Byzantium – Imperial HQ
Fleet Admiral Howard Quincy Butner’s office
“I can’t believe this,” Fleet Admiral Butner sat staring at the blank top of his desk where the display had returned to the image of the naval emblem. He had just reviewed the report from Captain Sinclair of the corruption endemic on Sparta. He was stunned and dismayed.
The rear admiral, captain and lieutenant commander who made up his senior staff were sitting across from his desk with stunned looks on their faces as well. This was precedent setting, nothing of this magnitude had happened since the founding of the Empire.
“We’ve known for some time that Captain Sinclair was an exceptional officer. This more than confirms it,” the rear admiral remarked in reference to the selflessness of the captain’s actions in reporting something involving his own family. His remark also reflected a certain desperation to find something good coming from a terrible situation.
“Yes John, if there is a pony in this barn size pile of horseshit that would be it,” Fleet Admiral Butner declared. “Gentlemen, give me some time to ponder on this. I don’t want to make any rash judgments.”
His staff obediently leaped to their feet as if anxious to back away from the reality of which they had just become aware as well. “Rodney, would you please contact Chaplain Demos and Senator Reynolds? Tell them I would like to see them both in my office as soon as possible.”
Alexander Demos was Chaplain of the Navy. He was an orthodox priest carrying the official title of Archimandrite or “monk-priest.” He was the Fleet Admiral’s confessor. He was also a trusted political and spiritual adviser. The admiral thought he was the smartest man he had ever met.
The admiral sat staring at his desk for several minutes. Every scenario he ran through his mind had bad endings. He finally despaired of his ability to solve an unsolvable problem and rose to walk to the liquor cabinet. He hadn’t had a drink before five PM in years, but today was the day. He poured three fingers of bourbon in a large squat glass and returned to his desk. He sat the drink on the flat surface in front of him and stared at it.
He breathed in the fumes from the stout Spartan bourbon and thought about retirement.
“The Chaplain is here Sir,” his secretary spoke in his earbud.
“Good, send him in,” the admiral said, relief evident in his voice.
The admiral rose from his chair as the chaplain came through the double doors. “I’m glad you were near, Father,” he told the priest. The chaplain did not reply immediately. He walked over to the desk and gave the bourbon glass a critical glance. He looked up at the admiral and studied him for a long moment.
“So — we are drinking today,” he said finally and placed his briefcase on the coffee table in front of the admiral’s desk. He then walked to the bar and helped himself to a twin of the admiral’s drink. He returned, placed the glass on the coffee table next to the briefcase, opened same and retrieved a wooden carving of the crucifix. It fit perfectly inside the briefcase and was a bit larger than a full-sized book. It had a stand that folded from its back. He sat it on the admiral’s desk.
He took a purple shawl from the briefcase and draped it across his shoulders.
“No interruptions,” the admiral subvocalized to his secretary effectively locking the door to his office. He then stood and walked around his desk to take a knee in front of the table across from where the chaplain had taken a seat.
“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned…”
“By the power vested in me…” the chaplain pronounced the benediction after the admiral’s confession, removed his shawl and scooted back in his chair. By the time the admiral had returned to his desk chair the chaplain had acquired his drink. He looked at it for a moment and then placed it back on the table.
“You see the icon there?” he asked rhetorically. “What value does it have?”
“It reminds us of the sacrifice.”
“Exactly,” the priest replied. “In and of itself it is just a wooden carving, it has no value and we don’t worship it but in another sense it’s priceless. That carving once hung in the Imperial Palace at Constantinople. It’s over a thousand years old and has been handed down from priest to priest for generations. Every time I handle it I can feel the presence of these faithful men.”
“Father, I appreciate that, but I need to talk to you about an important secular matter,” the admiral said impatiently.
“You want to waste precious time talking about trivia. I’m talking about things that really matter. We are dust, and to dust, we will return. The only thing of importance in this room is your eternal soul,” the chaplain corrected him. Father Demos was the only man in the galaxy that could talk to the admiral like that without fear of any retribution.
“I’m sorry Father,” the admiral replied like a little boy who has just been corrected for some faux pas.
