October 17th, 4233
United Terran Concord
“Steady as she goes, Helm.”
Senior Captain Jacob Goldtein licked his lips nervously; he didn’t normally give redundant orders, but his nerves were frazzled. Covenant had spent the last three weeks ducking through Lefu-held systems, with only one close call. After seeing Covenant’s quick-spool hyper systems in action, Goldstein shared his engineering teams’ amorous assessment of them. The rest of the Necro ship might amount to an oversized frigate, but her hyper systems were very impressive, despite her sloth in hyperspace. He knew that there were some in the League, and many in the Concord, that would consider the trade-off of his crew’s lives for this technology a fair exchange.
Morally, he knew he should be outraged, but realistically… it was true.
Before the war with the Confeds, the worlds of the Abyssal Sector were at a severe technological disadvantage. The original colonies had been isolated from each other and the rest of the galaxy for centuries after suffering multiple mishaps just making the attempt to reach what the Confeds patronizingly called ‘the Empty Worlds’. As a result, very few systems had made many improvements over the technological base that the Independent Colonization Effort started the ill-fated expedition with. Palshife had been one of the more advanced planets and it had used the Confeds’ own prejudices against them, playing the good little minion… while bleeding their corporate overseers dry of every secret they had.
Section Six had seduced, blackmailed and outright stolen everything they could as Palshife’s shadow industry began producing new ships and weapons using the Concord’s own technology. S6 would have sacrificed – even killed – ten times as many people as Goldstein had lost to get their hands on Covenant. The alien warship’s quick-charge hyper systems weren’t the only secret she possessed, either. Chief Fields had found out that Covenant’s hyper field was far more ‘streamlined’ then any other vessel he’d ever seen. It meant that she had the hyperspace wake of a ship a third of her actual mass.
If the Necros had scouts like the Concord and League did, they’d be undetectable to even the most sensitive HTBs. That was a frightening thought, given these people’s propensity for genocide. Restoring Covenant’s files was a slow process – the alien AI had scrambled most of them beyond recovery – but Liberty’s computer network and her personnel had managed to extract bits and pieces. Enough to know that before they’d visited Cemetery, this alien fleet had encountered one other civilization. It had been a sublight star nation of two systems.
It was now none of those things. The Necros had thrown an asteroid larger than Ceres at the nameless aliens’ home planet and bombarded the colony like they had Cemetery. They had eschewed biological attacks, probably figuring that the nuclear winter from the meteor impacts would kill off what remained of the population. They were in a hurry to establish a forward base. Graveyard. There were references to its discovery over two thousand years ago, but the ‘scoutfleet’ was intercepted en route by ‘massivethreat’ forces; only their hyper drones made it made to the Necro homeworld. Goldstein didn’t know why the Necros didn’t follow up; maybe the enemy attacked their territory or maybe they didn’t think Cemetery was worth a follow-up visit yet. Whatever the reason, it had only granted them a stay of execution.
He closed his eyes. Two thousand years; two thousand years of civilization, of science, art, philosophy. Brilliant minds, heroes and villains. All wiped away in an instant. That would not be Earth, not Palshife or any human world. That was why he’d taken Covenant through, almost literally, the valley of death.
The Lefu’s response to their presence had been no less volatile then their scouts’ reaction back in Graveyard; Covenant bore a long molten scar across her starboard prow from some quick shot aboard an enemy battlecruiser.
Allston had suggested broadcasting their arrival as soon as they emerged in Hyperion Hive, but Goldstein had nixed that. During Liberty’s side trip, half a dozen more systems had fallen to the Lefu and if the Concord liked to crow about never losing the hive in battle, that was no guarantee that the aliens hadn’t overrun them.
The sense of relief had almost been palpable when they’d emerged in Hyperion Hive to find human comm chatter and Concordat ships by the dozen, but as deep as that emotion had run, it had vanished as quickly as it had come when the League personnel realized that Hyperion Hive was a system under siege; there were noticeable gaps in their array of listening posts and the Concordat ships were spread through the outer system in a search-and-destroy pattern. Goldstein had seen Lefu scouts tear ships like Covenant apart before and despite the risk of being intercepted by a Concordat squadron, he didn’t want to give away his position.
And so, Jacob Goldstein took his ship in towards the Concordat orbital network, unaware as slid past the banded sphere Hyperion Meta, that he had been detected. Belligerent and Sin Child closed on the stolen Mulkari killship as spectral phantoms, but with very real teeth and claws.
Thrall First Rank Venti Tellinii settled deeper into her chair. The young gunnery officer ran her fingers over her controls; they were secondary. Back-ups in case Sin Child’s network suffered disruption or went down in battle. It was unthinkable, but Command made sure that the Fleet’s officers and crewmen would know how to function without Merging. Fleet war games rarely used intra-ship networks specifically for that reason.
