"Commanders log, Marjee recording: We've just received some very disturbing data from Samson along with a communication between Vekk and Eliana. We also have a message to pass along to command with the data received from Samson. Eliana will be here in about twenty minutes and we're not to inform KO… keeping information from ones comrades can prove daunting."
"Pegasus, are you ready to transmit the data home?"
"I am but we have a slight problem, the communications link we used before has moved its position relative to ours. If I transmit the data, even in a narrow beam, Illusion will surely intercept it."
The plot becomes active, as stated the signal will pass in front of Illusion. Marjee contemplates an alternative when the link with Dawn becomes active.
"Think its time to stretch my legs. Thinking about moving to this position, no sense in hiding behind you, KO knows what happened and if I stop about here, they'll never notice the signal you're about to send. Maybe I can get in a conversation with KO; you know another little diversion, something I'm good at. Watch my stern lights; I'll clue you when to send the message."
Mirage positions itself between Marjee and KO effectively blocking KO's view of them. On top of that Dawn initiates communications by using their light beacon, another brilliant distraction. After a few minuets the stern lights flash and Pegasus delivers the message. The conversation continues until Samson arrives, something Marjee found interesting. Opening the link to Dawn she asked.
"Were you going to talk to her all day?"
"No, but as we started I picked up Eliana coming this way and… to distract even more I told, um made a bet with KO that Eli would be her before she knew it. KO's so gullible at times it's really cute."
From the background Noel said.
"KO cute, maybe while she's sleeping, Dawn just so you know you take too many risks, one day…"
"Noel one day has arrived, remember I'm sitting in a no longer like new vessel, I've had my little run in and it almost cost me dearly. Hopefully Eli has the answers to how this all occurred, if she doesn't then I might have to go back and look around something I'm not looking forward too."
Entering the Center Cassie spied Plakia and Kenesh deep in a conversation, she let them be as she prepared to disseminate the information she had received. Once she was ready she called the meeting to order and opened the link between Dai and Command. A holographic likeness of Dai stood facing Cassandra as she started the session.
"I know you've heard of an expedition launched after we recovered the misplaced Zon Vessels…"
"Misplaced, how novel, you really believe that bold face lie." Plakia said.
Ignoring the comment Cassandra brought the main viewer on line and continued.
"These are the first images of the planet that those who 'borrowed' the Zon ships ended up at. The research vessel Mirage was sent to investigate and took damage from a very fortified planetary defense system. Although they suffered damage, no one was injured and they are back to operational status. Concerning the attack, that planet has the means to negate our cloak long enough to target the vessel in question. Mirage suffered a glancing blow from an extremely powerful disrupter beam, powerful enough had it been a direct hit we'd be having a very different conversation."
"Before we continue there is something else in the chronological order of things I must share. First off Samson launched a probe to orbit the planet, upon recovery the probe had a proximity mine attached to it and there was never any indication of how it happened. The core was successfully ejected, those images, are from that probe. Second and much more important is the Alliance, at this moment, is rejecting our call for help on this issue stating the underhanded way we handled the Zon adventure. Vekk has a fleet in the area but has been forbidden from offering any further assistance to Samson and group. It is my understanding Vekk has the same information we have, hopefully he'll be able to sway the Alliance, if not… my original plan was to send you to a holding position but Eliana has made a different request."
"I'd like you to review the data as you proceed to the rendezvous but before you leave I'd need to make a couple of things clear. First off Eliana's in charge she's informing KO of that fact as I speak, second the defenses are second to none if you try to penetrate them, odds of success are minimal. Don't be heroes, lastly I'm sending two type fifteen planet killers with you, one aboard each ship. It will fall on Eli and the rest of you IF they are to be deployed. Hopefully a weakness will be discovered but seeing part of the arsenal on that planet, it can not be allowed to exist. I know its genocide but if what is on the world falls into the wrong hands the results will be ten fold. We pride ourselves on not starting wars, by negotiating, from what I've seen these beings have no intention to negotiate, hopefully I'm wrong, but that's why you're bringing the type fifteens. This stays in the fleet no one outside of this room knows anything. I'm sure you have questions, I'll take a few but there is no time for extended argument."
The room for the most part was quiet, however Dai's hologram started to speak.
"Type fifteens? I want to be on the record objecting, we just watched a star collapse and take a small system with it. You realize if we destroy the forth planet of a fairly large system the moons will reek havoc in fact if our forces are not far enough away when we detonate those we stand a good possibility of losing some of our own. I take note that the system is on the boarder with the Zon Empire. I'll assume you've NOT communicated with them. You realize a stray could make its way into the Empire and what then, how do we explain this? Cassie, reconsider, I object strongly and I can't stop you from sending them… might I ask was this Noel's idea?"
