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 The New Beginning - Part II

Captain Val Salvis sat on the toolbox staring at the cargo containers arranged in his ship's hold. He had inherited the far trader he renamed "Glory" from its former captain. Val Salvis had served as the first officer before receiving ownership of the starship. Like most Imperial-built ships operating in the Tobia subsector of the Trojan Reach she had long been paid for and now simply needed credits for upkeep, fuel, and restocking. The Glory was still an expensive mistress to keep.

The "old girl", as his partner Angelica Shimmer was prone to call the Glory, was an Empress Marava-class far trader, the standard light trader used in countless systems throughout Charted Space. In fact the Glory had been built nearly a century ago in the Deneb sector of the Third Imperium. The ship had slowly under various captains and crews crawled its way to the Trojan Sector on the very fringe of the empire. For the most part the far trader's past captains had been content to keep the old ship as she was, she had seen tough trade tours, especially when she had first left the Deneb Sector twenty years ago. The Glory had even miss-jumped once. Fortunately for that crew they had landed in Charted Space within the sector. Now she belonged to Val Salvis, he had taken the best care of the old ship since her first captain so long ago. Angelica said that the old ship was self-aware even though that was technically impossible because of the ship computer's tech level. But every now and then Val Salvis wondered if Angelica was right.

The Glory boasted a cargo payload of sixty-one tons and forty of those tons were dedicated to carrying Mr. Simon's lithium for the next few months. That left Val with twenty tons of space for speculative cargo of his own choosing. He wanted to leave Hradus as soon as possible so he intended to wait for land-fall at another starport before investing his own credits to buy cargo for resale. His flight plan he had file with the Hradus Port Authority stated he was shipping to the Ardasii, New, and Fist star systems. Ardasii would be pleasant enough with its breathable atmosphere and low law level. In fact all three systems' primary worlds were terrestrial so the stopovers should all be pleasant. The place to buy his speculative cargo was definitely Fist with its high technology level before moving on into the Aslan frontier.

"Hey Captain, Mr. Simon's here with the money." The familiar voice of Zachary Prax, former Imperial Scout brought Val Salvis back to the moment at hand. Salvis stood and moved toward the portside cargo hatch. The enclosed air/raft sat down a few meters from the Glory with just slight hum of its grav modules powering down. Salvis liked the "no frills" attitude of Mr. Simon. Despite Hradus' reputation as an unfriendly port for free traders Mr. Simon had always been straight with Salvis finding him mutually profitable cargoes in the past.

Salvis walked down the ramp to the tarmac to shake hands with Simon as he exited the side door of the air/raft. "Good morning Captain Salvis. Weather seems to be holding does it not?" Smiling Mr. Simon returned Salvis' handshake possibly for the last time. "My clients really appreciate your taking this cargo. Its getting harder and harder to find Tobian subsector ships willing to make the jump to Borderlands subsector."

"Well you know I originally hailed from Pandora and I haven't been that way in years." Salvis smiled back at his friend.

"Well still." Simon paused for a moment both men realizing the danger such a journey will entail.

"So where is the money?" Salvis clapped his hands together in anticipation of receiving his reward for such so-called bravery.

"Right here." With that Simon turned and waved toward the crate that his two associates had unloaded from the back of the air/raft.

"Excellent." Salvis's eyes brightened in anticipation. He motioned for Prax to bring the grav trolley down from the ship to carry the crate into the Glory. With the help of Simon's two hired men Prax quickly loaded it and moved it into the forward end of the Glory's cargo bay. Everyone followed Prax into the far trader. Angelica Shimmer stepped into the cargo bay from the ship's forward living compartments.

She quickly determined through her telepathy that the two men escorting Simon were security men sent by the patron actually shipping the lithium, Simon's client. They were at ease, this being a routine transaction for them. To their knowledge the amount of the credits inside the crate was correct. She quickly made eye contact with the approaching Salvis, giving him a subtle affirming nod of the head.

Simon turned to one of the two escorting men and requested the magnetic key. He opened the crate then hands the key to Salvis. Captain Salvis squatted and rummaged through the uniquely constructed Imperial currency. As requested the high tech plastic slips were in various denominations of value. Salvis thumbed through stacks of ten and twenty credit notes. Then he picked up two bundles of fifty and one hundred credit notes. The various colors identifying the values of the bundles of money. The Imperial Treasury encodes each note of paper-thin plastic at the molecular level to eliminated tampering or counterfeiting. The plastic slips can not wear out but can be easily destroyed.

"One point five million credits Val." Simon almost whispered, "It's the most I've ever paid out for one haul in my entire life." The two men behind Simon shifted uneasily on their feet as the amount is spoken aloud.

"That colony must need this stuff pretty damn bad for these people to pay out this kind of money Mr. Simon." Salvis stood up and lets Angelica and Prax move the crate deeper into his ship.

"Hard to say who the colony's patron is." Simon turned slightly to look at his two escorts, "But I would say that person or persons has noble blood." He was rewarded by the warning look returned from the two guards. He then turned and smiled at Salvis extending his hand. "Good luck Captain."

"Thank you Mr. Simon. We'll be back." With that Mr. Simon and his associates turned and exited the ship to remount their air/raft. Shortly their vehicle was airborne and flying quickly toward the port terminal.

