I hoped to be a little bit more productive in summer... Seems that I failed. I've tried to make this post a little longer to compensate somewhat.
Chapter 15: What has to be done
SOCV Hades, Gamma Tauri system
The Hades was one of the few Aventine-class carriers in active duty and deployed to the frontlines. A superb warship under any point of view, these massive units were mobile fortresses, acting as the central hub of intelligence operations for their sector of competence. Dave looked in amazement at the sheer size of the SOC carrier as the Hammerhead entered its main fighterbay, dwarfed even by the weapon batteries that guarded the main entrance.
Damn, this thing is huge.
The small incursor finally landed on its assigned platform, and was immediately surrounded by a swarm of technicians, mechanics and weapon experts, who got to work as soon as the ship touched the steel floor, repairing the huge blow caused by the Kriath missile, refueling and rearming the attack craft. A little far off from the Hammerhead stood five figures, all dressed with the dark uniform of the Special Operations Command.
“Guess those guys are waiting for us, sir.”, he told Harper.
“More likely they are here for our special package”, the Commodore answered, looking through the cockpit at a small Red Cross team that was hurryingly bringing Dreghal to the sickbay. “Anyhow, let’s do the presentations.”
Those guys turned out to be some of the highest-ranking officers of the SOC. Harper and Hans exchanged the usual formalities with the CO of the Hades, Vice Admiral Maciej Czerwinski, the man who had directed the whole operation under the direct command of Admiral Ross.
“Congratulations for a well done job, Commodore. Though the situation was going out of control, your prompt reaction has averted what could have been one of the worst diplomatic disasters of our history. Commander, you did an excellent job in shutting down the main communication array before freeing the prisoner, as planned. Your action has avoided an unwanted bloodshed to happen. Should you have failed your task, the whole operation would have been put in jeopardy, with enormous consequences for the Alliance.”
They both thanked their superior, and went on with the chattering, until…
“Vice Admiral, may I ask a question?”
“Go on, Commodore.”
“At 03:38 hours we launched a smart bomb on the Penal Colony, as we were ordered to do. It was supposed to destroy the main communication grid with an EMP pulse. But you’ve just said that the SOC team did it, and was supposed to do so, with optimal chance of success.”
“May I ask, so, why we were ordered to bomb an already destroyed array?”
“Because” and Czerwinski looked straight in Harper’s eyes “it wasn’t an EMP bomb, but a Korath spore warhead.”
“We have left no witnesses of this operation, except your small squad, which will be integrated on my ship. You have deleted any proof that this operation happened. Don’t loose too much sleep on this, Commodore -” he said as he noticed his shocked face “- there where only criminals and an handful of guards on Beta Tauri II. You did what had to be done.”, Czerwinski echoed Alan Bradley’s words.
But Harper wasn’t listening.
We spored a whole planet. We killed all its inhabitants. We slaughtered them without any idea of what we were doing. We killed… we killed…
Arnor cruiser, Gamma Centauri system
“What is that?”, Jenna asked. A large red sphere had suddenly materialized near the local star.
“Almada” Nemamiah whispered “The dark fortress of the Dread Lords.”
“Which means trouble, doesn’t it?”
“It means that the Telenath has finally entered this realm. The Shivans will soon get from the Yor their piece, so that your race will manage to rebuild the crystal.”
“There’s a fragment on Almada?”, she inquired.
“Not exactly… there’s another crystal. It’s still part of the Telenath, but physically separated from it, and powers the whole planet, making Almada an independent-moving star body. A planet which has been used more than once to destroy whole civilizations by merely altering the gravitational field of a star system, throwing worlds in outer space, condemning entire species. But the Dark Fortress is also the last home of the Dread Lords. If we destroy the planet, they won’t have anywhere to go. We can defeat them once and for all. We must bring the Telenath here, and then make the star go supernova. The explosion will vaporize the crystal, and with the crystal, our nemesis.”
“And me. A necessary sacrifice, I already told you.”
“And I already told you I don’t like the idea, period. Anyway, what are we going to do now?”
“Wait for wha…”
But Nemamiah had already disappeared.
“Oh, I hate him when he does these things!”
AC4, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado
North American Federation, Earth, Sol system
“Sir, the protest in New York has been quelled. The police has arrested the leaders, which are now being transferred to the Fort Dix military base.”
“With all the due respect, sir… Do you think that this is really necessary?”
“Absolutely, Admiral Ross. There’s no time to be wasted with the opposition, now. If we want to survive, we have to work together, sure that we can trust each other. How can we fight a war if the Senate questions every single move we make?”
“I understand, sir, however…”
“However what, Admiral?”
“Just… be careful, sir. The temptation of absolute power is really appealing.”
“I’m NOT doing this for myself! I’m doing this to protect our own people! Will you ever understand that!?! I don’t want to rule as a dictator, I simply want to assure our children a future in this galaxy!”
“Yes… sir. Surely. But protests are going on all over our territory… are you sure it is the right thing to do?”
