Starcorp 2: Hostile Acquisitions

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CHAPTER 13: The Coming War

“Time/space threshold is breached. We are now operating in real-space,” Commander Engel called out to his commanding officer with a definitive inflection.

“What’s your read on the neighborhood, Lieutenant Karnack?” ADM Lazaro questioned his senior Combat Information Center officer.

Most of the 50 crew members in the command capsule were Combat Information Center officers or CIC’s. It was their function to locate and target threats. They, like most of the crews in all the capsules, wore 3D helmets that enabled them to view video images and computer graphics of locations outside of the basestar. Unlike the other crewmen who worked maintenance robots that serviced the interior of the spaceship, the CIC officers observed, analyzed and scanned the space exterior to the spaceship. With hand gestures they were able to expand, contract, rotate visuals and graphics of the space around them. This capability was available to all within the space capsules, but each crewmen’s duty was preassigned by their superiors.

“No sensor fields. No local com traffic, Admiral. We’re alone,” LT Karnack responded to ADM Lazaro’s question.

ADM Lazaro had his attention fixed on the large circular 3D holographic monitor at the very center of the capsule. Its display showed graphics of the space around the basestar from a god’s eye view. A string of small flat monitors ringed the 3D hologram projector along the top. A few second after hearing LT Karnack’s report, ADM Lazaro turned his attention toward Lieutenant Commander Chang.

“Lieutenant Chang, where’s Goliath?” ADM Lazaro questioned in a commanding tone of voice.

“The ship is detecting an energy burst originating 0.07 light-minutes off our 4 o’clock, 60 degrees low. The signature is consistent with a null-space breach. It has to be the Goliath.”

LCDR Chang’s assessment was an obvious match for the Goliath Basestar. ADM Lazaro did not waste time assessing the report. He turned his attention toward CAPT Engel and commenced to speak a command in stern voice.

“Extend the sensor field out to combat-range and bring us alongside the Goliath.”

“Initiating sensor field,” CDR Engel reported as he tapped an icon button on his computer screen. “Adjusting trajectory now,” Commander Engel continued a moment later as he highlighted a spot on his monitor and instructed the computer to negotiate the turn with a tap of an icon button. “ETA is 268 minutes,” he read off the screen.

ADM Lazaro listened to the report from CDR Engel with a passive demeanor. Everything was going the way he expected. War-Machine WDF02 had just crossed the breach between null-space and real-space. The war-machine was now moving through Sol System space. After six months of training and three months of travel across interstellar space, Basestars Colossus and Goliath were on their way to an engagement with the UEF Space Force.

ADM Nathan Lazaro and his cockpit crew were situated in a round capsule large enough to accommodate 50 crewmen. Each crewman was seated in one of 50 acceleration pods, situated in three successive rings and built into the floor at 45-degree angles. In an emergency, each acceleration pod could be shut closed into airtight containers. No more than five feet separated the ceiling from the floor in some places and noticeably less in others. In affect the capsule was an airtight vault loaded with all the computers, instruments and control panels needed to maneuver the basestar and the maintenance bots that did the repairs when the bulk of the ship was uninhabitable. Colossus and Goliath had 500 of these control and escape capsules, crammed together into a multi-layered honeycomb configuration that patchworked the top center of the basestar’s shell.

This escape capsule setup had been the standard configuration since the construction of the first starship. It was done this way to give passengers and crew their best chance for survival if something catastrophic occurred during acceleration, deceleration and turns. Space battles were not considered when this design was first drawn up or engineered, but it was greatly considered when the first basestar, Orion, was constructed. Colossus and Goliath were engineered with improvements gleaned from Orion and its space battle with the United Front Pact Coalition Space Force, and they were on their way to put these enhancements to the test.