Salvis entered the ship's common area to see two very happy people. "Well come on you two, we are expected to deliver this cargo now that we've been paid."

Angelica was beside herself. "Val there is over a million credits in that box." She reverently dragged her hand over the top of the crate in obvious awe. The bliss on Zachary Prax's face was also most evident.

"We'll have plenty of time to run our fingers through the money once we're in space. Now let's get to our flight stations please." With that the other two follow Salvis forward toward the bridge of the far trader. Salvis effortlessly slips into the pilot's seat with Zachary Prax taking the co-pilot's seat. Behind them in the computer room Angelica activates the ship's navigation program. They were making the run to Ardasii without an engineer. It was hard to find travelers qualified as starship crews on Hradus due to the law level. Few wanted to leave their ships in such an unfriendly environment regardless of the situation onboard. But the Hradus run had always paid well for Salvis and the Glory in the past.

"Flight board is green skipper." Prax informed Salvis who was also busy doing his routine pre-flight checks.

Salvis contacted the Starport Authority control center, "Control this is Glory outbound request permission to takeoff."

A serpentine voice responded over the cabin radio speaker instantly, "Glory you are cleared for ascent on vector 090 speed two gee. Good luck Glory."

"Affirmative control, vector 090 speed two gee. Thanks control, see you on the return leg. Glory out." Salvis smiled quickly at Prax then he pulled both hand grips on his chair arms back easing the nose of the Glory up. There was a slight shifting of the deck as the Glory lifted up off the tarmac and began its slow ascent to the east into the planet's rotation. Prax watched the speed bar indicator crawl slowly toward the ship's maximum burn, two gee.

"Two gee boss." Prax alerted Salvis that the Glory had reached cruising speed.

"Got you Zachary." Salvis was enthralled with flying the Glory as always. He seemed to become one with his ship as it climbed its way up and out of the planet's gravity well into free space. "Zack how are the engines holding up?"

Prax reached down to hit the release allowing him to slide the copilot's chair back so that he can stand, he quickly moved over to scan the flight engineer's console. "All green boss."

Prax moved back over to stand behind his chair watching the sky outside the cockpit window turn from a light dirty brownish blue to a magnificent purple then slowly to a velvet black, then as from no where the stars became pristine points of color.

"Control we are in free space." Salvis sent his final message to the Hradus starport control.

"Affirmative Glory" came back the all too familiar serpentine voice from Hradus control.

Smiling Salvis punched in the flight corrections for transiting orbital space. "Angelica I need that navigation data." He called over his shoulder loud enough for Shimmer to hear him in the next compartment.

"Ok Val, loading the maneuver and navigation programs.... Navigation and maneuver programs are running." Salvis can hear her releasing her seat belts and moving to join them in the bridge. Smiling as Salvis turns to look at her over the back of his pilot's chair, "Glory is now flying herself Captain. Let's go count the money!"

Laughing Salvis released his own seat belts and moved his chair back to stand. The oversized acceleration chair slid back on rails in the deck to allow him freedom to stand. "Well." He paused to enjoy the look on the faces of his shipmates, then clapped his hands together and continued, "Let's go count the money."

Imperial Navy Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion looked around the lobby of the transient officers quarters impatiently. He quickly looked down at his flight back for what seemed to be the millionth time. Finally through the transparent wall separated the lobby from the large primary corridor he spotted Commander Tylden and Force Commander Compel Bast. He picked up his flight bag and moved to intercept them at the entry door. Commander Bast smiled knowingly at Davion as they met. Commander Tylden seemed genuinely surprised he was waiting for them.

They used a Navy robotic utility sled to make the trip to the Navy's ship's boat bay.

"The Akagi's captain was informed last night about your arrivals this morning. She is looking forward to getting you aboard. The Akagi is departing this morning for deep space." Tylden informed them as the small utility sled weaved its way through pedestrian and robotic traffic in the air terminal-like corridor. From time to time beeping to warn an enlisted starman or two to move out of its way.

Finally the small utility sled made its way to the entrance of the Navy base's ship's boat bay. Actually one of many bays providing support to a small fleet of boats, pinnaces, and shuttles continually working around the base and its anchorages. The three Navy officers make their way into the passenger-receiving lobby to check in with the chief boatswain assigning personnel to the various boats prepping for departure. The chief petty officer quickly swiped their identity cards through his reader and directs them to the appropriate boat waiting to take them to the Akagi.

As they approach the threshold of the gangway Commander Tylden stopped, the two men turned to face her together. "Good luck gentlemen. You're going to be along way from home on this one."

Both me smile then in turn shook hands with Commander Tylden before turning to board their boat for the quick trip to the Akagi. Commander Tylden waited until both men were out of sight down the retractable gangway then snapped to attention and saluted before retreating back into the main area of the receiving lobby. She watched through an observation port as the small ship's boat heaved off from the mooring into free space and then accelerated slowly away from the bay's wall. Soon it became a point of light as if it were a star then vanished completely. Replaced by the images of returning boats moving about the cavernous bay delivering their payloads.

