Chapter Eight
Sparta System
Aboard Isla Marin – Anastazi starship

When I woke up, I was disoriented.  There was an itching beneath my left ear, when I reached up to scratch it; I felt a thin metallic ring embedded behind my earlobe.  Then it all came rushing back.  Lyna had convinced me to allow the ship to surgically implant a device in my head so I could communicate with the ship’s AI directly.

“Good morning Commander,” Jeannie’s voice resonated softly at the edge of my perception, but clear as new ice.  “How are you feeling?”

“Stunned, I think is the best description,” I experimented forming a mental sub-vocalization.  “And my ear itches.”

“The slight discomfort will pass quickly.”

“How long was I unconscious?”

“Twenty-six hours.”

“Twenty-six hours!  Lyna told me a couple of hours max!”

“We discovered a few physical maladies that we repaired while you were on the table.  You should find your back pain is no longer an issue; we replaced three discs, one hip, and both knees.  You had some lesions on one lung that we repaired and removed four polyps from your colon.”

I swung my feet off of the bed and stood up.  For the first time in a very long time, my knees did not complain and Jeannie was right, my back was pain-free.  I did a quick squat and had to stifle a satisfied smile.  My knees felt as if they had been oiled.

I discovered I was hungry.  The aroma of freshly baked bread had permeated the stateroom where I had been sleeping.  I was dressed in a pair of boxer shorts and a T-shirt, there was a robe lying across the foot of the bed.  When I slipped it on, it fit perfectly.

I walked over to the table next to the door and lifted the domed cover from a sliver tray.  There were two loaves of still-warm bread on the tray.  When I broke off a chunk and sampled it, I discovered it was delicious.  I poured a cup of that excellent coffee from the carafe and was debating on carrying the tray back to the bed when the door slid silently open.

Lyna walked in and studied me for a moment then she smiled.  She was evidently pleased with what she saw.  She was carrying a pair of boots in one hand and had a jumpsuit over her arm similar to the one she was wearing.

“As soon as you have eaten you need to get dressed and come to the bridge, there is an emergency that requires your attention.”

“Where am I…?”  I had no idea how to get to the bridge.

“Access your communicator; you have access to the entire ship’s library.  It will take you some time to gain proficiency, but it will come quicker than you can imagine.

“But how…”

“You know the entire layout of the ship and your location in it, just accept that fact on faith and remember.”  I glanced into my memory and was stunned.  She was right, the entire enormous fabric of the whole vessel was right there, and yes I knew exactly where I was.

“I feel grungy,” I told her around a mouthful of bread.

“You know where the shower is,” she replied.  When I checked, she was right.

“Okay, I’ll be on the bridge in a few minutes.”  At this, she smiled again, laid the jumpsuit across the back of a chair, sat the boots down by one leg and whisked out the door.  True to my word fifteen minutes later I emerged from the elevator onto the bridge.  Lyna and the three other entities were sitting in a semicircle at the duty stations on the lower portion of the bridge facing the command chair.  I walked over and sat down facing them.

“Good morning all, what is the emergency?”

“Your Navy is engaged in a battle with the aliens.  We need to go to them and assist.  If we do not they will be wiped out.”  Ichod’s strong bass voice rang through my head, but his lips never moved.

“It will take years of real time for us to get there…” I subvocalized to the entire crew.

“No — access what you now know about lens travel,” Ichod chided me.

I dug down and it all came clear in an instant.  Mankind’s method of traversing interstellar space only accessed the space portion of the space-time continuum.  Our technology, using the power stored on the ship to slip through the lens, only scratched the surface.  Anastazi technology stored the energy for transition in a different dimension and was an order of magnitude greater than the best men had ever come up with.  When the Anastazi ship made a transition, they bridged both space and time.

This would change things to a degree almost unimaginable.  Their jumps were in real time.  If men could have access to this technology, the Empire could be truly united.  Crossing the entire Empire could be done in a single day.  The ramifications of that were mind-boggling.

I accessed the data file reporting on the impending action.  Anastazi scanners could peer through lenses as easy as they transitioned them.  I looked over the alien fleet disposition and the tiny flotilla facing it.  I absorbed the various scenarios that Isla Marin’s AI had war-gamed out.  None of them were encouraging.  No matter what the Navy flotilla did, the result was always the same.  They were wiped out to a man.

“I need to change to my uniform and go back aboard the Hadrian, bring them up to speed and we can get underway.  We’ve less than five hours…”

Byzantium – Imperial HQ
Fleet Admiral Howard Quincy Butner’s office

“So it has finally come out,” the chaplain said with no little satisfaction.  “It was just a matter of time, but I had begun to despair, and I know that is a sin, Lord forgive me.”

