From: Professor Scott Nordstrom, Dept. Of Xenobiology, Edinburgh University
To: Admiral Percy Finnegan, First Space Lord
Subject: The Vesy, Political Implications
Classification: Top Secret, Eyes-Only UK
As per your request, the Department has composed a long report based on our analysis of the reports from HMS Warspite. Data was, of course, limited; neither Warspite’s crew nor the Russian refugees (or their slaves) were trained observers, let alone alien research specialists. However, our conclusions have been filed and forwarded to you and the working committee.
That said, there are certain political implications that must be brought to your attention.
The Vesy are not, by any definition of the term, a threat to humanity. As far as can be determined from the orbital observations of their homeworld and the limited studies conducted on the ground, they were at roughly 1400s-level when contacted by the Russians and literally had nothing more advanced than swords, pikes and spears (they had invented the wheel). The Russians introduced gunpowder and, perhaps more importantly, human-style military tactics and political institutions, but nothing that could allow the aliens to pose a threat to their colony, let alone the rest of the human sphere. It is, of course, impossible to be sure just how quickly they would develop, with the knowledge that certain technologies are possible. We believe, however, that we would have around 200 years before the Vesy start experimenting with crude rockets, assuming they remain isolated from the rest of the galaxy.
I do not believe they will be permitted to remain isolated for long.
Their system represents a treasure trove for human exploration, research and development. It is well known, thanks to the hearings in Geneva, that their system possesses no less than seven tramlines, three alien-grade. As the Vesy lack both a unified planetary government and a space-based presence of their own, they are literally unable to prevent human factions (or the Tadpoles, for that matter) from passing through their system at will. Furthermore, studies of the Vesy themselves (and a biosphere that is very different to Earth’s) may bring huge rewards to the nations and corporations that start long-term research programs. Indeed, their viewpoints on technology may suggest new ways to expand and refine our own technological development, in much the same way as direct contact with the Tadpoles helped us to progress around known roadblocks and develop new technologies. There may be a considerable demand for Vesy researchers to work in human labs; if not now, then soon.
This will, obviously, lead to charges of exploitation. We have already seen demands, most notably from the Friendship League, that we should basically start a massive knowledge transfer program to assist the Vesy in learning to use modern technology. Many such NGOs have already committed themselves to preventing human exploitation of the Vesy. Others have seen their living conditions, which may be described as primitive, and insist that it is our duty – the so-called ‘Human Race’s Burden’ – to uplift the Vesy, on the grounds we know better than themselves what is good for them. Given that the basic tests determined that the general level of Vesy intelligence was comparable to human intelligence, it is unlikely they will take such a condescending attitude in good part. They may be primitive, but they are not children.
However, the introduction of relatively minor pieces of technology by the Russians caused a considerable amount of upheaval in their society. Introducing everything from modern medicine and weapons to computers and starships would turn their society upside down, literally. Their system of government would probably be shattered, all the more so if human social ideas are introduced. We might see disasters along the lines of Cortez’s invasion of the Aztec Empire, the Pakistani Uprising or even the European Winter.
Ideally, we should make no further contact with the Vesy. No matter how well-intentioned, contact between an advanced society and a primitive one is often disastrous for both. The former becomes smug and arrogant, confident in its own superiority; the latter falls apart or collapses into a society-wide depression and inferiority complex. I do not believe, however, that humanity will leave the Vesy alone. Even if the British Government bans all further contact with the aliens, the remainder of the world’s governments may have other ideas (and, of course, our NGOs will demand action and involvement in ‘assisting’ the Vesy).
With that in mind, sir, I have the following recommendations …
The bunker was buried ten miles below Delhi, so deep that nothing short of a major asteroid strike could hope to disturb the bunker and its inhabitants. There was no chance, General Anjeet Patel knew, of any outsiders being able to spy on the nerve centre of Indian Government, not given the sheer level of security built up around the bunker. The government could muster its forces, direct its military and hold secret diplomatic discussions, all in total secrecy. Indeed, it was hoped that hardly anyone outside India even knew of the bunker’s existence.