The first act in the war to come was expected to occur eight weeks out from this time. ADM Nathan Lazaro did not want to press for an immediate engagement with the UEF Space Force. The reason for this is because, he expected the UEF Fleet to be scattered about the inner orbit of the Sol System. His thinking was based on the knowledge that the UEF had no way of knowing when or where his 2 basestars would breach into Sol Space. Dividing and positioning their forces close to high value assets increased the probability that a sizeable force would be nearby to intercept the basestars regardless of when or where they appeared. ADM Lazaro calculated this tactic gave the UEF their best chance of winning this war by forcing them into a long series of battles against large UEF forces. He knew that this type of war would degrade his fighter force overtime and raise the risk of some damage befalling one or both of his basestars. He also knew that a stand-off engagement against the bulk of the UEF Space Force could cost him his basestars. It was for these two reasons that ADM Lazaro had a plan to avoid both scenarios.

“Com,” ADM Lazaro called out to the officer controlling the transmission of all ship-wide, ship-to-ship and broadcast communications. “Open a broadband radio transmission.”

After a few seconds of keystrokes to his computer console, the communications officer responded with, “broadband open.”

A moment after hearing this, ADM Lazaro activated his microphone and began to speak.

“My name is Admiral Nathan Lazaro, the commanding officer of War-Machine WDF02. I and my command are now situated in Sol Outer Orbit. My employers, the WDF02 Shareholders, have commissioned me with the task of imposing its dominion over the Sol Star System by force of arms. Because of that mandate and a wish to avoid the death and destruction that comes with armed conflict, my employers invite the civilian and military leaders of the UEF along with any contiguous and all subordinate authorities to surrender. No legal action will be undertaken by WDF02 or any BX01 member starcorp for any misdeed, past or present, performed by any Sol System government officials or military personnel with exception for any war crime committed over the course of this conflict. Furthermore, all requests for sanctuary and asylum will be given full hearings by WDF02 without penalty or prejudice. This invitation to surrender can be redeemed at any time, but a delay in doing so will have no effect on the operation of this war-machine. Military action will commence at our convenience and will continue until the task is completed. This message will repeat hourly for the duration of one Earth cycle. This is Admiral Nathan Lazaro, signing out.”

Four hours later, ADM Lazaro gave his final orders to his command capsule crew,

“Set course for Earth and commence deceleration.”

Behind the speaking of this command, ADM Lazaro settled into his escape pod, shut the hatch and slept for 3 hours.

“I’ll be downstairs,” Vincent informed his wife just before turning about and setting off for the exit at the rear of the pawn shop.

Cynthia Donovan was the 90-year-old wife of Vincent Donovan. Together they owned and operated Donovan’s Pawnshop. Physically Cynthia Donovan looked to be in her late 40′s to mid 50′s. She was not an attractive woman, and there was nothing in her features that said she ever was what most people would call pretty. She was noticeably stout, and she maintained a serious demeanor. These attributes and esthetics were a match for her husband. He too was decidedly less than handsome. Vincent and Cynthia’s marriage looked more like a business arrangement. There was no sign of affection or hostility between them. There was only the day to day work to sustain the life they built.

“Okay,” Cynthia acknowledged dismissively just as Vincent opened the door at the rear of the shop.

After leaving the pawnshop, Vincent Donovan negotiated his way to the office area at the rear of the basement. Moving sluggishly, but with well-practiced movements, he climbed into the whole-body motion capture exoskeleton that was attached to the 8-foot-high mechanical arm. The heavy base of the robotic arm is what enabled it to hold the exoskeleton up off the floor.

“Computer, run Windmill,” Vincent softly commanded into the microphone.

Seconds after speaking this command, Vincent found himself inside a large gray dimly lit virtual room. Standing in front of him in semi-rigid stances were four computer generated avatars of individuals who were interacting inside this same virtual world. Their features and proportions were based on human form, three males and one female. The proportions and colorations of the avatars gave them a digital animation look. From the perspective of these four avatars, Vincent looked like a digital animation too, but this image was different from his appearance in the Odysseus program. Vincent gave the group a brief pan with a dismayed expression, and then he said “Eucalyptus,” with a curt delivery.

The four individuals in front of Vincent—Watkins, Athena, Gabriel and Nero—responded to this one-word statement with “Thistle,” “Petunia,” “Dahlia,” and “Jasmine” spoken in turn. At the end of this exchange of code words, they relaxed into an informal stance.