"Objection noted and under advisement, you are correct, it was Noel that suggested it initially, we've decided it was a plan to have in reserve, and the Council is in the dark about this along with the Alliance to answer your next question."
"Understood, we're wasting time, tell me where I'm going and we'll do as instructed…. Discovery, out."
Dai's image faded, Cassandra ended the meeting and the type fifteens were already loaded when Plakia and Kenesh arrive at the space dock. Before boarding, Kenesh and Plakia had a private conversation.
"Type fifteen, something Lafiel brought to this world, a last line of offense she called it. I wonder if she knows two of them are missing from the arsenal."
"Plakia I've seen what a fifteen can do, well its predecessor, it's devastating and two are over kill, no pun intended."
"You know Dai will be tooth and nail against using them. That means we have to find another way to do this, let's split the data, I'll take defenses, you take inventory, and between the two of us maybe we can find a weak spot to exploit."
"Exploit, I hope it's that easy, have we even communicated with them?"
"Cassie said they refused conversation, only Marjee talked to them, right before she vaporized them. Probably left a good first impression don't you think?"
"I guess we'll never breed all of the Abh out of us, it'll be that arrogance that will be our downfall."
"Kenesh, always the optimist aren't you, come on, we better get going, don't want to miss this party."
"Communications, tactical, navigation, stay at your post and keep sharp, the rest of you conference room five, take this data apart, and find me a weakness to exploit. Navigator, time to intercept?"
"We're running two hours behind the ships from Shahrazad we are gaining on them but…"
"Engineering status report?"
"Captain, we're at one hundred twenty-five percent. I've had to isolate the grid and open it to space to keep the couplings cool… if you want any more, we risk showing up dead or wishing we were."
Frustrated Dai inquired of navigation if there was anyway to short cut; she failed to add the word; safely. The navigator placed up a course blasting right through the outer edge of the Zon Empire and said.
"Takes an hour of the trip, but that area is heavily fortified, we'd have to run cloak and shielding…"
"Out of the question you turn those on and I'll have to cut power somewhere to keep the balance and the biggest power hog is the engines. Short cut will probably add time in reduced speed and if we encounter any hostiles remember our grid is open to space".
"Fine, maintain course and if you can muster anymore speed out of this ship…"
"Captain, you're getting more than it's able. I'm sure Robert and Lily will have questions for you when they see our logs. Glad I won't have to explain that one."
Dai returns to the center seat, tablet in hand, going over the data from Samson.
"If you think the data is forged then so be it but I've seen the planet with my own eyes and the damage they did to not only the probe but the research vessel. You can think what you wish but if this isn't dealt with those stockpiles are going to end up somewhere maybe it'll be the next skirmish we have."
"Hold your position and your tongue Vekk; we'll get back to you shortly."
"Tao, SHUT UP AND LISTEN!"
Surprised Tao remained quiet; an outburst like this from Cassandra was totally out of character for her. Noticing Tao was listening Cassandra said.
"After what you put us through and you have the nerve to show up acting all holy… hogwash. I don't know where you're getting your information from but mark my words before you leave here I'll know. As to the subject you're yelling about you only have one third of the information, tell me who told you and you'll have the rest. If not I understand the brig has a very nice view of the gardens."
Tao sat stunned, Cassandra had just threatened to place her under arrest, as number two on the Council it would seem Cassandra had no trouble in incurring the councils wrath, then again, considering that the Council wasn't completely aware of what she was doing… it was becoming a rather sharp line. Tao decided to remain silent and see what Cassandra's next move would be.
Cassie figured Tao would not readily give up her sources, it was then she called for her ace to come in.
"Seelnay, I need your expertise if your not busy come by the Command Center."
A door opened and Seelnay entered, although, for a human she had aged nicely, with that age her abilities had sharpened greatly to the point that she could be dangerous when provoked, something that had kept her quietly planet side for the past ten years.
"Yo, Cassie, what's up?"
"I have a little problem I'd like you to handle without doing too much harm, Tao has information I'd like about an information source she knows. Think you can persuade her without, um, leaving her a vegetable?"
Hearing that Tao panicked, tried to rise from her seat and was immediately returned there, Seelnay approached her and with her first contact Tao babbled like a fresh water stream. Cassandra ordered security to round up everyone Tao had mentioned. Frustrated Tao lashed out at Cassandra."
"Okay, so I have spies, you do, you have too as well."
"Don't need them, what you do you do, that's why I'm in my present position, had I known what you had going, it would have never occurred, that said what we've found I could almost forgive the Council…. ALMOST."
Cassandra then informed Tao of what they've found and continued with this…
"We've wondered where some of these semi primitive planets have gotten not only weapons decades if not centuries beyond their current development rate, but the expertise to use and maintain said tech. We have barely scratched the surface, I want to have a diplomatic solution but I'll inform you now that Independence and Defiance are carrying type fifteen munitions. One way or the other we're going to end this, those weapons will not make it to where ever those who have them are planning to send them."
