Well, I said it was about ready- although you seem to have cursed my computer, it's been crashing all day. Obviously objecting to something, probably to the ghost of Darth Vader. Oh, and a new adventure in formatting. Is this better?
Hull 721, Arc the second, Chapter I
Corellia, the rough diamond of the core.
The five brothers, the aeon- old artificial bulk of centrepoint, and the glittering ring of orbitals around each world- not physically conjoined and solid like Kuat, more sensible, free floating, free flying.
In the Trojan positions either side of Corellia herself and the main construction yards, asteroids- raw materials hauled from thousands of light years away, about to be fed into the molecular furnaces of Corellian Engineering, from there to the yards that built for half the galaxy.
Typically, being the place that it was, there were skysurfers, flying ‘light sporting yachts’- starfighters in all but armament- in and out of the fringes of the asteroid fields. Stunting, taking silly risks, for the fun of it.
They were the first thing that caught Jorian Lennart’s eye.
I never did that, he thought wistfully, looking at them from the armoured bridge module of his million-times-heavier starship. Saved all my wildness and teenage rebellion up, studied well, went away from home to do a dull, worthy, deathly-serious degree at a dull, worthy, deathly-serious university.
And from there, he grinned remembering, what was bred in the bone came out in the bone, and he had developed into a potentially lethal practical joker. At least, potentially lethal to himself, so many of them having some sort of political sting and the senate guard having no known sense of humour.
Corellia had a reputation for breeding independent- minded men, rebels against authority, but the movies had got it wrong as usual. “ ‘What are you rebelling against?’ ‘Whadda ya got?’ “
It was a meaningful question. Nobody turns against the ways of their ancestors and the rather more immediate authority of their family for kicks, at least not for any length of time, not in a society thirty thousand years old.
There was the same old simple truth underneath it all; what happened when those independent minded men and women grew up, grew old, had children of their own? Became, in a word, Authority?
They tried, of course, to lay down the law. Project their lessons on to their descendants, shortcut the learning process- which the kids were of course too stiff necked to accept, setting out to carve their own way and make their own mistakes, and have the fun that went along with that for themselves.
It was the same eternity- old cycle of youth and age, fought out here with more sincerity and energy than most. Corellia was a more authoritarian place than it liked to admit to itself.
Those asteroid surfers would be almost all in their teens- as soon as one of them made a catastrophic mistake, the rest of them would be shocked into growing up, launched towards becoming the sort of solid citizen they were now busy rebelling against.
The handful that had made it a part of their identity, whose pride hinged on being able to pull off that sort of risk, would stay out and become the trader-pilots and, yes, smugglers Corellia was famous for.
The few who died in the process would have their names written up in the spacers’ cenotaph, the official last resting place of those whose only real grave was the stars.
Which reminds me, Lennart thought, I have to drop in on my brother. Have to see all the family. I hope there isn’t too much in the way of ceremonial- who am I kidding. There had better be time to go home, and if there isn’t, I can make it.
In my gut reaction to pomp and circumstance at least, Lennart decided, I am one of those sky- surfers writ large, a chancer and stuntman- who happens to be in charge of a destroyer in the Imperial Starfleet.
I wonder what the Diktat’s decided to make of it all? Native son made good, or Imperial lackey lurking back? I haven’t been home- no, back to my birthplace- in ten years.
I was just another fleet officer, then. One who had done well enough when he had had his moment, but had blotted his record and was languishing in what looked like being an exceeding long twilight of the career. Nobody special.
Now? Kriff, I hope they don’t make me out to be a hero, he thought. I’m not sure my ego could stand that sort of feeding- no, actually, it could, it’s the dark side I’m worried about.
Wouldn’t that be fun; losing it completely, firing up Betsey- the deliberately, mockingly absurd pet name he had decided to give to his lightsabre- and hacking the Diktat to pieces, all the while screaming something along the lines of ‘I claim this system in the name of the powers of darkness?’
Just better not let that happen. Although it would make superb holovision.
There was more than one ship; the convoy consisted of Black Prince leading, a heavy fleet tender transporting Fist, and the battered Admonisher bringing up the rear- she would be repaired and returned to service.
Probably have to be renamed though, too similar to an existing ship- and her computers fully reprogrammed, just in case.
Around them, the Corellian system was starting to react. The sector fleet was a throwback to the days of the republic, organisationally; in theory independent- a theory that Lennart, as an officer of the Imperial Starfleet, did not believe.
Officially they were not directly answerable to Coruscant, holding their own borders, promoting and assigning within their own ranks, and defending their own interests.
It was a fine and noble stand for independence, but during the Clone Wars, the same thing had happened to their fleet as had happened to Kuat’s- called up to Republic service, and all the then existing heavy metal had gone to fight the galactic wars.
Needless to say, it hadn’t been given back.
