Hull no. 721 - a fanfic

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Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 23b

In the lift on the way to the bridge, Lennart was beeped again.

‘Skipper, we have a positive ID- it’s the Perseverance.’

An option came to mind, and he couldn’t resist. ‘Plot me a Maximillian’s Doughnut, Mr Brenn.’

‘Sir, are you sure that’s a good idea?’ Brenn replied, but Lennart could hear him grin.

Rear-Admiral Maximillian Tentrada had invented the manoeuvre as an act of desperation during the Clone Wars; it amounted to playing leapfrog in hyperspace. As an incoming ship was detected, the plan was to plot a circular course in hyperspace, a low-energy ride to nowhere; and set it so that it touched very close to the inbound’s predicted emergence point. As in single digit kilometres separation.

Low energy translated into high speed, on the far side of c. The nav team had to be very skilled to plot it that fast, supremely skilled to call it that close- or else every god who ever was had to decide to smile on them all at once.

Tentrada had been cornered, in command of an ad hoc group of damaged ships being sent back from the outer rim sieges to Gyndine for repair; several of them were under tow or on emergency backup drive, they had dropped into real space for running repairs and two pursuing Lucrehulks had made an attack run. The flagship, RSS Yalchuriem, was the only destroyer in full fighting order, and he came up with the plan to buy the rest of his charges time to flee. According to the stories, he had his bay doors open and the fighter wing hovering within ready to add their guns as well when they came out of hyperspace.

It worked. Torpedoes, capital and fighter, cranked out as fast as the targeters would cycle them, main guns fired until they glowed white-hot, into the stern of the lead Lucrehulk from seven kilometres initial range.

The strike leader was left drifting away, crippled and burning, most of her drive and power generation blown out, when the second turned on Tentrada.

Then-Senior Lieutenant and Navigation officer Jorian Lennart had been on one of the ships detached from Task Force Zalith- in transit to the outer rim- to reinforce the convoy. They had arrived to find a nearly burnt out Federation battleship, the mangled remains of a Venator, and a second Lucrehulk leaking air trying to chase down a scattered, fleeing force. The four-ship destroyer division managed to nail the Lucrehulk and recover enough survivors from the Yalchuriem to work out how it had been done.

Since then, Lennart had managed it only twice. Well, four times including the missed descent and the hyperdrive casualty. Even odds, and he was in the mood to push it a little. He arrived on the bridge just in time to hear Brenn say ‘Execute.’ and the viewscreens go to blue-white blur.

‘Under the circumstances, Commander, I think we might want to alter that to a less loaded term. Initiate, no, that would be even worse; Activate? Hmm. Never mind, we’ve done it now. Give me the sensor picture of the Perseverance.’

Largely computer-inferred, of course; the Perseverance was a Victory-III, a KDY redesign of the Rendili light destroyer. Most of them had been built by Rendili, and they had served as escort/counterparts for the Venator class usually, the first and only version of the 900m destroyer family that had speed worthy of the name.

They had been internally gutted to achieve that, kept at least the bow missile batteries that the Vic-II gave away and added more and heavier guns- similar main battery to the Venator, in fact. That did stretch the capacity of their hulls; they were a maintenance nightmare, their habitability poor and their endurance limited by mechanical breakdown.

In combat, they were valuable enough to be worth putting up with, but in time of relative peace most sector fleets kept them as reserve. Perseverance’s energy state was shaping up for a drop point half a million kilometres off Ghorn II; cautious, but not cautious enough.

They could make a rough guess at her velocity from her energy state, and a more accurate one from the operations manual.

Dordd’s Arrogant-class had been left minding the battlefield; Perseverance would turn towards her. Lennart was counting on it.

Down in the pit, the link-man to Engineering was frantically trying to attract his attention; Lennart was ignoring him. It would be Mirannon objecting, he could already tell that much. Then again- ‘Is that Commander Mirannon calling to ask me what the kriff I think I’m doing, or is it something else?’ Just in case.

‘Ah, yes sir, it is the Commander.’

‘Tell him we’re showing off; he’ll understand.’

The Perseverance dropped out of hyperspace; ran an active scan.

‘Captain? One contact and…three, no five, no, yes five destroyed ships. Wait, one of them’s a station, no Rebels, the contact in one piece authenticates as Imperial, and- Kriff what’s that?’

On Black Prince’s bridge, they faded through after transition- emerged low and slightly to port, ninety kilometres off. Point blank. Near perfect. ‘Guns, we are tango’ing a friendly vessel. Weapons safe; OMFCS- bridge target, converged sequential volley, shoot.’

Perseverance’s EW systems screamed as targeting sensor pulses lashed into her; sixty HTL guide beams in rapid sequence, tenth of a second between each, all on the same spot low between the engine bells. More than enough to overload her shielding and rupture the reactor, if they had been real.

‘What happened?’ Perseverance’s captain screamed at his executive officer.

‘I don’t know, why aren’t we dead?’ the exec yelled at the sensors and signals officer in turn.

‘Battle stations, maximum thrust, signal for assistance, focus shields aft-‘ the captain gabbled; all right and appropriate things to do, but said in such a high pitched voice the bridge crew grasped one word in three. They got the part about engines; cold- starting and running immediately up to maximum output produced a characteristic flare- the unknown behind them sidestepped their ion wake as they raced away like a scalded pittin.

Perseverance,’ an authoritative and highly amused voice came over their bridge speakers, ‘This is Black Prince Actual. Consider that your official welcome to Objective Pursuit Squadron 851- Yod. Stand down.’

She kept moving for several seconds, before reducing engine output to one third and pitching to reverse course. The neat, compact destroyer ended facing and drifting backwards from the older Imperator, slowly cancelling her velocity.

Black Prince Actual, this is Perseverance Actual, Commander Stannis Lycarin.’ The light destroyer’s captain said, voice slightly calmer now- but still above normal. ‘What did you just do to us?’

A manoeuvre that was never officially forbidden because fleet command felt that anyone daft enough to attempt it, with all its attendant hazards, would be better removed from the gene pool. That would be the truth. Lennart decided not to mention it.

‘A subspecies of combat microjump. If we ever have to do it under active conditions, you will be taking your navigational data from us. Concerning data; prepare to receive a set of briefing documents, department command level and above eyes only- and transmit your statement of condition, ship’s log and personnel files to us. Captain of the Line Lennart Out.’

‘Captain?’ Lycarin’s exec asked, looking at the sprawling, patchwork-coloured Black Prince. ‘Do you think this detachment will be, ah, beneficial for our careers?’

‘I have heard of that ship.’ Lycarin said. ‘Half legend, half horror story. More than a hundred times her own tonnage accounted for. Wanders from sector to sector, barely accountable, always looking for another fight, another scalp. I feel as if we’ve just been ordered to take up formation on the Flying Ralltiiri.’

‘That bad?’ Perseverance’s exec asked.

‘Sealed datafiles received.’ A voice from the Pit- literally- said.

‘Staff conference.’ Lycarin announced. ‘Ready room, now. And scan around you. How many of the ships on your sensor picture survived their association with her?’

Someone else was distinctly unhappy at the thought of close cooperation with the veteran Destroyer. Fortunately, he knew Lennart well enough to express his doubts.

‘Captain Lennart? Captain Dordd, Dynamic. Are there orders for us?’

‘Yes, as a matter of fact there are- you’re technically under Sector Group Anacreon, aren’t you?’ Lennart replied.

‘Detached to transport Kor Adannan. You’re not seriously- give me a moment.’

Lennart could guess that that moment involved moving to his day cabin to avoid having his crew overhear. He was right.

‘Jorian-‘ Dordd hesitated.

‘It’s Captain of the Line now, so we’re still officially on last-name terms. To smenge with it. Let me guess- you don’t want your crew to know how much, or how little, confidence you have in them?’ Lennart suggested.

‘I was expecting to have at least three months to work them up to efficiency. I was expecting to need six. Captain, they’ve been coasting along in barren space, without any real threat, without any real oversight for that matter. I don’t want to have to say this, but I doubt we could take this ship into any but the most minor combat and come out well. They just don’t know how. They might rise to the occasion, but it would be moral cowardice to agree to bet their lives on it.’

‘I expected as much, but I’m glad you had the guts to say so.’ It had been bitterly embarrassing for Dordd to admit to, Lennart knew. ‘You left before- well. At this stage in the proceedings, I would rather have a ship of questionable efficiency commanded by a captain I can trust than an adequate standard under unknown loyalties.
'That, and at least your problems have conceptually easy solutions. I’ll transfer some of the cadre over to you to give you something to work with, help train your people up, but we have too much need to move fast to let you have that much time- besides, if we leave them out, it could damage your crew's confidence badly enough that you'll never work them up to any real standard.’ Lennart said.

‘I’d be lying if I said I was happy about that, but we’ll do what we can.’ Dordd replied.

If the situation was that delicate, that Lennart was prepared to put up with a ship in as poor a state of efficiency as the Dynamic, then the only decent thing to do was pitch in, and hope he could get his crew up to something like a minimum acceptable standard in time to matter.

‘I’d be lying too, if I said it was all going to work out just fine. Would you settle for “not as bad as you think it’s going to be?”’ Lennart suggested, facetiously.

Dordd laughed, but shook his head. ‘The morale point being that, if you’re still in the mood to take the piss, things can’t be that bad…’

‘See? I told you you would get the hang of this. The one thing that does worry me is your taste in junior officers. The man you recommended to replace you as my XO, for a start.’

‘Vasimir Mirhak-Ghulej seemed like the logical candidate, he had all the paper requirements for the job- what did he do?’ Dordd asked.

‘Only tried to arrest half the fighter wing for a steel beach party. He- well, I have him under administrative punishment and I’m hoping for his sake he isn’t daft enough to take his case to Adannan.’

‘So I did him no kindness recommending him, then.’ Dordd said, gloomily.

‘Oh, perhaps; if this gets him the therapy he needs. Datasquirting to you, incidentally- situation update and operations plan. We’re going to need your ship, we’ll do what we can to raise the standards of the crew.’

‘Given unpaid, half starved opposition with eye problems, we might not do too badly- I suppose you want a statement of condition?’

‘That too.’ Lennart said. ‘You can start with an easy job. Rendezvous with HIMS Comarre Meridian before she drifts too far outsystem, and tow her back to a stable orbit over the planet. It’s just manoeuvring, no great pressure, no great hazard, something easy to start with. Watch your crew closely, the line between being aware of them and breathing down their necks- no amount of theory can tell you where that is, you have to work it out from experience. Take time to work with them, but I’ll be running squadron exercises as well.’

Lennart dropped the link, contacted Engineering. ‘What is it, Gethrim?’

‘Sudden surges are a standard method of test, I admit, but did the entire hyperdrive system really need that stiff a workup?’

‘No, but Commander Lycarin’s nervous system did.’ Lennart replied. ‘In all seriousness- Perseverance, the ship we just pulled that stunt on, is probably the only ship we’re obliged to turn our back on that actually could prove to be a serious and immediate threat. It was worth a little stress to the drives to have them scared of us.’

‘Right. I’m sure you make this stuff up after the event.’ Mirannon snorted.

‘Two problems I need to talk to you about anyway. First of all- the entire crew are going to be put through midichlorian counts. The old ‘blizzard of data’ plan. Can you suggest any method of hiding your and my files in there?’

‘Of course, it’s perfectly simple. We-‘

‘No collateral damage.’ Lennart stated.

‘Stang. All right, give me time to think of plan B. Would the second problem have to do with the trigger happy madman who melted one of his own turret subassemblies, put five thousand hours on our repair estimates and one point four million on the Venator’s?’

‘How much of that did you hear?’ Lennart asked.

‘All of it. Clusterkriff. Not really his fault, although that isn’t going to stop me reaming out his ears with an inspection RPV. They’re in hiding, they need a medic and an interrogator.’ Mirannon stated.

‘They might need a ‘noodle incident’. Worry about that later, and your first priority is that turret. Give me full firepower as soon as you can.’ Lennart said. Glancing around the bridge, Brenn was trying to catch his attention.

‘Skipper, has it occurred to you that this could be a golden opportunity? Adannan has the authority to sanction, oh, all sorts of things.’ Mirannon's basic position hadn't changed, he was merely considering exploiting Adannan before trying to get rid of him.

‘Silver lining round a kriffing great thundercloud, maybe.’ Lennart said, dropped the link.

‘Sensors? Anything?’ he asked.

‘Yes, sir. One trace incoming, fairly close, medium-small.’ Brenn informed him.

What to do to this one? ‘Get me a predicted drop point and-‘

Brenn was grinning. ‘Look at it on maximum zoom.’

Lennart did. ‘Her trace is…feathery. Recent drop out, recalibration for tactical approach?’

‘I think so. Probably a false bounce; begin descent, withdraw, deploy later. Probably close to the planet and part-sheathed in it’s clutter.’

‘Then point us that way. Oh, and tell Mirannon to watch closely, we may need another repair estimate.’

Black Prince rolled round to bring her guns to bear on the planet; there was a partial flare behind her, as of a ship skipping off the light boundary from the far side, it faded; emergence flare milliseconds later. Followed by an active sensor sweep.

‘Nice try. Identify.’ Lennart com’d the new arrival. Demolisher class.

Obdurate, Lieutenant-Commander Karl-Anton Raesene. Reporting as assigned to Objective Pursuit Squadron 851-Yod.’ The medium frigate’s commander came on the com terminal; fair haired, embarrassingly- for Lennart- correct in uniform, young and enthusiastic.
Lennart had hoped for that, counted on a ship with a sound reputation having at least some people on board proud enough to do their jobs properly. It was still nice to be right.

‘This is Lennart, Black Prince Actual. You’re the senior unit of your division yet here, and a very fast journey time at that. What were you detached from?’ he asked.

‘Distant escort duty, Captain. We detected a suspicious trace and were in pursuit, in this direction anyway, when we received orders to divert and join you. I assume we can expect action?’

‘Oh, I dare say there may be some possibility of it.’ Lennart deadpanned. ‘Were you part of Obdurate’s crew at the Battle of Zelpher’s Rift?’

‘Yes, Captain. I was a junior gunnery officer at the time.’ The battle of the rift had been a complex operation, between central- Imperial forces and rogue elements of Collophi sector group, on the edge of the outer rim. Their objective had been an old droid mining operation- both by and for; an attempt to set up a hidden fortress/resource world by the Confederacy, partially complete, cut short by the master signal being taken out in the last act of the formal war. The renegades had been seeking a bolthole, somewhere to run to. It had been years before the formation of the Alliance, otherwise that was where they would have gone. They tried to scrape up some remnants of the Confederacy instead.

The actual fight had been a running encounter battle, loyalist and renegade scout groups clashing with each other across two hundred and fifty thousand cubic light years, force units breaking up and reforming, the situation beyond both sides’ ability to control. Obdurate had distinguished herself in defence of a troop convoy, when she and the standing escort had fought off a Victory-I and crippled her.

Outmassed six to one, out-teratonned twenty to one, the medium frigate had performed well above herself and been transferred out to a regional support group; how she had found herself here, in this backwater, was a question Lennart would have to put off asking for now, but not too long.

‘Briefing documents will be sent over. The short version- lots of Rebels.
'The larger units of the formation will be spending most of the next fifteen days repairing damage and working up; I’ll want your fitrep, but I intend picked medium and smaller elements to be responsible for perimeter security and preparatory reconnaissance. If you’ve come even close to maintaining Obdurate’s standards, that means you.’ Lennart informed him.

‘Sir, we’ve been doing escort run after escort run. We’ve prevented a few attacks, chased off some pirates, but we haven’t had much opportunity to heat up the guns. Give us that, and I think I can promise you a happy crew.’

‘That’s what I wanted to hear.’ Lennart said to raise a reaction, looking closely at the holo image to discern if Raesene wasn’t just feeding his superior officer an acceptable line of hooey. Apparently not. Well, probably less than he himself usually did, anyway. Little twitchy, though, he’d go over the recording later, just to satisfy his own suspicions. ‘What’s your loadout?’

‘A mixed armoured batallion- navy troopers, not stormtroopers. Mostly repulsorlift. Two squadrons of TIE/ln, one of TIE Bomber, one of TIE Sentinel.’ Good; the Sentinels were freakish- looking craft, something like a light freighter cockpit mated to a TIE chassis, designed for long- duration sublight cruise as system patrol craft. Very few of the Empire’s current crop of customs and light system defence ships had any kind of disabling ability; one type didn’t even carry enough troops to make an arrest.

That detail would take work, but a quick-response, long-haul fighter with ion cannons to back them up was an at least semi- logical fix for half the problem. They had some missile ability, and supposedly there was a full blown strike fighter variant in the pipeline- Vigilante, Phantom, something like that.

That was a future problem. For the meantime, there was a job to do.

‘During the action, we detected a rebel observer ship roughly 90 light years out. They’re likely to run some kind of recon sweep through here, for post battle analysis if nothing else. We have engineering work to do, so you’re the response element. Chase them off, chase them down if you can, but don’t let them lead you more than half an hour’s transit time away.’ Lennart instructed.

‘Aye, Aye, Sir.’ Raesene replied, a little too enthusiastically maybe. Lennart attached the sensor-picture of the rebel observer ship and broke the connection.

Their ‘engineering’ work was, to all intents and purposes, scavenging. Kestrel, the rebel Recusant, had been cleared, nobody on board; Penthesilea still had a prize crew. Work teams from Black Prince would raid both ships for spare parts and expendable ordnance, drain off their fuel cells, and any specific systems they thought were worth appropriating.

Mirannon already had a design prepared for additional bracing around the axial defence turret mounts- reinforcing two of them to carry one each of the Recusant’s prow superheavy turbolasers. The Venator’s torpedo launchers would go, as would the parts and tooling for any particularly useful elements of her fighter wing.

On Obdurate’s bridge, Raesene turned to the two Imperial Security Bureau men who had remained carefully out of shot.

‘He accepts you.’ The senior of the two said. ‘A good beginning.’

‘This is a filthy business.’ Raesene replied. I don’t know why I let you talk me into this.’

The junior of the two started towards him, the senior held him back, and said ‘For the sake of your own ambitions, of course. There are millions of men of your rank, and you have risen as far as you ever will- unless someone takes an interest in you.’

‘I know,’ he admitted, ‘but why did it have to be you? Spying on my own superior officer, it feels more like betrayal.’

‘You are far past the time to back out. Turn away now, and the best you could hope for is to remain in obscurity.’ The younger of the two said, in tones the said he was looking forward to demonstrating the worst.

‘Jorian Lennart is a renegade in the making.’ The senior man said- grey haired, round faced, grandfatherly until you looked into his eyes. ‘He is not a rebel, not yet, but he is certainly guilty of severely incorrect thought.
'It is your duty to assist the Empire in this, part of your oath as an officer as well I believe. Your ship has a fine reputation; an offense in itself, but still, an aid in this, it makes it more believable.’

‘So,’ Raesene said, taking his life in his hands, ‘who smiled on your career and moved you up the ladder? There’s an officer of the privy council on board that ship. If he alone isn’t enough to keep watch on a renegade and do what has to be done, what are you doing trying to second guess him, and who for?’

‘I’ll let you hurt him later.’ The senior agent said to the junior. ‘Lieutenant-Commander, you would be wise to stop asking questions like that- before you become more trouble than you’re worth. Conduct yourself as a loyal agent of the Empire, fulfil your end of the bargain and we will all come out ahead.’

They left the bridge then- the naval trooper guards saluted them as they passed.

All come out ahead except Lennart, the frigate’s commander thought, bitterly. Was it for this that I joined the Empire, to spy on my own command structure? To blackmail and eventually betray a man and a ship who have hunted down more of the Empire’s open, armed enemies than those security weasels can count to, while they play their backstabbing games?

Is making Commander worth it, if this is to be the price? And if not, he thought to himself, what in the void am I supposed to use for a way out?
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 09:54am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 24a

Hurry up and wait, then get it done by yesterday isn’t as bad as it used to be with stasis technology, but what I really need, Mirannon grumbled to himself, is a time stretcher. Something to put extra hours in the day. The question is, would it take me longer to stabilise and perfect than it would give me back?

Technically, this fell under the heading of ‘other business’, but it was the job he felt like doing.

The “unarmed” combat classes. He was going to be ferociously busy over the next two weeks, making sure the sixteen thousand men he had said he needed to repair the Comarre Meridian worked effectively, didn’t trip over each other and did the right jobs in the right order- and resisting the urge to join in himself with a hypermallet.

Two of his men were sparring with them. Powered down, but still hefty pieces of kit- the whole point of the exercise was to pick the people he could safely leave in charge of the training, while he was busy elsewhere. That and to relieve his feelings about their now-resident dark Force adept.

It was not the only bout taking place in Main Machinery-2. Some of the tools they were using were very interesting, to certain people.

There were enough stormtroopers involved in the classes to pass the information up the chain of command, until it was very firmly intercepted by Omega-17-Blue before Adannan could get hold of it. They hoped.

“A lightsabre-like object” was the description they had received. This was not as improbable as it seemed- perhaps Mirannon’s Force abilities had finally chosen to manifest. Partly, it was a relief - he became their problem rather than Adannan’s.

They brought the flamers and flechette launchers just in case.

As they saw the sparring ground - a rough ring of cleared space in the middle of mounds of semi-intact machinery - they realised that the description was probably an understatement. He was fencing with a plasma torch.

First two on one, then three on one; the blades were not personalised, all dimmed bluish-white, with their containment fields set high enough that they were functioning as blunt instruments, and the Jedi-hunter team watched mesmerized at the multi-sided duel.

‘What form would you say that was?’ Aleph-One asked Aleph-3. ‘Is that possibly Juyo?’ watching one blade looped around another and flicked out of the owner’s hand, another battered aside followed by a knee to the groin.

‘Who, Commander Mirannon? Homicidal Madman form, I should think.’ She replied, watching a blizzard of probing attacks tease one of his opponents’ blades out of position for an up-and-under gutting shot. ‘In any case, do the forms of lightsabre combat still apply with welding gear? I’m fairly sure the civilities don’t.’

‘More importantly, what do we do about it?’ she continued, watching the big engineer sidestep a thrust, follow it back, push the blade past the guard position, pivot on it and lay his cutting edge on his opponent’s throat.

‘Is he even assisted? Brute force, yes, that I can see-‘ as he smashed a blade aside, lunged for a touch over the heart, feinted the same trick on the next man, rode the return stroke into a circular parry and disarmed him- ‘but not the Force.’

‘Which may be just as well for all of us.’ Aleph-One pointed out. ‘If he can manage a display like that without it. Try him.’

‘With pleasure.’ She said. ‘I believe it’s even my turn.’

Mirannon had just run out of opponents with his chosen weapon, and called the two hypermallet wielders over - a chief and a leading artificer; when it came to violence, the chief engineer was no snob. He was aware of the troopers, but too focused to think on it, until she walked directly up to him.

‘You seem to be quite the swordsman, Commander.’ She said. ‘Would you favour me with a bout?’

Innuendo from a stormtrooper, yet. She did have a sabre; the one she had intended to give to Lennart. She slung her rifle and drew it.

‘First blood, or to the death?’ he said, looking at it sceptically. ‘How many power settings has that thing got?’

‘Ah.’ She said. Apart from the on switch, none. The red-bladed ones seldom did. Well, one if you included ‘dismember’.

‘You may have faced them, but you’re not supposed to use them, so I don’t expect you have much training time with that,’ he said, and she nodded slightly.

‘Good with a vibrorapier, good enough to think you can cope with a weapon that’s just different enough to deceive you with the similarities - you expect me to be daft enough to fight someone with little specific skill, with a weapon that can’t be effectively safed, in a sparring match?’

‘Commander, the way you’re throwing that thing around, yes, frankly, I did.’

He wandered over to one of the junk bulwarks, picked up a sheet of light repair plating, said ‘Sign your name in that.’ and threw it at her. It was base-steel, intended to be used as one layer of a laminate, 3mm thick and half a metre square, Mirannon spun it like a frisbee. She realised what he meant in time to snap her lightsabre on, cut at it as it flew by her head.

Name? What was that? She tried for a quick angular v, two curls, a reasonable approximation of A-for-Aleph-3 on a moving, spinning target, she got one stroke of the A and one loop of the 3, piercing through the steel and nearly taking the corner off. One of the mallet-men swung for it and knocked it down out of the air.

‘Remind me to tell you about some of the interesting things you can do with liquid metal shuriken one of these days.’ Mirannon said. ‘Not too bad, especially if your name is !u. On guard.’

He activated the welding torch and moved in to attack her. The irrelevant things you notice at a time like this. The blade was very fat by lightsabre standards, almost conical with significant internal volume, the ripples in its containment field indicated massive internal pressure. Connected to a belt powerpack, in form it was similar to a very, very early lightsabre from perhaps fifteen thousand years ago. She wondered if he knew that.

Then there was time for reflexes only, as his blade darted around her. A dipping lunge, she pushed aside, started to return to guard position - realised his blade was still moving around and down, about to take her leg off - she moved to push it out and away, then sidestep back behind her own blade - and he had moved through recovery to a swinging attack on the direction she was moving in.

She shifted stance in midstep, managed to block but left herself totally out of position, swung for his blade trying to knock it clear to give herself time to recover, it flickered out of the way and came to rest against her lower left rib.

‘Again.’ Mirannon stepped back, recovered to guard position, let her come for him.

She tried a quick triple pass, the almost-weightlessness of the lightsabre moving faster than the eye. Pure instinct, pure reflex - perhaps the Force, probably not - the first cut at his right shoulder, he batted away outwards, recovered to catch the second sweeping low and upwards, the third came in towards his right side; he caught it just above the hilt, somehow the blades stuck together, she tried to kick his feet out from under him but he got an elbow to her throat first.

The gorget of her variant armour took it and she managed to keep hold of the lightsabre, pulled it free, rolled backwards- the blade at arms’ length and outwards to avoid rolling onto it and scorching herself. She bounced to her feet, again wildly out of position, tried to bring the sabre back into line, a perfectly controlled short jab smashed it out of line again and the welding torch flickered back to a spot over her heart.

‘It was you.’ She said, realising. ‘Lord Adannan’s danger sense has been spiking ever since he got here. He’s been assuming it was Captain Lennart, but it isn’t, is it?’

‘On the very few times he’s come down here for this, Jorian Lennart has been moderately good.’ Mirannon admitted, lowering the blade. She turned her sabre off.

‘The skipper has some natural talent, and I don’t doubt he’d fight like a mother wildcat for his ship, but he’s too busy to put in anything like the time he needs to be as good as he could be.’

‘Most of the time we deal with wannabes.’ She admitted. ‘People who feel a tingling of the Force within themselves and hardly have the presence of mind or self control to make anything useful out of it. We were only privileged enough to bring down two genuinely master-level Jedi - and I doubt if they were as good as you are.’

‘Look at the difference between your sabre and this torch.’ He said, holding them side by side. ‘The sabre has count it, one mode. On. None of its complexity has to do with the weapon itself. This cutting torch, a device intended to do a job, has, amongst other things, a steerable blade.’ He said, demonstrating. It twisted and extended at will. Her eyes bugged out.
‘I could, for instance, soften the blade enough to let yours bite, trap your sabre, and extend the point forward to slice your head off. If you’re standing too far away for that, I can thin out the tip and produce a plasma jet indistinguishable from a flamethrower. I can punch through armour too difficult to slice, and fan the tip out to undercut it or burn through what’s underneath. I can control the blade precisely enough to engrave copper and whittle wood.
'Most importantly, I can choose not to do this if I don’t want to. The basic functionality is sound. All of this with what is, metaphorically, a ploughshare beaten into a sword. Why is your elite weapon of the upper class so feature-impoverished?’

‘I don’t entirely understand what you’re getting at.’ She stalled. She did understand, and it was not a particularly comfortable thought. ‘Are you suggesting that the Jedi were missing an obvious possibility?’ she had to ask.

‘No,’ Mirannon said, ‘I’m saying that the sabre is a weapon designed for the mentality of people who sat around all day going “ommm.” I learnt to disrespect the Jedi for their hazy, unworldly nonsense years before they were made illegal, and although he had to work with them more closely than I did and got used to not saying so, I reckon the Captain feels the same. He believes, and so do I, that to learn the ways of the Force now would lessen him overall, by taking too much away from what he already is.’

‘You were trying really hard to put that politely, weren’t you?’ she said.

‘If you would prefer ‘get your Jedi powers here, free frontal lobotomy included’, I could say it like that.’ The big engineer stated.

‘And if the so-called light side of the Force was the only option, I’d be forced to agree with you.’ She said. ‘It isn’t. The Jedi Order was, although I doubt they realised it, in an awe of the Force that amounted to fear. The age-old, permanent enemies of the Jedi were those who did not choose to suppress their passions, or their wits, to gain the Force. The few who chose to live in the world rather than apart from it. Men like Vader, like Adannan. People the Jedi hated, for surpassing them.’

‘Nice pitch, but it isn’t me you have to convince, it’s him. That is not going to happen- because he doesn’t trust you. He believes that you are as much a pawn of the Imperial system as the Jedi ever were of their setup.
'What would you defy that for? If it isn’t him, he’s not going to take your word on the subject as anything other than the voice of the system.’ Mirannon said, feeling unusually out of his depth. This probably did count as "social engineering", and although he hated job title dilution in a way only a man responsible for a hypermatter reactor could, he was prepared to concede the sense of it just this once.

‘That’s more than just a theoretical statement, isn’t it? You have some appallingly stupid bit of dirty work that you can’t manage by yourselves.’ She said, with more scorn than it deserved, because he had touched a nerve. He was probably right, kriff him.

‘I should have realised you were too good an actress for me to lie to.’ Mirannon said. ‘Mind you, you’re not too good a swordswoman. I need to know where you stand.’

‘In case you decide it ought to be in several pieces? I should dare you to try.’ She said, more defiantly than she felt.

‘It’s seldom wise to threaten a man,’ Mirannon said, ‘with a remote control for the ship’s compensator systems. It’s a simple question. Do you want him badly enough to stand by him when the dreck hits the turbines?’

After what she had said to her sister, there was only one consistent answer. It terrified her- but perhaps better that than a lifetime of regretting not saying so. ‘Yes.’

And there, it was said. Now all that was left to do was go and play Ruusan roulette with a blaster carbine, or wait for the inquisitors to catch up with her which was probably about as much a guarantee of death - either that, or try to live up to it.

Mirannon looked almost as surprised as she was. ‘Good. In the new workshop spaces along the port flank, there’s that bit of dirty work waiting for someone to go and do it.’

‘I could just recant and walk away.’ She said, large parts of her mind telling her that it was a good idea.

‘You won’t. Turn your back on your old life, you have to reach out for the new. Don’t screw it up.’ Mirannon advised.

I won’t.’ She turned to go, then as an after thought turned back and said ‘You know, Commander, you have an interesting line in recruiting technique. A combination of emotional appeal, moral blackmail, and lethal force. Almost like a Sith yourself.’

‘Gah. Don’t be so elitist. There are lots of people who use that combination.’

When his orders reached him, Group Captain Konstantin Vehrec was indulging in his favourite pastime; antique flying machines.

The CV(T) Voracious was based over Altyna V, a large gas giant with what amounted to a planetary system worth of moons in its own right. It was an excellent place for crowded space and multiple planetary environment training.

One of the worlds was a partial terraform, an attempt to keep a working ecology going to support a major mining operation which was there, and the terraforming made difficult, because of the tidal stresses Altyna-V-b was subjected to.

Volcanoes in the middle of green fields were a depressingly common sight, and Vehrec was racing towards one batch at just under Mach 3, seventy metres up. His aircraft was a chemical powered job, single stage to orbit turboscramrocket- the last transitional stage on the way to true spaceflight. Corellian in original design, aerospace bomber by intent, supposed to operate on the fringes of the atmosphere, the replica he had put together turned out to have surprisingly good nap of the earth performance.

It wasn’t as if he needed the adrenalin for anything else, after all. So he might as well ride a huge blended wing delta laden with volatile chemicals, at slightly over its own wingspan off the ground, at sanity-denying speed into broken terrain littered with sharp hillsides, gas, ash and the occasional flying lump of molten rock.

Anyone whom he could be bothered explaining to would already understand. He was a geriatric by fighter pilot standards, a decorated veteran of the Clone Wars, not a clone himself - although he had narrowly avoided being used as a clone template.

At least, he thought he had; he hadn’t seen too many younger iterations of his own face around.

They hadn’t invited him to this war; he was officially past it. That, unreliable, or both. He had retired five years after Mustafar, as the supply of new targets dried up to a trickle, and gone into business as a cargo hauler. Done fairly well, too; he had the rank and the connections to make it as a legitimate trader, without having to resort to the grey economy- although he had been sorely tempted at times, just for the sake of the thrill of it.

That, and it was always fun to watch the reactions of the customs boys when he opened the hatch and they came face to face with an Imperial Cross that they were required to salute.

It had palled after a while, though, and when things started to heat up again with the various armed movements that got themselves a political face and turned into the Rebel Alliance, it had been an easy decision to sell up and rejoin the Starfleet.

Working his way back to his former rank hadn’t been too much of a problem, but it was frightening how few of his former wingmates were still in the service. They new breed called him a maverick, a barnstormer, and wouldn’t trust him with an active combat command. So they gave him the air wing of a training carrier, that he could use to warp thousands of young minds. He wondered sometimes if there was any being in the universe to whom that made sense.

That, and too old for combat - bollocks. When he had sold the freight business, he had spent the credits on rejuvenation therapy. His senses and reflexes were as good now as they were when he had been eighteen, maybe better. Which only added to the perceived unreliability.

Perhaps they had a point. He was old enough and wise enough to know exactly how stupid low altitude high speed flight in a (currently) airbreather through volcanic terrain was, and here he was doing it anyhow.

Technically, it was a bombing run. He had two probe droids to drop down volcano mouths on behalf of the miners, which made this a legitimate civil cooperation and propaganda exercise - not that he cared greatly about the thin veneer of officialdom.

Roll round one hill, climb briefly over another, throttle back over a ridge then thrust down the fissure valley, and above all feel the air, this delicate primitive thing - only molybdenum coated steel after all - bucking and jolting over a black kaleidoscopic wilderness of cooling lava, trailing a mile-high roostertail of dust and ash behind it.

He would literally crucify any trainee TIE pilot he found being this stupid, but he had more hours in his logbook than some of them had been alive for.

Flick of the wingtip, round one hill to the left then bank right past another, aircraft kicked in the belly as it briefly entered and left ground effect going over the saddle; hold it down, remember the area - he had treated it as a simulated strike.

One fast overflight for visual and sensor recording, descend behind the horizon to strike altitude, roll in with the terrain as cover, kick one probe out in a deceleration capsule from very low overflight - that would be accompanied by a shoal of defence suppression missiles on an actual target - extend out, dive-toss the second probe and roll off the top and break for orbit from there.

Partly to let him watch the effect. The probe released perfectly into the basket - steered itself into the volcano mouth he slung it at in a slight bank. His com beeped; no time now.

Zigzag out - skimming off the thermal from one volcano, allowing that to help roll the aircraft down the next canyon, rear cameras recording the plume of lava as the massively armoured probe started to swim down the vent.

Break left round a steep hill, climb for altitude - ramjet mode struggling in the polluted air, gaining thrust as it climbed out of the vog, rolling out to high speed and medium altitude, then a hard bank round to begin the zoom climb to lob the next probe into the second volcano mouth.

The com unit beeped again; he ignored it - he was busy. Tomorrow it would be time to go back to teaching combat manoeuvres, if he was lucky and the latest batch were ready for that. If not, back to formation and gunnery. Right now, if he was irredeemably branded as a barnstormer, then by stang he was going to barnstorm.

Slight change of plan. He had a head up display marker and the probe on manual release, waited for the point in the air, then released the probe on its ballistic arc, then rolled off the top of the climb and dived after it.

He chose his margin of safety and ran it out, skimming a thousand feet off the peak and five seconds ahead of the probe, actually passing underneath it on its way down.

It plunged into the caldera sending a shower of lava splattering high into the sky, and Vehrec firewalled the engines on his way to orbit. If only they would let him do that with proton bombs.

Transition to rocket on the edge of atmosphere, not a problem, and chase the low orbital transfer station where he had parked his fighter. For all the multi-mach performance of the transatmospheric bomber, its absolute abilities had more in common with a kite on a string than they had with his late-model Avenger.

He had docked the antique and was heading back to Voracious, free time over and ready to resume the daily grind, when he finally remembered to check his com.

It was a recorded transfer order; as all the orders concerning the trainee pilots were copied to his desk, he more or less tuned it out. Heard it all before. It was only when he heard the words “Objective Pursuit Squadron” that he paid any attention at all.

That was a heavyweight combat force, often amounting to a light destroyer squadron;Sector groups hardly ever formed them. Some lucky smegger was moving up in the world.

Then his brain did a fast rewind to the start of the message and he realised he wasn’t the ‘cc’ this time, he was the primary addressee. He, and Voracious, were going back to war.

It was only vacuum that prevented his howl of delight being heard back on the planet.

‘Captain,’ Shandon Rythanor said to him, ‘we have a potential issue.’

‘With what?’ Lennart asked his sensor chief.

‘The minor craft, skipper, the light and medium corvettes. Remember the Identification and Designation Regulations of ’20?’

‘Of course.’ Lennart had been on the staff at the time. The point of them had been to curb the number of minor ships, the military-conversion Corellian corvettes and the like, commissioning with names almost ludicrously far above their station.

Names like Leviathan, Behemoth, Deathbringer, Vengeful, Devastator - a fair few of the names which had since been applied to destroyers.

‘Do you remember the first response to the problem?’ Rythanor said, smiling.

The alphanumeric strings that had been hung on the smaller ships, medium corvette and below, had not exactly been popular, especially not with those crews who had their ships de-named. Correct Thought had not been the bugbear then that it was now.

‘Of course. Nicknames, unofficial names. Nose art. You’re not telling me-‘

Rythanor called up a sequence of images, of small Imperial warships, sporting nose art. Lennart watched.
‘All right, this is almost acceptable, “the masked discombobulator” isn’t so nuts. ”We distrain upon you” has a certain wit. ”Fuzzy pink rancor”, though - this is getting worse.’

‘I know.’ Rythanor said, bringing up the nose art of the “Polyfather of Eristic Excess.”

‘That’s…interestingly anatomically impossible. There are public decency laws I can use to have that turbolased, you know.’ Lennart said, grinning at the sheer chee k- or cheeks - of it.

‘It’s not the strangest.’ Rythanor said, reaching for the pointer.

‘I’ll view them all later. How do they get away with it?’ Lennart marvelled.

‘Don’t ask me, but it’s going to make squadron battle reports sound kriffing odd.’ Rythanor pointed out.

‘Yes, in practise this is just going to be too silly.’ Lennart said, choosing not to formally mention that he approved in principle.

‘Draft an order, all ships to be referred to by tactical numbers- 851, parent formation, Yod, subformation, A through D for the lines, number within the line counting down in seniority. That and somewhere, in the staff sections of the sector fleet, there is a maniac.’

‘Sir?’ Rythanor asked.

‘Whoever was responsible for these, either failing to prevent them or who actively encouraged them. Find them for me.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir. Are we delivering a letter of protest, or of commendation?’

‘Neither. A mind which ran this wild is a mind we might want to know more about. Once you find them, ask them what else they know about what these ships have been up to.’

‘So we’re looking for a loose cannon in Patrol Type-Command? I’ll start narrowing that down.’

‘When you have it down to a hundred or so possibilities, just call them. If they answer ‘yes?’, they’re not the target. The one who picks up the com and says ”Maybe?”, that’ll be them.’

Normally I like to let things bubble out in the text as far as possible, but this is going to require some explanation ahead of time. Enigma, that's you.

E. Nygma is a 'semi-retired' Lignyot (Imperial Intelligence cryptographer), who, ah, the stresses of the job caught up to him. They are a notoriously strange bunch and probably the only part of the Star Wars universe the Riddler would be able to walk up to and get a job offer from.

After largely unsuccessful rehabilitation which failed to significantly reintegrate his personality, Doctor Nygma was transferred to the Ubiqtorate's equivalent of DVLA Swansea. He was embedded in a semi-covert role in the support services of a sector group with something to hide, and basically told to work out what they were up to by spotting patterns - do what he used to do, at a much gentler pace and far lower stress levels. Occupational therapy, to slowly rebuild his talents. A plague of illegally sanctioned and anatomically intriguing nose art is among the least of the problems this has caused.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 10:04am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 24b.

Franjia had refused sedation and was reading through a datapad. Olleyri had handed it to her, keyed to her touch only. Details of four craft coded on it, not part of the new program they had been considering in the defence daily; part of the establishment answer.

All, in fact, relatives of the Starwing. The first was tentatively designated as Xg-1A Starwing-II; the wings were swept forward, and broadened out at their base to where they seemed to blend with the fuselage. Repulsors, hyperdrive and shield generators all migrated out of the main fuselage into the thick wing roots to make room for larger engines and reactor. It was supposed to come close to the speed of a TIE/ln and surpass it in agility. It also collected two extra guns, probably heavy autoblasters.
Very nice- if it was possible. In theory, a sensible, solid, valuable step forward. How expensive the thing would be, whether it lived up to the promises, and how easy to look after in practise- if it ever made it into durasteel, they would find out. It looked good, though.

The information on the middle two was very sketchy, for different reasons. One appeared to be so near to entering service, at least in alpha-test form, that all the details were being locked down and heavily classified, even in an internal official document. Some kind of flying missile dustbin. The other was barely past the concept stage, a true twenty-plus metre gunship heavily influenced by the escort shuttle and a little by the IPV.

The fourth was an idea she instantly fell for. Missiles worked, and worked well for the most part. Normally, a starfighter’s gun armament was limited in usefulness to other fighters, ground targets, and very small ships or those already so badly damaged that they were ready to come apart anyway.

The idea of a heavy gun carrier had cropped up from time to time, most notably with the B-wing ancestor H-60 Tempest which had mounted two short-barrel fleet melee light turbolasers. It had been a good idea but the rest of the spaceframe had let it down - slow and a pathetically easy target. At least the B-wing could sometimes sidestep fire it couldn’t outrun.

The beast she was interested in was labelled the Xg-2 PulsarWing heavy gunboat. Blended wings with filled roots again, slightly enlarged, and it lost all the rest of the armament and the lower two wings to accommodate oval faired housings for two full rate Taim & Bak XX9 long-barrel light turbolasers. The blurb promised the same rate of fire as from a capital ship mounting, and the specifications seemed up to it- major power upgrade, engines to carry the extra weight.

They would be expensive beasts, somewhere in the two hundred kilocred range, but their potential as transport and escort killers, screen breakers, long range snipers- she wanted one.

‘Squadron Leader?’

Franjia looked up. She was still wearing a breathing mask; it was squirting aerosolised bacta and other growth factors into her lungs. She had managed to reprogram the vocoder to her own voice.

‘Yes?’ It was a stormtrooper; as far as she understood the insignia, an assistant squad leader, infantry.

‘One of the other patients, Sir, one of the rebels wants to see you.’

She put down the datapad, thought about it. It was probably M’Lanth. She had to, really.

‘Who’s more heavily wired in, he or I?’ she asked.

‘He is ambulatory, we have him under guard.’

‘Bring him over, Corporal.’

A rebel sandwich emerged: M’Lanth on a mobile drip and instrument stand being hustled along between two stormtroopers, and another two behind him with blasters levelled. They were quite aware of how she had found herself in the medical complex - they had been part of the boarding group on Penthesilea - and they were taking no chances.

‘Before you open your mouth,’ she said to him, ‘I want you to know that I’m in here because one of the madmen on your side tried to blow out one of your own ships with four thousand troopers and seven thousand rebels on board. Now rant away.’

That took the wind out of his solar sails for a moment, but he recovered. ‘How could you do it? How could you just blunder over to us, say all those things, get us believing you, shoot at your own side, all fake?’

‘Poor security.’ Franjia said, bluntly, hoping that would be enough to get him to go away. It wasn’t. ‘We were picked because the Captain thought we would be plausible, ordered to do it, ran on nerves throughout and we were kriffing glad when it was over.’

‘The fact that you had to resort to backstabbing tricks-‘ he began, forcefully because he knew it made little sense.

‘Resulted in thousands of your people becoming prisoners rather than dust.’ Franjia said. ‘I know some of them might prefer to die in battle, I would, but I’d suggest you consult with them before advocating that.’

‘Don’t you dare lecture me about the chances we face opposing the Empire.’ He said, heedless of his escort.

‘If you can manage not to get yourself shot, I might tell you about some of the chances we face working for it. This is no time for principled defiance, so pull up a chair.’ Franjia virtually ordered him.

‘Thank you, no.’ he said; the stormtroopers pulled one up and shoved him into it anyway.

‘I wanted to see what they were doing to you. How they were treating you as a failed defector. Then I hear that you’re being praised as a hero for feeding us the bait that led us into a trap.’

‘Lower deck rumour. We didn’t even get a mention in dispatches - largely because the captain knew we would be ashamed of it.’

‘How can you use words like ‘shame’ after what you did - how can you even pretend to have a sense of shame?’ M’Lanth asked.

‘Funny, isn’t it? I’m supposed to be the sterile, faceless technocrat, and you’re the one who’s supposed to derive their mandate from the common people. Perhaps it worked because you’re closer to us than you like to think.’ Franjia taunted him.

‘We fight for a cause, the cause of freedom.’ Standard issue rebel doctrine. He wasn’t that daft, but he was stressed enough to cling to it like a mantra.

‘Really?’ she laughed. ‘Freedom to do what? People are weird. We have an entire galaxy of room to breed oddballs in. I believe that, and I’m trying to prevent it. You’re fighting for it and you refuse to admit it exists.’

‘What does that excuse?’ he asked her.

‘Maybe nothing, perhaps everything. Let me ask you this; if you had received the same orders - to infiltrate the other side by pretending to defect - what would you have done?’

‘I would have refused.’ M’Lanth declared, improbably.

‘What? With the fate of the galaxy at stake, and the evil Empire to be brought down by any means necessary?’ Franjia prodded him.

‘No, because I’d make a terrible undercover agent. I couldn’t betray my principles, couldn’t fake it convincingly.’

‘Now that, I can believe.’ She said. ‘In all seriousness, you behaved decently, with dedication and comradeship, and fate chose to boot you up the backside for it. Aron and I were simply the steel toecap of the day.
'We did what we had to do, what we were sent to do, and being the instrument of it doesn’t stop me feeling sorry for your crappy luck.’ She said, worrying herself by how sincerely she actually meant it. Even if it was true, that didn’t make it officially acceptable. Time to start taking ruthless lessons again, she thought.

‘I’ll never forgive you for that.’ He said, words steeped in bitterness.

‘Didn’t really expect you to. Do you know what happens to you next?’

‘What, you mean how much of an ever I’m likely to have?’ he said. ‘The disintegration booth.’

‘Not on this ship. We don’t do disintegrations.’

‘I had no idea you were so moral,’ he said.

‘Never mind morals; it’s the energy budget we’re worried about. You’re far more likely to get shot in the back of the head and dumped into the biocycler tanks. Unless…’ She wondered how to put it in a way that would get through to him.

‘No.’ he said, determined.

‘Listen, hear me out. Your rank and file are going to get prison terms, and they’re going to be horrible. They’re going to be worked and abused until they wish they were dead, but they’re going to survive to be released back into society - as an object lesson. They’ll visibly have been made to suffer for supporting the Alliance, but they haven’t done anything individually notable other than that. Noncom and petty officers, junior officers, longer terms that they may or may not make it out of. Senior officers and ideologues, not good. As a squadron leader, you’re borderline.’ She informed him, optimistically.

‘You support this system?’ he said, incredulous.

‘Aron and I didn’t have time to make up convincing false backgrounds, so a lot of what we told you was true enough. I was a police pilot, and if there was a time when I could have turned my back on the Empire, it was when I was a young cop, just getting my mind around the law we were supposed to enforce. As I put time in, and met more and more of the people we were enforcing it on, I started to see the logic behind it. Your theoretical position may be attractive, but it’s straight out of dreamland.

‘Most police are professional cynics; after a while you lose the ability to maintain that most of the people you meet are liars and idiots simply because your job brings you into contact with a disproportionate share of them, and start believing that all the people out there to meet are in fact liars and idiots. I skipped out of the worst of it, went into search-and-rescue, but even I can’t think of more than four or five beings I would trust to live a life without the law watching them.
'It may be harsh, even drastic, individuals may get caught and squashed in the machinery now and again, but I am still convinced it is the least worst option. Even if I had sufficient personal reason to turn on the Empire, I think I would still believe that as a general rule. And you don’t have to be one of the squashed if you don’t want to.’

‘Oh, no. I’m not falling for that. I want to live, but not at the price of pissing on everything I’ve lived for. Not at the price of turning on my friends and comrades. I will not betray the Alliance.’ He said, with fragile determination.

‘Barring utter fluke, you’re going to die. A fighting chance is one thing, but not like this.’ She said, trying to come up with something that he would actually listen to.

In his position, she might start out with false bravado, but then to think what it would be like, turning your back on so many of your own, becoming a pampered pet of your enemies and having seven thousand ghosts curse you every night - she looked at his eyes and realised she couldn’t do it either.
She tried anyway. ‘How will what you live for gain by your death? How would it serve the Alliance? How would letting the legal process destroy you serve the future? Your cause is not a gang of failed ex-senators or vengeance-mad adrenaline monkeys, I believe you when you say that it is freedom, but how are you supposed to do that except by being free?’

‘Do I have to start quoting you to yourself? What you expect the Empire to do to us prisoners is not the way of a state that gives a flying kriff about freedom. And you know it.’

She glanced at the stormtroopers escorting him. ‘The Captain would really like an excuse not to have to kill you.’

‘What, the last undead twitches of conscience?’

‘He wouldn’t let his sense of morals get in the way of doing his duty. You are an active, declared enemy of the Empire, and unless that changes, you’re going to be dealt with like an enemy.’ She said.

‘Then that’s the way it’ll have to be.’ He said, defiant.

‘Take him away.’ She instructed the stormtroopers; they wheeled him and his drip back to the guarded section of the medical complex.

She went back to leafing through the datapad, enthusiasm temporarily sapped. It was harder to hate people and strive to kill them when you got to talk to them about it afterward.

Obdurate’s captain was feeling relatively unoppressed for the first time in what seemed like months. He had a purely professional job to do, his watchers were off the bridge, and he could just get on with navy business, without worrying too much about what came after.

Black Prince’s nav team had given him a route plot, and they had ridden it out. Now it was down to search procedure, a subject the confidential publications on changed with boggling speed. Exactly as fast as the Alliance came up with new tricks and the Empire invented counters to them, in fact.

They were in the approximate area. Their sublight sensors had nothing - the target had moved out of reach. It had done so under slow hyper, nothing radical enough to be noticed. Vastly increasing the area they had to search, the noise they would make doing so, and the chances the rebel had to slip away. The tactical book counter was to choose the most likely direction and plot a series of short, spiralling loops around it, passing through a cone centred on the rebel’s most likely line of retreat. The operational counter was to call on the assistance of recon fighters.

Raesene didn’t want to call for help; he wanted to earn Lennart’s and his own crews’ respect by doing this himself, so he had the navigation team plan the spiral search, centred on a nearby system.

If the rebels were good, they would know they were being followed - if they were very good, they would know what by.

If Obdurate picked up a trace, the rebels would aim for crowded space, lure the Imperial ship into a maze - asteroid or cometary belt - where at the very least, they could get her to deploy her own fighters, and then takeoff, fight past a few and force her to either abandon her fighter screen or lose time picking them up.

That would work if Obdurate wasn’t loaded with Bombers and Sentinels.

First, catch your rebel. Obdurate began her first search pattern, a wide sweeping series of curves.

‘Contact, Captain.’ One of his pit sensor crew called out, part-way through the fourth spiral.

‘Relative 220 minus 32.’ Low on the port quarter; at hyperdrive speed and distance, one whole degree was an immense sweep of space, only a little better than ‘over there a ways’, but good enough to give cues to zero in on.

‘Speed and course?’ Raesene demanded.

‘On course for…wait, non-match. The engine pattern doesn’t check out. False alarm.’

This, Raesene thought, is how messengers manage to get themselves shot. Sloppy, inadequate reporting to tense authority figures.

‘Next time, verify.’ He shouted at the com/scan tech.

‘Aye, Aye, Sir.’ The comtech snapped off a perfect formal salute and turned back to his board, hiding behind officialdom.

Think, man, think, Raesene told himself. Light freighter, the rebel’s a modified light freighter. Not exactly uncommon. Put the red hat on for a second. What’s he going to be trying to do? If he’s running, chances are he’s clear away already. He can pretend to be civilian traffic, and…he won’t be running away, will he?

‘Nav, abort search pattern. Take us two light years off Ghorn, quietest approach you can manage consistent with right now.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir.’

Obdurate made an unplanned re-entry; there was the inevitable minute of chaos while the navcomputer triangulated their position, Raesene hopping up and down for every second. Then she lunged back into hyperspace.

He tried not to pace the deck, far from sure he was right. Obdurate’s hyper-to-normal space sensor capability was short-ranged and fuzzy, hyper to hyper better; he waited, willing a signal to show.

Normal to hyper was the longest ranged. Obdurate emerged in shallow-interstellar space to sniff for the rebel; Raesene trying hard not to spook the sensor crew. He didn’t want to scare them into not doing a proper job - might already be too late for that. The temptation to stare over their shoulders was nearly irresistible.

He noticed a glimmer. The sensor-tech whose board it had come up on was twitching, unsure - unwilling to report prematurely, and making a hash of the analysis and identification procedure.

‘Report.’ Raesene snapped at- her, actually. Fair hair cropped to two millimetres length and dark-beige skin, relatively new out of training and quite badly scared.

‘Light freighter class, identification in progress, Captain.’ She stammered.

‘Then proceed.’ He said to what was now a bundle of nerves. The shift chief and the watch officer both came over to the console, worked the contact - Raesene stopped trying not to, went over to the other side of the bridge to pace.

They were old hands, had it locked down and an identifiable harmonic extracted in five seconds. It took them several more than that to believe what it identified as.

‘Captain Raesene, you may want to verify this with your own eyes.’

The pattern was right. And? He didn’t see what was so special about a ship named the Sunfighter Franchise. At least, not until the sensor watch officer crossreferenced to known aliases.

‘Comtech, burst transmission, minimum bandwidth, to Black Prince; “Herding rebel in your direction. IDs as one of the known aliases of current Number Two Most Wanted. Request anvil.”

On Black Prince’s bridge, Lennart had been watching the search in progress. The message made him pause.

‘Ah, now this is interesting. Shandon? Is it possible that Lieutenant-Commander Raesene is suffering from wishful thinking, or that there’s actually something to this? Verify.
'Oh, and, fighter bay-’ the com techs knowing to route his words to the zone of the ship addressed- ‘ready Beta and Gamma for launch. Brenn, come in on this.’

‘I predict he’s going for the light cone.’ Brenn said. Meaning that the rebel would emerge in the outer edge of the kuiper belt, say sixteen light hours out - and so seeing what happened sixteen hours ago.

‘He’ll lurk and let it wash over him, hide in the ice. Let us spread out, and then fade away or do a speed run through the search line.’

‘Plausible.’ Lennart agreed. ‘Which he do you think we’re looking for?’

‘No absolute-confidence solution.’ Rythanor reported. ‘They’re running a low-level emitting mask, enough to change their engine pattern without adding enough to it to screw up a recon run. Whoever they are, they’re good enough to be a worthwhile target.’

‘Alternatively, they could be a perfectly ordinary combat-scout, using the fake ID of a famous rebel to get us scrambling around like headless chickens making all sorts of radiation they can monitor.’ Lennart stated.

‘Let’s see what the group can do. Order “Colonel Pranger” here,’ bringing up a map of the system and using a laser pointer, ‘”Spiral Eyes Joe” here, “Helga the Horrible” here - I was right, we do need tactical numbers - “The Iron Turnip” there.’

Com-Scan coded the orders up and transmitted them; two Bayonet and two Marauder corvettes started to move, building a vector and plotting short hyperspace hops to cover an arc of the cometary belt. In the extremely unlikely event of their needing that much backup, Perseverance was alerted to be ready to support them.

Speaker ping, followed by a voice Lennart rather wanted not to have to deal with right now. Adannan. ‘Captain Lennart, I cannot help noticing that several ships of the group are starting to move out. What are they doing?’ The throne room had repeaters for the bridge systems installed. The work crew should have known better than to reactivate them - or possibly he was simply looking out the window.

Lennart wanted to tell him it was none of his business. Finding a line of argument worth defending would be the hard part. That and really, could he get away with not reporting this?

‘Lord Adannan, we have a rebel recon boat playing hide and seek in the cometary halo. Normally we wouldn’t bother you about this, but its engine emissions come close to matching the signature of a very well known rebel. I can’t think of a good reason not to maneuver to intercept, can you?’ Which was sailing a shade close to the wind.

‘Which very well known rebel? Dodonna, Antilles? Willard, Tallon, Hudsol?’ Adannan asked. His hackles were rising, there was something very strange and very important about that unseen ship. Something fearful.

‘Solo.’ Lennart said, smiling.

‘The man and his carpet who-‘ Sharply, Adannan’s fears crystallised. If they destroyed that ship - all might be well, but the probability was low. If they managed to capture her, and there was a distinct possibility, then the heavens would fall on him.

He heard Lennart order out three more ships of the squadron to positions on the outer edge of the main cometary halo - Darxani, strike cruiser, Henchman and Jointure, Servator-class heavy corvettes. All carried ion cannon, and the plan was for the four lighter ships and the looming Perseverance to force the rebel out, pushing her into breaking for open space, where the ion cannon armed ships would be waiting.

Black Prince’s navigation team were ordered to run continuously updated menus of short-jump courses for them, so they could instantly hyperspace on to the fleeing Falcon’s tail.

‘If you succeed-‘ Adannan began. His voice was trembling, and he could not, must not show weakness. A live Han Solo would attract attention. It had a terrifying near-certainty of attracting it from the being he was trying second-hardest in all the galaxy to avoid. Vader.

Mostly, Lennart was looking forward to the professional challenge, another part was studying Adannan and wondering what in space was wrong. What about that little ship could scare a dark Jedi that badly?

The correct answer was, of course, how it could involve him with another and vastly more powerful dark Jedi. Lennart didn’t connect that; his mind was too full of vectors and sensor radii. He did question, though.

‘Kor Alric? Is there something you ought to be telling me?’

‘Is this not- excessive? Eight ships to take one?’ Adannan stalled. ‘Doesn’t that do him too much honour?’

‘He’s notorious for not caring about the odds, so I don’t think he’ll mind. He’s a credit to the old home turf, in fact - and we’re only one degree of separation removed. When I was at Raithal I trained two of the men who went on to instruct him at Carida. I was looking forward to meeting him, myself.’ Lennart said, concentrating mainly on the moving ships.

‘We are in a security situation here, Captain Lennart. We cannot afford the galactic interest that this will bring. Let him pass by.’

‘What? Excuse me, Kor Alric, but - he knows we’re pursuing him. The hunt has already begun. Pulling the squadron back now would ring alarm bells in any competent spaceman’s mind.
'The rebels will wonder why we let him get away, the sector group aren’t in top form at the moment but they still might manage to notice, and Region would throw a fit.’ Lennart said, hinting that if the regional support group didn’t find out anyway, he might tell them. What was Adannan on about?

‘This man is famous throughout the galaxy; taking or destroying him would cause the entire galaxy to take an interest in me.’ Adannan said, egotistically.

How are you going to do that yourself, float out after him with a jetpack and a lightsabre? Lennart thought, hopefully loud enough - this time - for Adannan to hear.

‘Is there no-one on your personal staff who understands starships...well enough to interpret, at least? Who can advise you on what is and isn’t possible, your personal pilot perhaps?’ Lennart prodded Adannan, mind still on the chase, looking for the flicker in Black Prince’s sensor picture that would betray direct contact.

They had picked it up initially at very long range, so why then and not now? Making noise - more than it needed to, to get their attention? It had worked, after all, managed to pull an inside run on their response unit, and caused an elaborate and expensive trap to be set up. Rythanor had been cautious, unwilling to commit, and for a reason. Whoever it was, they were good at fakery.

The Death Star Incident had broken clean through the normal news control procedures; the sheer enormity of the shock of it had paralysed the security organs long enough for all kinds of video and sensor-telemetry to leak out. After that, any attempt at a cover story had been shutting the stable door after the tauntaun had bolted.

Which raised three thoughts. One of them, that the target had managed to draw a massive first response from the Imperial squadron. Second, that stealth was something their probable-but-not-certain opponent did not have in his blood. Solo had been forced to learn it, but it wasn’t his first tactic. First deception and con-artistry, the more flamboyant the better and hiding in plain sight if at all possible, second relying on speed and power like the pirate-gunman he was, last and least slithering about the shadows.
Third, that the whole sorry mess, from Alderaan to Yavin, had been a spectacular blip in an otherwise solid record. The Imperial censors were usually better at information control than that. They could certainly keep something like this under wraps from enemies and public, until long after it was too late for anyone else to react to. So whose attention was Adannan so afraid of? Was it the censors themselves?

That would stand further, quieter, thought.

In the meantime, no signature in hyperspace led to the obvious conclusion that he wasn’t there. Was it possible that something that small and fast could have run in close without giving itself away?

‘Brenn, plot this.’ He expanded the system map out to the surrounding space, and drew a trajectory in hyperdrive on it. A curling, helical approach.

‘Work out what we would see if the target came in on that path. Com, contact Obdurate, tell her to jump to- here.’ Zooming back in, and picking a point in the cometary halo not quite opposite to the main search group.

‘Do you really think he’s that good?’ Brenn said, already bent over a holographic plotting table.

‘He’s Correllian. Of course he is.’ Lennart said, only half joking. ‘How does it look?’

‘Something that small, and able to make that-‘ glowing numbers in the air illustrated his assumptions- ‘much speed on that little of its power, we’d spot her in post-battle analysis, not at the time.’

‘I presume you have kept enough processing power spare to plot intercept courses for us?’ Lennart asked.

‘Only a few dozen.’

‘Captain. Am I to understand,’ Adannan’s voice again, ‘that you are attempting to engage and capture this rebel, in violation of my direct orders?’ Still fear, now anger also - partly anger at being made to be afraid.

‘Not trying to catch him would look suspicious also. Best security solution, we nearly catch him. Shoot him up a bit, force him to break and run. That and that alone should look realistic enough to satisfy all parties. Apart from those who really want him caught or killed.’

‘I am an agent of the privy council, and you will do as you have been ordered.’ Adannan bellowed.

‘Did I say that I wouldn’t? Give me room to do it properly.’ Lennart broke the connection.

‘We need a liaison officer.’ He said to the command team. ‘Someone to stop us snarling at each other.’ The entire bridge team huddled into their seats and tried not to look at him. He hadn’t really expected them to be daft enough to volunteer, but that left him with the burden of selecting who got to be thrown to the wolves. Later.

‘Kick out Beta and Gamma squadrons - to drop points evenly spaced here for Beta, here for Gamma,’ laser-pointing on the inner edge of the halo, two long arcs.

‘Instruct them to converge on a point here.’ Marking on the outer edge of the main halo where the rebel was now expected to be. ‘Flush the rebel towards Obdurate’s drop point here.’

Aron was still getting used to the idea of flying a Hunter; using it to chase one of the most famous pilots in the galaxy was not what he had expected for a first run. He had also seen Gamma deliver mediocre results too often for comfort. A widely spaced sweep line suited him just fine.

Smenge, he had forgotten just how irritating the TIE whine could be. Systems check, all green, initial course away from the hangar bay, listen to the nav unit bleep annoyingly as it drank in the course from the destroyer’s nav computers - then the blue-white blur again.

Emergence, nerves jangling, just in case there was a lump of ice in front of him; no - although Gamma Eleven did break hard to avoid a large iceteroid - which turned out to be half a million kilometres distant. Somebody’s sensor suite’s not working properly, Aron thought.

Gamma did have a higher casualty and higher pilot turnover rate than Epsilon. They were greener, and they would need to be trained harder to get up to a decent standard. They were operating under distant control, spread apart; no close formation work. Under these circumstances, his job as leader boiled down to knowing when to throw the central directions away and just react.

It only took a few minutes for him to have something to react to. There were the big objects, stable in their orbits, but there were also a few which had been destabilised, probably by the passage of a starship, into colliding and splintering.

The relatively weak long-range scan on the Hunter registered four clouds of dirty-snowball fragments that would be worth taking a very close look at. One of them was close enough to his flight plan that he could get away with diverting for a more detailed scan. He edged over in that direction. Two and three were nearby. They all started active scanning into the cloud. ‘Lead, Three. Faint contact.’

First the handoff, then direct detection came up on Aron’s sensor globe. ‘I see it too. Converge and pursue.’

The image was reflecting off dozens of separate splinters, imperfect mirrors that they were it was impossible to get a firm ID.

Aron switched to active ultra-short wave, scanning in a band they barely reflected and didn’t re-reflect, and flew on that, refusing to let the icy maze confuse him; ordered the squadron to do the same. He lost the contact briefly, but Two hadn’t.

‘I see it! YT! Engaging!’ Just a shade overexcited, then.

The laserfire made a good steering cue. Flashes of green, a long sustained stream of red, three white flares of bolt meeting shield, and then a scream, ‘Ejecting!’

If he survives, I’m going to amputate his exclamation marks, Aron thought, curving round one splinter, then breaking radically up and left as a speeding, battered-looking ship nearly impaled him. He managed to recover before he sideslipped into the ice, and took a couple of shots at the fleeing transport as it dipped and weaved through the light and splinters.

In space this crowded, better him than me, Aron thought. He could accelerate up to match its speed, but it had the shields and armour to ride out hits from the smaller shards that he didn’t - he had to take much bigger risks to catch it than it did to run away. Kriff, he thought, I’m going to have to. Got to set an example.

In short wave, reflections were no longer a problem, he could distinguish one lump of ice from another, but that only meant he could spot blind alleys when he saw them.

‘Work your way through. Save the speed for open space. Follow it and herd it, don’t get yourselves killed pushing in for a close strafe.’

Some of his charges were more dextrous than others; the target seemed to be heading for one of the largest halo objects within reach - if it was any closer to the star it would class as a moon. Run up to hyperspeed in its shadow, Aron thought, that’s what I would do.

Only himself and Nine arrived in time to see it happen.

They emerged at the edge of the object’s wake in time to see it pause and slow to a relative crawl. The big objects, the ones that would drop a YT out of hyperspace, were far enough apart that he could get a clear run - there were too many small ones that could stop a Hunter for them to follow him. Here and now it is then, Aron thought.

Then things took a sudden turn for the better and he didn’t have to die after all. The thousand-kilometre halo object suddenly lit up from within with green light as somebody started turbolasing their way through it from the other side. Obdurate.

The ice moon cracked and shattered. Aron ducked back behind a two kilometre chunk to use as cover, and the rebel freighter bolted forward, making distance as a hail of LTL fire punched through the fragments and reached out after it.
It kicked and tumbled as bolts found it, the Demolisher slower than the rebel but chasing after it to keep it within gun range as long as possible. The YT was in flat-out flee mode.

Aron, and the Hunters starting to come up behind him, had to pick their way through the expanding shell of moon fragments - they wouldn’t get close enough in time to get their own shots in.

Obdurate stayed on the rebel’s tail, harrying it and trying to catch it in a cone of fire as it weaved and twisted out of the way, heading for the next worthwhile piece of cover. The YT hurdled it, breaking line of sight long enough to get a few moments of straight course, pointed at the clearest patch of space, initiated.

Obviously not the Millennium Falcon after all, Aron thought, the hyperdrive actually worked first time. Now he had to round up his squadron, call in search and rescue for the ejected, and go back and work on them until he was confident having them on his wing.

‘Well, I think that should be fairly convincing.’ Lennart said to his bridge crew. ‘Transmit orders, the rest of the search group to return to holding positions, Obdurate to retrieve Beta and Gamma squadrons then rejoin.
'I’ll have a word with Obdurate Actual myself later about fighters, cosmic debris and friendly fire. That and remind me to thank Captain Solo, if we ever do meet.’

‘What for, exactly?’ Rythanor asked.

‘For providing the first real evidence we have that Adannan is playing his own game instead of the Empire’s.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 10:22am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 25a

‘No. That is not how this will happen,’ the overweight man behind the desk said.

‘Did you actually manage to read as far as the signature?’ Vehrec growled back. Years of private trading between the wars had taught him finer grades of perception, that not all bureaucrats were rear-echelon scum; there were good ones and bad ones. The hutt-for-a-grandmother lardass in front of him was definitely one of the bad ones.

Unfortunately, he was also a full Commodore and the Commander, Base Station Altyna.

‘Counter-orders from Sector Group.’ The Commodore brandished the datapad.

‘Let me see that.’ Vehrec took it.

The orders came from the office of the sector Admiral, countersigned by the private secretary to the Moff; in their own twisted way, they were a masterpiece of evasion. They couldn’t counter Adannan’s orders directly - the best they could do by that was enforce delay and garner suspicion, but they could modify them. Sector considered, it said, that this was a mission of unusual importance and danger. Usual flowery verbiage - all loyal subjects encouraged, et cetera - but the kicker was in the last statement. For all personnel not specifically mentioned by name, it was to be considered volunteer duty only.

‘Now I wonder, where are you going to get a crew for that corrodo-mobile?’ the commodore taunted him.

That was the biggest single problem. Not enough pilots, but between fellow-instructors and advanced training/refresher courses, he could put together a capable cadre, enough wing and squadron commanders to lead the rest and bring them on.

