Location: CWS Argo, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben didn’t think he was a slouch. Mentally and physically he was superior to most humans. The Gold genetic structure was the result of billions of dollars and decades of tweaking. He’d achieved a Ph.D. from one of the most respected schools in the galaxy in a difficult subject. He’d trained for nearly two decades in the fencing schools of New York, and that was only before he joined the Fleet. Now, he’d seen combat. Not only from the bridge of his gunboat, but on the ground as well. He’d been tortured by a maniacal pirate, he’d killed a man up close, shot several from a distance, and gone up with CPL Cooper against a small army of people who wanted to ransom him to the highest bidder. Despite his life of privilege, Ben had seen his share of adversity, and he believed that made him stronger.
As he sat on Argo’s bridge and studied the holo-tank he tried not to shit himself. No amount of steeling oneself could prepare them for what was bearing down on New Lancashire.
The Kingdom’s squadron wasn’t huge, in fact, it was small compared to some of the fleets Ben had seen, but he’d seen firsthand that size wasn’t everything. When a simple cruiser could wreak havoc on an entire task force, he shuddered to think what the squadron was capable of doing.
The information he was seeing was still several minutes out of date as Argo continued to burn at maximum speed toward the planet, but the assault carrier’s CIC had positive ID on the incoming bogies. They were advancing in a wedge formation. Leading that wedge were two dreadnaughts. One was HMS Francis Drake which had rendezvoused with the squadron when they entered the system. The other was unidentified, but its nearly two-kilometer hull clearly identified it as another ship of the wall. The only thing bigger on the Commonwealth side was Abe, but the old assault carrier easily had a few decades on these vessels.
Flaring out behind each dreadnaught were a pair of cruisers and a trio of destroyers – all bigger than their Commonwealth counterparts – for a total of twelve warships. <The two dreadnaughts could wipe us out.> Ben knew the truth. He just hoped the RADM and his staff would see the sensor footage and see reason.
There was no way to fight the approaching squadron, and that wasn’t even taking into consideration the biggest piece on the board. In the center of the wedge, spanning eight kilometers was the second biggest warship Ben had ever seen. The first was the oddly shaped behemoth idling close to the planet, but no one was telling him anything about the oddly-shaped vessel.
The Kingdom’s vessel sailing in the middle of the wedge wasn’t hiding its identity either. It was a big, brazen middle finger to the Commonwealth Fleet in the system. All the ships Ben had seen up to this point were named after important figures in their history. It made sense with their traditional culture, but it seemed with this new class of ship they were going back farther. They wanted something older, more powerful, and with an identity that spanned humanity’s memory. Not just the old UK.
“SD-06 HYPERION,” LT Briggs read the ID off the holo-tank that the ship was broadcasting. “What’s that?”
“Hyperion was the Titan of heavenly light who ruled before the old gods,” Ben explained. “He was one of the twelve children of the Earth and Heaven. He fathered the Sun, the Moon, and Dawn.” Ben pulled from his old classics classes back in undergrad. “If I had to guess, the SD stands for Superdreadnought,” he added.
It certainly looked like a ship worthy of the name. Its eight kilometers were sleek and beautiful in a deadly way. It had more shape than the standard cigar configuration common in Kingdom ships. Ben guessed the gently-sloping bulges on the hull held concealed railguns or energy cannons. Unlike the dreadnaughts, it didn’t have a rotating external hull, but judging from the size of the thing it didn’t need the extra layer of protection. Long range sensors were still picking up the electronic signatures of repair nanites scurrying across its massive hull, but the most interesting facet of the whole ship was the last half kilometer. It narrowed and jutted forward like a blade. It reminded Ben of a sword fish his father had caught on vacation deep sea fishing on Disney World. Despite its menacing appearance, Ben wondered about its utility.
<Engagements start at eight million kilometers and move inward from there. Rarely do they reach distances where a half-kilometer battering ram would be needed. It looks specifically built to crush other vessels.> Ben gulped. After the paradigm shift he’d seen in naval warfare back in the Hahn System, this new ship design didn’t give him the warm and fuzzies.
“Get me the Rear Admiral,” Ben ordered. He needed to convince the RADM to save his people, and if possible, as many settlers of New Lancashire as possible.
