Location: London, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben’s long, powerful legs allowed him to pass the other soldiers and civilians scattered around the floor in conversation or reading the latest memos on their PADs with little effort. Working in one of the largest and most important buildings on the planet had its perks. He got to rub elbows with some of the most important people in the system, with Rear Admiral Helms being right at the tops of that list. Security was also top notch. Nothing short of an invasion by the Blockies was going to threaten the Commonwealth headquarters on Earth.
But working in such a massive space also had its downsides, and the one Ben was currently contending with was how far meetings and briefings were from his office. At the moment Ben didn’t technically have an office, but he spent enough time pouring over manuals and reports in Commander Wythe’s office that he be could basically call it his own. He had the pile of paperwork to prove it.
<It takes half an hour to get anywhere in this building.> Ben mentally grumbled as people parted as they heard his heavy-footed stomps coming down the hall.
There weren’t a lot of people Ben’s size in the building, and the ones that were wore armor, were armed to the teeth, and stood guard over sensitive areas of the building. People probably mistook Ben for one of them, which he’d use to his advantage if it helped him get to the briefing room faster.
Ben rounded the ninety-degree corner and came face to face with an armed guard. The hallway came to an abrupt end, with only a single door in the wall with a small arch in front of it. That door had the number that was on the email that arrived on his PAD yesterday.
“Can I help you, Sir?” The sergeant guarding the door asked.
The sergeant was noticeably smaller than Ben and wasn’t decked out head to toe in armor. He was wearing reinforced smartcloth and had a pistol holstered on his hip. All of that told Ben that this room was secure enough that they wouldn’t just let anyone walk in, but it wasn’t a high security space. That seemed about right for what Ben was here for.
“Lieutenant Commander Gold,” Ben held out his GIC for the sergeant to scan. “I’m here for the eleven hundred briefing.”
The sergeant dutifully scanned Ben’s GIC to see if he was on the list, but Ben saw him take a quick glimpse at the clock on his guard terminal. It was 10:58, and be could practically see what the NCO was thinking.
<Cutting it a bit close aren’t you, Sir.>
The NCO might be thinking that, but he didn’t dare say it. The man had probably led a squad or a smaller fire team in battle against the Blockies, which based on his ribbons he definitely had; but this was Commonwealth headquarters. Protocol was a bigger deal here, and that included a junior NCO not speaking his mind to an officer unless asked for his opinion.
“You’re on the list, Sir. Please place your PAD in one of the lockers, and step through the scanner.”
Ben placed his PAD in one of the secure lockers on the wall next to the door, and sealed it with his GIC. Then he stepped through the scanner, which would check him for everything from weapons to radioactive materials, to anything electronic that could be used to record or transmit that data he was about to receive.
Ben stepped through the three meter high archway spaced only a meter in front of the security door. The scanner remained mercifully silent.
“Have a good day, Sir.” The NCO turned back to his guard duty, and Ben quickly pushed into the room just as the clock struck 11:00.
“Please take your seats ladies and gentlemen.” A commander called from below Ben.
The briefing room was set up in a circular, tiered fashion not that different from the room Ben had given his thesis presentation in back at Oxford. The setup allowed all of the room’s four or five dozen occupants to see directly down into the center where the commander stood on a raised dais surrounded by holo-screens.
Ben hustled down to the top row of attendees and was the last one to take a seat. If the commander noticed the man didn’t care. The expression on the senior officer face showed he clearly wasn’t happy to be here, and he was too busy bringing up more holo-screens and stacking them on top of each other. Soon the other officer was almost completely surrounded by a holographic mosaic of data.
“Everyone is here today because you are slated for deployment to the York Sector in the coming months. If you are not, then would you please leave the room.” To Ben’s surprise a half dozen soldiers and sailors did get up and left. They and the commander looked a bit put off from the poor scheduling.
Ben saw a CMU covered arm waved behind the holo-screens and most of them minimized themselves so one could be seen by anyone in the hall. The screen showed the gently spinning form of the Milky Way Galaxy.
“We will begin by orienting you to your new area of operations. The York Sector AO is between two-hundred and forty and two-hundred and thirty-nine point six degrees galactic longitude in the Local Arm approximately one thousand three hundred and twelve light years to one thousand five hundred and two light years from Earth.”
