<INS Yamato, Ban Thera System>
How had everything gone wrong so quickly?
Admiral Yamamoto sighed as that thought crossed his mind once again. He only allowed himself the luxury of such thoughts here, in the privacy of his quarters on the Yamato. The superdreadnought was the first to be commissioned since the death of the last Emperor and the start of the Civil War, and he’d made it his flagship when he was given command of Eighth Fleet.
He had no illusions about why he got this ‘promotion’ to the back end of nowhere, guarding the border with the Ihm Imperium. He never went against the Emperor’s will, but within naval circles he was known as being outspoken against a new war of aggression. There were too many problems within the Empire that needed fixing, and could use the resources a war would strip away. He laughed at the idea that any conquered planets would pay for the cost of bringing them into the fold with the new slaves they’d take, as though the planets were just sitting there like fruits waiting to be plucked from the tree.
But he was old. Even with the life extension treatments that made him look like a man half his age, war was a young man’s game. At 87, he was the oldest serving Admiral in the Fleet, and one of only two (now that the third had joined Princess Merida), that remembered the last war from personal experience. That had been a long, bloody affair, and the enemy had been very good at targeting command officers. In the years since, many of the admirals had left the service, either retiring or being forced out as the younger generation cut their teeth on pirates and border skirmishes. A couple years ago, he had considered retiring, as well, heading off someplace quiet to spend his remaining years away from the horrors of war.
And then the Emperor had been killed, along with most of the royal family. Emperor Travis had taken the throne, and Princess Merida had challenged him, now being called the ‘Rebel Empress’ by many in the Fleet. The Empire was clawing itself apart, revealing some of the problems he had long counseled needed fixing. Unfortunately, this meant that retiring was simply not an option any more. There was no honorable way for him to quit his post in the midst of this civil war. Even if he had someone within Eighth Fleet who was capable of taking his position at need.
Unfortunately, there was no one who could fill his shoes, and still have the same kind of connections and influence back at Fleet Command. Connections. Half his connections had been wiped out with the attack that had destroyed Fleet Headquarters. If he’d still been stationed in Sol at that time, he’d have likely died with them. Perhaps it would have been better if that were so. He was feeling his age more recently, as he saw reports from the front.
What had been a stalemate had turned troublesome as raiders attacked several key targets with kinetic weapons. Losing Fleet Command was a body blow, to be sure, but the deadly danger was the way the following attacks had been designed to disrupt logistics of the Empire. Too many of these young officers thought that superdreadnoughts won wars. Yamamoto was old enough to know better. Superdreadnoughts won battles. Transports won wars.
Without missiles, a superdreadnought was reduced to beam weapons, needing to get within ‘knife range’ before they could attack an enemy that could stand off and throw missiles at them, knowing that some would get through. Without replacement parts, the engineering staff was limited to what they could manufacture aboard ship, and there was simply no way to repair some delicate electronics in the field, to say nothing of replacing weapons and sensors that might get blown off the hull in battle. Without supplies, the impressive medical facilities of the superdreadnought would quickly become little better than a frontier clinic when dealing with casualties. Without food shipments, the crew would have to rely on emergency rations or what they could get in local ports.
And that was just the fleet side of things. With the civilians, the problems were even more pronounced. No, a superdreadnought was a fine tool, and necessary for anchoring a defensive line or battering through an enemy’s force, but it was the numerous military transports that won wars. Whether it was food shipments, replacement crews, spare parts, or ground troops, the transports were critical to any action away from base.
The young crowd, though, they did not see that truth. They had not learned it in the fires of war. They never saw ships burn because they had run out of missiles when supplies were disrupted by the Confederate or Federation raiders behind the lines. They had not been forced to eat emergency rations for weeks on end because the supplies were short.
His musings were cut off by an alert sounding across the ship. Calling the bridge, he said, “Report!”
The officer of the watch responded nervously, though that was no surprise with a junior officer talking to an Admiral. “Admiral, we have an unscheduled transition at the edge of the system. Long range sensors showing a single ship, perhaps a corvette. We have not received communications from the ship yet.”
“Very well. I will be on the Flag Bridge momentarily. Alert all ships to set Condition 2 across the fleet.” A single ship, no matter the class, would be little threat against the fleet as a whole, but if there was some kind of emergency deployment order or an attack warning, it would have them already leaning in the correct direction.
“Aye aye, Sir.”
With that, Yamamoto closed the line, and saw to getting a fresh uniform on. The timing of this interloper’s ‘visit’ was curious, since it was only an hour before the morning watches would report for duty. Ship time coincided with Navy time, which paid no attention to the time on various planets that might have rotation periods measured in hours or weeks and years that were just as varied. Navy time was based on Imperial Standard time, which was based on the time in Nova York, on Earth, where the Imperial Palace used to be. Any Navy ship should be on the same standard time, and transitions were nearly instantaneous, regardless of what a person’s mind told them, so why at this time of ‘day’?
