Two Worlds – Chapter 296

ADM Janet Blackbird

Location: Orbit, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Ops, how is my fleet?” ADM Blackbird, CO of Second Fleet, stood at her station with her hands clasped behind her back, while her piercing, dark eyes surveying the flag bridge of the Assault Carrier Little Big Horn.

“Still moving, ma’am,” the haggard looking CAPT announced as information flashed through the holo-tank in front of him and his five-person section.

<Too slow,> Blackbird stopped her face from scowling, but this sudden alert was showing her just how unprepared her fleet really was.

For all intents and purposes Second Fleet was more of a reserve than a cohesive fighting force. They protected the fortress that was Mars, one of the Commonwealth’s most precious planets, but this was the Sol System. No one had fought here for centuries. To do so was just…unproductive to anyone. As such, her fleet often sent out task forces on specific missions, or joint training operations with different fleets in different sectors of the Commonwealth, but as a cohesive fighting force, the Fighting Second was sorely lacking. One look at her own holo-tank showed her that.

Currently, in the system, her fleet had four hundred twelve warships, another seventy-seven were elsewhere on operations, so she was already at eight-four percent of her assigned strength. Of her available ships, one hundred eighty seven where battleships accompanying six assault carriers. That gave her a proper wall of battle of one hundred ninety three ships. The remaining two hundred nineteen weren’t going to help if this turned into a slug fest. Second Fleet was cruiser heavy because it was in charge of commerce protection for the system. With it being Sol, command opted for lighter cruisers instead of the heavier battlecruisers, which could help fill in a battle wall in a pinch. Back when the world was rational and an unknown force wasn’t about to assault Mars, she didn’t complain. Now, she felt like she’d shit the bed big time.

Even worse, forty-two of her cruisers were anchored out at Titan for outer system patrol. Even in Sol they had to worry about the occasionally brazen pirate looking for a big score, and those space lanes were rich in rare-earth minerals and precious-metal deposits being transported by some of the galaxy’s largest corporations. Since they knew second fleet was out there, they could deploy their own corporate security ships elsewhere.

<Now that’s about to bite me in the ass too.> No one had heard from the task force of cruisers, which meant she was about to go into battle with only three quarters of her assigned strength. <Then there is the problem that we have no fucking idea what we’re facing!> Her hand gripped the edges of the holo-tank, and her normally bronze skin turned bone-white.

Most commanders would consider having their flag ship named after a famous defeat an unlucky omen, but to Blackbird it was a victory. One of the few Lakota Native Americans left in the Sol System that didn’t leave to settle a new world, she’d immediately wanted Biggie, as she affectionately called the massive warship. Biggie had been getting a little long in the tooth before the new alien tech came to town, but now the three kilometer flying fortress was updated with all the latest and greatest. Even more important, she was ready to protect Mars from whatever had come knocking with ill intentions.

“Formation Theta achieved,” the Ops CAPT announced with visible relief.

Formation Theta was born out of planning sessions after the Battle of Harper’s Junction, and the first real test of new tech against new tech, especially when the Commonwealth was fighting with only a portion of its force upgraded. For Second Fleet, this meant for the fleet to be centered on the six assault carriers. Each carrier would be backed up by five of the upgraded battleships, to create a six-vessel wedge. That wedge, with the carrier at the center would fly in loose formation to maximize their shields’ range. The purpose of this front wedge was to not only throw rounds downrange, but to provide cover for the twenty-five or so battleships stacked behind them. These wedges of obsolete ships would spilt above or below the elliptical, or shoot through designated firing lanes between the front-wedge ships. This allowed them to throw the maximum amount of fire power down range while providing the most protection against the enemy. It was more efficient against enemy missile batteries, but things could be tightened up if it turned into energy engagement.

Also, if things got up close and personal, which they had at Harper’s Junction, the front wedge could also act as a battering ram into the enemy formation. They would drive into the enemy formations while spitting out marines to try and take the enemy ships. Biggie had ten thousand marines chomping at the bit to do more than damage control duty. The other wedges would then follow suit and pick apart the leftover enemy carcass. It was a solid doctrine, and Whiskey One through Six stood ready between the slightly-tinged red of Mars and the asteroid belt that was currently concealing the enemy.

“Anything, Ops?” her eyes flicked between the holo-tanks sensors and the high-resolution scopes that were watching the edge of the belt like hawks.

In its current orbit, the belt was close to Mars, which was currently far from Earth. It was a worst case scenario in terms of First Fleet offering any assistance in the coming battle, but Mars wasn’t without its own defenses. Dozens of orbital cannons designed to engage enemy warships were in stable orbit around the planet. They had limited movement capabilities, but they could put energy beams downrange and rob the enemy of avenues of approach, which would allow Second Fleet to dictate the terms of battle. Only a quarter of the cannons had been updated, but that was still a powerful weapon in Second Fleet’s tool kit. Even more important, a chunk of the planet’s population was Fleet or Infantry personnel. Mars was a tough nut to crack, and the enemy was going to learn that soon. Once they exited the belt it would only be a short time until they were in effective weapons range.

