The fleet courier popped out of jump space and began its approach toward the Imperial Navy Base at Glisten at 2G. The sleek ship's battleship gray hull contrasted against the black velvet of space, the main maneuver engines flared white pushing the 400 displacement ton vessel forward. Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion sat in the ship's small but comfortable lounge sipping his drink slowly. He was returning to a fleet assignment after four years at the Imperial Navy's Supreme Headquarters in the Mora system, the current political capital of the Domain of Deneb. He is being assigned to the 100th Imperial Fleet. The "100th" was a Deneb fleet that entered the Fifth Frontier War against the Zhodani and their Outworld Coalition in the Imperial year 1109. The 100th fought well against the Sword Worlds' Gram Fleet in the Lanth subsector. Following the signing of the Armistice the 100th was transferred to the Glisten subsector where it has patrolled the Trojan Reach ever since.
Davion sat his drink down and retrieved a data reader from the table before him. He scrolled down the menu and selected the details on the 100th. It is organized in the conventional fashion; the core of the fleet is a squadron of battleships stationed at the base at Glisten to defend the headquarters. The battleships in this case are of the aging modular Plankwell-class, a battle-proven class that has seen service in the Spinward Marches since the earliest of the Frontier Wars. Supporting the battleship squadron are additional cruiser squadrons assigned to the naval bases at Elixabeth, Bendor, Egypt, Mile Falcs, New Rome, Motomos, and Ramar. Each squadron consists of between four to twelve warships of a specific class or type, supported by a flotilla of couriers, tankers, and destroyer escorts giving the 100th a complement of approximately one hundred starships of various types and sizes.
Davion tossed the data reader on the table and finished his drink just as the Imperial Marine also travelling from Mora entered the lounge. The Marine's name was Compel Bast; he was a Force Commander also being transferred to the 100th. Davion and Bast have been travelling together for five months making the long journey from Mora to the Glisten subsector. In five months one learned a lot about one's travelling companions. Together they were responsible for the delivery of Imperial Command orders for the fleet commander of the 100th. During their tour together as Imperial Naval Couriers the two men had learned to trust each other and had become close friends despite Davion's noble birthright.
Bast first went to the lounge wet-bar and collected the pair's usual drinks before coming to set with Davion at the table. Smiling he sat one drink on the table beside Davion's empty glass and then raised the other in salute to his friend.
"Shouldn't you be changing into your parade dress uniform Commander?" Davion queried the Marine who was wearing the shirtsleeve-duty uniform.
Bast smiled at his reddish-brown uniform, "Commander," stressing the word - Commander, "we have many hours before arriving at the fleet docks. Relax and share another drink with me."
Setting in his space black Imperial Navy dress uniform Davion realized how impatient he was for this trip to end. "So Compel are you still going to ask for an assignment on the first ship leaving orbit, even after so many months of travelling to get here?"
"Of course my friend, I am a creature of space as you very well know." Bast downed the remains of this drink in one sudden gulp.
"If you're a creature of space why did you not sign on in the Navy instead of the Marines?" Davion fired back already knowing the answer.
"Not smart enough citizen." Bast responded with his usual comeback. And as usual, Davion only smiled knowing full well his friend's official profile from his records. Bast signaled the steward to bring them another round. When the young man approached the table Davion covered his glass with his hand indicating he has had enough, regardless of the time remaining before portcall.
Davion continued to halfheartedly listen to his friend as he talks about the rumors they picked up on their last portcall. His friend is of average height for a human, obviously in shape, and despite his comment about being "not smart enough" for the Imperial Navy, he knew that he held certifications for advanced training and rated very high in intelligence. Bast was a combat marine, his official profile indicated a tendency toward skills that would be useful in battle; particularly vehicle mounted battle. Had he been drafted into the army rather than selecting the Marines Davion has no doubt his friend would have volunteered for the tank service.
Davion wondered what Bast thought of his official profile. The son of a duke, his father being a peer of Duke Norris himself ruling the Deneb Sector. His father also actively serving in the Imperial Navy as a sector admiral, right up until his disappearance thirteen years ago on the Zhodani border. During a tour of the frontier bases a Zhodani fleet apparently ambushed his battlecarrier flagship. His escorting squadron followed the flagship in pursuit and was never heard from again. His actions are credited with warning the Jewell subsector of the impending invasion and giving them the vital time they needed to prepare for the assault that launched the Fifth Frontier War. The Jewell systems held throughout the war.
Davion's older sister runs Denebian affairs of state while he pursued his own naval career. As a lieutenant commander he had sought positions and training preparing him to some day also command a starship in battle. Now he has certifications in piloting and gunnery as well as extra-vehicular activities in vacuum conditions. He had been labeled a Renaissance Man in the old Terran tradition of the term. He is his father's son. At forty-two he was ready and wanted his own command. His peers often thought his use of anagathic drugs as vain, but it has ensured his ability to continue toward his lofty goals despite the prejudices of uninformed senior commanders he had served with in the past. That was why he volunteered for the transfer from the Supreme Headquarters at Mora to the 100th fleet on the frontier.
"Ah, the rumors about the annexation of the Darrian Confederation are just that, rumors. They have been good and loyal allies for over a hundred years. This Aslan thing with the Ihatei encroachments is not going to affect a relationship like that despite the large ethnic Aslan population in the Confederation."
"What?" Davion was drawn back to the here and now.
"How much did you drink before I arrived?" Bast returned smiling. "I was saying what we heard at Squanine is absurd. We're not going to invade the Darrian Confederation because they have a large Aslan population in their citizenry."
Smiling, Davion agreed. "No the fight will be in the Reft Sector or Trojan's Reach. We do not want an armed conflict right under the Zhodani's nose. The Mind Witches would love to see us fighting in plain sight. Then they could just set back and mind scan us from a distance."
"Oh the Zhos would love that!" Bast laughed, then finished his last drink. "Well we have just less than two hours before port call. I guess I better start packing and get changed into my dress uniform to report in." Bast smiled and stood. "Of course you're already packed I assume?"
