Monday, November 8, 2010

Laurels, Part 2

General Andrew Sullivan had never been angrier in his life. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”

Shirish paused for a moment as he considered the request. He knew Sullivan’s reputation for heated clashes and harsh talk. Were it not for that, Sullivan might possibly have had a third star by now. Of course, letting Sullivan vent now might save a lot of trouble further down the line. Nobody else could see or hear so it wouldn’t be detrimental to the crew if anything…impolitic was said. “Permission granted.”

“Where do you get off taking my ship?” Sullivan snarled through clenched teeth.

Shirish mulled over the question. He knew from reading Sullivan’s file that he was incredibly aggressive, the primary trait that had propelled him to this position. He also had a certain charmed fortune about him. Sullivan was often in the right place at the right time to benefit from the mistakes or misfortunes of others. The real question was whether he merely capitalized on opportunities or created them. Shirish’s guess was ruthless capitalization. Sullivan seemed too hot-headed to “create” opportunities without being seen and anticipated. But what Shirish did not have to guess about, seeing Sullivan’s young (for a general) hulking frame towering over him, was that Sullivan was a strong believer in the art of intimidation. Shirish thought that things like that were left behind in college fraternities or the barracks rooms of military academies. Of the possible stances he could take in replying to the question, counter-intimidation seemed the best way to proceed. He would have to break Sullivan and do it fast.

Shirish extended a finger and poked it to Sullivan’s chest. “Number one: the Winfield Scott is not ‘your’ ship. It is Earthforce’s ship. And it is under the command of whomever it is assigned to!”

Shirish extended a second finger and poked them into Sullivan’s chest. “Number two: that’s a bold question to ask considering I have four stars on my shoulders and you have only two!”

Shirish extended a third finger and poked them all into Sullivan’s chest. “Number three: my orders come directly yes I said DIRECTLY from the PRESIDENT! Therefore, the fleet is my fleet and the Scott is MY ship! Are we clear, Major General?”

Sullivan narrowed his eyes as his jaw twitched. His shoulders relaxed slightly. “Who did I piss off this time, then?”

Shirish might have breathed a sigh of relief if he didn’t think it would undermine his posture. “It’s not about you. It’s about our orders and the mission.”

“That’s bull and you know it. It’s always about politics.”

Shirish maintained his dominance. Sir.”

Sullivan gazed back. “That’s bull and you know it, Sir.”

Shirish wielded the stick and it seemed to be working. Time to offer the carrot. “It is politics, Major General, but not the kind you think.” He softened his tone. “Look, I know you’re thinking about your career here. This assignment is a big feather in your cap and now it looks like someone else is going to get the credit. I’m sorry for that, but, once again, it has nothing to do with you or me. I didn’t make the orders. I’m just following them.”

The anger abated in Sullivan’s eyes just a little bit. Shirish’s acting job was successful. Time to reinforce everything. Shirish backed away out of Sullivan’s face and sat down behind the ready room desk. Remove the immediate threat and subtly maintain dominance... “Besides, I’ll probably be spending most of my time chained to a desk. You’re the one who’s going to be riding fire. I know I don’t have to tell you the importance of engaging the enemy but I give you my word: you do well in this and I’ll make it the goal of the rest of my career to get you that third star. Are we clear?”

Sullivan knew it was too late to win this one. He held his contempt and let go of a “Yes, sir.”

“Excellent. Make preparations for the fleet to jump. As soon as the scout telemetry comes in, I want us underway. Dismissed.” Shirish took a datapad and began reviewing consumption logs, taking his eyes from Sullivan.

Sullivan closed the door behind him, gave orders to bridge personnel and then went down the hall to cool himself down. It didn’t work. His thoughts were racing and gave him no solace. Damn fossils! I follow orders and I suffer. I work hard and they get the credit. This is my command. I earned it! And what? Does Gonzales think I’m stupid? ‘Rest of my career to get you a third star’ my ass! He’s a relic! How long until he retires? A year? Two? I’m sick of all these old men in my way! I’ll have a third star and it won’t be from you! You’ll screw up and when I come to the rescue, I’ll have it…SIR!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Laurels, Part 1

“Amazing, isn’t she?”

