UNION OF BORDER WORLDS SPACE
Union of Border
Worlds Space Navy Fleet HQ
Planet Landreich Prime
The Landreich System, Leo Sector
DEC 21 2680/2680.354
A sharp ringing sound echoed through the dining room as Vice-Admiral Daniel Eugene Wilford tapped his fork against his champagne glass. One by one, the high ranking officers in the room stopped what they were doing, and turned towards Wilford. He in turn waited until he had their complete attention before he charged his glass, and then stood up to give his toast.
"To Erin Hanton! A job well done, and a promotion long overdue!"
"To Admiral Hanton!"
The sound of cheers and clinking champagne glasses filled the room as the officers toasted Erin Hanton's promotion to the rank of rear admiral. Several of them rose to pay their own tributes to her, describing the years she had spent serving and protecting the Union, especially the role she and her crew had played in defeating the Kilrathi's invasion of the Bush.
For her part, Admiral Hanton accepted the accolades gracefully, although she declined to make a speech. The whole point of this evening's dinner had been to celebrate her promotion, but she was glad that the formal part of the evening was almost at an end. Two of her old friends from the BWS New Jersey were here, people that she hadn't seen since the Treaty of McAuliffe had been signed several months ago, and she was looking forward to seeing them again.
The waiters began bringing in coffee and dessert as the speeches wound down. The formal gathering broke up soon afterwards, with the officers drifting into smaller groups. Admiral Hanton soon caught sight of her friends, and moved to join them.
Sang Que and Damien Chelsea had been the Jersey's First and Second Officers respectively. They both snapped to attention and saluted as the Admiral joined them, and then relaxed as she raised an eyebrow, both of them looking a little sheepish. The Jersey's crew had been to hell and back in the Bush, and they had no reason to be that formal with each other.
"Congratulations, Admiral," Sang Que said warmly as he shook her hand.
"Thank you, Sang. I see that congratulations are order for you two as well," the Admiral replied. Both of her friends had been promoted since their time in the Bush. Sang Que now wore captain's bars, and was in line for a command of his own. Chelsea was now a full commander, and there were some rumors that he was getting his own ship as well.
"So, any word on your command yet, Sang?" she asked.
"Yes, finally. I'm due to get command of the Valeria when she's launched," Sang Que replied. The Valeria was one of the Union's new Arcadia-class fleet carriers, the most advanced and powerful ships in the Fleet.
"Ah, yes, and I hear she's a fine ship. Have you selected your officers yet?"
"Well, I requested Chelsea here for my first officer, but he's..."
"... Holding out for his own ship," Admiral Hanton finished with a smile. Chelsea had always been the most ambitious of her officers. At only thirty years of age, he was one of the youngest people to reach commander's rank in peacetime, but even that wasn't enough for him. What Chelsea wanted more than anything else was a carrier of his own.
"He's not going to get much better than the Valeria," Sang Que pointedly reminded the younger officer.
"Yes, but she won't be mine," Chelsea said with a smile. "'Tis far better to rule in Hell than serve in - '"
" - Excuse us, gentlemen," Admiral Wilford broke in. "I'd like a word with Admiral Hanton, if you don't mind."
"Of course, Admiral," Sang Que said as he and Chelsea both saluted, and then beat a hasty retreat. Admiral Hanton saluted as well.
"No need to salute, Erin," Wilford said with a polite smile. "I'm turning over command of the Fleet at the end of this month."
"I heard, Admiral. Still, getting command of the TCS Midway is well worth it."
"Yes. To be honest, I'm looking forward to commanding a ship once again," Wilford replied. There were mixed emotions about the man's features, but none that looked so significant that they might lead him to change his mind. "Before I leave for Earth again, though, there are a few things I need to take care of. That includes a new assignment for you. You've heard the rumors that the Kilrathi are getting restless again, haven't you?"
"Yes, Admiral," Hanton said simply, deciding to wait and hear what Wilford had to say. Those rumors had been circulating for a while, ever since the peace treaty with the Confederation and the then-Ninth Kilrathi Empire had been signed. Both Confed TCIS and Border Worlds Intell had tried to confirm the rumors independently as well as together... but all they had come up with was some nonsense about a Cat prophecy.
"We're hoping that the Confed Fleets will be able to keep them under control... but you and I both know we can't afford to take the chance," Wilford continued. "That's why our First Fleet will be stepping up operations along the Kilrathi frontier. I need you to take command of one of our new Arcadia-class battle groups..."
