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 The New Beginning - Part IV

Val Salvis was perplexed by the discovery of a small Aslan trade-convoy just ahead of him inbound for the Ardasii main world. His sensors showed that there were four 400-displacement ton ships decelerating at 1-G that were twice his size, probably merchants. Five 100-displacement ton ships spread out defensively around the four larger ships acting as escorts. Quickly he checked his navigation data to verify that the Glory was not threatened by the convoy's trajectory. Both he and the Aslan could continue their decelerations on their plotted courses without incident to the orbit of Ardasii. He looked up at the digital chronometer that kept ship's time, they had about an hour to go before their speed and location would reach the point he could begin the final maneuvers into Ardasii orbit.

"Val, take a look at your sensors again, I just got a new proximity warning." Zachary Prax, Val Salvis' sometimes copilot and friend now working passage to nowhere in particular warned him something new was entering the equation. Quickly Salvis turned back to his sensor readout on the console. He quickly found the Aslan convoy moving in their classic escort formation at just inside the extreme range of his sensors. He watched for what seemed ages as slowly from the edge of his display very small icons appeared on his screen. His heart froze for an instant. He quickly checked the power emissions on the new contacts, and to see what the radiation signatures of the new contacts' power plant were. He got his reading confirming the new intruders were missiles. He looked back at his screen to see that the first small images were being joined by a second wave. Two, or more, volleys of missiles had been fired.

"I've got incoming missiles everyone!" Salvis shouted to Zack and Angelica. "Looks like a major attack on the Aslan convoy." Salvis stated matter of factly as he checked the telemetry on the missile salvos. "I count twenty-four missiles in each salvo. They are moving at high speed indicating a long range attack on the convoy."

"Military is attacking the Aslan?" questioned Zack as he does his combat checklist on the flight console.

"So it would seem." Salvis slid into his pilot's chair and brought it back into position at the pilot's controls.

"That doesn't make sense, what planetary government is mad at the Aslan? Mad enough to risk a retaliatory strike from the Ihatei clans?" Zack continued his questioning.

"I bet it's the Tobians," called Angelica from the computer room to their rear. "They would not like to see an alliance between the Hradus and the Aslan, it would weaken the Marquis' power in the sector. I bet our Aslan friends are diplomats and the Marquis does not want to see them make if home."

Zack countered, "The Marquis of Tobia? The Tobians and the Aslan have been at peace for over a century. The clans have more resources than the Tobians do, it would be a slaughter."

"Maybe the Duchess of Deneb has sent military aid to the Tobians?" countered Salvis, "The Davions have always seen the Tobia subsector as a natural extension of the Deneb Sector. Deneb can only expand rimward as long as the Vargr remain strong on its coreward edge."

"Val look!" Zachary brought Salvis' attention back to the impending battle. Both men looked at their miniature sensor screens at their flight stations. They watched as the battle between the Aslan and their unknown ambushers began hundreds of thousands of miles to their flank and to their front. Many of the smaller icons disappeared from the screen as they closed on the larger Aslan ships. The Aslan gunners were probably firing on the missiles as they closed.

"All right, we do not want to get caught in the middle of this, " Val Salvis stated loudly for the benefit of Angelica setting in the computer room. "I'm cutting off our deceleration and rotating our nose forward so that our speed remains constant as we pass this mess up. I want to be able to lay on the acceleration if we need it to get out of here." With that he cut off the main engines that were slowing their speed by firing in the direction they were heading. Then Salvis fired their maneuvering thrusters flipping the nose of the ship in a slow arc to point toward Ardasii instead of away from it. The view of the main world slid into view in the cockpit window as a small ball in the center. "Range to Ardasii?" queried Salvis.

Zachary quickly fired a single low frequency laser beam toward the distant world then waited. "700,000 miles Val." He responded with the answer. "We have another five hours flight time left."

"Well slightly less time since I cut the deceleration, we're going to come tearing into Ardasii orbital space at a high velocity," stated Salvis as he chewed his lower lip.

