Star Force HQ
Key West, Sovereignty Core Territories
Key West. A lush and verdant world, and in many aspects the diametric opposite of faraway Solaris. It was a place of palm trees and coral reefs, subtropical temperatures, cocktails and azure blue seas. There were dolphins in those seas, and tanned girls in tiny bikinis on the pristinely white beaches. A long line of planetary governors elected from the Technocratic Radical party had forced all chemical and heavy manufacturing industry into orbit, and had enacted planet-wide ecological protection programs that had resulted in incessant whining from the megacorps, but also in an environment that looked positively paradisical compared to Solaris, Kerenkov or Shin-Hokkaido. The skies were blue, the weather was pleasant, the seas were clean and teeming with life, and in all of human memory the planet hadn't suffered a single case of acid rain.
It seemed, then, a hippie paradise, no doubt full of Green Galaxy nutters with beards and agendas to turn the entire damned universe into a set of gardens. But it wasn't. Or rather, parts of it were, but Key West was also the headquarters of the United Solarian Star Force, and so for every nut you saw in the street wearing an ecologically neutral woollen hat or some shit you'd see three or more forcemen in the navy blue uniform of the USSF.
The headquarters itself was located in the middle of Largo, a medium-size city on an atoll some three hundred miles from the capitol, and connected to the rest of the planet via an overseas maglev monorail. USSF personnel made up an overwhelming majority of Largo's populace, owing not just to the location of the HQ, but also the fleet anchor in geosynchronous orbit above it, the officer college and the subsurface training academy located on the outskirts of town (underneath the waves in case of the latter), one of the primary planetary shield nodes located next to the HQ, a number of aerospacefields scattered around the city and other operations closely associated with the USSF.
USSF HQ itself was a prime example of post-ornate neo-Mediterranean architecture, a warren of towers and balconeys, promenades and platforms rising up from the seaside shore. It was easily the largest building on Largo and visible from miles around, a proud testament to the might (and monetary resources) of Star Force.
Currently though, few of the people in the building had any eye for the stunning weather, the seas or the beaches. Rather they were occupied with the data-feeds streamed directly to the HQ from the taskforce assembled (or rather, assembling) at Shin-Hokkaido.
“Byzantine fleet elements are forming up along the Kadena-Yomitan phase line. The Lord Admiral reports all systems nominal.”
“Brigadier Stalin is in position, and has assumed nominal control of the 31st, 101st, 3031st and 93rd as well as the 68th Interplanetary Control Groups. USSF assets in-system now approaching the 15,000 megatonnage boundary.”
“The Executive Decisions fleet element has arrived. We are still awaiting the arrival of the Klavostani contingent.”
“Warmaster Tregio of the Ascendancy reports that the Nightfall Overfleet has entered the Charleston Strait. They should be on the scene in thirty-nine minutes.”
“Anything from the Holy Empire?”
“Still no word... Hold on, we're receiving a priority transmission. Sir, the Empire is sending a sixty-two ship flotilla to aid in our defence!”
And then, finally, the high word. “Bogey contingent is entering the system, heading 045 Mark 266. They should hit the outer-shelf transition point in three... two... one... They're here.”
The vast hologrammatic holotank that dominated the room filled up with the massive dark shapes of the Collector monolith, a sight amplified in the minds of the people watching through the myriad data-feeds that were relayed directly into their neural implants. The Collector ships were massive, foreboding vessels, and known to be immensely powerful, but arraigned before them was what was arguably the largest and most powerful human fleet assembled in recent history. 40,000 standard Solarian megatons worth of warships, with another 10,000 on imminent approach, plus the system's own not-inconsiderable defences were pointed at those two ships and their escorts.
General Magnum Makepeace, supreme human commander of the United Solarian Star Force, watched intently as the red dots representing the Collector ships emerged from hyperspace, right in front of his wall of battle. It was an impressive wall, he knew, one the likes of which hadn't been by this galaxy in a very long time indeed. Part of him was fairly certain that if this situation turned to shooting, he'd come out the triumphant victor. But that was easy for him to say; he was after all more than fifty light years away from the battle itself. The general didn't allow himself to forget the vast sacrifice in resources and blood that would have to be made to bring down two Collector monoliths – not just by the Sovereignty, but also by its allies. Any victory today would be a costly one indeed, one that would cripple the navies of more than one nation for a very long time. He never ceased to acknowledge that simple fact (and indeed he couldn't, seeing as his Replicant mind was programmed not to).
On the other side of the circular holotank sat someone who was clearly not as impressed by the impending abattoir. The face of president Victoria Sinclair was split by an almost feral grin. “Oh, we have them now. They'll rue this day for a thousand years. They're going to get owned
“I would remind you,” the voice of Olympic was, as ever, calm and filled with derision. “That the capabilities of Collector monoliths are largely unknown. The last time a human armada faced one of these vessels, it got – to borrow some Orky parlance – 'carved up but good'. What we appear to be facing is two vessels of the same class. No-one's ever faced two monoliths before... Or if they did they didn't live to tell the tale. We are treading new ground here.”
“The Pendleton engagement was fought by lilly-livered pacifists,” President Sinclair snorted derisively. “And they got caught by surprise, too. But that's not us. We came prepared, and this time these goddamn robots will have to play by Koprulu Zone Rules.”
The hologram representing 'Major' Tom Dangerzone tapped his hologrammatic fingers on the desk. “That may be so,” he dawdled. “But at the same time the Group would prefer not to lose its ships if we can in any way avoid it. They don't come cheap, you know.”
“You're not having second thoughts, do you?” asked the avatar of Brigadier Flash Stalin. The gruff man eyed the mercenary commander. “Don't make me move your ships to the front lines...”
