Rear Admiral Hank Nelson
Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“You can stop hovering, Lieutenant.” Task Force 33.4’s commander didn’t even look up from what he was doing.
Rear Admiral Nelson hadn’t received anything other than standard Fleet enhancements when he entered service over half a century ago, and since then he’d only undergone the routine tune-ups that were required by regulation. Enhanced senses didn’t have anything to do with noticing the young LT was standing just to the side of the entry hatch to the flag bridge of CWS Abraham Lincoln. The RADM knew the LT was coming because of situational awareness. He knew they’d received a drone in the last hour, which gave it time to transmit the data and for the aide to go over it and pick out what the RADM needed to know. After you did this enough times you got a sense for when the messenger was coming.
“Good evening, Sir.” The LT was a little red-faced as he entered.
The marine guard at the entrance to the bridge stared stoically ahead, but the RADM could see amusement in the SGT’s eyes. Unlike the regular bridge of the assault carrier, the flag bridge wasn’t fully occupied at all times. It had a larger holo-bubble to give a better tactical picture to the RADM and places for his staff to sit and contribute, but it was only fully staffed when he wanted it to be or they were going into battle. Since neither was the case right now, the RADM was meeting the LT alone.
“Take a seat and give me the briefing.”
“Thank you, Sir.” The LT did as instructed and got out his PAD. “First…”
“About fucking time.” Commander Patterson barged through the door with a smile on his face.
The LT was about to get to his feet to greet the large marine, but Nelson waved him off. It seemed the ground forces commander had gotten the same briefing.
“I just heard the news.” The RADM pointed at the LT.
“They should have sent my whole brigade in the first place.” Excitement and irritation flashed across the CMDR’s face. “Who sends out eight thousand marines and leaves two thousand behind.”
“It’s my understanding those two battalions only got back from a deployment cruise three months before you and the rest of the 222nd were assigned to my task force, Per regulation a unit needs a minimum of a six month refit after a deployment.”
“Technically, yes.” The CMDR shrugged. “But when a whole brigade gets a posting the whole brigade should go. Plus, we could have used those two battalions after what we’ve been going through.”
“Well now we have them.” The RADM smiled. “And now we need to figure out a new deployment schedule.”
The meeting with Patterson wasn’t supposed to happen for another two hours, but since the marine was here it was better to just get it over with.
“Let’s review our task organization. Do you have your latest USR?”
The Unit Status Report used by the infantry gave decision makers information on a unit’s personnel readiness, equipment on hand, equipment serviceability, and training. All of that was used by commanders to determine the readiness of a unit.
“Yeah, here it is.” The CMDR made a swiping motion with his hand and four different sets of information divided themselves up into four quadrants. “We’re good to go on everything. Second Battalion was lacking after the battle in system 1552 but replacements are on the way with the 2223rd and 2224th.”
The RADM’s eyes passed over the data quickly. He’d seen enough USR reports to last a lifetime so he knew the important stuff. “The 2222nd is hurting in the HI department.” He noticed.
“We’ve got two new guys coming in on the boat. Both are green but they’ve got good marks from the course back on Mars, and they tend to be the biggest sticklers there.”
“I’m more interested with the equipment on hand.” The RADM pulled up the data by stretching it between his fingers. “We’re low on LACS.”
“They’ve been issued out reserves back on Thor.” The CMDR checked his data. “That’ll have to do.”
The RADM left it at that. They had bigger things to discuss than two new HI troopers. The big question was where to put the infantry brigade now that the task force was on a war-footing.
The York Sector currently had four colonized planets within two systems, and both were within twelve light years of each other. But that didn’t make it easy. It required the majority of fleet and infantry forces to protect the colonized worlds, but only doing that was playing too defensively. Troops and ships were needed specifically to guard the Alcubierre Launchers; they needed to patrol likely avenues of approach and especially the junction systems. Then there were the corporate contracts the Fleet had signed to routinely check out places like Cobalt Station. If that wasn’t enough, they were still mapping the York System, and sometimes that required more than drones to do the work.
<And this is why we get paid the big bucks.> The RADM looked over the numbers and churned over a plan.
He had an old assault carrier, five battleships – two of which needed yard time, ten battlecruisers, two missile cruisers, and two regular cruisers – both of which were damaged from fighting. He was down to thirteen of his original compliment of fifteen destroyers which gave his task force a grand total of thirty-three ships. It was a bottom heavy MTOE. He didn’t have the resources for a proper engagement if it came to it, so he needed to keep the enemy off balance.
“Abe is going to stay here in New Lancashire orbit along with Galahad, Lancelot, and Yawin. I’ll send Gaiwan and Percival to Cheshire Prime.” The RADM doled out the big guns between the two habitable systems.
“I’ve got no control over the ship’s marine contingent. Those are a different unit, but I’ve got Gaiwan with two companies and Percival with three, so they’ll be able to drop somewhere if shit gets hairy.”
<Or defend those priceless battleships.> The RADM thought about the other purpose of the marines. Even if the marines didn’t like that type of fighting.
