As we pulled into what remained of the warehouse, cum base, we were being pursued by the local Peacekeeping forces in their local variant of low planetary orbit attack helicopters. We could sense the targeting arrays of the planetary defense military, craft who maintained some distance, just in case, whatever the threat which had systematically decimated this base, might pop out of the grav-car and unleash its fury on the helicopters. They had us completely painted with a variety of weapon systems which would punch through my flex field, instantly boiling me away into my component technologies.
My image had taken up his station on my forehead and configured himself into my helmet display. He was also emitting a level three force field, for all the good it would do in these circumstances. None of this mattered, we had to find Biyu. We got out of our car after wheeling through the craters and remains of whatever this warehouse used to use as a cover. I could see the remains of several mecha, dozens of light armor suits, some robot piloted, many with dead human pilots bleeding out or charred beyond recognition. Strangely enough, no one tried to stop me from approaching the center of the explosion.
The area was slightly radioactive, it seemed they used a warp-star missile, designed to generate ferocious heat and light, but limit the radioactivity and contain the devastation to a few hundred meters from the center of the detonation. The heat generated fused even the metamorphic silica of this field into a dull, rough glass filled with bubbled craters that flash cooled once the star had gone out. I looked for any sign of wreckage from the Travelling Light. At thirteen thousand degrees, there would be nothing left. She was not meant for sun-diving. My shield systems began to flash warning lights in my HUD indicating unsafe temperatures, anything over three thousand degrees was considered unsafe, and this area was still well above that. I turned away from the glassy crater and began walking back toward the Peacekeepers.
"Be maintaining your position and relative distance," came out over one of the PK vehicles. "We will be arresting you, immediately, if you please. Away from the crater and divest immediately all weapons. Custody and investigation of your role will be determined. Resistance is not recommended. Termination has been authorized, despite your specialized military rank and station. Please comply."
"I think we've been identified, Majoris. So how do we divest you of your living weapon status?"
"Oh, so funny."
"Really? I have been working so hard on those humor algorithms."
"Not the best time for humor." I sighed. I could see at least six ways I could get away from this. But with Biyu gone, I had no pilot and stealing a spaceship would only compound my problem. "If you really want to do something useful with those spare clock-cycles, you could tap into the local planetary defenses and see if we can get a last heading on the ships that have the Frame."
"Ahead of you, Major. I think you will be having fun explaining how we got to this point so far. I will be pretending to be a bit of jewelry while I focus on the local INS network. Can you manage without getting killed while I do the heavy lifting?"
If I wasn't surrounded by a variety of Bel-Ha and Mariovel Peacekeepers, which for people new to the Imperium are some of the most powerful organic beings alive, I might have just considered this another day in my local paradise. Someone better come up with some answers. I am not a patient man. Especially when I am under arrest.
"Thomas Wilks, arrested are you. This one understands you are quite formidable physically and considering the day and your role in it, as well as your inspirational record, we will accept your word, you will comply with our investigation." The Bel-Ha who floated from the vehicle closest to me, appeared to be the same fellow that had been blown up earlier. I hoped he did not bear a grudge. "Please come with us into our city center facility and adequate representation, interpretation, and support for your injuries will be provided."
They were nice enough to not restrain me. So I went. The trip back to the city was much less exciting than the trip out of it. It appeared we would be taking an alternate route and fifteen minutes later, I was sitting in a cell with a medical ball, with a variety of purple, blue and green rays, scanning, probing and repairing my various minor injuries. I forbid any deep tissue repairs since they might interfere with my nanite repair processes and without the Frame, I could not reset their health parameters, so for the time being, less help was more. In a couple of hours, I would be as right as I could be, except for the neural damage.
I was assigned a legal sentience, that preferred to float nearby and take a verbal statement. It occasionally flashed and offered support if my legal rights were being violated by the local Peacekeepers. Otherwise it just sat there and let me tell my story. Which I did again and again. Came into town as per orders, cloaked arrival at the base, dropped Frame and stasis containment container. Locked Frame down with stasis field. She would have been unable to be moved except with gravity compensators. The kind required to move the Frame could not be purchased just anywhere. They were a military grade tool, requiring significant funds and connections to acquire. Came into town to get an upgrade program tool for the Frame's nanites. That information could not be sent across the public network, and I was in town so I was willing to get them. Upon my arrival, I was ushered upstairs where I was summarily attacked and someone ineffectively tried to kill me. Which upon reflection, was not so much killing as, keeping track of my location. They wanted to keep an eye on me to ensure the Frame and I were not together.
