flag bridge on her communicator in her bedroom and asked the watch stander to page her when the fleet was about to enter hyperspace. After taking a quick shower, she sat down in her office to look at the star map. With a wave of a hand, she could call up different sections of space in the holographic projection. She looked at the Trenor System. By recent reports from her flag intelligence officer, there was only a small detachment of ships there, only enough to police the star system. It appeared that the Human Federation was pulling a lot their ships from the Outer Colonies to focus on defending the more populated Inner Colonies and Core Worlds. If they kept it up, the Outer Colonies might decide that staying with the Human Federation was a Bad Idea, especially if the ACF kept raiding those systems. It might win them over to the ACF or make them declare themselves neutral. Moore privately hoped they would go neutral since there was no way that the ACF could keep them safe this far from the border, even with jump gates.

Moore was working on her operation orders just before the flag bridge paged her. She saved the files and was out the door a minute later. She took the lift up to the flag bridge, which deposited her in the security foyer just behind it. The marines there came to attention and saluted before opening the door to the bridge. Nancy strode over to her chair on the bridge but didn’t sit. She looked around at the flag bridge’s watch standers, many of whom were her staff officers. A few, she noticed, were late. They came in just behind her. A reproachful glance at them was all that was needed in order to remind them to be on time.

“We’re at the jump point ma’am,” Lieutenant Arthur Dently, her flag astrogator announced.

“Tell the fleet to proceed with the jump to hyperspace,” Moore said to Lieutenant Maria Roman, her flag communications officer.

Moore nodded her head at the flag captain who returned it over the communicator. “Are the coordinates locked into the navcomputer?” Brooks asked his own astrogator.

“Yes, sir!” came the reply.

Brooks struck a theatrical pose before saying to his helm officer, “Spin up all hyperdrive engines. Take us away!” His helm officer looked to him, made sure that he couldn’t see his face, and then rolled his eyes. There were times when he thought his commanding officer should’ve gone into acting instead of the navy. Then again, what roles would he have? A role in a B-grade movie on some sci-fi HD channel?

If there was one thing about entering–and exiting–hyperspace that Nancy hated it was this part. It as if the ship was being stretched like a rubber band or a slingshot. The same sensation was applied to the human body. Some men and women didn’t take it very well and experienced acute nausea while others weren’t bothered by it. Nancy supposed that she fell somewhere in the middle. Gasping slightly, Nancy felt the ship stretch before getting catapulted into hyperspace. The sensation lasted only a few brief seconds but to her it felt like minutes.

Once inside hyperspace she felt fine again. Looking at the external sensors she spied the eerie, inky blackness that was hyperspace. It was all pitch black with no color or light anywhere. It was a black so perfect your eyes slid off it. Hyperspace was, quite literally, a void. If it wasn’t for the sensors that told you the ship was moving you wouldn’t believe it. To human senses, the ship wasn’t moving. You couldn’t detect other ships nor could you communicate with them, so complete was the change over from one dimension to another.

Some people weren’t bothered by the fact that there was nothing in hyperspace while others were quite disturbed by it. Those that were bothered refused to go near an airlock while in hyperspace. Military personnel were able to cope with the idea that nothing was out there but even those people who were able to cope still said they refused to look outside. Civilians were a different story; some reports said there were quite a few people who looked out at the nothingness and simply lost it.

There were no navigational aids at all once inside hyperspace. If not for navcomputers, ships could lose their way in that dimension, sometimes forever. If your navcomputer failed, you could forcibly jump back into normal space but you could very well be light years from any star system, inhabited or otherwise. The only way back in that event was to plot your course using the star maps and jump again, praying that you plotted your course correctly. Warships carried double redundant navcomputers just so such an event couldn’t befall them.

There were stories, of course, of ships losing their way forever; their crews, long dead for years, haunting hyperspace and normal space. But, those were just stories told by irresponsible spacers, sometimes to frighten small children before their first hyperspace voyage.

Nancy found herself in the ship’s chapel about half an hour before the exit from hyperspace. Others were there too. Like the Human Federation, the Allied Colonies for Freedom had many, many faiths. Moore, a devout Roman Catholic, knelt at her pew. She’d been there for half an hour and was planning to stay a bit longer. She prayed for victory and peace. The irony that the two didn’t go hand-in-hand didn’t escape her. About fifteen minutes before the fleet was due to exit hyperspace she sang a favorite hymn to herself. Then she whispered, “Almighty God, I humbly beseech thee, in Your infinite wisdom, to judge who is in the right. May You grant the righteous their victory. Amen.”

She stood up, glancing around at the others in the chapel before walking up to the altar where a New King James Bible sat on a bookshelf. All those who were Christian followed her with their eyes. She opened the bible, found Psalm 23 and read aloud for all to hear:

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.”

