November 23rd, 4233
United Terran Concord
Hyperion Prime Command Base
Admiral Hunt threw the datapad in front of Foraker as if it were an indictment. “Seven million dead!” she spat furiously. “And that’s only the conservative figure!”
“I take it then that you’ve heard about the incident in Newfounding.”
“Yes, I fucking well have!” Hunt bristled. “If Gemenez was still alive, I’d have him shot for it, too.”
“He did destroy all of their escort strength, four of their cruisers and two battleships,” Hawthorne pointed out coolly. “From this information, he crippled one, perhaps two others. That’s not the best rate of exchange, but it’s better than he would have done without the minefield.” Unfortunately, the bulk of the reaver fleet had survived. The Lefu escorts had sacrificed themselves to protect their larger ships, drawing the minefields’ fire onto themselves and without Magpie One to override them, the missiles had wasted themselves on a comparative handful of light warships.
The cruisers had screened the battleships from T5 156 long enough for them to re-order their formation and the carriers’ reserve HAVOCs to come screaming down Gemenez’s throat. Gettysburg had hulked one of the Evea’shi battleships, but its Code Black upload confirmed that even before the Lefu was crippled, a second enemy battleship gutted its Concordat attacker. What had been planned as an operation to catch the Lefu between Newfoundings defenders and its minefields degenerated into a killing field with the Concordat forces the ones beset by fighter attacks from the fore and rear, sealing them into energy range combat with the Lefu.
What happened to Belligerent was repeated a dozenfold that day. Afterwards, the Lefu had consolidated their forces and gone after the planet in a long grazing strike, bombarding the orbital works from range. Once Newfoundings out-of-date OWPs were down, the Lefu had cautiously approached the planet, dropping nukes on several of the largest cities. Luckily, their slow approach had given government personnel more time to evacuate the cities. Not many more people were saved, but enough to count for something.
The Lefu had retreated when they’d picked up an incoming hyper wake. Captain Silas Varn, whom Foraker was going to see got a medal, right next to his official reprimand. He had disobeyed orders and broken ranks with his handful of Q-ships and system defence vessels, running towards the hyper limit. Once in hyperspace, he’d ordered his ships to disable much of their hyper systems’ safeties and doubled back, appearing as a much larger relief force. The Lefu, already hurting from Gemenez’s assault, had bought the deception and withdrawn. Almost a third of Newfounding’s orbital industry and thousands had survived because of Varn’s actions.
Hunt, however, was not impressed. “And in return, we lose twenty cruisers, six heavy cruisers, seven destroyers and frigates, sixteen battleships, three OWPs, four orbiting industrial platforms, three cities – do you want me to go on?”
“No, I think that’s enough.”
“Is it? Are you sure? Newfounding’s entire industry is gone, Hawthorne.” Hunt’s voice got very quiet. “I recommended diverting one of our BCVs to Newfounding. You overruled me. If Gemenez had had HAVOCs, he would have been able to prevent the Lefu from rolling their fighters through the minefield.”
“It’s possible. Or it’s possible that we’d be talking about the same thing, albeit with a slightly larger casualty list. Hindsight makes it easy to assign blame, doesn’t it, Alicia? We both agreed that Newfounding was not vital enough to warrant high-value assets. As it turns out, we were wrong.” They glared into each other’s eyes for a long moment before Hunt pulled away, stalking towards the door.
“Yes, we were.” She paused just before walking through it, looking back at Hawthorne with her flinty eyes. “While you’re coddling Archer and her pet, that thing’s, companions are rampaging through Concordat territories. Seven million are dead because I accepted your recommendations. Seven million people, sir. This has to stop.”
The door slammed shut and Foraker slumped back into his seat. “It will,” he announced to the air. “It will.”
Kanis sat in his office, his eyes scanning the list of names that Daemon brought to his attention. Casualties from Purgatory Three. His mistake. He’d allowed himself to be tricked by the Enemy and it had cost him, his element and his brothers and sisters. Not as much as it had cost the Enemy, perhaps, but it was still a dire price. He ghosted a hand over the console, the gesture bringing one file in particular to his attention.