Guild Orbital Shipyards
Over planet Landreich Prime
January 3rd, 2681
The massive orbital dockyard shuddered slightly as hundreds of explosive bolts fired all at the same time. The docking clamps holding the newly-built carrier in place released their grip. The BWS Valeria was now free of the docks that had built her from the keel up, free to move into the open space that was her real home.
The ship only had a skeleton crew for the launch, but the bridge was packed with every available seat occupied. In addition to the bridge staff, there were several high ranking officers present, as well as reporters from every major newspaper and holo-vison station in the Union. The launch of a brand new carrier was big news, especially now that the galaxy was more or less at peace. There were a lot of people who wanted the government to cut back on military spending. The Navy had had to fight tooth and nail to get the new carriers operational.
"Ahead one-tenth, maneuvering thrusters only until we clear the docks," Captain Sang Que ordered calmly.
On the inside, though, he wasn't anywhere near as calm as he pretended to be. Any mishap now would sink his career as a captain before it really began. He was sure that the reporters and politicians opposed to the new carriers would play up even the slightest mistake he made, using it to discredit the military buildup. There was never enough money to go around (especially in the cash-strapped Union), and there were a lot of people who thought the money spent building these carriers could be better spent elsewhere.
To Sang Que, that sounded dangerously like the complacency that had very nearly wiped out the human race at the start of the Kilrathi War. This galaxy had never truly been at peace, at least not during his lifetime. First there had been the First Kilrathi War, then the Border Worlds affair, the Secession War, the Second Kilrathi War, then finally Cynium and the Battle for the Bush. It was foolish in the extreme to believe there would never be another war, or that the Border Worlders could always depend on Confed for protection. The price of freedom was indeed eternal vigilance. That was one of the few things that Tolwyn had gotten right.
"Aye sir, ahead one-tenth, maneuvering thrusters only," the ensign at the ship's helm confirmed.
Captain Que leaned back in his chair as the Valeria started to accelerate forward. He couldn't help sneaking a glance at the reporters who were all over the bridge. Even if he did everything right, he knew that half the editorials tomorrow would be be scathingly critical of "wasteful military spending" and "expensive war toys."
"Ignore them. Just relax and enjoy the moment," Admiral Hanton said quietly in his ear. She had decided that her friend's ship would form the core of her new battle group, so she was one of the highest ranking on board. She knew that Sang would need a little moral support.
"That's easy for you to say, Admiral," Captain Que whispered back.
"A first ship is like a first love, something that you never forget. Don't let these vultures ruin it for you," the Admiral said with a quiet laugh.
Just then, the Valeria eased out of the dockyard, and into the open space of the Landreich System. Hanging below them was Landreich Prime itself, the capital of the Union, and home to over a billion people. Outside the docks, there was a fleet of commercial and private vessels waiting to see the ship. Most of these were tourists who had come to see the sight. A few of them though were clearly protest vessels, painted with peace signs and messages. A couple even tried to block the Valeria's path, but the helmsman deftly steered around them. The Valeria passed through the crowd of smaller ships in a slow, stately manner, letting the public take a good look at her.
"Helm, ahead full, set course for the Krueger Colony," Sang Que ordered once they were clear of the Fleet. The Valeria was scheduled to visit several colonies in the system, starting with Krueger, which was located on the moon of one of the outer planets.
"Aye sir, ahead full, course set for Krueger Colony," the helmsman responded crisply.
"Ladies and gentlemen, it'll take roughly two hours to reach Kreuger," one of the Fleet press officers said to the reporters. "That gives us enough time for a guided tour of this ship, so if you'll follow me..."
The reporters filed out with the press officer, as did most of the high ranking officers, but Admiral Hanton stayed behind. She and Captain Que had a lot to talk about, and that would be a lot easier when the reporters weren't there.
"Just how long will it take to get this ship fully crewed and operational?" the Admiral asked.
"About two weeks, give or take a few days. There are a lot of older Intrepid-style Durango destroyers and Tarawa-type Khorsan-class 'jeep' patrol carriers same as being decommissioned right now, so finding experienced crew isn't all that much of a problem," Captain Que replied.
"And the flight wing...?"
"That's going to be a little tougher. The Battles of Cynium and the Bush chewed up our pilots like a meat-grinder. I'm mostly transferring the best pilots and squadrons from the carriers that are being scrapped. Some of these units fought in the Kilrathi Wars, and they've all spent a lot of time on the frontier, so they'll have a good deal of experience. The real trouble is finding senior officers with wartime combat experience. A lot of our senior pilots have retired since the war ended."