Closing the Bible she looked up at the crewmembers there with her. “We will walk through the valley of the shadow of death as many times as we need. We will fear no evil. The Lord is with us this day. He will judge the rightness of our cause and grant us the victory that we so richly deserve! Our table will be prepared in the presence of our enemies!”

The Christian, Jewish, and a few Islamic crewmembers there said with raised voices, “Amen!” or “Insha’Allah!” in a way that might impress an academy instructor or petty officer. It was as if they said that in lieu of, “Yes ma’am!”

Taking her leave, she set the Bible on the bookshelf, genuflected towards the tabernacle where the Holy Eucharist was kept, and muttered a short prayer once more before leaving the room. She turned to those still there, “Man your stations. We go to battle!”

The fleet was still in hyperspace when she came onto the flag bridge. She looked to her flag astrogator, “How long?”

“We’ll arrive in five minutes ma’am,” Dently answered her.

Those minutes stretched for the admiral. Then she felt as if her body was stretching again. The ship, and the rest of the fleet, popped back into normal space. Almost immediately her repeater plot started registering the other ships exiting hyperspace. All of them appeared, right where they should be. Her flag ops officer confirmed that as well. Nancy looked back at the repeater plot where the sensors were updating the information on the display.

There, in-system, just in front of the fleet laid a few warships, surely the ones watching the jump point. Beyond that laid the only inhabited planet, Trenor IV. It was roughly six light hours away, and thus wouldn’t see the ACF fleet’s arrival until then. No remote sensor net watched this poor backwater system. By then, her fleet would’ve moved already. There was a small convoy of freighters heading out of the system on the other side of the system, at about seven-and-a-half light hours. Around the planet were some orbital infrastructure, mostly orbital warehouses, a small hydrogen fuel depot, trans-shipment points, and the yards for the few ships that visited the system.

The colony itself was too poor to warrant having a space elevator yet. It was too bad that her attack would make the economy here worse. Finally, around Trenor IV’s moon was a small flotilla of Human Federation warships. The flotilla consisted of only two battleships, four battlecruisers, seven heavy cruisers, nine light cruisers, twelve destroyers, and about twenty corvettes.

Easy pickings indeed, the admiral thought to herself. There were several other corvettes, destroyers, and light cruisers around the system, acting as pickets and guarding asteroid mining operations, but most of those were so far away they would be hard pressed to catch up to her fleet when it got moving. Finally, at the edges of the star system, a full twelve or more light hours away, were several more corvettes and destroyers sitting at the only hyperspace jump points out of the system. A few more battlecruisers and their consorts sat near the system’s jump gate. When the light from her fleet’s arrival finally reached them there was no doubt that the captains of the aforementioned ships would use the jump gate or jump to hyperspace, surely to warn other systems nearby and the Human Federation Fleet Command.

Any reinforcements would be way too late to stop her fleet from rolling right over the system. As for now, her fleet was already targeting the surely surprised Human Federation warships at the jump point her fleet just exited. Admiral Moore quickly got on the comlink to call out to those vessels, “This is the First Fleet of the Allied Colonies for Freedom to the Human Federation warships. You will stand down, heave to, and prepare to be boarded. You’ll leave your computer systems intact. Any actions that do not fully comply with these orders will be construed as hostile and we’ll respond in kind. Don’t attempt to send any messages to any other ships or planets in-system. Don’t attempt to fight a futile battle. First Fleet Actual, out.”

Those ships were only a mix of light cruisers and smaller ones. Against the firepower her fleet carried, they were like insects to a giant. The Human Federation warships quickly killed their engines and powered down their weapon systems. One by one their surrenders came in. Admiral Moore spoke to her fleet’s captains, telling them to send over marines and prize crews to secure those ships for the trip back to the ACF.

The admiral called up the tactical data on her repeater plot. Red dots represented the enemy’s positions in-system. She studied the map for about a minute, “Tell the fleet to raise bow two-zero degrees and accelerate to 0.4 light. Make their course for Trenor IV. Have the fleet assume Gamma Formation, four sub-formations.”

The orders went out to the rest of the fleet and each ship responded. As one, the ships of the First Fleet began a slow dance in space as they assumed the new formation. In Gamma Formation, the four sub-formations would move to become flat ovals, with their escorts and capital ships intermixed throughout. That should give a decent field of overlapping fire to all of the ships in each sub-formation.

Moore studied the map before bringing up other controls. She inputted some data, checked the numbers, checked them again, and then sent them over to her flag tactical officer. “What do you think of that commander? Does everything check out on your end?”

