PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 57 of 66 )
“ End of the Spiral ”
“Stand to your glasses ready,
This world is a world full of lies.
Here’s a health to the dead already
Hurrah for the next man to die!”
- From "Stand to Your Glasses!" (WWI)
CARRIER BATTLE GROUP AURIGA, CVBG-A
TCS Shrak'har; Warriors Hall
The Loki System, Vega Sector, Downing Quadrant
15th FEB 2681/2681.046; 0900 Hours (CST)
In most instances of war such as the nonstop, ongoing bloody campaign the relatively isolated Combined Fleet found itself fighting, matters of judicial nature and blame-pointing were normally shoved to the side until peacetime.
This case, today, was an exception. The TCS Valley Forge had been destroyed, and High Command wanted answers -- they wanted them now.
The bang of the gavel quickly silenced the whispering and scrape of chairs. The Judge Advocate General, in this case one Major Louis DuMonte, glanced at the technician with the recording equipment, who gave a slight nod.
"This court of inquiry has been convened to determine the cause and circumstances pertaining to the loss of the Terran Confederation's late ship Valley Forge, on or about the 14th of February Twenty-Six Eighty-One. This court is now in session. Please call the first witness."
The attendant stepped outside the door, returning moments later with the former Comm Officer of the Forge, one Lt. St. Germain.
"Lieutenant Amy St. Germain, please step forward."
"You are Lieutenant JG Amy St. Germain, Confederation Navy, ID number 8324091-G?"
"Please sit down," JAG DuMonte indicated the chair in front of the long table at which he and the other examining officers were seated. "This court of inquiry is only to determine the cause and circumstances of the loss of the TCS Valley Forge. It is not a court-martial, you are not under arrest and this court is not interested in determining the guilt or innocence of the parties involved -- at this time."
He paused, staring straight at her for a moment, before continuing. "You are however, under oath, and charges may later be laid depending on the findings of the court. Do you understand?"
"Yessir, I do."
"Very good. You were the Communications Officer for the Valley Forge, and you were present in the CIC from the start of the engagement until ordered to leave, is that correct?"
"Yes, sir, that is correct."
"In your own words then, could you start by telling us what happened, from the start of the attack on the enemy dreadnought.”
"The Nephilim started their strike on the Valley Forge shortly before we launched our counterattack, at about 1225 Hours on the 14th. Due to the nature of the attack plan, the Valley Forge was forced to approach the enemy vessels closely," explained St. Germain.
"How closely, and why? Surely a strike could have been launched from a safe distance away?"
"Within spitting distance. The Marines made a boarding action. To give their LC a chance, it was decided to close on the enemy battle group before launching it, so there was the least chance of it being destroyed. At least, that was the explanation given." St. Germain sounded less than convinced.
"Carry on, then," he instructed.
So Amy did, "The Marines were to lay charges inside the enemy dreadnought. They needed time to lay enough charges to be sure of success, and the ship was under constant attack during the whole of this time. The proximity to the enemy interceptors meant that the BARCAP fighters were having to land to rearm and refuel as it was not a realistic option for replenishment shuttles to operate in that environment."
"Could the Valley Forge not have withdrawn some distance while this attack took place?" asked one of the other officers with DuMonte, a sandy-haired captain.
"I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer that question, sir, but I would have thought so."
"So why didn't this happen?" the Captain persisted.
"I don't know."
"All right," DuMonte looked at the captain next to him, whose eyebrow flickered slightly, "carry on, then."
"Around 1320 Hours, the B-7 Dauntless bombers of the VF-14 Talons Squadron succeeded in destroying one of the dreadnought's escorts, an Orca-class destroyer. They requested permission to attack the dreadnought, but Schaefer refused and ordered them to provide extra CAP for the Valley Forge."
"You found this order very strange?"
"Not as strange as the time when Captain Vandermann refused permission for damaged spacecraft to land, sir," she answered bitterly.
"Please confine your answers to the questions asked, Lieutenant," growled DuMonte.