“We’re getting a lot of interference,” the Ops officer replied.

“Even with visual?” The ADM was looking at the same images as the rest of her staff. The edge of the belt was still tens of millions of kilometers away, and even though asteroids in the belt were much farther apart than people thought, they should still be able to get a look at what was coming.

“Yes, ma’am. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they deployed chaff around their formation.”

The ADM knew that was impossible. The amount of chaff needed to encompass the size of blank space their sensors couldn’t penetrate was more than the inventory of all the fleets in the system. It was just a logistical impossibility.

“We might be looking at a new weapon design,” she came to the conclusion. “Make sure to get all this data ground-side, and get me all Whiskey-Actuals.”

As the CO, the ADM was Whiskey-One, with the other rear admirals in charge of the five other wedges being Whiskey-Two through Six. Down at the Command center, buried deep beneath the surface of Mars, the Deputy Commander of Second Fleet was coordinating all atmospheric traffic and troop deployment. Their job would start if Second Fleet failed and the enemy decided to do to Mars what the Commonwealth did to Harper’s Junction.

Three holographic men and two women appeared in front of her as the RADMs joined the conference. They all looked just as concerned as she felt.

“We still have no actionable intel on the enemy. So, I’m leaning toward Crouching Tiger,” she stated.

Heads nodded as the RADMs agreed. With nothing concrete to go on they needed to close the distance and strike against the enemy. They couldn’t give up the initiative and risk Mars. The orbital cannons could be used if Second Fleet was drawn too far from the planet and parts of the enemy fleet were able to get around the flanks. The plan assigned the smaller cruiser and destroyer elements screening and interdiction missions against enemy ships and ordinance. The most important part of their mission would be to take down rogue missiles The last thing anyone wanted was something hard and fast slamming into Mars at a percentage of the speed of light. Second to that, but still pretty shitty were ships getting around the wedges and shooting at them up the skirt. Hopefully, the smaller, faster ships could prevent that.

“Ok, claws out,” she sent the coded order in case the enemy had broken into TACCOM.

On her command, the fighter bays of the six assault carriers opened and dumped twelve thousand drones into space. The arrow-head-shaped fighters shot out away from the carriers faster than anything carrying organic life could ever move. The drones weren’t updated with QE com nodes yet, but light speed communication was good enough for a battlefield that was shrinking by the second.

The drones swirled, banked, and flew through various formations to keep any gunners on the enemy ships guessing. CAGs on raised daises, in the central decks where the drone pilots’ immersive holo-tanks sat, barked mental orders over newly implanted IORs that improved the efficiency and speed of their pilots. The fighter pilots were one with their weapons in a way they never were before as they darted toward the edge of the belt and the unknown enemy.

On the flag bridge, ADM Blackbird watched as the blue icons of the combined drone armada arched toward the most likely emergence point. The wedges were also on the move. As data flowed in, the wedges constantly adjusted their positions to bring the most guns to bear or attain the greatest shield coverage, but at the tip of the spear was Whiskey-Three under RADM Schweizer. The woman was a bulldog, and the universe giving her the first crack at the enemy was poetic justice.

For twenty-two minutes the drones and warships closed with the edge of the belt. The range shrunk to twelve million kilometers, with the drones midway between the fleets, when the holo-tank suddenly changed.

“I’ve got them on sensors and visual!” the Ops CAPT yelled as the threat indexes lit up like a Christmas tree.

As the enemy cleared the asteroid belt they dropped whatever interference or cloaking they’d been using and gave Second Fleet a good look at them.

It was a hell of a lot better than Blackbird was expecting, and at the same time worse.

The holo-tank took in the data over its QE relays so it was instantaneous. The ADM tapped one of the icons and enlarged it to get specifics on the enemy. There were only two hundred and twenty two enemy signatures registering on their sensors. That was the good news. The bad news was they were bigger than anything Second Fleet had.

“We’ve got a universal disposition of enemy contacts, ma’am,” Ops was parsing the data as quickly as they could. “Their formation is also unusual.”

Blackbird saw what the CAPT was talking about. The ships were grouped in pairs, which made sense for linked fire control and mutual support and defense purposes, but these ships were too close. Sensors were showing less than a kilometer between the hulking cigar-shaped vessels, which didn’t match anything the CIC had on record of Windsor or Blockie tactics. Being so close was doing more harm than good. It made it so if one ship took a hit from an antimatter warhead that other likely would as well. Tactically, it was stupid. On top of that, the distance between that pairings were large and varying. Some were a few hundred kilometers apart. Other were tens of thousands. If she didn’t know better, she’d say that the pairings were doing their own thing at the expense of the whole formation.

