The klaxon announced General Quarters throughout the Akagi as it crawled through Jump Space. Starmen scrambled from their bunks and underway duty stations to man their battle stations. The men and women of the Imperial light cruiser realized this was either a combat drill or an engineering emergency. Either way, haste was the order of the day when the klaxon sounded. Men and women rushed past each other at breakneck speed, sliding down ladders, running down narrow passageways all in an effort to get to their stations as quickly as humanly possible. Once at their stations they follow prearranged procedures to don their vacuum suits in case of a hull breach or other battle damage.
On the bridge of the light cruiser Captain Blenda Aart calmly finished up sealing her own vacuum suit and settled in her command chair to watch the other bridge personnel. At her signal the watch officer surrendered the control of the ship to her and began putting on his vacuum suit. To her right rear, the Akagi's most senior Master Chief Petty Officer was calling off the sections and divisions reporting in ready at battle stations. The chief gunnery officer rotated his acceleration chair to face her giving the thumbs up to indicate his people were ready.
"Twenty minutes, Chief?" she swiveled her command chair toward the Chief of the Watch once he finished calling off the roster for battle stations."
"Yes Ma'am, twenty minutes," was his disappointed response.
"Very well." She changed gears, "Combat Information Center."
"CIC." Came the simple reply over the intercom.
"Mr. Davion begin the battle simulation." She ordered.
"Aye-aye Ma'am." Her new executive officer responded. In the small nerve center of the cruiser, Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion ordered the activation of the battle computer to run the data feed through out the ship, giving all sections telemetry on their simulated target. Davion waved to his senior lieutenant then readjusted his own harness in his command seat. The bubbled plastic of his vacuum suit helmet gave the room a strange look, casting a false shadow everywhere he looked. Looking at his own seat terminal he scanned the initial data on their would be target.
To his side one of the ratings started calling out the numbers as they flashed across his situation board. His voice amplified in the vacuum suit's speakers with a strange echo as the actual sound penetrated Davion's bubble helmet. CIC seemed to be closing in, somehow becoming smaller. Davion examined the enemy's data once again.
"Designating target Alpha-One." Called out Lieutenant Astolphe Calder to the CIC crew. Davion looked up from his display to see the senior lieutenant moving between console to console examining data and giving instructions to his rated technicians effortlessly. "Correction, we now have two targets, Designations Alpha-One and Alpha-Two."
Davion refocused his thoughts and took a second look at his seat monitor. Lieutenant Calder was right, two targets where now registering on his data screen. The numbers "IT-C1347G2-900500-45009-0 ALPHA-ONE" scrolled across his screen, normally detailed universal ship profile data is not so quickly displayed in a real engagement. "Three thousand displacement tons" Davion whispered to himself as he continued to read the flashing data. "Acceleration is 4-G, closing vector with a velocity of over eight million miles an hour. He checked his armchair mounted calculator, the ship has been in system or running at full acceleration for approximately three to four days." He quickly accessed the active electro-magnetic sensor telemetry. "Range is two million miles, closing fast. He is not running quietly," meaning the target was emitting its own active sensor signals, it meant to make a fight of it.
"Commander, they are tracking us too, what are your orders sir?" Lieutenant Calder called from the active sensor console.
"Right, is Gunnery ready?" Davion called back, his voice louder than he would have liked. One of the ratings answered with an affirmative. "Very well Mr. Calder ready missiles please."
"Ready missiles aye-aye sir." Calder called back then quickly responded "Gunnery is green for firing sir!"
"Very well Mr. Calder feed telemetry data on Alpha-One and Alpha-Two to Gunnery if you please." Davion felt the nervousness of the new command and new crew ebbing away as they and he fell into the old routine of naval fire control.
"Aye-aye sir, Gunnery has the data, and is requesting permission to fire from the Captain sir." Lieutenant Calder spoke loudly so that the entire CIC target tracking team can hear. One of the ratings from a monitoring console alerted the team when the ship launched the simulated missiles according to her console. Now they set and waited as the missiles track their targets to impact. Everyone continued to scan their consoles waiting the obligatory twenty-plus minutes it normally took fire and forget missiles to fly to their target. The Akagi fired a number of missile salvos at each of the incoming targets. Now all they could do is set and wait to see the results of their efforts.
"Twenty minutes sir!" called the senior rating from his station.
"Very well, Mr. Calder take a look see if you will please." Davion ordered.
"Aye-aye sir." Quickly Calder turned to the active sensor rating and ordered him to scan the target area. The rating quickly activated the ship's active scanning signal releasing electromagnetic pulses in the direction of their targets.
"Sir we are reading constant mass and velocity, course is altering acceleration is still constant."
"Very well Mr. Calder is there anything incoming?"
Lieutenant Calder quickly responded to Davion's query by looking at the rating responsible for monitoring that. Calder is given a quick negative signal indicating no incoming contacts. "No sir, no incoming contacts." Calder hesitated for a second and then updated his report, "Sir contact Alpha-One is still closing at 4-G acceleration."
"Thank you Mr. Calder but I think we still have the initiative." Davion palms his intercom to speak to the captain. "Ma'am this is CIC."
"Yes, Mr. Davion?" Captain Aart's voice came across his suit speakers clearly.
"Ma'am our missile barrage seems to have been absorbed by the enemy ships, recommend bring the energy weapons online." Davion recommended.
"Very well Mr. Davion, I am ordering Gunnery to bring the laser and fusion gun batteries online. Aart out."
"Commander!" the rating assigned the job of watching for incoming fire turned toward Davion and shouted. "Sir I am reading incoming missiles, acceleration 6-G. Impact in ten minutes. Two incoming vectors."
