Rear Admiral Hank Nelson
Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The lieutenant wasn’t running, because running would constitute an emergency. While this didn’t fall in that category, it was definitely one of the admiral’s commander critical information requirements (CCIR). The duty officer promptly told the aide about the transmitted data; which at 0200 ship time meant that he was fast asleep when the call came in. He wasn’t asleep now. He was speed-walking to the admiral’s quarters so that the word got passed to him by his aide and not some deckhand in the galley.
The lieutenant had mixed feelings about being an aide. He’d been an XO on a gunboat in this task force and then selected to this “prestigious position”.
<Prestigious my ass.> The lieutenant made it to the admiral’s door, which was guarded by a marine sentry, and made sure his uniform was presentable.
Throwing it on in the darkness of his cabin didn’t always lead to the best results.
The marine, a corporal, eyed him sideways as the officer tried to see his reflection in the polished bulkheads.
“You look good, Sir.” He grunted.
“Thanks.” The lieutenant gave him a grateful smile, took a deep breath, and knocked three times.
“Enter.” The command sounded like a whisper through the armored bulkhead, but both men in the hallway were listening for it.
“Good luck, Sir.” Were the corporal’s last words before his eyes snapped back forward and focused on a spot on the opposite bulkhead.
<Let’s just hope he doesn’t shoot the messenger.>
“Admiral.” The lieutenant announced himself and snapped to the position of attention.
“Hey, Mark. Since you’re here at…zero dark thirty. I’m going to assume that something wicked this way comes.” The admiral placed a marker in the old-fashioned paper book he was reading and popped the cigar out of his mouth.
Naturally, the admiral’s quarters on an assault carrier were spacious. The warships were three kilometers long, and had a crew of over five thousand souls. That didn’t include the brigade of marines it could carry. The admiral also had a ready room right off the flag bridge that he could snooze in, which was still bigger than the lieutenant’s quarters, but whenever he could Admiral Nelson liked to get back to his room.
“Yes, Sir.” The lieutenant didn’t always get the admiral’s quotes, but he got the gist this time. “We’ve got a CCIR.”
“Sleep’s overrated.” The admiral grunted as he hefted himself off the couch. “Let’s get to the CIC.”
The admiral already had his uniform on, which meant that he already knew about the issue, or he slept in it. If the lieutenant had to guess, he’d guess all of the above.
Rear Admiral Hank Nelson, commander of Task Force 33.4, wasn’t a big man. He was an average 170 centimeters tall, average frame, with a face full of sharp features, and close cropped brown hair with a steadily receding hairline. His eyes matched the color of his hair, minus the blue specs, and people almost always missed the spark in them. If the officer didn’t have the four golden stripes of a rear admiral running down his side, then nobody would have given him a second glance.
“Better wake up Commander Patterson.” Nelson sent the PAD message to his marine counterpart himself. “I’m sure he’ll want to throw his two cents in.
The short-tempered marine was more likely to hurl in a buck-twenty, but it was always better for operational continuity if the left hand knew what the right was doing. Even if it was just jerking off.
CIC, the ship’s combat information center, was tucked away in the center of the ship but on the opposite end from the bridge. The flag bridge, where Nelson did most of his work, was between them, so that if the assault carrier was hit by enemy fire they wouldn’t lose everyone in one big bang. The CIC was also the nerve hub, the brain of the ship. Most information requiring analysis went here first before being dissected and transmitted to the bridges. It was the first place to go if you wanted to get straight to the source.
“At ease.” Nelson waved aside the two marines guarding the hatch and made sure everyone stayed in their seats.
Even at 0215, the task force was busy. Nelson consulted the training schedule on his PAD to see that a couple of destroyers were running maneuvers. A pair of battleships were shooting tables to qualify more gunners at the space ranges near the edges of the system, and the assault carrier itself was getting ready to run a battle stations drill that was going to royally piss off a lot of spacers and marines.
“There’s nothing worse in this galaxy than a pissed off Commonwealth marine.” Commander Patterson stomped into the CIC just waving for people to keep their seats.
Unlike the average looking rear admiral, Commander Patterson was a bull of a man. Coming up through Recon special ops, complete with all their enhancements; the 235 centimeter, 190 kilo brigade commander practically had to turn sideways and scrunch down to fit through the door. The commander of the 222nd Infantry Brigade, the Triple Deuce, had all the tact of a bull in a china shop.