“No, it’s okay,” the chaplain said retrieving the icon and placing it in the briefcase with the vestment. “I fear for the church, and I fear that we are in the last days…” The chaplain said and then he laughed. “That must have been an echo from the icon, we’ve been saying that same thing for millennia, and yet we are still here. Okay, Howard what is the problem?”
Eta Carinae II Blue Hypergiant
A neighboring system to Calista Four
Command Bridge – HMS Caligula
“Sir, we are maxed out at thirty g’s and we are falling into the star! We cannot escape!” the officer of the watch grunted with difficulty against the crushing weight of the fusion motor’s thrust.
“Captain, we have to shift more power to the shields, we are getting cooked in the aft of the ship!” the engineering officer pleaded. The environmental systems were being starved for power to feed the engines, the bridge felt like an oven with the overwhelming amount of radiation that was bombarding the vessel.
The hypergiant was far larger than many solar systems. Its gravity was so overwhelming that it bent the very fabric of space and time around it. The flotilla had come out of the lens facing away from the star carrying a velocity that was a significant percentage of light speed.
It hadn’t mattered.
Eta Carinae II reached out with a grip of iron, slowed them down and started reeling them in. It was just a matter of time.
They had accelerated for a week prior to diving into the lens at the periphery of Omicron Prime assisted by the blue star’s gravity. The hope was the incredible velocity would allow them to escape the blue giant on the other end.
Unfortunately. it hadn’t worked that way. Now they were all going to die.
“Sir, we don’t have the power to break away, we might as well shunt some power to the shields. We are going to burn up if you don’t.” The engineering officer was desperate.
“Very well, Camie route sufficient power to the shields to keep radiation levels safe,” the captain grunted against the terrible force that crushed him into his chair. “…and give us some antigrav power as well. We can’t function like this.” The captain’s head began to clear as the red haze of g induced torpor faded as his chair compensated for all of the thrust but a single gravity.
“Captain, there is a lens opening between us and the star,” the battle computer informed him. She related this life-saving fact as if announcing the next dinner menu.
“Do we have enough power to maneuver to it?” the captain asked, almost unwilling to hope.
“We do Captain, all the ships should be able to make it. The passenger ship is beaming excess power to the smaller vessels, we stand a ninety-eight point five six percent chance of success intercepting the lens and passing through.”
“Can you tell yet where it will take us?”
“No Sir, our sensors are blanked in this radiation storm. We were lucky to be able to even see the lens, let alone the destination. But Sir, it’s a tiny lens; it must be a neighboring star, very close. It’s almost an intra-system lens, but there are no planets in orbit around this star, so it has to be an adjacent sun.”
“Transition in three two…”
The enemy fleet was waiting for them when they came out the other side.
Sparta – Carlisle Estate
“That is terrible, I cannot believe it,” my Nana told me with tears in her eyes. “Do you think Elaine knew about the retirement center?”
“I think she was taking a kickback and banking the money. I’m suspicious that she was planning on bailing out on Emil and wanted her nest comfortably feathered when she did.”
“She would have been excommunicated!”
“Nana, the church isn’t as important to a lot of folks as it is to you. I don’t think it would have bothered her in the least. With the kind of money she had planned on leaving with, she could buy herself a community. In her mind, she would have had no need of the church.”
“How pervasive is this drug dealing?”
“I’m told it goes all the way to the governor and includes a significant minority of the council.”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. It makes a warped sick kind of sense. A lot of this independence talk is coming from the owners of the smaller estates. Those families have had an acquisitive eye fixed on the independent’s land for generations. If Sparta went independent, the smallholders would be wiped out and forced to sell. It’s all of a nasty fabric.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m reluctant to move on the governor on my own. I need to get some guidance from HQ. I sent messages to the fleet admiral’s office. I’m waiting for a reply.”
“Good, this is a good time for you to go to the Anastazi ship.”
“Nana, I can’t take that much time. It would take weeks to get out to the planet where the Anastazi ship is orbiting, even under heavy g…”
“The ship is here, it’s in geostationary orbit behind the prime moon. There will be a shuttle here within the hour to pick you up.”
I had a return of the feeling of being a child again being told what to do and where to go by my Nana. I didn’t really mind, after what I had been through lately, it was comforting.