The Corellian navy was actually lightweight by most sector groups’ standards, dominated by the lower mid ranges- lean, efficient frigates and corvettes. Not many destroyers- what self respecting Corellian would be caught dead on the bridge of a Kuat product?
Well, me for a start, Lennart thought. Although I can pass on the dead part.
In theory, the local force had the numbers, and the speed and efficiency, to wolf- pack and take down much larger ships- and for a good four or five years, it had looked likely that it would have to.
Considering the number of disgruntled noises coming out of the Five Brothers, it seemed that one of the most likely tasks for the Imperial Starfleet in the mid-20s would be to ‘restore order’ in the Corellian Sector; Oversector Imperial Centre had gamed it out often, it had become one of their favourite sets of large scale exercises.
They had made sure enough Corellians in the Imperial fleet were involved for word to filter back, and while that had involved the occasional embarrassment, the sheer scale of the mismatch made Imperial victory inevitable.
That and the defensive nature of the campaign meant the local force couldn’t play hit and fade like the Alliance- had lost badly more than once trying to- they had to accept the battles that the Starfleet wanted to fight.
Lennart had been involved in two of those annual full- up exercises, once on the defence team and once as part of the attack. Being on defence, simulating the actions of the Corellian navy, had been easy, from a moral point of view anyway- a professional challenge, but a clean one.
Being one of the attackers had been an essay in sustained horror. Fencing and feinting towards burning worlds that he had kin on, exploiting his people’s traditions to destroy them.
The impact of it was that it wasn’t just a bell jar, no idle dance of theoretical capability; this might actually take place, the heavies of Imperial Centre might just do exactly that- flood in and reduce the dissident worlds to seas of magma.
He had asked himself what he was doing after every round, passed through a dark night of the soul- and of the stomach, considering what he was doing made him physically sick.
He had never quite managed to throw up over Indutiomarus Trachta- despite trying to on one occasion. Still, he had done the job, all the while hoping to the galactic spirit that there were enough Corellian spies around to take note and pass enough information back to develop meaningful countermeasures.
That incident aside, he had outwardly behaved like a loyal and effective Imperial officer, if a little wild on occasion. Three months later he had been back in command of a line destroyer.
There were a few system defence boats and platforms in amongst the sparkle of merchant drives, liners and freighters and tramps seemingly going every which way, and just reacting to three of His Majesty’s fleet.
Some heading towards them, and some heading away.
The yards themselves were as busy as ever, four main construction complexes visible on this side of the mainworld, the military yard they were bound for and three civilian, one fitting out a superliner and skeletons of four more large passenger ships, one turning out heavy freighters, one hordes of small bays for gunships, tramps and blockade runners.
Very convenient, Lennart thought looking from the military to the light-ship yard, predators and prey at the same waterhole.
‘Clarnich,’ he instructed the acting chief nav officer- Brenn was away commanding the passage crew on Admonisher; ‘broadcast the usual advisories, heavy unit requiring manoeuvre and engine danger space, military unit liable to manoeuvre without warning. Contact Coronet traffic control, get clearance for approach to the yards.
Guns, arm point defence. We are in the land of the boy racer, and even if there are no lurking rebel terrorists, Corellia has more than it’s fair share of space idiots.
I’d like to play tag with them, but I don’t think we have the fuel to spare, and it is just the sort of relaxation of the rules a crafty reb could use to play space kamikaze. Ions and tractors first response, weapons tight.’
‘Fine homecoming that would be.’ Wathavrah quipped. ‘Point defence armed, manned and weapons tight, LTL powered and manned, weapons safe. We could put on a firework display for them? I could fire a few main-battery flak bursts, make a light show.’
Perhaps not, the Diktat might object.’ Lennart decided. ‘They tend to get touchy about unplanned teraton range events, and, ah, I see the civilians are behaving entirely as I expected.’
The asteroid surfers were breaking off and heading towards the Imperial force, as well as four system defence gunships and a dozen civilian craft.
‘Repeat. Heavy vessels requiring engine danger space, military vessels liable to manoeuvre without warning.’ The automated hazard beacon must have been reaching them all but, like Corellians, they largely decided to ignore it.
Home, Lennart thought. I grew up and left home what, thirty years ago? Ever since, I’ve been conscious of the reputation, used it from time to time, added my own mite to it maybe- but never really felt that this was home any more.
That had been a desk, an office, really a starship bridge for better than half, and the better half at that, of my adult life. So how come this place plunges me so deep into the maudlin?
‘Com traffic from the surfers,’ Rythanor reported, ‘Congratulations, Go Corellia, some playing of anthems, a couple of rants- force- damned fascist bastard, that sort of thing- nothing unexpected.’
‘Record and filter, save anything witty and pass anything overtly treasonous to CorSec. And give me PA.’