The fact that the behemoths also made Biggie look like a gangly teenager didn’t help the tonnage disposition she was now faced with. <Look at those things.> She couldn’t help but gawk at the intricate details carved into the bow and sides of the ship. Now that the distortion was gone, it looked like Second Fleet was about to get attacked by works of art masquerading as warships.

<What the hell is going on?> her forehead scrunched in confusion as she took it all in. <These don’t look like the Windsor’s.> She had no idea who this enemy was, what they were thinking, or how they fought. That sent a shiver of cold fear down her spine.

A red block of text flashed in her peripheral vision so fast she nearly missed it. People yelled in surprise around the bridge as the received the same blocks of text. Blackbird quickly scrolled back through the system log to see what she’d missed. It took only seconds to find, and she knew for certain it was something a fleet officer hadn’t seen outside of training simulations for nearly two centuries.

MALCON WARNNG flashed in black letters with diagonal yellow slashes through them. MALCON meant malware contamination, and the ADM was still remembering what that entailed from her academy naval history classes when Biggie’s CAG’s emergency call broke through her reverie.

“Ma’am, we just lost all the drones! Links were severed like my credit balance when I found my ex-wife in bed with the pool boy. What the fuck just happened!” As the CAPT and veteran drone pilot screamed at her, she watched on the holo-tank as the drones banked into a wide arch, coming around a complete one hundred and eighty degrees, and headed back toward the fleet.

What was about to happen hit her about two seconds early, which was only enough time for her to hit the big, red button next to her chair and scream, “EVASIVE…!”

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Review: Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker

First off, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

I’m off this week from Two Worlds. I’m doing some catch up and enjoying the holidays, as I hope you all are. So instead, I’m going to share my thoughts from seeing the latest Star Wars this weekend.

*** WARNING SPOILER ALERT***

To start, I generally liked the movie. I’m not an uber/fanatic fan like some people out there, but I’m very much into sci-fi, as you might know from my writings. I do see that JJ Abrams had to cram a lot into two and a half hours, and some of a hectic disconnect is there. Part of this was getting back on track after episode eight. I think Abrams should have directed all three episodes and a lot of the negative critique could have been avoided. Also, having Leia in there with prior-shot footage was tough. Having stuff filmed for one things, but then used for another, never quite hits the mark. Still, I was glad to see her in the movie especially as Rey’s Jedi master.

Now to the negatives, and for the most part when I nit pick stuff like this, I go for the military aspects. For that reason, the final battle with the Final Order Fleet and the remaining resistance fighters makes no sense to me. The writers concocted something about needing navigation beacons to move the fleet out of orbit and not having active shields and all that…but up is still up and down is still down. No one thought to take manual control of the helm and just go up, clear the gravity well, and engage the smaller resistance force in open space…really?

Also, for Star Wars in general, I’ve never understood how small groups of fighters are able to take down capital ships, especially when those ships have their own fighter compliments. Tie fighters must really suck because there are always more of them than resistance fighters, and yet the star destroyers and death stars always seem to get destroyed. Tactically, this doesn’t make sense to me. We’ve been doing carrier based operations for decades, no way an advanced navy wouldn’t be able to coordinate that stuff and defeat a much weaker force.

But back to this specific movie. My next qualm was having all the star destroyers lined up all nice and pretty. Makes for a great visual, but not much more than that. Poe had a good idea: get on their level so they can’t hit you without hitting each other. The logical reaction to that is for – I think his name was General or Admiral Pride – to space the ships out and get them on different levels to create overlapping fields of fire to negate Poe’s tactics. I’m not a naval officer, but that seems pretty basic to me.

On to an engineering prospective, who builds a ship where the biggest baddest weapon is on its unprotected belly, and when blown up, takes out the whole ship. At the very least, the ship should be able to cut power to it, so when its taken out, the whole damn ship doesn’t go up in flames.

Character wise, I liked Rey being a Palpetine. It added the dynamic back to this episode that was missing in the last one. Although, you knew immediately once she took out that transport with lightening, so the big reveal by Kylo Ren wasn’t too momentous.

I don’t think we ever learned what Finn wanted to tell Rey throughout the movie, which was a nice comedic bit, but without the resolution it kind of falls flat. Maybe I missed it though. Also, not sure if there was anything romantic starting between them. That seemed like it was in there in seven, then the other girl kind of stole Finn’s attention in eight, and then nothing really happened in nine between Finn and either of them. The other girl barely had any screen time at all. The kiss between Rey and Ben didn’t feel totally right to me. There was definitely a connection between them, but not sure if it was romantic. It might have been a last ditch grasp for connection for a man before he died. His sacrifice wasn’t surprising and I saw it coming, but its clear Rey is the best to go forward and not him despite his turning back to the light.

