Had the NCT class today, so i wrote a snippet instead of Bookworm III.
Published In British Space Review, 2207
Although Commodore Biotin and Admiral Fredrik raise excellent points concerning the philosophical implications of other forms of intelligent life (aside from us and the Tadpoles), they are hardly the prime subject of interest to the readers of British Space Review. Not to put too fine a point on it, we are concerned with the outcome of the First Interstellar War and its implications for the future development of both the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom.
Prior to the Battle of Vera Cruz, naval thinkers anticipated facing a human enemy, rather than an outside context villain. The Royal Navy was shaped in line with lessons learnt through studying American-Chinese skirmishes and war games conducted by the major spacefaring powers. However, when we actually were faced with a serious war, our doctrine proved to be largely insufficient. The disaster at New Russia, if nothing else, proved that our imagination when it came to alien threats was definitely inadequate. Indeed, were it not for the freak circumstances that kept Ark Royal in service, we would have lost the war. As it was, Ark Royal was able to buy us time to react to the new threat.
However, the outcome of the war leaves us with a multitude of urgent questions, all concerning the government and defence of the human race. It is not my place to speculate on any of the proposals to turn the Earth Defence Organisation into a real government, but I must note that history suggests that any attempt to embrace a single government for much of the human race is doomed to failure. The Troubles – and the Age of Unrest – were largely caused by such attempts. Therefore, we must assume that the Royal Navy, while working closely with allies such as the Americans and French, will have to prepare for the future alone. This will not be an easy task.
We started the First Interstellar War with fifteen fleet carriers, not including Ark Royal. Ten of those carriers, a significant proportion of our budget, were lost in the fighting, along with forty-seven smaller warships and an undiscovered number of support and replenishment vessels. The Royal Navy has refused to disclose the precise number of starfighters and their pilots lost in the war, but outside observers have concluded that eighty percent of the pre-war establishment died in the first year of the war. These loss figures, which are comparable with those suffered by the other major spacefaring powers, are truly horrific.
This leaves us with a major problem. We must rebuild the fleet, at the same time as recovering from the damage inflicted on our country by the Battle of Earth and mustering as many freighters as possible to transfer settlers from Earth to Britannia. Failing to do so, despite the hideous costs involved, will merely render us weak and vulnerable, against both a recurrence of the war and conflict against our fellow humans. I hardly need remind the reader that many nations have suffered badly as a result of the war and some of them blame the whole conflict on us. Indeed, the troubles suffered by the Russians in regaining control of New Russia, following the Tadpole withdrawal from the system, suggest that a whole new series of inter-human conflicts may be about to begin.
And there is a further threat. Prior to the Battle of Vera Cruz, we believed ourselves to be unique in the universe, the sole intelligent race. This belief has been resoundingly shattered by the war. We cannot afford to rule out the possibility that other races may be out there in the darkness – and that some of them will pose a threat. Or, for that matter, that we will be hemmed in by alien-occupied stars and find ourselves with no further space for expansion.
Therefore, sirs, we must turn our attention to the task of rebuilding the Royal Navy, integrating Tadpole-derived technology and ensuring the security of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Britannia.
Admiral Sir Joseph Porter (Ret.)
“Mary,” Lieutenant Higgins said, as he entered the compartment. “We have completed our latest transit along the tramlines.”
Mary turned to the handsome young officer and beamed. “Thank you, Joe,” she said, warmly. “It’s always good to know when we can relax.”
Seated at the opposite side of the compartment, Gillian McDougal sighed. Mary was five years younger than herself, a beautiful girl fresh out of university who had married her husband just days before he had departed on the Cromwell Mission. They’d thought – just as Gillian and her husband had thought – that they would be separated for less than a month before the secondary personnel were allowed to board ship for the distant colony world. But then the war had begun and a month-long separation had swelled into four years. Mary hadn’t wasted time finding a new lover to warm her bed.
Not that I could really blame her, Gillian thought, as Higgins led the dark-haired girl out of the compartment. She barely knew her husband before she tied the knot.