"I can't say I blame them. After all, there aren't all that many old fighter pilots. What about the senior pilots from the Jersey, though? A lot of them fought in the war, as well as the the 'Incident,'" the Admiral said.
"Yes, that's what I was thinking as well. The trouble is I'm not sure that they'll be willing to sign on for another tour. The last I heard, most of them were teaching at the Academy..."
Union of Border
Worlds Space Force Academy
Planet Landreich Prime
The Landreich System
January 5th, 2681
Colonel Rajan "Raptor" Ragupathy wasn't exactly in a good mood.
One of his senior cadets had very nearly collided with him during A.C.M. (Air Combat Maneuvering) training earlier that morning. The R.O.E. for A.C.M. stated that the pilots maintain 2,500 klicks separation at all times, and keep their engagement speeds below 1,000 KPS. The cadet had forgotten the rules, and built up far too much speed during an attack run on Raptor's Retaliator heavy fighter. The only way that Raptor had been able to avoid a collision was by slamming his throttle wide open, and kicking the Retaliator from cruise speed to full afterburn in a fraction of a second.
The sudden acceleration had ended up damaging the fighter's starboard engine. Thrust from the damaged engine had dropped dramatically, and the fighter immediately began to rattle and shake alarmingly. Raptor had been forced to shut the starboard engine down, and nurse the fighter down for a single engine landing, which was always a nerve-wracking process.
That would have been enough to ruin anyone's day, but the problems hadn't ended there. Raptor had just spent the past half hour in a heated argument with the Academy's commanding officer. The Academy's budget had just been cut, which meant that flying hours had to be reduced by almost a third. The missing flight time would be replaced by extra simulator time. In Raptor's opinion, that was little short of insane. Modern-day 27th century holo-simulators were good, and they could simulate almost everything that happened in the cockpit, but they were no substitute for actual flight time. The safety of a simulator just encouraged cadets to be complacent, leading to mistakes like the one that Raptor had just seen.
Unfortunately, though, that argument had cut no ice with the Commandant. Every hour of flight time cost thousands of credits, which was money that the Academy didn't have. The flying hours were going to cut whether Raptor liked it or not. The instructors would have to do the best they could with the remaining flight time. Raptor decided that he really wasn't in a good mood.
A casual observer might have gotten the impression that Raptor hated being at the Academy. That couldn't be further from the truth. Teaching at the Academy was the most rewarding, most satisfying work that he had done in his life. He was helping give the cadets a better chance of staying alive, which was far more satisfying than taking life in combat. What frustrated him was the limits that the instructors had to work under. Ever since the peace treaty had been signed, the Academy's budget had been slashed drastically, which meant fewer and fewer resources to work with.
"What is it?" he snapped as someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Nice. Maybe I'll just page you next time," Lt. Colonel Chrys "Mirage" Rhodes said with a smile. She was one of the other instructors at the Academy, teaching basic and advanced flight techniques, along with dogfight tactics.
"Sorry," Raptor apologized, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and giving her a quick hug. The two of them had been friends, and a whole lot more, for the past eight years.
"Uh-huh. Bad day?" Mirage asked.
"It's getting better," he said with a smile. "You free for lunch?"
"That's what I wanted to talk to you about. Sang Que's here, and he wants us to join him for lunch."
"Sang Que isn't my type. You are."
"Idiot. He says he wants to talk to us about something important."
It wasn't quite noon yet, so the Officer's Club Dining Room was only about half-full when they got there. A couple of people at the tables were old friends of theirs from the Jersey, including Colonel Jack "Samurai" Tanagawa, and Lt. Colonel Ruth "Lynx" Lofton. Raptor and Mirage exchanged nods with these people, but they didn't stop to talk. Right now, they were more interested in hearing what Sang Que had to say.
"Hello, Sang. Long time no see," Raptor said as they joined Sang at his table.
"We heard about the Valeria on the news-vids. Congratulations, Sang," Mirage added warmly, reaching over to shake Sang's hand.
"Thanks. Personally, I wish that the launch hadn't hit the headlines, but I guess it couldn't be helped. It seems everyone and his aunt is screaming at the government to cut military spending," Captain Que said quietly.
"Tell me about it. We just got our training budget slashed," Raptor said. Thanks could go to the current UBW President, Harold Cale, whose election promises years ago seemed to be becoming fast forgotten.... but politics and their politicians were a thing Colonel Ragupathy tended to avoid.