Ten minutes later, he stepped onto the Flag Bridge of the Yamato. The normal bridge was where the Captain would be, preparing to fight his ship if it came to that. The Combat Information Center, buried deep in the heart of the ship, was where the XO was stationed. The ship could be flown and fought from CIC, which was why they separated the command officers like that, to keep the ship fighting should the bridge get hit. But both were focused on just the Yamato. The Flag Bridge was something else, filled with viewscreens and tactical readouts, the space was what some entertainment shows would call a ‘war room’ for Eighth Fleet, and was geared towards helping the Admiral command and control the fleet as a whole.
Looking at the tactical screens, Yamamoto easily identified the fleet displayed in their formation near Ban Thera V, known as Bragua by the locals, moving into a simple battle formation. The shape of the formation wasn’t too important, just that the formation changed the position the ships were in. With the revelation of ships using kinetics against Fleet ships and installations, Yamamoto had issued an order for Eighth Fleet that no ship was to remain on the same position or track for more than four hours at a time. He would have liked for constant motion, but that was impractical over the long term. The wear on ships and crews would be insufferable. But at least he could limit the usefulness of any potential ‘snipers’ by making them have to approach closer to get useful targeting data. Maybe then he’d be able to spot and kill them before they ripped through our ship like a bear tearing through a deer.
Commander Fitzroy, his aide, looked up from the tablet he was holding, and said, “All ships reporting Condition 2. No sign of hostile action from the unknown. Preliminary IFF signal indicates that this is the INS Abcissa, attached to Naval Intelligence. No records of any such ship on file.”
Yamamoto shook his head. “There wouldn’t be, if they were Naval Intelligence. Have they sent the proper authorization codes?” Fitzroy was a recent addition to his staff, a member of this new religious order that the Emperor had created as a way to help mold the Empire in his image. Frankly, the man was a zealot, and something about him disquieted the Admiral. More than the solid blue eyes, at least. And more and more of them were starting to pop up throughout the fleet.
“Yes, sir. It is an older code, but it checks out.”
Yamamoto nodded. “Very well, what does Naval Intelligence want with us today?”
Fitzroy looked annoyed at that. “I don’t know, sir. Their Captain only responded to hails by saying he was under orders to speak to you, and you alone. And the orders from Command he sent simply said that you were to repair aboard the Abcissa for a classified briefing. He said his code clearance was ‘Handsome Swordsman’. I’ve never heard of a code clearance like that.”
Ice water ran through Yamamoto’s veins. Of course a Commander like Fitzroy wouldn’t have heard of Handsome Swordsman! That code clearance was not known to anyone below flag rank except for the captains of superdreadnoughts. Not even the Emperor or his staff knew about Handsome Swordsman, to ensure deniability, should the existence of the code ever be leaked to the public. This was, after all, the code used when one was preparing to use biological weapons to end a particular threat, or (rarely) in the acquisition of new biological weapons for use or study. Sending an asteroid to impact a planet with mass drivers, or even using nuclear or chemical weapons was one thing, but unleashing a plague? That was an order he had hoped never to come to him.
“Prepare my shuttle. I’ll head over at once.”
An hour after that, Yamamoto, with Fitzroy behind him, was stepping off his shuttle in the bay of the Abcissa. The uniforms of most of the people in the bay were correct, but the group of six in front of him as he exited the ship were most certainly not in proper uniforms, not even for Naval Intelligence. They were dressed like a special operations team, but not one the Navy would have. For one thing, one of them had clear non-human modifications, making her look like some kind of knelfi catgirl.
Yamamoto stopped at the foot of the shuttle’s ramp, and waited for the commander of this group to introduce himself. Instead, he was surprised to see the man immediately raise his assault rifle, and place a three-round burst squarely in Fitzroy’s chest! Yamamoto turned to see his aid fall to the ground, and stiffened as he felt the man move past him, before putting another three-round burst through Fitzroy’s skull, just to make sure the job was done.
He looked around, slightly wild-eyed, and noticed that none of the other five people in black seemed concerned with the situation, and even the ‘normal’ crewmembers seemed to be avoiding paying attention to this area of the small hangar bay as they tended to the shuttle. And that’s when he noticed the artwork on the wall of the hangar. All Imperial ships had two pieces of artwork on the walls of their hangar bays. The first was the Imperial flag, bearing the crest of the royal family. That much was fine. The second was a picture of the ship’s crest, along with their name. That one, however, clearly identified this ship as the Jubilee, which he knew had been attached to Admiral Scheiner’s forces before Edena…
The man who had shot Fitzroy moved back in front, and nodded slightly to him. “Admiral, welcome aboard. I’m Commodore Mollen, and the Handsome Swordsman code was a fake. I’m sorry for the subterfuge, but we needed to make sure we could speak privately. I have a message for you from Empress Merida and Princess Sheila.”