"Very well, Mr. Calder pass the telemetry to Gunnery now if you please."
"Aye-aye sir." Calder replied as he gave the direction to his ratings. Looking over one of the enlisted technician's shoulder Calder continued, "Lasers are engaging the incoming missiles. All missiles destroyed sir." There was a general sigh of relief even though they were only in an exercise.
"Very well Mr. Calder, what are our targets doing?"
"Yes sir, checking data." Lieutenant Calder moved to the active sensor console to query the rating. "Sir we have closed to close range, missile flight time less than ten minutes, passing new telemetry to Gunnery."
"Very well Mr. Calder." Davion checked his own sensor repeater to verify the positions and vectors of the two simulated Aslan Intruder Transports.
"Commander Davion this is the Captain." Davion recognized Captain Aart's voice on his suit intercom speaker. "I want to end this quickly sir, please forward telemetry for Gunnery to bring the meson spinal mount to bear."
"Aye-aye ma'am." Davion orders the Aslan telemetry sent to Gunnery.
"Mr. Davion the Aslan is firing his fusion guns!" Calder yelled from the active sensor console as the damage data comes rolling in instantaneously. "We're taking surface hits in the fuel tank area, maneuvering, and weapons!"
"That is the Captain's concern Mr. Calder. Send the data to Gunnery please." Davion redirected his team's efforts to their task at hand.
Lieutenant Calder signaled when the data was sent to Gunnery. He then alerted everyone when the captain ordered the firing of the Akagi's spinal mounted weapon. The meson gun data is displayed instantaneously on their monitor screens. The data indicated a direct hit on Alpha-One, the ship's acceleration dropping from 4-G to 3-G. Next the monitors indicate that Gunnery was engaging the second Aslan with the ship's laser and fusion batteries. The second ship is raked by beam fire with all batteries scoring hits.
"Captain wants missile telemetry data Commander!" Calder called from his monitor.
"Send it Mister!" Davion called back clearly enjoying this second exchange.
"Gunnery indicates missiles away!" shouted Calder. Flight time for the second missile volley is almost instantaneous at this closer range. "First target is obliterated sir!" A pregnant pause, then the following, "second target is destroyed."
"Mr. Davion, this is the Captain. I want to see you in my ready room in five minutes." Captain Aart's voice is heard over his suit intercom.
"Do you want me to come along sir?" Lieutenant Calder asked quietly as Davion removed his helmet and unsnapped his seat harness.
"That will not be necessary Mr. Calder. I already know what the Captain is going to say." Davion continued to strip out of his battle vacuum suit, folding it and storing it under his command chair.
Calder folded his plastic deflated bubble helmet and returned it to its thigh pouch pocket of his own suit before continuing. "I think we did pretty well sir for the first time."
For a second Davion paused, "Do you really?"
"Mr. Davion war in space is attrition, nothing more, nothing less. We're limited by the speed of light for detection to a few seconds regardless of how technologically sophisticated our and our enemy's sensors become. In those few seconds we each receive information on each other's mass, direction and acceleration. Then we proceed to pound the shit out of each other, simple physics. The ranges we are fighting at, thousands of miles, are too distant for evasion or other maneuvering other that flat out running to make any difference at all. When the energy weapons you are firing hit within seconds after being fired how much can you evade? You can't. And the missiles are worse; they have their own sensors and flight capability. Once those babies are fired they can't be out flown."
"Thank you for your expert analysis Lieutenant. I am sure that the captain is as aware of those facts as I am." Davion closed the vacuum suit locker loudly; "If you will excuse me I have an appointment."
"Yes sir, no insult intended." Replied Calder in a confused way.
"And none taken Lieutenant." Davion gave a slight bow of his head and then exited the CIC for the Captain's ready room.
"Well that was fun." Captain Connopo Brionii released the seal of his battledress helmet at the sounding of all clear from the bridge. He lowered his chin to speak into the suit microphone on the inner helmet collar rim now the helmet had been removed. "Sergeant Anthelme stand down the platoon. Routine maintenance and weapons checks please."
"Aye-aye sir." Came the ship's sergeant voice back in an instant.
"Commander Bast and Major Brionii to the Captain's ready room." The rating's voice on the loud speaker interrupted Brionii's ritualistic extraction from his battledress. The two-meter tall suit was more like a vehicle than an armored, strength enhancing vacuum suit. Brionii turned to walk into the suit bay when he spied Commander Bast approaching in a navy issue vacuum suit.
All Bast said as the two passed each other in the battledress suit bay threshold was, "I'll wait for you in your office Major." Brionii moved to his stall and popped the clamshell release opening the rear torso cavity of the suit he then reached over his head for a pull-up bar to pull his lower body out of the leg pieces. The suit closed and slid back into its wall cavity upon sensing his removal on a floor treadmill. He then quickly dropped to the floor and plugged the diagnostic umbilical cord into the right shoulder weapon's socket, the function board to his right lit up like a flight console with readings on the suit's readiness. He moved to retrieve his black fatigue coveralls from the hamper he had hurriedly thrown them in at the sounding of battle stations. Bast was waiting for him at the office door already back in his black fatigue coveralls.
"This is a routine meeting skipper. The Captain likes to have the department heads give a report immediately following a training activity before we loose the details in routine work." Brionii offered before Bast could question him. "Her routine is to run one or two drills a day until the night before returning to normal space, sometimes she lays off two days before return if we are doing well on the drills. Any more than that and the navy ratings wouldn't get their underway maintenance done."