Most of the lower ranks would have to come from planetary defence forces across the sector. They would take time to assemble and work up. Re-equipment would be a problem too, and then, kriff it, controllers, ground crew, building up from a semi-retired, run down training ship to a fully active combat unit again - where were they going to come from?

He understood carrier operations, but mainly from the outside. What happened under the skin of the parent vessel, he knew enough about to understand just how little he really knew.

‘You know, it would be a good move for the Alliance to strike here. Bomb the base facilities, kill the admin staff - they could do some real and lasting good for the Empire that way.’ He vented.

Bile aside, that might work as the seed of an idea. The Base Station encompassed the Voracious and two smaller - escort - training carriers, a handful of freighters and transports to play exercise target, and a local defence line based around a Dreadnaught, two Carrack and a handful of corvettes, as well as the ground facilities.

He was willing to bet that a fair proportion of them would be in a sufficiently advanced state of cafard - bored out of their minds, essentially - to want to go and fight. That only left the problem of how to turn them into a worthwhile crew.

‘Collect whatever wrecks, relics and maniacs you can. I will be interested in seeing how far under strength they are. Dismissed.’ Vehrec saluted, trying not to extend two fingers in the process and almost succeeding, and stomped out.

Seventy-four hundred crew to find, less the skeleton thousand already on board - no, assume half of them wouldn’t go. Sixty-nine hundred then. First stop, the signals shack.

It wasn’t a particularly appropriate title for a square kilometre of antenna farms, deepscan domes, control bunkers and subsidiary facilities, but it had stuck. Primarily range monitoring gear, it also kept track of all confidential publications and information dissemination to the facility. What he needed was for them to, essentially, place a want ad in the local issue of the Defence Journal. Find the officer of the day, explain, possibly indulge in light bribery...

‘Sorry, no can do.’ Which was not the response he wanted.

‘What do you mean, you can’t do it?’ he asked the duty senior lieutenant.

‘Thing is, Group Captain, the operations of Objective Pursuit Squadron 851-Yod are, um, we’re not allowed to put out anything about them. Classified beyond belief. Top security. We could probably be arrested just for talking about it.’

‘Hm. Really? Well, if it makes you feel better about it I can shoot you; it certainly would improve my mood.’ Vehrec said.


‘Oh, this is- this is kriffing ridiculous. I’m supposed to find volunteers for a mission that’s so heavily classified, I’m not allowed to talk to anybody about it and ask them to volunteer?’

‘Put that way, Sir, I can understand how shooting people might start to seem rational.’ The duty officer said, smiling nervously and sidling away to use a memory stack as cover.

‘I think I’ll start with the commodore.’ Vehrec walked out, leaned against the outer wall of the main admin block of the shack. Options. Examine options.

One, walk back in and threaten, bluster, and possibly shoot people until he got what he wanted. That had its drawbacks, however temporarily satisfying it might be.
1a, do the same from the cockpit of a fighter. Advantage, bigger explosions, less effective countermeasures. Still unproductive.
Hack in. Problem, he needed a slicer for that, which meant finding a suitable cadet or hiring a private contractor- both insecure and legally dubious. Might not work, anyway.
Appeal to higher authority. Could work, they could as easily hang him out to dry, assume that if he couldn’t solve a simple problem like that he wasn’t worth bringing along after all. He would look inept.
Lower authority? Spread the word via the noncoms, flight technicians, and the rest of the bush telegraph? Speed and clarity of transmission would be a problem. Nemoidian whispers. That would be the backup plan.
Find a loophole. Promising, but there had to be one there to be found.

Ah. Technically, according to his own orders, he was part of this unmentionable, unquestionable, ultra-classified outfit. All he had to do was make that work for him.

He strode back in past the guards. Draw his gun and put a shot into the ceiling? Nah, there were dish antenna up there.

‘Lieutenant, read my orders. Our preceding encounter was a test. Let’s see if you can do better this time. On my authority, as the senior ranking officer of the Sweep Line, Pursuit Squadron 851-Yod,’ waving the datapad with his orders encoded,
‘I commandeer this facility. By security regulation 1227-LF90A, signed by the Sector Admiral and confirmed by the Base Commander, this operation is top secret. You may not question, you may not discuss among yourselves. Clear?’

The signals people looked blankly at each other, each trying to work out if this was legitimate or not. Time to yell at them again.

‘Why are you impeding the progress of an important, dangerous and highly classified operation? This is what I need; a clear secure terminal connected to the main subcom broadcast tower, Station-wide access. Move it. Now.’

The stormtroopers shrugged. They appreciated an elegant solution to a problem as much as anyone else, and it was pot and kettle anyway, one attempt to fiddle the system countered by another. Until further orders were received, he had the right of it. The signals team collectively reached the decision that they were equally likely to be blamed either way, decided they resented the Commodore more, and stood aside.

‘Base Station Altyna, this is Group Captain Konstantin Vehrec. As you may not know, training carrier Voracious is due to be recommissioned as a fighting destroyer, attached to a regional support unit, 851-Yod. For whatever reason, Sector considers this to be unsafe, and has decided on a volunteer-only crew.
'I’m going. This is a front-line, active service duty, with all the promise of action, promotion and preferment that implies.’

Which was pure sales pitch, as anyone who had ever even come close to understanding the meaning of the word ‘casualties’ knew.

Hold on a minute, mate, part of his brain reminded him, you took absolutely no persuasion at all.

Shut up, he told it, and carried on. ‘Many of you, I’m sure, joined up to do something, not just sit here and slowly fossilise, to serve the empire, not be a glorified servant - to fight for the Empire and take your chances doing so. Well, this is the chance now. When we have a crew, we will be moving to join a subdivision of one of the most distinguished combat units in the Starfleet.
‘If I have to use my personal bird and stretch a tow cable, Voracious is going to war. I want a fighting crew, because I expect what we’ll mainly be doing is fighter based search and destroy.
'Because of the level this was classified at, you’re not supposed to be listening to this, but I’m ranking officer present, and if I decide that it’s worth sacrificing security for efficiency, then that’s between me and the commander of 851-Yod.

'We can use people in any capacity, but I mainly need ground crew, gunnery and engineering for the ship. Anyone who’s interested, get a message to me or my office.’

Which usually meant cockpit. Not a bad plan, actually- might keep him from being arrested.

The signal shack was filling up with people, a mix of a few would-be volunteers and rubberneckers come to watch the chaos; among them the second shift.

‘Group Captain?’ one of them asked. Shift commander, a senior lieutenant.

‘Yes?’ Vehrec looked him over. It was a big base, he knew most of the people on it vaguely. Caliphant, that was his name - not a range officer, base com team.

‘Sir, consider me a volunteer.’ Enthusiastic but trying not to look too eager, good. Young, late twenties maybe, dark haired, broad-shouldered, medium height.

‘What can you do?’

‘Navigating Officer on an Interdictor, acting captain on a class-1000.’

‘How did you end up running a shift at the shack?’ Vehrec asked.

‘My own fault. We captured a rebel courier, reeled it in and we were holding it for analysis, and I started playing with their computer. Only managed to crack the cursed thing wide open. Nobody believed me when I said it was pure dumb luck, I got transferred to signal analysis.
'I didn’t fit in - didn’t really want to - got tagged as trouble, bounced around a bit and ended up here. If this involves open combat, count me in.’

‘Yeah, you look like you could use some laserfire in your life. Consider yourself pencilled in as navigator, for now.’

Commander Vianca Falldess was a survivor and the descendant of survivors. Roughly a thousand years ago, her planet had been literally bombed back to the stone age.

It had happened during the chaos of the Light and Darkness War, when most of the galaxy was looking away. The mode had been unlike either side - small high-relativistic projectiles, aimed or self-aiming at centres of industry. Kilograms each, megatons of yield, not enough for extinction, never mind geological damage. Just enough to leave a defenceless and exploitable resource and population base.

Perhaps it might have happened that way if the war had gone on longer, but whoever it was - and they had gone to some lengths to cover their traces - had run out of time. They had not followed up with invasion, and the attack remained a bolt from the blue, endlessly argued over and analysed.

Rebuilding was a long and painful process - not helped by smugness, patronising interference, and rampant corruption and graft that nearly ruined the planet all over again. The Republic reconstruction crews had been evicted at spearpoint, the money ploughed into an autonomous orbital defence net, and the inhabitants of Bya Amadi had decided they would be better getting to their own feet.

In rebuilding the technology of the past, they had managed to make many of the mistakes of the past all over again. Unified planetary government had been a casualty of the bombardment, and combat between troop blocks armed with pike and musket was still well within living memory.

Commander Falldess was very much a warrior-aristocrat, and the daughter and descendant of warrior aristocrats; she had put in ten years on sailing warships before the death of the Republic, starting from when she was only nine years old.

When their world had been approached by the Empire, it was in the first flushes of the new order; before, as some would have it, the revolution had been betrayed.
Imperial Army construction units had done a thorough and honest job of ending factionalism and bringing their world back into the space age, and then-Acting Lieutenant Falldess had applied without hesitation to join the Imperial Starfleet.

It had been a long, hard road to get this far. After a ten years’ apprenticeship, in command of drunks and lunatics who were a far greater management challenge than the relatively well drilled and behaved sailors of the Imperial navy, leadership was almost trivial. Even space tactics came without too much difficulty.

What made her head spin was the mechanical side. She had no instinctive feel for the technology at all. On a sailing ship, she could feel the forces that acted on her directly, she could know in her gut what the state of the ship was and what she was going to do next.
On a starship, for all the romantic nonsense about sailing the infinite sea of night, no. They were simply too big and too stable; for years, every morning, she had woken up in a state of advanced panic, total absence of subliminal clues leading her subconscious to think the ship had hit a rock and gone aground or something.

She had had to virtually relearn how to see to be able to make sense of holographic displays.
She had managed to struggle through on a mixture of cramming and memorisation, guesswork, bluff and dumb luck amounting to a minor miracle. Also partly on aristocratic poise: I leave that sort of thing to the menials don’t you know, let the little people take care of it.

She had been at first ashamed and embarrassed by that, and then absolutely horrified as she realised how many of her fellow cadets were flaunting the same attitude, without seeming to think there was anything wrong. At the very least, they had the elementary familiarity of growing up with it all. She didn’t.

She had indeed been often wrong, but had held to the other half of the old adage, never uncertain. Deck officer, section officer, up through the ranks to exec and her own command eventually - many times confused, sometimes embarrassed, occasionally totally lost in the technicalities.

What she did have was the determination, and in some respects the primitive instinct, of her apprenticeship. She read people much more easily than she read machines, sifting real from false confidence, fakers and bluffers from professionals. What she didn’t know herself, she could pick a crew who did.

There had been blunders and mistakes along the way, gains and losses. She had lost one ship, a Carrack damaged beyond economic repair in a brawl with Republican revanchists, married and been widowed, and eventually found herself here with a heavy frigate command, on escort covering patrol.

Early middle aged, late youth she kept telling her reflection in the mirror, perhaps she could go further, but she was unsure whether, in the atmosphere that pervaded Vineland Sector Group, she wanted to.

Too many times, they had received positive orders that had put them in the wrong place. Far too often, negative orders not to be concerned, not to worry about or react to something that had later turned out to be important. At the very least, the sector group was far more concerned about making sure there didn’t appear to be a problem than they were about dealing with it, whatever it was.

At worst, active complicity. Whose? Not everybody, surely? There was no evidence. She may be suspicious - morally near- certain - but without knowing exactly who and exactly what, there was nothing to do but try not to breathe too much of the stink.

Now this. She had looked Jorian Lennart up in the dictionary of naval biography; a quasi-official production, crippled by security regulations and frequently informed by no better source than gossip or prejudice. In the absence of a real Navy List, it would have to do.

There was certainly a wealth of gossip and prejudice to go on. Joined at the end of the early period of the Clone Wars, present as a navigation officer in one of the ships of the covering force at Geonosis, strong hints of exceeding his authority - as nav, he performed as the de facto exec, as exec he ran first a Meridian, then Venator, as de facto captain. Present and decorated for his part over Coruscant.

Transferred to an Imperator, one of the earliest - same ship he commanded now, in fact - the captain, relative of a notorious rebel, had resigned in circumstances dubious enough to trigger an investigation. They had decided to court-martial Lennart, and for some inexplicable reason busted him down three grades, from commander and acting-captain to lieutenant.

That made no sense. It was far too light for a severe punishment, far too severe for light punishment. Either he had done something which he should have been shot for, and the court had been friends of his, or they had wanted his blood but that was the worst they could make stick. Probably the former, considering.

Logistics command, then planning, then training, then four years on the staff of the Raithal Naval Academy - extraordinary for someone whose career should have been dead and gone.

The DNB admitted that he was one of the best purely combatant officers the Starfleet had, as he had proved once he got his ship back, but called him all sorts of unreliable and unpredictable stopping just short of outright traitor.

Whether she trusted its judgement any more, considering what it said about her own sector fleet - not as much as she used to. This would be interesting.

That and, if she was reading the org chart correctly, her ship was going to be the most senior in the second heavy recon line, with a Demolisher, two Strike, three Carrack, two Servator, two Bayonet and four Marauder attached.

Fifteen ships total, mounting ten heavy and eighty-six medium turbolasers between them and carrying six battalions and eighteen squadrons; a force shaped far more for meeting engagement and encounter battle than strict reconnaissance.

Who was going to be in charge of that lot? Not her, surely?
Excitement and terror combined. As senior officer, she had led a four-ship skirmish line of basic Corellian and improved Assassin-class corvettes, with crews of no more than a couple of hundred each, even counting troops and pilots. Escort duty; co-operation with the other ships of the skirmish line had been easy, in face of the common enemy: the merchantmen.

The regulations on the behaviour of private haulage ships were draconian, and for good reason. Keeping them in formation had been a never-ending misery, that had reduced itself into the navy attempting to provoke the merchants into behaving badly enough that they had an excuse to shoot them themselves, the merchants trying every trick they knew to annoy the navy, or simply leave the convoy. They considered they were at more risk from their escorts than they were from pirates and separatist remnants, and after a sufficiently long period of both sides messing each other about, it was probably true.

That was it as far as multiple unit command went. Now four ships of real force, five medium and six small, and a purely military mission. Half of her wanted to leap at the chance and the other half was scared to death.

‘Signals, we have the link? Good.’

‘Yes, sir, we’ve been asked to wait- here he is.’

A long-faced man with hollow cheeks and bags under his eyes appeared on the holotank; substantially better uniformed than Lennart. Which was pretty much inevitable under the circumstances.

‘Afternoon, Firmus.’ Lennart began, casually. ‘How’s the new toy shaking out?’

There were shocked gasps and stifled laughter from behind Lennart as his crew realised who he was talking to, and how.

‘Captain Lennart,’ Firmus Piett began coldly, ‘we are very busy, and this is the wrong time for a social call.’

‘That’s Captain of the Line Lennart, me old chucker.’ Lennart said, putting on an outrageous accent.

‘I do want to know what that big bird can do, but- in accordance with regulation whajamacallit,’ the text appeared at the bottom of the image as Lennart waved a hand dismissively, ‘reporting contact with one of the fake ID’s at least of someone your current lord and master has an unhealthy interest in.
'Pretty good, might have been the real thing. One of my squadron put about twenty or so LTL into him, didn’t seem to do much…you’ll probably catch up with him eventually, tell him I said hi.’

Piett was having difficulty keeping a straight face. ‘The sheer unlikelihood of your remaining in the service continues to amaze me. You are living proof that no personnel reliability program can ever be one hundred percent dependable.’

‘And thank the Force for it. Have you ever met a hundred percent dependable personnel? I’ve got one at the moment, swap you. Trust me, you’ll be wanting to bang his head through a bulkhead within days. Maybe even succeeding, if the rumours about how far the mass saving on your ship went are true.’

‘Considering the state of that moving heap of dirt and indiscipline you call a command, I don’t see what you’re basing that on,’ Piett snapped back. He was in a state of high irritability.

‘Losing control of your tongue already? I do sympathise. It must be exhausting, running a crew of toy soldiers brainscrubbed out of the initiative they need to blow their own noses,’ Lennart retorted.

‘Demanding and rewarding, far more so than being in command of a gang of privateering tinkerers,’ the officially acceptable officer said.

‘Ah, now there is a tempting notion. Have you considered just how much a renegade star destroyer could get away with, and for how long? If they sent you and that overgrown steam blimp after us, we could manage to get away with it damn near forever.’ Lennart prodded him.

Piett reddened slightly. ‘Careful, Firmus.’ Lennart continued. ‘You’re in danger of looking like you’re not undead.’

‘I have more important things to do than to listen to you insult the finest ship in the Imperial Starfleet. Good day.’ He disconnected.

‘Skipper, you really think you can get away with that? Calling Lord Vader’s flag captain “me old chucker”?’ Brenn asked.

‘It won’t make things any worse than they already are. He’s loathed me ever since I met his half-brother,’ Lennart said, grinning.

‘Who? He’s not listed in Piett’s file.’

‘No wonder - different mothers; he spells it differently, and they hate each other’s guts. I bumped into him when I was at Raithal. If I ever write my memoirs, in the chapter headed “Things I don’t understand how the kriff I managed to get away with,” surviving a night on the piss - actually, a fortnight - with ISB Colonel Max Pyat without being either shot, court martialled again, dying of liver failure, being displaced into a right-angled reality or simply driven into a straitjacket will head the list, even above the Palmus Viridis.’

‘The practical purpose of that, of course,’ Lennart said in a rather more sober tone of voice, ‘the regulation I almost quoted is entirely genuine. We were obliged to report that, and a standard form fired off through official channels would do exactly what it was supposed to - direct official attention to the situation. I think I pretty much managed to do so in a way that guarantees it won’t be taken seriously. The chance to take a few pokes at Firmus Piett is simply a bonus. I mean, he was almost as unprofessional as I was, except I was actually trying. Look at the colour of the man’s face, how old before his time he looks, how badly he’s lost his sense of humour. He looks under so much stress, there is simply no way he can possibly be enjoying that job.’

‘Just in case, Captain, in the exercise schedule - would you like me to insert a few games of hide and seek with the Executor?’ Rythanor, who as sensor officer was responsible for that, suggested.

‘Probably just as well.’ Lennart agreed. ‘Assume they’ve finally managed to get the bugs out.’

‘I didn’t know you were so against the new fast dreadnoughts.’ Brenn said.

‘Oh, any ship which gives so many accountants heart attacks can’t be all bad.’ Lennart joked. ‘Seriously, what’s that thing’s natural prey? It’s gross overkill when it comes to the rebellion. We only need to win one battle in ten to grind them down to nothing in the end, and we’re doing a kriff of a lot better than that. By the time that ship could see enough action to justify herself, the rest of the fleet could kill the Alliance off with decades to spare. So what is she actually for? Neither of us brought up the words ‘renegade’ and ‘privateer’ by accident.’

‘Makes sense.’ Brenn admitted. ‘We’re the only people with ships that hard to chase down and kill. She’s for internal security, then?’

‘Piett made his reputation bringing down pirates; the choice of him as a flag captain does rather point that way.’

‘So you’ve just managed to infuriate a renowned pirate hunter, in charge of a ship whose unstated mission is to find and kill dissenters...why do I suddenly feel much less safe?’

‘You and most of the battleship and cruiser commanders in the Starfleet.’ Lennart pointed out.

‘Bridge, Engineering.’ Junior link officer. ‘Search teams found Kestrel to be carrying one replacement prow turbolaser unit. Commander Mirannon intends to mount it in the third axial socket.’

‘Good. Tell him to carry on.’ Lennart replied. It was such a single-answer question, he would have known there was something else seriously wrong if the chief had thought he needed to discuss it.

‘Now all we need is another hundred or so and we might be able to give the Executor a run for her money.’ Brenn underestimated.

‘The other thing is, skipper,’ he said very quietly, ‘you’re playing both sides against the middle, aren’t you?’

‘What, you mean going out of my way to leave barbs that’ll stick in Piett’s mind, fester, get him thinking and trigger some kind of investigation? Would I drop Adannan in it like that?’ he almost managed to sound innocent.

‘Of course you would.’ Brenn said, accurately. ‘Report to him that you made it all sound like an irrelevance, too, but Piett, isn’t that just playing with antimatter, more risk than the objective’s worth?’

‘Considering what I’m starting to suspect that Adannan actually wants, no.’

There was a knock on the chamber door. ‘Jhareylia? Take it. If I shout, duck.’ Aldrem ordered, flipping the fire selector on his T-21 to full auto, moving to cover her.

Jhareylia glared at him. ‘Easy on the melodrama, it shouldn’t come to that.’

‘Optimist.’ Aldrem said.

‘Put the blaster down, I need to talk to you.’ A female voice none of them recognised came from outside the door.

‘Damn, she’s sharp. What do we do?’ Hruthhal hissed to Aldrem.

‘I’m starting to feel conspicuous out here. That and I don’t think you can shoot me through an armoured door.’ The voice said.

Jhareylia cracked the door open. Kick it the rest of the way, Aleph-3 thought, go in low and use her as cover, hit him stomach or groin, grab his gun, and hope there weren’t more than, say, four of them.

Jhareylia’s eyes widened at the sight of an exotic variant stormtrooper; she tried to slam the door again.

Kriff, Aleph-3 thought, shoved it open and grabbed the woman in the steward’s uniform, used her as a human shield while she tried to work out what was going on.

Fifteen of them. No, eighteen. One with a squad-support blaster she was looking right down the muzzle of. She glanced at his rank and ID patches: high noncom, gunner. Probably was good enough to blast her round the human shield. The others: huddled in a corner were Adannan’s two twi’lek pets. Both without their leashes.

This was definitely the trouble she had come looking for. Throw her human shield at the gunner and follow up? No, he would simply pivot on his back foot, clear line of sight and blast her to red mist. She released Jhareylia who ducked away, put her hands up.

‘I think I might be on your side.’

‘Dewback. Stormtroopers follow orders. Whose orders are you acting on?’ the senior chief said, aiming at her centre of mass.

‘Somebody has to be the exception that proves the rule.’ Aleph-3 said, trying not to sound too aggressive- or too submissive.

‘We know she’s with him, Pel; take her now.’ Gendrik advised.

‘No.’ Jhareylia - and Suluur - advised him.

‘You’ve met my sister?’ she said.

‘Clones.’ Suluur grunted. There were only slightly more of him than there were of her.

‘If I’m under anyone’s orders, it’s probably Chief Mirannon’s. He said you had a problem you might need professional help with.’

The rest of them had closed the door behind her, brought more light up. This was a heat control chamber; they were in the control room for one of the giant neutrino emitter banks, visible beyond the transparisteel.

‘So what kind of professional help can you offer?’

‘Apart from being a qualified field interrogator? Apart from being special operations? What sort of professional help do you think you need- actually, don’t answer that.’

‘You are either legitimate, or a very good actress,’ Aldrem said, not lowering the gun.

‘Both. Although you’d better hope I’m not- because legitimate is a kriffing strange idea coming from someone who’s just kidnapped the Special Assistant to the Privy Council’s personal pets. You need a medic as well, by the way.’

‘Would that be you, too? With a medkit in your belt pouch where we have to let you draw it, oops it goes bang, or have one of us play human shield again?’ Aldrem said, still not trusting her.

‘Relax, I know my limitations. In close quarters like this, I could take any six of you, maybe any eight - but not all sixteen.’

‘So we outnumber you two to one. Right.’ Suluur said, impressed by her totally matter of fact tone. ‘Pel, we can shoot her or not shoot her. I don’t see how vaping her would get us any closer to sorting this out, might as well take the chance.’

‘Whose side are you on - sorry, damn fool question under the circumstances.’ Aldrem said to Suluur, and to Aleph-3 ‘Get on with it.’

‘I have done the basic field medic course, and had to use it a few times. I’m the best you’re going to get without having to answer too many questions,’ Aleph-3 said, kneeling down beside the two twi’lek and unsealing her first aid pack, ‘but the squeamish may want to look away, because I don’t think keeping this pair alive in the long term matters. Just long enough to extract a little evidence from.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 07:33pm, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 25b

‘Signals, command hookup enabled? Good.’

The crest of Fleet Destroyer Squadron 851 hovered in the display tank for several seconds - the round-headed winged mace - before fading out to a flag bridge, the nerve centre of the Urbanus-class light cruiser Jorvik, squadron lead ship.

Ranked tiers of com and sensor consoles around central display platforms.

‘Admiral Rawlin? Lennart.’ For once, he saluted, properly.

The rear-admiral was a giant of a man; he radiated personal authority with the effortless determination of a man who did not need to shout to make himself heard, did not need to draw himself up to be seen.

‘Jorian.’ They had known each other since the clone wars. ‘Advice, fire support, both?’

‘Both, probably, but first I need somebody to backstop my judgement on this,’ he asked. He explained the situation. The initial rebel contacts, the discovery of the sector group’s fudging the numbers, Adannan, attack, infiltration and trap, and now this.

‘So you have managed to get yourself in the position of attacking a fortress planet, with possibly unreliable assistants - at least one crack ship in there, though - a dubiously loyal sector group at your back, under the political command of a man whom you suspect may be about to go renegade and try to take you with him, and a political time bomb to deal with even if you succeed. You don’t get into trouble by halves, do you?’ Rawlin said, amused and worried both.

‘I was hoping that just this once, there might be enough to share with the rest of the squadron?’ Lennart admitted.

‘Honestly, it’s the politics of it that scare me more than anything else. What do you remember, personally, about the hundred and eighteenth?’

‘Hmm. We do know that the destruction of the Jedi was accomplished by some kind of neural trigger, an emergency insurance system embedded into the clones. We’re not supposed to know that much, and certainly not supposed to speculate further along those lines,’ the admiral said, clearly intending to do so. ‘Are you assuming that Ord Corban has remained relatively untouched, apart from what use the Alliance has managed to make of it?’

‘Them or whoever else. The Sector Group is training a lot more pilots than it needs, and I can’t help wondering where they all end up. Between that and the Falleen Moff - you know the rumours about Prince Xizor,’ Lennart suggested.

‘They are still rumours. If they do turn out to be true, though, half the fleet will be racing each other to see who can get him first.’ Rawlin said. ‘If I’m reading between the lines of your report correctly, you’re suggesting that the real prize of Ord Corban is hiding in plain sight, in front of their noses.’

‘Special Orders One through Sixty-Five.’ Lennart confirmed.

‘Or with less drama, a chance to closely analyse, maybe duplicate the loyalty control and neuroengineering techniques that made however many Orders there actually are possible. That would be a very powerful tool in the hands of a renegade.’

‘Even if all he intends is to blackmail his way to a higher position of authority, it’s still a massive risk.’ Lennart opined.

‘The fleet was very enthusiastic with its bombardments in the Geonosian revolt. I wonder if that was why - to bury, vapourise, the details of what was done and how? In theory, you could find them in any veteran stormtrooper’s head, but the number of people and facilities capable of reverse engineering that - low enough that they will all be very, very heavily watched.
'I don’t think there are any other clone versus human incidents that could provide as direct a path to the answers. You’re right; this is the flashpoint.’ Rawlin agreed.

‘Even if I’m wrong-‘ Lennart began.

‘There are still more than enough traces of rebel, criminal, renegade and possibly alien involvement to justify a deployment. One thing about your operations plan: the work up time. What do you expect the rebels to be doing during the period of grace you’re giving them?’ the admiral asked, and with good reason.

‘They’ll be executing either a panicked instant withdrawal, personnel only, or a covered, staged withdrawal removing as much of the machinery of the yards as they can. Third option, they do a Yavin, hole up and make a proper battle of it.
'With the first option, we jump straight to dealing with the internal problems. Acceptable. Second option, we have a running fight with a lot of traces to follow and a trail to another base further down the line. Again, acceptable.
'Third option: we’ve beaten them in loose, open engagements often enough so far that this is unusually probable. Fight a proper set-piece under cover of Ord Corban’s defence net, beat back the Imperial strike force - us - and withdraw in good order. If I were whoever’s in command of the rebels, assuming I still had any force to do it with I would opt for that.’

‘You’re physically detached from the sector group network, and there’s bad blood between the sector Moff and the operation’s political commander. If their intelligence is good enough to work that out, then I should rate it a near certainty.
'If their subversion and destabilisation arms are good enough, you could be on course to be the first ship attacked by Imperial and Rebel forces simultaneously.’ Admiral Rawlin said, joke masking serious warning.

‘What, the rebels take advantage of our internal troubles to get Xeale and Adannan shooting at each other - if that happens, they’re more likely to stand off and then try to take the survivors. How much support can I expect?’ Lennart asked.

Peltast and Daring are within easy reach, [/i]Speaker, Varangian[/i] and Tigress within five sectors. They can be there within three hours and within six respectively. The rest of the squadron, depends on existing commitments. Eleven days’ warning and I believe only Aeneas and Venabulum would be unable to deploy. Can you justify giving them those eleven days?’ Rawlin said, worried.

‘If we moved now, with what’s ready, it would be militarily more successful,’ Lennart admitted. ‘Sometimes I wish I really was the frothing madman I get made out to be, so I could do crazy things like that without worrying about it, but the political situation needs to play itself out further, so we can fight a battle that actually achieves something besides increasing our kill score.’

‘The high-risk, high stakes option.’ Rawlin said. ‘Looked at that way, from you it makes perfect sense. You sound like you have enough trouble to be getting on with, so don’t go looking for any more, d’you hear? Two private wars at once is sufficient.’

‘Relax, Admiral. If I get this right, I should only have to deal with one at a time.’ Lennart said.

‘If you get it right and they get it wrong, you mean. Good luck - oh, and transfer this line down to engineering. Engineer-Constructor Captain Sholokhov wants several words with Commander Mirannon - starting with “deranged kleptomaniac pack-rat kitbasher”, I believe.
'It’s either a reprimand or an invitation to Scrapyard Scramble. I can’t disapprove of increasing your command’s fighting potential, but do try not to give your Chief too many more excuses to rebuild bits of your ship.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 07:37pm, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 25c

‘Where are they?’ Adannan growled.

“Don’t look at me; you’re the one with the extrasensory perception,” Laurentia thought, decided against saying it. In his better moods, Adannan allowed her to speak her mind freely - behind the assumption that as he could read it clear anyway. She had nothing to lose by being blunt.

In a mood like this, deference was clearly her best option.

‘My Lord, the ship has been substantially refitted on many occasions. Her deck plan has been altered. There is a higher than usual chance that they are simply lost,’ she said, trying to sound properly sceptical.

‘You don’t believe that any more than I do.’

‘After meeting some of the crew, I would consider virtually anything possible. If Igal and Reni were unfortunate enough to find someone prepared to give them directions, they could be anywhere from stem to gudgeon.’

‘Star destroyers have neither of those things and you know it. This is not the time to be facetious,’ Adannan reprimanded.

‘My Lord, if you wish to understand how the crew of this ship think, facetiousness is absolutely essential,’ Laurentia said. ‘The only things they take seriously are those that go without saying - and if I may ask, what do you think happened to them?’

‘Kidnapped and murdered, or tortured for information,’ Adannan said, matter of fact.

‘You sound as if you were expecting that,’ she said. And he had let her wander off on her own, too. She was not given to questioning the tides of life that had brought her here, but moments like that made “why me?” seem reasonable.

‘It was one of the possibilities I foresaw,’ Adannan said, infuriatingly. ‘They were expendable, in pursuit of the greater prize.’

She wasn’t daft enough to ask if she was. The answer would be 'of course’. Anybody and everybody was, and he was not shy of risk himself - if he could see a benefit in it.

‘Isn’t that perilously close to a declaration of open war? At least, rebellion?’ she asked.

‘On whose behalf? We’ll find them squashed into ooze at the bottom of a malfunctioning turbolift; carbonised, and not the cryonic version, by a power grid accident; atomised by heatsinks. Something evidence-destroying yet deniable. That’s how I would do it.’

‘My lord, obviously there is tension - a more than half renegade like Captain Lennart would be at odds with anyone - but would he go so far as kidnapping and murder?’

‘If he is the man I took him for, if he is worthy of the Dark Side of the Force, then yes.’

‘Are Igal and Reni no longer useful to you? What about Myfara?’ Their pilot. ‘She wasn’t even expended; she was simply thrown away.’

‘By what right,’ he said, low menace in his voice, ‘do you claim to know any part of my plans?’

‘Practicality, my lord. It is more difficult than need be, to carry out my part in a plan I don’t understand.’ She took a chance asking that. ‘You’re not a spaceman, Lord, you need her simply as an interpreter.’

‘You can nurse her back to health, if you want,’ Adannan said, dismissively.

‘Thank you, lord,’ Laurentia said, inwardly groaning. This was not what she was good at.

‘I expect Lennart to try to decipher my intentions. Such active, aggressive probing is a good sign. For the license it gives me in dealing with him, as much as the information it conveys. Now I need to feed him and lead him accordingly.’

‘Lord, the watcher who reported him - she may not be objective. She may have been severely over-reporting his ability to learn the ways of the Force.’

‘She?’ Adannan said, intrigued.

‘Yes, lord. A- a kinswoman of mine,’ she said, hesitantly.

For a moment, Adannan wondered about the possibility of some sort of substitution. Either way. ‘What does
this clone do?’

‘Jedi hunter. Part of a reinforced squad attached to legion HQ,’ Laurentia said, tentatively.

‘I can feel your fear,’ Adannan said. ‘You’re afraid of me. Of what I can order you to do.’

‘Yes- also, I don’t understand. When are you going to start trying to teach Lennart the ways of the Force?’

‘Once I have measured him. Once I know how he will try to use what powers I give him against me,’ Adannan declared.

‘I confess I could waste day after day trying to understand how he has recreated this ship in his own warped image. In his own way he is more of a threat than most of the Alliance; open enmity we can deal with, alternative methods of being on the side of the Empire less easily. I could try to frame him as a defector in place-‘ This was something that Laurentia understood; he was using her as a sounding board. Talking his ideas out. Lennart did the same, except he expected the people he was talking to to understand and participate.
‘- but that would require more political capital than I choose to expend, as yet.’

Right, she thought. Since when were you given to playing it cautiously? ‘My lord, if I can suggest - you can’t measure him from a distance. You need to be closer than that to probe him, get under his skin and find his vulnerabilities.
'Also I don’t think you can afford to take your eye off him. Leave him and his crew of maniacs alone for long enough and they will begin to conspire against you.’

‘What,’ he snapped, ‘makes you think I am unaware of that?’

‘The fact that you don’t seem to be doing anything about it, Lord,’ she said, diffidently.

‘There is nothing they can find that matters more than their attempt to do so condemns them,’ Adannan said. ‘Don’t you understand? All it took was a little melodrama, a touch of scenery-chewing, and I nudge them into a mode of thinking that provides me with all the evidence I could ever need against them, and some amusement besides.’

‘It’s still subtle, Lord. Very subtle.’

‘Too subtle, you mean? If I give him enough rope to hang himself, he might manage to rig a trebuchet out of it?’ Adannan smiled. ‘Even if he could, he won’t. You talk so glibly of a crew of maniacs - don’t you understand what that means?’

‘There’s only a twist of fate in it between their being an Imperial and a Rebel crew. They are utterly, utterly nonconformist, Lord; that’s what I understand by it,’ Laurentia said.

‘They’ve shocked you out of using your wits. I must meet your sister,’ Adannan decided. ‘Look at Lennart’s file; to most people, a homicidal looney hanging on to his security clearance by his fingernails, good for the bloody work but not to be trusted in the sensitive details; he has successfully avoided postings to three fleet flagships and the Death Star through that. The fact that he is the chief madman in a crew of madmen - to me, that stinks of thwarted ambition. The big fish in the small pond, you see?’

‘Are you saying that-‘

‘Of course I am. He’s been playing the system all along. He is the chieftain of his own little circle here, his own pocket kingdom. He’s done an excellent job of defending its borders, true, but now it is time for the wider galaxy to break in on him. We-‘

‘Lord Adannan. We have a problem.’ It was the Givin. ‘A holonet transmission was made from this ship - to the Executor.’

‘Perhaps not as isolated as you thought, then,' Laurentia couldn’t resist.

‘Get him for me,’ Adannan said, angry and scared. ‘Get him for me at once.’

‘Well. Lessons learnt?’ Lennart asked his command team. This was the post-exercise analysis; Lennart had taken one of the formations in Caderath’s computer - now about to rejoin the strike line as a fast pursuit element - with one bridge crew shift and a lot of computer assistance, his command team and second shift the Pursuit Squadron - average examples of the ships, they would individuate out the performances later.

It was scarcely believable that Caderath had been less than two weeks ago - no, even less than that. Tactical Rebel, strategic Imperial victory. Lennart had kept his ships closely grouped in hunting packs, picked off individual Imperial scouts, forced the heavier units of the squadron to divide in pursuit.

He whipsawed back and forth between threatening them and preying on trade routes, stinging tactical bombardments on poorly defended worlds - arrive, spray shot in the direction of bases and planetary shield generators before they could be raised, hopefully, leave-done damage and inflicted losses, but ultimately been hounded out of the operational area.

‘Same old story. Same logic they used to justify the Death Star. You can’t stamp out a rebellion that has nothing to defend. Give us a target we can strike at and they’re toast.’ Wathavrah said.

‘There’s a school of thought,’ Lennart suggested, ‘that suggests that’s why we haven’t bombarded Dac into vapour yet; we gain more by keeping them in one place and whittling away the calamari home fleet a tentacle at a time, than hammering them and making them scatter to the edges of the galaxy.
'Which is a digression. This particular exercise?’

‘Collective fighter operations,’ Olleyri said. ‘That and heavy use of hyperspace capable fighters. We need the TIEs in close, need the defensive screen against Rebel strike fighters. I reckon, operate in packs of small ships, use recon fighters to make up the difference.’

‘The objective pursuit squadron is based on the idea of a fighter blanket; we scatter TIEs to do close inspections of an entire inner and mid system simultaneously, then jump in heavy ships to deal with whatever they find,’ Brenn counterpointed.

‘The first we know of a system’s being rebel-held is when the recon fighters start getting jumped. Under competent command, they can punch enough holes in the sensor net to escape, then bounce the elements that move in for close inspection,’ Olleyri pointed out.

‘Thank you.’ Lennart acknowledged. ‘That’s why I want as many hyperdrive fighters as possible - first response, cover the sublight dispersed screen. That’s why the Venator, and specifically an older example. We may end up using Clone Wars craft with booster rings.’

‘The maintenance nightmare that would involve, our readiness would plummet.’ Brenn pointed out.

‘True, and I’m already starting to worry about that ship’s ability to project even standard fighter types. She seems to be in much poorer shape than I was expecting; my own damnfool fault for assuming Sector was following standard procedure and using the ship to train ground crew as well as pilots. Solutions?’

‘How permanent is this arrangement? I was thinking of transfers.’ Brenn suggested.

‘Farm out some of our techies? We’d need to import some in return, and get them all back when we’re done.’ Olleyri said.

‘We are overmanned.’ Lennart pointed out. The Imperator class had been crewed on the assumption that post-War, natural born crews would be just as inefficient and indifferent to duty as prewar republic crews. The Clone War mainstay Venators ran on seventy-four hundred crew and half of them ground staff for the fighter complement, the Victory-class and their derivatives forty-eight to sixty-four hundred; clone crews, capable and disciplined. An Imperator manned as optimistically would run to only twenty thousand, six hundred crew; the designers had nearly doubled that so they could be sure of throwing enough people at the problems that some of them would stick.

One of the biggest challenges any captain faced was keeping them all busy. In that respect, Mirannon’s ‘improvements’ were a distinct advantage. The Clone War era designs were arguably undermanned with modern crews, but that had its benefits, too; driving the crew to exhaustion was one way of keeping them out of trouble.

‘Yes, I think the first ship we need to do that with will be Dynamic. Swap out enough of our own to form a working skeleton crew, take some of those from the Dynamic’s crew who seem capable of improvement. Work on them from both ends.
'Screen the crews on the sector group provided ships, too, look for ISB and political agents. Assuming we actually have anything from Voracious to screen - what was the latest on that situation?’

‘The base commander managed to fiddle the orders enough to make it a volunteer-only operation,’ Olleyri reported. ‘That could actually be good for us, provided we can live with total chaos.’

There was a brief moment of silence, then everyone else, including the captain, said simultaneously ‘Not a problem.’

They all laughed. ‘Galactic Spirit help us if we ever get transferred back to normal jobs,’ Lennart said. ‘Tactical question; probing and reconnaissance of the objective, no, yes, if so how much?’

‘From what we’ve been picking up,’ Rythanor said, ‘the rebels’ relationship with sector group is one of armed standoff, no close ties. We have no evidence, really; they know that, at least.
‘This operation has to be of importance to them - is this overanalysis? I think this probably looks different a couple of levels up the Alliance chain of command. From the top, all right, we have a covert production and fleet support operation that depends, and so far has got away with, relying on political secrecy.
'The local Alliance elements, even the region, know we’re out for blood. They probably want to make a fight of it. They’ll also be wanting regional and strategic reserve support, MC-80s or better. High Command may take the risk, but it’ll turn into a sure thing if they know that they’re blown, for instance if we run too many recon fighter overflights.’

‘We can’t count on their stupidity,’ Brenn said.

‘No, but we can give them every possible opportunity to exercise it. Local Alliance command will be calling for reinforcements; how do we get the maximum possible information out of Ord Corban without reinforcing their case?’ Rythanor asked.

‘The squadron includes two dedicated recon ships, the carrack Ungovernable - good name for a rebel, that - and the radical-variant Strike-class Blackwood. Also our own hyperwidget,’ Lennart said. ‘Long range passive on their part is the minimum position - we need some tactical data, after all. How much more?’

‘Why do I sense another exercise coming on?’ Brenn said, sounding tired.

The display table crackled to life. A man in a black hooded robe. ‘Captain Lennart. Is this some bizarre plan to get rid of me, by driving my blood pressure through the ceiling?’

Wathavrah muttered something about him finally starting to fit in, Brenn about being able to come up with much more bizarre plans than that; Lennart ignored both of them.

‘Remember the theory - we need to do this nearly properly? We recorded that conversation, and you may want to take a look at it before you make any decisions.’

Without waiting for permission, Lennart started the record of his call to Captain Firmus Piett of the Executor. Adannan’s entourage and Lennart’s bridge crew both watched it like a piece of cinema - a short, absurdist skit on military protocol maybe.

‘I could have resorted to officialese, translated into civil service speak, but there was the terrible danger that he might actually have been able to make sense of it - are you all right?’

‘My brain is still reeling from the concept of placing a prank call to the flagship of the Death Squadron,’ Adannan said, with the stunned transparency of honest confusion. ‘To take such an utterly ridiculous risk, and in such an utterly ridiculous way.’

‘How else could it reasonably have been taken? Solo is the man who backshot Vader - Vader himself; there are standing orders to report any sighting or contact. Given the impossibility of doing so through normal channels, what else was left? Disobey the order, and I suspect enough of the ships we chose have residual loyalties to the sector group, enough to report us anyway, and that would look extremely bad, wouldn’t it?’ Lennart suggested.

‘So you chose to do so in a way that could not possibly be taken seriously. An elegant, imaginative, and completely insane solution.’

‘But nonetheless fit for purpose,’ Lennart pointed out.

‘You will clear it with me before you do anything like that again,’ Adannan said, and dropped the connection.

‘You let him off very lightly, Lord.’ Laurentia said.

‘I’m trying to decide whether he inhabits a parallel universe, or whether I do,’ Adannan said. ‘But you live in my world, understand?’

‘Of course, Lord,’ she said, voice carefully level. ‘I repeat my point about it not being safe to take your eye off them, though.’

‘Kidnapped and tortured for information? On the strength of that I’m more likely to get Igal and Reni back as qualified jet-unicycle riders.’

The turret crew had watched Aleph-3 prodding and probing the twi’lek; the injured female, she had more or less fixed up-injected the right drugs, she thought - and tried to push her from a state of shock into one of hypnotic suggestion.

Watched in varying states of queasiness. Jhareylia was one of the worst, but she forced herself to pay attention; a valuable lesson in Imperial field interrogation technique, she was telling herself. Aldrem held her as they both watched, fascinated and appalled.

Aleph-3 preferred to work without an audience, but needs must. Both were difficult - unnaturally difficult - to deal with. They struggled, physically and mentally - took skill to control, never mind extract from.

‘This is not good,’ she said, standing up. ‘Let me take a look at that,’ she said, pointing at the collar. Tarshkavik tossed it to her; she caught it, popped open the seals, started looking at the circuitry. ‘Oh, this is bad. They are heavily conditioned, but it all resides in their heads. If I didn’t know it wasn’t legal, I’d suspect someone of playing with their neurology.’

‘What has legality got to do with it?’ Gendrik said. ‘Last time I checked, slavery was illegal enough to be getting on with - what’s another moral outrage or two?’

‘Depends who it is you’re driving to a state of rage, does it not?’ she said. ‘Can you contact the Captain without raising too much attention?’

‘From here? I think,’ Suluur said. ‘Just got to route it so that it looks like it came from somewhere we’re actually supposed to be.’ He set about doing that.

‘Captain Lennart? OB173.’ She said, as soon the link was established. ‘I, ah, captain…’ she didn’t want to talk to him in company, didn’t want to have to explain. Nothing else for it. Never mind knowing no fear, there were times when knowing no shame was more important. ‘I got involved in the, ah, special business,’ she said, hoping no-one other than him was listening. Apart from the team listening over her shoulder. ‘Can I speak freely?’

‘Moment.’ Lennart said, retreating to his day cabin, responding with a shrug to Brenn’s raised eyebrow.

‘What do you want to talk to me about, that diverges so drastically from your duty? So desperately unofficial?’ Lennart said carefully, fencing with her.

‘From you, Cap…Jorian, that’s rich. You order your own men to kidnap two of the personal servants of an adept of the dark side, and you talk about officialdom and duty?’ she said, letting the stress in her voice show.

‘You sound almost as if you’re about to lose the plot. Go on, dive in. I did years ago,’ he said, trying both to deflect whatever she was about to say and to warn the turret team.

‘I was asked to make a choice. Don’t make me regret that.’

‘What choice was that?’ Lennart said, more aware than she was about how almost-hysterical she sounded.

‘Between Adannan’s side and yours.’

‘Do you really think it’s come down to that? He or I, and damn the Empire that we both serve?’ Lennart asked, knowing perfectly well that it had but wondering how she had managed to work it out.

‘No, Captain, I know it has. I have some evidence for you.’

‘And quite a lot else to say, too. I may want to make this very, very public, and you have the secure line you wanted anyway - the gun team couldn’t really be in this any deeper; you might as well say it out loud.’

‘Captain, Adannan’s slaves have been…more than just programmed, more than just beaten and abused into submission. Without full medical facilities I can’t be very specific, but it is my professional opinion that their reaction spectra are so different from their species normal that their neural architecture must have been severely modified.’

‘He sliced their brains.’ Lennart said, sounding as if he was expecting it.

‘You don’t sound at all surprised,’ she said, slightly indignant. ‘Precognition at work?’

‘Parallel investigation. You have the contacts for this part, though - can you find out what Adannan was, before he turned to the Force? As a Dark Jedi, presumably he does have a past, isn’t a mad-monk blank slate.’

She weighed the difficulties involved. ‘Yes. Can I ask what it is you expect to find?’

‘Isn’t it obvious by now? I expect to find that he was a doctor, or at least medical student.’

‘That approaches common sense,’ she said, calmly, wondering what sort of story, what kind of lies she would have to tell, to get access to the information.

‘So I’m not yet fully clear of the charge of possessing uncommon senses?’ he quipped.

‘You never will be,’ she half-shouted at him, strain showing. ‘You can fight him any way you choose, but unless you actually bring him down with his own weapons, it will be from outside the charmed circle, and you will be under suspicion forever. You have to take up the use of the Force; then at least it will be within the circle, acceptable to his masters.’

‘So you think you have me cornered at last?’

She opened her mouth to shout at him, realised how undisciplined it would look, decided on sweet reason. Even though she felt like grabbing Lennart and trying to shake some sense into him. ‘It’s hard to do that when I’m trying to stand behind you. Look, Captain, you may be in charge, but I’m the relevant specialist.
'I know the theory of the Force, the laws written and unwritten concerning it, and the place of the Force within the Imperial power structure, a great deal better than you do. So why do you persist in avoiding letting me tell you about it?’

‘You know, when you put it like that, I can see that you actually have a point,’ Lennart said, somehow managing to push her even closer to the edge by being reasonable.

‘Come up to the ready room. Oh, Port-4- the pair of kidnap victims. Can you dress their scars and injuries up-‘ it was a safe bet that they would have some- ‘to look like a credible accident, and dump them on Medical?’

‘Yes, Sir, I think we can manage that,’ Suluur said. ‘I though we were just going to shoot them and melt the bodies, though.’

‘Don’t worry, I’m not going soft, there’s a reason.’ Chiefly, it involved further playing with Adannan’s head. ‘One other thing. Aldrem, your team is now a security problem,’ Lennart said, trying not to make that as sinister as it sounded.

‘Sir?’ Aldrem said, slowly and carefully.

‘The situation works nicely. TDY. I’m sending you and your team to HIMS Dynamic as instructors - that ship barely shoots three point two. By transferring you to lick them into shape I solve two problems at once, that and getting you out of the immediate reach of the owner of those two twi’lek.
'It also means, Galactic Spirit knows why, that I can take this opportunity to bump you up to Lieutenant.’

‘Er, thank you, Sir. I think.’ Aldrem said. He had pretty much given up on making officer; it meant actually having to obey the rules instead of pretending to do so, hanging out in the wardroom - he was by no means sure he wanted it, now that he actually came face to face with the prospect.

‘Pack up and move fast, and while you’re on Dynamic keep your mouths shut about the politics, except with Captain Dordd. That and start with the basics. I want that ship to have the same number of gun barrels when you’re finished as when you start, clear?’

‘Not entirely, Captain,’ Jhareylia said. ‘What about me?’

‘Ah. Instruction assistant, that would be- we can fake that up too.’ Which means I have to explain to the Exec what’s going on. Kriff. ‘Anything else?’

‘A whole bunch of questions I don’t think we want to actually ask, Captain.’ Aldrem replied.

‘I’m starting to wish I’d said that to begin with. Carry on, Lieutenant.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 07:44pm, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 26

The squadron was starting to come together now; almost all the ships assigned to it were in place. Fleet tenders had arrived to tow away the remnants of Kestrel and Penthesilea, said nothing about the bits missing; any attempt to slice through their computer systems would be made at the dockyard.

At least, any further attempts.

The only unit of major importance still to join the squadron was Voracious. Altyna Station was in a state of uproar. Vehrec had moved into the old Venator, taking up accommodation in the fighter control bridge tower, and started taking stock. The old ship had seen use during the Wars, dented and repaired a few times - minor incidents, nothing requiring major structural rebuild - but, as sometimes happened, the fighter complement she had had when she was retired to training duty was a very mixed bag.

Apparently for personnel rather than mechanical reasons, she had served her last active tour as a transport-carrier, ferrying replacement craft to front line units and damaged fighters back. The collection of odds and sods she had acquired was one of the main reasons she had been transferred to training duty, in fact; at best, black flag Aggressor work, nominally a wide range of experience. At worst, a wider range of ways to screw up.

The main initial flight and gunnery trainer was a twin-cockpit version of the TIE Bomber, with room in the removed ordnance space for four further trainees. Four squadrons of those: with enough ground staff, they could be reconverted to Bombers.
Officially, nine squadrons of /ln. In fact, that was two squadrons adapted with wing hub missile racks as attack trainers, two squadrons of old TIE Starfighters - greyish-white hulled proto-/ln- converted to side by side twin seat, two squadrons of twin-seat /rc as electronics trainers, and three of standard /ln as combat manoeuvre trainers.
One squadron of Interceptor variants, flight each of abortive /rc and /fc types based on the Interceptor rather than/ln hull, and a flight of the heavy zerstoerer-version with ten medium lasers- as many as could physically be bolted on, more than it could efficiently power or retain speed and agility with.

The relics: two squadrons of Aethersprites, removed from service and supposed to have been broken up - somehow they had simply been dumped in a storage chamber and forgotten about. Four squadrons of Actis and three of Nimbus, part of the original complement: all that was left of the original fifteen squadrons of each; most of them had been broken up to keep these flying. Superb craft, wonderfully sensitive, and fast almost past belief. Why had Kuat ever stopped making them?

Politics, he supposed. A shame; they could run rings round most of what was in service now.

Three squadrons of garrison types, one mixed PTB-625 and Y-wing, one squadron Z-95s and Y-wing, one squadron R-41 and Y-wing; they mainly did aggressor duty, and the ground crews had got used to dealing with them by now.
Two squadrons of V-19 Torrent light fighter-bombers, aggressor, courier and, to be honest, joyrides. Two squadrons of early and one squadron of late-model Avengers, long range navigation and recon trainers, one of which was Vehrec’s craft of choice.

The remainder of the fighter bays, and the deck space formerly allocated to the LAATs, was tenders, transports, tugs and targets.

As far as personnel went, things could be better. They could also be a whole lot worse. Numbers, good; he had been right about a lot of the crews of the defence squadron and a lot of the base personnel being bored enough to volunteer for combat.

Several of the commanding officers were reluctant to allow their men to go, but enough, especially the commanders of the two Dreadnaughts, were willing to put the Empire’s good before their own. At least, that line had had a certain effect on them. One good thing: all the activity, all the slogans flying back and forth, it made it easier to spot who the agents were.
There were a lot of them about; so many ISB personnel taking an interest, he could have formed a Wing out of them. Kidding, of course, but the thought was tempting. Use them as first shock element, get them all killed off.

Where, and under what circumstances, were cops ever popular? Especially political police, and that counted double for new political police out to establish their reputation. They had set out to be hated and feared. That and they were too often political in every sense - took sides in internal faction fights and used their powers of indictment and arrest for one side or the other. ISB Internal Affairs were a joke; they spent all their time on mole hunts, used that as an excuse not to look too closely at each other. The agents sticking their noses into this, most of them seemed to be rooting for the Moff.

Careful, Vehrec told himself, just because the moff’s a prat doesn’t mean the other side is right. Although it does make it distinctly more likely. One thing; the nominal captain of the ship had refused to volunteer. That meant the acting senior officer, and the man responsible for assigning the volunteers to crew stations, was Senior Lieutenant Ludovic Caliphant, who, largely as a result of his own time loosely associated with the intelligence services, shared Vehrec’s hatred. When they worked out the pattern, which they probably would eventually - not all of them were complete sadistic morons - he was going to need to look for another job. Probably with the Rebel Alliance.

Until then, the routine deck-swabbing, venturi-polishing, fresher-cleaning dreckwork was oversubscribed. The problem was, there weren’t that many unimportant jobs to be done on a ship as lean-manned as a Venator, with so many of her complement ground crew for the air wing.

Even if they got enough people, which they might, they were going to be seventy-four hundred separate individuals, not a single crew seventy-four hundred strong. They were severely short of petty officers, the professional glue that held any ship together, and of senior officers capable of serving as department and subdepartment heads.

The first thing they had to do was sort out what talent they did have, and pick out those competent enough to assess and train the rest. Caliphant was spending time doing that, functioning as a glorified recruitment consultant, when the tender emerged from hyperspace.

It was a military version of a civilian superheavy freighter; the normal bulk-load FSCVs could transport objects that could be broken down easily enough, parts and components and fuel cells, anything containerised, but for large single objects, they were less effective. The smaller tenders like the Sahallarehelped ships conduct underway replenishment and minor repairs; the larger ships like this one transported craft to and from shipyards. This one was transporting the remains of Penthesilea.

‘Ouch.’ Caliphant said, looking at the tangled mess. ‘Considering most of the station can see that, how many more volunteers do you think we’re likely to get?’

‘Well, it was the unit we’re supposed to be moving to join that was responsible for that. Pretty precise gun-work. Flight deck and engineering shot up, most of the rest intact.
'It was supposed to be a trade - Sector weren’t going to detach this ship unless they got something to replace her. I think we’re about to get a wave of volunteers; all the techies who’re otherwise about to be told to put that thing back together. That should do the engine room some good.’

By the end of the day, it had turned out to be so. The old ship had hundreds of problems posted, but they were all relatively minor ones: emergency lighting being blown out, four or five ‘g’ worth of compensator flutter in the troop bays, sticking doors, pinhole leaks, galley ranges shorting out.
Gripes, not true operational deficiencies, accident-making perhaps and worth bitching about, but not enough to make men pause in the process of bringing their careers back from the dead. As a training carrier, she had been kept in serviceable condition: not spick and span, not like an active fleet unit, but fit for use. Which was the point.

Their biggest problem was still the people.

They divided into four categories; the old hands who knew what they were getting into, the Johnny-raws who still liked the sound of a fight, the bored and cafard-smitten, and the offloaded, people who had been ‘encouraged’ to volunteer in the traditional manner of military forces shedding their problem children on to a new unit, a habit which had probably started about half an hour after the invention of the regiment.

Some wit had reported disembodied voices in the plumbing; Vehrec suspected a practical joke being set up, and intended to keelhaul whoever was responsible. Lengthways.

The security types, of course, were lumped into category four. Command level was still the biggest problem. Vehrec was the highest ranking officer present; he wasn’t line, knew enough to know he couldn’t command the ship and do his own job as well. Caliphant was the senior ranking line officer. One of the Dreadnaughts had ‘donated’ their deputy gunnery officer, also a Senior Lieutenant but Caliphant - whose nickname seemed to be “Uckers” for some antiquarian reason - had more time in grade.
That made him acting Chief Officer; it sounded like a merchant service title, but it was standard procedure for a warship under the control of another branch of service, in this case the Starfighter Corps.

That, and SenLt Garant Kirritaine would have to be physically restrained to stop him drooling over the Venator’s main battery and planning to use it on everything in sight.

He was a living illustration of the shoe fetishist theory of economics; somebody with a particular kink towards something, like a shoe fetishist and shoes, would be prepared to pay more for that something, and accept longer hours and less pay to work with it, than a normal person.

Increased dedication was one way of putting it. “Rabid” and “Friendly fire hazard” were others. Better than indifference, Vehrec supposed – with fingers crossed behind his back - and they would find out how good a master gunlayer and gunnery tactician he actually was before long.

They didn’t have a proper Chief Engineer; they had a committee. Half a dozen specialists, not one with the all round experience and clear seniority for the top job. That was a big potential source of dangerous mistakes right there.

Com/Scan, now there they were laughing. If there was one thing a training and testing range could be expected to be good at, it was com/scan work. If something did go catastrophically wrong in Engineering, they could scream for help really well. Although that probably was excessively pessimistic.

As for the fighters, they could man twelve squadrons; there were enough advanced trainees and instructors for that, and dilute those out to cadre a full complement if they had the pilot and flight officers for them. Not perfect, they needed a lot of working up, even more practise in working together, but they were more or less mobile, and ready to move.

‘I don’t suppose you could plot a move to jump stations that accidentally catches the commodore in our ion wake?’ Vehrec asked, not meaning it - more than half, anyway.

‘Afraid not. Collateral damage issues,’ Caliphant reported, then got serious. ‘We are ready to proceed.’

‘Nervous? Relax. I saw ships in much worse condition than this still in use back in the Clone Wars,’ Vehrec said, casually.

‘Before or after, Group Captain? Helm, get us moving. Head for the nav buoy. Comms, signal Black Prince we’re on our way.’

‘Captain, I think I’ve found him,’ It was Cormall. ‘The individual responsible for the nose art?’

‘Good. We have a line?’

‘What’s brown, and green, and purple and blue?’ the unfamiliar voice came over the link. Cultured, educated, and quite nuts.

‘An Ithorian on a rollercoaster.’ Lennart answered. ‘Who is this?’

‘Doctor Nygma, Captain, at your disservice. Operations Oversight and Administration, Patrol Command.’

‘Visual.’ Lennart ordered, and got an identikit picture; a formal, stylish brimmed hat, apart from the electric green colour, over a blur of rapidly changing features, cycling through the range of human, near-human and alien possibilities.
A quick search through his own console’s image files, and he transmitted in return a portrait of the man the ship was named after - in full armour, touched up with the visor down.

‘Well, I know which one of you you aren’t, but which of me am I?’

‘Oh, purely at random - that one.’ Lennart said, freezing the image - on an absurdity with one Wroonian and one Mon Cal eye, a long Glymphid hose-nose, a Coynite crest just sticking out, an Ithorian neck, and an absurd little goatee beard.

‘That’s hideous. The face of a personality that’s split dead against the grain. I’m sure I could come up with a much more subtly abnormal non-solution than that.’

‘Surely, but when you depend on random chance, don’t you have to take what you get?’ Lennart said.

‘Not if you believe in non-random chance.’ Nygma said.

‘Isn’t that just the same thing as spectacularly incompetent predestination?’ Lennart suggested. ‘Either way, remind me never to play you at sabacc. Actually,’ he added, realising, ‘patterns-‘

‘Precisely. The quasi-random actually dependent on unrealised, hidden factors, the signals in the noise, the almost randomised- ah, the underlying nearly sense of it all. It almost drove me sane.’

‘What a desperate fate that would be.’ Lennart said, deciding to play along. ‘Is that why you obtained permission for the corvettes to bear nicknames and artwork, to get the measure of the crews by seeing what they came up with?’

‘Inexactly!’ Nygma proclaimed, tone of voice hiding his precise word. ‘How did you work that out?’

‘Just thinking about how I would try to justify it. I wouldn’t expect to be taken seriously, mind you.’ Lennart said, his own tone making it a leading non-question.

‘What a terrible, terrible hypothesis. Actually I’ve always wondered what a hyperthesis would be, haven’t you? Anyway, what is there to be taken seriously except the mind, in all its signs and voices, spoor and stigmata? Especially when it’s trying to leave no consistent trace at all. Was it for any specific reason that you decided to find me out?’

‘Afraid so.’ Lennart said, no longer feeling quite as confident about the answers he was likely to get. ‘I’m interested in the sector fleet’s patrol routines. A general overview, to begin with.’

‘Over, squidgy underbelly, inside, round, through and down the rabbit hole? Very generic, very easy to approximately answer. Could you be more definitive, or shall I just deluge you with a shimmering rain of factoids?’

‘What proportion of the sector’s light and medium corvette strength is part of old style Patrol Squadrons, and what part of new pattern Light Squadrons tasked with patrol duty?’ Lennart asked, deadpan.

‘The sector’s space soldiers seem to successfully slide from superannuated, superceded system to a schematic system sanguinely securing sanctuary for syndicated space salesmen. Supposedly.’

Lennart blinked. Brenn whispered to him, ‘Sir, this is karmic retribution for what you did to Captain Piett.’

‘You could have a point.’ Lennart admitted. ‘I think I might be better off with the rain of factoids.’

He turned back to the warped alien face on the monitor - now morphing itself into a smiley face with question marks for eyes - thought about it for a second and said, ‘Apres that astonishing assault against my aural alertness, you mean that the patrol requirement’s been scaled back to the bare minimum necessary to satisfy oversight, and the majority of the light squadrons are theoretically on escort duty?’

‘Congratulations, captain. Most people start yelling at me and telling me to make sense about then. Yes, officially, the area is considered - well held.
'I thought you may have endured a sufficient barrage of sibilants, no? Patrol consists mainly of clearing the flanks of convoy routes. Deep range scouting, inspecting potential sites for rebel activity, reduced to a pittance.
Monitoring the aliens and the free traders, the strength is there, but the pattern, the shape - they’re too concentrated. Formations to fight, not to find.
'Once in a very great while, they catch something, and manufacture a mediatastic moron’s mummery out of it- I’m doing it again. Down, Smiley. Bad smiley. No,’ he added, apparently talking to himself.

‘I can either translate in my head and perhaps get it wrong, ask you for a more prosaic explanation, or perhaps you could proceed in a way suited more closely to someone who is thinking mainly of what lies on the other side of the door?’ Lennart suggested.

‘Prosodie per prosequor par poetia proscriptus, indeed. Even, positively,’ Nygma mangled the Galactic Standard almost gleefully.

‘The exec’s signed out all our protocol droids, hasn’t he?’ Lennart realised. ‘Correct me if I’m right, Doctor, but you’re working on the theory that anyone with no sense of humour, no flair for the absurd and ridiculous in life, is far too uncivilised to be trusted with the plain, unadorned facts.’

‘Alas, it is only a theory. It would have required several more millennia of po-faced corruption and lies before it could be considered a fact in it’s own right. It is also the most appalling heresy and deviation from Correct Thought. Exactly the sort of thing that the parakeets of pattern, those copying, cawing, noisy little lesser lights of the analytic, love to weave with.’

‘Those would be the interminably spotted, white-breasted variety?’ Lennart said, slightly emphasising the i, s, b. ‘I’m not surprised that they plague you. I am surprised they haven’t yet found an excuse to gnaw you down to bones.’

‘Oh, they’ve found them, but they keep drifting away. You have to love people whose minds melt when they walk into a hall of mirrors.’

‘Because no one else will? Because what they take so desperately seriously now may be next generation’s bad joke, if we’re lucky?’ Lennart suggested. ‘For all the mental exercise this is, I’m afraid we may have to resort to being serious ourselves at some point.’

‘And quite right to be afraid, too. Can’t you get at all of this anyway?’

‘Yes, we can get the raw data. No, we don’t have the long term perspective to draw strong conclusions from it. I’m going to have to pass those conclusions on to men of the meanest understanding, and possibly do a little weaving of my own with them, wherever the thread leads. You see we need the most robust, least elaborate version.’

‘Which boils down to a polite way of saying keep it simple, stupid.’ Nygma sighed. ‘Why does no-one ever say “keep it complex?” It’s discrimination in favour of the lowest common denominator, I tell you. Frontal lobes need exercise too.’

‘On this deployment, we’re in danger of becoming overtrained. Doctor?’

‘Oh, all right. Although I really should throw a few more puzzles at you just to get your head limbered up properly.’

‘I’d prefer it if you didn’t. The data as well of course, but would it be right to say that your overall impression is that the sector group is being deliberately mismanaged?’

‘More than that. The sector group is being allowed to be deliberately mismanaged. Now I like aliens; been one myself a few times, the things you can do with a properly managed fugue state - the different perspective, the foreign viewpoint always comes in handy. It is simply not procedure to let them sprawl.’

‘Hmm.’ Lennart thought about it. ‘That would involve hounding someone on a procedural charge, an offence maybe or maybe not wrong in itself but surely wrong by law, and in doing so endorsing - parroting, in fact - the parakeets. Things would have to be very wrong for that to seem like a valid option, and I thought you said no more puzzles?’

‘That wasn’t really a puzzle, just a decision gate. About those aliens, though, they might be innocent...but there are a lot of pointers facing the other way. Just because you’re paranoid?’

‘Act leery enough for long enough, “they” usually decide to get you anyway,’ Lennart pointed out.

‘Ah, but if there’s more than one of me, then they can only try it one at a time,’ Nygma said.

‘Are you claiming that you’re a gestalt intelligence, or simply trying to become one?’

‘Well, I am already unparalleledly parallel. So much so that I can pit my wits against the twits and prevail in a hail of…ah…my rhyme scheme’s thrown a bearing, I must rebuild it with geometric logic. Back in a moment.’ The image ducked off the screen. It came back as a- something, an unintelligent animal with wrinkly green-blue skin Lennart didn’t recognise, and started morphing through a range of possibilities, again.

‘No, have to go back to that one. Where/when were we? Ah, yes. Patrol routines. What do you make of this?’ the creature on screen then, looked like a furry spider, sneezed out a starmap. The creature and the map both continued to morph, the creature - Lennart wisely decided to ignore it.

The map showed what seemed to be the evolution - devolution - of the sector’s light force tasking. A red zone, brightness as patrol density, changing as the orders changed. A spastic amoeba; twitching and wriggling, throwing out pseudopods as the mood caught it, a surge here, a lance there. Generally, though, shrinking, contracting around the major worlds, around the trade route, thinning out beyond usefulness in the further reaches.

‘So.’ Lennart said, trying to make sense of it. ‘Only the major worlds, and the trade route, get proper cover. Enough to prevent any incidents large enough to call their judgement into question. Enough to point at and say “look, we’re well defended.” Out there in the dark, though, any good they’re doing is from sheer deterrence.’

‘Worse than that.’ The tempo of the display slowed, and the thin outer veil resolved itself - became first scintillating, then a series of threads. ‘Total sortie count. Given that they manoeuvre in close company far more often than not, the picture becomes more like this.’ Blob, blob. A few sudden surges of activity, hunting sweeps, splashes of red breaking up a black background.

‘This amounts to proof of negligence. Barely satisfying the paper requirements, no more, and allowing who knows what to happen - who else knows about this?’ And in whose interest? Lennart didn’t add, yet.

‘Who would I tell? I’m just a poor, cracked old sense-data snuffler, a meaning-miner with delusions of candour.’

‘Indeed.’ Lennart said, sceptically. ‘How would you say the trend has developed over time?’

‘Ah, now that is a leading question, isn’t it? The how and the who come back into focus, do they not? Who has developed this trend?’

‘Hmm. One would be a powerful pointer towards the other, wouldn’t it?’ Lennart suggested. ‘I might even go so far as to use words like "indictment" and "bearing witness." Who would be in a position to?’

‘You’re in a better position to answer that than I am. I mean, any of the very small circle of humans and not so humans with the authority, they also have hordes of ruthless thugs prepared to execute their every whim. The word may be mightier than the fist in the long run, but the words I keep thinking of are “no, please, help, no, stop, go away, no, urgh.”’

‘Right. Send us as much raw data as you can and we’ll take it from there. Personnel details, especially of anyone who’s moved on and out, to a different sector fleet or to Region.
'They might be able to add perspective, may be readier to talk. If my brain ever starts to rot from lack of use - Galactic Spirit hasten the day when it has the chance to - we may need to get in touch with you again.’