As for the big bad himself, dude must have forgotten how to fight between when he took on Yoda and now. Just standing there when you’re supposedly all powered up from taking Ben and Rey’s special connection power…stupid, especially when she’s advancing. How about shooting at somewhere not protected by the lightsabers, or hitting the ground to stop her advance and kick up some dust. Get a little concealment going, force jump, and come at her from another direction. Pride killed Palpetine, which I guess is fitting, but it could have been a much more enjoyable fight scene. The massive lightening strike was cool that took out the resistance fleet, although the emperor’s own people didn’t seem to capitalize on that. Again, if you’d spaced out the fleet or moved around a bit, you could have destroyed them all and everyone would be bowing down to their new Sith overlords. Might have been a good way to start whatever the nextsaga is. Disney, call me if you want some ideas.

To me, it seems like this is the end of the Skywalker saga in name only. Sure, all the Skywalkers are technically dead, but Rey has taken up the name and mantle. Where Star Wars goes form here, I don’t know, but we could definitely see all these characters again.

There might be more to say, but I saw the movie yesterday afternoon and might have forgotten some points. Oh well.

Out of five stars I’d give this movie four, and of the last three movies I’d put it at my second favorite behind seven but ahead of eight. Although, I will say I liked them all despite their quirks and tactically deficient naval officers. I guess that’s what makes a true fan, taking the good along with the bad as long as the story moves forward somewhat agreeably.

Let me know what you think, and again, Happy Holidays.

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 295

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Why don’t we step inside and talk,” Hailey gestured to the room she’d emerged from.

Coop might not be the brightest guy in the world, but he wasn’t stupid enough to fall for that one. “I think this nice, cozy hallway is just fine,” he kept his smile going, and damn if those recruiter dentists didn’t do a good job. Instead of shooting him, Hailey just rolled her eyes and crossed her arms across her chest. The gesture got Eve to relax too.

“Ok,” he rubbed his hands together, “Let’s start with what you want, and what I can do to help.”

<Maybe I should have been a recruiter after all,> he smiled to himself with a mental chuckle.

“Well…to start, you owe me about a hundred grand in lost product and revenue that was pre-positioned based on our verbal agreement before you ghosted me.” Hailey wasn’t smiling.

Coop’s grin slipped off his face as his ego took a gut punch.

“Somehow I doubt the Commonwealth’s intelligence sharing agreement with you back on New Savannah had anything to do with you pushing guns, drugs, and ass,” Eve scoffed.

Hailey’s glare flicked back to Eve and her hand twitched toward her gun before she could stop herself. Eve’s hand tightened around her own pistol’s grip, so Coop jumped back in.

“Obviously, Eve has a point, Hailey. The Commonwealth, even for vital intel, wasn’t going to turn a blind eye and let you do whatever you wanted. That being said,” he quickly added as Hailey’s face soured, “I know I screwed you personally, to a degree, and I’ll pay for that. I won’t and can’t pay a hundred grand, but…” he quickly checked his bank account. Not the MFAS account where all his military pay was deposited, but a few choice, seedier accounts he’d set up for his side deals. He hadn’t touched them in months after the heat from Harper’s Junction, and recently Eve’s mom, but now seemed like a good time to take the risk. “…I can give you ten grand right now.”

“Fifty,” she automatically countered. Coop knew this was going to be a negotiation even before it began. The hundred grand number was probably high to begin with.

“Fifteen.”

“Forty.”

“Twenty.”

“Thirty-five.”

“Twenty-two and a half,” Coop started to vary his tactics. Partly because it was a good strategy, and partly because he needed to be thrifty. He did have a kid on the way after all.

“Fine, twenty-five, final offer,” Hailey looked pained, but he could work with that.

“Deal,” Coop held out his hand to shake on it.

“Sorry, Coop, but your word doesn’t mean much to me anymore,” her comment hurt more than Coop was willing to admit. “We’re good when I see the money in my account.”

“Fair enough, give me your info.” Coop received the details and made the transfer. Five digits disappeared from his account and a soft chime announced their arrival in Hailey’s. Like a gentleman, he covered the transfer fees.

She checked the balance and with a nod slipped her PAD back in her pocket. If she had questions about how Coop did it all without the now-obsolete device, she didn’t ask. “Good. We’re square, so want to tell me what you’re doing here?”

“We’re here to see his father,” Eve spoke up. “We’ve got some news we’d like to tell him in person.”

“So, you two are getting hitched, or you finally knocked someone up,” Hailey stated immediately. “Those are the only two reasons I can think why you would come back to this shithole and talk to a man you hate.” She looked around with disgust. “Since you’d only be coming back to rub his face in it, I’ll save you the trouble. Walter is dead. Going on awhile now.”

Coop, didn’t expect the news to hit him as hard as it did. He’d watched men die in front of him, and he’d killed more than his fair share. He’d lost his leg, twice, and seen the woman he loved tortured and mutilated. Hearing dear old dad had finally kicked the bucket shouldn’t hold a candle to that. Despite all of that, he felt his legs go wobbly, and he needed to steady himself against the wall.

<Both my parents are dead.> The thought solidified in his mind as he took a few deep breaths to compose himself. His mom’s suicide was an old wound that was ripped open.

