Starcorp 2: Hostile Acquisitions

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CHAPTER 11: Coming Up Roses

Frank sat comfortably back in his chair. Infrequently, the fingers of his right hand lightly tapped the top of the conference table in a quick sequence of thumps. This was not a sign of impatience. He knew that the person he was waiting for would walk into the room within the next one to two minutes. The thumping of his fingers on the table was an indicator of anxiousness. Frank was eager for good news from the coming visitor.

The news Frank was waiting for was not a large departure from what he had been hearing over the past several months. Good reports about the status of WDF02’s development had become common occurrences. The weekly reports were almost mind-numbing repetitions of reports from the weeks before. What had Frank anxious this day was the fact that the construction of two basestars was rumored to be completed. The pronouncement of their completion was pending and had been so for the past 9 weeks. Each new report gave hope to Frank that the next one would announce the end of the construction phase of War-Machine WDF02. The supporting components, 1,000 starfighters; 100 spacefighters and 3,000 WDF02 War-Machine crewmen, were ready and waiting. The pending launch of Colossus and Goliath was the only thing holding up the manning and training of a pre-operational war-machine. For Frank this meant that he was much closer to the vast wealth he was expecting to accumulate. It also meant he was much closer to the start of the main event in this exciting new adventure.

Colossus and Goliath was the name given to the two basestars that were being constructed for War-Machine WDF02. The manufacturing of the basestars was the most laborious part of the war-machine’s construction. Seventeen months was put into their manufacture and assembly, but this was fast by the standards of this time. Four basestars were under construction when WDF02 placed its order. Half of all starcorps had a basestar. Their design and the manufacturing process were greatly improved from the time of their conception six decades earlier. This was equally true for the mows or starfighters as they were renamed.

“Directors,” ADM Nathan Lazaro greeted an instant after his abrupt entry into the conference room.

Frank reacted to ADM Lazaro’s sudden appearance by bringing his hands together on the table top and leaning forward in his chair.

“I hope everyone is in the mood for good news,” ADM Lazaro continued as he sat down in the chair at the far end of conference table.

ADM Nathan Lazaro was accompanied by his lieutenants, Commander Craig Chaffin, Commander Hugh Fazal, Commander Harvey Engel and Commander Kenneth McCall. The four men took seats along the wall behind ADM Lazaro. A handful of secretaries and assistants were also seated away from the table and along the side walls of the room. All the other room occupants were seated at the table. The conference table was situated in the center of the room, and it was large enough to accommodate 22 chairs in total. Frank was seated at the far end opposite to ADM Lazaro. Seated in the chairs down both sides of the table, were the remaining 18 members of WDF02’s Board of Directors. Ronald Dryer was one of the Directors seated there.

“Good news would be a report that Colossus and Goliath are ready for Launch,” Frank returned in response to ADM Lazaro’s solicitation.

ADM Lazaro paused to give the remark a smile and then he responded to it with words.

“Colossus and Goliath are ready for launch,” the Admiral retorted with a hint of a smile.

The near stationary Directors relaxed into movements of contentment in reaction to this report. They were all glad to hear that the manufacturing stage of the WDF02 War-Machine was over, and they displayed this feeling in their expressions.

“So,” Frank began to speak after a sigh. “When can we begin military operations in the Sol System?”

ADM Lazaro noted Frank’s eagerness and took a moment to consider how he should respond. He knew that the concerns of the investors seated about this table were governed by money. He soon settled on an answer and commenced to speak in a diplomatic tone.

“Ideally, I would prefer devoting a full year to preparing for the mission. But I can condense that down to six months.”

ADM Lazaro was aware of the time concerns of the board. Expediency in the development and deployment of the war-machine had been pressed upon him by Board Members many times in the past. A speedy conclusion to the mission was also encouraged. ADM Lazaro weighed these concerns against each other to produce the six-month timeframe.

“Assuming there will be no significant setbacks,” ADM Lazaro continued after a pause. “I can commence with the subjugation of the Sol System within a year.”