‘Squirt underway. Don’t worry, I’ve only encrypted it a little bit,’ Nygma said; the image changed to a flood of text, orders and reports, in…some language or other. He disconnected before they could ask anything else.

‘I sometimes play the fool,’ Lennart said, sitting down, ‘with the goal in mind of achieving the fool’s freedom, to be able to criticise and pass judgement as if I was an outsider. I’ve just played straight man to a galactic-class wise fool. I probably should call him back and ask for lessons in applied lunacy.’

‘I think you got one anyway, skipper, whether you wanted it or not,’ Rythanor said. ‘We’ll start trying to make sense of the data.’

Black Prince had pulled in a shade over eight thousand live rebel prisoners, roughly two thousand of those seriously wounded by damage to the ship around them, or by a stormtrooper shooting for a limb rather than wasting a second switching to stun.

Most of those were in Medical, at least the ones too badly hurt to attempt to escape, but what to do with the rest? They needed to be put in a place where they couldn’t escape from, learn about or damage the ship from, and didn’t get in the way of the normal routine. Every Star Destroyer had detention cells, nominally a thousand on an Imperator, but Black Prince had taken advantage of the security facilities built in to convert most of hers to armoury space.

The remaining cells were being used to hold officers and sergeants of the rebel ground combat units; people who might successfully organise resistance. They were in solitary lockdown, monitored and under heavy guard. The bulk of them were in the most suitable space - the stormtroopers’ quarters block.

Semi-isolated from the rest of the ship anyway, Mirannon had spared a work crew - grumbling bitterly about lost person hours - to complete that. The only way out for sixty-one hundred prisoners was through a solid bulkhead or through a legion of stormtroopers.

M’Lanth was escorted through the outer areas of the barrack block, allowed to see just what would bar his way - E-webs on every major passageway, generator fed T-21s on most of the minor, grenade launchers and flamers filling the gaps and the transverse passageways.

‘So this is how the other half lives,’ he said, as they entered the inner zone.

Not entirely what he was expecting; he had anticipated open barracks, no privacy at all. All on view, nothing to hide.

It was actually a row of ‘coffins’ - individual sleep tubes, against one wall, storage locker by each, opening onto a platoon common area. Canteen row at one end, freshers at the other, tables and racks in between.

For all the jokes about the re-braining process, Stormtroopers simply couldn’t be that far removed from human; it was almost a relief to find that they might have personalities after all. They played dejarik and sabacc, at least, and apparently cheated if the fine fingernail marks on the back of the cards were anything to go by.

The rest of the rebels present, he did not recognise; different ships, and from all branches. Mostly officers, though. Thirty all told.

‘What happened? How did you all…I got taken out in the preliminary fencing. I missed the rescue attempt. What went wrong?’

The senior ranking officer was a lieutenant-commander, systems control officer shields, from Penthesilea. ‘Welcome to the birdcage. We were led into a trap, and suckered royally. Any idea what they’re going to do with us?’

‘Yes. I had it from an imperial pilot, who, hm, was in the sickbay with me. The spacers and grunts, five to ten years hard labour.’

‘What, he’s not going to shoot them outright? Poor man must be losing his wits, that almost counts as mercy. What about us?’

‘The noncoms and petty officers - longer sentences. Ten to thirty years. Officers and politicals - shot and dumped into the biocycler tanks.’

‘Kriff. I knew I should have stayed in bed. On the other hand, it simplifies things; what have we got to lose?’

‘You’re thinking about escape?’

‘They shoot us later at their leisure, or we take a chance now, maybe still get shot, probably even, but do some damage and maybe win free.
'We were played for fools, they lured us in and sucker-punched us, still don’t know how, but I don’t feel done fighting yet,’ the systems officer said, belligerently; the rest of them nodded.

‘I think they went out of their way to show me just what they have waiting for anyone who tries,’ M’Lanth said. ‘Platoon and squad support weapons covering the corridors, flamers everywhere. It’s going to be ugly.’

‘Uglier than getting recycled? Uglier than broken down into component chemicals? They’re Imperial; what guarantee have you that they’ll even bother to shoot you first, not just let you get solvented to death?’ a junior lieutenant power tech whined.

‘I know, let’s all cut ourselves and let the wounds fester so we can give them blood poisoning from beyond the vat. I’ll just go and crap on my stylus, shall I?’ a young gunnery lieutenant said, angry. ‘Escape is our only guarantee of anything.’

‘Look, we’ve been kept in separate barrack blocks, but there can’t be less than about five thousand of us. That’s enough for a fighting chance.’ The systems officer called them to order.

‘To do what? Escape- or do as much damage as possible to this ship on the way out?’ M’Lanth said. ‘If we get to the bays, then what? We can’t steal enough shuttles for six thousand men. Whoever does make it, the Imps’ PD and fighters will try to chase them down. We need to cause chaos on board first.’

‘You have a plan?’ the systems control officer asked.

‘Bare bones. Basically, we split into two teams - one to release as many of the rest of us as they can, the other to go after the guards and take them out, and steal their guns, then go and take more of them out with the guns - you get the idea. Punch a hole, a nice big hole.
'Then we split again, two groups; one heads for the shuttle bay and tries to get out - into hyperspace if they can, down to the planet to hide if they can’t - while the rest, whoever doesn’t mind trying to die a hero, goes after gunnery and fighter control stations.
'Their job, well our, would be just to buy time for the rest to get away, stop the Imps shooting or sending fighters. Probably get killed, but we’re not all going to get out alive anyway, so why not?’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 08:23pm, edited 2 times in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 26b

Captain of the Line Lennart was in the day cabin, essentially playing with the personnel records of the squadron, indulging in his favourite hobby of reading between the lines.

The advantage of holographic space is that you can shape it any way you like, customise it to your own ends, Lennart thought. He had the records laid out like an orchestra pit, little hovering head and shoulders official ID portraits, divided up by lines. The brass section, Strike Line. Himself and Dordd he knew too well to need to look up - although it was interesting to watch the process as actual events morphed themselves down to lines on paper. Little baby white lies growing up to be big and strong.

Commander Stannis Lycarin of the Perseverance was an interesting case; he was another retread, joined during the clone wars, served with the womb-born part of the fleet initially, got transferred over, rode an old Servator for a while as gunnery officer, command for a year, then got reassigned as a Jedi General’s flag-lieutenant.

Switching from line to staff like that was usually a sign of someone who was being groomed for higher things. For the good of the service there should be a regular rotation for all, everybody agreed in theory but few bothered in practise.

That was an experience Lennart would have to quiz him about later, and see whether he had absorbed any of it. The most important thing he was still short of was line commanders.

After that, and apparently because of that, Lycarin was reassigned to a shoreside job, convoy planner and router for fleet support services. He had resigned just after the destruction of the last of the Confederate Remnants, become a security consultant. That was a murky business, and Lennart was more worried about the contacts he would have made in that trade than any association with the Jedi.

He had found his way back into the Starfleet about five years ago, evidently sponsored or at least accepted by someone with the clout to overlook his background - internal politics again - and had shifted backwards and forwards between staff and line. The pattern was the interesting part. He would crossreference that later to shifts in the sector fleet command structure, but it looked that as Lycarin rose in position himself, he was starting to turn on his patrons and bite the hand that fed him.

Twitches of conscience at last? Dormant sense of duty starting to reawaken? It was a generation later, about the right time for it. They would run through the start of the squadron exercise program, and then see what he had to say for himself, and about who his sponsors were and how his career had really ran.

The rest of the strike line consisted of two Fulgor, one their own capture; their commanders- Grey Princess’s new skipper had the background of a functionary, a being who had ticked the right boxes and kissed the right behinds to get to where he was. What he was doing in command of a superfast pursuit frigate was anyone’s guess.

The other ship, Provornyy, was under the command of a notable maniac, Commander Jiae Sarlatt. An ex-fighter pilot who had chosen to cross-badge rather than be promoted to a desk, and found himself responsible for something which could outrun ninety-eight percent of the Imperial fighter forces.

Lennart thought about what he could expect from them. Yeklendim, on the Grey Princess, he could trust to do the officially sanctioned right thing. Provided he could read through his notes from the academy fast enough to figure out what it was. Sarlatt, he could trust to find a fight, whether it was the right thing or not.

Fulgors were well shielded, but not well armed for their size; only four twin MTL on a five hundred and sixty metre long ship. They were bulky enough and could take enough punishment to win a stand up fight against most of their own class, but that wasn’t the way to play it. Hit and run, fire and evade, that was what you were supposed to do. Lennart doubted whether either of them had the subtlety for that, but he would reach them what he could.

Woodwind section, the sweep line. Obdurate under Raesene, well enough manned. They had reacted quickly and intelligently in that business with the, probably, Falcon. They needed a bit more practise on environmental awareness, true.

Two Servators, classified as fleet destroyers in the old, small-scale days and heavy corvettes now; Eludor and Nefarious, enthusiastic but inexperienced captains.

Two Bayonet, three Marauder, six requisitioned Customs Corvettes - Lennart had high hopes of the customs corvettes; they were fast, possessed sound antifighter weaponry, and most importantly were working ships, routinely busy.

The biggest problem, of course, was Voracious. As individuals, many of her crew were capable enough, but as a crew? There were three time limits on their operations; firstly the purely mechanical, the eleven day estimate for rebuilding Comarre Meridian’s bow. Second, the external political circumstances, what the rebels were up to. Third, internal politics, what the Moff decided he was going to do to avenge his humiliation and mutilation.

As far as training and working up went, Lennart was basing his operation plans on the mechanical time limit, and eleven days to form a crew was - before this, he would have laughed.

Imperial military regulations were realistic, in many respects - overly so in some; a bit more unreasonable optimism in the Starfighter Corps, assuming that they weren’t disposable, might do more good.

In some respects they were politically inspired, which amongst other things had led to a bizarre turf war between the Regulatory branch and the Imperial Security Bureau over whose responsibility Correct Thought in the fleet was, that Lennart had slipped through the cracks of more than once. In others they were politically paralysed, which made it dangerous to be an innovator, but that was mainly a ground force problem.

The one thing they were supposed to be was uniform. In theory, interchangeability extended all the way up the line, one ship was supposed to be the same as any other of its class, run to the same schedule, the same performance targets, achieving the same standards of service at the same price.

Lennart understood that as an impossible goal to be approached asymptotically, distance made towards it but never quite attained - insofar as it was desirable at all. In theory, these ships should be instantly ready to go, already flawlessly integrated and doctrinally synchronised, able to deploy at a moment’s notice.

In practise, he had chosen a ship requiring eleven days’ repairs - and it occurred to him that it would be excellent seasoning for some of the squadrons’ engineering teams to rotate through the Comarre Meridian, to lessen the load on Black Prince’s spanner-slingers into the bargain - to give him that much time to integrate and synchronise.

Actually, he decided, he needn’t bother ordering that - if he could come up with that, Gethrim would be there long before him.

The preliminary minimum schedule he had drawn up had eight hours a day of additional training, four hours of ship exercises which were each captain’s own responsibility but that they would report on, four hours of squadron exercises. Eighty-eight hours, when he would have welcomed as many days. Eighty left, now. They would have to look very closely at Voracious.

The first string section, Recon Line Alpha. Meridian, Demolisher, two Strike - one a minelayer variant - two Servator, three Carrack, two Bayonet, four Marauder.

The second thing he was seriously worried about. Barth-Elstrand had ran the situation fairly well up to a point, when he had underestimated Rebel resourcefulness and willingness to die for a cause. That had nearly cost him his ship. Under a different Squadron commander, he could have been court martialled and possibly executed for his stupidity.

Lennart wanted his services rather than his head, not because he wasn’t concerned by the failure, but because he thought that a bitterly angry Elstrand, seeking to redeem himself and coached to build on what he had got right to avenge what he had got wrong, could do well.

The second string section, Recon Beta, a mirror image apart from a recon variant Strike cruiser in place of a minelayer. The third thing he was seriously worried about. Was Falldess qualified for line command? If she wasn’t, who was? There was an obvious answer to that, and a tempting one - but it wasn’t necessarily honest. Falldess deserved a chance, but what would she make of it?

To get so far, to heavy frigate command with three strikes against her - from a backward world, the ”wrong” sex, and already had one ship shot out from under her - she had to be good. Good enough to go further, or had she reached her peak with command of a large single ship? As a snap decision, he would say give her her chance.

Blackwood was an interesting experiment, the Strike variant. Visually very different, no curves at all, slabs and facets, and in performance just as strange - a shade over eight hundred ‘g’ faster and outgunning the existing versions sixteen to ten. The only things she seemed to give up were troop and fighter capacity- and factors of safety.

Her captain seemed far too good to be true. Conor Kovall, Raithal graduate in his late twenties and one of Lennart’s ex-students in tactics. Looking at his record, Lennart found his stomach behaving strangely. Kriff, he thought, when I spouted all that about thinking sideways, misleading and misdirecting, and movement as a weapon in itself, I didn’t expect to be taken this seriously.

The percussion section, the support he could expect from 851. Again, too familiar to need to check up on. To extend the metaphor, the didgeridoo, wabbleboard and mouth organ section would be their enemies in the Rebel Alliance - a cluster of blank portraits to be filled in later.

Behind them, and this was where the orchestra metaphor really started to break down, their theoretical allies in the Vineland Sector Group. Electric guitar and octaventral heebiephone? That sounded about right.

He was still sorting, deciding who he needed to investigate in depth, when he received a call from the medical complex.

‘Captain, this is Surgeon-Lieutenant Bergeron, medical-general.’ That was the part of the medical branch responsible for the routine needs of the crew, the general-practitioner work. Diet control, exercise scheduling, fitness monitoring, illness rather than injury.

‘I have your numbers. The, ah, special numbers you asked for,’ Bergeron continued.

‘How?’ Lennart asked. There had been no disruption to the ship’s routine, nothing like testing the entire crew in rotation would cause.

‘We have enough samples left over from scheduled fitness tests to run a count without disturbing anybody,’ Bergeron said, avoiding the word ‘midichlorian’.

‘So who’s about to come down with a terminal case of self-importance?’ Lennart said, trying to ignore the sudden sinking feeling in his gut. ‘Tell me, Doc, I can take it.’

‘Captain, the numbers - the average count is between fifty and two hundred. They -‘

‘You might as well admit you’re talking about midichlorians. Enough secrecy.’

‘All right. Midichlorians are a symptom of the Force, not a cause. They are weakly correlated with several other factors, most of them to do with the nervous and immune systems. Everybody has some midichlorian count. Below fifty is a cause for concern - a pointer towards clumsiness and susceptibility to disease. Most people score between fifty and two hundred, as I said- median value is one hundred and eight.
'Their significance is exponential - two hundred is four times as potent as one hundred. Phenomena begin to become significant, heightened awareness, sharper senses especially peripheral vision, faster preconscious processing - what I believe used to be referred to as ‘Force sensitivity’- around a value estimated as six hundred fifty to seven hundred.
'Serious biomedical deviation sets in at a level estimated as the suspiciously round number of one thousand. This is the point at which we refer to someone ‘having the Force’. I suspect there is considerable variation based on a range of other, mainly psychological, factors.’

‘Never mind the biomedical, it’s the lifestyle deviation that I’m worried about,’ Lennart said. ‘Who?’

‘There are two individuals on board with a midichlorian count over one thousand, four more with a count below that but over six hundred and fifty. Congratulations, Captain.’

‘Kriff. I suppose it’s too late to sue my parents. How bad is it?’

‘Captain, this is a good thing. Even once you subtract religious nonsense and the obviously legendary, there is still a weak but positive correlation between midichlorian count and sense acuity, brain function and metabolic efficiency.’

‘You’re avoiding the issue, Lieutenant,’ Lennart said, wishing he could.

‘Sir, the high positives are Engineer-Commander Mirannon, three thousand seven hundred and forty-four; and yourself. Five thousand one hundred and twenty-six.
'The lower range of positives are Squadron Leader Jandras, six hundred ninety-eight; Surgeon-Lieutenant Commander Blei-Korberkk, seven hundred sixty-five; Senior Chief Pellor Aldrem, eight hundred and seventy-seven; Stormtrooper OB173, nine hundred and eighty-two.’

‘What do you suggest we do, form a support group?’ Lennart suggested sarcastically. ‘I can tell you right now that Commander Mirannon’s reaction is going to be “Kriff, I don’t have time for this, how do I get rid of them?” followed by some really complex experiments in applied radiation.
'I suppose I should use some sort of Jedi mind power on you now, but I’ll just have to make it an order instead; scramble them. Wipe the names, randomise the service numbers, disassociate the secondary data. Everybody’s. Then-‘ and the next move in the sequence of events would be Adannan realising he had been fed data salad, reacting badly and going to Medical to wring out someone’s head.

‘Belay that. Don’t bother. Just file it under patient confidentiality and leave it with me, I suppose Blei-Korberkk already knows, I’ll notify everyone else involved. Out.’

Lennart leaned back in his chair, feet up, looked at the deckhead. He hated the idea. Had done for more than twenty years.

Two contradictory gut reactions; the first was that it was cheating.

Being in touch with some sort of cosmic energy field that let you outreact blaster bolts, walk on molten lava, fall hundreds of metres without injury, play with people’s minds like putty - it was a vitiation of all the real physical and mental effort that normal people expended on their lives. That he had.

Not that he was averse to taking any chance that offered, any advantage that could be had, but, all arrogance aside, he thought, not quite meaning it, I am a damn good warship commander, and I like the notion of a level playing field, not because of any abstract commitment to fairness, but because then I can measure just how far ahead of my colleagues and rivals I am.
If we are all playing by the same set of rules, then one man’s superiority over the next is a matter of skill and judgement, qualities I have spent so much blood and sweat to acquire. So hooray for the even chance, or at least as even as evolution rather than magic can make it.

To find out that one has been, inadvertently, playing to a different set of rules all along, devalues all that was done.

The other gut reaction was that perhaps the Jedi had come close to paying a fair price for their abilities, in their dissociation from and abandonment of normal life. Contradictory, but instinctive responses didn’t have to make sense.

It was a price he absolutely didn’t want to pay. The Jedi - what had he described them as? Hyperzombies? Overpowered divorcees from normality. Fatally out of touch.

And for their failures, for allowing the Galaxy to slide into the Clone Wars, perhaps extinction was fair return. The alternative to the Jedi, however, how well did they compare?

Had not Dooku, count Serenno, been among their number? A renegade Jedi, who had relearned the habits of the station he had been born to, who had probably always been allowed to get away with a little more than most- even if they were unbribable per se, the aura of his family’s power and influence would have earned him goodwill.

The enemy of the Republic, and probably that of the Empire had he lived. Other notable non-Jedi wielders of the Force, non-adherents to the Code - you had to go back to the Light and Darkness War that had preceded the Ruusan Reformation to find much about them. What that said of them was not good.

Most of the histories were written by Jedi, and therefore classified - or by the footsoldiers of either side, therefore partial.
Lennart could not dismiss them on that account, but he did not look forward to the prospect of leafing through several million descriptions of mud and sore feet to find the parts that mattered to him right now.

Possibly time, he decided, to spend some of the ship’s operating budget on more protocol droids.

It had largely been a ground war; what naval operations there had been were largely assault landings and raids, and had been conducted by professionals on both sides, revealing relatively little of the personalities involved.

What it did was disturbing. The Dark Jedi had taken their enmity very seriously, and their darkness likewise - as if it was an inevitable polarisation, no other colours in the spectrum but black and white. They had been deliberately and self-consciously ‘evil’, and if they had missed any opportunity of proving it, it was solely due to being too wrapped up in the drama of their lives.

What was there about the Force, Lennart thought, that destroyed a man’s ability to think clearly? Was it such an intensely personal thing, this open channel to the universe, that it eliminated middle ground and made all things very personal?

He sensed that he was about to find out. Perversely, he decided to refuse to listen to the feeling, and was going back over the Sector Group’s more distinguished officers when the com terminal beeped.

He ignored that too. It beeped louder, and when it started to give him voice alert he pulled its plug out.

Fnord and damnation, he thought, realising; the Force is starting to get to me already. Sheepishly, he plugged it back in, realised it was probably Aleph-3, and went to meet her.

The rest of the command team were still there, looking with interest at the colour-shifting red/blue iridescent armoured stormtrooper who was maintaining a forceful and dignified silence.

‘Gentlemen,’ Lennart said, ‘I am going to ask your indulgence to share some of my troubles with you, and a partial explanation of how the situation managed to get this bad.’ Aleph-3 glared at him as if her look could melt his skull. Come to think of it, someone with the Force probably could. He smiled back at her and said ‘Could you start by explaining your own part?’

‘Captain, I had wanted to do this in private.’ She snarled.

‘We are, or at least as privately as I choose to. Who I choose to turn to for support is my problem, after all, is it not?’

She could have argued the point, but decided just to get on with it. The mistakes and the madness could be patched up later, the manner mattered less than doing this at all.
‘Officially, I am a scout. Deliberate misdesignation - we are manhunters, wherever possible Jedi hunters. A relic of the days of the Purge, when the clones were all there was to do the job. We also have the responsibility of detecting and referring for recruitment those with potential, who do not hold to the ways of the Jedi.’

‘Hold on a moment. Non-Jedi force users? Didn’t they try to overthrow the republic a thousand years ago?’ Brenn asked.

‘Captain, this is far too public,’ Aleph-3 rounded on him. ‘This is not a matter to be spoken of.’ She said, half angry half pleading.

‘Then you’re going to have a stang difficult time telling me about it, aren’t you?’ Lennart said, mercilessly. ‘Come on. It’s not as if we are speaking of some sort of barbarian cabal, a secret criminal society too foul to speak its name, is it?’

She looked at him in bogglement. Which way was he going? Who was he trying to convince, and of what? ‘That was the name their enemies gave them, certainly. Did you expect the Jedi, of all people, to be free of hypocrisy?’ she said.
‘We,’ she said addressing the rest of the command team, ‘reported Captain Lennart as having Force potential. As being potentially able to wield great personal power, as potentially subject to Special Order Sixty-Six. That is the reason Adannan is here.’

There were angry mutterings over that.

‘No, it isn’t,’ Lennart said. ‘I’m certainly an en passant objective, but there is another target involved in this that he is making a play for, that if his superiors haven’t put two and two together you may want to clue them in on.’

‘What?’ she said, guessing what he meant but knowing to play the part. ‘Excuse me? None of this should be spoken of at all except behind closed doors - What is this for? What are you trying to achieve?’

‘As far as I can see, nearly everyone who the Force curses - yes, I said curses - is warped by it into an ascetic or an animal. Some manage to boomerang backwards and forwards between the two.
'Neither of those is me. I may have to do this because someone has to counter Adannan. Someone has to be able to nullify him, and I seem to have got the job.
'I’m telling you all this,’ he told his command team, ‘because I do not want to be either isolate or iconoclast - although I would settle for impostor if I could get away with it for long enough. I am going to need your help to hold my head together.
'I will not resign my commission. I am an officer in the Imperial Starfleet first and last, and I will drink no more of this poisoned chalice than I have to.’

Aleph-3 moved so little during that, no longer arguing or advising, face statue still, Lennart wondered if he had shocked her into catatonia. Actually, the situation was becoming so strange, so fast, she was seriously considering it as an option. Keel over, and let someone else deal with the problem. Couldn’t do that, had to try.

‘Captain Lennart, I have come up against people who would die for the sake of the legend, who threw their lives away for the sake of fanning a tiny spark, who would plunder and murder for the sake of the Force.
'Also, you’re not going to believe me unless I admit, with. Rejecting the Force-‘ which wasn’t exactly what he had said, true- ‘is not unknown, but it is institutionalisable.’

‘What sort of institution?’ Brenn asked.

‘One with “join us or die” engraved over the door,’ Lennart said. ‘Which, as far as I’m concerned, says absolutely everything there is to say about how much fun this is likely to be.’ He looked at Aleph-3, waiting for her to contradict him.

‘A high proportion of the Imperial ruling class - far higher than would ever publicly say so - believe the Force to be real and powerful. The Jedi Order was never fully accounted for, now appears to be trying to drag itself out of its grave with the help of the Alliance, and new potential emerges at the same rate it always did. “Join us or die” is not an unrealistic take on the situation,’ she said.

‘Are we talking about some sort of variation on the Invisible War, here?’ Rythanor asked. ‘Spies and counterspies?’

‘As invisible as lightsabres, force lightning and telekinetic blasts get, but yes, that is a very good summary., Aleph-3 admitted, silently thanking him for steering just close enough to the truth that she could slingshot round it to a more acceptable conclusion.

‘And, unfortunately, a fluke of heritage has landed me in the middle of it,’ Lennart said. ‘You can draw up your own conspiracy theories about what’s been happening behind the scenes these last thousand years. Maybe we could turn it into some kind of writing contest, help pass the time-‘ the idea that they were going to have any spare time got a nervous laugh- ‘but any theories about the last thirty, keep them to yourselves - for your own safety.’

‘Not in the middle, Captain. On one specific and particular side. There is no middle ground,’ Aleph-3 cautioned, sternly.

‘Then perhaps it’s time someone invented one,’ Lennart said, and turned to the command team. ‘Our professional job hasn’t gone away, but I do need to ask you to do as much of it as you can. As I do try to explore this, I may change, become excessively cranky.
'Part of that will undoubtedly be due to lack of sleep, but one of the worst effects of the Force as I read of it is that it either chills your temper to nothing, or fans it to a raving inferno. No prizes for guessing which way Adannan went.’ A grunt from Brenn, a nervous giggle from Wathavrah.

‘Gentlemen, I’m cracking bad jokes to keep my own spirits up. The prospect of what this could do to me terrifies me.’

‘Don’t worry, skipper.’ Wathavrah said. ‘We’ll stand by you.’

‘Tell me that again in a month’s time and I’ll be a happier man,’ Lennart said. ‘Start of third watch, we have an internal exercise - convoy duty. First watch - midnight to 4 am, and why not? - we have a squadron level hunter/killer exercise, them chasing us. We may as well begin as we mean to go on. Thank you, and dismissed.’

They left, and Aleph-3 remained. When they were out of earshot she rounded on him and said, ‘Have you any idea just how many separate precepts - of both sides of the Force - you’ve just violated? How many reasons you have given light - and dark - to turn on you?’

‘Thereby going even further to convince me that “A pox on both your houses” is the only reasonable standpoint. Is there no polychromatic side of the force?’ Lennart said.

‘Nervous tension brings out the comedian in you, I see,’ she said, changing her line of approach. ‘It’s not the Force; it’s power that has no sense of humour. Being able to mock them is a poor defensive measure compared to reaching out for power of your own.’

‘If there’s one thing that convinces me not to trust you, it’s how readily you can go from one mask to the next. I infuriate you to the point of wanting to bite my throat out, and you fume a little, remember the objective and slip on another face,’ he said.

‘What else do you expect from someone who was raised and trained to believe in herself as nothing, the objective as everything?’ Aleph-3 said, hoping for a simple answer.

‘Fewer masks,’ Lennart said. ‘You have outgrown your station, your duties have changed you; you’ve become almost as much of an oddball, a misfit, as anyone on this ship.’

‘I am as loyal, and as capable within my ambit, as any of you. If there is comparison, I am certainly a better apple than you are a peelifruit, with a power you are having to be dragged kicking and screaming towards learning to use,’ she snapped.

‘A better apple than I am a peelifruit - how many of the Emperor’s Whiteskulls do you think could have come up with that?’ Lennart said. ‘Speaking of objections to the Force, do you know exactly how close you come to it yourself?’

‘If I was actually capable of it, I would never have made it out of the clone cylinder. Past that, I never asked because I’m not allowed to know. It would be forbidden - but agonisingly close, close enough sometimes to smell what my targets are going to do next. It doesn’t work on you.’

‘So close that I think it’s only your own mental blocks that are preventing you from reaching for the Force yourself. Nine hundred and eighty-two.
'The difference in use between that and a score less than two percent higher, it’s less than the difference between a good and a bad mood. You have the potential. If you’re prepared to break the mould and reach out for it.’ Lennart dropped his bomb.

She genuinely lost her composure completely then, for the first time in her life. The universe yawned wide open around her and her intellect took wing and flew away, leaving a confused mass.

‘But…but…that’s impossible, it just isn’t, there aren’t any, certainly not accidental ones, they didn’t make me like that, that makes no- how do you know?’

‘I wondered that too, but it seems because of your special status, the regular medical services keep an additional watching brief on you, just in case. It is not a jest and it is not a lie, the number is reliable - it’s working already. The Force is already starting to cause me to lose my sense of humour. What are you going to do?’ He asked.

‘I- I’ve never been asked that, not in my own proper person. I have a dozen masks who could cope with that with ease and grace - but this comes from within, from behind the mask. I’ve ambushed myself.’

‘One of the reasons I do try to derive you nuts from time to time is the occasional glimpses I get of the real you, in the transitions between one mask and another,’ he said, not quite lying.

‘The real me barely has a face at all, Captain. A simple creature of duty, discipline, order, capable of pretence only because it is my duty to shield my comrades, to lie in a good cause. By the book, what I should do is turn myself in for termination. We’re not allowed- but what does that mean I’m about to become?’ she said, trying to put it together.

‘Once you recover from the shock and start thinking clearly yourself, I’m sure you’ll work it out, but this is my best guess: you’ve never shown up as a potential because you know you’re not allowed; you’re effectively suppressing your own talent.’

So have I been, probably, he added to himself, and it is her who wants me to join the dark side after all, a little manipulative poetic justice won’t go astray.

‘What you need is someone to help you stop suppressing and put that energy and self-control to pushing the other way. To look for things you can do - when we are down to this fundamental a level anything I say is going to sound insultingly elementary, but that’s it.’ Now to see if she took the bait.

‘If I can, the power would be it’s own justification and I would be safe - but you?’

‘No-one else, is there?’ he said, gently. Believably. Don’t overdo it, he cautioned himself. ‘One thing. I’ll only be a couple of days ahead of you, and scrambling to do other things as well, so no doctrinaire solutions, all right? Quick, dirty, for a specific purpose, however it comes, and leaving a trail behind me for you to follow.’

‘This is such a fantastically deviant solution, I hardly know what to say,’ she said, baffled, half-stunned by hope and fear both.

‘It’s a lot better than the book solution,’ Lennart advised.

‘It does have the merit of leaving me less dead,’ she said, smiling at him and telling the part of her that was screaming in horror to shut up.

There was a loud alarm beep from the room’s com console. Lennart went over to it. ‘What is it?’

‘Jailbreak, Captain. The Rebels are trying to get out of the complex.’ Junior-navigator officer on deck.

‘I’ll be right there,’ Lennart said, shut it off and said to Aleph-3, ‘You had better rejoin your team; they’ll probably need you. Try not to get killed.’

‘Here,’ she said, throwing the unlit red-bladed sabre at him. ‘Try not to cut your feet off.’

He left for the bridge, she for the fighting.

Half way to the first rally point, she realised; whatever the truth was - and she wanted it to be true so badly - he had got her to promise him to give him a free hand in exchange for supporting her in her attempts to learn the Force herself.

Tear down from within everything she had been taught, she thought then squashed it. Had she not, in effect, just been blackmailed into standing by and saying nothing while he explored the Light Side of the Force?

She leaned against the bulkhead and laughed and laughed. The sneaky, devious, twisted bastard - of all the crazy-rational sideways logic, this had to take the prize. It wouldn’t be that much of a problem in the long run; if methodology had anything at all to do with it, he would realise he belonged on the Dark Side yet.

As she neared the rally point, she heard raised voices. Adannan.

‘You are giving ground. This will not do. You must press in on them and destroy them.’ He was yelling.

‘I’m shaping the battlefield,’ QAG-111’s voice replied, as firmly as it dared. ‘What I must do is find the leaders and put them down, then herd the rest of them back into their cells, which are my troopers’ barrack blocks the rest of the time, neatly and efficiently. I do not intend to be panicked by a bunch of unarmed chancers into staging a maximum collateral damage clusterkriff.’

'Smile when you say that.’ Adannan glared at him. ‘If you won’t do this properly, I will.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 08:35pm, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 27

A blast door opened and closed; best avoid the whole business, she thought. Especially Adannan. On internal squad net, ‘Aleph-3 to Aleph-One: location and instructions?’

‘Corridor 82-J37A, rejoin.’

Because of the possibility of capture of helmets, the tacnet at every level was filled with short, staccato fragments of code. The situation seemed to be that the Rebels were trying to break each other out and were at least initially willing to take catastrophic losses to take out guard troopers and steal their guns. So far, the troopers had lost less than a squad, the Rebels over a hundred blasted, grenaded and flamed - but Adannan was right. They had given ground to preserve their line, keep lateral communications not so much to prevent casualties as to prevent any weapons falling into the rebels’ hands. They were holding the armoury block and a line of communication to it, and that was where the rebels were gathering.

There would be one good fight there, with most of the boarding specialist battalion holding the armory as anvil and the rest swinging in around it as hammer, and roll them back from there. A clean crisp plan, one sound military act.

Provided the Rebels did nothing outrageously brilliant, and nobody on the Imperial side did anything outrageously silly. Such as Adannan barging in like a loose rancor.

His entourage were following him as he shoved past the stormtroopers into the barrack block.

‘I said it was going to be a bloody business,’ M’Lanth was saying. He had less hair and more burnt tissue than he used to, but he didn’t expect to live long enough for it to matter. He and four others had charged down a flamer-using stormie; he had survived because the others had caught the worst of it.

‘There’s a batallion of them or more, we have five working rifles, a flamethrower, and four sidearms, and the white hats know all about blaster powerpack bombs. How are we doing with the doors?’

‘Not good,’ one of the pilots from the Penthesilea said; he had one jacket sleeve pinned up. ‘First, you have to catch a mouse droid, dismember and rig a code cracker out of the bits. After the first time we did that the rest of them started running. It’s taking us ten minutes to crack each cell.’

‘So we would be better off using what guns we do have to shoot locks off and the like,’ M’Lanth suggested.

‘Once we get them out, where do they go?’ his opposite number said. ‘We need an escape route. The air vents are grilled off, we even tried the sewer line.’

‘What happened?’ M’Lanth asked.

‘Osmotic filter. Guy who touched it, the flesh started melting off his hand.’

‘You’d think they’d have put a dianoga down there, if only for tradition’s sake. Do you think we could- no. Even if we could unscrew it and use it, throw it over a stormie like a net, it wouldn’t get through their armour.’ M’Lanth thought about it. ‘Power lines, no. Obviously not. Have they left nothing behind?’

‘Nothing with energy in, when they moved out they cleared out. None of the cubbyholes, hides, nothing like that.’

‘Souvenirs, spares, rainy day hideaways, typical barrack room crud - everything, everywhere?’

‘They were thorough. Took most of their kit, barely left a-’ Both of them realised, and said at the same time, ‘holochess console.’

‘Do you think we can do anything meaningful with incoherent light?’ M’Lanth said, grinning. ‘Illusion, failing that a flare?’

‘I’ll do that, and you work on plan B.’

‘B? I think we’re going to need D through Q,’ M’Lanth admitted. ‘Whiteheads aren’t as dumb as they’re supposed to be.’

‘Let’s hope we get as far as X and Y.’ one pilot said to the other.

‘First, Second and Third Furniture Attack Squads ready, squadron leader,’ the petty officer that reported to M’Lanth said.

‘Right.’ M’Lanth addressed the cluster of volunteers. ‘Doublethink aside, we’ll be going down three parallel corridors, each squad pushes a mobile barricade, throws as much crap as it can at them from behind it.
'We’re probably all going to get killed, but I want to loosen their line, push them back, hit them from the sides, maybe get to one of the armoury blocks. Riflemen, shoot the squad support gunners first.
'This is basically a human wave; we all know how stupid an idea that is but we haven’t got anything better. Let’s go.’

The barricades were mounds of junk. There was little else they could be in the time and with the parts, so it would have to do. Lockers, benches, mattresses, tables, cooking gear - pots and pans and worktable surfaces, ripped out appliances: name it, it was there.

All three lines of attack and three others would be covered by flares from holo-gear, exploding flamer canisters or both; the three others just to create a little confusion.

What was he supposed to say at a moment like this, M’Lanth wondered. Isn’t “who wants to live forever” traditional? Personally, I would settle for, oh, fifty years longer than the other guy. Chance would be a fine thing. ‘Go.’

What he expected was to be huddling behind and shooting wildly over a barricade of junk that was disintegrating and being torn apart by a red rain of blaster bolts, shoving it forward and throwing back burning bits, and probably getting blown up.

There were the sounds and flashes of that happening, but not to them.

As they pushed forward in a yelling, groaning charge, the stray thought came to him that there were very few people throughout history who had ever gone into combat armed and armoured with a dishwasher. Unfortunately, up to the point where they hit the cross-corridor, it seemed to be working.

‘Oh, no, no, no. This is not what I intended to happen,’ Adannan said, as if he was berating the universe for not following his orders. He could sense it start to go wrong. ‘Don’t they trust me?’

‘My Lord,’ Laurentia answered, ‘would you? The Legion reorganised their line to come out to escort us.’

‘Somehow, the rebels fluked their way into striking at an unprotected corridor in mid-shuffle. The only, faint, impossible chance they have and it lands right in their laps. The universe is the wrong shape.’ He screamed the last part, Force lightning dancing around one hand. Somebody would be hurt for this.

M’Lanth couldn’t quite believe it; the squad they had been about to charge head on into had moved. T-junction - to his left the backs of the squad moving to take up a new position, starting to turn to face, to his right the replacements moving in.

‘You lot that way, you lot this way, go.’ Half to charge each group.

At point blank, close quarters, the stormtroopers had no line of shot that didn’t include one of their own. Last ditch procedure would be one squad opening up with everything it had, accepting the friendly for the sake of the enemy casualties - and the junior squad leader called for that, but there were too many rebels.

Only two shots came from the rebels; one miss, one straight through the head of the T-21 gunner. One flechette volley turned half the rebel leaders into red sludge, a crackle of individual shots dropping most of the rebel front line, but there were more behind.

One blaster shot hit a rebel who was using a gelfoam mattress as cover; getting that to burn was quite a feat, but it did. The rebel soldier collapsed, the man behind him picked up the burning mat and threw it at the flechette gunner; it draped itself over the stormtrooper’s head and shoulders, blinding him.

Immediate action drill, take the helmet off, ignore the smell and keep firing; he did, but before he could shoot a broken slab of table hit him in the head, knocking him down and out.

Then it was fists and feet, rifle butts and improvised weapons at point blank. Flashes of the action: M’Lanth faking going for the T-21, a stormtrooper about to shoot him in the kidneys suddenly having his feet swept out from under him and his head bounced off the deck;
One of the stormtroopers using the butt of his carbine to parry a wok aside, swinging the gun round for a zero-centimetre range shot, what was left of the rebel collapsing against him and pulling him down, where he was stabbed through the neck with a shard of deck plating;
The squad sargeant killing a rebel with a buttstroke to the side of the temple, grabbing the reb’s cooking knife and gutting another with it, four of them grabbing him and dragging him down, one trying to beat him to death with a footlocker.

At even odds, the stormtroopers would have taken it easily. At ten to one odds, they could have killed enough of the rebels fast enough that the rest would have broken and ran.

Being outnumbered thirty to one by do or die fanatics was too much. They went down fighting, but they went down.

The Imperial plan was swiftly revised and updated; the rest of the battalion started to fold itself in around them, englobe, lay down fire and destroy. As per the rebel plan, they picked up what weapons they could and headed for the main armoury block.

Adannan thought he had it. Had identified the man he was after, the spiritual leader of this little uprising. Time to have some fun.

Team Omega-17-Blue happened to be stalking the same target.

‘It hasn’t occurred to him that if he and his soft-skinned team weren’t there, we could gas the rebels,’ Aleph-1 said. ‘We wouldn’t even need to make pizza. He hasn’t done anything particularly renegade yet, so we can’t catch him in the crossfire.’

‘You know about that?’ Aleph-3 asked her leader.

‘Of course. Do you think I hadn’t considered the possibility? Never mind that you get the shakes whenever the Captain comes into sight.’

‘I thought I hid it better than that,’ she said, avoiding the personal in favour of the professional.

‘We’ve been working together for thirteen years. No chance. There is this; Adannan will want to interview you. Whatever you hide, given a clear mind he’ll figure it out. Confront him now. Stage- manage at least the first impression.’

‘Right. Never mind the rebels in the way,’ she said, raising her DC-15 long rifle.

‘Consider them a fringe benefit.’

In their primary role, they carried all sorts of odd and distinctive devices, with a heavy emphasis on close quarters; flechette and flamer, arc blasters, riot guns, scatter and auto-blasters, grenade launchers and a whole library of projectile weapons.

In the open field with the rest of the legion, they functioned as a group of sniper pairs, spotter and shooter.

Perversely, Aleph-3 liked the old heavy rifle as a close quarters weapon, precisely because it was a clumsy beast that required a lot of positive control - it was impossible to be casual or careless with. It was long and rugged enough to use as a quarterstaff if they got really close, and powerful enough to shoot through walls if necessary.

Or blow pieces off them. The first batch of rebels they encountered looked like they were trying to break open a barrack block door by hitting it with a mouse droid. Only four of them.

All of them took at least two shots at first instance and another two before what was left hit the ground. Not overkill as much as warmup. The rebels had no perimeter or flank security, mainly because they had nothing to do about it if it did happen.

There was a scatter, in many cases a splatter, of Rebel wounded and dead; the incapable would be rounded up, the still dangerous were neutralised - stunshot or buttstroked - in passing.

A three horse race, then, between an Alliance fighter pilot, a Dark Jedi in the process of throwing caution to the wind and a team of Jedi-hunters on the verge of considering him fair game.

M’Lanth knew he was out of time; it had become a fight rather than an escape, and possibly not even that, perhaps an act of sabotage was the most to be had. He and the survivors of the assault party were fighting a very literal running battle, with the disadvantage that the enemy knew exactly where they were going.

The armoury block extended several levels. No sense doing the obvious. Up? Unfeasible. Down?

Lift the deck plates, avoid the pipe ducts that were covered by the ship’s tensor field and their guns would do nothing to, wriggle down to the deck below; four stormtroopers on guard, a half squad, called the alarm and opened fire.

M’Lanth flattened himself on the deck as he hit, one of the stormtroopers just a little too slow tracking him shot him in the buttock as he lay prone; adrenalin kept him moving long enough to fire two shots at the flamer trooper.

Calling them flamers was an anachronism; it was a thermal plasma weapon, to all intents and purposes - a very, very hot steam gun.

The stormtrooper dropped, shot in the arm, but not before he had burned the next three rebels down from the deckhead. Their charcoaled remains tumbled down on the rebel pilot, and he collapsed into unconsciousness.

The rest hurled themselves at the stormtroopers, clambering over their own dead to do so; the armoury door was right there at the end of the corridor. There were fewer of them left, now. Less than half those who had been let out of their cells, but they had reached their first goal.

No time to faff about with security codes; plant blaster powerpack bombs on the lock and hinges and stand back.

Not far enough; the blast killed one of their own and scarred others, but it worked - the door slowly toppled outwards. They charged in and were totally baffled.

The first thing they saw in front of them was a mess of plating, spars and a squared off cylinder that probably was some kind of generator. The only obvious weapon was barbette mounted and fifteen metres long.

There was a label on the wall above; AT-AT to AT-HE conversion kit. Another three of those along the opposite wall; on the same wall, four sets of seats and speeder bike garage facilities, AT-HE to AT-AT conversion kits.

The rebels looked at them, desperately scanning for something, anything useful; short of firing up the generator, connecting it up and trying to traverse the gunship-walker’s heavy laser, nothing.

The flamer trooper was still alive, and he laughed at them. ‘You dozy kriffwits, what do you think ‘armoured legion’ means? We’re mostly vehicles, what were you expecting?’

They shot him again; he slumped. They were still ransacking the armoury block with its near nothing of use when the lights flickered out - telekinetically smashed - and were replaced by a single bar of red light in the corridor.

Most of the rebels still outside the armoury, forming some kind of defence line, started shooting; Adannan laughed at them, intercepted the bolts, looking effortlessly at ease doing it. Bounced most of them back, hit a couple of the rebels - then, just because he could, found the only heavy weapon they had, a squad T-21, and blasted the operator to abstract carbon sculpture with force lightning.

‘Where is he?’ Adannan bellowed at the rebels. ‘Where is your leader?’ No answer.

He charged forwards into the middle of them, sliced a blaster rifle in half, let a punch slam into him, took it like it was nothing, with an open palm strike pushed the attacker’s heart out of the back of his chest. He gutted one man with the sabre, felt a hand grab his wrist, another seize the sabre hilt; sent two bolts of black light flying out, blasted the life out of both men, instantly withering them to the look of year-old corpses. An interesting power; he must try it on another Force user sometime. In fact he planned to.
He wrested the sabre free, flashed a man’s head off, leapt back out of the way of another two trying to grab him and drag him down, looked around for a worthy target.

M’Lanth had barely recovered consciousness; he was seriously hurt, hazy with pain and relying on adrenalin and endorphins to function even marginally. But he did have a flamethrower. The stormtrooper who had it before didn’t need it any more, it was the first thing M’Lanth could find to hand and the only thing he could reach. He laid it on target and squeezed the trigger.

There were powers and techniques that could block a flamethrower blast; fastest and easiest way, kill the wielder. Too late for that. Telekinetic barrier was a trick he had never learned - and absorb and dissipate, well.

He called on the Force - demanded that it aid him - to absorb the heat in the plasma stream; but he had never been good at that, and it took nearly all of his concentration to hold it back, splash it away.

He advanced slowly towards the prone, charred and bleeding rebel, fighting his way upstream to the man he recognised as his chosen target; then suddenly felt a wide, hollow pain - of course. One of the other rebels had had the presence of mind to shoot him in the back. How silly of him not to have foreseen that.

Adannan’s entourage had been, as usual, ordered to hold the ring while their master moved in, unwilling to accept help or share kills. They were too far away to help, but Omega-17-Blue had been following him, and assisting the boarding battalion by burning through any particularly stubborn knots of rebels.

They saw him collapse on to his knees, distracted badly enough by the wound that his clothes and hair started to burn under the thin, bright plasma stream leaking through his defences.

It was the curse of their nature, absolute obedience to orders, regardless of how politically or tactically insane they might be. The outer cordon around the armoury complex had known they were doing a suicidally stupid thing, moving out before they were properly relieved, but the old imperatives had kicked in.

Aleph-1 shot from the right inwards, Aleph-3 put one shot clean through M’lanth’s heart, wishing she was allowed to shoot Adannan as neatly, then switched target to two rebels from the left inwards, sidestepping away from a return shot and nailing both. The rest of the team picked and shot for their targets, kept their heads, laid down fire. For all the guard and garrison duty they ended up pulling, it was not the stormtrooper corps’ highest talent.

They were, arguably, not even particularly good at defensive warfare, tending to turn in solid, uninspired performances. Given half a chance to counterattack, though, they were in their element.

The rebels outside the armoury melted, dropped, blasted through, pieces blown off. Some tried to shelter behind their own dead; another thing the old heavy rifles were good for.

That done, two squads of the boarding battalion went in to retake and secure the armoury. Adannan was back on his feet, one hand over the wound, looking disgusted with himself.

Aleph-3 strode up to him, took off her helmet, tucked it under her arm and held out a hand. ‘My lord, I believe you wanted to talk to me. Watcher 22173.’

He ignored her hand - it was a simple probing gesture anyway, fishing for how off balance he was. ‘I wanted him alive.’ He said, pointing - with the sabre, she swayed out of the way - at M’Lanth’s dead body.

‘No orders were given to that effect,’ she said, as if it explained everything, playing slightly dumb. ‘Standing orders categorise persons of your type as to be protected. It was him or you, my lord, I had no choice.’

‘Do you shelter behind your standing orders often?’

Oh, kriff it, she thought. Maybe if I provoke him, he will attack me and what little sense of self preservation I have will kick in profoundly enough to overcome the imperatives and let me take him. Keep that in mind as plan - well, the rebels have used up most of the alphabet around here, plan Z.

‘My lord, they proved little shelter to the troopers of the boarding batallion who were lured out of position by your presence. Your arrival in the combat zone proved to be a great asset to the rebels,’ she said, sternly.

‘How dare you criticise me,’ he shouted. ‘I am an agent of the council, I am your lord and master, and if I choose to squander you by any means, deliberate or accidental, it is of no importance.’

What was that line Lennart kept quoting? “If you forget my rank, Sire, I will forget yours?” Saying that really would get her killed. ‘That’s in standing orders too, Lord,’ she actually said.

‘So you think that I am a dangerously amateurish fool, in love with his own power, and a hindrance and a hazard to the professionals?’ he asked her, tone deceptively light.

‘As far as infantry work goes, my lord, yes.’

‘You’re not supposed to have a backbone,’ he said. Oh kriff, she thought, time to book an appointment with a cybersurgeon. ‘The moral courage to tell your leader that he’s being an idiot was never supposed to be part of the package. Where did you get it from?’

‘Osmosis, my lord, from our targets. So many neophytes prepared to challenge the Empire with nothing more than an ancient religion and a shiny stick, in the face of their heroic stupidity how could we who have skill and experience show anything less?’

Adannan laughed, then winced slightly as the pain got to him. ‘I stopped most of that. Not all, it seems. You are starting to sound almost as worthy of investigation as Captain Lennart is.’

‘Set a deviant to catch a deviant, Lord? In any case we are all put through positive vetting on a continuing basis, and I would be surprised if there were not other checks on our loyalty and stability that we do not know of.’

‘Which you are watching for little tells, accidental confirmation on my part,’ Adannan said; she looked away. ‘Does Lennart realise he has potential to be strong in the Force?’ he changed subject suddenly.

She could think of lies to tell, but none that would withstand cross-examination. ‘Yes, Lord. His willingness, however…‘

‘You have spoken with him about this?’ Adannan said.

‘My Lord, he does not want the Force. I have tried to do the groundwork, help persuade him.’

That was not desperately unusual in someone who could not have the Force, but in a sensitive, who could sense the potential of what they could do, it was almost pathological.

‘How can he reject it? He knows what the penalty is for doing so?’ Adannan asked.

‘He knows, Lord, and although he speaks of being cursed by the Force, I believe he will bow to the inevitable - although he will have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards it, at first.’ Which was more or less true.

‘Hmm. The kicking and screaming, I can stimulate. Would he bow to pressure, if I threatened to start randomly disembowelling members of his crew? Accept your destiny or Spaceman G’Blort gets it?’

‘If you wished him to turn to the wrong side of the Force then that is what you should do,’ she said firmly. ‘You would become his enemy pure and simple, and he would embrace the Light Side to use against you.’

‘Really? And what would the rest of his crew do, in such circumstances?’ Adannan asked.

He got a long pause in return.

‘I find that hard to believe,’ he said. ‘Of course he has built up something of a personality cult, probably through the subconscious use of the Force, but powerful enough to lead his people into rebellion?’

‘My Lord,’ she said carefully, ‘he himself does not think so, but I suspect he may be being too modest in that.’

‘Hmm.’ Adannan would have raised an eyebrow if he had any left. His minions arrived; the Givin had an arm in an improvised sling. Laurentia darted a look of total hatred and envy at Aleph-3 that was returned with calm contempt.

‘Well,’ he said to the hunter team, ‘I’ll leave you to the tidying up. I wouldn’t want to get in your way.’

He draped one arm over Laurentia’s shoulder, started to limp away with her propping him up.

‘My lord,’ Aleph-3 called after him. He turned back to her. ‘You and Captain Lennart have more in common than you probably want to admit, in particular the sense of humour. Show him the dark side doesn’t take that away and he will turn more willingly.’

He nodded, and limped away.

‘Lord Alric, she’s biased. Her judgement is seriously compromised, she’s more than half in love with him,’ Laurentia objected.

‘She’s a skilled liar, of course, but not so skilled that she can make herself believe that anything other than Lennart embracing his destiny in the dark side is even remotely feasible. If she does desire him, she’ll be working towards that anyway,’ Adannan said.

‘It’s not possible. I couldn’t do that, and she’s me. We’re identical.’ Laurentia protested.

‘Time and experience have diverged you. You don’t have the guts any more to call me a grandstanding idiot.’

Adannan’s other aide tried not to laugh, Laurentia was indignant. ‘She said that?’

‘Yes. She was right, too,’ Adannan winced. ‘I went into that relying on intimidation to paralyse and cow the rest while I hacked them down one or two at a time. I didn’t take the time to weigh them, realise how little they had left to lose. A fairly light price, for such a fundamental error,’ he admitted. ‘Have to do better next time.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 09:32pm, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 27b

Black Prince’s main ready room: most of the captains of the squadron were attending holographically, which Lennart thought was a shame - he would have liked to meet them in the flesh, smell them and see them fidget.

With the enhanced senses that the Force is known to bring, he thought, would I be able to pick up on all the little signals, the subliminal muscle-twitches that give a person’s motives away? And if I could, would it be genuinely useful, or would drinking in the ugly details, all the private hates and fears, prove too much and make the detachment of taking a brown robe and going ‘om’ a lot seem a blessed relief?

How easy it must be to be a cynic, when you know for certain all the things that the Force can reveal to you.

Business first. ‘From your point of view, that could have gone better. For the defender, what is the book solution?’ he asked them.

‘Pursue and destroy,’ Lycarin said. ‘The Operations Office demands it.’ He was sitting bolt upright, millimetrically precise in uniform and deportment; he was on the carpet, and knew it.

‘What the operations office claims ought to happen is less important than what can and does happen,’ Dordd reproved him. They had had a frank exchange of views - or a blazing row in plain language - which had done nothing for the defenders’ chances.

‘I agree in principle,’ Falldess spoke up. ‘Take the fight to the enemy and destroy them.’ She too was in cool, formal mode.

‘It’s easy to agree in principle,’ Kovall said. ‘Turning it into practise is the hard part.’ He was caffeinated to the eyeballs and bouncing of his own com suite’s ceiling, almost.

‘As far as I can tell, none of you were working with a full enemy intentions analysis. Delvran?’ Lennart asked.

‘You got inside the curve. What I managed to assemble couldn’t keep up with you,’ Dordd admitted. He looked very tired, and Lennart wondered how far back that went.

‘EIA is a staff level, non-combat task,’ Yeklendim pointed out, correctly according to the manual.

‘A man who manages to get himself killed as trivially as you did-‘ Kovall started to rate him. They were nominal equals in rank.

‘I chose to do things this way largely to see if, and how well, you would work together,’ Lennart pointed out. ‘Consider the actual exercise plan: one individually powerful ship, with the mission of striking a target defended by a collectively superior group of ships. My objective is obvious.’

‘Draw us out and loop round behind us?’ Elstrand muttered, subdued, then repeated it more clearly.

‘Draw us out then divide us up and take us one at a time,’ Falldess corrected him.

‘Why wasn’t that clear to you before the shooting started? Delvran, Conor, you know me better than that.
'The problem is that every Grand Admiral, every oversector command, every naval academy, and every other political arm of the state who have no business doing so at all, consider it their right to add pages to the code of operations. Part of the captains’ job is to make sense of the contradictions and work out what to ignore. So, yes, it was a trick question,’ Lennart said.

‘Let’s start with the replay and go through this point by point,’ he decided. The display tank they were sitting around resolved itself into a model of the system they had used for the exercise. It had all been done in virtual space, for the sake of saving time, energy and fuel - and preventing accidents. Some of the recon globe had not done nearly as well as they should.

At Day 10, Lennart had a full-up battle exercise planned; they would be firing live, full power shot at each other, firing continuing to shield failure. It was inherently extremely dangerous. It wasn’t just reproducing the stress and confusion of combat; it was combat. Perhaps they would be ready.

After that, tank off to full fuel state, one sim dress-rehearsal of the operation, then move out and do it for real. That, at least, was the plan. In the meantime, there was this to learn from. ‘Right, let’s plan this properly from the beginning, with your experiences in mind. What’s your first move?’ Lennart asked.

‘Establish formation and chain of command,’ Barth-Elstrand suggested.

‘Theoretically correct but pointless,’ Lennart stated. ‘You have a squadron and line structure and a clearly senior officer. That should have taken all of three seconds.’ He looked at Dordd, not wanting to put him on the spot but realizing it might be necessary.

‘We suffered a major internal communication breakdown, Dynamic’s data system failed as she came to operational readiness. How much did that really cost us?’ Dordd admitted.

‘Depends what you would have done instead,’ Lennart said, then turned to Vehrec.

‘The sweep line. What was your plan?’

‘Direct bomber attack in company with the ship’s guns, smaller craft supporting as they could,’ Vehrec was living up to his reputation, anyway, sprawled on a couch, apparently unconcerned, but he sounded sharp enough.

‘You need to know exactly where I am to time the strike, and how are you supposed to do that if I can use my bombers to pick off the recon ships? Or direct fire. Conor?’

‘I guessed where you were likely to be,’ The young officer stated. ‘I was right, too.’

‘Terminally right; in coming to find me you offered yourself up on a plate. What was your object?’

‘I knew you would have to eliminate the recon shell; thought I could draw you into chase, make you use energy and time that would give the rest of the squadron a chance to converge on you. Calculated risk.’

‘When does whichever version of the book each of you happen to be using say you should begin to go evasive? Lycarin?’ Lennart asked.

‘Light-second maximum,’ Lycarin stated. ‘For good reason. 99.9% wouldn’t have taken that shot, and 99.99999 couldn’t.’

‘So you don’t evade, you fly a predictable path. Which makes extreme range alpha strikes that much more viable - not feasible, no-one takes precautions, that makes it more feasible. What will you do next time?’

‘Evaluate the situation on its merits,’ Elstrand said. ‘Ducking and weaving too soon wastes time and energy and makes signature.’

‘Next time, I could spotlight around, trying to sucker you into giving yourselves away, yes. Whoever doesn’t take the bait, continues straight and level, gets the faceful of turbolaser.’ Lennart smiled. ‘Always another wrinkle, isn’t there? What happened from there?’

The image played itself forward; Black Prince eliminating four of the recon screen with long range fire, several of the rest backing off- ‘And there, what does that achieve?’ Lennart asked.

‘Obviously you don’t look for fights you can’t win - but the book is actually right this time. Back off beyond effective gun range and trail, when larger friendly units appear formate on them and add your firepower to theirs.’

‘We tried,’ Sarlatt said.

‘Not very hard. You still think like a fighter pilot; speed and skill are what matters and damn the odds. It saved you; there were other, more rewarding targets. Speaking of which, Raesene, what orders did you receive from your line commander?’

‘Sir, we-‘ Lennart was glaring at him. He had asked a very precise question and wanted as precise an answer. There wasn’t really any way out of it. ‘ “Targets in sight, begin attack.” That was pretty much it, captain.’

‘I see. Group Captain Vehrec, explain your thinking,’ Lennart asked, letting the rest of the table fill in the ‘if any’.

‘I assumed you had as hazy an idea of our position as we had of yours. Get ahead of your predicted track, sortie everything in a close screen with a packed attack group behind it, localize and torpedo you as you came up; the time for flight operations would have given the slower ships a chance to catch up and reform.’

‘Good plan, if they had known about it. At this point, I am moving tangentially to the recon globe, deceptive jamming full - let’s face it; we’re an Imperator, there’s no way you’re not going to notice us.
'What we can do is confuse you as to our precise location, vector and status. Take the opportunity to launch hyperdrive fighters, small craft and probe droids, for instance.’

‘So that was how,’ Raesene said. ‘I knew we couldn’t have missed a normal space approach that badly.’ He had been attacked by Hunters and Avengers from Black Prince, driven them off but they had savaged a Bayonet and two Marauders in company.

‘It’s a useful trick. The probe droids are clear of our self noise and directional jamming, they’re cheap enough that they can be fired off at will and they make excellent ranging shots for no-notice fighter microjumps. The fighters also act as targeting relays for stepdown HTL fire, enough to take out the antifighter escorts. Now at this point, with the recon shell trimmed, I aim for the gas giant, drop a couple of proton torp heads into the radiation belt in passing. Between that and our own barrage jamming, we have a respectable local whiteout. Behind the cover of that, what am I going to do next?’

‘Kill velocity, reorient in a different direction, as we decelerate move out to meet us at a high aspect, medium range manoeuvring battle,’ Lycarin gave the book solution.

‘In theory, but a fair proportion of the rebels, and a high proportion of those that have lasted this long, are Imperial trained and know the book as well as you do. You can do one of two things - be better at it than they are, or do something strange. Most of the early, pre-Alliance Rebels loved strange. They seemed to think they couldn’t win by being conventional, so they had to try something off the wall. As the amateurs and lunatics die off and the professionals get left behind, the enemy is becoming more rational, more likely to go for a straightforward, logical move.
'If the ship’s velocity is low enough, you can enter the upper atmosphere and play hide and seek with cloud layers. More likely to be done by a small ship, but that’s in the book too.’

‘Which is what you did with the non-hyper fighter element,’ Vehrec said. ‘Not what you’re supposed to do when you’re attacking.’

‘It is a good move when you’re outnumbered eight to one. Slightly more difficult with short-endurance TIEs; their being deployed there should have been a hint we were going to come back for them.’

‘So you basically nest them there, they hit out at the recon corvettes and retreat back into the clouds, which means we have to waste time, energy and maybe ships blockading or going in after them. Strategic-offensive, tactical defensive. Nice,’ Vehrec said.

‘I shaved the margins of their endurance doing it. Now,’ Lennart let the image advance half an hour, ‘this is where things start to go wrong, and where I should be jumping up and down demanding people’s heads on my desk.
'Elstrand, you were expecting a bait and switch, weren’t you? A near reversal of vector, Black Prince moving out like this?’ Lennart sketched it on the image with a pointer laser.

‘Yes, sir, I was, and I instructed my line to conform accordingly,’ Elstrand stated.


'Sir, it occurred to me that small ships hide better than big ones. If you went in there, it would give too much advantage away to the smaller craft looking for you - so I thought Black Prince was going to curve round heading for the objective. Like this,’ she said, moving her hand like a fighter pilot, Lennart sketching it in on the image.

‘Lycarin?’ he asked the Perseverance’s commander, voice suddenly colder and harder.

‘Captain of the Line Lennart, I went with the book option,’ Lycarin said, as if in formal defence.

‘So, Captain Dordd, as senior ranking officer of this mess, what were your thoughts?’

‘On the tactical problem - your vector seemed to lead nowhere. I thought initially that you would take the chance of skimming the upper atmosphere of the giant, aerobraking and setting off how much radio noise, then waiting as we scattered and lunging out after the most exposed; even if we did manage to manoeuvre on to a common vector, that would waste so much time that you would be able to outreach us to the objective. So I ordered the chase aborted and all ships to make for planetary orbit. Expecting you to do something we could then react to, so that however badly screwed we were, we could at least see what to do., Dordd said.

‘Suboptimal, but in that situation not unreasonable. So why didn’t it happen? Group Captain Vehrec?’

‘We’d just released most of our fighters. For a high speed dash across the system we had to retrieve them. Landing ops take time, and weren’t helped by two squadrons of Starwings playing intruder, Sir.’

‘No doubt you know better, but you fell into the trap of assuming the ship is there to serve the fighters. Classic pilot gut reaction. You don’t think they happened to bounce you out of hyperspace by accident? They did it because you were in mid-retrieval. What should you have done?’

‘Bring shape back into the fight. Your units were after the bombers, so I ordered the bombers to move along our best line of defence so the PD could cover them, and vectored the fighters in after your intruders.’

‘If all you were up against was fighters, that would have made sense. Dordd?’

‘I disregarded my own orders about five seconds later,’ he admitted. ‘With one ship of force paralysed in fighter action, the most sensible thing to do was to rally around her and form up as a group. I have to admit I was expecting you to build vector outwards, and then microjump in behind us and pound us while we were separated.’

‘That was plan A,’ Lennart said. ‘Lycarin. I know that was where you were expecting me- but didn’t the orders from your immediate superior convince you otherwise? Why didn’t you formate on Voracious and Dynamic?’

‘Voracious was off in a world of its own, and, to be blunt, Sir, I did not believe Dynamic was capable of any useful assistance. She was so slow in executing any move that I believed we were effectively on our own. And said so,’ Lycarin stated.

‘My plan B fell into place when you separated. I had a shot at the Perseverance from least-effective missile range closing, and took it. Falldess, attempting to close on and support Perseverance was the right choice. The execution, though: did you intend to scatter support craft along your line of flight?’

‘Captain, we could arrive all together and too late, or piecemeal and in time to matter. I regret the loss of Jointure and Splenetic, but-’ Falldess objected.

‘Another trick question. Look at your vector; you’d have been heading outsystem with too much way on to manoeuvre back into the fight. You got one good firing pass out of that, then spent the rest of the exercise retrieving life pods.’

‘I don’t understand. Am I supposed to leave them drifting?’ Falldess said, irritated.

‘Officially, yes. You fight it out to the finish, and when there’s none of the enemy left standing, then you pick up survivors. Unofficially, very few people scooped up from a drifting life pod have objected. Just wait until you’re no longer likely to join them before you start retrieval.’

‘Gunnery tactics,’ Lennart said, zooming in. ‘With full converged salvos, you miss a lot. On average, you’re more likely to kill a ship sooner with spread fire closing to effective range. We fire converged sheaf salvos because a solid hit usually overloads the surge capacity of the target’s shielding and starts doing real damage very quickly. We’re able to do this because all of my gun crews, primary, secondary and most of the reserve, have put in upwards of ten thousand hours training time. Work towards that, but first, work the numbers and do what gives you the best chance.
'Speaking of which, Delvran, your ship did some good shooting. Question; would I have been better off, switching target from Voracious to Dynamic after she had started to score hits, or not?’

‘Another trick question, Sir?’ Elstrand stated. ‘You do whatever reduces the enemy’s firepower by the greatest amount in the least time, Unless political or operational concerns intervene.’

‘Which is the principle you base your judgements on, but in this case, what practical result does the principle produce?’

‘Switch targets,’ Kovall said. ‘Why did you stay on the carrier?’

‘The Venator’s a theoretically easier target; once we take her out, we only have two ships of force close enough and fast enough to worry about, one already damaged,’ Lennart said, not telling the entire truth.

The image played itself out to conclusion. Black Prince’s course track was a z-shape, out from the giant, raking fire into Perseverance, accelerating at a sharp angle to pass Voracious on the far side of her from Dynamic; the fast destroyer manoeuvring for a clear shot, the destroyer-carrier coming apart in a wave of green fire, the final gun duel between the two destroyers, swirling round each other at close quarters, high aspect; the broader, three-engined Imperator, better balanced, sidestepping the firing arcs of the fast but clumsy Arrogant. In the little flickers of moves begun and aborted, actions and reactions, it was possible to see that the judgement of Dynamic’s captain outran the ability of his crew to put it into practise.

After the explosion, the rest was coda. Black Prince accelerated inward, delivered a bombardment as specified in the terms of the exercise, retrieved her fighters and jumped outsystem for a tanker rendezvous.

‘Individually, most of you made mostly right choices, most of the time,’ Lennart said. ‘Collectively it was a disaster. Vehrec; for this one, more than half your fighters were imaginary. That made operations smoother than otherwise. The fact that you chose to act as a second attack force was barely justifiable in theory, in practise catastrophic. Lycarin, you disobeyed an order to take a chance - that failed. Do that in the flesh and you’ll be lucky to live long enough to be strung up. Captain Dordd, I’ll want to talk to you later.
'I want post-battle analyses from each of you. Your own opinion of your performance. We will be repeating this or something like it in a few days - the full squadron, against a computer controlled four ship division of MC-80s.’

There was little overt reaction among command grade officers, but he detected several suppressed curses in his direction. Fine. ‘Dismiss.’ The holograms faded out, leaving Dordd still sitting there, image glowing slightly blue.

‘Do you believe me now, when I say three months to a decent state of efficiency?’ he said.

Lennart decided to avoid all recriminations and cut straight to the chase. ‘What are you going to do differently next time?’

‘Let my bridge team do their own jobs. I got the balance wrong; spent too much time on my own ship rather than on the squadron, failed to impose my will on them, failed to impose shape on the operation - not a great start, was it?’ Dordd said.

‘That’s why I left you to last and pushed in for a close turning fight. Work them a little. How did your crew react?’ Lennart asked.

‘Badly. I know you fired no real shot, but you left a trail of broken men behind anyway - I have fifteen requests in to resign commissions including two department deputies, and eighty enlisted trying to commit offences just severe enough to be reassigned or discharged.’

‘How many of them are you tempted to accept?’

‘As far as I can tell, make or break for this ship happened three years ago, on squadron manoeuvres; a bungled helm order resulted in her ramming a strike cruiser. It broke up, blew up when the ion flare touched it, ruptured a fuel line - contamination and fires onboard. The inquiry ended in a string of court-martials. She was an unhappy ship before that, mutual blame and denunciation resulted in a breakdown of command.
'When she was punted out to the rim, they left too many of the existing officers on board, officers who hated each other. She’s gone from unhappy to poisonous self-loathing tempered only by apathy.’ Dordd said.

‘You do have my authority to hire and fire,’ Dordd opened his mouth; Lennart said it first. ‘One exception - Aldrem. We’re reopening the axial defence turrets, mounting three 480’s off the Kestrel. I want him back as battery commander for that.’

‘He is not well liked on board. He’s been arrogant, pushy, demanding, abrasive and worst of all, right. He’s got no patience with that depth of ineptitude - he could teach advanced, but not remedial. As a battery commander, I could use him; as an instructor officer, disastrous. Why did you bump him up to commissioned rank, by the way?’

‘So he would be in a position to tell you what’s going on, of course,’ Lennart said.

