October 29th, 4233
United Terran Concord
Hyperion Prime Command Base
The war room was, as always, bustling with activity. The guards inside the door took only a cursory look at LeFay; he’d had to flash his ID and go through a genetic scan just to get into the room and they were simply making sure that he had the right uniform and rank. Hawthorne was down on the main level, a sprawling arena of holo tanks, computer consoles, plotting charts and vast status boards, filled with analysts and staff officers at each station. Donald navigated his way towards the admiral, nodding respectfully by way of greeting. With his arm in a sling, it was hard to salute. “Sir.”
“At ease, captain. I thought Winters wanted to keep you under observation.” Foraker commented.
“I managed to convince him that I’d be more trouble then he was worth. Besides, he still needs the beds.” LeFay winced. “Especially now.”
The admiral nodded. He stepped over to one of tracking screens. On this one, the board was split down the middle, showing two different star systems with tactical information scrolling over each side. “While you were gone, there were two more incidents. One at Laertes and the other at Tau Sigma. Laertes was a light probe by a trio of their battle carriers. Analysis finally gave them a name: Lakhesis. In mythology, she was the Fate who decided how much time one had in life.”
“Apt. This was our first look at them outside of a fleet engagement; their command and control and EW systems are very good and they carry a lot of missiles, including external racks on those three hangar pods. Energy weapons are minimal and for Lefu ships, they’re clumsy. They did very little damage, though – once TF 173 arrived on-scene, they recalled their fighters and withdrew.”
“They wanted to see what kind of response they’d get,” Donald guessed.
“That was our conclusion as well, captain.” Foraker’s expression darkened. “The second incident was a parallel to yours; reconnaissance in force. They emerged in Tau Sigma, blew the hell out of everything they could and fell back. Thankfully Sigma’s BCV squadron and SLIP fields kept them out of the inner orbitals, but at the cost of the outer system. Plus, the bastards got a good look at what Sigma’s defences were. Next time I think we can expect them hit harder. No naval losses on either side this time.”
LeFay frowned. “They’re holding back.”
“I know; that’s what got us worried. It should be a good sign, that despite their technological superiority, they’re sensitive to losses and aren’t committing the bulk of their fleet, but they’ve been stepping up the intensity of their probing attacks for the past two weeks.” Foraker’s frown deepened. Hunt was dispatching several battlecruiser squadrons to the most valuable systems, but she didn’t have enough mobile assets to protect them all, not without uncovering Hyperion Hive, and as recent events had shown, the Lefu hadn’t forgotten about them. “I think it’s only a matter of time before we see another major assault.”
“What do you need me to do, sir?”
“Nothing at the moment save get yourself and your ship back in shape. After that, I or Admiral Hunt may have something for you.”
Vast beyond imagining, it rippled into existence into what had once been known as Tebrinnin. Onslaught Fleet’s mightiest titans were but pinpricks against its flanks, insects fluttering about their hive. Warriors looked upon it with awe and anticipation, songs and anthems rippling across the communication channels as soldiers of the Fleet cheered its arrival.
It was not the greeting an engine of carnage would receive… but then, it was not an instrument of death. Just the opposite, in fact.
Captain Winters, CMO, sat in his office, balancing a pen between his fingertips as he read and re-read test results and status reports. His various department heads were satisfied with their completed works and were pushing for the go-ahead. Diagnostics and simulations were one thing, but quite another when you were trying experimental procedures on a living person. Drake had reservations, both medical and professional. True, Archer had signed the standard clause that, in the event of her incapacitation, gave on-site commanders and medical personnel the right to order intervention on her behalf, or for what they deemed overriding concerns.
There was no record of what Archer would have wanted in a situation like this, so the decision had fallen to Admiral Foraker, her direct superior. He had in turn ordered Drake to do anything and everything in his power to ‘wake up’ the commodore. Personally, Winters would have felt better about this if he knew that the directive was solely motivated by concern for the young woman’s well-being.