The communication’s lag was still a couple of minutes, but within ten the RADM’s calm demeanor appeared on the holo. “Commander Gold,” the way he said the word didn’t bode well for Ben. “What is the status of the task force?”
“Destroyed or crippled, Sir.” Ben’s words rushed together. He needed to get through this portion and start to convince the RADM to evacuate the system. “Half the task force was destroyed and the other half was scrambling for the FTL limit when we transitioned. Captain Jacobson ordered me to pass the word on to you what had occurred so you could be prepared.”
“It’s a little too late for that.” The RADM’s face looked grim for a second before he replaced it with cool professionalism. “Thank you for the report, Lieutenant Commander. I will be sending Argo orders to be on our flank as we engage the enemy and harass some of lighter vessels on the edge of their wedge formation.”
“Sir, that’s a horrible idea.” Ben couldn’t stop the words from slipping out of his mouth, and the chatter on Argo’s bridge ceased immediately. Anger flashed across the RADM’s face, and this time it stayed there. “Sir,” Ben tried to remain respectful, “I’ve seen what one cruiser could do to a task force nearly ten times its weight. I’ve sent you the sensor footage of the battle. We only have one option here.”
“I watched that footage, Lieutenant Commander. What it showed me was a small, capable cruiser that had the drop on an unsuspecting force. Their weapons are formidable, but when you get caught with your pants down a pea shooter is pretty effective. I will not give this system over to backstabbing traitors. This is the capitol of our Commonwealth in the York Sector. We will not just let them take it without a fight.”
<He’s right there.> Ben thought. <There isn’t going to be much of a fight. The Kingdom is going to hit us and we’re going to hit the floor…end of story.>
“In addition, we have the cooperation of Commodore Zahn and his carrier group, which greatly increases our fire power. Gold Technologies is just as interested in protecting its property in York Sector as the Commonwealth. Maybe you should think more like your father, Gold.”
Ben had no idea if the RADM had ever met his father, but if he really knew the man he would have never suggested Ben be more like him.
<Is that what you want?> Ben gripped the edges of his seat with white-knuckled fury.
He’d already seen tens of thousands of his comrades die. They’d fought bravely, but they just didn’t have the technology to fight off a superior enemy. They’d been consumed with fire, crushed by gravity, or taken by the black void of space. None were pleasant ways to die, and Ben wasn’t going to sit around and watch as the RADM sacrificed tens of thousands more for ego, or because he misunderstood the tactical situation.
<You asked for it. You’ve got it.> Ben hid the smile as he thought like his father. <What would good old Dad do?>
“Yes, Sir. Awaiting your orders, Sir.” Ben didn’t wait for the RADM to cut the transmission.
The crew on Argo’s bridge was still silent as the ship hurtled toward New Lancashire. Ben released the arms of his chair and took a few deep breaths.
“Comms, get me Commodore Zahn on King Midas.” Ben knew exactly what his father would do. He just hoped this went as well for him as it would for Timothy Gold. After all, he was not his father.
“Commander Gold?” Zahn’s face appeared on the holo. He looked genuinely confused why the hell Ben was calling him. “What…?”
“Commodore Zahn,” Ben made sure authority flowed through his voice. “Shareholder override confirmation code Bravo-Gulf-Seven-Six-One-Seven-Seven- Zero. Confirm.”
Zahn just looked at Ben. His face had gone white. “Commander…”
“Confirm, Commodore!” Ben snapped, making several people on Argo’s bridge jump.
“Confirming,” Zahn grumbled. A few minutes later, “Confirmed, Sir. You have command.”
<I have command.> Ben always thought that would be a good thing. His experience so far had proved that wasn’t the case about fifty percent of the time.
“Stand by to receive orders, Commodore.” Ben typed furiously on his PAD. He already had a Fleet template up, and it would be easy for the Commodore to understand where Ben was going. Ben sent it in under a minute and stayed on the line to ensure the Commodore received it.
“Received, Sir. Executing.” Zahn cut the line.
“Sir…” LT Briggs stepped up beside him. “What do you want us to do?”
Everyone on the gunboat had seen what had happened in Hahn system. They didn’t want to die for nothing. <That’s not our decision.>
“Follow the Rear Admiral’s orders, Lieutenant.” He ordered calmly. “We’re officers in the Commonwealth Fleet, and we follow lawful orders.”