“I’ve already got a company on Cheshire in a FOB outside Warrington training up the local militia. They’re running them through a shortened version of basic training in five-week classes, but they’re only about twenty thousand who have been ‘trained’.” The marine might as well have used fingers to do air quotes judging by the look on his face. “The FOB has a PDC, so if push comes to shove they’ll be able to hold for a little bit if invaded. Long enough for us to get more infantry there.”
The problem was there wasn’t much more infantry to give. The 222nd was tasked with defense of New Lancashire, protecting Abe, outfitting all of her gunboats, and securing the Launcher. That spread the brigade pretty thin.
<Defensive thinking loses wars.> An idea tickled the back of the RADM’s brain.
“We’re going to establish a strike force.” The comment took the CMDR by surprise, but the look on his face said he liked it. “Half a squadron of battlecrusiers and a missile cruiser.”
“They’ll have a little over half a battalion between them.” The CMDR checked his notes. “Not enough to invade anything, but more than enough to cause a little chaos.”
“Good. I’ll give them two of my gunboats as scouts and use the rest of them as well as most of my destroyers as picket forces in a few key systems. All will be close enough to be recalled if needed.”
The CMDR didn’t care much about the destroyer’s marine contingents. They only had a few squads per ship unless they were loaded down for transport, and the whole destroyer force could only put maybe four companies of boots on the ground. He had bigger issues to worry about.
“What about our royal friends?”
Nelson scratched his head as he thought about the nearby Star Kingdom. “No. It’s a fresh alliance. We aren’t going to ask them for military participation so soon. Not until we know more about them, their ships, and how they operate.”
Nelson tried not to laugh. “They don’t have more than the bare minimum in the Sector to protect their colony. We’d maybe get a destroyer or two of assistance if we asked them.”
“And if they need our help?”
“Then we have our strike force.” That made the CMDR smile.
They worked for another two hours getting picket forces and marine detachments all arranged before Nelson called his staff to start drafting orders. What the RADM needed to do was get in touch with the senior battlecruiser captain. Unless he didn’t like what he saw, that officer would be commanding the task force. The RADM was about to make that call when the LT came alive as his PAD beeped urgently at him.
“A report in from Cobalt Station, Sir. Pirate attack.”
All the officers’ faces soured. The last thing they needed while making the opening moves in a conflict was greedy pirates stepping on their toes.
“Argo engaged and destroyed the enemy. Lieutenant Commander Gold’s report will follow when he rendezvouses with the station.”
<Maybe the man isn’t half bad at his job after all.> The RADM thought, but would reserve judgment until he saw the report.
“Keep me informed.”
With that finished the RADM went back to getting ready for war.
Duchess Josephina Barrow
Location: Windsor City, Windsor, Star Kingdom of Windsor
Josephina, Duchess Rose Bay, marched across the exquisitely maintained gardens of the royal palace. Large, lush bushes were sculpted into the images of past kings and queens of the Windsor family. A one-story tall floral arrangement of roses was designed in the Windsor coat of arms: yellow roses for the lion, white for the unicorn, and genetically engineered roses to fit the blues, greens, and other non-natural rose colors on the crest. If that wasn’t impressive enough, all of the roses were in full bloom and would stay that was for weeks maybe even months. The centerpiece of the royal garden – a symbol of power for the monarch – couldn’t be seen to have plants dying.
The Duchess had seen the floral design dozens of times, so it didn’t impress her as much as the commoners lucky to see the palace gardens. What caught her eye was what was standing in the shadow of the flowers. Three-meter-tall men in onyx black armor stood like statues on either side of the cobblestone path leading deeper into the garden.
The Duchess schooled her face and marched between them without hesitation. Even though one word from the Queen and they would snap her neck like a twig. The wall of guards ended and high hedges replaced them. She knew there were more guards lurking about, but she continued on without a sideways glance. She made a few memorized turns as she entered the maze that she’d played in as a child before coming face to face with a familiar member of the Obsidian Guard.
The man was a mountain; strong, sturdy, and unmovable. The Guard Captain was always the closest to the monarch beside their body, man or woman.
“Your Grace.” The Guard Captain looked down at Josephina even though she was over two meters tall.
The Duchess had known the Guard Captain for decades, but he still thoroughly scanned and searched her. Knowing this was coming, she had her PAD out and nothing else on her. Once allowed to pass, she walked into a sunlit clearing where two people sat engrossed in a game of chess.
One was a devilishly handsome man with a strong jaw and a neatly styled beard. He wore an expensive but casual smart-cloth suit, but had the jacket off and hanging over the back of his chair. Across from him was a tall, regal, yet young woman. Her hair was pale blonde, her body was slender but strong, and her face shone with a surprising amount of innocence for the ruler of a kingdom. An innocence that didn’t reach her eyes.
Josephina stood at a respectful distance as the two people stared each other down over the chessboard.
“Checkmate.” Queen Victoria III stated confidently less than five minutes later.
“Damn.” The man’s curse made her chuckle, before she leaned over and kissed him.
