Book: Stand Firm



Stand Firm




Stand Firm


Echoes of War Book Zero

Daniel Gibbs



Stand Firm by Daniel Gibbs

Copyright © 2019 by Daniel Gibbs


Visit Daniel Gibb’s website at www.danielgibbsauthor.net


Cover by Jeff Brown Graphics—www.jeffbrowngraphics.com

Additional Illustrations by Joel Steudler—www.joelsteudler.com

Editing by Beth at BZhercules.com

3D Art by Benoit Leonard


This book is a work of fiction, the characters, incidents and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. For permissions please contact [email protected]

Stand Firm
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Contents


Also Available from Daniel Gibbs

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Also Available from Daniel Gibbs


Also Available from Daniel Gibbs

Echoes of War

Book 1 - Fight the Good Fight

Book 2 - Strong and Courageous

Book 3 - So Fight I

Book 4 - Gates of Hell

Book 5 - Keep the Faith


Breach of Faith

(With Gary T. Stevens)


A Simple Job

(Free and exclusive to Newsletter Subscribers)

Book 1 - Breach of Peace


1


CSV Salamis

Canaan Local Space - Terran Coalition Homeworld

28 September 2533


Twenty-four hours ago, I was having dinner with my family. Now, I’m minutes away from actual fleet combat. Major Levi Cohen stared across the bridge of the thirty-year-old Galahad class destroyer he was in temporary command of, the Coalition Star Vessel Salamis. It had been nearly fifty years since the Terran Coalition had fought a real war, a fact that wasn’t lost on Levi. His ship was two generations behind the latest and greatest technology the CDF could bring to bear. Today, that didn’t matter, for today was all or nothing.

Waiting for the inevitable battle to begin, Levi stared up at the small viewer above the CO’s chair, hundreds of dots visible; some blue, indicating friendly ships, most red, denoting an enemy. His communication officer interrupted his thoughts. “Conn, communications. Incoming message from Goddard, sir.”

Levi turned to glance at the young man. “Out with it, Lieutenant.”

“Sir, we are ordered to adjust our position and intercept a group of League frigates, following Goddard’s lead.”

Levi nodded in return and looked back to his right at his XO, Captain Alysia Fisher. “Ready for this?”

Fisher’s face betrayed concern for a moment, but she forced it back to a tight mask. “Yes, sir, trained for the last three years to do the job, sir.”

“It’s perfectly acceptable to admit some amount of fear going into battle, Captain.”

“What’s to fear? Superior Terran Coalition technology and all that.”

“I heard the same briefing and pep talk, but I think the truth is no one knows how we’ll stack up against an unknown enemy. Especially not an enemy that apparently has been planning to hit us for decades.”

Fisher turned toward Levi before she spoke. “Truthfully, I can’t believe the people we fled Earth to get away from four hundred and fifty years ago have suddenly arrived on our doorstep. Even more incredible that they showed up with a thousand ships, calling themselves the League of Sol.”

“Not a scenario I would have thought of either,” Levi said. “Navigation, plot intercept course and synchronize our movements with the Goddard. TAO, display the zoomed in tactical plot on my viewer.”

“Aye, sir,” the navigator called back from her station at the front of the bridge. Unlike some larger ships Levi had served on, this ship’s control center was small and cramped. Stations were piled on top of each other, causing officers and enlisted personnel alike to be bunched up in the tight space.

Levi felt the old ship’s engines flare to life, the significant increase of G force evident even through the artificial gravity and inertial dampening systems present. The tactical plot above his head adjusted, showing a tiny portion of the battlefield: two lines of capital ships, one CDF, the other League. A squadron of frigates had detached from the League line and appeared to be probing their defenses.

“TAO, firing point procedures, magnetic cannons, and forward neutron beams, Master Ninety-Eight,” Levi said. In CDF nomenclature, “Master” denoted an enemy vessel. He’d never seen more than three hostile ships on a tactical screen before; right now, the count was over a thousand.

“Aye aye, sir, calculating firing solution,” Lieutenant Issa El-Amin said; he was the Salamis’ tactical action officer.

Levi shook in his harness, his body shifted by the force of a particularly violent impact on the energy shields that protected the vessel.

“Conn, TAO. Shields reduced by thirty percent on our port quarter by enemy plasma-based weaponry.”

“Navigation, increase power to our engines, take aggressive evasive action. Keep them guessing,”

“Conn, TAO. Firing solutions set, sir. We’re in range of Master Ninety-Eight.”

Levi’s heart raced in his chest as he mentally prepared the order to fire. “TAO, match bearings, shoot, magnetic cannons, and neutron beams. Coordinate firing sequence with our squadron mates abreast.”

The League frigate they targeted had entered what amounted to a kill zone; the optimal weapons range of the three CDF destroyers. Salamis’ forward magnetic cannons spoke first, firing EMP rounds out of two five-hundred-millimeter barrels per turret, for a total of four shells. They were essentially railguns, using powerful electromagnets to fling projectiles at ten percent of light speed.

The two destroyers to port, the Augustus and the Jackson, added their own magnetic cannon salvos. Most of the shots hit home, causing multiple impacts on the enemy ship’s shielding. As the last shell hit, sensors showed that the frigate’s protective shields had failed, leaving its hull exposed to the directed energy beams created by focused neutrons. Each destroyer fired multiple times from their fore emplacements, spearing the unlucky vessel from bow to stern. One of the beams hit a reactor, missile warhead magazine, or something equally explosive, as the frigate suddenly exploded into a debris field of one-foot chunks.

Levi took in the explosion on his tactical plot, shocked by the sudden turn of events. “TAO, lifepod launches?” Everything came into focus for the first time. This is no exercise, and training can’t adequately prepare anyone for what war looks like. Dear God help us, this is for real.

“None, sir,” El-Amin said. “Next target from the Goddard is Master Four-Hundred-Five, sir. She’ll be within range in five minutes.”

“TAO, firing point procedures, magnetic cannons, and neutron beams, Master Four-Hundred-Five.”

“I’ve made the observation a few times that it would just be easier to say ‘fire,’” Fisher said, causing Levi to turn toward her.

“The word ‘fire’ is only used on a ship if there’s an actual fire. Goes back to the days of wood-hulled sailing ships. The worst possible causality that can happen to a ship on the ocean or in space is fire. So, we keep up that tradition.”

Fisher was silent for a moment. “You’re not put off by how sudden this battle began in the least? Yesterday, the idea of war was the furthest thing from our minds. Today, we’re fighting a major fleet action over our capital planet.” Her voice trailed off at the end.

“It’s something the fleet has trained for. You and I have personally trained for it throughout our careers. Today, we find out how well that training has prepared us for the real thing,” Levi said, his body bobbing in the harness from the impact of another direct hit. “Not how I expected to spend the last twenty-four hours, I’ll agree with you on that.”

“I was studying for the O-4 exam last night when I got the call. What about you?”

“At home with my wife and son, already checked out of the CDF and ready to start a job I lined up with a defense contractor in a couple of weeks.”

More data flowed into the tactical plot as the Salamis adjusted its course to vector into engagement range of the next League frigate. As the distance decreased, Levi found his mind wandering to the day before when the fateful call came in that shattered their peaceful existence, and he suspected, would profoundly change the face of the Terran Coalition.

Stand Firm

Cohen Residence

Canaan - Terran Coalition

27 September 2533

24 Hours Earlier


Stroking his beard, Levi looked across the table at his wife of fifteen years, Sarah Cohen. A short, petite woman with dark brown hair, her face didn’t show her actual age of almost forty. Like him, she was an Orthodox Jew. She’s still as beautiful as the day I met her, he thought, grinning. They lived in a small home near the main military installation on Canaan, the capital of the Terran Coalition. He was descended from a long line of Cohens that had served in the military, mostly the Coalition Defense Force, though his father had elected to join New Israel’s military. At one point eight meters, he was on the shorter side for a male, and due to that, had decided to make a career out of the fleet rather than the Terran Coalition Marine Corps.

“Where is that son of yours?” Sarah asked.

“Oh, so now David is mine?” Levi replied with a twinkle in his eye, referring to their eight-year-old boy.

“He’s yours when he’s misbehaving, mine when he’s a perfect angel.”

“I see how it is. He’s probably playing whatever the latest hologame craze is.”

“Can you believe it’s really been eight years already?”

“No. The time just flies by. It seems like just yesterday, you and I were starting our life together.”

Sarah smiled and reached her hand across the table. He took hold of it with his. “It should slow down some now. You being home more,” she said in a wistful tone. “I’ve got a long honey-do list for you.”

“Oh, that’s it? Just happy I’m home to do chores?”

“I was hoping we’d finally have another child,” Sarah replied, complete with a dazzling smile.

Levi felt his face warm as it turned red. After all this time, his wife still excited him in every way. “That was the deal: get out of the CDF and have all the children we can handle.”

“We’ll start with one more.”

“Be fruitful and multiply in the land the Lord our God has given us,” Levi retorted.

Sarah rolled her eyes in response. “Do you have anything left to do?”

“All my final paperwork is done. Only thing I need to do now is put my uniform on one last time for the retirement ceremony.”

“You’ll miss it, won’t you?”

“Yes, I will. You know me too well, don’t you?”

“I just want you to be happy, Levi. I want us to be happy.”

“I’m happy with you and David,” Levi said quietly. “That means more to me than pinning on the next rank or earning the next award.”

“You know he idolizes you. Have you seen his salute?”

Levi laughed. “It’s got a way to go before he meets regulation standard.”

Sarah laughed as well; before either one could speak again, the house’s smart communication system interrupted. “Incoming call from Coalition Defense Force Personnel for Major Levi Cohen,” a disembodied computer-generated voice announced.

“At this hour?” Sarah said, her smile turning to a frown. “I’ll be so glad when you’re finally done with this life.”

Levi stood, remembering the pain of the last several years after he’d been called to active duty, even though he was technically a reservist. Long months away in space and spending little time at home had added up to an ultimatum from Sarah.

“Pick one or the other. Family or CDF,” she’d said to him three months prior, tears streaming down her face. There was no hesitation in choosing his family. After twenty years of service, I’ve done my duty. “I’ll take it in my study, dear. I’m sure it’s just some final paperwork.”

“What else could it be?” Sarah said, a forced smile returning to her face.

Levi just grinned in reply, walking quickly to his small study. He sat behind his work desk, unlocking his tablet computer with a retina and fingerprint scan. A few seconds later, the screen turned on showing the incoming call. “Accept incoming vidlink.”

A ruddy-faced 2nd lieutenant appeared on the screen of his tablet. “Major Cohen?”

“Speaking,” Levi said.

“I have immediate orders for you, sir.”

“Excuse me, son? I’m on terminal leave.”

“I understand that, sir,” the young man who couldn’t have been more than twenty-four years of age acknowledged. “You are to take command of the CSV Salamis by 1800 hours local time and make her ready for deployment no later than 0200 hours.”

What the heck? Levi’s mind raced. “Lieutenant Zubair,” he said after glancing at his nametag. “Do I understand that my orders are to take command of a ship less than three hours from now, and have it ready for action eight hours after that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re going to have to do better than that. Who issued these orders, for starters?”

“Sir,” Zubair hesitated. “I don’t have time to explain it to you, except that when this vidlink terminates, a fully authenticated set of orders will be transmitted to you.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Lieutenant? I’m two weeks out from finishing a twenty-year stint in this man’s military,” Levi shot back, anger getting the best of him. “If I’m going to go ruin my wife and son’s evening, I want to know how long I’ll be gone. I also want to know who I need to vidlink and complain to.”

“There’s no one to talk to you, sir. Everyone is being called in.”

Levi sat back, letting that statement sink in. “Seriously?”

“All reserves, all individual ready reserve, anyone on terminal leave. If you don’t report, sir, MPs will arrive at your home and compel your cooperation,” Zubair said, seemingly finding his voice, all trace of hesitation gone.

“I’ve never avoided my duty,” Levi snapped. “What you’re describing is a national emergency call-up.”

“Yes, sir.”

“That’s it? What’s going on? Is there a threat to Canaan?” Levi replied, his thoughts going to the safety of his family.

“Can’t say, sir. Please report to your duty station as soon as possible.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

Zubair paused, pursing his lips together. “We’re under orders not to talk about it, sir. Just make sure your family is safe.”

“I understand,” Levi finally said. “Thank you, Lieutenant. I’ll be there within the next two hours.”

“Thank you, Major. Godspeed,” Zubair replied, then cut the connection, leaving Levi staring at a black screen on his tablet. He sat back in his chair, staring at the tablet like it was going to magically come back online and announce that he’d been punked by his friends.

A few minutes passed in silence as Levi pondered the call. What could possibly be so wrong that the entire CDF is being mobilized? His eyes went down to a picture of him, his wife, and son, smiling as a family. It remains my duty to protect them, in addition to everyone else in the Terran Coalition. That’s the oath I swore, and I’ll not shirk it. He stood up and walked with purpose back to the dining room where Sarah waited.

“What’s wrong?”

“So good at reading me, dear,” Levi said, his lips forming a tight smile. “You’re not going to believe this.”

“You’re not leaving again,” Sarah said, her face clouding over. “No, they can’t possibly call you back with what, twelve days left before your retirement ceremony?”

“Something big is happening, Sarah. They wouldn’t tell me what, but I’m to take command of a ship within the next three hours and get it ready for action.”

“Action? What’s that, a euphemism for war? I’m not stupid, Levi. Tell me the truth.”

“Sarah,” Levi said, reaching out and putting his hand on hers. “I’d never dare to say anything about your mental abilities. You’re far smarter than I am.” He hoped he could get her to laugh.

“Then what’s going on?” Sarah asked, standing up.

“I don’t know. All the personnel officer would tell me was I should make sure my family was safe.”

“I’m scared, Levi.”

He took a step forward and embraced her. “We’ll be okay. All of us will be okay. I promise.”

“You can’t promise you’ll come back if there’s a war, Levi. It’s in the hands of Hashem.”

