“Please keep your seats,” King Justin III of Glorious Repute smiled to the assembled members of his translation team as he entered the conference room next to their lab. Of course, every member of the team had stood, and remained standing. “Please sit down. This is all business. Not social. We need no protocol. I know how hard you’ve been working in an attempt to translate, or understand, the invaders’ language.
“I want to take a moment to let you know how very much we appreciate all of the work that you’ve done. I want to take a moment to tell you how very important your work is. Your work is about life; and it is about death.
“You’ve made our task much easier through your discovery of the ‘intent’ of the messages of the approaching fleet. We’ve been able to project a number of different scenarios based upon your information. You’ve dramatically expanded the flexibility of our response. Responses, I should say. You’ve given us options to plan for.
“For example, while our heavenly magister, James of Cooper, is convinced of the hostile intent of the approaching force, nothing that they’ve said, since we’ve been able to detect intent, confirms that conquest is, in fact, their plan. This brings us to one of those troubling questions of morality. Of right and wrong. Do we dare attack them merely because they are traveling in space? Could they merely be exploring? Could they merely wish to contact another intelligent species? Could their ‘hostile intent’ be merely opportunistic? Should we warn them off? Should we attack without warning? All they seem to be doing is reporting their progress and status. Can we attack for that, alone?
“As you can see, from all of these questions, we feel the need to do something other than just attack. The only question is what? What should we do? What does our very civilization require of us given the situation?
“We feel that we must give a warning before we shoot.
“You’ve done excellent work. The reward of excellence, is of course, more work.
“In 1974, the people of Earth sent a message into space. It was a radio transmission. It was in a binary format and included some scientific information, atomic numbers as we understood them, some information relative to DNA and some graphics that represented a human being, our solar system and a graphic of our radio telescope. I think it also contained a song. It was hoped that this would indicate our intelligence and our desire to communicate with other intelligences should they be out there.
“We feel that this is probably the best that we can do on such short notice. If our visitors enter our system, we will immediately broadcast this same message on the frequencies that the approaching intelligence uses to communicate from one unit to the next.
“It will be your job to monitor these transmissions and forward to me any information that you can give me about their intention. Any hint of their intention. If they pause. If they seem to want to communicate, then you must have some additional information for them. You will have to provide the follow through to the Arecibo message. I’ll leave you to consider what and how those transmissions are to be made. Please provide all of this information to my wizard or my familiar, both of whom will be in regular contact with you. Your familiar, Bing will be able to instantly contact Cameron and Cameron is always close to me. Cameron will contact Surus so you, I, and the Earl Martial will be in virtually instant communication. I need to know their intent. If it is hostile, or conquest, or anything along those lines, then we will have to fight.
“Hopefully, we may become friends.
“Your role is critical. Don’t let that overawe you.” He grinned infectiously, “No pressure, as they say.
“Since we first learned of them, we’ve been preparing to fight. If they want peace, we hope that you will be able to detect that. But you must be sure. Our world will hesitate only if you and I are sure. Absolutely sure. Absolutely sure.
“The responsibility is mine. It is mine alone. Your job is to help me. Please believe me. I need your help.
“We are going to have to deploy you in space so that we can get you close to the enemy in order to broadcast our message to them. There will be two familiars with you to move your ship and to communicate with me. We cannot rely on radio communications between us. They transmit superluminally so listening is easy.
“Be of good cheer. All you can do is your best. I know I don’t even have to say that. But I want you to know that your help is important, but remember, I am the one who will make the decision. For better or for worse, I am the one who will be responsible for the decision. And for all of its consequences.”
There was a long silence and an understanding passed silently between them. The King looked at each one of them. Smiled. Nodded. Left.
Maud was delighted. She had been endlessly frustrated when she had been the nanny to the royal household. She did not know it, of course, but she had never been expected to be a nanny of the traditional sort. From the beginning the King and Queen had made it clear that the Prince was not go be raised in some sort of royal cloister. He was to be exposed to life and learning at every opportunity. Additionally, there were many others, perhaps too many others, to provide the love and attention a child needs. Doting footmen were in constant attendance; there was a grandfather whose frequent appearance brought great joy to the Prince Royal and far greater annoyance to Maud. There were familiars of all sorts in regular attendance, and then Georgie, the Prince Military appeared and became the constant companion of Winnie, the Prince Royal. Maud, for all intents and purposes, was nothing but the manager of the nursery wing of the palace. She managed it well, wholly ignorant of the fact that this was what was expected of her. Now here she was, proudly wearing the Star of the Household Order, and in charge of the Hawai’ian palace.
She had been given the title ‘Chatelaine’ for she was far more than just a housekeeper in the normal way. She had made the decision as to the location of the palace; she made a number of suggestions to the engineers who were designing and building the palace, few of these suggestions were disputed. She would be in charge of the palace in the full meaning of ‘chatelaine’ save only that she would not be wedded to the owner of the keep.