Commander Edward Oppenheimer went through the data himself before making some corrections then nodded his approval. He sent the revised numbers back to her. Once she had the numbers again, she called up the ships needed and hit the “Transmit” button. Those orders would tell the required capital ships to begin firing kinetic energy rounds toward the planet’s orbiting infrastructure.

Kinetic energy rounds were just huge pieces of shaped metal weighing several hundred kilograms wrapped in heat resistant material that could survive atmospheric entry. Launched via a ship’s missile tubes, they could achieve far greater acceleration than any warship could. When the rounds entered the gravitational pull of a planetary body, they would accelerate even further, building speed until they could turn even buried armored bunkers into craters. It was likened to what a particle of space dust would do to a ship at any appreciable fraction of the speed of light if not for their navigational force fields. They were quite literally fire-and-forget weapons, sent on ballistic courses toward their target.

Moore called up the subspace comlink and radioed the planet, “First Fleet of the Allied Colonies for Freedom to Trenor Four, within a few hours, kinetic energy rounds will be striking targets in orbit your world. I have not targeted any civilian residential sectors or the planet itself, only those targets which are military or industrial in orbit. I strongly suggest that you begin evacuating those facilities as soon as possible. First Fleet Actual out.”

Christina Crow sighed wearily as she listened to a senator from Trenor IV speak about how since the Mendus System fell to the ACF that his system was surely the next target. What the senator couldn’t do was provide proof that the ACF would even go to his system. The Mendus System had many jump points away from it and now every senator and representative from neighboring systems suddenly got jumpy about an impending attack that may or may not even come.

Fleet Command knew the Rebs would hit Mendus, thus it sent Admiral Kimery’s Third Fleet there to reinforce it. The result was a grisly rout for the Human Federation Space Force that was quickly becoming a national embarrassment. It didn’t help that some in the media were already calling for Kimery’s head on a plate much like John the Baptist. It certainly didn’t help that many in Congress felt the same way as well. A computer virus all but crippled a fleet and nearly shut down all offensive and defensive capabilities of over ninety percent of said fleet. A computer virus of all things! There were even reports of Human Federation warships firing on each other!

The Rebel fleet brought in an oversized fleet to handle anything the Human Federation could throw at them, but as it turned out, they didn’t need it after all. Crow supposed that the ACF admiral was either laughing herself silly or was on bended knee thanking God that her plan worked out so well. Probably both at the same time. The worst of it all was that it was revealed by agents still in Mendus that the enemy fleet was commanded by none other than Nancy Moore. She was once one of the best instructors at Naval Academy Etajima who taught Kimery everything she knew. Obviously the student hadn’t been able to surpass her teacher.

Admiral Kimery’s fleet was due back at Mars in a few days and Crow knew that a message was sent to summon her before the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War. The witch hunters there existed to rake senior officers over the coals about mistakes they made before or during the war and to even question the loyalty of said officers. It would probably rack up a good number of sacrificial lambs, some for trivial reasons. Christina sighed yet again, knowing that it was inevitable that something like that would be cooked up, especially after the witch hunts that happened after the coup. It was things like that that made a military distrust its civilian leaders.

Christina looked back up as yet another senator was recognized, this one from Nazin III. Her speech or complaint rather, mirrored those of the senator from Trenor. Mirrored it so much that the senator from Trenor stood up and started yelling at her. He argued that his system was the obvious choice for the ACF to attack because it led further into Human Federation space. The loud disagreement was quickly gaveled down by the Vice President Ethan Hunt. “Order! There will be order in this chamber!” He plied his gavel with might and maim and eventually the two settled down. “Good. I will remind all our distinguished senators of the house rules and to abide by them.”

Christina sighed for a third time. Over the next hour several more senators from the Outer Colonies brought forth their reasons about why they thought that they were next. Two more times Hunt had to gavel senators into silence, even going as far as threatening to have the sergeant-at-arms and his assistants escort the contentious members from the chamber.

Soon Christina had too much of hearing nothing from anybody from the Inner Colonies. She pressed a button on her desk to signal that she wanted to be recognized. When the vice president nodded to her she rose from her chair. “The esteemed senators from the Outer Colonies are correct in saying that we need to do more to protect them now that an enemy is at their doorsteps. They never had to worry about that before. These are citizens of the Human Federation and they need and deserve to be protected. We cannot let these people go undefended against an enemy that so clearly intends to destabilize our star nation. We owe it to them to provide them the same protection that we guarantee the Inner Colonies and the Sol System.”

She sat down and looked around and saw that the senators from the Outer Colonies were staring at her. She knew what was going through their minds. They were probably thinking that it was about time that somebody started listening to them. Some of the other senators from the Inner Colonies looked at her with indifference.