We haggled on the details for another three hours. I was finally allowed to ansible to my military contact in Wildspace to make my report. He was also my handler, my fixer, my connection to the military when I was on covert operations, Essver Dream-Singer, of the People of the Sjurani, son of Minru, son of Daor the Terrible, warrior-poet of Galtan II and my military attaché.
"Thoomas, my boy, I am glad to see you are in one piece. So sorry to hear about Beeyu. She was one of the finest pilots in the Imperium," his voice boomed through the holographic interface. His third-structure Galac had a terrible accent and it took me a moment to be able to wade through it and understand what he was saying. The Bel-ha flexed their tentacles in their reflexive indications of confusion. For a linguist, he certainly did not seem to be trying to be understood.
Switching to second-structure Galac, he announced "The Majoris is on a mission of most import and by the authority of the Imperium Military Command, he is to be released at the end of your investigation and to be given every consideration possible in his investigation."
"Begging your pardon, Excellency, the Majoris was involved in several local disturbances that will take at least two weeks to clear up. Destruction of property, significant loss of life, damage to a multimillion credit facility and numerous personal claims of injury," said the glowing orb doubling as my legal defense.
"Allegedly, I might add," I just wanted the record to be straight.
"Allegedly," the orb added. "He would have to remain under arrest during that time, since he would be a flight risk."
"You understand this is a matter of galactic security we are discussing Commandant? A weapon of mass destruction was stolen on your planet. While Lorissi may not be a direct member of the Imperium, you enjoy a considerable amount of trade due to our mutually beneficial relationship. How many species close to your world utilize your nanotech with the regularity we do?" was the smooth reply of Essver. It always amazed me how he always knew the way to anyone's weakness. Tendrils were flexing all around the room as the Bel-Ha Commandant considered his answer.
"The Majoris, arrested he will remain. Better accommodations will be provided. Investigations will be expedited. If you require his release sooner, Excellency, you will have to bring a writ of release from the Imperial magistrate you work for." The Commandant pulled the local authority card, which is his technically to use, but exercised prudence by indicating I will be well cared for while thirty sniper rifles watch my windows and heavy mechs, my doors.
Switching back to Galac 3rd, he said, "I will be coming to you, Thoomas, and will arrive in four days. I will make them pay for a Prime Gate Jump, to get you released. We will have to wait another three days for a new Pilot. There is one recently released and I will put a call out to see if she is interested. If not, I will have a ship sent and I will pilot for you. It has been a while but I am certain, once we replace those tiny seats, it will come back to me. Sit still, I will be there shortly. My mate sends her affections and hopes for your speedy release." He had an ear-to-ear grin, literally, showing all of his impressive and very sharp reptilian teeth. His mate was also nearby in the view of holo-emitter and her immensity dwarfed his considerable nine-foot frame. One of his current clutch was chewing on his cape and it was hard to remember he had a diplomat's rank and privileges.
Now I felt a damn sight better with that done. If he is willing to come and get me, I know he will be on time, just to be able to get away from his two dozen kids, his mate's fawning and servile lesser husbands, and the constant avoidance of his over-affectionate, libidinous and amorous mate. He may make it in three. I went to my jail cell to plot my next move and mourn my friend.
* * *
Admiral Lolikai swam in his personal quarters, and changed colors as his mood evolved. His tentacles swayed smoothly in the water offering resistance to its artificial current and his gripping arms manipulated the control pad where the latest status information flowed ceaselessly. As a Corvan Admiral, he enjoyed water flavored with the minerals of his homeworld. The sharp and bitter tangs of the western sea, caused by the primordial corals there, reminded him of his youth spent looking at the stars and The Rift, which blanketed the night sky. The lighting currently reflected the light of the home system's orange sun, large and low in the sky, creating a deep and rich reddish hue which was gently diffused by the water.