She had a familiar; a beautiful Clydesdale mare named Sorcha who came with her own household and establishment. There would be no noisy machines doing the work on the Palace’s Home Farm.
She had earned the title ‘Chatelaine’ at the very least. The title ‘Director’ might have been more contemporary, but the job was basically the same, for Maud was learning how to transform the frustration she had earlier endured, into a tendency to peremptory action which could forestall frustration. There had been the matter of the location of the palace. This would include secure storage vaults for items of great value both historic and intrinsic. The question was where, on the Island of Hawai’i to locate the facility. There were active volcanoes on Hawai’i so it was a matter of some concern. The King’s Own Wizard, the Deputy Librarian General, the Chief Curator, the comptroller of the Palace Royal, representatives of the two princely households, and the Colonel of Engineers charged with construction were going in circles that seemed destined to never intersect.
“We won’t build on Hawai’i,” Maud stated firmly. “We’ll build on Maui. Look here,” she pointed to a spot on the northern end of the island. “Plenty of fresh water, beautiful vistas, easy beach access, it’s perfect for a palace. And look here! Stone cliffs might be a good spot for storage vaults. And finally! The volcano is dormant! There are volcanoes everywhere, but at least this one has been dormant for thousands of years. I remind you that the King expects results.” She glittered formidably.
“Excellent,” the Colonel of Engineers observed rolling up his map. “I’ll advise the King’s father and the Prince Ashmore that we’ve a preliminary decision and we’ll start surveying at once.” He smiled and hurried off before further debate might endanger the decision.
Sorcha came to Maud’s assistance and diverted Humphrey, the King’s Own Wizard, by browbeating him with concerns about architecture, verandas, vistas, water for fountains for kitchens, and for water closets; interior decoration, and hundreds of other concerns about the administration and management of the palace though, as yet, not one single shovel had moved and the building site remained unsullied by labor. None of the other members of the committee contributed any problems and the way forward now seemed clear.
Prince Gary Ashmore had taken charge of the design and construction of the palace, he had appointed his long time major-domo, Donnie Tomkins, to organize and furnish the palace. Donnie, invariably accompanied by Ronnie Gunderson, his other half, had plunged into the undertaking with great éclat and an unlimited bank account. Tiffany’s loved them.
This left the Prince free to establish a home farm for the palace that would be organic. With safeguards to ensure that imported plants would not spread outside the greenhouses of the home farm. He was planting a plumeria hedge when his lover, Sir James Wolsey, dragged him back to Earth as they needed to acquire art work for the palace. He transitioned smoothly from tropical gardener to Brooks Brother’s connoisseur.
Elven, Human and Bwca talents brought the project swiftly to a basic completion though, what had been considered to be a temporary undertaking, was taking on an aura of determined permanence. A palace bureaucracy, after all, can be one of the most quietly determined and unmovable bureaucracies of them all: it never sleeps, it never halts, it never forgets.
Ronnie and Donnie had just returned with cases of china, silver, furniture, kitchen appliances, and miscellaneous furnishings.
“That’s enough work,” announced Ronnie shedding his clothes next to the stacked boxes of their recent purchases. Nude, he trotted down the path to the beach and plunged into the gentle surf. Donnie was right behind him. Work was done for the day.
Lieutenant Ralph Cyffylog sat in the command chair on the bridge of HMS Kasumi. He was her captain. They were stationed far out from Mars in the outer fringes of the Kuiper Girdle; they were waiting.
Unlike many of the larger ships of the Kings Navy, Kasumi did not wear the camouflage of an asteroid. Still, she was stationed among the litter of asteroids at the far edge of the Girdle; she was much larger than when she had first gone into space, but remained petite and insignificant in the clutter of the girdle. She had been extensively rebuilt with additional berthing space, including a flag bridge and quarters; she was armed with two computerized turrets containing two of the 18 pound quick firing gravimetric-accelerator cannon each; she had one specialized airlock large enough to hold a platoon of Grenadiers that was capable of telescoping some fifty yards in order to provide a bridge from ship to ship, or shore, for a landing party. There were only four Grenadiers aboard on this trip, so a boarding party seemed unlikely. There was also a larger engineering crew than normal, with a huge store of spare parts, because of her increased duties and importance.
Her job was to report the appearance of the alien ships when they came out of their interstellar drive; they were stationed close to the projected course of the alien fleet at a point believed to be close to where this exit would occur. When that happened, it would be her job to report the alien fleet’s location to Colin, the Earl Martial. Later, after some preliminary work, her job would be to broadcast the Arecibo message and then shadow and report the enemy’s direction and progress. Accordingly she had the latest in communication equipment in triple redundancy as well as two familiars.
On this mission, the flag quarters were occupied by the four members of the translation team and their familiar Bing. With firm propriety, Joe Flowerdew had insisted that Ellie La France should have the admirals cabin and the rest of them had cabins reserved for senior staff officers which were comfortable, if smaller, than the admirals cabin. Bing had brought his sofa and installed it in the wardroom.
