Nobody expected this.
Then again, throughout the entire Artemis War we were surprised at every turn.
No, no; if I can’t be honest here, where can I be honest?
We were grossly outclassed when it came to tactics, and even strategic decisions. Despite her instability the Primus was accurate with her instincts; she knew how to hurt us. And both Davie and Nicole, as Ministers of War, were hugely skilled tacticians. There were two things which kept the Terran Federation afloat the first year or so.
First, the military professionals who came over to join us early on. Alley, Kiri, Mia – they kept us going and infused our nascent navy with their heart and dedication, with a hearty dose of their abilities. It’s no coincidence how many of our current commanders came up under both Alley and Kiri!
Second, our tech. Warp drive, in particular, saved our bacon. By having that we were able to redefine the playing field when it came to our conflict. It forced Artemis to react to us, try to duplicate our tech, which probably put them behind. If they’d followed up their initial attack with another wave, they might have managed to beat us.
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TFS Enterprise, Njord Spacedock
“How are things going on Endeavour?”
“Settling in pretty well, I think.”
“Any issues being a civilian specialist?”
“Not so far, Alley. I still wear the same uniform, they just don’t call me Lieutenant Berg, just Ms. Berg.” There was a hint of wry amusement in her eyes. “My crew from HLC listens, so the crew from Endeavour listens too.”
“Any more thoughts on signing on?”
“Occasionally,” LJ admitted. “There are advantages to not, though.”
“The pay isn’t any better by staying civilian; I know that the Admiral made sure her fleet personnel won’t be lacking for money.”
“No, not the pay. For one thing, until the Direwolves are officially installed on Endeavour I’m excused from the patrols.”
“Patrolling sucks,” agreed Alley.
“And then there’s this. If I signed on, I’d have to give up these evenings, wouldn’t I?” She gestured around Alley’s cabin, trying not to dislodge the shorter woman from her shoulder. “I mean, isn’t sleeping with the commanding officer generally frowned upon?”
“There is that,” said Alley, wriggling slightly to adjust her position. “But technically, I’m not your CO, so we’d probably be in the clear there. Beyond that there’s the fact that the Admiral is married to my XO, the Endeavour’s Captain is married to her Chief Engineer, and I don’t know how many other relationships going on in the fleet.”
“Do you want me to tell you, or just shoot you the data?”
“Seriously, Alley, it seems like just about everyone’s hooked up with someone else in the crew.” LJ cocked her head. “Do Mac and Ted count?”
“No, they’re OutLook, though I don’t know how long that’s going to make a difference.”
LJ sat up, provoking a protest.
“Sorry. What do you mean?”
Alley, seeing that she’d awakened the genie, sat up as well, propping a pillow behind her and resolutely not looking out the window. LJ might appreciate looking into the dark, but Alley still found the concept of a window on a starship profoundly unsettling.
“Okay, okay. How familiar are you with how the whole Federation thing is put together?”
LJ frowned. “Um. Not very? I know that the Cassidys run it all, but I’ve never looked into exactly how.”
“It’s actually pretty simple, from a certain point of view.”
“You know, it’s not nice to pull your girlfriend’s leg. Simple?”
“No, really, just listen!”
“Let’s hear it.”
“They inherited the Harriman Trust a few years back. Big pile of money, stocks, companies, you name it.”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“Not many people outside finance have; inside financial circles, the Trust is the thing of legends. Anyways, this was before my time with them, so this is all second- and third-hand, but I’ve gotten it confirmed. Once they inherited, and cleaned up a few lingering issues, they started consolidating.”
“Sure does. I think that Kendra’s been planning the Federation since at least then, probably earlier, because they started ditching companies and assets which wouldn’t move her project forward. They also started buying up companies which would benefit the Foundation, at least as they envisioned it then.”
“You’re not telling me anything surprising.”
“No, not to anyone who’s met the Cassidys. But it didn’t look sensible, and I heard that they had to fend off at least three attempts by the Trustees to have their control stripped away.”
“Huh.” LJ sat up a bit straighter. “I wonder if…Minna.”
“Yes, LJ?” answered the Enterprise AI.
“What are the chances that the Trustees have something to do with this whole Enhanced Human thing?”
Alley looked at LJ with admiration. “Genius. My girlfriend’s a genius.”