"I know, the Navy always surprised me at the level of work that could be automated that is left to do manually on their ships until I shipped out the first time. Tasks that could be done by a robot very easily are still done by hand to provide the crew with work to do during Jump."
"Yes sir, I prefer the Marine way. Two choices: improve your body through physical exercise, or improve your mind through training. Who needs to shine deck plates to keep from going space happy?" Brionii smiled at Bast as they exited the corridor into the lift for the short ride to the bridge deck.
The bridge was buzzing with activity as it always was following a drill. Senior ratings and junior officers were beginning their detailed analysis of the data that was captured. This information would be posted to the ship's computer once it was all collected and organized for everyone to have at their fingertips at their personal workstations. Captain Aart had apparently already left the bridge for her office just off the control deck. Brionii led the way for Bast through the maelstrom o f milling about navy personnel.
The Captain's ready room had a small conference room attached just big enough for half a dozen people to crowd into. She had the habit of leaving the sliding door to her office open so she could monitor the arrival of her senior staff. But today it was closed. "She must be conferencing with someone today sir." Brionii began his explanation of post exercise briefing procedures to Bast as they took their seats. They were early as most Marines tend to be.
"Commander, what is your appraisal of our performance?" Captain Aart began their one on one meeting in her office.
Lieutenant Commander Davion cleared his throat and resettled in his chair in front of her desk. "Sluggish ma'am." Davion began, "We took nearly twenty minutes to man battle stations, then our duties during the battle were ill-defined."
"How so Commander?" returned Captain Aart?
"Ma'am sometimes it seemed like the control of our guns belonged to you, then it shifted to me in CIC, then once or twice I do believe that the Gunnery officers controlled the firing of the weapons directly."
"Yes, yes it did." Captain Aart agreed thoughtfully.
"Ma'am as I see it there are three things going on during the battle. Firing at the primary targets, firing defensively at incoming missiles, and handling the ship as it received fire from the enemy."
"Yes Mr. Davion, that is basic tactics 101 from any Imperial Naval Academy lecture hall in the Third Imperium. Our computers and sensors are too sophisticated and accurate to allow for very many misses in this day and age. So our ships must stand in a battleline and exchange blow for blow with the enemy. Physics are physics Mr. Davion you can't out fly a laser beam moving at the speed of light, or out smart a computer guiding a missile that thinks a thousand times faster than the human brain does."
"No ma'am you can't, but you can decide what order your going to deliver your weapon strikes at, or what range your going to fire at."
"Or if you're going to engage at all," returned Captain Aart.
"Yes ma'am the Akagi is a fairly agile ship, she can turn her bow very quickly for her size."
"Yes she can, she can also sprint pretty damn fast too. She is hard to outrun for sure with 5-G acceleration and high agility. It was the trade off for almost no armor plating."
"Yes ma'am, I noticed that during the simulation. We are pretty much naked armor wise, and you didn't use your sand casters. Why?"
"Fire the sand, Mr. Davion, and your committed to a specific course. Once the sand shroud is out and you change course the shroud continues on its original course. You loose any value it has."
"Yes ma'am of course." Davion replied.
"Mr. Davion we are going to be a long way from an Imperial Navy base for a long time. I need to condition the crew to conserve resources. Right now our missiles and sand are valuable resources not to be squandered. Our fusion guns and laser batteries feed off the ship power plant, but our missiles and sand canisters are from the magazine. Once depleted they're gone until we resupply at a base somewhere."
"Yes ma'am. Captain I would suggest that each of us - meaning the Conn, Gunnery, and CIC - be responsible for specific parts of the battle in the future. You, at the Conn, work the ship and deal with damage control. Gunnery focuses on the targeting and elimination of the incoming targets like missiles and forward observer fighter craft. CIC controls the long range fight targeting the missile and energy weapon batteries."
"Very well, Mr. Davion, from now on you have control of the missiles, fusion guns, and meson spinal mount. Gunnery retains control of the lasers for counter missile fire, and the sand casters to control the use of the shroud. I will maneuver the ship and deal with damage control. But you will engage only once I have given the weapons free order."
"Yes ma'am." Davion looked pleased with himself.
"Is there anything else?" the Captain questions half jokingly.
"Then let's get to this after action report then shall we." She stated as she stood and moved toward the door. Then she stopped and asked a most serious question. "Mr. Davion, have you ever fought Aslan before?"
"No ma'am I have not. I have seen action against human raiders and Vargr, but never the Aslan."
"Mr. Davion, the Aslan are different, they are special. They are a noble race, they love to fight but they do not fight for fighting's sake like the Vargr do, or we sometimes do. To them fighting is part of their way of life, like tradition and protocol is ours. The Aslan will rarely fire first, unless there is an overriding and clear tactical advantage. They will parley in a second after fighting has begun and will abide by the terms of any agreement they personally make. But when they fight they fight like its for their very survival, savagely with no concern for personal safety. Once engaged unless terms are negotiated formally in their customary way, they will fight to the bitter end asking no quarter and giving none. To surrender for them is to admit servitude, to become the victor's servant. Something their males can not tolerate. When we fight them, and we will, give no quarter, Mr. Davion. And never, NEVER, underestimate them no matter what size ship you encounter."
Commandant Mark O'Neill walked into his stateroom on the Tobian transport SS Niigata. He threw his map case on the plastic framed bunk and tiredly slumped into the white plastic desk chair at the room's workstation. He wasn't pleased with the way this new mission was developing. They never tell you the whole story when they hire you as a mercenary. He opened the work station desk drawer and took out the computer interface board. He pressed the corner switch activating the wall screen behind the desktop surface. First he checked the convoys underway status.