The ship's boat accelerated up to its maximum speed of six-gees. Inside the boat the passengers and crew felt nothing as gravity compensators protected them from the increased gravity caused by their acceleration. The bullet shaped boat moved along its plotted course to intercept the already moving Akagi.

"Request permission to enter the flight deck Chief." Alexi Davion pressed the intercom beside the iris hatch leading to the boat's bridge.

"Yes sir, come on in." came the relaxed reply of the enlisted pilot flying the boat this morning.

As Davion inched into the cramped cockpit he explained, "Wanted a better view of the Akagi as we approached, Chief."

"No need to explain sir, I understand. Pilot yourself sir?" The chief petty officer asked.

Smiling back Davion responded, "Of course Chief, how else would I know the best view on the boat is from your seat." The two enlisted men flying the boat joined Davion in laughing at his last remark.

The three men enjoyed light conversation until image of the Akagi under full burn began to take shape ahead of them. She was a beauty, radically different than most current Imperial capital ships with a cone or wedge shaped hull. She almost had Zhodani lines with her pointed bow and flared aft end. Davion felt comfort in that the Akagi had the same basic lines as his lost father's flagship, the Imperial Battle Carrier Shadow Walker.

The interception of the Akagi took most of the morning since both ships were moving out-system to the jump point at maximum acceleration. Eventually the ship's boat made its docking maneuver and successfully pulled into the boat well in the aft end of the Akagi. Davion complemented the pilot on his flying, it was not easy to dock at high gee and Davion appreciated the expertise demonstrated by the chief petty officer during the flight.

Both Davion and Bast retrieved their flight bags and moved to the boat's hatch and waited. The boat's iris hatch wound open followed by a matching hatch on the interior of the Akagi. "Request permission to come aboard?" Davion offered to the young officer waiting on the other side of the hatch.

"Permission granted sir." Came the squeaky response of the ensign delegated to meet them. "Ah sir, the Captain sends her greeting, she is on the bridge at this time. I am to escort you to your quarters then to the wardroom."

"Very well Ensign. Carry on." Davion turned quickly to sneak a smile at Bast who is also is enjoying the ensign's discomfort. The two senior officers fall in behind the young ensign as two-starmen retrieve their flight bags. The ensign quickly navigates the tight passageways of the Akagi as they move toward what is known as "Officer Country." The removable aluminum paneling of the bulkhead began concealing the machinery hidden underneath as the group climbed various ladders toward the officers' staterooms. The odor of hydraulics and metal also began to fade as the men drew further away from the engineering portions of the starship into the area known as Operations. The sensation of moving on an Imperial starship is like that of moving inside a tall building on the surface of a planet. The bow of the ship is "up" and the stern is "down." This configuration allows the ship's thrust to provide some gravity making the job of the gravity compensators less strenuous and energy consuming. For some the sensation of always moving "up" is hard to get use to during spaceflight.

"Your quarters sir." The ensign indicates the executive officer's suite to Davion. The stateroom is single quarters, with a small office built into the living area. Fake wood appearing aluminum paneling adorned the walls. Red velvet appearing material comprised the cushions and drapes in the small room.

"Excellent, most satisfactory. Come back in fifteen minutes to escort Commander Bast and myself to the bridge." Davion stepped into his quarters and pointed to the bed for the trailing starman to deposit his flight bag. The ensign in turn escorts Commander Bast to his stateroom just down the passageway. His room is a duplicate of the one occupied by Davion.

The two men quickly stowed their personal gear so that if there were a sudden loss of gravity their belongings would not float aimlessly around the room. They both check the emergency apparatus in their rooms and quickly scanned the written emergency instructions in the small aluminum loose-leaf binder permanently attached to the bulkhead next to the stateroom's door. Then they wait patiently for their ensign to come retrieve them and escort them to the bridge.

Davion moved to open his quarter's hatch and is not surprised to be greeted by Bast. Davion ushers him inside. "Are your quarters agreeable?"

"Exceedingly agreeable Commander." Bast replied with mock formality. "You run a tight ship." Both men smile at that last comment each realizing the importance of the positions they are about to assume. A second rap at the door alerts them to the arrival of the ensign.

"Sir please allow me to escort you to the bridge." The dapper ensign snaps his heels as he comes to attention.

"Very well sir, escort me to the bridge." As the young man turned to lead them off, the two older men shared another smile then follow their young guide off down the passageway.

The bridge of the Akagi was higher up in the ship's main hull near the bow. The three officers used a lift to travel up the central core of the ship, which was the barrel of the meson gun, to the bridge deck. When the door of the lift opened the two new officers were offered an accustom sight, the bridge of an underway Imperial warship. The shape and size of the bridge may differ from ship to ship, but the activities and functions had remained the same for over a thousand years. Their eyes were drawn immediately to the throne-like command chair on its central dais. From there the ship's commanding officer could over-watch the activities of all the bridge officers. Presently the command chair was rotating in their direction giving them their first gaze at their new master, Captain Blenda Aart.

