EXCERPT FROM FEDERAL FORCE
COPYRIGHT © CAMERON COOPER 2021
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
General Andela’s Flagship, CMS Glory, Over Katriona Ring City.
Y33 – 2.5 Years after Formation of Carinad Federation.
I looked around the council table, in my stateroom aboard the CMS Glory. Eleven council members, all of them wearing the Carinad Marine officer’s uniform, except Eliot Byrne, all of them superbly trained, each a deep well of experience, wisdom and leadership. Yet these council meetings had become predictable. I could tell exactly what everyone would say, almost before they said it.
Their responses all came down to “more”.
More guns, more ships, more Marines. More training. More ammunition.
Bigger ships, more powerful weapons.
Better defenses. Better early warning systems.
If the Terran military might was summed together—all their motherships, their blocky shuttles and their one-man fighters—if that was all added up, and all their people thrown into the calculation, we would arrive at a figure that represented overall Terran military power.
What emerged from around the table was a dozen different editions of “we need a bigger bottom line than the Terrans to win this war.”
Yet I knew damned well that more muscle wouldn’t earn us anything but annihilation.
Colonel Marlee Colton was reporting on her training and administration portfolio. She was attending via avatar, as she was sited on Katriona Base, which was currently ten kilometers away, on the Glory’s starboard flank. “The intake of Marines has slowed. Only five thousand in the last two weeks. But the numbers of civilian militia units has increased, since Keeler was taken.”
“Everyone wants to know how to defend their own,” Marlow said. “Keeler brought it home to them that no one can be complacent.” Colonel Anderson Marlow was responsible for martial law and regulations, and was also my Analysis director on the bridge of the Glory. He’d been a head mechanic in another phase of his life and was usually half-a-step beyond the rest of us when it came to figuring out why people reacted as they did.
“They are more interested in defending their own,” Colton said in agreement with Marlow’s observation. “All the militia units are earnest but independent, and barely interested in the war effort beyond how it affects their home state. I’m glad I don’t have to organize them once they’ve completed their orientation. They’re resistant to direction.”
I glanced at Juliyana, who developed and directed all infantry and ground armored forces. “You’ll have a wave of militia units to coordinate, soon.”
“We can use ‘em,” Juliyana replied grimly.
“Is the clean up completed on Keeler?” I asked.
I could track the impact of my reminder around the table. The micro-slump of shoulders, gazes shifting to the tabletop. Tiny furrows between brows.
No one liked to be reminded about Keeler. It had once been a lovely star-city, home to just over five thousand people, nearly all of them famous or notorious, or public figures of some sort, for Keeler had catered to their twin desires of utter privacy and complete luxury.
Keeler had not been considered a border state. For the Terrans to reach it, they would have had to take two leaps to get there, for Keeler was deep in the heart of Federation territory, and beyond the range of their motherships’ Maass drives.
Yet the Terran motherships had arrived over Keeler with no long-range warnings, giving the city barely ten minutes to react. The Terrans had broached the city walls—they’d got good at that—and poured into the domes in their armored suits.
By the time our Marine forces reached the city in response to its frantic scream for help, the Terrans had departed once more. They took with them a good portion of the Keeler residents. The only people spared the Terran slave lariats were those who had hidden well enough to avoid their scanners, which was damn few.
“The domes have been repaired, atmosphere restored, and a full census taken,” Juliyana told everyone at the table, in response to my demand for a status on Keeler.
“And the finally tally of taken?” I asked.
Juliyana hesitated. She glanced at her pad. Unlike Marlee Colton, Juliyana was physically present, for she and her primary ground troop were quartered on the Glory. “Two thousand, eight hundred and eighty.”
I caught the winces from the corner of my eye.
Juliyana looked up. “It’s a better number than we’d expected, given how empty the city was when we started the clean up. Most people ran deep and hid. The police cadre urged them to find a dark hole and stay there.”
“That’s a message the police need to give out more often, Marlee,” I told Colton.
Marlee nodded. “I’ll talk to my police training director about passing it along.”