"Those bombers were of virtually no use at all as interceptors, but had nearly eighty torpedoes left between them. With all due respect, you're damned right I found it a strange order."
"Thank you, Lieutenant, though as Communication Officer, I don't think your opinion is a qualified one." DuMonte saw the icy look she gave him, and added, "At least, in the eyes of this court."
"Yes, sir. About then we were hit by the first CSM - that is, the bug equivalent of a Cap-Ship Missile -- and we experienced a momentary loss of power to all systems as the auxiliaries kicked in. Captain Schaefer got in contact with the Marines on board the dreadnought. Captain Dshugder-Warmuth reported that not enough charges had been laid, but Schaefer ordered her to blow them anyway."
"Prematurely? This would surely have prevented the Marines from escaping, wouldn't it?" the same sandy-haired captain inquired.
"It was a suicide mission from start to finish. They had no chance!"
"Lieutenant, you are not qualified to make that opinion, as it is outside your area of expertise!" DuMonte growled.
"God damn it! There were only seventeen Marines on board that Alien ship, fighting thousands of Nephilim! They needed at least an hour, but Schaefer gave them half that! You don't need to be a Marine or a god-damned quantum physicist to work out that it was a one way trip!"
"Lieutenant, you're borderline contempt! I won't warn you again -- either you confine your answers to the questions asked or you'll end up in the brig. Is that quite clear?"
"Yes, sir," St. Germain sneered.
"Please carry on with the narrative, then, Lieutenant."
"At 1330 Hours, Captain Schaefer ordered the self-destruction of the ship. I asked him if I should also give the order to evacuate, but he ordered me not to."
"He specifically told you not to order the evacuation of the ship? He hadn't simply forgotten?"
"No, sir, he deliberately forbade it!" Amy made absolutely sure they understood the implications.
"With more than 3,000-some officers and enlisted personnel still on board?"
"Yes, sir. That is correct."
"Yet an evacuation did take place. How did this happen?"
"Captain Vandermann ordered it, sir. He entered the CIC at that time, and confronted Schaefer. Schaefer admitted framing him for the murders he'd committed. And a lot of other things, too, he went back to tell of times long ago, he mentioned the Black Lance, of which both men seemed to have been part of. And of its sick ideas that apparently were still creeping in their not so sane heads - "
DuMonte cut her off abruptly, "That isn't pertinent to this inquiry, Lieutenant. What happened next?"
Amy St. Germain stared at him for a long moment before continuing, "There was another heavy impact, probably another CSM, and in the confusion, Captain Schaefer shot Captain Vandermann. Then... Lt. Commander Ishii... killed Schaefer." The young woman's voice wavered audibly as she spoke the name of her deceased best friend, Erin.
"Killed him? He wasn't just wounded?"
"His face ended up on my console. I'm pretty sure he was dead."
"I see. Do go on." DuMonte was trying hard to suppress a grin at her deadpan gallows humor.
"By now the ship was in a bad state - we'd taken at least one more hit at this time, and our CAP was almost nonexistent. They'd all been shot down. Most of our turrets had been taken out as well. The Valley Forge was almost defenseless. Captain Vandermann ordered an immediate evacuation -- "
"May I just stop you there for a moment?" DuMonte asked. "What happened to the self destruction?"
"Lt. Commander Erin Ishii hadn't carried the order out, sir. We were all shocked, and then Vandermann appeared before it could be carried out-"
"Don't worry, Lieutenant," DuMonte assured her with a cold smile, "Lt. Commander Ishii is not on trial here. It seems to have been an unlawful order anyway. She was not at fault for failing to carry it out." He was not interested in her. Vandermann and Schaefer was all he wanted to hear of and what bits of information their inferiors would know of their motives and background. Getting to know all this without asking too many obvious questions -- that was why this hearing took place at all. It did not serve any other purpose than that. The hearing was just the cover, the blanket, for a first hand examination of whether Vandermann and Schaefer had at least covered their tracks well once they were stupid enough to get not the battle group or at least the carrier terminated but themselves instead.
"Thank you, sir. She volunteered to stay with captain Vandermann. The rest of the bridge crew, including myself, left for the nearest lifeboat station."