Their new captain was thirty-four years old; she wore her chocolate brown hair in a tight bun high in the back of her head. Her complexion was light, her large frame indicated she may have been raised on a high gravity world, she appeared to be quite strong physically. Both men knew from her service file they had been given access to following their meeting with Captain Lishan, that the Duke of Regina had knighted her for her service to the Imperium. She was wearing the Navy's black walking out dress uniform with the three gold stars and two lines of gold piping on her should boards. Her uniform jacket cuffs also had three gold stars in a horizontal line just above two lines of gold braid.

"Welcome aboard my ship gentlemen. I trust your journey was a comfortable one." She had a deep mellow voice that was pleasing to the ear. She stood and stepped down from the dais and met the two new officers at the threshold of the bridge with a firm handshake. "Let me give you a quick tour of our control center." Her smile was pleasant too.

She moved them to the center of the room and up onto the command dais before continuing. To her command chair's immediate front on the dais sat the ship's pilot. To his left sat the senior maneuver drive officer. The communications officer sat behind her at the one o'clock position. Beside him was a console for the executive officer during routine in-flight operations. To the captain's right sat her damage control officers. To the front of the dais along the front quarter of the control room sat her gunnery section fire control officers. These men and women controlled the mechanical operations of the ship's weapons systems. To their left sat the engineering stations, including the officers controlling the ship's jump drives and power plant. To the right of the gunnery stations sat the consoles of the environment control and flight operations.

As the captain walked the two new officers around her bridge she introduced them to the men and women manning each station in all there were nearly twenty-five personnel manning the bridge at that moment. She paused at the flight control console to explain to Commander Bast that this is where she would monitor his detachment's off-ship operations during the cruise. Then she ushered the two men toward a small passageway near the lift threshold that led toward a smaller room. The three officers had entered the ship's Combat Information Center, or CIC.

"This is your personal domain Mr. Davion." Captain Aart smiles at her new executive officer. "From here you will monitor movement in the system we are currently in at any given time out to two million kilometers. Monitor the surface of any worlds we happen to orbit. And of course, target our ship's weapons batteries during any naval engagements we might find ourselves in."

"Yes ma'am, may I?" Davion asked for permission to examine the various readouts and displays currently on the console screens of the tightly packed room.

"Of course Mr. Davion. Commander Bast I am sure you would like to meet your fellow Marines. This way please."

As the captain escorted Bast back toward the bridge a senior lieutenant approached Davion and introduced himself. "Good morning sir. I am Lieutenant Astolphe Calder, I am the senior fire control officer for the First Watch."

"Very good lieutenant please give me a run down of our status." Davion requested

Lieutenant Calder cleared his throat not expecting to be required to give a status report this quickly, "Well sir we have fifty-one crewmembers assigned to the gunnery section. The gunnery officer works in the main bridge area when at battle stations so that the captain can override our fire orders if necessary. Here in the Combat Information Center or CIC, we direct fire based on our electronic intelligence data. Normally Captain Aart will allow us to fight any engagements from here unless the ship is directly threatened. At least that's the way we've trained to date."

Davion's eyes scan the CIC observing readings on various monitors, "Continue lieutenant."

"Yes sir. Our sensor range is out to standard military specs. We can observe out to a range of two million kilometers. We are armed with a J-class spinal meson gun for our main weapon. Our secondary batteries consist of two hundred triple missile turrets organized into twenty batteries, we've got fifty laser turrets working in five batteries, six dual fusion turrets, and twenty-four sand caster turrets for defense."

Davion queried quickly, "All that is controlled by fifty one starmen?"

"Yes sir, there are six officers and enlisted ratings on the bridge, we have four ratings here in the CIC, and the rest are at remote turret battle stations." Answers Lieutenant Calder.

Their discussion is interrupted by an announcement over the ship's general announcing circuit by the captain, "This is the captain, secure from the maneuvering watch and prepare to enter jump space." Due to the fact that Glisten was an asteroid field the restrictive gravity well that governs the location of the safe jump point was relatively close to the system's primary population centers. Next the pilot's voice came on the general announcing circuit to state that he was jumping the ship. The compartment lights dimmed for just a second as the great ship slid into jump space. Davion felt just a slight rush of nausea for just an instant. Then as the lighting returned to full the nausea passed. The captain's voice returned to the speakers, "Secure from jump stations, station the underway watch, section one."

Immediately on hearing that order from the commanding officer technicians in the CIC began to secure their consoles and shut down their systems. There is no need for CIC to be fully operational in jump space. The ship was entirely isolated from all outside contact during its transit. CIC as well as the other gunnery stations will be reactivated just prior to entering normal space at their destination.

Captain Aart and Commander Bast made their way to Marine Country via lift. The area where the thirty Fleet Marines lived and worked was near the aft end of the starship close to the Akagi's valuable engineering room and boat bays. "I have a short-platoon of Fleet Marines assigned to the Akagi mostly for internal security and boarding actions." Captain Aart explained. "The platoon is commanded by Captain Connopo Brionii, we refer to him as Major Brionii onboard to avoid confusion. Of course you know that Force Commander." Captain Aart smiled teasingly at the new senior marine officer. "Major Brionii commands three eight-marine squads, with a headquarters detachment of himself, his ship sergeant, medic, communications technician, battledress technician, and armourer." Then Captain Aart changes direction in the discussion. "We have orders to pick up the Marine Reconnaissance Team (MRT) at the naval base in the Romar system before leaving the Spinward Marches."