“And what about the UEF,” Director Marvin Purell spoke out in a hurry. “Has there been a change in their military capabilities or posture.”

ADM Lazaro was keeping a close eye on intelligence reports on the UEF. On top of the overall management of War-Machine WDF02’s construction and his briefings to its Board of Directors, ADM Lazaro’s other main concern was the accumulation and study of intelligence on the UEF. The WDF02 Board of Directors were equally attentive to intelligence gathered on the UEF Space Force, and they frequently queried ADM Lazaro on the significance of changes in the its numbers and posture. He pivoted to Director Purell’s question without much thought to his answer.

“The UEF Space Force continues to grow in number,” ADM Lazaro began in a matter of fact tone of speech. “It has doubled in size over the past year, but its growth is limited to spacefighters and battlestars. The UEF is still in its infancy when it comes to manufacturing starships. So, they’re not likely to construct a basestar within the next year, and starfighter technology seem to be beyond their capability as well. Basestars, starfighters and our star-drive capability continue to be an advantage for us.”

“Will our technological advantage be enough to offset their numerical superiority?” Director George Felton pressed from behind a look of concern.

Director Felton’s question was derived from the worry that the numerical advantage of the UEF was too great for their technological superiority to overcome. Half of the people living in starcorps shared this worry. This thinking was based, in part, on the starcorps last encounter with Earth’s space force. At that time, more than 60 years earlier, 284 starfighters and 1 basestar barely survived an encounter with an Earth Space Force consisting of 3,800 spacefighters. It was the star-drive jump out of the Sol System by the starcorp war-machine that saved them from annihilation. The calculus that many inside the starcorps were making is that 1,000 starfighters and 2 basestars would have less of a chance against 17,000 spacefighters and 30 battlestars. This worry was compounded by the fact that WDF02 would not be running from this fight.

“No, it won’t,” ADM Lazaro began to explain with a casual delivery. “But technological superiority with superior battle tactics will be enough.”

“How can you be sure that your tactics are going to be superior to theirs?” Director Peter Karrenbauer gruffly questioned.

“You can’t,” ADM Lazaro answered dismissively and with a distinct air of cockiness. “That’s why they call it war. The outcome is not guaranteed to either side.”

“That’s not a reassuring answer, ADM Lazaro,” Director Joel Bobrov disputed. “Should we rethink our choice of Commanding Officer for this expedition?”

By this time, ADM Lazaro was not unnerved by questions like this. He had survived several months of criticisms of his planning for this conflict and challenges to his fitness to command War-Machine WDF02. These questions and quarrels always came from two or three of the Board Members and were motivated by their worries rather than a valid complaint. In the end, it always came down to the fact that he was as good as anyone they could get to do the job and by the fact that he has been in-charge since the start of construction.

ADM Nathan Lazaro was an 88-year-old veteran and renowned hero of the Earth/Starcorp Exodus War that occurred six decades earlier. In appearance, he looked to be in his mid-30’s. He was 5’8” in stature and slim of build. His face was narrow. His features were pronounced but well proportioned. A healthy frock of dark brunette hair protruded up from his head and was combed back into a semi groomed arrangement. By the standards of most he was a good-looking man, but this assessment did not extend to his manner. Nathan Lazaro spent much of his 88 years profiting from his reputation as one of the greatest heroes of the Earth/Starcorp Exodus War. His book chronicling his exploits in the war became a bestseller. When he was not living off his past glories, Nathan Lazaro frequently could be found administrating or training a force of fighter pilots or assisting in the design of the next generation of starfighters. Seven separate starcorps developed their space force under his administration.

“Directors,” ADM Lazaro spoke with his gaze fixed on Director Bobrov. “I would not be undertaking this adventure if I was not confident of my ability to effectively manage this war-machine. But understand this, I have a counterpart in the Sol System who is equally confident in his or her abilities, and this would be true no matter who is the commanding officer of WDF02.”

“So, what you’re saying is that this is a gamble?” Director Felton craftily questioned.

