The Great Interstellar War–Snippet

21 Sep

Chapter One

Lance, Verge Republic

The great orbital fortress, the product of Federation technology, hung against the blue-white sphere of Lance as the shuttle approached the docking port. Its mere existence was a warning to the enemies of President Lance, a reminder of his ability to bombard the planet from high overhead if his people tried to revolt against his rule. Beth Carlyle sucked in a breath as she prepared herself for the ordeal to come, knowing that the underground was staking everything on one throw of the dice. If they failed to take out the fortress, President Lance would remain absolute ruler of the world he’d named after himself until the day he died.

She glanced back at the other nine members of the team and smiled. President Lance was good to his loyalists, providing them with wealth and women in exchange for their service. The entire planet knew that the Pussy Brigade, an all-woman military unit, was composed of concubines for senior officers, who doubled as secretaries, aides and servants. Their uniforms – absurdly tight military outfits, complete with high-heeled boots – reflected their function. This time, she told herself, the President’s loyalists were in for a nasty surprise. It had taken years of work to infiltrate the brigade and turn it into an underground tool. She swore to herself that their efforts would not be wasted.

A dull thump ran through the shuttle as it docked with the fortress, followed rapidly by a hiss as the craft’s atmosphere merged with the fortress’s internal life support. Beth picked up her carryall and nodded to her comrades, who followed her through the airlock and out into the fortress. Normal security measures were largely ignored for the Pussy Brigade; everyone knew that the women were whores, incapable of doing anything but whoring. Beth was almost disappointed that the security officers didn’t bother to scan their bags. They’d taken all of their precautions for nothing.

She ignored the catcalls and wolf-whistles that followed them through the fortress’s corridors as they strode down to their quarters, remembering a time when so much male attention would have bothered her tremendously. Her hometown had been conservative and she’d been brought up to be decent, to marry a good man and bear his children, but that had been before her two brothers had been arrested, charged with subversive activities and thrown into prison. Only one of them had ever emerged from the President’s notorious hellholes, a broken shadow of a man. Beth had left her hometown the same night and joined the underground. Resistance might be futile, but the desire for revenge was all she had.

The underground had beaten caution into her and the other recruits almost as soon as they’d joined their first resistance cell. Beth checked their quarters as soon as they arrived, noting without surprise that their compartment had twice the number of surveillance pickups than the data had led them to expect. Junior officers, even ones from the dreaded Supreme Security, knew better than to try to touch the Pussy Brigade – there were comfort women for the lower ranks – but there was no rule against watching them. Senior officers even encouraged the practice, knowing that it would provide incentive for the juniors to work to gain promotion. Beth rolled her eyes as she found a blind spot and dug into her carryall. The concealed pistol and its ammunition had passed through security without being detected. No one had dared to search their bags.

She felt her heartbeat racing as the girls shared nods, not daring to speak. It had been years since she had made her first kill, but this was different. Failure would mean disaster; President Lance would never allow them a second chance to overthrow him. Beth knew precisely how much had been vested in her; failure, she told herself firmly, was not an option. She removed the remaining devices from her carryall, pocketed them, and concealed her gun in her uniform jacket. The low-cut top – as shameful as it seemed – would ensure that male eyes wouldn’t be looking for other bulges.

They walked out of their compartment and down towards Command Centre, concealing their reactions as they walked past male officers, who winked and leered at the girls. Beth swallowed the urge to pull out her gun and shoot down the young officer who reached for her butt, before drawing his hand away at the very last moment. The guard on duty outside the main hatch looked surprised to see them – the Pussy Brigade was not expected to actually perform any real duties, whatever the official orders said – and never had a chance to realise that something was wrong. Beth stabbed a stun-rod into his throat and watched dispassionately as his body crashed to the deck.

She drew her pistol, grinned at the girls as they drew theirs, then opened the hatch into Command Centre. It was a single vast chamber, dominated by a throne-like seat in the centre of the compartment, manned by no less than seventeen officers. Admiral Lopez, sitting in his throne, didn’t have any time to react before Beth shot him neatly through the head. A second officer’s dive for the emergency alert was cut off as Jane, Beth’s second-in-command, gunned him down.

“Hands in the air,” Beth ordered, sharply. “Stand up, get away from those consoles; keep your fucking hands in the air. Now!”

They weren’t real soldiers, thankfully. She knew that they’d called in bombardments that had wiped out entire villages and towns, but none of them had actual experience fighting, or coming close to death. They obeyed her and allowed themselves to be secured with duct tape, while Beth turned her attention to the main command core. The underground’s backers had told them that the slicer datachips they’d been given would allow them to hack into the fortress’s command core and subvert it, but there had been no way to test the theory beforehand. Beth knew that if they failed to take control of the fortress, they would have to try to destroy it. There was no other choice.