‘Right. Exhausting being in charge, isn’t it? I’m starting to understand the distant, formal type a lot better now.’ Dordd sighed. ‘My command style so far seems to involve a lot of cold fury and barely suppressed urges to strangle junior officers.’

‘Being the skipper is a job that throws your eccentricities into high relief, true. When I recommended you for command, I knew you were going to get something demanding,’ Lennart said.

‘I would have to deal with this one way or another. Probably better, having the chance to do so in company - at least this way we can draw off some of the bad blood, for purely professional reasons.’

‘Good. I want your report, too, but apart from that, what do you make of them?’ Lennart asked, waving at the now-empty seats.

‘Professional opinion? Vehrec should not be in a multiple branch command, not with ships and troops under his authority. He thought, "what can my fighters do?" and set out to find a mission for them. Not many of Delta and Epsilon came back, did they?’

‘No, but by the time we attacked him and his fighter swarm had a chance to attack us, there weren’t enough of his bombers left to matter. And I see what you mean, he doesn’t think "ship",’ Lennart said, broadly in agreement. ‘Something else to work on. Lycarin?’

‘He would sell his grandmother, and at least one of his balls, for your reputation,’ Dordd said, with suppressed anger. ‘He has the courage to rely on his own judgment, but he got very formal when it went wrong. He’s rooted in the system, all that staff time, but wishing he had the chutzpah to break out. He is good, but not that good; he has a higher opinion of his own talents than they deserve. I think given an independent command he would overreach himself.’

‘Language like that, from the vulture?’ Lennart said. ‘What he did would have amounted to an act of mutiny if it had been on a real operation. I have enough rope to hang him, but I want his own account of his behaviour before I decide on the long or the short drop.’

‘How much damage did Kovall do to us?’ Dordd asked. ‘He microjumped out, guessed right, and gave us an early contact that we couldn’t afford to ignore. In effect he assisted you, didn’t he?’

‘It worked out that way, yes. Almost a shame, we didn’t see enough of him to make a full judgement. Raesene, too - what did you make of him? Something’s not right there,’ Lennart said, antennae twitching.

‘Yes,’ Dordd realized. ‘Slow answering orders, quick carrying them out. Fast thinking, slow to explain. Either the bridge crew are running that ship and using him as their front man, or - I don’t know. The medium frigates and lesser didn’t really have enough to do to tell.’

‘If we’re lucky, it’ll just be an exercise, but we may actually have to do a search-and-retrieve for a modular support cruiser; the one that was supposed to be coming to relieve us of our rebel prisoners. That ship is now suspiciously late,’ Lennart said. ‘That should give the frigates and corvettes a workout. What about the recon lines?’

‘Falldess comes from a world that’s barely out of the stone age, but in a bizarre way, that actually works for her. Because she has little instinctive grasp, she has to think about what she’s doing - which too many are too eager to display proper zeal to bother. In an open-ended, cerebral fight, probe or hunter operations, she would do well.’

‘I agree. The risks she took weren’t worth the return, but that’s what this series of exercises is all about. Elstrand was a disappointment; he still hasn’t recovered, and if there was anyone I would be tempted to replace as a line commander, right now it would be him.’

‘Who with, Brenn?’ Dordd asked.

‘The obvious choice. There was one other aspect to this; I was hoping you would be able to present a credible threat, because with Adannan on board, it’s possible the Squadron may have to do it for real.’

Dordd was too tired to react demonstratively to that, but it was a scaring thought. ‘Get your report in to me soonest; I have to start planning the next round.’

‘Good luck. Dynamic out.’ Dordd broke the connection.

Lennart ordered the terminal, ‘External, Comarre, get me Commander Mirannon.’

‘Gethrim? Jorian,’ Lennart began, once the com team had found him. ‘Busy?’

‘Three for one, as usual. To one significant figure it cancels out, which is better than I was expecting,’ Mirannon said, then remembered he hadn’t actually asked permission.

‘We’re rotating the rest of the squadron’s damage control detachments through Comarre Meridian to assess them and bring them up to speed. That OK?’

‘I expect you could get away with a lot more than that if you want, now. The midichlorian counts are in and there are two people on board potentially subject to Order 66. You and me.’

‘Me?’ Mirannon said. Lennart wouldn’t pull that for a prank, not even he himself would; it was so enormously mad it was probably true. ‘I need the Force like I need webbed feet and feathers. What the kriff good is it to an engineer? What am I supposed to do, turn bolts telekinetically? Draw blueprints at superhuman speed?’

‘I can think of at least two things,' Lennart said. ‘You do as much of the hands on work as you can find an excuse for, and you work longer hours than almost anyone else. You think you’re doing that without help? The other aspect - energy resistance. If a dark Jedi can walk through flamer fire, you can deal with heat, neutrino waves, live cables-‘

‘All of that, we have tools and procedures to work with, I would be setting a dangerously bad example not using them. Sooner or later, someone else would get careless, and get killed, doing something I could do and they couldn’t,’ Mirannon said.

‘As for the hours, I’m supposed to get enthusiastic about a personality damaging, ultra-high maintenance caf alternative?’

‘Look, I hate the idea too, but I don’t think we have much option. As far as I can tell, there’s never been a coherent list of what the Force can and can’t do - too much mystic nonsense and too many secrets kept - so I’m trying to put it together from memories, legends, and marginal sources no-one got around to classifying.’

‘So what are we looking at? Obviously there’s the second-order stuff, force versus force, which we may have to pay more attention to than would otherwise be justified because of Adannan, but what is there of primary usefulness to me or you?’ Mirannon said.

‘Not much that I can think of off the top of my head,’ Lennart admitted. ‘I was hoping that if I could manage to persuade you it was worth taking seriously, then maybe you could do the same for me.’

‘How easy is it for a trainee Force user to blow himself up? Self-teaching may not be the smartest plan,’ Mirannon said. ‘The non-option - Force users in name only? We can deal with Adannan by other means, and metaphorically take the money and run.’

‘Psychologically damaging, one way or the other, and of questionable usefulness, but the fringe benefits are excellent?’ Lennart summarized. ‘I don’t want to give in to this line of thinking because it sounds too good to be true, but historically, most Force users have been trained from diapers up. Moulded by the Force, in some sense taken over by it. So there almost certainly is a gee-gosh-wow-zap-kapow element to it, stuck somewhere between repressed childishness and a child’s image of maturity.’

‘Doesn’t hold water,’ Mirannon said. ‘Your theory is that the potential of the Force resolves down to what the users make of it, the known powers are what the historical users have made of it? So a middle aged career officer is naturally going to find things in the force that cloister-raised monks miss.’

‘You sound skeptical.’ Lennart said.

‘I am. They had enough time and enough people to throw at the problem; inefficient or not, they would have had to be superhumanly stupid not to fill out the possibility envelope in twenty thousand years. I’m not discounting that, but probability is, what they knew of is all there is. So what are the known possibilities?’ Mirannon asked.

‘The sheer incoherence of the list makes me think ‘superhumanly stupid’ is very possible. Or maybe just incomplete research on my part. First up, telekinesis - apparently the ability to move yourself, move someone else and move inanimate objects are separate talents, breaking down into a shoal of microtalents depending on who you listen to.’

‘On the face of it, I could have a use for that,’ Mirannon admitted. ‘Transhuman strength and dexterity, but the limit isn’t biology; it’s whether or not it’s better than the tools for the job. The other options?’

‘As far as I can tell, there’s biomanipulation, senses natural and unnatural, and a whole incoherent spectrum of illogical, inexplicable and grotesquely unpleasant ways to kill people. There’s a lot more detail, but those are essentially the heads of proposals.’

‘That’s not a child, a celibate or a eunuch; you’re describing an animal. Man as life form, not as rational actor.’

‘That way of looking at it makes a lot of things fall into place,’ Lennart agreed. ‘For myself, I’m looking at the sensory talents. They seem the most potential use to me.’

‘What would be of most use to you would be to go down to Main Machinery-2 and put in some sparring time. Start learning how to hit people with a lightsabre, because sure as stang you’re going to need it.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-13 09:45pm, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 28

Black Prince’s Fighter Direction Centre was usually busy, even when there was nothing much going on. There were always situations to be monitored, exercises to be run, ground services to be coordinated. Initially a cavernous, empty space, it had long since been modified - a web of internal bracing, then deck plates laid over them, converting the open pit and tiers of wall galleries into three separate decks.

The main tactical tank was still in place on the original lower deck, with the controllers’ subchambers for the four squadrons of the fighter wing around it, but the next deck up was operational planning, surface action support, and the control pens for the bomb wing, and the top deck maintenance and status, and control for the transports and multirole wing.

In the operational planning bay, Air Commodore Olleyri and his control team were doing their own post-exercise analysis.

‘Countermoves. What do you do about an enemy fighter force that’s turtled in a planet of your own system? How do you deal with the sort of threat we presented there? Ideas?’ Olleyri asked; most of the senior controllers and the squadron and wing leaders were gathered with him around the central display table.

‘Ignore it,’ Beta One said. ‘As such. They stay in there and they’re neutralised. They come out to fight, we pursue and intercept as normal. How close were you,’ he asked Iota One, ‘to running out of air?’

‘It’s not the air that’s the problem. It’s the fuel and ordnance. To get any real advantage from that situation, we have to move fast, which is the main reason the TIE lifesystem is crap,’ Iota One said.

‘The fuel is the limiting factor, the life system was designed down to that. Upgrading is trivial, but to get any really greater combat endurance, we need more fuel, which is vicious circle time again. Hit and run especially.’

‘You’re just jealous because you haven’t got a hyperdrive,’ Beta One said.

‘It is more fuel efficient for those Alliance clunkers to short-jump than thrust a lot of the time - which means high relative velocity when we overrun them and strafe them to bits. Swings and roundabouts.’

‘Waiting out TIEs might work, but think operational. We often won’t have the luxury of time, due to political pressure. Rahandravell?’ The boss turned to the newest, and temporary, addition to his team of controllers.

Franjia’s hoverchair was bobbing up and down beside the main display table; she was out of her hospital bed, but they wouldn’t let her get back into the cockpit yet. Worse, instead of letting her join and lead Epsilon in the battle, from a sim tank, Olleyri had ordered her to join him in the direction centre. He had made a joke of it, mocking her sim habit, but it was also an order.

‘The hidden lair is less important than hidden eyes. Its recon assets the hidden force needs more than anything else, so whoever has jamming ascendancy has the edge. The attacking force can’t time their lunges, can’t reliably find weak points to strike,’ she said.

‘Blanket barrage jamming, in a friendly system, has several disadvantages. Traffic control, for one, and if civilian freighters are wandering around blind, deaf and dumb, that makes them easy targets,’ Olleyri countered.

‘So you- ahh. That ought to work. Spysats and probe droids around the planet, create a line of control, oh.’

‘Turns into a meeting engagement on the fringes of the atmosphere, advantage defender. So you do it as a two-parter, fast flyby shootings by one team, take out the eyes, when the opposition move out to defend them the second team in closer orbit ambushes them - with luck piecemeal, if not?’ He let her come up with the next piece of the puzzle.

‘Fly an evasive holding action and take what you can while the second formation rejoins the fight. We-‘

There was a buzz from the com terminal. Olleyri turned to it. ‘CAG. What’s the situation, bridge?’

‘Incoming transport dangerously overdue.’ It was Brenn, playing the part of the Captain’s shadow as ever. ‘We were supposed to rendezvous with a Modular Cruiser which was tasked to take the rebel prisoners off our hands before they could do anything, for instance attempt to escape.’

‘Now it’s passed from late to missing presumed lost, and you want us to sweep for it. Why would the rebs hit a prisoner transport on the way to the pickup, not the way back?’ Olleyri wondered.

‘No good reason, so it’s almost certainly a bad one,’ Brenn said, meaning that at best something improbable had happened, at worst something political. Olleyri nodded slightly to show he understood; Brenn continued

‘Long range scan has nothing, don’t even start looking at less than seventy-five light years out. You’ll have backup so load for anti-fighter, we’ll have course menus ready to download in twenty minutes.’

‘Sir, can I-‘ Franjia began.

‘No,’ Olleyri said. ‘They say another four days before you’re fit. Assuming they’re being overcautious as usual, count on another two days before I let you try to get killed again.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir,’ she said, disappointed, although it wasn’t that unreasonable. ‘This is going to be a squadron operation?’

‘No, we’ll be deploying every hyperdrive capable fighter we can muster, backed up by the corvettes. Pass the alert then fifteen minute break, everyone, get calories and stim up, this is going to be a long search or a short encounter battle.’

Lennart had taken his chief engineer’s advice. The reports would take a little time to write up anyway; he could afford a hundred minutes for fencing practise, and if the command team were going to have to take an increasing share of running the ship, they may as well start now. Brenn had been left in charge of organising the recon sweep for the missing modular cruiser, for a start.

Once - back when he was a junior officer - he had carried a datapad with him everywhere, constantly scribbling down notes, trivia, facts and events, trying to get his head around what was happening. Now, although he did his best to hoover up any information that crossed his path, he tried to keep it all in his head. Partly to keep his brain fit, partly so that he could be busy while managing to look cool, calm and collected.

He supposed that the Force had been helping him with that too, and cursed it for it - then realised what he was doing. That was one of their recruitment techniques, wasn’t it? The Force flows through all things, influences and affects everything you do. You aren’t the person you thought you were anyway - so give in and become one with the Force.

Balls to that, Lennart thought. The main question is, to what extent were the Jedi honest practitioners, and to what extent a self- erpetuating cult? To what extent was it necessary to follow their code to safely and effectively wield the Force, and to what extent was it a matter of what amounted to brainwashing?

This turbolift needs more ‘turbo’, he thought, grumpily. They give far too much time to think. He wondered how many defaulters, hauled into the Captain’s presence for transgressions too severe for a divisional officer to deal with, had been saved by a lift by the time it gave them to come up with some explanation or answer?

Or how many had been condemned by being given too much time, enough to overdo it and trip up on their own lies.

Which does connect right back to the question. Their relationship to the Force had been a kind of institutionalised schizophrenia, as he saw it; on one hand so terrified of falling to the dark side that they ruled much of what the Force was capable of to be off limits, on the other hand virtually abolishing their own personalities to enslave themselves to it.

Or fear, he realised. If Gethrim was right, and looking at the short list he had put together he seemed to be, the Force was a thing of feelings and emotions, needs and drives above all else; exactly what the Jedi forbade themselves. So the traditional way was out - even before taking Order 66 into account.

Or possibly sublimated their feelings by only allowing themselves to experience them through the Force. If the modern - well, immediate prewar - Jedi Order was a decayed remnant of its former self, corrupted into near uselessness by a small green fool who couldn’t distinguish the means from the end, then what had it originally been? Had it always been without a mandate to help people? For some professions - the strongest example he could think of was from the medical side - simply doing their jobs well would ensure that good things happened to people, and any emotional involvement would represent a loss of ability to do the job. So relentless perfectionism was the only permissible, and in the last analysis only necessary, form of compassion.

How could you have the Force, be literally one in a trillion at the most generous estimate, and not try to be either a hero or a villain? There must have been a mandate. Couldn’t not have been.

So the ‘no attachments’ rule made a kind of sense after all, except that somehow the original purpose had got lost along the way, the rule itself had become the objective. The Jedi order had reduced itself to accepting only the young and the impressionable, and dedicated itself to the waste and disuse of its power.

What were the traditional branches of the order - consular, guardian, sentinel? If there ever had been such a thing as a Jedi Knight-Errant, they were more than a thousand years extinct.

The lift doors hissed open on the office bay of Main Machinery-2. As per standing orders, no-one who was actually busy bothered to stand up and salute. They acknowledged him, of course, but not the full leap to feet, click heels and dislocate elbow ritual.

For a moment, he started to reach for his sabre. How dare they? How did these insignificant worms, these nobodies who only breathed by his will, fail to grovel in his presence? He should- He should smack himself upside the head, before he lost the plot entirely. He just stood there, reeling slightly from the bolt-from-the-blue flash of anger that had nearly possessed him.

‘Skipper, you OK?’ the watch officer asked.

‘No, no, I don’t think I am,’ he said, dragging himself back to some kind of normality. He took a deep breath and started again.

‘There are some strange things happening in my head, and I also have a rather urgent need to practise hitting people. Given both those facts, do you have such a thing as a sparring droid, expendable or at least rebuildable?’

Never mind the grapevine, he thought, I’ve just dropped a bloody melon. That’ll get around fast.

‘Not in one piece, I don’t think, Sir. Ten minutes?’

Ah, Lennart thought. The dark side has enough brains to find a natural point of weakness. On some near surface, automatic-formal level, I do expect to be honoured and obeyed.

‘If you could find a live opponent, someone good enough that I’m unlikely to be able to hurt him even if I do lose the plot?’ he asked.

‘Sir.’ The watch officer contained his surprise fairly well, sent one of the leading spacemen off to look.

As the captain of an Imperator-class destroyer, I must rank high on any scale of authoritarianism, he thought. And yet I’ve used the contradictions in the regulations - which are not nearly as large or as many as I usually make them out to be - to throw half of them away and rewrite the other half to suit.

My ship looks like a wreck, my crew are half crazy already; and somehow they still jump when I tell them to. So, this illusion of freedom thing, who’s fooling who? Between training, background, being on the receiving end of propaganda, they know how ruthless the Empire can be, probably better than I do. So what makes more sense - that I have managed to create some kind of microcosm, or that a man from a planet notorious for spawning chancers, rulebreakers, oddballs and maniacs is kidding himself?

Are their collective forty-six thousand minds more intelligent than my one? For some things, maybe. For speedy and decisive action in a crisis, no, which is why a ship has to have a captain and he has to be an autocrat. For social judgement, yes, many vague takes may be better than one sharp. Even disregarding the natural effect of perspective, as between giver and receiver of orders and punishment, obviously I am more of a bastard than I like to admit.

So treat this as a problem. What are the potential outcomes, and what are the tools to hand? Is unstinting self-knowledge the key? Kriff, I hope not, considering I’ve just put off getting a midichlorian count for twenty years.

Self-deception might be more to the point, considering how much of the Force seemed to be based on it. No, he decided. I am going to treat this as if it was a behaviour-altering disease, move slowly, think very carefully, examine every action to see whether it is a product of the affliction. Which is actually the strongest argument anyone’s come up with for embracing the Force yet- the time involved in fighting it.

‘Sir? This way,’ the watch officer said. Lennart followed him.

As Captain, the only part of the ship off limits to him was the imperial suite. Everywhere else he could go as he pleased; having to be invited to join the wardroom was convention and tradition, not law.

That didn’t mean he had. Main Machinery-1 he was reasonably familiar with, but that was the clean bright and shiny end: central control complexes, offices, planning and refresher training. Main Machinery-2 was a warren of workshops and laboratories and storerooms, folded away like the intestines of the ship. Lennart suspected they moved the bulkheads around from time to time anyway, just to stay in practise.

The training hall was almost empty; between routine maintenance, the axial defence turrets, and the major repair job in progress on the Comarre Meridian, most of Black Prince’s engineers had no time and energy spare to keep up their practise. Disused machine tools and pieces of tools along one long bulkhead, including the casing of a second-hand molecular furnace that Mirannon swore was no longer radioactive, storage bins along the other.

There were four men there, obviously waiting for him; two leading hands, a petty officer and a reactor charge chief, Vilberksohn.

‘Morning, Charge chief,’ Lennart said, addressing the senior rank as per protocol.

‘Morning, Captain,’ Vilberksohn said, trying not to sound bleary. ‘You have a sudden need to hit people, Sir?’ At five in the kriffing AM, he didn’t quite say.

‘That too, Charge chief.’ He brought out the lightsabre, thought about it. Shoved it back in his pocket. ‘The closest you have would probably be a welding torch. I want to try that.’

Five torches were retrieved from one of the storage bins, Lennart was handed one of them. ‘Ever used one of these before, Sir?’

‘No, not in anger anyway.’

They looked at each other, thinking "it’s true; the old man’s finally flipped." Lennart caught them doing it; they snapped back to eyes-front. He couldn’t really blame them.

‘Shall we start with the basics?’ the Charge Chief said, not quite entirely concealing his scepticism.

‘May as well, but the accelerated version, you hear? We have just under ten days, now, before this might matter.’

They thought about that and leaped to a correct conclusion. ‘Then, Sir, the only move you really need to know is how to trap his blade, and then shoot him with the blaster you should have in your other hand,’ Vilberksohn said.

‘That might be just a little too basic,’ Lennart said. Never mind the fact that he might be expecting it.

‘Don’t get me wrong, Captain, the biomechanics of this are fascinating, and there’s more than a human lifespan’s worth of information on sword and pseudo-sword fighting. It’s a great hobby, but there are easier ways of killing somebody.’

‘I know you’re trying to help, Vilberksohn, but the politics of the situation mean this is the way it has to be. No shortcuts.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir,’ Vilberksohn said, words correct, tone deeply sceptical. He activated the blades, said, ‘Exercise setting.’

‘These are non-standard, then?’ Lennart asked.

‘Sir, as a tool, you’re looking for precise control response, focused on the task, not time critical; for a weapon you’re looking at a totally different set of requirements. You cannot afford to need to control the thing precisely in a fight. The blob at the back, flip it open.’

The ‘blob’ was a round, oversized pommel; Lennart unfolded it, found a keypad, two thumb sticks, four sliders, two discs.

‘Now seal it up again, Sir, because you don’t need to worry about any of that. As a weapon, we add biometrics and presets so you can reliably voice control the thing.’

On exercise, the blades looked smaller and brighter than they had at first; Lennart waved his through the air to get the feel of it.

‘Sir, exactly how much of this have you done?’

‘Five or six training sessions with Commander Mirannon, I have a hazy, drunken memory of a dawn duel with a minor offshoot of the House of Tagge, and a boarding action during Second Coruscant. Most of that is a blur, too. I seem to remember jumping on a Destroyer Droid’s back and smashing its head in with a vibro-axe…the after action report said it happened, so it must be true.’

There were other reasons why Lennart’s memories of that day were fuzzy, but they were none of his business.

‘So you have spilt oil in anger, then,’ The Charge chief said.

‘DC-15Se in the other hand, too, at least to begin with. You were saying about the basics?’

The charge chief went through the standard cuts, first set direct strikes at the centre of mass, then sweeping cuts, then thrusts, blade simply a continuous arc, a blur.

‘I was being sarcastic, Sir,’ he said, not bothering to stop. ‘Like a true lightsabre, the blade is effectively weightless; all the mass is in the hilt. No momentum, it moves as fast as the hand and eye behind it can move. The reason the lightsabre is- was- the signature Jedi weapon is that, in anyone else’s hands, the fight’s over in half a second. They’re all offence.
'When they meet, it’s down to the strength of the wielder- but you need strength to parry, not to attack. If you can get your opponent to make a major movement in response to a small movement, over-react and leave himself open, you can gut him with a twitch of the wrist. Sweeping parries and the like are big, wide, slower movements - attack is faster. The only real defence is to get them before they get you.’

Lenart moved his welding torch through the standard moves, getting a few of them wrong, sloppy, working up to speed. He concentrated on exactly how it felt, trying to feel if the Force was at all involved.

‘Lightly, Sir, lightly, the blade does all the work, keep it fluid. Feel up to trying a little free fight?’

‘Depends on how likely I am to be able to walk away from it,’ Lennart said, looking at the blade. ‘Tell me more about this exercise setting.’

‘Basically, Sir, there’s barely enough plasma to pressurise the containment field, and that’s set for fuzzy edge. It’ll scorch, sting and deliver momentum, but it won’t cut and cauterise.’

‘So, rather like being beaten with a red-hot blunt stick,’ Lennart said.

‘Unscientifically put but essentially true, Sir. We find that people take learning more seriously when there’s something at stake,’ the charge chief said, quoting his captain.

‘I am thinking of finally having the ship repainted,’ Lennart said, apparently off hand.

‘Sir,’ Vilberksohn said, formally, snapping his cutting torch to the guard position.

They began; at first circling warily, Lennart trying to keep his blade between his body and the charge chief’s, thinking defensively in as far as he had any time to think at all. Pure stimulus and reflex; at most snatched tenths of seconds to form words, to consciously observe - first touch was a blade dropping on to his shoulder, he smashed it aside and thought kriff, wrong, as it flickered back, tipped up and dropped again as he was wildly out of position - Lennart crouched back, out of most of it, but it stung.

He shook his head as if to clear it, said, ‘I see what you mean, Charge Chief. How much are you holding back?’

‘Sir, if I just went straight for you, I’d win maybe ninety percent of the time - that’s an estimate. You wouldn’t learn anything. Try again.’

Lennart did; striking for the tip of the charge chief’s blade, it dipped out of the way, so Lennart jerked back out of the way of the return stroke that somehow hovered in front of his eyes, looped around twisting out of the way of a hasty counterstroke, touched him under the lowest left rib. Lennart reeled back, almost taking his own nose off with the torch, but it wasn’t all impact; most of it was sudden reaction.

He stepped back and brought the blade up to guard position then lashed out in a rolling disarm. Vilberksohn managed to avoid losing his blade, continued the twist to bring it back to guard. Lennart smashed it the other way, got inside and was about to crash the edge of his blade against the Charge Chief’s throat when he realised what he was doing.

So that was how it’s supposed to work, he thought briefly, before Vilberksohn, acting on pure reflex, brought his blade in and up and hit Captain Lennart across the spine. He crumpled, ended up crouching on the ground supporting himself with one arm.

‘Ahhh. I am clearly not looking hard enough at you people; if you can manage to pound each other like this and still turn up fit for duty next day, you obviously don’t have enough to do,’ he said, refusing to be angry. That flash of speed, where he had seemed to be looking out from slightly behind his own eyeballs, as if he had been plucked out of the universe and put down at a slightly skewed angle - the Force. The dark side, to be more specific. It would have done real damage if he hadn’t pulled it short just in time.

‘Sir, if it isn’t bleeding out and hasn’t fallen off, it doesn’t count. Ready?’

No, would be the honest answer. He wanted to go and sit and think about what that felt like, and what it meant. The Force didn’t have a mind of its own, wasn’t really the product of mind, just of life - but it could exploit his. It would hit him at what he thought were his own weak points, and it was thirty years too late to start trying to trick it.

Time to see if he could hold it back.

‘Yes.’ Lennart pulled himself back to his feet, raised the cutting torch to try again. This time, another drop on to the shoulder, at first he tried to sweep it aside, then thought that if he pushed the charge chief’s blade away he would simply duck round and in. He stepped back and tried to push the chief’s blade up in the air with an extended down-and-up sweeping parry. It worked solely because Vilberksohn couldn’t understand what he was trying to do and pulled back.

Lennart tried the same move himself to see how the charge chief handled it; the countermove was sidestep and riposte, twisting in and catching his captain’s left arm.

‘This is getting monotonous,’ Lennart said, shaking himself out and getting ready to try again.

‘Captain, you’re trying too hard. Maybe you’re just not yet ready for a live target.’

‘So convince me,’ Lennart said, returning to guard position, and deliberately trying to reach out for the passive, herbivore side of the Force, to form that quasi-religious connection to all things the stories spoke of. To his considerable surprise, it worked; to his very great relief, it was a genuinely unfamiliar sensation, somewhere between lucid dreaming and fever-induced out of body detachment. He was still marvelling at it when the charge chief’s blade hit him in the gut.

‘Never try that. Never try to wait your opponent into doing something stupid, Sir,’ Vilberksohn said, as Lennart pulled himself together.

‘It’s been a long time since I’ve lost, really lost, at anything. I suppose it’s probably good for my spiritual growth or something, but I could live without it. Let’s try that again.’

‘Captain, Sir, under certain circumstances I think most Imperial spacemen would relish the chance to beat the shit out of their commanding officer, but…maybe you should go back to basics and start with some simple exercises.’

‘How long have you been doing this?’ Lennart asked him.

‘Ten years, Sir. Since before we were famous.’

‘I have ten days before this is going to matter. It’s the deep end or nothing. Let’s-‘

‘Captain?’ it was the duty watch officer, at the entrance to the hall. ‘Urgent from the bridge. They think they’ve found her but the circumstances don’t make sense. They want your presence.’

‘Saved,’ Lennart admitted, clicking off the blade.

In the lift on the way back up to the bridge he asked himself, so what have I learned?

Apart from that getting hit is bad. That whatever natural talent with a lightsabre I have it is going to take a lot of effort, and probably pain, to bring out. That some of my engineers do not have nearly enough to do to keep them out of trouble.

No point punishing him. It was mostly my fault, anyway.

Mainly that if feelings are anything to go by, and in this they are, then he had not been making much use of the Force to date. That surge of disembodied hyperclarity, that was new. Genuinely unfamiliar apart from the odd student recreational drug experience, which he had never been much for anyway.

And that makes me much happier to realise that my record is basically clean, that I have got this far without needing to call on the Force in any but the most preconscious, inexplicit way, than it does to know that I can when I need to, he thought.

The lift doors opened, he walked - limping slightly - through the entry chamber and on to the bridge.

‘Good morning, Captain. You’d think that with thirty-seven thousand people, we’d be able to work shifts,’ Brenn said, yawning slightly. ‘Elements of Gamma and Epsilon are in contact; target’s apparently dropped out of hyperspace to recompute a course, coasting under hotel load.’

‘Everyone else has the privileges of working shifts; department heads are permanently on call. What made you decide that she’s a target rather than a contact?’

‘Positioning,’ Brenn said, called up the sector map. ‘From there, to here, via way-over-yonder? No mechanical malfunction that would leave them in as good a shape as the fighters are reporting could cause that. A navigational screwup should leave them falling over themselves to call for help or at least make excuses rather than going ‘umm, who me?’ It’s possible that the captain is either an idiot or a lunatic, but - no, I don’t like it.’

‘Com/scan, patch me in. Aerospace group, multirole wing, Gamma One.’ The link beeped when it was established, then ‘Jandras? Black Prince Actual. Have you made any attempt to contact the modular cruiser?’

Aron, riding his still unfamiliar Hunter, was a light second away on the cruiser’s port beam, beyond accurate gun but well within sensor range, lead flight with him, the three of Epsilon lead less Franjia ten thousand kilometres astern and to port.

‘IFF squirt, Captain. Verifies as Imperial at low confidence. No voice or data, either way.’

‘How does it smell to you?’ Lennart asked.

‘Sour, Captain. Do you want us to go in for a close inspection?’ Aron asked. According to the Hunter’s files, modular cruisers carried a solidly anti-ship armament, bizarrely ineffectual point defence but a decent spread of medium turbolasers, intended to keep off the likes of heavy corvettes and light frigates. Relatively easy for a fighter to approach.

‘Negative, Gamma One, what I may need you for is wild weasel. Plan to make attack runs on her guns and EW emitters. Com,’ he said to his com/scan team, who cut Aron out of the part he didn’t need to know, ‘get me the customs corvettes.’

‘Aye, Sir - wait one, connecting now.’

A holoimage appeared on the main terminal; head and shoulders of a woman in severe-cut customs service uniform. ‘SFA(I) Rontaine, Captain. What is it you need from us?’ Dark, very close-cropped hair, sharp-nosed, hard face - relatively young, but dressed and acted older, Lennart thought. Probably a nightmare to work for.

‘Senior Field Agent (Interdiction)? Which of your clutch of corvettes has the best inspection sensor fit?’ Lennart asked her.

‘All six have the same sensor suite, all of them regularly achieve ‘excellent’ or better efficiency ratings,’ she said, aggressive-defensive. Surprisingly so; how dare you criticise, was the subtext.

‘And all of them could be taken over and run by Starfleet crews, if you keep trying to mess me about. Whatever grudge you have, live with it. Answer the question,’ Lennart said, sharply.

‘There’s no need to be like that,’ Rontaine said, surprised.

‘Really? If I give you a task, are you going to do it, or am I going to have to micromanage you every step of the way?’

There was a long pause. ‘Captain, we seem to have got off to a bad start. What is the mission?’

‘Essentially a customs job. Our stray modular cruiser has finally arrived - sufficiently late to make me suspicious. It’s carrying an interrogation module, with standard prison security shields and baffles. I want to see what’s inside them.’

It was interesting, watching Rontaine’s face change: from a poor imitation of proper subordination, to shock, to determination not to be found wanting - over a thick bottom layer of ‘oh kriff’ - to thinking about the mission in hand.

‘Acknowledged,’ she said, not wanting to provoke further a superior who had already taken one bite out of her hide. ‘Proceeding to contact, CN27AJ-‘

‘Do you really think that’s all there is to it?’ Lennart interrupted her. ‘I threw you a trick question and you fumbled it. The ship you want to send on this job is the one with the best track record of not being shot. Instead, you let some old grudge or snit dominate your thinking to the point where you are now about to rush off to go rancor baiting without proper coordination or preparation. Talk me through how you’re going to do this.’

‘Sir, I reacted poorly, and now I want to make up for that by going and getting the job done.’ From his expression she realised she wasn’t getting off the hook. ‘Approach from 50deg off the bow on a crossing course close to, match velocities for inspection.’

‘With?’ Lennart added.

‘Shields up, weapons manned and jammers on standby. All of this is standard procedure in the customs service as much as it is in the navy,’ she said. ‘Approaching a suspicious contact.’ She was trying not to sound more than mildly irritated.

‘There are fighter elements ready to cover you. The rest of the search units will be converging on the contact to form a cordon. Report your findings as you make them. Navigation downloading now, Black Prince Actual out.’

He dropped the link, turned to his bridge crew, found com/scan had already located and displayed Rontaine’s personnel file. He started reading through it; the single most important fact leapt out at him. Eris Rontaine was a graduate of the sector’s naval academy - eighty-fifth in a class of twenty-five hundred. On graduation, she had not taken - no, he noticed, not been offered a commission in the Starfleet. For someone that high up the class rankings, to be given nothing - without even accumulated demerits as an excuse - was almost unheard of. Possibly it was no more than misogyny, possibly a personal grudge, either way it would have been an embittering experience.

Denied that, she had found another path, and hacked her way up the ladder, on proficiency and professionalism; her six ship division had an outstanding record - for this sector, anyway - but if she enjoyed her job, she hid it well.

She would have looked up her commanding officer, and found from the less heavily classified portions of his own service record that he had been an instructor for four years himself. That would bias her against him to begin with, as part of the system that had drawn her in, led her on and spat her out unwanted.

Everything looks so neat when it’s just metal and energy and mathematics, Lennart thought. Maybe that’s part of why the Confederation were able to keep fighting so long - mechanical crews cutting down on the problems of command, no egos to soothe, no personal crises to draw down efficiency. Huge numbers of armed droids helped as well, of course. And especially at this precise point, by far the largest of those problems is my own, so I’m in no position to get bitchy, he added to himself.

The customs corvettes were attached to the sweeper line, their high thrust and heavy antifighter weaponry should prove useful to cover and support long-range TIE patrols, but they were very lightly built for confronting warships. They had power and load capacity to spare, but it was unlikely there would be time and personnel available to make any meaningful refit.

He would have to see what could be done for, or if necessary to, Rontaine. She would be difficult to work with, especially for an ex-free trader and freewheeler like Konstantin Vehrec. Probably wasn’t her own best friend in that regard.

Still, she almost certainly knew things that could be useful for him to find out. Later, assuming she survived.

‘Alert Tarazed Meridian, she’s first stage intervention along with the rest of recon line B if this goes badly wrong,’ Lennart ordered.

There was a beep from his terminal. Private message; Aleph-3. He decided to deal with it now. ‘Your timing’s abysmal, we have a situation here. What is it?’

‘I have just found out that you have been experimenting at fencing practise - and more besides, if the account I got was accurate.’ She sounded annoyed with him.

‘Yes, I was. I’m glad you weren’t there; it was rather embarrassing. I found out, if that’s the term, that actual ability is the coefficient of natural talent and effort invested.’

‘Which is why you need an expert there to guide you and push you on,’ she said.

‘I had one; that was the problem,’ Lennart said, not entirely joking.

‘And the Force? You called upon it, reached out for it, didn’t you?’ she said, failing to hide her eagerness.

‘Yes, both sides. I called on the ends of the spectrum, reached out to touch them and feel them, heft them and see how they sat in my head, and I don’t quite see what all the fuss is about. Under the influence of the light side I found it difficult to distinguish reality from illusion; the dark side simply made it difficult to distinguish friend from foe.’

‘Thus clearly proving the superiority of the Dark Side, especially when dealing with politicians,’ Aleph-3 bounced back at him.

‘The last thing you want, at this precise point, is for me to become power-crazed and attempt to assert my alpha-male personal superiority over my friends, allies and colleagues,’ Lennart said, rubbing the bruise on his shoulder.

It was fascinating, to listen to the slightly panicked silence on the com as she tried to think of what she could get away with saying. She should be experiencing some cognitive dissonance about now, he thought. A dozen possibilities danced through her head, ranging from ‘Remember I’m first in line when you’re stocking your harem’ to the copout ‘if that be the will of the Force’. She resorted to ‘So who else do you think can fill the role? Do you want to be a beta? You have to use the gift you’ve been given.’

‘My gift for finding trouble, or letting trouble find me, has got nothing to do with the Force, and if you’ll excuse me,’ Lennart said, ‘I can hear it calling my name.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-14 06:24am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »


Obdurate’s captain’s day cabin was a lot smaller than that of a fleet destroyer; it really was a cubbyhole, sandwiched between the base mounts for the ship’s sensor domes just aft of the main bridge. It contained a bed, a fresher, and a video wall, and at the moment it contained Karl-Anton Raesene and the pair of ISB agents who had been making his life miserable for the last week.

‘I don’t understand why you’re being so difficult about this,’ the senior man said to him. ‘You know what we need from you.’

‘It was an exercise,’ Raesene said, with the sinking feeling that he was speaking an entirely different language whose words were coincidentally the same.

‘A drill. It is still duty, is it not? It is still worthy of security oversight, isn’t it?’ the younger agent said. He had been laying on the menace fairly thickly, fingering the butt of his gun and glaring at people wherever he went.

The crew are afraid of him, Raesene thought. Afraid of the system that he represents, afraid of what he can arrange to have done to them. So afraid that some of them would actively help him do it. They won’t stand up to them; I’m on my own.
Lennart’s crew would cheerfully help him murder them, in a similar situation; but who, on board, could I count on to help me do that?

‘Is it not, Lieutenant-Commander Raesene?’ the senior agent asked.

‘It is a special case that doesn’t fully apply,’ Raesene said, hoping that at some point they would actually start listening.

‘How can that be? A violation of doctrine can be nothing other than a violation of doctrine.’

‘The navy allows things to happen on exercise which are written up and learned from, but it’s not like it is in the ISB or the Army,’ Raesene tried to explain.

‘I don’t understand,’ the senior agent said. ‘What do you mean?’ The junior agent started to say something, the senior agent shushed him. ‘Explain, in your own time.’

With the uneasy sense that he was signing his own death warrant, Raesene tried. ‘The Starfleet’s always had more processing power available to it than the army or the security services. So have Intelligence. That makes it-‘ he didn’t want to risk saying “us”- ‘relatively tolerant of change and experiment.’

‘How does that translate to being allowed to misbehave on manoeuvres?’ the senior agent asked.

‘We weren’t on manoeuvres; we were in simulation. Half the point of exercises like that is to push the limits of doctrine - all right, underscore why it’s usually a better idea.’

‘Computer space isn’t real? Good luck selling that one to a court,’ the junior agent snorted.

‘The Starfleet allows simulation exercises to be used as a forum for making mistakes. It’s easier and cheaper to get wild ideas out of the system by letting them burn themselves out in virtual space than to risk billion-ton, trillion-credit ships on exercise, or stars forbid actual combat,’ Raesene said. It was an exaggeration, but not by much. With twenty-five thousand years of space combat experience to draw on, it was impossible to remember everything, and equally difficult to teach. A lot of advanced tactical training consisted of throwing the candidates into a sim tank and seeing what happened.

‘So violations of doctrine on exercise just…don’t count?’ the younger agent said, baffled. ‘That’s contrary to Correct Thought.’

‘Not according to the Starfleet, it isn’t, and that comes from a far higher level than you or me,’ Raesene said. ‘Captain Lennart could do everything but take a hard copy of the Fleet Instructions, tear it up and set fire to the pieces then piss on the ash, and get away with it - on simulation.’

‘Then how do we go about providing him with a copy and a full bladder? I find it difficult to believe that nothing he does can be used against him,’ the senior agent said.

‘Hold on a moment, here,’ Raesene objected. ‘I agreed to help you uncover evidence against a renegade; manufacturing it was not in the game plan.’

The senior agent glared at the junior agent, who opened his mouth and shut it again; it didn’t matter. What had nearly been said still hung like poison gas in the air.

‘Are you beginning to doubt your mission? You’ve heard the man; you know what manner of maniac you’re dealing with. He is unstable, he is unreliable, and regardless of whatever his real achievements are there is no guarantee we will not find him ranged against us tomorrow,’ the senior agent said, trying to be charming.

Interesting line in pronouns you have there, Raesene thought. It wasn’t about truth any more, or even about flagrant bad examples being set by senior officers who ought to know better; it was about finding some reason, any sufficient excuse, to bring him down.

‘I realise that,’ Raesene said, knowing he was making a lousy job of acting it. It had been a straightforward choice between moving onward and upward and going nowhere. He had been bribed, plain and simple. Why did they have to complicate it with ideology, simple corruption wasn’t enough for them? If it had been a case of “you or me”, he would have dropped a senior officer in it in a heartbeat; that was as much navy life as the uniforms and the food. The rebels were the opposition, and your own colleagues were the enemy. That much was business as usual, part of the job. The best clawed their way to the top, and while the connection between political in-fighting and naval war-fighting was weak, it was there; the determined and the devious succeeded in either case.

‘The Starfleet, even the sector fleet, would never stand for the security services prosecuting one of their own on a breach of tactical doctrine. Even if it was a legitimate charge, you couldn’t bring it without making him so many friends, or at least allies of convenience, in the process that you wouldn’t have a hope of making it stick.’ And it would also ruin whoever they tried to use as a lever in the process, something of more than a little concern to him.

‘Shame,’ the senior agent said, almost wistfully. ‘I would have liked to meet him, and break him, on his own home ground. If that is not possible then we need another line of attack. Are disciplinary problems too internal to the Starfleet also, or would they provide a useful avenue of approach?’

‘I have been hearing squadron scuttlebutt, about things on board that ship. Black Prince’s domestic economy is…very strange,’ Raesene understated. Most crews that leniently treated would have reacted to it as the softening of control that makes revolution possible and be in a state of anarchy if not mutiny within the month.

‘Perhaps someone among his own officers would be prepared to give us what we need?’ the junior agent said to the senior.

‘Oh, I don’t think that would be necessary, would it?’ the senior agent said to Raesene. The message was simple; deliver.

‘With his reputation, if he was an easy target someone would have indicted him already. The best kind of real evidence I’m in a position to get for you,’ Raesene stressed, ‘is how he exercises his command - whether he encourages disrespect of the Empire, or other un-Imperial behaviour. The fallout from this exercise should help, and I have a report to write up as part of that.’

‘So how did it go?’ Mirannon asked.

‘I gave the skipper the bloody nose that you wanted me to, boss,’ Vilberksohn shook his head. ‘He does have real potential, and he could get to be very proficient at this, with practise.’

‘Which he doesn’t have. I’ve known him for, what, fifteen years now, ever since we were both on the staff of Tingel Approaches Command. If I didn’t give a damn about him, I’d let him go and get killed.’

‘So what we’re doing is trying to convince him that he doesn’t have a kitten’s chance in a reactor core following the script, he can’t afford to do this the way our VIP expects, and he needs to think of another solution?’ Vilberksohn asked.

‘Pretty much. Steer him in that direction, get him to realise that he can’t do this all on his own,’ Mirannon said.

‘It just doesn’t feel right, boss. I mean, yes, we’re trying to do a good thing for him in the long run, but you’re just not supposed to pound the snot out of command level officers. On any other ship I would have been crucified for that.’

‘On Black Prince, being good at something, even something you’re not supposed to, isn’t a death sentence. Remember the graffiti outbreak?’ Mirannon said, with an evil grin.

‘How could I forget, Sir? Lieutenant Ranner’s heart attack isn’t the sort of thing that passes easily out of mind.’

The Graffiti War of ’29 had been a bout of harmless fun, for the most part; it had begun as simple misbehaviour, but Lennart had decided to play with the situation. Some of them, he had decided, had artistic merit. Following a dead regulation grandfathered in from the Republic Starfleet about raising the cultural level of the crew - which he suspected had been copy-and-pasted from the penal code of the time anyway - he had decided to have a selection of pieces framed. In practise, this meant removing the surface that had been painted on and carting it off to the ‘gallery’ improvised out of the storage bays up in the bow, then replacing the surface.

It took about five seconds for the various branches of the crew to realise that there was no point fouling their own nest, that if you happened to, for instance, daub your symbolic-abstract masterwork over someone else’s barrack room hatch and bulkhead, they had all the fun of cutting it loose and replacing it. So sneakiness became the order of the day; midnight painting raids, mysterious malfunctions to the ship’s lighting system, spurious alerts, stealth artistry - and all the fun of carving pieces out of walls to cart them off in the morning. Not easy when it happened to be the skin of a pressure vessel, or a major armoured bulkhead.

It was a lot longer before they realised that it was, to all intents and purposes, a team and morale building exercise combined with practical training in damage control.

The only people who were safe were the legion; after one of their AT-ATs got painted dayglo pink with scarlet go faster stripes, they identified the perpetrators and exacted revenge.

A fifty-strong crew room, an entire maintenance section, found their barracks had been redecorated as a rainforest. Everything had been painted, dyed, coated, or inked multiple shades of green - including all fifty of the occupants. While they slept, no warning, no-one noticed.

It had finally come to an end when someone, chief suspect being Mirannon himself, had taken an airbrush to the containment vessel of the main reactor. Whoever it was had painted a fairly good impression of the first nanosecond of a catastrophic breach; the watch officer, Lieutenant Ranner, had taken one look at it and keeled over.

Not because of any special realism, but mainly because of the potential difficulties of dismounting and framing a slice out of the reactor containment shell.

The medics had got to him in time, but that had been the end of it. Most of the pieces of the gallery had been holo’d and the bits recycled, and the graffiti war had been declared over.

‘Well, there were no permanent casualties,’ Mirannon said. ‘The skipper turned a nasty disciplinary incident into a bit of fun and a learning experience; not many others would. Suppose he gets killed as a result of this; that would leave us with Mirhak-Ghulej in charge, officially, wouldn’t it?’

‘Oh kriff. Sir.’

‘Traditionally it’s not supposed to be engineering’s job to care about what happens topside, but screw that. If we have to protect him from himself, that’s the job at hand. If he’s appointed you fencing instructor, then you’re a part of that.’

‘Thank you, Sir. I think.’

The customs corvette emerged from hyperspace a hundred thousand kilometres off the position of the modular cruiser; the rest of Gamma and Epsilon emerged and formated on their leaders, far astern.

‘Gamma, Epsilon, with me; follow that corvette.’ Aron ordered, urgently. They accelerated after the customs ship, conforming on him; Aron pushed the throttle to its limit, then relaxed it slightly. How would that look, two squadrons of fast fighter-bombers sharking in from a position the cruiser’s guns didn’t cover, behind an antifighter escort?

It would look like a direct attack...which might not be so bad a thing to fake. Might flush them out.

‘CN27AJ19 “The Silent Bugler”, this is 721-Ep, Gamma One,’ Aron nearly forgot which squadron he belonged to, ‘decelerate and await escort.’

He was probably senior to whoever was in charge over there; a light corvette, that was at best a senior lieutenant’s command, more likely a lieutenant’s. Equivalent, of course.

‘Gamma One, you are out of position. Accelerate to join us,’ a snappish woman’s voice answered him.

‘Bugler,’ Aron snarled, ‘this is a Starfighter Corps squadron leader telling you to kriffing well conform.’ Damned customs.

‘Gamma One, this is Flight Control.’ Franjia’s voice. The standard theory was that the voxsystems made everyone sound alike in order to reinforce the group, interchangeable ethic; Black Prince’s director crews regarded that as a factor that potentially compromised security, and preferred to use identifiable, verifiable voices, that an expert system could recognise even if the pilot’s ears couldn’t.
‘Be advised,’ she continued, sounding slightly smug, ‘that “The Silent Bugler” is the flotilla leader, under the command of a Senior Field Agent whose rank equivalent is O-4, and who has seniority.’

That’s all I need, Aron thought.

‘Gamma One, take up station on our bow, snap it up,’ Rontaine said, calculating time and distance in her head - aiming for a k-k approach, thousand kilometres per second relative velocity at a thousand kilometres cpa.

‘CN27AJ19,’ Franjia instructed her, ‘you are out of position, decelerate and await escort.’

‘Thank you, Control,’ Aron said. ‘Query; are we trying to make this look like a strike? An antifighter light escort to clear away the defending fighters for a bomber approach run?’

‘Negative, Gamma One, assume escort stations around “The Silent Bugler.”’

Lennart looked at the map display again. ‘Working hypotheses? One of three things, I think.’

‘The captain of the modular cruiser’s a fool, they blundered into the rebels on the way here and they went for it, or?’ Brenn asked.

‘Think what lunatics we would look if we assumed that ship was in rebel hands, boarded and captured her, and it turned out she was simply being late and stupid all along,’ Lennart said. ‘Reinforce sector group’s case against us pretty effectively, wouldn’t it?’

‘How do you propose to find out which is which, Sir? Boarding would do it, but-’

‘Ideally, either without fuss, or tailored to make them look like the incompetents of the piece. Bearing that in mind, our probe now should have an interesting effect, provided Rontaine understands her footwork well enough to dodge when they do start shooting. Perhaps we should have a heavier unit standing by to, hm, render assistance.’

Obdurate?’ Brenn suggested.

‘And what are you going to say, when the court of inquiry asks you why that ship?’ Lennart asked him, skipping straight over the intervening step - that Brenn had obviously picked up on his Captain’s doubts about her.

‘Good record, should be able to cope with a changing situation, large enough and enough engine and tractor power to render assistance,’ Brenn said, after a moment’s thought.

Lennart nodded. ‘Dispatch her, give her a vector consistent drop point at one light second, and alert Tarazed Meridian and Recon line B as first response if it does drop in the pot. There’s no indication of a heavy covering party so they should be sufficient, by the time any larger threat manifests we could be there ourselves.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir.’

The TaggeCo Modular Cruiser class didn’t really have a proper Imperial designation; ‘Dromedaries’, they were frequently referred to as, for their load carrying capability and their general orneriness. Most of that was a situational problem; as a powerful family with an independent resource base, even the Imperial state couldn’t afford to be overly cavalier with them, and they rode that for all it was worth.

Most of the technology on board was copyrighted to the House of Tagge, requiring proprietary tools and licensed technicians to work with. Usually the only different thing about it was that it had been designed to only work properly with proprietary tools and licensed technicians. Most of the changes were awkward ranging to trivial; septagonal nuts and bolts, non-standard pipe diameters, five pronged plugs, female-to-female connectors with interface boards, nonsense like that - but it was easier to temporarily retrain than completely refit. For the system, not the spacers concerned.

They also had no proper names, being part of the logistics train of the sector they usually got alphanumeric designators and nicknames at best. QDX312F9 “Free Gravity For All” had bigger problems than grumbling techs and half a name. Two regiments of Rebel infantry onboard, for a start.

They were not particularly happy either. The operation had already gone spectacularly wrong; their going ahead with what remained of the plan was a stroke of extreme audacity, or idiocy, depending. The troop commander and the first lieutenant of the light carrier that had captured her were watching the Imperial approach develop.

‘Well?’ the rebel Colonel, a short, wide man with long dark hair and long frizzy beard, asked, ‘Are they a threat?’

‘Recon fighters. They themselves can do nothing to a ship this size; it’s their friends we need to worry about. Looks like we need to start lying earlier than expected.’

‘Damn that mercenary nerf-herder, anyway. I knew we should never have trusted him - hero or not, he isn’t even a full signed and sworn member of the Alliance; he probably did a pirate’s job of recon,’ the colonel said.

‘I don’t think Solo’s to blame. From her records, this ship’s course track looks as if someone played nullball with the sector map; she blundered through where our information said she was going to pass on the way back.’

The colonel’s spine went cold. ‘What information?’

‘We were acting on a tip-off from our agents within Sector group. Didn’t you know?’

‘Acting on information received, that led us into this clusterkriff- that doesn’t disturb you?’ the colonel said.

‘If we can bluff our way past them, the mission goes on. No worse than it was going to be anyway.’ He nodded to the comtech - using a ‘borrowed’ Imperial uniform for verisimilitude - to start the plan.

‘Customs Craft, this is Dromedary QDX 312F9, you are on a collision course. What is your intention?’

‘Dromedary,’ Rontaine said, watching it’s gun turrets on the image, ‘you are well off course. Is your ship fully functional? We will pass close aboard and inspect you for damage sustained.’

No response; on board Free Gravity For All, an ISB officer was being hustled on to the bridge.

‘There’s a customs cutter out there. Convince them that everything is fine,’ the colonel said bluntly.

‘What, help you against the Empire? Betray them to the Alliance? Never.’ The ISB officer blustered, but his skin was very pale.

‘There are a lot of things you’ll never do again, after we feed you slowly into one of your own disintegration booths. Cooperate and we release you and your survivors on a backwater outworld, decide not to and we take you and them apart, a molecule at a time. Simple choice.’

‘Kriffing rebel scum. How do we - how can I trust you?’

‘Because we are Rebel scum, not Imperial scum. If I was still Imperial I’d make all the false promises in the world then fry you up anyway,’ the colonel told him. ‘You’re wasting time. Two seconds. Choose.’

No answer. ‘Take him away. Power setting 3, slow broil, for ten minutes-‘

‘No! No, wait, I’ll do it. Just promise it’s an outworld with a breathable atmosphere?’ the ISB man said.

‘Connect him up. To the com circuit, not the kriffing disintegrator,’ the colonel shouted at the guards who had misinterpreted and were about to drag their prisoner away.

‘Corvette, this is Space Major Overgaard, acting commander.’

‘Good name for a Space Major,’ Aron said, irrelevantly. ‘What does that translate to, anyway?’

‘The Starfleet refusing to allow them to use the same rank table, I think,’ Franjia told him. ‘O-4. Unlikely but not unfeasible for a large auxiliary.’ Not the listed commander, either.

‘What, another one?’ Himself, Rontaine and now this man. ‘Why does it have to be based on integers anyway? It’d make more sense to use fractions. Why couldn’t I be an O-4.268, for instance?’

‘If you don’t shut up and keep proper com discipline, I kriffing well will decimalise you, you mathematical illiterate,’ Olleyri interrupted.

‘Yes, Sir. Sorry Sir.’

‘We suffered an, ah, technical malfunction. Power coupling ruptured, fragments of the casing - it was being inspected at the time. Astro-Warden Fertun was among the injured,’ Overgaard lied. He didn’t have to act too much about that part; the rebels had run Fertun through a drumhead court-martial and thrown him into one of the disintegration booths. He was awaiting execution now. It had not been a hollow threat, and Overgaard did not have to simulate sounding shocked and horrified.

Obdurate materialised out of hyperspace, square on the starboard beam of the Free Gravity For All; Raesene queried the situation, received a copy of the conversation so far. Both the agents were on the bridge as he replayed it; smiled when Aron’s part came round, and noted his number.

‘Do you know Fertun?’ Raesene asked them.

‘I had the privilege of vetting him once - we uncovered and defeated a Rebel attempt to compromise him. A very zealous officer.’ Which was security service speak for a hanging judge.

‘Can we take that ship, or at least withstand her?’ the rebel colonel whispered to the first lieutenant, meaning Obdurate.

‘Unlikely; she’s two sizes larger than a dromedary’s guns are designed to keep off. Bluff is still our best weapon.’

‘Acknowledged, Dromedary. Do you have a position fix?’ Rontaine asked.

‘Yes, we had an, uhm, minor nav computer malfunction.’ Long pause. ‘A glitch in the self-mapping software, apparently the module turned out to be the wrong shape or some such explanation. It’s all perfectly in order, we have it recalibrated, we’re fine now.’

‘Wait one, Dromedary, external inspection under way now,’ Rontaine announced; Gamma and Epsilon had finally caught up and reached escort positions, flanks above and below the customs corvette. They were all looking closely at the target - Aron mainly at the gun mounts.

‘Gamma One to Epsilon Squadron; do you-‘ he began, and then realised it was a leading question; he changed it to ‘report on the precise thermal status of the Free Gravity For All’s weapon systems.’

‘Gamma One,’ Yatrock - now Epsilon’s senior flight leader - reported, ‘I have residual heat in the after MTLs. They have definitely been charged recently, high confidence two have been fired.’

‘Dromedary,’ Rontaine challenged, ‘do you-‘

‘Wait, Customs,’ Raesene had a message tightbeamed to the corvette. ‘Don’t make it a challenge. Let them talk themselves into more trouble,’ he said, trying not to think too hard about his own unwelcome guests.

Free Gravity For All, we have signs of recent weapon activity. Are your systems fully safed?’ Rontaine asked, not acknowledging yet another supercilious Starfleet officer.

‘The power coupling that blew,’ Overgaard replied, ‘it was, ah, part of the bridge/computing mesh, it, ah, may have been the source of the surge that caused our malfunction. We found ourselves in an unfamiliar location, after an internal explosion - the after defence section went on alert, thought we were being ambushed. Even fired a couple of shots.’

‘Was the responsible officer commended for his promptness?’ Rontaine asked.

‘Um…’ Overgaard stalled. ‘Ah, yes, Force Security Special Agent Colomban was noted for his quick thinking, but he also was given the bill for the fuel he burnt off with meaningless fire. He, ah, declared himself bankrupt and committed suicide with a fuel cell over the 1MC. We’re all still a little traumatised by it,’ Overgaard invented.

‘Presumably Third Technician Lister is busy trying to bypass the navicomp now?’ Raesene asked.

‘What the kriff is that, some sort of recognition code?’ the rebel colonel asked Overgaard, who shrugged. ‘No change,’ the colonel reminded him. ‘You’re still lying for your life.’

‘Of course he is. What, you think the Imperial Security Bureau has no respect for the classics?’ Overgaard replied over the com. Which, of course, it usually didn’t.

‘This is getting less probable by the moment,’ Raesene said. ‘Are they trying to aim for “so crazy it could only be true?”’

‘Who would this ‘they’ be?’ the senior agent asked.

‘You really want an explanation? Let’s see what security implication you can make out of this; Lennart suspects that ship is in Rebel hands, but has no proof. It may be simple, or at this stage extraordinary, stupidity, it may be some kind of loyalty test on the part of the sector group - or the security services.’ And he may suspect that, too, Raesene realised.

‘If that is what he suspects, then he should move in on them at once. Better to inconvenience an ally than let an enemy go for want of sufficient thoroughness.’ The younger of the two ISB agents said.

‘That would involve destroying the ship’s engines and weapons - specifically, the fighters hit the MTL turrets and we pound the engine block to prevent their escape. Hundreds of millions of credits’ damage at least, and many questions asked if it isn’t a rebel trick. If it was an official security service request, we could do it now - provided you’re prepared to sign off on it.’ Raesene said.

‘Just when I think that you are incapable of rendering us any useful assistance, you come up with something sufficiently sneaky to make me think there is perhaps hope for you after all,’ the senior agent said.

‘In my estimation the ship is in rebel hands, and at least one of her crew is sufficiently alive for the rebels to use him as a mouthpiece. The utterly unbelievable story he is telling may be deliberately intended to raise our suspicions.’

‘But you don’t want to advise Captain Lennart of that,’ Raesene guessed, accurately.

‘We allow this situation to play itself out as though we were not here, of course. We will...observe.’

Very cold-blooded, Raesene thought, but had the sense not to say. He had already pushed it far enough.

Customs ships’ penetrating scanners were defeatable by special shielding, but that certainly did not invalidate them. What they achieved was mainly to make complicated and expensive measures like smuggling compartments necessary, if the criminal wanted to last long enough at it to make a decent living.

It was estimated that upwards of ten million would-be smugglers a year were indirectly killed by the grey economy because their ships had been incompetently maintained - they had special adaptations that would have cost them their freedom if they had gone to a reputable yard. Probably as many again were directly killed, for reasons of going too far into debt trying to afford the modifications.

Chances were, “The Silent Bugler”’s sensor system had eliminated more lawbreakers than her gun fit. A young and spottily trained bunch, the rebel prize crew had few if any members who really understood how the scanners worked and how to stop them - or why they needed to.

‘Command, this is Rontaine - no visible damage, no major ionisation scarring. Hotel load, Life Form Indicator interprets as…her engine and bow sections are undermanned. Skeleton crews. Module section is overmanned - forty-four hundred lifeforms - and indications of recent onboard weapons fire and disintegrator activity.’

Thank you very kriffing much, Aron thought. There was at least a shred of a reason why Rontaine hadn’t been offered a Starfleet commission; a tendency to work to the mission regardless of what it cost her crew or her colleagues. That thing’s engines had better be on top line, because we are going to have to run for it. Now.

There was a brief crackle of com carrier wave, then nothing.

On the bridge, Overgaard twisted out of the rebel soldiers’ grasp and lunged for the microphone. ‘Rebels on board, it’s a trap, we were ambushed-‘ he shouted into it.

No effect. The rebel comtech had been a holovid producer before going to the wrong side of the law, and knew all about things like one second delay loops on supposedly live broadcast. He cut Overgaard off, and the two rebel troopers escorting him laid into him with their rifle butts.

‘Take him away,’ the colonel ordered. ‘And, speaking of away, I don’t think they bought a word of that. Let’s get out of here.’

‘Get moving, we’ll cover you,’ Aron com’d to Rontaine, who felt perfectly comfortable now with putting the corvette into a diving corkscrew away from the belly of the modular cruiser.

The fighters swept up behind it, starbursting out of the way of the ion plume as the ship started to run up to hyperspace initiation. They fish-hook turned behind it to pursue - the inquisition module was one of the heaviest and most power-hungry and slowed the modular cruiser down the most; with it she only pulled about eighteen hundred ‘g’, slow for a warship. Aron’s fighters had a big speed advantage they could use to manoeuvre round it; first thing they did, he detached Gamma C flight to escort the corvette, and ordered the rest out to optimum firing range.

Nineteen fighters, five targets - the single mount MTL’s that covered the modular cruiser’s stern. They were already spitting fire in the direction of the Obdurate; no real worry there, without spectacular stupidity on his part - leaving the bow bay doors open and shields down would do it - a Demolisher-class frigate was more than capable of soaking up sporadic MTL fire.

She had incriminated herself handily with that, though. Open season.

The Silent Bugler” ‘s guns were long-barrel ultralight turbolasers; quick tracking, fast firing, but their weight of shot was calculated for fighters and freighters, not armoured warships or fleet-auxilliary imitations thereof. Rontaine had done her part, didn’t need to but decided to fly a slightly curving course away, to give the after pair of turrets a chance to open up on the dromedary, in the process scaring the crap out of Aron.

He was already planning approaches that avoided crossing Obdurate’s line of fire; she carried the equivalent of half of one of Black Prince’s turrets - the bolt would barely notice him if he got in the way of one of those shot. Raesene was holding fire with the LTL, though, recognising that the only thing they were likely to achieve were friendly casualties.

Rontaine’s hail of fire tracked on to the target, standard antifighter procedure, and Aron’s fighters scattered.
‘Kriffing customs. Which side are they on? Let’s see how they like it,’ Gamma-Six, Aron thought.

‘If you’re still alive to complain, it wasn’t that bad. Anybody hit?’

Epsilon Ten had taken a hit, just shielding. Nothing serious. ‘Right, designating now; even numbered Gammas,’ he laid the pointer on one turret and relayed it to the rest, 'Epsilon A,’ point on, repeat for each subformation, ‘B, C flights, and odd Gammas with me.’

Six or eight missiles homing on each turret, then. Not killing firepower, but enough to damage and disorient, maybe dismount the tube or destroy the local fire control systems. Epsilon dog-legged their missiles in, steering them to avoid the limited PD; only Aron and his senior flight commander did from Gamma. Nineteen of thirty hit.

Only one of the target turrets actually blew; but it did so in a spectacular flare of rupturing energy bank that kicked the Dromedary down and sideways.

‘Kriff, that threw our navigation out. Take five minutes to recalibrate.’ The naval lieutenant said, trying to remain calm.

‘Which we don’t have, with that frigate pounding us,’ the colonel roared at him.

‘We’d be hopelessly lost-‘

‘Lost where-are-we is better than lost dead. Do it.’

‘She’s jumping. Running up to hyperspace entry,’ Aron announced.

‘Active pinging, give me flood,’ Raesene ordered; Obdurate - and the fighters - began to hammer Free Gravity For All with active sensor pulses, aiming to image her exactly enough to get a course prediction worth giving chase on. She flared, almost blindingly bright in the target scopes, and for a moment Aron thought they had hit the reactor, but it was just scan. Then she stretched out and leapt across the light barrier.

‘Com, signal Falldess and recon-B to pursue, and get me Doctor Nygma,’ Lennart ordered.

The image was different this time; it was an idyllic pastoral landscape. Lennart suspected that in time, the dark clouds would close over it, the storm and the thunder would cause the buildings and the hills to melt and splinter, and it would end in earthquake, volcano and space demons dancing in the fire-blackened streets.

‘Ah, the voice of the lord of darkness squonks again. Good afternoon, Captain.’

‘I think you know what this is going to be about, Doctor.’

‘A notion made a motion, in the direction of my feet; but it had a change of heart, made for a different part, and ended in my head, instead.’

‘Have you been administered therapy for your wordplay addiction?’ Lennart asked, not seriously.

‘What sort of therapy would you consider appropriate?’ Nygma asked, and on his image the clouds were now raining acid.

‘Being locked in a library with every ‘teach yourself’ language book ever coded, and not let out until you could pun in every language known to lifekind,’ Lennart suggested.

‘Ah, aversion treatment. Diversion and reversion treatment as well, depending on whether we have unnatural light. They tried that, plied that, and refried that. I can hoot in Hutt and woot in Wook, drabble in Dug and construe in Cerean, inculpate in Ithorian, an inherently improbable idiom-‘

‘And babble in Basic, and commit sadistic yet scintillating sabotage on the syntax of Standard. We know,’ Lennart said. ‘There was actually a reason for contacting you.’

‘How depressingly mundane. You don’t think you’re going to get away that easily, do you?’ Nygma cackled slightly.

‘No,’ Lennart admitted, ‘and there are some terrifying simplicities I may need your help to mock, later, but that’s a hurdle I’ll undermine when I come to it. I want to talk to you about the dromedary “Free Gravity For All.” ‘

‘Ah, now there is a name to shovel confusion with,’ Nygma said. ‘Shall I make wild, random guesses as to what caught your ear?’

‘I probably should give you information,’ Lennart said.

‘Aww. That takes all the fun out of figuring out what’s going on,’ Nygma said.

‘It’s already happened. How and why are the interesting questions now.’

‘Let me interpret…”oh my grud, it’s full of Rebels”- does that sum up the situation?’

‘That’s more than just Finagle’s law, isn’t it?’ Lennart stated. ‘You expected some such-more than that; you knew to expect it. Why?’

‘We had to clear the dromedary’s path. Like sweeping out the cracks in crazy paving. Which is a very pointless thing; I mean if you waste all the goodness on paving, what are you going to do to lubricate the rest of your life?’

‘She was sent on a wild goose chase?’ Lennart asked.

‘So your plan is to bring down rogue waterfowl by throwing pre-fragmented shrapnel pavements at them? Intriguing but undependable. Which is what you want if you happen to be a goose,’ Nygma said.

‘I may attempt it in another incarnation. In the mean time, demetaphorise.’

‘If time is being that mean to you, you may wish to consider-‘ Nygma noticed Lennart containing an outburst of temper. ‘Yes, “Free Gravity For All” was sent on a long, complicated, roundabout route. She was supposed to arrive late and from an unexpected direction, with older IFF codes. If they wanted to simulate confusion they really should have asked an expert.’

‘Wouldn’t a real expert in confusion be so confused, no-one would ever realise they were an expert?’ Lennart searched for a stab of wit, and found it. It was harder; he was annoyed not as much with Nygma, but with himself. He could feel the Force crowding into his head, getting in the way of clear thought.

‘What’s code, except simulating confusion? What’s language, except piling confusion on confusion until they cancel out and let us grasp the universe?’ Nygma declaimed.

‘Look, Doctor Nygma, as much as I might want to take the time, we have a running operation. Could you translate to Ordinaryese?’

‘Why didn’t you say that earlier? The auxilliary’s initial orders were for a straight pickup. They were altered by someone, let’s call them Alice, who arranged an approach that would give you every reason to be suspicious of them and hopefully overreact. Someone else - are you following this?’

‘Someone whom you are going to call Bob meddled next?’ Lennart asked.

‘Yes, you remember that, then? A second major change ordered the auxiliary to pass by a specific point on the way back to the nearest prison planet, Suorand V; I thought, maybe the starfield is unusually pretty or something, but I checked and it wasn’t.
'So someone lowly placed in Escort Command, person C - Carol - altered the orders again. The point was very specific - only this time “Free Gravity For All”, wonderfully tautologous don’t you think and yet subtly ironic, passed through there on the way to the rendezvous.’

‘Which RV turned out to be with a rebel strike force. So let me get this straight - we have elements within Sector group offering us maximum possible opportunity to make fools if not criminals of ourselves by over-reacting and slagging a friendly unit; a second group, of Rebel spies within Sector, who altered that to arrange for the recapture of their people; and a third group - or individual - who played with both their heads. Carol,’ Lennart said, meaning Nygma.