“Josephine, the shuttle is here,” Lyna told my grandmother as she walked into the dining room where Nana and I were drinking coffee over the remains of our breakfast. She was wearing a navy-blue one-piece jumpsuit. Her black hair was pinned up and wrapped tight on the top of her head in a businesslike bun. The jumpsuit was bloused into black high heeled boots and bound at the waist with a broad matching belt.
I caught myself regretting the fact she had been my nanny and that she was a droid. She looked really good!
“Nana, are you coming with us?”
“No honey, what you are doing is man’s business. I need to contact our attorney and see where all of this foolishness with the smaller estates is going to take us and what we need to do to protect ourselves. I’m frightened about what Elaine might have exposed your brother to with her involvement.”
“Well Lyna, I guess I’m at your disposal; lead on.”
“The shuttle is waiting on the back patio,” she informed me and walked down the hall in that direction. How a shuttle could get into the small garden adjacent to the patio without tearing it to smithereens was beyond me, but I had been tagging along behind her since I could remember, so…
There was a transparent bubble the size of a small room floating over the grass in the garden with a ramp extended down to the carved stone of the patio. There didn’t seem to be a blade of grass out of place.
I followed Lyna up into the bubble. There were three comfortable looking chairs similar to those in a human shuttle facing a flat marble console with three inverted cones growing out of its surface. That was all.
Lyna indicated which of the seats for me to use. There were no belts. She walked over to the console and put her hand on one of the cones. The ramp merged into the transparent bubble becoming transparent as well. We floated up out of the garden like a soap bubble.
Once clear of the garden, we streaked! One moment we were floating like a balloon the next instant we were accelerating at supersonic speed. The ground dropped away at an alarming rate. Within a few breaths, the blue sky melted away into the star-studded black of interplanetary space.
There was no physical sensation of moving. It was the most phenomenal display of gravitational control I had ever witnessed. In fact, had I not just seen it I would have said it was impossible. In moments, we were falling toward Sparta’s largest moon. We had accumulated a significant percentage of light speed in less than five minutes! I was simply stunned.
The starship orbiting on the dark side of the moon was four times larger than a battleship. It was significantly bigger than a passenger liner and they were the largest ships ever built by human beings.
The forward two-thirds of the ship was shaped like an arrowhead with the back edges folded slightly down. The base of the arrowhead was cut in a circle and a globe inserted where the arrow would have joined it. The entire vessel was sleek, streamlined and surrounded by a soft glow of white light. It looked as if it were moving forward at great speed even though it was locked in orbit around the moon.
I decided I had never seen anything quite as awe-inspiring.
We were approaching the rear lower quadrant of the sphere a quarter of the way down from where the flattened forearm of the ship joined the globe. We were approaching at a frightening rate. I grabbed the edge of the console in front of me, bracing for the impact. A hangar door opened in front of us, but it was little comfort. At the speed we were carrying we would smash completely through the ship!
I started to cry out when a brilliant flash almost blinded me. We had stopped just inside the hangar door. That was more than impressive. It was awesome. We had transitioned from thousands of miles per hour to a dead stop in less than a second with no physical or inertial effects. These folks had absolute and complete control of gravity. With all of mankind’s technology, we were just messing around the edges.
I discovered the ramp had reappeared and led down to a hangar floor. There were three more of the shuttles we had just arrived in parked across the hangar with a couple of much larger conveyances parked against the rear bulkhead.
There was a giant waiting at the base of the ramp.
The being was a hairless albino male humanoid. He was perhaps ten feet tall, handsome and well proportioned. He wore a simple sleeveless shirt tucked into a plaid kilt-like lower garment. His feet were shod in sandals that laced up to just below his knees.
He wasn’t smiling, but his expression was pleasant and unthreatening. When he spoke his voice was deep and mellow.
“Welcome aboard Commander, we’ve been missing you.” He reached up one of his huge hands and cupped his chin in his thumb and forefinger pulling his head down in a sign of obeisance.
“This is Jason,” Lyna told me. “Jason is an android and is your personal servant while you are aboard,” she paused as if unsure how to proceed. “And even when you’re not aboard if you need him.”
“He might be a bit awkward to bring on a cruiser. Our overheads would be a bit cramped,” I thought out loud. The thought of this giant trying to make his way down the cramped passageways of a Navy ship almost made me laugh out loud, but I managed to restrain myself.
