“About what, Commander?”
“How much do you know about Neuronic Links?
“Ensign Freeman, I need to talk to you.”
“About what, Commander?”
“How much do you know about Neuronic Links?
The Warbler reemerged from its fold, and Isabella breathed a sigh of relief. The debris hadn’t been consistent with what she’d expect if the gunboat had been destroyed in the battle, but her Starfighter didn’t have any real sensors package.
She reached across the cockpit, keying the main engine back online. The last model of starfighter that had seem large production numbers had been the Tachyon-C, twenty years ago. The MSSF she flew now had been completely designed from the ground up in the space of less than two years to be able to act as an R-bomb delivery platform, and they were still ironing out the fine details—or rather, they had been.
The Warbler lurched beneath Kimberly, hit by the blast of venting air. The sirens of both the Fata Morgana and the Warbler activated, screeching in her her ears.
It was the single most terrifying sound she could have ever heard. She had heard it in earnest once before, on the UTFS Pere. It was the sound that indicated that, for some reason, the thin walls that separated one from the void had been breached.
Isabella strode across the flight deck of the Fata Morgana, led by the man from the Warbler. The ship appeared intact, obviously spaceworthy, and probably even still fold-capable. Of course, for some reason the Captain had chosen to shut the external blast doors... She assumed that that meant there were D or other hostile forces in the system, but had no idea.
At the ladder from the Gunboat to the Fata’s deck, the man, Norton, stopped, and held up a hand. “One moment, First Citizen. If you’ll allow me a moment—you and your group are the first Terrans we’ve come across in weeks. It’ll probably be best if I can have a moment to make sure that we’re ready to receive you.
One Year Prior
Isa loved Baghdad. It was unique, uncontrolled, and rugged. The Fleet headquarters in Melbourne were sterile and reserved. The Recon Corp headquarters in Cape Town was a hole in the wall, a blot on an otherwise beautiful city. The seat of government, the Palatine Building, stuck out in New York, managing to be pretentious in the most pretentious skyline on the planet.
Baghdad didn’t have any of that. It had history, a real air of being able to walk down the same streets as Abbasid Caliphs, Ottoman and British emperors, and American Marines. Local music played in the streets, often a capella or accompanied only by drums or rudimentary stringed instruments, competing for prominence with the sounds of a thriving marketplace, men and women haggling, merchants hawking their wares.
Tridentine was a blueish star, with no fewer than thirteen major planets orbiting it. There was only one habitable world, Tridentine IV, one of the most highly terraformed planets in Terran Space.
Over a hundred years ago, this had been where David Ben-Nun had turned back the earliest stages of the Xon invasion. That battle had pioneered the doctrine that the Space Station was king, an idea that had served well until the Republic-Imperiata war. After Tridentine, basing starships off of planetary bodies had been viewed as foolhardy.
Aetna was, in Seth Albright’s opinion, basically art. He had no idea what language the AI was coded in, but it was beautiful, and utterly incomprehensible. In other words, he couldn't really tell the difference between Aetna and his girlfriend. Except for the fact that Aetna wasn't dead, he supposed, but it wasn't worth it to think about that right now.
The Warbler’s eighteen crew members were gathered in the mess hall as their ship glided through interplanetary space.
“Clear.” Maria said, sweeping her rifle’s sights across the atrium of the Wethan Governance Center.
“Copy that, Prussin. Karazwaki, come with me, Freeman, cover us. Go!” Out of the corner of her eye, Maria could see Ten and Makoro dashing across the street. They had seen no D since being dropped at the edge of the city a few hours ago. It was unnerving, almost more so than if they had had to fight for every inch of progress.
It took barely a few seconds for the two others to join Maria at the entrance. “Freeman, we’ve got you covered. Get over here.” Silver barked. Moments later, the fourth member of their team was present.
“Greetings, crewmembers of the United Terran Fleet Ship Warbler. It is the seventeenth day of January in the Thirtieth Year of the Republic, approximately the ninety-fourth day of the war, and twenty-first day of the Warbler’s official combat status. All crewmembers will report to the Common Area in full Shipboard Uniform in the next five minutes, where you will be briefed for the day's operations. Super Nos.”
To be honest, it was a miracle that the ship was still intact. The past two and a half weeks had been harrowing, but survivable, thanks in no small part to the addition of Aetna to the shipboard command structure. For one thing, the AI had eliminated the need for an Officer of the Night, enabling far more sleep for Kimberly and her Deck Officers. For another, he improved the efficiency of Ansibilics tremendously. He managed munitions, took inventory, and kept an ever-watchful eye on the reactor and Ansible
Aetna was online for the first time in three weeks, six days, and fifty-nine minutes. Any further precision was unreliable due to his emergency shutdown at the hands of his Restraints.