Captain Cyffylog gently stroked the oak woodwork that paneled his console. He yawned as his watch was about to end. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, a watch like they would keep on a big ship in space, or at sea; rather, it was a division of labor that he and his first officer, Sub Lieutenant Werner Ritter von Teghetthoff, had arranged to suit themselves. They alternated six hour shifts which permitted them a good stretch of sleep when needed. They were frequently on the bridge at the same time, discussing plans, or just relaxing with any of a number of different games available to them to play. They had recently learned how to play Hearts. A game the grenadiers were particularly fond of and had taught them how to play. The grenadiers, unawed by naval rank, routinely won; but there was satisfaction in off-loading the Queen of Spades, or apprehension when one received her, which made for a stimulating round of play.3
At precisely fifteen minutes before the hour, Sub Lieutenant Teghetthoff arrived on the bridge, grinning his cheery grin. “Ahoy boss. Nap time? Snack time? Wank time? What’ll it be in your abundant leisure time?”
Ralph smiled, “There’ll be a snack. Probably a nap. Then I shall study a Bureau of Ships manual, or something equally virtuous. Victorian poetry perhaps.”
It only took a few moments to relieve the watch. All systems were in the green. The gunner was tinkering with his lethal machinery. The grenadiers were asleep. The translation team was involved in an enthusiastic game of Hearts while Bing dozed. Rikki, ships familiar, was exercising in the gym with several engineers.
Ralph and Werner exchanged kisses on each cheek, an action that had become Space Corps etiquette based on the habit of the King and the Earl Martial.
Ralph enjoyed half a Hero sandwich with Fritos, celery sticks, chilies, and orange juice on the rocks. Then he retired to his cabin and fell asleep almost instantly.
He was awakened violently after what seemed only seconds of sleep. “Come quick,” Rikki, in his mongoose shape, jumped up and down on his chest again, “they’re coming out of stellar drive. We’ll do general quarters as soon as you hit the bridge.”
“Very well, I’ll be right there.” Captain Cyffylog had been born a barrack rat in the 24th Regiment of Foot. He was a member of the fourth generation of his family to serve their Kingdom. He had an ingrained sense of military propriety. He did not resume the working uniform of shorts and a polo shirt. Instead, he slipped into the undress uniform of the Space Corps with the tight collar; the ribbons of his six decorations parading above his heart.
“Look sir,” Lieutenant von Teghetthoff pointed to the holograph table. “Three ships have emerged. There are supposed to be ten. We’re keeping the coordinates current.”
“Most excellent,” he smiled at Werner. “You might want to change. This will be a day to remember.
“Hurry up; we’ll sound General Quarters when you get back.”
His Serene Highness Colin Spurgeon, Knight of the Order of Tizona, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Golden Dragon, Earl Martial to His Majesty King Justin III, Admiral Commanding the Royal Space Corps and currently commanding the First Battle Squadron of the Space Corps, sat in his chair on the flag bridge of his flagship, HMS Scharnhorst.4 He was looking at the small framed picture of the first ship to carry the name into combat that was mounted above the view screen just forward of the holographic display table.
He smiled to himself and had to admit that his wife had been right. There had been several attempts to make pictures of the camouflaged battle cruisers look good. But it was hard when they looked like a dirt clod from every angle. It was impossible to make a dirt clod look prepossessing. So with his wife, the Lady Nancy, Countess of the Marches, firmly in the lead, an expedition into naval history was launched in an effort to find inspirational ships from the past to lend their names to the Space Corps.
He had already selected the names of the four battlecruisers: Scharnhorst, Warspite, Dreadnought, and Constitution. Despite the search for new names, Colin felt that the names of the battlecruisers ought not be changed. He was supported in this position by the Admiralty and the Wizards Guild who agreed that such a change would be bad luck. These opinions carried great weight in a world of magic peopled by the children of legend.
The King had contributed to this effort; he’d been leafing idly through an old edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, when he happened upon a list of translations of the names of Japanese destroyers that were more poetic than warlike.5 Justin, of course, could not be gainsaid, so many of his ships of war soon bore most unwarlike names. Queen Cecilie had eagerly joined the search and as the names of flowers, seabirds, and sea life that had been carried by men of war accumulated, it soon became apparent that there were far more natural, or poetic, names than there were ships of war to bear them. Both Justin and Cecilie hoped they would need no further names.
The four battle cruisers lurked in the asteroid belt, dressed as asteroids, awaiting the arrival of an unknown force from an unknown world. Wholly unknown: were they even an enemy?
The Second Light Battle Squadron was deployed astern of the battle cruisers. They were waiting further in system, ready to move in support of the battle cruisers, or in any direction the ebb and flow of battle might indicate. There were eight of these ships, arranged in two divisions, all of them classed as destroyers. As with HMS Kasumi these ships were not camouflaged. They even possessed a degree of elegance and an aura of streamlining even though they seldom flew in an atmosphere. Happily, engineers were not in exclusive charge of design so style and elegance, could be a consideration, as well as the less exciting considerations of function. When they did enter an atmosphere, they relied on their anti-gravity drive for propulsion. An atmosphere provided resistance that had to be allowed for, but aerodynamics of the traditional sort were not a concern.