Nelson knew that no matter how good the marine was at his job, he probably wasn’t going to get any higher than brigade command. Despite being a little too aggressive at times, Patterson was a damn fine officer; but that didn’t matter. The marine didn’t know how to play the game. Not that Nelson was one to talk. The difference was that Patterson didn’t know how to play, still wanted to advance, and thought he could. Nelson knew how to play, but didn’t give a shit about it. He was happy just where he was.
“Take a seat, Jared. We’ve got a CCIR that I’ll bet you want to hear about.”
The aide winced at the statement, which confirmed that the admiral somehow knew what was going on.
“Gentlemen,” the lieutenant started. One of his duties was to brief the admiral on the basics so he had general knowledge of the entire situation before going into more technical briefings. “At approximately 0147 we identified several FTL signatures beyond the hyper limit. Transmission into real-space at 0155 was immediately followed by a data burst. The FTL drones were from systems 1552, 4648, and 5557.”
A map of the York Sector sprang to life and the systems were highlighted.
“This is the information.”
The information was basic, barebones, and captured from several light minutes away, but it was still pretty clear cut.
“Blockie or Star Kingdom?” The data showed FTL transmission data, multiple signatures, entering the three systems almost simultaneously.
Statistically, that happening at random was impossible, so this was clearly a closely coordinated mission.
“System 5557 and 1552 appear to be Blockie cruiser squadrons. System 4648 is tentatively being classified as Star Kingdom assets. Classification unknown, but judging by known tonnage we’re identifying them as cruisers as well.”
“Huh, well that’s a shit sandwich with a side of turd sauce.” The marine commander eloquently surmised the situation.
It was common practice for starfaring nations to seed systems with FTL drones and fuel caches throughout explored space. The reason for it was simple. Space was huge. You couldn’t put boots on the ground or ships in the system everywhere. You couldn’t even do it in every strategic location, so you did the next best thing. You popped a smart drone in there, programmed it to sense FTL signatures; which no one could hide. Then you had them gather data on whom or whatever was moving through the system before jumping away or going silent. Whether the drone jumps or plays ghost is based on a programed set of priorities. Having the drone jump, and alert the enemy to the fact that they’d been seen was only used for vital information.
Which this was.
Nelson hit a few buttons on his PAD and lines started to crisscross the star map.
Faster than light travel was capable thanks to Alcubierre Drives and Alcubierre Launchers. The drives were on every ship, and the launchers were strategically placed throughout the galaxy. Both pieces of galactic-travel technology created a warp bubble around the ship that pushed and pulled space around the bubble and allowed it to travel faster than light. A launcher made a trip faster than a ship’s drives. On top of providing more powerful bubbles of manipulated space-time, launchers also linked to eachother, so in many cases a ship could travel from one to the other directly. But both would get you where you wanted to go.
The question then became what was the best way to get from A to B? The answer to that was hardcoded into the basic nature of the universe. Stars were massive balls of superheated gas and plasma with a tremendous gravitational field. That field made planets rotate around them, creating solar systems. What that gravity also did was create warp valleys. These valleys were the lanes between two points of increased gravity. Thus, the valleys between stars were literally the FTL highways that could be linked together into a galaxy-wide travel map. All you needed was the data and the math and you could find the best way to get from A to B anywhere in explored space.
And that’s what people did. Navigators plotted course through these interconnected warp valleys to get from system to system safely and quickly.
Militarily, what that information gave the Commonwealth was the most likely avenues of approach for an enemy fleet to invade a star system. Militaries seeded drones at specific locations along these routes in the hopes they’d gather intelligence if the enemy dropped out of FTL in a system to refuel the exotic matter in their ships’ drives.
The enemy could use a launcher, but unfriendly nations didn’t make it a habit to give away the system specific data and codes necessary to calculate the complicated launchers’ FTL trips. Since New Lancashire was a recently terraformed world, and security had been tight from the start, an invasion launched by an Alcubierre Launcher was unlikely.
If someone was going to attack New Lancashire then that only left jumping with ships’ drives, and a ship’s drive’s fuel requirements greatly reduced a fleet’s range and reach. Plus, trips with drives required calculations where navigators could only plot a few systems ahead. It could turn a trip that would normally be a few hours into a few days or even weeks.
