Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor
<Come on!> Ben’s knuckles popped as he gripped his command chair to control his terror. <And I thought I should be worried about Jacobi.> He almost laughed, but the holo-tank showed Argo was going through another series of evasive maneuvers.
He didn’t dare speak to PO3 Lee. The young NCO was cocooned in the helmsman’s sphere of controls and data. She and Amber were keeping them from getting blown to smithereens.
Everything had gone to hell in a handbasket when Argo swung around for its second pass. They’d barely collected their data before active sensors pinged them on their approach. They’d devised their flight path based on limited movement hypothesized by Amber, but something had obviously happened to throw that hypothesis right out the window.
All of the enemy’s destroyers were fanning out around the system, and Argo nearly ran into a trio of them. Since then, it had been a game of cat and mouse. Argo’s speed and upgraded defenses were what was keeping her alive long enough to reach the FTL limit.
<So close!> Ben bit the inside of his cheek as his gunboat was rocked by an explosion.
A damage report automatically scrolled on across the side of his command terminal. Their countermeasures had caught the missile well outside effective range. Some of the sensors facing in that direction needed to recalibrate after a near hit, but that would be done in seconds.
“New enemy contact.” Amber’s voice was too calm for the situation as another angry, red icon appeared on the holo-tank.
This one was bigger and coming out of an asteroid field that had been cloaking its emissions.
“Time to the limit?” Ben asked, as he heard the strain in his own voice.
“Three minutes and twelve seconds…eleven…ten,” Amber informed.
“Time until missile range on the new contact?”
“Two minutes and seventeen seconds.”
“Flight time of those birds on maximum burn?”
“Fifty five seconds.”
<Shit.> The missiles were literally going to blow up in their face right as they transitioned out.
“Lee, fire up the Alcubierre Drive,” he made a decision.
“What, sir?” she snapped her out of her trance and the ship shuddered from a glancing energy beam.
Ben kept his eye on the shield’s power level, but was confident they’d hold together until jumping. “Alcubierre is faster than portaling. We’ll do a short jump, reorient, and then portal back to the nearest friendly system.”
“Aye, sir,” she was back to work with her hands flying across the controls.
Ben watched as the seconds ticked down until two dozen, smaller red icons burst from the cruiser closing in on them.
“Drive powering up, fifty four seconds to jump,” Aiko confirmed as the storm of death rained toward them.”
“Did the data packet get back to HQ?” Ben asked. That was the mission after all.
With the enemy ships on the move, they’d been able to get a better count than before, but that didn’t help his estimation of chances on retaking the system. There were ten percent more ships than he originally thought, and while that might only be three more ships. Three ships with shields and extended missile ranges was going to be hell for any Commonwealth ship coming into the system.
“Thirty seconds.” Amber’s voice was still annoyingly emotionless.
All Ben could do was sit back and wait for the fireworks, and at roughly the same time Argo jumped to FTL and the enemy’s salvo detonated.
The one positive that came from it all was that it took the Windsor’s ship a little bit to figure out they’d missed. The negative was that Ben and Aiko knew all too well they were leaving the SRRT team on Harper’s Junction for the duration of their mission, and that could be indefinitely if the Commonwealth decided not to retake the system.
Admiral Sonya Berg
Location: New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Sonya, along with the rest of the senior admirals in the system stood patiently as the new prime minister’s yacht pulled into orbit around the massive Valley Forge Yards and detached a plethora of shuttles. The “yacht” was actually a decommissioned cruiser that had been modified for diplomatic voyages, and had recently been released from Valley Forge with a slew of new upgrades. The PM was protected by better armor, shields, longer-range missiles, and more powerful energy weapons than most of the Commonwealth fleet.
Sonya saw the irony there, and was excited to sit down with her new boss.
Unlike other governments through history, she was not worried about her job. The PM didn’t choose what officers served in what critical posts. The admirals chose those most qualified and then sent the decision to the PM for ratification. It had been nearly eighty years since a PM had failed to ratify an admiral for a priority post, and that PM had faced a vote of no confidence within the month and was out on their political ass shortly after. Politicians were supposed to provide oversight and not dig their fingers into military concepts they didn’t understand.
<Finally, a woman who knows what she’s talking about.>
The security shuttles took up protective positions as the PM’s shuttled docked with the station and disgorged its passengers. The Valley Forge Ship Yards was the largest warship facility in human space. It would have been the galaxy before coming into contact with the Hegemony, but seeing what the massive collection of species was capable of, everyone was sure Valley Forge wouldn’t even break their top fifty.
In fact, there was a massive Twig ship currently docked on the far end of the station. It was delivering the next-gen technology that human engineers would then need to fit into the new classes of warships being developed, and the older ships being retrofitted.