“I’ll do everything humanly possible to return home to you.”

“Promise me?” she asked, putting her head against his chest and clinging to him.

“I promise.”

“Will you let me know what’s happening once you get up there?”

“I may not be able to,” Levi said. “But if I can, I will. I’d better go get dressed. Hope I still have a clean uniform.”

Sarah glanced up and rolled her eyes. “I pressed all of them for you, dear. Take your pick.”

“Whatever would I do without you?” Levi said while laughing.

“Pay a dry cleaner to keep up with your wash.”

They both laughed. Ah, humor does help salve the soul.

“David’s birthday is tomorrow,” Sarah continued, her face suddenly somber.

Levi stared at his toes, his heart sinking. “I know. I’m sorry. After last year, I swore I’d be there the next time.”

“You owe it to him to tell him what’s going on,” Sarah said, not flinching from the topic.

“I’ll get my uniform on, and you go get him, okay?”

Sarah tilted her head up, and he leaned down to kiss her on the lips, holding it for several seconds. “Okay, love. You better keep that promise,” she said with a forced smile.

I am so lucky to have her, Levi thought.

“Count on it,” Levi said, his voice full of bravado.


2

Levi walked out the door, toward his helicar. His son’s voice echoed behind him, calling out.

“Dad! Dad!”

Levi turned and saw David standing at the edge of the steps into the house, his hand to his brow in an imitation of Levi’s salute.

A smile spread across his face, and Levi brought his own arm up, returning the salute in a crisp, practiced motion. “Take care of your mother, son.”

“I will, Dad!”

Turning his head so David wouldn’t see the tears welling up in his eyes, Levi climbed into the helicar and hit the autopilot control. After synching up with an orbiting satellite, it took off into the night sky.

Forcing the mental image of his son out of his mind, Levi tried to gather additional information on what was going on during the helicar ride to Canaan’s space elevator. It was a massive construct that stretched from the surface of the planet into space, allowing for quick and nearly free transport of people, materials, and munitions. This has to be the most effective communications blackout in our history. After flipping between a hundred holochannels, there wasn’t a single word about the emergency mobilization anywhere. Another point towards whatever this is being a civilization-threatening event.

Finally giving up, he spent the last part of the trip in silence, staring out into the night sky. The image of David standing at the end of their driveway, saluting him, just wouldn’t leave his mind. The thought caused a tear to roll down his cheek, while the fear of the unknown clawed at his insides. Once I understand the threat, then I can help to defeat it. This waiting… I’d rather do anything but.

His helicar entered the traffic pattern for the main base gate, which generally had two out of six entry lanes open. Tonight, all six were open, several makeshift inspection stations had been erected, and it took forty-five minutes to clear the traffic jam, even with the completely automated authentication system for access. Lines of enlisted personnel and officers snaked around the checkpoint, with guards performing manual identity checks. Another twenty minutes to park in a computerized garage and briskly walk to the embarkation point for fleet personnel. Tens of thousands of people, all in CDF uniform, converged toward the elevator. The pandemonium was more than Levi had ever seen in his life. I’ve been at concerts for the most popular bands in the Terran Coalition that had fewer people at them, he thought as he dodged quick-moving soldiers, the entire thing a mass of barely controlled chaos.

Portable signs had been erected in the overhead displaying ship names and assigned elevator numbers. After scanning the signs for what seemed like an eternity with thousands of other soldiers pressed about him, he saw “CSV Salamis – Bay E-31” scroll by. Hefting his space bag, he hurried toward the indicated space, arriving just before the doors shut. Few people spoke on the ride up, and Levi tried to clear his mind. The integrated communication link he carried, which functioned as something like a phone, computer, and medical tracking device all in one, vibrated on his belt.

Levi pulled out the commlink and stared at the screen. A text message appeared. “I was just informed of your assignment, sir. ETA? Captain Alysia Fisher, acting XO, CSV Salamis.” She seems a bit direct.

He typed a message back. “Twenty minutes to the belt, then whatever time it takes me to find the ship. Look forward to meeting you, XO.” Pressing the send button, he lay back in his seat, staring into the horizon as it shifted colors from blue to black, indicating that they had exited the atmosphere of Canaan. God, please give me a competent crew. Most of these men and women look like they’ve got one foot out of the service, just like me.

As the pod glided into the station that housed Canaan’s military headquarters and served as the central berthing area for the CDF fleet, Levi studied the ships docked. A lot more than usual here. Old stuff too. It made sense with the number of personnel he had observed, that the previous generation of ships and equipment would be pulled out of extended storage. Hope they got the mothballs out, he thought with a small grin. The doors to the pod opened, and the seat restraints lifted up. Levi and everyone else stood, pressing toward the exit.

Once outside the pod, the expansive station was full of people as far as the eye could see. Hand drawn signs were held above the crowd bearing the names of ships; Levi spotted one marked “CSV Salamis” and made his way as fast as he could over to the young woman carrying it. “Excuse me, Private, I’m Major Cohen. Could you point me to the Salamis’ docking port?”

“Captain Fisher sent me here to bring you back, sir,” she said. “Please, follow me.”

“Thank you, Private,” Levi said, falling in behind her as they made their way through the mass of humanity. A conversation was impossible, and he spent most of the time dodging fast-moving groups of soldiers and anti-gravity sleds carrying supplies. The further they got from the central areas, the more the crowds began to thin. Eventually, they reached the docking slip for the Salamis, and he put his best command face on. Necessary to show the others that I have no fear, no concerns, and project confidence.

As he stepped through the airlock, Levi pulled his cover on, expecting to find an honor guard and a basic change of command ceremony waiting for him on the other side. The hatch swung open, and he wasn’t disappointed. A dozen enlisted personnel, wearing blue and black camouflage pattern battle dress uniforms lined the passageway that lay beyond. Not quite in shape, and not as squared away as career soldiers. Looks like I got a crew of reservists to match up to me. A soldier wearing the insignia of a master chief bosun’s mate stepped forward and brought the traditional bosun’s pipe to his lips, trilling it to formally announce Levi’s presence onboard.

“Attention on deck,” a female officer, also in battle dress uniform with the insignia of a captain, announced, her voice sharp and sure.

All those present came to attention, hands snapping to their brows in well-practiced motions that had been instilled all the way back in boot camp; they may have been weekend soldiers, but the formalities of their profession never lost their hold. “Major Levi Cohen, reporting for duty as commanding officer, CSV Salamis,” he said, bringing his own hand up and returning their salutes with one of his own.

The officer who had called them to attention stepped forward and turned toward Levi. “Acting CO, Captain Alysia Fisher, sir. I stand ready to be relieved.”

“I relieve you, Captain Fisher,” Levi said in the most formal tone he could muster, his mind still racing.

“I am relieved. Computer, record that as of 1750 hours CMT, Major Levi Cohen is the commanding officer of CSV Salamis.”

After exchanging a tight smile with Fisher, Levi turned to the small group. “Thank you all for coming down here. I’ll address the ship later tonight, but you can hear it from me first. We’ve got to be underway and in space within the next eight hours. I’ve no doubt that while it’s a herculean task, this crew can handle it. I’ll be with you every step of the way. Godspeed and dismissed.”

The honor guard quickly broke up and walked away down the passageway. I’m sure they’ve all got a duty station and six repair tasks each, Levi thought as he closed his eyes and pushed away the enormity of the situation, forcing himself to take it one step at a time. He removed his khaki-colored cover and put it back in his pants pocket; while a change of command demanded wearing it, military protocol was that no cover was worn indoors.

“Tradition would be a tour of the ship and all major engineering spaces,” Fisher said. “Would you prefer to stick to that or head straight to the bridge?”

“Precious little time for tradition tonight, XO. Let’s head to the bridge, and perhaps you could brief me on the ship’s status along the way?”

“Of course, sir. Have you been on a Galahad class destroyer before?”

“I served on one—CSV Issus—as the XO.”

“Ah, that would explain your assignment here, then.”

“Nothing explains how CDFPER works, Captain,” Levi said with a snicker. “Lead the way?”

“Of course, sir.”

They set off and almost immediately came across a section of corridor that was blocked off. “Structural issues?” Levi asked, following Fisher on a detour around it.

“Nothing major, but you know how the mothballing process works. Contractors always forget something, somewhere. That and our supposed maintenance reviews weren’t that great.”

“I doubt anyone thought we’d be yanking fifty-year-old ships out of emergency reserve.”

“There is some good news,” Fisher said, flashing an expression that approximated a smile. “This ship has an upgraded fusion reactor, and its weapons were modernized about ten years ago. Not cutting edge by any extent, but better than nothing.”

Levi nodded approvingly. “I’ll take it. Any scuttlebutt on what we’re gearing up out there?”

“Honestly, sir, I was hoping you had some G2.”

“I couldn’t get anything out of the personnel officer that vidlinked me. I tried to reach my old CO as well as my detailer on the helicar trip into the space elevator, but none of my commlinks connected.”

“Same here. I can’t reach anybody.”

“I assume we’re facing an existential threat to the Terran Coalition.”

“Yeah, but what? I’ve heard some crazy theories. The comms team swears that they heard chatter indicating the Saurians are staging a sneak attack. Deck force claims that it’s a supernova, and the engineering guys say it’s a coup.”

Levi snorted; they stopped as they reached a gravlit. Both officers entered, and he pressed the button for deck one. On military ships, designers stuck with tried and true technology; everything was designed to be redundant, and instead of high-tech gizmos and gadgets, simple but effective buttons —switches and levers— were the preferred way. At least on mass-produced ships like this, he thought, getting a tactile response as the depressed button lit up. “Likely all wrong. The Saurians are almost our allies, we’ve put so much treasure into rebuilding them. I won’t comment on the implausibility of the others.”

“After we dismantled their empire and forced them to stop bullying their neighbors,” Fisher said.

“Point taken, but I believe strongly they’ve changed their tune as a people over the last fifty years.”

“You sound pretty sure of that, sir.”

“I served on a Saurian ship for two weeks as part of an officer exchange program. Different, but a great experience. Theirs is an honor culture, Captain. Anything that would bring dishonor on a Saurian personally is forbidden, and all of them has a responsibility to ensure nothing brings dishonor on their empire as a whole. The idea they’d stage a sneak attack is so beyond plausibility, I wouldn’t give it a second thought.”

“I see.”

“So, what works on this boat?” Levi asked with a grin.

“Most of our weapons, shields, and engines. We’re calibrating the LIDAR arrays, performing dry fire tests of all weapons, and troubleshooting why the forward missile outer doors won’t open.”

“That might be a problem. Wouldn’t want to have to blow part of our hull off to fire a missile.”

Fisher smirked. “No, couldn’t have that, sir.”

“What about munitions and supplies?”

“The water purification and creation systems are fully functional, so we’re fine there. We’re stuck with basic combat rations for food, and our magazines are empty as of now,” Fisher said, holding up a hand. “Before you get concerned, we’re due to receive a full loadout of missiles and magnetic cannon rounds within the next four hours. And… I called in a favor and got us a shipment of real food.”



Levi broke into a smile as the doors opened, depositing them into a short passageway that led to the reinforced doors for the bridge. “Not bad, Captain. Not bad at all,” he commented. “No sentries?”

“No Marines assigned to us, sir.”

“Sergeant-at-arms?”

“Several on board, sir.”

“Get two of them up here, with their sidearms. I want the bridge protected at all times.”

“Yes, sir.”

Levi pulled out his cover from his pocket and put it on as the bridge hatch swung open. Fisher did the same and followed him in. Military cover—slang for a hat—was always worn on the bridge of a ship. Looking around the room, he saw many soldiers working on consoles, wires and circuit boards strewn everywhere. The same master chief that had piped him onboard looked up from soldering a circuit and quickly dropped what he was doing.

“Commanding officer on the bridge!” the man announced in a loud voice, carrying across the din of conversation and repairs. Immediately, everyone stopped, came to attention, and saluted Levi, some crisper than others.

Levi raised his right hand to his brow and returned their salutes. “As you were. Carry on with repairs,” he said in a calm, confident voice. Less than eight hours to get underway? This relic needs a year in a repair yard.

“Major, allow me to introduce you to our senior enlisted soldier,” Fisher said, gesturing towards the master chief. “Master Chief Petty Officer Jorge Montero.”

“A pleasure, Major Cohen,” Montero said, stepping forward and extending his hand.

Levi took it and shook firmly. “Thank you, Master Chief. How’s the deck force doing?”

“Not quite to where I want them, sir. I’ve still got seven hours or so to whip everyone into shape.”

“I’ll hold you to that, Master Chief. Carry on,”

“Yes, sir,” Montero said before turning around to continue directing repairs. As he did, Levi took note of his right uniform sleeve. On most CDF soldiers, this was where the flag of the Terran Coalition was displayed, followed by the flag of the member state and religion of the individual if they chose to wear them. Montero wore the flag of the Republic of Spain and the Christian flag under it.

“What’s our personnel level, XO?”

“We’ll have enough onboard for one full watch and a half watch.”

“Not nearly enough,” Levi said, worry spilling onto his face.

“It’ll take careful personnel management, sir, to avoid tiring everyone out before whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing.”

“Agreed. Do we have a Tactical Action Officer assigned, XO?”

“Yes, sir, he’s up front,” Fisher said, pointing towards a tall man who was assisting a damage control team lift a console.

Levi waited for them to finish before continuing. “Introduce me, please.”

Without replying, Fisher stepped forward and called out toward the man. “Lieutenant El-Amin, over here.”

“Yes, XO?” El-Amin said, stepping away from the repair effort. “Ah, Major Cohen.” He extended his arm.

Levi took it and shook warmly, looking over his shoulder patches; El-Amin had the flag of New Arabia and the Islamic crescent and star directly below. “Good to meet you, Lieutenant. I see we’re neighbors,” he said with a smile.

“We are?” El-Amin looked puzzled until his eyes moved over to Levi’s uniform. “Ah, I see. New Israel?”