He stopped outside a mirrored door and waited, knowing he was being observed, his body scanned for bugs, implants and other surprises. His face looked back at him; dark skin, a short neatly-trimmed beard, a green uniform and a dagger hanging from his belt, a tradition the Indian military had adopted during the Age of Unrest, when an attack could start at any time. There was a long pause, then the door hissed open, revealing a barren conference compartment. It was empty, save for a table, a set of chairs, a drinks machine and a holographic projector. He stepped inside and saluted as the Prime Minister came into view.
“Prime Minister,” Anjeet said.
“General,” Prime Minister Mohandas Singh said. “Welcome to the lair.”
He tapped a switch and the door hissed closed behind Anjeet. “Take a seat,” he added, briskly. “We don’t have much time.”
“Yes, sir,” Anjeet said.
He sat down and took a moment to study the Prime Minister. Singh was an old man, having served in the government for most of his adult life, but his mind was clearly as sharp as ever, despite the calamities that Earth had suffered over the past decade. Who would have believed that there was such a thing as aliens? Who would have believed that a powerful interstellar race would wage war on humanity? Even now, with a second alien race known to exist, Anjeet still had trouble getting his head around it. The once-boundless immensity of space, just waiting for human expansion, now seemed confined and restricted.
“I assume you’ve read the classified reports from Vesy,” Singh said, without preamble. “The existence of a second alien race offers us an unexpected opportunity.”
“Yes, sir,” Anjeet said.
“The Great Powers,” Singh added, “are seriously considering declaring the entire system under quarantine. This is not, of course, acceptable to us.”
Anjeet nodded, bitterly. India had done well to survive, when the Age of Unrest had washed over the planet, but she hadn’t kept up with the Great Powers. Britain, France, America, Russia, China … they’d dominated the march into space, then the quest to settle as many worlds as possible. They’d set the rules and, deliberately or otherwise, they’d made it almost impossible for any of the smaller powers to match their expansion. The sheer mass of power they’d accumulated for themselves made them the masters of the universe.
But the Great Powers had been weakened, badly.
India had fought in the war, of course, fought on the human side. But India had had fewer ships and fewer colony worlds and so the Great Powers had taken the brunt of the conflict. It hadn’t taken long for the Indian Government – and the other nations that bitterly resented being relegated to second-class status – to see how this situation could be turned to their advantage. For the first time in fifty years, there was a very real change of catching up and surpassing the Great Powers.
They still have more ships, but most of them are old, Anjeet thought. We have newer ships built with technology we learned from the Tadpoles. The balance of power may even be in our favour.
“It is critically important that we weaken the bonds between the Great Powers,” Singh continued, “and Vesy provides a unique opportunity to drive a wedge between them. The Russians are already crippled; a dispute over the finer points of interstellar law can only make matters worse for the Great Powers. Their alliance was not exactly based on mutual trust and respect.”
Anjeet smiled. The Chinese and Americans had almost gone to war twice, before the Tadpoles had materialised out of the depths of space to wage war on humanity. It wouldn’t take much to set them at each other’s throats, at least outside the Sol System itself. No one really wanted to violate the Solar Treaty, not now. There was simply too much at stake … and besides, the Solar Treaty actually worked in India’s favour. How long would it last, he asked himself, when the Great Powers realised they’d tied their hands behind their backs?
“The first part of your mission is simple,” Singh told him. “You are to do whatever is necessary to take control of Vesy, preferably by working with alien factions on the ground and assisting them to secure their grip on the planet. Our long-term objective is to enter into an alliance with the Vesy, one that will be upheld by the body of international law that has developed since we started our advance into space.”
“Yes, Prime Minister,” Anjeet said.
He smiled, coldly. If half the reports were true, the Vesy were in a permanent state of war – and the Russians had made matters worse by introducing everything from gunpowder to metalworking and human military tactics. It would be simplicity itself, particularly with the aid of the Russian files, to find a faction that wanted human assistance. And once that faction was firmly allied with India, they’d have the weapons and supplies they needed to conquer the entire planet.