She found herself praying with a fervour she hadn’t felt since she’d been a child as the computers slowly processed the datachip. It seemed like an eternity passed before there was a chime and the system unlocked itself in front of her. Mary, an expert in computers, took the seat and started to tap commands into the system. The emergency boarding protocols were activated and the command core sealed itself off from the rest of the fortress. A moment later, the riot-suppression system came online and started to disperse sleepy-gas throughout the vast structure. Every officer and crewman was soon taking an unplanned nap.

“The station is ours,” Mary said, finally.

Beth let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding. “Then commence bombardment,” she ordered. The fortress controlled the automated orbital weapons platforms that provided the backbone of President Lance’s control of the planet. He clearly hadn’t thought about what might happen if the underground managed to subvert the system. “Take out his loyalists.”

“Understood,” Mary said. She tapped a series of commands into the system. “Targets locked, Miss Carlyle. Do you want the honour of opening fire?”

Beth smiled. “Why not?”

***

“I told you that you were too soft on those scum,” Bridgette Lance screeched, as the ground shook violently. Independence, the capital of Lance, was in chaos. The population was revolting, the soldiers seemed inclined to stay on the sidelines and the President’s personal guard had been crippled by bomb blasts carried out by the underground. “You should have them all killed!”

Lieutenant Simon Plax rolled his eyes, silently grateful for the helmet he wore that hid his face. He’d been a mercenary for fifteen years, ever since his honourable discharge from Masada’s armed forces, but Bridgette Lance was one of the worst people he hadn’t been allowed to shoot in all that time. She looked like an angel – President Lance could afford the finest bodymod treatments in the galaxy – yet she sounded like a jealous shrew. Not that he could blame her, too much. President Lance spent half of his time rutting with young girls his men picked up for him from the streets.

“I cannot kill the entire population, my dear,” President Lance said. He didn’t look very impressive up close – no one was that handsome unless they used bodymod tanks for themselves – but there was no doubting his ruthlessness. Simon had watched, desperately reminding himself that it was just a job, as the President had ordered mass slaughter and deportation in response to tiny provocations. “We do need most of them alive.”

“Then send down the guardsmen to deal with the mob,” Bridgette hissed. “Look at them!”

Simon winced inwardly. Independence had a massive population, a population that had swelled alarmingly under Lance as the nearby countryside had suffered under the President’s despotic rule. There were millions of people in the city and it looked as if most of them had come onto the streets to demonstrate against Lance’s rule. Anywhere else, the President could call down fire from orbit and burn them out of existence, but he could hardly fire on his own capital city. The kinetic bombardment system would probably wind up taking out the Presidential Palace as well as the unprotected crowds.

The ground shuddered again, violently. A moment later, red lights started blinking up on the main command screens, each one linked to a different garrison on the planet. Simon sucked in his breath as he realised what was happening; the garrisons were being wiped out, one by one. That should have been impossible, he told himself; the only way to take them all out would be to take the high orbitals. One glance at the status display revealed the truth. The orbital fortress was in enemy hands and there was fighting among the fleet units stationed in orbit around the planet. With Admiral Lance, President Lance’s son, away with his fleet, it was unlikely that anyone would manage to rally the loyalists in time to salvage the situation. It had already gone well beyond critical.

President Lance let out a bellow of shock as the full weight of the disaster suddenly fell on him. The main communications network had been scrambled, preventing him from issuing orders to the remaining loyalists – and he knew better than to expect them to act without orders. He’d worked hard to eliminate anyone who showed the slightest trace of independent thought, let alone initiative, knowing that anyone who showed either was a potential threat. His loyalists would sit on their backsides until it was too late, or put their own plans for an emergency departure into operation. They wouldn’t be able to help the President.

There was a third explosion and the lighting flickered. Simon heard one of his subordinates reporting through their private radio network and scowled. Unsurprisingly, the underground was seeking to break into the Palace and capture Lance before his loyalists managed to recover control of the command network. They could make him issue the surrender order before taking him behind the Palace and putting a bullet through his head. President Lance would have no doubt of his fate. After all, he’d done the same to his predecessor. The situation had definitely become critical.

“Mr. President,” Simon said, as calmly as he could, “it is time to evacuate.”

President Lance rounded on him. “You are suggesting that we run?”

Simon kept his expression under firm control. “The Palace is no longer secure, Mr. President,” he said. No one could accuse Lance of being a coward. “Your forces have lost control of the high orbitals. The only hope for escape is to get off the planet now and make contact with your son.” The building shook again, underscoring his words. “I believe that the underground is already sending troops into the Palace.”

“Thomas will look after us,” Bridgette said, into the silence. Admiral Thomas Lance was smarter than his father, although a full equal to the old man in ruthlessness. He was the CO of the Verge Republic’s space fleet because no one else could be trusted in such a position, not when it could be used to overthrow the President. “We go to him and the fleet advances on the capital.”