"The MRT is not aboard the Akagi ma'am?" Bast queries, he was surprised that the team had not departed with the ship from Glisten.

"No sir, they're supposed to be a desert operations team. Or so the mission profile said." She responded.

"Desert operations ma'am?" Bast continued to question his new commander. The lift slows to deposit them on the Marines' deck.

"Yeah, apparently the primary hub world in our new operations area is a desert world." She said matter of factly as the two of them enter the marine contingent's command post.

"Captain on deck!" the welcoming call of the marine of duty in the orderly room announces their arrival. Three marines in fleet issue black utility uniforms snap to attention.

"Carry on." Is the first words spoken by Captain Aart as she leads Bast into his new domain. She ushered Bast toward a small office in the back of the orderly room; an emerging Major Brionii met them in his office threshold.

"Captain?" Brionii asked as he noticed the new marine officer standing beside her.

"Major Brionii let me introduce the officer I called you about last night. Force Commander Bast this is Force Captain Connopo Brionii of the Imperial Marines." The two warriors exchanged handshakes then waited patiently for their captain to continue. "Well I'll leave you boys alone to swap stories and arm wrestle. I think I'll go check in on the engineering crew while I'm down here." She then smiled sweetly at the two of them before exiting the orderly room the way she came.

"Care to have a seat Commander?" Brionii offers Bast a chair on the interviewee side of the commanding officer's desk as he reseats himself on the working side. The office is small but efficient, typical of a detachment commander's office on a naval starship. "Coffee or something else to drink?"

"Coffee would be fine Major." Bast used the traditional term for a marine captain on an underway starship as indicated by Captain Aart. The Major Brionii called to the on-duty marine in the outer orderly room to get them coffee, and to find Ship Sergeant Anthelme. The armed forces of the Imperium used conscripted troops to fill in the rank and file of all their units. The noncommissioned officers of the Imperial Marines and the Imperial Army generally were not the premiere professionals that the commissioned officers were. Many times a trooper or marine was promoted to a position simply because he or she was there at the time the position needed to be filled. The term "Shake and Bake", referred to the rapidity that sergeants were often time promoted in the Imperial military to meet the needs of their commanders in the field. Thus every command in the Imperial Army or Marines had a Ship Sergeant assigned to it no matter how small.

Ship Sergeant Anthelme seemed to be the exception; the man that walked into the office with the two stars on his shoulder boards of a Ship Sergeant looked very seasoned and professional. "Coffee gentlemen?"

"Ship Sergeant this is Force Commander Bast, the mission commander." Brionii introduced the two men to each other.

"Welcome onboard the Akagi sir." The Ship Sergeant's accent was Moran.

"Thank you Ship Sergeant." Bast accepted his coffee and sipped it to test its body and taste. "Excellent instant coffee gentlemen." The other two laughed at the senior marine's praise of the standard issue government coffee mix used on Imperial starships.

Waiting for a second or two to see if the two Akagi marines had anything to offer, Bast began the exchange with a statement. "Gentlemen, I am right off the courier and received this assignment only yesterday. I was stationed at the Supreme Naval Headquarters at Mora before coming to Glisten. I am not a Fleet Marine; I am trained in planetary warfare and starport defense. I have had experience in both those areas in the field during the Fifth Frontier War."

Ship Sergeant Anthelme interrupts, "Where did you see action at sir?"

"I saw action against the Sword Worlds' Sacnoth Fleet fighting along the Five Sisters' approaches from Lunion. I served in a Mobile Marine Planetary Defense Force as a tank platoon commander. It was attached to the Lunion Field Army which was responsible for the approaches." Bast explained. "The PDF is a Marine version of an army regiment specially equipped to defend starports from invasion."

"Yes sir, I am aware of the Marine Planetary Defense Force's mission. Not every Imperial Marine is trained in vacuum suit operations or receives training as a rifleman despite what the recruitment ads say." Responded Ship Sergeant Anthelme without emotion. "Just the hardcore ones...sir." The Ship Sergeant then allowed a broad smile to creep onto his face despite the scour on his captain's face.

"I have a feeling your marines are going to have to be pretty damn hardcore Ship Sergeant if what I've been lead to believe about our destination is true." Countered Bast. "Gentlemen we have been assigned to conduct a forward area reconnaissance of the Sindal Subsector of the Trojan Reach."

"Sindal?" Now its Brionii's turn to interject, "Isn't that the patrol area of the 203rd?"

"From what I understand, but my source said that by the time the order to conduct this mission reached the 203rd and its commander forwarded the mission to a local squadron the timeliness of the information would be lost. The Nobility has requested the most recent intelligence they can have and that job has been passed to the Akagi."

"And down to us." Finished Ship Sergeant Anthelme.

"We're getting help, a Marine Commando team has been detailed to meet us at Romar. They will provide us with our on-planet recon element." Bast continues.

"Marine Commando, now those guys are truly hardcore." Added the Ship Sergeant, his face actually lightening up.

"Commander what to you figure this mission will really entail?" Asked Major Brionii.

"Well..." Bast resettled himself in his seat setting his drink on the Major's desk; "I anticipate action against Aslan Ihatei forces that are themselves on advanced reconnaissance missions in or near Imperial space."