Pilot Third Rank Helia Trelii. She who’d discovered the ambush. Her Fire Knife had been crippled and the pilot herself was badly injured, but she’d been recovered by one of her wingmates. She was still in critical condition, but if she survived the next few days, the outlook was optimistic. Even if she never woke up, Kanis would see to it that she was now Pilot Second Rank. It was about the only thing that he could do for her.
The Enemy were resourceful, he would give them that. There were other things he would like to give them and they all originated from Daemon Rising’s weapons ports. Because of the Enemy’s actions – because he’d been arrogant – he’d lost his supporting units. Sentinel Nine was the nearest replenishment site, but Command was establishing a foothold on one of the buffer systems. However, proper facilities there were not yet on-line, so he would fall back to Sentinel Nine – the system the Enemy called Priorii.
Daemon called for his attention and he felt what it had detected; a courier boat from the main Fleet body had arrived.
A slow, thin smile on his lips formed as Kanis read the dispatch. Bereavement’s Canticle had launched.
Diana was sitting in one of the hive’s observation lounges, sipping a mug of local cocoa. It was grown on Hyperion Secundus as a luxury export and fetched a high price on the market. Since the moratorium on non-essential travel, Secundus had been unable to clear its stockpiles and there were tons of locally-produced goods, including cocoa, sitting in warehouses. A few brokers were unhappy with this state of affairs; the option of smuggling out their goods had to be looking very attractive to them. However, the number of naval vessels in Hyperion Hive and at least two confirmed reports of Lefu reavers hunting down unprotected convoys, most of the merchants were not yet that desperate. Others, with no other markets to sell to, had been dumping their surplus onto the hive and the steadily-increasing military personnel there at prices barely above cost.
There were squeezes throughout Hyperion Sector; luxury items were shortfalling on nearly a dozen worlds, with the expected increases in black marketeering and price gouging that went with it. There was little she could do about that aside from attempting to impress upon Foraker and Hunt the need to siphon off some patrols for ‘non-essential’ shipments, just to ease the public’s morale. However, with the… incident in Newfounding, she doubted any of the officers were going to be receptive to that idea. She had very little capital with Foraker, Hunt and Hoss and she had to be careful where she spent it.
Diana leaned back in her chair, keeping an eye on the proceedings in the gymnasium. Stumping for this was something that she’d seen as valuable. She’d been more receptive to this idea then her military counterparts, if only in an attempt to undo the damage that their ‘special questioning had done. If there were any inroads to be made in making peace between humanity’s branches, this was where it had to start.
With an enemy pilot and a flag officer beating each other into paste.
Being persona non grata to her fellow officers did have some perks, Natalya had to admit. It allowed her a certain degree of freedom in her decisions, since she was no longer constrained by the thought of repercussions to her image or career. Her mother would be proud; she’d always taught her daughter to focus on the positive side of things.
Oh, she was ostracized from official and unofficial gatherings, her security clearances had been revoked, people that she’d thought of as friends and comrades were suddenly too busy for a cup of coffee, let alone able to return her comms. She could handle it if it were just herself, but Donald, Li and the remaining captains in TF 111 were getting caught in the crossfire. Things had gotten worse since Newfounding; one or two incidents had bordered on insubordination.
It wasn’t just the other officers – Natalya was already aware that some of her own captains were questioning her ability to command the task force, her competency – even her loyalties. It would be easier to ask to be relieved of her duties, but both ‘parts’ of her rebelled at the thought of giving up. There was more at stake here then just her sense of wounded pride, but the question she had to ask herself – could she do more for the Concord on the bridge of a starship or behind a desk? She honestly didn’t know.
She’d wanted to see space firsthand ever since she’d been a child running around the estate’s grounds, pretending she was flying, hiding from her nannies – Admiral Nat outwitting the ‘dreaded Zorbian Marauders’. She’d wanted to serve in the Concord ever since her grandfather’s first visit, listening to him go on with stories of other worlds and the (embellished) feats of her ancestors. She’d lain awake for hours, gazing out the window up into the clear night sky, or sneaking out of her room to wander the hallways, staring at the portraits of the men and women from her grandpa’s tales. It was all she’d ever wanted.