The vice president recognized Senator Brickman of the Conservative Party from Alpha Centauri. “While the esteemed Senator Crow is correct, there is just no way that we can defend every star system just like they were the Sol System. We simply don’t have the ships or crews necessary to provide those defenses. If we did we wouldn’t be scrambling like we are. It’s not as if we don’t want to protect our citizens, but I am thoroughly convinced that we need reliable intelligence to find out where the Rebels will attack and defend accordingly.”

“However,” Crow spoke up, “If we do that aren’t we leaving ourselves open to bad information that could mislead us and give the enemy the opportunity to strike elsewhere?”

“This is true Senator Crow and thus you see our dilemma. The jump gates we have will give us the chance to deploy our forces where and when they are needed. Unfortunately our ships still take time to transit to the jump gates and away from them.” He shrugged as he gave her one last look, “And maybe this wouldn’t be a problem if the defense budget hadn’t been cut under previous Labour administrations.”

The vice president plied his gavel once more as Christina stiffened up in anger. “Senator Brickman, please keep your comments and statements germane to the subject at hand.”

“My apologies Mister Vice President,” Brickman replied as he sat down.

He’s correct, damn him! Crow thought with disdain. Her party was always shy of spending money, especially on something like defense. In her mind the Labour Party was wrong for not spending the necessary funds on something so critical to the safety of the Human Federation. The previous uprisings and outright rebellions against the Human Federation should’ve driven that home to the party, but people were shortsighted. Maybe a couple decades of peace made people soft while something simmered right under their nose. The coup didn’t help none either.

Shortly thereafter the vice president looked a motion to adjourn and nearly had a flood of senators trying to make it and another trying to second the motion.

She made her way out of the senate chambers and headed toward the parking garage. Most of her work waited at her office. A few of the other senators from Earth and one from Mars tried to start a conversation with her. She politely waved them off, giving the excuse that she had things to catch up on. Entering a lift she pressed the button for the parking garage. Finding her car she left the Human Federation Capitol Building, a pile of marble several stories high in the Neo-Classical style. It was much shorter than all the other buildings in the legislative capitol of the Human Federation and was probably the only building in all of New York City to have marines in powered armor patrolling its grounds.

She drove out onto the streets of New York and headed for the Lower East Side. Christina grumbled and bit back a few curses as she tried to cross the bridge to get to Manhattan Island. The bridge was jammed as usual. However, unlike so many around her she didn’t lay on the horn. What good would it do? None at all.

What the snarl of traffic did do was give the senator from Ontario some time to think. She thought back over this latest Senate meeting and was disappointed to find that it strangely paralleled the Senate meetings just before the Allied Colonies for Freedom seceded from the Human Federation. That secession took most of the Fringe Coalition and some of the Outer Coalition from Congress. She remembered the last meeting before the rebellion where almost all of the senators from the Fringe Colonies, most of them from the Colonial Party, stormed out of the senate chambers without a word. Their silence was more effective than anything they might’ve said.

The worst of it was that the other senators from the Inner Coalition were indifferent or outright hostile toward those from the Outer and Fringe Colonies. Many times before the break those senators–even many from her own Labour Party–all but ignored the senators from those worlds. Either that or quite simply told them that this was the way it always was, that they needed to “learn their place.”

Christina grimaced in remembered pain that those colonies indeed learned their place. A place separate from the Human Federation. And what happened? Many of the senators went right on ignoring what was right in their faces. The old fools thought that, like any other rebellion in the Human Federation’s history, it would be put down in short order and things would return to normal. What they didn’t–or refused to–realize was that unlike before this wasn’t just a single world or single star system rebelling. This was eighteen star systems seceding from the Union along with more than half the armed forces in one of history’s most well-organized and bloodless coup d’états. Well, maybe not entirely bloodless.

Too many fools not acting upon what was plainly written on the wall. Too many fools and so little done. This could’ve all been avoided. If only people listened and tried harder.

Christina growled as she recalled herself standing up for those colonies and being met with indifference, just like today. She tried to stop the tidal wave of rebellion rippling through the Union and often felt like she was the only one that gave a damn. It angered her to no end that her own Labour Party, the party that called itself the “Party of the Common Man,” mostly stood silent while the Union they swore an oath to fell apart.

Even now, days after a major defeat in the war those same senators still acted as if nothing was wrong. Some of the senators from the Outer Coalition who ignored their compatriots now found themselves shouting and finding that their needs were falling on deaf ears. It was a cruel irony indeed.

“Maybe we deserve to lose,” Crow said with a frown to nobody. “Not the war, I don’t want to imagine what would happen if we lost the war. But maybe, maybe we should lose the next election. Get some younger people that might actually try to do something. Time for those stuffed shirts to retire. Some of those blue bloods need to go.”