"The Aslan?" the Ship Sergeant said almost prayer like.

"We're going to engage Aslan warriors on the ground Commander?" Brionii asked in disbelief. "But the Aslan are our allies? We have Aslan in our ranks in the core sectors and the Solomani Rim near Earth. One of the Emperor's Honor Guard regiments is Aslan."

"The Aslan for some reason seem to be marshaling their Ihatei fleets on this side of the Great Rift. They appear to have been doing this for some time. Naval Intelligence believes that they are preparing for a concerted effort to expand their borders coreward."

Brionii interrupts, "But why would they expand toward us, why not spinward into uncharted space?"

As if suddenly becoming enlightened, Ship Sergeant Anthelme answered for Bast, "Because we have already prepared their way for them. Our worlds are already prepared for exploitation either resource or habitation wise."

Bast chimed in. "It's cheaper in the short run to invade than to explore on your own."

After a pregnant silent pause, Major Brionii broke the silence with an offer to Commander Bast. "Care to inspect the marine billets sir?"

"Major Brionii, I'd love too." Returned Bast lightheartedly.

The three marines continue their discussion of their mission as Major Brionii ushers Commander Bast into Boat Bay One. Along the walls the two-meter tall battledress suits can be seen standing in their stalls. "We have thirty suits onboard. Twenty-four suits are already prepped for the marines assigned to them. The other six suits are held in reserve for replacing battle losses."

"What are your troopers armed with?" Bast asked as they walked toward the battledress suits. "Usual inventory, those suits are state of the art Type 438-B Redding Assault Battledress. They are grav equipped and flight capable up to speeds of 290 miles per hour. For offensive operations we've got Redding FGMP-12 fusion gun battle rifles. For sneak and peak like you were talking about earlier we have GG56A3 4mm gauss rifles."

"What about vehicle support?" Bast asked while observing one of the marines running through routine diagnostics on one of the suits.

"With these babies who needs vehicle support?" the Ship Sergeant adds.

Quickly intervening Major Brionii answered Bast's question. "We have five cutters on board that serve us as retrieval boats."

"That's it? No air/rafts or ground vehicles?" Bast is concerned.

"That's it sir, just the cutters. Flown by navy pilots." Returned Brionii.

"How long does it take to get fully certified in one of these things here Ship Sergeant?" Bast asked pointing toward the blue-white Imperial battledress suits.

"For someone of average intelligence about six-weeks sir." Smiled the Ship Sergeant. "And your in luck sir, I am certified instructor in His Majesty's Imperial Marines." The Ship Sergeant clapped his hands together in anticipation of training the Force Commander. "I'll have you qualified to be a Fleet Marine by the time we reach those lovely Aslan cubs sir."

Commander Bast turned a suspicious look on the smiling Ship Sergeant, then noticed the smiles on the other enlisted Marines servicing the suits of battledress. "Yes, I am sure you will Ship Sergeant."

Commandant Mark O'Neill of the Tobian Foreign Legion sat in the crew's mess onboard one of the commercial transports his regiment was now loading onto. He was reading a tabletop computer screen with information on the next assignment's world. The regiment was going to a strategic world just off a main trade lane in the Tobia subsector. The Legion had been hired to spearhead a preemptive strike against a growing insurgency movement on the primary planet in the Iilgan system. The Legion specialized in counter-insurgency operations, which seemed abundant in this non-Imperial Behind the Claw territory. "Behind the Claw" is what the neighboring Aslan call this region on the other side of the Great Rift from their empire known as the Hierate.

He read the green print on the black screen once again as he waited for his staff officers to finish preparing their reports. "Class-C starport, diameter is 6,400 kilometers rendering a surface gravity of 0.5 G." He welcomed the lower gravity; their last assignment had been on a world with a 0.875 gravity rating. "Hydrographic percentage rated as seventy percent. Population rated as being eighty million humans during the last census in 1105. Planetary government is shown as being an impersonal bureaucracy, one of the most common in human controlled space. Bureaus and special agencies control government functions, such as the hiring of mercenaries. Relatively moderate law level for being a frontier world indicating an efficient government. Technology level is rated as being Imperial level eight." O'Neill smiled to himself. It would be another cakewalk for his men.

O'Neill shut off the screen, stretched back and straightened his camouflaged blouse. He removed his green beret and rolled it placing it under the left shoulder flap of his field uniform. The mercenary badge facing forward. Imperial officers wore their rank insignia on their berets; officers of the Legion wear the mercenary insignia just like their troops. He slowly got to his feet and walked to the coffee dispenser to get his fourth cup that morning. He was tiring of the time required to move his troops from their last assignment at New Moscow to their new one on Iilgan.