“We need to go to the bridge,” Lyna informed me. “I want to introduce you to our staff.”
We started walking across the hangar with Justin tagging along behind. Lyna didn’t turn to look at him but informed him we would not be requiring his services immediately and would contact him when he was needed. He seemed nonplussed by this message but simply turned and walked off in another direction on some undisclosed errand.
The elevator we took to the bridge opened onto a spacious control room as large as my Nana’s suite on Sinclair Station. The entire forward third of the bridge was dominated by a curved view screen that at the moment displayed the moon and stars beyond. The picture was three dimensional, crystal clear and gave the impression one could just float out into space through it.
Facing the view screen were six command chairs and a number of workstations on the lower level. Two steps up was a second deck that ran around the periphery of the room containing a dozen more workstations. Fully staffed it would have seated twenty crew members.
It was completely empty today.
Lyna didn’t stop at the bridge; she traversed to a door on the port side which slid open as she approached. It opened into a small conference room. The center of the room was dominated by an eight place wooden conference table with a white marble top. The leather chairs around it looked ancient, expensive and comfortable.
“This is yours,” Lyna told me and pulled the large armchair at the head of the table back for me to sit down. “Would you like some coffee?”
I nodded my agreement and instantly I smelled the aroma of brewing coffee suffusing the room. Lyna walked to a cabinet and returned with a carafe and single cup. The smell was even stronger as she poured it. I sampled the brew gingerly and was happily amazed. It was the best coffee I ever tasted.
“What is this?”
“It’s Folgers, it was the favorite of one of our Commanders many years ago.”
“It has just become mine as well.”
“I’m not surprised, you bear a marked resemblance.” She pointed to the back wall that had morphed into another 3D view screen. There was a larger than life hologram of a young man wearing a glittering red vest and kilt like Jason. It could have been me ten years ago. I was amazed.
“His name was Garet Sinclair. I was quite fond of him,” Lyna looked at the picture with a wistful expression. It became evident; she had been quite fond of him. I wondered about the ramifications of that development but kept my peace.
“Jeannie, this is Captain Walter Sinclair. He has Command Authority,” Lyna said into the open air.
“Hello Commander, welcome aboard. We’ve been missing you,” a lady’s musical voice filled the space repeating Jason’s sentiment.
“Jeannie is the AI that runs the ship,” Lyna explained.
“He needs the communicator,” Jeannie said as if exasperated. “This voice communication is too slow and clumsy.”
“One thing at a time,” Lyna told her. “Can we have the staff, please?” Immediately occupants filled three of the conference chairs. They were obviously holograms since they had appeared out of thin air, but they were the most realistic holograms I had ever experienced. I could not tell, no matter what angle I looked at them, that there were not actual people sitting there.
At the opposite end of the table sat a slightly larger duplicate of Jason. He was an albino with long wavy white hair. He was wearing a pale blue open-necked shirt with balloon sleeves bloused at the wrist. To his right was a slightly smaller female of the same race. She was strikingly beautiful with coal black hair and emerald green eyes. She was wearing a spun gold necklace in the v of an open burgundy colored blouse. Her hairpin and earrings matched the necklace. To the Anastazi male’s left was an old white-bearded man wearing an enormous cross over a jerkin that looked like it was made from burlap.
“The Anastazi knight at the end of the table is Ichod; he was the last living Anastazi commander of this ship. The lady to his right is Sophiel, his wife. The gentleman is King Arthur of Britannia.”
“Whoa, you mean the actual mythical…”
“He was hardly a myth. There he sits real as rain.”
“Wow, I’m impressed.”
“Your mother told you the story of how the ship came to be here. Do you have any questions?”
“I understand the Anastazi came to earth eons ago with instructions from the Creator to look after mankind. They were involved in a titanic struggle with an implacable enemy for over a thousand years with them gaining ascendancy and then the enemy regaining strength for a period. This back and forth war went on until finally this evil was destroyed at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Is that about right?
“That is right on the money son,” Arthur spoke up for the first time. “So what is your question?”
“If I got the story straight, your ship was running out of anti-matter and had to go into monitor mode for several centuries until human technology caught up to where men could provide you with fuel.”
“Right again,” the old man agreed.