Lolikai swam without his hardened and restrictive exosuit enjoying the freedom of movement which was only possible when he was free of it. He stretched, flexed and shrank himself into a variety of coral nooks in his quarters, just to remind himself he could do it. The suit was being recharged, cleansed and its weapons calibrated. Onboard the Violent Hris, his personal command ship, there was little chance of needing the exosuit's full capabilities, but undamaged tentacles did not need to be regrown was his mother's expression and he still thought it a very good bit of folk wisdom. His three eyes, evenly spaced around his cranial cavity were wide and light receptive, drinking in every bit of his setting sun, hungrily, with the need of the predatory mueo enjoying a helpless and savory meal. It had been two standard since he had seen the real sun on any planet or swam in a natural ocean, tasted the natural salts, and floated buoyant without the cares of thousands of sentients heavy on his mind.
He spent the day perusing his correspondence and trying to make sense of a variety of intelligence reports from GCID. He was never fond of reports from Galactic Intelligence because they seemed to obscure as much as they enlightened. His two hundred standard years reviewing such reports had taught him to know recognize when something was being said and when something important being was omitted. His latest orders was classified white, the reflexive color of fear. Lolikai blanched when he began reading the directions from the High Command, and colors shimmered across his body in a rhythmic and steady pattern. The pattern shifted faster as he read more and when he was done, he cast the display pad away from him in disgust.
I have offered him hospitality in the traditions of my family for twelve generations. How could they expect me to be party to killing him? He is the Sjurani ambassador and a member of a powerful merchant family who works for the Imperium. Whose idea was this and why was this the best solution available? I am not blessed with as much of the Insight as the High Command. Perhaps I am simply not seeing as clearly as I should.
"Admiral," came across his communications bud and vibrated his inner cochlear chamber. His sub-vocalization thrummed the water in affirmation. "We are preparing to jump to the secondary inner system gate hub. The jump will take two days."
"Very good, Captain. I understand we have had some new additions to the fleet. How are they shaking down? Will they be ready for fleet exercises while we wait for the Galactic Gate calibrations?"
"Yes, Admiral, the Hostan Fury, the Deepwater Beln, two new medium cruisers with a crew complement of nine hundred have managed to arrive on time, and have excellent records of operation. Both were in the recent conflict in the Dareen Cluster and acquitted themselves well against the renegades reported there. They are also two of the first cruiser class ships with mixed crew complements. I believe they have Sliveen, a complement of Mariovel engineers, and water-capable members of the Children of Earth. They even resemble the Corva at a rudimentary level. We have been outfitting them with a variety of softer exosuits suitable for children."
"I would like to meet some of these aquatic Children of Earth. Arrange that Captain."
"May I point out and begging the Admiral's pardon, the creatures are quite unattractive and primitive in appearance. Their only redeeming feature is their four-lobbed brain which is quite capable and makes them extraordinary navigators. They also have quite a smell... sir." It was apparent the Captain did not enjoy the primitives from Earth, but an Admiral must get his novelty when he can.
"See to it, Captain, more than one if you are able to arrange it without inconveniencing their crews."
"As you will, sir, it will be done."
The Children of Earth were legendary in Corva space, and had come quite a long way from their primitive origins nearly two hundred years ago. Lolikai was an ensign in the Toranor star system when they first appeared there, suddenly without warning in thousands of ships. He remembered...
They were patrolling the Toranor star system flying dark because of the alien picket ships that disrupted and destroyed any planet to planet traffic they detected. Since the Galactic Gate had closed years earlier, no new support ships had arrived in system and it was assumed since no ships were forthcoming the galactic war against the mechanicals had spread and shut down the Precursor Gate System stranding younger races without the advantages of superior star drive systems to very limited regions of travel. Travel across the length and breadth of the galaxy or to any of its nearby clouds or clusters was seriously curtailed.
Having been assigned to the Toranor system was not a hardship, since it was one of the jewels of the galaxy, a system of beautiful, highly habitable large planet-moons surrounding the immense gas giants of Toranor. These worlds were capable of supporting a wide array of lifeforms and trillions of sentients considered Toranor their home. Planets of incredible majesty, covering a variety of biomes, these worlds could be home to nearly every race in the Imperium. How so many worlds came to be in this place, in such perfect harmony, left the only solution, to be a Precursor one. Only the Precursors had the technology to move worlds, and had done so several times. These systems were capable of supporting trillions upon trillions on the worlds themselves, not to mention the capability to create artificial worlds as space stations or asteroid moons. There were over ten thousand of those types of bodies in system already.