Ben watched at the focus began to tighten on the holo-screen. The bright yellow of the galactic core moved toward the top of the screen as the picture focused in on one of the smaller spiraling arms of the galaxy. The arm that contained the entirety of human controlled space was commonly called the Local Arm, with its full technical name being the Orion-Cygnus Arm.
Soon the collection of closely packed stars at the core of the galaxy disappeared off the top of the holo-screen and the Local Arm came more into focus. A bright red dot popped to life, denoting the location of the Sol System. The screen continued to focus and the red dot of Earth slid up and to the left until it to was outside the screen. Finally, the screen settled on the one hundred and ninety light years of space between two-hundred and forty and two-hundred and thirty-nine point six degrees galactic longitude.
Ben knew all of the measurements that went into classifying a position in the galaxy were relative. Every person who completed high school knew that. Galactic longitude only worked to fix locations in space if things were unmoving. Since everything was constantly in motion they’d developed a standardized picture for the galaxy and plotted everything off that standard. For all they knew humanity’s galactic picture could be upside down and turned around compared to its place in the greater universe.
Ben tried not to think too hard about it. Those types of ideas usually drove men mad. It was like asking “why are we here?”.
“Mapping of the York Sector is still underway,” the commander continued right over Ben’s existential dilemma. “So far the Commonwealth has mapped over three thousand star systems, and conservative estimates say that could increase by two-thirds before mapping is complete.”
As far as sectors of space went that was average, but more important to the people in this room was the fact that it was unclaimed space. And like the Nineteenth Century American manifest destiny craze everyone and their mother was scrambling to claim it.
“I don’t have to tell any of you that this is the outer rim of human explored space, so prepare for a hairy deployment.”
Ben involuntarily gulped, but didn’t let anyone see it. <You have been waiting for this opportunity for years.> He chided himself before turning back into the briefing.
“The main Commonwealth fleet anchorage is here at New Lancashire.” The commander pointed to one of a cluster of blue dots that illuminated on the holo-screen. “You will all be assigned to Task Force Thirty-Three Point Four under Rear Admiral Nelson or the Second Brigade, Second Division, Second Infantry Corps under Commander Patterson.” The commander made another swipe of his hand and the map of York Sector decreased by fifty percent to share the space with an MTOE chart. “Here is the current organization of the task force.”
The breakdown was listed so that even an average civilian could understand it, complete with pictures. Ben would just have to look up the class specs when he had some free time. Task Force thirty-three point four contained a single assault carrier, which made sense. It was a new section of space and the Commonwealth wasn’t going to throw too many resources at freshly terraformed worlds with small populations.
Since that assault carrier carried ten thousand Marines it would be enough to put boots on the ground for any small military campaign. Unless something drastic happened there would only be small military campaigns in the York Sector for the next few decades, but that didn’t mean they’d be any less bloody.
Providing close support for the assault carrier was a single squadron of five battleships. The giant metal behemoths’ sole job was to trade punches with enemy battleships, and they could take a hell of a lot of punishment. Battleships and the still heavily-armed and armored assault carriers tended to make up the main wall of battle for naval operations.
The rest of the task force units had other purposes. Two squadrons of battlecruisers lent significant mobile firepower. The class of warship just below the battleship could be added to the wall of battle in a pinch, but it could take up to three of the smaller ships to contend with a single battleship, and even that wasn’t a guarantee. The battlecruisers were a good element to use in force projection, which would be critical in expanding the Commonwealth’s interests in the sector.
A pair of missile cruisers and three whole squadrons of destroyers rounded out the rest of the task force. Missile cruisers were nothing more than the maximum amount of missile tubes and fire control crammed into a military-grade duro-steel shell as possible. Only two being assigned to the task force meant that no one envisioned the task force would be engaging in any large scale naval actions anytime soon. Destroyers were used as a screening element in fleet combat, but would serve as a patrolling force or commerce protection in York Sector. With fifteen attached to the task force that probably meant that shipping was starting to pick up in the sector.
What wasn’t on the breakdown of Task Force thirty-three point four were the gunboats, and that was because each assault carrier was equipped with ten of the small scouting ships.