“It’s certainly a possibility,” answered the AI over Alley’s gushing. “I’ll make a point of following up on it.”
“Thanks, Minna. Sorry, Alley, go ahead with the rest of the story.”
“Like I was saying, genius, they’ve been bringing everything under a single umbrella, some of it pretty quickly, some less so. OutLook and HLC are two of the outfits which are nominally independent but are really no more than branches of the Federation. Think of them as the Intel branch and Logistics. Kendra’s already moved almost half of the Trust assets into her shell company, Via ad Sidera.”
“Via ad Sidera?”
“Road to the Stars. She’s a bit of a sentimentalist. I think that the only reason she hasn’t moved everything over is the structure of the Trust itself, and I’ll bet you anything that she’s working on it. Or she was. Until the damn lawsuits,” Alley added bitterly.
Judge Hodge had allowed the suit to go forward, announcing her ruling just two days earlier. While support for Kendra was nearly universal among the ship and station crews, Alley knew how hard it was weighing on her.
“Once that’s cleared up, I expect that everyone who works for a Harriman company will find themselves part of the Federation, Starfleet or otherwise. Then things can –”
“Unknown ship approaching!” The alert klaxon sounded and the room lighting shifted color to red, as Cass’s voice repeated the alarm.
Alley jumped from the bed before she realized she’d moved. “XO, report!”
“Captain, we have an unidentified ship headed inbound for the habitat. It’s moving at over 2500 KPS.”
“ETA?” Alley threw on her skinsuit, grabbed her trousers and uniform top, and headed for the door.
“Hey! What do I do?”
LJ’s call halted her dash.
“Four minutes, eighteen seconds,” Cass said.
“Get to the, no, you don’t know the bay systems on Enterprise. Dress and follow me to the bridge.” Alley tossed her a kiss, spun, and not-quite-ran for the door. “Bring the engines online and set a course. I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Already working,” Cass answered, and Alley could feel the ship coming to life through the soles of her feet – shoes!
“And bring my shoes!” she called back to LJ as the door slid shut, not slowing.
Her quarters were only a deck below the bridge, designed that way deliberately. It normally took her a minute to get to the bridge; her best time in a drill was twenty-eight seconds. She made it in twenty-four.
“Just clearing the docking clamps,” reported Cass from her command chair. “Full sublight available. Warp drive coming online.”
Alley settled into her chair, next to Cass, and keyed on her displays.
“Shields ready, weapons online,” added Lt. Kay from Tactical.
“Any response to hails?”
“No, Captain,” answered Minerva. “It’s definitely a ship of some sort, as it’s continuing to accelerate and make alterations to course, but it is of a type unknown to my database.”
“Captain, it’s on a collision course with Njord.” Phaedra Seabolt added from her science station.
“Ensign, set course to intercept and engage, full sublight.”
Ensign Chastain, looking nervous but determined, responded with, “Intercept course, aye, Captain.” The bay fell away quickly, Hecate grounding everything that could get in their way, and then they were out and altering course.
“Time to intercept?” The lift door opened. LJ stepped out and crossed the bridge to stand next to Kay, behind Alley and Cass, holding a pair of boots. Nobody particularly noticed.
“Forty seconds,” answered Kay, still focused on his station.
“And where will we be when we intercept?”
“Just this side of Luna,” he answered quickly. “We’ll have about two minutes, twenty seconds from there before impact.”
“Options?” said Alley, turning her head from side to side to take in the bridge officers.
“Laser,” Kay immediately suggested. “Knock it out. It’s under control, that makes this a hostile act.”
“It’s an unknown craft, with who knows how many people aboard,” argued Cass. “We could try to grab it with a tractor beam. We can match speed easily enough, and once we have a lock we can pull it off-course and then deal with it.”
“Cass, how close will we have to be to get a lock with a tractor?”
“Within ten kilometers.”
“Minerva, do you have a point of origin?”
“As it is controlled, not precisely. I estimate that it probably originated on Titan, given its acceleration and speed.”
“Ten seconds to intercept.”
“Match course and speed, but don’t get within a thousand kilometers.”
“Titan. Solarian Union. Might be a coincidence, but how likely is that?” mused Alley. “Put it on screen.”