Since the worlds were within Corva space, they were annexed immediately and populated with the elite of the Imperium at first. As more people learned about it, many settled here and the locals seemed to not only like it but embraced the arrival of new people. Then the war came and the intelligent gate system of the Precursors shut down, stopping all relatively instantaneous movement between systems. If you wanted to have a war, you would have to fly there yourself. This isolated warfare and kept innocents from being harmed.
Once the Gate had shut down, traffic had been limited to travel in system or to two or three nearby stars with established colonies. No one seemed concerned at the time, since almost anything you needed could be found on one of these twenty diverse worlds or one of the other smaller rocky planets or nearby asteroid belts. That was before the arrival of the Nox. The Nox arrived in small but powerful ships that were barely able to be seen by the most sophisticated sensors. They did not attack planets but destroyed any ship caught moving from world to world. The Twenty Moons lived in fear of the next attack. Slowly a small fleet of ships joined the few military ships in the area and attempted to deal with the Nox. After a decisive battle led by Captain Mehelo, a career military Corva, ships began to work together to rid the system of the Nox. But it was slow work, dangerous and a single mistake could doom the entire fleet. Tensions were always high.
"What do you mean, they just appeared, ensign? A thousand ships don't just appear. I need a better answer and I want it now!"
The captain's booming vibrations shook the command area and every scattered to their duty station to understand what they were seeing. Thousands of ships appeared out of nowhere, many of them on fire, damaged, and some exploding, sometimes causing chain reactions.
"Captain, do you want us to exit dark mode and render assistance?" The Second Officer was analyzing incoming data on the ships and had begun a data model inside the command area comprised of light and sound constructs representing the alien craft. "As far as we can tell, most of the ships conform to the appearance of ships assigned to a race called the Sjurani. They are a relatively reclusive race living along this spiral arm approximately two thousand light years from here. They are members of the Imperium but generally do not interact much in galactic matters. They are classified as Old Galactics as they have been in the dataweb archives for over 15 million cycles. Generally harmless even though they have quite sophisticated technologies, they are for the most part considered threat level 5, but when angered can display a threat level of 2, making them the equal of any race in the Imperium. There are other ships with them, smaller, far less capable ships of an unknown design."
The tactical officer added "scanning their ships, shows a variety of life forms and configurations as if some of these ships might be life-sustaining arks. Many of the inhabitants are in primitive cryogenic containment. Captain, I believe what we are seeing are the results of a planetary evacuation. Many of the ships are heavily damaged as if they had recently engaged in combat."
"Stay dark. This many ships will certainly draw the Nox and I want to have an advantage while they are attacking the new ships." The captain's anticipatory color changes, became contagious on the command deck. Soon everyone was flashing a response pattern to his unspoken declaration of war.
"The ships are changing heading toward Galtan II, Captain," was ensign navigator Lolikai's confused statement.
"What is it, ensign, you are inking in public?"
"Captain, I am detecting a Nox fleet. One of the largest I have ever seen heading right at the Sjurani ships. They will arrive in five standard hours. I don't know where they were hiding and how we missed so many, but they are here. We certainly cannot provide any real support with this many enemies. Approximately one third of the ships will make it to Galtan II before they are overtaken. Most of the smaller ships will still be in space and arrive last. The greatest number of Sjurani and other smaller beings are on the largest of the Sjurani vessels which are reaching the planet first. They may return to space once they offload their cargo."
But they did no such thing. As ships landed, others followed. None returned to space. The Nox closed in and would be destroying ships in less than an hour. The Captain had made a decision. We would spin up our drives and assist. But everything did not go according to plan. I learned early, that very little ever did. What I did see, changed my view of everything I knew about space.
I was young, barely thirty standard and eager to prove myself. I plotted the intercept course and fired the drives, already calculating possible vectors and activating the predictive engines interface that pilots used to determine possible vectors and targeting angles. These predictive programs helped to maintain the most opportune angles for weapons fire or defensive maneuvers depending on what was needed. The Captain was wearing his interface optic and could see the same four dimensional combat variations working ahead to maximize our potential. He used his tentacles to offer suggestions to other fleet captains who were also using the same predictive feed. Our ships assumed their combat structure effortlessly. We had worked together now for seven standard and those of us who had survived against the Nox were seasoned but cautious.