The admiral and his staff wanted to know what, if anything, the Lefu had divulged to Archer as she’d been getting mind-raped. That was fine for them, but Winters had responsibilities to his patient.
And those responsibilities demanded that he follow his lawful orders. The CMO leaned forwards, pressing his comm and informing his specialists to prepare. He was going to try and keep another life from slipping away.
Alicia was standing in front of one of the status boards in the war room, her hands clasped behind her back. The systems that had suffered recent attacks were marked with a red-orange blast marker. OMI’s best-guesses for systems that the Lefu would attack were encircled with a red band. Less-likely targets were bordered with yellow and those territories of minimal value to either side were green. Well, military value, the admiral corrected herself. To the people who lived on those worlds, every planet needed the entire fleet there to defend it, and if the Navy didn’t show up in full force, the military was obviously lazy or incompetent.
All in all, there were three dozen inhabited solar systems of value within two weeks’ travel of Hyperion Hive. More, if one counted the small hyperspace corridors that networked throughout the region. Five of those systems, excluding Hyperion Hive itself, were considered vital points. Worlds like Vansing’s Landing and New Britain had the industrial and economic output to rival some of the Concord’s Inner Worlds and had to be held at all costs.
Eleven more systems were of middling benefit; valuable enough to defend, but not worth sacrificing a ‘Red’ for. The Greens would only negatively affect the Sector through cumulative losses, and that was mostly a morale issue.
The fleet officer knew what she would do next; target the Yellows with raiding forces, like the one that overran Unicorn Set. They’re not high-value systems, they know we’ll put less into them than worlds like Vansing’s Landing. If we lose enough of them, it’ll hurt us, force us to pull off support from the Red sites, which they can follow through on. From what Asija had learned from the prisoner, the Lefu could be expected to hit and hit hard within the month. The only question was where.
Of course, they probably would have a better idea of that if Foraker hadn’t pulled the plug on the interrogations. He’d confronted her with a file of reports from Medical, about the ‘negative effects’ on the rest of his crew. Alicia had been unimpressed with headaches and bad dreams being used as justification for Hawthorne’s pedantic moralizing. True, he did have final say in all matters regarding the hive and system security, but he did not outrank her. She’d stonewalled him until that worthless little PDP bitch had interfered, with her special notice from that worthless Erasmus. Governess-by-decree! Let her pull that kind of shit again and I’ll have her put up against the wall. If the civilians hadn’t had the Fleet by the short-and-curlies for the past thirty years, they wouldn’t be in this situation now.
Nowadays, the prisoner’s lack of cooperation and hostility towards interviewers had only increased. Since her last questioning session, the enemy pilot had spoken only two words in English: “Enemy die.”
“Not a promising start,” Hunt said to herself as she continued to eye the board. But I’ll have one for you, next time.
Foraker nodded as LeFay saluted, the captain returning to his ship to oversee repairs. Courageous was now only one of two surviving battlecruisers from Archer’s original command and one of the seven that had survived Canis Sebra. Hawthorne looked around the War Room; Hunt was studying one of the boards and sensing his attention, glanced over at him. There wasn’t any particular warmth in her expression, not since he had ended her special questioning sessions. And he’d had to use Pierce’s help to do it. Not that he’d wanted to; the envoy had found out about Singh and Bates all on her own.
Hawthorne couldn’t remember having ever seen the woman so livid, nor had he ever been so close to violence as he had sitting at his desk, listening as an unqualified, condescending civilian gave him orders. That he half-agreed with her had done very little to mollify either of them. But at least he’d been able to sic her on Hunt – something else that Alicia was not likely to forget or forgive.
Likewise, Pierce offered Foraker a chilly glance, sparing only a moment from her own business. At the moment she was helping to coordinate governmental duties in Hyperion Hive and local systems, presenting a public face of the administration for local governors to deal with. As all special envoys were, she was authorized to speak on the government’s behalf. He didn’t know if he was happy that she was making herself useful; on the one hand, it kept her out of his hair and there were a lot of scared people out there who needed reassurance and assistance from the government. On the other, Pierce wasn’t above using the military resources to carry out politically-motivated and tactically questionable missions simply for the benefit of Erasmus’ supporters.