Even if she was barely an officer any more, could she give that up?
As Arykka slammed her into the wall with a force just shy of making her teeth rattle, Natalya considered that she really should be focusing on the here and now.
The quarters set aside for Hoss were standard for an admiral or VIP, especially on an installation the size of a hive: a small antechamber, main sitting area with a kitchette, bathroom, bedroom and office connected to this central room. The fleet admiral was off-duty at the moment, sitting with his feet up on the coffee table, a shot glass of straight-from-Earth-bourbon in one hand as he watched a security feed from one of the CB’s gymnasiums. He didn’t usually drink by himself and he’d been nursing this sole glass for an hour.
Preparations for Reignfall were continuing at breakneck pace. The latest Lefu atrocity was spurring the men and women of Hyperion Hive like the Devil himself was after them. Pity the fellow if he ever caught them, Vater thought with a dry grimace. By the end of the week, Eighth Fleet would be operational; between the 812th and what Hyperion Sector had managed to call in and re-commission, he had seventeen dreadnaughts, nine battleships, eighteen BCVs and a hundred and seventy battlecruisers, heavy cruisers, CAs and CLs with a few dozen escorts thrown in for good measure. This was one of the largest assemblages of Concord military might that had ever assembled and it was only one of many that were coming to life throughout Concordat space. Another dozen dreadnaughts were out of mothballs in Apex Sector and would be combat-ready inside of three months. Similar reports from all over the Concord trickled in daily.
Two thousand years ago, after carrying out a sneak attack on an enemy’s naval base, the admiral responsible wrote in his diary that he feared that all he had was to done was awakening a sleeping giant. Hoss was going to make sure that the Lefu felt that way very, very soon. He might die in the doing, but he would make those sons-of-bitches understood just how deeply they’d stepped into the shit when they’d attacked his nation.
And speaking of said ‘bitches’… he mused, taking another sip from his bourbon.
He’d been present when Commodore Archer had met with Admiral Foraker; Hunt was attending to affairs aboard Warlord and BG 97, which was fortunate. He could only guess how she would have reacted had she been there at the time, but ‘incendiary’ was the top of the list of descriptive terms. As it was, Foraker’s reaction had been enough of a meter stick and he was the less volatile of the two. Hoss wasn’t crazy about the idea either, but Pierce had been there to throw her support behind it and the President had made sure that his admirals knew to give the parliamentary representative plenty of rope.
Whether she ended up hanging herself with it was an open question, the same that could be said for Archer.
Although given that last hit, the commodore might not survive that long.
Even prisoners got time in the exercise yard. Arykka had not. It was equal parts security concern due her demonstrated reactions to other humans and the simple fact that the Concordat personnel just plain didn’t like her very much. Finding herself the most unlikely advocate for the Lefu’s rights, Natalya had requested giving Arykka the chance to stretch her limbs outside of her cell. That she was already on the unofficial shit list had made her decision easier, since she din’t have much to lose by asking.
Foraker had agreed, after a fashion. He might have refused outright, but Archer had planned for that. It felt wrong to have to seek support from Pierce; it was certainly a breach in etiquette, but then so was what Foraker and Hunt had done to her. Diana was not yet the governess of Hyperion Hive and could only ‘strongly suggest’ to the admiral. Hawthorne wasn’t politically deaf and he didn’t want his name showing up in Pierce’s dispatches over trivial matters like this. He hadn’t been happy, but he’d agreed to give the pilot an hour’s free time – after certain security precautions were met.
Getting her out of her cell had been tricky; even with Natalya there, the Evea’shi had not wanted the bindings put on her, but had relented in the end. Her wrists had been locked together, ankles chained. She was even wearing a metal stun collar, a Marine holding the pole hooked into it.