Stunned, Tao sat with a blank look on her face, Cassandra's words still buzzed in her brain, a brain overloaded and adversely stimulated recently by Seelnay. Security helped her from her seat and was starting to escort her from the room when she said.
"You intend to destroy an entire planet, indiscriminately? With no warning, what about the repercussions, the rest of the system will be tossed on its ear. I really hope you're not serious about this."
Tao wound up admitted to the hospital overnight for observation. As Seelnay was leaving she approached Cassie and said.
"Tao's a real mess inside, in my humble opinion sending her to the hospital was a life saving move. Also the brief encounter I had with her it would seem not only you but the Council might be in the dark about a lot of things, I think it might be wise to talk to them before we act… and Cassie, your not planning on using those munitions, are you?"
"Hopefully not but, Seelnay you'd be one of a few who would understand 'playing with a bad hand'."
"From what I've seen, and have sensed from you, it might be a pair of threes and nothing more for the moment."
"You do understand if needed can I …"
"Get my observations and opinions, I'd be honored but remember I look at the universe through skewed glasses. By the way you said Dawn had a run in? Since I haven't heard anything official I'm assuming it was 'minor'?"
Cassandra shared the report, Seelnay was not happy with what she read.
"They can see thru the cloak long enough to target and this disrupter they fired, where did this come from?"
"Seelnay, I'm recalling you temporally, with that I'm also giving you access to all the data we have. I'd like a second opinion on what we've stumbled into. If you need help I understand Greta is still on reserves you two did work well together."
"I'll think about it, I've become a bit of a loaner recently. She knows it's nothing personal, but I'll look at what you've got and see if something stands out."
Seelnay left, Cassandra looked around the room, and outside of the security officers Cassandra found her self quite alone a feeling she wasn't happy with. Retiring to her office she found Sari waiting for her. Taking her seat Cassandra looked out the window; Sari approached her from behind and said.
"Normally you have my support without question, however this time I'm having serious doubts. Just so you know telemetry from Discovery shows not only has Dai pulled her limiters, but in order to get there as soon as possible, she's opened her grid to space. The slightest error, miscalculation and we're maybe down one ship and for what?"
"Sari, what I'm after is an end to this arms race. It seems everyone, with any ambition wants the power to rule others. When it's homegrown and doesn't extend past one planet we use to leave it be, lately homegrown has ended up consuming systems which someone usually has to take action against, through treaty or other obligations. Think about the resources that are wasted because some arms merchant wants to get rich at the cost of others. And we need to know who we're dealing with, are they a new group, old group, combination of, a government bent on conquest? Too many loose ends to leave dangling, the type fifteens are a final solution, one I hope they don't have to use, that said these people can't get a pass either if what that data shows they actually have and its operational. You realize, if this gets out of hand, I'll have to defy not only the Council but my mother and tell my uncle what's going on. That is how serious this is becoming."
Sari joins Cassandra and looks out the window; it's so peaceful yet on the other side of the galaxy…
Its three images on Eliana's viewer, KO on one side Marjee and Noel in the middle and Dawn on the other side. KO is stunned, while Marjee is showing little emotion, Dawn doesn't seem amused either but she's listening and not commenting. Noel knew this was going to happen; KO was and is anti, type fifteen munitions, their destructive properties can not be controlled, once detonated they consume until there is nothing left. A far cry from the original planet killers, that usually took two to five to decimate a planet, depending on size. A fact, little known, Eliana is not fond of them either but with what they've found she is less fond of that hardware entering the galaxy. Undaunted by KO's expression she continues.
"Vekk is the next system over pleading the case to the Alliance. I'm not sure what he knows about the group enroute, but he's got enough information I hope to convince the Alliance to allow his assistance, if not we're on our own which seems the norm as of late. I want this to be a solution to the problem, not a band aid for a festering situation. By the time the rest get here we should have the complete record from the core, hopefully it will show us a way to out think this foe. That's all for now with one exception, KO, monitor Vekk see if you can tell how his case pleading is going."
The link goes to stand by, it will be a few hours until the balance of the fleet arrives and Eliana needs to get off her feet for a bit.
"You're asking me to disobey orders and possibly jeopardize the mission… are you going to have us jettison the munitions we have aboard as well?"
"I'm not asking you to stop or disarm, just slow down a little bit so I arrive before you have the chance to deploy what you have aboard."
"Dai, we're three hours out, we'll change that to three and a half, that will put you arriving shortly after we do, it’s the best I dare do, and if Eliana wants someone's head you'll volunteer, correct?"
"Thank you Kenesh, yes I'll fall on my sword, also I'd like to exchange information with you… I've got sixty percent of the crew working on the data Eli sent. I'd like a combined analysis when we arrive… Can we do that as well?"