"Not good." Zack again stated the obvious.

"Hell no that's not good." Salvis threw a stylus he had picked up at the windshield in frustration as his famous temper kicked in.

Angelica entered the cockpit to stand behind them; there was little she could do when they were facing battle. Her skills were more people oriented and she was out of place in situations involving technology, other than her beloved computers. "What is happening to the Aslan?" she asked surprising the two men who were focused on their discussion.

"Get back to your station," angrily ordered Salvis.

"Cool your engines Val, there is nothing I can do back there. What is happening to the Aslan?" She continued understanding his frustration.

"Zack tell her what is happening." Salvis sulked attempting to look too busy to be bothered by her obvious insubordination.

Slowly Zachary slid his chair back on its rails and stood to move to the main sensor console. He shrugged at Angelica as he passed her exchanging knowing looks. The seriousness of the piloting problem of entering a populated planetary orbit at high speed was not lost on them. They were experienced enough spacers to realize the challenge facing Salvis by his decision to turn the nose of the ship toward Ardasii with this much velocity still on the ship.

The image on the sensors was not good. "Val who ever they are they're punching them pretty hard. We're not going to be the only ones coming in at high G to Ardasii. I count two of their 100 tons down with no powerplant signature and one of their 400 tons down. Can't tell how badly the others are hurt. Looks like they are trying to change their vector too. The survivors are veering off at a ten-degree angle from their original course. The dead ships are continuing on original course with slightly less speed."

"Send me the geometry." Salvis sat up in his seat and began to move the nose of the Glory to intercept the new Aslan vector.

"Val!" a surprised Angelica cried, "What are you doing?"

"Intercept course for the dead ships." Salvis stated as he concentrated on the task at hand.

"What?" Angelica countered.

"Listen sweetheart, someone is kicking the shit out of nine Aslan merchants. It's probably warships of some kind. Doesn't matter if its pirates or the Marquis' ships, they are still carrying military grade weapons or there is a large number of them. Either way we are transiting through their battle area. They may not want witnesses."

"Oh..." Angelica slid into the empty engineer's chair dumbfounded.

"OK!" interrupts Zack. "I got the attacking ships on the screen." Zack paused in silence. "We got trouble."

Salvis quickly checked his pilot's small sensor monitor. Telemetry on the aggressor was beginning to scroll down his screen in lime-green print. The data indicated six 1,000-ton ships closing at high speed. "Damn it." Salvis hissed under his breath. "It is a naval squadron of some type."

"What government has the balls to take on an Aslan merchant convoy?" fired Zachary back.

"It doesn't matter right now," responded a hurried Salvis, "what matters is we find some place to hide quick or we will be just as dead as those Aslan."

"Roger that Val." Zachary answered. Quickly Zachary calculated the trajectory adjustments needed for the Glory to close and match the vector the damaged Aslan ships were on. "Val they are moving pretty close to our speed but we are going to need to slow down some more. They're vector is going to miss Ardasii and shoot on out into system deep space."

"Good do we have the fuel for this crap?" queried Salvis.

"Not really, hold on a second." Zachary began a new series of calculations after checking the Glory's fuel status. "We're good, thank goodness Ardasii is a small world so we've not eaten up that much of our fuel reserve coming in from the safe jump point. We can make it to Ardasii if we don't stay in with the Aslan derelicts too long."

Salvis finished making the course corrections then once again flipped the Glory so that her engines were facing their direction of travel. Then he ignited the main maneuver engines to their full 2-G thrust to begin the speed correction needed to slow them down to match the drifting Aslan derelicts. Everyone was tense because the flaring of the maneuver engines was a beacon to anyone within sensor range to their location.

Long minutes passed then Salvis cut the maneuver engines and they coasted. "What have you got Zachary?" Zachary watched his passive sensor readouts for an indication of incoming missiles or pursuing starships scanning them.

"Nothing Val but I am sure they saw us." Zachary returned.

"Me too." Salvis paused, "OK lets cutoff the power plant now. We've almost matched their speed so it won't take much to slow us down. Maybe we can even just pass through them without even firing the engines again."