“Born and bred.”

“Arabia Prime for me, one parsec over.”

“What I don’t understand is why both of your countries colonized planets with large deserts on them,” Fisher said. “I mean, come on, there’s plenty of better worlds out there.”

Levi laughed. “It’s what we know. Besides, I prefer dry heat over humidity.”

“Amen, brother.”

“I understand from the XO you’re conducting dry fire weapons tests?”

“Yes, sir. Progressing very well except for the missile tube doors. I’ve got a team out on the hull in space suits now, working the problem. Worst-case scenario, we’ll cut the doors off with plasma torches.”

Levi nodded, impressed with the young man’s ingenuity. Now this is someone I will like. He thinks on his feet and comes up with a way to solve the problem that isn’t in the manual. “Very good, Lieutenant. I’ll let you get back to it. We’ll have a department head meeting at 0100 to discuss final preparations.”

“Thank you, sir,” El-Amin said before he turned away and returned to testing the weapons.

Levi got out of the way and walked back to the middle of the bridge, away from the dissembled consoles. “Is 1MC operational, XO?” he asked, referring to the ship-wide intercom that was heard in all spaces when activated.

“Yes, sir. That works too,” Fisher said, cracking a smile for what seemed like the first time.

Levi walked over to the CO’s chair and fiddled with the buttons that controlled the 1MC; a small cover opened, and he lifted out a microphone from it. A relic of a by-gone era, it was something most CDF ships still carried, mostly for nostalgia. He lifted it up to his lips and spoke. “Attention, all hands, this is your commanding officer, Major Levi Cohen. I know that none of us were expecting to be called to duty tonight, much less trying to get an old ship into space in a few hours. I suspect most of you are scared, wondering what’s going on, and if our families will be safe. Nothing to be ashamed of there, because I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having a knot in my belly right now. But… we trained for this. Some of us have trained for it a very long time. We are soldiers of the Coalition Defense Force, sworn to defend our republic from any enemy, foreign or domestic. I know I’ll be able to count on every man and woman, enlisted and officer, throughout this vessel to do their best. Carry about your duties, work hard, work fast. Godspeed,” he finished before dropping the small mic back into its holder.

“Thank you, sir,” Fisher said quietly as to not be heard by those around them. “We all needed that.”

“Comes with the job, XO,” Levi said, flashing a small smile. “I was a qualified engineer at one point. Given the circumstances, give me an easy task that we can free up a more senior engineer on, and I’ll get to work.”

“Yes, sir. I’ll send something to your tablet momentarily.”

“I’ll take my space bag down to my cabin and get changed, in that case.”

“Already had it moved there for you, sir.”

“Well, in that case, I’ll go change into a pair of overalls,” Levi said. “Thank you, XO.”


3


Oval Office – Presidential Center

Canaan

28 September 2533

16 Hours Earlier


“How bad is it, Abdul?” Jason Nolan, President of the Terran Coalition, asked. He had gathered his top advisors in what was commonly referred to as the Oval Office. On the couch next to him was Abdul Karimi, the secretary of defense. Other members of his cabinet dotted the room, mostly standing along the walls.

“A thousand ships, taking the fastest possible path to Canaan. In other words, bad, sir,” Abdul Karimi, the secretary of defense said. He was a tall, dark-faced man who wore an impeccable business suit, even at two o’clock in the morning. “We’ve continued to break down the intelligence gathered from our one engagement so far.”

“Are we sure they’re hostile?” a woman seated across from Nolan, Secretary of State Kunto Temitope, interjected.

“Why would anyone fly a thousand warships from Earth to Canaan if they’re not hostile?” Abdul said. “That defies any kind of logic. I remind you they destroyed our patrol ship.”

Nolan cleared his throat. “There’s no doubt in my mind they’re hostile. We’re proceeding along those lines.”

Abdul lifted a tablet computing device. “I’ve got confirmation from General Irvine that the home defense fleet is activated, along with all serviceable ships in the emergency reserve.”

“Who is leading the fleet?”

“General Irvine, Mr. President.”

“Our best,” Nolan said. “I hate to belabor this point, but we’re certain this is the World Society?”

“CDF Intelligence is unanimous in its conclusion. Those ships are either the actual World Society or a successor state,” a man wearing a CDF uniform said. “The analysists are continuing to decrypt the intercepted communication traffic.”

Nolan leaned back on the couch, beads of sweat spreading across his forehead. “Kunto, work the vidlink. I want every nation-state in the Terran Coalition to confirm they’re sending the balance of all mobile military space assets they have to Canaan.”

“Yes, Mr. President.”

“Hourly updates, ladies and gentlemen,” Nolan said.

“When do we update the population?” another man, his chief of staff, asked.

“We’ve delayed long enough. Get me time across all holochannels… say, five minutes.” Nolan wiped his forehead. “Not what I was expecting to confront in my first term, folks.” He let out a nervous laugh. “Get back to it. I’ll see you all in an hour.”

Stand Firm

CSV Victory – Terran Coalition Flagship

Canaan Orbit

28 September 2533

12 Hours Earlier


The stack of data disk containers he was carrying made an audible thud as they fell against the deck, causing heads to turn toward him across the combat information center onboard the Victory. “Argh!” 1st Lieutenant Andrew MacIntosh said under his breath. Great way to make an impression in the CIC. Cause a commotion. I shouldn’t have tried to move all at once. He bent over to pick up the disks, which were highly classified war plans. They contained Code Word Special Compartmentalized Information and were to be guarded with his life.

“There are far better things to direct your frustration against, Lieutenant,” a stern voice said while MacIntosh was picking the mess up. He looked up to General Gabrielle Irvine standing above him, dressed in a standard khaki uniform, four stars present for rank insignia on her shoulders. She was the overall commander for the CDF fleet.

MacIntosh stiffened and braced to attention. “I apologize, General.”

“As you were, Lieutenant. The plans?”

“Yes, ma’am,” MacIntosh said as he reached down to pick up the last few disks. “I was on my way to join your briefing.” His Scottish brogue was thick and apparent.

“Walk with me,” Irvine said, then turned around and briskly strode away. MacIntosh took off after her, catching up a few strides later. “Have you studied the sensor logs we got back from the Rothchild?”

“Yes, ma’am,” MacIntosh said, squeezing by soldiers and officers as they pressed up against the passageway walls at the sight of Irvine.

“Do I have to pry it out of you, MacIntosh? What’s your opinion of them?”

“Inferior technology to ours. Less effective shielding and weapons, particularly weak point defense capabilities. Their missiles have limited tracking capability against our ECM.”

“I’ve read that report. I asked for your opinion, Lieutenant. As my aide-de-camp, I expect you to be a sounding board for my strategies. For the last time, give me your opinion of this enemy and methods of defeating them.”

General Irvine had a reputation as being a tough leader who pushed her staff to the limits. She’s also lionized as one of the smartest strategists in the Terran Coalition, which is why I wanted this assignment. “If we were engaging them with anything like equal numbers, our forces would easily win. We don’t have remotely equal numbers, so we’ll need to use every advantage we have. If I were in command, I would form a battle line with our heaviest ships out front, able to concentrate firepower, and interspace escorting destroyers and frigates around them, but not directly to the fore as we normally do.”

“That’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said to me today, MacIntosh,” Irvine said with a grin. “Now explain to me why you recommend that course of action.”

“Because with our advantage in missile defense and their weakness in offensive missiles, it wouldn’t make sense to block the lanes of fire for our heaviest cruisers and battleships. Our fighters and bombers should be highly effective as well.”

“If they get here in time. The damn Americans and their Saratoga class carriers. Sixteen of them, the pride of their fleet. Couldn’t spare a single one for the CDF.”

“Aye, General. You don’t need to talk to me about the Americans. I hail from Glasgow.”

“One of the moons around New Britain, yes?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I always wanted to go there. I understand the Royal Shipyard in orbit of Churchill is quite impressive.”

“The moon is impressive itself. Life-supporting with terraforming.”

“Well, Lieutenant. Do your job well today, and maybe you’ll get to see it again, Terran Coalition flag flying high.”

“If not, I’d rather not see it all,” MacIntosh said “The thought of living under what these people would do to us… I can’t see that day.”

“Then fight like there’s no tomorrow, Lieutenant. While we’re on the subject, you correctly guessed my battle plan.”

MacIntosh’s face lit up with a grin. “That doesn’t mean that you passed the test, MacIntosh,” Irvine said, crushing the feeling of momentary victory like a bug.

She’s one tough customer. All the better to defeat our foes.

“We’re going to brief the senior staff in a moment. That briefing will be carried to all ships and our political leaders. Not how I like to do things, especially this business of having politicians about, but…”

“These aren’t normal times,” MacIntosh said quietly.

“Exactly, Lieutenant. After you,” she said; they had stopped outside of a hatch marked “Primary A/V Conference Room.”

MacIntosh squared his shoulders and walked in through the opening and stood to one side. As Irvine came in, he announced her presence. “General on deck!” Everyone present stood quickly and brought themselves to attention, including MacIntosh.

“As you were.” Irvine made her way to the front of the room. “You may be seated.”

MacIntosh took his place next to her, setting down the data disks gently on the table.

A young lieutenant in the back of the room spoke up. “You’re live to the fleet, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” Irvine replied. “Officers and soldiers of the Coalition Defense Force and the Terran Coalition Marine Corps, I know most, if not all of you wonder what’s going on,” she began. “What you are about to hear is classified at the highest level. We have instituted a communications blackout to all ships in the fleet, all space-based installations, and all government facilities. You will not be able to communicate with your families or loved ones, and anyone who attempts to get around this blackout will be charged with treason.”

A wave of apprehension swept through the room; it was so palpable that MacIntosh swore he could actually feel it moving from person to person. Most of the brass had to know about the threat, but the more junior officers were still in the dark.

“Four hundred fifty-two years ago, our forefathers abandoned the only home the human race had known up until then: Earth. We all know the story, studied it in school and engrained the history into our minds. The sacrifices, the hardships, the eventual discovery of Canaan and the founding of our republic. Many of us, myself included, have, upon occasion, looked up at the night sky and wondered what happened to our former home. Sixteen hours ago, one of our deep space reconnaissance vessels, the Rothchild, was lost with all hands. Her CO managed to get a log dump back to command before the ship was destroyed. Lieutenant,” she said toward the back of the room. “Play it.”

A holoimage filled the front of the large conference room, projecting a three-dimensional image into a special tank that allowed the viewer to perceive depth and have limited interaction with the display. The playback focused on a single, massive ship, and more specifically on a symbol on its hull; a stylized hammer within a gear. There were gasps, and this time, fear cascaded across the room.

“What history remembers as the World Society apparently survived and prospered in some way. We’ve got plenty of intelligence intercepts that the spooks are working their way through right now. They’re calling themselves the League of Sol, and the fleet you see around what appears to be their flagship numbers over a thousand ships.”

“God help us all,” a man wearing the bird insignia of a full colonel blurted out. “We can’t fight a thousand ships with two hundred.”

Irvine turned quickly to face him, a harsh look on her face. “Yes we can. We must, and we will. The ready reserve fleet has been activated, so we won’t be going into battle with two hundred ships. President Nolan has signed an emergency declaration that places all nation-state forces under the direct command of the CDF. Reinforcements are en route and, once they arrive, will boost our forces to just over six hundred vessels.”

“That still puts us at nearly a two-to-one disadvantage,” the same colonel insisted.

“Colonel Richards, if you can’t handle the crucible of combat, get the hell out of my briefing,” Irvine said, matter-of-factly, without raising her voice. MacIntosh could almost hear her counting off five seconds before she continued. “While I wouldn’t be afraid to order a last stand, our analysts have spent the last twelve hours crunching the data we received from our one engagement from the enemy. Lieutenant MacIntosh, please present our findings.”

What? Me? She didn’t say anything about this! MacIntosh froze with an expression bordering on panic. As he forced himself to stand, there was a collective pause in the room as everyone’s gaze turned toward him. “Uh, yes, ma’am,” he stammered. Get it together, man, he heard a voice say, deep inside of him.

“After extensive analysis of the enemy weapon signatures,” MacIntosh said with many nervous looks about the room, “we believe that our, uh, shields and armor match up favorably against the directed plasma charges that appear to be their primary armaments.”

“How do we know that?” someone asked, all of it a blur.

“Computer simulations based off real-time combat data from the Rothchild. We also believe that the League’s point defense systems are approximately four generations behind our own. Our fighters should be extremely effective against their capital ships.”

“What about their fighters and bombers?” a general with two stars on his shoulders questioned.

“No information on those as of yet, sir. They weren’t deployed against the Rothchild.”

“So it’s possible that we’ll face an enemy with overwhelming superiority in small attack craft?”

“I doubt that, sir.”

“Why? You have no information on the subject.”

“With respect, sir, the rest of their technology is inferior to ours by at least two generations of our capabilities. It’s highly unlikely that they just happen to have amazing fighter technology while whiffing on ship technology. The two are intertwined.” After he finished, there was no rebuttal from the general; Irvine flashed him a look that might have had just the inkling of a smile, though he wasn’t sure if it was his imagination.

“What about the defensive stratofighter wings based on Canaan?” a female colonel asked.

“Not a bad idea, Colonel. We’ll have to engage the enemy too far out for them to be of use without carrier support, though. Continue, Lieutenant,” Irvine said, interjecting herself into the conversation.

“One final point is that our anti-ship missiles should have a leg up. Bottom line is that we have an overall strategic and technological advantage over the Leaguers,” MacIntosh said.

“Leaguers? You just came up with that one, Lieutenant?” an older general in the back of the room said, wearing a grin.

“I guess I did, sir,” MacIntosh answered, a small smile spreading across his face in a moment of levity.

“That might stick,” the man said.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Irvine said. “I will now present our overall battle plan. You will note our plan goes against many long-held precepts of space fleet battle doctrine. Many of you will have concerns, especially capital ship commanders. To answer those concerns up front, I came at this with an out-of-the-box strategy. This is a different enemy, and we must match our strengths to its weaknesses. Now please observe the following projection.”