“It was always a gamble,” ADM Lazaro quickly lectured. “But understand this, Directors, I’m gambling with my life and the lives of every crewman under my command. This is not a risk that I take lightly.”

“We understand, Admiral,” Frank assured in a calming tone of voice. “And we believe in you. I think we’re all just a little nervous, and we’re looking for something that says we’re not wasting our time.”

“And money,” Director Felton addendum to Frank’s remark.

“The UEF is in a defensive posture,” ADM Lazaro began to explain after a moment of thought. “They can’t be everywhere at the same time. We’re the invaders. We’ve got nothing to defend in Sol Space, and we have the advantage in maneuverability. Directors, give me one-year in the Sol System, and if I haven’t shredded the UEF Space Force by then I will resign with full forfeiture of emolument.”

This confident declaration reassures all the Directors that they are making a good bet. Visible displays of relief can be seen on all their faces. After a few seconds of silence, Frank speaks the final words on the subject.

“Okay, Admiral Lazaro, you have a go. Invade at your earliest convenience.”

The Berenberg Starship had been in existence for 86 years. Despite its age, it was the youngest of the BX01’s cluster of starships. BX01 was long past due for a new addition to its group of starships. Before their escape from the Sol System, BX01 added another starship every 17th year, on average. The division of the starcorp community out to 23 separate star systems significantly hindered its development. Communication and transportation between starcorps were slowed by the distance between them. Marshalling the resources of multiple starcorps to perform a joint task became cumbersome. Population growth slowed to a pace that made it unnoticeable to anyone who was not keeping count. The disbursement of the combined starcorp community population slowed the work of mining and processing new resources. The industrial and technological evolution of the starcorps was moving at one-tenth the pace that they grew at in Sol System Space. These factors discouraged BX01 from ordering a new starship, and it sustained the Berenberg as the most luxurious starship in its cluster.

Frank’s home aboard the Berenberg Starship was a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom 2-story center tower apartment. It was a lavish suite just like all the other center tower apartments. BX01, and the Berenberg in particular, was the center of wealth and power in the starcorp community. All the housing inside this starship was well above prices found for comparable apartments on any other starship. This distinction was owed to the fact that BX01 was not a starcorp that did hands on manufacturing. BX01 was where inter-starcorp legislation, business deals and financing was done. Most of the people who lived here were the legal residents of another starcorp, just as Frank and Charlotte were the legal residents of HL02.

Charlotte took to her new life aboard the Berenberg Starship with a zeal. The social events in BX01 were far more extravagant than what she was accustomed to in HL02. Mingling with the richest and most powerful people within the starcorps was nearly intoxicating to her. What made these events even more entertaining for Charlotte was the fact that she attended them as a consort with an exclusive contract. This caused her to stand out among BX01’s hundreds of stunningly attractive professional female consorts with nonexclusive contracts. This was the common arrangement, by far, between professional consorts and the super wealthy denizens of BX01. Charlotte was ogled and admired by men and some women who knew of her situation. She endured dozens of propositions to either break into or replace her social contract with Frank, but she acted on none of them. Charlotte Lang was pleased to be where she was, the exclusive consort of the man behind the most ambitious business venture ever put together.

“Hey, Sweetie, how was your day?” Charlotte greeted as she crossed the living-room.

Charlotte did not wait for an answer before wrapping her arms around Frank’s neck and kissing him passionately. Frank reciprocated the kiss with far less enthusiasm. His mind was engaged with thoughts about ADM Lazaro’s report. Up until this day, war with the UEF was something that would happen in the future. The feeling of risk that came with this business venture increased as events moved closer to it happening. ADM Lazaro’s talk of no guarantees and the realization of the enormity of the gamble he was taking had Frank in a dread unlike any he had felt before.

“The basestars are ready,” Frank announced unenthusiastically after Charlotte disconnected from the kiss.

“They’re invading?” Charlotte exclaimed with a look of excitement and with a questioning inflection.

“We’ve got another 6 months of testing and training to complete, but yeah.” Frank reported with a shrug and a nod of his head. “We now have all the pieces in place.”