“Where’s Cyrus?” Vincent queried with a stern demeanor.

Vincent’s query was motivated by the silence from his four lieutenants standing in front of him. When one or more of their number was not present when he arrived for these meetings, it was normal for one of the others to report that the missing avatar had to leave. This occurred several times in the past when a lieutenant had urgent business to act upon. The lieutenant made a brief appearance to explain the situation and left. This was the report that Vincent had expected to hear without prompting.

“He’s late,” Watkins answered with a shrug.

Vincent took a moment to process this reply before responding to it.

“He didn’t come in?” Vincent spoke with a questioning inflection.

“No,” Watkins answered as the three other lieutenants shook their heads.

Vincent Donovan gave a fleeting thought to the idea of questioning his four lieutenants for more concerning the activities of Cyrus, but the folly of such an inquiry quickly registered in his brain. The members of this meeting were strangers to each other. Their anonymity existed by design and was strictly enforced. In effect these four individuals plus Cyrus were the Generals of a secret online underworld resistance community. Each general had its own team of lieutenants who were equally segregated from each other. It was only at the operational level that resistance members formed up into segregated cells. The members of a cell were familiar with each other, but each cell was kept ignorant of all other cells until a need to know made it necessary for them to meet. In this era resistance forces are intricate machines dependent upon a digital underworld labyrinth to secure their anonymity. Vincent Donovan was the Commander in Chief of one these underworld resistance movements.

“Report,” Vincent Donovan instructed Watkins behind a moment of reflection.

As the highest-ranking officer present, it was Watkins’ duty to speak first. Over the next few minutes, he summarized the successes and failures, expenditures and acquisitions accrued by operations within his sphere of control. He also reported on new developments within his theater of operation. At the instant it seemed clear to all that Watkins had completed his summary, he quickly spoke up with a new thought that he was eager to express.

“One of my lieutenants has made a friend in UEF High Command. He’s just a mid-level staffer, but my lieutenant claims this new friend knows the thinking of UEF High Command.”

Watkins knew that this subject was off topic for this meeting. From the perspective of the Tellurian Resistance, the war between the starcorps and the UEF was of no concerns of theirs. Because this was the accepted view, Watkins waited for Vincent to give him permission to continue speaking. This Vincent did with his continued silence.

“According to my lieutenant, the UEF didn’t bring the fleets to Earth to defend it. They brought them here to form them up into one massive battlegroup, and it’s launching as we speak.”

The last part of Watkin’s statement was a surprise to everyone there.

“You know this for a fact?” Vincent questioned with a scowl.

“I’ve gotten two reports that suggests the fleet is moving,” Watkins answered in a voice that suggested he was comfortable with this answer.

The WDF02 War-Machine entered the outer perimeter of the Sol System four weeks earlier. This was information known to all within the Solar System. It was suspected by all who were outside of UEF High Command that the Spacer war-machine would come in fast, split up and go after multiple targets using hit and run tactics. It was commonly believed that this would give the starcorp war-machine its best chance for success, but this was not what it was doing. As soon as WDF02 entered the system, it set itself on a trajectory straight for Earth and began decelerating. Currently, the estimated date of arrival to Earth Space was ten weeks out from this moment. This turn of events had all believing that UEF High Command had collected 90% of its space force into Earth orbit to defend the planet. The report that the UEF Fleet was leaving Earth space was a contradiction of this thinking.

Sending the fleet out to engage with WDF02 meant running the risk of the 2 basestars jumping behind the battlegroup and attacking an undefended Earth. This was the consensus of Sol’s populace. The star-drive that the starcorps possessed was believed to be this war-machine’s greatest advantage over the UEF Fleet. Consequently, everyone outside of UEF Space Force High Command thought that waiting for the WDF02 basestars to slow down come to them was their only option. Vincent and his Generals were included in this thinking. Nero was the first to vocalize his confusion with the High Command’s decision to send the fleet out to intercept the WDF02 basestars.