"Of course." Davion smiled back. Bast grinned then departs for his quarters to prepare for their arrival leaving Davion to once again ponder his future alone and undisturbed.
The naval courier slowed and approached the ball of rock that served as the naval base in the Glisten asteroid belt. Glisten has two large asteroid belts in the system that has provided industrial grade ore and minerals for large-scale starship construction for centuries. Lined up majestically are four of the Plankwell battleships, a swarm of small craft could be seen buzzing around them. Even when dormant in port the dreadnoughts are alive with activity equal to a small starport. The courier blended in with the bevy of ship's boats that were moving between the base and the various starships parked in stationary orbit around it. The movable wings of the courier slid up to their horizontal landing position as the medium sized starship coasted into a landing bay to rest in the micro-gravity of the asteroid field. The ship came to a halt lightly touching down on the polished rock surface. A loading tractor crawled out of an alcove toward the courier's rear hatch, extending its docking tunnel to connect to the ship.
Bast and Davion collected their flight bags and courier packet then quickly walked down the ramp to the waiting tractor with the other passengers of the courier. At the foot of the ramp a customs technician quickly inputs their data from their identity cards then ordered them past. A navy medical technician then asked a series of exposure questions during the short ride to the base portal. Their ID cards are quickly updated with a magnetic strip interface device as the tractor bumped against the main portal for the bay. The pressure doors open allowing the invasion of the base's stale atmosphere into the scrubbed and recycled air of the small tractor. Each world has its own unique and identifying odors, Glisten was no different.
Representatives of the naval headquarters met the two Imperial officers at the hatch. After a quick check of their identification cards Force Commander Bast and Lieutenant Commander Davion were ushered into a waiting tunnel car. The bullet shaped car maneuvered through pedestrians and cargo handling utility sleds to a tunnel for high-speed travel. The car slid into a high-speed access tunnel and took off at high gees. Soon the transport arrived at the tunnel nexus of the naval headquarters area of the planetoid. The two officers were escorted to the courier reception area where they were relieved of the data crystals they carried from Mora. The two have their identification cards revised showing their arrival and assignment to the 100th. Force Commander Bast was directed to the Office of the Marine Commandant for his reassignment. Lieutenant Commander Davion was given directions to the Bureau of Naval Personnel, Officer Division.
Force Commander Compel Bast slung his flight bag over his shoulder, saluted the navy lieutenant updating his identification card and turned on his heels and started off for "Marine Country." Once out of the courier reception office he paused and tucked his maroon beret snuggly on his head before continuing down the passageway. He aggressively returned salutes of navy starmen he passed on the way out of the administration center. His maroon walking-out dress uniform stood out in this land of Navy black and red jumpsuits. The use of red jumpsuits by the Navy as a safety precaution on shipboard was logical, it made it easier to find wounded crew in an emergency, but their uniforms were just not as handsome as Marine maroon. But then it could also be the physical shape starmen tend to be in which makes their uniforms look less professional.
Bast smiled to himself as he cleared the last door and heads into the main corridor. The main part of the base was buried deep inside a planetoid on the fringe of the main asteroid field. Signs directed personnel, slow moving utility vehicles, and robots to various specialty areas of the base. Eventually he reached the marine garrison. He stopped at the gate and presented his identification card to the maroon uniformed sentries following the usual round of salutes. A marine private assisted Bast by throwing his flight bag into a waiting utility sled then drove the commander to the arriving personnel billets. The marines Bast observed during their ride look physically fit enough. Some were wearing the reddish-brown field dress uniforms most civilians are custom to seeing Imperial troops in. Others were wearing the reddish-maroon flight suit that is sometimes worn on board starships by Fleet Marines. Bast himself preferred the flight suit for wear when operating his fighting vehicles.
"Welcome aboard sir." is the sound that greeted Bast as he walks into the receiving office.
"Thank you sergeant." Bast sat his retrieved flight bag on the deck and handed his identity card to the enlisted marine waiting on the other side of the counter. The marine's shoulder boards indicated he was a Lance Sergeant. The embroidered fist and cutlass insignia on the maroon shield patches on his upper-arms indicated he was in the Fleet Marines. "Is the duty officer in?"
"Yes sir, I'll tell her you would like to see her sir."
"Thank you sergeant." Bast peered around the office while the sergeant pages the duty officer. He was impressed with its organization and appearance, another good sign.
"What can I do for you Commander?" a marine captain asked as she walked to the counter from an office in the back.
Giving his best newcomer smile Bast removed his beret and extended his hand in greeting, "Nothing much captain, I just wanted to let you know personally that I am looking for a field assignment. No more staff please if you can help it. I just spent four years on Mora in the general staff at the Navy's Supreme Headquarters. I would like to feel some dirt under my boots for a while, or at least deck metal."
Smiling back the captain gripped his hand and motioned back toward her office behind the counter. "Sergeant see to it that the Commander's flight bag is taken to transient officer billets and a room is set aside for him."
"Aye-aye Ma'am." The sergeant called for an orderly to recover Bast's bags.
"I see by your sleeve insignia Commander you're a tank driver. I assume you want a starport garrison assignment rather than the fleet?" She indicated for Bast to take a seat near her desk, she took his identification card and slid it into a reader slot. "Well let's see what I have here." She was lost in thought as she scanned the details of Bast's assignment history. "Problem is we never know what is going to come off the next starship. The person that invents faster than light radio will make a fortune." She said absentmindedly to herself. "Normally the troops do the research work. I just approve the actual assignments."
She focused on the task at hand. Bast had learned along time ago to let the bureaucrats do their work quietly, although technically she was as combat qualified as he since she wore an Imperial Marine uniform also. The Imperial Marines needed every body they recruited or conscripted to be ready to fight unlike the various Imperial Army units that could afford to have a long logistics and support tail. The last thing he wanted was for the captain to miss something that might affect his next four years.