“Wait a minute,” Mace said, frowning. “The average Terran slave shuttle holds twenty-four people. And the average mothership can carry twelve shuttles…” I could see him trying to do the math in his head.
“That’s two hundred and eighty-eight slaves per full load,” Colton, the former computer and base mind, supplied.
“Ten ships…” Sauli breathed. He was here as an avatar, too, and his thin cheeks looked even thinner than usual as he tasted that fact. “Ten of them. They were there purely to pick up slaves.” Disgust warped his mouth.
Dalton bent to look at Juliyana, further along the table. “We weren’t lucky to have saved so many,” he said flatly. “The Terrans got a full load. They couldn’t stuff a single more Carinad onto their ships. That’s why so many were left in the city.”
Everyone’s expressions said what they would not speak aloud. I read the dismay in their eyes.
“How did the Terran motherships elude the early warning scanners?” I asked, shifting their attention away from the human factor. “Dalton, what did you learn?”
Dalton shook his head. “Nothing good. I don’t have any explanation at all. Keeler traffic control insists that they appeared out of nowhere. One minute, a clear backyard. Next, an armada of motherships bearing down on them. The ion path tracers didn’t so much as twitch. Not once.”
“We’ve spent months building and installing the damn things in every state on the Terran side of Triga,” Jai Van Veen said. “And now they’re not working?”
“They are working,” Marlow said. The ion scanners installation project was of interest to him because he was directing scanning and analysis on the bridge of the Glory. The responsibility really fell into Lyth Andela’s lap, though Lyth wasn’t part of the council. He coordinated with Eliot Byrne for different reasons. Marlow was in the best position to answer this one. “All the ion path scanners have been tested, especially the one on Keeler. They all pop green across the board. There is nothing wrong with them.”
“Then how the hell are the motherships getting around them?” I demanded. “Those Maass drives of theirs can’t not produce an ion path.”
“We don’t know,” Eliot Byrne said quietly. “We’re working on that.”
“Let’s move on,” Jai said, his tone firm. “The deconstruction of the Keeler raid is for sub-council sessions and this meeting has already run for far too long.”
And most of the meeting had been the discussion of variations on the theme of “Gimme more!” Everyone was scrabbling for resources. Everyone wanted a bigger bottom line.
“Let’s turn instead to the last item for discussion,” Jai continued. “Our raid upon Yrtu. Colonel Mullins and Colonel Andela?”
Sauli’s avatar straightened up a bit. So did Juliyana.
Sauli didn’t smile. “You all know by now it was a qualified success. We destroyed the base and we freed slaves from the training facility on Yrtu—and some of them were Carinads.”
“The others are being put through orientation and rehabilitation,” Fiori Bannister slid in. She was the medical director and Elizabeth Crnčević, a civilian psychologist with extraordinary experience treating bio-humans, digital humans and Terrans (who I tended to think of as an entirely separate third category), reported to Fiori. Elizabeth would be controlling the rehabilitation efforts, most likely on New Phoenicia, which had become a default refugee center. The full medical clinic there had experience helping Terrans adjust to life in the Federation.
“What was the end tally regarding the base?” Jai asked Juliyana. It was technically his meeting. I didn’t have to be here, but as this was my stateroom, I sat in and listened, anyway.
Juliyana looked down at her pad once more and read off a list of targets taken out. Ship building facilities, ships, shuttles, estimated Terran casualties. Prisoners—and damn few of those.
The list went on.
Yoan, who was my engineering master because Sauli, his father, better served me as a military leader than an engineer right now, scratched his head. “That doesn’t sound like near enough of anything. Three motherships? We’ve estimated there’s thousands of them, scattered among the Terran worlds. A base the size of Yrtu should have had dozens of them.”
“They had three. We accounted for every ship sitting on a landing pad,” Juliyana told him, with a snap in her voice.
“He’s not challenging your ground troops’ efficiency,” I said.
Juliyana nodded stiffly.
“No, I’m not,” Yoan affirmed quickly.