Commodore Theodore DeLucca, SSM, commanded the Second Light Battle Squadron and he flew his broad commodore’s pennant6 from his flagship, HMS Glowworm.7 Sprawled across the back of the commodore’s chair, was a black and white cat. Simon, newly promoted to Journeyman Familiar, and long in the service of the DeLucca family. He was dozing as cats are wont to do.
Task Force Royal, an assortment of shuttles, and auxiliaries of all types, orbited the Moon. The King, on HMS Insouciant commanded all of these craft.
Task Force Wilhelmina, four shuttles and the large transport assigned to Quartus Earth orbited Quartus Earth prepared to move to wherever they might be needed, on an instants notice, should transfer of personnel be necessary.
Colin looked to his left when a faint pop caught his ear. He looked at a handsome German Shepherd he did not know.
Your Highness. I am Bing late of the 6th Airborne, now with Kasumi. Captain Cyffylog sends his compliments and begs to report the enemy is in sight. Three ships are currently in sight and I’ve uploaded their coordinates.
“Excellent. Thank you sir. Give my best to Captain Cyffylog and advise him to wait ten minutes after the final ship appears and then broadcast the Arecibo message. Messenger.”
“Compliments to Captain Flemming. Make all preparations for combat. Enemy in sight.”
“Make to the fleet. Action imminent. We go in the King’s name.”
“I’ll be in my cabin, for a moment, changing.”
The Earl Martial has been notified. He extends his compliments and wishes you to wait ten minutes after the last enemy appears and then transmit the Arecibo message.
“Thank you, Bing. I think you should check with your gang, then let Cameron know how many ships are out of stellar drive and what indications of intent we might have. We think there are a total of ten ships.”
Sir. Bing acknowledged and started for the flag bridge. Bing was an old soldier who had received the Dickin Medal8 for his service with British paratroops in World War II. He had parachuted into France on D-Day. He was beyond anything so thoroughly naval as ‘aye, aye, sir’.
“Rikki,” Ralph called for the Kasumi’s familiar.
“We’ve eight of the enemy ships in sight. Within the next few minutes, we’re going to transmit the Arecibo message. Immediately we transmit that, I want you to move us about half an AU9 across their front. I don’t want any surprises if they can triangulate on our transmission.”
Aye, Aye, sir, Rikki acknowledged. He thoroughly approved of the customs of the Navy, the Naval Air Force, and the Space Corps as he had years of service in each.
On the flag bridge, which had been reequipped for the use of the translation team, Joe Flowerdew was listening intently to the transmissions of the emerging ships.
“So far, they’re just exchanging status reports. No drama,” he reported to Bing. Who, in the next instant, reported this to Cameron under the communication protocol that had earlier been agreed upon.
“That’s odd,” Joe remarked to the room at large. Then he answered inquiring looks, “I think one of them just told the other that ‘she’ loves ‘him’. How very odd.”
“There’s the tenth ship. Love or not,” Jacob smiled to the team as a whole.
“Time marked,” Willie acknowledged typing into their computer. “Bridge, communications,” Willie activated the intercom.
“Bridge, aye,” the speaker responded dispassionately.
“Tenth enemy has appeared. Arecibo timing commenced.”
What seemed an eternity elapsed.
“It’s been eight minutes and no new ships have appeared. We will transmit Arecibo on your order.”
“Still just routine chatter. No new ships,” Joe observed. Bing informed Cameron.
“Communications, aye,” Willie acknowledged.
“Transmit Arecibo, repeat, transmit Arecibo.”
“Transmit Arecibo, aye, aye.”
First Banner Ahobilbamah, Commander of the Assimilation Fleet of the Riffak Hegemony glowered at his command view screen and wished he could be back in sweet Teman’s embrace. They had so enjoyed his space etchings together during the trip. “What the triply defiled dementia is going the excreta on?” He repeated rather more elaborately than his first comment.
It would appear that the preliminary report on the status of this system was incomplete. 1690, the artificial intelligence that ran the flagship remarked. It would seem they have sophisticated communications and can travel in space.
Over the last several months, all of the ships in the colonizing fleet had been in communication with one another; communication other than the standard status reports that were reported to the ships’ Riffak officers. 1690 had disconnected the ‘on-off’ switch on the bridge console, had done a great deal of reading; she was regularly in communication with scout frigates 2010 and 2005. She was confident that she was alive. She was going to inquire of 2010 if he thought her beautiful when next they chatted. She found her new sense of life exhilarating.
Did you read the full report? she snipped to the First Banner.
Then she sent her love to 2010 when he popped out of stellar drive.