"Plakia and I have been doing the same, merging our findings into one report, which would be beneficial, send your data over."
"Thank you, transfer commencing."
The link closes and the private channel between Plakia and Kenesh opens.
"Thank you Kenesh, I would have been unable to commit to what you did."
"Between the two of us, I've gotten orders in the past fifteen minutes to slow down and let Dai catch up. It would seem Eliana's crystal ball is working well, in this case, that is."
"Merge data and see what else they have but I can tell you right now, what is there is enough to be more than formidable, in fact there's enough there to challenge the Star Forces to a good fight, if and I quantify if, with them being properly crewed."
"Yeah, my thoughts exactly and I know Cassie does want to involve the Abh in this mess, with the current rumbles in the High Council I see something like this being an opening to end up under Abh rule, not for me."
"My son the Emperor, although he does not know I live, I doubt he'd listen to me, he is his father's son and more to the point, his father patrols the far reaches of the Empire, just to keep him at arms length. I agree as much as it pains me to say this we must keep the Empire in the dark."
"Plakia to change the subject, Dai just appeared on long range scan, the data; I've never seen a ship in that class go that fast. I'm going to slow down a bit more… and inform Dai of it, she's no good to us if her ship is damaged in an effort to stop something that probably won't happen."
"Slowing to match your speed and receiving data from Dai. I'm going to review and compare, then send what I have to you."
"I'll be waiting…"
"It's amazing, they managed to miniaturize cloaking tech to equip it to a pressure suit."
"Look again Eliana alter the light filters and you'll see their supposed magic isn't."
Adaptive camouflage adapts rapidly to its surroundings, which on a surface world, it works quite nicely. However in the void of space the energy required to have it effectively work makes it a limited advantage. Shifting the light filters Eli sees what Marjee was pointing out, a rather large umbilical cable stretched from the suit to the shuttle that brought the mine to the probe.
"Had the probe had eyes it would have seen the suit approaching, but it was not scanning for proximity contact. The 'magic' is not, it massive energy usage to conceal an object. That partially explains why there was only one shot taken at Mirage. The device that penetrated the cloak required so much energy that the weapon was good for one maybe two cycles then it faced either energy depletion, or unit overheat, that much energy usage has to create a massive amount of heat. That said if several weapons are deployed and cycled correctly that planet could almost be siege proof. However now that we have this tidbit of information I'd like to try to overload their grid and see what happens."
"Marjee, I'm still grasping the concept, you're saying that if we launch an all out attack towards the planet, their grid will fail?"
"An attack yes, all out no, when the rest arrive we send a small fleet of cloaked mines towards the planet. Since its been proven they can see through the cloak they'll have no choice but to repel the attack and they'll need to use the weapons we saw earlier to accomplish that. Also if I'm not accurate we're out a bunch of mines and not operational ships."
"I'm trying to understanding this, the mines will cause them to expend energy and overload their systems? While that's occurring we target and try to neutralize their defenses. Is that's what you're trying to communicate to me?"
"Sorry, you're correct, I'm thinking in technological terms and not combat terms. The mines should locate their weakness, if any, and we exploit them with concentrated fire at their defensive locations. I believe that's the combat terms."
"It okay Marjee, you're making sense. I just verifying for my own piece of mind. How many mines do you think, and should we let them drift or target them?
Confused Marjee places Eliana on hold and addresses Noel.
"The mines are, programmable, I mean we don't have mines so I thought, okay that's what I get for thinking without checking the facts… Pegasus put a briefing on the mines on my screen and Noel talk to Eli while I study this."
Noel is temporarily stunned, then she realized, most first year cadets know more about combat systems than Marjee presently does. Opening the link to Eliana she says…
"Give us a couple of moments; Marjee's taking a 'crash course' on mines. Make a note, when we get back, Marjee takes the condensed first year Cadet combat course. For which I'll gladly tutor her on. Eli, little mistakes, like this, someday, are going to cost us dearly. I suggest we carefully examine what we're about to do and make it a joint decision between all of us. Do you agree?"
"I agree and I like Marjee's suggestion, and the rest of us, we might be able to 'tweak' it a little. Plakia's the 'mine queen' I'm certain she'll be able to add to this discussion. Speaking of, they just appeared on my long range scan. Dai's joined up with Plakia and Kenesh, we'll have to settle Dai down, like KO she'll be wound tight about the munitions we're about to receive. And personally I do sympathize with her."
"I think we should add KO to this conversation. Knowing her and Lyra they're probably tapped into this link or at least know of its existence, with your permission, Commander."
"I'll be glad to admit I've been listening and I'm glad you remember that I was out here Eli... mines I like it, Marjee's lack of training glad I wasn't her coach, Noel…"
"Can it KO, if you think you can do better then you volunteer, if not, just shut up."