Our drone commanders had released their batteries of AI drones which normally would have provided both offense and defensive cover against the stealthy black-body Nox ships. Today, we would be using them fully offensively to damage as many Nox ships as possible and give as many of the Sjurani ships a chance to land as possible. Nox ships barely emitted any signature energies except in direct combat and only as long as it took for their beam weapons to fire. There was almost no waste energy to scan for even in direct combat. Our fleet used approximately three hundred AIDs. Each was equipped with three thousand depleted radioactives fired at nearly five thousand kilometers per second. In space this meant they worked best if they were close to the target, so we took a page from the Nox and made them very hard to detect until they were shooting. Once fired, they would be empty in thirty seconds because they rarely lasted longer than that once they were discovered. Overall, they were expensive but highly effective.
The Nox used a variety of strange weapons, unfamiliar to us at first, and because of that, devastating in combat. Over the cycles, we have grown more familiar and have made counters to almost all of them, although to be fair, some counters were more effective than others. The AI drone program was effective because they could be replaced fairly easily on Galtan III with their advanced production facilities and required only AI programming completed by the Beteans on Galtan II.
The military ships in the fleet would be using the most advanced weapon available, the tachyon pulse array. Huge, slow and temperamental, this weapon was one of the most powerful of the day. It required time to fire but once fired, its effects were instantaneous and devastating. No ship could survive a hit from this weapon and the beam would travel to the end of its stability before decaying so it would damage a number of ships, destroying at least one and crippling two or three others. Its greatest disadvantage was the inability to fire it again for fifteen minutes. Since the fleet had four, we kept them on rotation that reduced the firing time between shots.
The remaining weapons were the standard ship to ship weapons including high speed pulse torpedoes, beam arrays for point defense and close combat, and multi-missile systems which while slower than most of the ship weapons made up for that with a multiple warhead missile capable of overcome the Nox's heavily armored and strangely shielded ships. Our electromagnetics team used a variety of technologies to reveal Nox ships including tachyon pulse emissions which causes approaching Nox ships to emit radiation temporarily and become easier to target.
There were also gravity mines which would be released and were designed to attach themselves to any ship without the proper identification signature. Their gravity field was calibrated by our ships weapons to slow the enemy ship and provide telemetry. We also used small cloaked fighters to spot for our tachyon pulse array, providing an enhanced lock to ensure maximum affect and potential for multiple hits.
With all of this weaponry and technology at our disposal, we were only sixty ships against an estimated eight hundred Nox vessels, of which there were at least three designs we had never seen before. Our only advantage was we had not been seen yet.
Several Sjurani ships had begun to open fire upon the Nox to good effect, but the predictive engines indicated with their current rate of fire, they would be overcome within four hours with an eighty percent casualty rate. With our intervention, the calculation engines indicated we would only add another four hours to that time and we would buy that time with a sixty percent casualty rate. The smaller ships would need at least twelve hours to complete their transit to the surface of the planet.
"Captain," began Sub-commander Wekhekan, "having run several simulations, I cannot see how we can prevail in this conflict. What can we gain by risking our fleet now? The information of the numbers of the Nox alone makes it clear, we should be recording this event and gathering information to be reviewed by the Toranor Defense Ministry and the Governing Council. These numbers are unprecedented and far greater than previously believed."
"I think what you are meaning to say, Sub-commander is, you are uncomfortable with the idea of uselessly throwing our lives away when you believe there is no point to the exercise." The captain's body was contorted with what would be considered amusement, perhaps at the situation, or perhaps with his subordinate's expression of fear. "What you say has merit and I recommend we relay the telemetry we have gathered and will continue to gather while we are tearing into their fleet until we are unable to transmit any longer. Have you looked out there, Sub-commander, there are millions of sentients whose lives may depend on our next actions. If we are right, they are the last of their world. Is this the best we can offer them, a cold and unfriendly death at the hands of an enemy they will not even get to perceive?" The Captain's words stung everyone, because we were all thinking the same thing as the Sub-commander, even if we did not say it.
The Captain looked down and was momentarily still, floating in a repose similar to prayer. "Is there any word on the Second Fleet and its location?"