Rythanor set up for that, then noticed ‘Hmm. That –1300 looks familiar, displaying engine spectra-‘
‘Sector jammers focus on and go to full power, alert system defence.’ Lennart snapped out.
‘Good call, skipper, target ID confirms the Falcon- I could reach him with LTL.’ Wathavrah said.
‘Accurately, at this range? You’d need heavy flak bursts, and there are too many innocents- well, we are where we are, too many of the only mildly guilty- in the way. No, just com him, signal “Nice try, Solo, but why did you let the Alliance send you in one of the most idiosyncratic ships in the galaxy to do a spy’s job? Start running.” ‘
Giving aid and comfort to the enemy? Advice, anyway- not that it was needed. The Falcon flipped end for end and accelerated outsystem, the police chasing but they didn’t have the vector. They couldn’t even get close.
As the pirate ship made transition, Rythanor asked his captain ‘A spy’s job, but what? Discredit us, how?’
‘Well, in their shoes- extend the thanks of the rebel alliance to us for helping remove a blot on their honour.’ Lennart said. ‘We never did make as much political capital out of the rRasfenoni business as we could have- mainly due to the notion that it would have done too much damage to the credibility of the sector group we’re trying to reorganise.’
‘Ah. They wouldn’t really be giving it away themselves, they’d be protecting that secret by setting things up so that any revelations from us would look like making stuff up to cover our collective backside. Put us in a position of being defensive and give them the chance to weave it all away as Imperial propaganda. Nasty, but elegant.’ Rythanor said.
‘Yes.’ Lennart sighed. ‘I’m surprised they got him to agree to do it. Actually, that might be less than charitable. There’s all sorts of other rebel business around here he could have been up to, to say nothing of uncustomed goods, it might just have been coincidence. Anything else interesting in the com traffic?’
‘Five proposals of marriage, four of them from women- and three of those are human. Give them each other’s addresses as usual? One call claiming to be from your mother, and one from your son in law.’ Rythanor reported.
‘That’s an interesting statement to make to a man with no known offspring.’ Lennart said, and felt the force pestering him, clamouring for his attention. What is it with mystic power and people’s sex lives, he grumbled to himself trying to ignore it.
‘Route them here, I’ll decide for myself whether we need to pass them on to CorSec.’ Lennart said.
‘Including the one from your mother?’
‘Especially the one from my mother.’ Lennart said, wishing that it really was a joke.
A son in law? If that was true, why had neither of the women involved ever got in touch with him? The mother, who? It was not impossible- in fact, he realised, he would be disappointed if it wasn’t true, not least in his sperm count.
The times in my career I’ve been most able to settle down are the times when I felt least like doing it, he rationalised to himself; and the high points when I’ve felt on top of the universe, ready to fill the galaxy with little miniature versions of me, I’ve been too busy rattling about it from one side to the other, physically impossible to settle down, he thought- and kicked himself mentally for cowardice.
He had made the decision to have his fun where he could find it, and square up and take responsibility if it ever came to that, but to date he hadn’t been asked to- whether that constituted good or bad luck, he didn’t know.
Son-in-law implied marriageable age, at least sixteen- he hoped so, anyway- which put the date of conception no later than early in his second year on the staff.
Oh kriff, he thought, please not that lunatic bender with Maxim Pyat. Galactic spirit, no. She could be any species.
It was probably nonsense, anyway- although there was another thought; now that he had been identified as a forcemonkey, the heritability of that, he could have been leaving little jedi scattered across the galaxy.
Most of the surfers and sightseers were fanning out for a flyby- a couple of local navy frigates moving closer to parallel; one blip was boring straight on in, even the rest of them were shouting at him.
‘Who’s that idiot who doesn’t know vector mechanics?’ Lennart highlighted it- as a potential kamikaze, gunnery were already on the case. ‘Lock PD ions on, and warn them off.’
‘That’s the one who claims to be your son in law.’ Rythanor said, bringing up a close image of the sporting spaceplane- looking like a demilitarised Lancet- burning ‘g’ on a collision course for Black Prince’s bridge.
‘Ionise it, slingshot it away and leave it for the cops.’ Lennart ordered, and fifteen ion cannon coned the unmanoeuvring small craft, paralysed it and the tractors flickered it clear. ‘If he’s too stupid to know how to match velocity, she’s better off without him.
Navigation, do we have approach path and docking clearance yet?’ The force was nagging at him that this was important; bugger off, he told it.
‘We have a ‘congratulations and welcome home, clear to bays 6, 7 and 8’ from the military division of the staryard, the Starfleet liaison office have found an uplink and are playing the Imperial march at us- badly- Systems Force Corellia are playing the national anthem, it’s not as if we were trying to lurk in, were we?’ Rythanor reported.
‘You reckon my chances of avoiding a press conference are low, then.’ Lennart said.