“The second part of your mission is much more complex,” Singh continued. “When the time comes, you will take the first steps in forcing the Great Powers to grant us – and our allies – a seat on the table. Your orders have already been prepared for you, General. Ships have been assigned to your command. All you will need to do is open your sealed orders and proceed as planned.”
Anjeet took a breath. He’d taken part in the planning sessions, when the original scheme had been conceived and developed. The Vesy hadn’t changed much, he knew; their existence merely serving as the trigger for a confrontation that could see India raised to the ranks of the Great Powers or plunged down into a second Age of Unrest. It was always hard to predict which way the Great Powers would jump, after all, and if they all allied against India …
But Russia is already broken, he thought, coolly. China and France licking their wounds after the war. That just leaves Britain and America … and their allies.
“I understand, Prime Minister,” he said. “When do I leave?”
“As soon as possible,” Singh said. “And good luck.”
Anjeet nodded. He’d need it.
“Go,” the coordinator ordered.
A single starship – a light cruiser – hung in front of the observers, illuminated by the pulsing light of a holographic star. Suddenly, a dozen starfighters appeared out of nowhere, spinning down towards their target. The cruiser brought its point defence online and opened fire, spewing out thousands of bursts of plasma fire at the starfighters as they closed in. One by one, they vanished from the display until only a couple survived to launch their missiles at the cruiser. Both missiles were picked off before they had a chance to do any harm, then one of the remaining starfighters was vaporised. The sole survivor turned and fled into the endless darkness of space.
“Simulation complete,” the coordinator said. “Victory; Blue.”
Captain John Naiser sucked in his breath as the handful of military officers watching the display started to babble amongst themselves. He’d been a starfighter pilot, back before the war, and he’d never seen any cruiser defend itself so effectively against a conventional swarm attack. But then, neither had the human pilots who’d fought in the Battle of New Russia, where the entire Multinational Fleet had been obliterated by the Tadpoles. They’d been caught by surprise – no human fleet had been able to put out so much point defence – and never had a chance to recover.
“The starfighter is doomed, I believe,” Admiral Yeager Soskice said. The head of the Next Generation Weapons program rose to his feet as the room lightened, his face glowing with triumph. “There is simply no way a swarm of starfighters can punch through the defences of a capital ship, not now.”
John felt his eyes narrow as he peered at Admiral Soskice. The man was a genius, of that there was no doubt, but he’d never seen action in his life. And he was the man who had fostered an unqualified XO on Warspite, when she’d left the Sol System on her mission to Pegasus. There was a very real danger that Soskice and his followers believed their own simulations, while any experienced officer would have known that real life was rarely so cut and dried. What would happen, he asked himself, if the cruiser’s sensors weren’t so effective at tracking incoming starfighters? Or if the ship’s plasma cannons overheated in combat and exploded, depriving the ship of some of her point defence?
“The simulation was rigged,” Vice Admiral James Montrose Fitzwilliam said. “You deliberately slanted the advantages in favour of the cruiser.”
“The simulation was not rigged,” Admiral Soskice snapped. “I programmed it to reflect the tactical realities …”
“As you see them,” Admiral Fitzwilliam cut him off. “I don’t think real life is so cut and dried.”
He muttered orders to the coordinator, who hastily reprogrammed the simulation. The lights dimmed as the simulation reset, then the starfighters zoomed down towards their target for the second time. John watched, feeling a pang of bitter regret, as they zipped from side to side, making it impossible for the cruiser to target them with any real accuracy. Nine starfighters survived long enough to salvo their missiles at the cruiser, four missiles survived long enough to strike home. The cruiser disintegrated in a blinding series of explosions.
“Target destroyed,” the coordinator said. “Victory; Red.”
“That simulation was rigged,” Admiral Soskice said, sharply. “You altered all of the variables.”