At Irvine’s signal, the holoprojector came alive again, showing a view of Canaan and the surrounding space. “Our fleet will deploy here,” she said, gesturing toward a section of space roughly a tenth of an AU from the planet. “We will challenge them to do battle with us, with our backs to the planet and making use of the planetary defense grid if we can. As we all know, it’s not up to current technological standards and will be of limited use.”

“That’s boxing us in,” an officer that MacIntosh couldn’t make out interjected.

“Spartan mothers used to send their sons off to battle by handing them their shield and telling them to return with it or upon it. No different here. Now, we will array our forces with the heaviest ships in a wall formation. Departing from traditional battle group doctrine, escorts will be offset around the capital ships and not in front.”

MacIntosh saw frowns spread across many faces in the room.

“These tactics offer us the best hope for victory. As always, I would expect that our plan will not survive first contact with the enemy and will have to be adjusted on the fly. My flagship, the Victory, will be at the front of the line. Win or lose, we will all see this through to the very end. Make no mistake about it, everyone in this fleet must be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, something I require of myself before any of you. Study this plan. If you see something I missed, tell me. Otherwise, internalize it and be ready to fight.”

As she spoke, the frowns changed to neutral expressions at the least; MacIntosh felt confidence begin to take hold and the officers assembled nodded their heads in agreement.

“My chaplain will lead a prayer service at 0400 hours. Given the circumstances, I would encourage all of you, regardless of faith, to pray for the fleet, pray for the safety of the civilians we are charged to defend, and pray to Almighty God that He would stand with us today against this abomination from Earth.”

After waiting a good ten seconds for the full impact of her words to be felt, MacIntosh supposed, Irvine spoke once more. “Any questions?” No one said a word. “Very well. Carry on with your duties and prepare your ships for combat. Godspeed, Irvine out.”

As he was on the way out of the room with Irvine, she leaned over and whispered into MacIntosh’s ear, “Wasn’t sure how’d you do with being put on the spot, Lieutenant. Nicely done.”

A smile spread from ear to ear on his face as they walked down the passageway back to CIC.

Stand Firm

LSS Le Terrible

Approaching Canaan Orbit

28 September 2533

8 Hours Earlier


“Colonel, do you have a moment?” The fleet commander for the League of Sol, Admiral Pierre Seville, came from a long line of League Navy officers, going back a dozen generations. Reduced to whispering on his own flag bridge on the LSS Le Terrible, he was trying to deal with the bane of any officer’s existence —the fleet’s political commissar— Colonel Bridget Lemieux.

“Of course, Admiral,” Lemieux said, flashing him a smile in a way that made a man’s blood run cold.

Seville motioned to the side, out of earshot of those around them. “I’m concerned about our attack plan.”

“Again?”

Tension had built between the two of them over the last day—since the encounter with the Terran warship—and appeared to be headed toward an all-out boil. “Every minute we wait, Colonel, I fear our position grows weaker.”

“We’re short a hundred and eighty-nine ships, Admiral.” Open disagreement with a political officer was rare and belied how strongly Seville felt about the matter. Such power was given to them within the League Navy; even a senior officer could be removed from command and his or her family threatened.

“I realize that. I also realize that their disorganization is an advantage to us.”

Lemieux laughed haughtily. “It doesn’t matter if they fly at us in neat rows, or as you put it, a disorganized blob. They’ll still die at our hands.”

Seville had tried to reason with her throughout the three-month one-way trip from League space, across the void between the Orion and Sagittarius arms of the Milky Way galaxy. Initially, he thought that their shared French ancestry would provide for common ground. That notion had quickly been disabused. “Colonel, you must consider that it’s not enough to just win. We must win convincingly and have enough forces left to pacify the rest of their territory.”

“The Social and Public Safety Committee planned for every eventuality, Admiral.”

There it is again. The Social and Public Safety Committee. The group that controlled the League, supposedly made up of the best and brightest from across the entire proletariat. In practice, a bunch of doddering old men. “The committee isn’t here, Colonel. The plan, while sound, didn’t account for an enemy of overwhelming technical superiority.”

“Watch your words, Admiral. You are but a tool of the state. If you do not carry out the orders of the state, I’ll remove you and find someone who will.”

Boiled down, her statement was the essence of the League. The state above all. Seville pondered briefly how he’d gotten here. Simple, really. Decent at my job, with the right friends.

“We must attack now,” Seville hissed through clenched teeth.

“No. We will execute the chairman’s plan, as ordered by him.”

A vision of throttling the life out of Bridget Lemieux passed over Seville’s eyes. A pity such things can’t be done. He tried a different tack to convince her. “Colonel, the plan cannot be carried out as planned because the Terran Coalition knows we’re coming,” he said, emphasizing the last few words.

“And whose fault is that?”

“They got lucky,” Seville said, staring at her unflinchingly. Throughout the massive bridge, his officers and crew likely could hear the two of them arguing. To their credit, everyone stared straight ahead at their consoles. “Our intelligence was wrong as well. This enemy has superior technology.”

“The plan will still work, Admiral. We have more than enough ships.”

“We have enough ships, right now. Every minute we wait, more reinforcements arrive. Each one of their ships is worth three of ours.”

“According to our scans, the vessels that have arrived so far aren’t as advanced as the rest.”

Idiot! Doesn’t she realize that’s the mothball reserve fleet, just like Earth has? The mobile reserves are out there and coming. “Colonel Lemieux, at some point, the fleets they have besides this defense fleet for their home will arrive. Again, less than two hundred of our ships are still lagging behind. Let us seize the initiative now and strike a blow for the League.”

There was hesitation on Lemieux’s face for a second, but it didn’t last. “No, Admiral. For the last time, we’ll wait until the entire fleet is in position, then we will fulfill the chairman’s orders.”

Seville pulled down his black utilitarian uniform, setting his feet. Any further argument with this woman will be uselessand to think, I thought since she was a fellow Frenchman that we might have common ground. “Very well, Colonel. We will await the rest of the fleet,” Seville stated, giving the salute of the League; a closed fist braced to the chest. He stared at her with hate boiling inside. If you couldn’t have my family killed, the outcome would be far different.

“Thank you, Admiral. Your insights and concerns are always welcome to be heard,” Lemieux said.

It was all Seville could do to keep the mask of self-control in place. Someday, I will have the political power to end you, he thought. Forcing his mouth into a smile, he nodded. “We honor the League through our service.” Lemieux didn’t reply, leaving him lost in his thoughts. He stared at the projection of Terran Coalition and League ships, growing more concerned by the minute at the slow drip of enemy reinforcements. Each one was a reminder that they were handcuffed by a political officer with no understanding of tactics or strategy. Her only qualification was a diehard commitment to the will of the chairman of the Social and Public Safety Committee. Idiots.


4


CSV Salamis

Canaan Orbit

28 September 2533

4 Hours Earlier


Maybe there won’t be a fight after all, Levi thought from his seat on the bridge of the Salamis. Inexplicably, the League forces had just stopped on the edge of Canaan’s solar system. So here they sat, ready to fight and with everyone on board on pins and needles.

“TAO, any updates?” Levi asked, glancing toward El-Amin.

“Negative, sir. Long-range LIDAR stations continue to show slow enemy reinforcement. They’re up to nine hundred and sixty-three ships.”

“What are they waiting for, an engraved invitation?” Fisher said, prompting snickering from around the bridge.

Levi laughed. “Let’s have engineering get right on that, XO.”

“Conn, communications. I’ve got a fleet-wide emergency broadcast from Canaan on all frequencies, sir.”

“Put it up on my viewer, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, sir,” the communications officer said.

A moment later, an image appeared on the monitor above Levi’s chair; the unmistakable image of Jason Nolan, President of the Terran Coalition. “My fellow citizens of the Terran Coalition, I come to you this morning on the cusp of the greatest threat our republic has ever known. At least since we escaped the clutches of the World Society, back on Earth. This broadcast is going out to every receiving station on Canaan and is being relayed across all GalNet relays. As most of are aware of by now, this League of Sol, as it calls itself, has sent a massive fleet to invade us. Repeated attempts at communication have failed; the only transmission we’ve received so far is a demand for unconditional surrender.”



Nolan put his head just a smidgen straighter and looked the holocamera directly in its lens. “After meeting with the joint chiefs of staff and consulting with the speaker of the house, majority and minority leaders in both houses of Congress, I am here to say that we will not surrender. It is the belief of the Coalition Defense Force and General Irvine that we can and will prevail in the battle to come. We must prevail,” he said, emotion breaking into his words. “For if we do not, evil will sweep across our republic and this section of our galaxy. Today, we take a stand. Today, we fight back and push the League of Sol back to where they came from. Regardless of whatever differences we may have with one another, now is the time for our entire society to stand shoulder to shoulder, united, together.”

Levi felt his battle spirit stirred by the words coming from the speakers as Nolan continued. “To our warriors, who go into battle on our behalf, allow me to say this. We pray for you, we pray for your success, and your victory over this foe. Our hopes and dreams ride with you into battle as you defend our homes. Fight well; fight with honor. And, if we should lose this day, the fight will continue. Even if Canaan is occupied and the accursed flag of the World Society flies over our world, we will never give up... because any outcome, even death, is better than slavery and occupation. May God go with us, may He watch over us, and guide us. Godspeed to you all, and God Bless the Terran Coalition!”

The transmission cut off, leaving the bridge exceedingly quiet and Levi with his thoughts. All those years as a young officer, hoping for action. Now I’m about to have more than I could ever want. Funny how age changes perspective.

“I keep hoping that this is some sort of a bad dream,” Fisher said quietly, keeping her voice down as to not alarm the crew.

“Same here.”

“I didn’t think much of President Nolan during the last election. I actually voted for Sakina Hakim.”

“I did too,” Levi said with an amused grin. “He seemed… weak.”

“Sometimes, I think all of us are capable of rising to the occasion.”

“The great challenge of each generation?”

“Yeah,” Fisher said. “Seems like we haven’t had one in a while.”

“No. Fifty years of peace and relative prosperity. I think most of us have had a good life.”

“Our fleet versus a thousand ships is not going to be pretty.”

Levi turned toward Fisher. “No, it won’t be for them.”

Fisher smiled, but from the way her mouth curled, Levi felt it was forced. “Of course, Major.”

For the next three and a half hours, they sat in relative silence; the ship was as ready as it was going to get, and the crew remained on heightened alert, though not at all-out battle stations. Levi knew that running full tilt for too long would tire his already inefficient team. After a consistent amount of boredom, things began to change very rapidly.

“Conn, TAO. Aspect change! I’m showing hundreds of wormholes opening fifty thousand kilometers away from the main battle line of the fleet,” El-Amin said.

Levi glanced at Fisher, her expression grave. “Here we go. Communications, tie me into 1MC.”

“1MC, aye, sir.”

“Attention, all hands!” Levi said, fighting down adrenaline and keeping his face as neutral as possible. Showing fear will be infectious and damaging to the crew. “General quarters! General quarters! Set condition one throughout the ship. All hands to battle stations! This is not a drill. I say again, this is not a drill,” he finished. The procedure and script for taking the ship to battle stations was written in every CDF manual, and he’d drilled it countless times. This is only the fourth time in my career calling it for an actual threat.

The bright white bridge lights dimmed, replaced with a dim pale blue illumination that allowed for better viewing of displays and screens. “Conn, TAO. Condition one is set throughout the ship, sir.”

“All damage control teams reporting ready, sir,” Fisher said. “Bulkheads are sealed.”

“TAO, energize the shields, charge the energy weapons capacitor, and make our forward missile tubes ready for launch in all respects.”

“Aye, sir, shields up, charging weapons. Missile launcher tubes report doors open, ready to launch in all respects excepting a firing solution.”

Levi noted with satisfaction that while the mood was tense, each member of the crew was performing exactly as they should, with crisp, professional responses. I got lucky; this is a great crew. Now we wait and see what the enemy throws at us next. He looked up at the overhead, momentarily overcome with emotion. God, I know I’m not the best Jew. I’ve broken far more mitzvot than I’d ever want to admit in open temple. I also know You are faithful and just to forgive our sins. Please, protect us this day, and if it is Your will, allow our fleet to carry the day so that Your people may continue.

Stand Firm

LSS Le Terrible

Approaching Canaan Orbit

28 September 2533

30 Minutes Earlier


Seville paced back and forth around the tactical plot that was displayed on his flag bridge; his ship had led the way, and now his entire fleet was jumping in, a mere quarter of a light second from the Terran Coalition defenders. “Colonel Lemieux, as soon as the balance of the fleet is in position, I will begin to probe these ships with a few of our vessels.”

Lemieux’s face contorted into a snarl. “Why? The plan is to attack with our entire force, at once.”

“Our orders included a provision not to throw away our forces against a vastly superior foe, did they not?”

“That’s beside the point, Admiral.”

“Did they or didn’t they?”

If looks could kill, Seville would’ve been murdered fifty times over. “Yes.”

“Then we need to reconnoiter the enemy.”

“Why?”

Maybe if I try some reverse psychology. “Colonel, I would prefer we understand what the fleet is going up against. If you don’t agree, though, I’m happy to record that in my log prior to sending it back to Earth before we engage the enemy.”

Lemieux broke into a smile, seemingly acknowledging she’d been outfoxed. “When you put it that way, Admiral, I suppose I can see the value in what you propose. Understand it’s the only exception to our orders I will grant you.”

Perhaps I should have saved that card for a more important moment. No matter, now we can see how good these Terran ships really are. “Flag Captain, order two groups of frigates to move forward and probe the enemy lines, supported by one unit of destroyers. Let’s see what these capitalists can throw at us.”

Stand Firm

CSV Victory – Terran Coalition Flagship

Canaan Orbit

28 September 2533

15 Minutes Earlier


“General, thirty League ships are moving forward,” MacIntosh said, looking toward Irvine. “Mostly smaller frigates, a few of them we’d classify as a destroyer in terms of tonnage.”