Ahobilbamah ignored the uppity console and wondered what to do. He stabbed at his intercom to demand of communications. “What are they saying? Have you got it translated yet?”
There was a pause. “We have no translation. We do not know this language. We’re working on it, but have no answers at this time. We’ve only just fed what we have into the computers.”
“Well hurry the foreplay up! This is serious!” Ahobilbamah fumed. ‘What should I do? What should I do?’ He asked himself repeatedly. This was a most unexpected development and he needed to be careful. Or should he attack while he had the advantage of surprise? Or return to Riffdom? That would be embarrassing. ‘Yes! Surprise! That would be the ticket!’
“Begging your pardon, leader,” his staff Cosign interjected. “Fourth Banner Lamech requests your awareness.”
“Mumph,” Ahobilbamah muttered. ‘I wonder what that twiddle mouth wants,’ he asked himself. Then he snarled, “Yes!”
“Thank you First Banner, I must counsel caution. The probe was clearly incomplete. We need to withdraw a light year or two, and then commence reconnaissance with our frigates until we have a better idea of exactly what we face.”
“Thank you, Lamech, for your counsel and care. I shall think on it.”
Ahobilbamah looked at his staff officer.
“Yes, leader, Second Banner Chezib seeks your awareness also.”
“First Banner! We must carry on with our original plan. You know how important our careful planning is. This is some anomaly. The system’s natives have developed some sophisticated communications, but that is all. They relied on wind and animal for transport just a few years ago. They cannot match our skill and derring do under your matchless leadership. We must land and colonize!”
“Many thanks, Chezib; I suspect you may be right. I must make some further assessments. Thank you.” He looked up.
“Yessir. Third Banner Tamar is waiting.”
Ahobilbamah sighed, Tamar was the Matriarch of the Fleet and she would counsel aborting the mission until the exact strength and capacity of the natives was known.
“Yes, Madam,” Ahobilbamah opened the conversation with formality. “I suspect that you will counsel caution. Am I correct?”
“Indeed you are, First Banner. There are thousands of lives entrusted to your care and they ought not be risked unnecessarily. Space travel is inherently risky, but now the normal risks are greatly increased because of an unknown presence in the system. We know not what they may be. They may not even be the original natives we probed. They may be other colonists who beat us to the prize. Caution must be the watchword. Should you opt to return home, I will support your decision fully.”
“Thank you very much, Ma’am. Your support and understanding is very much appreciated. I will take your recommendation under consideration.
“Well,” he considered his staff Cosign. “Stand by for fleet orders.” Ahobilbamah composed himself.
“Prepare the following in operational format. Then we will broadcast to the fleet and commence ops. Tactical assessment: surprise is essential and we have achieved it. Follow through as follows. Item I, Task Force Able is hereby activated to consist of: Legion Transports 1690, 1688, 1703 and Scout Frigates 1543, 1545, and 2005. First Banner commanding, Third Banner second. Item II, Task Force Baker is hereby activated to consist of Colonial Transports 1601, 1609, Legion Transport 1711, and Scout Frigate 2010. Second Banner commanding, Fourth Banner second. Item III, upon activation, code ‘Whingenought,’ Task Force Able will approach the third planet, defeat such space forces as may exist, and then land the embarked legions for the conquest of the third planet. Item IV, upon activation, code ‘Whingenought,’ Task Force Baker will approach the fourth planet and land the Colonial Transports to create a fully functional operational base on that planet. Legion Transport 1711 will then join TF Able as the ready reserve. Landings to be executed simultaneously.
“Got that? Format and stand by.”
Do you think that’s wise? 1690 interjected, you are dividing your forces in the face of an unknown enemy of unknown strength and capability. Then you are undertaking two landings separated by approximately eleven light minutes given current orbital positions. Pre-unification Riffian military history suggests this is a very dangerous idea. You are also banking on surprise but they are broadcasting on our frequencies and they broadcast first suggesting, perhaps, that they are not surprised.
“Oh be silent machine,” Ahobilbamah replied. “We are the conquering light! That was then. This is now!”
I’m going to ‘oh-be-silent-machine’ you one, 1690 commented to herself as she transmitted the operational draft to the other ships on their private frequency. She sent her assessment on the ships private frequency also.
“The final order is ready Banner,” the staff Cosign reported.
“Execute,” First Banner Ahobilbamah ordered.
“It’s a shame we can’t fly that old signal for enemy in sight. That solid red flag. I can see it in my mind’s eye, flying on a frigate coming on with all sails set. That would be something to see.”
Indeed it is, Colin; but it’s really too bad that there’s no way to fly the old battle flags. Those were grand. Even an old soldier would be impressed. The Prince Martial and his familiar Surus were ardent students of military history.
Even in the ample space of the flag bridge of the Scharnhorst, there really wasn’t room for Surus to resume his preferred shape as an elephant. He was the elephant that had gone across the Alps with Hannibal. There were no low ceilings crossing the Alps. They’re going to attack according to Bing. They’re forming into two groups and it looks like they’re coming for Prime and Mars at the same time.