Frank’s demure mood did not register with Charlotte at this moment. She was too busy being overwhelmed by the reality that this event was happening and her admiration of Frank for making it happen.

“Wow, you’re really going to do it,” Charlotte mused with a look of amazement.

“Yeah, it’s really going to happen,” Frank agreed with an intonation of gloom in his voice.

With this statement, the morose in Frank’s voice broke through Charlotte’s amazed preoccupation. After noting this, she took a moment to give Frank an examining look.

“Why aren’t you more excited?” Charlotte queried with an inflection of curiosity.

“I’m excited,” Frank returned unconvincingly. “I am. I’m just second guessing. What if I’m wrong? What if this whole thing is a big mistake?”

“Hey, you wouldn’t have gotten the money if it wasn’t a good plan,” Charlotte countered with insistence.

“Yeah, I thought the Astra 2 project was a good plan and look how that turned out.” Frank grumbled back with a shake of his head. “If this fails, it’ll take me a decade to restore my credit rating.”

Charlotte could hear the worry in his voice and instantly became sympathetic to his fears. She stepped in closer to Frank, placed a hand on his chest and began to speak to this fear in a soft voice.

“It’s going to work, Frank. I know it.”

“Well, you’re in the minority,” Frank mildly challenged. “Casinos across the starcorp community are putting up odds against me, 2 to 1 on average.”

“Don’t listen to them,” Charlotte insisted at near to a whisper. “They don’t know anything.”

“Casinos don’t set odds on a whim,” Frank corrected. “Most gamblers are betting against me.”

“It’s going to work,” Charlotte pleasantly assured as she snuggled in close to Frank. “And do you want to know how I know?”

“How do you know that?” Frank questioned back with a sigh.

Charlotte leaned in against Frank, kissed him softly on the lips and then began to whisper with a teasing smile.

“Because I believe in you.”

Charlotte’s playful good humor was too infectious for Frank to resist and he returned her smile.

“You’re right, Babe,” Frank spoke in a capitulating manner. “Negative thoughts are not going to help. From now on I’m thinking like a winner,” Frank finished with a smile.

“Good,” Charlotte gleefully concurred. “So, how do we celebrate?

“You name it, Baby,” Frank stated as he gently pulled Charlotte into his embrace. “Where do you want to eat at tonight?” He questioned with a wide smile.

Eating out at one of the many 5-star restaurants in the BX01 cluster was a luxury that only the wealthy could afford to do regularly. Victuals that were rare, expensive to produce or costly to import was food that could only be found in top of the line restaurants. The trade in foodstuff was a major area of commerce between starcorps. No single starcorp could produce anything close to a full array of foodstuff, and all starcorps needed to produce an assortment of basic food staples in large quantities for the subsistence of their populace. These basic foods consumed time, money and space to the extent that they crowded most nonessential foods off the list of staples for growing and storage. Nonessential foodstuff was primarily produced by private enterprises and exported out to the starcorp community. These rare foods were almost exclusively sold to high end restaurants at prices equivalent to the supply and the demand. The restaurants that purchased these rare foodstuffs heavily advertised them as items on their menus, prepared them into sumptuous dishes and sold them for prices commensurate with the cost to acquire the provisions. For Frank and Charlotte, eating out at 5-star restaurants was the new norm of their existence.

“Where do you want eat?” Charlotte questioned back from behind a pleasant smile.

“How about Valentina’s?” Frank returned after a moment of thought.

“Okay,” Charlotte agreed with a playful smile that was followed by a gentle kiss.

Frank returned the kiss with amorous passion, and Charlotte reciprocated by wrapping her arms around Frank’s neck. After several seconds of kissing, Charlotte pushed back, pulled Frank’s suit coat off his shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She then began unbuttoning his shirt.

“But I think we should work up an appetite first,” Charlotte playfully suggested from behind a wide smile.

A moment later, Frank scooped a giggling Charlotte up into his arms and raced away with her to the master bedroom.

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