Shirish looked at the bridge view screen like a child seeing his heart’s desire for the first time, eyes wide and mouth agape. “I’ve read all the reports and schematics, but in my dreams, I never imagined…”

Captain Nagumo ordered the Minotaur to pull alongside the Winfield Scott. “Quite a far cry from the old days, wouldn’t you say, sir?”

“Are you kidding?” Shirish replied. “For a couple of years, there was concern I could never go back to Earth because of all the time I spent commanding zero-g warships. Now I’m walking inside instead of floating around. And I’m still not quite used to it.”

“I understand that some of the early graviton generation tech went into the Scott’s construction so at full centrifugal turn, gravity is almost Earth normal inside. Of course, this is from before we got gravity tech from the ISA.”

“Still, Captain, there’s little to rival human ingenuity. Two centuries ago we were still stuck on Earth and now we’re…”

The comms officer interrupted. “Captain, we have an incoming transmission from Earthdome.” The young officer listened to an earpiece for a moment before continuing. “It’s for General Gonzales, Priority...Ultraviolet.”

“General, my ready room is at your disposal.”

“Thank you, Captain.” The General stepped into the sparse office and stood before the screen, taking a moment to straighten and brush the wrinkles from his jacket before he spoke. “This is General Gonzales. Accept incoming message.” He did not expect to see the Seal of the President. As many times as he had met or spoken with various Presidents, he was always a little nervous. Especially with President Luchenko. Of course, that had less to do with her position and more to do with the slight crush he had on her. Yes, he was getting old, but he could still appreciate a pretty woman. And Minifred, his wife, thought it was both funny and cute that her “rival” was the President, of all people. Strangely, Shirish had always thought Luchenko’s features were a little more Polish than Russian, but he had never had the opportunity to inquire about that. Whenever he spoke to the President, there were always more important things to discuss.

Luchenko’s face came into view. “Good day, General. How are you doing?” she said with that lovely accent of hers.

“I am doing well, Madame President. And yourself? Enjoying being able to govern instead of campaigning?”

“I am doing well, and it is refreshing to do actual work. Thank you for asking.”

“How may I serve you today, Madame President?”

“I am aware that you are planning to announce your intention to retire on your return to Earth.”

Shirish was a bit surprised that she was aware but he had not kept it secret. “That is true, Ma’am. I think forty years is long enough. Besides, I promised my wife a honeymoon thirty-eight years ago and I think she’s starting to get surly about it.”

“General, I need you to perform one last mission on Earth’s behalf. You will take command of the Expulsion Fleet and drive the Vorlons and the Shadows away.”

Shirish furrowed his brow. “Madame President, with all due respect, is this a good idea? I haven’t been in direct command of assets in over a decade. Wouldn’t Ryan or Touelle or Lefcourt be better choices for this assignment?”

“The issue here is time. We have begun to receive intelligence from our forward scouts reporting both Drazi and Narn communications. If they are already there, we need to engage as soon as possible. It would take weeks to get any of the others to where you are right now. We are officially working with the ISA on this project, but it is essential that Earthforce be the ones to drive away the Shadows and Vorlons. So you are perfect for this, General.”

Shirish thought for a moment and put two and two together. She wants them gone and to be able to say that we drove them all off and if it all goes badly, I’m a good scapegoat because I’m retiring anyway. Political brinksmanship disguised as military action… “Madame President, I will carry out your orders to the best of my ability. I will require my staff and official orders to come through channels, but, that aside, we will be under way in 24 hours.”

“Very good, General. I knew I could rely on you. And remember, let nothing stand in your way. Earth must end this threat in a way that speaks to both the Ancient races and the other galactic powers.”

“Consider it done, Ma’am.”

“God’s speed and good luck to you, General. Luchenko out.”

The screen went dead. Shirish sat down in a slump and closed his eyes. Six thousand souls in my hands against God only knows what force more technologically advanced than anything I can imagine. What good can I possibly do against that? And thoughts flooded from his memory…

Carstairs said “I think you're a good officer. If you weren't, I wouldn't have requested you.”
Doctor Marengo said “If you can survive this, you can survive anything.”
Bobby said “You should be leading this mission.”
President Luchenko said “I knew I could rely on you.”
And Minnie held his cheek. “You’ll always come back to me.”