‘The beauty of it all is, in the chaos of order, counter-order and disorder, it’s going to be impossible for anyone not an expert in confusion to work out exactly who did what when, to whom and why, never mind wherefore, whither and whatnot.’

‘The rebels boarded her and captured her, and were in the middle of sanitising her. Still hiding the traces of the operation when squadron elements went after her and found them infrared-handed. Only one problem,’ Lennart said.

‘This feeds back into that time thing, doesn’t it? No wonder you object if your reference frame only lets you manage one problem at once. What would that be?’ Nygma asked.

‘Once we do catch her, we’re going to need another transport to hold all the existing prisoners and the crew of the dromedary. In fact, I think we’re going to need two, just in case one gets lost.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-14 06:44am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 29

Tarazed Meridian was a fast ship with a heavy fuel load, likely be able to run down and overmatch anything the Alliance could reasonably have in this sector of space. At least, Falldess had thought so until recently. The damage to her sistership Comarre Meridian argued against that.

As the line punched through hyperspace to the last known position where they were to pick up the trail, she worried about that. Compared to the wide open void out there, what had seemed so much now seemed frighteningly little. Only two ships - her own and the Demolisher-class Guillemot - with HTL mounts, and they would have to deploy independently. Or possibly remain as central reserve? Impossible, she decided.

This was going to be a multiple-trip, jump, whatever they called it, sweep. For them to move to the assistance of any of the smaller craft, it would be impossible to plan that in advance. They would have to make it up as the need arose anyway, so there was no sense fretting about it now.

Blackwood could deploy independently as well; she was fast and well armed enough to look after herself. There was something sinister about the shape of that ship, overlapping and angular compared to the normal bulbous strike cruiser.

Kuruma, the other Strike she had, was of the standard pattern. Then there were two Servator and three Carrack heavy corvettes, last generation and this generation’s main screen/reaction unit, and two Bayonet, four Marauder lighter corvettes. Match them up. The Bayonets with the Servators, the Marauders with Kuruma and the three Carracks. That would give her nine little splinters, independent search groups that a well handled MC-80 could catch and crush in detail.

Who was she kidding. A rebel cruiser - to all intents and purposes line destroyer equivalen t- could do that even if they were together, organised and waiting.

So avoid them. A lot easier than it sounded; the size of space and the randomness of unplanned flight left a huge search area. It was unlikely the rebels would do any better looking for their missing prize than the Imperial forces would.

Emergence, and for a brief moment she felt absolute horror as two of the ships, the carrack-class Splenetic and the Marauder VY-466ZZ, emerged frighteningly close to each other.

They managed not to sideswipe, and she controlled her expression- problem encountered and solved, exactly as it was supposed to be, but the thought of what to do to make sure it didn’t happen, and what to do about it if it did, sat heavy with her. Responsibility, not a problem, but the techniques of the job, knowing what the right thing to tell them to do was, that was the hard part. Just nerves, woman, she told herself. Calm down or you’ll spook the bridge crew.

‘Demolisher Obdurate, this is Tarazed Meridian. Do you have a predicted course?’ she asked, forgetting for a moment that the com team had to be ordered to connect them.

They routed her through, and Raesene’s com chief answered. ‘We have-wait one,’ Short pause. ‘Downloading now.’

Falldess looked at the image in her ship’s main navigation tank. If that was the direction it had gone in, then-

Tarazed Meridian,’ the com speaker said - woman’s voice - ‘This is Black Prince Fighter Direction. Aggregate sensor data from FRS squadron Epsilon indicates this as a likely post-transition course, downloading now.’

Hm, Falldess thought. The details were...detailed. Who to believe was the question. Raesene, who seemed capable enough, or this unknown voice, brisk, confident - not uncommon among fakers.

She watched the plan unfold, a nine-pointed spiral sprint-and-drift, but it was centred on a different direction. Would Lennart really play silly buggers like this? She asked herself, wondering if it was some kind of test. Who would she follow, who did she trust? No, that made no sense. They had been detached from the sector fleet to be assigned to this, and why would he have asked for people he didn’t trust?

There were reasons, she thought, but best not to think of them now.

‘Lieutenant-Commander Raesene, we seem to have a difference of opinion. My units will follow the plan received from the flag; you will follow your own predictions. Execute.’

Obdurate acknowledged and began to move; a couple of seconds’ delay, though - what was happening over there? Slow to begin and quick to execute - was there someone looking over his shoulder? That could do it. Strange.

Com-Scan broke down the plan and transmitted it to the ships of her line; they leapt into hyperspace one by one.

‘Lost where-are-we is better than lost dead, you said,’ the rebel lieutenant grumbled at the colonel.

‘I’m just an old ground-pounder; why didn’t you kriffing tell me?’ the colonel replied.

Free Gravity For All had tumbled, initiating with a poorly balanced, oversensitive hyper field. The compensators had held the ship together, but it had left a huge, obvious signature behind them, and they had no idea where they were.

‘It would have taken too long to explain. Now, we have to work out where we are so we can move again before they come after us, and then another couple of detours before heading for safe harbour and coming up with another plan.’

‘How long is that going to take?’ the colonel asked.

‘Honestly? Don’t know. It’s not a job you can sweat over, the effort you put in really doesn’t make much difference; it either clicks or it doesn’t,’ the lieutenant said, hoping that was true and he hadn’t missed a trick somewhere along the way. Their own sensor capability was not on top line, which meant they couldn’t really see trouble coming far enough ahead to run from. Rebel and Imperial forces both hunting for them, what usually happened was that both sides watched each other; rebel speed runs being registered by the empire, and vice versa. Interceptions would be plotted, and usually fail. It was a long, slow dance that only occasionally spiralled down into genuine combat.

The recon pair consisting of HIMS Splenetic - Servator class - and the Marauder VY-466ZZ ”I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care” thought they had something, a sensor touch on a moving ship; probably too small to be the target, but also probably not Imperial. Falldess’ decision; pursue. They ran on to the end of their predicted course which gave them a start for the next leg, reoriented and moved back along their line to investigate.

She had given the most likely vector to the ship with the most sensitive detectors, the recon Strike cruiser - Verberor, Lennart called them showing off his grasp of Standard - the Blackwood; lots of contacts, lots of civilian and merchant traffic, but a collection of small distortions riding wide apart that could only be a rebel recon squadron.

Tarazed Meridian made her own re-entry to scan and calibrate for the next leg; just before emergence, there was a small bump.

‘What was that? That wasn’t supposed to happen, was it?’ she asked.

‘No, Captain, but it’s probably-‘ her navigator started to say, then noticed her glaring at him.

‘If it isn’t supposed to happen, then it’s not nothing; it’s a potential problem, isn’t it? Find out what it was and stop it happening again.’

‘Yes, Captain, but it was probably external. Overrunning a small object with high relativistic mass could-‘ for the second time, he was interrupted by her glare.

Just because she hadn’t grown up with technology didn’t make her a fool. High relativistic mass - that meant fast, didn’t it? Frighteningly, damagingly fast.

Like the impactors that had rained down on her world thirty generations ago, and for which no-one had ever been found or brought to account. Small objects.

‘Find it.’ She snapped out the order. ‘If there are more, find them too. Where they came from and where they’re going.’ This was… unexpected. An age old mystery that carried with it a blood cry for vengeance? Melodramatic in the extreme.

After all, the perpetrators would be thirty generations dead too, and only their descendants left to take vengeance on.

Which was fair enough.

Assuming it wasn’t some random rock. Assuming the mission could look after itself. Assuming the Imperial Starfleet wouldn’t ream her out, possibly literally, for what amounted to desertion.

There really was no choice to make, she knew at once. All the rationalisations happened afterwards. The thought of what she would be able to say if she went home without investigating it convinced her. The idea that it might be a genuine threat to Imperial security only occurred much later.
Tarazed Meridian turned and began flooding the space back along her own vector with active sensor pulses. Caution - and emission control - be damned.

The Rebel recon fighters dropped out, reoriented and began to move towards her; evidence that they had some larger ship with full nav capabilities with them. Something for the bigger guns to do, then. Falldess stood looking out, knowing that she couldn’t expect to see anything her eyes could make sense of at the speeds and wavebands involved, looking anyway.

Aron’s fighters vectored after the rebel recon unit; the rest of the line shuffled to fill the gap. Blackwood moved to chase down her contact. Falldess got the first good scan at her ancient, ancestral enemy that her people had ever had.

There were two ships and a cloud of smaller craft; fighter types, quite why they worked she had never understood, but they identified readily enough. Shovel nosed cylinders, with long pod-tipped cruciform set wings.

The rRasfenoni. A minor species of no great account, until now. Little things with too many limbs, long term - probably native - inhabitants of the sector, handful of worlds, but more likely to rip you off on your fuel bill than ram and board with blaster and space axe. Small time grey-economy merchants. Outposts and franchises and colonies on a lot of worlds.

Their ships were moving fast, up around eighty percent of lightspeed, and the smaller of the two dome-on-dome, blobby ships looked as if it was laying mines.

‘Can we catch them?’ Falldess asked her navigator, willing the answer to be yes.

‘They have too much of a lead,’ he shook his head. ‘Mechanically yes, tactically no.’

‘Then shoot them, shoot them,’ she said, trying and failing not to shout. The gunnery officer started to look sceptical. ‘What happened to these guns you were boasting of? Interplanetary range, you said. Well?’

‘Captain,’ Com-scan interrupted, ‘we have solid reads on three squadrons of fighters and two ships of heavy corvette or light frigate class. Also four hundred and seventeen smaller, missile-sized objects.’

‘Captain, the engagement time would be too short. PD might be able to hit them, but anything heavier couldn’t lock on,’ the gunnery officer stated, hoping she wasn’t going to come up with the first order answer.

If it would take too long to match velocity, almost two hours, then-
‘Microjump ahead of them and shoot them as they go by. Then do it again until they’re dead. Converge bursts, flak bursts- every trick you can think of.’ Or you will get a new job as a warhead, her tone said.

‘Yes, Captain.’ There was nothing else to say, really. Imperial discipline did sometimes have its advantages.

Nav groaned; the two ships hadn’t reacted, outwardly - it was actually harder to calculate the jump to hyperspace from high velocity, with relativistic mass to factor in, than from low. Their jump would take longer than usual to set up; that gave a window of opportunity, the same window he intended to throw the safety regs out of.

Normally, the computer did the work; he input the parameters and margins. This time, instead of waiting for a full derivation and the officially acceptable margin of safety, he instructed the computer to take the best compromise it could find in a minute’s factoring, and overrode the safety interlock entirely.

Her gun crews were all bored and frustrated and keen to finally do what they were supposed to and shoot something. This might not have been what they had in mind, but it would do.

The rest of the line boggled at their flag taking herself out of the pattern, and going off on some lunatic chase to nowhere. Black Prince was informed, in full, in three seconds.

Lennart knew anyway; fighter direction were monitoring the situation.

It might be true, or it might not. Gut instinct, yes. Those fighters had been seen in company with Rebel craft before; he wondered if the rebels had any knowledge about their local ally’s genocidally aggressive past. They claimed the moral high ground, after all; it would be politically interesting to tell them about it.

His actual response was to instruct the commander of HIMS Blackwood to take over coordination of the search, and to remind Falldess not to jump directly in front of the cloud of fighters and impactors. That and the forlorn hope, at those speeds, of actually finding evidence or a live prisoner from whom evidence could be extracted.

Tarazed Meridian got the message shortly before going into jump, early. ‘Ah, kriff. Didn’t allow for that.’

She emerged a light minute ahead of the small formation, well within its manoeuvre cone. Even at point eight of lightspeed, they had enough thrust to move into a head on collision. Which they did.

Falldess felt distinctly like a parrot thinking about it, repeating ideas she was uncomfortably aware she didn’t fully understand. She did grasp that the damage they could do to the world the impactors had been aimed at, they could do to her ship.

‘Helm, bring weapons to bear. Nav, plot another jump, out of their line of attack this time, if you would be so kind.’ Lennart’s sarcasm was rubbing off on her. ‘Guns, you have your orders, what are you waiting for?’

Fight this pass out, hit them hard enough to forestall their escape - and maybe enough to punch a hole in their screen and get at the ships - and try not to get an extinction level event in the face.

Meridian class did not carry their cousins’ strategic bombardment missiles, too small a salvo to be worthwhile in ship to ship. They did mount eight quad fighter-weight point defence lasers, four twin light ions and twenty light turbolasers, and she used them.

Extreme range to begin with, but what was to lose? They sprayed fire across the swarm; the MTLs and HTLs went for the two ships at the heart of it. The small dots, the bombardment missiles, were surprisingly elusive. They had jammers and they were using them collectively, shielding each other. Tarazed Meridian’s gun crews were well enough drilled, but they had little real experience; nervous excitement and tension impaired their efficiency. They were shooting at a blur, not a collection of dots - probable loci overlapping into a shifting pink-red kaleidoscope. Doctrine stated odd numbered guns went on to barrage fire, even numbers to active local control to isolate individual targets. Half of them got it wrong to start with. No point correcting. Falldess yelled at her gunnery officer to keep shooting.

The penetrators were purely kinetic; when they were hit, they died unspectacularly, a tiny drop in intensity and shift in the pattern of the jamming. The cloud of plasma usually kept coming.

The fighters and the two ships veered away, maximum deflection angle, and sprayed return fire at the Imperial frigat,; the fighters’ large autoblaster setups perfect for high relative speed, high deflection shooting. The ships were armed with heavier weapons - same principle, though. Turboblasters?

High rate of fire, colour spreading from brilliant yellow to standard rebel red, they were trying to weaken the Imperial ship’s shields to make it easier for the impactors. The capital guns landed hits faster than the Meridian’s heavy lasers were scoring. Their weaponry was primitive bordering on peculiar, but their shielding was standard, maybe heavier than average. Meridian’s main guns divided their fire evenly between the two, the larger command unit and the smaller missile carrier; the command ship was five hundred and forty metres broad and basically a shallow dome, with smaller domes piled on top of it, flew rounded side forward, three hundred metres in length. The missile ship was a smaller version of the same.

The missile ship took four MTL hits when it was still half a light minute away. The shields flared but held. It turned side on, minimising target profile, and rolled and hooped through the salvos coming its way. The command frigate trusted to its heavier shielding and replied with two heavy turboblasters hosing down Tarazed Meridian.

The blasters every few seconds strayed and scattered, twitching off target, expecting defensive moves that never came - the Imperial heavy frigate was locked into calculating an escape course before the shower of relativistic missiles reached her.

In theory, they were less effective than the bigger, more powerful Imperial ship’s heavy turbolasers - they threw 1.4 teraton bolts at a rough estimate of five bolts per second. Pointless for heavy antiship work, useful corvette killers but most people used smaller, lighter, more efficient LTL for that. In practise, for this kind of full acceleration, high speed fight, they got a lot more energy on target.

Falldess knew there was no point in screaming at her gun crews, but pacing up and down the bridge was no relief either; the flares from outside as her ship was kicked by the stream of shot ate away at her nerves, as well as the shielding.

Finally, finally, forty-five seconds elapsed and twenty-six light seconds apart, one of the HTL impacted on the command frigate. It took it well, at first, but burnt off so much of the shielding that she had to go evasive as well.

Fire advantage shifted decisively to the Imperial side, but they only had thirty more seconds to exercise it in before the wave of planet-killers reached them.

‘Concentrate on the command unit. Nav?’

‘Fifteen seconds more to calculate, five to turn to bear,’ The navigator said, every available bodily appendage crossed.

‘I don’t think assuming animal form is going to do us much good,’ Falldess said, snappishly.

‘It seems to work for the AT-AT…oh, that was pretty.’ Two HTL shot in quick succession slammed into the rRasfenoni command frigate, blasting through the shields and turning one of her towers of domes into molten fragments.

‘All weapons on that ship now. If we hit her hard enough we can take her on the next pass,’ Falldess ordered.

‘Not possible, no time,’ Nav said.

Falldess wanted to fight down to the muzzle - actually she wanted to physically get hold of them and rip them apart; another disadvantage of modern warships: boarding was an order of magnitude more difficult. She knew, though, that they had to keep up this hit and run routine, one jump ahead of the impactor cloud - they had taken down less than forty of them; some planet somewhere was going to suffer.

Only a technological illiterate or a Corellian would even have attempted this. The age old cliché of daring to go further because they didn’t know what couldn’t be done, that had driven health and safety operatives to the limits of sanity for almost as long.

‘Then by the plan, jump,’ she reluctantly ordered.

Tarazed Meridian’s turrets pivoted to stay on target as the ship banked away, and the range closed to something like reasonable firing distance. Starboard side could still bear; they kept pumping out shot.

They connected with two HTL and five MTL blasts just before transition. The green nova faded, revealed less than half a ship, molten and spewing life pods from what was left.

Just before the leading pair of impactors, covered by collective jamming, reached and smashed into Tarazed Meridian low on her starboard side.
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 09:27am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 29b

It was a loose, sprawling fight. Simultaneity was the real problem. So many things, happening at once. The rebel and Imperial recon fighter elements, blurring together, trying to outguess each other and come to combat in tardyonic space.

Combat in hyperspace was impossible, for one very good reason; energy density. A turbolaser bolt, or any missile that could be carried in numbers worth using, simply carried too much power over area to move anything like quickly. In most cases, a ship that fired a volley of turbolaser fire at a target on its bow would shoot itself, as it, protected by the hyperdrive field, moved faster than the massively energetic turbolaser bolt would once it left the field.

In theory, minelaying could be done. In practise, forget it. Any random factor would be multiplied by the ratio of tachyonic to bradyonic speed, too. The mines, whatever they were, would scatter so widely that even if the enemy actively cooperated in trying to be hit, they probably couldn’t manage it.

Launching mines across the light barrier, that was potentially promising. That might work. Perversely, it was a problem precisely because it wasn’t new technology - nothing like the pulse mass spreader had been implemented in at least a thousand years.

The DMR were trying to rediscover how it had originally been done now; they had the physics, but no experience with the technology.

When it was done, it would add more interesting wrinkles to the fundamental problem of pursuit. The Squadron included no interdictor types, because Lennart had very little respect for most of the grav well generator carrying designs in service. The Immobiliser and its predecessor the CC-2200 were both widely considered to be undergunned. Which was, if anything, an overestimate. Both types carried little more than point defence. In fact, strip off the domes and call them a Lancer replacement and it would probably be a better use of either hull.

The Spoliator-I, one of the new so-called “light fleet” destroyer types along with the Arrogant, carried a single interdictor dome in a dorsal hump on a fast-destroyer chassis. That could work, they at least had reasonable speed and firepower, but they were as rare as fluorescent purple Bantha. 851 might be able to get hold of one, but Vineland Sector Group couldn’t.

The ultimate solution, as far as Lennart and Mirannon were concerned, was to strip the bow tractor beams and some of the useless deep-storage space, and mount an interdictor dome under the bow of an otherwise conventional Imperator-class.

That was a project for another time. At the moment, Gamma and Epsilon were chasing a gaggle of Rebel fighters, and HIMS Blackwood something that could either be a rebel warship or their target. Tarazed Meridian was still responding to transponder interrogation, but no more detail than that.

The bulk of her must still physically be there, but in what state of damage, and the crew in how deep a state of shock? Tactically, this could be made to work. She could provide the fixed point, the necessary catalyst for a meeting engagement.

Lennart ordered Black Prince’s hyperdrives online, and Tarazed Meridian to broadcast a beacon signal with her statement of condition, hamming it up a little. If she really was badly hurt, that was one thing and they would move to cover, but if not, exaggerate. The chances of the Rebels not believing it was a trap were low, but the probability of them moving to investigate was high.

That was one thing Imperial long range fighters were better at; the rebel astromechs gave improved self repair capability, as if that mattered often enough to be worth spending that much mass and volume on it, but they were lousy navigators.

The Starwing had a bounded-area computer; within a given section of space, mapped by the carrying ship - usually a sector - they could hyperspace freely. They could also transfer that to the accompanying Hunters, and did. Aron’s two squadron task force arrived well before any Rebel probe.

What they found was a perfect example of the greater spotted Meridian class; four of the clouds of plasma from destroyed impactors had made contact and splashed, scorch marks giving the ship a mottled appearance. She was tumbling slowly, but most of her was still there. One of the hits had been from a relatively light bus-missile, a ‘mophead’ designed to mop up smaller population centres; thirty impactors, single-digit megaton mostly. That had left bright scar marks, one unlucky impact where a viewport had been hit square on and breached, but nothing serious.

The other one had been a seismic, designed to do geological damage - a single multi-ton, teraton-yield impactor. That could have been potentially lethal, but luck was not always and solely on the side of the rebels. The heavy head had breached the outer skin of the frigate and punched through one of the small craft bays before striking the only material component on the ship capable of taking the impact, the main reactor bulb.

A solid hit would have ruptured the containment vessel and destroyed the frigate, but this had been a glancing blow, at a shallow angle. It had wrenched the bulb out of alignment, leaving the ship mostly intact but running on emergency power. The couplings could be reset, but it was a long job, usually needing a fleet tender. It could be done in the field, but not in combat time.

‘Control, Gamma One, we need support here. Tarazed Meridian’s in pretty bad shape,’ Aron reported.

‘Gamma One, Control, papa bear is on his way,’ Franjia reassured him. In a way, she wanted to cock this up, make some mistake that would guarantee her being sent back to the squadron, but she couldn’t. Not while it was her unit, not while it was him out there. ‘Take up defence stations around the Meridian.’

The other problem the Imperial frigate was suffering from was shock damage. The tensors had held the frame of the ship in one piece, but the moving parts - especially the crew - hadn’t come off so well. Of just over thirty-two hundred sailors and troops on board, nine hundred had been in compartments that had been breached or where the compensators had failed to completely damp out the shock. The bridge module was relatively intact; there had only been one fatality, A Pit Lieutenant, who had been in mid air at the time and whom the compensators had not reacted fast enough to catch, not in his entirety.

Falldess was the least affected. She had seen, smelt and tasted the effects of black powder cannon fire on wooden hulls and the men inside them before, men ripped apart and splashed across bulkheads. This was, in its own way, more impressive - certainly a more expensively achieved way of getting killed. It mattered, it was impossible to ignore, but she picked up the pieces and kept moving. For her, that was chiefly recalling the rest of the bridge crew to their duty. It was the risk she agreed to take, the bargain she made and the damage she were trying to inflict on the other side.

She was unpleasantly surprised by how badly her own bridge team reacted to it. Her navigator was sitting at his chart board, pecking away at it, dazed one fingered typing. She was about to round on him when she looked round and realised he was one of the few actually trying to function, however badly.
Her gunnery officer was on his knees retching into a pool of blood, most of which was the pit lieutenant’s, some of which was his own drawn by fragments of the pit lieutenant’s skeleton. She leant down, grabbed him around the stomach and squeezed.

‘That’s it, get it out then get back to work. You,’ she pointed at the four Stormtroopers guarding the bridge, ‘restore order. Anti-nausea pills, a good kick up the arse, and if that doesn’t work stun them, throw them out and summon their replacements.’

‘Good grief.’ she continued, looking around the crew. ‘You soft-bellied shower. I might not know what I’m doing but at least I don’t stop trying because I’m standing in somebody’s guts.’

One of the com-scan team lost it at that point, curled up into a ball and puked. A stormtrooper moved to deal with him.

‘At least try and pretend that you’re officers of a fighting service, rather than uniformed bully boys who can dish it out but can’t take it. Com-Scan, is there anything else out there? Helm, how does she answer?’

‘Bridge? Engineering.’ The main overhead speaker interrupted her. ‘Lost main power uptake, lost no. 2 distribution complex, lost no. 4 flight bay, lost no. 4 life support subcomplex. Surges damped, atmosphere restored. Repair priorities?’ The voice was businesslike, straightforward - at last someone who seems to know what they’re doing, Falldess thought.

‘Com-Scan. Report,’ she snapped out.

‘We have friendly fighters registering, squadron Hunters, squadron Starwings, wait, they’re-‘

Tarazed Meridian, this is Gamma One,’ Aron announced. ‘We have incoming Rebel fighters, probably strike loaded.’ He was looking at the computer predictions of emergence - sensor data mostly from the Starwings. Two to three squadrons, two to three small craft with them.

He argued it with himself for a moment. The fighter pilot in him said, there are barely enough to go round. Don’t let those little bitty /ln in on the action.

The responsible side, the squadron leader, wanted to take all the help he could get and bury them in TIE fighters before they had a chance to do much in the way of shooting back.

The argument didn’t last long. He was a squadron leader because he was a pilot. ‘We’ll take them.’

‘Systems, shield status?’ Falldess asked.

‘Still bleeding off heat, loaded and compromised in lower port aft.’

‘Good,’ Falldess said, with deliberate optimism. ‘Launch what fighters can still swim.’

‘Yes, Captain - what? Good?’

‘We have an obvious weak point, that it would obviously benefit them to strike, so they’ll come in predictably,’ she said, knowing the flaws in that but vaulting over them for the sake of crew confidence. ‘Engineering, what can you give me for the guns?’

‘We can give you power for ten teratons per second from the backup reactor. Lights and mediums are good, trickle-charge the heavies.’

‘Nav, what does that mean in speed?’ she asked.

‘We - checking out the steering thrusters now. That power would give us a hundred and sixty ‘g’, main drive.’

‘So,’ she tried to remember, ‘we would lose a race with an escape pod. A problem, but a containable one, as long as we can turn to bear.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 09:31am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 29c

‘So, Group captain, have you had a chance to look over the sector ORBAT yet and decide exactly what to requisition?’ Lennart asked, pointedly.

‘Not in depth,’ Vehrec said, sounding nonchalant.

‘Let me guess; it wasn’t a look as much as a drool. You know exactly what you want, but have only the haziest recollection of where you saw it, because you never bothered to make notes. If I told you to go shopping for them, what would you come up with?’

‘Captain, are you implying my past makes me untrustworthy?’ Vehrec said.

‘Of course it does. What by the book, die-stamp cloned, procedure-stuffed rear area imitation of an officer would trust a man with your history?’ Lennart asked, smiling.
‘On the other hand,’ he continued, ‘because they don’t understand where you’re coming from, they won’t react to your orders and instructions with energy, won’t anticipate fluently, certainly won’t go the extra light year for you. There are jobs and orders I could give you, that friction would prevent you from succeeding in. Does that not constitute untrustworthiness?’

‘I took an old run-down carrier out of mothballs and brought it to join the fleet. I succeeded in that,’ Vehrec said, as aggressively as he dared - pot and kettle, this, considering Lennart’s reputation. Which Lennart would have agreed with if he had said so.

‘Yes, with an all volunteer crew. That’s actually a major point in your favour; they have some enthusiasm and energy already, use it. Mainly, don’t be too hasty to shake off the dust of Altyna,’ Lennart said.

‘Somewhere in the rings of Altyna V, there is an ice fragment with IHTKP etched into the surface. No-one can prove it was me, because handwriting analysis doesn’t work when you scribble with laser cannon.’

‘How do you think I coped, coming back to this ship after eight years away from the line? My time as an instructor helped me immensely; the twin problems of keeping an unruly bunch of youngsters from getting themselves disciplined - or sat on - by the system, and of bringing out the best in them, the same problems I faced running a crew,’ Lennart said.

‘Fighter pilots aren’t like that, you can’t treat them like younglings, you have to let them be a little crazy,' Vehrec said. 'Confidence, yeh, maybe it does go the length of arrogance, is an invaluable force multiplier.’

‘Which has been most fighter pilots’ stock excuse for the last twenty thousand years. Trust me, the rest of the galaxy has finally managed to catch on,’ Lennart said.

‘Still true. The point is that you don’t teach fighter pilots like you lead them in the field. They hatch; there is a transition. Getting your wings is as big a deal as coming of age. Going to an instructional job from command of a line unit is like being demoted from university lecturer to primary school, and the other way round too.’

‘One ship, with seventy-four hundred crew and a power rating of 3E24 watts, carrying a reinforced infantry division. It’s not all about the pilots. Spearhead’s no use without a shaft behind it, warhead’s no use without a launcher,’ Lennart warned.

‘Yeah, you hammered that one home pretty thoroughly on exercise. I know I’m not a stellarly good ship commander. Never pretended to be. Didn’t it nearly work, though?’

‘Not really, no,’ Lennart pointed out. ‘All else taken into account, we’re doing Caliphant no favour by asking him to cover your blind spots. He’s not ready for something that big. You know how to make an officer grow?’

‘Is it the same recipe as for mushrooms?’ Vehrec said.

‘No wonder we handed you your head,’ Lennart bounced back. ‘By giving them jobs towards the upper limit of their capability. For junior lieutenants that’s damned near everything, so it’s easy enough, but a Senior Lieutenant requires a little more careful handling. He’ll either be able to cope or he won’t, and the size of the job means the odds are against.
'If he doesn’t, there he is. Even if he does, he’ll make so many enemies and rivals in the process the next step up is going to get that much harder, he’ll have to hack his way to the top. That usually doesn’t make a good officer in the long term.’

‘I think he can cope,’ Vehrec said.

‘Then back him with your authority so he doesn’t have to mortgage his future and make enemies of most of the crew.
'As for the fighter complement, we have authority to requisition anything in service with the sector group, or to private- purchase - you really could go shopping. What group composition do you think the situation calls for?’ Lennart asked.

‘Captain, if you really think I’m juvenile enough to have skipped my homework, for kriff’s sake, and not read the tactical circular, you can just come out and say so.’

‘Remember what I was saying about friction?’ Lennart asked. ‘Well, have you?’

There was only one possible answer. ‘No.’ Just to watch the Captain of the Line react.

Lennart appeared to keep his temper fairly well, at least outwardly, but Vehrec could read the signs. First up was; I will crucify him. Second, can’t afford to do that just yet, I need him, but I can let him see the receipt for the wood and the nails. Third, he can’t possibly mean that, nobody could be that irresponsible. Fourth; could he?

‘I did help write it, though,’ Vehrec added.

Time for a little experiment, Lennart thought. Call it public relations. He reached into his pocket, drew out the lightsabre, then thought about where that would go.
Vehrec’s eyes were bugging out badly enough already; he had not anticipated this, not serving with one of Vader’s men. I don’t need to turn the thing on and wave it at him, Lennart thought, I need to calm him down. I hardly needed to do anything; just the thought of it was enough, all the fear happened on the other end.

‘Yes, the authorities know. Yes, it is a red blade. My temper is not quite as controlled as it used to be. I think I can still take a joke- but don’t push it too far. The Sweep Line’s fighter elements?’

‘Ah…QX, we have three conflicting ways to load out,’ Vehrec said, trying to concentrate on anything but the black cylinder in Lennart’s hand. 'We can emphasise area dominance and control which means loading up heavily on TIE Fighters and Interceptors, tactical strike which would be bomber-heavy, or long range rapid reaction, which would be expensive. With thirty-five squadrons, we could multirole and do all three.’

Lennart shook his head. ‘Too much division of effort. Bombers make relatively good recon, they have the sensors. I’m thinking a recon/strike force built around them, with mainly hyper capable cover/intervention forces. What have you got now?’

What, you didn’t read the statement of condition? Vehrec thought of saying, decided not to. ‘At the moment, we have in flying order three squadrons of standard /ln, two old Assault and one of Avenger, of line-regulation type. Leftover Clone War era types, we can put up two squadrons of Aethersprite, two of V-19 Torrent, three of Nimbus and four of Actis.
'Training modified, four squadrons of Bomber/IFT, two squadrons of Stingers- light missile TIE/ln- four of other /ln types, one squadron failed Interceptor variants, three mixed aggressor squadrons, three halves Y-wing, one half each PTB-625, Z-95, R-41. That’s pretty much it.’

‘We raided the remains of both Rebel ships; found quite a few interesting bits and pieces. We have the maintenance parts, tools and manuals for maybe three squadrons of X-wings. More to the point, we can increase your complement of relics with another two Nimbus and four Actis squadrons, and give you a total of six squadrons’ worth of booster rings.’

‘You had a flight of Advanced/X7 until recently, yes?’ Vehrec asked, Lennart nodded. ‘You must be fairly well in with Sienar, especially if they let you keep them until you had tested them to destruction. You don’t think resorting to wholesale blasts from the past might, well, piss them off royally?’

‘No more than using the ones we already have in hand, it was pure politics why they were removed from service in the first place. Torrents are dubious, no FTL. Return the initial trainers, the /ln mods and the aggressors to Altyna, that leaves thirteen squadrons to be drafted in from the sector group. We already have a significant qualitative edge, I’d like to keep that,’ Lennart said.

‘A qualitative edge over who, exactly? For all that I love the older Kuati designs as pilot’s spacecraft, they were almost all bleeding edge. They need top line maintenance teams to keep them in good enough shape to be worth it.
'If we could transfer the Aethersprites and Torrents to Black Prince, you would make better use of them and they would simplify my problems.’

‘I’ll take the Aethersprites. Pack the Torrents off to Altyna as well. That’ll round the Strike Wing out to full strength, leave you with eight squadrons of short-range sublight fighters, eleven squadrons of hyper capable fighters. If you can get another squadron of Avengers from somewhere, four squadrons of Interceptor if possible and /ln if not, and round up eleven squadrons of Bombers, that gives you decent area coverage, long range recon, and independent strike power,’ Lennart decided.

‘That’s a lot of firepower. One thing, though - who’s the target?’ Vehrec asked, not sure he was going to like the answer.

‘Do you want the menu? If we’re outrageously lucky, the rebellion. If we’re not, the rebellion and most of the aliens in the sector. If the worst case scenario plays itself out the way I expect it to, you can take that lot and throw in renegade elements of the sector group.

Oh, and I need to borrow one of your shuttles. One not registered to Black Prince, anyway.’

‘Yes, Sir- what for?’ Vehrec asked.

‘Got to see a man about an extermination warrant.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 09:20am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
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Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 29d

HIMS Blackwood was the coordination ship for the line now, and it was an interestingly two-edged assignment. She had the best sensor fit, so she spent more time in real space than any of the others, monitoring and keeping overwatch on them; that also made her the most important target. In theory, she was also the ship that had the best chance to spot trouble coming and get out of the way. Kovall enjoyed being on the spot; it was a chance to shine, to show what he and his ship could do.

The rebel fighters that Aron had been chasing had dropped out to realspace, reoriented, and Kovall could now see that they were heading for an attack run on Tarazed Meridian, but the Imperial fighter screen had got there first. That problem seemed in hand. The chase, the captured modular cruiser, was proving perversely hard to find, though. A very bright, obvious initial signature, but that still left about eighty cubic light years as a potential end point, and the sweep would move through and around that area - as well as covering the flanks of it to spot incoming craft.

One of which he had a touch on. The modular cruiser had a lot of people on board, either the compForce security troopers - unlikely - or Rebel infantry, and if they were, that meant they had come from a rebel warship. Like the one he was manoeuvring for drop position on; computers tentatively identified it as a Dreadnaught-class, “heavy cruiser” on the peacetime system, practically speaking actually a medium frigate. That made sense. She had the troop complement to board and take a modular cruiser, which were one of the very few things a dreadnaught could actually catch. Older, slower, clumsier, less well armed than his recon ship but a lot tougher. In a stand-up fight, it would depend on hit rates, how much of the Dread’s fire Blackwood could sidestep and vice versa. Kovall had no intent of letting it degenerate that far.

It was moving in a sparse, skeletally open pattern of short jumps that probably meant it was serving as rally point and navigation provider for its fighters, too faint to be seen at this distance. Perfect; it could be hit without its screen in place, unless the rebel captain was running a double bluff. Chance worth taking.

He stopped himself just before giving the order to calculate an interception course. What about the rest of the line, that he was supposed to be coordinating? Responsibility was no fun. He gave the order to calculate, but not yet to initiate. Watched the main plotting board. Guillemot was the most important unit at the moment, the most heavily armed of the line; she had shifted into centre position, waiting to interdict whatever came their way.

Relayed data indicated they had a target; it was dimly, fuzzily visible at the limits of Blackwood’s range of clarity. They wouldn’t have noticed it unless they had been clued in. It was running muted, not exactly silent but enough to reduce it’s visibility. Probably a MC-40 rebel medium frigate.

It was also aiming itself at one of the Carrack-Marauder pairs. That was a target well within their capability. Blackwood was just about a fair match for one, but Guillemot had the heavy turbolasers - the last of their line to do so. Obdurate was far out on the ascendant rim of the search pattern, assuming their target had been able to stabilise her course, unlikely.

Raesene would need time to react, and after all his ship did have a hot reputation, one Guillemot’s captain was determined to prove she didn’t deserve. Guillemot moved after the Rebel cruiser, intending a double ambush.

A fine point of tactics; to warn the Carrack, or not? Subtractor, and the attendant Marauder-class TC-932GG “Cacophony in Q flat major”, could not realistically take on a Rebel medium frigate. But they could serve as bait long enough to keep the reb in place long enough for Guillemot to jump her in her turn. No warning.

The rebel wouldn’t have given them any anyway. Her captain, probably not a Mon Cal if behaviour was anything to go by, chose to enter the fight with a manoeuvre that Raesene would have recognised instantly. It was the same bouncing entry he had used when he joined the squadron, splashing off the far side of the light barrier, setting up a false descent/transition signature. Subtractor howled out an alert, and turned to face the entry; distant, but not out of contact-bombardment gun range. Apparently.

Blackwood was monitoring the situation, had time to send a warning before leaping into hyperspace on the pursuit of the Dreadnaught; but there was no time to prepare, and Subtractor would have gone with her own sensor picture anyway.

The Rebel frigate emerged on the far side of her, the side she had focused sensors and shields away from. Cacophony reacted more quickly, turning bow quarter on and starting to scramble her fighters. Spraying LTL fire, too, for what good it would do. The rebel came out of hyperspace with her turrets already approximately laid on, opened fire three seconds after emergence.

Subtractor had been faked out and paid the price; turned to face, just too slowly to matter. She had four turrets each mounting single medium turbolasers, to the –40’s six quadruple turrets, three of which could bear. The rebels fired sequentially, three long strings of scarlet pulses, and the Carrack’s captain let himself be trapped by the class’s reputation for being able to withstand punishment just a little too long.

They were tough ships, for their size; designed as fleet outriders, they had the armour and shielding - once it was focused to bear - to survive single stray HTL shot, but a sustained pounding would bring them down just as it would anything else.

Which was exactly what the Alliance ship commenced to deliver. Collectively outnumbered and outgunned, she had to hit hard and fast. The first few shot hit hull protected only by the tensor field and heat sinks, ripped gaps in the Imperial ship’s side. Heavy, redundant compartmentalisation could only achieve so much.

Shields refocused to meet the incoming fire, but backed by damaged, compromised hull they were not fully effective; they could not channel heat away fast enough, the generators started to overload, and bleedthrough did further damage.

Subtractor rolled to present her undamaged side, scrambled her flight of fighters - only /ln, but they could join Cacophony’s mixed squadron of /ln and/sa Bombers - if they were in time to matter at all. The Alliance frigate was in the middle of calculating her own next move; knew she would have to move out and the energy expended on Imperial shielding was probably wasted.

That didn’t stop her from keeping on pounding, pounding away. Subtractor had more freedom to manoeuvre, but fewer engines and less structural integrity left to do it with. Return fire achieved nothing except to force the rebel to keep shields up. She was too heavily protected for Subtractor to be able to do more than prolong the agony by trying to stave her off with return fire.

The rebel frigate monitored Guillemot’s premature, distant emergence; that was time in hand, then. Time to burn down the shielding in one capacitor-straining sustained burst, melting the shield emitters, hammering into the Carrack, smashing open compartment after compartment. Fuel tanks, hyperdrive, quarters, comms and most of sensors, life support - blasted away.

Cacophony’s bombers threw themselves at the Rebel, but with jammers up and point defence active, their chances were minimal. They shot off their torpedoes from medium range, semi-guided, relying only on their own sensors, then accelerated to follow them in. They still had their drop chutes and the seismic charges they loaded. The /ln went in with them, for what strafing might do.

Most of the –40’s light turbolasers were pointing on as well; the ion cannon lashed out at the torpedoes and the Imperial fighters. Imperial return fire mostly sparked off the turrets; aiming for them, even the shot that leaked through the shields failing to do much to that armour.

The reb’s ion cannon fired grid patterns at the incoming torpedo wave, blotting them out as they came. No fratricide, no sympathetic detonations - but of seventy-two fired, twenty made it in to contact.
Not a kill, nowhere close. The fighters followed, weaving, half-blind in the Rebel frigate’s jamming, spraying fire ahead of them; they were actually relatively safe. The rebels knew the /ln were relatively little threat, but the bombers still had unpowered heavy ordnance. They were the target.

The rough rule of thumb was, for an effective attack, the fighters had to outnumber the warship target’s point defence weapons at least two to one. Eighteen guns firing at six fighters was not the mathematics of victory.

One of the bombers took an unlucky hit dead on the payload bay, blowing out the failsafes, and the ordnance detonated. One more was hit by enough current to melt a radiator wing, and heat buildup blew it apart. Three were hit and disabled, drifting away ballistically.
One, the second element leader, was lucky enough to be hit in the empty warhead launcher. Most of the controls were disabled; so was he. The flashes of lightning over him had shorted his life support and left his heart about to arrest. He had enough control left to set his charges to contact detonation; and nudge his bomber into a collision course with the frigate.

The rebels saw it coming, but not in time. It was still a better bet to take the hit than to shift shields towards it and leave themselves open to MTL fire. The ion cannon tried to reach it, but short of detonating the charges, nothing would work, and they weren’t that precise. The bomber hit midships on the starboard flank, and the seismics let go.

Four hoop-shaped flashes of light seemed to burst out from the body of the ship, the other half going into the shields, which overloaded locally and left huge molten scars across the Mon cal frigate. No hull breach, but she looked as if she had been branded.

Guillemot finally managed to recalibrate and move in - not long, but under fire, eternity. That was the Alliance frigate’s cue. Guillemot barely had time to point her guns on before the Mon Cal frigate accelerated away to light speed.

It had been a well executed hit and run strike. The bombers sacrificing themselves was all that had saved Subtractor from being pounded into little luminous pieces.

The rebel fighters attacking Tarazed Meridian emerged in two long lines. Slightly reinforced squadrons, fourteen each, one a bomb/attack outfit, two three-strong flights of B-wings, two four strong flights of Y.

The other squadron was something new and different. Two elements of A-wings, covering two elements and two three-strong flights of something or other. They looked like T-wings at first, and Gamma’s flight computers marked them as T-wing Mod, same sort of fat angel-fish shape, but Epsilon’s threw that idea out, identified them as new and started assembling profiles.
They were thinner and more angular, and had some sort of S-foil, or at least outrigger, that expanded away from the main hull and seemed to be an etheric rudder and manoeuvre jet assembly; from the colour of their engine flares, they were at peak thrust, accelerating at the Imperial fighters, while the A-wings were at ninety percent. That put their performance about that of an /ln, maybe a little better in a straight line, probably more agile. Shielded, of course. The division of effort was obvious. Starwings after the B- and Y- wings, Hunters after the A’s and those peculiar little things, whatever they were.

Behind him, the frigate’s manoeuvre thrusters fired, stopping her spin, and the bays opened. Prematurely; it would take them time to sort themselves out and launch, and thinking about it the shock probably hadn’t been too kind on the fighters either. Still, Aron didn’t quite understand the rebel tactics.

The fighters and bombers were separating, the fighters coming in at high thrust; why? One overrunning, strafing pass, and then they would be clear and the rebel bombers would be hit by Starwings and Hunters both, and their fighters would have to decelerate-and-return well within Tarazed Meridian’s point defence envelope. That couldn’t possibly be the point; no Rebel squadron leader would ever admit that getting Imperial point defence to fire into a furball was more effective than doing it with their own lasers.

Was it possible that all they had been expecting was /ln, and their game plan was to rush ahead, clear the field for the bombers in one fast pass, then harass and strafe, preventing the Imperial frigate from aligning her shields to take the bombers’ torpedoes?

That might have worked. Were those new things - was this more than half experiment, was their chain of command convoluted enough that they were better off doing the wrong thing, sticking to the plan, right away than backing off and doing the right thing? Maybe. Well, they had a backstop now, although how much use this bunch of raw, limp /ln jockeys would be - not much, he thought.

When did you get to be such an elitist? He asked himself. Obviously, when you got put in charge of an elite. Even if Gamma wasn’t that good, at least they were good enough to make the selection grade. ‘Gamma, missiles. Hit the A-wings, get rid of them, then let’s see how well the Alliance’s new buzz buggy turns and burns.’

Twelve on four, three missiles each; it was a late, slow, difficult track, the A-wing’s jammer difficult to pierce, and the absence of return fire meant that either that didn’t have enough missiles to go round, or they were packing torpedoes instead. Obviously not heavyweight torps, because his target’s performance was pretty much unimpeded. It opened to full throttle and banked away, maximum divergence of angle initially, then chopped to radical evasion in a twisting, signature-blurring corkscrew, and Aron’s ESM warned him that someone was trying to lock lasers on him.

Typical rebel, thought the Force was with him and he didn’t need his targeting computer; Aron sidestepped three bursts of closely grouped triple shot, light lasers.

A dogfighter’s armament, designed for use against /ln and interceptors, useful but lacking the raw punch of the Hunter’s or Starwing’s twin heavies. Stay on the A-wing or chase down the new type? What was life without a little novelty?

A close, high-deflection pass then a range-opening test of marksmanship. The Alliance fighter moved to strafe past him, jinking and jigging, not daring to move in too straight a line for too long. Nimble little bastard, Aron thought. The thing’s long manoeuvre limbs made it unexpectedly agile; it was built for flying sideways, but its power output wasn’t that impressive.

Its rate of fire was, and it did land the first hit on his upper left s-foil. Aron instantly overcorrected, rolling into the hit and found himself almost tumbling; it was a lot less power than he expected. The rebel was probably equally surprised.

Aron rolled out, spun to bear and this time went for the rebel head on. It put one triple bolt in that he actually closed his eyes for, shooting back blind - Kriff, he thought, better not do too much of that or people might start thinking I have the Force. Its shot sparked off his shielding, deflected and absorbed; his heavier guns hit one on the nose, one on the port outrigger, both of them cut through the rebel’s shielding to do real damage.

The sensor cluster must be in the nose, there was a complicated flare of burning electronics; the manoeuvre arm ripped off, and the rebel twisted out of control, then retrieved and turned to break away. Aron opened his eyes, triggered a second shot that caught it and exploded it.

‘Gamma, this is Gamma One. They’re lightweights, you can take them head on. Control, has anyone else come across these things?’

‘Flight Control approves of your tactics, Gamma One. Their provisional name is M-wing.’ Franjia said. Aron thought of the sharp-nosed central pod, twin outriggers - that made some kind of sense. More than the B-wing, anyway. ‘Same idea as the T, a cheap, reliable low-end partner to the A-wing, a step back from the bleeding edge; no missiles, but they may have bombs.’

Stang. That was all they needed. That made the rebel plan make a lot more sense.

Franjia added mischievously, ‘Control requests that you ionise-‘

‘Galactic Spirit, no,’ Aron shouted.

‘You OK, one?’ His senior flight leader asked. Of course he knew that they had taken out a pair of B-wings, and been recaptured from a Rebel light freighter. There were probably still rumours about that bit of funny business.

‘Bad experiences with ion cannon,’ Aron said. He had been weaving on reflex, looking down at the scanner globe.

Epsilon were doing well, but then they were up against a known, inferior, quantity; one outright loss - Eight, who was in the eight spot now? One of the replacements. Two damaged, as well, but for a score of three B-wings and two Y-wings gone.
Gamma, not so good. One of the A-wings was dead and two damaged, one withdrawing. Two of the M-wings’ blips were gone, but there were four Hunters gone, one apparently by collision. Three drifting Imperial pilots, one of whom was showing up as wounded, needing immediate medical attention. Chances were he wouldn’t get it.

Two of the B-wings started to ripple-fire their torp payload from distance, dropping their load at the earliest possible opportunity to get some manoeuvrability back. One of them managed to empty its launchers, and one didn’t last that long.

Aron looked for clear space and found it; most of the M- and A-wings were flying backwards now; he wanted to be able to line up on one without being backshot by a B-wing. That would be embarrassing, briefly - firepower was their one good quality. Settle down and aim on; he tried to get a prediction lock on one of the M-wings, but the little sod kept skating around the rim of his gunsight.

Then part three of their problem emerged from hyperspace. The three larger blips, it was a fair relief. Two of them were freakmobiles, examples of a nearly extinct type - the superheavy starfighter. TL-118 StarHammers were bulky and visually chaotic - blocks and bulges and bits smushed together in what could best be described as a lump. Moat of their armament was fighter weight, as per spec, but they had room and power for a lot of customisation. Their main drawback was that they were painfully easy targets. It was doubtful whether they could win a fight with a Starwing one on one, never mind credit for credit and still less ton for ton.

They needed antifighter escort, and that was what the third blip turned out to be. It was an obviously stolen - flameclaw paint job - Customs Frigate, a colossal, titanic forty metres long. It would barely count as a bug on the windshield of a real frigate, but it did have enough speed and enough turrets to threaten a fighter outfit.

The rebel plan suddenly made a lot more sense now; this was the execution squad. The rebel warships must have known that whatever lighter Imperial units they managed to attack, they would have to be extraordinarily lucky to have time to finish off. So hit, run, and send a group of hyper capable bombers as a follow-up team.

They had only gone after the wrong target; instead of hitting a Carrack and Marauder, which they probably could take, they had gone after a heavy frigate with her point defence guns intact. They could be made to pay for that, provided the rest of the rebel group didn’t take a hand.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 29e

Blackwood was starting to suspect she had a tiger by the tail. The dreadnaught - now approaching Obdurate’s position in apparent willingness to sacrifice herself - was a bit too energetic for comfort. It was possible that she was Vainglorious-class.
Rendili’s dreadnaughts were peculiar craft, minimally automated and very poorly centralised. Their multiple subsystems needed that many people; there were real jobs for them, which made them superb school ships.

The Republic Starfleet had put up with them for so long because of that, in part. The stream of raw meat that went into them and trained personnel that came out was the seed of the battlefleet of the future, the assertion of central authority and the rejuvenation of the Republic.

Of course, it hadn’t worked out that way, and the Imperial Starfleet was still stuck with the damned things.

The Vainglorious-class was an attempt to rationalise the design into an effective modern combatant, integrating most of the systems and losing most of the crew and as much as possible of the dead weight.
Rendili’s official name for the things was ‘superDreadnaught’; the Imperial Starfleet’s designation owed more to political pressure from Kuat, whose in-house deputy chief designer was supposed to have said, “That’s brilliant! I love the way you’ve managed to put an entire medium frigate into a corset.”

The ID files transmitted over from Black Prince with the first tactical circular contained a complete rundown, although for some reason Lennart dropped the ‘Vain’ and referred to them as Illustris-class.

Their reputation was that of an attempt to gild a white elephant, but if the file was right, she was a bit more heavily armed than that, carrying five full-blown heavy turbolasers. That made her a lot more capable than the common wisdom suggested, a fit match for a Demolisher class frigate - especially as she was making a pretty good effort to play dumb, look like a normal Dreadnaught, and lure the Imperial ship in.

Subtractor was limping away, covered by the Cacophony and two squadrons of fighters from Black Prince; there was nothing heading that way, her survivors - mostly on board the Maraude r- were safe enough, apart from their commander.

Obdurate was moving towards the last transition point of the rebel frigate, willing to accept the fight. Whether that was actually the rebel’s intent - Kovall didn’t think so. Even if they were arrogant enough to assume they had an edge in skill, it was still too much like a straight fight even for an Illustris. Suicide for a Dreadnaught.

What would be a sensible plan? Hit a few of the scout globe, get the rest of the Imperial line looking after their cripples, make time and room to pull off the rescue. Any actual damage inflicted was a bonus, secondary to the objective.
So, their own lowest visibility assets, hyperdrive fighters, out looking for the modular cruiser, and their larger ships playing tip and run.

The MC-40 was moving in closer to Tarazed Meridian; moving to threaten her, call for a response that would pull the larger Imperial warships away to intercept her before she could attack the crippled line leader.

The Illustris couldn’t possibly be intending to play it straight. Raesene didn’t expect it to, anyway, which was just as well. He had a pretty good sensor picture, chose his drop point intending to fight a distant engagement.

Avoiding the gun and missile mine field the Rebel frigate had laid.

Lightweight, capacitor-fed ion cannon with barrel lives in the dozens of rounds only, single antiship concussion missiles with a sensor pack and manoeuvre jets attached - the rebel had been expecting a straightforward close quarters drop, ten thousand kilometres, and at that range they would have made a difference.

Both ships turned to bear and opened fire at a hundred and fifty thousand kilometres. Raesene had more room to manoeuvre than the rebel did, as it began to retrieve its mines and fighters.

That held out the promise of an engagement long enough to be decisive, provided there were no more unpleasant surprises. Which there probably would be.

Obdurate began an attack pattern, zig-zagging towards the rebel ship, using her full manoeuvre envelope so the rebel seemed to roll around the rim of the guns’ alpha arc.

The MC-40 was still in play; it had jumped close to Tarazed Meridian. It was, Kovall realised, all of a piece. Obdurate was engaged; there were a few tiny sparkles of rebel fighters, that could sweep for the lost mod cruiser, or jump in to threaten Obdurate.

If the Imperial frigate deployed her own fighters, the time it would take to retrieve them would pin her in place. If not, she could be torpedoed on her blind side, or forced to weaken the shields facing the Illustris.

There was a third solution, of course - deploy the fighters for cover then save time by not retrieving them. That was why official doctrine considered the starfighter pilots as expendable for the greater good.

From the imperial point of view, they had a missing cruiser to retrieve, two cripples to protect and two rebel ships to do as much damage to as possible.

It was unlikely that the Illustris-Obdurate duel would last long enough to be decisive for either side; both ships had enough shielding that, at any reasonable kind of hit probability, they would last longer than the situation would give either of them reason to stay.
Unless she encountered spectacular good fortune - and Raesene was trying to think of some way of faking it- it was going to be a long, slow fight.

He was mildly amused when the Rebel came up with a lame-duck ruse before he did. Neither ship was scoring continuous hits, not enough to batter through the shielding; they might have been better off settling into a shallower weave and making the ship a relatively stable firing platform.

He weighed the odds; would the increased hit probabilities on both sides change the fundamental equation - no, he decided, not to the Obdurate’s advantage anyway.

He was moderately pleased with the practise his gunners were making, not brilliant but well above average; less pleased with his gunnery officer who was staring at the stream of tracer markers with barely disguised horror at the cost in energy they implied, and the wear and tear on his gun barrels. So were the two ISB men.

‘This is...ridiculous. Surely you should have something more to show than this? That’s valuable Imperial energy you’re pouring away, and enemies of the empire not dying nearly fast enough,’ the younger of the two agents snapped.

'Calm down,’ the older agent said. ‘I’m sure Lieutenant-Commander Raesene isn’t deliberately fighting shy.’ He said it in a subtly mocking tone, inviting Raesene to overreact in his own defence.

‘You’re a blasterman, aren’t you?’ Raesene asked the junior agent.

‘I do my duty for the Empire,’ the agent said, grumpily, patting his holster. In fact, he had shot a mere two men in the course of his career, although not for want of looking for opportunities.

‘Look at it. At any range that won’t activate our collision alarms, a starship is a smaller target than a man. They have a lot more relative manoeuvrability than a man on his own feet, and when they do take a hit the shields and armour can ride it out much more easily than a man can take a blaster bolt.
'Space war involves a lot more hanging around waiting, a lot more waste when anything does happen, and a smenge of a lot more low order results than the public thinks it does,’ Raesene said, insulting - and intending to insult - the agent by lumping him in under the heading of ‘public’.

‘And there I was, thinking you were going to draw the obvious analogy with police work,’ the senior agent said dryly.

One bolt connected; there was a white flash of partial deflection, then a brilliant blue-white flare from the Illustris’ blind-side docking bay; a series of undulating surges in its shields, its engines spasmed randomly, and its forward guns fell silent. Two of the pit officers cheered, and Raesene briefly thought ‘got you, you bastard’- before thinking it might be too good to be true.

It was probably - or at least was supposed to be - one of the missile mines or ion cannon misfiring as it was brought in through the shielding, either touched off by the flash of a hit lapping round the frigate or by fluctuations in her own shield setup. It was not particularly improbable that hotwired missiles and cobbled-together guns should be that volatile, but it was remarkably usefully timed.

The senior agent raised an eyebrow and was about to make some smart quip when one of the comtechs interrupted.

‘Captain, orders,’ the tech said, addressing Lieutenant-Commander Raesene by his courtesy title, something they had been doing more often since the security men came on board.

‘Continue the approach run,’ Raesene ordered in the mean time, then turned to the tech.

‘Sir, it’s headed ‘3 of 10’, it’s our part of a line manoeuvre order,’ the tech explained, and handed him the flimsy.

‘I think we may have an interest in this,’ the senior agent declared.

‘Operations come first,’ Raesene said, quickly skimming down it. It wasn’t as much an order as a statement of intent.

Maintain contact, it said. Pursue, continue to apply pressure, but take no unnecessary risks, make no headlong rushes on a ship that had already demonstrated an ability to play with minefields. Keep her in place if possible, pursue her if she moves away, but wait for support to make a clean kill of it.

‘Guns, step down to 1/10 power. Navigation, I want a plot for a microjump from-‘ he called up the local area chart; pushed his finger into the holoprojection, just short of the Rebel frigate; again, a light second away on the far side of it. ‘Here, to here.’

‘Sir? Aye, aye, Sir.’

If it had been him in that position, he would have reeled in most of the warheads, but left them parked on the hangar bay deck.

As soon as the Imperial ship closed in for the kill, roll to unmask, mass missile and crash ion volley combined with the Illustris’ main guns firing, and probably the reb MC-40 and whatever strike fighters they could spare jumping in behind him. Raesene made his preparations accordingly.

Aron’s part of the same order was numbered 1 of 10, but it was already obsolete.

Lennart wanted to use Tarazed Meridian as the anvil and his own ship as the hammer, lure the MC-40 into trying to attack her and then drop in on them; they were supposed to give the rebels a crumb of success, enough to lead them in - the order was unspecific. Evidently they figured he had enough practise at making up objectives as he went along to cope. More professionally, the situation would be changing rapidly enough that the judgement of the man on the spot would be critical.

Two bastard minutes ago, Aron thought, this would have been feasible. The TIEs from Tarazed Meridian had almost been more of a hindrance than a help, turning an even - too even considering the casualties - fight into a target rich environment for the Rebels and a collision and friendly fire hazard for the Imperials. Epsilon had made relatively short work of the Y’s and B’s, losing another fighter destroyed and one more damaged, but only five of the fourteen Rebel bombers had made it out, and the torps they had fired off had been relatively easily intercepted.

Gamma had lost one to collision with an /ln, but the rebel fighters had broken off past them, not bothering to decelerate; there had been that one pass, a pursuit and exchange of long range fire, then they had scattered seismics, proton bombs and concussion pods over Tarazed Meridian - most of which had been intercepted, the rest adding a little energy to the shields, not enough to matter.

The M-wings had turned out to be quite capable deadfall bombers, in theory, but they had already made their attack and had it fail by the time it occurred to Aron to simulate real damage as a result.

The superheavies would have made a more credible threat, but they had gone the way of their kind - too big, and far too easy a target. What heavy fighter laser couldn’t accomplish, a squirt of LTL fire could. They had fireballed spectacularly from the onboard ordnance - one of the pilots had, amazingly, managed to eject - and the customs frigate, lightly grilled, had ran for it with a flock of concussion missiles in pursuit.

One of Tarazed Meridian’s shuttles and an escort flight of /ln were doing retrieval. It was not without incident; one of the drifting rebel pilots had refused to give up and started firing back from his sidearm. It had done nothing to the shuttle itself, but scattering the retrieval team waiting in the open bay.
They shot back at him with handgun fire of their own, the rebel pilot drew something that looked like a grenade; one of the escorting TIE fighters picked him off, and the unstable thermal detonator he had been about to use cooked off.

The shuttle had a scorch mark under its chin now, and the retrieval team had invented a new game; shoot the drifting rebels with anaesthetic darts, and use grappling lines to try to reel them in before they depressurised. It had been a close run thing a couple of times. The fight was over, though, and there was no more ground to give.

Falldess wasn’t happy with that. ‘That’s it, they won’t reinforce failure, not if they have enough brains to be dangerous in the first place. Nav, do we have enough power to jump?’

Her navigation officer boggled at her for a moment. That wasn’t his job. He looked at the engineering liaison, who shrugged.
‘We can power the backup hyperdrive directly,’ the tech said, ‘drain the capacitors and we can make transition on the main drive.’

‘Captain,’ nav said, ‘We can move slowly, and our combat readiness would not decrease any further, or move quickly and lose all stored power for the guns. I recommend a speed run back to base station at Ghorn II.’

Falldess thought about it for a second. ‘Do you really?’ she said. ‘Flight Control, round up the rest of the swimmers, try to stop the retrieval crew harpooning any of our own, then bring the fighters back on board and prepare to move.’

Blackwood had been sticking to the primary mission, the rest of the line also refusing to be drawn off, or to huddle together for maximum protection; watching the rebel recon fighters move, spotting the holes in the pattern.

Their primary navigation provider was in action and embedded, so they were saving energy. There were also only a handful of them left - too few of them to make a difference.

There, Kovall decided. Slightly out of the main search area, which was almost inevitable. That was the most likely position of their target.

Probe droid? No. Crash the party directly.

Blackwood’s viewers blurred with blue-white streaks, her sensor radius contracted as she tried to look back across the light barrier, then bradyonic reality snapped back into place around her as she reentered.

Target acquired. One modular cruiser, unmistakable - the damage made it obvious it was the right one. Blackwood activated her com jammers; the rebel’s cries for help went unaided.

That only left the slight technical issue of how to board and recapture a ship with the best part of two regiments of rebel troops on board, with a single company of stormtroopers.

Aron’s fighters had been joined by the majority of Alpha and Beta squadrons, and Beta One had taken over tactical command. Just in time to miss all the fun. After all, nothing was due to happen, and all there was to do was fend off any stray, last moment Rebel probing attack, and wait for a tender to retrieve the damaged frigate.

That was what he thought was going to happen, until Tarazed Meridian began to turn and accelerate.

So far, so good - until she continued her turn past any possible approach course for Ghorn II, and locked on to the last known position of the rebel MC-40. Falldess’ reasoning was quite straightforward; if the rebels would not come to the bait, then the bait would go to them. Perhaps the rigidity of Imperial discipline had some advantages after all.

Her navigating officer had laid in the intercept course under protest, with one of the stormtroopers keeping him covered, but he had done it and she doubted any of the would challenge her authority now.

The hard part would be preventing them from cringing away from her, keeping them still willing to offer opinions and advice.

The fighter units had been ordered to pursue, and a new line manoeuvre order was issued; Guillemot to jump to join Obdurate, Kuruma to move out into the deep operational field, the smaller units of the line to support Blackwood.

The modular cruiser had not quite managed to nail its position down, not precisely enough to plot a clean jump clear, and the arrival of the Imperial ships forced the issue.

‘How long is it going to take you to get a safe route out of here?’ the colonel asked the navy lieutenant.

‘Um…ten minutes.’

‘How long is it going to take them to burn through the shields and blow this ship up?’ the colonel asked.

‘Three minutes?’ the lieutenant estimated.

‘Two minutes and fifty seconds more calculation buys us how much more safety?’

‘More than being shot, but not by much. Our hyperdrive, we were lucky to get here in one piece.’

‘Why? There was nothing in the way,’ the colonel said.

‘Gently curved spacetime from a tachyonic perspective, and gravity gradients being multiplied by transluminal dilation? In a bantha’s arse there was nothing in the way.’

The modular cruiser had turned to bring its bow battery on target, and was returning fire. It probably wasn’t going to matter. The imperial ships could all focus on it, and any one it concentrated fire on in return would go on to full defensive/evasive routine.
Worse, the larger ships pouring fire into them were too big to be taken down in time. They could nail one or two of the light corvettes, but that was a poor return for an auxiliary cruiser.

‘What can we do?’ the rebel ground force colonel asked.

‘What do we have enough of to do anything with?’ the lieutenant said, thinking aloud, trying to jumpstart his own brain. ‘Disintegrator booths?’

‘Good idea. We could rewire the module as a giant disintegrator effect cluster bomb.’ The lieutenant started to smile - then his face fell again as the colonel added, ‘Give my combat engineers twenty hours to rig it up.’

‘Ground troops,’ the lieutenant said. ‘Could you board one of them and-‘ that wasn’t especially promising either.

‘And do slightly more damage as we go down fighting? Call that plan B. Ah. The prisoners. We could load them into the escape pods, fire them off and use the cloud of drifting Imperials as cover.’

‘They’re on board now, and they’re still shooting at us; if we kick the prisoners out, making them much smaller targets much more likely to actually survive, why would that make the Imp ships stop firing?’

‘One hundred seconds to shield failure,’ the pit crew tech interrupted, tone almost losing it.

‘This was one of their own ships. Are they going to destroy it outright, or just disable and board?’ the colonel said. Maybe they would come to him, and if it took long enough, took more than say seven minutes to retake the mod cruiser, that could work.

‘They can subtract the other factors, read the hotel load and make a rough estimate of how many people we have on board. Either they don’t care about blowing up what they have no reason to think isn’t a large number of ISB personnel, or they are going to disable and recapture,’ the rebel naval lieutenant guessed.

‘Why is that an oddly comforting thought - about the ISB, I mean? I’ll get the prisoners into pods, in case we need some chaff.’

The MC-40 had been licking its wounds, bleeding off heat from its scars and hoping its presence would divert lighter Imperial forces towards it and away from the search area.

It had four precalculated paths out - one to move in towards the Imperial heavy frigate, one towards the distant covering force, one towards the Rebel heavy frigate it was supposed to be supporting, one to their best guess as to where the rescue ship had ended up.

They were not expecting to be attacked by a supposedly crippled Imperial warship.

Of the four different things they could do, they chose the fifth. Stay in position and receive the attack.

Tarazed Meridian had gone with her secondary, backup hyperdrive; she had capacitor stored power for the main guns. Her back up reactor gave less power than the Rebel ship’s standard setup, so her course of action was obvious.

Emerge as close as possible and pound the rebel ship with what HTL shot she had available, as fast as possible, and then finish the reb off on the MTL. She cut her exit closely enough that the rebel had bow-shock to warn him.

The MC-40 rolled round to present its guns, was on target and shooting five seconds before the Imperial ship had yawed and rolled to open its prime overhead arc. The rebel had no alpha arc; at most, four of its turrets could bear.

They opened up with long strings of ripple fire, powerful bolts quickly cycled, tearing into Tarazed Meridian; flare after flare - the Meridian’s shields had taken some shock damage as well. They were not fully effective, loose, transmitting impact through into the hull.

Imperial return fire was more coherent. All six HTL turrets were functional, only four of the MTL; they crashed out together. A last-millisecond swerve from the MC-40 avoided part of the fire pattern, not all.

The brilliant white flare of partial deflection, then a red rimmed white flare from the far side of the lighter Rebel frigate. A power conduit shorting and the flash vapourising the matter nearby, burning a hole through the hull. Impressive.

Tarazed Meridian’s electronics suite was not on top line; the gunners were working on a patchwork mix of central and local control, droid input and guesswork. Her jammers were not in good enough shape to stop the rebel frigate calling for help.

The only available help was the third rebel element, the proximate covering force - a Quasar Fire class light carrier.

She was responsible for the kill team and the recon fighters, and could put together an improvised strike package - a handful of Y’s and X’s, mainly Z-95s and other lightweight clone wars leftovers. In theory. If the Imperial Verberor-class medium frigate Kuruma hadn’t been given an interception vector by Black Prince’s nav teams and re-emerged from hyperspace well within contact range.

Quasar Fire class ships had only one distinguishing feature - their cheapness. Medium-small cargo haulers, they had enough room and payload to operate fighters, but nothing else - no real drive power, no shielding worth the name, defensive weapons that might keep a meteorite or two off with luck.

They were compelled, or condemned, to operate as standoff monitor/retrieval platforms, which meant they had some electronic capability - but not enough to avoid targeting, or to scream for help loud enough to matter. Her fighters had just left, could be called back - but not fast enough to matter.

Kuruma rolled to bring maximum firepower to bear and opened up. The Strike class ship squeezed off four eight-gun salvoes before the rebel ship tried to run for it.

The first salvo went wide. Three shots from the second hit, and the rebel ship’s shields flared out and shut down. One shot from the third salvo hit bare metal and found nothing solid enough to shed its energy on - overpenetrated, burning through the fighter bay. The fourth landed two: one smashed into the command module in the ship’s bow decapitating her, one aft at one end of the long engine bar.

The rebel ship entered hyperspace, out of control and severely damaged. Kuruma would be credited with a ‘probable’.

The Illustris-class medium frigate monitored the demise of the coordination ship and the imminent appearance of a second Demolisher-class frigate. At best, it was going to be a messy fight - at worst, pure loss.
She gave up the pretence, tractor-pushed the missile and ion mines back out of her flight bay and turned to run for hyperspace.

‘Nav, shortjump. Now,’ Raesene ordered; the navigation team initiated the microhop he had planned, initially to avoid the minefield - now to get ahead of the Illustris and rake it as it surged by accelerating to lightspeed. It was not perfect; about thirty degrees out. A crossing target, still running jammers, shields still up. Too much to expect that.

Obdurate landed three more hits before the medium frigate made it across the light barrier and free; one of them hit an engine mount. That would make life interestingly difficult for them.