“That is the overall picture of the force strength in the sector. The individual colonized planets in compliance with Commonwealth law have trained and maintained a system militia of soldiers based proportionally on the size of their population.” The comment came out more like a snide remark that a statement of face. “In total they’ve got a handful of brigades worth of hobbyists stationed throughout the system with half of them being on New Lancashire. If push comes to shove don’t expect much.” That got a few laughs from the gathered soldiers and sailors. “They’re equipped with items pulled from surplus before the colony ship shipped out, so you’re talking about weapons over a century old and armor that can’t stand up to anything we have today.”
That didn’t paint a pretty picture if anything major happened, but no one though anything was going to happen anyway; so that whole section of the briefing was about thirty seconds long.
“The bottom line up front ladies and gentlemen is that you are a long way from home with a small-to-medium sized task force and will receive little to no support from the planets aside from issuing a system state of emergency and conscripting soldiers.”
<And it has been over a century and a half since that last happened.> Ben remembered.
“Moving on to threat assessment.” The commander’s fingers danced across his PAD and more dots filled in across the sector.
<Blue for Commonwealth, red for Blockies, green for Euros, yellow for Corpies, orange of hostile forces, and gray for…wait I have never seen gray before.> Ben blinked a few times but sure enough there were still gray dots and a small gray-shaded sphere of space around the dots. In fact, it took up the largest section of the York Sector.
“As you can see everyone is pretty spaced out.” The commander pointed at the tighter concentration of dots signifying colonized planets. “We’ve got four colonies in two systems within a twelve light year bubble around the sector capitol at New Lancashire. The Blockies have another four colonized planets on the opposite side of the sector, with an estimated fifth one in the works. As always outside of the Core Worlds our posture with the Blockies is Threat Condition Red. If they make a hostile move blow their asses into stardust.” That comment got more laughs, and few high fives from soldiers sitting around the room. “Force projections for the Blockies is unknown, but the official line is to expect force parity; so prepare for our friends to the East to put up a fight if it comes down to it.”
“The Euros propped up a single colony two years ago just eighteen light years from our borders.” The commander highlighted the blue sphere extending around the four blue dots. There was only a small section of black, unclaimed space before the much smaller green sphere. “Our posture with them is green and we will honor the mutual military defense agreement that has been in place between our nations for centuries. They’ve apprised us of their in-sector forces; which is only a weak-squadron of battleships, so if shit hits the fan we’re going to be running to their rescue.” A lot of the people in the room didn’t like that idea.
“Yeah…yeah I know. If you don’t like it write your Councilman. As for other hostile forces in the area,” the commander highlighted the dozen orange dots. “We’ve had multiple skirmishes with pirate forces all around the sector, and started a campaign to root them out of their little hideouts. So far we’ve pulverized quite a few, but it has had no noticeable effect on their raiding so there are definitely more where they came from.”
<And that is most likely what I will be doing.> Ben knew the traditional missions of gunboats, and anti-piracy operations were the most common.
“All of the Corpies in the sector are on good standing with us and don’t have anything bigger than a cruiser protecting their shipping, so don’t expect much trouble from them.” With a final swipe everything from the sector disappeared except for the blue and gray areas.
“The final credible force in the York Sector is here in gray.” The commander pointed at the sphere twice as large as the Commonwealth’s blue one. “This area is the space claimed by the Star Kingdom of Windsor.”
Despite Ben’s studies in intergalactic relations he’d only read about this particular polity in passing.
“Our threat posture with them is currently yellow. They aren’t friend and they aren’t foe, but orders from the top are to stay on their good side.”
Ben had a guess why, but he’d have to do more research.
“Force projections put the Star Kingdom with at least its own fleet. We don’t have any more intelligence on their tech, so we can’t tell if they’re on par with us; but if it comes down the sheer numbers then they’ll wipe you out.”
<That is always a good reason to stay on someone’s good side.>
Ben had always known that commanding a Commonwealth warship came with an element of danger, but he’d always imagined he’d be operating somewhere in the Core Worlds. This briefing had shattered that expectation. He was going to be spending at least six months in a hostile sector of space filled with Blockies, pirates, and a singular political entity that had the power to destroy a Commonwealth task force of over thirty warships if they wanted.
<I really need to read up on this Star Kingdom.> Ben moved that task to the top of his to-do list.