“You mean you knew about this drug and euthanasia business!”

“No details, but there have been rumors from parish priests filtering up to the Patriarch for some time.  Since this information was derived from stories sealed under confessional privacy, there was nothing the Holy Father could do.”

“Do you think it reaches beyond Sparta?”

“It almost certainly does,” the chaplain reported sadly.  “I think you will find every system that has a governor appointed by this Emperor will be involved.”

“Oh no!” The admiral’s face went white.  The current Emperor had appointed at least twenty governors over the last eight years since he had been in power.  This had the potential to tear the Empire apart.

An ominous silence settled over the room as both men pondered the ramifications of this information.

“Admiral, Senator Reynolds…” his secretary announced the arrival of the senator hesitantly since the admiral had not rescinded his “do not disturb” order.

“Yes yes, send him in immediately!”

The portly senator waddled into the room dressed today in a conservative suit.  He went directly to the liquor cabinet nodding to the chaplain as he passed.

“Reggie, we are in the shit, like never before!”  Admiral Butner told the senator to his back as he poured four fingers into the heavy glass.

Senator Reynolds took a seat next to the chaplain, belted back a healthy slug, sighed resignedly and spoke, as if reluctant to hear the coming message:

“Okay Howie, fill me in.”

As the admiral outlined the details of the drugs and euthanasia scheme, the color drained from the senator’s face.  By the time he had heard all of the details and the magnitude of the corruption his glass was empty and his hands were shaking.

“We’ll have to call a meeting of the Supreme Council,” the senator blurted in an immediate reaction.

“No Reggie, we can’t.  We don’t know how high up this scandal reaches.  I’ll assign a naval intelligence task force to investigate this from bottom to top.  Until we’ve identified all of the participants, we cannot take a single step.”

“Who can you trust?”

“I’ll go to the Order.”

“Hmm,” the senator mumbled thinking fast and turning to look at the chaplain.  “Yes, I agree.  The Templars are the ones to do this.  And this is the man to talk to the High Counselor.”

The High Counselor of the Order of the Templars was a severe and private person.  He seldom spoke to anyone outside the Order and was difficult to impossible to gain access to.

Since the Templars were the bankers of the Empire and controlled the amount of currency available in the economy, the High Counselor kept himself aloof.

He might possibly provide an audience for the fleet admiral, but it was not a foregone conclusion, and it would be in his own timeframe.  He was much more likely to talk to the chaplain in a timely manner.

“Those damned arrogant…” the admiral muttered.

“They are a bit taken with themselves,” the chaplain agreed.  “But it’s for times like these that they hold themselves aloof.  Without them, we would have nowhere to turn.”

“See if you can get him to talk to me directly, will you Father?” the admiral asked with an almost pleading tone to his voice.  He wasn’t used to having to beg.

“Give me a minute,” the chaplain rose and slipped his omni from a jacket pocket.  He walked across the room to the admiral’s private washroom and disappeared.  He was in there for a good ten minutes.  When he came out, he exhibited an expression of satisfaction and a bit of surprise.

“He will see you, and get this… he is coming to your office.”  The other two men’s faces registered almost unbelief.  “…and that is not all — he is bringing the Patriarch.”  At this bombshell, the other men’s faces went beyond disbelief to complete shock.

“I’m sorry Senator, they will speak only with the admiral himself,” the chaplain told the senator apologetically.

“No problem, Father, I wouldn’t know how to conduct myself in the presence of those two august gentlemen anyhow.”  He stood up and looked at his empty glass and then the other two that had hardly been touched with a guilty grimace.  “We had probably best put these away,” he said as he picked up all three glasses by sticking his fingers in the top and carrying them to the cabinet from whence they had come.  The High Counselor was rumored to be a teetotaler and have little patience with those who imbibed.

The chaplain left just ahead of the senator who paused again at the open door.

“Once again, Howie it’s up to you to save us all.  Thank God it’s you behind that desk.  I don’t know anyone else who could do it.”  With this, he left and gently pulled the door closed behind him.

The door had no more than closed when Admiral Butler’s ear bud vibrated.  “Admiral Benson to see you, Sir, he has a report on the fleet dispatched to the Perseus frontier.”

“Okay, send him in, but I’m expecting the patriarch and the senior knight of the Templars.  Show them in immediately, in fact, I want to know when they enter the building.  I want to meet them at the door.”

“Aye, Sir.”

A moment later a two-star admiral slipped in the door.  He was carrying a tablet sized omni.

“Hello, Greg, what is going on with the fleet?”