“Maybe next time.” The Queen looked over and saw Josephine waiting patiently. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”
“Sure.” The man’s face was still scrunched as he tried to figure out how he’d been beaten. “I’ll make sure the boys are cleaned up and ready for supper.” The man finally gave up examining the board and moved to pass Josephina. “Your Grace.” He greeted her tersely.
“Your Highness.” She greeted the Prince Consort – the Queen’s husband – equally succinctly.
Josephina had never gotten along with the Prince. He was too soft in her eyes, but she quickly forgot about him as the Queen rose for her seat and approached. Josephina curtsied low, nearly kneeling as her monarch approached.
“Really?” The Queen raised an eyebrow at the sign of submission. “Are you going to do that every time?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” Josephina rose back to her feet, but there was a grin on her face.
“You do that and you know where it leads.” The Queen’s radiant purple iris’ flashed dangerously.
“No!” The Duchess blurted unceremoniously. “Please.” She added trying to regain her composure.
“Drop the titles then.”
“Fine,” the leader of the Star Kingdom of Windsor huffed with dignity. “Let’s go, Joe-Joe.”
The Duchess scowled. “You know I hate that name. It was the name of the class monkey in primary school.”
“And you know I hate all the bowing and scraping from my oldest friends. I might be Victoria the Third by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, of the planet Windsor and all Dominions among the stars, Queen, Defender of the Faith.” She made exaggerated hand gestures. “But you know in private I will always be Vicky to you.”
Josephina’s composure finally melted when she admitted defeat to her oldest friend.
“But you don’t come by just to visit me, Josie, so what have you heard from your friends in dark places.”
All of the friendly banter was gone from the Queen’s eye. A cold and calculating ruler stood in her place, and was now addressing Duchess Rose Bay her Chief of Intelligence.
Josephina’s face hardened as well. “Our diplomatic mission was a success. Lord Captain Churchill got everything we wished out of the treaty agreement signed with Rear Admiral Nelson. It still has to go to their Congress for ratification, but until then we are in a standing alliance with the Commonwealth.”
Josephina could see something going on behind the Queen’s eyes, but Her Majesty didn’t elaborate and she didn’t ask.
“Our intelligence source has also reported deployment of Commonwealth vessels and troops throughout their annexed sector.”
The Queen didn’t rebuke Josephina for insulting their new allies. The Duchess was of the opinion that everything in this area of space was the rightful property of the Star Kingdom. Just because the Commonwealth and Eastern Block had shown up in their neck of the woods didn’t change that. The Kingdom had been committed to smart, planned, and steady expansion. All those plans had been derailed in the last decade.
“Are they pushing toward our new territory?”
“Eventually they will reach the new colonies, Your Majesty, but it will take several more years at this rate. We’ve secured valuable junctions that we haven’t allowed them to reach yet.
“Is the fleet prepared?”
“Your Fleet is always prepared.” It wasn’t Josephina’s area of expertise, but she had enough spies in the officer ranks to know they were preparing for any eventuality.
“And the Commonwealth’s deployment plans?”
“For the most part they are shoring up their defenses and picketing key systems, but they are assembling a strike force to bloody the Blockie’s nose.”
“Have they asked for assistance?”
“No, Your Majesty. Rear Admiral Nelson doesn’t wish to strain our fragile relationship.”
“Smart,” the Queen pondered. “Dispatch a pair of cruisers to New Lancashire. We’ll set the tempo of this alliance without being overtly bullish.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“How long until our source runs dry?”
“We have another week at full power and double that if we only activate it intermittently.”
Josephina had put the source into play herself when she punished the Commonwealth spy. The nanites she’d put in his bloodstream had ridden the spy back to New Lancashire. Once there, the little robots had split up, some leaving his body in the assault carrier’s urinal, others in the governmental headquarters down on the planet – particularly in their intelligence section. Since then it had been a game of cat and mouse as they avoided the Commonwealth’s internal security features while gathering information and getting it to Kingdom operatives in the city.
Most had self-destructed and been reduced to dust to avoid getting caught, but others were still going strong, and would go on for a little longer until they ran out of power. Josephina was hoping to have someone on the inside by then, but the Collies were pretty strict about security protocols. So far, she only had agents on the periphery, much like they’d been trying to do in the Kingdom. Despite their new alliance, there was no reasonable expectation that the espionage would stop any time soon.
“Let’s try to get as much life out of them as we can. The deployment plans will give our commanders time to react and free up my mind to deduce the next few moves”
Josephina had learned long ago to not play the Queen in chess. She was a prodigy at seeing all the angles. It was something that had been bred into her genome, and it was one of the reasons why she made such a good monarch. One of the other reasons was her ruthlessness, although only a few people would guess it from her elfin figure.
“Excellent work, Josie.” Just like flipping a switch the Queen compartmentalized her thoughts and returned to seeing the Duchess as her friend. “Now let’s get lunch.”
“Lunch?” Josephina cringed at the simple meal that would take at least two hours she didn’t have.
“Nonsense. It has been too long since you saw your godchildren. You’re coming. That’s a royal decree.”
Josephina couldn’t stop from rolling her eyes. “Fine. Lead the way, Your Majesty.”
They walked out of the garden and were surrounded by a small army of guards as they walked back toward the palace.