“How?” was the only question he could think to ask.

Dealing with his inner turmoil, he missed the twitch of Hailey’s face. But Eve didn’t. Wisely, she didn’t say a thing.

“Gangs finally got him,” she replied simply and ambiguously.

Coop merely nodded. His dad was dead and having it be in the most likely way was a small comfort. “Did he suffer?”

“Not from what I’ve heard,” Hailey was slow to respond, but Coop failed to notice again.

“Ok,” Coop took a very deep breath, and tried to blow out all the internal conflict as he stood up straight. “I need a drink,” he looked to Eve for a bit of comfort, and she nodded. After the encounter, she could probably use one too.

“Since you tend to pop up unexpectedly, I’m going to assume I’ll see you again at some point,” he looked over his shoulder at Hailey.

She just shrugged as she waved for her people to gather up while Eve and Coop made their way back to the departure platforms.

The SGT manning the machine gun emplacement waved over the LT when he saw them approach.

“Just hopping back on,” Coop told him succinctly. “Turns out we don’t need to be here after all.”

“Sorry,” the LT replied with a stern look. “All mag-lev trains are shut down for the foreseeable future.”

“Shut down!” Eve pushed Coop aside and towered over the smaller officer. “We’ve got movement orders from our commander. We need to get out of here now.”

“Not my problem,” the LT shrugged and turned around to walk away. Coop had to grab Eve’s shoulder to stop her from spinning the little man back around.

“Call the commander,” Coop suggested. That would help with her frustration while he scanned for alternative courses of action.

Unlike them, Hailey and the PFH goons hadn’t headed for the train. They were headed for the stairs down to the PHA proper.

“Hey,” he called after them. “Where’re you going?”

She just raised an eyebrow in response as she looked over the gathered soldiers. Coop left Eve’s side while she engaged with their command over the IOR.

“I know you sure as shit aren’t staying here overnight, and the trains are locked down,” Cooper whispered to Hailey. “That means you’ve got a way out of here.”

“Maybe,” she gave a coy smile that he’d seen many times before. “But it’s gonna cost you.”

“How much?” Coop sighed with his own eye roll. “Do I at least get the friends and family discount?”

“It’s normally a grand per passenger, but since you were a good fuck once upon a time, and you have to have gotten that big bitch preggers, I’ll do it for five hundred a pop,” Hailey replied.

Coop looked over his shoulder to where Eve had reengaged the LT, and the officer was still shaking his head. “Deal. Half once we leave the station and half when we’re out of here.”

“Fine,” she crossed her arms and waited.

A few minutes later, Eve walked over looking dejected, which quickly turned to annoyance when she saw Coop and Hailey standing together.

“The reserves aren’t talking to, or taking orders, from a commander out of their chain of command. It’ll take more time to go up the chain of dick measurers than it will for us to walk back. We’ve been ordered to find alternative methods of transportation.”

“Done,” Coop smiled. “Let’s get moving so we aren’t late for formation.

Eve looked at Hailey without bothering to hide her contempt. “Figures. You like a good ride.”

Hailey bristled, but Coop quickly inserted himself between the two women. “Here’s the money. Let’s get out of here.” He made the transfer and steered everyone away from the station.

<Now I just need to avoid getting shot by one of them for the next few hours and then I’m home free.> It was a tall order. He’d faced better odds against the Windsor’s.

 

ADM Sonya Berg

Location: Naval Intelligence Black site, Codename “Umbra”, Asteroid Belt, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Sonya scrutinized the data in front of her from the QE burst Umbra had picked up on its way to the Mars node. It was the reason Second Fleet was scrambling, and it had to be the reason there was a bubble of nothingness headed straight for the cradle of human civilization. The problem was…the data didn’t offer a lot to go off of.

It was a grainy image, taken by a scope of some sort. The corresponding sensor data showed nothing but empty space, so either this was some naturally occurring phenomenon or the data was corrupted somehow. They only had the picture to go off of, and its poor quality left only so much for the AIs to enhance, pull, and speculate about.

“It looks like a cigar,” one of her staff members spoke to themselves where they had broken into groups to analyze the data. “We’ve seen interstellar objects with this shape pass harmlessly through our system.”

“Second Fleet command wouldn’t put the entire planet on high alert because of some previously-seen, naturally-occurring phenomenon,” someone challenged the theory. “Plus, look here. It’s hard to see, but there are some glints reflecting the light. Umbra’s AI has those as a seventy-three percent probability of precise right angles. Those don’t occur naturally. Those are ships.”

<Big ships,> Sonya thought as she stood in the center of the working groups and pondered the information they did have.

It was difficult to get an exact measurement with the poor quality, but her IOR estimated the tonnage to be about thirty percent larger than an assault carrier. That was bigger than anything put the prototype Dreadnaughts in the Commonwealth’s dockyards, but it wasn’t bigger than what the Commonwealth had faced before. The Windsor’s Superdreadnaughts were larger than what the scope had caught a glimpse of, but this could be something new they’d designed in retaliation for Harper’s Junction. Plus, the shape of the warships was roughly similar to the Windsor’s designs.