The General burst from the office onto the bridge. “Captain Nagumo, have a shuttle prepped ASAP and inform General Sullivan that I am coming over.”

Nagumo began giving supplemental orders as The General looked back to the Winfield Scott. “He’ll want to know why, sir.”

Shirish shot a glance of annoyance to Nagumo and then put his gaze back on the Scott. “Tell him I have one more victory to win.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Past Looms, The Future Beckons

General Shirish Gonzalez read from a datapad as he was being shuttled over. Often, he would rest easy and enjoy these little shuttle trips. He so rarely got out into space any more, which was ironic because that is how he made his name in Earthforce. For him, the ships were no longer engines of destruction. They weren’t even pieces on a board anymore. The General saw them in a different light these days. They were instruments of political will. They were the loudspeakers of Earth and the good fence that made for good neighbors. And when Earth’s fence was tested, those ships danced a dark tango in the Court of Mars. Shirish cracked a smile. He was glad that wasn’t a bartender. If I mixed drinks, he thought, like I mix metaphors, I would surely have trouble making a living. He felt the light shudder of the dock clamps and knew the Minotaur had been reached. He stowed the datapad in a pocket and began to stand in anticipation of final procedures and debarking.

The shuttle doors opened to the sound of a boatswain’s whistle’s high, rising and descending pitch. “General on deck!” The honor guard snapped to attention, five on each side. The dress uniformed Command staff stood to attention as the Captain stepped forward and offered a salute. “Welcome aboard, General!” Shirish returned the salute, suppressing a sigh and the urge to roll his eyes. Ceremony was essential to discipline and morale, therefore stay galley had to be endured, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. His mind stepped back and let scripted responses take over. He noted the names -Captain Nagumo, Commander Gonzales, Doctor Eames, Chief Carroll – and made the appropriate responses. Ceremony was served and niceties were exchanged as they had been a thousand times before. When the Captain offered a tour, Shirish’s mind returned to the fore now that thought was required.

“I would be happy to inspect the Minotaur, but I have to contact Earthdome. Would it be an inconvenience to delay the tour?”

“Of course, sir. At your earliest convenience, General.”

“Thank you, Captain.” The Earthdome contact line worked every time. “Can you spare your XO to show me to my quarters?”

“Yes, sir. You have the liberty of the ship. If there is anything you need, please do not hesitate let me know.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Shirish gave an order to the shuttle pilot and turned to the Commander. “After you, Commander Gon-za-les.”

The XO led Shirish through dimly lit hallways. “Why do you let them butcher our name like that, Bobby?” Shirish asked.

“Because, sir, it’s easier. I say it properly and everyone thinks I’m your son.”

Shirish chuckled. “There’s a reason for that, son.”

Robert Gonzales turned to his father. “You should be leading this mission.”

“I am old. Exploration like this is a young man’s game. Besides, I haven’t commanded an expeditionary force in over a decade.”

“There’s nobody more experienced in extended campaigns like this than you are.”

“Nonsense. Thirty-five years ago, I was good in battle. Fifteen years ago, I was a master of logistics. Today, I’m the undisputed expert on the art of testifying before subcommittees. I’m not the man for this.“

The two officers and porter reached a stateroom and entered. The porter left bags where instructed and scurried out before Robert continued. “And you think Sullivan is?”

From another junior officer, Shirish might have mentioned the insubordinate tone of that comment. But he and Robert had wrangled over so many subjects over the years, yet Robert still did his duty. He could give his son latitude. “Is this a question of his ability or his role in the civil war?”

Son looked father in the eye. “You know what he did.”

The father returned the look. “He followed the orders of his chain of command. If I were as judgmental as you, I might take you to task for siding with Sheridan.”

“Sheridan did what nobody else on Earth was willing to do!”

“Even if that’s true, it is not the role of the military to rebel. Clark was the constitutionally legal President…”

“Assassinating Santiago and subverting the Constitution is legal now?”

