The following morning, Phase One of Operation Scorched Earth began quietly with the women reaching out to the other females in the Fleet. They had collectively decided that those on the Kleponia would be excluded from their plans. They could not be sure of their loyalties. Danielle stayed in her suite and remained incommunicado.
It took the team over a week to talk to all the other females, single or mated, and get their agreement to take part. Things were going to change. Every female had something at stake, even if it was just practicing her religion. Phase Two of Operation Scorched Earth started after the last ship had full agreement. It relied on Jada, Talia, and Margot who spent another week subtly making changes to the security settings, permissions, archive access, and most importantly, the root passwords in all the systems. They linked everything to a single command program that Jada had buried where no one but her would find it. Once they finished it, Phase Three was ready to begin.
* * *
The day started deceptively quiet. Danielle got dressed and made herself coffee. As she sat there eating breakfast, Bethany walked into the dining room. Danielle looked at her and reminded her, “Remember, you are staying in here.”
“I know, mom. The shit is going to hit the fan, and this is safe,” she said. “Good luck.”
“You know your part, right?” Danielle asked.
“Yep. I am ready,” she said. “There is too much at stake for all of us.”
“Exactly,” said Danielle. She grabbed her tablet and her cup of coffee and headed to the suite door. “Lock it behind me,” she said.
Aengus startled when Danielle exited the suite. “What is going on?” he asked.
“Time to get back to work,” Danielle answered.
“Really?” Aengus asked, surprised.
“Yep,” she said and then headed towards the transport tubes with him following.
He kept sneaking looks at her while they headed to the Executive Deck. He was suspicious since she was so placid.
Once they arrived, she greeted Jareth, who startled when she walked through the doors to the Executive Suites. “Oh, thank providence you are back!” he gushed.
She just smiled non-committally at him. He had no idea how bad things would get.
“Is he in?” Danielle asked sweetly.
Danielle walked into his office and said, “Good morning, Spartak.”
He sat there, just staring at her like she was a mirage.
“Good morning, Danielle. It is nice to see you,” she said in a fake bass voice. “Why thank you, Spartak. It is nice to be out and about,” she added in her normal voice.
Aengus just snorted from the corner.
“Ah, good morning,” he said roughly. He waited for her to say something, but she didn’t. “Have a seat, please. Are you back?” he asked.
“I would like to be, if it is all right,” she said.
“Of course. Things have been challenging since you left me, er, left your position,” he said.
“Spartak, I didn’t really leave you. Not specifically. I am sorry you got hurt,” she said sincerely.
He just looked at her, trying to find words. He had rehearsed what he would say to her for days, but the words fled him.
“I understand I was wrong to blame you for bringing us here. Fate has something else in mind. Can you forgive me for refusing to talk to you?” asked Danielle.
“Only if you promise not to shut me out like that again. I can handle a lot of things except that,” he said.
“I will try,” she pledged. “You lose weight?”
“Probably. I haven’t eaten or slept well. I missed you,” he said.
“I was miserable, too,” she said.
They sat in awkward silence for several minutes.
She finally sighed. “The big question is will the Fleet continue to be a place where only men have any rights or will it be a place where everyone has rights?”
“Females have always had rights,” he said indignantly.
“No, Spartak. They haven’t. They cannot mate who they want on most vessels. They cannot do the job they want. They didn’t get to choose where to live. They cannot practice their religion. Heck, we cannot even choose the clothes we want to wear. What rights do we have exactly?” she asked.
He opened his mouth and closed it when nothing came to him.
“Just because I came back does not mean we have resolved any of this. I wanted to resolve our distance,” she said. “I am going to finish the medical protocols and training.” She got up and went to her office. Aengus followed her and took up his position by her door.
“Aengus,” Danielle called.
“Yes?” he asked.
“Could you get me a cup of coffee, I finished mine. I will stay right here,” she promised.
“Sure. I could use one,” he said and headed out to grab them.
Danielle waited until she was sure he was out of earshot and stood. She then tapped her band and spoke one word, “Initiate.”
* * *
Several things happened at once. Jada teleported Danielle safely back into her suite. She then teleported Zoya to a locked cell that had a digital lock that would only respond to Jada’s program, disabling her band. The program then shut down and locked the teleport system throughout the Fleet. They had updated the band programs of all the males the day before and now turned on the program that would severely restrict them. They grounded the transport vehicles and fighter jets on all vessels, and locked down the flight decks on all ships. Talia’s team took over radar operations in case the Grays decided to attack while they were in the middle of this internal war. Lada would run the night-shift team. Jada’s program then executed all the other commands they had all mapped out as necessary for their plan to succeed.
The first inkling any of the men had something was different was when the radar panels shut down.
“Commander Areson, sir, the radar has shut down,” said Adrei.
“Switch to the secondary while you troubleshoot,” Areson ordered as he sat forward in his Captain’s chair. He scanned the front monitors for threats. He relaxed slightly when he saw none.
“I can’t, sir,” Andrei said.
“Can you run diagnostics?” Areson asked.
He taped a few keys on the console and got nothing. “No,” said Andrei. turning to his boss with a worried expression.
Areson tapped his band and said, “Contact Silas.”
“Yes, sir?” said Silas as he answered his band.
“Can you come to the bridge? Radar is having some issues,” said Areson.
“Yes, sir. Be right there,” said Silas, ending the call.
“What is taking him so long?” huffed Areson. A few seconds later, his band buzzed. “Yeah?” he answered.
“I cannot get into the bridge, sir,” said Silas.
“Why didn’t you teleport?” asked Areson.
“It wouldn’t respond,” said Silas.