The young woman almost purred as she listened to Sin’s background chatter, the murmurs of its crew and pilots, the whispers of the AI as it confirmed operational readiness and reported back to the Commander and the citadel crew’s own status checks of the weapons stations. Much of the higher-level communications were only accessible to citadel officers, but Venti’s implants were set to flag orders from Command and priority messages from her fellow weapons officers.
Like all her brothers and sisters in the Fleet, Sin Child could function at the speed of thought.
Though nervous, the thrall was comforted by mental glow of her brothers and sisters. Evea’shi kept their thoughts shielded from one another as simple decorum, but anyone could sense the anticipation rippling through the battlecruiser and Venti could almost taste Sin’s eagerness. Venti’s pale flesh prickled as she shuddered slightly. Before a battle, when the ship’s reactor awoke to full capacity and her weapons were unsheathed, there was a charge in the atmosphere, almost intoxicating.
Venti shifted her attention back to her duties, calling a sensor feed up into her mind’s eye. One of Sin Child’s Seeking Eyes had made positive contact with the ‘anomaly’. A scout vessel of the End of Dawn. Hate churned her stomach as the battlecruiser shifted its course to take itself alongside. She consulted a timer. In less then an hour, the Prime Enemy Vessel would be remade anew as a funeral pyre.
She closed her eyes and let herself fall amongst her brothers and sisters, listening to the song of war, her lips moving with its echoes.
Goldstein licked his lips. Something wasn’t right. He didn’t know what, but he could feel it. His grandfather, a sea-farmer through and through, had been able to predict storms as if by magic; he’d been a part of the oceans so long that he’d developed a sixth sense about them. The senior captain felt that way now. There was nothing before his ship but empty space and the slowly growing, banded sphere of Hyperion Meta. Everything was quiet, but that silence felt wrong.
This is probably how a rabbit feels just before the hawk dives upon it.
He spared a moment to check his own display; there was nothing on sensors. He wanted to Do Something, but there was nothing he could do, except set his crew more on edge. The best thing for him right now was to shut up, sit in the chair and look like he knew what he was doing. It was a strategy that had worked for him this far.
Jacob folded his hands in his lap and straightened his spine.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
“What the hell is that?” Hiro wondered aloud.
Sensors shook his head. “Unknown profile, sir. Whatever she is, she doesn’t match anything observed Lefu design and her emissions pattern is all wrong. I am reading EW at work, so she’s trying to lay low, but her capabilities appear at least a generation behind ours.”
Takasawi ran his fingers through his hair again. Whoever they were, they were four klicks long, putting them solidly in battleship weight class. The Concord had been phasing out BBs for decades, investing instead in the more powerful dreadnaughts and the faster and almost as capable battlecruisers. The League preferred battleships, though. They were cheaper to build and easier to crew then DNs and for the cash-strapped Empties, that was a plus. A battleship squadron could also cover more territory then a single heavy unit, another bonus for the rimkin. But God help a battleship unit that had to face down a boomer, since no one else would.
A lone battleship didn’t make any sense for an invasion; were they emissaries? But why come in so quietly? Had they heard about the Concord and the Lefu? How? All he had was more questions.
“Tight-beam communications to them,” he ordered at last. It was a risk; they might not recognize the transmission as such, but damned if he was going to broadcast in the clear. Might as well start active sensing, kill emissions controls and ramp up the reactor and hang a sign on the hull. Dear Lefu: Please come and kill us. Thank you. “Bounce the transmission off one of our drones as well. Standard BXA greeting and copy of our language, please.”
“Message sent, sir. They’ll receive it shortly.”
“Thank you communications.” Hiro leaned back in his chair. A second advanced alien race. Fascinating. Of course, with the way things had been going lately, they’d have a worse disposition then the Lefu.
+status: highthreat system secured. highthreat vessels neutralized. habitable planetoid cleansed+
+objective: completed. secondary base established. cullship arrival in 17.83 cycles+
+status change: missive from primary killfleet body+
+analysis: scoutfleet elements located multiple new contacts along optimal incursion corridor+
+threat assessment: massive+
+threat assessment: confirmed. massivethreat killfleet detected+
+situational assessment: highthreat territories cleansed by massivethreat forces. combat between threat factions has occurred+
+status change: primary killfleet body to bypass fallen highthreat systems to avoid confrontation; massivethreat detection of Vanguard units noted in primary forward base+
+situational assessment: threat factions required to continue hostilities. unlikely to occur if primary killfleet body pushes into massivethreat forces. delay to main incursion as alternate routes into highthreat systems sought. possible abandonment of primary forward base+
+imperative: secondary killfleet body will fortify secondary forward base. avoid detection at all costs. Once position consolidated, prepare for strike at highthreat forward base+
+secondary objective: off-balance highthreat industry. increase hostilities between threat factions+
+projected outcome: greatest concentration of highthreat warships neutralized. massivethreat forces bracketed by our own or depleted by renewed fighting+
+secondary outcome: high probability of massivethreat withdrawal. 82.67%+
+message: tertiary killfleet body to be notified. support may be required+