Sonya knew this whole meeting might be on the books as a meet and greet, but she knew the new boss better than that. This was a meeting of her war cabinet and anyone who didn’t realize that, was going to find themselves out of a job very shortly.
Sonya resisted the urge to pop a stim to keep herself focused, but instead maintained an expressionless face as the doors on the far side of the room slid open. Members of the PM’s security detail entered first, followed by the woman herself.
“Keep your seats,” she ordered before everyone could rise.
Sonya could feel the different atmosphere in the room. Mackintosh hadn’t been able to handle a room of military specialists. He might be able to win over a crowd at a rally for education reform, but the business of war was clearly outside his wheelhouse. Simmons didn’t have that same handicap.
Deja Simmons (ADM retired) didn’t cut a big, imposing figure. She was only a couple centimeters over one-sixty, with un-enhanced hazel eyes, and close-cropped black hair that looked rather plain against her dark skin. Her social pundits frequently attacked her lack of style and her preference for everything utilitarian. Those same pundits failed to realize that mindset constantly hurt them when it came to the business of government. What the people who elected Simmons to office, then to leader of the Eagle Party, and finally to Prime Minister, really cared about was that she got the job done.
Sonya watched those intelligent, hazel eyes scan the room as she took her seat and got straight down to business. “What is our status?”
The RADM in charge of Valley Forge immediately brought up holos of construction queues, refit statuses, and timelines.
“Anyway we can speed this up?” Simmons asked after a minute perusing the data.
“More money and manpower,” the RADM shrugged comically, not realizing it was serious question.
“Get me figures by the end of the day for what you need to cut these timelines in half.” Simmons turned her attention to the next senior officer on her list, and ignored the pallor that settled on the RADM’s face due to his new tasking.
“Do we have the personnel trained and ready to man the ships?” Her next question went to the ADM in charge of recruitment and training for the entire fleet.
“We’ve introduced train the trainer course with the help of our alien allies in the new systems and tech. Since we don’t have any systems to spare for actual training demos it is going to be a little touch and go how qualified our people really are in an emergency situation. We do have people thinking outside the box in terms of training techniques,” he quickly added when the PM’s face started to sour. “The classes are actually helping on the installation and learning some tips from the yard workers. We’re hoping for the best.”
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst. I want an updated training plan on my desk by the end of the week.” Simmons cut the man off at the knees, and Sonya saw his face go beet red.
That particular ADM had been in his current position for close to thirty years. He was good at his job, but he was a little pompous and complacent at times. He needed someone to light a fire under his ass every few years, and the PM had just done that.
“That gives us the ships and the people that’ll be ready to take the fight to the enemy. Where are we going to be fighting?” Simmons turned her attention to Sonya.
Unlike most of the people in this room, Sonya had a prior relationship with the new PM. Once upon a time, a lowly Lieutenant Commander Berg had served with a certain Lieutenant Commander Simmons. She’d been an assistant Intel department OIC while the PM was the ship’s marine commander. They’d fought Blockies and pirates together on the battleship CWS Dauntless in what felt like another lifetime ago.
“The Windsor’s hit us hard on multiple fronts, but in most they didn’t stick around. They induced the maximum amount of destruction before retreating and then consolidating in a handful on annexed systems.” Sonya sent the data to her former compatriot with a swipe of her finger. “We’ve had teams using the new alien tech watching these system for weeks now, and they’ve been constantly updating us with intelligence.” As if on cue, a beep announced another data dump.
“As a matter of fact…” Sonya began, then frowned as she scanned the data. “Our team from Harper’s Ferry was identified and chased out of the system. They did complete their mission and get actionable intelligence on enemy naval strength, and the infantry unit assigned to them has linked with the local rebellion and begun insurgency activities.”
“But the team was still on planet when the ship had to bug out,” Simmons finished.
While Sonya had been talking, Simmons had brought up all the available data on the annexed systems and lined them up on the holo in front of her to compare and contrast. A minute more of concentrating and she’d cut the list in half and minimized the data.
“Our boots on the ground are reporting different force types in these three systems,” she identified. “This one’s naval presence is too big,” another system’s data was minimized, “but one of these two should do.” Harper’s Ferry and one other system remained highlighted for everyone else to see. “And since we’ve abandoned our team on Harper’s Ferry that’s where we need to go first.” The PM made an executive decision on the spot, which was something Mackintosh would have needed a committee and a week to decide.
“I want an operations order hashed out and on my desk in two weeks. That’ll give the yard time to pump up production and get these ships out for their shakedown cruises.” There was more than one pale face at the PM’s demands.
“We’re going to take back our systems ladies and gentlemen.” For such a small woman, the PM could instill a lot of confidence in people. “So buckle in and get ready to work. The op tempo is about to pick up around here until we get back what is ours.”
Sonya couldn’t stop her smile from forming. The Commonwealth had been playing defense with the Windsor’s for too long. It was time to turn the tables.