Angelica is shocked by the thought of turning off their powerplant. "Val nether you or Zack are certified engineers, you can't turn off the powerplant! Who will restart it?" She pleaded.

"We don't have a choice Angelica, if we leave the powerplant on those navy ships will find us for sure."

"No, if you turn off the active sensors we can run quiet like we've done before Val, we don't have to turn off the power." She cried. "They won't find us if we have the active sensors turned off."

"Look Angelica they were probably already tracking us. I'm just hoping that they are pursuing the surviving Aslan away from us so we can drop off their sensors and they forget about us until the other Aslan are gone. But they will come looking I'm sure. When they do I want to be completely concealed. The only objects with enough mass for us to hide in with are these wreaked Aslan."

"But you don't know how to turn powerplant off." She continued to plead.

Salvis looked over to Zachary, "Zack can me and you restart this thing if we turn it off?"

Grinning from ear to ear Zachary smiled and gave a thumbs-up.

"Oh god." Is all that Angelica said as she buried her face in her hands.

"Station the maneuvering watch." Lieutenant Commander Alexi Davion announced over the ship's general announcing circuit. He stood and watched as senior or more experienced personnel entered the Akagi's bridge to replace the crewmembers of the on-duty underway watch for their return from Jump Space to Normal Space. Slowly the maneuvering watch personnel assumed their positions. He then stepped over to the Chief Quartermaster's console once the ship's senior chief had taken his station. Davion peered over the enlisted man's shoulder to check the Ready Board. Nearly all the divisions had reported "green."

"Good morning Mr. Davion." Captain Aart entered the large bridge and was stepping onto the command dais to take her seat.

"Good morning ma'am." He turned with his hands still clasped behind his back and made a quick bow. Then he turned his attention back to the Ready Board. "All sections are ready for the return to normal space." He reported.

"Very well Mr. Davion take us into normal space." She ordered.

"Aye-aye ma'am." Davion turned to the ship's pilot and ordered the Akagi out of jump space. He felt a slight surge of nausea as the Akagi dropped from the extra-dimensional space used by the jump drive to normal space. The active monitors viewing the exterior of the ship changed from the swirling blandness of jump space to the crystal sharp blackness of normal space. All around the command dais various crewmembers instantly began their routine tasks for reentry. Immediately all the sensors went active and the attending technicians began searching for possibly hostile contacts. The Navigation Division began their job of verifying they were where they were supposed to be, and to begin mapping the physical objects around them.

The pilot leaned from his acceleration chair to look back at Davion and Captain Aart, "Where to ma'am and how fast?"

Smiling her endearing almost boyish grin she responded with, "Main world, maximum G." Then turning to Davion she added, "I can not help but show off what the Akagi has got. My mother always told me if you have if flaunt it." Both officers shared a moment of levity before they were interrupted by the flurry of required reports that came with every reentry into normal space.

"Well sir my calculations indicate we have about three hours until we pull into orbital space over Romor at the speed the Captain has set." Sergeant Major Anthelme challenged Force Commander Bast. "It's a wonderful opportunity for vacuum suit training."

"Vacuum suit training Ship's Sergeant?" Bast asked with more than a concerned look on his face. Bast used the new title for sergeants of Bertram Athelme's position being used at the Supreme Naval Headquarters at Mora. After centuries of using rank titles more in line with Army traditions there was a move to give the Marines there own rank system. Part of the new Archduke's move to interject new enthusiasm and esprit de corps in the newly recreated Domain of Deneb' armed services.

"Absolutely sir. If my memory serves me correctly sir I do remember you stating that you wished to be trained on the use of our battledress suits sir," continued Sergeant Major Anthelme. "I can not think of a better place to practice the use of a vacuum suit than on the hull of an Imperial warship sir."

Bast looked at his subordinate officer, Captain Connopo Brionii and noticed the younger man seemed delighted with his predicament. "What do you have to say Major Brionii?"