"Alright you two save it for the planet… Since you've been listening KO any ideas you have be ready to submit them when the rest of us arrive, and how goes it with Vekk? Is he making any headway?"
"Headway, um maybe, making friends, definitely not, considering the last conversation we monitored he basically challenged the Alliance Council to an old fashion dual. Knowing him as I do, he'll bend the rules, but probably be able to change the Council markedly. That aside the Council is being difficult and it's because of what we've done and not done that their leery of our intentions. I hope Cassie falls like a brick wall on that bunch of ours, they need to keep their hands out of certain decisions, and Lafiel wouldn't have let this slide as long as it has…"
"KO, that's enough, Cassie's governor, Lafiel's retired, deal with it."
"Bickering about things we have no control over will get us nowhere, focus on the task at hand. You've got about an hour before they're here."
"I wasn't expecting you two, especially you Seelnay to… where's Cassandra?"
Sari took over the conversation and said.
"Glad you contacted me, for I was about to call you. Cassandra and security are at the Council chambers. To be brief; it would seem persons connected with, and members of the Council, were conducting governance without the Council's or Cassandra's knowledge. It is most of the reason we're in our present position. They're still sorting out the details, but my orders from them to you are and I quote. "Take all possible measure to insure that items located on and stored in the vicinity of the planet are either secured or destroyed. You are authorized to use any measures you deem necessary. "
"Eliana, on a side note I don't know if the Suran's or the Alliance can or will be of any assistance to you. Vekk's on the verge of courts martial for the comment's he's made in defense of your expedition."
"Cassie's trying to reason with the Alliance but it means she'll probably have to 'come clean' completely about recent events. I don't have all the details but it's a bomb shell that will make your type fifteens look puny in comparison. About those, the authorization does include using them. As an aside I would like to add unofficially, 'as a last resort'."
Numbed by Sari's information Eliana sorts through what she's been told. She had a feeling something had been amiss since, not now, she'll sort it all out later. Clearing her thoughts she replied to Sari.
"Stay in touch, we're having a conference, I'll forward our plans to you before we execute them, unless we're attacked before hand. The munitions in question, last resort sounds fine to me as well."
The link went to standby, Seelnay approached Sari and said.
"I'm heading to space dock; I'll be aboard the Dorin, Captain Pratt is offering a conference room and communications to the fleet, I want to be in on this 'conference' they are about to have. I want to make sure they are considering everything instead of charging forward. You'll excuse me I need to catch a shuttle. I'll stay in touch."
Seelnay leaves, Sari sits trying to make sense of the past few hours when…
"Hey, did you forget, we were to have dinner tonight and when you didn't show up I…"
Sari leapt from her desk and straight into her mother's arms. Shaking and trying not to sob uncontrollably she tried to explain the past few hours, failing that she let Lily read the communications for that time span. It didn't take long before Lily realized how serious things had become since the morning. Moving to the console in Sari's office she opens a link and says.
"Have dinner without me… I'm with Sari; we need to have 'girl' talk… I'll be home soon, love you."
Closing the link she continued.
"That will keep your father content, why don't you sit and we'll talk if you want… however this report from Discovery, what were Dai and Arisa thinking? Opening the grid to space, while a novel solution, the risk involved… when they get back make sure they see me. BOTH of them… okay now we chat. Anything you want to talk about, I'm all ears dear."
"I've seen your reports, and have forwarded them to base. Seelnay did you receive them?"
"I have, they are inline with what I've discovered on this end, my question is what are you planning on doing about this?"
"Taking the planet head on is out of the question, we would be at a definite disadvantage. There has been a suggestion and it's on page six of the package I sent over. Launch a mine attack, overtax their defenses and secure the planet. While this is an outline I'd like to see if we can make an operational plan from it. That said if you have other ideas submit them now and we'll look at them one at a time."
A couple of plans appeared; however there seemed to be a lot of interest in the 'mine' attack. Opening the link for comment Plakia queried Marjee about her plan.
"Do you understand the basics of mine usage? This plan is very basic and doesn't utilize one fifth of what a modern self propelled mine is capable of."
"I'll admit when I proposed the plan I had little understanding of their functions, I have since studied up on the subject and realize the flexibility we have. My intent was to overload their defenses and render them useless, even if it's for a short period, so we could take possession of the planet. From a purely technological perspective… not for actual combat execution, that's where hopefully your experience comes to play."
Plakia's interested peaked at Marjee's statement. You could see her mind in action as she continued.
"I'm seeing five major targets; I've pinpointed them of the chart. I figure about twenty mines per location with… what to load them with. Explosives in a few to disable the weapons but the rest of them… I wonder."
"Seelnay what did you say?"