The knocking on his stateroom door by his Chief of Staff, Major "Boner" Alpheus interrupted his search. O'Neill moved to release the automatic lock allowing the light metal door to slide open. Then he returned to his seat. "Come in Major," waving toward his bunk he added, "have a seat. What is on your mind?"
The rank of Major in the Tobian Foreign Legion was a warrant officer unlike in the Imperial armed forces. "Boner" was a veteran of the Legion; experienced in the style of guerilla fighting that was common on the frontier. "The Commodore sends his complements and wishes to inform you that the convoy is finally underway for Iilgan."
"Good, Fist was beginning to get on my nerves. Too civilized for my tastes." O'Neill smiled at his old friend. Boner was four years older than O'Neill's 42 years; he had been a general officer in the Tobian Colonial Army, an Imperial reserve unit. He was very useful to the Tobians in their on-and-off-again bush wars with the Hradus, but pig-headed at times. He had disobeyed orders in their last little war and refused to waste his brigade in a useless attack that was politically expedient. He faced a court martial and was stripped of his rank and command. None of the other officers in his command were charged as part of his pre-trial agreement. No other unit that deals with the Tobian government dared to take him on except the Legion. So "Boner" joined the Legion in a non-command capacity. O'Neill quickly recognized his value and made him a warrant officer and placed him in charge of his staff.
"We were able to get the combat drop ships arranged as per your specifications. You really think they are going to need to be deployed that quickly at Iilgan?" Boner asked skeptically.
O'Neill smiled then swiveled his desk chair to face Boner, "Never can tell where there is money involved. Did you ever get that data on that local land baron I requested?"
"No I did not, apparently he is not important enough to have made the Fist planetary data base. It will be my first priority once we get our primary logistics base established. How long are you going to give my good Captain Ogdenii Howarth and I to get our intelligence operation up and running?"
"What? You haven't got it operating already?" O'Neill replied with a hint of a smile on his weathered face.
"Well I suppose I could have sent Captain Howarth on ahead of us but I prefer to be there myself when establishing an informer network." Boner mumbled more to himself than to O'Neill.
"I am concerned that we have so little information about our new area of operations. I also want more detailed satellite imagery than what I have now. One of your first priorities is to establish an intelligence operation once we arrive." O'Neill outlined his priorities to his Chief of Staff.
"Have you decided where I am to establish the main command post?" Boner queried.
"No, I will wait until we reach orbit and I have a chance to look at
actual data from the transport's sensors. Obviously the Iilgan police force
hasn't the assets to provide tactical intelligence much less strategic
information on the opposition forces. The ultimate objective will probably
be control of the river and the agricultural areas in the surrounding areas.
The 2nd Regiment Etranger de Parachutistes for all its military prowess has
only so many resources. I must take care not to over extend us. We were
fortunate that we were able to deploy with all four companies, the
headquarters and combat Support Company rather than in the usual combat
groups. The Tobians are interested in the planetary politics of Iilgan which
is why we were able to get all the super-transports we needed for a one jump
move rather than in relays."
His commander surprised Boner; "Do you really think these farmers can put up a credible resistance to our forces?"
"Boner for a man with your combat experience I would think you'd have learned long ago not to underestimate your opposition?" O'Neill shot back. "Ok, what have you got for me?" O'Neill redirected their conversation to the business at hand.
Boner reached past his commander and took the computer interface device from the deck top. With the stylus he directed the ship's library computer to his encrypted files that held the regiment's current status report. "Well like I said earlier we got all fifteen CDS onboard the transports. That took some creative freight handling believe me." Boner gave a sideways smile as he readjusted his seat on the bed. "
O'Neill interrupted, "What about 4Th Regiment Etranger de L'Air 's four CDS?"
"They're in too. We loaded them last in case we need their Combat Rescue Detachment's services during the initial employment of our troops to the surface." Boner replied, then waited for any follow-up questions.
"Who is handling the deployment of the orbital satellites?" came the expected question.
"I gave that job to the two headquarters company commanders for both regiments. I figure they can do that while your collecting your initial orbital data when we arrive in orbit." Boner answered.
"Where is Commandant Joseph Stronski?" O'Neill asked.
"The commander of the 4th Regiment is on the fifth transport as per the Legion's standing orders sir. No senior field commanders travelling on the same ship during a tactical relocation." Recited Boner.
O'Neill smiled, "Between the growing threat of the Aslan Ihatei and the known threat of the Hradus raiders it's a wise precaution."
"That will be the day, when a Hradus raider attacks a Tobian super-freighter." Boner shook his head smiling.
"Either way, I always feel exposed when we use these things. All our firepower and mobility useless when we are canned up on these monstrosities." growled O'Neill as he wrung his hands together.
"Well there is my file on the screen. The password is in bold print there in the lower left corner. I'll update it again when we get back into normal space after transit. It'll take a few days to move from the normal space reentry point to orbit. I'll get all the new data from the commanders and section heads via radio then."
"Yeah I really hate this forced isolation Jump Space causes. I wish each ship could communicate during the jump to Iilgan. If we lost a ship due to a misjump or some other disaster hit we wouldn't know it happened."
"Well they can't so you might as well use the time to get some rest." Boner stood up and moved back toward the door. I'll come by tomorrow morning to met you for breakfast alright?"
"Alright, I'm hitting the sack in a few minutes, as soon as I review your report." O'Neill silently turned and went back to work even before Boner had closed the door to his room.