“In my great grandfather’s time, you came out of hibernation to work with him developing the antimatter you needed. Why did you wait so long and why did you come out when you did?”
“We had to be prepared and ready to go to war in your generation. The lens we used crossing intergalactic space on our initial arrival opened adjacent to a red giant star near the center of the Milky Way. It took us some time to work our way out to this arm. During that journey, we ran across a race of particularly nasty carnivores. We ran some projections that showed your two species making contact about now. We were off a few decades, but the time has come.”
“We’ve made contact?”
“One of your scout ships intercepted them in the Perseus Bridge; you have been at war with them for close to two years now.”
I wasn’t too surprised. The vast distances across the Empire meant that it was normal for word of some event or development on the far side to take years to percolate through the system.
“We’ve been scanning for alien life for centuries with no success. How did we miss…?”
“This race uses a communication method entirely different than humans developed. They don’t broadcast on the electromagnetic spectrum you were scanning. They themselves are not very sophisticated. These hominids are using technology they stumbled onto from an ancient race that disappeared thousands of years ago. That race was advanced technologically even beyond the Anastazi.”
“How did we get into a war with them?”
“It was inevitable. They will view your race as food. They raise primitive humanoid animals for their primary diet.”
“That would get us off on the wrong foot, to be sure.”
“Sir we are being scanned!” Ensign Ito exclaimed from her station. She studied her console for a moment and her eyes became wide in surprise. “Captain, there is an entire fleet moving in our direction! They are six AU out and moving very fast.”
“Put it on the main viewer,” the captain ordered.
The first image revealed the yellow G class star that dominated this system with a band of light running diagonally from the upper right of the screen to the lower left coming from the heart of the main galaxy. In the lower right quadrant was a sprinkling of motes between the flotilla’s current location and the system’s core star. The view dissolved and reformed as it zoomed in on the approaching ships.
At the distance between the fleets, light was useless for transmitting real-time information. At light speed, the opposing forces were separated by nine hours. The ship’s sensors used quantum mechanics that bridged the distance instantly. As a result, the display was fuzzy and intermittent as it was a derived and computed image manufactured from the ghostly echoes emitted from the subatomic fabric of space itself.
The oncoming fleet was composed of twenty-five vessels. The formation was led by four flotillas of six ships each. Each flotilla was made up of one large ship flanked by five smaller vessels spread out in an inverted cone formation. At the peak of the cone, furthest away from the Imperial flotilla was a massive object, roughly spherical surrounded by a white halo. It looked like a small moon. Whether it was being pulled by the ships ahead of it or pushing the cone itself could not be determined.
“Camie, do you think they see us?” the captain asked the combat AI.
“No Captain, I believe they are reacting to the lens. They are not using quantum sensors; they won’t be able to see us for a while. They are using graviton sensors, so they will start getting echoes in a couple of hours but they won’t be able to get any hard data for some time.”
“Will masking help?”
“I’m sending overlapping graviton pulses tuned to their scanners; until they start getting visual images, we will be shadows and ghosts to their sensors.”
“Sir they are accelerating at a pace that would be impossible for us. They are at a tenth of light speed already. It would take us a month to attain that kind of velocity.”
“How long do we have until they are in range of our torpedoes?”
“If they maintain their current velocity, eight hours at extreme range, but they could swerve out of the path of the projectiles if they can maneuver at that speed. We couldn’t, but we can’t come close to accelerating at that rate either, so it is indeterminate at this point Captain.”
“Okay, notify all of our ship’s captains I want the transition capacitors brought to full charge on all vessels. The passenger liner can beam power to the smaller ships to assist. I want a holo-conference in thirty minutes, all captains and their executive officers,” the Commodore spoke up from where he was standing behind the captain’s command chair.
“Aye aye, Commodore, the message has been transmitted.”
“Camie, route Matt Carson’s omni to my console,” the commodore said as he walked to a workstation on the aft section of the bridge. A moment later the florid worried face of the engineering officer appeared with the broad spaces of the main power room behind him.
“Yes Commodore,” Matt spoke into his omni.
“You have four spare rail guns in the hold in case you have battle damage, do you not?” The commodore knew they did from checking the inventory moments before.
“How long would it take to uncrate them, check them out and install them on the passenger liner?”