"Thank you. I believe that about covers it, but you may be requested to give evidence again to help clear up points that may arise." She seems to hear and see a lot, but quite obviously she is too dumb a chick to put it together. DuMonte glanced at a handpad in front of him "Call the next witness. Major von Richthofen."
Major Frederick “Doppler” von Richthofen, the VF-14 Talons squadron commander, was advised he was under oath and his professional status quickly ascertained. Then the real questioning started.
"After you had destroyed the first Orca-class destroyer, Captain Vandermann ordered you to provide extra CAP for the Valley Forge, didn't he?"
"Yes, he did."
"Were your spacecraft suited to this task?"
"No. The squadron is a bomber squadron, not a space superiority squadron. We would have been better employed attacking the Tiamat with our remaining torpedoes."
"But at that time the Marine boarding party were still aboard the enemy vessel," DuMonte pointed out. "Would your attack not have put them at risk?"
"I don't believe so. We would have aimed our attacks at the enemy engines and control center. By attacking we may even have given them a chance to effect an egress, by causing a diversion. Instead, they were not given this opportunity."
"Thank you, Major. I believe that will be all."
The next witness called was Lieutenant Susan Anderson, the Valley Forge's senior tactical officer.
"Why weren't you in the CIC when this engagement was going on?"
"Captain Schaefer had ordered I be replaced by Ensign Milfort."
"Ensign 2nd class Rebecca Milfort?"
"But surely it is SOP to have the senior tactical officer present in situations such as these, when the ship is under attack. Why then did Captain Schaefer order you off the bridge?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Well, was it a personal problem, a professional disagreement - what?"
"I might speculate, sir."
"I would have queried, no, protested, Schaefer's orders. I would have recommended viable alternatives, and… I may even have taken over command, sir. Ensign Milfort has neither the experience or self confidence to have stood up to Schaefer."
"I see." DuMonte did not doubt her. She had stood up to this court that could easily cut short her professional career, or worse. He had no doubt she would have done the same to Schaefer who could just as easily have cut short her life.
"And what decisions would you have protested?"
"Firstly, the order refusing the Talons permission to attack the dreadnought. The bombers were of very little use in defense, but could have made a big difference attacking the Tiamat. Instead, they acted as Space superiority fighters, and the Panthers of the Aztecs were left to act as bombers."
"Secondly, the order for the Marines to detonate their charges prematurely. It was an order to commit suicide."
"Sometimes a commander is put in the position of having to order men and women to their deaths," pointed out DuMonte.
"Yes, for a reason. This was not. The Marines had not managed to lay enough charges. Thus in all likelihood it would not have resulted in enough damage to the dreadnought to be successful."
"Thirdly, of course, the order refusing evacuation. That was murder, pure and simple."
Major Hishori “Ronin” Nawazaki was next, squadron commander of the 397th SFS Aztecs.
"What were the events directly leading up to the destruction of the Valley Forge, Major? Start at the impact of the first CSM."
"By this time, the Talons had called off, been called off," Ronin corrected himself, "from their attack. The rest of the 71st were defending the Valley Forge and the rest of the battle group from the Nephilim strike. Around 1330 Hours contact was lost with the Forge so, acting on my own initiative, I ordered my squadron to carry out something of a preemptive attack on the enemy dreadnought."
"Your squadron fly One-oh-eights, don't they? Hardly designed for the work."
"No, but our SEAD loadout had a few torpedoes on the fighters, and things were getting desperate. The Valley Forge had taken several more heavy hits. She wasn't going to last much longer, so I made a judgment call and decided to act. We succeeded in immobilizing the Tiamat by disabling her engines. About this time, the Valley Forge started moving toward the dreadnought."
"To ram her, you mean?"
Ronin shook his head. "The Forge's engines weren't providing enough speed or control for that by this time, and she ended up close alongside the dreadnought. Then either she finally succumbed to the damage she'd sustained, or she was deliberately self-destructed."
"Have you any idea which?"