‘Skipper,’ Rythanor replied in the facetious tones that Lennart intended, ‘I wouldn’t give much for your chances of avoiding a parade.’
The first wave of asteroid surfers were passing around them now, the ones who had slowed down enough to actually eyeball the Imperial force; a collection of all sorts, half of them kitbashed, most of them rusty, a few sleek and obviously someone’s pride and joy.
One twitched, flash- rotated on it’s axis, Lennart started to snap out a warning, point defence were there ahead of him.
The manta-ray shaped skysurfer caught a burst of ion fire, one of the paralysing bolts hit and detonated the bomb it was just in the act of releasing. The paint bomb.
There was a huge red splurge and a cloud of microcapsules which drifted past the destroyer, as the manta tumbled away, splashed in colour and unable to manoeuvre, with all his friends laughing at him.
‘Is this normal?’ Clarnich asked. ‘Nearly rammed, paint bombed, half deafened- is this what it’s usually like in this system?’
‘No, this is relatively tame.’ Lennart said. ‘Normally they shoot at you. Do you think it’s too late for engineering to run me up a transparisteel umbrella?’
‘Is there really that little difference between the authorities welcoming home one of their native sons, and the random punks and thugs of the system challenging authority?’ Ntevi, from the pit, asked.
‘Personally, I’m not too sure I don’t prefer the punks. Given the choice between the whole rah-rah bit and being invited to tea and scrutineering by the ubiqtorate, there’s actually not that much in it.’ Lennart said.
‘Besides, anyone with half an eye can look over the outer hull and realise I’m not hung up on appearances. I reckon there’s some chance that paint bomber was actually an agent of the Starfleet trying to smarten us up a bit. Has the revised work schedule come in from corellian engineering yet?’
‘Searching- yes, no surprises, eighty days as expected.’ Rythanor reported.
‘Good.’ Lennart said. ‘Give me PA again- you did have the sense to turn it off in the meantime, didn’t you?’
Rythanor had, limiting the source of rumour to normal eavesdropping; briefly he thought of pretending that he hadn’t. ‘Aye, skipper.’ Brief speaker hiss, then he was on.
‘All hands, this is the Captain. We will be going into dock in Bay Six, Corellian Engineering’s military yard one, for an eighty- day major refit and partial rebuild. This shouldn’t be news to you, but at least it is official confirmation.
Some of the cadre will be required to stay with the ship through refit and track the changes, but extended leave will be available to most of you - and the bounties have come through. So much for the good news.
‘Everyone who was paying attention should realise just how controversial some of the things we- specifically, I- had to do towards the end of the battle of Ord Corban were.
I expect to catch a fair amount of heat for that, and you may get a certain amount of unwelcome attention from government and other agencies.
Keep your heads, contact the ship if you get into trouble, and if worst comes to worst remember your training in escape and evasion. That is an extreme case and it shouldn’t happen.’
If it did, they would be on their own. That was the scary part. There would be a general round of promotions and reassignments, and that included the usual attempts by other ships and commands to poach good men and unload useless fools onto them.
If he was joking about it, ‘worst come to worst’ could mean just that- on the fly reassignment, being drafted into other commands, and on previous refits he had passed out what were effectively guides to desertion, for the purpose of avoiding having men shanghaied.
It was a good test of a junior officer to send them on a retrieval run; see how well they could handle responsibility.
‘Rather more probably,’ he continued, hoping that was true, ‘you have the price of the facilities of a forward base station shared out among you. The traders, chancers, joygirls and gamblers of the system are going to be very eager to transfer that money from your accounts to theirs, they are unpleasantly good at it. And that’s when they’re trying to be legal.
If I was feeling especially patriotic I’d advise you to take your leave here and help boost the local economy- but I’m fairly sure it would end up with the cadre having to pay off the debts of enough of you to have the manpower to break the rest out of jail.
I have to admit, my gut instinct is saying ‘retain a skeleton crew close enough at hand to get the ship underway and out of trouble if need be’, but I’m fairly sure that’s just paranoia talking.’
Depending on how this goes, we might all end up working for the Alliance for a credit a day. At least, they might. I should be so lucky.
There were good reasons for coming here- not least that it would be easy for them to disappear if it came to that. Damn Adannan- being on the dark side, he probably already was- for setting that situation up.
Perhaps that was the psychological key. Anger- chiefly with the dark acolyte, now a small puff of vapour amongst many, many others around Ord Corban. It was the way of the dark side.
It would probably be acceptable to the dark side. He wasn’t sure he wanted that. Was there an alternative? What kind of being unacceptable to the slithering thugs- if any- was compatible with continued survival?
No, excessive pessimism there. He only had to be unacceptable to the body they sent to interview him. That could range from bribery- probably would, Lennart thought, considering he was now known to have more cash than was likely to be good for him- through lies to more physical violence. Have to play it by ear.