“Good morning Sir, — the fleet is halfway to the Perseus arm.  There has been no word of the alien fleet so far, but our boys did surprise and engage a barbarian convoy.  They captured a passenger liner and three freighters.  They sent the passenger ship back here under a prize crew with over three thousand prisoners.”

“The freighters?”

“They were sold at the next system, with two hundred million credits deposited to the Navy’s general fund.”

“Good job, at that rate they will pay for their own expedition,” Admiral Butner mused.  “When that passenger liner gets back here I want her sold for scrap and monitored to make sure it is dismantled this time.  I’m sick of these ragheads buying those passenger liners and sending more jihadis out here for us to deal with.”

“The prisoners?”

“Delvonia…”  Delvonia was a moon orbiting a massive gas giant in the outskirts of the Byzantium system.  It had been extensively mined centuries before and had miles of pressurized tunnels.  It had been turned into a POW camp and was home to over ten thousand would be jihadis.  It was a nasty barren existence in a sweatbox environment due to the gas giant’s gravity field constantly flexing the moon and causing it to generate a lot of heat at its core.

The prisoners on Delvonia had come out to the stars seeking heaven.  They had found hell.

“You know the bleeding heart media is giving us fits about Delvonia, the two-star remarked.

“They will just have to moan, it is what it is and it is not going to change on my watch.”

“Aye, Sir, Delvonia it is.”

“The Patriarch and the High Counselors car is arriving,” Admiral Butner’s earbud announced.

“Greg, I have to go meet their Eminences,” the admiral exclaimed rising quickly from behind his desk.  The two-star nodded his acknowledgment and fled the office leading the fleet admiral out the door.

Admiral Butner stood in the door to his office and held one of the massive double doors open for the two men who swept imperiously down the hall and into the inner sanctum with the merest nod to the admiral in passing.  They entered the room and turned to regard the officer as he came up to them.

The high counselor was dressed in a white one-piece robe with a large red cross across his chest.  It was cinched at the waist with a wide leather belt that held a scabbard that almost touched the floor.  It held a massive sword whose handle and guard protruded from beneath the white cape that covered his shoulders and hung near the deck.  He looked like he was ready to march down the hall, mount a charger and ride off to challenge Saladin this very day.

As the admiral approached, the senior knight of the order pulled the hood from his head and let it drape around his neck like a muffler.  He had a white beard that was trimmed to an inverted V to his chin.  His hair was snow white as was his beard.  It was obvious he disdained rejuvenation therapies; he looked every day of his seventy-five years.  The knight rested his left hand on the hilt of his sword and regarded the admiral who approached the Patriarch first.

The Bishop of the One Holy and Apostolic Church was dressed in an emerald green silk robe decorated with three broad red bands.  There was an embroidered red cross on each shoulder.  Beneath the shawl, he wore a white silk shirt with a large gold cross hanging from a thick gold chain.  His head was covered by a simple black cylindrical cap with its own red cross on the front.

The Archbishop was every bit as old as the High Counselor and had an even longer beard.  He also seemed to disdain rejuvenation therapies.  He held out his hand palm down with the large jeweled ring prominent.  The admiral took a knee and kissed the ring in obeisance to the church, not the man.

The admiral then rose and led the men to the settee where they sat in the armchairs.  The officer took a seat on the sofa.

“Gentlemen, I’m honored you would bless me with your presence…” the admiral started out, but the Templar cut him short.

“Admiral, let’s dispense with formalities.  We are faced with an existential threat to the Empire, Navy and the Church.  We need to come to an agreement quickly and act in concert to deal with this menace.”  The Archbishop did not add to the knight’s statement, but he bowed his head in grave agreement.

The admiral sat back and relaxed.  He was dealing with peers.  They could accomplish something today.

III
Calista IV
HMS Caligula

The commodore was happy with his plan even though he heard von Moltke chiding him about plans and first contact from somewhere in his subconscious.  He had been able to bring his flotilla completely across the oncoming enemies’ front undetected and had been able to turn to a position to take the superior fleet in the flank.

His six-ship flotilla now appeared on any graviton detector to be fully eighteen strong.

Camie and the willies had come up with a plan to equip the medicine ball sized automatons with graviton generators that would make them appear the size of a destroyer or corvette.  They had frantically modified the holographic projectors on the willies and fitted them with magnifying lenses so they could project ship size images around themselves when the fleets merged to where visible light images could be detected.

His formation would be led by the passenger liner who had the most powerful shields.  Since the liner was unmanned, no power would be necessary for environmental maintenance and the plan called for the liner to shut her engines down entirely at first contact and pour every watt of power into her shields.

“Range closing to 3.0 in six five four…” Camie called out.  The plan called for all of the ships to drop their graviton masks at the three million kilometer mark when the two fleets arrived at that separation and for the willies to activate their spoofers.