"Ouch. Sorry to hear that. Oh, by the way, I took the liberty of ordering for you. I hope you don't mind," Sang said as a waiter brought three plates loaded with food to their table.
"No, of course not," Mirage said. "What brings you here, anyway?"
Captain Que chewed on his food for a few seconds, wondering how to answer the question, and then decided to be direct. "I need experienced officers to command the Valeria's flight wing, the 15th Tactical Air Wing. I was hoping you two would sign up."
Raptor and Mirage exchanged a quick glance. In spite of everything, they were happy here at the Academy, away from the pressures and dangers on the frontlines. They were doing work that they both enjoyed, and they had a chance at a stable, secure future together. That was something that neither of them were eager to give up.
"Look, I know it's a lot to ask," Captain Que said, seeing the looks on their faces. "Just hear me out. There's something very strange going on inside the Kilrathi Assembly of Clans. It's possible, just possible, mind you, that the Kilrathi might be getting ready to attack again."
Mirage swore softly. "I knew it. I just knew it was too good to last."
"Well, we were all hoping that it would last, but we have to be prepared for the possibility that it won't," Sang Que said seriously. "Admiral Hanton has been given the job of putting together a powerful carrier battle group, based around the Valeria, and using it to respond to any incursion into our space. That, in short, is why we need experienced pilots. We're hoping that the Jersey's senior pilots will form the core of our flight wing."
The two pilots glanced at each other once again. The amount of time that they had spent together allowed them to guess each other's thoughts. They were both Border Worlders, by blood and by choice, and they had spent a good part of their lives fighting to defend the Union. After all those years, it seemed wrong to walk away now. If the Kilrathi really were going to attack, neither of them would be happy hiding out at the Academy.
"We're in," they both said at the same time.
A Few Hours Later...
The shuttle cleared Landreich Prime's upper atmosphere, and then accelerated away from the planet, heading instead towards the smaller of Landreich's two moons. The BWS Valeria had finished her tour of the system, and was stationed on the far side of the moon, along with the rest of her battle group.
The view from the shuttle windows as they flew to the moon was incredible. Much unlike the unrelated system it shared a namesake with in Maximillian Kruger's Free Republic of the Landreich in the nearby Landreich Sector, Landreich had always been one one of the most beautiful systems in the Union. That beauty was enhanced rather than spoiled by all the signs of human activity in the system. Trade with the Confederation and the Andorran Republic had flourished since the peace treaty had been signed. There were a dozen other ships visible at any one time, transporting cargo and passengers to and from the rest of galaxy. In the past, Border Worlders had always had to make do with what little they had. This increased trade and cooperation with the other human nations promised a better future for the Union. That future was what they were trying to protect.
The flight itself took less than ten minutes. Raptor felt his jaw drop when he saw what was waiting on the other side of the moon. Clustered around the Valeria were at least seven other warships. He counted two gleaming, brand new Achilles-class heavy cruisers, four destroyers, and an old Ranger-class light carrier. Last, but certainly not least, was the dark, menacing shape of a Nemesis-class battlecruiser. It was the most impressive gathering that he'd seen since the end of the First Kilrathi War.
"So, I guess this is where the Academy's budget went, huh?" he said.
Captain Que laughed quietly. "It looks impressive, I'll grant you that. To tell you the truth, though, this battle group that you see here is the main defensive force for this system, and the entire Leo Sector."
"You're joking, right?" Mirage asked. "Two carriers for an entire sector?"
"You mean you haven't heard? The Senate, in all its infinite wisdom, has decreed that we only retain one Arcadia battle group per star sector. That's why the Navy went all out to make this battle group as powerful as it is. If any enemy force hits this sector, Battle Group Valkyrie will have to hold them off until the Confed Fleet gets here."
"Battle Group Valkyrie?" Raptor said, raising a eyebrow.
"It was either that or Battle Group Valkyrie," Captain Que said with a smile. "Admiral Hanton's on board the Valeria, she'll fill you in on the details."
CARRIER BATTLE GROUP VALKYRIE (CVBG-V)
The shuttle drifted towards the Valeria's landing bay, and touched down with barely a bump. The bay itself was filled with frantic activity, with dozens of fighters being checked, or shipped off to the hangers on the decks below. The techs scrambling around the bay didn't pay much attention to the officers stepping off the shuttle, even though one of those officers was their Captain. They were racing against time to get the ship ready for its shakedown cruise.