Normally, something like this would be handled by the local sector governor- and it was also the local sector fleet who were supposed to countersign any sort of release order and enforce stop-loss. Another excellent reason for coming to Corellia.
‘I see that some of you have put in your notice;’ he continued, ‘thinking that you’re as well off now as you’re ever likely to be- especially after staying any length of time in this system- and why skivvy your life away in the bowels of a fleet destroyer, especially as we’ll probably never make a score like that again?
We’ve won a battle, maybe even a major battle, but the war isn’t over yet, and there are a lot of rebels still to go through- I can’t promise that again, but this is not the ship and you are not the crew to stay out of action for long.
For those of you who are choosing to retire, your divisional officers will already have gone through all the are- you- sure speech, and I’ll be sorry to lose most of you, but you just know that an able or leading spaceman with an investment portfolio, their mind will not be on the job.
Corellia’s a good place to go home from, thick web of transport routes, but when you do return to civilian life- and this also goes for the majority of you who will be back- I want you to remember where you’ve been and what you’ve done.
I don’t think there is a ship in the fleet with our proven record of beating the odds and achieving the impossible. We may only be a destroyer, but I don’t believe there’s a ship in the galaxy that can touch us in an open, running fight.
We have a claim to being not merely among the best, but the best of the best, the absolute class of the galaxy.
When you’re back in low energy life, under an atmosphere somewhere, remember what it takes and what it feels like to be that good. And try not to bore everyone stupid with too many no-dreck stories down the pub. Captain out.’
He shut off the PA, and turned to the bridge team; ‘I’d prefer to do promotions and reassignments at the start of the refit period, give the chosen a chance to get used to the idea and prepare for their new jobs.
The really critical issues are with the cadre anyway, there are a few holes that need to be filled- the starfighter corps line of succession is clear enough, no issues there. The biggest problem’s the executive officer slot. The elephant in the org chart. I’m not sure it would actually constitute a promotion; or an advantage, considering what happened to the last two occupants.’
Wathavrah and Rythanor were the two who that was chiefly directed to, and they were also his first- refusal candidates.
‘Not the nav?’ Rythanor asked, puzzled by why the heir-apparent was being cut out of the loop, then working it out for himself.
‘Wrong personality type.’ Lennart explained anyway. ‘If I thought he needed more grooming for command, I’d let him sweat the job for a few months, but I reckon he’s about ready anyway. You’re next in line of seniority.’ He said to both of them.
The sensors and signals officer’s gut reaction was ‘screw that’; the gunnery officer’s ‘screw that- with extra spangles’. They were both visibly thinking about it, but that was the first response, and Lennart couldn’t really blame them.
From a potential exec’s point of view, he would be a lousy boss.
When he had held the responsibility himself, he had been an extremely awkward junior- grabbing at every responsibility that came his way whether it was supposed to be his or not. He tended to reach downwards now, do as much of the exec’s job himself as he could find time for- perhaps bewaring the same. Also, there was the Force to worry about now.
In theory, the executive officer’s department was personnel and administration; he controlled the deck division, responsible for all routine maintenance that fell beneath the notice of engineering, the administrative services of the ship including pay and welfare, and the regulatory branch who, unsurprisingly, enforced the regulations.
He was also the court of appeal for minor crimes, spacers who felt they hadn’t got a fair shake from their divisional officer, and the first point of justice for the major crimes of the enlisted- or all crimes committed by officers. In combat, with one of the two deputy chief engineers, his job was to manage damage control.
An executive officer who had more than ten spare minutes a day to draw breath wasn’t doing it right. It was a diverse, demanding and responsible job. The worst aspect was that it was also line of command, and the second most senior spot on the ship.
It was the exec who had to step up if, for instance, the force finally ate the captain’s brain- or the bridge module was blasted away. He had to be ready for that, which meant knowing tactics and shiphandling.
Most capable execs tended to rely increasingly on their divisional officers as they found their feet in the job, spending more of their own time on being ready to take command.
The incapable ones never learned to delegate, were constantly afraid of being caught out by their subordinates’ mistakes, hagrode the divisional officers; that created an atmosphere of fear and resentment that was a shortcut to an unhappy ship.
After himself, the next highest seniority on the ship was actually the chief engineer, and Lennart had thought about that just long enough to get a good laugh out of it, before utterly dismissing the thought of Gethrim Mirannon as exec. Examining the reasons why the dark- horse candidate was an appallingly bad idea was an education in itself.
Teaching spacemanship was the job of the deck division- not just the technicalities of lining up on parade and not unsealing your suit helmet until the little light goes green, all the minor facts and skills, but hammering the attitude into them.
Teaching them that there was a system behind the bull, that making them willing to learn, curing their attitude problems, demanding a standard from them that their colleagues and comrades could rely on and teaching them to do the same.