“What?” demanded Areson. “Hang on.” He jumped up and stalked over to the bridge door. As soon as he hit the sensor angle, the door opened. Silas stood on the other side. “Find out what is going on,” Areson ordered.
“Yes, sir,” said Silas, who rushed over to the navigation panel and sat down. He started pushing buttons and then swore under his breath when he didn’t get what he wanted. He hopped off of the chair and kneeled in front of the cabinet below the radar screen. He yanked off the door and started digging until he found the connector he was looking for. He crawled backwards and then slid into the seat. He plugged the cable connector into his tablet and started tapping on the screen. He then rebooted his tablet and tried again. “This makes no sense,” he grumbled. He crawled back into the cabinet. All the other men on the bridge heard was swearing. Silas backed out of the cabinet and sat on the carpet in front of it. “The manual override circuit has been shut down and bypassed.”
“What the hell does that mean?” demanded Areson.
“It means I cannot get into the network, using the direct cable, or using the manual override from the Bridge,” said Silas.
“Are you telling me we have no radar?” said Areson, his voice revealing his shock at the concept.
“Yes, but it also means we cannot access the computer system from the Bridge,” said Silas.
Areson tapped his band and said, “Contact Spartak.”
“Yes, Areson?” answered Spartak.
“We have a problem. Can you come to the Bridge?” Areson asked.
“On my way,” said Spartak.
Areson repeated the same request with Cullen, his second-in-command, who also said he was on his way.
A couple of minutes later, Cullen called back, and said, “I am locked out of my suite.”
“What?” asked Areson.
“I realized I had forgotten my tablet, turned around to get it, and my door won’t respond. Jeannie is not responding to either my band or my pounding on the door,” said Cullen.
“Is that normal?” Areson asked.
“No. She has been quiet all day, but this is definitely not normal,” said Cullen.
“Head to the Bridge,” ordered Areson.
“Aye,” said Cullen.
“What the hell is going on?” snarled Areson.
* * *
Twenty minutes later they had scrambled all the Fleet leadership and senior ship leadership of every vessel to a video conference once they realized the extent of what every vessel was facing. Spartak looked through all the faces across all the monitors and realized something. “Where are the females?” he demanded, placing his hands on his hips.
“Danielle’s band will not respond,” said Evgen.
“Not responding or she is refusing to respond? Aengus had just discovered she disappeared on him when you called,” said Spartak.
“It is not connecting,” said Evgen. “I cannot say she is ignoring the link.”
“Why am I not seeing Shonda, Circe, and Gusta either?” demanded Spartak.
“I cannot link to Shonda and her floor is locked from the transport tubes,” said Taras, the Centaria Commander.
“Same with Circe,” said Nikola, Commander of the Wanamoor. “Zoya is also not linking.”
“Gusta, too,” said Kiril, the Nandoria Commander.
“And Albis, Emily, Esmee, Linnea, Choko, Bimala and Marie?” Spartak demanded.
“I am here, Spartak,” said Bimala softly.
None of the other Strategic Managers responded.
“Do you know why the other females are not here?” he asked, raising his eyebrow.
“No. I cannot get a link to work,” she said. “I tried to reach her when you summoned me because my mate is not happy about this unscheduled event,” she said.
Spartak just glared at her and then started pacing.
A light knock sounded on the conference room door.
“Yes,” bellowed Spartak.
Jareth poked his head in through the crack in the door. “Uh, sir? There is a crowd of men out here demanding to speak to you.”
“Tell them they will just have to wait,” said Spartak. “We have a problem we are working through.”
“I, I understand that, sir. I told them that, but they are threatening to break down the door if you don’t speak with them,” said Jareth.
Spartak growled a word that must have been truly foul since the cochlear implant wouldn’t translate it. He slammed door aside and stormed through the door. “I do not give a flying fungus what you think you have a right to demand. Get the hell out of these offices after you leave your name with Jareth and I will contact you after I resolve the current problem!” he shouted.
The balding man in front glared at Spartak and shouted right back at him, “And go where? My suite deck is locked out and so is my job!”
A chorus of “Mine, too!” and “Me, too!” in masculine voices rang out.
That brought Spartak up short. “Which deck?” he demanded.
The angry men shouted several numbers out, but it became very clear that only the decks with the Bridge, the barracks, the Dining Hall, and the Flight Deck were accessible.
“Head to the Dining Halls for now. Once we get this resolved, we will let you know,” snarled Spartak. When they stood there glaring at him, he roared, “Move!”
The men disbursed.
Spartak stalked back into the conference room, “Commanders, have someone check each deck using the transport tubes and see if they are locked out of everything except military decks,” he ordered. He looked at Aeron and Cullen and said, “Already confirmed here.”
Both men looked at each other and then at Spartak. “How?” asked Arenson.
“I don’t know, but it took planning,” he growled. “Silas is trying to get into the network server right now.”
Several minutes later, Taras said, “All decks except military. Even Engineering.”
“Us, too,” said Kiril.
“Same on the Registra,” said Klausen
“Us, too,” said Nikola.
They waited for Chatura. He finally came back on. “All non-military decks are open, but the teleport functions do not respond and all transport vessels, and fighters are locked. We cannot even open the doors on the flight decks,” he said. “I am getting complaints from the Dining Halls and suites that the dispensers are only producing certain food items, regardless of what is requested.
“Is it edible?” asked Spartak.
“Yes, technically. There is one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian option. That is it,” he said. “And the only liquid option is water.”
“What the hell?” growled Spartak.
No one had time to answer when Silas came rushing into the room.
The look on his face said it all.