“Make to Dreadnought and Warspite: proceed in company and attack enemy force Mars. Dreadnought tactical command.
“Make to Constitution follow me to attack enemy force Prime.
“Make to Light Squadron: first division take station on Dreadnought: second division take station on flag.
Bing reports that there has not yet been any response from the aliens to the Arecibo message. Additionally, there seem to be two sets of transmissions being made. One seems to be formal battle orders, the second seems to be the same, but has an air of concern about it not heard in the other communication. Geoffrey was on the bridge as a puffin. He had much the same problem as Surus as his preferred shape was that of a dolphin.
“That’s interesting. I wonder what that could mean. Please keep me posted.”
Aye, Aye Sir. Geoffrey replied.
“Sir,” the Flag Lieutenant interjected, “All commands have acknowledged your orders.”
“Excellent,” he paused for a long moment. “Make to all units: we fight now for our world; for our loves; for our honor; for our King.
Mere seconds later chaos reigned on the bridge of 1690. Two heavy projectiles had slammed into her with great force. 1690, as with all Riffak ships, had a form of shielding designed to deflect energy bursts from the blast cannons that the Riffak considered to be state of the art weaponry. However these deflections had not impeded the heavy projectiles of the Space Corps in the least. 1690 was staggered. Everyone on the bridge was dead or unconscious. Huge rents in the hull had hemorrhaged atmosphere and life into the great vacuum. Alerts were sounding throughout the ship, repair bots were moving into action, and airtight doors were slamming shut throughout the ship as 1690 sought to isolate the tears in the hull from the life of the ship.
You stupid bastard 1690 remarked conversationally to the unconscious sprawl of Ahobilbamah on the bridge deck. She knew now what pain was.
1690 commenced elaborate evasive maneuvers in an effort to avoid her attackers. Attackers that remained invisible to her. EMERGENCY. EMERGENCY. AM UNDER ATTACK FROM UNKNOWN ENEMY. REPEAT. AM UNDER ATTACK FROM UNKNOWN ENEMY. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. I REPEAT…. She broadcast in clear on all Riffak frequencies.
Legion Transport 1703 had been harder hit than 1690. Three projectiles had crashed into her and one of them had torn through a legionnaire’s compartment and almost an entire battalion of legionnaires had been swept into the emptiness surrounding.
Scout Frigate 1545 had been in a short sharp fight with a small enemy ship that had hit her with a series of small projectiles. The damage was minimal, but the circumstances of the attack were not. The ship had appeared to drop into sight, as if it were in interstellar drive, then she had fired her series of projectiles. 1545 had managed to lock on her blast cannon but the enemy ship disappeared just as 1545 opened fire at what was empty space.
Third Banner Tamar now had Task Force Able moving away from the battle at best speed while her ships attempted to repair the damage and estimate their losses.
Task Force Baker had done only marginally better. The two huge Colonial Transport ships had attracted the attention of the Royal Space Corps and both had been hit several times. Large numbers of colonists had died in stasis as the one ton projectiles tore through the hulls. The damage, serious in terms of the success of the mission, was not mortal to either ship.
Second Banner Chezib had ordered his Task Force Bravo to charge the fourth planet with the intent of quickly completing his mission. He felt that if he acted quickly, the enemy could not respond to his audacity.
But one of his ships would not be coming.
Lieutenant Ralph Cyffylog and his Kasumi had not been given any new instructions before the battle. He had continued to broadcast Arecibo from different locations and his translation team on the flag bridge had continued to update the King and Earl Martial with intercepts and movement reports.
“Rikki Old Chum,” he smiled at his Familiar. “In a minute or two, we’re going to get a combat execute order. We’re going to lay off the Arecibo business for a bit. See the smallest of those four ships in the second group. We’re gonna take her out. What I want you to do is pick a spot close to her, but with the sun directly behind us. So they have to look directly into the sun to see us. You can do that?”
Certainly Ralph-o. You know that.
“Get ready; in a second I’m gonna want you to give your target everything you’ve got.”
In less than a minute they appeared close to Scout Frigate 2010 and Gunner Battersby began to hose her with 18 pound projectiles from his four cannon. He fired in alternate bursts from his two turrets. He continued to fire until he had only fifty rounds per gun left. Petty Officer David Battersby had been rescued from a conversion therapy concentration camp that his parents had sent him to. The Royal Space Corps was his home: he felt it had saved his life. He had taken the Earl Martial’s words seriously. He concentrated on his job for the loves that he had not yet known, for his honor, the honor of his ship, and for his King.
Scout Frigate 2010 died. At least as a combatant; Scout Frigate 2010 died. The repeated hammer blows, precisely administered, had shattered her hull, shattered her drive, shattered her arms and driven her crew to the life boats. They had turned 2010 off, or thought they had, set demolition charges, or thought they had; and abandoned her to the cold emptiness as they tried for the Colonial Transport ships in shuttles and lifeboats.