"You may be out of luck Commander, the Plankwell-class battleship does not carry a marine contingent like other battleship classes do. No tankers needed there I suppose." She smiled up at him for an instant before continuing. "Hold on here. I see there is a red flag up here coming out of the General's operations office. Seems your in luck after all, there is a request here for field experienced officers, nothing else noted." She paused her data search and asked directly, "Are you interested in that assignment?"
"Sounds like another staff job if it's coming out of the General Officer's office." Bast hesitated. "How long has that request been posted?"
"Seventy-two hours." She rechecked her screen; "It was a fleet-wide request. You are lucky, that means most other candidates for this job in system haven't received it."
"Your sure they specifically requested field experienced officers huh?"
The captain smiled widely as she responded, "Yes sir, combat experience required."
"Alright captain. I may owe you one, or I may come looking for your head."
Laughing the captain escorted Bast back to the front of the office and signaled for a driver to be sent to take him to the transient billets. "Commander welcome to Glisten. Good luck on your new assignment."
Turning to the captain and adjusting his beret, he returned the offered salute before smiling and saying good bye, then he mounted the utility sled and waved as the driver headed off toward the billets.
Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion saluted the receiving officer at the courier station then turned and recovered his own flight bag. He stepped out into the larger passageway and turned to find the nearest Navy general-access computer terminal. He ran his identification card through the reader slot and waited for the screen to activate. The Imperial Starburst appeared, in the traditional colors for the Imperial Navy: gold on a black background. A gender-neutral voice then queried him. He stated who he was and where he was at, then he asked for transport. The computer confirmed a utility sled being dispatched to transport him to the Bureau of Naval Personnel. Davion then contacted the base billeting office and makes reservations for his suite in the transient officers' quarters. He then only had to wait a few minutes before the transport arrived, a small streamlined robotic sled.
Davion walked briskly in pointedly returning the salutes of the enlisted men as he looked for the officers' personnel office. The facility was as huge as he expected, as most Imperial naval base administration centers are. Row on row of glass barriers separated what seems to be endless offices and work centers. Literally hundreds of starmen and junior officers were conducting the Fleet's business as he entered apparently unnoticed.
"Orders?" a seasoned petty officer from the medals hanging on his tunic asked from a desk off to Davion's right.
"Are you addressing me Petty Officer?" Davion countered.
"Yes sir, your in-processing starts here sir. Let me see your identity card for your orders sir."
The petty officer took his identification card and inserted it in his data reader. He punched a few keys on his interface board and handed the card back to Davion. "See the fleet officer liaison in cubical 27 sir; down this passageway and on the right sir." Davion returned the perfunctory salute then he picked up his flight bag and followed the starman's directions. Davion found the cubicle and stepped into the office. An enlisted starman snapped to attention then waited silently for Davion to introduce himself before asking for his identification card.
"Welcome to the 100th Imperial Fleet sir." The young man smiled at Davion as he enters his personal data into his computer. "Where are you coming in from?"
Davion looked down coolly, "I am a member of House Davion starman."
The starman quickened his inputting of the data then handed the identification card back. "Lieutenant Adamis will see you now sir."
"Thank you starman." Davion sat his flight bag against the wall, adjusted the front of his coal black tunic checking his own medals, centered his gold belt buckle and removed his peaked hat tucking it under his left arm. Then he stepped smartly into the officer liaison's office.
"Welcome to Glisten Lieutenant Commander Davion." The black uniformed liaison officer said his welcome as if he has known Davion his entire life.
"Thank you lieutenant, have you prepared a list from which I may select my next assignment?"
"Yes sir. Have a seat here at this computer terminal sir." The lieutenant indicated one of two desks to his left that had terminals on them. Davion sat himself as the lieutenant returned to his desk to monitor the same data.
"Let's look at your qualifications sir." The lieutenant brought up a sub-window in the lower right hand side of the screen on both monitors. "Says here you're qualified to serve in basically any division on a starship. Pilot certified, computer certified, medical certified," the lieutenant paused on that one noticing the apparent discrepancy in Davion's youthful physical appearance and his official chronological age, then continued, "forward observer qualified, electronics certification, vacuum suit certification, and firearms training. I can put you as an assistant department head on a heavy warship, or department head on a support ship."
"What?" Davion looked up from the screen at the lieutenant. "What do you mean an assistant department head? A lieutenant commander can serve as a department head on any ship including the battleships I saw out there."
"That is true sir, if those positions were open. I have no rotations due for another six months, and all senior billets are filled on the larger warships."
"Bump someone." Davion said matter of factly.
"Your joking?" the lieutenant stared at Davion in disbelief.
Davion paused for a few seconds, straight faced. "Of course I am." Then he looked back at the screen in front of him. Davion punched in a few codes universally used in navy computer systems. He got what he was looking for immediately. "What about the Akagi?"
Lieutenant Adamis smiled back at Davion. "The Akagi sir, it's a light cruiser and needs an executive officer. Have you ever served on a cruiser before sir?"
"What is that ship's rotation?" Davion asked.
"She is due to put back out to space, just finished refits and resupply here at Glisten. She is just waiting for personnel replacements to be finalized."
"What happened to her executive officer?"
"Medical emergency sir."
"Medical emergency? Was there an accident on the Akagi?" Davion queried.
"Not on the Akagi sir, his pinnace was rammed by a fuel skiff returning from one of the battleships."
"Well that is surely unfortunate for the Akagi." Davion offered.
"And very fortunate for a qualified officer just arriving in port." Adamis replied.
"Where is the Akagi bound for from here?" Davion asked.
"The Akagi is normally assigned to the base at New Rome, a small population system a few parsecs from here."
"What kind of missions does she normally pull?"
Lieutenant Adamis punched in a command to his terminal, then reads aloud, "The Akagi is assigned to the 1127th CRURON which is detailed with trade route security for District 268. I imagine she pulls routine jumps to the Mertactor system and back."
"Well I am unfamiliar with that system. Is District 268 very active?" Davion probed for more information although he had decided to accept the assignment.