"Sir Sergeant Major Anthelme is right, there is no other place more suited to vacuum suit training that on the hull of a starship." Smiled the captain.

"Well then, lead on Ship's Sergeant." Bast returned, realizing he really had no choice. He had to master the use of the battledress armor if he was to function at his assigned post on this mission as the leader of the Marines.

The Akagi continued its approach to the Imperial world of Romor with due haste. Romor lay on the trade route that traveled from Glisten into the Pax Rulin subsector of the Trojan Reach. Pax Rulin was the furthermost extension of the Spinward Marches' territory and Glisten's authority. Force Commander Bast and his fellow trainees under Sergeant Major Anthelme's experienced hand trained rigorously during the approach on the use of standard issue Navy vacuum suits, a prerequisite for using Imperial battledress armor. Sergeant Major Anthelme put them through all sorts of emergency procedure drills, and maneuvers necessary for ship to ship movement during boarding actions. But eventually the Sergeant Major eased off and finally allowed them the opportunity to view Romor with just their visor helmets between them when the Akagi began its final approach.

In space everything is relative. The Akagi had followed the dictates of physics and flipped her tail around to face Romor but had slowly bled off her velocity to shorten the time to Romor's near orbit. Meaning that she approached Romor at a much higher velocity than a civilian merchant ship would, or could for that matter. She slowly increased her thrust to her full 5-G's as she approached the system's primary world. That created the artificial sensation of gravity for those training on her hull. Crew inside the Gionetti-class light cruiser felt no sensation from the counter-thrust at all because of the ship's internal gravity compensators. But the Marines on the outside did, it was an interesting sensation to say the least. What the effect did was make the experience seem similar to climbing a mountain in space. The nose of the Akagi became the mountain's peak while the fiery base the foot of the mountain. Bast had never experienced anything like it before.

Sergeant Major Anthelme was the consummate Marine drill instructor. He was flawless in his application of behavior modification techniques and traditional military training styles. He used his lanyards like repelling ropes to seem to be everywhere at once. The sergeant's agility and finesse under the unique environment they were now in awed Bast. He was reminded how dangerous their training situation was when he watched a tool he improperly handled fall back toward the ship's stern, bouncing and banging silently as if it were falling on the surface of a planet. The tool had been carried along at the velocity at which he had lost his handle on it, the ship was actually slowing underneath it, creating the illusion of it falling very quickly at five times normal gravity.

Eventually they all accomplished the tasks Sergeant Major Anthelme has set before them. Installing a crew serve weapon on the outer hull, unloading and then reloading a hull breaching equipment package. Moving toward the engines then back up the hull toward the nose under high gravity pull. It had been a very strenuous training session but it had broken the Jump Space boredom and his preoccupation with his mission for Bast and he was appreciative. Finally the Sergeant Major ordered them to make a final check of all equipment for micro-gravity operations. Then he had realized that the dirty round ball that was the planet Romor was hanging below them. The Akagi cut her main maneuver engines and began the coasting fall toward high orbit. Bast had never experienced anything like it before.

He turned when he felt the Sergeant Major touch his suit's shoulder to look through the corner of the suit's helmet visor. "Thank you Ship Sergeant, I've never seen a planet from the outside of a ship before."

"Aye it is an amazing thing to gaze upon the beauty of a world in naked space." Returned Sergeant Major Anthelme. "Romor is particularly spectacular, I enjoy the desert worlds because they reflect more light off their surface, giving the observer more details. It's truly awe inspiring is it not Force Commander?"

Smiling Bast turned toward the senior enlisted Marine, "Yes it is sir, but we have preparations to make. I do not know about an old space hound like yourself, but I am looking forward to putting my boots on dirt again."

Through the opaque visor Bast could see the other man smiling too. "Sir?" the mock indignation in Sergeant Major Anthelme's voice was clear. "I work for my credits Force Commander. You want to feel dirt under your boots sir? Are you sure your uniform is Marine maroon?"