“The variables change constantly, depending on the situation,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said. “I will happily concede that, under ideal circumstances, the plasma cannons make life hairy for starfighter pilots. That’s what happened at New Russia, after all. But Ark Royal and her flyers managed to adapt to the new threat and deal some pretty effective blows against the Tadpoles. The day of the starfighter is not yet over.”
John smiled, feeling a flicker of admiration. Admiral Fitzwilliam had been Ark Royal’s XO, then her commanding officer, during the war. He would have gone down with the ship if he hadn’t been badly wounded at Alien-Prime and sent home to muster reinforcements. Since then, he’d commanded the MNF that patrolled the border between human and alien space, watching for signs the uneasy truce was about to come to an end. Unlike Admiral Soskice, no one could say he didn’t have any experience.
And he served under Theodore Smith, John thought, wryly. He wouldn’t have stayed on Ark Royal if he’d been incompetent.
“We must advance our own weapons and defences to ensure that we can never be caught by surprise again,” Admiral Soskice insisted. “Your … fixation with the glory days of the starfighter is holding us back.”
“I believe there are very real dangers in advancing forward too far, too fast,” Admiral Fitzwilliam countered. “You have read Superiority?”
John – and most of the other officers in the compartment – nodded. The short story had been required reading at the Academy, even though not all of them had agreed with its premise or the outcome. One interstellar power had thrown its resources into developing newer and better weapons of war; the other had continued to build the same old starships and weapons, even when the first power accomplished some remarkable achievements. But the newer weapons and innovations had never quite worked out in practice and there had been no time to get the bugs out. The first power, which should have won the war handily, had suffered a humiliating defeat.
“We are not talking about taking a new device and sticking it on every ship in the Royal Navy,” Admiral Soskice said.
“But you are talking about cutting starfighter squadrons and redirecting resources to smaller ships,” Admiral Fitzwilliam pointed out. “We still have a need for starfighters and fleet carriers, Admiral. And we cannot assume that we should cut a whole spectrum of weapons systems because conditions for deploying them are no longer ideal.”
John sighed, inwardly. The hell of it was that both admirals had a point. Starfighter pilots had taken the brunt of losses during the war – John had heard that only ten percent of the Royal Navy’s pre-war pilots had survived the fighting – and most of them had died because the Tadpoles had changed the rules. But, at the same time, humanity’s starfighters had managed to adapt and fight back. The starfighters hadn’t been remotely useless.
“We are not the only ones developing new weapons and tactics,” Admiral Soskice said, coldly. “The Americans, the French, the Chinese … they’re all working on developing new weapons they can use against the Tadpoles – or us! We should not allow ourselves to become complacent!”
“We’re not becoming complacent,” Fitzwilliam said. “The problem is introducing newer technology without causing major problems or accidentally creating new weaknesses in our ships and defences. Like Warspite’s first cruise.”
John cursed under his breath as all eyes turned to him. “Warspite lost power when she jumped through a tramline,” Fitzwilliam continued. “How many other problems would be caused by a failure to anticipate the demands of real life?”
Admiral Soskice glowered. “Captain Naiser, just what happened when Warspite lost power?”
Asshole, John thought, crossly. He’d known the admiralty was divided between those who wanted to experiment with newer weapons and those who wanted to rely on tried and tested technology, but he hadn’t wanted to get caught in the middle. Is there an answer I can give that will satisfy both of you?
“A problem developed that would have been caught, if there had been more time to test the drive,” he said, smoothly. There was no point in going over the full details, not now. One of the people responsible was dead and the other trapped on Pegasus. “I don’t believe it proves or disproves either of your positions.”
Admiral Fitzwilliam’s eyes narrowed. “Explain,” he ordered.
John winced, inwardly. When would he learn to keep his mouth shut?
“Warspite should have had several weeks to run proving trials before leaving the Sol System,” he said. “That would have given us the time to catch all of those problems, as well as testing the tactical systems under combat conditions. We would have been able to integrate the newer systems into both the ship herself and the crew’s awareness of just what they can do.”