“Did the base look empty?” Dalton asked Juliyana.
She grimaced. “Hollow and echoing,” she admitted.
Dalton sat back. “They cleared out the base before we got there.” He met my gaze. “They knew we were coming.”
I sat up. “I’m getting damn sick of this raging torrent of information the Terrans are sucking up. They know everything we’re about to do! We can’t win a war if we’re being constantly put in check.” My voice rose. “Marlow, I put you in charge of interrogating everyone on the Glory. Tell me you have some clue, even one, about who is sending the Terrans our plans? And how they’re doing it.”
Marlow blinked. “The interviews are proceeding, General.”
“It’s been six damn months! Why aren’t you finished, yet?”
Marlow grew very still. So did Jai.
“With all due respect, General,” Marlow said, his tone devoid of emotion, “there are fifteen hundred permanent crew, and one thousand of Juliyana’s ground troops assigned to the Glory. The crew rotates frequently, and so do the ground troops. Those who have rotated off the ship must also be interviewed and if they’re posted dirtside, that requires travelling to their location. And that doesn’t include Marines who have died and are waiting to be transferred into a clone.”
“There’s a backlog?” Dalton asked, his tone sharp. He had recently been transferred, himself. The memory was fresh for him. He had only lost a few days between dying and awaking in his new body, though.
“We’re trying to triage the cloning,” Fiori said, her tone apologetic. “Arnold Laxman’s people can’t keep up with the current mortality rate. If he had more staff and more vats…” She trailed off, with a grimace.
More, more, more.
I glared at Marlow. “Skip the people who are waiting for bodies,” I told him. “Clearly, they weren’t in a position to pass along our Yrtu offensive. I need that leak found, Colonel.”
“Yes, General,” Marlow said, his tone stiff.
I got to my feet.
“And we’re done for now,” Jai said, also standing. “Thank you, everyone.”
The officers attending the meeting via avatars melted away, the nanobots sliding down to the well beneath the floor. Everyone else nodded politely at me as they picked up their pads and coffee cups and left.
I ignored the tension in a few jaws, the flicker of frustration in eyes.
“Thanks, Brigadier General,” I told Jai. “I think another council in a few days would be wise. We need to come up with a new offensive.”
“Let’s sleep on it, General,” Jai suggested, picking up his own multiple pads. His jaw was flexing, too. Marlow was his spouse, after all.
“Yes, thank you.” I turned and headed for the stairs up to the mezzanine level, which was where my personal space was housed. When I heard the outer stateroom door close, I lifted my voice. “Gloria, seal me in, please.”
“Yes, captain,” the ship’s AI replied. “Activating the cage now.”
I paused. Captain? Where had she got that from? Although it was technically correct. I was the top dog on this ship, which made me the captain.
Dalton climbed up the stairs behind me. “These Council meetings are growing tiresome.” He let himself drop onto the bed and stretched hard.
I stripped the dress uniform off and turned to my very small closet of civilian garments. “My bus leaves at nine,” I told him. “I’ve barely got time to get to Katriona.” I got dressed quickly.
“You know the shuttle pilots will put the jets on for you,” Dalton said complacently.
“I can’t give that order looking like this.”
Dalton sat up and examined the dress—which even I thought was pretty—and the long coat and boots I was donning. They felt strange, every time I wore them. I was too accustomated to trousers and the weight of a shriver on my hip.
“You look fetching,” Dalton told me.
I rolled my eyes at him, then loosened my hair and brushed it out. “It’s a disguise,” I reminded him.
“There’s few civilians using busses anymore,” Dalton pointed out. “You’d be better off wearing a private’s uniform if you want to go unnoticed.”
“Then I’d have to take some damned officer’s orders.”
His eyes danced. “I can think of a few orders I’d like to give you.”
If I’d had a few minutes to spare, I might have tried to find out what those orders were. Instead I kissed his chin, then his lips, murmured a promise, and hurried for the Glory’s landing bay and the shuttle to Katriona Ring City.
I had another meeting to get to, this one critical.