Not an easy task, when drawing from the diversity of an entire galaxy. No military force, not even space navies, existed in a vacuum. They all tended to take on the characteristics, sometimes in opposition, of the society they were drawn from.
Forging that enormous spread of attitudes and approaches into one high and coherent standard of professionalism, as when the various republic member state fleets integrated into the grand fleet of the republic, had been a problem. The loss of many ships could be attributed to failures of the crew.
This was not made easier by the rapid expansion of the Starfleet that had swamped the not-overly-large core of good petty and chief petty officers in a surge of fresh meat, and there was no guarantee that the second and third generation senior noncoms themselves knew it well enough to teach.
The clones had been no real help dealing with live born humans; although capable enough in themselves, they had never mastered the art of projection. They expected a much higher degree of enthusiasm and willingness to learn than they generally got, and were far too ready to write off a man who didn’t demonstrate those qualities as hopeless.
They were just geared wrongly to take up normal human material and turn it into fighting spacemen- too selfconsciously elite, too much the prima donna. Mirannon wasn’t that bad- but close.
He could reach down to the ignorant, but facetiously, not gently, and force help them if he had to tell them twice- also, he was not a fanatic for order. System, maybe, but that included improvisations, workarounds- adapting to chaos. Witness the reactor setup.
Knowing what to let go, and what to crack down on, was something the clones never had got the hang of. They were all hard line disciplinarians to the point where it was almost impossible for a live-born human crew to trust them.
Mirannon somehow managed to be an outlier at both ends of the spectrum. Practical jokes and mockings- Lennart suspected him of being the head of the editorial team for the ship’s newspaper, for one thing- but utterly task focused when he actually put his mind to it, and able to drive subordinates very hard in pursuit of the goal.
Between one extreme and the other, he would be a very uncomfortable boss and subordinate as an exec- so far out of step with the rest of the Starfleet that the human relationships of the job would be a limiting factor, he would be unable to develop his full intellectual potential for falling over his subordinates and superiors.
What he really needed was an immediate chain of command superior who was almost as mad as he was, but rather better at hiding it. Which, arguably, he had- the arguable part was whether it was really hidden, any more.
Strangely enough, he would probably make an excellent flag officer- it was a rank at which a certain amount of eccentricity was positively expected. If, and only if, he could somehow be levitated into it without passing through the awkwardness of exec, and the nightmare that would be his hypothetical time as a captain.
Well, that wasn’t the immediate problem. Consider Obral Wathavrah, guns, as a potential executive officer and eventually captain of something. He was in charge of the second largest department on the ship, and the one with the highest proportion of nutters.
He was used to dealing with problems like that- but would he stick up for the crew against their commanding officer? He was also used to Lennart’s micromanagement of the gunnery department.
I’m not that bad, Lennart thought, selfconsciously. Mini-management at worst. But the point stands. I don’t want somebody who will refuse an order; I do want someone who will argue with me about it enough to provide a tripwire, force me to reconsider any particularly off the wall ideas- which, with the force, there are likely to be more of.
Can “ob” do that? More’s the point, can he still do that after the first few times I’ve lost it, yelled at him and threatened to lightsabre his giblets out, Lennart thought. Probably- but not as well as I’d like.
Strangely enough, the abortive choice for the job, Mirhak-Ghulej, probably could. He had the hardness for that- although at the price of being terribly brittle. Which wasn’t a bad analogy. A crew could be seen as a sort of human alloy, requiring careful balancing to give the overall qualities it needed to do the job.
So what qualities did they need? More ductility? Harder edge? Less thermal conductivity? Hard to tell- it depended on what the future was going to be. Probably better someone from inside the ship, who could help them and hold them together.
And vice versa. Vasimir Mirhak-Ghulej, now headed out of the starfleet on a mental disability, had broken before he could be effectively blended into the mixture, before they could strengthen him.
It was possible to push the analogy even further by identifying the ‘rare earths’, the characters among the crew who were disproportionately responsible for setting the tone of the whole. Cormall, Aldrem and his madmen, Vilberksohn- but to what end? You couldn’t find a planet somewhere and mine more.
Ob Wathavrah would make a good exec for Brenn; probably not for an outsider, or less good at least if Lennart retained the command chair himself.
Rythanor? By comparison, his department was smaller, more intricate, and contained a higher proportion of loonies- as opposed to nutters; there definitely was a technical difference.
He could deal with the wilder, wierder elements of the crew, and probably do better at managing the captain’s temper tantrums. Kriff it, this is like having a wasting disease, Lennart thought. I can look ahead clearly enough now to see what sort of a hollow shell of a man I’m going to become.
Well, damn that. I will not use the force, I will not let it nibble at my head, I will not let it cost me my personality and my beliefs. Apart from all the other practical and sentimental advantages of being here, I can use this to draw strength from my roots.