Laughing Bast fires back, "Ship Sergeant if that remark came from any other Marine I'd have him flogged for insubordination. But I think you've earned my respect today. Shall we go?" The Sergeant Major quickly ordered the other Marines toward the airlock with their equipment packages and the crew-serve weapon's kit.

"Shit." Zachary whispered under his breath as the Glory coasted into the mess of the ambushed Aslan merchants. Val Salvis had brought their far trader in close to a 400 displacement ton merchant to mask their mass from military grade sensors. The Aslan was definitely a merchant ship, one of their Eakhau-class traders. Val stole a second to look through the cockpit's windows at the wreaked merchant. Its backend had been blown off and was a shattered mess. The edge of the midsection looked like it had been impacted and shredded, debris floated surrounding the ruined ship. "I hope we have time to search that thing, look at the clothes that one is wearing!" In horror Val looks in the direction Zack is pointing to discover floating in free-space charred and mangled bodies of passengers or crew slowly tumbling away from the wreckage.

"Alright, ready to cut the power?" Salvis brings his greedy friend back to the task at hand.

"Yep." Is all that Zack says as he slides his chair back on its rails and heads for the hatch. He will handle the shutdown procedure from the engine room.

Angelica slides into his chair after he is gone but does not pull it forward to lock in the flight position. "Is this going to work?"

"Sure it is." Salvis throws his charm in to play although its hasn't worked on her in ages, being a telepath does have disadvantages. One is definitely in the romance area; hard to be swept off your feet when you can read every thought the other person is having. Maybe his brutal honesty and living in the moment is what had caused her to sign on with him in the first place. Zachary's voice booms across the loud speaker for the intercom bringing her back to the reality of their situation.

"Alright, sending the command to shut down now." Salvis states matter of factly, as if he does this on a regular basis. The almost non-perceivable thrum of the ship's power plant ends. Immediately warnings on the flight board indicate the transference of power drain to the emergency batteries for critical systems. Emergency lights come on powered by individual power cells. Suddenly it is deathly quiet and although it will take some time for the ship's internal heat to bleed into space, it already feels chilly in the ship. The floating debris from the Aslan derelict adds to the feeling of dread that sweeps over Angelica and Salvis.

"How long are we going to set out here like this?" She whispers although there is really no need for quiet.

Smiling back at her Salvis gives that should-be-patented smile, "Couple of days, I want to give who ever did this time to swing back and check us out from long range. I'm hoping he thinks we accelerated and got out here."

"Wouldn't he know we can't go any faster than 2-G?" Her voice raising to match his.

"Yeah probably but we could have flipped our engines toward him and took off and a perpendicular route. He has no idea how much fuel we have or that we actually are a far trader."

"Right, 200 displacement tons and we aren't an Imperial design far trader. What else could we be?" she was not convinced.

Salvis stopped at the threshold of the cockpit to turn and reply, "Well for starters we could be an Aslan Ktiyhui-class courier." Leaving her with his smile he turned and quickly headed aft toward the engine room.

"Hey, an Aslan courier? Wouldn't that make him WANT to hunt us down then? Hey!" Angelica now followed him toward the engine room of the Glory, questioning him about his last comment all the way with no response from him in return.

"Man I could hear you all the way from the cockpit." Zachary complained as the two enter the crowded engine room. "I think I did it right. Guess we'll find out when we fire this bad boy up. How long are we going to stay cold Val?"

"I planned on staying like this for at least a couple of days, maybe longer if the passive sensors pick up any search signals."

"Sounds about right. We are going to search the Aslan right?" Zachary almost pleads waiting for the answer from Salvis.

"Your going to bug the hell out of me until we search that death trap aren't you?" Salvis asked point blank.

"Yep, or go over alone. It's not like your going to take this bucket anywhere soon." Zachary smiled back.

"Zachary Prax if you even try to leave this ship without my permission I'll lock the hatch behind you." Salvis' anger began to flare again. His authority and life had been challenged once too often this day.