“Amazing that it took them this long.”

“But why only send thirty ships forward?”

“They’re going to probe us, check our strengths and weaknesses. Determine if we can be beaten, and what the cost will be.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Order our weakest destroyer squadrons to engage.”

MacIntosh stared at her, his eyebrows scrunched together in a puzzled look. “But why the weakest, ma’am?”

“Two-fold, Lieutenant. The first reason is that they’re the assets we can most afford to lose. The second is that if they’re effective against the League ships, that tells us our newer ships will perform all the better. However, if they take significant losses, it will bait the enemy commander into an all-out assault on our lines. If we can get them to do that, I believe it will put us at an advantage.”

Wow, that’s awfully cold. Those old ships have even larger crews than the new ones because of advances in automation technology around the fusion reactors.

“You disagree?”

“Ma’am, it's not my place to say, but what about the people on our ships?”

“We all knew what we were signing up for, Lieutenant. All I can promise you is that if the ultimate price is necessary, we’ll all pay it. Including me. Now, enough talk. Transmit my orders.”

“Yes, ma’am,” MacIntosh said, turning aside and walking toward the communication officer.


5


CSV Salamis

Canaan Local Space - Terran Coalition Homeworld

28 September 2533

Present Time


“Conn, TAO. Master Four-Hundred-Five in range, sir,” El-Amin said, his voice measured and professional.

Levi glanced up at the trusty tactical plot and zoomed in on the current battle space. It looked like the League ships were trying to burn away and fall back. “TAO, firing point procedures, Master Four-Hundred-Five, forward magnetic cannons, and neutron beams.” Could be a feint, who knows. Doesn’t matter, we’ll still make them pay.

“Conn, TAO. Firing solutions set, sir.”

“TAO, match bearings, shoot, all weapons.”

There was a slight shudder as the five-hundred-millimeter mag-cannons fired, spewing high explosive shells toward the targeted frigate. A few seconds later, beams of concentrated neutrons that took on a light blue hue shot out from the Salamis. Combined with the focused attacks from three other destroyers, the shields of the vessel quickly failed, which was followed by a series of explosions across its hull.

“Conn, TAO. Master Four-Hundred-Five has lost main power and is drifting in space. Contact has been neutralized.”

“Nice shooting, Lieutenant. Communications, what’s our next target from the Goddard?”

“Haven’t received it yet, sir.”

“Conn, TAO. Aspect change, enemy vessels directly ahead… they’re retreating, sir.”

“That must have been a probe of our defenses and tactics,” Levi mused out loud.

“So why send the oldest ships out to fight them? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of shock and awe?” Fisher asked.

Levi turned his head. “Because we’re the most expendable assets here, Captain.” As soon as the words left his lips, Levi regretted uttering them. Fisher’s expression darkened, and while she said nothing, the tension that spread out was palpable throughout the bridge. That mouth of mine will get me in trouble one of these days, Sarah always says.

Stand Firm

“That was an absolute disaster,” Seville hissed toward Lemieux. “We lost twenty-three ships and only destroyed six of theirs.”

“Which is why we need to launch an immediate and full attack with our entire fleet.”

Seville stared at the tall Frenchwoman. It was all he could do not to allow his jaw to drop open. “Colonel, that would be madness,” he said, trying to keep his voice down. Can’t she see that would open us up to defeat at worst, a pyrrhic victory at best? “With that rate of exchange, we could inflict serious damage to the fleet.”

“What good is a military fleet if we’re not going to use it? Our losses will be acceptable,” Lemieux said, her voice dripping with derision.

Undaunted, Seville tried again. “We should pull back and use our superior strength of numbers to occupy as many of their core planets as we can. Entrench ourselves and force them to surrender… our intelligence suggests they lack the stomach for a protracted war.”

“That is not the plan, Admiral!” Lemieux said, her voice raised and face red. “You will adhere to the Chairman’s instructions. This is not a discussion. Are we clear?”

“Colonel,” Seville retreated towards military formality, “I understand that in normal times, we must follow our orders to the letter. We’re twenty thousand light years from Earth. This is not a normal time!” He raised his voice and gestured with his hands to emphasize the point. “Alternatives must be considered that do not lead to the destruction of a thousand-ship fleet.”

“What alternative do you suggest that will end in the occupation of the planet before us?”

“Forcing the enemy to divide their technologically superior forces to protect a multitude of worlds, enabling us to defeat them in detail is the best alternative and a better strategy.”

“Sounds like an excuse to retreat from battle to me, Admiral,” Lemieux said, a smug smirk plastered across her face. “Do you not realize the honor it was to be chosen to lead this fleet? Any of your subordinates would dance on your grave to receive that honor for themselves.”

“Are you threatening me, Colonel?” Seville asked, his eyes locked on to hers unflinchingly.

“If you care to take it as a threat, you may, Admiral. I alone have dominion on this fleet, and you. If I tell you to jump, you will ask me how high. If I tell you to attack, you will attack until the enemy is defeated, or you die. Nothing but complete obedience to the will of the state will be tolerated.”

“It does not advance the will of the state to waste our soldiers’ lives in a futile attempt to defeat a superior foe,” Seville replied forcefully. Junior officers that stood around them tried to look away and ignore the conversation, worried expressions plainly visible on their faces.

“Order the advance, or I’ll relieve you of command.”

From the way she said it, Seville suspected she had left off “and have you thrown out an airlock,” but intended to do so. He closed his eyes for a moment. If we could take out their strongest ships, which they’ve left exposed at the front of the formation, perhaps a victory could still be won. Far more League Navy sailors would die than needed to; of that he was certain. I should have the spine to order her arrested on the spot. Yet I know that as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I’d be shot, my family would be killed, and my sailors would still die. At least I can try to win the battle on her terms. “Very well, Colonel. We will advance.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I am pleased to see we can cooperate with each other after all.”

Someday, I’ll be the one throwing you out of an airlock, Seville considered darkly as he motioned his flag captain over to receive new orders.

Stand Firm

“We’ve got sub-light engine ignition out of almost their entire fleet, General,” MacIntosh said, glancing from the general to the plot and back.

“About time. They’ve been keeping a lady waiting, never a good thing to do.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Just how much starch do you have in that shirt of yours anyway?” Irvine said, her mouth crinkled up with a touch of a smile.

The combat information center on the Victory was a beehive of people and activity. The entire flag-staff was present, along with the CO of the ship and bridge crew. For a while, they’d thought the demonstration of superior Terran Coalition weaponry and defensive technology would convince their foe not to seek a general engagement. Apparently not. “Medium starch, ma’am.”

Irvine chuckled. “Signal all ships, weapons free. Prioritize their largest vessels and concentrate our weapons on those targets.”

“Yes, ma’am,” MacIntosh said crisply. He manipulated the fleet tactical network interface, using it to designate the most significant ships as priority targets for the fleet, including the Victory. Equally impressive was that Irvine allowed her commanding officer to handle the battle – not bigfooting the man when it would have been easy to do so. Together, they watched the plot as volleys of magnetic cannon and neutron beam fire raced out from the Terran ships, wiping away the enemy as if they were made of matchwood.

It wasn’t a one-sided affair. The League ships ranged on the CDF formations and pummeled them with plasma-cannon fire, along with masses of anti-ship missiles. The rate of exchange was—on any other day—incredibly favorable, but each ship lost reduced their firepower and decreased the number of targets dividing the enemy’s attention.

Irvine stared at the plot, her expression inscrutable. “Do you see it?”

“See what, ma’am?”

“The groups of heavy cruisers are out of position on their side, port side of the flagship.”

MacIntosh stared at the plot, and it took several seconds, even told what to look for, to see what she meant. “I don’t see how that helps us, General.”

“Perhaps God will favor the bold today. What’s the nearest action group?”

“DEVRON Fourteen and three heavy cruisers, ma’am.”

“The reserve destroyers?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Irvine looked down, a look of pain momentarily washing across her face. “If that’s the closest, they’ll have to do. Hopefully, the tin cans can rise to the occasion. Order them in, with instructions to cut the enemy’s T.”

“Understood, ma’am.”

Stand Firm

“They want us to what?” Fisher asked incredulously as the bridge shook from repeated plasma impacts.

“Navigation, bring us about to course zero-six-zero, adjust speed to match the Goddard,” Levi ordered. “So far, our cruisers have been able to penetrate the shields and armor of their battleships with ease. General Irvine knows what she’s doing.”

“With respect, sir, we’re not a capital ship of the line. The enemy’s plasma weapons will cut through our limited armor like a hot knife through butter.”

“Our shields will be enough.”

“Yes, sir,” Fisher said, letting it go.

“Course laid in, sir, speed matched with the Goddard,” the navigator reported, interrupting both.

“TAO, firing point procedures.” Levi checked his tactical plot one last time. “Master Four-Seventy-Five, forward magnetic cannons, and neutron beams.”

“Conn, TAO. Firing solutions set, sir.”

“TAO, match bearings, shoot, magnetic cannons, and neutron beams.”

Visible through the transparent metal window, and through the tactical plot, Levi stared in fascination as the CDF ships pressed onward toward the enemy flagship, designated Master One. Weapons fire spat from turreted magnetic cannons and neutron beam emitters across the ships that charged forward, along with anti-ship missiles that volleyed forth from the three older heavy cruisers the destroyers escorted. League vessels crumbled and burned under the weight of their bombardment; outright destroyed or turned into un-space-worthy wrecks that vented atmosphere.

“Conn, TAO. Master Four-Seventy-Five disabled, sir,” El-Amin said, his words pulling Levi out of his thoughts. “Our formation has cleared the first wave of enemy escorts, sir.”

The Salamis rocked under repeated plasma cannon hits, her bridge crew thrown from side to side in the harnesses they wore. “Conn, TAO. Forward shields have dropped to forty-six percent of full charge,” El-Amin said.

“TAO, divert all emergency power reserves to our forward shields.”

Levi nodded in satisfaction as shield strength increased in the forward quarter, but the real solution was to lower and recycle the generator, allowing it to fully recharge. Combat, unfortunately, isn’t an ideal time to drop our screens.

“TAO, what ships are directly to our front and a significant threat?”

“Master Seventy-Three and One-Oh-Five, sir. Both are classified as heavy cruisers and possess heavy anti-ship weaponry from what our scans show.”

“Communications,” Levi said. “Signal the Goddard and request instructions.”

Fisher’s voice was laden with doubt. “A destroyer against heavy cruisers? We’re good, sir… but we’re not that good.”

“Have faith, XO,” Levi said, projecting a calm mask of command.

“Conn, communications. Goddard orders us to engage Master One-Oh-Five, sir.”

“TAO, firing point procedures, Master One-Oh-Five, magnetic cannons, neutron beams and forward missile cells one and two.”

“Conn, TAO. Firing solutions set, sir.”

Just like riding a bike, Levi thought, the years upon years of training and drill coming back like a rushing flood. Skills I hoped to never need, now serve us well. He stared at the tactical plot, which had an overlay showing maximum and optimum weapons range. Not waiting for the latter, he cleared his throat. “TAO, match bearings, shoot, all weapons.”

Another salvo of shells zoomed out at ten percent of light speed from the magnetic-cannons, in conjunction with time-on-target volleys from the neighboring destroyers, which would have the effect of all hitting the enemy cruiser at the same time for maximum damage.

Levi watched with satisfaction as the larger ship’s shields flickered out and impacts began to rain down on its armored hull plating. Neutron beams added to the conflagration as did fusion warheads from their missile armaments. There’s only so much punishment any physical object can take. One of the weapons hit something critical and the vessel exploded violently in the star-filled sky.

“Conn, TAO. Master One-Oh-Five, destroyed, sir!” El-Amin said, his voice raised for the first time.

“TAO, Status of Master Seventy-Three?”

“Still combat effective, sir.”

“TAO, firing point procedures, Master Seventy-Three, magnetic cannons, and neutron beams,” Levi said with a hard edge to his voice.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were starting to enjoy this, sir,” Fisher commented quietly.

Levi glanced at her. “I remember a quote from a famous general back on Earth, that it was a good thing war was hell; otherwise, we’d enjoy it far too much.”

“I think I skipped that one in history class, sir.”

Stand Firm

Meanwhile, on the bridge of Le Terrible, Seville’s flag-staff shouted orders in increasing levels of desperation as the onrushing squadron of Terran Coalition ships worked over the few capital ships that lay between them and the flagship. He monitored the plot, running mental calculations on their current loss rate.

“What is going on?” Lemieux said, her face displaying fear for the first time in the three months he’d known her.

“One of our formations was out of alignment,” Seville said. “The enemy commander is exploiting it to great effect.”

“Do something, Admiral!”

“Calm yourself,” Seville said, his own voice becoming more direct. If I’m going to die, might as well do it on my feet.

“Eliminate those ships. Now.”

Because just shouting an order makes it possible. “I’m waiting for them to come into range of the flagship.”

“Why?”

“I’ve been studying the analysis of our weaponry versus their shielding and armor. Those destroyers match up quite well against our smaller ships, as do the cruisers they escort. The Le Terrible, unknown to them, has the latest plasma cannons. I’m confident we’ll make short work on their entire squadron, which in turn will open up the core of their lines to our assault. The enemy gambled here… as long as we can defeat this group of ships, I can turn that gamble back on them, and we’ll win.”

Lemieux stared at Seville, and it seemed to him as if she was counting off the seconds in her head. “You’d better be right, Admiral.”

“It’s both our lives if I’m not, Colonel Lemieux.”

With no further response from her, Seville turned his attention back to the holographic tank that showed the enemy ships and their locations. “Officer of the deck,” he began, addressing his flag captain. “Target inbound enemy warships on approach vector. Charge plasma cannons to maximum yield and wait until they’re within five thousand kilometers. As soon as they do, open fire.”

“Aye aye, Admiral.”