"Judging by the fact she didn't seem to take a hit at that time, and where the explosion started, I'd guess it was self-inflicted. A deliberate attempt to destroy the Nephilim dreadnought."
"Thank you, Major."
Other witnesses were called, including Jed Wright, confirming what had already come to light. However, there was one important witness left until last, Lieutenant Commander Ethan Coliver.
"You ordered the arrest of Captain Vandermann, did you not?"
"On what grounds?"
"There was evidence linking him to at least one, and seemingly two murders."
"Which it seems based on later evidence and testimony he did not commit. Why exactly did you arrest the ship's captain and battle group commanding officer; relieve him of his command? If he was proven innocent, you could be tried for mutiny alongside Schaefer."
Coliver swallowed and took a breath, realizing the implication DuMonte had just made. "His father's handgun was the weapon used to kill MCPO Antoine Modeen. In hindsight, it was too obvious: Only a… well, only a madman of the most careless sort would leave the murder weapon -- your father's pistol, no less -- with the victim's body in plain sight. Well, suffice to say that was the point. In addition there had been aspects in the Captain's recent behavior that cast doubt on his integrity as well as on his authority as the ship's captain and the CINC of Battle Group Auriga. Not to mention certain rumors."
"What exactly are you trying to indicate here, Lieutenant Commander?" DuMonte asked, curiously and very cautiously at the same time. Looks like he is taking the bait, Coliver thought. Trying hard not to appear aloof, yet deep inside burning to know, I can see that, DuMonte, Lieutenant Commander Coliver triumphed. So Coliver played along. Feeding DuMonte with dead but at first important looking information. Giving DuMonte the impression that this was what he knew or suspected. He was very careful to not let slip out any "real" information. Like a good old play of Poker, he thought, all game. At the start his strategy of gathering someone else's information -- interviewing someone round the houses while being interviewed himself -- seemed to work. DuMonte appeared to be hooked.
Hooked, that was, until...
DuMonte banged his gavel down, stopping Coliver in mid-flow, "You of all people should know hearsay is not admissible evidence, Lieutenant Commander!"
"Sorry, sir." Damn, what is this supposed to mean? Coliver cursed. Did he see through my double game or did he come to the conclusion that I would have no real information for him. Maybe I should have given him a larger bait?
"The court accepts there was reasonable grounds for the arrest of Captain Vandermann. Thank you. That will be all."
The "courtroom" was cleared while DuMonte and his subordinates considered the evidence. In surprisingly short order, the findings were announced.
"It is the finding of this court that the sole responsibility for the loss of the TCS Valley Forge on the 14th of February 2681 lies with her commanding officer at the time, Nathan Schaefer. His criminal negligence was directly responsible for her destruction. The court regrets he is not here to answer for his crimes, but the sentence of the court would undoubtedly have been death, and he has already received that."
DuMonte paused for a moment, glancing at the notes in front of him. Seemingly finding his place, he continued. "The court also finds that the other officers acted in the highest traditions of the Confederation Armed Forces. They acted in accordance with their oaths and performed their duty to the utmost of their ability. Special mention is made of Lt. Commander Erin Ishii, whose heroic self sacrifice was in all probability the reason for the eventual successful completion of Battle Group Auriga's mission -- their aptly named ‘Omega Strike’ on the Tiamat battle group -- though this will be small comfort to her family and friends, nor those of the other two thousand fatalities.
"On that note, this court is adjourned." DuMonte stood and marched from the room.
TCS Shrak'har; Hallway
adjacent to the flight deck
1332 Hours (CST)
“Thank you, Pete. And tell your uncle I said hello.”
“No worries, I will,” said the young Lieutenant and hastened down the hallway to join the group of JAG DuMonte leaving the ship.
It was a dangerous action, Coliver had undertaken. But it was the only way to learn of the hearing inside the warriors' hall at which Coliver had not been present. Counted out the time when he was called as a witness. On the other hand he had to know of it. And had taken the chance to do so when he had learned that Maurice’s nephew, Pete, had been a member of the hearing committee.