Baron Gulian Olofuli sat at his morning breakfast table enjoying the vista that stretched before him. His thirty-year old daughter Lucia joined him on the veranda to share his first meal of the day. "Good morning father, how did you sleep?" Her soprano voice was one of his true treasure.
"Are you returning to Ysolde this morning?" he asked already knowing the answer.
"Yes father, the negotiations with the Council on Land and Resources representative would not concede our right to manage the river-front areas adjacent to our lands." She sat down her morning tea without even a sip. "Its infuriating to think that we, the people that have worked this land since the Founders are now restricted from further developing it without the blessing of the bureaucracy!"
Baron Gulian smiled only so slightly as he finished his small fruit juice. "What is the name of the government negotiator?"
Lucia sounded deflated as she gave the bureaucrat's name to her father, "Advocate Zona Bayarra. Have you heard of her?"
"Ah, Zona Bayarra. Yes, I have had more than one dealing with her in my younger years, she is from Land's End is she not?"
"Yes, father, she has a rather lucrative legal firm there from what the database entry on her indicates." Lucia now seemed more interested in the darkened grain bread and fruit spread that the steward had placed on the table than continuing the conversation concerning her work in the city."
"Really? May I see it?" Baron Gulian smiled teasingly at his only child and surviving member of his immediate family. His daughter handed him a computer interface board with a flat screen on it. He took the stylus from the side bracket and spelled the name of "Zona Bayarra" into the query box at the top of the device's frame. The Baron read aloud to his daughter, "Lady Zona Bayarra, Universal Personality Profile 7189BB, Age 42. She has served the government for twenty-four years, a veteran bureaucrat, to be sure, Lucia." He reached over to pat his daughter's hand in a reassuring way before continuing. "She is certified in the use of computers, holds certification in administration, her hobby and passion appears to be all terrain vehicle driving. Hmmm, perhaps we should invite her to the estate to drive some of our outer lands' trails?" Baron Gulian activates the digital image of the advocate on the computer interface board. The life-like image of the advocate that appeared was very complimentary. The woman was a handsome native of Iilgan. She was tall and well defined, the light gravity of Iilgan is merciful on the wearing down of human muscle and bone structure over the years, aging natives more slowly than those from higher gravity worlds. Her ruddy colored skin is unblemished from the years of toiling under Iilgan's type G main sequence star as many of their kinsmen are. The animated computer simulation of her face showed a rather attractive smile. Baron Gulian is not surprised as he cycled through more current images of her to find her restricted to a wheel chair. He biography indicated that she had been in a ground vehicle accident eight years ago that had left her nearly paralyzed. She had very limited mobility following the accident which interestingly enough had not stopped her love of all terrain driving.
"She seems to be quite the woman, you have a worthy opponent it would seem my dear. One you will most certainly learn from." He smiled lovingly at his daughter.
"Daddy, you're no help!" the younger Olofuli playfully pushed her father's arm nearly spilling his warm tea. "Please join me in the city today. We can have supper there together."
"I have a meeting myself with Doctor Waleran this afternoon." He replied.
"Uncle Arian is going to be here at the estate today?" She was actually surprised.
"I thought he was away from the city conducting business off-world this month?" she whimpered as she always did when she wanted something. "Why don't you both come to the city?" We could all dine after our meetings are finished." she explained as stood to leave. "I make the reservations, call me later at my office ok?" She bent to kiss her father then quickly departed for the helicopter that was waiting to take her to Ysolde.
He watched her run to the waiting aircraft out on the back lawn from his seat. He waited and watched as the vehicle revved its engines increasing the spin of its dual rotors and lifted off. He pondered their current political situation. Iilgan had been settled hundreds of years ago by colonists from the Deneb Sector that had not been successful on their home worlds for various reasons. His own family had followed the usual pattern, immigrating from Deneb, to Tobia, then from Tobia further out toward the Aslan frontier.
Baron Gulian retired to his home office, he worked on estate issues at his computer work station until mid-morning when one of the house stewards knocked at his door to inform him his guest had arrived. Earnestly he went to his personal safe and opened the electronic key. He removed a small data-viewer, memory crystals, and hardcopy digital maps. He then closed his safe and proceeded to the foyer to meet his friend and co-conspirator.
"Doctor it is good to see you. I trust your journey from Fist was
uneventful?" Baron Gulian extended his hand to grasp that of his old friend
and co-founder of his current special project.
"Yes indeed, thank you for the use of your
personal yacht. It is an excellent ship." Both men proceeded out of the house to Lucia's garden not far from the back veranda. "You were correct Gulian, the Government has moved against us as you said it would. Your contact at the planetary assembly was correct also. The Bureau of Security has hired mercenaries and they are staging at Fist also like the informant said." Doctor Arian Waleran confirmed Baron Gulian's worst fear.
"When will they arrive?" Baron Gulian asked.
"I departed on your ship when I saw that their supply shuttles were no longer making regular trips to their orbital transports," replied Doctor Waleran. He sat down at the small outdoor table where most of their planning had occurred over the last several months.
"What type of mercenaries did they hire?" queried Baron Gulian.
"It is not good Gulian, the mercenary unit I believe they hired is the Tobian Foreign Legion." The concern on Doctor Waleran's face confirmed Baron Gulian's worst fears.
"The mercenaries the Tobians are using at New Moscow." Baron Gulian smiled at his friend, "or rather Tobia's proxy-regime in charge on New Moscow." Baron Gulian paced in thought as he considered his friend's new information. "The Legion is well known for its ferocity and effectiveness in handling insurrections like our own. It has served Tobia's colonial interests well for a number of years while maintaining that vague shadow of independence giving the Tobian government deniability of involvement." He stopped and faced Doctor Waleran. "Arian do you suppose the Tobians are aiding the Government here? Financing their use of the Legion?"