As the window changed to show the mystery ship, LJ leaned over and tapped her shoulder. “Shoes,” she said, dropping them next to Alley, and then backed away.
As promised, the ship on the screen didn’t resemble anything the crew recognized. It was clearly a ship, though, with odd protuberances and strange angles hallmarking its construction in the void of space rather than in an atmosphere. That did support Minerva’s suggestion of Titan for its origin, though it could have easily come from one of the Miner’s Guild’s asteroids.
“What sort of drive is it using?”
“Constant-thrust ion drive, Captain,” said Seabolt. “Low specific impulse, but very durable, nearly failure-proof.”
“Course matched. Two minutes to impact.”
“Minerva? Do we have a response yet?”
“No, Captain. Captain, I do not believe that this ship is manned.”
“Commander Seabolt’s scans haven’t revealed any life forms aboard, though they could be shielded from detection. There is also no sign of a life support system, and the scans we have managed of the interior are detecting an oxygen-free atmosphere. I would suggest that it is controlled by a computer on a programmed course.”
“In that case,” said Alley. “Sorry, Cass. Mr. Kay, lock and fire at will.”
“Yes, Captain.” The tactical officer sent commands to the laser controls and in a moment announced, “Locked. Firing at twenty percent.”
An invisible beam lanced from the ship. Much to Kay’s surprise, the target didn’t seem to notice.
“Did you miss?”
Kay checked his controls. “No, Captain. Target lock is good. We should have hulled it.”
“Increase power and fire again.”
“Aye.” He changed the settings, then said, “Firing.”
The Enterprise fired again, this time at forty percent. Again, there was no apparent damage.
“Target has been hit both times, Captain. There seems to be a dense gravitic field encircling the vessel, which seems to be attenuating the beams.”
“I’ve got that on my scanners now,” Seabolt said. “Very powerful field, Captain. We’re talking about solar levels of gravitic interference.”
“Can we punch through?”
“Yes, Captain,” answered Minerva. “At this range, if we increase power to sixty-five percent we should be able to penetrate the field.”
Kay made the adjustments and again said, “Firing!”
This time the vessel reacted to the laser fire, with the effect of the impact evident in the shattered hull plating.
“Gravity field has failed, Captain,” Seabolt said.
“One more shot. See if you can target the engine –”
Before Alley could complete her order, the vessel abruptly disappeared in an actinic glare of light. The screen dimmed in response before anyone could be blinded.
Explosions propagate poorly in space, which was one reason KEW missiles were more common than ones with explosive warheads. This explosion, by the standards of space, was huge.
“What the hell was that?” Alley finally asked.
“Readings suggest it was an antimatter device, probably about twenty kilos,” Seabolt said, her tone neutral.
The explosion continued to expand and, to Alley’s surprise, still moving towards the habitat.
“XO? Will that pose a hazard to Njord?”
“Probably not? It’s dissipating pretty fast, probably from the force of the blast. But if we’d been trying to tractor it…” Cass allowed her voice to trail off, then finished her sentence. “We would have been inside the blast. I don’t know if we would have survived.”
“Minerva? Tell Commodore Knott to raise the shields, just in case.”
The number Seabolt had offered finally penetrated someone’s brain.
“Twenty kilos? Phaedra, double check that!” Cass ordered, half-rising from her chair.
“Her estimate is accurate within one tenth of a kilogram, based on the data I have gathered,” said Minerva.
“Holy shit.” Cass slumped back down.
“What?” asked Alley.
“Captain, the Enterprise uses an antimatter reactor for our warp power.”
“I know that. Are you saying it’s going to blow up like that?”
“Huh? No, not that. We have just under half a kilo of antimatter aboard, and that’s estimated to last us for most of the next year on a full exploration schedule. Twenty kilograms is unheard-of. Nobody has twenty kilos, certainly not to use as a bomb!”
There was complete silence on the bridge as this news was digested. On the screen, the surface of the explosion rippled and changed colors.
“If the Union –”
“We don’t know it’s the Union, XO,” Alley said.
“Who else? Little green men? Captain, if the Union has antimatter bombs available that powerful, we can’t let anything get within a hundred kilometers of Njord, or Earth.”
Alley suddenly realized what Cass meant.
“Exactly. Alley, this changes everything. Again.”