Christina looked across the bridge. Just a little bit longer. Everything might’ve been resolved at the negotiation table two months ago. The President of the Allied Colonies for Freedom sent messages over and over saying: “We simply want to be left alone. You ignored us before so why don’t you just carry on with that?” The Human Federation however wouldn’t simply do that. While Congress might’ve been content to keeping its collective head in the sand like an ostrich the armed forces that stayed loyal wouldn’t.

While the ACF stole most of the Human Federation bases, installations, and ships in ACF space, there was one critical base they couldn’t take during their coup d’état. It was a large asteroid fortress hanging in orbit between Altair IV, the capitol world of the ACF, and its first moon. Maybe the Department of the Space Force suspected that something was up and quietly shifted personnel on that base. Almost everyone who was a colonial was reassigned and men and women from the Core Worlds were assigned there. Perhaps that was the last straw for the ACF. They finally saw how little the rest of the Human Federation trusted them and that act may have prompted them to secede.

That base, with thousands of capital sized nuclear missiles and scores of energy weapons, hung over the ACF capitol like a Sword of Damocles. The base found itself surrounded by hundreds of now potentially hostile ships yet they were unable to do anything. The ACF ships knew that if they attacked the fort then the Human Federation forces on the base could fire their nukes at the planet, killing hundreds of millions. The standoff lasted for two standard weeks until the base sent a request for resupply. When the resupply convoy arrived in-system there was the deciding moment. Would the ACF admiralty order their ships to open fire on the convoy or not? Both star nations watched and waited while the HF president, Mark Adams, insisted that the freighters only carried food and medical supplies. The convoy’s warships were very careful to keep their weapons powered down and their gun ports closed.

The local commanders summed up the situation quite succinctly when they said that it mirrored Fort Sumter during the American Civil War. Both sides knew that whoever fired first would be seen as the aggressors.

In the end the convoy reached the base and carried out its mission and departed without incident. Two days later, for reasons unknown to anybody, the base opened fire on the ACF ships. What followed was a very quick battle which destroyed the base. Outraged over the attack the ACF president asked for a declaration of war upon the Human Federation from his Congress. He got the declaration unanimously. That was four months ago.

Christina pulled up to the building which housed her senatorial office in New York City. She had another office in Ontario she didn’t use as often as she would’ve wished. Legislation happened in NYC where Congress met, so most federal government offices were located there. The President of the Human Federation resided at the presidential residence in the city of Abu Dhabi, in the old United Arab Emirates. The Supreme Court of the Human Federation moved its offices to The Hague long ago.

It all still left an impression that the West controlled the Earth, and the Human Federation in general, but most of those impressions died off as the old ways of thinking died too. No longer was the Human Federation confined to one planet, but to whole solar systems. That put paid to the concepts of the Old World, New World, and Third World. Of course, it did give rise to the new ways of thinking [and segregating] people.

Crow entered her office and almost immediately her secretary stood and greeted her with a cup of coffee and datacards that held calls and documents that needed to be looked at. How she knew exactly when the senator was coming was beyond her. After today Christina wasn’t sure she wanted to look at them. More than anything she wanted to go back to her flat and lie down. Maybe with a shot of whiskey.

It was duty to her constituents that kept her there in the office. Duty to them and to the Persepolis Congressional Oversight Committee. It was that committee that ran the political end of one of the most important “Outer Colonial” trade posts. That space station was the best link to those systems and Congress was so adamant about its importance that they went out of their way to create the committee that provided for the station’s budget, maintenance, and operations. Sometimes Christina wondered why since the station, being a military outpost, was overseen by the Joint Chiefs and the Department of the Space Force.

But Congress in its infinite wisdom…, there she cracked a smile, thought that it knew better. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. The next meeting of the committee was in two days and she needed to be briefed on what the station’s commander asked of Congress. Finding the correct datacard she dove into the first bit of digital paperwork.

Admiral Moore looked at the light codes in the plot on her flag bridge as it traced the fleet’s progress toward the planet in front of her fleet. Red light codes indicated the enemy battleships and their escorts around the planet. Surely they got her message before the planet but until they analyzed the telemetry from their sensors they had no way of knowing what was coming at them. No doubt the senior CO on the flagship went bone white as he saw that an entire enemy fleet complete with super juggernauts was coming to pay a visit to the star system. Admiral Moore couldn’t believe that the local CO never deployed any sensor drones in-system to watch their backs. Talk about sloppy. Not that it would’ve made any difference as her fleet would’ve still caught up with them.