<Animals are treated this way,> she’d angrily pointed out to Natalya. That it was a reasonable precaution given her physical abilities and obvious aggression had done little to mollify the irate pilot. If she hadn’t been there, Natalya was certain that the Evea’shi would have gone berserk. So the ‘animal’ comparison wasn’t that far off.
Once her bindings had been unfastened, Arykka’s mood had improved somewhat, even if she was being watched by a quartet of Marines in full combat armour. It was amazing what even temporary ‘freedom’ had done for the Evea’shi. She’d been curious about Concordat styles of hand-to-hand. Natalya, in a temporary fit of insanity, had agreed to spar with her. Archer wasn’t an expert; she’d passed the Basic Defence Courses and every one or two weeks would get her ass handed to her by Major Latisha Harkness. She’d had a good relationship with Intolerance’s ranking Marine. Had. Thinking of Latisha stirred unpleasant pangs of guilt and anger in Natalya. Harkness, and the rest of her men and women, were gone. The redhead gritted her teeth, trying not to think about what must have happened to them at the hands of Arykka’s kinsmen.
Being here with the Evea’shi felt like she was betraying them. Consorting with the enemy. Watching the Lefu girl’s muscles ripple as she stretched, Natalya felt warmth on her cheeks and knew there was some truth to that. Wasn’t there? Why did she keep coming back to Arykka? Was this how she honoured her dead? Honoured James and Timothy? Natalya’s stomach tightened.
The Evea’shi flexed like a cat, picking up on her mood. <To honour my people, I should rip your spine free from your body,> she commented idly. <You are Enemy. And yet alive.>
“Then why don’t you?” Natalya challenged, jerking her head towards the Marine. “It’s even odds that they’d be able to react in time.” The armoured soldiers shifted, not liking the commodore’s half of the conversation.
The two women circled each other. “The End of Dawn Vessels have a flaw,” Arykka lilted in lilted in Dryn’evea, ignoring Natalya’s question. “Their ships’ aft blind zones are larger then other craft of comparative size. They use parasites to compensate.”
Archer froze for a moment, wondering why Arykka was sharing that. For a split-second, she lowered her guard and the Lefu lunged at her.
It felt good to move again. Her isometrics were fine to keep her toned, but there’d been a part of her begging for the chance to be free and wild again. To be fair, this was neither. But it was closer then she’d been in a long time and she enjoyed the sensation.
Her people were predators. The Ovea’brei had seen that in them, had needed it, and nurtured that trait, sculpting a primitive people into their cannon-fodder slaves. But if they had wanted fighters, they had wanted intelligent fighters, not screaming barbarians who’d drop their guns and charge the enemy with knives, teeth and claws. After the Broken Days, her people had enhanced those same traits that the Ovea’brei had encouraged, making themselves better warriors. They had survived what no one else had: the Prime Enemy, had grown and even flourished across the galaxy, thousands of light-years from their long-lost homeworld, always at war.
As their cousins had grown up ignorant and happy, the Evea’shi had been fighting for their survival. Weakness, hesitation – even mercy. The universe rewarded none of them. Not when one’s existence was what was risked. The Enemy, some of them, still talked about, still thought of peace. There couldn’t be peace. Why didn’t the Enemy see that? Why didn’t Natalya?
Why didn’t she?
The night never ends, Echo. Not for any of us. All we can do is hope to survive. Let me show you.
Before Natalya could react, Arykka had thrown her to the ground, pinning her hands above her head. Though slighter in form then Archer herself, Arykka massed more, her musculature and bones were denser, tougher then even Natalya’s genetically-modified self. “Strike first,” the Evea’shi purred, the sound as comforting as a diamondback’s rattle.
“Strike hard and fast,” Archer snapped in response, bucking and almost throwing Arykka off of her. She’d almost had enough leverage, but Selliphii recovered too quickly. The Evea’shi hissed lyrically, settling back into position, pressing herself against her victim. Natalya could feel the warmth of Arykka’s body through the fabric of their outfits.
“And strike last,” the Lefu growled, sinking her teeth into Natalya’s throat.