Where’s Rythanor from, anyway? Core worlder, isn’t he- Kamparas, a nice quiet scenic place with archives, moderate to low population rising now, in view of the general galactic peace and quiet. Also a former jedi training camp. Did they get everywhere? Probably. Empire’ll have stripped it of anything meaningful, either way, long since.
There was a small running battle going on between the surfers and skyroamers and the smuggling interdiction division; from the fleet destroyer’s point of view, so minor as to be a non- event. Still not quite necessary to get the fighter screen out- local forces were doing a good, although not perfect, job.
It was Fist and Admonisher he was worried about. They had no non- lethal point defence, no way of fending off the fools and crazies short of blowing them up. Most of them were fortunately still playing games with Black Prince, ducking in and out of where they thought the effective range was.
There were a couple of light ships just paralleling them, freighters, starship spotters maybe- looked fairly harmless, which probably meant exactly the opposite. ‘Close scan them, slice them as well if you can.’ Lennart ordered.
‘Aye, sir- and I just found out what all the fuss was about, what Solo was probably doing here.’ Rythanor said. ‘General Crix Madine- stormtrooper corps special/destabilisation operations, apparently- just decided he was overpaid.’
‘So he decided to go and work for a credit a day? Here we are, tying down law enforcement, attracting attention, and I suspect affording the corellian navy an excellent excuse to do nothing at all to chase him down because, look, there was an imperial task force in the system, we thought it could have been safely left to them. Glorious.
Warm up the fighters, get Alpha through Epsilon out and pursue on Solo’s last known course- and advise Starfleet liaison, Fist and Admonisher. Was this an official communiqué or just random chatter you found out from?’ Lennart ordered, and asked Rythanor.
‘Unit-to-unit comms down on the planet, we’re intercepting. No official word been sent out yet, by anyone- Imperial command channels or Corellian. What we’re getting is from liaison between stormtrooper units and CorSec. Nobody knows each other’s protocols so it’s lightly coded or not coded at all. There were X-wings involved as well.’ Rythanor reported.
‘They’ll be rebel central command forces, for a job like this- their best. Warn the fighters not to engage at less than three to one odds in favour, when they are found get a nav fix and call in support. Picking off one or two of the Alliance elite would be good; managing to follow them home, though, that would probably constitute a strategic victory.’
The fighter group was preparing to move out anyway; for the time being, while the ship was beached, they would detach to sector command and operate as directed, in theory in defence of the ship- in practise they were supposed to be merged in with the units already there. Interchangeability, disposability.
An ordinary wing of six squadrons, /ln, /int and /sa, could easily be interchanged, but not the mix of types and roles Black Prince operated, not the ground force elements either- in practise, they had taken losses, and would spend most of the time taking in recruits and working back up to efficiency.
Five squadrons was not overkill; it was barely enough to get adequate force density through the search area. The Starwings had enough bulk to hold nav gear, they could plot their own sprint-and-drift sensor patterns. Not what they would be expecting, and they would be launching with empty missile systems, but they should be able to cope.
It was also enough to convince the last of the small craft- and a high proportion of the law- to scatter; there was one last attempt- someone dropping a glitter bomb in front of them. It detonated less than a hundred kilometres off the bow, and the fragments scintillated with a brilliant firework glare as they speckled off the shields.
‘My congratulations to the special effects team.’ Lennart said, dryly. ‘Well, they only got us once- anything else between us and the docking pylon? No, wait, active scan.’ Not a quiver from the force. So at least it was useless against humiliation.
Low power docking scanners revealed a large number of inert objects. ‘Tractors- send them…there.’ Lennart fingered the main bulk of the dockyard. It couldn’t possibly have been done, these things whatever they were couldn’t have been laid without Corellian Engineering’s connivance.
The collection of glitter bombs, flares, marker charges, sensor noisemakers and razzie pulsers splashed against the military dockyard, illuminating, disfiguring, highlighting.
‘That would have been a fine ‘gotcha’, if we had fallen for it…and in it’s own way, deeply worrying. If they’re prepared to trust my sense of humour that far, then- show me that confirmation.’ Lennart said.
Rythanor brought it up. Goran Caldor, yard manager. Masters in mechanical engineering, University of Coruscant, 13 rS. Corellian expat, fellow member of the comedy circle, dianoga fisherman, saboteur of security systems and general all round dangerous idiot. One of Lennart’s closest friends at university.
How he had managed to mature- or on the basis of that colourful ambush, failed to mature- into management material at one of the galaxy’s top staryards was anyone’s guess.
Actually, that was being ungenerous. He had a lot of internal drive that he needed to vent from time to time, that was all. Considering how hard he threw himself at his work, it wasn’t entirely surprising that on the rare occasions when he bounced he ended up going along with the wilder elements of the student political club.
