Children of Heaven: Choir of Silence, Chapter 24

Chapter 24:

October 30th, 4233
Hyperion Hive
Hyperion Sector, Outer Reaches
United Terran Concord

Hyperion Prime Command Base

No sooner had the conference room’s doors shut behind Archer and Captains Winters and LeFay than Admiral Hunt turned to Hawthorne. “I want Commodore Archer’s security privileges revoked immediately. In fact, she should be taken off active duty altogether.”

“What? Why?”

“It’s rather obvious. An enemy agent has been inside her head. God only knows what kind of information that this… Selliphii has already gotten access to, what kind of mental conditioning that Archer’s been subject to. As your own chief medical officer pointed out, we have no idea what happened to her or how the prisoner did it.”

Pierce found herself in the unenviable position of having to agree with the other woman. “Her remarks about the Concord committing genocide… those aren’t the comments I’d ever have expected to hear from an officer of Archer’s caliber. At the very least, she’s sympathetic to the Lefu cause-”

“Exactly,” Alicia interrupted.

The younger woman shot the admiral an annoyed glance. “But, as I was going to say, that also puts her in a unique position. She has an understanding of these… Evea’shi that no one else does. She literally speaks their language.”

It took Hunt a moment to force an angry reply down. “And you want to use her to negotiate,” she surmised tonelessly. “Even though she’s just admitted that there’s no chance of it.”

“I don’t accept that,” Pierce replied frostily. “She’s gotten her information from an enemy combat pilot, one who has been imprisoned and subject to, shall we say, unorthodox interrogations. I don’t at all find it impossible to think that Selliphii wouldn’t see, or want to see, any chance to avoid escalating this conflict.”

“The Lefu see this as a war of survival,” Hunt replied acidly. “They’re only going to escalate. Unless you propose doing nothing and letting them see how peaceful we are as they trample over our ashen corpses. That would be in line with your party’s dogma, wouldn’t it?”

“Admiral Hunt, Ms. Pierce,” Foraker snapped before Diana could respond. “If we could please focus our attention on the here and now.”

Diana raised her head. “This is the here and now, admiral. If we want to stop the Evea’shi, we have to make them see that their fears about us are unfounded. Which, granted, is going to be difficult.” She shot both officers an unhappy glare. “Given the circumstances.”

Hunt didn’t – quite – snarl. “If they were interested in talking with us, they would have done it long before now. We have to keep them from attacking any more of our planets and drive them off the ones they’ve already taken.”

“I agree,” Pierce responded.

That brought Alicia up short and even Foraker was taken aback by the PDP envoy’s admission. “What?”

Diana smiled condescendingly. “Admirals. Please don’t confuse me with ideologues like DuPre. I do believe that this entire situation with the Evea’shi could have been handled better, but I also admit that if the Navy had had more resources, we wouldn’t have lost so much territory. However, I do refuse to accept Commodore Archer’s interpretation of events. Humanity has its own history of intractable sociopaths, but at the end of the day, rationality overcomes zealotry. Many in the Resurgency deserted their cause when we turned that conflict around. If we can force the Evea’shi to the bargaining table – by halting their advance in their tracks, admirals, not by asking them nicely – then I am certain that we can reason with them. It’s fine to ask a bully to stop hitting you, but unless you hit him back, he’s not going to listen.”

“You’re assuming that there’s anything left in them that’s human,” Hunt asserted. “I’m not convinced that there is.”

“You’re certainly free to hold that opinion,” The temperature of Pierce’s voice dropped several degrees. “I, however, don’t think it’s an invalid assumption and neither does the President.” She had her own reasons for insisting on increased military activity; the president and the PDP were taking fire from both the CA and the Foundationists, in addition to a handful of smaller fringe parties. They all had their knives out; the cons were hammering away at the PDP’s anti-military appearance; the latest round of attacks and the strained nature of the forces in the Outer Reaches was only giving them ammunition. The far-left libs were cutting into the PDP’s core constituency over claims of Erasmus and Rodriguez bowing to jingoism. That was the smaller problem of the two and Pierce knew that when the dust settled, the minister of defence would find himself out of a job, a sacrifice to the sensibilities of the party’s ideologues. In the meantime, public perception, even on the Inner Worlds, was turning against the administration and they needed a win to show themselves as in control and their policies as working. Which had been made very clear to her in multiple communiqués from the president’s cabinet.

“But that’s not the point,” she said, smoothly switching topics. “As you say, the point is that we need to stand up to the Lefu,” she used the military’s name for them, a subtle gesture that said she was thinking like them now. “Admiral Hoss and the 812th will be here within two weeks to assume overall command of the situation. With his reinforcements, BG 97 will be up to pre-League War strengths. The President has faith that with three of his most trusted flag officers and over a hundred capital ships, you will be able to take back the initiative.”