“Christ Flash, don't get your panties in a bunch.” Dangerzone rolled his eyes behind his aviator sunglasses. “We'll fight all right, we'd just not prefer to go up against a total unknown. This'll get messy one way or the other – it's not just another case of volleyball with the Bragulans, you know?”
“Lord Solar Admiral Macaroth reports he has the Collectors in his sight and is requestion permission to charge and engage the, and I quote, 'unholy xenos scum',” reported the last person in the room. The Consensus was once again represented by a slowly revolving USSF logo. “The Byzantine ships appear to be forming up in Alpha Lance Strike formation.”
“Ever eager to go a-purgin',” Stalin said with no small amount of satisfaction. “I can respect that.”
General Makepeace scratched his chin. “That's all very well and good,” he frowned. “But why haven't the Collectors made a move? At Pendleton they didn't hesitate to get the killing started....”
“Maybe they're having second thoughts,” offered Sinclair.
Makepeace seemed about to respond to that, but this words died before he could utter them, because the Collectors chose just that moment to transmit a tightbeam message to the allied fleet. From it, it was instantly relayed to the HQ, where it came to dominate the hologrammatic screens.
Code: Select all
DIPLOMATIC UNIT ABOARD
MEETING REQUESTED WITH DECISION MAKING STRUCTURES
scared,” Sinclair sounded positively jubilant. “We have them pincered in, and their hyperdrives won't have had time to spool down. We can take them here!
“There is nothing to indicate that Collector hyperdrive spool-down time is similar to our own,” noted Olympic. “Your assumptions are baseless and specious.”
“That may be so,” Tom Dangerzone had narrowed his eyes. “But what's the last time a Collector ever tried to negotiate with anyone?”
“I can answer that for you,” Makepeace offered. “Never. It never happened before. Just like nobody ever had two monoliths show up just like this. It's like Olympic said: we're treading new ground. Who knows what these goddamn robots want?”
“I say they're just trying to buy time,” Flash Stalin was curt and to the point as ever. “They violated Sovereignty space, so I say we either tell them to get the fuck out of our system, or we blow them up right here, right now. I prefer the latter.”
“Jesus, it wouldn't hurt to talk to them before blowing them up, right?” Tom Dangerzone suddenly felt himself thrust into the position of being the (very nearly) sole voice of reason, a position he was unfamiliar and very much uncomfortable with. “Don't we have, like, people for this kind of situation? You know, like ambassadors and shit?”
“If they board one of those ships, they might be used as hostages,” Olympic pointed out. “And chances are we'd never see them again. Exceedingly few people have ever boarded a monolith and escaped to tell the tale.”
Dangerzone shrugged. “All that means is we need someone who's expendable, right?”
President Sinclair raised an eyebrow, as if struck by sudden inspiration. Then she smiled. “I think I've got just the guy.”
Geosynchronous orbit around Solaris
Sidney Leon Hank IV did a spit-take, spilling orange juice all over his exquisitely tailored pants. “They want me to what?”
“In your capacity as Ambassador Extraordinary at Large of the United Solarian Sovereignty,” Dionysus informed him. “They want you to talk to the Collectors. Find out what they want. Why they're here. What their purpose in life is. You know, that sort of thing.”
He paused for a second to absorb that information. Collectors. Fucking Collectors. They were perhaps the only polity that Sidney wasn't yet intimately familiar with in the entire goddamn galaxy, the only one he was even slightly wary of, and it was exactly these people they wanted him to talk to. Wasn't it great how life just kept throwing these shit cakes his way? He shook his head.“Fuck that noise, I'm not doing it. I've got a lunch to finish. With some rather exquisite toast and poached eggs no less.”
“I don't think President Sinclair will take that as a valid excuse,” Dionysus calmly pointed out. “Not when there's a Mexican standoff involving some sixty thousand megatons worth of warship going on. Besides,” the CI contemplated. “Perhaps you can take this moment to ask the Collectors about these strange messages we've been receiving.”
Sidney frowned and took a sip of his remaining orange juice. “You think the Collectors sent them?”
“I don't know, but it can't hurt to ask.”
He scowled. “Well, fine then, I'll meet a representative... But I'm not boarding a frickin' monolith. No way, no way in hell I'm getting on one of those things. I like this body too much to get bodysnatched by some random robot bozos. Tell them to arrange some sort of neutral meeting ground, and I'll do this stupid meet-and-greet.” He grumbled. “Goddamn Collectors. Why can't they just send a regular ambassador like anybody else?”
“Maybe they're just having fun,” Dionysus suggested. “You know, pushing our buttons, getting our proverbial panties in a twist like this?”
“So they might be galactic-scale pranksters sporting warships capable of reducing entire armadas of warships to molten slag, is what you're saying?” Sidney stood up. “Is that supposed to comfort me?”
“I suppose I can see the charm,” the CI replied with an verbal shrug.
“Yeah, I bet you can,” Sidney scowled again. He was doing that a lot these days, he noticed. “So, how am I supposed to get to Shin-Hokkaido in time?”
“The government has arranged for priority D-hole transit from the Solaris Stargate to the Tannhauser Gate. From there a high-speed hyperyacht will deliver you to Shin-Hokkaido. If you leave now, you can be there in under four hours.”
Sidney sighed. “There's really no way I'm getting out of this one, is there?”
“I don't think there is.”
“See it as an opportunity to meet new people,” the CI offered happily.
“Shut up,” growled Sidney. “And prep my shuttle for departure.”
EDIT: Modified for Shinn's most excellent contribution to the defence effort.