Yes, a dangerous thing it was -- to sniff around where there were powers at work that Coliver feared were very influential and ruthless beyond normal comprehension. And though he had gathered another piece in the puzzle solve the mystery about Vandermann and Schaefer, he felt to be still far away from its completion.
However this hearing had not been a “normal” one, which proved his initial suspicion about Vandermann, and then later Schaefer, too. But the deeper Coliver dug, the more questions he came up with. Questions indeed. But few answers. First he had been informed that a Helmut Hoth would lead the investigation. Then someone else, a Major Louis DuMonte, arrived. And no word that there had been any changes. Why had Coliver been asked for a report when heads within Confed Intell’s TCIS, TCIB, and TCIA had conducted their own investigation and hearing themselves? At the same time! He had found it surprising as well as to how quick they had found their information and how much they had known. Known in great detail even at points. That was what he derived from the method of their questions. Questions that all seemed to be pointing in one direction only -- to find out what the people would know or rather how much they would know about their late commanding officers who where Vandermann and Schaefer. How quickly that hearing had been summoned? How quickly even more noticeably it had been concluded. This gave the impression to him that someone wanted to get it over and done with as soon as possible and to make it a thing of the past. A small circumstance. An open case and shut. Easily forgotten.
Coliver would not forget. Forget what he had learned of both men’s, Vandermann’s and Schaefer’s, past. A past that had been with the Black Lance at one point. Where had they been after that? The Black Lance was long since dead. That was a well-known and often reported fact. At least the latter… Coliver stumbled in his train of thought. Was there evidence, a suspicion -- in short -- was there reason to believe otherwise?
But no. That cannot be. Times have changed. Things have changed… haven’t they?
No. Coliver knew it better. Times have changed. Yes! Things though may as damn well have stayed the same. Time changes, but the world stays the same. They just put new names on it. Once black becomes white. White becomes black. Grey becomes gray -- anew. The fundamental principles, the eternal cycle of the world, of life -- it stays the same.
That much Coliver knew, but little did he know of an informal conversation between two high ranking officers in Confed Third Fleet HQ in Torgo that took place at an unusual location and by which the puppet Hoth was replaced by someone of their own, Major Louis DuMonte - whose brother’s name was Lucas DuMont. This Lucas DuMont had been a forefront member of the Black Lance and one of the first offspring of their Genetic Engineering project. Louis had survived what he called their Almost-Holocaust, the destruction of the Black Lance and its factions, through some lucky circumstances. He had changed his name from DuMont to DuMonte very little. No real need to hide. He himself has changed very little. Both names though may not have been his real names. No one in the organization knew each other’s real name. In this organization, names were not important but just a tag put on something in order to handle it, people too did not mean too much more but were just instruments. Instruments could be replaced. In this organization only one thing was known for sure. The only one thing that really mattered -- the Purpose, the Movement, the ultimate Plan.
In the apocalyptic struggle of good and evil, the evil really remains unchanged. And the ones said to be dead live the longest.
1324 Hours (CST)
"’Box," Major Hishori "Ronin" Nawazaki called, "come over here. There are some things we have to discuss."
"Coming, boss. What's up, man?"
"Well," Ronin began with a shrug, "you're now the senior officer in the squadron next to me. I'm appointing you as the Aztecs’ XO. Not that there's much of the squadron left," he added bitterly.
"Sir, I appreciate the confidence in me, but I have another suggestion, if I may."
"Go for it."
"Well, Major K'tik, the Firekkan, she might be a better choice," Elliot reminded him.
"She's not an F-108 pilot and more than that she's not an Aztec."
"With respect," ‘Box said, "neither am I."
"That's true," agreed Ronin. “But you're a part of my squadron unless you’re entertaining notions of leaving the Space Force.”
"I've been thinking. There wasn't a lot left of that last Wasp when it landed. There aren't any Swarmers left for it, or any SRBs. At least our Panthers use standard Pilum IFFs and Spiculum Image Recognition missiles. One-tens aren't worth a damn without those Swarmers and stuff. She's an XO without a squadron, we're a squadron without an XO. Just a thought."