Nelson and Patterson, having spent decades in the Navy, knew things were a little more complicated than that. One of those frequent complications to FTL travel popped up in York Sector systems 1552, 4648, and 5557. Those three systems were junction systems: systems where even ships that were traveling by launcher had to drop out of FTL and reorient because their valleys didn’t quite line up with the rest of the valleys. It was the same as one of those old-fashioned big circles with gaudy monuments in the center where you had to drive into it, sort out where you were going, and then continue on. It was simple doing that on a planet, but when dealing with FTL, where a misplaced decimal point could drop a thousand people into a star, you needed to drop out and recalculate.
“So the Blockies are blockading these two junction points.” Probable courses were plotted and detailed what Nelson thought was happening.
One of the junction points was the main way into Blockie controlled space. So they’d effectively created a buffer along the most likely avenue of approach an enemy would take to get in.
Nelson had already planned for that, and had fuel caches lined up to bypass the junction, but the Blockies would likely have their own drones watching for just that. Some of the caches might already be lost, but that was a long shot. Fuel caches were hidden in hollowed out asteroids and fixed with a simple STRATNET beacon that only pinged when it sensed a Commonwealth warship in the vicinity.
But the bottom line was it was going to cost too much in fuel and time for Nelson to get his task force around the junction with his current resources, which was the whole reason the Blockies were parking a cruiser squadron at 5557 in the first place.
The one in 1552 was a different story. 1552 was a critical junction leading into Commonwealth space, and their current supply line ran right through the system. Which meant the chess game was on and the Blockies had made the opening offensive move.
“When is our next deployment run due?” Nelson was thinking strategy and counterstrategy.
How big a force could he dispatch to deal with the Blockies? Where should he pull them from? Where would the Blockies likely counterattack? Why were they being aggressive in the first place? What was the Star Kingdom up to?
It was his job to consider all of them.
“Three days, Sir.”
Nelson was quiet for a few more minutes before he formulated his decision.
“We need to send a message.” He nodded to himself and the holo. “The Blockies can’t be allowed to stick their dicks into our space without consequences.” He pulled up an order template and started to input the information. “Immediately cancel the qualification tables for Lancelot and Galahad.” He identified the two Knight-Class battleships on the edge of the system. “They are to report to the launcher with all due haste, resupply, and make an immediate jump to System 1552. Once they arrive they are to retake the system and hold it until the latest batch of deployment equipment and personnel pass through. Then I want two destroyers to rotate on picket duty through the system until relieved. Jared,” he turned to the marine, “I need a full battalion of your ass kickers ready to go in the next few hours.”
“I’ve got a battalion stationed at the launcher per doctrine.” The marine commander looked at his own PAD. “Lancelot and Galahad have six companies of marines between them, so I’ll pull four from the launcher and take two from here and two from Lancashire’s planetary defense base to replace them. We’ll rotate them back into ops once the mission is over. And I’ll make sure the two picketing destroyers always have at least a company between them to deal with anything that might pop in uninvited.”
“Sounds good to me.” Nelson had already dispatched his own warning orders to the battleship captains, and now his attention was back on the holo map. Specifically, System 4648.
“Lieutenant. What do you think the Star Kingdom is doing?” Nelson posed the question to the young officer.
“Sir, they’re mirroring the Blockies move, and reacting to protect their territory. 4648 is a major junction into their territory; one of two to be specific.”
“You’re right and you’re wrong.” Nelson grinned at the surprised lieutenant. “You’re right that they’re defending their territory, but it’s not a reaction.” The admiral waited for the lieutenant to catch up. “The data coming back indicated nearly instantaneous movement on the three systems, which meant the Star Kingdom knew about it and gave their OK. So, in other words, they just gave us the finger while still not formally taking sides.
“Shit is right.” The admiral didn’t want to fight a war on two fronts, because he’d lose.
“This shit is all Berg’s fault. She just had to insert an agent without telling anyone. Then the fucker gets caught and gets his hand chopped off.” The marine scowled. “It should have been his balls.” The last comment was only a murmur.
<Berg did screw us.> Nelson was still pissed about decisions being made in his AO without his go ahead. But Naval Intelligence always played their own game and told field commanders to shove it if need be.
“We need to kick up our diplomatic efforts.” Nelson decided. “In light of this new information we can’t be hands-off anymore.” He looked over at the lieutenant who looked a little pale. “Get someone from the diplomatic corps in to meet me today. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”