It had seemed an adventure, once upon a time. They would move from Earth to Cromwell; a whole new world, a human-compatible planet utterly untouched by any mortal hands. There, they would set up their own farms or businesses, which – because they would be in on the ground floor – would lead rapidly to wealth and power. Not a few new scions of the aristocracy had been created after the settlement of Britannia, Gillian’s husband had noted when they’d put their names down for the colony mission, and success on Cromwell would ensure that his children had a chance to truly make something of themselves. It was why he had insisted on leaving first, even if it meant leaving his wife and daughters behind for a month or two. He had been adamant it was the only way to ensure they staked a proper claim.
But a month had become two months, and then a year, and then several years …
Mary had asked, more than once, why Gillian had remained loyal to her husband. It was the 23rd Century, after all, and marriages rarely lasted longer than it took for the children to grow to adulthood and flee the nest. And her husband was literally thousands of light years away, growing plants on a distant world. Gillian had considered it, then pointed out sharply that she genuinely loved her husband, even if they were apart. They’d made memories together …
She shook her head at the thought, then turned her attention to the datapad in front of her, barely reading the words. After so long, they were practically engraved in her mind; the complete records of the first survey party to visit Cromwell and certify the world safe for human habitation. Cromwell was everything Earth was not, even now; a safe environment, free of higher-order forms of life … and two-legged predators who would chase after her daughters, even before they entered their teens. It was a chance to build a new home, she knew, even though it would mean a great deal of hard work. But a doctor trained in emergency and colonial medicine could practically write her own ticket.
A dull quiver ran through the ship and she looked up, startled. Vesper was a large colonist-carrier, not a warship. The passage had been smooth, save for the uncomfortable sensation of passing through the tramlines. There had been nothing save for an endless thrumming from the ship’s drives since they’d boarded the vessel. For it to quiver …
“Your attention please,” the captain said. “Please return to your quarters and strap yourselves down. I say again, please return to your quarters and strap yourselves down.”
The hatch opened, revealing a surprised-looking Mary in a dishevelled state. “What’s happening?”
“Your lips are swollen,” Gillian said, bitchily. It helped override her growing alarm. “What are you going to do when Brian” – her husband – “finds out about their affairs?”
Mary glared at her. “And whose going to tell him?”
“Every last person on the secondary lists knows you’ve been fucking around,” Gillian pointed out, as sweetly as she could. “There’s nowhere to go on Cromwell …”
Another quiver ran through the ship, followed by a bang that shook the bulkheads. Alarms started to sound moments later; Gillian had barely stood when the emergency airlocks slammed down, sealing the relaxation compartment off from the rest of the ship. It took her a long moment to realise that it was the hull breach alarm, warning that – somehow, somewhere – there was a gash in the hull. The ship’s atmosphere was pouring out into interstellar space.
Mary screamed. “What … what was that?”
“Remain calm,” Gillian ordered. The maps she’d seen of the tramline network were not encouraging. They were an unimaginable distance from anyone who might have been able and willing to help them. “Panic is the enemy right now.”
“Your attention please,” the captain’s voice said. “This vessel is about to be boarded.”
Gillian felt her mouth drop open. Boarded? Boarded by whom? Space pirates existed in dull entertainment programs, not real life. And which nation would risk war with the United Kingdom by attacking one of its colony ships? But they were so far from Earth, she realised dully, that it was quite likely that the ship’s ultimate fate would never be known.
“Remain calm,” the captain ordered. “There is no immediate danger.”
Gillian gritted her teeth. Mary looked at her, sharply.
“What do we do?”
“We pray,” Gillian said. “There’s nothing else we can do.”
Mary looked disbelieving, but Gillian only nodded. They had no weapons, save for a handful of hunting rifles stowed in the hold. Even if the crew had been able to get them out in time before the pirates – or whoever they were – boarded the ship, they would not be able to offer any meaningful resistance. Vesper couldn’t hope to outrun or outfight even a small warship.
She cursed under her breath, then returned to her seat. All she could do was wait and see what happened … and pray that her daughters survived. Unless a miracle happened, she knew they were unlikely to see Cromwell, ever again. And her husband …
Closing her eyes, she settled down to wait.