"It would be a feather in the Marquis of Tobia's cap, Gulian. Possibly even give him the leverage he seeks to be promoted to the title of Duke. If the Tobians can annex New Moscow and our Iilgan into the Third Imperium it would be to his political advantage."
"Yes, it galls him to be a subordinate of the Duchess of Deneb. With the promotion of the Duke of Regina to Archduke of the Domain of Deneb, thus undercutting House Davion and lessening its influence, the Marquis of Tobia might just see this as an opportunity to end his vassal status under Deneb."
Doctor Waleran considered Baron Gulian's reasoning then countered, "But we must forget Imperial politics and focus on the fact that a regiment of crack mercenaries will be upon us within the week. How are we going to continue our resistance to the Government's imposing restrictions on the use of the river if there are mercenaries patrolling it?"
"Oh this is becoming much more than simple passage rights on the river Arian, much, much more." Baron Gulian sat at the table quickly. "The Government has become too isolated and out of touch with the needs of the land owners. The new transit regulations for access to the river is only a symptom. The land taxes and worker protection laws are truly what is threatening us. Our founding charter established a civil service bureaucracy to be staffed by the landed nobility. Over time as the influence of the industrialists has increased the bureaucracy has become a professional institution and haven for common-blood bureaucrats, the same type of government that dominates the Third Imperium."
Doctor Waleran shrugged at the suggestion that their rebellion is a class war, "I disagree Gulian, its more than that. I am not one of your Iilgan nobility; I am a former merchant that liked your agrarian culture and decided to settle here. I am Tobian by birth, as you know. But I do see the growing intrusion of my homeworld in the daily affairs of my adopted planet and that scares me."
Baron Gulian saw the opening to breach his new plan, "Enough to consider inviting the Hradus or the Aslan to aid us?"
"Gulian what are you saying? Invite aliens to help us fight against Tobia?" Doctor Waleran was beside himself. "You can't be serious, neither of them are human."
"Arian, if Tobia is involved in the new government initiatives here on Iilgan and are successful in expanding their influence, the Third Imperium and its so-called feudal confederacy becomes our de facto rulers, imposing Imperial commercial High Law on us. Spacers, like you, who are still active, would be affected. The whole problem with our government now is that it is more concerned with near space and what is in orbit than with what is happening here on the surface. What do you think it will be like once the Imperium is here? What hope of keeping what is ours do we land owners have, then, when our planetary economy becomes oriented to serving the needs of the Imperium?"
"Gulian, you're mad!" Doctor Waleran stared at his long time friend. "You have lost touch with reality. The Imperium is not interested in our world. We are barely able to manage ourselves and access rights to a single river, our situation is not even planetary, its regional for goodness sakes man. Where is your sense of priority?"
"Arian, I am perfectly sane. For us to solve our land ownership dilemma, we must look past the fact that this is currently a regional issue. Especially if the Government has brought in professional soldiers to deal with us. We need greater resources. At the very least I must take this to the planetary level."
"Gulian, has the news from New Moscow meant nothing to you?" pleaded Doctor Waleran. "The Legion will crush any overt military moves you make. They are expert at mobile warfare."
"Well then I will have to find experts of my own then will I not?" countered Baron Gulian. "The Aslan want land, there is an abundance of land here on Iilgan in the highlands and on the coastal areas that are not developed.
"But isn't that guaranteeing the loss of Iilgan's independence?" countered Doctor Waleran.
"Not at all. As I see it the Aslan are locally governed by their clan councils, I will have an easier time influencing a local noble with authority to act than pandering to a Marquis or Duchess tens of parsecs or hundreds of light years away."
"Gulian, this is a dangerous road you are taking us down."
Baron Gulian smiled at his friend, "But one we must tread, Arian, if we are going to remain masters of our own fate." Baron Gulian paused to hand a data viewer to Doctor Waleran, "We must get to work now, we have a lot of preparation to do before the arrival of our new friends in the Legion." After a moment to consider all his friend had said. Doctor Waleran smiled and took the data viewer from his friend's hand. Then both me went to work on making their strategic plans.
"Arian were you able to get the weapons and ammunition as we planned?" Baron Gulian asked as he inserted one of the data crystals into the data viewer.
"Yes, yes I was able to purchase 240 TL-12 assault rifles and their caseless ammunition. I also was able to purchase some other items while visiting Fist. One of them were quite a few fire and forget tactical missiles, sixteen of them actually."
"Excellent, I would have thought there would have been a prohibition on selling them to house troops? But then again it is Fist isn't it, with its law level zero rating. Anything goes there."
"And can be bought for a price," added Baron Gulian. "I had intended to use disposable ordnance against commercial targets using the Ysolde aerospace port, but with the arrival of the Legion pending perhaps I should retain them within my own troops."
"Well I would suggest we deploy them to our river patrols. That way they are closer to your estates and agricultural fields, but near enough that we could get them to the Resistance when the time was right."
"All right, I have my hired house troops which are organized as a traditional Lift Infantry battalion equipped with helicopters rather than grav vehicles, and the volunteers from the Ysolde River Act Resistance." Baron Gulian pondered. "I can't really use my hired troops until the other houses act against the Government too. That would be too obvious."
"Well the focus of our YRAR troops was going to be to harass the other land owners into acting. I do not see where the presence of the Legion will alter that objective. It may alter the tactical use of the YRAR, but not their ultimate goal," returned Doctor Waleran.