The Second Regiment was being transported on a Tobian super freighter with a displacement tonnage of 10,000 tons. His command was being loaded onboard five of the Tobian super transports for the move to Iilgan. The ship had an incredible cargo capacity of over three thousand tons. And the Legion was going to need every bit of it. The longshoremen and his own vacuum-trained troopers were loading their vehicles and supplies now. It always amazed him that vehicles that were able to offload so quickly should take so long to load onboard the transports. O'Neill returned to his computer screen and reviews his command's order of battle:

Legion Expeditionary Force - Task Force Gold (LEF-Gold)

2nd Regiment Etranger de Parachutistes (2nd REP)

Total strength: 1,350 men

Order of Battle:

1: Headquarters: Commandant Mark O'Neill, Commander 2nd REP (LEF-Gold)
2: HQ Company (HQ, Admin, Signal, Maintenance, Medical, and Supply platoons)
Recce and Combat Support Company
1st Company
2nd Company
3rd Company
4th Company
3a: Recce and Combat Support Company:
HQ Platoon
Recce Platoon (6x6 ATV's with FGMP-11, 15mm HMG or LAG 20mm x8. Each with LMG x2)
Deep Recce and Action Platoon (Elite scouts and Covert operators)
1st Anti-Tank Platoon (Grav jeeps with Fire & forget top / bottom attack ATGM [MAC 30] x8)
2nd Ant-Tank Platoon (Grav jeeps with Fire & forget top / bottom attack ATGM [MAC 30] x8)
Anti-Aircraft Platoon (Grav jeeps with SAM x4, and Duel AA Fusion Cannon x4)
Mortar Platoon (Grav jeeps with 81mm x8, and 120mm x4)
Artillery Rocket Platoon (Grav trucks with SSM x4)
Armored Trooper Platoon (1:Officer, 4: NCOs, 30: Enlisted)
3b: Line Company (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th)
HQ Platoon
Anti-Tank Section (Fire & forget top / bottom attack ATGM [MAC 30] x2)
1st Platoon
2nd Platoon
3rd Platoon (1:Officer, 4: NCOs, 30:Enlisted, 1: Field medic)
4: Line Platoon
HQ Section (PC, PS, Field medic)
1st Section
2nd Section
3rd Section (LMG x1, Reloadable multi-purpose rocket launcher x1, Sniper with Gauss rifle 4mm x1, Grenadiers x2, Riflemen x5)

4Th Regiment Etranger de L'Air (4th REA)

Total strength: 858

Order of battle:

1: Headquarters (subordinate to 2nd REP) Commandant Joseph Stronski, Commander 4th REA Detachment
2: HQ Detachment
Security Detachment
Lift Detachment
Strike Detachment
Combat Rescue Detachment
3a: HQ Detachment
This detachment has been integrated into the 2nd REP HQ Company
3b: Security Detachment
HQ Platoon (includes 2 sniper sections, 2: NCO, 16: Enlisted. They work in pairs & the NCOs direct)
1st Platoon
2nd Platoon
3rd Platoon
4th Platoon
5th Platoon
6th Platoon (1: Officer, 4: NCOs, 30: Enlisted)
4: Security Platoon
HQ Section (PC, PS)
1st Section
2nd Section
3rd Section (LMG x1, Reloadable multi-purpose rocket launcher x1, Grenadier x2, Riflemen x6)
3c: Lift Detachment
HQ Platoon
1st Lift
2nd Lift
3rd Lift
4th Lift (Combat Drop Ships x15) The Combat Drop Ship ("CDS") is an orbital capable grav vehicle that can carry one platoon of infantry, or two vehicles, or four ATVs. The CDS is big and heavily armed. On the nose it has one pod mounted duel reciprocating fusion cannons. Three door gunners with FGMPs (one on each side, and one in back). Two fold out side weapons wings each with one 30 shot 2.5" rapid fire rocket pod, four fire & forget top / bottom attack anti-tank missiles [MAC 30], and one weapon pod (185 degree side arc) with a six barrel 9mm gattling gun. The pilots are encouraged to paint menacing pictures and sayings on the CDS' nose.
3d: Strike Detachment
HQ Platoon
1st Strike
2nd Strike
3rd Strike (two seat VTOL fighter / bombers x4) A favored technique of the strike pilots is to "loft" bombs to their targets. That is to head strait to their target then pull up and release their bombs and "loft" them into a high arc to the target. Then complete the turn and return exactly 180 degrees on their attack path, inverted, releasing countermeasures if needed. This technique allows them to hit targets without having to pass over them, and is heavily practiced by the pilots.
3e: Combat Rescue Detachment (organized to rescue downed pilots)
HQ Section
Lift section (CDS x4) These are smaller versions of the normal CDS and not as heavily armed.
Strike section (two seat VTOL fighter / bomber x4)

The commercial transports would serve as makeshift carriers for his CDS contingent. His people were currently configuring the holds to allow rapid deployment of the CDS vehicles into low orbit to free fall toward the surface under their own power. He would have his troops on the ground securing key locations within minutes after achieving orbit round Iilgan.

The corporal assigned as his aide de camp during the loading by his executive officer announced the arrival of his senior staff officers. The men entered casually some chewing on rations, others smoking New Moscow cigars, they all know where they are to stand or set during these daily command briefings. The chief of staff took the floor, as is his fashion, he called the officers and senior noncommissioned officers to attention and then saluted Commandant O'Neill informing him that the staff had assembled. Commandant O'Neill returned the salute signaling for the briefing to begin.