“I don’t get it,” Nero declared with a shake of his head and a toss of his hands. “Why are they doing that?”

Watkins understood Nero’s question was motivated by the thinking that the WDF02 war-machine would see them coming and go to their star-drives. It was a supposition he was continually entertaining and had no answer for.

“The UEF High Command doesn’t seem to be worried about this starcorp war-machine getting behind them,” Watkins answered with a shrug.

Everyone took a pause to ponder why High Command would be so unconcerned about this possibility. Vincent looked to be giving it more thought than the others.

“It makes no sense,” Gabriel blurted out after a time. “With 90% of the fleet out in open space, there’s next to nothing between the Spacers and every spaceport and habitat in the solar system.”

Watkins, Athena and Nero had nothing in mind to respond to this declaration. Vincent gave the remark a moment of thought before coming to an idea that supported the UEF’s decision.

“They’re not going to defend them,” Vincent returned as though he was thinking out loud. “They don’t have to.”

Vincent hesitated behind this statement to give everyone a knowing look. He understood now, and he was pleased with himself for figuring it out.

“Everything manmade in space moves,” Vincent continued as he reflected upon his summation. “They can just leave.”

Nero, Athena and Gabriel were confused by this statement, but Watkins came to a gradual understanding.

“That’s right,” Watkins agreed after a thought. “Why go after habitats and small battlegroups when they can just run away?”

“But they can’t get away,” Nero disputed. “The Spacers have the star-drive.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Vincent corrected. “The star-drive produces an energy burst. They lose the element of surprise when they use it. On top of that, when they come back into real-space they’re moving too fast. It would take them 20 hours at maximum thrust to stop or reverse their trajectory. Any space based UEF assets would be long gone before they could initiate a pursuit trajectory.”

“And what about non-manmade UEF assets?” Athena challenged with a look of puzzlement.

“The Spacers didn’t come here to bombard planets and asteroids,” Vincent asserted. “Earth isn’t the target. It’s the prize. If the Spacers want Sol, they have to destroy the UEF Fleet.”

After Earth’s battle with the starcorps 60 years earlier, the UEF began designing and constructing a space force using the lessons they learned from that conflict. The most significant lesson learned was the need for a fleet of battlestars. Essentially, this was a reflex response to the capability of starcorp starfighters. Constructing basestars, starfighters and star-drive technology required an investment in money, time and research that the UEF had yet to acquire in the necessary abundance. However, battlestars were just heavily armed and armored spaceships. The design function of the battlestar was to be durable, produce a sensor field 100 times greater than a spacefighter, control and direct nearby support crafts and produce a full surround of offensive and defensive fire equivalent to 200 spacefighters. Battlestars were also capable of accelerating10 times faster than a basestar, minimum. In affect, battlestars were moving fortresses, artillery and anti-aircraft brigades and long-range space traffic control stations constructed into a single package.

“Can the UEF Fleet win in a head on fight with the Spacers?” Athena questioned from behind a look of bewilderment.

“Yes, it can,” Vincent assessed out loud. “The UEF Space Force has a 30 to 1 advantage.”

“What about their starfighters?” Nero questioned cautiously. “The UEF spacefighters are no match for them.”

“The UEF have battlestars this time,” Vincent returned without hesitation. “They can produce a weight of fire 50 times that of a starfighter, and that’s without spacefighters screening for them.”

“But what about the basestars?” Gabriel spoke in a sudden outburst.

“Two basestars, even with full complements of starfighters, don’t stand a chance in a head on fight against 17,000 spacefighters and 33 battlestars,” Vincent insisted with finality.

Watkins, Athena, Gabriel and Nero accepted this answer from behind looks that said they still did not understand. Vincent took a moment to note their confusion and then commenced to qualify his answer.

“In a space battle, the Spacers will have to slow down. And when their speed goes down below jump speed, they won’t be able to get back up to it without a fight. The basestars will be too busy evading multiple attacks. When the battle starts it’ll simply come down to attrition.”