"Well the Bureau of Security does not know you have brought us the tactical missiles since my yacht, the Lady Yana, has the ability to land here on my estate. Nor does it know that you have just delivered the Fist assault rifles to the YRAR."
"The Bureau of Security has been reluctant to send its enforcers to the
river areas since the YRAR ambush that killed the Ysolde assistant director
twenty-seven days ago," offered Doctor Waleran.
"I am satisfied with the YRAR's war on the Bureau but if we are to win this war against the Government we must enrage the other land owners to the point they are willing to lash out at anyone, Government personnel as well as our Resistance people," continued Baron Gulian.
Doctor Waleran leaned back into his seat and smiled, "What if we engage the Legion on other land owner's property. That way any collateral damage would be absorbed by them rather than just damaging wild lands."
"I don't know, Arian, the Legion is well respected for their technological as well as tactical prowess," countered Baron Gulian. "We will need some type of stealth technology to defeat them in the field if we are to mass our forces. Otherwise we will be limited to random acts of violence that can be carried out by small teams."
"That is true Gulian, if the Tobians are supporting them directly they will have access to TL-15 ordnance," added Doctor Waleran.
Laughing Baron Gulian snorted, "Even if they are not, they are Tobian mercenaries, I am sure they purchase the bulk of their equipment from Tobian manufacturers."
"Our equipment is at best TL-8, TL-12 when we can purchase it from Fist. How will be overcome the advantage?" asked Doctor Waleran.
"We have to contact the Aslan. Who do you know that can help us do that?"
answered Baron Gulian.
"A human crew or Hradus?" The doctor looked unpleasant at the thought of dealing with the Aslan, especially concerning land.
"A human crew is preferred."
Doctor Waleran considered Baron Gulian's question for what seemed an eternity. "I knew of one ship that was known for operating on both sides of the Aslan Frontier. It's a Pandoran ship." Doctor Waleran paused as if trying to see the images of the crew in his mind's eye. "Its name was the Glory. A man named Salvis captained it, I believe an older man. He has to be retired now. But I do believe his son or nephew or some such relationship was the first officer. The ship probably belongs to that man now."
"Salvis you say? Pandoran?" questioned Baron Gulian.
"Yes as you know Pandora is only two parsecs rimward from us. I could take the Lady Yana there and search for the whereabouts of this elder Salvis."
"No, maybe later but I need for you to return to Fist, collect more intelligence on the Legion. While there see if the Glory visits Fist. Any merchant travelling the Hradus Cluster has to make portcall at Fist from time to time. The high technology and low law level is too inviting."
"Very well. As soon as the Lady Yana is off loaded I'll head back to Fist." Doctor Waleran stood after accepting Baron Gulian's instructions.
"Your efforts on our behalf will be remembered when Iilgan is free and independent of this stifling bureaucracy once again my friend." Baron Gulian grasped Waleran's hand and drew him into a bear hug. Once released Doctor Waleran smiled faintly then turned and returned to his waiting helicopter which would transport him to the Lady Yana's landing area miles from the estate's residence. Baron Gulian watched the helicopter lift off and fly to the northwest. A small smile of his own briefly touched his lips before he ordered his own personal helicopter to fly to Ysolde to meet his daughter.
"Damn it!" cursed Zachary Prax as he lost another life on the simulation he was playing in the crew's lounge of the Glory. He activated the reset on the sim as Captain Val Salvis entered the lounge. Salvis sat a miniature of a Tobian Assault Trooper in dress uniform on the table and slid into the galley bench. He reached into a cabinet behind him and retrieved a paint set he had stored there. Meticulously he began to paint the miniature in to resemble one of the more famous of the regiments. From the galley strolled Angelica sipping a Hradus fermented drink with a slight alcohol percentage.
"Hey can you get me one of those Angelica?" barked Zachary as he weaved and dipped trying ineffectually to save his sim's life.
"Think it'll quicken those lightning reflexes Zachary?" she kidded back.
Deactivating the sim Zachary Prax stood up and dropped the computer remote controller on the padded bench. "Nope, but it sure makes dying a hell of a lot easier to accept." He smiled a toothy grin at Angelica as he sauntered past her into the pantry of the galley. He selected a nearly frozen Hradus brew and lit a used cigar stub. Inhaling deeply he savored the nicotine then popped open the top of the brew and sucked down half the bottle before yelling from the pain caused by its chill. He smiled at his two seated shipmates as he moved into the lounge proper, "Is this not the life? A million credits in the safe, good brew, and a cigar to smoke. All I need now is a woman."
Laughing out loud Salvis added, "Yep, a woman in every starport."
"Problem is they all want my hide...literally." Zachary added matter of factly.
"Speaking of a woman in every port, when are we going to hire a full crew?" Angelica interjects before the male propaganda begins another round.
Salvis frowned at her seriously for a few seconds, then slid the miniature to the side and closed the paints. "You know how hard it is to organize a crew? Last time I seriously tried all I found were youngsters and freaks. We need to pull in to a port near a naval base or other military base and recruit some ex-soldiers or spacers. Last I heard New Moscow was the hottest bush war in the Cluster."
"So what are you saying?" questioned Angelica, "We're not going to hire on this run?" Her famous temper began to flair, "I am not going to fly the entire trip pulling double duty!"
"Ardasii has a Class B starport. We'll try and see if we can pick up a merchant or ex-navy veteran there." Salvis gave in quickly.
"I am going to hold to that Val." Angelica pointed her finger at him as she headed back toward her haven in the computer room.