“Well, Sir,” the EO’s face took on a more concerned look if that was possible. “It isn’t exactly that easy, there are armored turrets in our ship the guns are mounted in. The aiming devices are integral to the mounts…”
The commodore didn’t reply because he knew the engineer was thinking and planning out loud. When he finally ran down, he would have an answer. After a couple of minutes, his face relaxed a bit.
“We could mount the guns in the forward observation lounge facing forward, Matt said. “Camie would have to change the orientation of the entire vessel to bring them into play… Or… we could mount’em amidships, two to a side like an old ship of the line. That would give her a broadside, so to speak.”
“How long Matt?”
“Eight to ten hours, twelve at the outside.”
“You have six Matt,” the commodore snapped. “Make it happen, but ask the liner’s Camie how she wants her guns oriented. She is the one who will have to use them.”
“Aye aye Sir,” the EO replied and dropped the connection.
A couple of minutes before the conference call was scheduled the Commodore walked into Walt Sinclair’s ready room which he had commandeered for his personal office. He sat down at the head of the conference table. A minute later he was joined by the acting captain of Caligula followed closely by Melvin Kolb, the Chief Warrant Officer of the boat.
The far wall of the conference room dissolved into a three-dimensional display revealing five similar but smaller rooms. Each room held a table with two or three officers seated at each. The view was segmented into six equal parts with a blank in the center. When the Commodore spoke his face filled the center space.
“Gentlemen, we have a little over eight hours to come up with a battle plan. Since the Imperial Navy has not experienced a fleet action since its inception, we will be flying by the seat of our pants. If we survive the imminent action, we will go down in history.”
The commodore paused to let the other captains think about the ramifications of his statement.
“As you can see,” the commodore’s image faded to be replaced by the view of the oncoming fleet. “The enemy has arrayed himself in a ring led by the heaviest of his vessels. The support ships are behind and progressively lower and tighter leading back to whatever that body is at the point of the cone. Any ideas on what this formation might portend?”
“It seems strange they would have their biggest ships flying point. It’s the opposite of what our doctrine would be,” one of the destroyer captains volunteered.
“Perhaps it’s a way to maximize their shields by combining the power of the biggest ships to shield the entire fleet,” another captain suggested.
“The moon-sized object seems to be key to the formation, it makes one wonder. Is it a strong point or an Achilles heel?” the acting captain of Caligula ventured.
“Commodore, I’ve been playing and replaying the after-action report from the scout ship’s encounter. I’ve noticed something.” The youngest captain of the flotilla spoke up as if somewhat unsure if he should speak at all. He was one of the corvette captains.
“Go ahead Roger,” the commodore encouraged him. “That is what we are doing here, brainstorming.”
“The weapon the aliens deployed against the scout ship was an energy pulse emitter. Looking at the cone formation if one plots a direct line forward using the spherical object as the center line; if all the ships fired a pulse simultaneously, the pulses would converge at a point in front of the formation equidistant to where the globe is in its rear. The additive power would be overwhelming.”
“Then the last place we want to be is in front of that formation when it shows up,” the commodore observed agreeing with the premise. “Okay gentlemen, one hour. Get with your staffs and submit your plans on how best to maneuver and get to a point where we can hit these jokers in the flank. Dismissed.”
“Commodore, I have been going back over the scenarios the war college has come up with concerning fleet maneuvers over the years,” the COB volunteered. “I’ve noticed a distinct absence of any plans to use one of our most potent weapons.”
“What is that, Melvin?”
That stopped the commodore cold. The willies had been developed and deployed as a support asset for landing parties. The CWO was correct. No one had considered using the tiny automatons to support a fleet action. Of course, it would be a warrant officer who would think of it since the WOs were the ones commonly deploying the willies on shore parties.
“Melvin, that is brilliant!” the commodore exclaimed. “Look, you get with Camie and war game out some scenarios on ways we can deploy the willies to enhance our fleet action and have her contact the other combat controllers to work those assets into the battle plan being formed by the staff. Good job!”
“I understand your thinking Sir, but could I suggest that it might be more productive to let Camie and the willies work out their own plans. They are a lot more capable of figuring out what they can and cannot do than me or any of the staff.”
“You’re only saying that because it’s true,” the commodore laughed. “Make it so Mister Kolb.”