“And when the UEF takes out the basestars, the war is over,” Watkins concurred with a definitive nod.

Vincent took a moment to think about this a little more, and then he spoke his final thought on the subject.

“Slowing down is the biggest mistake the Spacers can make.”

Watkins, Gabriel, Nero and Athena took a pause to reach this conclusion in their own thoughts. Vincent gave them a final few seconds to think about it, and then he focused his attention on Athena and onto a new topic.

“Athena, report.”

After a hesitation to arrange her thoughts, Athena commenced to expound on the disposition of the people and territory under her command. She was halfway through her report when a male avatar suddenly materialized within the room. The avatar known to belong to Cyrus was quickly recognized by all there. All eyes turned toward the Cyrus avatar. An instant after capturing their full attentions, that avatar stepped forward to be recognized.

“Mulberry,” the avatar spoke in a hurry to dismiss the code word formality.

Vincent took a moment to be suspicious of his late arrival. At the end of this moment he accepted the avatar as Cyrus.

“You’re late,” Vincent challenged sternly. “Why?”

“Elijah, he’s back,” Cyrus reported with a look of excitement. “He’s in Sol Outer Orbit aboard a starcorp surveillance spaceship.”

Elijah Cromwell was one of Cyrus’ lieutenants. In this position on Earth, it was Elijah’s job to relay orders from Cyrus to field commanders and to orchestrate the logistics needed to perform tasks. This job required him to expose a limited amount of his identity to field commanders and support team leaders, but this information never included his true name. Only members within cells knew the true names of each other. The command structure above the cells was held together by an intricate security system made up of passwords, code phrases, encryption keys, and interconnecting puzzle pieces that identified members to each other. These methods were used to sustain the line of communication from the High Command down to the field commanders while keeping their true identities a secret. This system insured that no single member could bring down the entire the resistance, or any large portion of it.

On rare occasions, resistance fighters of Elijah Cromwell’s rank were called upon to appear at one of these High Command meetings. His or her presence there would be to answer questions about the teams under their control. It was normal to keep secret the identity of the Tellurian Resistance Fighter who was answering these questions. That is why the High Command’s knowledge of Elijah Cromwell’s true name was unique. Security protocol mandated that Elijah’s identity be kept hidden behind a code name, but this formality was not needed with Elijah Cromwell. His given name was well known to the Tellurian High Command. Elijah Cromwell was the Tellurian Resistance Fighter chosen to speak to the leaders of the starcorps on their behalf. His true name had to be given to the starcorps, and this fact negated any need to keep it hidden from Tellurian High Command.

“When did he arrive?” Vincent asked with an intrigued expression.

“His message came in half an hour ago,” Cyrus returned without hesitation. “That’s why I was late.”

Vincent took a second to absorb this answer. At the end of this time his curiosity came into full bloom and he began to give voice to what it produced.

“And why is he here?”

“He’s got an offer,” Cyrus reported with a nod of his head. “Computer, upload the DeWitt contract. Enter,” he instructed as he held up his palm.

An instant after speaking the word enter, a slim stack of papers materialized in Cyrus’ hand. Vincent took a moment to think about what he had just heard and seen. At the end of this time, he raised up the palm of his hand. The contract in Cyrus’ hand glowed in response to this gesture. After a couple of seconds, the glowing stopped, and a duplicate contract materialized in Vincent’s hand. Watkins, Athena and Gabriel repeated this action and acquired duplicates of the contract.

“What’s in the contract?” Vincent queried as he looked down at the papers in his hand.

“It’s an offer from a group of starcorp investors,” Cyrus returned with an intonation of eagerness. “They want to make a separate deal with us, the Tellurian Resistance.”

When Vincent closed his hand into a fist, the papers disappeared. The word ‘SAVED’ appeared in mid air above his fist and then faded away a few seconds later. The act of clenching his hand into a fist saved the document to Vincent’s hard drive. Watkins, Athena and Gabriel followed Vincent’s lead and saved the document to their hard drives.

“What are they offering?” Vincent questioned sharply and with a frown.