He took a breath, then went on. “There’s nothing wrong with newer technology,” he added, slowly. “But we need to test it thoroughly, to see how it works in combat and discover the flaws, before we can integrate it fully into our tactical planning. In this case” – he waved a hand towards the holographic simulation, which had frozen just after the cruiser exploded – “the first encounter with plasma cannons was a nasty fright and the enemy scored a victory, but we adapted our tactics to compensate. It would be unwise of us to rely solely on plasma weapons to defend our ships.”
“Indeed,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said. “Do go on.”
John had the uneasy sense he was being allowed to gather rope to hang himself, but he pressed on regardless. “Starfighters also do more than merely strike at other capital ships,” he continued. “They do long-range recon, dog-fighting with other starfighters and a number of other tasks. There is no reason to remove every starfighter from the fleet just because the rules of the game have changed. They may change again tomorrow.”
“They will change again,” Admiral Soskice said. “Change is the one constant in the universe.”
He nodded towards the simulation, sharply. “As a starfighter pilot yourself,” he added, “how would you handle such a situation?”
“Keep moving randomly,” John said. “Use decoys and drones, if I had them; spoofing software and ECM, just to make it harder for the enemy to target me. All tactics that we used against the Tadpoles.”
“Thousands of starfighter pilots were killed,” Admiral Soskice said.
“They knew the risks,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said, cuttingly. “We all know the risks.”
John grimaced as Admiral Soskice glared at his nemesis. It was a non-too-subtle reminder that Admiral Soskice hadn’t seen any real action, not outside simulators. And simulators could be altered to tip the balance in favour of one side or the other, if someone was prepared to take the time to try. God knew there were hundreds of trainees who enjoyed flying down the Death Star trench in the simulator, pretending to be Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader, even though it wasn’t particularly realistic.
“Five years ago, we were taught that our technology was not the best in the universe,” Admiral Soskice said. His voice was under tight control. “Since then, we have struggled to catch up with an enemy who showed a remarkable skill in producing newer weapons and tactics at terrifying speed. We dare not allow them to get past us again.”
“And I say, again, that we are not opposed to new technology,” Admiral Fitzwilliam said. “We are just opposed to rewriting doctrine and decommissioning whole weapons systems because of the latest shiny thing. And that is what you are planning to do. You want us to stop building fleet carriers and starfighters and concentrate on small cruisers. Which is all well and good, until we run into a threat that requires fleet carriers and starfighters to handle!”
They’re both right, John thought. Assuming the Tadpoles hadn’t started building their superdreadnaught until they’d run into Ark Royal, they’d put a colossal starship into service in less than a year. Given that it took humanity five years to build a fleet carrier from scratch, it was not a pleasant thought. The Tadpoles might be quietly rebuilding their fleet and developing newer weapons even now. But neither of them will admit the other has a point.
He listened as the argument raged backwards and forwards, neither Admiral conceding a point. It was deeply frustrating, as well as worrying, that the tension had actually exploded into an argument in front of a small army of junior officers. The First Space Lord had told him, before Warspite had left Earth for the first time, that the disagreement between the two sides was already affecting operational readiness, but he hadn’t really believed it was so bad.
You should have known better, he reproved himself, as he glanced wistfully at the hatch. Several smaller arguments had broken out between various junior officers, all of whom looked prepared to bicker like children for their superior officers. Military protocol seemed to have gone out the airlock. You had to relieve your XO because she was utterly unsuited to the post.
His wristcom bleeped. “Captain Naiser,” a voice said, “report to the First Space Lord at 1500.”
John glanced at the time – it was 1430 – then made his way towards the hatch, which hissed open at his approach. Behind him, the argument had gotten louder; he sighed in relief as he stepped through the hatch and it closed behind him, cutting off the sound. Outside, a dark-haired woman was waiting, wearing a Commander’s uniform. John smiled, despite himself, as he recognised Juliet Watson, Warspite’s former XO. Unlike other officers who had been effectively demoted, she didn’t seem to bear any resentment.
“Captain,” she said. She definitely looked happier, now she was in the labs on Nelson Base, rather than a cruiser in deep space. “It’s good to see you again, sir.”