"Alright, three, two...ONE!" Shouted Salvis from his pilot's acceleration chair. Instantly the Glory entered normal space sliding out of Jump Space in an instantaneous flash of light. "Alright, let's see where the fates put us. Angelica run a computer comparison of the sensor readings and see if we're where we are supposed to be."
"We ought to be dead by now." Grumbled Angelica under her breath but loud enough for the room intercom to pick her up, letting the two men in the cockpit hear her. "To damned tight to hire a real navigator."
Hearing Zachary's stifled a laugh, Salvis slapped him hard on the shoulder and told him to move back to the computer room and do the navigation duties. "I'm good Val but one of these days she is going to be right. Our haphazard calculations are going to be wrong one of these days."
"Alright I get the message. Jeez you'd think we'd been cooped up in a tin box for a week together or something." Salvis frowned as Zachary smiled all the way to the computer room. Both he and Zachary had the innate ability to successfully wing it on some tasks, travelers in space called it being a Jack of All Trades others called it just being very lucky. Either way if the others were beginning to feel their luck was running out he had better heed their warnings. Especially Angelica with her weird psionic powers. Well with any luck he decided they'd have an engineer and navigator before lifting off Ardasii.
The first hour inbound passed without incident, which is really all any merchant wants when getting down to it. With her rear-end facing the Ardasii hub world and her maneuver drives pushing against their velocity at her 2-G maximum the Glory was slowly coming down to a reasonable speed to enter orbit and try entry into the atmosphere for landing. The speed that the Glory entered Jump Space was well over two million miles per hour. Now her engines labored to bring her back down to a safer speed so they wouldn't burn up or skip back out into deep space without any fuel.
Suddenly the proximity alarm blasted its warning throughout the ship. Somewhere around the ship out to 100,000 miles the ship's passive sensors had detected mass and speed. The crew had broke from flight stations for the three-hour transit into the hub world. Salvis dropped his cold drink and sprinted for the cockpit. Zachary nearly swallowed his stump of a cigar. Angelica had fallen asleep in her chair in the computer room; she nearly fell out of her chair at the noise being make by the alarm. Quickly Salvis slid into his chair and rolled it forward into the locked position on its rails. Zachary jumped into the portside turret and activated the hydraulics and electronics that operated it. Tension was high as each of them realized they needed to add a second gunner to the roster as well and engineer and navigator.
"Deactivating the underway programs and activating our gunnery programs." Shouted Angelica because she had misplaced the microphone headset for the intercom. "You have the piloting Val!" She yelled again, "I've loaded the Maneuver/Evade program you should feel the quickening of the ship's response time any second."
Salvis tapped the control joysticks just a tad and felt the slight roll of the ship to the right. Smiling he was inwardly glad that the sensors had detected something so that he could get the ship out of the sluggish maneuver program that normally brought the ship into orbit and a planetary gravity well.
"Zack get back up here, I've activated the target and return fire programs. She'll defend herself now." Angelica called Zack using the wall intercom.
Puffing Zachary Prax sprinted into the cockpit. "Ok Val I got the copilot now see what we got out there."
Silently Salvis slid the large pilot's chair back and stood over the sensor controls. He called up the telemetry on the sensor contact. Multiple contacts, not good. Speed, much slower than theirs indicating less acceleration capability. That was a good sign, much less likelihood that they've run up on a pirate or military ship. He focused on one of the numerous targets. Deceleration definitely at 1-G. Most ships decelerated at the same speed they accelerated at. At the Glory's current loss of speed they would overtake the contacts in thirty minutes and match speed just as they were both reaching the hub world. Next he looked at the displacement tonnage each of the ships were registering. It varied, there were nine contacts averaging about....
"We've been noticed!" Shouted Zack from the copilot's chair. "Passive sensor warning board is lighting up like the main avenue of Startown. They've pegged us with their radar, probably fire-control." Although no one felt the ship beginning its auto-evade programming, looking out the pilot's windshield at the stars indicated the rapidness of the roll the ship had began. "Auto-evade kicking in Val." Zachary confirmed aloud even though Salvis had seen it himself.
Salvis went back to his analysis of the contacts. No big deal locking active sensors on an approaching ship. Four 400-displacement ton ships decelerating at 1-G they were twice his size, probably merchants. Five 100-displacement ton ships spread out defensively around the four larger ships.
"Val why aren't they challenging us?" Zack nervously asked.
"Yeah why not?" Salvis returned. "They are facing us with our engines facing them. We apparently are both slowing down using maximum thrust for our ships. They are between Ardasii and us. Our vectors are slightly off but our trajectories are relatively close or we would not have detected each other."
"That means they left Hradus too." Zachary offered.
"Yeah. But I don't remember nine ships pulling out right before us." Salvis stated.
"They didn't necessarily have to leave the main world Val, they could
have left from one of the other starports in the system," reminded Zachary.
"But they did have to leave Hradus." Salvis stated pointedly.
"Well go ahead and call them." Angelica stood in the cockpit hatch. "Jeez what is the big deal guys. Just call them. Here hand me the microphone and I'll do it." She began to step toward the main communications console when Salvis waved her off.
"I am the Captain." He frowned at her as she waved her hands in mock frustration and moved to set in the long vacant engineer's seat. "This is Captain Val Salvis of the Pandoran Free Trader Glory out of Hradus identify yourself please." They all waited as no reply returned their challenge. "This is the Pandoran Free Trader Glory, can we be of assistance?"
Suddenly the snarling accent of an Aslan female came back, "This is Gnarra of the Ancient Surprise, aikoho siylakht of this trade convoy. No Glory, we do not need your assistance."