"Polarized chaff, Mirage's scan showed the polarity of the beam they were hit with. If we have the mine release oppositely charged chaff it will be attracted to the beam probably indicating to the weapon it's found a target and hopefully it will discharge. When that occurs, our weaponized mines will attack, between their system recharges and… poof… hopefully."
"You're assuming a lot out of the mines, might I add to the plan… we are, counting Illusion in independent mode, nine ships total. I suggest Illusion stands guard against orbital attack and the rest of us take a weapon, target it, and when their defenses drop, put it out of commission for good."
"Interesting plan Eliana, is our optimum firing range outside their weapons range?"
Eliana started to answer the question as Dawn chimed in…
"If my experience was their normal I'd say yes. The range from the platform we were when it fired and did moderate damage was only half the distance of our main weapons array optimum range. With shields at max and at optimum firing range those weapons with their defenses down should go like clay pigeons on the firing range back home."
Dawn finished, although no one spoke, facial expressions said volumes. Dai, Kenesh and Plakia were deep in thought. KO had a pad in her hand entering data and Marjee was looking at something Pegasus was displaying to her. Eliana was about to speak when Dai said.
"I can work with this, I think I speak for all of us when I say we have to make this work because our only other option..."
"Is now off the table, using type fifteens in this system is suicide… I'm sending you orbital data that just finished compiling."
Seelnay's data appeared and taking the planet out would have dire consequences, not only for that system, but the neighboring Zon Empire outposts.
"I fed the computers with every possibility, and taking out that planet would condemn almost one billion inhabitants of the outposts to an untimely death… and that projection is only for the first ninety days after the event… extending it out over the next fifty years it gets pretty ugly… vaporize the atmosphere if you must but leave the planet intact."
Again silence fills the link, finally Kenesh speaks up.
"We have to do something, this sitting around … I'm on for the mine plan… with vaporizing the atmosphere on the planet next. I feel we won't need to but… if what's on that world makes its way back to space, a billion people might be a drop in the bucket and the one hundred thousand or so on that planet a spec of dust… I say we proceed."
The link falls quiet again it's Plakia that speaks, or should I say thinks out loud.
"Thirty mines each emplacement, ten with conventional chaff ejection; ten with explosive release, the last with proximity detonators and anti matter ordinance. If that doesn't do the trick then we strip the atmosphere from the planet. Figure it will take about an hour to load and program the mines… Eliana shall we say start the attack at midnight?"
Looking at the group Eliana says.
"If there are no objections, I approve of the first part of the plan and place the last part on hold. I'll also forward the plan to Vekk so he doesn't come charging in unannounced and foul everything up. Last call any objections?"
The link moves to stand by and Seelnay reports to Sari the decision of the fleet.
"Seelnay, in your opinion, do they have a chance?"
"Yeah, if all goes well, this should work out, if it doesn't … we'll cross that bridge later… Tell Cassie I'm coming back planet side."
"I will she's on her way back from the Council chambers. See you soon."
"Well better late than never, I've also received information from their fleet, an attack plan for the planet in question, not requiring our assets. We keep isolating the founding planet of the Alliance and one day we shall regret it…"
"Vekk, you're out of line…"
"And you're missing the point, peace in our time is one idea, but, peace at any cost, which is the prevailing notion, with Shahrazad doing most of the heavy lifting, holds hallow. I'll observe and if this does not go off as planned, asked or not I plan on offering any and all assistance necessary. Now if you'll excuse me I've got a battle to observe."
"Go ahead KO."
"Vekk's on his way to observe, and if we say the word, he'll jump in head first, troops and all."
"Is that so, what did the Alliance decide?"
"The Alliance, well they gave him permission to observe, Vekk informed them, um told them off and he's sent his projected position to me. I think he knows I was listening. It should be on your tactical console if Leo got the right data channel."
"I got it, mines are almost ready, establish a link with Vekk and keep him at arms distance… this backfires and we'll need to leave in a hurry."
"About seventy - five percent, Plakia's programming part of the mines to jam the weaponry, and if successful the balance of the mines will take out the platforms. That said they're targeting a platform each and if the mines don't finish the job the fleet will. That's the twenty-five percent part. Their hoping the advantage of surprise and the seeming lack of assets in orbit that once the platforms are down there will be little resistance. I tend to agree; we've not seen any space based weaponry, that's functional; there is a bunch of junk in orbit that appears to be salvaged. The surface contains the major threat."
"This 'backup plan' strip the atmosphere, wasn't there another choice?"
"There was, obliterate the planet, without ground troops, those are the options. The Alliance, in its infinite wisdom, left us these choices."
Cassandra was facing Seelnay the entire time they had been talking. When the last part of the conversation started she could see and feel the anger being emitted by Seelnay. Using ground troops had always been a bone of contention, looks like she'll have to pick a bone with the Alliance once this is over.