In the Border Worlds Navy, the general philosophy went that you did your job first and bothered with formalities like saluting later.
The three officers carefully made their way through the confusion, trying not to get in the way. All around them, crew chiefs yelled orders to the techs, and the techs yelled right back. The air shook with the high pitched scream of an Arrow's engines being warmed up, joined a few seconds later by the deeper rumble of a Jaguar's turbines. The sheer amount of noise inside the landing bay made it impossible to hold a conversation till they reached the lift.
"What kind of flight wing does this group have?" Raptor asked as the lift doors closed behind them. The heavy steel doors blocked out most of the noise from the landing bay. He reached out and pushed a few buttons, setting the lift moving towards the bridge.
"Counting everything aboard the carriers and the escorts... we have 186 fighters, bombers and support craft," Captain Que replied. "That includes nine combat squadrons, each of which has eighteen craft. There are also two support squadrons, which have twelve craft each."
Mirage raised an eyebrow. That was a very powerful flight wing, approaching that of a Confed heavy carrier battle group. "What types of craft do we have?"
"One squadron of Arrow light fighters, two of Intruder medium fighters, plus one squadron each of Jaguar, Retaliator, Excalibur, and Bearcat heavy fighters, and one squadron each of Avenger and Dauntless bombers. The support units are a squad of Stalker EW craft, and a squad of shuttles."
"Where did you manage get hold of Excals and Bearcats?" Raptor asked, just as the lift reached the bridge.
"The Union bought them second hand from Confed. One of the benefits of the treaty," Captain Que explained as they stepped off the lift, and onto the Valeria's bridge.
Admiral Hanton was waiting for them, along with Damien Chelsea. Chelsea had given command of the Ranger-class carrier, the BWS Freedom. The Admiral had had to pull a few strings to get Chelsea the ship, but Chelsea had proven his worth time and again in the Bush. He would make a good carrier skipper. Both Raptor and Mirage snapped to attention and saluted. Erin Hanton had become something of a friend during their time in the Bush, but after all, she was now an admiral. The Admiral returned the salute, and then smiled slightly and waved them towards a group of chairs that had been set up in one corner of the bridge. This was obviously going to be an informal meeting.
"First of all, let me say how glad I am that you two decided to sign up," the Admiral said as they all sat down. "As I'm sure you know, we need all the senior pilots we can get. Colonel, as this group's Wing Commander, it'll be your responsibility to assign the squadron commanders for each unit."
"Of course, Admiral," Raptor said.
Raptor already had quite a few people in mind, mainly pilots who had been aboard the Jersey. Lt. Colonel Alex "Skywalker" Witt, Samurai's former XO, had flown Excaliburs during his time with Confed, and would most likely jump at the chance to lead an Excal squadron. Lt. Colonel Yu Fei "Phalanx" Leung loved flying fast, agile fighters, so he was a natural choice to lead the Bearcat unit. Phalanx would also make a good wing commander for the Ranger-class carrier. Mirage would of course lead the Retaliator squadron, just like she'd done aboard the Jersey. As for the...
"Has Sang told you just why we're forming this battle group?" Admiral Hanton asked.
"Just that the Kilrathi are getting ready to attack again," Mirage replied.
"We don't know that for sure," Chelsea corrected her. "All we have is some rumors from inside the Empire. It seems the Sivar Priesthood and the Cult of Sivar have gone ballistic over the last few months. They're screaming about some prophecy that predicts the Kilrathi will be consumed if they ever allow themselves to be defeated by an 'inferior race.'"
"That sounds like your standard religious bullshit," Raptor said with a snort.
"Maybe, but the Kilrathi take that religious bullshit pretty seriously," Chelsea said. "This 'Prophecy of Sivar,' or 'Prophecy of Kt'lan' is central to their culture."
"And you think this prophecy might motivate them to attack again?" Raptor asked.
"That's just it... we don't know," the Admiral said. "Confed and Border Worlds Intell have picked up a few scraps that suggest the Cats are re-arming themselves, but there's nothing concrete. It could be that the Kilrathi are getting ready to attack, or it could simply be some kind of split within the Kilrathi Assembly itself. It could even be that the Cats are re-arming for some other reason altogether. Hell, most of the Senate thinks all this is just military scare-mongering. Whatever happens, though, we need to be ready. And I intend to make sure that Battle Group Valkyrie is ready for anything."