Seville stared at the tactical plot, noting that his staff had calmed with the issuance of new orders that gave them confidence they’d defeat the incoming foe. The wait was agonizing as the Terran ships moved towards them at speeds, while impressive, were incredibly slow compared to the speed of light. The League, and apparently their human enemies, had yet to crack the technological nut of how to avoid relativistic speed drift.

“Terran Coalition vessels entering optimum firing range, Admiral,” his flag captain announced.

“Open fire,” Seville said.

The flagship shuddered as dozens of plasma cannons spat superheated blobs of energy toward the Terran destroyers. Coupled with the relatively close range and high speed of approach, evasive maneuvers was less than adequate at avoiding enemy fire.

“There!” Seville intoned, pointing at the plot as one of the red dots disappeared. One after the other, their weapons suite struck out and destroyed or disabled the ships arrayed against them. Within thirty seconds, it was over. The last group of cruisers tried to turn away but were caught amidships by concentrated volleys. Two exploded in space while the last one managed to limp away. “Now we have them,” he continued, vigor and confidence returning to his voice.

“Signal the fleet and prepare to advance once more,” Lemieux interjected, causing Seville to whip around.

“No!”

“Admiral…”

“No, Colonel. This battle is still very much in doubt. The prudent move now is to attack the opening left by the enemy.”

“You may do that… while we advance across the entire front.”

This fool…she will cost us everything, Seville fumed mentally. “Colonel, please. We must be cautious.”

“Carry out my orders, or I’ll relieve you, Admiral,” Lemieux replied, the scowl still present and her lips curled up in a smirk. “I’d greatly enjoy doing so.”

“I promise you, Colonel. I’ll see you hung if your poor decisions cost us the victory.”

“Better men than you have tried,” Lemieux said with a cold smile.


6

A few minutes prior, the mood on the bridge of the Salamis had been one of determination, coupled with the infectious feeling of victory. The destroyer and her consorts had carved a path of destruction through the League fleet, coming within range of the largest enemy ship in their formation—the flagship—which was designated Master One.

“Conn, TAO. Aspect change, Master One,” El-Amin said. “Master One has rotated to port and is charging all forward and ventral plasma cannons.”

“TAO, firing point procedures, forward mag-cannons and neutron beams. Target Master One.”

“Conn, TAO! Sierra One-Sixty-Eight destroyed! One-Sixty-Three destroyed!”

Levi leaned forward. “Navigation, evasive maneuvers—” The ship rocked under his feet, throwing him forward and up so hard to cause physical pain from the tightening of the straps in his harness.

“Conn, TAO! Forward shields collapsed!”

Another impact slammed into the ship. A scream echoed behind him as an explosion was heard on the bridge. Levi cranked his head around to see that a piece of the overhead had fallen, exposing pipes and power conduits.

“Navigation, get us out of here!” Levi shouted through the chaos. They must have super-charged weapons on that thing. We’ve got to fall back before the ship’s destroyed.

“Conn, navigation, engines not responding.”

“Brace yourselves, incoming missiles!” El-Amin interjected.

“Master Chief, sound collision alarm!” Levi shouted.

The klaxon wailed a split second before the first warhead hit. Four missiles in total got through the point defense systems, laying waste to the superstructure of the Salamis. Levi assumed one hit close to the bridge, because more pieces of the overhead came crashing down. Power conduits overloaded and at least three fires broke out. All the while, those strapped into their harnesses were thrown about like rag dolls.

Ten seconds later, it was over. Levi shoved a piece of fallen metal off his arm, singeing his hand in the process. He took in the scene of the bridge; it was, in many places, smoking rubble. Console fuses had exploded, pipes had fallen, and judging by the red streaks on the deck, much blood had been spilled. Momentarily, he felt his OODA—observe-orient-decide-act—loop compromised by the nearly complete destruction.

Other officers and crewmen were beginning to pick themselves up as well. Fisher bent over a young enlisted soldier that lay on the floor, a medical scanner on her hand. “Come on, breathe, dammit!”

Levi reached for the commlink on his command chair and slapped it, gratified that one thing still worked. “This is Major Cohen to all damage control parties. The bridge is heavily damaged, and we need immediate assistance. Get corpsmen up here on the double!”

The most pressing task completed, Levi stepped over a piece of mangled metal and knelt next to Fisher while reaching out to check the crewman’s pulse. Finding none, he glanced around the young woman, it suddenly registering that there was a piece of metal lodged in her leg, along with a dark red pool of blood around it. “Did you try CPR?”

“I did. She’s lost too much blood,” Fisher said as she wiped her face.

“You can’t save them all, XO,” Levi replied quietly, standing once more. “Damage report, all stations!”

“Weapons inoperative, sir,” El-Amin said. “Damage control is working the problem on E deck. Main power couplings are fused.”

“Sensors?”

“Basic LIDAR should be restored in a few minutes, sir.”

“Engines and thrusters?” Levi asked, continuing down the mental list.

“The navigator was killed, sir,” Fisher said, leaning over the helm console and tapping at the controls. “We have thruster control. As long as engineering can route the power, we can move.”

The doors to the bridge opened, and a group of soldiers in fire-retardant suits poured through. The master chief quickly took control of them. “Get this debris out of the way, yesterday!” Montero barked.

Levi returned to his command chair as they got to work. He pressed the button to engage a commlink down to engineering. “Engineering, this is the bridge. Can you hear me?”

“This is Captain Sanchez,” a voice said back. “We’re still in one piece down here, though most of our systems are overloaded, sir.”

“What’s the prognosis for getting us back into the fight?”

There was a pregnant pause on the line before Sanchez spoke again. “Sir, with respect, the Salamis isn’t combat capable. Out of our two primary reactors, one had to be SCRAMed. I doubt I’ll be able to get you weapons power within a couple of hours.”

Levi let the news sink in before responding. “Can we move?”

“Yes, sir, I’ll be able to route power to our engines momentarily. We’ll hold together long enough to make it back to our fleet.”

Levi stared at the still functioning tactical plot above his head. If only we could shoot, Master One is right there and ready to be attacked, he mentally fumed.

“TAO, in your assessment, what kind of effectiveness do the League plasma cannons have the closer we get?”

El-Amin turned around in his seat. “My best guess, sir, is that they held their fire until we hit optimum range. We’ve drifted closer based on our relative velocity. Once we turn around, they will have a period where they’re very accurate.”

“What if we didn’t turn around?”

“As long as we didn’t go straight in on them with a ballistic trajectory, I’d expect that ship would have a difficult time hitting our ship, sir,” El-Amin said with a puzzled look on his face.

Turning his head down to the still open commlink, Levi spoke once again. “Sanchez, what’s the maximum thrust you can give me right now?”

“We’ll top out at fifty thousand kilometers an hour or so, sir.”

Levi did some quick math in his head. Roughly five minutes to impact if we move now. It’ll be the worst ride of my life. “Captain Fisher, evacuate the bridge with all personnel. I’m going to order all hands to abandon ship.”

“Um, why, sir?” Fisher asked, her jaw dropping open.

“Because I intend to proceed forward and ram Master One.”

“Sir?” Fisher’s voice rose an octave.

“I can already see on the plot that the enemy has an opening to carve a hole in our fleet. We don’t have enough ships, and Irvine’s out of fancy tricks. They’ll grind forward and ground down what we have left until they’re in bombardment range of Canaan. My wife and son are down there. I swore I’d come back to them,” Levi said while shaking his head sadly. “That’s one more promise I can’t keep. But I can keep the oath I gave as an officer of the Coalition Defense Force, to defend the Terran Coalition against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This enemy is worse than any we’ve ever seen. This League of Sol must be stopped, no matter what the cost. I won’t ask anyone else here to make the same sacrifice. Get back to your families and home. This is something I must do alone.”

Silence echoed throughout the bridge as the enlisted personnel froze, as did the officers. It took Fisher a moment to speak up. “I’ll be remaining with you, sir. Lieutenant El-Amin, take charge of getting these people to safety.”

“I can do this alone, XO,” Levi said forcefully.

“I’m afraid I can’t accept that, sir. You may become incapacitated or otherwise be unable to complete the mission.”

There was something about the look on her face that communicated in an instant to Levi that he wouldn’t be able to force her to go, outside of having the master chief haul her out like a sack of potatoes. She’s right; something might go wrong, and I still need a second in command, just in case. “Okay, XO,” he said. “You’ve made your point. Take the helm.”

“Aye, sir,” Fisher replied and sat down at the still functional but beat up console.

“Lieutenant,” Levi said, staring El-Amin in the eyes. “Get everyone else here to an escape pod.”

“Sir, I stay with the ship,” Montero, the tough old master chief, interjected.

“Negative, Master Chief. You will make sure all enlisted personnel evacuate per my instructions.”

“Sir,” Montero began in protest before Levi cut him off.

“That’s a direct order, Master Chief. If you do not obey, I’ll summon a sergeant-at-arms to force compliance.”

“Yes, sir,” Montero said, his eyes downcast.

Levi reached down and keyed the commlink on his chair to 1MC. “Now hear this, now hear this. This is Major Levi Cohen, your commanding officer. All hands, abandon ship. I say again, all hands, abandon ship. Proceed to the nearest escape pod and evacuate the Salamis. This is not a drill,” he said before shutting off the commlink. He turned back toward El-Amin and a slight smile formed on his lips. “Now get out of here.”

El-Amin turned to go, then hesitated. He returned to his previous position, facing Levi. “Sir.”

Levi glanced up and saw El-Amin standing at rigid attention, right hand held up to his brow in a textbook salute that would have made any master chief proud. He raised his own hand up and returned the salute, just as crisply. Out of the corner of his eyes, he realized that everyone else on the bridge had copied El-Amin.

“Good luck, sir,” El-Amin said, emotion evident in his voice. “It has been an honor to serve with you, even for this brief period. Godspeed and as-salaam ‘Alaykum,” he finished, invoking an Arabic phrase that meant “peace be upon you.”

“Lieutenant… please, when you get back to Canaan. Find my wife Sarah and my son, David. Tell them why we had to do this. Tell them I love them so much,” Levi said, a tear forming in his eyes despite his best attempt to avoid emotion. “And that I’ll see them soon.”

“Yes, sir,” El-Amin replied. Without another word, he and the rest of the crew departed the bridge. It took at least thirty seconds for the damage control parties and bridge technicians to clear out. Finally left alone with Fisher, Levi considered the next few minutes—and most likely—the final minutes of his life.

“Are you sure about this, sir?” Fisher asked.

“Yes, XO. I’m very sure. It’s the only option left.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Plot an intercept course on Master One. Notify me the second we have power back to the engines.”

“Aye, sir,” Fisher said, getting to work.

Stand Firm

“Let’s go, people, let's go!” El-Amin shouted down the corridor, waving a group of nearly twenty enlisted personnel toward the two escape pods on deck A. Montero was down at the entrance to the two pods, keeping everyone orderly and from overloading one of the pods in their haste to get off the ship. Once the last person in the line passed him, he fell in behind.

“Is that all from this deck, sir?” Montero asked.

“That we could find. I double-checked the conference room and storage lockers. You take command on the second pod, I’ll fly the first.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Master Chief, there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” El-Amin said, noting the older man’s uncomfortable stance.

“Lieutenant, I feel like I ought to be on the bridge. That my place is there. Someone else dying instead of me doesn’t sit right.”

“Major Cohen and Captain Fisher made a choice to sacrifice themselves so we might live.”

“I get that, sir. That’s one of the highest tenets of my religion, to lay down your life for the life of another. It’s awe-inspiring to see.”

“Then make use of the gift, Master Chief. I’ll see you on the ground,” El-Amin said, slapping Montero on the shoulder and climbing legs first into the cramped escape pod. Allah help them.


7

Irvine had observed the destruction of DEVRON silently, with the same inscrutable expression MacIntosh had come to expect. I pray she’s got something else up her sleeve. The feeling of dread of spreading. No one was saying it out loud, but a general sense of failure permeated the CIC.

MacIntosh cleared his throat. “General, the lead American carrier battle group reports it’s two jumps away.”

“A minimum of forty-five minutes, then.”

Far too long. “The Americans are only allowing a fifteen-minute cool down per jump, so, sooner, ma’am.”

Irvine glanced away. “Almost, Lieutenant. We almost had them. Only thing left to do now is pull back into a tight formation and hold on as long as possible.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Irvine’s voice suddenly took on a different tenor. “Lieutenant, what is Sierra One-Seventy-Six doing?”

Staring at the holoplot, MacIntosh realized that one of the destroyers was moving again—toward the enemy. “I’m not sure, ma’am.”

“Get me her CO on vidlink immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” MacIntosh quickly replied, walking over and whispering into the flag communication officer’s ear. “Get us a direct vidlink on the main viewer with Sierra One-Seventy-Six. Highest priority.”

“Yes, sir,” the comms officer replied.

A few minutes later, the battle-scarred bridge of the Salamis appeared on the big screen that hung to the back of the combat information center on the Victory. “This is Major Cohen,” a blood-and-sweat-stained figure sitting in the CO’s chair stated. “What can I do for you, General?”

“Major, a pleasure. I noted your course takes you on a direct ballistic intercept of Master One.”

“Yes, sir,” Levi said. “I plan to ram Master One. My TAO believes we’re close enough to avoid most of their anti-capital ship weaponry.”

Irvine’s face twisted and blanched. “What of your crew, Major?”

“They’ve abandoned ship, per my order. Only the XO remains behind, in case I’m incapacitated before impact.”

“You are under no obligation to do this, Major,” Irvine said.

MacIntosh felt a chill run through the room. Most of the officers in the back half of the control center fell silent, watching the exchange intently.

“With respect sir, the Salamis is in a position to help. I can read a tactical plot… the fleet is about to take it on the chin.”

“Major, I…”

Levi interrupted her, mid-word. “General, my ship’s in the right place at the right time. The XO and I are in agreement; the League must be stopped. We can, and will, make a difference.”

Irvine glanced down, then back up, her lips pursed together. “We’ll provide as much cover as we can, Major. Godspeed, and good luck.”