His ships were heading out toward the hyper point where Moore’s ships came in. As soon as they read the data the HF ships turned tail and began decelerating in order to head for the jump gate on the other side of the system. No doubt the planet’s governor told them to either surrender or retreat. It would take time to accelerate back up to full speed but that was time that they didn’t have. Her ships’ base velocity was much higher at this point and her fleet was accelerating at 0.4 light for over three hours already. Her fleet would easily overtake the HF ships well short of the planet.

She fully intended to send them a message to stand down and surrender rather than face destruction at her fleet’s hands. Yes, the ACF was fighting a war for independence but the admiral saw little need for unneeded bloodshed if it could be helped. Plus, any ship they seized intact or even damaged helped their cause immensely. A few captured battleships and battlecruisers would be nice to add to the ACF fleet. However, that was if the Human Federation CO wanted to surrender. If not, she’d transmit the virus that shut down her former student’s fleet and take them that way. Failing that she’d blow them out of space. She prayed that her opposite number over there saw reason. She’d have to decelerate relative to the enemy fleet to send over marines and prize crews to secure the captured ships. Her astrogator was already plotting out the necessary maneuvers.

Whatever the outcome, there was still another few hours until the HF ships entered her effective missile envelope.

Admiral Moore thumbed the com system on again and called out her surrender orders to the Human Federation battleships and their consorts. She told them that there was no chance of escape or winning so there was no point in trying to fight. She waited for a few tense minutes while she watched her plot. Surely they received her message and knew that it was hopeless for them.

Moore looked to her communications officer, “Prepare the viral package Lieutenant Roman. That’ll get their attention.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Her hands danced across her terminal as she loaded the proper files and infiltration software. “Standing by.”

“Admiral!” her flag captain called from the command bridge. “The enemy ships have turned again and are braking.”

Moore looked into her plot and saw that the HF ships began braking maneuvers. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she watched what the enemy ships were doing. Some few seconds later Lieutenant Roman came over to her with a com chip, “Ma’am, I have their surrender now.”

“Acknowledge receipt Lieutenant Roman. Tell them that our marines and crews will be over as soon as our fleet slows relative to them in order to send over our assault shuttles. Let our own crews know what is happening. Then let’s get going again.”

Admiral Moore’s fleet sped past the planet and the shredded remains of its orbital infrastructure. Word surely went out to the neighboring star systems that her fleet was here so she ordered her fleet to continue on to the next jump point. She had three places she could jump, each of which would offer her at least two other jump points apiece. If she was going to continue her raid she would have to stay one or two steps ahead of the Human Federation’s forces.

She highlighted the Alcon System on her plot and passed it to her flag astrogator to have a least time course generated to take them past the system and onto the Grips System. A few moments later she sent it to the rest of her fleet.

An alarm sounded behind her and her flag operations officer looked up, “Ma’am! Human Federation reinforcements have arrived in-system via the jump gate!”

Admiral Moore looked down at her plot which was already updating itself with the new telemetry. The jump gate was about four-and-half light hours behind her fleet so it took that long for the light of their arrival to reach her fleet. The HF ships had at least that long to analyze her fleet’s course and speed, information that they would’ve gotten from the planet when they arrived anyways. The arrival of those ships made no difference in the long run. She looked at the time-late image of the Human Federation ships exiting the jump gate and saw at least eight super juggernauts and eight juggernauts and their escorts moving away from the gate.

Their forces, if that’s all they brought, were still smaller than her fleet. However, she had no intention of offering them battle. To slow down, reaccelerate, and engage the enemy would burn too much reactor mass and give the Human Federation time to bring in more forces to defeat her in detail. No, this wasn’t the time or the place to make a stand. Better to do it on her terms and on a field of her own choosing.

She looked to the plot and saw that her fleet was nearing the jump point. Giving a small sigh she prepared herself as best she could for the jump to hyperspace. Only a few minutes more. No matter what she tried it didn’t quite prepare her for the slight wave of nausea that passed over her. Her and her fleet catapulted away, leaving the Human Federation forces behind them.

Admiral Moore watched the repeater plot on her chair as it counted down the last few minutes until her fleet entered the Tigris Star System. The Human Federation Space Force had to know that her fleet was headed to there. Even if they didn’t know she was targeting the Tigris System they would’ve reinforced it. The ships behind her own fleet would be coming in too, only a few hours behind her own.

She already planned for all of that, but she vastly preferred to minimize her own losses in the face of the enemy while maximizing their losses. That was the idea in the mind of any good officer. However, those losses were being inflicted on people she might’ve known, might’ve taught at the academy on Earth.