Hunt nodded, shooting a glance towards Hawthorne. She wasn’t happy about being superseded by Hoss, but she knew the man well enough that, while his appointment here was purely a political move, she didn’t harbour any reservations about his capabilities. “I’m certain we will.”

“Yes, with Operation Reignfall.”

Hawthorne bit the inside of his lip; that code name had only been used a handful of times amongst people he thought he could trust. “Yes,” he grated out after a moment. “Reignfall is planned to take back, at the very least, the Line of Control.”

“I don’t want Archer involved,” Hunt reminded Foraker.

“Fine. If it will make you happy, I’ll reassign the 181st to system defence duty and restrict her access to classified material, but I will not bust her down for groundless fears. As soon as there’s some solid evidence that she’s been co-opted, I will act. Not before.”

“That is, of course, your right,” Hunt replied frostily. “I simply hope that you don’t come to regret that decision.” Her flinty eyes hardened. “The lives of the men and women under my command and those in the systems depending on us for protection are my top priority, and I will not allow anyone or anything to endanger them. Should that happen, I will act first and face inquiry later.”

Foraker’s head came up. “I understand.”

“Good. I would hate to see any more lapses in Hyperion Hive’s security, just as I would hate to have to be the one to clean them up for you.”

~

“How does that feel?”

Natalya nodded. “Good.” Winters had agreed to let her go after a 48-hour observation period, but had agreed on several stipulations; she had to check in with him and his people, not her own medical staff, every morning. She had to wear a cortical monitor to record her brain functions and was on light duty. If she so much as missed one appointment, the CMO had promised that he’d have her dragged back to Medical One and strapped down. LeFay, bastard that he was, had gone a step further, promising that if he had to, he’d drape her over his shoulder and carry her there. “…with the utmost respect for your person and your authority, of course, commodore.”

The physical therapist switched to Natalya’s right leg, working the muscles there. Her legs still felt a little stiff, but she’d been assured that that wouldn’t last much longer. She hoped not; she’d lain in bed long enough.

~

Goldstein was deep in thought when the doors to Covenant’s command deck hissed open and Karen clomped in. “Have you seen this?” she demanded angrily, waving a notice at Jacob. “This is complete bullshit!”

“Hello, Junior Captain. How are you doing?”

Allston’s outrage faltered for a moment as she remembered their respective ranks. “Sorry, sir.”

“That’s all right. Truth be told, if you’ve got what I think you’ve got, I feel the same way.”

“Permission to speak freely?”

“Always.”

“This is bullshit!” Karen repeated, louder then before.

“I know. I’ve already filed a formal protest on behalf of the League. Not that I think it will do much good; their admirals have their heads so firmly up their own asses, I’m surprised they haven’t suffocated by now.” Goldstein was not happy, nor was any member of Covenant’s crew. It was bad enough having the Concords crawling all over Covenant, acting like they owned the ship that the League’s men and women had fought and died to take,. He’d finally had Senior Major Leibowitz station Marines at all access points; no Concordat engineers were to be let onto to Covenant unless accompanied by League personnel and they were not allowed into sections outside their work areas without his or Allston’s explicit approval.

Jacob was also being frozen out of command-level decisions. He wasn’t part of the Concord’s chain of command and didn’t expect to be consulted or notified about specific operations. It was, though only a matter of simple courtesy to include someone of his station to general strategy sessions. Of course, that ‘courtesy’ would require the Concords to remove the redwood from their collective asses. The war was over, the League was a recognized star nation, but to the Concord, Goldstein and the rest of his personnel would forever be Empties. It was frustrating, particularly given the sacrifices that his crew had gone through as a result of fighting for the Concord.

This latest incident, however… this was Concordat patronization at its finest. Because of the increase in Lefu attacks, all non-essential traffic within Hyperion Sector had been curtailed to free up warships. Covenant’s planned voyage home was one of those missions deemed ‘non-essential’. The Concords refused to offer ships for the Mulkari warship’s protection and without them, they wouldn’t allow Covenant to leave, citing that the journey would be ‘too dangerous’ for the League personnel. Patronizing assholes. We didn’t need their help to get to here.

Goldstein had been tempted to simply take Covenant out of dock and dare the Concords to stop him, but two things prevented that. The first was that the ship’s repairs and outfitting were not fully complete and he didn’t care to risk multiple hostile emergences and a year-long journey to the League with a ship that was still in pieces. Officially, both the League and the Concord maintained emergency wayposts along the Orion-Perseus corridor specifically to tend to damaged ships. In practice, the isolated nature of these outposts made them perfect targets for pirates looking to scoop up free parts. All of the wayposts were stripped on such a regular basis that neither nation put much effort into re-stocking and maintaining them any longer.