Well. It wasn’t like there was much he could do about it, except wait for the other shoe to drop.
It always did.
“Electrolyte levels good, pulse is steady, blood pressure’s in the green. So far, so good.”
“Administering treatment level one… now.”
“Spike in brain activity, but within parameters. Looking good so far.”
“Flow across blood/brain barrier is nominal.”
“Cortical electrodes prepped.”
“Pseudothyroxine cocktail ready.”
“All right, go.”
“Administering treatment level two… now.”
“Okay, boys and girls. If this works, we should see a reaction very shortly.”
Arykka tugged again at the cast on her arm, wincing a little as she was rewarded with a brief spike of pain that flared up her arm. She’d shattered the bones in her hand and fractured her forearm against the walls of her prison; the Enemy had stunned her and put this on. When she was unconscious was now the only time that they dared enter her cell. Arykka was going to make them suffer for what they’d done to her. If she could have, she would have called out to every sibling in the system and brought them down on the Major Enemy Base as the Angel’s wrath made manifest. No matter what they had, what tricks they thought of, what confessions they extracted from her drugged and beaten form, they were going to die.
The pilot bared her teeth, digging her fingernails into the skin just under the lip of the cast. It itched.
She froze abruptly, jerking her head up and looking around. She thought she’d heard… yes. Her Echo was back.
Arykka closed her eyes and sang.
There was brightness.
She squinted against it, trying to pull away, but she didn’t get very far. Firm hands gripped her as a voice whispered something in a soothing tone. A silhouetted face leaned into her field of view, temporarily blocking the light. Until they pointed something at her and turned it on, a brighter spear of light shining into her eyes.
Natalya winced, her eyelids flickering as the glare moved to her right eye. “Looking good,” the voice announced, tucking the small flashlight back into a pocket. The figure turned to someone else. “Make sure to keep the neural monitor calibrated to notify the staff if there’s more then a .05% variance.”
Her vision was clearing and she could finally place the face of the man standing over her; one of the doctors from Medical One, her little home away from home. Natalya opened her mouth to speak, but her throat felt scratchy and dry; the man noticed and snapped his fingers, an orderly handing him a small cup of water as another helped prop her up. Her arms felt like lead weights and her hands shook as she reached for the plastic cup. The first orderly took pity on her and held the cup up to her lips. At that moment, the cool, clear water was the sweetest thing she’d ever tasted.
“Sorry about that,” the doctor replied. “Pseudothryoxin tends to dehydrate the body rather quickly. Just take it easy. You know where you are?”
Finishing off the last of the water, Natalya nodded. “Good.” The doctor set his clipboard down. “And you know who I am?”
Natalya blinked, trying to place his name, then nodded again. “Sergei Romanov.”
“Excellent. How many fingers am I holding up?”
The young woman focused on his hand. “Three.”
Romanov frowned. “How many?”
Natalya looked again. There were three. “Three fingers,” she repeated.
The physician’s frown deepened. He pressed a key on a nearby console. “Captain Winters, could you come in here, please?”
Archer didn’t know what was wrong, but there was a sudden weight in her stomach. On the monitors, her blood pressure and heart rate spiked slightly. “What’s wrong?” she asked as Winters came into the room. He froze in mid-stride.
“What did you say, ma’am?”
Natalya bit her tongue, trying to clamp down on a surge of fear. “I asked you what is wrong, captain.”
The CMO ignored the question, conferring in a hushed voice with Romanov before turning back to his patient and holding up three fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
If this was a joke, it was long past the point of being funny. A little frustrated and afraid, Natalya answered the question for the third time.
“Za,” Commodore Archer replied with more then a modicum of exasperation. “Za sheni.”