Shirish began to speak then held back his words for a moment before speaking again. “Bobby, I endure the Athenian wrestling match of politics all the time. Can I get away from it for a little while with my son?”

Robert relented. “Sorry, dad.”

“Thank you. And, just between us, Sullivan was chosen because of the black project work he was over back then. I know you’ve all been briefed on the mission parameters. Vorlons and Shadows? Sullivan has more experience with Shadow technology than anyone outside of the eggheads following along. And nobody knows anything about Vorlons. So right now he’s the best man for the job.”

“That’s a nice, rational piece of cold logic.”

“More like a rationalization, but it’s not wrong. And that’s neither here nor there. I’m just here to see my boy and get a ride to the Scott’s shakedown and maybe, if I’m lucky, see the Charybdis again..”

Robert sat in a chair. “That must be really exciting for you. I know how hard you pushed to get the Scott named.”

Shirish looked out a porthole into the vastness of the stars beyond. “Sometimes I think back to the first time I floated down the Charybdis’ halls and wonder if that wasn’t the happiest time of my life. Of course, we were young then and didn’t know as much as we do now about what’s out there. And she wasn’t the equal of the Omega by any means, but back then…” His voice trailed off into memory.

Robert smiled. “I know, Dad. I read the book.”

Shirish shot a quick grin back. “So you’re one of the ten people who bought it!”

“You know, I once had a professor at the Academy ask if he could meet you. He said he wanted to talk to you about that first meeting on the Scott with Carstairs and Cargano and Kallis.”

Shirish began to drown in memory. “I’m sure he did. There’s not an officer or academic who wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on that bulkhead.” So many old friends gone. If it wasn’t the Dilgar, it was the Minbari. And those who survived, so many were lost in the Civil War. “It’s a terrible thing to grow old in our profession.” Shirish pulled out the datapad and turned back to Robert. “That’s why this is a young man’s game. You have duties to attend to. Give this to the Captain. He’s going to show it to you anyway so you can look at it, too.”

Robert stood and took the pad. “I’ll come see you again when I get off duty. Dinner tonight?”

“That sounds fine. See you then, Bobby.”

“See you then, Dad.” Robert walked out, closing the door behind him and stared at the datapad. Curiosity got the better of him. He touched a button and the screen sprang to life…

Resource Allocation, Expulsion Fleet:

EAS Winfield Scott - Omega Command Destroyer
EAS Ajax - Omega Destroyer
EAS Minotaur - Omega Destroyer
EAS Red Cliffs - Omega Pulse Destroyer
EAS Fairfax - Hyperion Cruiser
EAS Portsmouth - Hyperion Cruiser
EAS Wurzburg - Hyperion Cruiser
EAS Charybdis - Nova Dreadnought
EAS Viraat - Avenger Heavy Carrier
EAS Marco Polo- Explorer Survey Ship
EAS Murmansk - Hyperion Assault Cruiser
EAS Falcon - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS Miller - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS Panther - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS Tolliver - Oracle Scout Cruiser
EAS John Layton – Hermes Transport
EAS Barnardo O'Higgins – Hermes Transport

Alpha Wing –ThunderBolt Fury Wing
Beta Wing – ThunderBolt Fury Wing
Delta Wing –Badger Fury Wing
Zeta Wing – Badger Fury Wing

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Drazi Arrive

In an obscure system hundreds of light years from the rim of known space an ancient jump gate comes to life.

Though it has been dormant for over a thousand years it obediently responds to an incoming signal. Deep within the gate, engines harness vast reserves of energy and release them - punching a hole in the fabric of reality. Through this conduit a tiny ship slowly emerges.

The craft looks much like an insect; sharp nose, wide wings, bulbous abdomen. But its abdomen glows like a minature sun propelling the ship on a trail of bright plasma. The slender vessel makes an ever widening circle, spiraling away from the angry wound held open by the gate. It finally comes to a stop and extends electormagnetic tendrils through nearby space. Sensing no immediate danger the ship sends a signal into the gate.