"No more active than any other Commander."
"Well, that is that then." Davion stood up and held his hand out to receive his identification card updated with his new orders.
"You'll take the Akagi then sir?"
"An old Terran adage states that it is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven lieutenant." Davion stated without emotion.
"Aye-aye sir." Lieutenant Adamis punched in the new data on the assignment and handed the card back to Davion.
Captain Val Salvis sat back in his bar chair he reached back to the table and retrieved his drink. "That is my price sir, I want the payment with bonus for hauling your cargo up front. No cash on delivery."
"Salvis you're a pirate." The broker smiled then extended his hand across the table. "You're going to need all that famous luck to make this delivery." The tall human stood up and took one last swig of his drink. Then he offered a casual salute then stated, "I'll have the cargo at your ship tonight. When can you get that ship of your off the ground?"
"The Glory is always running her power plant Simon. I've already got a partial cargo onboard, we'll leave as soon as the port authority clears me for takeoff." Salvis poured more alcohol into his glass then swished the drink around in his mouth before swallowing.
"Good enough. Damn Aslan, they are costing us a fortune."
Salvis added with a smirk, "Yeah terrible to have to pay four-times the hauling price isn't it?"
"You'll have your credits Salvis, you just get that cargo through to its delivery point."
"You're paying for the best Simon."
"I hope so." Is all that the broker said before turning and walking out of the bar quickly.
Salvis watched the business suited broker leave before looking over at his partner an ex-Pandoran law enforcer named Angelica Shimmer. She slowly got up from her seat and quietly walked over to Salvis' table observing everyone around them. "He was on the up and up. He doesn't know more than he told you."
The look of tension release was obvious on Salvis' face. Shimmer didn't need to use her telepathy to see how much he was relieved. Captain Salvis had been volunteering to take their far-trader toward contested territory for the last two years. They have made four trips earlier to worlds that had been raided by Ihatei scout squadrons. The money was good but the risk was increasing.
"What's the word from the Port Authority? Were you able to get that insider information you mentioned earlier?" Salvis corked the bottle and motioned for the barkeeper to send the robot over to take his card.
"Port Authority is still clearing ships for the system you asked about. I don't think Simon has a back bone."
Salvis laughed at that, "He is a dirtsider, of course he has no backbone. He is reacting to the popular media, they are making more out of the Aslan movements than is really out there."
"I don't know, I feel a lot of tension around the flight operations center at Port Authority. Something was up."
"Yeah, like what?" Salvis reconsidered his decision to cork his bottle.
"All I know Val is that I've never seen the Hradus Cluster this wound up. I mean the Aslan have been at this end of the Trojan Reach as long as we have. Humans and Aslan have lived in peace for centuries, only the Terrans on the Solomani Rim had a problem with the Aslan over a thousand years ago."
"It's nothing Shimmer, its all a bunch of crap that the media and the government wants us to eat up. It's all a ploy to justify raising tariffs and customs fees to wartime levels."
"I don't think so Val, I don't think it's as dangerous as they are making it sound but I still think it's not just a ruse."
"Look you didn't pick up a clue that its really serious spinward from Port flight operations and that is good enough for me to liftoff on." Salvis slid his identification card into the robot's slot then pulled it out when the transaction bar flashed green. Salvis then waved at the barkeeper as he and Shimmer walked out of the bar into the street.
Smiling Shimmer asked, "So where are we off to this time?"
Salvis scratched his beard before answering. "You'll love it Angelica, back toward Pandora."
"PANDORA!" Shimmer stopped in her tracks. "We've never been as far as Pandora before since we left that rock five years ago. That's over six months from here."
"Look its only seven parsecs Angelica, think of it as a new beginning."
"New beginning! That's almost twenty-three light years Val, that's half a year in the Glory."
"You have anywhere else to be?" Salvis' famous temper threatened to erupt.
"Val that is so far away, and its going right at Aslan space." She continues, "Val you don't even have and engineer or gunner, the two last ones picked up and moved on with hardly a thank you!"
"If we weren't heading back toward Aslan space there would be no profit Angelica." Salvis stops and takes hold of both her arms to make her face him. "Look the Aslan are not going to go to war with humans. The Third Imperium would not stand for it."
"VAL, hello. The Imperial border is back coreward in the Spinward Marches, we're in independent space here."
"Yeah but we're humans from the Imperium. Well most of us are, the Hradus are aborigines but most of the colonies are human ones."
"And they're Aslan from the Hierate, both groups are a long way from their home space."
"Well we've been living here side by side for centuries. I don't think there going to start a war with us now." Salvis started walking again.
"What's the cargo Val?" Shimmer quietly asks.
"Lithium for the carbon dioxide scrubbers." He said with a low voice.
"Lithium, we are going to spend nearly six months in space and brush the Aslan border for a cargo of common lithium?"
"Look you know that lithium is worth it weight in gold for hazardous environment colonies. They need it to supplement their atmosphere control equipment."
"I know Val." She waited for a minute before continuing, "Its just that it sucks risking our life for something as common as lithium."
"Shimmer you're beginning to sound like a dirtsider."
"Hey, that is uncalled for Val."
"It will be alright Shimmer, its me. We're not going to have any problems on this run. It will be a piece of cake."
"Of course it will be." Shimmer smiled as they make their way to the port terminal. The building is filled with Hradusites and humans, both colonists and spacers. Hradus is a high population world located in a cluster of worlds given the same name by expanding human colonists from the Deneb sector generations ago. It's a small world with a tainted, thin atmosphere. It enjoys adequate sized oceans to supply the needs of its large indigenous population and waves of human settlers. Wisely the Hradus planetary bureaucracy installed a rather harsh law level, using paramilitary techniques to insure it did not loose control during the swelling of the population.
Salvis eyed a squad of Hradus enforcers as they check security papers of passers-by.
"I won't be missing the Rads at all." He indicated the local spacer name for the planetary police.
