Slightly more sympathetic main character here.
“Hell of a sight, sir.”
Commander Glen Knight nodded as the shuttle neared the Luna Shipyards. Countless starships –fleet carriers, superdreadnaughts and marine transports – floated in orbit around the moon, slowly being decommissioned and placed into storage. The giant military force that had beaten the Dragons was being reduced, broken down into what the politicians called a more reasonable size. Millions of spacers had already been mustered out of the service and allowed to return to civilian life.
“Yes,” he agreed, flatly. “Hell of a sight.”
It hadn’t been two years since the Battle of Sphere Prime, which had effectively ended the war, and the politicians had already forgotten about the sacrifices the military had made during forty years of war. Glen himself had only been in the Terran Federation Navy for seven years and he’d seen more death and destruction than any politician. His last posting on TFS Ark Royal hadn’t taken him along the border or through the formerly Occupied Zone, but he’d heard stories about the chaos. It was worse, according to the old sweats, than the chaos that had gripped the Rim before the Dragons had invaded.
He kept his thoughts to himself as the shuttle dropped out of orbit and headed towards O’Bryan Base, the headquarters of the Terran Federation Navy. It was a towering superstructure in the lunar landscape, well away from Armstrong City or one of the other lunar settlements, surrounded by planetary defence centres and marine emplacements. The war had never reached Earth, but there had been times when it had seemed that the TFN would have to fight to defend humanity’s homeworld. Now, such times had almost been forgotten, at least outside the military.
The shuttle dropped down towards a docking bay, which opened as they approached, allowing them to land inside the base. Glen nodded politely to the shuttle pilot, stood up and walked to the hatch. It hissed open, allowing him to taste the base’s air. Every base and starship had its own smell; O’Bryan Base smelt faintly of lunar rock. A young woman wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant Commander was waiting for him, just outside the landing zone.
“Commander Knight,” she said, as he stepped out of the shuttle. She sounded very young, almost certainly without any real military experience. “The Admiral is waiting for you.”
Glen smiled at her. “Do I get the chance to freshen up first?”
“Yes, sir,” the woman said, caught between two superior officers. “But I would suggest you hurried.”
Glen allowed her to lead him to the nearest fresher, where he washed his face, straightened his uniform and checked his decorations. The silver pip that marked his rank contrasted with the gold and silver decoration awarded to everyone who had fought during the Battle of Sphere Prime, the red and black ribbon for saving lives and the green and silver award for tactical thinking. Or, as the spacers called it, somewhat disrespectfully, the reward for Extreme Cleverness in the Face of the Enemy.
He met his own eyes and nodded, satisfied. His face looked young, as if he were barely out of his teens; his father, long ago, had ensured that all of his children received rejuvenation and life-extension treatments as soon as possible. Ink-black hair fell over dark skin and darker eyes, contrasting sharply with the white TFN uniform. He adjusted his jacket one final time and then stepped outside the fresher, meeting up with his escort. The young woman glanced at him, then led him down the corridor and past a pair of marines guarding the Admiral’s office. Neither of them paid any attention to Glen.
His escort tapped on the inner door. “Admiral,” she said, “Commander Knight is here to see you.”
“Excellent,” an unfamiliar voice said. “Bring him in.”
Admiral Darren Webster had commanded the TFN during the last ten years of the war, Glen knew, but he had retired shortly after the war had come to an end. Instead, Admiral Rupert Patterson rose to his feet to greet Glen as he entered the office. Unlike Webster, who had been a fighting officer with a string of successful engagements to his name, Patterson had never been in a battle and had spent the war managing the TFN’s vast logistics train. He’d done a good job, according to fleet scuttlebutt, but there were doubts that he had the moral strength to be Chief of Naval Operations. But the fleet didn’t get to chose its own commanders.
He was a short dumpy man, balding despite the existence of treatments that could have given him a full head of hair. Glen couldn’t help thinking, as he saluted the Admiral, that scuttlebutt was probably right. Admiral Patterson was not the sort of Admiral to inspire confidence in the spacers under his command. Quite why he’d been offered the CNO post was a mystery.
Political patrons, Glen guessed. His upbringing had taught him a great deal about how the political system really worked. It was why he had gone into the navy and gladly accepted assignment away from Earth. Patterson might well have sold himself to political patrons, who would ensure that he advanced through the ranks in exchange for unthinking allegiance.
“Commander Knight,” Patterson said. “At ease, son.”
Glen relaxed, slightly.
“You’ve been on the short list for promotion ever since the encounter at Koyo,” Patterson said. “Captain Venture and Commodore Lee both credit you with saving Ark Royal during the brief engagement with renegade Dragons. Accordingly, you are promoted to Captain.”
Glen blinked in surprise as the Admiral passed him a silver box. Inside, there was a gold starship that denoted command of a warship. But why was the Admiral telling him in person? That was certainly not usual procedure. Normally, the Promotions Board would have sent him a formal notification, along with transfer orders to his new ship. Assuming that there was a new ship, of course. Promotion had practically been frozen for everyone in the months after the war.