“Thank you,” John said. Someone had evidently been coaching her in social graces; absently, he wondered who and why. “It’s good to see you again too.”
“I’m just waiting for the Admiral,” Juliet said. “Is he going to be long?”
“They’ve probably started throwing chairs and tables by now,” John said. He couldn’t help being reminded of a bar fight he’d been caught up in at Southampton, years ago. “Is it anything important?”
“Just to brief him on the progress of our latest experiment,” Juliet said. “There should definitely be a way to generate a tramline from scratch.”
John frowned. “Isn’t that meant to be highly classified?”
Juliet shrugged. John snorted, inwardly. Admiral Soskice’s inexperience was showing; Juliet should have been assigned to a lab somewhere in deep space, rather than a warship or even Nelson Base. It was a great deal more secure than the Admiralty on Earth, true, but there were still too many officers and crewmen without security clearances passing through the space station. And Juliet herself would have been happy with a large computer, a simulator and a handful of trained minions to help her with her research.
“I need to visit the First Space Lord soon,” he said, instead. “You’ll probably have to wait for the Admiral. Do you want to wait in the officers’ lounge?”
Juliet nodded, vaguely. They walked along the corridor and through a large metal hatch. Into the officers’ lounge. It definitely looked nicer than anything set aside for enlisted personnel, John decided; one wall bulkhead covered with medals, while another held a large portrait of the King and Princess Elspeth. A third held a porthole that showed Earth rotating below the giant station. A steward materialised from behind the bar, datapad in hand, and prepared himself to take their order. John ordered tea for himself; Juliet hesitated, then ordered water. The steward bowed and retreated.
“I heard from Mike,” Juliet said, as they waited for their drinks. “He was asking if I wanted to meet for drinks.”
John concealed his amusement with an effort. Mike Johnston was Warspite’s Chief Engineer … and one of Juliet’s few supporters on the ship. It was alarmingly clear he was sweet on her, something that would have upset the Admiralty if they’d ever found out about it. John rather doubted that anything had happened, but it was another sign that Juliet had been completely unsuited for her post. On the other hand, he had to admit, she would probably have had more trouble if she hadn’t had Johnston’s support. Very few people would have risked pissing off the Chief Engineer.
“You should,” he said, finally. The steward returned and placed two mugs in front of them, then retreated behind the bar. “It would do you good to get out of the lab for an hour or so.”
Juliet smiled, vaguely. “That’s what they told me when I was sent to your ship,” she said.
“I suppose they would have done,” John said. He’d always hated being told that suffering was good for his character, if only because he doubted it was true. “You’ve been doing better here?”
“There aren’t so many distractions here,” Juliet said. “I can keep poking away at the problems that interest me, without having to worry about anything else.”
And as long as you stay productive, the Royal Navy will be happy to take care of you, John thought. He’d heard all sorts of rumours, most of which were unbelievable, about just how carefully the Royal Navy looked after its tame geniuses. And if you do come up with a way to create a tramline, they’ll remember you longer than Einstein or Tesla.
“I’m glad to hear it,” he said, instead. “Are you going to see Mike?”
Juliet blushed like a schoolgirl. John couldn’t help thinking she looked pretty, even though he played for the other team. It was hard to imagine her having a serious relationship with anyone, but maybe it would be good for her. She simply wasn’t very experienced at relating to other people; indeed, she preferred machines to her fellow humans.
“I might,” she said. “I don’t know. When are you leaving the system?”
“I don’t know yet,” John said. Warspite had been held at Earth for six months, since her return from Vesy. He’d spent most of the time defending himself against various admirals, all of whom seemed intent on second-guessing every decision he’d made. “I think the First Space Lord might be about to tell me. I’ll let you know so you can make up your mind about going for drinks.”
“Thank you, sir,” Juliet said. “I’m supposed to remain here for the foreseeable future.”
“We won’t be,” John predicted. He glanced at his wristcom, then rose. “I have no doubt something is about to change, yet again.”