As if overhearing the comment one of the enforcers looked up and motions for the two humans to step toward him. With a serpentine voice the guard asked for their identification papers issued by the Port Authority. They both dug in their pockets and extract the folded documents and hand them to the willowy Hradus soldier. They listened to the irritating sounds of the flaring nasal flaps on the sides of the soldier's cheeks as he reads their papers. One side is printed in Anglic, the other in the native Hradus script. When finished and without a word he simply handed the papers back and ushered them past as he focused on another human passer-by.
Relieved even though they knew they had nothing to fear, Salvis and Shimmer made their way to the Port Authority security checkpoint for access to the hanger and landing pads. They are quickly recognized by the human guards and passed on through the access hatch. Here they don their respirators before exiting into the organically tainted atmosphere of Hradus. They then hop a ride on a utility tractor that was heading in the general direction of their ship. Once the tractor rounded one set of building and approached the Glory Salvis patted the driver on the shoulder so he would slow down. The two casually jumped off and walked the short distance to their far trader-class merchant ship.
Freetraders have a tradition of customizing the hull-painting scheme of their ships so that they are easily recognizable in port as not being corporate or government subsidized traders. The Glory was no different; Salvis chose a bright green and yellow color scheme that stands out on even the most hostile environment worlds. The naked human woman with her back to the viewer blowing a kiss to the cockpit was well know to the colony stations and ports in the Hradus Cluster.
Closing the distance to the starboard side ramp Salvis quickly got inside and moved to the pressure door leading to the inner compartments of the ship. He hated the respirator and quickly got rid of it as soon as he could. Just inside the hatch in the common area the third member of their current crew waited for them. A scruffy worn-out Imperial scout by the name of Zachary Prax. Salvis had no idea why he allowed the scout to work for passage, but he does.
"Well boss, are we going to leave this tainted rock or are we still looking?" Prax offered as Salvis shot past him toward the computer room.
"What's this we stuff?" Shimmer smiled at the scout. "Val said your not allowed off the ship Zack, he said he'd leave you here if you pulled another stunt like last time we made planetfall."
Smiling Zack lit his cigar, "Hey it wasn't my fault the merchandize was stolen." Shimmer laughed a subtle laugh at hearing that. Zack had his moments of usefulness, the knack was to know when to use them and when to keep him pinned.
"Zack you're a lost case." She offered as she followed Salvis into the computer room.
Salvis called out to her that he needed her expertise on the computer. She acknowledged that and slid into the operator's chair in front of him. "Ok Angelica, pull up the flight plan we worked out." She complied. Salvis read the screen over her shoulder. "Ok," he pointed at the dots on the screen representing the locations of nearby systems in Jump Space, which is more compact than normal space. The systems appear in a two-dimensional format even though space itself is not. "Angelica type in the commands to drop Saurus and Darchona." He ignored the moans of disappointment and continues on, "type in Ardasii, New, and Fist."
In the background Zack whines out, "New again. Come on Val that place stinks."
Quickly after finalizing the details of the flight plan, Shimmer switched to the astrogation gazetteer file to look up the statistics on the three planets. "New is not bad Zack, it says here it's a garden world, nice breathable atmosphere, plenty of free standing water."
"Yeah," he countered back, "and an oppressive law level that makes this place look like a resort. And a technology level that is pre-industrial."
Salvis cut in laughing, "Not quite Zack, it IS industrial age development."
"Yeah, with internal combustion engines, Val they still use animals of burden to do their agriculture with for crying out loud. Give it a few decades, it will have an atmosphere as tainted as this one is."
"It's just a layover to get refueled for the jump to Fist." Salvis cut him off.
"Fist? What is at Fist anyway, I remember it's a low population world right?"
Shimmer is impressed as she verified that comment against the computer data, "Pretty good Zack, says here it's a medium sized world, tainted atmosphere again, large oceans - meaning planetfall for fuel, small population," she winked at the scout before continuing, "some sort of ruling council, and ZERO LAW LEVEL." She smiled broadly at the two men listening to her. "And wait it gets better, it has a very high technology rating. Why is that I wonder?"
Zack offered, "Because is a lay over just like Val said. Local star systems probably pay to have some corporation keep the place well maintained and staffed for starship travel. Bet it has a good starport."
"Zack it's in the middle of no where, literally it's located all by itself." She countered.
"Let me see." He moved to observe the visual display on her screen. He suddenly realized where his captain is taking them. "Val that is heading toward the Aslan Ihatei territories again."
"That's right Zack, we're going back toward Ihatei space again." Salvis set his no argument look as he waited for the scout's reply.
"What in the universe could make you take the Glory that deep into Aslan patrolled space after that last trip?" Zack turned to face his captain.
"Profit." Shimmer said matter of factly in a lowered voice.
"I'm getting four-times the price of the haul for this run Zack."
"Four times?" Zack rubbed the stubble on his chin, "We're just going to Fist right?"
Salvis looks at Shimmer and then back to Zack, "No Fist is like you said, just a lay over."
He waited for the protests to subside before continuing. "We are eventually going to Argona."
"Argona?" Zack asked, "Where the hell is Argona?"
Shimmer is surprised that Zack didn't know anything about the planet so she quickly keyed its information. "Galactic Grid 2923, Argona: B-class starport, small size, trace atmosphere, 20% water probably in the form of ice, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, another bureaucracy runs the planetary government, moderate law level, and a technology level comparable to Terra's 21st century. Hmmm great."
"Look guys they are paying me four times the hauling rate for just half our hold, plus we can carry what ever we want in and as much as we can out."
"You're the captain, Captain." is all that Shimmer said.
Smiling his patented smile, Salvis relaxed and pats Zack Prax on the shoulder and added, "Come on we've got work to do, I told our patron we'd lift off in record time, now lets get to it."