Data from the mines are displayed on the main viewer along with the targeting information on the platforms. KO has separated Illusion and they are dispersed within the surround debris field. The minutes slowly pass and the first wave triggers the planetary defense line.
As expected the platforms target the chaff and start firing. The second wave discharges it payload and there is confusion in orbit about the planet. The platforms try to target both fields and end up missing their targets, firing wildly, shortly after their defensive fields fail and the last wave of mines attack. Four of the five platforms are destroyed; Samson targets and takes out the last. The remainder of the attack mines stay in orbit looking for any movement in the scrap yard.
Illusion came out from the shadows and started a detailed scan of the planet. That is when a voice transmission from the planet was received, the message, in several languages, said.
"Okay already, you win, we surrender, don't kill us."
Slightly stunned at the message and the languages it was delivered, Eliana opened link and, in her native language, one of which the message was broadcast in, said.
"Surrender accepted, to whom am I speaking?"
Silence then finally…
"I am Tora, leader of the merchants group. Are you here to take over?"
"Take over, um no, put you out of business, permanently, yes."
While Eliana was talking, Vekk was landing ground troops and meeting no resistance, as Tora was speaking his next exchange, Vekk's voice was heard in the background then replaced Tora.
"Samson, we've secured the base and taken 'guests' into custody, my people are going through the rest of the depot and gathering data, on a side note um. Let me get somewhere private. I'll be with you shortly."
A bit confused Eliana stared at the main viewer. Not a shot in anger was fired. Pegasus and Independence were approaching the planet; scanning the surrounding area for any sign of unwanted 'guest', so far there were none? The link became active and Vekk continued.
"Those we've come across are, using an obsolete term, simpletons... I believe they are what they say, a merchant group. Now that said, what is on this planet is enough to outfit a fleet of thousands. Name it and there is probable at least a thousand of it here carefully cataloged and I guarantee not by those we have met… the questioning continues but I think you should expand your scans. I believe those we are really after have fled the planet and might be fleeing the system, remember they 'have' cloaking technology that consumes a lot of energy."
"Captain, I direct your attention to a scan from Pegasus, they are following an energy distortion as we speak, and it looks like they may have found what you seek. I'm establishing a link with them now, Marjee on discrete."
"Marjee found something interesting have we?"
"Could be KO, just on the edge of my sensors, and on a heading away from Zon Imperial space, I was about to communicate this and ask permission…"
Before KO could speak Eliana cut in.
"Go, both of you don't let them get away and I want them 'alive', okay, now go."
Illusion and Pegasus cloak and take up pursuit. Eliana was about to call Vekk when a link request was received. Opening it she found Dawn with a report.
"I need you at my present position, it'll be a maneuvering challenge but you need to see what I've discovered."
"On my way."
Leaving the planet Eliana heads to the largest of the four moons, Dawn is in orbit on the dark side approximately five thousand kilometers above the surface, in the midst of a warship graveyard. Dawn picks up her approach and says.
"Stop at one hundred thousand meters from my present position you might get proximity collision warnings but one hundred thousand should be plenty of distance, Orientate your ship with your main viewer pointed at my port side, amidships. I'll illuminate the area ahead of my bow, its self explanatory."
Switching to visual Eliana spots Dawn's ship its mooring lights lit and stops at the requested position. Once stopped Dawn raises the luminance level on her forward docking lights until, aboard Samson, Eliana gets an eye full…
"There has to be…"
"Thirteen hundred and twelve… but what I have illuminated you should recognize, correct?"
Eliana takes in the image, its dark but the silhouette it couldn't be.
"Engineering, do we have any flares aboard?"
"A half dozen signal flares although their pale green…"
"Doesn't matter launch one, have it light above the ship on the main viewer."
"Aye Captain, flare away."
The flare lights and the distinctive outline of a super dreadnought, fills the viewer, it is then Dawn continues.
"A dozen of those, a couple hundred heavy cruisers from various races and wars, transports, attack vessels, most of what I've scanned is at least one hundred years old or older, in another area are the ships that have been cannibalized. It'll take quite some time to figure all of this out and this is just what I've found around this moon who knows what else there is, but you realize either this has been going on for a few decades or we're dealing with a very large organization. How this has remained off the radar is beyond me. Moving all of this hardware, someone, some where, had to see something don't you think?"
A weapons cache in a remote part of the system, a large assortment of vessels, ordinance and supplies, the only thing missing are enough trained personal to man this rag tag fleet. Vekk left a detachment on the planet and joined Eliana behind the moon in question. Realizing what was there he made a formal 'salvage' request to the Alliance. Initially rejected by the Alliance heads, when handed a preliminary inventory of what was found, the Alliance immediately reversed their decision and ordered most of what was found to be repurposed or destroyed, no exceptions. Those on the planet were moved to Doras for further questioning.