<If only I had something three dimensional,> her hands twitched involuntarily as she thought about manipulating data in a holo-tank in front of her. She sighed and instead used those hands to rub her eyes. She’d gone the last twenty four hours without sleep, and as the unidentifiable mass passed Jupiter, with all the refineries and stations ceasing the communicate as it approached, it was getting tougher to think of anything else when she closed her eyes.

A spark of insight flashed in her mind and she grinned. <Instead of trying to see what is there, we need to extrapolate from what isn’t.>

“Umbra,” she addressed the newly installed AI that ran the covert listening post. “I want you to extrapolate based on the following parameters: estimated size of the sphere of interference, estimated size of the ship in the image, and cross reference that with known Windsor naval strategies; specifically, fleet dispersion regulations.” She turned to see her staff staring at her. “We aren’t going to be getting any new data. All we have is a grainy picture, so we need to use that and what we know to fill in the blanks.”

“We need to know the size of the enemy force,” it was the shuttle pilot who finally put it all together.

“I have the data you requested, Admiral Berg,” Umbra’s AI voice was a deep, masculine rumble.

“Put it in the holo-tank and my IOR.” The data rushed into her vision and appeared in front of her team.

It wasn’t pretty.

Taking into consideration the estimated size of the ship, and Windsor naval doctrine, the bubble of empty space advancing on Mars held approximately seven hundred and fifty-three of the new warships with unknown capabilities.

“Cross-reference with fleet dispositions from the attack on Queensland and refresh,” she ordered.

The number floored Sonya, and quickly sparked alarm in her staff. If the same fleet disposition of warships attacked Mars that attacked Queensland, Second Fleet was looking at close to fifteen hundred enemy warships baring down on them. Second Fleet had four hundred ships in her MTOE, with only forty percent being battleships and ten assault carriers.

Panic started to flare through her staff, but after the shock of the numbers passed, confusion set in. Her IOR quickly adapted and brought up the information she was searching for. One of her briefings from less than a month ago had estimated the Windsor’s naval strength. All of the Houses and the Imperial fleet weren’t even half of that number after the losses they’d taken at Harper’s Junction.

<So, this is some last ditch attempt to take out the Commonwealth?> Sonya hypothesized, but that didn’t make sense. If the Windsor’s were going to beat down the Commonwealth they’d go for New Washington or Asgard.

The Sol System wasn’t a Commonwealth system, it was humanity’s home system. Sure, the Commonwealth owned most of it, but there were other powers at play here. First and Second Fleet together massed about three quarters of the possible attacking force. That alone wouldn’t be enough. But it wasn’t just Commonwealth facilities that had gone offline since this whole thing started. EU and Blockie installations had also stopped transmitting. Umbra had picked up transmissions that Beijing was throwing a fit and blaming the Commonwealth, but she knew that was a kneejerk reaction. Once it became clear the Windsor’s were taking on everyone, they’d have the EU’s Home Fleet to contend with. While not as large as First or Second Fleet, or the Blockie’s massive Motherworld Fleet, it was still a force to contend with; especially thanks to the mutual defense treaty that had the Commonwealth sharing the new Hegemony tech with them. The PM was sharing the tech slowly, but the Euros were an inventive people, and with no wars to zap their strength, they could put that new tech to good use.

Together, the fleets of the three major starfaring nations outnumbered the incoming force, so why were they attacking?

<Trying to set the stage for negotiations? They want to be in a position of power before coming to the table? Maybe something else is forcing them into actions?> For the hundredth time she cursed her limited network inside the Empire. She didn’t like all this guessing. She wanted facts.

“Ma’am, we need to get this data to Second Fleet,” one of her staffers interrupted her thoughts and brought her back on task.

“Yes, Umbra…” she stopped herself. So far anything and everything that could communicate had gone silent outside the asteroid belt. If she transmitted, there was little doubt Umbra would suffer the same fate. Whatever was happening, the Commonwealth still needed Umbra’s secret network operational.

“Everyone back to shuttle, we’re heading back to Mars. Umbra, transfer all data to my IOR.”

“Yes, Admiral. Have a nice trip.” The station AI did as she instructed as they headed back toward the small landing bay.

“Ma’am,” the pilot came up to her as they all hustled aboard the shuttle. “We’re not going to be able to make it back to Mars,” a 3D holo appeared in his hand with the course for them overlapped with the approaching enemy fleet. They didn’t make it back before the enemy. Mars’s orbit just wasn’t doing them any favors.

“We can make it to Earth and transmit the data when we think we’re at a safe distance,” another course appeared on the holo.