The LT looked at him with a blank stare for a second. “Yes, Sir,” she finally replied before turning back to talk to the helmsman about their course.
“Be ready for an incoming call, Specialist.” Ben turned so he could privately address the SP2.
Sure enough, within five minutes a priority call was coming in from Abraham Lincoln. SP2 Olvera let the call through and the RADM’s pissed-off face glared out at Ben.
“Gold, what the fuck do you think you’re doing! I’m going to string you up myself and pull your feet until that thick neck of yours snaps!” The RADM spit venom through the holographic interface.
“I don’t know what you mean, Sir. I’m proceeding to the coordinates you sent to harass the enemy’s flank.” Ben said exactly what he was doing.
“Don’t fuck with me, kid. Commodore Zahn just let me know that his carrier force was beginning evacuations of the New Lancashire, starting with Gold Technologies’ employees, their families, and then they would open up their holds to others if there was room. He also told me you ordered it.” A vein was pulsing in the man’s forehead, and the high-definition hologram was picking up every pump of blood.
“That is correct.” Ben answered calmly.
“Lieutenant Briggs, relieve Lieutenant Commander Gold of command and…”
“I don’t think so, Heather, stay where you are.” Ben held up his hand. LT Briggs froze like a person caught between a rock and a bigger rock. “Sir,” Ben turned his attention back to the RADM, “for the record, I have complied with all of your lawful military orders to the letter. I am proceeding to the rendezvous point and will conduct operations against the enemy fleet advancing into New Lancashire. You have no grounds to relieve me of command, and…” Ben held up his hand when the RADM opened up his mouth to scream something new, “what I do with my corporate assets is entirely up to me.”
“Bullshit.” The RADM shot back.
“Section eighteen of the Commonwealth Charter, the Galactic Trade and Securities Act of 2243, and two dozen lawsuits that have gone before the judiciary would say otherwise. You may give me lawful orders and I must follow them when they are in conjuncture with the military ordinance under my command. My place as a majority shareholder and my rights with Gold Technologies are outside your preview as a military commander. In summary, I can do whatever the fuck I want with my corporate assets and there is nothing you can do about it. THAT is what my father would do. He’d do what he wanted to do and not care about who he stomped on during the process…Sir.” Ben added the last word to remain somewhat respectful in a recording that was going to end up in court at some point.
“I’m going to drag you in front of a military tribunal,” the RADM threatened.
“They’ll find in my favor. The case law and precedent is there,” Ben answered confidently. “I’d be surprised if they even let it get that far.”
“I’ll ruin you,” the RADM upped the ante.
“Respectfully, Sir, if you continue on your current course of action we’ll both be dead in a few hours so it won’t matter.” Ben’s tone wasn’t joking. “If we do survive, I welcome the challenge. We’ve got the sensor recordings and our conversations in the record. Admirals might arrive at different conclusions when drawing on their own experiences, but average people are only going to see one small ship destroying a whole lot of big ships. Then, they’re going to see the enemy coming at us with bigger a ship, one of which looks like it could eat all of our ships and have room for seconds. After all of the loss of life in the last year: Third Fleet’s task force that got hit, and the ships we’ve already lost in York Sector, I’m sure people would be willing to sacrifice a half-terraformed world for hundreds of thousands of lives.”
The RADM just hovered in the air seething for a full minute. “You’re an asshole.”
“No. My father is an asshole, I’m just trying to save lives and preserve our fleet strength for a battle of our choosing,” Ben replied back. “What are your orders, Sir?”
This was the moment of truth. Would the RADM be a stubborn ass and get everyone killed,or would he see reason?
“Put Argo on the ground and get as many people off New Lancashire as possible. We’ll conduct a fighting retreat to the Launcher and regroup in a better defended system.” The RADM seemed to deflate as he spoke.
“Roger that, Sir. Argo out.” Ben disconnected and looked out at his crew. They all looked a little star struck. “Get to it, everyone. We’ve got people to save and not enough time to do it.” Ben clenched his jaw as he looked back at the holo-tank.
The Kingdom’s formation was getting closer and closer. They were still a few hundred million kilometers out, but they were steadily closing the distance. Ben did some of the math quickly off the top of his head, and double checked it on his PAD.
<This is going to be close.> Even as he thought it, he knew it was an understatement.