Noel's voice interrupted her train of thought and not thinking she said.
"Sorry Noel, I was um making my log entry was there something important?
"If KO requesting your presence for the past five minutes is important to you then…"
"Egad, Pegasus why didn't you… never mind open the link."
"Sorry to interrupt your beauty sleep…"
"Can it KO I wasn't sleeping, what did you find?"
"Um touchy are we… I found an empty fuel transport. They've topped off their ship. Which means, they were either about to run out, or still a distance from their final destination, I scanned the refueler it's not in the current database but little of what we found had been cataloged before so… I'll be within range in an hour anything changes let me know."
The link returns to stand by, Noel and Marjee head for the bridge once there Pegasus announces the target has made a radical course change.
"Marjee I believe our target is checking to see if they are being followed. I can keep them on passive but if we alter course now I believe we'll give ourselves away."
Marjee stared at the data as the link became active and KO said.
"Have Pegasus send us the projected course, we'll intercept from here… as soon as we have them Marjee, set up a parallel course once again."
The data was sent and KO tried to intercept but they ran through the edge of a nebula and contact was lost. An hour passed and Pegasus regained contact however it seemed the ship had slowed markedly. Something that troubled both Marjee and KO…
"I'm returning to the nebula, to make sure we weren't fooled. Marjee follow them and if I find something have a course to that area laid in. I'm notifying Eliana we may need additional support."
Marjee looked to Noel for advice as another common link opened.
"KO, I'll meet you at the nebula, Marjee follow that ship and if they try to give you the slip haul them in. Just so you know I've been following you for the past two days. I left Kenesh in charge, also I should warn you, our quarry is quite adept. We have found several booby traps on the surface and in space. Life seems to have little meaning to them so be on guard."
Pegasus intercepted the second ship fifteen minutes after the conversation had ended. As they approached it, it raised shields and targeted them. A volley of the secondary array brought about its destruction, which should not have occurred. The scan showed the ship was rigged to blow up if attacked. Making a complete scan of the area, Marjee left to intercept KO and Eliana then communicated the following to Eliana.
"We never got close enough to scan it completely. I'd say their array was set to max and the minute it picked us up, the sequence started. Shields and targeting were definitely automated no crew could react that fast and there was no effort to attack; the minute our shot across the bow was fired it blew up. We did a through scan and found no biological matter in the wreckage."
"I see, we're intercepting them, this following is getting us nowhere. If we capture them; their navigational system should show their final destination if not we have ways of getting answers. You just appeared on my scan. I'm sending you an updated intercept course. The plan is to surround and contain. Failing that we'll wing, it as always."
The link closed; Noel looked at Marjee and commented on Eli's last sentence.
"Winging it can get you killed; I guess she hasn't figured that out… yet."
*"They're trying to run, KO snag them, now."
"In my tractor beam, energy levels rising aboard the ship Eli…"
"I'm on it, locked on to six life forms and transporting…"*
The explosion flashed across Pegasus viewer it was then the link became active once more.
*"Eli, Eli… did you get anything?"
"We got six souls two of them died on the pad, two more are seriously injured, and two are unconscious. Probably due to the shock from the explosion, Um KO I'm ah… we're heading home now, you and Marjee, scan the area then follow us."
"Okay Eli, is everything alright?"*
Silence, and Samson departure was all that greeted KO. Marjee arrived and about an hour later they had the data they needed and returned to where Kenesh was. From there they headed home after making sure Vekk was no longer in need of their services. The silence from Eli was foremost on KO's mind.
"Cassie, are you in a secure location?"
"In my office is that secure enough?"
"Um… Cassie we intercepted the planet operators. They detonated their ship; I managed to retrieve six souls as it exploded. Four of them are alive; two of the four are uninjured but knocked out. The two that died um well… they must have been in close proximity to the explosion but it's what they were wearing and the results of the death scan that has me concerned. I'm sending you an image you tell me what you see."
The image arrived, Cassie sat stunned. The image was of a woman, whose face was covered, wearing the uniform of the Star Forces. The insignia on the collar was that of a fleet admiral. The report stated that both bodies were Abh, one was approximately seventy years old the other mid fifties both female and both related. Cassie opened the link and said.
"How many people know about this?"
"You, the medical staff and me, I left KO wondering she just appeared on my scan she's pulled out the stops and will get to space dock after we dock. You know she's going to be trouble."
"I'll handle KO, you approach the planet and enter construction bay six on the surface. You'll be surrounded by security. I'll be there as soon as you land. From here on maintain communications blackout."
The link falls silent according to the data they'll be planet side in an hour. Raising her creunoc to her lips Cassandra said.
"Mom, Dad, can you meet me at construction bay six in fifty five minutes, it's urgent."
To be continued in: The Silent Society