Chapter 1 - Feet First
Seven weeks later. I remember that my first thought was that I had picked the wrong branch. The navy was not nearly as glorious as it had been made out to be. I felt as though half my training involved washing dishes and the other half getting routinely kicked and beaten by my instructors for forgetting the most minute of details. Still, it had to be better than the Army. The Army officer present at the yard was an Aug, and he took one look at me and simply shook his head. Well maybe he was right; I certainly wasn’t built for it since I was but five and a half feet in height. Even in a mech suit I would pose more danger to my comrades than I would to the enemy. It was much the same with the Science Corp. I had the body but not the brain for what they wanted me to do. So it was the Navy, that middle ground between brain and brawn.
If my father had been alive he might have laughed at the sight of it. But here I was a midshipman aboard the frigate Kyoto currently in low orbit over New London. I was told at the time that basic training was very different for us then it was for the other two branches. The Army had a physical augmentation process that made me shudder. A friend of mine had been drafted around the same time as me and he had chosen the Army. I saw him on leave three weeks later. In that interim, he had grown from being just over 5 feet to just less than 8. He was a gorilla among apes. I became more and more convinced of the rightness of my choice when I heard about the chemicals used in cognitive enhancement for the Science Corp. So it was the navy. The Kyoto I’m told had a very prestigious history. Of course that was what they said about every ship for prestige takes many forms.
One of my many indoctrination periods consisted of the history of space combat. Most of what I learned I had never even heard of as a child. A thousand different battles each of them won or lost because of mistakes. Mistakes that we as the Terran Navy were expected to avoid and overcome in our effort to wrestle back our planets from the traitorous scum. I studied intently the second battle of the Antares wherein rebellion ships under the rogue admiral Julian DuPree had been defeated by getting trapped between a star’s expanding supernova and Maximilian Jaeger’s Third Terran Fleet.
There were drills for everything. For getting boarded, for fighting fires, for debriefing POW’s even for evading capture on hostile planets. If I had decided to write a memoir at that moment it would have been called “Drills, Drills, and Drills.” But training they said, made me strong. It allowed me to rise above what the brass called “the corrupting influence of fear and all his servants.” Training they said, was what separated us from the countless companies of mercenaries, free fighters, and back system militia. The way they told it, we may as well have been the mythical Valkyries trying to cleanse the demons from the land.
We were expected to know a hundred different commands, a thousand different ship classifications, and triple that number of weapons systems ranging from small track guns no larger than a small box to the larger Magnetic Lacerater Cannon which was about half the size of a football field. My own ship was classified officially as a missile support frigate, mounting 48 racks of MSBM’s (Mid Space Ballistic Missiles) each of them with enough firepower to level a large city. We also carried a small fighter wing to compensate for our lack of anti-ship defenses. As a support ship we were third in the fighting line behind the picket scouts in the front and the larger battleships behind them. Behind us came the salvage craft and finally the reserves and repair units. This whole process was drawn out and explained to me so many times I found myself unconsciously rearranging my vegetables in the mess hall to reflect our battle line with each carrot and radish a different ship. In a manner, it was my way of coping with it all. A touch of the mundane when I was beyond the edge of the earth was strangely comforting. I was orbiting several hundred miles above the earth, with a few feet of metal, glass, and carbon between me and sudden painful death.
It remains a miracle that our ship could even function at all given the scarcity of experienced crewmen on board. It had barely escaped the fall of Luna and most of its crew and key personnel had defected to the Confederacy. So it was left to the captain and the dregs of the navy not currently on active duty to bring us to what they called “a firm and ready state.” My official job was Chief Guidance Officer for MSBM Battery #4. I was responsible for making sure our awful payload made it to its destination unhindered and that it hit when it was needed. Our ship could launch upwards of 96 warheads in the space of time it took to breathe once. We practiced on old battered freighters with dummy missiles and it was truly awe inspiring to watch as the amber trails of missiles were highlighted in the vacuum of space. There were four of us for each battery. Two men were responsible for making sure the two rails were loaded with the missiles from the armory below. There was me, responsible for using the targeting computer and calculation. And finally there was the captain, who received the orders from the bridge and was called upon to make tactical assessments in coordination with the other captains. My crew was a surly lot. Our battery had been affectionately christened “Sexy Sheila” on account of one of the loaders having a large tattoo of a belly dancer on his back. There was Riley O’Connor, a spry Irish boy who loaded Rail #1. He was a jaunty man when he was sober, and when he was drunk he was solemn as the grave. The other was named Rico Stiles, a hot tempered man who took great pleasure in belittling all of us.”