“Godspeed, General.”

The screen snapped off, and Irvine turned toward MacIntosh. “There goes a brave man. Too many brave men and women today.” Her voice came close to cracking. “They’re going to try to advance on us, Lieutenant. Signal the fleet to stand its ground. We make them pay for every inch, in destroyed ships and dead Leaguers.”

“Yes, sir,” MacIntosh said. Dear God, I joined to see myself through college and find a purpose in life. Now I’m watching people choose to sacrifice themselves… I believe this is what my father would call growing up.

Stand Firm

“Admiral, enemy destroyer remains on a direct intercept course,” a senior officer said in a loud voice.

“Why haven’t you removed that ship from space, Admiral?” Lemieux demanded, her face red.

“Because they’re too close for our plasma cannons to hit effectively. We’ve gotten glancing blows in, but not enough to destroy her. Thanks to your order to advance, I’ve no escorts left to counter them.”

“I suppose it doesn’t matter in the end. They lack the weapons to harm us.”

“Does the term kamikaze mean anything to you, Colonel?” Seville said. I fear she’s going to get her comeuppance at the same time we all get killed.

“No, should it?”

“I wouldn’t expect a political officer,” Seville began, emphasizing the word “political” in a mocking tone, “to understand military history. The kamikazes were pilots in the Japanese Imperial Air Force from Earth’s second world war. They would fly their planes into the side of enemy ships, hoping to destroy them.”

Lemieux’s expression changed as the color drained out of her face. Her mouth quivered, and once again, Seville saw fear in her eyes. “You think they intend to ram us?”

“It’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“We should evacuate the ship,” Lemieux said, her façade fading rapidly.

“Our weaponry will have a short window to destroy that ship. I’m not going anywhere, Colonel. If you’d like to take a shuttle and transfer to a different ship, you’re more than welcome to,” Seville said, a dazzling smile plastered across his face.

“I couldn’t possibly leave you alone to face the enemy, Admiral.”

That would have been far too easy. “Of course, Colonel. You are most welcome to.”

Lemieux turned away, staring at the plot, while Seville took a few steps toward his flag captain. “I want every missile, plasma cannon, and point defense system we have to target that destroyer. Blow it apart as it comes in for final approach,” he said quietly. “We only get one shot at them.”

“It will be done, Admiral.”

Stand Firm

“Another volley inbound from Master One,” Fisher said as the bridge shook and pieces of metal that had already been weakened fell. Both officers had strapped back into their harnesses to avoid being thrown out of their seats.

“The only area of vulnerability for us is right before impact. I want you to aim for the middle section of the ship. There’s a large shuttle bay there.”

“Secondary explosions from fuel and weapons?”

“Exactly, XO.”

“I did learn something in all that training,” Fisher quipped.

Levi let out a snicker. “No doubt. My math says we’re about five minutes out at current burn.”

“Sounds right to me, sir.”

“I didn’t get a chance to really get to know you that well, Captain. Family back home?”

“No, sir. I wanted to make colonel before forty. I’ve put everything into my career,” Fisher said. She glanced back at him as she continued. “I realized that was a mistake about thirty minutes ago. What about you?”

“My wife, Sarah, and my son, David. I was to have my official retirement ceremony next week.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Comes with the territory. I told my son that some things are worth fighting for. The truth is, sometimes they’re worth dying for.”

“While we’re on the subject of truth, I’m terrified at what happens next. I don’t know where I’m going.”

“I didn’t see a religious patch on your shoulder,” Levi said.

“Christian, I guess. Don’t really go to church much. I just kind of believe but don’t practice.”

“I’m an Orthodox Jew, so lots of belief and a lot of practice,” Levi said with a small laugh.

“Knowing the end is near really causes some self-reflection.”

“As a Jew, there is a prayer I should recite as close as possible to death, but we’ll be far too focused on the task at hand to do so. We could do it now, together?”

Fisher glanced back once more. “I’d like that, sir.”

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” Levi began. “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever,” he continued. “God is the Lord. The Lord is with me. I shall not fear. The Lord is King, The Lord was King, the Lord will be King forever and ever.”

There was silence on the bridge, broken by Fisher. “Thank you, sir,” she said, a tear falling down her cheek. “I think we needed that.”

“Both of our souls did.”

“Do Jews believe in heaven?”

“After a fashion, but not in the same way a Christian does. Still, part of me believes that all of us will see each other again.”

“I heard an Imam say something like that once.”

Levi didn’t respond, instead staring at the tactical plot above his head as the distance ticked down, one kilometer after another. His biggest regret was not being able to say goodbye to his wife and son. I hope they can forgive me for what I must do. Taking the few moments left to parse through some of his happiest memories, Levi thought back to the day he first met his wife; the day they got married, the day she told him she was pregnant with their son. Even amidst the pain and knowledge of his impending death, those memories brought a smile to the surface. What is the measure of a man, except what he’s done and the relationships he’s made?

“Sir, we’re about to enter the terminal intercept,” Fisher announced, interrupting Levi’s thoughts.

“Rock the ship as we do, XO. Keep those League bastards guessing.”

“Yes, sir.”

Levi configured the overlay console on his chair to navigation controls, just in case something happened that would require his intervention. Incoming fire from the Le Terrible smacked into their shields, depleting them almost instantly. It was clear from the plot that the enemy commander knew what their purpose was and threw everything he had at the little ship. Superheated globs of plasma impacted onto the hull of the destroyer, burning through its light armor, bulkheads, and anything in its way. If the vessel had been crewed, numerous lives would have been lost, but it wasn’t. Onward the Salamis pushed, with an almost certain aura about her. The massive League flagship came into full focus through the transparent metal window that framed the front of the bridge.

“It’s been an honor, sir,” Fisher said, bent over the helm.

“Likewise, Captain. Godspeed.”

“Godspeed, sir.”

The final seconds seemed to stretch out for eternity as they came ever closer to the Le Terrible. Levi fought the instinct to brace himself in the CO’s chair. Once we hit, it’s all over anyway, and I doubt we’ll feel anything for more than a couple of seconds. Levi tried to focus on a mental image of his wife and son as the last moments ticked away. The Salamis contained nearly sixty-five thousand tons of mass, and while the energy shields of the League flagship were exceedingly powerful, they couldn’t alter the laws of physics.

A split second after the bow of the destroyer met them, it began to crumple up, the shield holding briefly as more and more of the old ship’s mass slammed forward. Overloaded, the thin barrier failed, and the molten hull impacted onto the Le Terrible’s armor.

Burning through the armor in milliseconds thanks to the inertia of the destroyer, what was now a mass of molten metal lay waste to the superstructure of the enemy flagship. Secondary explosions broke out across its hull, and in the brief moment before he died, Levi was able to recognize a final mission accomplished.

Stand Firm

The icon for the Salamis merged with the one for the Le Terrible and disappeared on the tactical plot.

MacIntosh let out the breath he’d been holding.

“My God,” Irvine said, watching the holographic tank in real time. “He did it.”

“Admiral, scans show loss of propulsion, weapons, and power across Master One!” MacIntosh interjected. “She’s disabled!”

Irvine turned around with the look of a fierce warrior. “That, Lieutenant, is what happens when free men and women are forced to do whatever is required to defend their homes. Never forget it, or the cost.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Irvine turned back and stared at the plot as if she was waiting for something to happen, something she already knew would occur. MacIntosh felt his emotions overwhelm him. Thirty seconds ago, we were all dead. Now maybe there’s a chance.

“They’re slowing. That’s the problem with extremely hierarchical command structures with no flexibility. Lieutenant, order our line to advance. If I’m right, they’ll crumble before us.”

“If you’re wrong, ma’am?”

“You can testify against me at my court-martial or join me in hell.”

MacIntosh grinned. “Wasn’t planning on going to hell myself, ma’am.”

“Me either, Lieutenant. Now we hold on another thirty minutes.”

Stand Firm

The screams of wounded and dying men and women echoed around Seville. He found breathing difficult and tried to push himself up, only to discover his legs were pinned beneath something he couldn’t quite make out due to blurry vision. “Admiral, are you alive?” a voice called out, seemingly from far away.

“I’m over here,” Seville said weakly, coughing as he did. “Help me!”

Minutes seemed to stretch into hours as the sound of metal being torn away and thrown got closer. Finally, the weight lifted off his legs, and he felt pressure against his eyes. Trying to open them again, Seville found he could see… albeit out of only one eye.

“Thank you,” Seville said, looking at the faces of those who had come to help him. “What of the ship?”

“It’s bad, Admiral. Our engines are disabled, as are our weapons. We’re sitting ducks, and the enemy is moving toward us,” a young officer who wore the bars of a lieutenant junior grade replied.

“The senior officers?”

“We’re trying to dig them out, sir.”

“Help me up.”

A couple of crewmen propped Seville up under each shoulder, allowing him to stand. The bridge was a mess. Fallen deck plating, consoles, and other equipment were strewn across every surface, with wounded personnel everywhere he looked.

“Admiral, the reactors are going critical! Engineering reports that we must evacuate,” the same lieutenant JG interjected. “We need to get you to the shuttle bay so you can transfer your flag to another ship.”

He wants to keep fighting. I don’t blame him, but the battle is lost. We must retreat and regroup. “Yes, Lieutenant. That’s exactly what I need to do. Sound the alarm to abandon ship.”

“Yes, sir.”

A faint cry for help, from a woman’s voice, caused Seville to pause. “Quiet!” he yelled. The cry became louder, and he instantly recognized the voice as Lemieux’s. Forcing his way closer, he relied on the support of one of the enlisted sailors to remain upright, limping along. “Clear this debris away.”

It took a few minutes until Lemieux’s head was visible under the wreckage. Her face was smeared with blood, and her breathing was clearly labored. “Admiral… thank you. I can’t feel my legs. Help me,” she said. For the first time, Seville saw a vulnerable emotion in her; the fear of death.

“The fleet is falling back,” Seville said, anger uncorking within him. “We will lose hundreds of ships, tens of thousands of sailors. All because of your tired insistence that we stick to a plan developed by a man halfway across the galaxy that isn’t here!”

“I’m sorry,” Lemieux said. “I can’t change any of that now, but I’ll work to help you. To clear your name, so that we can try again.”

“Oh yes, help me. I think what you mean is pin the blame for this debacle on the Navy and hang as many of us as high as you can.”

“Admiral,” the young lieutenant JG interjected. “We’ve got to go, sir.”

“Yes, we do,” Seville said coldly. “Gather everyone who can walk, help the wounded, and get to the shuttles.”

“What of the colonel, sir?”

“She was dead when we found her,” Seville said, embracing the anger and hate that had welled up inside of him. “Is that clear?”

“But, sir…”

“Is that clear, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir.”

“No!” Lemieux begged. “Please help me. I don’t want to die here. You can’t abandon an officer of the League!”

“The League exists solely for protecting the state as a whole, Colonel Lemieux,” Seville said, a wicked smile on his face. “It was you that told me any single citizen is worth nothing as long as the whole survives. Well, consider yourself learning how that works on a first-hand basis,” he continued, turning toward the crewmembers behind him. “Let’s go.”

The cries of Lemieux faded behind them as they walked out of the bridge. Momentarily, Seville felt a pang of remorse for leaving the woman to die, which he quickly banished. She deserves her fate. If that fool hadn’t insisted on following a worthless piece of paper, we’d have beat this enemy. Limping along, he decided that regardless of how long, or much it cost, the Terran Coalition would pay for the lives they’d taken from his men and women.


8

“You guessed right, General,” MacIntosh stated, standing next to Irvine in front of the holographic projection tank. “The enemy is having difficulty reacting to our own advance. They’re falling back in disarray.”

“If you had to boil it down, what did you learn today, Lieutenant?”

“Superior training and technology will beat masses of enemy forces?”

Irvine shook her head. “No. Oh, that’s a true statement, but that’s not what I want you to get out of this battle. It came down to two people, on a decades-old ship. Had the Salamis not been able to make its run, or its CO not answered the call when destiny knocked, I doubt we’d have won.”

“We haven’t won yet, ma’am.”

“Quite right. But we will.” Irvine flashed a smile. “I want you on my flag-staff going forward.”

“I’d…” MacIntosh stammered. “I’d be honored, ma’am.”

Orders from the front of the bridge caused them both to turn and stare. “Emergency turn to port, thirty-five degrees up bubble!” a voice yelled.

“Conn, TAO, forward shields have failed! We’re taking concentrated fire on our forward quarter.”

“Don’t worry, Lieutenant,” Irvine said. “This old ship survived the Saurian wars. They used to call it old Ironsides, because supposedly Saurian mag-cannon shells bounced off the hull.”

MacIntosh snickered, staring at the plot and watching as more red icons blinked out. “The last update is the first wave of reinforcements—six American carrier battle groups and a space action group from the Federal Republic of Brandenburg—are ten minutes out. They’ll be here any minute.”

Before Irvine could respond, alarm klaxons sounded, and shouts rang out. Looking out the transparent metal windows at the front of the bridge —a typical design on CDF ships— MacIntosh saw explosions spreading across the superstructure of the vessel and quickly moving closer to them. A huge blast hit the very front of the bridge, causing a hull breach and corresponding drop in pressure that made his ears pop. He threw Irvine to the ground as consoles shorted out, sparks and flames flew, and pandemonium swept the area.

Emergency forcefields snapped on, protecting the area of the bridge used by the flag-staff. MacIntosh got up and surveyed the scene before them. Dozens were dead or wounded, and the control center was no longer functional.

“I’ve got basic sensors up over here,” an enlisted soldier called out, “showing dozens of wormholes opening. Signatures read as friendly!”

MacIntosh turned back around to Irvine, a broad smile on his face. “You did it, General. The cavalry is here.”

Irvine looked up and nodded slowly. “We did it, Lieutenant. Canaan will be saved to fight another day,” she said. It took MacIntosh a moment to realize her breath was labored, and that blood was trickling out of her mouth.