"Hell why should you be the one always making the decisions around here? Just because you're the captain of this tub doesn't make you a god. Jeez can't people make a decision for themselves once in a while? You're just like the Scout Service telling me what and when I can do something. MAN!" Zachary leaves Angelica and Salvis alone in the engine room and heads forward toward his quarters or the lounge. Slowly giving him time to get to whichever room he intends to sulk in. They to head forward to leave the now silent as a tomb engine room.

The quiet gave them all time to pause and look inwardly. It is said by Vilani priests that humans do that when they feel their life is actually truly threatened. Salvis returned to his beloved cockpit to set in his pilot's chair. Zack went to the lounge to drink his frustrations away. At first Angelica thought to reprimand him but thought better of that when she considered their dilemma. She hoped he would drink himself to sleep so he would then be out cold most of their wait. She retired to her quarters. As she began to drift into a fitful sleep on impulse she decided to search the Aslan derelict with her mind telepathically. Salvis had parked them very close to make it seem as if they were one ship if scanned from a distance with active sensors. She was shocked to instant alertness when she detected life on the Aslan trader.

Slowly the planet Romor turned beneath the Imperial light cruiser Akagi. For the first time Bast entered the "flying bridge" of the ship. Located at right angles to the rest of the ship was an extension that primarily housed sensor emitters and receivers. At the furthermost point of the extension sat the "flying bridge", an auxiliary control room used for maneuvering in orbit around space stations or other large starships. On the more modern warships the auxiliary control room is near the bow of the ship. On the Akagi and others of similar design the maneuvering bridge was placed on a sail mast-like structure. The purpose is to give the maneuvering crew a view of the actual ship versus the electronic simulations used during battle. The auxiliary control room was unquestionably exposed and therefore usually isolated and abandoned during combat for fear of being lost early in a fight. It was a luxury no one would debate; especially men and women cooped up together in Jump Space for a week at a time on a reoccurring basis as Navy people are.

Bast quickly recognized Lieutenant Commander Davion at the conning officer's post as he stepped into the ship's control area to the immediate front of a panoramic window overlooking the ship. "Its beautiful isn't it?" He nearly whispers to his friend and executive officer of the Akagi.

"There is nothing like it in the universe." Davion smiled as he turned to face his friend.

"Ship Sergeant Anthelme called it 'Naked Space' this morning during our training session." Bast returned.

"Really, that is appropriate for describing a view of real space with your own eyes instead of electronic ones. How did your training go? You were outside the ship weren't you?" Davion asked.

"Yes, it was amazing. I had vacuum suit orientation as a recruit officer years ago but it was in a micro-gravity field on one of Mora's moons, then of course in orbital space on a Navy space station. But I'd never experienced being on the skin of a ship under deceleration before. It really worked on my sense of orientation. The directions were all wrong. The end of the ship where the maneuver engines are was down instead of to the side. We were literally crawling along the hull instead of walking. If was truly worth the effort of going out there."

"You really are a landlubber aren't you?" Davion chided his friend using the archaic Solomani term for a ground-pounder.

Bast smiled back, "Put me in an Imperial grav tank in low orbit and I'll show you a Marine in action Lieutenant Commander."

The two me were interrupted by the quartermaster of the watch, "Standard Orbit Mr. Davion. No forward momentum as ordered. Romor's surface is moving beneath us sir."

"Very well astrogation begin mapping the surface. Update cartography files as is standard procedure." Davion ordered returning to his job as the conning officer.

"Quartermaster secure the ship from the Maneuvering Watch, set the In-port Watch."

"Aye-aye sir." Echoed the quartermaster. "Secure from Maneuvering Watch, set the In-port Watch."

Davion listened as his order was repeated over the ship's general announcing circuit. "What brings you up to the Flying Bridge Force Commander?" Davion returned his attention to Bast. The two men were not distracted by the movement of junior officers and Navy ratings around them exchanging positions and relieving those not scheduled to remain on duty now that they were "in port."

"I just wanted to see the surface of Romor in detail and I know the best visual surveillance equipment is usually here in the auxiliary control room." Bast offered as he now looked around the room identifying the equipment that he came to use.