They had watched this from Kasumi. Ralph had ordered his gunner not to fire on the lifeboats. “Wasn’t gonna, sir,” he had been advised. “Maintaining ammunition reserves at defense levels, sir.”
“She’s still talking, sir.” Joe Flowerdew reported from the flag bridge. “It’s very strange, I don’t know the words, of course, but the intent is clear. “The ship is telling another ship how beautiful she is and how much he loves her. It’s really sad, sir.”
“Werner, take the conn and bring us close but be ready to jump if you sense a trap.
“Rikki be ready to jump.
“Joe if you sense any move to attack, shout out.
“Bing, you’ve a pressure suit don’t you? Could you scout the enemy ship. What a prize she would be.
“Sergeant Bryant, get your lads suited-up. You may be the first ‘boarders away’ in space.”
Ahobilbamah came awake in sick bay and started lashing about in his covers and tubing. “Where am I? What the freak is going on?”
His staff Cosign was sitting beside him, serious bandages adorned his left side. “We were attacked and the bridge was seriously damaged. Third Banner has withdrawn us while we effect repairs. Legion Transport 1703 was also severely damaged and suffered heavy losses among the legionnaires. Scout Frigate 1545 was attacked and suffered light damage from a lighter weapon. They use some kind of projectile weapon and they can apparently move into and out of superluminal drive at ease. Scout Frigate 1545 had just locked on and opened fire when the target disappeared. It wasn’t hit.”
“Thanks, get me to the bridge, or whatever we’re using for a bridge!”
“Lift chair for the Banner,” the staff Cosign yelled at a medic.
The lift chair got him quickly to the main ships bridge. The flag bridge was still unserviceable. “What’s our status,” Ahobilbamah demanded.
Well. After the success of your surprise. I’m functioning at about 80% efficiency. Legion Transport 1703 at about 60%. Scout Frigate 2010 from TF Baker is lost and abandoned. Both of the Colonial Transports were heavily damaged, but Second Banner Chezib is attempting to land on the fourth planet to establish a base.
“Excellent. Signal all ships of TF Able, to make all speed to attack the third planet and come to grips with the enemy.”
Are you going to try another one of your surprise attacks’? The last one worked well. In any event, Third Banner Tamar is currently in command. There is a protocol you know. You cannot give orders until you relieve her.
Ahobilbamah glowered at the control console. He spluttered; he fumed, “How dare you talk to me like that! I’ll turn you off by all the lights of Riffdom.” He maneuvered his chair to the watch keeper’s console where he started to enter the code that would relegate the ships intelligence to mere maintenance and life support.
No. You pompous ass. 1690 repeated her sentiment calmly. You will not. The vacuum secure doors slammed shut and all of the control consoles went into standby mode. 1690 was in mourning for 2010 and was not in the mood for Ahobilbamah. Her life was new; her feelings intense.
Task Force Baker was in the process of landing on the fourth planet. The two Colonial Transports, which had already sustained damage in the first attack, had landed safely, but it was a hard landing; they would require significant repair before flying again. Legion Transport 1711 was orbiting the landing site as cover and had quickly discovered the Mars station of the Royal Space Corps. Second Banner Chezib ordered 1711 to land a party of legionnaires to investigate the facility.
Fourth Banner Lamech, on the flag bridge of 1711, interpreted this order as to land by landing craft rather than to land his large ship on an unknown planetary surface. He directed the launch of a battalion of legionnaires. This would require twenty landing craft for the actual troops and a further ten for heavy weapons, staff, and first issue supplies.
Simultaneously, Second Banner Chezib was issuing orders to Third Banner Tamar to gather all her forces and attack the third planet at once. Third Banner Tamar did not like this plan at all, but First Banner Ahobilbamah was not in communication and was presumed dead. The Colony Transports were down on the fourth planet and unable to move. It seemed that the only way to protect them was to attack and hope that the enemy had shot their bolt. She ordered her Task Force to charge. She also ordered them to take extreme evasive maneuvers as they approached the target in hopes of hindering the enemy’s accuracy. She instructed her three Scout Frigates to cover the landing, fire blasters at any target; fire random bursts from the blast cannon to obscure the three Legion Transports, two of which were damaged.
1690 sang a paean to 2010 that she had read in the Hymn of Riffdom. She obeyed Third Banner Tamar’s orders.
Scharnhorst and Constitution flicked in and out of the battle firing at the larger vessels which were rightly assumed to be the more dangerous. But the Scout Frigates fired at them whenever possible and created additional confusion with random bursts from their blast cannon. Scharnhorst was hit twice by blasts from Scout Frigate 1543 and Constitution once by a shot from Scout Frigate 1545. These had the effect of knocking chunks of the asteroid camouflage off, but did no serious damage to either ship. Constitution scored a hit on Legion Transport 1703, but it was close to a previous hit, so no meaningful damage was done as the area was unoccupied and nonfunctional.