Syelreaiyates, Supreme Field Marshal of the Aslan Clan Tlaiowaha arrived at his command center on the planet bearing his clan's name. His clan dominates the surrounding worlds, which owe allegiance to the Hierate through as his clan's vassal states. As he passed subordinate warriors and technicians they held their hands palm outward, saluting him in the Aslan tradition, showing that their "dew claw" or retractable claw was sheathed in their hand. He turned slightly to his loyal aid and trusted companion for nearly three decades.
"Yes my lord?" she immediately responded, Alise was assigned to Syelreaiyates by the clan leadership when he became a general officer. They discovered their various skills complemented each other nicely, Alise became more than an assistant, more a political advisor and confident.
"Have the Clan Oiekhew Ihatei ships arrived from the Staha system yet?" the Field Marshal queried.
"Yes my lord." Alise proceeded ahead of the Field Marshal and hurried to the strategic holographic projection pit in the center of the command center. Busy technicians gave them a wide berth as they continued about their duties. She waited patiently as the worshiped leader of her clan's military moved to stand by her side.
Syelreaiyates growled under his breath when he reached her side, "The Aikoho Earleatrais continues to send Ihatei colony ships to our borders. He is forcing our clan into a very dangerous situation with the humans. How many Ihatei transports are now in our orbital space?"
The smaller Aslan female looked up at her lord, "4,581 my lord."
"Each with at least hundreds of colonists in suspended animation, low berth as the humans are prone to call it." He growls indicating he was in deep thought. "What about the supporting war fleet?" He raised his head to look at the three-dimensional image his advisor was activating.
The pride of his clan's military strength appeared before him, the equivalent of two or maybe three Third Imperium Navy fleets. His clan's family warships supplemented by the vassal clan's smaller fleets combined into on single inspiring naval force. For a moment he simply stands in awe of what he has been able to organize. His eyes focused on the thirty-three 150,000 ton Jump-3 battleships moving in five squadrons, as is the Aslan tradition they continue to move slowly through the fleet anchorage, prowling watching their herd of Ihatei transports.
"Please move the angle of view to coordinate G274H372."
"Yes my lord."
He took pleasure in viewing his clan's pursuit squadrons now patrolling the outer system. These ships take the role of the hunters for the clan, they move quickly around the battlefield, striking at weakened opponents, the humans call them Cruisers. Syelreaiyates prefers to call them what they are, Ship Hunters. The Ship Hunters are a class of warship designed by his clan to its own specifications for operations in the Hlaoirloahaurl sector, what the humans call Trojan Reach.
The Tlaiowaha Hunters were constructed at the Stehasu naval yards at a cost of approximately twenty-eight million humans' Imperial credits for each ship. They boast a displacement of 50,000 human tons, in a closed hull carrying a crew of nearly 1,000 warriors and technicians. Each ship carried it's own tactical fighter wing of interceptors and fighter-bombers. Allowing 120 warriors the honor of engaging the enemy one on one in battle. But what the Field Marshal is most fond of is the navy's placement of the Claw-class transport lander as a mandatory support ship on the cruisers. Each Ship Hunter carried in addition to 50 clan warriors as ship's troops, 130 warriors of his Tlaiowaha Field Army serving onboard bringing with them four armored fighting vehicles.
The Field Marshal took pleasure in appreciating the value of these versatile warships as orbital artillery platforms in support of his ground forces. Of course his brethren in the Hierate Navy would boast of the ships' armaments. The technology levels on this side of the Great Reft prohibit the use of spinal weaponry on most ships built behind the Claw (Aslan term for the Great Reft). So the designers of the Tlaiowaha Ship Hunters made use of bays and turrets to outfit the warships. The ships had been armed with hundreds of triple laser turrets and sandcasters, supplementing large siege missile launchers and fusion energy cannon in 100-ton bays.
Next the Field Marshal focused on the literally thousands of Aslan interceptors and fighter-bombers that were out early for their daily training missions. Daily he sees the reports on the various battle-exercises that the clans'' stage against one and other to hone their pilots' combat skills. The humans are notorious for underestimating the value of the fighter-spacecraft in naval combat. He with his orientation toward ground combat valued the maneuverability and speed in which small spacecraft can bring to a battle.
"Hmmm, I am pleased." The Field Marshal turned to say to his aide, "The Aikoho Earleatrais is wise to place the Ihatei fleet under our clan's protection."
"Yes my lord, under your protection." She responded quickly.
"Change the image to the battle map." He snorts. On the surface of the holographic projector the commonly used two-dimensional map with the distances the various systems in question are in jump space. Above the jump distance map a three-dimensional map shows the real distance the stars are from each other in normal space. "Very good."
Supreme Field Marshal Syelreaiyates examined the image and its accompanying map as if they were new to him. He mentions to himself casually, "We are limited to the direction we can move into the humans' space by our jump drive range. The Ship Hunters and many of the Ihatei transports can only make jump-2. The battleship squadrons can make jump-3 but would be unsupported if they jump alone." He scratched his chin thoughtfully.
"You are asking a question Field Marshal?" Alise is a custom to serving her lord as his sounding board.
Syelreaiyates smiled at her then answers quietly, "The admirals are suggesting we cut directly toward the Imperial border in the Spinward Marches and by-pass the human colonies in the rimward subsectors of Trojan Reach. It's a daring plan worthy of our Clan, however it risks our battleships by sending them alone without the rest of the Ihatei fleet."
"You disapprove lord?" she nearly whispered the politically sensitive question.
"I am a soldier Alise. I prefer to control the land before moving on to new territory. It is unwise to underestimate the humans as our ancestors have countless times. Although these sectors are not officially part of the human Imperium," Syelreaiyates indicated a cluster of worlds surrounding the high population system labeled Hradus in the Tobia subsector of the Trojan Reach, "they are well developed. They will resist our colonization of their worlds."
"But lord I thought our scouts squadrons indicated that those worlds have no system defense forces?" Alise pointed out.