"Very well, do you need a rating to assist you?" Davion queried.

"Yes that would be most appropriate I think." Bast gladly accepted the offer; naval officers rarely offered Marines such aid without it being officially requested, service rivalry always-taking precedent. "That would be most welcome." Davion identified a smallish female rating to assist Bast with the surveillance equipment. She had a Glisten accent in her speech and appeared to be most adept at the tasks he needed done. Although her discomfort at assisting a Marine field grade officer was most obvious.

Romor turned majestically beneath the Akagi. Various hues of brown dominated the vista of this typically desert world. The Akagi had its "portside" turned toward the surface giving the illusion that the ship was racing in an eastward direction above the surface. The "starboard" side of the light cruiser was facing out toward motionless deep space. This meant the left side of the flying bridge gave the awe-inspiring view of the planet turning beneath them while the pins of light on the right side never moved. Romor's surface stretching out dominating the entire field of view for the left side of the ship to the front and rear too.

Bast watched as the data string pealed across the computer screen in front of him. The Universal World Profile code appeared one letter and digit at a time in green. "ROMOR 2140 UWP: B450456-B A Ni Po De 112 M5 V M3 D." Mentally he decoded the data string as he read each letter and digit. The Romor system was located at galactic grid 2140 in the Spinward Marches sector. The primary planet has a good quality starport with refined fuel available. The planet's diameter is roughly 4,000 miles giving a probable surface gravity of about 0.500 G. The atmosphere is rated as being thin but breathable by humans, there is no standing water on the planet's surface meaning they got their hydrogen from somewhere else, probably their local gas giant. There were about 10,000 inhabitants at the time of the last Grand Survey, using a feudal technocracy for their government. The citizens have established a moderate law enforcement level, and have a technology rating on the Imperial scale of B, lower average Imperial. There are two Imperial bases here, a Naval and Scout base. Economically, at the time of the last survey the Scouts rated Romor as being a non-industrialized world, poor economic growth potential, with a desert environment. Finally, Romor has a single asteroid belt and two gas giants of strategic value in the system. Next came the text giving a short explanation of the planet's history and current newsworthy events.

What it didn't say was that Romor was the last system in the Spinward Marches before leaving and entering the Trojan Reach. From this point forward until there return the Akagi would be on their own, independent of their routine fleet command structure. When the Akagi jumped out of Romor she would be treading in space that was the responsibility of another Imperial fleet. A fleet that was less well equipped, probably less well trained, and facing a growing enemy where there was not supposed to be one. The Aslan were the Imperium's only non-human ally with an empire of its own. If they Aslan had truly turned hostile, the fleets facing them on their borders were not really prepared. Reinforcements would have to come from the Spinward Marches and Deneb. But for some reason not known to him, the Archduke and the Spinward Marches Supreme Naval Command had not been preparing for that contingency.

If anything the Spinward Marches Imperial Sector Fleet had been sending ships coreward toward the Vargr borders for some unexplained reason. He had heard rumors that something catastrophic had occurred in the Imperial Core Sector. The rumors of what had happened had ranged from the Emperor being assassinated (a common rumor) to the Imperium being invaded from the core by a new and powerful race of aliens (an even more common rumor). Yet he personally knew that the Archduke had been planning on travelling to the Core to meet the Emperor after stopping at Mora to commission the Duchess of Mora's palace as the new residence of the Archduke. Bast knew Archduke Norris' reputation, he had actively participated in the Fifth Frontier War as the senior political officer of the Imperium in the Theater of Operations. Norris would not be moving his political capital from Rhylanor to Mora if a war was brewing in Vargr space. If anything the move of his operational headquarters rimward versus coreward implied his focus was on the Aslan rather than the Vargr or Zhodani.

Either way, Bast had a week layover here at Romor to meet his commandos and train his team for special operations along the Aslan frontier. Only a week, which meant he had better leave the Imperial politics to the nobility like his friend Davion and focus on his mission.

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