“Maybe it’s not the right thing, but it’s what has to be done.”
SOCV Hades, Gamma Tauri system
Horns and claxons let loose their deafening power over the crewmen’s ears. In less than six seconds, everyone in the hangar room had extracted his sidearm and was pointing it at the glowing blue figure standing a few meters off the Hammerhead’s landing pad.
“Don’t make tricks, guy!”
The alien bent before speaking.
“Greetings, humans. I have peaceful intentions. I want to speak with Vice Admiral Maciej Czerwinski, the commander of this ship.”
“Good God”, the Admiral whispered, “He looks like… an Arnor?”
“Yes, Vice Admiral Maciej Czerwinski. You can call me Nemamiah. I’m here to help you with your task of reactivating the Drengin Terror Star.”
Czerwinski turned pale.
“That… is top secret! Less than fifty people know anything about it! How do you…”
“I know many things that you don’t, human. But there’s no time for such talking. Set a course for Epsilon Persei.”
“Epsilon Persei? Why?”
“Because, as Sub-group Lord Dreghal will confirm, the Terror Star is hidden there.”
Gaia, Epsilon Indi system
It begun in the simplest way.
People were peacefully demonstrating outside the local Parliament building, complaining for the recent restriction imposed by the Sol government. There were a few thousands of Terrans, massed in the large Independence Square, and controlled with some worry by a some hundreds of police agents. The local Governor was quite upset by the large crowd gathering just outside his office, even if the situation was under control for the moment, and so asked for help to the Army base. The Military Police begun the standard riot-preventing procedure, establishing checkpoints around the Square and generally reinforcing the police lines.
That was an error.
Some demonstrators, seeing the military vehicles closing in, thought that a charge was to be expected in short order: after all, Alan Bradley had just revoked the most basilar rights and turned the Alliance in a despotism, which meant that police forces could do almost everything they wanted to do. Add that to the general climate of tension... they attacked the police forces. Who retaliated. And the whole planetary government crumbled like an ill-built card castle.
AC4, Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado
North American Federation, Earth, Sol system
“Mister President, we have a new situation!”
“Where, Admiral? Shangai?”
“No, sir. According to official sources, the government of Gaia has just been overthrown by the local population. They claims that the Alliance has betrayed them, and therefore they have declared their secession, founding what they call the Free Human Confederation. Data are still sketchy and coming in hiccups, but I fear that this is something quite serious.”
“Can you deal with this?”
“No way, sir. Most of our forces on the planet have defected as well, nullifying our response ability. We can’t declare war on them – they may be secessionist, but they are still humans. And with the destruction of our Navy here in Sol, I frankly doubt we can put together anything that can be considered a threat while we fight the Korath and the Dread Lords.”
“This is an… unfortunate development.”
“Unfortunate? With all the due respect, sir, you’ve triggered it. And if we don’t do something quickly, you can bet that Gaia won’t be the only planet revolting. What have you obtained by tearing up the very structure of the Alliance?”
“I have achieved focus. If you look at our planets, Admiral, you’ll find that opposition is almost non-existent in all our cities. What I want, is to concentrate our efforts to win this war, and then let things get back to normality. As for this Free Human Confederation, we’ll deal with it when the Dread Lords are defeated.”
“It looks quite a risky gambit, sir. You may have increased unity and strength here and there, but you are threatening the Alliance of dissolution.”
“That’s why we have to win quickly. Do your best, Ross.”
“Will do, sir. I’ll try to do.”
TAS Galatea, Venus, Sol System
“Grand Admiral Alighieri, greetings from Duke Canopo of the Arcean Empire. I have brought my fleet to help in the final confrontation with the evil Dread Lords.”
“I am most pleased to heard that, Regent, and I look forward to work with you in such a difficult time. We are now waiting for an Altarian expeditionary force to join us, then we’ll soon move against Almada. If you need to refuel your ships, Olympus Station will provide assistance.”
So, the power crisis in Arcea is over. At least our giant friends have found someone that can keep the Empire together for a while… I wish Bradley could do the same with the Alliance. Reports of the Free Human Confederation crisis were quite worrying.
“I will gladly take this chance to prepare for the upcoming battle, Grand Admiral. It is a pleasure to fight side to side with a warrior of your fame. May the ancestors protect you and your people.”
“May they protect you as well, Regent. Alighieri out.”
Good. We have the Arceans with us, and the Altarians too. Groups of Torian units are joining our fleet as well, though their lack of a solid provisional government is destabilizing for their actions. The Shivans and the Vardens are harassing Korath and Dread Lords ships thorough their space, while the Korx are using their (rented) freighters to evacuate civilians from planets impossible to defend. Iconians claim to have destroyed a Dread Fleet near their colony of New Petra, Drengin are keeping the Korath legions at bay, Yor are falling under the Shivan assault. The M.A.G.I. says that 50% of the odds about the outcome of this war are favourable to us. It could even seem that things are going well… if not for this damned Almada. Now all our hopes are with the Hades… their failure will be our death.