“Drop masks, Photon torpedoes launch NOW!” the commodore exclaimed and chaos ensued. At the closing speed of the two fleets, the photon torpedoes that were traveling within a tiny fraction of light speed would impact the furthest targets in just less than ten seconds.

Caligula launched three torpedoes at the moon-sized object.  The destroyers could launch two and the corvettes had only sufficient power to launch a single missile.  After their first volley, they would all have to wait ten to fifteen seconds while the transition rings were recharged for a second volley or shot.

The math was not good.

The initial volley was ten torpedoes launched against twenty-five vessels and a mothership.  Since Caligula launched her entire salvo against the mother ship only seven other enemy warships were targeted.  The twelve willies launched their mini torpedoes as well, but they were simply a ruse since they lacked the power to penetrate even the weakest shields.

They were an effective ruse.

The entire enemy formation disintegrated as individual ships maneuvered desperately to avoid the incoming photon weapons.  Evidently, the experience of their first contact with humans had made them very respectful of torpedoes.

The initial volley had taken out three ships.  A lucky hit had disabled one of the smaller vessels and a cruiser-sized enemy craft had been taken out by one of their own as they maneuvered into each other.

It was mankind’s high point in the battle.  It rapidly went downhill from there.

At first, it didn’t seem to be going that badly.  The enemy ships were concentrating their fire on the passenger liner allowing Caligula to get a torpedo into one of the leading cruisers that went dead and started drifting. As the two fleets closed to laser range, the wheels began to come off the wagon.

The alien’s mother ship had absorbed the three torpedo spread seemingly without effect.  The white glow that surrounded it had dimmed for a couple moments but then came back apparently unaffected.

The passenger liner was shrugging off energy pulse hits from the smaller vessels as her Camie rolled her over and gave the cruiser nearest her a four-shot broadside from the liner’s improvised railguns.  A hit at that range would have been sheerest luck, but the battle AI was using what she had.

The energy pulses from the alien ships looked like strings of red tennis ball sized pearls.  At the initial range, the human ship’s shields were able to deflect the first shots.  As the range quickly closed the offensive weapons began to be more effective.  A corvette caught in the crossfire between two enemy ships exploded in a silent flash of white light.

Then the mother ship fired on the passenger liner.  The energy pulse from the mother ship looked like a string of basketballs.  The liner disappeared in another startling explosion as her fusion engines were breached.

Caligula was engaging two enemy cruisers lashing out with stabbing white laser shots while she waited for her ring to recharge when an aft shield failed and she took a hit in an aft shuttle hangar.   The entire ship shuddered and people were thrown from their stations at the bridge.  The odor of smoke filled the space and the lights went out for a couple of seconds to be replaced by emergency lamps.

“Camie evasive action, can you disengage?”

“I’m sorry Sir, I cannot,” Camie replied calmly but she was fighting for their very lives.  A second hit staggered the ship and the artificial gravity failed.  People and material started floating around the cabin that began to get frigid very quickly.

The Commodore felt a firm grip on his wrist pulling him toward his command chair.  He had floated up three feet and was stunned.  The COB had anchored himself by his legs to the chair and pulled his commander back into his seat.

“Sir, it has been an honor serving with you,” the COB said, evidently facing their inevitable demise.

Then in an instant, the incoming fire ceased.  It got quiet on the bridge.  The main display that had gone dark came back up to reveal a startling sight.

Enemy ships were blowing up one after the other across the screen.  From behind the mother ship, two other vessels had appeared.  One was larger than anything the commodore had ever seen, clearly as large as the alien’s mother ship.  The other looked like a standard destroyer.

“Sir!” it’s the Hadrian!” Ensign Ito exclaimed looking at her monitor in shocked surprise.  “…and the other ship is reporting on IFF: ‘Isla Marin, Captain Walter Sinclair commanding.’”  The bridge exploded in cheers and relieved laughter.  Men were clinging to each and weeping.

Caligula’s captain was back and he was bringing a big stick.

A white ball of pure energy came streaking from the ship that identified herself as Isla Marin to slam into the alien mothership.  The alien ship didn’t explode, but it went instantly dark and started spinning, as if out of control.  The rest of the alien fleet turned to flee, but it was to no avail.  One by one they were overwhelmed by shot after shot from Hadrian and the strange vessel under the command of Caligula’s captain.

Soon the entire sector was filled with nothing but debris and a few battered human vessels.

“Well COB, it seems the rumor of our death has been somewhat premature.” The Commodore told the warrant officer who still had a grip on him.

“Yes Sir, I think we are going to make it,” he said with a definite sense of relief.

***

 

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