“Corpsman! General Irvine needs medical attention! Get a corpsman up here now!” MacIntosh shouted at the top of his lungs before he dropped to his knees beside her. Only then did he see a small piece of metal that had somehow missed him and hit her center mass, protruding out from her uniform, red stains spreading out from around it.

“Make sure they don’t forget the sacrifices made today,” Irvine rasped. “Promise me.”

“I promise, ma’am.”

“You’ll make a fine officer, MacIntosh. I’d hoped to teach you more.”

“Save your strength, General. Help’s on the way.”

“I’ve been doing this for too long for that to work on me,” she said, a sad smile coming over her face. “Get my crew to safety, Lieutenant. I wonder… what’s it like on the other side? No pain, no suffering, no war? I hope.”

MacIntosh took her hand and prayed silently. God, please help this woman. I know she was the instrument of Your will today. Please don’t let her die.

A corpsman appeared at MacIntosh’s side and shoved him out of the way. “General, can you hear me?” she asked, kneeling and running a medical scanner over Irvine’s body. “She’s in full cardiac arrest! Get the defib over here,” the corpsman shouted. Another corpsman tossed a small tool toward her, which she caught in mid-air and applied to Irvine’s chest, causing a noticeable jump in her body as it jerked from the electrical shock. MacIntosh watched as they discharged the device over and over. The woman finally stepped back and shook her head. “I’m sorry, sir. She’s gone. Too much blood loss.”

It registered with MacIntosh that there was a large amount of blood on the floor around Irvine. She was alive a moment ago, he thought. So quickly can everything be gone. Almost in a stupor, he looked around and realized that everyone was staring at him. Why are they looking at me? Then it hit him. Because I’m the ranking officer that survived.

“Can we get an open commlink to engineering?” MacIntosh asked, his voice barely above a stammer.

“Sir, I can’t raise anyone past section eight. Radiation alarms are registering along the entire aft portion of the ship and moving forward, sir,” a young woman who manned an engineering sub-console reported. “All reactors have been SCRAMed.”

Get it together, Andrew. You know what needs to happen now, a voice inside of MacIntosh said. Somewhere from deep within, he found the will to look up and begin giving orders. “Get me 1MC.”

“You’re on for 1MC, sir,” another crewman shouted back.

“Attention, all hands, this is Lieutenant Andrew MacIntosh. I’m the surviving member of the bridge crew and de facto commanding officer of the Victory. Radiation is spreading forward. We can’t reach damage control teams in the engine space.” There was a pregnant pause before he continued. “Abandon ship. I say again, all hands, abandon ship. This is not a drill. Make your way to the nearest escape pod immediately!”

Those who remained on the half-destroyed bridge stared at MacIntosh in shock. “That applies to everyone here too,” he barked. “Do you have a stretcher?” he asked toward the corpsmen.

“We do, sir.”

“Then help me retrieve General Irvine’s body.”

“Yes, sir.”


9


League of Sol Navy Headquarters

Geneva, Switzerland – Earth

21 October 2533


Unlike the spartan conditions aboard military ships or those found on the border planets, being back on Earth is an exercise in having all manner of needs met. Seville walked through the halls of the League Navy headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on his way to an appointment with the admiral of the fleet. I fully expect to be relieved of command and put on trial. There had been signs he was being followed and watched, readily apparent to a military officer with twenty-five years in the service.

Above all, never show fear. I must never act like I know what they’re doing. He walked through a finely carved wood door that led an impressive reception area replete with an indoor fountain and vines hanging from its sides.

“Admiral Seville,” a man who appeared to be in his mid-thirties and wore the bars of a lieutenant commander said in greeting. “Admiral Lambert is expecting you.” He gestured toward a double wooden door.

“Thank you, Commander.” Seville walked to the door and paused for a moment. Fear invaded his mind and made him flinch upon reaching for the handle, but he forced himself to remain impassive and press on.

The office beyond the door looked like something out of a history book that condemned the excesses of capitalism long ago. Intricate wood paneling lined the walls, while the desk and other furniture scattered throughout was clearly old and equally impressive.

“Admiral Seville,” Lambert said as he stood, flashing something approaching a smile. “Thank you for coming to see me today.”

Seville closed the door behind him, and following protocol, came to attention before the desk. “Admiral Pierre Seville, reporting as ordered, sir.”

“Have a seat, Admiral,” Lambert said gruffly. Once Seville had sat down, he continued. “I’ve read your report, three times.”

“It is completely accurate.”

“Of that, I have no doubt. I personally interviewed a dozen surviving ship commanders, members of your own staff, and everyone still alive from your flag bridge. There may be a few details left out, but on the main, I believe every word in it.”

“Then, sir, when can I get back to the front?”

“You really think it’s that simple?”

“There’s an enemy out there that we must defeat,” Seville replied. “Even that they won a battle against us has emboldened capitalist fanatics and counter-revolutionaries within the League. The Terran Coalition must be crushed.”

“That’s a good line, Admiral,” Lambert said, laughing. “You hung out around your political officer a little too long.”

Is he testing me? “I live but to serve the state and the party, Admiral.”

“You will retire from the Navy, Admiral. You will go to a border planet that has some comforts, but where you will have to work on a farm to feed yourself. I will permit your family to join you. This will satisfy the need for a scalp with the Social and Public Safety Committee, and protect you.”

Better than the noose. “Of course, sir.”

“Now, as a Frenchman, I don’t like seeing the Russians and Chinese working together against one of my own to cover their own failures.”

Alarm bells began to go off in Seville’s head. “We are all one League, sir.” What if someone is listening?

“I have my office swept every morning for listening devices, Seville,” Lambert snapped as if reading his mind. “There will be changes made in the top members of the committee before too long. A new man waits in the wings… Pallis. He’s French, like us. When he gets into power, I will be able to rehabilitate you.”

Seville’s face took on the appearance of a caged animal. “We cannot speak of such things!” he practically shouted. “I am a loyal officer of the League!”

Lambert chuckled. “I was like you once. You’ll get over it during the next few years, tending carrots and potatoes, wishing you were dead from boredom. Admiral, this is no trap. I take care of my own, and I know what a loyal, capable officer looks like. If that idiot Lemieux had listened to you, we’d be toasting the fall of these Terrans, as they call themselves. Now we’ve got a protracted war on our hands because sending another thousand ships is out of the question. Worse, we can’t pull what’s in mothballs out and send them because the enemy has such impressive technology. No… this will be a war of attrition.”

“I just want to serve, sir,” Seville said finally, once his mind stopped racing.

“I recognize that. Oh, I’ve had you checked out in ways you can’t begin to imagine, Admiral. If you had failed the test today, I would’ve had you executed,” Lambert replied without a trace of irony in his voice. “You have a week to prepare. Anything else?”

“No, sir,” Seville said, his voice feeling distant and robotic. “Thank you.”

“One other thing, Admiral. The next time you directly or indirectly kill a political commissar… make sure no one else sees you.”

Seville’s eyes went wide. Someone must have tried to turn me in. Fear washed over him like a wave.

“Not to worry. I dealt with the problem. Dismissed.”

Seville stood and brought himself back to attention, slapping a closed fist to his chest, the salute of the League of Sol. Then he turned on his heel and exited the office. If I stopped to consider this, I’d allow myself to realize that the League is corrupt, indeed our entire system of socialism is corrupt, and I’m just a fool. We must all play the game to stay alive, however. Perhaps someday, I can gain my revenge for the loss of my eye and the loss of my crew. Until then, I’ll nurture the anger within me, feed off of it, and be ready the next time I’m called upon.

Stand Firm

Canaan Military Space Station Alpha

Canaan Local Space - Terran Coalition Homeworld

29 September 2533


“Please welcome First Lieutenant Andrew MacIntosh,” said a gravelly voice belonging to an older male at the front of the room. “As the highest ranking and surviving member of General Irvine’s flag-staff, it is an honor to welcome him to our team.”

At the mention of Irvine, MacIntosh glanced up, staring the four-star general in the eyes. He was the newly appointed fleet commander for the Coalition Defense Force, Victor Suarez. “Thank you, sir,” MacIntosh said quietly in his distinctive Scottish brogue. Why did I survive, and not the rest? Why not her? God knows we need her now.

“This is not an easy time,” Suarez said. “We lost tens of thousands of soldiers yesterday, in the single greatest loss among the space fleet since the last major engagements of the Saurian-Coalition war. Orders hit my desk this morning that I’m going to share with you now. Effective immediately, all nation-state military space assets, including ships, fighters, bombers, and other assets, are folded into the CDF.”

Shocked gasps filtered throughout the room, officers staring at each other with mouths open wide. “That’s how big of a cluster we’re in, ladies and gentlemen. The integration process will be difficult, I promise you that. The people in this room are here to drive it. Failure isn’t an option. Are we clear on that?”

“Yes, sir!” said roughly half the room.

“My advice is to make sure your families understand you will be away for long periods, working long hours with limited ability to communicate. This is total war,” Suarez intoned, pursing his lips together. “The good news is our technology is superior to the enemy’s, and we were able to defeat them at five to one odds.”

“With respect sir, that was a fluke,” MacIntosh suddenly interjected. “Without the sacrifice of the destroyer commander—Major Cohen—the Leaguers would have won.”

“Point taken, Lieutenant,” Suarez said, his eyebrows raised.

“Sir,” said a woman in a CDF uniform, with the insignia of a major at the front of the room. “President Nolan is on the emergency address system.”

“By all means, put it on,” Suarez said.

A few moments later, an unsmiling face appeared on the holoprojector at the front of the room. MacIntosh recognized the man as President Nolan. “My fellow citizens of the Terran Coalition, I come to you today after one of the darkest days in the history of our republic,” Nolan began. “Given the gravity of the situation, I chose to use our emergency broadcast system to ensure as many citizens as possible hear this message. September 28th, 2533 is a horrific day in our history, alongside December 7th, 1941, September 11th, 2001, and August 21st, 2080, the day our ancestors left Earth.”

There were rustlings around the room as those present adjusted themselves in their seats. “This League of Sol, as it calls itself, attacked without provocation, without warning, and without mercy. Only the efforts of many thousands of brave men and women who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect us staved off complete disaster. By now, news reports have speculated on the cause of our victory. I would like to recognize Major Levi Cohen, commanding officer of the CSV Salamis, for his role in our victory. Major Cohen’s decision to ram the League flagship at a critical moment in the battle tilted it forever in our favor. He is survived by a wife and son, and the prayers of our entire nation go out to him and to every last life that was lost yesterday.

“Major Cohen wasn’t the only hero that died far before his time. General Gabrielle Irvine, the architect of our victory, died with most of her senior officers aboard the CSV Victory. Initial reports are that the Victory is dead in space, and unlikely to be salvaged thanks to radiation leakage from its main reactor. I’ve decided that it will stay in a high, safe orbit, to be a monument to the lives lost,” Nolan said, his voice solemn and his face lacking any trace of a smile.

“The path that lies ahead of us is a difficult one. I will not sugarcoat the task we face to defend our republic against an enemy that can send a thousand ships to attack us in secret. Today, we don’t know if that was a majority of their fleet, a fraction of it, or something in between. We must prepare for a long, protracted conflict. One that will cost many lives, take years, not months. But this is a fight we must win. There will be no substitute for victory, and victory may only be achieved by defeating the League. Our objective then will be to raise the flag of freedom—the flag of the Terran Coalition—over Earth itself. Nothing else will do.

“We must also remember that our continued existence, our military victories, and the lives we enjoy come at the behest of Almighty God. He is our fortress, and He has protected our republic once more. I call on all citizens to pray, fast, and otherwise call upon God in whatever form you may choose to serve Him. We will not continue to succeed without His help.”

MacIntosh noted that many around the room had begun to nod their heads in agreement. “In closing, I will remind every one of you that there will be difficult days ahead. There will be victories and bitter defeats. All who serve will give something of themselves, some will give all, and there will be far too many who must give all. I promise you that the government will do everything in our power to win the victory quickly, and with a minimum of causalities. We also work to restore the Canaan Alliance that once brought peace to this arm of the Milky Way. I hope that in time, our allies will join us in this fight. Until they do, we will soldier on and press forward to victory. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless the Terran Coalition!”

Applause broke out as the feed cut, the mood infectious. MacIntosh found his spirit lifted by the words, as much as words could do to salve the soul after the losses endured the previous day. After a good thirty seconds of wild chanting, Suarez cut in. “Alright, I can tell everyone here wants a piece of those Leaguers. You’ll get your chance, ladies and gentlemen. All of us will get our chance before this war’s over. My adjutant has specific orders for each of you. Godspeed, and let’s get to work!”

Most of those present stood and walked out quickly, leaving a smaller group of officers in the conference room. MacIntosh decided to make himself scarce as those remaining were all much higher ranked.

“Lieutenant,” Suarez called before he could get out of the door.

“Yes, sir?”

“I understand you were on the bridge when Irvine talked with Major Cohen.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What was your measure of him?”

“A good man determined to protect his family, sir.”

“Do you know how old his son is?”

“Eight, sir. Today is his birthday. I looked it up… I thought someone should remember.”

“Maybe by the time he’s a man, we’ll have won this war.”

“I hope we have, sir.”

“Carry on, Lieutenant.”

MacIntosh resumed his walk out of the conference room and down a passageway filled with soldiers as far as the eye could see. God help us all if we haven’t won the war in ten years. Regardless, I’m going to do my part.

THE END

BOOK 1: Echoes of War– Fight the Good Fight:


Corporal David Cohen thought he’d left war behind.

He was wrong.

David must square the tenants of his faith against his responsibility to crew and country. If he fails in his command, billions face enslavement by a ruthless regime. Now it’s an all-out fight for the galaxy’s freedom.

Because a man’s greatest foe lies within.

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Echoes of War

Book 1 - Fight the Good Fight

Book 2 - Strong and Courageous

Book 3 - So Fight I

Book 4 - Gates of Hell

Book 5 - Keep the Faith


Breach of Faith

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