The chief of staff, Major "Boner" Alpheus began the briefing by covering astronomical conditions in the new theater of operations. "Sir the Iilgan system is a single star system with a yellow main sequence star. The local year is for the planet we will be operating on is 226 standard days. The local day is thirty standard hours in length. The specific planet we are going to be landing on is called Iilgan I Gamma. It is terrestrial with an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. Native life is catalogued to exist on the surface and in the oceans. As the name Gamma implies the primary world occupies the third orbit from the star."

Major Alpheus activated a tabletop tactical map projector. The image of a translucent globe appears to hover a few decameters above the table. "As you can see sir the planet's oceans are well distributed over the surface. Three of the five major cities with populations exceeding 500,000 are on separate continents; two of the cities are isolated on tropical islands. Sir remember that 500,000 people on a high population hub world would be considered a small city. But here on Iilgan those five cities are economic and cultural icons."

Commandant O'Neill waved his hand to indicate he understood the major's point. The warrant officer continued.

"Yes sir, by their nature the Iilgans are competitive and militant. Our contract is for a striker mission on the large northern continent of Ebba. This continent is unique in that there are two 500,000-person cities located on it. The first city, Ysolde, is located in a region that is dominated by a large river that empties into the sea. The second Ebban city is named Edeva. This city is on the edge of the eastern mountain range. The conditions are similar to the Earth's South American continent but with the mountains to the east instead of the west. The environmental conditions are heavy woodlands, mountain, and river with the northern region of Ebba evolving in to tundra. Each of the other large cities owns and operates a starport of their own. Ysolde operates the only starport on Ebba, Edeva has a aerospace port of its own but does not handle starship traffic." Major Alpheus manipulated the controls of the map to zoom in and focus on the region surrounding Ysolde. "Surprisingly the mission we have has nothing to do with the city of Edeva. The problems are entirely to do with the population of Ysolde and its surrounding satellite communities. The only standing military on the planet is a single company of cavalry equipped to tech level 8 and in some cases to 9. The unit has been traditionally the honor guard and security detachment for the Ysolde starport."

Noting the movement and looks from the officers the senior warrant officer increased the speed of his briefing. "The planetary government is a civil service bureaucracy with decision making councils. The government has become isolated from the local rural populations and the citizenry has taken up arms in revolt to government directed policies. Government informers have provided intelligence that Ysolde landowners are in fact arming country militias. Of special interest is a landowner named Gulian Olofuli; he reportedly has armed a military force of approximately 200 to 500 insurgents with high tech military arms. Although Ysolde officials have stated they have substantial evidence that Gulian Olofuli is the patron of the rural insurgent militia he himself denies this. Interestingly enough Mister Olofuli has not been arrested."

O'Neill interrupted with a pointed question, "Exactly how well trained and equipped are these farmer soldiers?"

"Unknown sir because my source of intelligence is the Iilgan planetary law enforcement agency. To date they have been the principle organization charged with dealing with the insurgency in the field. To this point the military actions so far in this conflict has been the hazing of government facilities, murdering of informers, and the burning of agricultural property of local enemies of Gulian Olofuli. We were hired because of the level of damage being caused to the regional commercial and agricultural infrastructure."

The questioning expression on Commandant O'Neill's face caused the warrant officer to back up and regroup, he then provided more detail on the history of the conflict they are joining. "Iilgan's main industry is agriculture sir. It world is a breadbasket providing food for many colonies in surrounding systems. However the planetary government has focused on the planet itself rather than developing technologies to allow for the installation and improvement of starport facilities beyond what they need to support visiting transports from their neighbors. The vast majority of the population is involved in one way or another with the agricultural industry. There are over 1,600 smaller communities with populations of 50,000 scattered all over the planet in arable areas where food can be grown and harvested. Even greater are the countless individual hamlets and villages of a few families operating their farms independently. At the center of each of these developed areas is the single large 500,000-person city mentioned earlier. The current problem is that the economic gap between the farmer working in the field and the industrial city workers whose industry depends of the labors of the rural community is growing with increased commercial activity with neighboring worlds. The city workers are continuing to get larger slices of the pie while the rural farmers are loosing ground in earnings."

"Where does our Mister Gulian Olofuli fit into all this?" queries O'Neill.

Clearing his throat Major Alpheus continued, "Sir he is the wealthiest of the land owners and has formed an economic block of subordinate landowners and independent farmers."

"He is a land baron in a feudal culture." Countered O'Neill.

"Yes sir in an economic context." Returned Alpheus.

"What is the tactical situation Major?" O'Neill moved to conclude this portion of the briefing and get on to the logistic portion.

"Sir tentatively based on your direction the planning staff is recommending that the five Tobian transports move into a rotational orbit, each taking turns depositing its load over Ebba to designated drop zones then returning to an observer position in high orbit. We also intend to deploy our orbital weapons packages in formations we used at New Moscow incase the conflict expands or our provided intelligence is inaccurate. We are working up priority target lists for the drop zones on the surface along the central river valley that connects Ysolde and the south coast cities."

"Good working plan for now, we have nearly three weeks in jump space for you to refine it before we reach Iilgan I Gamma." O'Neill changed focus of the staff meeting to the loading of the CDS grav vehicles into the five Tobian super transports with a simple wave of the hand to indicate a different officer.

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