Up until a few months ago she was a part of the Human Federation, but she wasn’t about to fight against her own Colonial home. She couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead of fighting against Altair she chose to fight against Earth and the Human Federation that wronged the people of the Colonies for so long. She lived on Earth and saw first-hand and how some people viewed those from the Colonies. Even some of her students felt the same, although none were brazen enough to voice any opinions or give overt signs where she or the other faculty could hear or see.

She’d try to minimize the loss of life to the other side; but in war you didn’t always have that option. In war people died. It’s as simple as that. If you couldn’t accept it you didn’t belong in uniform, let alone command.

She felt the familiar wave of slight nausea pass as her fleet exited hyperspace and immediately the Eisenhower executed a ninety-degree turn upwards that every ship preprogramed into their navcomputers ever since the Grips System. Sensors were reaching out and so far they didn’t see the minefield that she was expecting. This maneuver wasn’t necessary but it was just as well that it was executed. Running headlong into an enemy’s minefield was never a good idea.

Surely she tripped every long-range sensor post in the system and they were alerted to her fleet’s presence. Looking over her own sensor data she identified a sensor platform and called up a destroyer. “Pinecone,” now there was a stupid name for a warship, “Eliminate the enemy’s sensor platform off your port bow.” Nancy had to wonder who named that ship the “Pinecone”, if you asked her she would’ve said it was a rather stupid name to give a ship. She also wondered what the people aboard the ship thought about the name. They probably were embarrassed about the name, at least, she would’ve been if she had been posted to the ship in question.

About a minute later she got a call back, “Target obliterated ma’am. Pinecone awaiting new orders.

Her flag captain, Brooks, looked to her. “Did she just say ‘Pinecone’ admiral?”

Nancy looked up to him. “Yes, she did. That ship is named the ACF Pinecone.” The admiral looked back at her computer station and pressed the comm button. “Rejoin the fleet as soon as possible and return to course.” Thumbing the communications controls she called up all of her capital ships. “Let’s leave something in our wake to greet those pursuit forces. To all available ships, deploy mines across the exit of the jump point then rejoin the bulk of the fleet as soon as possible.”

As her capital ships were doing that she looked over the reports from her fleet’s sensor crews. There was the Persepolis Station several light hours in-system orbiting the fifth planet from the system’s primary. It looked like a Stanford Torus space habitat without the solar panels. It was smaller than a space habitat of similar design but it didn’t need to be the size of its larger cousins, Persepolis only being less than a kilometer in diameter. A much smaller agricultural ring was above the station, that section having the only sunlight portals that would normally be arranged all over a similarly built space habitat. Below the station itself was the docking ring where several freighters and transports were berthed.

Around the station itself, were four juggernauts and twenty battleships. They were nothing that her fleet couldn’t already easily handle. Her sensors also flagged the missile launchers, grasers, and lasers on the space station itself. She looked over their numbers and jerked almost as if she touched a live wire. Calling up her flag captain she asked, “Are you looking at that space station too?”

“Yes, admiral,” Brooks answered. “I’m surprised as well. For a station as important to the life of the Tigris Star System it’s very understrength with regards to weapon systems. My guess is that the Human Federation Bureau of Ships never thought that it would need anything more than a small defense fleet and enough guns to fight off a few pirates. If I was the CO of that station and I saw our fleet come in I’d seriously consider giving the evacuation orders and setting the scuttling charges. That station is dust when we come into range.”

“My thoughts exactly captain,” Moore answered. “I’ll send the orders to surrender. My hope is that the captain over there isn’t one of those the old school, go-down-with-the-ship types. If he is he’s going to get a lot of good people slaughtered for no good reason. I’ll have the viral package sent too. Hopefully the program still works and the HF hasn’t developed countermeasures for it.”

“And if they have?”

Moore glanced at the hologram representing her flag captain on the command chair. She smiled a predatory smile with the slightest hints of regret, “Then I guess we’ll have no choice but to force them to surrender or blow them out of space.”

“My thoughts exactly admiral,” Brooks said with more enthusiasm than she felt.

The viral package didn’t work after all. Her fleet’s computer techs were going to have to rework the package or the delivery systems or both. Give something like the Human Federation something as simple as a computer virus to dissect and analyze and it was no wonder that within a little over a week an antivirus patch was made for their systems.