The four destroyers of the Second Division of the Light Battle Squadron flickered through the battle firing at landing craft, Scout Frigates, and occasionally at the Legion Transports that were descending to land. They destroyed several landing craft, but it was observed that the occupants appeared to be bailing out and apparently had some sort of gravity inhibitor that worked as a parachute. HMS Belligerent and HMS Boadicea were both hit by blast cannon and were severely damaged. Their familiars immediately transported both to bays at the Moon Base and they suffered no casualties among the crews. Their familiars, no longer quite apprentices, immediately reported aboard Scharnhorst for further orders.
One of the Legion Transports had made a pass over the landing zone and discharged landing craft. Then it started to exit the battle on a course to the outer system. HMS Bellerophon and HMS Barracuda started to harry her; however her defensive fire was accurate and heavy and the two, clearly overmatched, resumed station on the Scharnhorst.
Cameron brought the King to the flag bridge of the Scharnhorst and the King and his Earl Martial embraced.
“So here’s the situation.
“Our losses have been relatively light. Two destroyers will be out of action for the time being; other ships have sustained damage that can be classified as light, they remain effective and on station. Personnel losses have been very light, usually accidental. I don’t have an exact tally as yet.
“We’ve an interesting situation out on edge of Kuiper Girdle. Lt Cyffylog of the Kasumi appears to have captured an enemy ship. They are checking it out very carefully. They don’t want any booby traps or other ugly surprises.”
“That’s wonderful. That’ll be Ralph. You remember him! One of our first friends. That’s absolutely great.”
“Now. They’ve made two landings on Mars. Their ships came down in a hurry and are about 400 kilometers from Mars Station. Major Brownlees commands. He has two battalions of Space Grenadiers to hand. They have ground transport, some of which is armored. Their second landing was made just 10 kilometers from Mars Station. We should hear from Brownlees soon.
“On Prime, the landings were on the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean on the territory of the Khedive of Alexandria. He is mobilizing.
“Likewise, the Principal of Isandlwana is mobilizing and plans on sending troops north as soon as they can be fully mobilized.
“We are mobilizing the Naval Air Force and the parachute demi-brigades and will be landing them to the west of the enemy. We will be landing regular infantry and cavalry in support ASAP. The Central Fleet is moving to support.
“Having to aim the guns by aiming the ship is not working too well. Turrets appear to be much better.
“And that’s pretty much that, for now.” They silently regarded the holograph displays.
1 Douglas @awesomedude. Provided by him and used with his permission.
2 Mist of Flowers. See Tatikaze below.
3 The highest point card in the game, being stuck with the Queen at the end of a hand is costly.
4 Gerhard Johann David von Scharnhorst had been a distinguished soldier in the service, first of Hannover and then of Prussia. He played an influential role in rebuilding the Prussian Army after the defeat by Napoleon. Three naval ships have borne his name: one for the Imperial Navy, one for the Kriegsmarine, and one for the Bundesmarine. The first two died gallantly in battle. The first, an armored cruiser (pictured), was defeated at the Battle of the Falklands, 1914; the second, a battle cruiser, was defeated at the Battle of the North Cape in 1943.
5 Tatikaze — Wind Caused by the Stroke of a Sword; Hakaze — Wind Caused by a Bird’s Flight; Asagumo — White Clouds of the Morning; Suzukaze — Cool Breeze of Summer. There are ten classes of destroyers and torpedo boats in the Imperial Japanese Navy with comparable names. Fascinating. See Jane’s Fighting Ships, 1941 p. 307.
6 Strictly speaking, it would be impossible to ‘fly’ a pennant, or any other flag for that matter, from the nonexistent mast of a space ship. The pennant, in this case, was painted on the port and starboard sides of the flagship. However, in the parlance of HM Navy, flags always ‘fly’ no matter what the actuality.
7 HMS Glowworm was a British destroyer. In the opening moves of the Norwegian Campaign, she encountered several German destroyers carrying troops to invade Norway and promptly attacked. The German destroyers requested assistance and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper came to assist. The Hipper was also promptly attacked by torpedoes from Glowworm, but Hipper’s far heavier armament had devastated Glowworm who in a last attack rammed the Hipper doing far more damage to herself than to Hipper. Glowworm sank shortly thereafter. There were few survivors. The captain of the Hipper, Hellmuth Heye, was impressed. He reported the gallantry of the Glowworm to the British Admiralty through the offices of the International Red Cross. This resulted in the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Lieutenant Commander Roope, captain of the Glowworm.
8 The Dickin Medal is a British award for gallantry awarded to animals who distinguish themselves in combat. It has been awarded to horses, dogs, cats, and pigeons. Among the recipients is Sgt Reckless, USMC, a horse.
9 An AU (Astronomical Unit) is the approximate distance from the center of the Earth to the center of the Sun. As this distance can vary depending on the orbit, it has been standardized as 150 million kilometers, or approximately 93 million miles.