In fact, it had been him who had been instrumental in their second most famous and dangerous prank; catching the dianoga that they shot, stuffed and draped over Senator Garm bel Iblis’ office chair, in his official suite in Republica Avenue, with a note pinned to it saying ‘a message from your constituents’.
‘You recognise the name?’ Wathavrah asked.
‘We shared a wanted poster once. I hope no-one got hurt by that lot, it’d be just like him to calculate on the basis of impacting on a destroyer hull. Helm, hold at the final marker, let Fist and Admonisher dock first, and give them a chance to de-dye the dignitaries.’ Lennart ordered.
What spectators were left were observing from a distance; no-one left to get in the way as the fleet tender manoeuvred slowly alongside the arms of the work bay, released the battered destroyer for the grapples to lock on to. Admonisher moved in, slowly but under her own power.
Black Prince’s main ion engines coughed once, initial impulse, and the line destroyer coasted in- decelerating to a halt within the work bay on repulsors reacting off the planet below. Neat, efficient, precise.
‘Don’t shut down yet, we need to remain on internal power until the wing return. Connect the umbilicals but don’t switch them in.’ Lennart ordered, and added ‘helm, acknowledge docking, give me shoreside operations control.’
They did, and a familiar face appeared in the holotank. Long-headed, receding hairline and going bald on top but no question it was him. ‘Goran. Twenty-four years older, and not one second’s worth of common sense.’ Lennart grinned. ‘We didn’t splatter anybody important, did we?’
‘Jorian Lennart, you raving lunatic, good to see you. And by sheer dumb luck, no. Atmospheric failsafes anyway- none of them would have gone off if they had come in through a pressure curtain. You see, I did plan that far ahead.’ Caldor said.
‘If there’s any justice, they’ll make you clean that lot off personally. And it’s Captain of the Line Lunatic to you; kriff it, man, I have admirals to answer to who think a sense of humour’s some specialised mode of life form indicator technology. You cannot go around playing practical jokes on the Imperial Starfleet, most of us don’t take it that well- ah. Sitting on your right.’ Lennart guessed. ‘Five red and one gold squares. Vice or rear admiral.’
The point of view of the holocam moved back, showing more of the office, and a man- no, near- human- standing there. Dark blue-black hair, piercing red eyes, blue skin. Lennart knew him by reputation, one of the rising stars of the Imperial fleet, and a tremendous irritation to those who already held senior rank.
Mithh’raw’nuruodo. Rear-Admiral, unattached to any fixed command. Centre’s roving hatchet man, in other words.
‘Interesting personnel management technique you have there, Admiral.’ Lennart got in the first move- seizing the initiative, in effect. ‘Letting something that absurd happen, and seeing what sort of fool I manage to make of myself.’
He was also stalling, racking his brains for what he could remember about the near- human. His record on exercise was enviable, but what real combat had he seen? The odd unusually literal blue on blue, and special operations- including command of the task force assigned to support and babysit one of the chief theocrats of Palpatine’s court?
‘The situation intrigued me.’ The rear admiral said, coolly. ‘One so rarely sees industrial scale abstract art in this day and age- it is an obsolete fashion- and created in unconscious and accidental collaboration between men who have not seen each other in twenty years. I believed it would be most revealing about the reflexive modes of the Corellian psyche.’
‘You were more worried about that than the fact that I scrambled five fighter squadrons?’ Lennart asked. ‘You are aware of the tendency in the Corellian psyche to produce renegades, chancers, and these days Rebels? There’s been an abduction, possibly actually a defection, I sent the fighters in pursuit.’
‘No, I was not aware of that, I was preoccupied with your file. As an exercise in creative literature it has several interesting aspects which I shall require an explanation from you for.’ Thrawn said, and Lennart refused to rise to the bait. ‘The situation?’
‘Stormtrooper general, Madine, escaping- on the Millennium Falcon, no less. No official notification. My guess,’ Lennart said, reckoning that the admiral would not respect a straightforward yessir-nosir performance and also deciding to throw a test question, ‘is that the local forces tried to stop them, failed, and are currently keeping schtumm while they decide the least embarrassing way to admit it.
We discovered the situation from sideband chatter between ground units, and from direct sensor observation. I decided that my primary responsibility was still to the two damaged ships we were escorting into dock- but that we could spare the long range fighters. Creative literature?’
‘Of course.’ Thrawn said, steepling his fingers. ‘You have just told me that you are eminently familiar with the concept of Imperial officers self- defensively lying to their superiors, and that you expect your own superiors to be hidebound, humourless and lacking in compassion and understanding.
It does not demand a monster of perspicacity to add those two facts together and realise that your own reports to higher authority may be less than complete. You will report to me in dockyard operations control at once.’