Hours later Admiral Moore settled into her chair and hooked the crash restraints into the vacsuit she wore. Her helmet sat racked behind her as she watched the two fleets rush headlong towards each other. The freighters, transports, and other noncombat vessels in-system long since fled. Even the pickets sitting at the edges of the star system and the jump gate jumped away already. Her fleet vastly outnumbered the one before it and she sent the surrender order five minutes ago. So far it looked like the HF fleet had no intention of simply surrendering. A few minutes later she got a message from her opposite number. It was a simple text message which read:

“TO: Rebel Commander:
We reject your demand to surrender. Do your worst.
FROM: Captain Charles Goodwin
HFSS Persepolis
Human Federation Space Force”

It was foolish if you asked her. Those people were going to die for no reason at all. Curse their CO! She called up the formation of her ships one more time and looked at the center sub-formation that her own super juggernauts and all the assault carriers were in. On the wings, starboard and port and slightly ahead of her sub-formation were the other super juggernauts. Above and below her own sub-formation was the main core of her battleship and battlecruiser squadrons. Behind them all were the axillaries and their escorts of battleships and battlecruisers. Intermixed with all of the sub-formations were heavy and light cruiser elements along with destroyers and corvettes. Looking at the formation it looked like the jaws of some great beast closing on the enemy ships with her center sub-formation being some giant forked tongue.

The HF ships looked like they were going to run headlong into the “mouth” that was her formation. That was stupid. They would get chewed up in moments when they did. Unless something drastic happened in the next few minutes those ships would be enveloped by fire from five sides. She thought that her and other instructors at the academy taught the next generation of captains better than that.

At the last few possible moments the HF fleet broke into two sub-formations and one started flying “up” and to port while the other dove “down” and to starboard relative to her fleet. Too little, too late. Their decoys and ECM were already online but there was just no way that their fleet would survive. Unless…

Admiral Moore checked the space station again. It still looked the same and her fleet was sitting over four million kilometers away from it. Still within missile range of the station but not within beam range. But what if they packed in more missile capabilities than she originally thought? In the end it wouldn’t matter. Even if they did her fleet still had more than enough ships and combined decoys and ECM to counter anything the station could throw at them. Plus her fleet was moving whereas the station wasn’t. So what was this Human Federation commander trying to pull? She shook her head to clear the worry. She had enough to be concerned about without worrying about the actions of fools.

She waited and secured her helmet on her head. Missiles and counter missiles were loaded, lasers and grasers were primed. All was set.

The actual engagement was, as she expected, unsurprisingly brief. Seconds passed and missiles were launched in sequence and energy weapons flashed. Before she knew it her fleet was still moving forward toward the station. Her own sub-formations would pass between one another before righting themselves and moving as one forward. That was when the damage reports from the other ships came in and her mouth just about fell open in astonishment. Despite the clear numerical superiority of her fleet the HF fleet did far more damage than she thought possible. The wings of her fleet were the hardest hit and she had absolutely no idea how she lost four battleships and a juggernaut and a dozen of smaller ships. There was just no way.

Unless… Moore called up the captain of one of the damaged ships and asked, “What happened to you?!”

“Ma’am, I don’t rightly know. All I could tell was that when we engaged the enemy fleet they shot… something at us. That something burned through our armor and hulls as if they weren’t even there. I don’t know how it could’ve happened. Whatever it was it wasn’t a laser or graser.”

“Agreed. Take care of your ship and wounded. First Fleet Actual out,” she said as she cut the connection. She touched her gloved hands against the side of her helmet and attempted to scratch her head through the helmet. What could it have been? What weapon could do that? She looked at the damaged ship that she talked to and found that it looked like something just about literally scooped part of the juggernaut out. The burn marks along the wounds in the hull looked too neat to have been a blast from a laser or graser. So what was it? What could’ve caused that kind of lethal, efficient, and clean destruction?

“Positrons,” she murmured to herself. “My God! They’ve done it! I heard talk about them trying to perfect controlled positrons before the war broke out. I never thought that they would actually have positron cannons ready to deploy so soon! This changes everything!” She of course kept this to herself for the time being. She’d speak to her captains and staff about it later when they weren’t in a battle situation. In the meantime she wanted revenge. “This is Admiral Moore to Persepolis Station; I’m giving you one last chance to surrender!”

If they accepted it and stood down she would abide by it, but if not…

“This is Captain Charles Goodwin. I’ve evacuated my entire command staff and crew as well as my XO. She didn’t really want to go but I all but shoved her onto the last shuttle out. I’m the only one left aboard. I promise you, I will not surrender and you will not take me alive. Hail the Human Federation!”

“So be it,” Moore told him and gave the orders to fire missiles. She didn’t want to take the risk of her fleet running into any positron cannons that the station may have. It took longer than she thought it would. The station’s active and passive defenses were better than she thought they would be. But against what her fleet was throwing at it its defenses were woefully underpowered. The station survived one whole broadside, throwing off over half of the missiles with their ECM and decoys, killing off another thirty percent of the others that got through with counter missiles and another ten percent with point defense lasers. But when over two thousand missiles come screaming in it’s all but pointless. The Persepolis Station was gone within minutes of the second broadside. It was now nothing but space dust.

Continue to Chapter 5…