“Grand Admiral, an urgent transmission for you! Unknown source, Identification code Eta-Zero-Echo-Three-Lambda.”
“I’ll take it from my office. Transmit confirmation code Sigma-Five-Amber-Nine-Zulu.”
Jordan Locke. It has been a long time.
“Amanda Alighieri. It has been a long time.”
The harsh voice of the hooked figure sent shivers through the Admiral’s back. Yes, it has been so long… Confused images of them during their Academy years fleshed before her eyes, so real that she would have swore that she could have touched them. But that was the past, she repeated once again, as she had done for more than twenty-five years. There’s nothing between us. Nothing. But she knew it wasn’t true. That deep in her heart she still felt something for the phantom agent of the Alliance… The same thing she had felt 25 years earlier. It was the simple certainty that she had never met someone so able to catch her mind like him.
We were young, and inexperienced. Life got between us, and we split up, not knowing what we were loosing. He seems to have found his way without me.
After the Academy, he had become more than a simple spy… he had become an Agent. Agents were the shadow hands of the Alliance, her eyes and her ears, the bringers of her will. They often disappeared for whole years while doing their job, and then they would materialize where their action was needed. Locke had did so during the Drengin Wars, building a network of saboteurs that crippled the Empire’s war efforts for a long time before being dismantled by the Dark Avatar himself. But Locke had survived, and had continued his mission without any hesitation, leaving everything behind him, to focus exclusively on his mission, as any Agent did. He had forgot her.
Nevertheless he was the only man for whom she’s felt something more that just friendship. It wasn’t properly love… it was more and less than love. It was an unique mixture of feelings that tied them up during their Academy years. It was the absolute trust in each other, the conscience that they were complementary, the… Oh, it was impossible to tell. It was, and that was it.
“A long time indeed, Agent Locke. Excuse me if I am a little harsh, but at the moment I have a whole set of crisis to handle. Why are you contacting directly me and not one of my informers?”
“It is too important. I’m here to warn you… beware of the Order.”
“I’m sending you all the data you need to understand this. I’ll try to discover more about this new threat to the Coalition while you end the menace of the Dread Lords once and for all.”
“If I only need to have the data… why have you requested a meeting?”
He stayed silent a few seconds. “To… check your condition. I’ve heard of your little psychic battle.”
She smiled. “You are worried for me.”
“It’s a purely academic interest. You know, there’s nothing between us... There’s never been. Locke out.”
Despite having been so abruptly interrupted, Amanda’s smile was enlarging on his face.
He still cares about me!
With renewed energy, she went back to her task of exterminating the Dread Lords. This mysterious “Order” could wait.
SOCV Hades, Epsilon Persei system
The Hades silently shifted from hyperspace to standard space, without leaving a single trace of her passage. The Drengin installations in the system didn’t notice anything… they were too busy.
“Admiral! We confirm the presence of Korath ships! There’s a battle going on 500 clicks on our board side!”
“This complicate things. Suggestions, my glowing friend?”
“Can your ship avoid interception, Vice Admiral Maciej Czerwinski?”
“Optical deceiver activated, radar cloaking operative.”, someone confirmed from the bridge.
“For the moment, Nemamiah. Sensors, do you confirm the absence of Dread Lords?”
“Affirmative, sir. No organic ships in a three parsec radius.”
“Excellent. Gentlemen, let’s leave the Drengin and the Korath solve their little diatribe alone. I still want firing solutions for everything that’s moving right now. We can’t know what’s awaiting for us. Sensors, can you locate the Terror Star?”
“Negative, sir. There are dozens of gravimetric generators scattered through the area. We can’t locate it in the standard way. It will take some time for a full scan.”
“Understood. Tactical, prepare the shuttlecrafts and the boarding parties. I’ll brief them in flight once we’ll know where to send them.”
“I think I can be of some help here.”, Nemamiah intervened. “The Terror Star is located in that massive rocky body near the eighth planet of the system. I can bring your warriors inside by teleporting them… just tell me where you need your forces.”
The bridge fell silent for a few seconds.
“Can he really do that?”
“Man, that’s magic!”
“It would be fantastic! Just image the tactical advantage of something like that!”
“But how can he do something similar?”
Czerwinski quit the chattering by raising his hand. Even if his crew was one of the best trained in the whole galaxy, teleport was something that shook the very basis of their concept of reality.
“You can do that?”
“Absolutely, Vice Admiral Maciej Czerwinski. The same thing I did when I came aboard this ship.”
“That solves a lot off problems. I want all the marines in Briefing Room 4 in ten minutes. I’ll show them the plan there. Then, you’ll teleport my soldiers from the main hangar bay. Is that ok?”
“I will comply, Human.”
And he disappeared once again, leaving a really confused crew behind him.
P.S.: I hope General Etrius won't be offended if I made Locke do a small appearance on my story. He's the last canon character I add here