Lance nodded, reluctantly. “Very well,” he said. He turned and looked over at his subordinates. “You are to hold out as long as possible.”

Simon doubted that they would do anything of the sort as he urged the President and his wife out of the chamber, heading up towards where a shuttle had been concealed for just such an emergency. Thomas Lance could command loyalty and devotion; President Lance could merely command loyalty, and then only when his forces were under firm control. Right now, the President’s grip on the planet had been effectively shattered. Simon had no doubt that his former subordinates would join the underground as quickly as possible.

The reports kept coming in as they reached the shuttle; the underground was definitely starting to storm the palace. Simon’s lips twitched as he realised that the only thing slowing them down was the vast crowds outside the complex. The uprising had been carefully planned – they’d taken the orbital fortress, the backbone of the President’s power – but their plan hadn’t survived contact with the enemy. But they were definitely doing better than their President.

“I’ve made contact with the Worshipful Leader,” the pilot said. Simon had hired him after his discharge from the Duel Monarchy Marine Corps, knowing that a pilot who had survived the dustup on Han could fly anyone out of anything. “They’re powering up, ready to head for the gravity point.”

Simon took his seat as the shuttle’s engines came online, blasting the craft out of the palace and up towards orbit. The underground fired a pair of HVMs towards the shuttle, trying to blow it out of the sky, but the craft’s countermeasures deflected them before it was too late. Simon allowed himself a moment of relief – those HVMs had looked to be modern, probably from Masada or Williamson’s Freehold – before bringing up the latest reports from high orbit. It looked as if fighting had broken out on almost every ship in the fleet.

“We don’t want to go to Sanctuary,” President Lance snapped, as the shuttle altered course and headed for the President’s personal transport. “Do you know what they would do to me there?”

“We need to get to your son,” Simon pointed out, wondering – again – how the President had managed to keep control of the Verge Republic without knowing more about the realities of interstellar travel. “It will take weeks to reach him if we rely solely on phase drive. Instead, we hop through the gravity point to Sanctuary and then travel to Alpha Psion. We’ll be there a long time before any reports reach anyone who might wish to block us.”

There was another concern, he knew. Any space tactician worthy of the name knew that spacers couldn’t use phase drive within fifteen light minutes of a G2 star. By the time the Worshipful Leader reached the phase limit, there was a good chance that one or more of the orbiting starships would have been captured by the rebels and sent after them. They might suffer the indignity of being captured, or simply blown out of space, before they could escape. The unguarded gravity point was their sole hope for escaping the system.

“Very well,” President Lance said, reluctantly. “We’ll play it your way, for now.”

The Worshipful Leader was already heading away from the planet when the shuttle docked and allowed the President to disembark. Simon had worried that the crew had been subverted by the rebels, but they were among the most loyal officers and men in the system. The President had bought their loyalty through excellent pay and allowing them to use his personal transport’s facilities whenever they were not required by the President himself. Simon had inspected the ship, back when he’d taken command of the President’s bodyguard, and had been awed at the sheer expense of the craft. The Verge Republic could have bought a modern superdreadnaught for the same cost.

“Mr. President,” Captain Cho said. He was a loyalist through and through, thankfully. “We are thrusting away from the planet and heading towards the gravity point at maximum speed.”

“Good to hear it,” Lance said. He didn’t seem inclined to allow any weakness into his voice, but then showing too much weakness might attract sharks. Even his loyalists had to be considering a universe without him. “Just get us to Alpha Psion and you will be rewarded.”

***

“We couldn’t get anyone after the President in time,” Beth reported grimly. She’d been in effective command of the battle in space right from the start, but only for a given value of command. Four starships had been gutted by bitter fighting and two more had managed to escape before the captured ships could be turned against them. “His ship made it through the gravity point and escaped.”

“That…could be a problem,” General Vista said. The underground didn’t have a supreme commander – they’d learned the value of the cell system the hard way – but he’d been in command of the uprising. “With Lance going to his son, we may face attack here.”

Beth nodded. The President’s son would definitely support his father.

“Still, the Treaty of Sanctuary forbids military transit through the system without permission from the planetary council,” Vista added. “We may have several weeks before Admiral Lance can bring his fleet here. Time enough to seek outside help.”

“Understood,” Beth said. The underground was in control of Lance now; surely, someone from the outside universe would be willing to recognise and help them now. She knew enough about galactic geopolitics to know that the Verge was in a strategic position, no matter what government was in control. “We’ll finish securing the orbitals and then report back to you.”

“Enjoy yourself,” Vista said. He grinned suddenly. “These are the problems of victory. Just think of how President Lance must be feeling.”

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One Response to “The Great Interstellar War–Snippet”

  1. scruffy September 21, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    I like this one has a good base and action right from the start

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