“Ok,” Sonya nodded as she digested the information. If they could warn Second Fleet that was good enough. First Fleet, Home Fleet, and the Motherworld Fleet were all stationed around Earth. If Second Fleet failed, the rest of the fleets would have the data they needed to crush the enemy.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 294

Benjamin Gold

Location: Orbit, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Snowman One-Seven you’re cleared to enter the queue. Welcome home, but don’t get too comfortable.”

“Roger that, good to be back.” Ben eavesdropped on the Spyder pilot’s coms traffic as he stewed in his simmering rage.

He wasn’t’ the only one on board. People weren’t openly complaining about it because of his golden stripe, but he’d seen more than one hushed conversation abruptly stop as he looked up. Then there was the body language. Everyone onboard looked coiled, tense, with a few still fighting off the effects of intense inebriation.

Ben couldn’t blame them or their feelings. If he wasn’t the senior officer onboard the assault shuttle he might have been bitching right alongside them, but that wasn’t what officers did. They supported the command decisions of the skipper even if they didn’t agree with them. Having been a skipper, Ben knew from firsthand experience how good it was to have subordinates that didn’t bitch and moan at every order. Now that the shoe was on the other foot, he bet the old crew of the Argo did plenty of complaining in private.

<I had a week of leave!> he mentally shouted at the universe for the tenth time this flight.

He’d had his whole engagement week planned out with Jacobi. They’d gotten through the hard part with his family, and the rest of the time was supposed to be spent between seeing the sights and the bedroom. His fiancé had never been to Earth before, and the megacities of the human race’s home world were unmatched anywhere else in human space. Now, all of that had been cut short by an immediate recall to Jack Frost.

What was even worse was that the whole crew had been granted a leave window because they just come off a grueling multi-month retrofit of the new technology. Ben’s eyes swept the Spyder’s bay and noticed the men and women with engineering insignia who still looked haggard and exhausted. They’d been on twelve hour shifts to get the new equipment integrated with Jack Frost. From what he’d heard for them engineering officers, it could have been a lot worse.

Jack Frost, more commonly known as Snowman to its crew, and the rest of the Poet Class battleships, were fairly new to the fleet. They’d been commissioned fifteen years ago, and were less crew intensive than previous ships. They only needed 2200 instead of 3000 spacers to conduct combat operations, which freed up room for a full five companies of marines. It was heavier on the energy cannon side with thirty-eight tubes, which then reflected in its loss of missile tubes down to one hundred and seventy eight. Its five and a half meter thick armor and heavy point defense would come in handy considering the data on the Windsor’s newly adopted strategies of closer quarter’s warfare. The way the enemy behaved greatly influenced which ships the Commonwealth decided to upgrade.

That upgrade gave Ben, and the rest of Snowman’s crew, a perpetual headache that they were supposed to get a break from. Now that break was over. He felt the sudden pull of gravity as the Spyder passed into the flight deck of the kilometer and a half long behemoth. A petty officer and sergeant snapped to their feet and started to corral the other forty-plus passengers, but they left Ben alone, and let him be the first one off the boat.

Another petty officer came jogging over just as the ramp touched down and the avalanche of an overworked flight deck assaulted their ears.

“What the hell is going on?” Ben looked around as cargo shuttled flew in an out of the newly-shielded area.

It was still a little freaky to look over his shoulder and see open space with nothing but a thin layer of energy between all these spacers and the void, but he quickly shook off the shock. A closer look told him that they shuttles were dropping off food and ammo, which auto-loaders controlled by the ship’s new AI took immediately and transported to their designated locations. It was more efficient than any man-run operations, which only meant the skipper thought it was ok to do it faster. That led to its own issues, which Ben witnessed as one of the cargo shuttles nearly collided with a new shuttle coming through the shield. Thrusters whined and made everyone on the deck wince. The shuttle shot to the side, barely squeaking through a hole between a parked Spyder and the inbound shuttle.

“What the hell is going on?” Ben yelled louder as the petty officer skidded to a stop in front of him with a PAD.

The PAD was integrated to work with IORs, even though the petty officer obviously hadn’t undergone the procedure, but Ben’s automatically acknowledged the ping.

“Welcome back, Lieutenant Commander, you’re to report directly to the CIC, and I have no idea what the hell is going on. I’m just here giving directions.” The man gave Ben a pleading look, so he moved on. The line of personnel needing assignments was already backed up into the ship.

<CIC?> He turned his attention to his own assignment. Normally, as the assistant tactical officer, his place was on the bridge with his department head and the captain. The only time he was in CIC was during…<battlestations.> A lump formed in his throat and he took off running.

The Combat Information Center was buried deep in the ship, but separate from the bridge, which was where the captain spent all his time. When the ship went into battle all the primary department heads were on the bridge with the skipper executing the battle plan. The CIC, on top of handling a lot of data and information critical to fighting the battle, also served as a secondary bridge. If the main bridge took a hit, then control was designed to seamlessly pass to the CIC where the XO and secondary staff were located.