“Unfettered operational control of the Sol System in exchange for a trade deal,” Cyrus explained with a hint of a grin.

Vincent and his lieutenants, minus Cyrus, were perplexed by this answer. None of them could imagine why they would make a separate deal with a group of starcorp investors. They were already in a rage over the deal that the Free Earth Legion and the Rebel Warrior Army went into with War-Machine WDF02.

“This is ridiculous,” Vincent bellowed. “Why would I even entertain this?”

“You should read the offer, Red Rabbit,” Cyrus urged with delicacy.

“I want to keep the starcorps out of the Sol System,” Vincent rifled back at his lieutenant. “Why would I go into a deal that will bring more of them here?”

“What he’s offering is a plan that will keep the starcorps out,” Cyrus responded as he bobbed his head in agreement.

Vincent took a moment to consider this last statement before speaking again.

“How does this DeWitt person plan to do that?” Vincent questioned in a voice laced with doubt.

“This WDF02 war-machine that’s here now is owned by a group of investors,” Cyrus commenced to lecture with an earnest delivery. “The starcorps, in general, don’t want anything to do with us. We’re just a headache—an expense. The starcorp leaderships do not want to come back to Sol. The investors who own that war-machine out there, they’re here for money. This is all about money for them. Politics, ideology, national identity means nothing to these people. They’ve got goods that they want to sell to us. And we’ve got something they want, billions of people. They’re workforce isn’t growing fast enough to keep up with the opportunities unfolding in front of them. WDF02 wants to establish a trade pipeline with Earth that will include access to our workforce. If this happens, they’ll get back their investment a thousand-fold.”

“That sounds like a good reason for the starcorps to come here and to stay,” Vincent spoke with a challenging intonation.

“Ryan DeWitt wants to setup the Tellurian Resistance as the sole governing authority in the Sol System, with its own space force and with no official starcorp presence of any kind.”

Cyrus paused after speaking these words to give weight to that statement.

“No starcorp presence,” Cyrus reiterated with a soft emphasis to each word.

Once again, Cyrus paused to give Vincent time to consider what he had just said. At the end of this pause, he began to speak again in clearly enunciated speech.

“In return DeWitt and his partners want compensation for their expenses multiplied by 200. The payout for that can be made in installments over the next 30 to 50 years. They also want an agreement that gives them access to our markets to the exclusion of all other starcorps or any entity within a starcorp.”

The words “compensation for their expenses” and “installments over the next 30 to 50 years” captured Vincent’s interest. These phrases started him to wondering why these expenses were going to be so great that it would take 30 years to pay it off.

“Is this DeWitt and his partners planning on doing some kind of hostile takeover of that war-machine out there?” Vincent queried with a perplexed facial expression.

“No,” Cyrus returned with a shake of his head.

“So, what expenses are we talking about?” Athena challenged gruffly.

“As part of the agreement,” Cyrus began speaking with a hesitant delivery. “Ryan DeWitt and his partners plan to force War-Machine WDF02 out of the system.”

Vincent, Athena and Nero were momentarily stunned by this explanation. The idea of the starcorps at war with each other was never considered by either of them, and the suggestion that they would had their minds working to catch up with the idea. Watkins was the only one of the four to hear this and not be taken aback. His mind was still focused on the one situation that he believed made this proposal irrelevant. After a moment of silence Watkins began speaking his thought.

“This proposal is a waste of time,” Watkins challenged with a shrug of amazement. “The Spacers have already lost. The UEF Space Force is going to destroy this WD war-machine that’s out there now, and this new group of starcorp investors aren’t likely to do any better.”

Vincent, Nero and Athena were stymied by this statement. Watkins’ argument was quick to make sense in their minds, and they looked to Cyrus for a counter argument.

“Elijah thinks otherwise,” Cyrus returned in a solemn voice.

Cyrus paused to give weight to those words. He used this time to pan the faces in front of him and to note that he had their attentions. At the end of this pause he began speaking with an inflection of finality in his voice.

“According to Elijah, this WDF02 war-machine is not here to lose.”

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