He removed the silver pip from his collar and replaced it with the golden starship, then looked at the Admiral. Surely he would explain …
“You are also being given command of TFS Dauntless, a Lightning-class heavy cruiser,” the Admiral continued. “She’s fresh out of the yards, after we finally sorted out which ships were worth completing after the war. The crew was put together by the Personnel Department, but you shouldn’t have any problems with them. Unfortunately, we cannot afford to give you much time for a shakedown cruise.”
Glen felt his eyes narrow. Every new ship had its own quirks and glitches, no matter what the shipyard crews claimed. It was standard procedure to put the ship through an intensive shakedown cruise before declaring her fit for operational service, just to make sure that the problems were discovered and handled long before they were in hyperspace, completely isolated from any possible help. And there shouldn’t have been any need for speed. It wasn’t as if the TFN was short of heavy cruisers, even though the politicians were slashing the navy to one-tenth of its former size.
“There are … political issues,” the Admiral said. “We need you on station as soon as possible.”
He lowered his voice, slightly. “Captain … have you been keeping an eye on the situation in the Fairfax Cluster?”
“The Bottleneck Republic?” Glen asked. “Only what’s been put on Federation News …”
“Their claim to independence is not accepted by the Senate,” Patterson said, warningly. “Suffice it to say that the Senate has, instead, determined that Federation law and order will be restored over the cluster. Your ship will be the first step towards patrolling the region and taking over responsibilities from the local defence forces. Eventually, such forces will be disbanded completely.”
“I can’t see the colonists accepting orders to simply disband,” Glen said. “They will have drawn the lessons of Koyo, even if no one else did.”
He scowled at the memory. Koyo was nearly four hundred light years from the Occupied Zone, an Algerian-ethnic planet in a resource-poor system. It should have been a fairly safe posting for Ark Royal and her crew; the massive fleet carrier was potent enough to overawe any conceivable threat. But it hadn’t stopped a small squadron of renegade Dragons from coming alarmingly close to taking out the entire ship.
And Koyo had been supposed to be safe. No one could say that of the Occupied Zone, or the remains of the Draconic Empire, or – for that matter – the Fairfax Cluster.
“Human unity is the key to humanity’s survival,” Patterson said, firmly. It was a slogan used by the Unity Party, the political alliance that had controlled the Federation during the forty years of bitter war. “The colonies might feel that they should have more than the standard internal autonomy granted to settled worlds, provided that they adhere to Federation Law and the Bill of Rights, but they cannot be allowed to act independently.”
He lifted his eyebrows in mock surprise. “Or perhaps you disagree with the Senate on this matter?”
Glen said nothing. Family connections or not, questioning the Senate’s decisions openly was unwise, certainly in front of an Admiral who had risen to the top through political patronage. Patterson would do whatever his patrons commanded – and if Glen objected too loudly, he would lose his new command before he had even set foot on her.
“Your precise orders are to patrol the Fairfax Cluster, provide protection to its citizens in line with the Naval Charter, enforce Federation Law and form connections with pro-Federation groups within the Fairfax Cluster. Where possible, you are to seek out ways to cooperate with local forces – and attempt to determine their precise strength and intentions. You are not, however, to do anything that suggests that the Federation recognises the Bottleneck Republic as actually possessing any legitimate authority, let alone the planetary councils of worlds that had yet to repay their settlement loans. They are not included in the general amnesty after the Occupied Zone was liberated.
“In addition, you are to provide protection to alien settlers and refugees within the Fairfax Cluster, regardless of whoever poses the threat. The long-term disposition of both groups has yet to be determined, but until the Senate makes a final decision they are to be protected from racists and extremists on both sides.”
Glen wanted to shake his head in disbelief. Patrolling the Fairfax Cluster was simple enough – although the law of averages suggested that Dauntless wouldn’t be in position to stop pirate attacks if she kept moving from system to system – but carrying out all of the other orders would be nightmarish. How was he meant to cooperate with local forces while spying on them? For that matter, how could he talk to pro-Federation groups if the Federation openly refused to recognise several local governments as possessing legitimate power?
“The colonials will refuse to recognise your authority, at first,” Patterson continued. “If necessary, you are authorised to use force to ensure that they understand that the Federation will not abandon its position, no matter what posturing they do. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” Glen said, tightly. It was a recipe for trouble, at the very least. In the Federation proper, his authority would be unchallenged, but the Fairfax Cluster had been isolated from the rest of the human race for nearly forty years. They had evolved their own legal systems, systems that sometimes conflicted with Federation Law. “You want me to remind them that the Federation claims ultimate authority over the human race.”
“Indeed,” Patterson said. “It is the intention of the Federation Senate to include the developed systems within the Fairfax Cluster in the next census, which will be carried out before the elections. Their claims to any form of independence will be ignored and they will, eventually, fade away. Your task is to show them the benefits of remaining part of the Federation – and our refusal to accept their childish claims to independence.”