Guillemot emerged in the capture area of the minefield. She came in expecting trouble, but not that particular kind of trouble - that cost her several seconds spent reacting rather than acting. The mines took full advantage.

The missiles should have been easy prey for the Imperial frigate’s point defence systems - if they were still functional, after the ion cannon bolts had splattered over her.

Raesene shouted at her - com team reflexively opening a channel - ‘Obdurate to Guillemot, shut down your LTL, shut them down and safe them, ride out the ion hits then bring them back on line for the missiles - Gunnery, do what you can,’ he added to his own weapons team.

The ion mines did, between them, carry enough power to batter through Guillemot’s shields. Obdurate’s gun team concentrated on the mines to begin with, knock enough of them out and Guillemot would still be able to return fire.

That was the theory, anyway. Guillemot ignored the advice to shut down her light guns, and there were two flashes of secondary damage as overcharged capacitors blew; between the mines Obdurate took out and her own defensive effort, she had just enough firing power to beat back the mine swarm before they knocked down her shields and paralysed her entirely.

The missiles hit next, twenty of them. They were only moderately effective - between jamming and LTL fire, eleven destroyed, eight of those by Obdurate, four missed, five hit. What was left of the shielding was burnt off by the first two; three hits did physical damage. One exploded low and starboard, against workshop and life support complexes; concussion damage and breached compartments. The second hit was against the keel - the frigate’s tensor fields absorbed most of that. The third hit was on one of the turrets.

The bluish-white flare of the warhead was eclipsed by a greenish-white flash an eyeblink later, and Raesene thought, kriff, she’s going, but that was it.

Beam chambers on the gun rupturing, the flash didn’t reach the capacitor bank. The turret was destroyed, and came within an inch - actually five centimetres of blast plating - of taking Guillemot up with her; but close only counts in horseshoes and hypernuclears.

‘I thought you said,’ the older of the two ISB men asked the Lieutenant-Commander, ‘that space combat was less eventful than most people think?’

‘It is. One of our medium frigates lost a turret, one of theirs lost a main engine. Both ships are eighty, ninety percent operational. That was a low order result,’ Raesene said, so simply and with such transparent honesty that the policemen entirely refused to believe him.

Blackwood was still pounding Free Gravity For All’s shielding when the first of the life pods jettisoned. Their simple, automated sensors registered that they were in the vicinity of heavy fire, and their beacons started flashing ‘cease fire; we’re Imperial.’ It played hell with their targeting, the autosystems had to be overridden to allow manual fire; legacy code from the Republic Starfleet, from a time when one wasn't to fire at life pods. Each shot had to be confirmed manually - which only really gave the officers responsible a chance to make mistakes.

Hadn’t even Vader’s personal ship suffered from the same problem, once? Two officers required to authorise an attack on a pod, who had made the wrong decision by not taking the shot?

Kovall remembered Lennart’s words after the exercise. No-one ever yet complained about being scooped up from a drifting life pod - just make sure that you’re not likely to join them before you start making retrievals. Fine, but the bastard things were getting in the way.

Black Prince was aware of the problem.

‘Com-scan,’ Lennart ordered, ‘detach Rontaine’s customs corvettes to move in and make retrieval.’ In response to Brenn’s raised eyebrow he added, ‘The crews have the experience, the ships have the speed and agility, and the special adaptations, to pull it off.’

‘I know that, Captai;, it’s the next obvious question that’s worrying me,’ Brenn asked.

‘Why didn’t I use them as minesweepers to cover Obdurate and Guillemot?’ Lennart asked. Brenn nodded.

‘Because the Illustris had time, attention, and light and medium guns to spare to make it prohibitively dangerous for them; the modular cruiser doesn’t. A better question,’ Lennart said, ‘would be why Guillemot didn’t co-ordinate her drop point properly and came in on information that was dangerously out of date.’

‘Glory hounding? Trying for a minimum distance drop to steal Obdurate’s kill? That, or just behind the curve.’

‘Not by that much in absolute terms, either. Just enough to be disastrous,' Lennart shook his head. ‘At least we get to conduct an inquiry rather than an inquest. I trust our intercept solution is current?’

‘Continuously updating,’ Brenn confirmed.


Black Prince made the jump into hyperspace; a short, almost barrel-roll shaped course, designed to prevent her bow being pointed at the target until four seconds before emergence. That should give just enough warning for the target to have time to say ‘oh shit’, but not to do anything meaningful about it.
The target was the Rebel MC-40. Their objectives had been fairly straightforward - hit the apparently suicidal Imperial heavy frigate as hard as possible then get out before any of her friends arrived. Their timing was a little out.

Falldess was uncomfortably aware that she had probably made the wrong choice - that the rebel frigate was moving well enough, sidestepping enough of her fire, that it was likely to be a close thing with both ships taking real damage. The strain her ship was under and the damage caused earlier compounded; personnel not at full efficiency, sensors and fire control gear partially bypassed and working on reduced function.

Her first thought on recognising the angular, discoloured shape of the Star Destroyer emerging from hyperspace was one of relief. Then guilt at feeling relieved that he had arrived to support her, and anger - she could do this herself, couldn’t she? Followed by a glance round to see how the bridge team were reacting - no-one actually said ‘thank kriff for that’ but it was pretty clear they felt it. All right, perhaps they had a point. Still, now was not the time to relax.

‘Guns? We can use their eyes, can’t we?’ she said.

Take advantage of their ECM, ESM and fire direction, her gunnery officer silently translated. And the tone had been that of an order.

Black Prince’s Fire Direction Centre was generous enough to cut them in on their targeting; but sixty-four overpowered guns against six underpowered was little contest.

Gunnery officers in particular sometimes referred to a ship’s powerplant by the per-second yield of the weapons it could energise; it made for a more intuitively graspable result. Tarazed Meridian’s secondary could manage ten teratons, a pittance against her primary’s two hundred and four.
Mirannon had been busy. Black Prince carried additional secondary reactors and heat-reabsorption systems that took her total power output up to three thousand and eighty.

The rebel medium frigate didn’t know the precise details, but ‘Star Destroyer’ was enough. To realign shields to give themselves some protection, refocus jammers for the same, to give the orders to discontinue action, bring the hyperdrive on line, pick a course and add the running corrections, took seconds.

Long enough for Tarazed Meridian, redlining it, to land two hits.

Long enough for Black Prince to roll to open alpha arc and land a converged sheaf of fifty.

The rebel frigate melted under the impacts, its own power systems distinctly less impressive than the effect of the hits.

‘Only seventy-eight percent? Against a target blindsided and at point blank? Wathavrah, you’re slipping,’ Lennart said, com network routing his words down to gunnery control.

‘From a snapshot with cold guns? Anything over fifty percent would be acceptable, Captain, and you know it. The crews had no time to warm up and shoot themselves in at all,’ Wathavrah said, gently chiding.

‘Well, we can’t have all the fun,’ Lennart said. ‘I need to give the squadron something to do.’ Good, he thought about Wathavrah’s tone. At least he’s not taking this Jedi crap too seriously, either.
‘Speaking of which; Com-Scan, put in another request for repair tenders to the Sector fleet. Make sure they get this one acknowledged and dispatched promptly, because our working relationship is going to go very sour shortly afterwards once I start yelling at them about the lack of cover they gave that modular cruiser. That and give me a link to the frigate.'

That done, he said 'Tarazed Meridian, this is Black Prince Actual. Can you manoeuvre under your own power or do you need to be towed back to Ghorn II?’

Black Prince, this is Tarazed Meridian Actual, we are able to move,’ Falldess said.

Right, Lennart thought. No technical details whatsoever and a severe case of the gung-ho’s. That’s not unprecedented, but also not smart. Why does she want to go looking for more trouble - correction, what further trouble does she want to go looking for?
Of course. ‘Falldess, take your ship back to Ghorn II on backup hyperdrive, and hand yourself over to Captain Dordd of the Dynamic for debriefing. That is an order and I expect you to acknowledge. Clear?’

Falldess looked around her bridge crew. Some of them might be willing to follow her, willing to go with her example, but not many, not enough - and those that would were thinking, almost audibly, please don’t ask this of me. But dammit, she wanted to hit something, wanted to strangle something. The rRasfenoni. Lennart. Her exec. Find something and blow it up and make it die.

Her ship might take one converged sheaf salvo on fresh shielding, but not two. Not at this range. That was what she was looking at if she went renegade. That wasn’t an option, but it hurt having to admit it.

‘Acknowledged,’ she said, grumpily.

‘Listen to me,’ Lennart added. ‘Assuming that this turns out to be what it seems, and not some other alien species - or political faction of an alien species - trying to incriminate the rRasfenoni, not some Rebel diversionary attack - or Force forfend some kind of Imperial destabilisation/provocation op, not some rogue human element, once I am satisfied that the finger of blame is pointing where it needs to point - then, then they are going to burn.
'What I will not do is draft a hunting license on unanalysed evidence, or on the word of someone who is crazy enough to think about attacking a defended planet in a ship with its main power system shot out.’

Falldess opened her mouth to answer back, then her brain caught up with it. What was she going to say? Advocate roasting them, retributive justice which was fine by her, only on the strength of a moral certainty? Lennart was right. There were any number of ways to run a false flag operation.

He also wasn’t hammering it in, letting her work out for herself that it was far too important a call to make on the strength of what they had to go on at present. An eye for an eye and a world for a world - that was what she wanted, but how terrible it would be to be wrong.

Tarazed Meridian turned to enter hyperspace, on course for Ghorn II.

‘She saw sense. For a moment I didn’t think she would,’ Lennart said, with relief.

‘Skipper?’ one of the com-scan team. ‘Message from Blackwood, text transmission, first line starts ‘oops’.’

‘Oh, kriff,’ Lennart sighed. ‘Sensor feed?’

‘Aren’t you supposed to have some kind of precognition thing now?’ Brenn asked, while the com-scan team set it up.

‘I expect to take some learning and experimentation time to make it fully useful, and at least until then I intend to stick with good old-fashioned cognition. I didn’t expect Kovall to screw this up.’

Relayed sensor data depicted what had happened. Rontaine’s six customs corvettes had emerged, fanned out and started tractoring in life pods. Free Gravity For All's point defence system had done what it could to discourage them, but none of the corvettes had been seriously damaged.

They had, sensibly, stayed out of the way of the squadron’s fire, but had done some shooting of their own. Half-megaton long barrels were fairly accurate, and they had mainly been shooting at the turrets. One of which had fireballed. The modular cruiser had been damaged badly by that, rocked to one side - exposing the module to the salvo coming in, which was intended for the engine complex.

The module had an independent power plant to cover the energy budget of the disintegrator chambers. It had been hit. Being proprietary, none of the rebels had a sufficiently clear idea of how to stabilise it. It had been a rupture, rather than a detonation, but it had been enough to break the modular cruiser’s back. Most of the personnel on board were alive - and now considering surrender - but the ship itself was a constructive total loss.

‘That takes our tally of rebel prisoners up to eleven thousand, doesn’t it?’ Lennart stated. It was a rhetorical question.

‘Just how badly do you want to piss the sector group off, skipper?’ Brenn asked.

‘Good point,’ Lennart said, forcing himself to calm down. ‘I’d probably just start ranting. You make the call. Tell Sector that we need sufficient transport, sufficiently escorted, for eleven thousand rebels now. Tell them that if they get it wrong again, I’ll fly to the capital and release them in the Moff’s palace grounds. If they screw up sufficiently badly, I’ll give the rebels their guns back first.’

‘One other thing, Skipper. You could have sent Delta squadron in on the minesweeping job?’

‘In theory, I could have,’ Lennart agreed. ‘In practise, I wanted something out in the deep operational field to follow that Illustris home.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 09:54am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

The squadron listing

Strike Line;
Black Prince, (Imperator-1A2), Ln.Cpt J.A. Lennart,
Dynamic, (Arrogant [Anon-II]), Cpt D. Dordd,
Perseverance (Anon-I, probably Victory-III), Cdr S. Lycarin
Grey Princess,LCdr E. Yeklendim, Provornyy, Cdr J. Sarlatt, Fulgor- class light frigates
Ungovernable, Cobalt Rose (both Mod Carrack heavy corvette- one recon, one minelayer conversion)
ASJ-112, “Colonel Pranger”, ENE-457 “The Masked Discombobulator” (Bayonet medium corvettes)

Sweep line;
Voracious (Venator), Gp.Cpt K.Vehrec, SLt Caliphant
Obdurate (Demolisher med frigate), LCdr K.A. Raesene
Eludor, Nefarious (Servator heavy corvettes),
DSM- 395 “Revenge of the Planck-ton”, JHE-634 “Shooting Pains” Bayonet med corvettes,
AF-217ED “Counterparting is Such Sweet Sorrow”, ER-897JH “Spiral Eyes Joe”, VY-493LQ “We Distrain Upon You” Marauder light corvettes,
6 Rendili customs corvettes- CN27AJ19 “The Silent Bugler” (flotilla lead), SFA E.Rontaine, FL89IA12, BD10NJ30, Il45EB28, NE54OA98, RO72SJ65

Recon line A;
Comarre Meridian, Cdr A. Barth-Elstrand (Meridian [Acclamator-II] heavy frigate),
Janduvar Tythallin (Demolisher med frigate)
Havoc, Darxani (Strike- class med frigates, Havoc is minelayer variant),
Placator, Scrimmage (Servator heavy corvettes)
Breaker, Scalpel, Effortless (Carrack heavy corvettes)
RLB- 351 “The Iron Turnip”, WYT- 874 “Helga the Horrible”, Bayonet medium corvettes,
KE-844RJ “Sweet 16,832,917”, UR-176JS “Polyfather of Eristic Excess”, LF-203FD “Erogenous Jones” KE- 967WJ “Fuzzy Pink Rancor” marauder light corvettes

Recon line B;
Tarazed Meridian (Meridian [Acclamator-II] heavy frigate), Cdr V. Falldess
Guillemot (Demolisher med frigate)
Blackwood, LCdr C.Kovall, Kuruma (Strike-class med frigates, Blackwood radical recon-in-force variant),
Henchman, Jointure (Servator heavy corvettes)
Nonpareil, Splenetic, Subtractor (Carrack heavy corvettes)
APZ- 670 “Franklinstein”, ENS-994 “I went to Eroticon 6, and all I got was this lousy nameplate”, Bayonet medium corvettes,
AI-376ME “Do We Need A Reason, When All We Wanted was An Excuse”, KQ-478EI “Ag, Ag ag ag, Ag ag ag, Ag”, TC-932GG “Cacophony in Q Flat Major”, VY-466ZZ “I’m So Bad, Baby I Don’t Care” Marauder lt corvettes

Total carriage 102 fighter squadrons, 1 Marine armoured, 1 Navy Trooper Line pattern, 1 composite division

Chapter 29f

‘Captain? Vidcall, from the Imperial Suite.’

‘The one on board this ship, I trust, not the one on Coruscant?’ Lennart replied.

‘It’s Kor Alric and please, Sir, don’t even joke about things like that,’ the comtech said.

Lennart started to say, ‘If you’re so scared you won’t even poke fun at them from time to time, then the bastards really have ground you down’ - but stopped himself just before committing high treason. What kind of thing was that to say about the saviour of the galaxy and his own ultimate boss? Something to say very quietly or ideally not at all, he decided.

‘Captain Lennart. I trust you are not too busy to attend on me?’ Adannan said, sarcastically.

‘We’re in the mop up phase of the operation. Between that and the paperwork I should have half an hour or so free,’ he said.

‘It is not wise of you to take the Force so lightly,’ Adannan snarled.

‘Really? In a knock-down drag out fight between a cosmic energy web connecting all life and the dead hand of bureaucratic procedure, I know who my money’s on,’ Lennart quipped.

‘Can the dead hand do-‘ Adannan began, about to Force choke Lennart, then realised that draining the life out of someone, taking their air away…yes, the dead hand of bureaucracy could do that.

‘Brenn, you have the conn, Kor Alric, I’ll be right up.’ Lennart hung up; Brenn wanted to say something, ideally wanted to stop him, but there really wasn’t any choice. ‘If I’m not back in an hour-‘

‘Send a search party?’ Brenn interrupted.

‘No, send a Bomber with antiship torps to blow the suite’s viewport out. If I have to deal with him for an hour, by that point I think I’d prefer to take a chance with hard vacuum,’ Lennart said.

The Imperial suite was guarded; four stormtroopers, two with carbines and two with flamethrowers. Interesting load. Lennart simply strolled past them into the main chamber of the suite.
All joking aside, what is my game plan? Lennart asked himself. To survive; but not at any price. I have touched the Force, a grand total of twice; I have an aversion to it that amounts to the pathological, and all of twenty minutes’ practise with a lightsabre. Time to start listening to my own objections, and recognise that I am dealing with a man who has been driven mad by his connection to the Cosmic All - and wants me to start howling at the moon with him.

To follow down that path leads to several sorts of possible futures, none of them good. I may be an authoritarian by many standards and a murderer by some, but I can put up a rational, civilised defence for most of the things I’ve done - and it’s the things that you didn’t manage to do that hurt the most, anyway. I will not descend to the level of a man who has no reason at all. In either sense.

Adannan was there in his robes, washed and pressed; the classic mad-monk look.
‘Why you?’ he began by saying.

‘I was in the wrong place at the right time. Destiny’s twisted sense of humour, or my own nose for trouble,’ Lennart said, deciding not to waste time wondering but instead to play it by ear. ‘Who else, you?’

‘Captain Lennart, my dear fellow, don’t you see how reasonable I’m being?’ Adannan said, mockingly, although whether he was mocking Lennart or himself was hard to tell.

‘Actually, the fact that you can say that with a straight face scares the crap out of me,’ Lennart said, recognising the ground that Adannan was trying to manoeuvre him on to. ‘Should I have asked, why me what?’

‘If you have to be told, you’re not fit to know,’ Adannan stated. ‘Do you doubt your fitness to wield the Force?’

‘Yes,’ Lennart said, watching his face carefully. Adannan was not a man that it would be safe to play sabacc with, he decided. There was the danger that he might win. Adannan had been opening himself to the Force for far too long; it took real conscious effort to maintain a state of outward calm, and the more something mattered, the more he let it show. Anger visibly conflicted with relief on his face, then guilt at feeling relief. Then annoyance at being so closely watched.

‘The Force flows through all things, even you. You can reach out and direct that flow, you will not reject it and you will not fail to make yourself master of it. I will not permit you to fail,’ Adannan said.

‘You perhaps would be better off if you did,’ Lennart pointed out.

Adannan had to think hard what Lennart might mean, was on the verge of asking, then realised that it wasn’t the obvious. ‘Why issue orders, when you can command with the power of your mind? Why mess around with public relations stunts and soft leadership, when you can have them jump to your voice as to the crack of a whip?’

‘Because,’ Lennart decided to give an honest answer just to annoy Adannan, ‘on some level, and you don’t have to tell me how officially wrong this is, I still think of this ship and her crew as ‘us’. Would you whip your own family?’

‘Laurentia,’ Adannan shouted, calling her to him. He hardly ever used her full name; she entered the room in a state of advanced fear, sure something terrible was about to happen. She looked at Lennart, pleading with him; he had no reason to trust her or to help her, apart from principle, and he wondered if Adannan had primed her to do this.
If she was an actress of the same calibre as her sister- and Lennart doubted it, but not by much - then she could be faking it, but he didn’t think so. She was genuinely terrified.

‘Yes, my Lord?’ she asked him, voice held level with difficulty.

‘Disembowel yourself,’ Adannan threw a vibroblade to her. ‘Nice and messy, but don’t make an immediately terminal job of it, I may want to stitch you back together again later.’

In theory, Lennart had always known that such things were, and lived on the dark side of the Force - and on the dark side of human nature, for that matter. He had studied, was passing familiar with the sociology and the criminology.

Having it happen in front of him shook his composure, but only for a second. He took a deep breath, thought of various gambits and how Adannan would react to them, and said, ‘you could just use an inkblot.’ Much more calmly than he felt. There, that was the effect of the Force right there - the fact that he didn’t jump Adannan and try to beat the sick bastard’s head in with the butt end of his own lightsabre.

‘You’re not even going to try to save her? Interesting that you should immediately think it’s all about you,’ Adannan said.

Laurentia was sitting there, cross legged, with the blade’s edge against her gut, not yet activated.

‘From what? From her own lord and master who can do this to her again, any time the mood or the madness takes you? Besides which, I thought you’d be able to come up with a more subtle test case.’ As opposed, Lennart decided not to say, to one virtually designed to impress me with the malevolence and waste of the dark side.

‘So, Captain Egomaniac, what am I going to do next?’ Adannan asked him, gloatingly.

‘Depends on me, I expect,’ Lennart said, flippantly - which was not what he felt. ‘Why should I stop you depriving yourself of one of your small and shrinking band of followers?’ Laurentia looked at him, eyes pleading. ‘Why interrupt you, when you’re making a mistake?’ Lennart added.

‘The quote is “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake”. Do you think I’m completely ignorant of the military?’ Adannan asked him, fishing for a response as they both knew.

Lennart knew he was expected to call Adannan a dilettante who knew just enough to be dangerous, so he didn’t.

‘For all the brushfire wars, for all the individuals who lost their innocence, the galactic conventional wisdom pretty much was completely ignorant of the military before the Clone Wars - and look what happened. People - people- change, sometimes for the worse, and they learn, sometimes the wrong things.’

‘Is that all you have, cliché?’ Adannan asked.

‘For a situation as stilted, contrived and artificial as this, I don’t need more. In what demented way do you imagine I could be even vaguely positively influenced by this?’ Lennart shot back. Then cursed himself for an idiot. This was not the right moment to challenge Adannan. Which was why he was trying to make it the necessary moment.

‘I don’t want you to be,’ Adannan said. He was in a state of doubt, himself, uncomfortably aware that Lennart was potentially more powerful than he realised.
Lennart was a strange one. It was an article of faith among the Jedi that the younger they were taken, the better. It was thought necessary to have the postulants from a very young age, ideally out of the cradle, for two things - so that they grew up with the Force as a basic part of their being, thoroughly familiar with and infused with it from the beginning.

The other side of that principle was that they come to the Force without real life experience, without joys and miseries, loves and hates, dreams, fears and ideals. One cannot be selfish if one does not yet truly have a self. That way, the Jedi considered, lay the dark side. A child should learn the Force as soon as they were old enough to comprehend the instructions they were given, not long after they learned to walk and talk. An older child would not be accepted for training; a child past the age of puberty and its turmoils was more likely to be placed on police surveillance for the rest of their life, or possibly quietly assassinated.

Captain of the Line Jorian Lennart was forty-seven, and his relationship with the Force was basically pathological. He would be an impossible student.

Why did I decide to do this? Adannan asked himself, wishing that he could come up with a more sensible answer than the truth - that he had ignored the potential problems in favour of the mandatory faith in his own abilities. He had followed a lead given to him by, of all the absurdities in the galaxy, a love-struck stormtrooper - that in itself should have been sufficient warning from destiny that things were going to get weird.

He had pursued something that was half a legend and half a scurrilous rumour, chasing power - gone well off reservation in doing so, for which he would be forgiven if he succeeded.

He had found a situation that was more complex and more dangerous than it seemed, and this man, this neophyte of the Force - and veteran commander of one of His Imperial Majesty’s star destroyers - in his way. Or was that an excessively depressive way of looking at the situation?

His original plan had been to blackmail Lennart into acting as his apprentice, and use the power of the dark side and the master-apprentice bond to dominate him into doing his bidding. That might still be possible - there had not really been a test of will between them yet, but the outcome was looking less certain.

For a brief moment, Adannan consciously thought, what have I let myself in for? Cursed his luck and wished he was home in bed. He looked at Lennart, and saw that he was evidently thinking the same thing.

‘You were right about one thing. I was a medic; trauma surgeon in fact, just going through that phase where the false confidence wears away and I was busy enough, seeing and doing too much, to build real experience and skill. One stoned, spice-headed idiot came in one night to accident and emergency, shouting and bullying, demanding drugs and treatment - I was fed up with the idiots like him, morons whose troubles are of their own making.
'You see, I was a different person then. This man offended me, offended my then friends and colleagues; assaulted someone whom I…I saw red. He turned on me, and I took him apart. I beat him until I had broken every bone and burst every organ in his body.
'Then I reeled away out into the night away from the team I was no longer part of, away from their horror and their disbelief, in a worse mental state than he had been, blasted out of my head on blood, adrenalin and the stirrings of the Force. The Inquisitors found me shortly before the police did, and now I am what I have become.
'So you see,’ he visibly came back down to earth, looked Lennart directly in the eye again, ‘I run no risk by ordering Ren to open her belly; I can always put her back together again, and the touch of mortality is good for her.’

‘I weigh the risks,’ Lennart said, slowly, almost meditatively to begin with, ‘and at times I have felt very conscious of doing a deal with death, of agreeing to hand over so many of mine in exchange for so many of theirs. I have not yet come out on the short end of the bargain - I do take pride in demanding a very high price for the lives of those he manages to get his bony hands on, and almost always getting it. Never play with the lives of your people, and never give the bastard an inch.’

‘Weighing risks? Calculating? Doing deals with death? Very un-Corellian of you,’ Adannan said. On one hand it was good that he had managed to get Lennart to open up, to give in to his impulses, but - the situation he had arranged to do it was so reminiscent of his own description of the tipping point that had sent him to the Dark Side - inevitably so. Buried patterns re-emerging, old keys being used to open new doors. With one exception. He, Adannan, was playing the part of the man who had his skull smashed in. Had that been a subconscious challenge to himself?

‘Nothing quite as pointless as a half-hearted heretic, is there?’ Lennart said. ‘I think you’re doing this-‘ he nodded at Laurentia who was sitting there shivering, waiting for confirmation that she was supposed to cut - ‘in part as a test of your own fealty to the dark side. To prove to yourself that you can do something so desperately at odds with the man you used to be.’ That made more sense. That was, in a way, more comforting. Of course, he couldn’t possibly admit it.

The next obvious thing to say - what’s wrong with random acts of senseless violence? - would be even more potentially disastrous. Lennart was all too likely to tell him.

Adannan decided to change the subject instead. ‘You were a politics student, weren’t you?’ he asked.

‘Philosophy Politics and Economics, with a heavy side order of teenage idiot,’ Lennart said. ‘I was studying politics, and I was political - Moderate Centrist, but not the dour-leftie typical; we were more the comedy terrorist squad. Evidence uncovered, politicians mocked, ventilation systems spiked and police graffiti’d while you wait.

'One day, after one long, rambling, drunken discussion, I had what you might call an epiphany. The system had been spawning, and marginalizing or buying off, people like us for twenty thousand years. We weren’t really doing anything that was remotely new, we were just fooling ourselves into thinking that we were. We were children; simultaneously believers and pranksters, juggling airily with concepts we didn’t really understand the weight of, or how much they would hurt when they fell on your head.
'I decided to change everything. Service, rather than priviledge; mathematical rigour, rather than vague generalisations; discipline rather than anarchy. You can tell how little I knew about the Republic Starfleet at the time,’ Lennart, typically, added a punchline.
‘I made a conscious decision, under some subconscious pressures, and I have sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had gone another path - but seldom regretted this one. I think I got a better deal out of my conversion than you did from yours.’

‘How so? Adannan asked. ‘The power of the Force-‘

‘The very greatest feats of the Force are only open to the very greatest practitioners. On average, well, how much power does your Force lightning put out? Fifty, sixty kilowatts, hundred maybe? As opposed to a 3082-teraton per second alpha arc.’

‘That’s external,’ Adannan half-shouted. ‘The Force belongs to your inner self, it flows out of the very heart of your being, it is a power and a strength and a freedom that does not belong to the outside world, but purely to yourself.’ So why was he trying to steal brain-hacking technology and technique from the past? Even if it had been a good question, now was not the time to ask himself. Lennart might be able to hear him thinking.

‘You don’t think command does?’ Lennart said. ‘The light side had an excuse for forgetting what normal humanity is capable of - they attributed to the Force qualities that belong to man alone. You don’t have that excuse.’

‘Consider this,’ Adannan changed the subject. ‘The political implications of the Force.’

‘Commendably honest of you, refusing to spell it out for me. Another inkblot? Hm,’ Lennart said. ‘The obvious, or the very obvious? Start with the merely stunningly obvious - that the Force is living proof that all men, women, transgender, beings with tri- and quad- phase reproductive cycles, et cetera - all people are not created equal. The fundamental basis of democracy is at best a convenient legal fiction, at worst an outright lie. Only power matters.’

‘Yes,’ Adannan said, pleased - then Lennart decided to spoil it for him.

‘Absolutely none of which is news. The existence of life-forms other than human proved that at the dawn of galactic history. That one man - or one life form - can succeed where another fails was proof of that, before the historical record began. The convenient legal fiction still persists, and I would like you to consider why.’

‘Longer than it had any business doing. It was a sign of weakness, not to be able to impose your will - to have to ask for the opinions and gain the consent of others is the mark of a being too weak to be worthy of power,’ Adannan said. Declaimed, even.

Lennart decided to meet Adannan head on.
‘To squander the talents and the lives of those who serve is the brand of a being too stupid to deserve power,’ he snapped back, and had to consciously centre himself, avoid giving in to a surge of anger and hate - then noticed that Adannan wasn’t reacting nearly as badly as he thought he would have. Had that been the point of the exercise? To lure me, Lennart thought, into a situation where I would be tempted to call upon the Force; either allow the dark side to lend me strength, or openly declare my allegiance to the Light - nonexistent, but it wasn’t going to look that way on the report, he was sure.

‘Look at the results in the flesh; we are both responsible for iterations of the same breed.’ He waved an arm at Laurentia. 'Is this your statement of intent? Is this what happens to people who are merely one remove distant from the Force? Am I supposed to admire this wastage, or want to be a part of it?’

‘You’re angry.’ Adannan said, happily.

‘I’m disgusted. Shall we make a bet? A measurable, testable bet?’ Lennart said, aware that there was a risk - at least two separate risks - involved. This was sailing close to the wind; was it justified? On balance, yes. ‘We have started with identical copies, and I have made more out of mine than you have of yours. Fitter, stronger, faster, clearer thinking - any challenge you care to name, Aleph-3 will do better at it than Laurentia.’

Adannan grinned. He could make use of this.

‘With one exception,’ Lennart added. ‘Commiting suicide or any variation thereof.’

‘Thereof? You really were about to go into politics, weren’t you… I’m impressed. Both by your willingness to trust the entity who got you into this mess in the first place, and your willingness to sacrifice her to buy yourself more time to think.’
Adannan watched Lennart’s reaction - a flash of guilt at that, the rapid multicoloured blur of abstract thought as he considered if it was going to work or not; an instinctive denial, a consideration of whether or not Adannan might be on to something, eventually deciding that he wasn’t. He wanted her here because he needed her help. Doing it in such a dangerous and dubious way - what else was to be expected, when dealing with a man like Adannan?

‘Well?’ he asked, more confidently than he felt.

‘This could prove to be entertaining. Send for her.’
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 29g

The Imperial suite did have one distinct proble:; a severe shortage of furniture. In the sidechambers beside and behind, yes, but in the main audience hall, there was the plinth, the swivel throne, and not much else. Most of it - copies of statuary and a rug - was black or sepia. If ever there was a room that needed the services of a good graffiti artist, Lennart thought.

Amongst other things. Adannan had been pacing up and down, stopped at one point to fondle the still cowering, still cringing Laurentia; how does this constitute a life? Lennart wondered. How is this a worthwhile thing to do, to break somebody down to the point where they are ready to put a knife to their own belly at your say-so?

‘A credit for your thoughts, Captain,’ Adannan asked him.

‘Now you’re just trying to confuse me by pretending that you can’t read them anyway,’ Lennart said. ‘Isn’t it obvious, or has the Force taken away your ability to guess?’

‘I no longer need to guess, with the power of the Force,’ Adannan gave the doctrinaire statement, then struggled to hide his amazement as he couldn’t read Lennart.

‘ “Power makes stupid,” ’ Lennart quoted. ‘Before you ask, pre-Republic, one of the minor dictators of Xim’s time, who conned, bluffed, charmed and wriggled his way into power with astonishing dexterity and cleverness. Once there he turned his brain off, did everything he had accused the previous leadership of and forgot all the warnings he had left himself, and led his people to complete and utter disaster.’

‘So he proved his own argument? How historically convenient of him. Is that why you have established such elaborate mental defences against becoming powerful yourself?’ Adannan asked.

‘In terms of the Force, maybe,’ Lennart agreed. ‘In terms of the ability to make things happen and get things done, I’m a medium sized fish. Some out there with more authority and the majority of the galaxy with a lot less.
'What was the point of this?’ Lennart said, waving at Laurentia. ‘Something about the uses to which power is put?’

‘Like you guessed; an inkblot,’ Adannan replied. ‘You really do think of yourself as the good guy, don’t you?’

‘I repeat my earlier jibe about cliché. Don’t you people have traditions? Any kind of collective memory - at the very least, a record of Great Jedi Hokum of the Past, so you can study avoiding it?’

‘I am not,’ Adannan snarled, ‘a Jedi.’

Lennart decided to take his hypothesis for a walk - that Adannan would accept any behaviour from himself that was basically Sith-like. Pride and arrogance, he could get away with more easily than reason and logic, because that was what pointed down the road that Adannan wanted him to take. It was probably not a good idea to do more than pretend.

‘Weren’t most of the Sith ex-Jedi? You may not be, but the side you belong to has its origins in renegades and deserters from the light - and do you actually think that’s good enough?’ he said, in the tone he would have used on a junior lieutenant.

‘The Sith and the Jedi have been at each other’s throats for thousands of years; we took them perfectly seriously as enemies,’ Adannan snapped.

‘How you ever managed to take them seriously, I don’t know,’ Lennart said, more flippantly than he felt - maybe this was the better way? Keep Adannan off balance, baffle him with bullshit? No - take that too far and the feral thing he had encouraged to live in him would emerge, instead of, as it was now, using the still human aspects of him like a puppet.

‘Not doing your basic research. Which part of “served through the clone wars” didn’t you get? Why do you think I was happy about Order 66?’

‘I presumed that you had enough sense not to object to it loudly enough to be overheard,’ Adannan said.

‘I served as part of the human professional leaven on an otherwise clone crewed ship, under successively three Jedi Generals with two padawan - only one of the five of them I personally would have promoted past junior lieutenant. That chiefly because she was cute.’

‘Did you? Did you execute your Jedi General?’ Adannan said, suddenly enthusiastic.

‘Didn’t have to. Second Coruscant did the job for us,’ Lennart said, more bleakly - and truthfully - than he had intended to admit. For a moment he feared Adannan would pick up on it, but Force trivia got the better of him.

‘Fourth,’ Adannan said. ‘Exar Kun-‘

‘That wasn’t a battle, that was a jailbreak - specifically a rescue attempt after the failure of the First Battle of Coruscant. Doesn’t count.
'Besides which, depending on how many minor scuffles you’re prepared to dignify, you could make a claim for there having been dozens of the bastard things,’ Lennart pointed out, and was about to go on when Adannan said

‘Don’t you find it interesting, just how many of the Galaxy’s great men down the centuries have belonged to one side or the other? Were they drawn to the Force because they were great - or did they become age-bestriding titans precisely because they had the Force?’

‘None of the men and women I met who had the Force were particularly great. Most of them were downright lousy. I’ll go further than that; professionally incompetent.You were a doctor; fairly safe bet you put in a lot of time and effort learning to be one. Didn’t you look down on those who hadn’t served their dues, people who hadn’t been through the same trials and toils? Don’t you now?’

‘Why do you think I am reaching out for every form of greatness I can get my hands on?’ Adannan said.

‘I don’t think that, chiefly because you aren’t. I prefer to judge a man by his friends than his enemies; any damn fool can be annoying enough to have noteworthy opposition, you have to put real time and effort into keeping your friends. What have you made of the people who you have asked to work for you, and take risks for you, and believe for you?’ Lennart challenged.

‘I have made them mine.’

‘You’ve made them less,’ Lennart said.

‘I suppose you think you have a better alternative?’ Adannan asked. Of course he thinks he does, the dark Jedi reminded himself. The odd man out, the licensed fool, the internal renegade.

‘I do. So did the Empire, until very recently. The convenient legal fiction; the illusion of consent. Make them think they have a say, that it was their idea, that their hopes and fears - and their pride - are being taken account of. The most efficient exercise of tyranny is in the pretence of democracy - that worked for the Emperor with the Senate, after all.’

‘Why do you think He dissolved the Senate?’ Adannan asked, trying not to sound too interested. There was an additional opportunity here. Probably Lennart - who was tired, after all, tired and talking far too much - would veer into outright treason which would be another useful hold to have over him. Either that or he would go so far into treason by thought and word that he might prove a useful ally in the larger project.

Lennart was tired, it had been a long day, a long several days, but he was not yet so far gone that he was ready to waltz straight into the trap. Head for it with the intention of employing a little judo, maybe.

‘How big is Time? How long should it take to purge the body politic of fifty million worlds, and what were the chances that the senate were ever going to do it for themselves? At least with the college of Moffs, the constitutional mechanisms - all right, administrative mechanisms - exist for greater accountability and responsibility than the sectoral Senators ever accepted.
'There are better ways than having their feet cut off, I expect it’ll take four, five generations for the bugs to work their way out of the system,’ Lennart said, aware that his line of reasoning was fairly contradictory and wondering which part of it Adannan would pick up on.

‘So you did approve of that, then?’

‘It was…only explicable in the sense of a move in a political game,’ Lennart said. ‘I intended to deal with it, with you, the same way I did during the clone wars; gloss over the more disconnected mystic rambling, not look for the logic involved because there usually wasn’t any, and try to translate the ravings of the force into feasible operation orders. That turns out to be not quite as feasible as I thought it was going to be.’

Adannan was still deciding where to take that when there was a click of heels from the entranceway - Aleph-3 announcing herself. Iridescent armour, DC-15 with sniper sights slung over her shoulder and holding a flamer, just in case. She took in the situation quickly, wondered whether to open with some kind of quip and decided to play it straight for now.

‘Reporting as ordered, Sir.’

‘Ah, good. Probably,’ Lennart said. ‘Kor Alric and I are having a slight disagreement…’

‘Captain Lennart has essentially bet your life-‘ Adannan started,

‘-on your own skills and abilities.’ Lennart interrupted him.

Aleph-3 noticed her sister was muttering some kind of mantra, lips quivering slightly - in pattern rather than plain fear. I am one of millions, she was chanting, there are many of me, if I fail another will succeed, where I fall another will take my place. Well, the only one of Laurentia’s sisters to hand was her.

She stopped herself just before turning to glare at Adannan. Standard drill, she thought. Usual practise for sneaking up on a Jedi in disguise. Think happy thoughts, be content of mind, let your own aggressive impulses build beneath the conscious level, so that it is almost as much a surprise to you as it is to him when you ram the stem of his crystal goblet through his eye…

That had been fun. She could do this, cope with this, whatever it was. Probably.

She wondered whether to ask for an explanation or not. Lennart decided he owed her one anyway.
‘Methodological argument,’ Lennart said. ‘Open tyranny versus the illusion of liberty, all that y’zz.’

‘I see. Because unit 6NL-108-554E and myself started out as nearly identical, we make a good test case. Provided you can set up some kind of control condition. How do you intend to take account of the time before I was assigned to this ship, before she was assigned to you?’ she asked Adannan.

Adannan decided to ignore that. Somewhere in the back of his head, he was kicking himself for being ignorant enough to have forgotten about control groups - but it wasn’t as if this was a fair, or even a real, test.

So what was it, then? Why had he - the bit of his brain that was kicking itself for ignoring experimental procedure put on steel toecaps over the fact that it had been Lennart’s idea.
Why had he allowed a man who wasn’t exactly friend, wasn’t exactly enemy, wasn’t really a rival yet, partly all three - why had he let this man invite a moderately capable sniper-scout who specialised in Jedi to the party, and if the careful non-presence outside was anything to go by, bring her friends?

He hadn’t actually been thinking, had he? Just feeling. Wanting to embarrass and humiliate, maybe even go some way to breaking, Lennart by putting his girlfriend on the spot.

There was a possible line of attack. Why had Lennart never married? No serious romantic entanglements in his past, no dirt to be dug up there? Worth pursuing. Working on him via her now looked less good an idea than it had sounded.

Stuff it. The Force had led him to this and it would lead him through. Perhaps the Force, too, enjoyed a catfight from time to time - if any part of it came from red-blooded human males, it would.

‘Your commander has declared that anything one of your kind habituated to my rule can do, one of you trained under his can do better. His method produces superior human material, he claims. I intend to take him at his word on that,’ Adannan said, leering slightly.

‘Despite the myriad moral and intellectual challenges that could involve, I presume this actually is going to devolve into sharp pointy things?’ she asked Adannan, not without sarcasm.

‘Would anything less be a complete test?’ he said, smiling nastily.

Aleph-3 looked at her sister and cautioned herself against overconfidence. This probably wasn’t going to be as easy as it seemed.

‘Backgrounds irrelevant? My unbroken front line and behind-the-lines service against her staff time, and worse? Really just come as you are?’ She asked Adannan, wondering why he was letting her get away with this, and what he expected to happen.

‘Is life fair? Why should its trials be fair?’ Adannan asked - and before he was finished talking, she had thrown, underhand, her flamer at Lennart and shrugged her heavy rifle off her shoulder.

Adannan was still reaching for his lightsabre when she brought the DC-15 arcing up, switched to stun, and put a bolt into Laurentia’s chest, just as she was starting to stand and turn to face.
The big gun continued to pivot, coming to a stop pointing on Adannan, and Lennart had managed to turn the flamer right side up, although it would take another second or two for his brain to switch combat modes from ‘political’ to ‘close quarters’.

That was not what I wanted to happen, Adannan thought. ‘Point your gun somewhere else.’

‘My apologies, Lord Alric. That was reflex,’ she said, lowering the muzzle of the heavy rifle.

Could he react fast enough to get them both? Who to go for first, him or her? No, this was not the time for adrenalin. This was a time to drift on the black currents of the Force, to ride and steer events.
‘Sudden and brutal. I approve. How good are you at rebuilding a broken personality?’ Adannan asked.

Aleph-3 considered her answer carefully. Worst case - assigned to Adannan’s retinue. He had the authority to do so; what would stop him? Not wanting her, or needing her to be somewhere else.
Why worst? It was simply duty after all, and that was what she was for, wherever and to whatever it led.

Except in this case - no, not just this. Am I getting picky? Deviant, to the point that I should stick my own head in a blender, if my comrades don’t do it for me anyway?
Maybe. Growing, not becoming damaged - although what’s the difference? Do personalities break, or do they weather? She resorted to the default option - straightforward fact.

‘Basic field medic skills cover shock and psychological trauma, but nothing like the specialist skills I’d need for that.’

‘No? Disappointing. Then-perhaps best two out of three?’

He placed a hand on Laurentia’s shoulder, what precise power or combination he used Aleph-3 had no time to place, but whatever it was, it worked; she came up off the floor like a synthpanther.

Aleph-3 had time to turn to put the point of her shoulder towards her wild-eyed sister, take the blow; a snapshot might have missed - and if it had hit, what would it have achieved? The two collided and went down in a heap, Aleph-3 making the discovery that her sister was wearing an impact vest. Hmmm.

They rolled over each other, Aleph-3 threw her sister off - in the direction of the door; Lennart had to duck out of the way. Laurentia, or whatever vortex of hate and fear was riding her, landed on her feet and charged again instantly, grabbing for her sister’s gun.

Aleph-3 let her sister get the muzzle end, then twisted it up and towards herself and over her shoulder, trying to kick Laurentia’s feet out from under her at the same time; Laurentia leapt up and levered herself on the DC-15, kicking with both feet at Aleph-3‘s stomach.

It didn’t work; the armour took the force of the blow. Aleph-3 dropped the gun letting her sister fall with it, and snatched the magazine before Laurentia could get her hands on the trigger.

Laurentia tried to shoot, heard the ‘click’, and by that time her sister was already jabbing her beneath the ribs.

The light-armoured one doubled over, reeled back, Aleph-3 skipped out of the way expecting her sister to be faking it; Laurentia swung for her sister with the heavy rifle as a club, realised her sister had moved, slowed the move and reversed it to fend her off, tried to twist out of the way.

Aleph-3 kicked for her sister’s elbow; the old armour-piercing judo routine, go for the gaps between plates, try to dislocate the joints under them. Successful hit, Laurentia howled and stepped back, swung up one-handed with the butt end of the rifle for Aleph-3‘s gut, managed to connect.
Aleph-3’s armour took almost all the force out of it, but she rocked back slightly. What was the point of this? Her sister had little or no chance of actually winning, unless she did something exceptionally daft. Then what?

Laurentia swung for her sister again, aiming for her head, Aleph-3 grabbed the rifle and twisted it out of her hand but by then her sister was already following it in, aiming for her throat with the point of her elbow. Aleph-3 was already rolling beneath it, and headbutted her sister as they came into close contact.

Their eyes should have been the same colour; instead Laurentia’s were - closer to green than blue, faded somehow. How much damage had Adannan done to her?
Never mind that, how much was what she was doing now down to her and how much down to him? In this situation, what constitutes victory?

If I beat Laurentia to the extent that she needs telekinesis rather than any mental influence to hold her up, then - is that a triumph for the power of the Force?
Really? Aleph-3 thought, taking a kick on her hip and sweeping Laurentia’s other foot out from under her; Laurentia backward-rolled out of range and came back to her feet, bouncing slightly, eyes still defocused and seething.

Adannan expected to empower Laurentia with the Force so that he would win and either get an admission of such or force Lennart to do something stupid. What did it matter to him that she got beaten to a bloody pulp in the process? As far as he was concerned, he had a spare. No you bloody don’t, she thought, wondering if she could get away with going for him directly.

Laurentia was doing her best to avoid giving her sister time to think, with a flying kick that Aleph-3 sidestepped - she landed on one foot and stretched the other into a back kick that Aleph-3 took and rolled with, maintaining the distance between them.

So if he is using the power of the Force, why isn’t it more effective?

Lennart was thinking the same thing, except that he had an answer.

Adannan went about this the wrong way, he was thinking. He should have woken her up first, because he was trying to read her muscle memories from her subconscious mind, overboost and apply them against her own alerted and confused conscious. He was trying to do too many things at once for them all to work as planned.

I could do better, Lennart thought - Galactic Spirit prevent me from ever trying.

Aleph-3 decided to break the pattern. She held herself loose, preparing to take the next hit -

‘What,’ Adannan shouted, ‘are you doing?’

He let Laurentia go, she looked around as if surprised to be there, said ‘ow’ and collapsed. ‘I felt it. You slackened. You lost heat. You were intending to throw the fight - why did you want to lose?’ he glared at her.

Aleph-3 took a breath and decided to stand her ground. She had got herself into this mess, after all. Might as well see it through. ‘If I had pressed my advantage, and won as I had every reason to expect to do,’ she emphasised that part, ‘what would have changed?’

Adannan looked genuinely surprised by that. Lennart was trying to catch up with her train of thought and get a move ahead, and, infuriating as usual, looked as if he was managing it.

‘Not a sacrifice I would have asked of you, if you had bothered to check with me first,’ Lennart said.

Adannan rounded on him. ‘Explain.’

‘If she wins - as was likely - what happens to her sister? More torment, more pain, and maybe a slit belly after all. We, more’s the point, remain at loggerheads. If Laurentia won - or whatever was holding her up - then it is a triumph for the Force, and we are all good. She’s been trying a lot harder than you have to get me to accept this.’

Aleph-3 spoke up for herself. ‘Lord Alric, did you deliberately make things difficult for yourself? I am not capable of wanting anything other than that which it is my duty to make happen - to win would have served no purpose.
'In the larger scheme, I serve the Empire; but it is up to the Empire to decide what it wants from me, is it not? On the more immediate, personal scale - I want to see Captain Lennart become strong in the Force. My pounding the life out of someone empowered by the Force would not have contributed.’

So why did you have to give it away, rock for brains, she didn’t say, but thought fairly loudly.

‘I expected you to lie,’ Adannan said to her.

‘Why?’ she answered simply. ‘Would you respect someone who thinks you’re worth manipulating more than someone who tells you what they honestly find things to be?’

‘Who told you you were allowed to use your brain?’ he said, in surprise.

‘I did,’ Lennart said, taking responsibility - and not entirely certain why, considering which side she appeared to be on.

‘Not entirely true either, Captain. In several situations in which the choice was to think fast enough to get out in one piece or die, you and the chain of command by your will simply forebore to tell me not to,’ she pointed out.

‘Chopping the logic a little fine, aren’t you? Or do you take some sort of masochistic pleasure out of inconvenient truths?’ Lennart asked.

‘I was bred for the purpose of talking to journalists. What do you think?’

‘Probably just as well for the Empire you never did deploy in your intended role,’ Lennart said.

Adannan’s brain was still playing catchup. Yes, yes, I did make mistakes, he was admitting to himself, I did do things the unnecessarily hard way and laid myself open to failure thereby, and how badly have I misread Lennart himself?

‘What about Correct Thought? What about the New Order Party? If you allow your rank and file to think for themselves, how can you be sure that they’re going to come up with the right answers?’ Adannan asked, fishing.

‘Bugger Correct Thought, and all it stands for,’ Lennart said, succinctly. This was a curve-ball and no mistake.

‘I knew you were a closet Democrat,’ Adannan growled at him.

‘No. But you should be,’ Lennart added, forcefully.

‘What?’ This was just - Adannan could pick up on the louder fragments of Lennart’s surface thoughts, the ones that were actually trying to come out. He couldn’t quite make sense of them.

‘What is Correct Thought but the subordination of your will to that of the Party? And what is a dark Force user worth, whose will has been broken and subordinated to that of another? You should be a passionate believer in free will - specifically the freedom of your will.’

Aleph-3 was just standing there looking at him in utter bogglement. Adannan wasn’t far behind.

‘I’m sure you say these things in the hope of making my head explode,’ Adannan temporised.

‘Why should a simple statement like that make your head explode, unless it’s desperately at variance with how things are?’ Lennart asked. ‘I had hoped we weren’t looking at some variation on the cycle of abuse, here.’

Aleph-3 made a noise that could best be described as ‘eep’; uncertain whether to laugh or scream. Adannan was wondering what it felt like to have his head explode after all.

Either he knows nothing and is coming at this from a complete outsider’s viewpoint, or he knows everything and rejects the established conclusions - and is pretending to the outsider’s approach.

‘There are only two Sith in the galaxy. The master and the apprentice. The rest of us are acolytes, agents, followers, servants. Obliged to squabble amongst ourselves for crumbs from their table, pay in pain for each little bit of wisdom - from the medical point of view, you’re right. This is the cycle of abuse,’ Adannan said, recognising that and waiting for Lennart’s next idea.

‘So what do you actually gain,’ Lennart asked, ‘by playing it by the rules?’

‘Survival. The right to soothe my pain by revelling in the pain of others. Governance over the lesser bricks in the pyramid. Most importantly, enough of their approval to not be dead. I suppose you’re going to tell me, you closet democrat, that none of that is worth the sacrifice of pride and independence?’ Adannan proclaimed.

‘Not exactly democrat, although the demos has some influence…biocrat, maybe. At least when it comes to the Force.’

What Adannan wanted to say was ‘for the sake of my brain, spare me.’ Not that he could, of course. Not that he could get away with expressing any such sentiment - he had a faint idea of what Lennart meant, but really didn’t want him to say it - at least, the parts of him that weren’t listening in a mood somewhere between masochism and horrified fascination.

Lennart took Adannan’s silence for assent. ‘Where does the Force come from? From all living things. So where does the will of the Force come from, if not from the same place?’

Adannan looked down and envied Laurentia her unconsciousness. Where had he lost control of this? When he had allowed Lennart to open his mouth? When he had let a domestic dispute expand into a contest of cosmic conspiracy theories?

‘Vox populi, vox forti. The will of the people is the will of the Force; the logic is inescapable, whether you like it or not.
'The death of the republic was so very much like what would have happened without the active involvement of the Force, that the only reasonable conclusion is that the Force was following the influence of the mundane. You’re the puppet of the people,’ Lennart grinned.

‘Chiefly of their negativity, of course,’ Lennart continued, ‘which was only to be expected in the middle of a time of active revolution, with so much fear in the air and the Light twisted so badly out of shape by its own followers.
'I repeat, the death of the Republic was not only a good but a predictable thing - and there were a lot of sincere Separatists, who believed they not only had a just cause but kept fighting for it long after the Guilds were taken out.
'The Empire, run by the Dark Side of the Force or not, is equally necessary for the Galaxy as a whole, and I do not expect it to be anything other than absolutely hated now - that is the natural outcome of purging twenty-five thousand years of bad decisions and misgovernment.
'Five, six, maybe ten generations from now, the reforms will have shaken themselves out and sheer demographic drift will have resulted in some kind of normalisation, probably under Palpatine’s chosen successor-‘

‘You know?’ Adannan asked, wobbling under yet another twist.

‘I would not expect any man to achieve as much as His Majesty has done, in such times and in the face of such opposition, without being a lot more ruthless and devious than his public image ever was. Accordingly, he is hiding his true nature, and in a government full of dark Force users, what else could he be and remain top dog? It was obvious.’

‘Aren’t you offended? Outraged, at having been manipulated? It was Sidious - Palpatine - who was pulling the Separatist’s strings as well. The man made fools of an entire galaxy,’ Adannan said, confusedly reverting to one of his earlier plans.

‘I would be very surprised if a criminal secret society that had been outlawed and nearly hounded to extinction wasn’t at least trying to play both sides against each other,’ Lennart pointed out. ‘Besides, in a civil war, what do you expect? After millennia of neglect of the governmental machinery, centuries of abuse, enough nerf-barrelling to fill Centrepoint, somnambulent bureaucracy who elevated indifference to an art form, toothless watchdogs and blind oversight - regardless of how the manipulations went and who did what to whom, the Sith did not kill the Republic. The most they really did was assist it to commit suicide, and in that I would say, again, the dark side actually served the long term if not near term good.’

Adannan stood up and collected himself. He was shaking slightly. ‘How dare you,’ he said with as much menace as he could muster, ‘accuse me of being on the side of good.’
Lennart just waited; Adannan wobbled slightly, collapsed back down on to his bed. ‘Enough. If I continue to listen to you any longer my resolution may be compromised.’ He said, glaring at Lennart and trying to dare him to contradict - but there was a weakness in his eyes that Lennart decided to…not exactly exploit, just take advantage.

‘Is that a resolution to be or a resolution to do? We have unfinished business and anther tactical option I want to explore. A unit of the squadron found evidence that the rebels’ local allies were involved in the past, and are involved now, with relativistic-bombing their neighbours.’

Adannan didn’t even react. Lennart continued, ‘Murder on a scale not far removed from genocide, and very far from anything that could conceivably pass as the moral high ground. We can use that.’

‘What is it that you actually want to do?’ Adannan asked, and suspected he was going to regret it.

‘Play with their heads. Let the Alliance know we have the evidence, then watch them scramble as they try to deny it. Try to arrange fallout between them, at least force them to choose between defending two targets, at best actually get them shooting each other. I can make that happen.’

‘Go. Just go,’ Adannan said.

Lennart turned, walked out, Aleph-3 fell in step behind him. Hunter team Omega-17-Blue was drawn up in rank in front of him, arms at the present; as he left the chamber, they came up into the general salute.
Lennart returned it, and said ‘How did you decide whether to shoot me or salute me, flip a coin?’

‘It is clear that, once you have explored your own abilities, you will be the greater Sith,’ Aleph-One said. ‘A question, Sir; how much of what you said to Adannan did you actually believe?’

‘Not much, to begin with. Conspiracy theories and random thoughts. Worth thinking about though, isn’t it? Oh, and I need to borrow someone who can shoot and pass for a civilian.’

Short moment of silence, then Aleph-3 said, ‘Well, the least you can do is give me my flamethrower back.’

Adannan was still sitting there, brain seething, when the metal-faced woman came in. She stood at ease, awaiting her instructions. I maimed her and she serves me, he thought, because she is too terrified - and too badly damaged - to contemplate the alternative. He waved at Laurentia.

‘She saved you,’ from me, he didn’t have to say, ‘your turn to return the favour. Nurse her. Banaar,’ he raised his voice to call his other aide, ‘that fool who keeps trying to get in touch, the executive officer? Find him and send him to me.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 10:04am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 29h

’What I don’t understand, Skipper, is why you’re doing this yourself. Send a probe droid. Send a junior lieutenant; they’re almost as expendable. Why stick your own head into the acklay’s mouth?’ Brenn asked, worried. They were in the day cabin, and Lennart was shuffling through his closet looking for something that could pass for civilian clothes, and finding the situation rather funny.

I go out of my way to cultivate a reputation as a scruffy bastard, Lennart thought, mocking the little things, and do I have a complete set of plain clothes that even vaguely match? No. Bits and pieces and odds and ends, kriff I haven’t worn that since I was a student...what the bloody hell is a feather boa doing there?
In short, this is the wardrobe of a man who has worn uniform for almost all his adult life, and spent a lot of my adolescence before that playing silly buggers. Oh well. At least there isn’t a traffic cone.

‘What are we supposed to do if you get intercepted? Jumped, by the rebs or by the cops, or possibly both?’

‘You want the job yourself, don’t you?’ Lennart said, not looking up from investigating the further reaches of his sock drawer.

‘It is simply not the captain’s job to go and do dangerous, stupid things like lead an away team,’ Brenn said, indignantly.

‘If you’re trying to say that I’m too valuable to risk, then so are you, and you know it,’ Lennart told him.

‘Something this inherently dubious, anyone I could trust enough to get this done the way I need it to be done would be insufficiently expendable to send,’ he said, specifically meaning Brenn. ‘The buck stops with me anyway.’

‘At least,’ Brenn said, ‘Take one of the ATR’s. Better yet, use one of the Customs Corvettes and take a boarding platoon.’

‘I’m supposed to have the power of the Force, you know,’ Lennart pointed out, sounding not remotely sincere.

‘And if it had any sense, it would be telling you to take backup too.’

‘Such disrespect. Anyone would think you’d been paying attention,’ Lennart said. ‘Then again, you weren’t just told that you were “potentially subject to the purge orders.” Who should I bring to protect me from my backup?’

‘You think Adannan would sink that low?’ Brenn asked, thinking; bugger.

‘Partly, by wandering off I’m daring him to. I’m offering him my back and challenging him to have the guts to stick the knife in.’

‘Lousy bet, skipper. Any back alley thug would have to, for his own self-respect if nothing else.’

‘I’m sure he would too, but I don’t think he’s going to react fast enough. He has enough pride in his own intelligence to resent the way I made his brain hurt, and try to win that point back. Should mean he’s not going to resort to open violence in time. Which should mean that if I spin it properly, he’s going to take that hit to his self respect, and be another move behind next time we have to lock horns,’ Lennart said.

‘Tell me, Captain, was it a sad or a happy day when you realised some people really do have levers?’ Brenn said, with mock seriousness.

‘Mostly sad, with overtones of maniacal laughter,’ Lennart deadpanned.

‘I think you’re giving him more respect than he deserves. The ship and the squadron-‘

‘There are at least three other things I should be doing, you don’t think I’d be going to drop them and do this instead if I didn’t think it mattered?’

‘Frankly, captain, I can think of at least three people you could be trying to avoid,’ Brenn said, fairly boldly under the circumstances.

‘Well done; that’s where you come in,’ Lennart said, pulling something that looked like an athletic supporter for a creature with four legs out and looking at it in puzzlement.

'The Chief, Kor Alric, Aleph-3?’ Brenn guessed.

‘Two out of three,’ Lennart told him. ‘Subtractor isn’t worth repairing in the field; she goes back to Damorian and we borrow another one from the sector group. Repair estimates and assets required for Tarazed Meridian and Guillemot. Mirannon will go nuts; tell him not to break anybody.
'Kor Alric, I want to avoid but can’t afford to. We just parted on terms that, well, I reckon turning my back on him is a bigger risk than anything the rebels are likely to throw at me.
'The third person I’m avoiding is Commander Falldess. She is not in a particularly calm mood right now. It was her evidence that kicked this off; that’s what I’m going to go and wave at the Rebels. I expect her to press for immediate action . That’s why Delvran’s handling the debrief and analysis; he’s good at recalling junior officers to their senses.’

‘You’re going off to stick it to them with evidence that your own units are still in the process of analysing?’ Brenn wondered.

‘I’m not legally certain enough to call base delta zero on the strength of it, but I am sufficiently convinced to employ it as a political weapon,’ Lennart admitted. ‘Tell Dordd to narrow-beam me with any conclusions on the way.’

‘Double standard?’ Brenn asked.

‘In politics?’ Lennart said with mock scepticism. ‘She did bend her ship pretty inconveniently badly, so if she starts agitating, point Mirannon at her.’ They both chuckled. ‘In all seriousness, though, that is what you may have to do to Kor Alric.’

‘He’s not an officer; he’s not a professional,’ Brenn stated.

‘If he understood his own limitations, that might be a valid point,’ Lennart said, abandoning the sock drawer - to what, he didn’t want to think about - and looking for something that would do as a civilian undershirt.
‘Do you actually want the job,’ Lennart continued, ‘of staring down a crazed dark acolyte of the Force, half mad with anger and only a hazy sense of the possible, ready to lash out in any direction?’

‘Piett seems to manage it,’ Brenn pointed out.

‘Unless Adannan has very well hidden depths, he’s nowhere near as good a tactician as Lord Vader-‘ Lennart started to say.

‘How do you know he doesn’t have hidden depths?’ Brenn said. ‘He might be pretending to be more of a loon than he actually is.’

‘Point for me and against you if he does,’ Lennart said, adding ‘he can do patience, but only with effort - I think his wits sometimes trip over his temper. Looking over my shoulder, I’d expect him to have reacted fairly vigorously by now, if he had any more than an armchair admiral’s training.
'He’s also nothing like as far up the ladder; he’s a mid-ranking acolyte at best, possibly mid to low. He’s under threat from inferiors, peers and superiors alike, and desperate enough to think that crazy stunts like this might help his career.’

‘Senior Lieutenant equivalent, then,’ Brenn opined. ‘Look, Captain, we’ve dealt with inspectors and auditors before, we’ve faced problems and overcome them - with incident, but overcome. Adannan has the Force, and that may be a fairly worrying proposition, but he’s not the demigod he’s posing as.’

‘No, just a man with no legal accountability and no sense of responsibility to make up the deficiency either. If he starts asking awkward questions, all right, baffle him with bullshit as usual - if he starts acting on them, get the Chief.’ Lennart made it an order.

‘Check. Any other instructions?’

‘Yes. Don’t initiate major offensive operations without me,’ Lennart said. ‘Sift out and interrogate any rRasfenoni among our existing prisoners, and, Dordd’s the ranking officer of the squadron, you have the ship.
'You can probe in the direction of the rRasfenoni, use the sweep line and recon-A, collect data, live prisoners if you can get them without knocking over anything too big and making too much of a fuss. If the dreck hits the fan, come and get me - if it really hits the fan, call 851 for support then come and get me.’

‘Aye, aye, skipper - I still think this is more danger than it’s worth, though,’ Brenn said.

‘Tell you when I get back.’

It was a fairly typical spaceport cantina; low ceiling, dimly lit, traveller-ridden. A distinctly higher share of the odd than the rest of the planet, drinks for dozens of different lifeforms behind the bar, and everybody glaring suspiciously at everyone else.

In one corner, where he could watch it all from, there was a smuggler.
Dark haired, shirt that had maybe been white once, trousers with a prominent, flaring yellow bloodstripe, oversized blaster. There was a howl from the direction of the bar.

‘Yeah, Chewie, get two.’

He noticed a man and a woman threading their way through the tables towards him; she would have caught anybody’s eye, never mind that of a smooth rogue. Long tied-back flaring red hair, dark green gown - about twenty social levels too high for a mynock pit like this, but she could carry it off. She walked with a fluid grace that almost, not quite, hid her physical strength and the repeating pistol she carried low on one hip.
She was a big girl, there was a lot of her and all of it was good. It took Han a couple of seconds for the gunfighter in him to get the better of the lecher and size her up as a potential opponent. She was pretty good there, too.

‘Good afternoon, Captain Solo. I need to talk to you,’ the man said. Han looked him over. Grey dewback-hide leather jacket, faded and patched, Coronet City Crushers sports-fan t-shirt, middle-aged, lean, almost black eyes. Didn’t look that far out of place, but there was something about the way he held himself that made what he was wearing shout ‘mufti.’

A spy or a soldier, Han thought. He didn’t have to move his hand close to his blaster, in a place like this it was already there. Then again, he had dealt with a lot of shady people in a lot of shady places. And he needed the money.

‘Yeah? So, talk,’ he said. They sat down, she instantly pushed her chair back to watch as much of the cantina as possible. Chewie came back with two tall tumblers, foaming slightly blue, looked at them both and growled. He could sense something was wrong. Aleph-3 was tempted to growl back, but decided against it.

‘You’re not exactly a rebel yet, are you? More of a freelance contractor. Which means you have little of the protection being part of an armed movement gives you, you’ve still got all your old enemies as well as some pretty impressive new ones. Is having the fastest ship in the galaxy a matter of pride or necessity?’ the man asked.

Solo looked closely at Lennart; wondering whether or not to shoot him. Lennart looked back.

Then the younger of the two Corellians grinned a wide, confident grin. ‘It has come in useful a few times. I suppose now you’re going to tell me you need something taken somewhere real fast.’

‘And that translates as ‘expensive’, does it? Optimist. I suppose you want me to lay on a blockade for you to crash through as well,’ Lennart said.

‘Your drinks, Sir.’ It was the waitress; she had come over to their table with a silvery duraplast tray, four glasses and a flask of Corellian brandy. Lennart nodded to her, almost a bow; she set them down, darted a venomous glance at the utterly unruffled Aleph-3, and flounced away.

‘How come? I have to send a Wookie to the bar to rip people’s arms off unless he gets served, and you get a tray?’ Han said, indignant.

‘Probably because she’s met too many slick characters, she knows she can’t trust you further than the length of your own shadow. Slainte.’

‘You’re a spacer.’ Meaning, you’re as bad as I am and I want to know how you got away with it. ‘What happened to your ship?’ Solo asked.

If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me, Lennart thought. ‘Yeah, I was Old Republic regular fleet, but…’ he let that trail off. ‘Thing is, what I need transported is small enough, just a datacard, but I have no idea where it’s supposed to go.
'Or rather, I don’t know where the place it’s supposed to go is. Alliance theater command.’ He pulled a datacard out of a side pocket - too small to contain a gun - slowly, laid it on the table. ‘Check it over. No viruses, no bugs, just evidence.’

‘Evidence of what?’ Solo said. Chewie picked up the card, trying the I’m-just-a-dumb-wookie act out for size; pretending to sniff it. He looked at Aleph-3 who was not at all convinced, gave it up and pulled a minicomp off his belt.

‘It’s not good news,’ Lennart said. He was about to go into more detail when he noticed Aleph-3 was unusually tense, and looked round following her gaze.

Ah. Five men, four almost nondescript - a little too flash to blend in perfectly. One public face, wearing a tunic with black sleeves, white chest.

Han had noticed them too. ‘Chewie, trouble.’

There were a squad of stormtroopers behind them; Aleph-3 was hand-signalling as demonstratively as she could without giving the game away. Bugger off, we’re on a political gain operation, she gestured.

The response was one of total disbelief, combined with an imperative to identify.

Line 6NL, batch 27c, unit 392, she replied. Warrant Second, special operations.

The stormtroopers looked at each other briefly; she noticed one, the squad comtech, shrug and gesture that it checked out.

Ah…er. Oops. Would you like us to go away now? The squad leader signalled back. For all the apparent frivolity, they both knew that he was expendable in the interests of the mission.

Cover the rear, we might try to escape that way, she replied.

They acknowledged, and started backing out of the cantina, guns still levelled warily at all the lesser scum in there. The ISB thugs had noticed, but the agent hadn’t. He kept closing in on his prey.

He had been chosen for this job, and told the plan was to apprehend a renegade fleet officer. So far, so good, and certainly an objective he could enjoy achieving.

It was the woman that caught his eye first of all. He could hardly keep his eyes off her; she looked back, proud, haughty, more like a duchess than a space bum, and the inevitable line came to mind, hey, baby, what’s a girl like you doing in a dump like this?

Which was actually a good question. He looked at the people she was sitting with; thin man in grey leather flight jacket, vaguely familiar, perhaps he had been on a wanted notice? In fact, it had been on the news.

The other two - a man and a wookie - his eyes passed over them on the way back to the woman, and then his brain did a doubletake. Solo! Han kriffing Solo, Mr. I-shot-Vader, the second largest single bounty in the galaxy!

Aleph-3 looked at Lennart, meaning, how do we handle this?

Lennart glanced down at his hand on the grip of his own service pistol. That was clear enough, then.

The agent quick-drew his gun - respectable but way short of galactic-class - and announced ‘Han Solo, Traitor, I arrest you in the -‘ which was as far as he got.

Han shot him, clean blast, dead centre; follow the movement across to snapshot into the chest of the centre-right gunsel, twitch back onto the left-centre, which would leave two of them, one for him and one for Chewie.

Still acting on reflex, he crouched to kick the table over for cover, then realised there was nobody left to shoot at.

‘-afterlife?’ Lennart finished the agent’s sentence for him. ‘And really, Solo, really. You’d do that to fine Corellian brandy?’

He was largely putting on his calm, Han noticed. In fact, Lennart was reciting to himself a fragment of something he had read as a student; it seems to me - he was remembering how it went - that men are of different value; and there are some who can be knocked on the head without the world being very much poorer for it. The ISB probably counted as such.