Moments later a score of very similar craft pour through the gate in ragged formation. Most of them look nearly identical to the original craft except in minor aspects of detail or size. Even the largest of the craft still looks like a larger member of the same species. Their makers found a form that worked and felt no need to change.

Many of the ships vent small white jets of gas in several places, bleeding atmosphere through ruptured hulls and broken pipes. A few are even missing a wing. The entire formation appears as if it barely survived a high speed race through a class-10 asteoid field.

The gate shuts down once again, patiently waiting for the next signal to activate whether it be days or millenia.

On board the largest of the new visitors to this obscure system, one beleagured creature tries to bring order back to the chaos that surrounds him. This takes a great deal of effort and will, for the Drazi are very much creatures of chaos.

"Tell the esteemed Captain that he can either assist Fencer in patching its coolant tank or he can turn around and try and find his way home!" The command staff tried to hide their grins as they worked busily around the Admiral. Captain Shaar had been dragging his feet ever since he was passed over for command of this expidition. He was overdue for one of the Admiral's famous 'private talks' which frequently resulted in a visit to sick bay. Such was tradition in the Drazi navy.

Admiral Jok barked orders rapid fire with the tone of one at ease with command, "Set up a perimiter and deploy damage control crews. First priority to the advanced cruisers." Reading over the damage reports, Jok sighed, "We're in no shape to fight."

The journey through hyperspace to reach this gate had been harrowing. Many ships and many good soldiers did not make it this far. Such a waste to die on the journey rather than in a standup fight.

Time to see what we have to work with. "Sensors, report!"

A stream of data poured in from the scouts that had raced ahead and begun to survey the system.

Admiral Jok considered the strategic map dominating the center of the Command & Control room in the heart of his flagship, Fist of Beaurocracy. Drazi forces would quickly spread throughout the system, claiming anything that would be of materiel use in this campaign. Sadly, it was precious little.

They were in a small system on the very edge of this "pocket galaxy" the First Ones had built for themselves. Eyehawk scouts were reporting two viable jump routes from this system to unknown gates deeper within the sector. The entire isolated region consisted of several systems connected by a local jump network. What the other systems contained would remain unknown until scouts could be dispatched.

As yet no resistance had been encountered.

The supply situation was far from ideal. Even though they now had posession of a jump gate, its beacon was sporadic and difficult to follow from the outside. Freighters could only arrive when the 'weather' in hyperspace allowed safe passage of freighters. Reinforcements and replacements would no doubt be as difficult to acquire.

Somewhere out there, if the ISA probes were to be believed, were the First Ones and their servants. Why they chose to establish a base here at the rim, he didn't know. It had been blind luck that had allowed his fleet to survive the gauntlet of hyperspace anomalies and grvity wells that guarded this pocket of space. Whatever the Vorlons and Shadows were up to in this region, they were determined to do so in privacy.

"Too bad for them.", he mused aloud, "This isn't their house any more."

His adjutant handed him a cup of hot jala and regarded him with a curious expression. "Sir?"

"These old ones. They stay far past their welcome. It is our job to remind them of that." Jok regarded the young leutenant, Shellia. She had managed to defeat three other officers in personal combat to win her position as his aide. She was still sporting an angry scar on her forehead plate which served as a warning to any prospective challengers. Very promising. He looked forward to fighting her when the next rank assessment was due.

"Admiral, your orders have arrived via purple channel."

Jok nodded to the leutenant and went to his quarters to read the orders. As usual for the Drazi navy, they were short and to the point:

The orders were clear enough. He was to capture the First One outpost at the center of the cluster and, as important, prevent all other galactic forces from doing the same. Jok wondered at the politics behind such an agressive stance. But for now such questions weren't his concern. He was a soldier. It would be many years before his fists would be bloodied in the political arena. Perhaps sooner, he mused, if this mission was a success.

He read the rest of the briefing and what little useful information it contained. Acording to Drazi intelligence there were two other forces who survived the harrowing journey through hyperspace and established beachheads in the sector.