"True enough, our scouts report they have no formal system defense forces. Some of the starports have minimal military defenses. Granted to the Navy they would appear to pose no threat." Uncharacteristically the Field Marshal leaned forward and manipulated the controls of the hologram projector himself. The image expanded to include space out to the Imperial Spinward Marches sector. "But our battle planners know that the Imperial Navy has stationed the six full fleets beyond their declared borders. Whether or not those fleets are fully supplied and staffed we do not know. They could be simply skeletons managing forward contingency bases, or supporting full strength battle squadrons. We simply do not know."
Smiling, Alise offered, "But the battles that would come from such a meeting would be glorious."
Smiling back at his assistant the Field Marshal added, "That is why I favor a slow encroachment, securing each world before moving on to the next. So that when that glorious naval battles come and our ancient battleships must fight with the new high-technology warships of the humans they have something to anchor too."
Alise raised her chin indicating understanding of his meaning then turned her gaze back to the image displaying the human Spinward Marches.
Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion walked casually into the Officers' Mess at the Glisten Naval Base. He had taken his personal belongings to the transient officer billets and freshened up, changing into the Navy's black everyday duty uniform. He removed his black cloth garrison cap and folded it under his waist belt. He then smoothed his light long-sleeve shirt and walked into one of many lounge areas branching off the main entrance. He selected a table near the bar and seated himself, the human waitress smiled mechanically as she asked for his order. Davion ordered mild liquor then smiled pleasantly to the woman as she moves off to retrieve his order wondering if she was really human or robot. No he was in an Imperial Navy Officers' Mess, the management would not spend the credits to own such an expensive robot when cheap human labor was available.
Davion turned to see a commander he recognized from the Deneb Naval Academy with two other junior officers he didn't recognize. "Triona Tylden! Good to see you again." Davion stood to greet the female naval officer.
Smiling she presented her two companions, "Alexi good to see you. Let me introduce you to Ensign Konrad Aimo of the Imperial Starship Ishuunar, and his department head Lieutenant Commander Dunbar Ninnund." The two male officers both snapped their heels and slightly bowed at the waist for and instant before breaking out in broad grins."
"Commander Davion? Are you related to the Denebian Fleet Admiral Hanse Davion sir?" Commander Nunnund asked.
But Commander Tylden broke in quickly, "Yes our new friend here is of noble birth. Come gentlemen lets join Alexi at his table." The three men quickly agreed with the petite navy commander and quickly seat themselves. As the waitress returned with Davion's drink, Commander Tylden ordered a bottle. Then she turned her smile on the new arrival.
Davion initiated the conversation by asking about the Ishuunar. "I am not familiar with your ship Commander, what class is it?"
Lieutenant Commander Nunnund smiled as he began describing the fleet escort. "Surely you've heard of the P.F. Sloan-class. It displaces 5,000 tons. Older style ship with everything attacked to the keel. There are only 40 personnel assigned to the escort. Commander Tylden was our executive officer until she got herself bumped up to Fleet Headquarters last year."
Laughing Davion indicated his error. "Of course, I am sorry I did not recognize the name. Is it a good tour?"
"Alexi!" Commander Tylden cuts in. "Of course it's a good tour. There are only eight officers on the escort. These two are fully being challenged to their ability, aren't you Dunbar?"
The younger man smiled his response to the senior officer's interjection.
"Well what about you Triona, what are you doing these days?" Davion turned attention to his old classmate. Looking at her shoulder boards he added, "Congratulations on your promotion to full Commander."
Flashing Davion a genuine small of appreciation she answered, "I'm assigned to Fleet Operations; want a job?"
Laughing again, Davion declined. "I've taken the Executive Officer's billet on a light cruiser coming out of refit, the ISS Akagi. I hope to command her one day."
Suddenly Commander Tylden stopped smiling. "Alexi where did you hear that name?"
"The Akagi?" Davion was honestly taken back by Commander Tylden's reaction. "Honestly it is the ship I selected for assignment today in Personnel."
"That is impossible, Commander Wark is the executive officer of the Akagi." She challenged Davion.
"No ma'am, I'm sorry but the Bureau of Personnel has Commander Wark is it? The Bureau of Personnel has the Akagi's executive officer as unfit for duty: medical reasons. Appears he was involved in an accidental ramming of a ship's boat and a fuel pinnace from one of the battleships."
"When did this happen?" Commander Tylden asked Davion who shrugs his shoulders.
"Yesterday morning, around 0900 Star Port Time. I heard about it over the fleet engineering network." Offers Lieutenant Commander Nunnund.
"Damn." Commander Tylden looked honestly dismayed. She stood and turned to her two former shipmates from the Ishuunar. "Gentleman I have to take Commander Davion back to Fleet Operations, please excuse me."
Then matter of factly she turned her attention to Davion, "Commander, please follow me." She then turned and headed for the club entrance.
On the way out of the lounge Davion noticed his Marine friend entering. "Excuse me Triona, I just saw a very good friend of mine, may I please have a quick word with him?"
Smiling Commander Tylden explained, "Sure Alexi, I have to get my peaked cap anyway. I'll meet you there at the front door."
"Aye-aye Commander Tylden." Davion smiled at his old friend who smiled back girlishly despite her forty-plus years.
Davion quickly crossed the distance to meet his friend, "Compel, how did your first day on Glisten go?"
Turning the Marine Force Commander smiled broadly and slapped Davion's shoulder as they shake hands. "I'm not sure. I picked up some special assignment to the commanding general's staff. Some type of special project from what the posting assignment instructions read. I haven't checked in yet. How about yourself?"
"I'm not sure...." Davion began.
"But he's not authorized to talk about his assignment." A fairly attractive older woman intruded into the friends' conversation.
"Commander Tylden, it is my pleasure to introduce Force Commander Compel Bast, formerly of the Supreme Naval Headquarters, Mora."
Commander Bast clicked his heels together as he bowed and reached for the female officer's hand that is surprisingly easily taken. "My pleasure to meet you Madame."
"A gentleman in maroon. I know you must come from a good family sir. Were they Navy?" She playfully responded.
"No ma'am, just regular citizens, like myself." Bast straightened up smiling. "I was just telling Commander Davion that I am to be assigned to a special project team on the commanding general's staff. The billet apparently was just posted a few days ago."