Glen couldn’t – quite – keep the wince off his face. The colonials – all of the colonials, not just the Fairfax Cluster – had long resented the dominance of the Core Worlds over the Federation’s federal structure. It had been a cause of considerable discontent prior to the outbreak of war with the Dragons; Glen knew that ONI had speculated that the Dragons had actually funded and encouraged independence movements, just to keep the human race distracted. Now, after the Core Worlds had so badly failed the colonies, any attempt to assert the same level of authority in the wake of the war was asking for trouble.
Representation in the Senate alone wouldn’t fix the problem, he knew. The larger the population, the larger a system’s clout – and only a handful of colonies outside the Core Worlds had a population greater than ten million, at least prior to the war. After the occupation, there were dozens of worlds that had been almost completely depopulated by the Dragons. There were good reasons for the colonials to try to remain in the Federation, but not if it meant giving up more of their independence.
“Sir,” he said, carefully, “talking down to them will not help.”
“We cannot afford to suggest that we take their claims seriously,” Patterson said, crossly. “The Federation Senate is clear on this matter. Our unity must not be compromised.”
He picked up an envelope from his desk and passed it to Glen. “Your formal written orders,” he said. “We expect you to depart within the week.”
Glen nodded, sticking the envelope in his jacket. Maybe the formal orders would make more sense, or at least give him wide latitude to act as he saw fit. Captains were supposed to be able to make their own decisions, within the scope of their orders, but he’d heard that the orders coming out of O’Bryan Base had been leaving less room to manoeuvre ever since the end of the war. Having granted vast authority to the Admirals during the war, the Admiralty was busy clawing it back.
“Your father was very pleased with your assignment,” Patterson added. “I trust that you will make him proud.”
“Pleased with my assignment,” Glen repeated. “Did he arrange for my promotion?”
He fought down the bitter rage that threatened to overcome him. Theodore Knight, Glen’s father, was the largest stockholder and CEO of Knight Incorporated, one of the largest interstellar corporations in the Federation. Knight Incorporated produced everything from starships to settlement gear for colonists; it was said that tax inspectors had gone mad trying to probe the full web of holdings owned by the corporation. And, with so much wealth at his disposal, Theodore Knight was one of the most powerful men in the universe.
Growing up in his shadow hadn’t been easy. Glen had gone to the finest schools and universities in the Federation, but he’d started to resent his father’s interference in his life from a very early age. While his older brothers and sisters allowed their father to shape them into corporate servants – Theodore believed in keeping as much as possible inside the family – Glen had rebelled. At eighteen years old, he’d walked out of his expensive university and into the nearest Federation Navy recruitment office. And yet his father’s influence could be seen in how his career had developed, during the war. He’d had to fight merely to be assigned to a combat post.
“He hinted that it would meet with his approval,” Patterson said. “But you are qualified …”
Yeah, Glen thought bitterly. And so are thousands of others.
What was the old bastard playing at? Glen knew better than to think that Theodore Knight believed that the Fairfax Cluster was a safe posting. Federation News might have turned a blind eye to the anarchy raging along the frontier, but Knight Incorporated had its own sources of information. Coming to think of it, didn’t his father control a number of news networks outright? He should certainly know what was going on, even if the general public didn’t.
But it was always hard to guess at his father’s motives for doing anything, save only that they were always intended to make money and secure the family’s position.
“Right,” he said, finally. There was no point in asking Patterson. Admiral or not, he was nothing more than a pawn of his political superiors. “Thank you for your time, Admiral.”
Patterson nodded. “A full work up from ONI will be transmitted to your ship, Captain,” he said, flatly. “You will be expected to deliver Governor Brown to Fairfax, then you may proceed as you see fit – in line with your orders, of course.”
Glen kept his face as still as possible. “You want us to transport Governor Brown to Fairfax?”
“Yes, Captain,” Patterson said. There was an odd flash of understanding in his eyes. No CO liked the thought of having a politician on his ship. The Captain was the supreme authority while onboard, but a complaint from a passenger could easily lead to trouble from the Admiralty. “And his staff.”
He stood up and held out a hand. “Good luck, Captain,” he said. “And God bless.”
Glen took the proffered hand and shook it automatically, then saluted and left the office. Outside, the Admiral’s aide was waiting, ready to escort him to his shuttle for the transfer to Dauntless. Glen smiled inwardly and allowed her to lead him there.
Once he was on the shuttle, heading away from the moon, he opened the envelope and scanned the orders quickly. He’d expected something a little more coherent than the Admiral’s explanation, but in many ways it was worse. How was he meant to convince the colonials to stay with the Federation while at the same time refusing to meet with their elected governments? Or, for that matter, attempting to enforce Federation Law in their territory?
He shook his head as the shuttle passed a fleet carrier that was being towed towards the Naval Reserve. Everything had been so much simpler during the war.