When Ben reached the heavy metal door guarded by a pair of armed and armored marines he slowed down to make sure his uniform was decent. The XO was a bit of a hardass. His IOR connected to the CIC’s data node and it flashed green and unlocked the door as he stepped up to it. The marines did their own scan, because the skipper was on the paranoid side, before he was allowed to enter. While the bridge of a battleship might be expansive with room for the primary staff to move around, the CIC was not. It was a cramped little space filled with computer cores, which wasn’t conducive to someone Ben’s size.

Thankfully, the tactical section was the largest in the room, even if only one harried petty officer was currently manning it.

“Thank god, sir,” the woman pulled some loose, sweaty hairs out of her eyes.

“Gold!” The XO snapped when he caught sight of him. “We’ve got encrypted data coming in over QE from Second Fleet. Coms is deciphering it and passing it to you. I want a tactical threat assessment for the skipper in fifteen minutes. Get to it.”

Ben hadn’t even reached the holo-tank at the center of the work stations before information started to flood across it. “Yes, sir,” he dutifully replied as all thoughts of his lost week with Jacobi vanished. That concentration was quickly replaced by confusion and a frown.

“I know, sir,” the PO1 walked up beside him with her hands on her hip. “I can’t make heads or tails of it either.”

All Ben could see was a lot of static. He ran a diagnostic on the holo-tank just in case, but it popped back all green. This was the information coming in from Second Fleet on a bubble of space advancing from Jupiter toward the asteroid belt. The only thing that wasn’t garbled was the countdown clock at the top right of the bubble. Just under fifteen hours before that bubble reached the outer perimeter of defenses around Mars.

<Thirteen minutes,> his IOR reminded him on his much more demanding deadline.

He got to work, unsure if he’d be able to tell Snowman’s captain anything at all about what was heading there way.

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop caught himself against the wall as the CRACK from Haley’s slap echoed through the station.

“What the shit!” he yelled as his face throbbed. He was so focused on the red hand-shaped imprint forming on his face he missed the blur of motion behind him.

He was still cupping his cheek when he suddenly found a snub-nosed pistol only a few inches from his face. Eve had drawn it in a flash when Haley hit him, and she had it pointed directly at the forehead of his ex-lover.

Coop recognized the model. It was a powerful, but short-range weapon. But at under a meter between the barrel and Haley’s face there was no way Eve would miss.

“Ok now,” he held up his hands peacefully and focused on Haley. “How about we all…”

He stopped when he saw his Ex had also pulled a weapon. A sleek pistol designed to be easily concealed had magically appeared in her hand and was pointed over Coop’s shoulder at Eve.

<Fuck me,> Coop took a deep breath and stepped directly in the line of the two weapons. It might have been one of the dumbest things he’d ever done, but he wasn’t going to let his childhood fuckbuddy and his baby momma poke each other full of holes.

“Easy,” he gestured or both women to lower their weapons. Of course, neither did, so he tried a different tactic. “I probably deserved that, but just remind me what I did this time.”

Coop’s situational awareness caught up with him and he noticed at least three other people securing a perimeter around him. They looked like civilians, so they had to be with Hailey, and if they were with Hailey that meant they were members of PFH. What one of the galaxy’s largest criminal syndicates wanted with him, he had no idea.

“Remind you,” Hailey hissed like a snake ready to strike. “We made a deal back on New Savannah, Coop. We were going to work together. I was going to give you intel and you were going to keep the authorities off my back. I roped my bosses into that plan. They made deals and promises, and then you just vanished and never came back.” Her breathing was even but her teeth were bared like she wanted to take a bite out of him. “I literally got fucked in the ass because of you. My organization doesn’t take failure well, and you fucked us. You fucked me, and now my employers want answers.”

“Cry me a fucking river,” Eve replied before Coop could answer. “Put on your big girl panties and figure shit out. If you didn’t want a career where you have to take it up the poop chute when you screw up than maybe you should have thought about that before spreading your legs.” Eve’s pistol never wavered.

“Who it this cum bucket?” Hailey’s eyes flickered to Eve, “and what makes her think she knows fuck-all about our history, how we grew up, or what we went through. Her big ass probably had three-square meals a day, a nice bed to sleep on, and some burbanite’s tiny dick to suck whenever she wanted to get off. How about you tell her to shut the fuck up or I’ll put a bullet through her dome.”

“Ok…enough!” As much as Coop liked a cat fight, especially in a mud-pit during half-price beer night, this wasn’t the time or place.

“Hailey, Eve. Eve, Hailey. Now that we’re all introduced how about we put down the guns before the nice soldiers over there wonder what his going on. My guess is they’ve got itchy trigger fingers.” A few of the soldiers setting up the portable barriers and machine gun position were glancing in their direction.

Both Hailey and Eve held their weapons steady and then slowly lowered them in tandem until they were parallel with their sides.

“Great,” Coop gave everyone his best smile. “Now let’s figure this out.”

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