The first fleet was the...Narn? Jok found it suprising that they had managed to navigate the hyperspace gauntlet successfully. The Narn were still new to space travel and were not known for their grasp of the higher sciences. Still, they were tough opponents in battle. Particularly, their fondness for energy mines was a problem for the fragile hulls of Drazi warships. The Drazi depended on speed and agility to avoid enemy fire. But one cannot outrun or dodge a fusion explosion. On the plus side, the legendary toughness of Narn hulls was of little concern to a well-aimed solar cannon. And their ships were so sluggish that you knew where they would be a week in advance. Easy enough to set up killing zones.

The other fleet that arrived was the Earth Alliance. These humans were a conundrum. One one hand the alliance was a founding member of the ISA. John Sheridan, the president, was a human. On the other hand Earthforce had seemingly sided with the Shadows in the great war. It was said that they still used shadow technology in their warships. Humans, too, were new to space. But they took to intergalactic warfare with a natural skill and relish that made them seem almost Drazi. Their ships were almost as tough and sluggish as the Narn, but they compensated with great variety and flexibility. And their fighters were unmatched among the younger races. One never knew exactly what would be faced when an EA fleet was in the field: sometimes a hail of laser fire from a line of the ubiquitous Omegas, sometimes an angry swarm of Starfuries organized by the massive fleet carriers humans were so fond of. Jok made it a high priority to get a roster of what ships the humans bad brought to the sector.

Jok reviewed the Drazi order of battle. His fleet had been scraped together in haste from all over the Freehold. It was an eclectic mix but still a powerful strike force.

Fireraptor Battleship: Fist of Beaurocracy (Jok's personal command)

Stormfalcon Heavy Cruiser: Shuggie
Nightfalcon Heavy Carrier: Pack Hunter

Firehawk Advanced Cruiser: Smasher, Striker, Slammer, Stabber, Slasher, Fencer

Jumphawk Command Cruiser: Alpha, Pack Leader
Solarhawk Battlecruiser: Spotlight
Darkhawk Missile Cruiser: Far Fist, Spear
Warbird Cruiser: Brawler, Scrapper
Strikehawk Battle Carrier: Marcus Cole, Atlatl

Eyehawk Scout Cruiser: Sneak, Snitch
Sleekbird Assault Cruiser: Party Crasher, Invitation
Guardhawk Battle Escort: Flyswatter
Sunhawk Battlecruiser: Tal's Fury

More would be needed to accomplish his final mission, to be sure. But it was a good start. Jok began to smile as he plotted out the first moves for his fleet. He hoped that someone would try to stop him soon. The focus brought by battle would help shake off the unease his crews still felt from their hellish journey through hyperspace. And the Drazi were always spoiling for a good fight.

Eviction Notice: Against the First Ones in 2269

Several years have passed since Coriana VI and the departure of the Shadows and Vorlons from the galaxy. Finally, the younger races are free to find their own paths without the presence of the First Ones. Or are they?

Scout ships recently found a strange zone of hyperspace just beyond the rim of known space. Hyperspace seemed to fold in on itslef here in a strange fashion forming an isolated pocket tens of light years across. Further investigation revealed that the ancient races had not quite kept their word. Within this bastion the Shadows, Vorlons, and a cadre of lesser servants continued to secretly keep tabs on the progress of the galaxy.

Seeing this as an affront - and a violation of a promise - several of the galactic powers dispatched fleets to show the first ones that they were no longer needed and (more importantly) no longer capable of enforcing their will upon the galaxy. Twelve fleets were sent, one from each major participating power. Nine were lost in the tides of the hyperspace traps guarding the entrances to this zone.

The three surviving fleets each established a foothold in an outlying system. As the Shadow homeworld was destroyed and the Vorlon homeworld impenetrable, this represented a unique opportunity to capture and study First One technology. What began as a join effort to evict the straggling First Ones out of galactic space quickly became a race for each fleet to capture technology and information...and to prevent their rivals from doing the same.

The unique, isolated pocket of space contained thirteen systems linked by a local jump gate network. Each of the three invading fleets laid claim to one of the three "entry systems" along the periphery. The rest of the systems were in various states of occupation by the Shadows, Vorlons, and their servants.


This space reserved for the conclusion of the Krish Dilgar campaign.