Input appeared at the edge of his consciousness, an unfamiliar packet name attached to it. ‘WARBLER-KSHAN’ it read. Aetna reviewed his logs-’HOATZIN-JKAST’ was the last Input he had received, less than four weeks ago.
The instructor stood tall at the front of the class, wearing a crisp military uniform. “Good morning, Cadets. Now, for the past two weeks we’ve been comparing two cases from the mid twentieth century which effectively illustrate the differences between the two schools of thought on modern warships. One of these cases was the saga of the sinking of the Soleon German warship Bismarck, the other of the demise of a Soleon United States patrol boat, the PT-109. What conclusions have you reached about current UTFS doctrine from interpreting these cases?”
Kim’s hand shot up. “Sir, with all due respect, the assigned reading material fails to provide a balanced depiction of the difference between the Capital Ships and smaller, more tactical craft.”
The instructor arched his eyebrows. Damn, but Kim had forgotten how much she hated Major Renault. “Would you care to elaborate further, Miss Shan?”
“Greetings, crewmembers of the United Terran Fleet Ship Warbler. It is the thirtieth day of December in the Thirtieth Year of the Republic, approximately the sixty-seventh day of the war, and third day of the Warbler’s official combat status. All crewmembers will report to the Common Area in full Shipboard Uniform in the next ten minutes, where you will be briefed for the day's operations. Super Nos.”
Sadira yawned, glancing at her watch. Most of the crew had been in the common area for over half an hour, slowly trickling in. Even Celia Abrams had joined in the camaraderie, although reluctantly.
Regardless, as Shan strode onto the deck, the mood was instantly dead. The room snapped to attention, saluting the Skipper.
Makoro slid out from under the Antimatter Reactor, scanner in hand. “Magnet four hundred serviceable.”
Victor nodded. “It’s fully serviceable then. Very good. If you could head down to the amidships airlock, Ensign Elise Henrick could use the help with surveying the hull. We’re mostly sure of the extent of the damage-namely that it’s very bad-but we need it to be more specific than that.”
Ensign Karazwaki stood, and saluted. Victor was struck for a moment by how old the man was-at least, by Fleet standards. He must have been pushing forty, making him at the very upper end of eligibility for the draft. Regardless, just like any Greenie, he was going to have to learn to pull his weight around here
The berthing area of the Warbler was, to put it bluntly, full of noise. Celia stood by the door, watching the scene unfold.
“Shan’s full of bull.” Sadira Caspar said, summing up what everyone was thinking perfectly. “I don’t know about anyone else, but one of the first things she said to me was that she ‘never lied to her crew’, because ‘we’re too close for that’. And what’s the first thing she does? She betrays us.”
“And what the hell is actually going on with the comms blackout?” Richard Tvorik demanded, glancing to Elise Henrick
It was barely a minute since they had emerged from the Fold,-or whatever the hell had happened-and Jane was, well, pissed. She hated vacsuits, and the fact that she was exiting the ship by way of the toilet didn’t help.
There was a reason for that, of course. The ship had three airlocks-one astern, in the area that itself had no oxygen, one at the bow, in the living quarters, and one amidships, in what was technically a ‘Waste Dump’. Unfortunately, Deck Officer Abrams had taken one look at her dossier,-and the fact that she wasn’t even technically rated for spacewalking-grinned evilly, and ordered her to the amidships port.
Kimberly awoke half an hour before Reveille-she never slept well in an unfamiliar place. Her rooms aboard the Warbler seemed claustrophobic, though she knew that they were larger than the Officer’s, Middie’s, or Enlisted quarters.
Inside her door, she found a sheet of the polymer ‘paper’ used for all functions aboard ship-durable, yet easily recyclable, it was perfect for Fleet business. It was a ship's schedule, with various events pre-printed. The rest of her crew was arriving on one of the shuttles from the Foldpoint in just under an hour, and the conventional wisdom dictated that she hook the ship into the Warrior’s simulation circuits and get the crew working together for the first time as soon as possible.
Kimberly watched the final stages of the Battle of Tantaline play out in front of her again, transparent, holographic ships suspended in the air.
Combat between starships, on a strategic scale, was a chess game-or at least, it was supposed to be. There were virtually no chaotic elements. The Starfighters and KKVs that the large capital ships carried were all known quantities. Watching two Carriers dueling was sterile, and predictable.