‘Would you like to wait here and see if the Marines agree with you?’ Aleph-3 said. Han was almost sure she had nailed the two on the left, she had started with the one who had been his third target, the agent had already been falling when he nailed him.

‘Good point,’ Han said, drained his glass. ‘With me.’ He started heading for the staff door by the bar
‘They’ll be waiting there. Out the front,’ Aleph-3 said, moving the other way. Lennart followed her, Han and Chewie shared a look then decided, what the hell.

There was a vehicle there, an unmanned Ubrikkian ground-skimmer personnel transport. No stormtroopers. ‘What do you think, add grand theft speeder to the charge sheet?’ Lennart suggested.

‘No,’ Aleph-3 said. ‘It’ll have a tracking beacon, and even if we could start to run for it-‘

‘We’d still have to talk our way past whatever they have in place as operational security,’ Lennart finished, looking at Han.

‘I’ve bluffed my way out of trouble a thousand times, and all people remember is one little screwup,’ Han said, rolling his eyes - before getting back to business. ‘Does anyone else think this is weird? No cordon, no support.’

‘Done on the quiet; they didn’t want anyone else to share the glory,’ Lennart suggested.

‘Let’s just stroll away, casual like,’ Han decided.

‘Not too far. I want to see how they react to this,’ Lennart decided, and looked around. Like most provincial starports, it was less than perfectly planned; disused landing pads being used for warehouses, port workers’ housing, markets and cantinas, disused warehouses being converted into landing pads, a constant process of decay and renovation.

Not particularly fast, a generational thing, but there was enough cover nearby to duck into. Han passed by two cantinas and settled on a third, a convenient sprint away from where he had left the Falcon.

They took a window table, this time, where Solo could look down at the street.

‘Well, that was uneventful. I had no idea the life of a hardened galactic criminal could be so relaxing,’ Lennart said, kidding.

‘You’re legit?’ Han said, surprised and trying to place the man’s face. Where had he come across him? A face in the crowd at Smuggler’s Rest, or one of a hundred other shadowports?

‘Quasi-legitimate,’ Aleph-3 couldn’t resist saying.

‘Compared to you and the people you have after you, everybody starts to acquire a thin gloss of respectability,’ Lennart was wondering how far to ride the bluff when Han’s forehead wrinkled in an obvious a-hah moment.

‘Stang, I do recognise you,’ Han realised. ‘The only man ever to turn down a first class-‘ and then he remembered exactly what the circumstances had been.

‘Not the only one, not even the only man in the last century. Never trust a journalist’s memories. I refused the award of a first class bloodstripe, normally posthumous, because for a twenty-five man strike team, it was a suicide job.
'I called for volunteers, told them they were going to die, they still agreed to go and I still sent them anyway.
'The difference between being a good officer and a hero, a good officer rigs the game to give his own side maximum possible advantage, uses every lever to manipulate the odds. The hero is the one who beats the odds, the guy the thin possibility comes up for, and that was what the bloodstripe was supposed to be about. Being a hero - or at least a successful chancer.’

Chewie howled, asking Han what was going on.

‘Our friend here turns out to be true-blue Imperial,’ Han said, bitterly, but not going for his gun, not just yet. Looking around, anyway, he had the unpleasant feeling of being watched.

‘So were you, once,’ Lennart reminded him.

‘The whiteshirt, just a sacrifice for the cause?’ Han was angry - why, he wasn’t even sure. Lennart’s betrayal? Come to think of it, he had been carefully noncommittal - nothing unusual in a place like that.

‘I have no more moral problem shooting at the ISB than I do blowing my nose,’ Lennart said. ‘Every revolution brings out its share of thugs and bullies and little poisoned souls. Some stay freelance, and some work their way into the new establishment. The ISB are the roaches in the ductwork of the Empire, and any excuse I can get to blow them up in the line of duty is a good excuse.’

What was he up to? Han thought. An Imperial Starfleet captain, in plain clothes, bumps into me - high on the Most Wanted list - in a bar, and helps me shoot some whiteshirts. How is that supposed to make sense?

‘So you don’t like the police, is that supposed to make you a good guy?’ He asked.

‘It worked for Airen Cracken,’ Lennart pointed out, before going on. ‘The whole good-guy bad-guy thing, criminal versus law enforcement, terrorist or freedom fighter - that’s just a way to spoil a day out.
'I have a mission requirement that supersedes taking you in, all you’ll get out of trying to shoot me is a head full of blaster bolts from my covering party; when all else fails, why not attempt civilisation?’

‘You’re strange,’ Han said.

‘You’re the one who boasts about having flown from one side of the galaxy to the other and seen a lot of strange stuff. Why let this get you down?’

‘So, you find me, how? And, what, you want me to arrange your defection to the Alliance? I warn you, the pay’s dreck,’ Han said, coolly.

‘About as likely as me offering you a commission again…I’ve enjoyed the last few years. It’s been a relief to have a declared enemy to go up against, and frankly I have enough rebel blood on my hands that I wouldn’t expect them to take me. In fact, I’d be disappointed with their lack of standards if they did,’ Lennart said.

‘A senior Imperial officer with principles? There’s something you don’t see every day,’ Han said.

Lennart refused to get annoyed. ‘That’s why you’ll lose in the end. Lot of ups and downs still to happen, and you may win some tactical victories along the way, but as long as the Alliance continues to believe itself to be the sole possessor of justice and right, you’re doomed to continually misread friends and enemies both.’
A stray notion occurred to Lennart; he grinned and said ‘Are you sure you don’t want your old job back?’

Aleph-3 and Chewbacca both looked at him as if he had finally flipped, then Aleph-3 realised it was not beyond the bounds of possibility for Lennart to actually mean it.

Han was watching them both, and was fascinated by her reaction. ‘She thinks you might be serious.’ That did tug at his gut a bit. The Imperial Starfleet had been a gigantic broken promise, to him; something that had turned to dreck the moment he touched it.
Now this maniac came to him with…what? Some kind of promise to make good after all?

‘The really weird thing is, I think I actually would be able to swing it,’ Lennart said, thinking about the repercussions and enjoying it.

‘I could give you a squadron in the space transport wing, two Gamma assault shuttles, two Beta-3 escort transports, and the Falcon of course, at the substantive rank of Lieutenant-Commander.’

‘And the bounties on my head, or had you forgotten?’ Han asked. His gut reaction had settled down to ‘this is insane’ but he wanted to see how far Lennart was prepared to go with it.

‘Not a problem. Legally we could lease the Falcon from you, there’s some money towards paying it off, pay and prize money of course, shouldn’t take more than two or three years.’

Chewbacca made a noise somewhere between ‘when did they let you out of the asylum, mate?’ and ‘why are we listening to this man?’

Lennart looked at Aleph-3, nodded towards Chewbacca and asked her ‘What do you think, Flight Sargeant, or would I actually have to make him a Midshipman?’

Aleph-3 said, ‘Kor Alric would want you dead after that.’

‘Probably,’ Lennart acknowledged, ‘but if I tell him about this in the right way I might push his blood pressure up so high he actually strokes out. Another fringe benefit.’

‘Half the Personnel Bureau would want you dead,’ she pointed out.

‘Yes, but the other half would be so cock-a-hoop over the propaganda coup that I should be able to get them arguing with each other then slip out the middle. That would probably be the hardest part of the entire operation,’ he said to Han, ‘keeping the journalists and propagandists off your back.’

‘You know, I’m half tempted to go along with this crazy stunt, just to see if you can actually pull it off,’ Han said; Chewbacca glared at him. ‘Who’s Kor Alric?’

‘Special Agent and resident albatross,’ Lennart said, consciously deciding not to bring the Force into this, ‘I’m starting to refer to him as the political operations officer. Which is excessively mild, but calling him the Kor Responsible for Intelligence and Fleet Functions would just be too obvious.’

Aleph-3 had to make a conscious effort to slip out of character and back into a neutral mode of mind, to avoid rolling on the floor laughing, it was so utterly ridiculous. That would spread through the legion and the crew - the entire squadron - like wildfire. Once she told them.

‘You talk about being a successful chancer, ever think your still being in the Starfleet is stang thin odds?’ Han asked him.

‘Sometimes, but they don’t hand out medals for being a deviant looney. Just as well; if they did, can you imagine the awards committee?’

‘I can imagine quite a lot…but not that, no,’ Han said.

‘Probably be the Ubiqtorate anyway, whichever intercept gave them the biggest unintentional comedy moment. In all seriousness,’ he said, changing tone to something far more serious, ‘my survival under Imperial colours is down to two factors; first of all the amount of rebel blood on my hands, and second, something you never were able to get the hang of, playing the system.’

‘Yeah, I joined up with this naïve assumption that the powers of officialdom would be honest about what they expected from me…’ Han’s voice trailed off.

‘I know you intended to be sarcastic there, but that really does sound pretty spectacularly naïve when you put it like that,’ Lennart pointed out.

‘I was at Raithal when some of your instructors were at Carida; they said you were too straight for your own good. Deliberately trying to break with your past and play it that way?’

‘So, what would you have done? If you’d been me,’ Han asked.

‘Made sure I went after Vader and kept shooting until there was nothing left but a cloud of hot gas, but that’s not what you mean, is it? Your court martial,’ Lennart said.

‘And what made it happen,’ Han said. Chewbacca growled.

‘I was done for usurping the lawful chain of command, back in ’17. You’re not the only one who’s been there,’ Lennart said; Aleph-3 visibly perked up her ears.

‘Speaking of which, you got given that detail because of your background. Whoever in personnel put you on to it assumed you were a street-hardened survivor, a morality-free zone who wouldn’t give a stang about anyone or anything else’s suffering. Weren’t you running drugs for Jabba?’

‘Yes, I’ve been around, but what,’ Han said, ‘has that got to do with it?’

‘It makes it look uncomfortably like the personnel office had a point. Anyway, defending yourself at a court martial’s an inherently weak position. Counterattack is much more effective. I would have looked to see what charges I could have made against the arresting officer - start with wasting Imperial time; how long does it actually take to shave a wookie?’

Chewbacca growled menacingly, meaning there was absolutely no way they were going to find out.

‘That would have never have worked; they had the whole business sewn up tighter than-‘ Han said.

‘And there is where you could really have nailed them to the wall. You’re instinctively talking about them as if they were a criminal gang. And you reacted as if you were a low ranking hood rather than an officer of the Empire.’

‘By that point, I felt as if I was a low ranking hood,’ Han replied.

‘The Empire’s a new thing, its traditions aren’t set in stone, and even if it does break its own rules, it couldn’t afford to get caught doing so, not then, not over that. Never understood politics, did you?’

‘A lot of boring talk by a lot of boring people-‘ Han said.

‘How you ever summoned up the attention span to learn to fly I don’t know. Listen; the Empire is touchy on the subject of slavery, and facing in about three different directions, because the formal abolition of most of it was one of the big bones thrown to the ex-Separatists.
'The return of so many of them from one state of servitude or other helped patch up a lot of the demographic damage. The species who got hit by the new regs,’ he said nodding to Chewbacca, ‘were those that had sided particularly closely with the old Republic, especially with the Jedi order. Which is fractionally less important than getting caught gaming the system for personal glory and profit. In the circumstances - wasting Imperial time, using Imperial resources for personal gain, the peculation and corruption - then if you ever did, you could and should have played it by the book.
'Tell me this; did what you did, stunning your commander and letting a shipload of escaped slaves go, make any difference to the overall situation? Any at all?’

‘No,’ Solo admitted. ‘I had to do it, though. You weren’t there, I couldn’t sit back and let a shipful of wookies down.’

‘Just because you have to do something is no excuse for not being clever about it. Admit it; if you’d known then what you know now, you’d do things differently,’ Lennart said.

‘Yeah, I wouldn’t have stunned him, I’d have shot the lot of them, given their guns to the wookies and led an armed revolt.’

Captain Lennart shook his head, and said, ‘You have to think past the merely tactical.’

There was a long pause as the two men looked at each other. ‘I helped blow up a death star. How much more do you want?’

‘That was just adding insult to injury; the military loss was embarrassing, but it was secondary to the political damage caused, by the Empire’s own hand, by choosing to rely on the damn thing. That thing might as well have had a giant “kick me” sign painted on it anyway, it made so many people nervous the Starfleet would have had a go at it sooner or later, if the Alliance didn’t. Far too many moving parts, too,’ Lennart said.

‘So what the rebellion was just, unnecessary? Bit late for everyone on Yavin if we’d left it to you,’ Han said.

‘Don't blame me for your unnecessary risks; should have been more cellular and better divided than that anyway - and I do need you to take a message to Rebel regional command.’

‘I don’t get it,' Han said. ‘Why do you want to be part of something as pompous, stuffy, tight-arsed, hidebound-?’

‘The Starfleet has to let a few Corellians in, just so there’s somebody competent around when they need a job done. Like anything galaxy-sized, there are jobs we need good men for and jobs we need disownable scum for. My point is that by expecting it to be completely full of criminals and extortionists, we do the Empire no favours - help it to become exactly that, in fact. We have to hold it to some kind of standard.’

‘I’ve still got dents in the Falcon’s plating where the bits of Alderaan bounced off - what kind of standard is that?’ Han said.

‘A pretty high standard of applied firepower,’ Lennart said, ‘but that’s not what - actually, when you look at it sideways, that pretty much exactly is what I mean. Leaving aside the utterly low-probability events that admittedly actually happened, what was the logical way, the practical way to attack the Death Star? From the inside.’

‘When I was in there, they weren’t that tough,’ Han said.

The troopers probably mistook you for a Jedi, thought no-one else could be that crazy,’ Aleph-3 said; Chewbacca howled in agreement. ‘They fell back to a rally point, then counterattacked.’

‘So what is it you want to talk to Alliance regional command about?’ Han said, changing back on subject.

‘You know, I could go and do it myself, just give me their address…’ Lennart said, kidding. ‘Your local allies. The little guys with the too many arms. They have some remarkably bad habits - like dropping rocks on their neighbours. Near-C velocity rocks, which is not a neighbourly thing, and does not exactly qualify them to be on the side of truth, justice and right.
'Now we could sweep in, jump all over their heads, and call them a prime example of the real iniquity of the rebellion, or you could clean your own house. Hmm?’

Solo took a couple of moments to take it in. He was more boggle-resistant than Adannan. It was Chewie who howled meaning, ‘I told you there was something weird going on.’

Han’s first thought was that he had been through enough double and triple crosses to recognise one when it tried to bite him.

‘You really can’t afford to walk away from this,’ Lennart said. ‘The evidence is all here.’ He pointed at the datacard.

‘If you can prove it,’ Han said, ‘why don’t you splash it all over the media?’

‘Might yet happen,’ Lennart admitted. ‘This is a Hobson’s choice. The only alternatives are to have the tale of your allies’ deeply dubious past and actively homicidal present spread, indeed, all over the media, and then have them blasted to bits in a righteous and noble act by the Empire, or to move fast, sort them out and do the fighting, and take the losses, yourselves.
'Kriff it, Han, this is the Empire offering you the option; how much of a genuine positive do you expect?’ Lennart said, tacitly admitting quite a lot.

‘How serious were you about offering me a job?’ Han asked.

‘I didn’t expect you to take it, but there were at least three good reasons for making the offer. First of all, the effect on my own political officer - I know there would be problems,’ Lennart said to Aleph-3, ‘but let me enjoy dwelling on the up side, for now.
'Second, the effect on your political superiors. Anything that ruins Mon Mothma’s day is all right with me. Smug, sanctimonious cow. She was always one of our favourite targets,’ Lennart said, remembering his student days, ‘but her security was too good; what a shame the memory-metal whoopee cushion plan never came off…’

Chewbacca made a sound that Lennart guessed translated as, ‘I really don’t want to know.’

‘The third reason,’ Lennart said, ignoring Aleph-3’s horrified fascination and Han trying not to agree with her, ‘is that you are an asset to the Rebellion. Theoretical idealism is all very well, but the Alliance desperately needs filters.
'You know not all the stories of Rebel atrocities are just propaganda; there are more than a few criminals, extortionists, terrorists, and just plain thugs trying to make what they do sound better by hiding behind the banner of the Republic. Your local allies being a spectacularly huge example. Any illegal movement is going to attract some people who are just plain illegal, who would be on the wrong side of any law. The Alliance needs people who can operate in the underbelly, tell the difference between the idealists, the cynics and the bit-of-both.’

‘What about the Imperial atrocities?’ Han counterpointed.

‘Comes back to the same issue - quality of personnel. The higher a standard we can establish and maintain, the fewer blots on the Empire’s honour there’ll be; you tried to do the right thing, in the wrong way. I hope you’ll try to do the right thing now.’

‘Once we work out what it is,’ Han said.

‘Good luck finding that loophole,’ Lennart said.

‘I don’t think I’ll take that job offer after all,’ Han decided. ‘It would involve shooting at too many people I’ve got kinda fond of.’

‘I thought you’d say that,’ Lennart admitted. ‘It was worth a chance. Oh, and don’t get yourself arrested now, it would be deeply embarrassing to have to come and break you out - that’s not an invitation. QX, lads, you can come out now.’

The ‘covering party’ revealed itself; four people at the next table, six came out from the kitchens, three from a table further away, four in off the balcony, five in the front door. All in civilian dress.

‘Was that all right, skipper?’ one of them asked.

‘Han, I’d like you to meet Charge Chief Vilberksohn and his merry pirates - volunteers from among my crew. Bit more discreet than a stormtrooper platoon,’ Lennart introduced them.

Right, outnumbered twelve to one. ‘You’re sure you don’t want me dead? I mean, don’t go changing your mind now.’

‘Remember that run through the iceteroids, with the frigate on your tail?’ Lennart asked; Han nodded. ‘If I’d really wanted you dead, I’d have jumped Black Prince in and simply kept firing from the main guns. Your Falcon’s a tough ship, but not that tough.’

He noticed the smuggler’s hand getting closer to his gun. ‘That’s not an invitation, either. See you around.’

Lennart, Aleph-3 and the covering party filed out, most of them walking backwards to keep Solo covered.

Aleph-3 said the same thing to Lennart that Chewbacca was saying to Han; ‘That was strange.’

‘Pleasant relief,’ Lennart said. ‘After fencing for my life with Adannan, it was wonderfully relaxing to do that for fun and profit. Almost a day out.’

‘Aren’t you worried about being quoted?’ she asked.

‘You can quote me all you like about the whoopee cushion,’ Lennart replied. ‘Come on, back to the shuttle, then back to the squadron; let’s see what’s gone hideously wrong in our absence.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 10:18am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 30

Orbital space over Ghorn II was getting distinctly crowded, so much so that the squadron, and its cripples, had moved out to L4. Mirannon had grumbled about losing time on that, but kept working anyway.

Tarazed Meridian had followed Black Prince’s fashion by painting up the silhouette of the rRasfenoni frigate - over the sector group’s objections. Whether they were wise to do so was doubtful. Whether they were going to keep their ship wasn’t entirely certain, for that matter.

Most of the ships of the squadron had donated, whether they meant to or not, a large share of their engineering personnel.

Mirannon had just about invented the perpetual motion machine, himself. He was so busy organising, evaluating and testing and deciding what needed to be done, he was shorting the unimportant stuff like sleep and food. Not that he actually had to; there were at least two other officers of equal rank, and supposed expertise - the chief engineers of Dynamic and Perseverance.

Then there was the committee that ran Voracious's engine spaces, the frigates’ chief engineers, and the dozens of men - and three women and two of uncertain or variable gender - who held the post on the smaller ships of the squadron.

He had more than enough deputies, theoretically able and at least approximately willing or at least determined not to get caught out lagging behind, so the point of doing it all himself was?

Either I am not a control freak, he was telling himself as he watched the sensor data come in of the cracks in Tarazed Meridian’s hull frame, or I am the worst kind - one in denial.

I have competent deputies and juniors, men I trained myself; I know how much I can safely leave them to be getting on with. I’ve had enough time to make fair assessments of the rest of the squadron’s engineer teams. Professional pride gone wrong? No man better than his logic, no-one more sound than the work he does - coupled to a warped imperative to maintain his position and his rank by being the rightest, by getting to decisions before anyone else, even the men whose competence he trusted to make them on their own? Doing more than anyone else, to justify my rank and place?

Could be something in that, but it’s a fool’s act to try to do more than everybody else, Mirannon told himself, with no real expectation that he was listening.

I wonder if this Force crap could actually be good for something, he thought. Does the whole increased endurance aspect, biophysical potential, work when you’re actually doing something useful, or does it have to be either ‘om’ or ‘rargh’?

No time to spare to om - to experiment with the supposed light, no staff to spare to do things - well, murder probably - with the dark. If the Force is a disease, then we should treat it. If it’s an asset, then we, the Skipper and myself, need a cost-benefit analysis, to decide how to best exploit it. A valid analysis is going to take more data - hmmm. What have we here?

His subconscious mind had been watching the survey data come in. Tarazed Meridian’s team had been sounding the hull, releasing a time-coded pattern of vibrations and monitoring how they reverberated. It was a second-string procedure, and he was mainly doing it to check the integrity of the internal monitoring system.

Other quirk, he thought, we wouldn’t be going to all this trouble if it was bad news. That, we’d accept. Irrationally. If the network was telling me that the hull had delaminated and had more flaws in it than a politician’s logic, then we’d grumble, try to avoid the responsibility for writing her off, until somebody snapped and agreed to do the paperwork.

As it is, the damage looks to be confined to the actual containment shell. Worth analysing, that - or recording for subsequent analysis, under the circumstances. Which is good, because the reactor containment vessel can be removed in one piece. One badly cracked and gouged piece, but there are procedures for it. Straightforward dockyard job, and with the priorities Adannan can obtain we can get that down from the usual three months to five or six days.

There’s another job someone is going to have to do: oversight. Keeping the locals honest, in more senses of the term than one. A panic job like that is likely to have its troubles anyway, even without the possibility of flanging it, contractor fraud and outright sabotage.

‘Prokhor, what do you make of this?’ he asked Tarazed Meridian’s chief engineer.

Engineer Lieutenant-Commander Prokhor Subradal was an interesting contrast: he was a muun. So thin that if he stood side on he almost disappeared, skin dotted with acid burns. Mirannon hadn’t quite got around to asking him what he was doing in a Starfleet uniform, in a violent occupation far from home. Time to find out.

‘Not unpredictable,’ he said, slightly condescending. ‘Given Tarazed Meridian’s resuming the action, and managing to maintain combative efficiency in other respects, why should it surprise you that the rest of the hull should show no major fault?’

‘That much is obvious,’ Mirannon said coldly. He disliked the muun’s supercilious tone - what did that mean, anyway? Something to do with cilia, feelers? Or just plain silly?

'What I mean is, how did it manage to remain relatively intact? Some shock damage, mostly fixable, but the main frame withstood the concussion, didn’t dislocate. The main reactor chamber didn’t rupture. Autosystem with a programmed shutdown reflex in some piece of legacy software? Momentary loss of containment, long enough to fuse some of the emergent fractures? Fantastic luck if it was. 'More likely the impact area momentarily flexed inward through the containment fields, they seared the shell and took most of the impact and it was that temporary contamination problem that autoSCRAMed the reactor.
'Of course, I’m plucking hypotheses out of the aether here, but I think we can gather the evidence to properly put them to the proof. Ah, this should be good.’

‘With all due respect-‘ the muun engineer began.

‘Are you some kind of warped, mutant politician? All right, that’s a tautology, but you mean ”you’re nuts”, don’t you? Might as well say what you really mean.’

‘How will this task give a return for the effort you intend to expend on it?’ Prokhor decided to say.

‘It probably won’t, but that’s not the point. This is going to be a hobby project, I need something to keep my brain ticking over while I’m not officially busy,’ Mirannon mocked himself.

‘You’re nuts,’ the muun engineer said.

That was better. Mirannon chuckled, and said, ‘Just how many normal people do you see prepared to accept responsibility for a fourteen trillion terawatt reactor set, and everything attached to it?’

The muun’s forehead wrinkled, which considering how much there was of it was moderately impressive. ‘Did your tongue just slip there?’ he asked.

‘No,’ Mirannon grinned. Reinforced shell, thermal collectors and additional secondaries. ‘That’s the payoff for projects like this, superior exploitation through superior knowledge.’

‘Perhaps there is some point to abstraction after all,’ Prokhor agreed.

‘How did you get into this business, anyway?’ Mirannon asked. ‘I know muuninlist is relatively strongly casted, and engineers are one of the higher castes, which normally I’d consider that social setup a massive waste of potential but the details mean you must be doing something right.’

‘It is an opportunity cost,’ the muun started to defend his way of life, ‘that society as a whole chooses to pay, and receives in these times a critical measure of stability and a useful focus of effort - ah. Humour.’

‘You can drop the we-are-rational-beings-who-know-only-logic act; to get this far in the Starfleet you have to be able to take a joke.’

‘My race is also famous as bankers, accountants and efficiency experts,’ Prokhor reminded him.

‘Point taken,’ Mirannon acknowledged - although that was a well concealed taking of the piss in there anyway. ‘Question still stands.’

‘In the chaos of the first war, the probability of personal survival seemed significantly greater behind the guns than in front,’ the muun stated. That was how a lot of people, including Mirannon, had found themselves in the Starfleet. ‘I stayed because of…inertia, and certain private reasons.’

‘The reason I ask is that I have a particular job in mind. What do you think happens next to Tarazed Meridian?’ Mirannon asked him, wondering if the private reasons included any form of embezzlement and corruption.

‘Obviously something other than the expected, or you wouldn’t bother to say so. A ship that has lost its main power plant could easily be condemned to be broken up. Is the departure from the norm you have in mind that it is not to be so? To remove and replace the reactor module would be a 160-day,’ he licked a finger and held it in the air as if he was testing the breeze, ‘possibly 170-day job.’

That was a lot longer than Mirannon’s estimate, although presumably he knew the local repair yards well enough to have a reason for that claim.

‘That’s what I intend. If we call it in as an emergency priority override, I want it done in six days, not a hundred and sixty.’

The muun boggled slightly. Six days? To move how much matter? The seven hundred metre frigate weighed a hundred and sixty million tons, the reactor globe alone nineteen million. Not that big a deal. Cutting it loose, fusing a replacement in place, testing it, attaching the power couplings, feeding shields, tensors, stasis and relative-inertial fields through it - the size of the job was trivial, it was the complexity. To do it in anything like that time wasn’t a heavy lifting problem; it was a test of competence under pressure. That was what the sector repair yards might have a problem with.

‘What would you say,’ Mirannon tried not to make it sound like he was probing, which he was, ‘if I mentioned that it would be a superb opportunity to exploit the system?’ He was watching the muun’s reaction carefully.

‘High levels of wastage are all too likely, oversight is rushed off their feet; a lot of kit and a lot of credits could go walking in a situation like that.’

As he had suspected, the muun was too rational to commit himself out of hand. ‘I would say that the situation required careful analysis, based on the precise conditions obtaining at the time.’

‘You probably know the numbers yourself anyway, but the usual reckoning is that the Republic fleet paid an average of a hundred and forty-seven percent of ideal market value for its ships. Some of the overrun was legitimate waste, but not much. Remarkably few people want to commit themselves as to how well the Empire’s doing by comparison, but I reckon the situation’s worse. Enforcement are less likely to be on the take themselves, true, but much less likely to spot someone who is. And there are so many more and bigger opportunities…’

Stang, Mirannon thought. If I overdo the pitch I might actually talk him into it.

‘Commander, as part of an old style formation, the bounty and prize regulations still apply to you, do they not?’ Prokhor probed in his turn.

‘As a matter of fact, they do.’ The basic rate of pay was higher than it had been in the Republic, but bounties for destroyed enemy ships and the proceeds of captures being sold off were no longer paid. The Imperial Starfleet officially no longer needed the mercenary impulse; its spacemen and marines fought for the glory of the New Order, and that and three credits would buy you an ale.

Legally speaking, bounties were still paid for the destruction or capture of enemy or renegade vessels, but they went into the coffers of the organisation, not the individuals involved.

One of the more interesting organisational cockups that had befallen - in the sense of ‘carefully arranged’ - Black Prince was that, because of her theoretically interim position- however firmly she actually belonged to DesRon 851 - the old rules still applied. Considering the extent of her score sheet, most of the veterans who had been with the ship for a while were fairly well off.

‘Does that also apply to the ships attached?’ Prokhor asked carefully.

Mirannon sensed an end-run. ‘For the duration of your assignment to 851-Yod, yes.’

‘That should be a substantial influx of raw credits, then. For the time being I will have enough to do working that into my existing portfolio…perhaps next yea,.’ Prokhor declined, fairly straight faced; hard to tell what he was thinking.

For a short moment, Mirannon actually wanted to have the Force, if only to detect the depth of lie. Then again, that would deprive his brain of the exercise it took to actually work it out. Prokhor was not honest, at least not sufficiently honest to turn it down out of hand. On the other hand, was he greedy enough to omit to consider his own personal future on a ship that had been jury-rigged back together by a gang of scheming packrats, who regarded theft as one of the perks of the job?

‘On the other side of the credchip, have you considered what, exactly, is being wasted here?’

‘If the Imperial Starfleet has so much taxpayer’s credit coming in that it can afford to be exploited thus, and continue to grow at its present rate, then the place for a cunning exploiter is clearly in the administrative branches,’ the muun replied.

‘Point taken.’ Mirannon admitted. ‘No necessary link between greed and intelligence, though - and this is the problem; the reason for the crash priority is because Captain Lennart wants your ship back in the line before we have to deploy properly. How would you feel about having to look after a ship that’s been rebuilt under those conditions?’

‘Ah. The demand side of the equation,’ Prokhor quipped, thinking about it. ‘What would you have done if I had leaped enthusiastically at the possibility of making a few credits off the fat hog of the Starfleet?’

‘If you go around leaping enthusiastically at fat hogs, I’d have signed you up to a Hutt dating service,’ Mirannon said, before going on to mention the stick. ‘Seriously? Had you audited.’

‘The Hutts may be a lesser sacrifice, although with their affinity for money, and the necessary investment in personal security to keep them away, there might be little difference in the long run. That would be a genuinely vile thing to do, an audit.’ The Muun shivered thinking about it.

‘Viler than sending out a half-finished, half-reliable ship? You,’ Mirannon prodded a finger at him, ‘are the key being, in the key position, to make sure it goes to plan - or not.’

‘I have to manage and maintain whatever the yard leaves us with, so I do have a direct personal interest,’ the muun said, thinking unpleasant thoughts about being responsible for a half-botched hypermatter reactor. ‘Six days?’

‘This ship has to be ready in another nine. Take no more time than that, the real timescale is, as ever, ASAP. Your estimate was double my own; if the local yards are that sloppy, you’ll have your work cut out stopping them trying to rob you blind.
'Which is secondary,’ Mirannon reminded him, ‘to making sure they do good work.’

‘Power, structure, ion engines, hyperdrive, computing, and now project manager and thief-taker on top. Does my basic rate of pay go up to compensate for the extra challenges involved?’ Prokhor asked.

‘Why do you think so many people resort to fraud?’ Mirannon asked, rhetorically, then went on, ‘Ah, it’s not so bad. What other job is going to give you so varied a range of experience and such a depth of responsibility?’

‘Being the janitor in a Coruscanti skyscraper probably comes close, but with half the stress and none of the danger,’ Prokhor said, gloomily. ‘We’ll get it done.’

On board the Dynamic, Falldess was not especially impressed. She had arrived in mid-exercise, apparently; the destroyer was under simulated attack, and suffering from local shield failures, ionisations, compartment breaches - all too familiar a sight.

At first she had assumed that it was hazing, out of rivalry and jealousy, and determined to take it professionally, be cool about it. Then she started paying more attention to the reactions of the crew, and noticed how close to panic some of them were.

Whoever was running it was doing a fairly good job of simulating battle damage; the sound effects over the ship’s PA, the lighting and the vent system, worst of all the compensators, all contributed. The crew’s reactions were barely contained panic; too much screaming, too much running around, few traces of concerted, disciplined action.

As she listened to the thudding of the impacts through the deck frame - simulated - she realised what they were being hit with wasn’t actually that bad. Medium gun fire, no more.

She turned to the junior lieutenant who had met her shuttle. ‘What were the terms of reference for this?’

‘A planetary ion cannon hit paralysed the ship, she drifted out of range, we’re being pursued by system defence boats trying to finish us off before we can bring things back on line.’

‘Who’s winning?’ she asked.

‘System defence boats, I think.’

It certainly seemed that way; she looked at the chaos around her and itched to start doing something about it, take charge and tell them what do to - but it was a side of the job she didn’t understand very well herself, and it was another man’s ship.

The path aft to the bridge tower was long and convoluted, and she got to see quite a lot of what was going wrong.

One problem, she simply couldn’t stop herself getting involved with. She heard the shouting first, went to see. Two men and a droid, blue armbands, shouting at a regulatory branch PO.

‘Get out of the way, you kriffing idiot-‘ Most people thought that you had to be a computer to understand the Imperial Starfleet’s system of rates, but rank was clear enough. For an Able Spaceman, no more, to swear at a regulator PO was unlikely verging on death wish.

‘What did you call me, boy? Now shut up and lie down like a good little casualty before I rip you-‘

‘We’re exempt, don’t you know what blue means or are you submoronic as well as colour blind?’

On a damage control exercise, with confusing conditions, hostile environments and high powered tools being wielded by frightened men, there was a predictably increased risk of real accident - genuine casualties in addition to the simulated ones. Command had prepared properly by arranging a ‘blue team’ of medics and other personnel exempt from the conditions of the exercise, who would deal with the genuinely hurt and damaged - but the regulatory branch seemed not to have got the memo.

She got there just as the regulator swung for the medic; he went down, and the other medic and the droid jumped him.

Falldess found it hard to believe; had it been staged for her benefit? A reaction test? If so, they were very good actors, genuine-seeming hate for each other, genuine shock and horror as they found an unfamiliar and fairly senior officer glaring at them.

‘You, able spacer-‘

‘Korschjleim, casualty retrieval technician, ma’am.’ The bloody nose medic said, standing up.

‘You may be right, but you’re a fool. To swear at and swing for a superior rate, even one in the wrong - you will be reported for this. Now get about your business, and fast.’

The medical team saluted and scuttled clear, leaving the petty officer. ‘Your name,’ she asked him, coldly.

‘Bosun’s Mate Second Sterdel, Commander.’ She could almost hear him thinking "I don’t know her, not from my ship, don’t have to answer to her" - and realising what she would do to him if he did.

‘Blue was the clearance colour of this exercise, was it not?’

‘Clearance colour?’ the BM2 looked bewildered.

No time for this nonsense, she thought. She pointed her finger at him, said ‘Zap. A rebel boarding party shot you, you are a casualty. While you’re playing dead and waiting for your divisional officer to come and roast you, you may want to look up the terms of the exercise and work out what it was you got wrong.’

‘Commander? You can’t actually-‘

‘Lieutenant,’ Falldess asked her escort, ‘Can I borrow your sidearm?’

When she finally got to the bridge tower, she was shown into a ready room with two men already there. One officer, probably from this ship, one enlisted - interestingly wearing a uniform jacket with gunnery patches and Black Prince’s emblem.

‘Good afternoon, Commander.’ The officer - a navigation Lieutenant - said. ‘The captain’s been detained, he will be a little while.’

Falldess noticed the ranker was looking at the ceiling, playing ‘I’m not here, don’t take any notice’ so ostentatiously she couldn’t help noticing. Petty - no, recently promoted chief petty officer.

‘Explain.’ She asked him, specifically.

‘Unavoidable ship’s business,’ the lieutenant said. Oily tone.

Krivin Hruthhal ignored him. ‘Captain Dordd didn’t intend to take part in the exercise itself, just observe, but the crew managed to turn it into a grade alpha cluster - excuse me, ma’am, a major mess. He had to take charge personally, just to ensure that they would do something, and maybe learn something. Maybe.’

‘I have had enough of your disrespect. You will-’ the lieutenant snapped back.

‘The Commander asked me a direct question, Lieutenant. Sir,’ Hruthhal said, with no respect whatsoever.

‘Why are you here?’ Falldess asked the petty officer.

‘The turret team was detached from Black Prince to perform instructional duty on this ship; right now, I’m here because we were handling the simulated attack, and the Lieutenant and the Senior Chief couldn’t be spared.’

‘Chief Petty Officer, you will keep silent!’ the lieutenant shouted at him.

On one hand, Falldess thought, the solidarity of the officer corps. On the other, she wanted to find out what the petty officer had to say, and quiz him about this ship and his own.

‘Why would that be, Lieutenant? I certainly don’t feel disrespected.’

The comment ‘don’t worry, I’m sure we can arrange something’ passed across Hruthhal’s mind, but he knew better than to say it. Besides which, this was definitely not a good time.

‘This man and the rest of his team have been consistently and aggressively disobedient, cited standing orders and special privilege more times than I can count-‘

Falldess suppressed a laugh at Hruthhal’s expression; it was true, the subassembly team chief was thinking, he really can’t count that high. Careful to keep that expression away from the lieutenant, though.

‘Have formal charges been presented?’ Falldess asked.

‘Yes. Yes, they have,’ the lieutenant said, with repressed anger. This wasn’t fair. He was here to extend his captain’s apologies, how had he got stuck between this near-rebel enlistee and a woman officer with a chip on her shoulder? He presumed she did. Most of them did.

‘And?’ Falldess asked.

‘Our divisional officer dismissed the charges,’ Hruthhal pointed out, looking embarrassed, ‘with the comment, endorsed by the gunnery officer, that a ship whose record was one of consistent failure to perform hardly deserved respect.’

‘You’re not supposed to know that,’ the Lieutenant screamed at him.

‘Grapevine, sir. And really, we wouldn’t have said anything that harsh ourselves, you know that. If it makes you feel any better, our Nav reprimanded them both for failing in courtesy towards a brother officer,’ Hruthhal reported.

‘Lieutenant, before you get thoroughly sidetracked-‘ by either drawing your blaster and executing him on the spot or drowning in your own bile, whichever comes first, Falldess thought - ‘there are certain things I would like to ask the Gunner’s Mate here.’

At that point, a flushed looking Dordd pushed the door open and walked in. He looked like he had been living on a diet of lemons, Hruthhal thought: sour, irritated expression, thinner than usual. Hruthhal and the two officers stood to attention.

‘Commander Falldess, CPO.’ He acknowledged them, waved them to their seats. ‘Thank you, lieutenant, you can go now.’

‘Sir,’ he said, ‘I wish to press charges against GM1 Hruthhal, of indiscipline, insubordination and disrespect,’ he said, rigidly formal.

Falldess watched Dordd control his expression, with difficulty. He could not call one of his own junior officers a raging halfwit in front of the commander of another ship, and a senior ranker from his own old command. However much he wanted to.

Then again, Dordd thought, what was the point of being a captain if you couldn’t make your wishes felt? ‘I’ll take it under consideration. Go.’ He pointed at the door.

‘But, Captain, he really has gone too far-‘

‘Are you disobeying an order now, too? Out.’

The young lieutenant left, and Dordd turned to study the two that were left.

‘Commander, you understand that Captain of the Line Lennart has asked me to review the information you retrieved in his absence?’

‘I more than half expected to have to account for the loss of my ship,’ Falldess admitted.

Tarazed Meridian is going to be repaired under crash priority. As for your actions,’ Dordd said, sounding sterner than he felt, if only through trying not to appear a fraud; he had been in charge, of this - floating zoo, he thought, for maybe one percent of the time she had spent in charge of a ship.

‘You destroyed a medium, damaged a light frigate and set up another, for the cost of severe localised damage to a heavy frigate. You broke even; there are others who have done far worse.’ Dordd tried to sound authoritative; he was uneasily aware that he might be one of them before long.

‘It’s the fact that we were not previously aware that we were at war with your opponents that Captain Lennart has deputised me to enquire into. Do you have your datacards?’

‘Log? Right here, Sir.’ Falldess handed over the datacard with her ship’s sensor data on it. Dordd plugged it in to the holoprojector built into the table; they watched the incident replay itself.

Dordd felt distinctly envious. She was rough-tongued and demanding, but her crew jumped when she said to, and did reasonably well - not perfect, but sufficient. He did see why Lennart was worried.

‘You left the search pattern and moved to engage on the strength of a gut feeling. No logic whatsoever, a snap decision - that turned out to be right, but you gave yourself too little time to plan, jumped in too close and stayed too long. It came down to you because there was no time to consult, but there was time to think it out more thoroughly. What you do may be driven by instinct, but how it is done must be thought through.
'Ten seconds, even - long enough to assess the enemy and the threat they posed to you, and position accordingly. Not in the way of a swarm of planet killers would have been a good start.’ Dordd said.

‘I had a duty to my people and my planet. Perhaps I could have done it more elegantly, at less cost, but you did say that you thought I had made the right decision.’

Note to self, Dordd thought, stop leaving hostages to fortune. ‘Hruthhal?’

He had been looking at the external data, the ship’s sensor picture. ‘The fighters are familiar, they’re the key. Notice - no ejections. Under LTL fire there wouldn’t be many, but here there were none.
'No survivors to be interrogated. Here, the part after you had been hit; watch the retreating ship, and the wreck. The life pods; not all of them function. Some must have been too badly concussed. The minelayer performs retrieval on as many as it can, then opens fire on the rest.’ Falldess looked in horror at that, then reminded herself what they were dealing with.

‘Worse,’ Hruthhal went on, ‘unless they’re using markerless turbolasers, some - these three pods here, here and here - self destruct. No-one to tell the tale. Sir, I bet that if you were to go back to the predicted position of that wreck and the bombardment drone swarm, you’d find nothing but a cloud of plasma.’

‘That depends,’ Dordd said slowly, thinking, ‘on whether their politicians can react quickly enough to send out a clean-up crew fast enough to be done and away, before we can catch them in the act. Com-scan,’ he raised his voice and the internal network caught it and routed his words, ‘get me Group Captain Vehrec on the Voracious. Excuse me.’ He said to the two still at the table, went into one of the side rooms to arrange it.

‘Why are you here? Falldess asked Hruthhal.

‘No disrespect intended, ma’am, but, well, I’m the closest thing we’ve got to a specialist in faking it,’ Hruthhal admitted.

‘We’ve come up with entire nonexistent battles before now, for the amusement and diversion of Rebel intelligence. I think Captain Dordd thought, well, in case the evidence had been gilded a little bit?’

‘I think I understand why that lieutenant wanted you shot,’ Falldess said, dryly. She would decide whether to let her anger loose in a moment. ‘Are you seriously suggesting that I made this up?’

‘No, ma’am - that they did. Would you really do something this inherently dubious, this likely to bring retribution, under your own colours? Would anyone with the sense and expertise to do it fail to take precautions against being caught?’

Falldess tried to think about it. I have just done a terrible thing, she imagined, of great future profit to myself and my kind. Am I going to be embarrassed? Ashamed? Not, she decided, if I have the stomach for such a thing in the first place. I’m certainly not going to want to get caught. Badly enough to be willing to blow myself up?

These beings - why don’t they migrate? Exploit empty, unclaimed space - there are more than enough barren lands. Fear. They think the universe might be out to get them - and if it finds out what they’ve been doing, it will.

They want to move slowly, carve their way outwards. Eliminate the threats as they go. Would they resort to open war if they thought they had a chance? Have they, in the past? I need to find out more about them.

As a military operation, it would be inconceivable to do something that momentous and bloody under someone else’s flag.

The crews would need to know that their people and their civilisation were behind them…they would probably need the full weight of service discipline to make them go through with it, for that matter.

This was not necessarily a conventional operation of war, though; it could be political, and that put it a hair’s breadth away from piracy and all its tricks. In that case it was reasonable to expect a false flag, and all available forms of deception. The elimination, even the self-elimination, of anyone capable of talking was a strange pointer. In her experience a band of pirates might be that careless of each other’s skins, but not their own.

Not random hirelings. Somebody organised, a Cause that they cared enough about to die for.

Something solid enough to gain vengeance on.

‘Commander? This bit, here.’ Hruthhal caught her attention. It was one of the earlier hits, one of the MTL.

Apparently it had torn up part of the command frigate’s hull badly enough that the compensator node had failed. The area around the direct hit was melted, but there was enough loose scrap metal and fittings from the compensator failure to draw conclusions from. And a couple of bodies. Small, about one meter thirty, asymmetric - septapodal, two legs and five arms. rRasfenoni.

‘Can you tell,’ she asked, ‘if if what he’s wearing is standard issue to their regular forces?’ Forcing herself to be calm, and to judge on the evidence.

‘That shape, I’d be surprised if anyone else made gear to fit them - checking now.’ Hruthhal started an image library search, through the sector databank.

Dordd walked back into the main ready room. ‘Why didn’t Captain Lennart arrange that himself?’ she asked him.

‘Sidetracked dealing with the political situation. He has an excuse, he’s a flag officer now, he has many duties, of which squaring things with our oversight and the sector group probably do come first. Why didn’t you or I think of it?’ Dordd asked.

‘Ah, Captain?’ Hruthhal said, trying to change the subject. ‘The other reason I drew this detail? I was deputised to pass on a message, by word of mouth only, to yourself.’ He glanced at Falldess.

Dordd was thinking about it when the com beeped. ‘Captain? Com-Scan watch officer. Operational directive incoming from Black Prince.’

Dordd looked at Hruthhal, who shrugged. ‘Just give me the gist of it.’

‘It says, Captain, in the temporary absence of Captain of the Line Lennart you are acting squadron commander, and it authorises you to make a reconnaissance run in the direction of the rRasfenoni with the sweep line and elements of recon-A. It’s issued under the hand of Commander Brenn, and authenticates.’

Falldess watched Dordd swallow his bile. He was not having a good day.

‘On my authority, terminate the exercise. Leave the damage report and the charge sheets in my office.’ He added, wearily. ‘Was that the message?’ He said to Hruthhal.

‘Um - no, Captain. It was much more political than that.’

‘Spit it out; she’s a line commander. She’ll need to know,’ Dordd said, already sufficiently disgruntled.

‘If you think it wise, Captain.’ Hruthhal said, clearly meaning that he didn’t. ‘Captain of the Line Lennart has gone off to, the rRasfenoni seem to be in alliance with, well, the Alliance.
'We’ve seen them in company with rebel forces before. He’s gone off to poison that, at least break up the relationship, at best get them shooting at each other. He asked us to send on any other information we managed to extract from the data.’

‘So he does believe it was them,’ Falldess said, almost crowing.

‘Not quite, Commander, he, ah, it looks enough like them that if he uses that as a political bomb, the blast radius is big enough to do the damage he wants, even if it is a little off target,’ Hruthhal metaphorised.

‘The other part of it is, well, how did they manage to get away with it for so long? Look at the number of ecological disasters in the sector. Goes back to the republic but it’s still happening now. We must be looking at extreme stupidity or active complicity on the part of the Sector government. We could end up shooting at them as well.’

‘Glorious.’ Dordd said, sarcastically. ‘Nine Imperators, an Ordinator, a Proelium and an Urbanus light cruiser? Black Prince might be comfortable at those odds, but not this ship.’

‘Mine in their hands for major repair,’ Falldess pointed out. ‘I suppose there is a certain advantage in conducting a cutting out operation on your own frigate.’

‘As part of that,’ Hruthhal continued, ‘and as if it was something new, we’re to avoid the ISB as far as possible.’

‘Ah,’ Falldess said. It was a ‘what have I done’ sort of ah, and Dordd picked up on it.

‘Something you’d like to tell me?’ Dordd asked her.

‘Yes,’ she admitted, meaning no, but no choice. ‘I was very rude to my navigator in particular, during the action. I apologised to him afterwards, but we thought about it and concocted a particular scheme. Tell me, Captain, have you noticed anything strange about the behaviour of HIMS Obdurate?’

‘Not strongly enough to think it worth concocting a scheme, no,’ Dordd said. He had, but he had been too absorbed in the strange behaviour of his own crew, and it was Vehrec’s problem anyway, as the line commander.

Falldess had been well off reservation in doing anything of the sort, interfering with the internal order of another officer’s command, and that could be an offence, but Dordd suspected there was worse to come.

‘We guessed that there was some form of political observer looking over Lieutenant-Commander Raesene’s shoulder, and decided to bait them. My nav, Senior Lieutenant Alurin, tempted them with the possibility of bearing witness against me, and they took the bait,’ Falldess related.
‘There is a fairly senior ISB investigation team on board that ship, we know now, here to collect evidence against the squadron in general and Captain of the Line Lennart in particular.’

‘A lunatic risk well taken.’ Dordd decided, thinking about what he could do about it. There were a range of options, stretching from having them arrested and shot to being on best behaviour and hoping they would go away. He was thinking about the charges that could be brought against a pair of self-invited civilians and what legal cover they would have, when Hruthhal added

‘It gets kind of worse, Sir, Ma’am. There might be something for them to investigate; we have a pretty fair idea that our political overseer has a private agenda, which, ah, may not be in the best interests of the Empire. We might have to shoot Kor Alric, too.’

‘Is firing at it your solution to every problem?’ Falldess asked him.

‘Gunnery, ma’a,.’ Hruthhal tapped the patch on his shoulder. ‘We usually find a way to make it apply.’

Why me? Dordd asked himself. Because you’re in charge, it’s your job to deal with this mess. Just because the buck stopped with him didn’t stop him asking ‘why me?’, especially when it felt as if the buck had decided to keep going and run straight over him.

‘Today,’ he decided, ‘has not been a good day. Tomorrow should be better, it’d have to work at being worse.’

‘Sir, in the name of the Galactic Spirit please don’t say things like that,’ Hruthhal asked. ‘We can’t shoot Fate.’

‘I second that,’ Falldess said. ‘In fact, I can think of one very real possibility; if the rRasfenoni decide to expiate their crimes and patch up their relationship with the rebel Alliance, by dropping a swarm of those planet-killers on the squadron as we sit here at anchor.’

‘Another challenge to be met,’ Dordd said, trying to summon up reserves of authority, ‘Most of your light forces are intact, we’ll need a perimeter and patrol line, Commander Falldess I think you had better return to your ship and alert your line. Don’t get arrested, don’t start any private wars. If you can help it.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 10:46am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
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Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

I did put together a list of characters- accurate as of now in the story, including whoever has been named so far or important enough that they should have been, not including people who have died.

Dramatis Personae;

On board His Imperial Majesty’s Starship Black Prince, Imperator I-refit-II, hull no. 721

Captain of the Line Jorian Lennart, commanding officer Operational Pursuit Squadron 851-Yod, pathologically reluctant force user
Lieutenant-Commander (brevet Commander) Vasimir Mirhak-Ghulej, near-human, Executive Officer (suspended)
Commander Ielamathrum Brenn, human, male, Navigation Officer and heir-apparent

Air Commodore Antar Olleyri, commanding fighter forces, 851-Yod
Squadron Leader Quarin Vattiera, Alpha One
Major Kulban Levkow, Beta One
Squadron Leader Aron Jandras, Gamma One
Lieutenant-Commander Franjia Rahandravell, Epsilon One
Pilot Officer Zhered Gavrylsk, near-human, Epsilon Three
Flight Lieutenant Ardrith Yatrock, Epsilon Five
Flight Lieutenant Paludo Kramaner, Epsilon Nine
Flight Lieutenant Leirac Yrd, Epsilon adjutant
Squadron Technical Master Sargeant Billis Oregal, senior technician, Epsilon
Squadron Leader Romolano Avin, Mu One

High Colonel, brevet Major-General QAG-111, commanding 276th Atrisian (provisional 721st Armoured) Legion, ground forces 851-Yod
Captain Omega-17-Blue-Aleph-1, commander special operations detachment (Jedi Hunter Team)
Surgeon-Lieutenant BE-4413, medical officer, C coy Boarding Batallion
WO2 Omega-17-Blue-Aleph-3, investigations specialist, Jedi Hunter Team

Engineer-Commander Gethrim Mirannon, Chief Engineer and reluctant force user
Lieutenant Domolaris Ranner, power systems
Junior Lieutenant Levin Kitrich, apprentice, ion drive
Junior Lieutenant Idoni Tjalmin, apprentice, hyperdrive
Charge Chief Petty Officer Mallis Vilberksohn, hotel systems

Commander Obral Wathavrah, Gunnery Officer
WO1 Xarriyar Pernarin, ‘A’ watch local control designator officer
Lieutenant Pellor Aldrem, detached to HIMS Dynamic on instructor duty
Petty Officer Areath Suluur, tactical sensors and comms
Leading Spaceman Gort Fendon, power systems
Senior Chief Petty Officer Eddaru Gendrik, subassembly commander
Leading Spaceman Felric Tarshkavik, weapon mechanic
Chief Petty Officer Krivin Hruthhal, subassembly commander
Ordinary Spaceman Jhareylia Hathren, attached (ex Rebel spy)

Lieutenant-Commander Shandon Rythanor, Com-Scan Officer
Senior Lieutenant Ondrath Ntevi, Com-Scan ‘B’ Watch Commander
Chief Petty Officer Frevath Cormall, Signal Interpretation

Surgeon-Lieutenant Commander Zubaide Blei-Korberkk, chief medical officer
Surgeon-Lieutenant Uustinan Bergeron, medical monitoring

Parent Formation;
Rear-Admiral Stephan Rawlin, Commanding Fleet Destroyer Squadron 851
Engineer-Constructor Captain Philemon Sholokhov, Chief Technical Officer, 851

On board units attached to 851-Yod;
Captain Delvran Dordd, commanding Arrogant-class [Anon SD II] Star Destroyer Dynamic
Commander Ilarchu Ridatt, executive officer

Commander Stannis Lycarin, commanding Victory-III [Anon SD I] class Star Destroyer Perseverance
Commander Jiae Sarlatt, commanding Fulgor [Anon Star Frigate I] class Provornyy
Lieutenant-Commander Ebbirnoth Yeklendim, commanding Fulgor [Anon Star Frigate I] class Grey Princess

Group Captain Konstantin Vehrec, commander subcraft group, ranking officer Venator-class Star Destroyer Obdurate, Sweep Line
Senior Lieutenant Ludovic Caliphant, chief officer
Senior Lieutenant Garrant Kirritaine, gunnery officer

Lieutenant-Commander Karl-Anton Raesene, commanding Demolisher-class star frigate Obdurate
Section Leader of the Investigative Service (ISB) Michalis Fer Salif
Deputy Assistant Section Leader (ISB) Dorind Salif

Senior Field Agent (Interdiction) Eris Rontaine, Commander Customs Squadron 2263-H-975, detached to Starfleet service

Commander Aythellar Barth-Elstrand, commanding Meridian-class [Acclamator-II] Comarre Meridian, Recon Line A

Commander Vianca Falldess, commanding Meridian-class [Acclamator-II] Tarazed Meridian, Recon Line B
Lieutenant-Commander Prokhor Subradal, Chief Engineer
Senior Lieutenant Nakazon Alurin, Navigator

Lieutenant-Commander Conor Kovall, commanding RIF variant Strike [Verberor] Medium Frigate Blackwood

Uninvited guests;
Kor Alric Adannan, dark jedi
‘Laurentia’, 6NL-108-554E, aide/public relations
Banaar, aide/thug
Myfara Somoti, cyborg pilot
Igal, twi’lek slave brain-hacking test subject, liberated
Reni, twi’lek slave brain-hacking test subject, liberated

Vineland Sector;
Moff Edro Vlantir Xeale, Falleen sector governor
Vice-Admiral Domenic Gerlen, subsector commander
Doctor Edward Nygma, consultant attached to Sector Escort and Patrol Command (semi-retired Ubiqtorate analyst)
Eleventh Century Remnant
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Chapter 30b1

The conference room in Obdurate’s lower bridge tower was designed for twenty people clustered round a display set; with two men there, the lights dimmed and the table off, it felt very empty. It looked like there were two ghouls hunched over a corpse, gnawing at it - which was not that wild an analogy really, the senior agent thought. There was something ghoulish about the job.

‘What does this give us? How do we use it?’ he asked, semi-rhetorically. ‘Is this not clear proof that Captain Lennart is condoning failure, and encouraging or at least forgiving irresponsible adventurism, and disregarding of orders in favour of a personality cult? Is this still not enough?’

The senior agent sat, thinking. Why did I agree to take my sister’s youngest along, he asked himself. He’s an insult to the genetic profile, must take after his father - at least he comes in useful for good cop, bad cop.

‘You’re right,’ he encouraged his nephew, ‘it is proof, but it is all navy proof. These are all things done against the good order of the Starfleet; technically it may be enough for a court martial, but we need a civil trial.’

‘Why? I thought you wanted to take him on and beat him on his own home ground.’

‘That was rhetoric. Just trying to prod Lieutenant-Commander Raesene into a more productive attitude.’ He looked at young Dorind with exasperation. ‘Do you understand the fundamental problem here? He didn’t, to begin with. He does now, which could be a source of difficulty.’

‘If the men of the Starfleet are this reluctant to accept the authority of the New Order, then that serves as condemnation enough.’

‘One of these days I am going to have ‘ulterior motive’ tattooed on your eyelids, my young apprentice, in luminous ink so that the message burns itself into your brain while you sleep. You don’t seem able to take it in while you’re awake.’

His uncle’s sarcasm simply rolled off the young operative’s back; he had heard it all before. ‘What else do you call it?’

‘A catspaw. Why would Lieutenant Alurin come to us? How did he really know to come to us?’

‘You didn’t believe him?’ The young man said, surprised.

‘Oh, I believe the details, but the circumstances seem too good to be true.’

‘How can you say that?’ the young man exploded. ‘This is exactly what we need! This is success, completion. This is our ticket out of here.’

‘Possibly into a Navy trash compactor,’ the senior agent said. ‘Exactly what we seem to need is being offered to us on a plate, and such gifts always make me wish I had a food taster.
'Do we stand to gain anything - anything at all - from reporting Lennart to his own parent unit? Their reputation is not far short of his. Would they behave properly, or would they cover it up - which means dianogas at dawn for us? I think they would cover. That leaves higher authority, or the sector fleet.’

‘So we need to get a message out of here to Sector. Before they move against us,’ Dorind said.

‘Then what? Time for some more...tactical conversation,’ the senior agent said, avoiding the word “lies”. ‘Do we arrest Captain Lennart? Has he, in fact, done anything against the Empire as a whole? There are rumours, but there are always rumours. Arranging a fake defection to gain tactical intelligence, that I could believe. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
'On the other hand, I can picture the scene quite exactly - we board, and make it approximately two metres across that ship’s hangar bay before he has his crew gun us down. I do not think that would be very productive.’

‘What about Falldess? She’s a woman-‘

‘Very perceptive of you,' the senior agent commented, dryly. ‘Her crew might be willing to bear witness against her, but the Starfleet, for undermining discipline - that would cut both ways. Do you feel expendable for the greater good?’

‘Um-‘ the younger agent said. ‘Now hold on a minute here, this is family, you can’t-‘

‘Then do try to stop coming up with plans that would get you expended,’ he reprimanded his nephew. ‘We have to find - or spin up - a sufficiently drastic charge that it passes beyond the Starfleet’s competence to prosecute.’

‘What about letting the Millennium Falcon escape?’ Dorind asked.

‘On the orders of a special agent of the council. Besides which, lots of Imperial officers have done that. It’s becoming something of a tradition,’ the senior field agent said. ‘Speaking of plans that involve being expendable, have you thought who stands to gain by having this task force tied down in legalities?’

‘We’re thinking factions here?’

‘Yes. Why are you surprised? We all seek to get ahead, and who is there to get ahead of except one another? One of the reasons it is always worth thinking carefully before accepting a touchy job - balancing advancement for success against the risks, of failure and of jealousy. Have you made any enemies yet?’

‘Only the enemies of the state,’ the younger man said. Sounded confident enough, but was there a glimmer of sense starting to form?

‘You may wish to look very carefully at the people who call themselves your friends before saying that,’ the senior agent pointed out.

‘Anyway, we could drop this into the hands of the sector fleet, which would be glad of it, but - hmmm. Yes, I think that would be worth doing. As a preliminary attack. They should be sufficiently jealous of him that, even if Region does quash the charges, the fallout would open up so many more avenues of attack that-‘ the terminal beeped at him.
‘Hmm,’ he said, reading fast. An order that he had used his access to have copied to him. ‘A movement order for this ship. By the hand of - Captain Lennart is absent from his command?
'Ah, now, this could matter. This could be exceeding useful. What a perfect moment for an arrest. We need to get this to Sector as soon as possible.’

‘Skipper?’ Vilberksohn asked, sounding worried. ‘Are you sure you know how to fly this thing? That was a pretty ropy takeoff.’

In theory, Lennart had every right to crush him beneath the iron heel of military discipline. In practise - he had to admit the charge chief probably had a point. Or rather, the shuttle nearly had after it had come within a wingspan of carrying away the com antennae from the main control tower.

‘Well, I had a flight certification for Lambda class shuttles, Delta JV-7s aren’t that different,’ Lennart lied slightly. In fact, he would have felt justified to roast anyone who he caught joyriding like this.

‘Had?’ Aleph-3 asked, from the prime gunner’s seat. The Delta escort shuttles had a flight crew of six, pilot, flight engineer/copilo t- currently Vilberksohn - com/scan, first gunner for the remote-steered rear heavy turret, two front gunners for the ARC-170 like wingroot pivots.

The covering party were loyal enough, that was the reason why he had picked them from the pool of available volunteers, but Lennart could sense them thinking, aha, future blackmail material.

‘To forestall any further speculation,’ he said, ‘I have a civil Grade Two private pilot’s license for YT-1210, 1250 and 1300 series, from the year 10, and a military certification for Lambda class dating from ’19.’

‘Requalification is every five years, isn’t it?’ somebody asked from the rear cabin. Requin, one of the ship’s clerks: a useful fixer and obtainer of semi-official stores. Lennart suspected he had come along in the hope of making a useful contact.

‘For a noncombat type.’ Dammernorph, technically an Imperial Army first sargeant, Alpha squadron’s chief armourer. Huge man, well over two hundred kilos, but the precision he could get out of those blocky fingers of his was amazing. So was his energy, considering his other activities - he had at least five wives that Lennart knew of.

‘Most of you were paying attention; you heard what happened,’ Lennart reminded them. ‘There are certain advantages to not being officially capable of being here.’ It might not matter all that much, considering he had left a flight plan with Black Prince’s nav computers and left instructions as to how he could be contacted in case of emergency.

‘I have a current civil Grade Three,’ Aleph-3 said.

‘Not until you satisfy my curiosity on one or two points first,’ Lennart said, then noticed the discussion back in the troop bay was still going on. He listened, for a moment.

‘Considering how often professional, trained pilots bend these things-‘

‘Dam, give it a rest. You’re just grouchy because you didn’t get a chance to screw that waitress.’

‘Well, considering that would involve another landing and takeoff, would you really want to go back?’ Lennart said loudly enough to be heard in the bay.

‘No, Sir, sorry Sir,’ Dammernorph said, a shade too quickly.

‘Besides which, you heard what happened. No-one else I could send to do anything that unlikely. And unless you have really well hidden talents, there’s no-one else up to the job of taking this bucket through hyperspace.’

‘Ahem,’ Aleph-3 coughed.

‘And you are exactly the person I ought to be talking to on the subject of hidden talents,’ Lennart continued, to her. ‘You have quite a range of them - tell me, under what circumstances do they come to the fore?’

‘I don’t quite understand…’ she said, looking round at the covering party.

‘You can do a lot of things, more than I’d expect to be able to fit into your head. Interrogator, investigator, sniper, and then there are the cover identities; second hand speeder saleswoman, deep sea mollusc harvester, crime journalist, cybermechanic, websphere coach - it’s the alternate personalities of the cover identity that fascinate me, and how you manage to integrate them all.’

‘I…’ Aleph-3 hesitated. Lennart knew he had struck a nerve.

‘You see,’ Lennart continued, probing, ‘I don’t understand how you can manage to piece them all together.’

She thought about it. Pass it all off with ‘it’s just method acting, really’ - or actually give him the answer he was fishing for? What did he want to do to her? Did she actually want to stop him?
‘I do find it…easier to link the practical and the social aspects of a cover identity together,’ she admitted. ‘I don’t think I would be able to function in my designed role unless I did export parts of myself accordingly.’

‘Should we leave the two of you alone, Captain?’ Vilberksohn asked, edging away from them in his seat.

‘No. I may need you to sit on her if she loses it,’ Lennart said.

‘I do not “lose it”, as you so charmingly put it, Captain. And I am very particular about who I let sit on me,’ she said, changing tone from matter of fact to outright seduction and eyeing him as if she wanted to eat him.

‘There,’ Lennart said, trying to remain calm, ‘that change of note there is exactly what I mean. You went from ramrod-spined to raunch in an eyeblink. Do you do that deliberately? Consciously, even? Whenever you’re trying to think outside the box, whenever you encounter a situation in your proper persona that one of your cover identities would be good for, it tends to come to the fore,’ Lennart opined.

She shrugged, then smiled at him. ‘So I’m dynamically unstable.’

‘Knock it off, you’re not going to win my heart with dodgy aerodynamics. You’re still basically a Stormtrooper, aren’t you?’

‘Cloned and bred, Sir. But, are you suggesting that I’m deliberately repressing my wilder moments, in order to remain within the standard-issue mental frame?’

‘I’m suggesting that psychologically, you’re a deep sea mollusc’s breakfast. You’re trying to brainwash yourself-‘ so am I, trying not to stare at her breasts in that dress, Lennart added to himself - ‘but it doesn’t work. Your mind doesn’t want to do that, and unassimilated bits keep bubbling up to the surface.’

‘So…’ she said, thinking. Was that fair comment? Was that really the way things were - she was an amateur psychologist, not a professional.

No. On one level, it was obvious - and offensive - nonsense. She was a stormtrooper, and had been raised and trained as one- assuming there was some separation between the two concepts. Training had been confused; at times it had felt as if the geonosians didn’t quite know what to do with them. They had eventually evolved an appropriate scheme of allowing them to transgress the boundaries, but then requiring them to atone by demonstrating good behaviour, as per the standards laid down for Line One, Mod One. Latitude and correction, like being on an elastic leash, let roam but reeled in every time - it had been an effective way of allowing them to grow in ability without allowing them to grow much in maturity.

The most dubious part of her upbringing, and the part she had most difficulty faking, was growing up. With the senior batches of her own line playing surrogate-mother, a duty she had never enjoyed or been good at when it fell to her turn- being a military clone was a stunted childhood. No matter how capable you became, you always remained emotionally dependent on the system, never really left the nest.

Lennart sat there, watching her as she thought it through.

Is that what he’s afraid of? She thought. Playing Pygmalion? Being a surrogate father? He’s no celibate. He has taken lovers - and spawned a few illegitimate children, I’ll bet - but admit it. Isn’t that the reason I want him? So that he can be my rock to support me as I grow, challenger, master, confessor, protector and friend rolled into one? That’s a lot to ask of a normal man. Then again, what would I want about a normal man? He’s more than that. A leader, a man of determination, and strong in the Force.

What does he want from me? She wondered. He always took me seriously, at least as a threat. He’s not just after me for my body - any of me would give him that much.

How badly am I projecting? Misreading him, and seeing what I want to see? On the face of things, very badly. He - if he thought in the same terms, we would have -

And who am I to think such things, anyway? Who am I to dare such? He is my captain, and he is Authority - whom I have already said some exceeding strange things to, and of. One of the reasons I want him to have the Force, so he can look at me and see how much I want him.

But - am I misestimating myself? What if he’s actually right, and I am a functional dissociative, not someone he could-

‘Do you think I could have done anything like that,’ she asked him, desperately casting aside her own line of thought, ‘if I could have managed any other way?’

‘If that was what you had to do,’ he said, gently, acceptingly, and she wondered how much of that was genuine and how much a part he himself was playing, ‘then how can I help you now? I believe that you can do things differently. That you can change and grow.’ He put his hand on her shoulder, and she nearly went berserk with rage at the modesty of the gesture.

She wanted to pull him out of his seat, throw him to the deck, leap on him and ravish him; she couldn’t, not here, not in the presence of twenty odd assorted representatives of the lower deck- was that actually his plan? Force her to do something wild and demonstrative, make a rash romantic gesture - but she already had, in deciding to side with him after all, hadn’t she? Or was he cold blooded enough - no, part of her decided - to consider that merely duty, this over and above?

She was looking at him, looking into his eyes and trying to read them - also trying to signal ‘come and get me, lover boy’- when Vilberksohn coughed and pointed at Lennart’s panel.

‘Skipper, are those red dots anything to do with us?’

Lennart glanced down at them, ran a brief scan, said, ‘Depends just how wild a coincidence you’re prepared to believe in. Sulmarr, com Black Prince, tell them destination system T-20443 in the files, RA +11, 2, 04, 254, on the ecliptic, heading outsystem, fighter support now. Everybody else, battle stations.’

‘What are we supposed to do?’ A voice from the back of the shuttle asked.

‘Hope and pray that I really do know how to fly this thing,’ Lennart said.

Black Prince’s fighter direction centre was moderately busy. One small exercise running, and a couple of dozen of the individual sim tanks in the annex in use - mostly non-pilots playing computer games.

The duty officer was the Surface Transport Wing commander; technically a transferee from the Stormtrooper Corps, he knew a crash-action order when he heard one. Anybody too preoccupied to specify exactly what sort of support they needed was probably in deep stang. Nu squadron’s new Sentinels were on plus five; better add something heavier.

Who was up to strength? Avenger and Starwing replacements had just come in - that should do. One flight each Beta and Epsilon. He sent out the order, turned to notify the bridge, and did not notice one of his junior temporary controllers float away quietly in the direction of the flight bay.

One of the replacement fighters that had just come in was a rather interesting variant; it wasn’t actually due to be issued for some days yet, but it had been assembled and checked out. Not easy climbing out of a hoverchair into a cockpit, but under the circumstances, possible.