Eager to please, I chimed in, "Captain, the Second Fleet is approximately four hours off of our position at maximum speed. They may be able to provide some smaller ships because of their superior speed, but their larger ships are already pushing their engines to the limit." I wanted to say more, but I was not sure it was my place to offer tactical information beyond my station as Pilot. A clam won't open itself, my mother used to say. I decided the risk was worth it. At worst, in thirty minutes we would all be dead anyway. "Sir, if I may, I think there may be another way to conduct this so we can increase the time in the fight, provide support and wait for help to arrive, all at the same time."
The Captain's repose was shattered and he did not appear the least bit pleased, his eyes held mine in a serious unblinking stare and he had rotated so that at least two of them were focused directly on me. "Amuse us Lolikai, we have thirty minutes until we are in range, what would you do in my position? You are the Captain for three minutes..."
In for two tentacles, in for six. Using my gripping pads, I rotated the battlefield from our point of view. I expanded the window to include the Second Fleet. "The current plan has us assaulting the Nox directly from this angle. We would bisect their fleet and disrupt their attack on the Sjurani. But this would then direct their attacks onto our ships instead. With the Sjurani ships being larger and tougher than ours, I would suggest squeezing the Nox between our ships, drones and the Sjurani instead." I rotated the field again and placed our ships beneath the Nox fleet instead of approaching obliquely.
I began again as the predictive engine recalculated the probabilities "Instead of attacking at range, we should use our z-profile and come up beneath their fleet and close to their ships, far closer than we normally attack them. With our rapid fire pulse lasers, which normally are quite effective, but do not get used until we are within range, we normally have been fired upon for quite some time before they get into range. But starting the fight at full capacity and at close range, we could double our destructive potential." The Nox fleet in the display lost a significant number of ships near the center of its fleet, a much greater number than in our previous predictions.
The Sub-commander slides forward and begins to modify my program and then said "Using our tachyon beams we destroy their larger command vessels, especially the ones we know nothing about. I don't know if the Nox are affected by morale but if we surprised them with a strong offensive, it may cause the Sjurani to increase their attack posture as well."
Not to be left out, the Captain began to shimmer in what could only be described as pleasure and added to the conversation. "We could then release the drones while they are regrouping and create a widening field of fire that selectively targets their best ships as fast as we are able. With a strong distribution of gravity mines, tachyon pulses, we could increase our targeting potential and with our point defense lasers working at close range we could conceivably break their fleet and cause them to pull away from us. We could then push our fleet toward the Second Fleet and squeeze those caught between our drones, our ships and our targeted fire and the fast attack ships of the second fleet arriving in a timely fashion, we may convince them we have a significantly larger fleet approaching and perhaps we can give those ships time to land." The predictive engines signified a possibility of the plan working approaching seventy five percent with only a sixteen percent loss ratio. It also predicted, that eighty percent of the remaining Sjurani fleet would make it to the surface, far better than the original twenty percent.
Captain Mehelo's tentacles flew over the formations as we approached, each pass provided different variables and altered the timetables for fleet viability versus effectiveness. With our last combined effort, we had come up with a plan that might actually work. The Captain came around the combat display and bubbled laughter. "Captain for three minutes and you have me considering your plan as if it might actually be a good one. Your gizzard must be filled with sharp stones, boy. Keep this up and, you might make Admiral one day. Audacious, with just a hint of madness."
I would like to say my plan was a complete success and we handily won the day with minimum casualties. That would not be true. There were many casualties on our side. Captain Mehelo did not survive that battle. Nor did twenty-two other ships in our fleet. Of the eight hundred Nox ships faced in that confrontation, fewer than two hundred survived that conflict. The Sjurani were able to land their arks with over eighty-six percent of their fleet arriving intact on the planet's surface. They did indeed rise to the occasion when they saw us destroying the enemy and provided powerful supporting fire. The Second Fleet rode the smasher, and arrived forty minutes earlier than expected. There had never been such a large fleet battle in the Toranor System with the lives of billions at stake. I watched Captain Mehelo as he died, held him in my gripping arms, and with his last words, he told me, "Good work, Admiral. Make me proud."
And I did. With that battle and many other effective strategies against the Nox, I became the youngest Admiral in Corvan History.
Thaddeus Howze © 2010, All Rights Reserved