Only the joint-operated Midway Station was a reliable port of call and, true to its name, it was in between the two nations, several months out from each of them. More then one captain who’d cheapened out on their hyper systems had been lost between the galaxy’s spiral arms. Hyperspace didn’t forgive the foolish.

The second reason for Jacob having little other choice then to sit here and rotate was Admiral Hunt’s assertion that if Covenant attempted to leave without authorization, Concordat forces would respond with ‘appropriate force’.

“I can’t believe they think they can get away with this,” Karen was saying, still fuming. “We’re not their little vassals any more. They have our information, our technical specifications – they only reason they’re keeping us here is just to yank us around. God forbid us ‘Empties’ do anything without the Concord to hold our hands and burp us!”

“Unfortunately, I don’t see there being much we can do,” Goldstein sighed. He hated to admit that, but it was true. “At least, not at the moment. Make sure that the crew understands that this is a temporary situation and that they don’t start letting their dissatisfaction boil over into incidents with Concordat personnel. The last thing we need is to start handing the bastards reasons for screwing us.”

“Yes, sir.”

Goldstein squeezed Karen’s shoulder. “Keep an eye on things here; I’ve got an appointment with Pierce. Which qualifies as beating one’s head against a softer sort of concrete wall.”

Allston smiled. “Yes, sir.”

~

Industrial Fleet was never idle; while they might not have the glory of the more combative arms of the Fleet, they were indispensable to the operation of the Evea’shi military. Their fat-bodied ships were ungainly, cumbersome and valueless in combat, but combat Fleet units would and had died to protect Industrial Vessels. They were mobile factories, foundries, mines and research facilities. Without them, there would be no rath drones, no missiles, no replacement parts, no shipwombs.

Wrought From Fire[i] was one of these vessels, a Celestial Fabricator[i]-class factory ship, it had been honoured with producing the first run of one of the new weapons that Haven’s Spire[i] had brought to the Fleet. Combat trials were beginning even now aboard the dreadnaughts Eternity of Pain[i] and Chains of Torment[i]. Once Command was satisfied with the Flail’s performance, it would enter general production and all of Onslaught Fleet would carry it.

The Enemy were due for a shock the next time that they dared contest an Evea’shi dreadnought.

~

“Dispatch from Vansing’s Landing, sir. Their shipyards are now operating at full capacity; Admiral Sun estimates that the first batch of Q-ships will be finished in less then three months.”

Foraker accepted the datascroll from his aide, looking over the report for himself. Hea Sun was a good hand at running shipyards. Since the outbreak of hostilities, she’d managed to fudge a few budget reports to draw on more personnel and resources and increase the rate of the Landing yard’s construction. The Q-ships had started out life as nearly-finished Concordat bulk transports, but there’d been ‘unexpected delays’ as Sun had her engineers gut them and install heavier weapons, EW and defensive systems. None of the Q-ships would do more then die gloriously against even a light capital ship, but against a Lefu destroyer or frigate, they might be enough to save a convoy or two – which would ease the strain on BG 97’s resources.

He’d also given Sun authorization to begin construction on a pet project of hers – escort carriers. Hea had been pushing for them for over a decade, but had never received much support.

Much smaller then a BCV, with a corresponding decrease in HAVOC complement, escort carriers were also far cheaper to build then one of the hulking dreadnaught-sized warships and a squadron of these… FCVs could cover more territory then a single BCV could. The government had considered the building of new warship classes to be provocative and unnecessary, a needless expense. The admiralty had thought along somewhat similar lines; when they had agreed to the project, it was on paper only and then to be used as a sacrificial lamb each time the PDP’s budget cuts came around. The escort carriers’ near-total lack of offensive weapons and pathetic armour meant that the project hadn’t won much support from the officers and crew who would be expected to fly the ships, either.

Together with her Q-ship program, Sun was putting together a very nasty response for any Lefu raiding force and Foraker was willing to overlook the failings of the escort carriers as long as they freed up his larger carriers for offensive missions. They needed all the heavy hitters they could get their hands on. He would have preferred to have larger vessels from Sun, but despite its industrial power, Vansing’s Landing wasn’t set up to construct capital ships; few sites in the Outer Reaches were, and the Lefu had nuked the hell out of one of them. Still, the advantage remained with the Concord; they’d lost a handful of minor yards and one major one. The Lefu had to build all of their facilities from scratch.

He hoped that was enough.

Foraker felt his eyes drift over to the calendar on his computer monitor; the Concord’s grace period was running out and when it was… well. Then, they’d just have to see, wouldn’t they?

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