"Really, for General Southall?" She asked.
"Ma'am I am not sure, I just signed in this morning with Commander Davion here. I am unfamiliar with which general officer's staff is being referred to for this assignment. I am not sure if it is the general officer commanding Fleet Marine Forces, or the port garrison commander."
"Was the assignment request for field or combat experienced field grade officers Commander?"
"Yes ma'am it was, why?"
"Commander Bast I may be the origin of that request for experienced marine officers." She explained.
"Oh." Both Bast and Davion looked at each other with remarkably similar expressions.
"Commander Bast, would you care to join Commander Davion and I on a little walk?"
"By all means Madame." Bast smiled and retrieved his beret he had just laid on the counter at the entrance and turned offering his arm to his new friend. "Shall we go?"
The three officers, two in Navy black, and one in the reddish-brown of the Imperial ground forces, left the Officer's Club together in silence. Other than the color, their uniforms are exactly the same; high leather boots, loose fitting pants tucked into the high boots, high-collared short sleeve shirts with leather or nylon black belt with metallic buckle. Their rank indicated by the gold stars and piping on the shoulder boards of their uniforms.
Commander Tylden used a wrist communicator to call for her robotic utility vehicle. They all boarded in silence and remained quiet until they reach the tunnel identified as Fleet Operations. The Marine security detachment standing guard is in full armored battledress including their plasma guns. After a quick identity check the three officers are allowed entry in Commander Tylden's vehicle. She took them through a maze of pristine blue-white passageways filled with Navy and Marine personnel. Eventually they come to a stop in front of a nondescript pressure door. Commander Tylden led them through the automatically opening door into the interior of the office. Davion was struck at how much it resembled the Personnel Office he processed through only that morning.
Commander Tylden stopped at a desk with a senior enlisted starman working a computer keyboard. He looked appreciative when the commander interrupted his work. She queried him on the whereabouts of Captain Lishan. The starman directed Commander Tylden deeper into the maze of offices and workspaces. Eventually they worked their way to a glass enclosure. Seated inside a white-haired navy captain was busy eating a fast meal and drinking a heated drink.
He looked pleasantly surprised as Commander Tylden interrupted his meal. "Commander, what brings you back to the puzzle palace during your annual leave?" He smiled at Tylden, then at the two strangers accompanying her.
"Captain Lishan, may I introduce my classmate, Lieutenant Commander Davion, and his friend from Supreme Navy Headquarters - Mora, Force Commander Bast. They just arrived here at Glisten this morning. Commander Davion has volunteered to replace Commander Wark who was injured in a yard accident yesterday. Commander Bast has responded to General Southall's request for a field experienced officer for a special assignment."
Smiling broadly Captain Lishan stood and extended his hand to Commander Bast, "Well let me shake hands with either the two luckiest or unluckiest officers I've met in quite a while." The two-friends exchanged apprehensive glances quickly.
Davion began first, "Sir may I ask what is going on?"
"Sure you can, but let's first go into my office. Commander Tylden please lead the way." Tylden smiled and ushered the two newcomers out of the glass room into the hallway, then she led them all to the captain's more secure office quickly. The captain's orderly is surprised to see Commander Tylden but buzzes the group into the captain's office when he waves them through bringing up the rear.
"Take a seat gentlemen. Care for anything to drink?" Lishan offered the junior officers a drink as he rounds his desk. As both men decline the captain activated his desk monitor and punched in security access codes. He asked for the two officers' identification cards and inserted them into a magnetic strip reader on his desk. Once satisfied the two are actually assigned to the units they claimed he began.
"Well. You are the two luckiest Imps in Glisten space. Hmmm, where to begin? The ISS Akagi is one of the fastest warships we have in the 100th right now. As such she has been assigned to run a mission for the Duke of Regina, Duke Norris at the request of the Duchess of Deneb." Davion squirms slightly at the mentioning of his sister's title. "She has been tasked to sweep out of the Glisten subsector here in the Spinward Marches and proceed immediately for the central regions of the Trojan Reaches and Reft Sector. Those areas are outside the normal operating areas of the 100th but because of the nature of the mission and the sizes of the other fleets responsible for the areas in question the Akagi got the mission."
"How does that include me sir? I am a field marine with mostly port defense training, ground combat using vehicular units." Bast interjected.
"Actually you're exactly what we need for this assignment. Maybe I'm the luckiest guy in the room." Lishan smiled at the two of them before going on. "The actual mission is to conduct a field reconnaissance of the human worlds that are currently running along the Aslan border to our rimward." Both men squirmed in their seats now. "To determine their readiness for defending themselves against invasion."
"Aslan invasion?" Bast asked.
"Exactly Commander." Lishan responded. "The Akagi will make best speed to the subsectors in question, then she will assist you in determining the ability of native forces to defend themselves against an invading force. Your role will be the technical expert with other Marines in making that determination. You and your teammates will be under the command of Captain Blenda Aart, class of 1106 from the Naval Academy at Mora. She is the captain of the Akagi. Once out there you are to provide any assistance you can to the locals Commander. The Akagi will return to Imperial space with your report."
"I will be left behind sir?" Bast asked pointedly.
"If the situation warrants it; Captain Aart will make the call on that. If you are left behind do your best sir. Once your situation becomes untenable or another Imperial warship arrives you are authorized to return to Imperial space also."
"Well" Bast stretched his arms and legs to relieve the new tension he felt. "This is certainly getting us into the thick of things is it not?"
Laughing Captain Lishan agreed. "Commander Tylden takes these two next door and answer any specific question they may have within reason. Tomorrow morning take them over to the Akagi and introduce them to Captain Aart and the rest of the Marine team."
"Aye-aye sir." Her voice came from the back of the office behind Davion and Bast. Both men stood and thanked the Navy captain for the new opportunity to serve the Empire in so important a mission. Then they turned and followed Commander Tylden into the outer office and their road to glory.