"You've got a good point there. Okay, I'll ask Firedrake."
Suddenly there was the sound of a jaguar's coughing call behind them. ‘Box and Ronin, whipped round, startled, before realizing it was merely a Kilrathi clearing his throat.
"A message, Major," the Cat informed him, holding out a portable comlink.
Ronin took it, pressing the activation button, "Nawazaki. Go ahead."
'Box looked on, only getting one half of the conversation.
"That's good news. We'd given him up for dead… Uh-huh, yeah, well, no rush, we've no room and no spacecraft for him anyway… pardon? Could you repeat that, please? Okay! Right, I'll inform the squadron. Thank you. Out."
"Well?" 'Box asked.
"Ice is alive. Apparently he got to a pod before the Forge went down. He's aboard the Ohlander," said Ronin, still looking and sounding worried, despite the good news.
"What's up? Is the flight wing being broken up among the fleet already?"
"No. I'd expected it might be, but that's not what's happening. We're staying where we are -- but we're getting a new addition to the battle group -- the TCS Hades."
"The Hades?" 'Box queried, "I've never heard of her."
"Hardly surprising: she's straight out of the shipyard, a prototype quick strike cruiser with its own flight wing. Still supposed to be undergoing trials... fire-testing and some-such stuff."
"What's she doing here, then?"
"Do not ask me!" Ronin laughed. "Shit, I only work here!"
Around the same time...
Planet Earth; An abandoned
church in Geneva
The Sol System, Terra Quadrant, Sol Sector
The cloisters and pews were covered in the dust of ages. Apparently, religion wasn't in much demand after the Armageddon that earth had endured at the hands of the Kilrathi decades ago. The crazy, the zealous, all had packed their bags figuratively and literally at about the same time that space and FTL travel were made possible. The church, once home to dozens of the faithful were now a temporary sanctuary for other “faithful,” though what faith they preached was open to question.
Six figures stood in a circle, their large cloaks billowing in the wind from the ruined church doors, creaking in the harsh winds outside. Some of the cloaks looked like they belonged in a boutique, finely cut with the finest materials available, some were coarse and rough like campaign cloaks. All however, had their features hidden, save their voices. They all knew each other well enough, but one could never be too careful. Outside, teams of personal bodyguards from each of the figures quietly scoured the surrounding area, vigilant for any intrusion and for each other. Needless to say, trust was a rare commodity with these people.
One voice spoke. Womanlike, elegant and cultured. "They are dead. Our efforts will run into problems."
"Unfortunate, but they were useful. Our long term plans would be impeded, but it has all been foreseen"
There was a sarcastic snort from a taller cloaked man, a male. "Indeed."
"And how have we factored this in?"
The woman answered. "My agents have neutralized all links to the problem. They die as a traitor, a fallen hero and a champion of the light."
Another woman in a campaign cloak nodded. She knew how through the woman’s organization was when it came to dealing with... settling accounts. She cleared her throat. "And what of our goals, our objectives?"
"Additional funds have been allocated from Zurich-Gemeinshaft, Rothschilds, and Gemini Mutual Mercantile towards accomplishing the plan."
The cultured woman raised her voice. "No. Remove Gemini Mutual from the equation. It is too obvious a link. The Corporate Council would not approve of this."
A derisive grunt sounded from the tall man again, clad in a campaign cloak. A heavy Mauser glinted dangerously from a hip holster in the darkness. "Bah -- you filthy merchants fear your hands being stained. Confed Slush Funds are already being tapped to the maximum, any more and a Senate Inquiry would be launched."
"What of other means, then?"
"Redistribute one of the funds for refurbishing Confed HomeGuard Militia units in Gemini towards it, of course."
"Perhaps. We must see whether they would agree."
"It would give my associates time to push trade concessions and tenders regarding that matter and benefit the organization."
"On to other matters, then."
In a few minutes, the six concluded their business, and faded into the shadows. Minutes later, the church again stood silent, only the rustling of cobwebs and unheard prayers in the eaves showing that someone had indeed spent a few minutes here.