The escort shuttle was significantly faster and more responsive than the Lambda, which was in itself overpowered and overarmed for the vast majority of its duties. There were landers and transports based on TIE style hulls that really were not much more than cargo containers with engines, but nine tenths of the Lambdas never did anything more exciting than onboard delivery anyway. Which was a shame, considering how easily they could be refitted into a heavy escort fighter to protect TIE bomber streams. Lennart was reacquainting himself with the type, testing how easily it pitched and rolled.

His general course was out; the planet should get what help to him it could, but the main chance was to stay out and stay alive long enough for Black Prince’s fighters to intervene.

Response time - ten minutes at least. They could run, draw it out into a stern chase that would be their best chance. Focus, Lennart was telling himself, try to stop sweating, it doesn’t inspire confidence.

If I was comfortably on my bridge, com’ing instructions to an incoming shuttle being pursued by Rebels, what advice would I give? ‘Hold still so the LTL can fire past you’ doesn’t really apply.

Head in the direction of maximum safety, but at these speeds, don’t expect to make it - at least in theory, but…the enemy were four flights strong; one of R-41s, only barely faster, three of the standard rRasfenoni types- one bomber flight, trundling along, two of fighters- which did have the speed.

They weren’t using it, though; sticking close to the presumably missile armed attack craft.

Missile salvo incoming, then. Harrass the bombers with the aft long gun, then just outside accurate gun range, start to turn to bear, expose the forward guns for point defence fire, then accelerate into the attack and go for the bombers.

‘Fire as soon as you think you have a shot,’ he told Aleph-3, swaying the shuttle slightly to confuse their targeters a little, buy extra seconds.

She opened fire almost immediately, picking the lead bomber and firing a burst of six shots in rapid succession; the fourth and fifth shots hit. The fourth blew away the thin shields and tore one wing off - the fifth was a solid hit on the fuselage that ruptured the powerplant; that sent up the torpedoes.

‘Good shooting,’ Lennart said. Trying to remember how to set the power flow to serve the guns. Not yet. It would be time soon.

‘Beginner’s luck,’ Aleph-3 said, lining up on the next.

Think about it, Lennart told himself. I’m an amateur pilot. Hyperspace is one thing - I could lead them such a dance there, I could probably still do a course in my head if I tried, given half an hour and a slide rule. Although that was on a bet, and I did cheat.

Sublight - and if we want to kill them, that’s what it’ll have to be, my best chance is to use my superior judgement as a naval officer to avoid having to depend on my inferior skill as a flight suit insert as long as possible.

So how come I feel relatively comfortable doing this? Never mind the joystick - and a competent flight engineer to back me up - what a suicidally inconvenient time this would be to start feeling the touch of the Force.

Although it was utterly absurd that so many Jedi had become combat pilots, it was an undeniable fact. An attitude of mind less likely to produce the hunting instincts of a fighter jock would be hard to find, but the dexterity, speed of reaction and foresight the Force gave them seemed to make it almost inevitable.

At this range, the rebs can shoot, but they can’t land enough fire on target to push the shields below regeneration rate. If they fan out and jink to avoid our fire, that costs them time.

Concentrate; don’t be daft enough to let the Force sucker you into thinking you have a chance in a dogfight.
‘Shame that there’s nothing larger,’ he said, trying to cheer the crew up. ‘Then we could at least have docked and boarded. One down.’

Aleph-3 was leaning into her board as if trying to physically bring them nearer, scattering fire across the formation to see who was an easy and who a hard target; she fired a long burst at one who had been play-acting - made themselves look like an easy target to draw fire away from the rest and then broke into radical evasion, darting and twisting out of the line of shot. Aleph-3 was about to change target when Lennart said, ‘Stay on him; he’s probably the squadron leader.’

‘I’m wasting power. The rest of them are going to get clear shots,’ she said.

‘The percentages in killing off their coordinator are better,’ Lennart said, bluntly, noting that she had in fact kept on target. By the time she had nailed the R-41, the rest were almost ready to launch.

Eighteen concussions. Enough? Possibly, at face value, yes. At a realistic hit rate, no. Aleph-3 shot two of them.

‘Stay on the bombers.’ He ordered. Time later for that.

His hand kept twitching on the joystick; kept wanting to spin the shuttle and accelerate at them, ride them down and turn it into a proper furball. It was as bad as controlling a nervous tic. One more bomber exploded; four more missiles that would probably go wild.

Then he gave in to temptation and still accelerating, shoved the joystick forward in a diving loop and levelled out facing into the attack.

‘Front gunners, take them.’

Aleph-3 looked at him; she was positively beaming, despite the fact that he had just masked her gun. He was listening to the Force - which probably meant he was doing it wrong. Crap.

Lennart flew; taking snapshots whenever the bow of the shuttle pointed directly at a target, otherwise turning and twisting to throw off targeting and break locks. The other two did the work. One of the bombers and two of the fighters died before they got close enough. ‘I’m going evasive, go to antimissile fire.’

The force was tickling away at the shuttle’s shields; light autoblasters useful against Clone War era fighters and Imperial TIEs, not much use against an armoured, shielded shuttle. Tickling was the right word. They needed the R-41’s lasers to bite, or consistent missile hits.

‘I think they’ve called for reinforcements,’ Sulmarr said from the com-scan seat.

‘See whose get here first,’ Lennart said, aiming for one of the ‘41’s. Not much point flying a stable course - the shuttle’s autotrack could keep the guns in play. Better to jink, in fact.

Spraying green pulses of light, the heavy shuttle twisted into the missile swarm. Eighteen launched, twelve now relying on their own targeters. Four might hit.

One of the front gunners was picking the missiles that showed constant bearing; the other hadn’t thought of that. Six guided - four or five probable hits. Not fun. Last split second, clearest path; malfunction, you bastard, Lennart thought at one missile as he deliberately turned into another. Fratricide. Accelerate to meet one, touch it off, take it on the shields - and hopefully the blast would knock down some of its brothers. Then ride out the loose blast pattern, push though it and into the furball after all.

The warhead he had been thinking at detonated. The blast wave touched off four of them, the hit he had taken deliberately spoilt another one. Three hits, effectively. Not enough to breach the shields.

The fighters were on them, though; right-handed inverse falling leaf, twisting out of the way of most of the first shower of fire - splashes over the now-equalised shields. The rRasfenoni fighters starbursted around them, fanning out to match velocities and englobe. As per pre-war procedure.

‘They’ve got it wrong, told you it was worth nailing the leader,’ Lennart said, hauling the shuttle round for all front guns to bear on the last of the bombers, holding it steady as it kicked under a splatter of laser fire.

‘Chaos works for them, a structured fight for us, they lost their commander so they default to the book which says structure.’

One of the R-41s swooped in to take out the tail turret; Lennart turned so he was dead astern and gave him a faceful of ion, burnt down the shielding. Aleph-3 added insult to injury by spraying him in the belly as he broke away.

Without entirely knowing why, he focused all the shields on the upper port sector and rolled 120° to port; the outer skin of the armoured shuttle crackled and hissed as the blaster fire scarred it, but there as a mighty thump as one of the light fighters played inadvertent kamikaze.

Quickly equalise them before the remaining bomber rippled off another four missiles, continue the roll into a corkscrew. Dammit, Lennart thought, I might actually be some good at this.

Emergence flash; Lennart looked at the com/scan board. ‘Ours or theirs?’

‘Theirs. Corellian corvette and escort.’

‘They can’t do this to me; I’m a shareholder,’ Lennart said, and got a chuckle. ‘Plan: we match velocity and use the ejectable cockpit module as an icebreaker. Breach the hull, around the escape pods, and board her.’

Aleph-3 was beaming; the rest ranged from expressions of near panic to bring it on. Lennart thought it was suicidal.

There was a second set of flashes. Relief, that was their support. The new fighters curved towards the shuttle, the Imperial fighters moved to intercept. Heavy laser fire cracked out, proton torps reached for the corvette; Starwings. Good. Except one seemed to be having trouble with its torpedoes. No shot, and it was skid-turning in their direction - both the two remaining R-41s vanished. Light turbolaser fire had a way of making fighters do that.

Lennart accelerated the Delta JV-7 away from the rRasfenoni corvette, clearing the line of fire and drawing the fighters out so they could be intercepted.

The heavy gun fighter took aimed shots at three of them, one after the other, three instant kills, before breaking away to avoid the surge of Sentinels heading in to cover the shuttle.

It turned towards the Corvette; sideslipped and opened fire with a long burst, tracking across the blue-grey painted hull, burning into the shielding and drawing defensive fire away from the incoming torps. It was forced to break off and go evasive, too late for the Corvette to cover herself.

Thirty torpedoes amounted to a killing salvo; especially with the shields already weakened, the twenty-four fired turned out to be more than enough. The corvette came apart, then what must have been an onboard self-destruct charge detonated.
A blazing white point of light, and then there was nothing left.

Such of the rRasfenoni were still able to turned to flee to hyperspace; not many of them made it. The big gun fighter flew up to visual range alongside the shuttle. PulsarWing; the thick-winged, faired gun pod version of the Starwing.

‘Rahandravell,’ Lennart commed across, ‘What the kriff do you think you were doing?’

‘Sorry, Captain,’ Franjia’s voice came back. ‘It seemed the right thing to do. How did you know it was me?’

‘I didn’t know, but you were at the head of the list of suspects,’ Lennart confirmed, dryly.

‘Did the idea that you could get away with discharging yourself from light duties, walk away from your assigned post, essentially steal a flight test article, and get yourself forgiven by going and playing hero with it – did you plan that, or was it a spur of the moment thing?’

‘Ah. I’m in trouble, ain’t I?’

‘You and lots and lots of other people, starting with the idiot - or the traitor - who leaked our position to the rRasfenoni. All fighters,’ Lennart looked them over, three damaged, none badly, ‘form up on the shuttle and take your nav data from me.’ He started plotting the route home, to be interrupted by Aleph-3, who turned to him eyes shining.

‘You used the Force. You called upon it, and it came to you.’ She sounded high, drunk on delight.

‘I know,’ Lennart said grimly. ‘As if things couldn’t get any worse.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 10:57am, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2361
Joined: 2006-11-20 06:52am
Location: Scotland

Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »

Ch 30b1/31

HIMS Voracious and her close escort group emerged from hyperspace just behind the predicted position of the remaining debris; they would be watching it as it receded, which they had decided was better than being dead in front, because that might happen all too literally. Not the best position, but enough.

It had been sheer bloody fluke that Tarazed Meridian- now frantically having her main reactor sawn out- had come across them in the first place. A false flag would have been secondary to security though manoeuvre; they had a contingency plan, but they hadn’t really been expecting to get caught.

Sending out a cleanup crew had been an afterthought, too. It was the same combination of layer/retriever and escort, but the escort they had sent to do it was a spectacularly unlikely choice - a SoroSuub Liberator “Heavy Cruiser”; in practise a medium-heavy frigate, well armed, massive troop and fighter complements for its class, but it bought them at the price of being equally massively overloaded. They were in the same acceleration range as the Dreadnaught, if not worse.

The Liberator was moving at low speed, paralleling the retrieval ship in a series of short hyperspace hops to intercept any ship approaching the area at normal velocity. They would have been expecting light patrol forces, a Corellian Corvette, Bayonet maybe, at worst a Carrack. A Venator destroyer-carrier and escorts were not part of their game plan.

Voracious turned to bear, initially presenting her main battery. Stang, Vehrec thought. How do I handle this one? He watched the emerging menagerie of attack craft as the Liberator prepared to make a standup fight of it. Two squadrons of old Kuat Systems CloakShapes - probably the fully uprated type with the lasers and launchers. Two squadrons of Y-wings, which meant little as any fool could get their hands on Y-wings, but that would be a possible ID problem. One squadron of T-wings, the rejected rebel design gone third party. The last of the six squadrons were a rare breed, Starypan/Sunhui Razor fighters, the supposed successor to the R-41. Sort of like being a hereditary bin man.

Well. They, meaning Lennart, had given him a ship, and not so much a wing as permission to use what he had and the promise of more, and why the kriff not? Time to be somewhere else; he announced to the fighter bridge in general, ‘Magnum launch. Everything we have a pilot for, we’ll sort it out when we get there.’

‘Affirmative, Group Captain. And?’ One of the flight controllers said, pointedly.

‘Stang. Forgot. Call general quarters.’

On the ship’s bridge, Caliphant was looking around for a soft wall he could bang his head off of. What were they supposed to do now?

It was a common enough procedure for Venators to be commanded by the ranking starfighter corps officer, and he had looked over the last set of standing orders from when Voracious had been a serving combat carrier, but it would be good to know exactly what the ship was supposed to be doing.

‘Group Captain Vehrec?’ he said, the com system automatically finding him.

‘Yes?’ the voice came back.

‘What are we supposed to be doing?’

That was a smenging strange question, on the face of it. What was Caliphant on about? He couldn’t be suffering from combat fatigue already. ‘Enemy. Thing to shoot at. Mass fire for fun and profit. Yes?’

He’s a group captain, Caliphant reminded himself. Two and a half grades above me. ‘How are we going to fight this? We can’t just make up capital ship tactics as you go along.’

‘Why not?’ Vehrec said. ‘Works for me.’

‘Not,’ Caliphant said, keeping his voice level with difficulty, ‘for a ship this big. What is your plan for the wing?’

‘React, anticipate, generally play it by ear. What does the situation look like from up there?’ Vehrec asked him.

‘You’re not on your bridge? Where-‘ silly question, Caliphant realised as soon as he said it.

‘In the turbolift on the way down to the bay,’ Vehrec said, to the sounds of changing into a flight suit.

Caliphant made a mental note to have display screens fitted to all bridge turbolifts. Then again, the abstract approach had borne results in the past. There was one of the destroyer captains of the Death Squadron supposed to be there because he had taken on a rebel Dreadnaught medium frigate from his bathtub. Nerrik? Ferral? Something like that. And there was a persistent rumour that it had been the toilet seat, anyway.

Suddenly Caliphant’s temper boiled over. ‘This isn’t some kriffing game of Clue! Is this going to be a fighter led strike? One or two phase? Bomber led, and heavy or light, close or distant CAP? Long range gun bombardment? Close quarters tumbling match? Leave you to it and pursue the minelayer?
'I can kill you with friendly fire, I can get you killed by leaving your ass hanging out in the breeze, I think you can agree that those would be bad things? I need to know.’

Well, Vehrec thought, he could be on to something. He also thought he heard Caliphant mutter ‘how come I have to be the straight man. I’m not cut out to be the sensible one.’

The answer was pretty much inevitable, though. ‘I’ll take the group in, burn through their fighters on the way and try to take that thing in enough pieces for the Intel boys to have fun with. Shoot past us if you get a clear line of fire, and send- oh, Obdurate and half the escorts after the minelayer.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir,’ Caliphant acknowledged, thinking if we can win on this for a strategy, we can win on anything.

The turbolift reached the upper bay, and from there it was as intuitive a thing as remembering how to walk. Into the cockpit, abbreviated crash pre-flight; how he hated that term, but it was the official term for precisely that reason, to emphasise the danger of taking shortcuts.

All green, up and away, leading his motley assortment of instructors, trainees, retreads and wannabes.

The rebels were willing to make a standup fight of it, at least, although they must have been at least a little bit perplexed by the numbers and variety of the Imperial fighter force.

Vehrec could afford to be casual, because this was second nature to him. He mentally divided his fighters into four wings, first and second line fighter, first and second line bomber. As each squadron came out, they were ordered to join the stream. He was leading the first line fighters himself, burning slowly towards the rebels at three hundred ‘g’, enough to separate them out, not too fast for the laggards to join up with. The first line bombers were doing the same, but slower, two hundred ‘g’, the second line fighters one hundred, the second line bombers fifty.

First line fighters were his own Avengers, the two squadrons of bomber winged proto-avenger Assault class, and the interceptor variants – probably enough in and of themselves. Behind them, Caliphant had rotated the Voracious so her belly was showing, masking the fighter bay to prevent any shot slipping through the doors that had turned out to be the Venator’s primary design flaw.

The Liberator opened fire, a continuously adjusted ripple from six twenty-five teraton heavy turbolasers, relatively light compared to Black Prince’s rapid thirty-twos or Voracious’ own slow-firing seventies. Still enough to hurt a thinly shielded or poorly handled destroyer, though.

Hiding the fighter bay also meant hiding the guns, which gave the Liberator an uninterrupted shot. The frigate was now broadcasting a transponder signal that identified her as the “Tiger in the Night”, not a known Rebel - well, until now.

She was making good practise at medium-long range, two hundred thousand kilometres and closing, landing four hits in her first ten seconds of fire, six in the second ten. ECM only went so far to protect a target that couldn’t manoeuvre.

Nothing beyond a Venator’s ability to take, not yet. Too much more would become a problem.

There was a minor crisis when one of the volunteers tried to open the lower bay door and use the mounted surface-artillery turbolaser.

The convergence dish meant that it wasn’t bound by the admittedly generous constraints of a physical barrel. It could channel more power than a comparable gun tube; the lack of that barrel meant that it dispersed that much faster. They were point-blank crunch guns, and using it now would be a stupid move.

Vehrec heard the screaming on the second command channel, as the gun crew were told to stop the shooter who didn’t seem to be listening. They had to mug him to stop him opening the lower bay door, and Vehrec mentally tuned out just as Caliphant was threatening the wayward gunner with being spreadeagled across the dish of his own gun.

The rebels were coming in two up, four back; Razors and T-wings leading - what they expected from a Venator he had no idea, but a fighter strike against a ship that carried twice as many fighters as anything else in its weight class was never bright. As far as he could tell, the rebel plan would be to break up the lead fighter elements, his first line, and then get in among the bombers.

Defensive, in other words - take out the threat to themselves.

The counter was equally straightforward; pick the moment, then accelerate forward into the attack with the first and second fighter wings, first at full and second at two thirds throttle to react in case of screwup, bombers to loiter and manoeuvre defensively.

Some of his pilots misheard and some misunderstood, but wolfpack instinct sufficed for most of them. The result was head on collision. In two cases, literally - one of the old Assaults shot a Razor; it broke up, but the razor’s wingbeing deliberately rammed the Imperial fighter. One where neither side would break away.

The red and the green sheet of light passed through each other. For once, with their heavy translight fighters, the Imperials were more heavily shielded. Armament - again, advantage the Empire. Heavier guns on the Assault, more and better on the Avenger and Interceptors. It was the Rebel formation that cracked and starburst first.

Eight of the rebel first line died in the first pass, four of the Imperial, then the imperial first line pounded into the rebel bombers and the Imperial second fighter line took its opportunities.

That was Actis and Nimbus types, good dogfighters, maybe a shade too twitchy, maybe too lightly gunned, maybe their shield generators were nothing more than an expensive extra, but they made a superb manoeuvring reserve. They swarmed over the broken Rebel formation as the first line carved into the rebel bombers.

Bays empty, Voracious could dip her nose and bring her turrets to bear. The cloud of fighters in between - they, on the other hand, would be a problem. One that was rapidly being solved, but the rebel was a lot less shy about firing into fighter combat.

It kept rippling fire at the Venator, brought its ion cannon on line and added them too. Caliphant was trying to manoeuvre to get a clear line of fire to return the favour.

‘Fighters Second, chase the rebs out of the way, then clear the line of fire. Fighter lead and both Bomb wings, formate on me,’ Vehrec ordered.

Course: L-shaped attack out and away, then burn in towards the Tiger in the Night, achieving relative motion, but keeping the guns and launchers bearing. Standard flypast. Liberators were notoriously light on point defence, too; they depended on their fighter wing for that. As they closed, the bombers would fan out and englobe, threatening the frigate from multiple angles, forcing her to either take hits on unshielded hull or equalise her shields - losing her defensive focus on Voracious.

Unless they were in shock, the rebels could read a battlefield. Their opening gambit had been utterly smashed, and although the ship had been giving better than they got so far, that was going to change.

It did. The Tiger accelerated towards the Voracious, full throttle but not precisely head on - trying to duck under the light destroyer’s belly, exposing her own main guns, still shooting. It was a move that made sense on two grounds: their ion wake probably was the most effective antifighter weapon they had left, and a close range, high aspect tumbling match was the best chance they had of doing damage to the Imperial ship.

On board the destroyer, an argument had broken out between Caliphant and Kirritaine, the gunnery officer. They had fired one full salvo, synchronised converged sheaf. As soon as the rebel frigate had felt the mass of targeters focus on her, she had gone on to full power evasion. The full volley, all eleven hundred and twenty teratons, crashed out and seared past the reb, wild and away a thousand kilometres off.

That was a huge miss by anyone’s standards.

‘What was that for?’ Caliphant had him com’d. ‘I don’t care how pretty it looks; what matters is if it hits or not.’

‘They can do it and they did it to us; it works.’

Oh, crap, Caliphant thought. ‘They? Them? Us? Could you be a little more definitive?’

‘The squadron exercises. Converged sheaf volleys, it’s the way to go.’

Caliphant suspected he heard a ‘whee!’ in the background as the next salvo crashed out. ‘Remember what
else he said? Run the numbers. You are not a child, and that seventy teraton turbolaser is not a toy.’

The Venator shook as another salvo blasted downrange, and missed - two laser and two ion hits arriving almost simultaneously. ‘Stop pissing about and do what works. I want sequence fire, you know, the way they’re managing to hit us repeatedly?’ There was another crash and a fireball from the bow as one of the LTL mounts had a fire window open - that coincided with an incoming ion bolt. Localised; what was in that area? Bow manoeuvre thrusters.

‘We can make this work,’ Kirritaine said, not convinced. ‘Don’t you want to show them we can do it? We’re closing on them.’

Caliphant took a deep breath. He wanted to be a maniac himself, he really did. Would have liked to be able to play with turbolasers. Wanted to be able to make it up as he went along.
Somebody had to stop all the other maniacs from getting themselves and each other killed, and that meant somebody, in this case him, had to get the short straw.

Kriff. I’m the Designated Driver for seven thousand idiots, he realised. The only thing to do is hammer them into shape - so that then it can be my turn.

‘Kirritaine, the next words out of your mouth had kriffing well better be either “sequential fire, aye aye Sir” or “I resign my commission in favour of somebody competent.” Your gun teams have had three days to practise together, Black Prince’s had three thousand. You are not that good, so stick to the basics. Chief Officer out.’

There was five seconds of nothing happening; then a ragged, poorly coordinated fire began. In releasing the turrets from central control, they must have severed the link to central fire direction as well.

Nerves and high spirits - and none of it, none of it at all, was excusable. If that prat keeps this up, he might make me join the Empire, Caliphant thought. He meant that in the sense of starting to regard the regulations as something to be enforced, even cherished, as opposed to thinking of them as something to be endured and evaded at every available opportunity.
That sort of attitude was all right for junior officers, from whom it was only to be expected, but not from the man in charge. Which was legally Vehrec, but practically, not so much acting capacity as in loco parentis, him.

Realistically, Tiger in the Night was trying to bite off much more than it could chew - but it was working for them, and they were winning, so far.

The lighter guns were nothing but a liability; their fire windows to let shot out could also let shot in. It would have to be a fluke, but it had already happened once, fortunately only with ion shot. One of them demonstrated its extreme liability by forgetting what colour of target identifier it was supposed to be shooting at. Light turbolaser fire reached out for the bomber squadrons.

Part of their planned troop complement had made it on board; good. ‘SurfCom, LTL 24 has gone renegade. Breach it, shoot the gun crew. Engineering, cut power feed to LTL 24.’ Bad. Hopefully that would deal with the problem expeditiously and discreetly enough - what was happening to him? Big, mealy-mouthed words.

‘Get them to STKU, RTKN’ was what he meant. And fast, before the bombers decided to take offence and have a go at it themselves. He almost missed the explosion.

On Tiger, one of the rebel fighters had, improbably, survived being hit by a ten-gun Interceptor. The Y-wing’s hyperdrive module and astromech were shredded, so it couldn’t escape that way. It had to limp back to the parent ship.

Maybe it really was true that fortune favoured the foolish; because Voracious’ crew were certainly big enough fools to need it.

Vehrec, on the other hand, had ordered the fighters to leave the crippled rebels go, in the hope that something like this would happen. They had to lower the bay shields to let the cripple back on board. The older, more experienced bomber pilots were perfectly capable of taking advantage of opportunities like that. The rebel came in on final approach with a torpedo volley behind him.

The bay crew were not stupidly soft hearted; they flickered the shields back up. Better to lose one of their own, however painful it would be, than take fifty-plus torpedoes in the hangar bay. The rebel fighter hit the shield, and exploded; the torpedoes did the same.

The capital torpedoes launched from Voracious were more than capable of spotting the opportunity too. They hit the weakened shielding in short sequence, one after the other. The first two blasted it away; the last pair got through.

Two brilliant flares shone out of the nose-spanning hangar; then a third sympathetic detonation. Vehrec was surprised to see the thing still basically intact when the flare died; well, maybe that was an exaggeration.
One side blown out of the bow, shielding down, electronics shocked and rad-blasted out, one set of main guns looked twisted off their mounts, the other set ceased fire.

‘Bomb units, take the engines out, take the engines only. Voracious, we have a boarding action to fight. Ground units now.’

The Delta shuttle and its escort emerged back at Ghorn, in easy deceleration run on the lagrange point; Lennart spun the Delta end for end and began approach, but noticed from the sensor data - all the ships’ powerplants were hot. All had shields up, most of the squadron’s corvettes were deployed as an outer screen, and there were fighter patrols in the air.

‘Captain? Thank fnord you’re back. We have two major problems,’ Brenn com’d and said, sounding distinctly worried.

‘Is one of those the security leak that led to the rRasfenoni trying an intercept?’ Lennart asked. If Brenn thought he couldn’t cope, then it would be fairly bad.

‘What are the others- let me see; the prisoner transport turned up full of cosmic hyper-eels from Chater’s Dwarf Galaxy? Dynamic’s crew finally mutinied? Ship’s computer net developed sentience and went on strike for Droid Rights? How about… exec tried to seize command and declare me insane and unfit for duty? Vader coming to pay a visit.’

Brenn didn’t entirely appreciate Lennart’s efforts to cheer him up. ‘No, Sir. Reports are incomplete, but it seems as if the sector fleet decided to steal our thunder - they launched a major attack on Ord Corban.’

‘You sound remarkably grim. It’s not going well?’

‘We have no official word from them, no request or notification. We brought the squadron to general quarters and dispatched Blackwood and Provornyy for a direct report, but it sounds like a grade one clusterkriff,' Brenn related.

'Third Superiority Fleet were sent in - by the intercepts, it is a disaster. They’ve had least one destroyer crippled and probably lost. A second…may have defected.
'We’re out of the loop on this one; they’re telling us nothing. We do have a couple of minor problems - you’re half right about the exec for one, and I wish Dynamic’s crew would mutiny so we could go over there and bang heads together properly. Do you know-‘

‘About the whip - round on the lower deck, to buy Captain Dordd his own private deluxe escape shuttle? I heard. You realise how big a breach of proper naval order and discipline that is?’ Lennart asked him.

‘I said that, but then I put myself down for a hundred credits,’ Brenn admitted. ‘I’m not sure whether it would be productive; if we could shame Dynamic into putting up some kind of performance, if they can still be reached by shame after their record, it might be worthwhile.’

‘Or it might damage what authority he’s been able to establish. I’m not sure how much worse this makes things, it means we’re likely to face stiffer opposition when we do attack ourselves, I don’t think it makes the situation any more time critical than it already is.
'Hold the shuttle for now, and start hoping you or I don’t have any use for it.’

‘Aye, aye, Sir,’ Brenn acknowledged.

‘What’s the second problem?’ Lennart asked.

‘Oh, far far worse,’ Brenn said, lighter in tone. He no more than half meant it.

‘What can be worse than the sector fleet taking that kind of pounding?’ Lennart questioned him.

‘Having to explain it to the press. We’ve got an infestation of journalists incoming.’

‘Stall them, lie to them, arrest them if you have to - no, wait. Maybe we can use them.’

Blackwood, and the Fulgur escorting her, approached the battle zone slowly, scanners at full stretch. Sit nearby, watch the light cone roll over them. That had been the plan, anyway.

It collapsed when they detected the bow shock of a large warship heading their way. Exit hyperspace, scan, predict the emergence point; whatever it was, it was on a straight line to Ghorn. Both of them signalled the information back, were ordered to proceed on to the battle site - with extreme caution.

On Black Prince’s bridge, Lennart was back in something resembling uniform and going through the com intercepts when the contact report from Blackwood came in.

They were already at general quarters, nothing more to do there, just line up on the probable point of emergence. As the target entered their own sensor range, it seemed to be an Imperator-class, probably one of the older generation; but there was one of the intercepts about an urgent order from one ship to the other, to cease fire on a friendly unit.

That was why Brenn had been thinking mutiny. The tone of the intercept was about right for it. Somehow, thinking about mutiny led naturally to the Dynamic - a ship assignment Lennart wouldn’t have wished on an enemy. Dordd had been happy to relinquish the squadron to him, and Lennart felt guilty about that; he should be doing more to back his former exec up.

So was this a fleeing loyalist, or an attacking mutineer? Voracious had reported herself engaged - that still left three destroyers available to be used against one. They were moving into position around the predicted drop point.

Slightly closer, and there were traces of smaller craft in company. Maybe one medium frigate, one light frigate, three large and four small corvettes. About right for a new-pattern Battle Squadron that had taken fifty percent losses among the escort craft.

Battle squadron. Now there was a grotesquely overblown title for a single fleet destroyer and supporting light forces. Tarkin’s political side had struck again, there, inflation of title for intimidation purposes. Lennart had flown escort duty on true capital ships back in the Clone Wars, and with all of the navy list to chose from, a siege squadron headed by a Mandator would be a remarkably welcome sight about now.

There was one intercept that mentioned “A rebel cruiser. No, a real one.” Did that mean Home-class? As rare as generous Hutts, the Alliance hadn’t even tried to build more than four. Imperial strikes had broken one up on the stocks, taken a deepdock with the skeleton of another. Enormously unlikely.

What else did the Rebels have in that weight class? The Techno Union could still put big ships together; it was Quarren who had the responsibility for the Recusant. None known, though. Not at present. Clone Wars relic? Possibly even a battle grade Lucrehulk? That or a renegade Imperial type, most likely. The answers would be on board that ship approaching.

Their target reached emergence, broke through. Gleaming white, but marked, scarred in parts. She was flying the pennant - the transponder reply codes, anyway - of a flagship, but looking at her superstructure that was now very unlikely. Shields down, some of the generators were going to need work; one of the sensor domes was split open, there was a crater in the forward hull by the secondary bay, burn marks from light turbolaser fire like freckles all over the upper hull, and a still-glowing molten gash across the face of the bridge tower.

The symbol blazoned on each side of the bridge tower identified her as the Fist.

‘Checks out, captain. Flagship of the Third Superiority Fleet, Vice-Admiral Ulbin Zavix commanding.’

‘Shouldn’t that be past tense?’ Lennart said, waving at the damage to the tower. ‘Hail her.’

The face that came up was a woman; sharp-faced, orange-red haired, long nose with wide nostrils. Probably not Ulbin, then, apart from the rank insignia - captain’s squares, glittering code cylinders that indicated a flag captain.

‘Captain Tevar, HIMS Fist. You would be Captain Lennart?’ she said; Core worlder accent. She was looking brittle, Lennart thought - not at all surprising after what had in all probability happened to her and her ship.

‘Captain of the Line Jorian Lennart, HIMS Black Prince, Objective Pursuit Squadron 851-Yod. Is Admiral Zavix alive?’

‘No,’ she said, with all due outward, formal solemnity, but from the way her face twisted at the mention of his name she was glad to see the back of him. From the visible background, she was in the fire direction centre. It was certainly possible to do so, but why had she chosen to con her ship from there?

Lennart’s imagination clicked. ‘Was the Admiral a Falleen, possibly a trusted relative of your Moff?’ That was why he had thought ‘wide nostrils’- a strange idea on the face of it, but with pheromone-filtering nose plugs, that added up.

He was also putting Captain Tevar- his com/scan team were already digging in the sector databanks for her personnel file - on the spot, by speculating on the possibility that her former boss had been a nepotistically appointed poser who couldn’t find his arse with both hands.

Then again, most people would have difficulty finding the admiral’s arse now that it had been vapourised.

He watched her thinking, trying to weigh his reputation and decide how he would react to the various answers available to her. She settled on, ‘At this precise point, I don’t think it matters. There has been a disaster; we were assigned to attack a world of apparently minor importance - it was a rebel major base.’

‘I know,’ Lennart said. ‘Ord Corban, the target we were here to hit.’ He decided not to spell it out any further. ‘How much else is left of Third Superiority Fleet?’

She looked bleak at that, seeing in her mind’s eye again just how much had been lost.

‘Com/scan,’ Lennart asked, ‘Any word from Blackwood and Provornyy?’

‘I don’t know.’ Tevar said, and just then her personnel file popped up; Trysandrena Illyria Tevar, family of the minor nobility, joined the Starfleet five months before the end of the Clone Wars, promoted Captain 226-32. Four years’ seniority, more or less. Had her current ship for two. Several reprimands for “inappropriate relationships with the crew”; that was the sort of comment that could dog a female officer’s career.

Lennart knew exactly what it was supposed to imply but looking at her bearing, and the list of recommendations, reprimands and commendations she had issued, he doubted it. Far more likely that she had been playing mother, taking a relatively close and supporting interest in her crew’s personal as well as professional lives. Nothing wrong with that; as Lennart had tried to beat into the heads of four years’ worth of trainee officers, the problems of the people you command are the problems of command.

Of course, her enemies and rivals had written it up in the most insulting way they could manage - and she had come out at the end of it with a destroyer of her own anyway.

‘Admiral Zavix-‘ she was arguing how to phrase it; just before he could give her permission to speak freely, she did so anyway. ‘If he wasn’t dead I would beat him to death with his own scent glands; he botched the attack so badly we had no chance. He was a fool, and he took a great many good ships and good men with him,’ she said, with a mixture of anger and relief at having vented her feelings. Possibly also guilt. As the flag captain, if it was anybody’s job to stop him it had been hers.

She suspected that was what he was thinking; Lennart intended to suspend judgement until all the facts were in, but she forestalled him by saying, ‘I know the rules. For success, no questions asked, for failure, no excuse accepted.’

‘Are you asking to have a court of inquiry convened on you?’ Lennart said, understanding but considering it inappropriate.

‘First things first; is it necessarily over? Would there be any useful military purpose served by an immediate follow-up attack?’ he asked.

‘We thought it was a live exercise. We had no reason to expect them to be there at all,’ she said, still half stunned by the incident - no explanation for failure accepted, she was right about that, but she wanted to find one, wanted to answer the question of what went wrong.

‘No, there would be none of Fourth Superiority Fleet left.’

‘Skipper?’ Rythanor. ‘Sensor feed from Blackwood. No Imperial IFF showing, a lot of wreckage in low orbit, one Imperator, two large contacts, one highly energetic. Planetary shields are up, first-line military grade. Count thirty plus smaller ships.’

‘So the gloves, and some of the masks, are off. Any ID on the large contacts?’

‘One of them is an old Imperial type. A Shockwave,’ Tevar said. ‘That was the ship that tore the bridge module apart.’

‘Makes sense,’ Rythanor agreed. ‘That would make the other prime target a Lucrehulk. Combat carrier, if not full battle refit.’

‘Ah.’ Lennart said. ‘I think Third Superiority sprung the ambush that the Alliance were intending for us.’ He thought about it for a further second. ‘Com/scan, line commander’s conference, on board, now. You too, Captain Tevar. We have a lot of fast thinking to do.’
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 05:40pm, edited 1 time in total.
Eleventh Century Remnant
Jedi Council Member
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Post by Eleventh Century Remnant »


Raesene was playing chase with the rRasfenoni frigate and not enjoying it. The slippery little thing was jumping ahead of him, behind had an extraordinary amount of energy to spare.

There had already been two near misses: one as it had emerged from hyperspace behind him, dropped off a sequence of ram-drones, and hypered back out, one as they had returned the favour with a remote flown TIE right in its predicted path - both times, a last second, full power evasive move had been barely enough.

Third time would be the charm.

Vehrec was hovering, close off the port side of the slowly tumbling, drifting Liberator-class. What were they missing, he thought. Well, Voracious had missed. Lots. They were evidently not particularly good shots, or gunnery tacticians - overambitious, trying to run before they could walk. Outgunning the smaller ship six to one and beating her four to one in depth of shield, they should have won eventually anyway. It wasn’t really good enough.

The minelayer - hold on a moment. It was still out there, still moving at better than 0.8c, still with something, maybe enough to be dangerous, in its payload bays.

Voracious and Tiger were moving slowly, drifting predictably. The rRasfenoni ship had already made one attack run, on Obdurate, and missed by metres.

The old, fragile Venator was a far more obvious and rewarding target.

Voracious, this is Vehrec. Recommend you take precautions against hyper-drop missile attack.’

Precautions? What precautions? As if he expects me to know what that means, Caliphant thought. How well does pre-emptive dodging, against an attack that hasn’t been aimed yet, work?

Ah. Aiming. There’s the wrinkle. The layer frigate has to time its emergences far enough off the target to get a manoeuvre cone big enough to compensate for nav error, and also with enough time in hand to do a sensor sweep and decide how to act. They made one attempt to achieve surprise by short-circuiting that process; it nearly got them killed. So this time they’ll likely do it properly.

So, project their base course, and manoeuvre so that a straight line reciprocal leads through Tiger in the Night. Use the rebel frigate as a shield to intercept any carelessly dropped kinetic kill weapons.

Oh, and lob a couple of spreads of torpedoes in semi-dormant mode out beyond her, just for a laugh.

He needed to manoeuvre closer anyway; Voracious had picked up her full complement of ground troops, and a mixed salad they were, but she had nothing like her full complement, Clone War or Civil War load, of transports and dropships.

A fully laden Liberator carried three full regiments. Tiger in the Night had not been at full strength to begin with, and after having two heavy torpedoes detonate in the small craft bay adjacent to the troop decks, it was possible Voracious’ Composite Battlegroup of Detachments outnumbered them four to one. That included Stormtroopers, Naval Infantry, Imperial Army - two regular and three reservist battalions - two battalions of CompForce who had caught which way the wind was blowing and were protesting their loyalty every five seconds, and a gaggle of Sector Defence Volunteers - quasi-militia with a serious xenophobia problem.

Normally, he would have led with the Stormtroopers; bearing in mind the casualties usually incurred by the first in, Caliphant had sent the local volunteers.

He needed to manoeuvre closer anyway, to shorten the turnaround cycle for the shuttles he did have. May as well use the manoeuvre to take shelter at the same time.

Who was next most expendable, if that thing did take a hit? Probably the naval infantry.

The object of the exercise was not to take the ship; it was to extract information: live prisoners and unfried computers. They didn’t need to have it to keep. The frigate was a constructive total loss, probably.

Interestingly, the first reports indicated that there were relatively few rRasfenoni on board, and that it was probably not a regular forces rebel ship either: wide variety of kit, several races - rRasfenoni hirelings.

‘Nav,’ Caliphant said, ‘plot us a short-jump course; straight ahead will do, just get the base points so we know what we’ve done and can map from, call it a light minute out. Something we can go with PDQ as an escape route if we do get jumped.’

‘Aye aye, Sir.’ Voracious' nav acknowledged.

‘Chief Officer?’ one of the pit crew. ‘Ground force contact - they say that the crew are surrendering, and requesting to be taken off at once. Something about bombs.’

Stang, Caliphant thought. Bombs? What would- ah. It’s not rRasfenoni regular service, competent enough but basically a hotchpotch of rebel advisors and freelancers, half of them ex-pirate. If I was the five-armed guys’ chief tactician, I wouldn’t have trusted them as far as I could spit them. I’d have wanted the ship back, hoped it wouldn’t be necessary, but I would have fitted that thing with a self destruct mechanism just in case.

Time and distance, what was going to happen next - ‘Tell our grunts to get out, if they can. Take the locals with them, use life pods, use shuttles that are there, use their own landers. I think that ship’s going to blow.’

‘Hyperspace emergence,’ Com/scan reported. ‘It’s the minelayer.’

‘Let’s see how well this works,’ Caliphant said. ‘I don’t think they’ll give the militia much time-‘

Tiger in the Night started to come apart from her reactor outwards, the ugly horned slab cracking and bending, the separated parts hovering in place for a millisecond before the overloaded powerplant’s blast melted them.

Voracious was still distant enough for her shields to take it. Cracking and flaring, though, diminished and reduced. So much for cover. ‘Weapons, bring the torpedoes to full active,’ Caliphant ordered as the first of the penetrators began to cascade loose from the minelayer’s bays. ‘Nav, get us out of here.’

Eight torpedoes in the air. The minelayer frigate detected them, started spraying fire at them. It lost its target when Voracious went to lightspeed with fourteen seconds to spare.

Three of the torpedoes got close enough to detonate.

Enough of the frigate survived to make its own jump, but the retrieval operation was blown beyond recovery - and if they were exceptionally lucky, especially after nearly being self destructed, there might be some of the survivors from the Liberator willing to talk.

Orders had come through, anyway; tidy up there, take whatever they had found, and return to Ghorn for a command conference.

An honour guard of Stormtroopers escorted Captain Tevar from the landing platform in the secondary bay to the turbolift. She kept waiting for them to arrest her and was surprised when it failed to happen.

One thing in the large personnel lift caught her attention: an electric noticeboard that seemed to be cycling through the local newspaper. Some ships had such things, some did not; it depended on the newness of the commanding officer. Men and women formed wholly by the New Order tended not to permit such things; believed, or held to the party line and then were forced to live up to their statements, that such a sense of community was subversive of real discipline. The Fist’s scansheet was basically a digest of fleet and galactic news, articles copied from official publications.

By the inexorable laws of extremely bad punnage, this ship’s was headed “Black Prints.” Someone deserved to swing for that. There were subheadings; Home News, seeming to mean the ship’s crew’s home planets; most of them seemed to be from the mid-rim, as many outer rim as core worlders. Local News, where they were and what they were up to at the moment. A heavily edited version, she suspected. Sports and Entertainment, Rumour and Speculation - apparently the letters pages - and Births, Marriages and Deaths. Peculiar was not the word.

She started leafing through the sports section, looking for a handle on the crew’s morale and state of mind.

They had a four-division websphere league, which was being held up at the bottom end by Financial Wizards (paymaster’s office); the league leaders were Proton Turpitude (fighter ordnance handlers), closely followed by Possibly Are (com/scan) and You Think We Do This For Fun (first walker batallion). That was a surprise. The stormtroopers joined in?

Smashball, on the other hand - the teams included Tentacle Sex Monsters (medical-nonhuman), Duct Divers (deck division- maintenance), Collateral Damage (gunnery), The De-Breathers (life support) - but it was basically the black gang’s game, with the Sheeple Crushers (regulatory) being the only non-Engineering team in a top ten that included Unlimited Power (reactor), Bodgit and Scarper (damage control), Mad ‘Mechs (structure), Now Then, Now Then (stasis tech), and The Bigger Hammer (engineering-command).

There was a pod racing (simulated) league in which two of the teams, Speed of Heat (fighter pilots) and Zig-Zag Wanderers (scout bikers), had been suspended for “insufficient simulation”. There was a holochess ranking list and a sabacc leaderboard, and also something called Kalvanball that she had never heard of. She looked at the league tables: the scores, in points, runs, goals, tries and limbs, were all in irrational numbers. Only ‘Rules Arguments Won’ was in plain arithmetic, and Long Drawn Out And Excruciatingly Painful (legal office) were in second place there behind Every Move You Make (com/scan).

It all spoke of high morale, but a deeply warped sense of humour. Rumour and Speculation were even worse. There was an item from Coruscant that she was sure was a joke. One skyscraper tower had apparently decided that it was a sentient being in its own right, the local network absorbing old datasystems and apparently reaching critical mass. Not wildly unlikely; what gave it away was the editorial comment that it hoped the building hadn’t been listening to too much propaganda, because if it tried to join the Starfleet they would have hell’s own time fitting it through the corridors.

The executive officer was apparently the winner of a “sponsored hiding contest” - with an attached opinion piece purporting to be from a protocol droid assigned to him; apparently the exec was a near human with metallic-appearing skin, which was the only way comments like ‘oh my aching joints, lube me’ and ‘ah, so strict’ could be made sense of. It was clear that he was spectacularly unpopular, and widely viewed as ineffectual; would they have mocked him like that, otherwise? Possibly; but would they have felt they needed to?

There was a personal ad, which was almost certainly a sick joke in its own right; ZB to GM, why do you never come to me any more? How I long for the squeeze of your hairy arms, the rough tickle of your beard on my breasts. I yearn for you, to explore your strength and immolate myself on your power.

Good grief, Tevar thought. It’s a big galaxy, true, but is it big enough to contain anyone still capable to taking turgid purple garbage like that at face value? She doubted it.

She was almost relieved when she finally reached the conference room and found a dozen officers there waiting for her.

Captain of the Line Lennart was at the head of the table in a state of uniform that would have given a drill sargeant nightmares; his own senior officers, including a man the equal in mass of any two others who was having difficulty staying awake and another with a face full of chemical scars, were next to him at the head of the table. Next to them, three officers with the highlight under the rank flash that marked them as formation commanders: one still in a flight suit, one woman, one alternating between putting on a brave face and wanting to hide. Then there were the individual ship commanders, one who seemed to have brought a pair of police with him. They were looking very nervous. Around the walls of the chamber, a squad of exotic-variant stormtroopers.

‘We will begin,’ Lennart said, standing and leaning on the table, ‘with the events of today.’

‘Begin what?’ the huge, hairy engineer asked, slumping slightly.

‘It’s exposition time, Gethrim,’ Lennart said. ‘Who else apart from you and me knows what’s going on?’

Mirannon looked up, meaning the imperial suite. ‘I’ve been too busy to be fully in the loop, but I do know we’re still missing one piece.’

‘Motive? Good point. We’ll fill in the rest of the puzzle and come back to that. Captain Tevar, would you now talk us through the events of this morning?’

It was so weirdly phrased that it took her a second to realised she was being asked to explain herself.

She plugged the log disc into the table’s display unit. The lights went down. ‘Third Superiority Fleet was a paper formation until two days ago,’ she admitted. ‘My ship was on a flag-waving tour of the ninetieth circuit - trading worlds along the local spine - when we were reassigned. I had never met Admiral Zavix before.’

The table of organisation for Third Superiority Fleet came up. A full sector group would have had four superiority fleets, built around six line destroyers each and possibly a heavy destroyer leadship; the fleet had one superiority systems force, the three destroyers, and an awful lot of paper attachments.

Somebody somewhere was drawing pay and allowances for a high count of nonexistent personnel.

‘My ship was chosen as the flag because of our readiness rate,’ Tevar explained. ‘I knew the others only by reputation - there were private contacts, but no command conference. Proclamations only.’

‘Did you know Admiral Zavix by reputation - had you, in fact, ever even heard of him before?’

‘No,’ Tevar said. ‘His file showed that he had been an administrative officer, some experience in escort command, but mainly logistics. Very young for his rank. And Falleen.’

‘Up and coming young nobleman - speaking of which, your family were related to the pre-Clone War sector governors, were they not?’

‘What does that have to do with anything?’ Tevar asked, irritated.

‘Quite a lot. He was supposed to seduce you because of your family connections,’ she flushed, stood up, and looked about to swing for him; the stormtroopers took a step closer to her.
Lennart carried on, ‘Right then, because things were starting to come apart for them, they needed the help and support of the sector’s old nobility. You may have achieved your position on merit, but for this job it was your kin that mattered. Care to offer an alternative explanation of why you were conning your ship from fire direction, with filter plugs in your nose?’

She sat down again.

‘The reason this matters,’ Lennart explained, ‘is because the situation is complicated enough that we need to understand it all, in order to decide who to shoot and in what order. How did you get a Falleen moff in the first place? How did they get, and why did they choose to use, the political clout to force your kith and kin out of the loop?
'The target system’ - Ord Corban came up on the display - ‘was a fleet base during the Clone Wars, that was deleted and expunged from the records for reasons which it would be hazardous to know, and which I will discuss if there is absolutely no alternative,’ Lennart said; Mirannon nodded, looking solemn.

‘It was mothballed more or less intact,’ Lennart said, ‘and someone, one of those people who are always responsible because you can only be given the opportunity for a crime this big if you are a trusted member of the inner circle, put their credit balance first.
'Someone, in COMPNOR or the Ubiqtorate, sold out the back door access.
'Legal niceties be damned. It’s more or less common knowledge that Prince Xizor is one of the most corrupt beings in the galaxy and the public face, if not the actual head, of Black Sun. Think about it. A full fleet yard, capable of constructing craft up to destroyer class and repairing and maintaining cruisers at least, under a security blanket that made it untouchable by Imperial forces. I can prove very little, I have to admit, but it hangs together too well to be very far from the truth. What political assets they cashed in to do this we may or may not ever be able to reconstruct.
'The upshot is that Black Sun, or the Falleen race as a whole, managed to get one of their own put in here and in charge of the sector specifically in order to exploit Ord Corban. The normal perquisites and priviledges of rank were simply icing on the cake.'

'You know,’ he looked around the locals, ‘how very little territory patrol and escort command actually covers; how much of the sector is barely policed, and how under-reported piracy and space crime are. Not coincidence, not accident. Some of you are further in this than you realise; Group Captain, how many of the pilots you trained do you think found their way into the Imperial Starfleet, and how many into Black Sun and other pirate fleets?’ he asked Vehrec.

‘What a load of utter nerfshit…’ Vehrec’s voice trailed off, remembering some of his cadets.

‘The real requirements were the highest possible professional standard, and low enough political reliability that the grads could be seduced away. Who better than you for that?’ Lennart said, smiling precisely because it wasn’t a joke.

‘That doesn’t mean it happened, just because it’s plausibl,.’ Vehrec said, indignant.

‘The numbers say it did. Your and other flight academies passed out two hundred and fifty percent over and above the requirement for the sector; the excess are supposed to have been transferred to other sectors - as Regional units, we have the access to prove that only another one in seven actually did. As many as four in seven of your trainees went to private contractors, and a high proportion of them would not be legitimate. I’m sorry, but all the evidence is that you were used.’

‘Then-‘ Vehrec was still trying to assimilate it all in his head- ‘Why me? Why pick me for this outfit?’

‘I reasoned,’ Lennart decided to say, ‘that you would be sufficiently annoyed to want your chance at revenge. That and, truth be told, I don’t want to see someone who went through the same crap as I did back in the Clone Wars to get himself shot without at least the chance to clear his name.’

‘A courtesy from one old retread to another?’ Vehrec said, not best pleased at having to be helped and accepting it with poor grace.

‘You could put it like that,’ Lennart said, glossing over the details.
‘So,’ he continued, ‘the criminals buy their way into the Imperial hierarchy in the sector, and set out to make that investment show a profit. The sector has other problems: two alien races already here, one with some extremely unpleasant habits, as Commander Falldess and her home planet know all too well. What happened between the rRasfenoni and the Falleen I do not know, nor do we have enough to go on at this stage, but it’s complicated enough for a quintuple cross.
'Initially, the rRasfenoni must have gone along with the scam, agreed not to rock the boat in return for a cut of the actual proceeds, but it must have dawned on them that they could be very easily hung out to dry in such a position, so they threw in their lot with the Rebellion. The Alliance are too short of well-armed friends to vet those they do have sufficiently closely; who in their right mind would trust the Bothans, for instance? The rRasfenoni accepted the help, and proceeded to implicate the Alliance in their crimes. Something I took considerable pleasure in pointing out to an Alliance agent I happened to look up, in case anyone was wondering where I disappeared to there. I threatened them with full disclosure.
'The rebels have no positive choice - stand by the rRasfenoni and proclaim themselves guilty of the crimes they accuse the Empire of, disown them very publicly, which for my purposes suits well enough because that only leaves the sector government to blame, or pass judgement on them themselves- two sets of our erstwhile enemies shooting at each other would be a pleasant sight indeed.’

‘What the rebels don’t kill of them, we finish off later?’ Falldess asked, tone daring him to say no.

‘I don’t want to have to, the vast majority of the civilian population, even of the rank and file, can’t be implicated in this, but I doubt anything less would prevent them from doing it again. An eye for an eye, a world for a world,’ Lennart confirmed.

‘Anyway, through either arm of this deal, the Alliance bought their way into access to Ord Corban, which was a major miscalculation on Black Sun’s part.
'The Rebel Alliance has a few things going for it: it has a ready supply of romantic idiots, more than it can gather, train and transport, and there are enough small-scale, quasi-legitimate means of securing funding from the grass roots that men and money are not the Alliance’s primary problems. What they are desperately short of is heavy metal and its essential prerequisite, yard space. Ord Corban must have been a gift from Destiny herself to them, and the Falleen underestimated how far they would be prepared to go to gain access to and hold on to the planet.

You pair,’ he said to the two ISB agents standing behind Raesene, ‘anything you’d like to add?’

The younger of the two agents looked about to break out in defiance - that the elder thought would be extremely ill judged. How to play this, vel Salif was thinking. The innocent pawn, just a policeman, honest, not my fault my boss was corrupt?

Truth be told, Lennart’s case hung together terrifyingly well. A certain amount of profiteering was expected, even acceptable. Self-administered performance related pay was one of the acknowledged rights of being a moff. This went well beyond anything that could conceivably be called legitimate.
Might they not be better off trying the other approach? Too valuable to kill outright?

‘How would you like to be able to prove that? Enough of it, at least, to stand up before the Council?’ vel Salif said, trying to look approximately trustworthy.

‘I am impressed by how instantly you managed to believe that,’ Lennart said, dryly.

‘We were told to gather evidence against you, by officers who we had no proof were not legitimate authority. Your whole plan, your selection of these people, is based on the idea that most of the mid to low ranks of the sector group are legitimate servants of the Empire. Is it not obvious?’

‘Not really, no,’ Lennart said. ‘Too glib. As soon as a more proper authority reveals itself, you swing lodestone-like to point on it? Remember; at the very least, you were abusing your authority to score points in an internal faction fight, by attempting to compromise a Starfleet officer - me. Professional malfeasance; and unfortunately for you, I don’t have to wait to take that to trial.’

The younger agent, Dorind Salif, stood up and went for his gun. It was a lunatic, if I’m going down I’m taking you with me, sort of move; his uncle, knowing he was under the guns of a dozen stormtroopers, decided to save his life and his nephew’s - by punching him in the groin. A simple backhander from the sitting position.

The young man collapsed, screaming; it was made worse by four stun bolts slamming into him before he hit the ground.

‘Well,’ Lennart said, ‘at least that didn’t sound rehearsed. Take them away,’ he told Aleph-One, ‘let Eleven-Indigo have them. One stipulation; he’s to remain at least basically sane when they’re done.’ Lennart tried to avoid looking vel Salif in the eye as fire team Gimel dragged the pair of ISB agents out; Eleven-Indigo were the deep probe team. They were political police; they deserved no better. That was what he was telling himself, anyway.

‘SFA(I) Rontaine scooped up some of the wounded from Free Gravity For All for immediate treatment, did she not? Rebels and some of the crew.’ Lennart put to Vehrec.

‘Yes, we got Space Major Overgaard, the one the rebels were using as their mouthpiece. Senior survivor, actually - Rontaine says that the rebs left him in bad enough condition, the only security job he’s likely to get now is if Darth Vader needs a body double.’

‘Don’t,’ Mirannon yawned half way through, ‘give me ideas.’

‘Don’t make me have to tell you what to do with them,’ Lennart said to his chief engineer. ‘In any case, he is someone else who should have useful local knowledge. Which brings us back to this morning. Captain Tevar?’

‘Give me a moment. This is a lot to take in.’ Tevar said, trying to parse her thoughts.

Most of the rest of the locals were similarly boggled. He had just told them they had been living a lie, and a remarkably monstrous one at that. In consideration of that he had the holotable start cycling through the evidence. Patrol route map, actuarial data, previous clashes, rRasfenoni attacks and ecological disasters that could have been attacks, police arrest rates on the key worlds of the sector, promotions and transfers of government officials.

‘One question,’ Elstrand raised his head and asked. ‘When did you know all this?’

‘I first suspected something was very wrong when I noticed a naval depot system marked on the sector map as a place of no importance. That was not long after the capture of Grey Princess and the destruction of Syurdraev. Since then I’ve been figuring it out a strand at a time, and looking for the loose threads that I could use to unravel this without causing a complete political crisis and security disaster in the process,’ Lennart stated.

‘We’re settling for a partial crisis, then?’ Mirannon yawned. ‘Comarre Meridian can be ready to move in six hours plus the time it takes to ship twelve million tons of duracrete, but the only way Tarazed Meridian is going to be battle ready in less than two days is if we tow her on an extension cord.’

‘That’s a lot less than your original estimate,’ Lennart said, wondering.

‘That would be the "Brutal but correct" estimate? This is missing trials, calibration, integration - six hours and two days, if I stop even pretending to try to do a proper job that won’t blow up or fall off half way through the fight.’

‘So whether the tactical situation gives us that time is the important question, isn’t it? Captain Tevar?’

The tactical display changed to the Corban system, Ord Corban being the second planet out on the inner, hot edge of the life zone. There was a smaller mining world, close enough to the sun that the surface temperature must have done half the work of smelting for them; it too had shielding and defensive emplacements. Outwards, empty orbit, cold rock, small gas giant, asteroids, large giant with a glitteringly bright ring system - most of them with sensor watch platforms if not gun turrets.

‘If Vice-Admiral Zavix knew that the system was supposed to be heavily defended, he only hinted at it to us,’ Tevar stated. ‘We were given orders to aim for an emergence point here.’ She pointed it out on the system map. Frighteningly close to the planet. Knife-fighting range, in fact.

‘Interestingly lunatic,’ Lennart decided. ‘There are very few circumstances that would justify a move like that - hit and run raid, maybe. That or so heavily outclassed that what the enemy do to each other from the crossfire as you appear in the middle of them is more effective than anything you can manage yourself; neither of those ideas should apply with three destroyers.’

‘He wanted to appear suddenly, right in their faces, for intimidation value,’ Tevar said.

Lennart stopped himself from heckling, this time. Let her tell this in her own way.

‘We were briefed to conduct a combat drop; flyby attack then decelerate and return to high orbit and release the drop craft. All three fleet destroyers were in stepped line astern, the Fist trailing low, Riever high and leading, Tomor centre. We were told that it was a derelict facility; none of us expected to come out under the guns of a fortress world.’

‘An early open period depot would have been designed around the expectation of attack by a battle division of four, possibly six Lucrehulks. With three Imperator class…’

What Captain Tevar wanted to hear, not that she would admit it or that he would insult her by saying it in so many words, would be that it wasn’t their fault. It would be good for the morale of her crew - and the survivors of the fleet escorts - to hear that they had been given a basically impossible job, and done well to come out of it. Give them some of their pride back, and someone useful to blame. It still wasn’t yet certain that it was true, though.

That, and he didn’t want to tell the Pursuit Squadron that they were doomed.

‘It’s do-able in principle,’ Lennart continued, ‘but it needs the technique of the rapier. Long range, highest possible relative motion. Jumping straight into the fire - you did well in getting anything out. Go on.’

‘It took us several moments to realise what we were up against,’ Tevar said. ‘We were expecting a stolen garrison base, maybe a grounded starship. Superheavy turbolasers - Tomor took three hits in the belly in the opening salvo, shattered her bow, started fires and secondary explosions in the small craft bay.
'The Admiral didn’t seem to understand; maybe he was just projecting calm, but, he ordered the drop continued. Send the small craft and escorts down after them. Tomor was wallowing; she was taking ion fire as well; I rolled the Fist to present our guns, and managed to pick up Tomor on our tractor beams to help tow her out. Reiver scrambled her fighters and dropships, but the air was alive with LTL and point defence laser fire.’

‘That fits,’ Lennart said. ‘The point defence grid needed to keep off a swarm of droid fighters was always impressive. It wouldn’t have been healthy for the escort corvettes.’

‘It - I didn’t have time to think about how dangerous it would be for them. I ordered the Fist’s escort lines in to strafe the defence turrets; the Admiral countermanded that and ordered us all to break for high orbit. I didn’t want to fight it out under their guns any more than he did, but I ended up arguing that if we simply turned our backs on them we would be torn apart.’

The action was playing itself out as she spoke, holodisplay following her words.

‘Scissors, paper, stone,’ Lennart said. ‘The big ship guns go after the anti-corvette defences, the corvettes shoot out the point defence, that opens the way for the bombers to take down the heavy defence lasers. That is, at least, the theory.’

By the display at least, the theory wasn’t working. Perhaps they could have done better - but it was basically every ship for herself. There was a reason ‘run for it’ was not in the official order book.

The Fist was zig-zagging as well as she could, trying to tow a cripple, but the snowstorm of laser fire around her made it almost impossible to launch tugs, or for the Tomor to launch life pods.

‘We took shield hits, Tomor took another superheavy laser to the engines, I don’t think she would have been repairable even if - I remember being baffled by the fact that we weren’t dead. Riever’s shields were down and the ion cannon were angling for her, Tomor had some drift velocity outwards, still had power in her gun capacitors.
'We were taking hits ourselves; four-hundreds I think, and the shields were crumbling, Reiver had accelerated straight ahead and then turned to bear, so we were separated; the Admiral ordered her back into line to cover him, and - Reiver’s captain, Daszeti, tried to surrender.
'Fighting broke out on board, what of her stormtrooper legion hadn’t been deployed tried to retake the bridge and continue the action. Admiral Zavix ordered ourselves and the escort group to fire on her in preference. He ordered my arrest when I refused to do so,’ Tevar admitted.

‘Your rationale?’ Lennart said, calmly.

‘They weren’t shooting at us, the planet was,' She said. ‘I didn’t have time to think of any more sophisticated reason there and then.’

Carry on,’ Lennart instructed.

‘That was when the other jaw of the trap closed,’ Tevar said, and there were a series of flashes as ships exited hyperspace. Two large ships, Shockwave and Lucrehulk, emerged: the Shockwave in close proximity to the Fist and Tomor, the Lucrehulk - which identified as the One and Indivisible - in proximity to Reiver; she began to discharge landers and assault boats. The Shockwave identified as Admonisher; remarkably Imperial-sounding.

Mirannon glanced at Lennart, who nodded; that had been the former flagship of the 118th Republic Fleet. He was too tired to conceal the gesture as well as he thought he had.

Shockwave-class were fearsome beasts; not overwhelmingly efficient, sprawling, flabby ships in some requests, but they were genuine heavy destroyers, barely this side of light cruiser. They mounted twelve eight-cell gun banks for the same seventy-teraton turbolasers mounted on the Venator.

Admonisher rolled to bring her guns to bear, the Fist got off the first shots, but they sparked off the larger ship’s shielding. The return fire carved a crater in the Imperator’s bow, blasting out the power lines to the tractor beam cluster towing Tomor; the second salvo crashed into the fore superstructure, and ate a glowing hole in it.

‘Admiral Zavix died in that salvo; we had lost contact with Tomor, Reiver was being boarded - I could have kept fighting. I could have tried to take one of them.’

Lennart decided she actually meant it. Guilt, to some degree, disappointment, but what more was there to do? Did she actually deserve to be punished for her actions? Did Falldess, for failing to get out of the way of a swarm of planet killers? Did Raesene, for inviting along a pair of snooping security men? Did Barth-Elstrand, for misreading the actions of a rebel ship and putting his frigate in line for a concrete bow cap?

Did he, for misreading the situation badly enough to think it was in no-one’s interest to force the issue, and therefore he had time? What simplicity it was to punish failure, to be able to fall from a great height on the unfortunate. Lennart wished he could do things that straightforwardly.

Past a certain point, being able to dispose of incompetent junior officers was a privilege of rank; at Rear-Admiral or better, say, you had enough people under you that you could afford to hire and fire. As a junior officer, make do and mend was the order of the day. It was necessary to make the best of the personnel available to you.

I could have stayed on the appointments directorate, Lennart thought, but it would have driven me round the bend before long. Never mind career prospects. So doing essentially the same now - I could make a case against any or all of them, probably manage to have them broken, if not actually shot. How much fun would I have in front of a court of inquiry, defending my own actions with respect to the exec, if nothing else?

We have more officers hungry for command than we have ships, so anybody who screws up usually doesn’t get a second chance. They get shouldered aside by the men behind them. Which procedure litters the galaxy with failed and burnt-out officers with nothing better to go and do than fight for our enemies, and no better aim in life than to give us grief.

Then again, a real failure does deserve it, and we have more than enough spare disintegration booths. All of us have got people killed. Except, actually, Raesene, who is feeling guiltiest of the lot.

What to do? Who deserves to have the hard hand of the system descend on them - who was guilty of lack of forethought, lack of intelligence, who can no longer be trusted with the lives of Imperial spacemen?
Falldess? If that little twitch was anything to go by, she would never admit to her crew, and very seldom to herself, how much losing them hurt. She would be unlikely to make the same mistakes again.
Vehrec and Caliphant - running that madhouse of a ship? Not yet. Vehrec had some tactical sense, when he let his adrenalin glands give his brain a chance.
Barth-Elstrand? He was too busy punishing himself. If he didn’t stop, it might be necessary to replace him, and there was little time left to put him to the proof.

As for Captain Tevar - ‘Tried is the operative word. Whichever you turned your back on, the other would have pounded your ship to pieces - if the planetary defence batteries didn’t get to it first. Mistakes were made; suboptimal decisions were taken, suboptimal actions were carried out; yours was not the prime responsibility. Technically you might even be guilty of allowing a traitor to escape, aiding and abetting, disobeying an order; we might have to clone you to carry out the full sentence. So what? It would have made no difference.
'Your ship would have been destroyed before you managed to lay enough fire on Reiver to deny her to the enemy. Following through on the Admiral’s instructions would have cost the Empire three star destroyers, not two.
'The way we’ll write it up, the decision of the court is that the charges against you are technicalities without foundation, based on a difference in tactical understanding of the situation, and should be dropped.’ She tried not to look too relieved.

‘Which leaves the question of how do we proceed from here.’ Lennart continued. ‘I misread the situation myself, by assuming everyone involved was a rational actor,’ he admitted. ‘It was not in our interest to charge in before repairs and group integration were complete; it was not in the Rebels’ interest to pick another stand-up fight; it was not in Sector’s interest to advertise what fools they had been. I made the assumption that everyone would pause and apply spin, so that they would be more likely to get the political outcome that suited themselves from the inevitable military action. The situation is too delicate and too important to piss around with, and I acted on the expectation that everyone involved was smart enough to realise that.
'I was wrong. There are five parties involved, not three: the illegitimate elements of the sector government, who I had intended to separate out later, took senselessly drastic action to attempt to conceal their crimes; and the rebels’ local allies, who also turned out to be a more separate faction than they had any interest being.
'The Alliance presence here is now more exposed than-‘ he dropped the joke he had been intending, remembering the presence of two female officers- ‘never mind the analogies. Large rebel ships are so rare that every independent hunting group in the galaxy will be baying for the privilege of coming here. For the rebs, to stay is to die. They’ve already risked and lost too much against us, so I reckon they are going to cram every available cubic nanometre of those ships with as much of the machinery of the yards, and the defences of them, as they can manage, and run.
'The rRasfenoni, I have to admit I don’t know what to expect from them, whether they will turtle up, blame their ancestors, make a sacrifice of a few chosen conspirators, go down fighting in a blaze of hatred - I am far from certain what is to be expected, how much of the rationality to plan something like their expansionist policy and how much of the madness to choose to do it in the first place.'

'We have an infestation of journalists,’ Lennart said, ‘the only element of the political process more corrupt than the politicians themselves, so I am going to go and lie like a bastard, apply some spin to buy us as much more time as I can. 'Gethrim, send for that duracrete, then get some sleep while you wait for it to arrive.
'Captain Tevar, take the remaining escorts of Fourth Superiority and attach yourself to 851-Yod as the fifth line of the group. Reckon on having six hours to make what repairs you can.
'While I’m having my tongue forked, I want plans drawn up for the last round of the mid game - three kidnappings. Vice-Admiral Domenic Gerlen: as I reckon it, he is one of the highest ranking officers in the sector not up to his eyeballs in the Moff’s little scam. We need to leave someone alive to rebuild afterwards; he’ll do.
'Doctor Edward Nygma, consultant attached patrol and escort command; he’s a Ubiqtorate plant, he has a useful load of evidence and I don’t reckon he’s going to last long with it unless we get him into protective custody.
'Third thing. Commander Falldess.’

‘Captain?’ She replied.

‘Your ship’s too badly damaged to commit to action as soon as we need her. Find something somewhere else in the sector group that you can steal, and plan a cutting-out action accordingly.’

Aye, aye, Sir,’ Falldess said, smiling. She had been afraid she was going to be left out.

‘Then-‘ The hairs on the back of Lennart’s neck stood up and there was a surge of tension in the air; he wondered if any of the rest of them could feel it. An approaching presence.
The door slid open, and Kor Alric was there, looking strangely energised, like a ballistic man. He was on his path, with the speed and the power he had set off with behind him, but drifting now.

‘Captain Lennart, I have been turning your words over in my head, and I have come to a conclusion,’ he said, in a slightly detached tone, a man infested by the Force - not absolutely rooted in reality any more.

The stormtroopers raised their guns. Mirannon tried to shake some life back into his head. The bridge team and the rest of the squadron shrank away from him; he looked at them all as if noticing them for the first time.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked Lennart.

‘Conspiring against the sector government. Care to join us?'
Last edited by Eleventh Century Remnant on 2009-11-15 06:02pm, edited 1 time in total.
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