Finally, there was our captain.
A more imposing man could not have been found, and I’m sure he was the original mold from which all imposing men were thereafter cast. Captain Michael Stratton stood tall at 6 and a half feet, with an imposing set of augmented eyes that glowed in the dim light of the battery. Yet for all his size, he had the voice one might expect of a teacher or a priest. Soft and melodious it would permeate your senses and make you want to listen, regardless of what it was he said. We may have hated each other, but we all respected the captain. His word was law and no power on the earth or above it could save us if we strayed. It was with this motley collection that I experienced my first battle and my first taste of combat.
The first battle of the Pleiades as it came to be called after was the first major engagement since the start of the war. It pitted my own 6th Terran Fleet and the 2nd Terran against a force of Lunar Star Confederate forces mixed with Red Planet auxiliaries. The Kyoto had just finished loading up its new supply of missiles from its supply ship when the general alarm sounded and we were called to action stations. The PA system began to warble out strings of fragmented information.
“Attention, attention, long range scanners have detected signatures of multiple incoming battle cruisers. Initial scans….indicate upwards of 60 craft, some frigates…heavy…cruisers…several capital ships of unknown classification…craft in visual range in 4 minutes. All hands to your stations”
My training kicked in before my brain did. Before I could process what I was doing, my body was moving: first to my locker to grab my station gear, second to the hatch leading below decks to my battery. The captain was already there priming his headset and warming up the computer. Our two loaders joined us soon after. Then, we waited.
I got the signal first from the main console as a cluster of red dots appeared on the screen.
“Ensign, put them on the screen,” the captain said softly. I complied and put them up.
There they were in a main battle line. Although they were still miles away, they were closing with our fleet quickly and I could even pick out the names and insignia used by the Confederate forces. Some of the names I knew from my military indoctrination. Others looked newer and were probably made during the war. There was the infamous Warstorm with its crew of prisoners liberated from a Terran correctional facility. And there, just coming out of warp was one of the new Confederate assault carriers. The Praetorian mounted cluster cannons, in addition to over 20 wings of picket craft and fighters for mopping up resistance and smaller ships. But there, easily dominating the entire battle line was their flag ship whose name we all knew by heart, as well as a thousand other details.
Easily dwarfing the rest of its fleet, the Lunar rebel flagship Hunter’s Moon far outshone its brothers. Quadruple the size of any other ship, it was an imposing sight. We had all heard the stories. Commanded by the former governor of the Luna colony, the ship had never been breached. It had single handedly caused the systematic crippling and destruction of the 3rd Terran Expeditionary force without the loss of a single man or aug. Its insignia bore the moon and stars of Luna imposed on a crimson field. The PA system began to warble again.
“Attention, attention. This is Fleet Admiral Harska. Prioritize targets by range and size. Support cruisers be sure to keep your distance. Support frigates Bedford, Kyoto, Sevastopol, and Minsk hold fire and disperse until given further instructions. Warships Everest, Dragon, Pride of Aragon, and Athens form a delta battle line centered on Dragon. This is not a drill.”
My stomach began to churn as I watched as our own massive cruisers began to power up their engine cores and begin to move into position. I shrank back from the window as the fiery symbol of the Dragon flashed by just a few hundred meters in front of me. I switched channels on my holoscreen to another ships perspective. We had an observation mining vessel nearby with an extended sensor array well out of harm’s way but close enough to see the entire battle unfold. My breath was taken away. Like looking at a map I could see it all, the confederate and Terran ships hurtling towards each other like so many ripples in a pond. For a moment all was still in the gloom of space.