“Senator Constantine was famous for her formal political dinners. She invited many of the top minds of her day to attend and subject themselves to her inquisitions and her Prahranian food and wine. Not everyone enjoyed the food but most seemed to like the conversation.”
- Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press
“But the Federation has existed in peace for nearly a thousand years. You can’t just throw it away so easily, it still serves us fine,” Trimble said.
Senator Constantine responded immediately, setting down her crystal wine glass. “That’s my point Commander, it no longer works. The Federation only functions for the Core worlds. And for much of our history, that’s all there was. But the process of joining the Federation has become bogged down in politics and petty feuds. Soon there will be more inhabited worlds outside the Federation than within.”
Commander Trimble still wasn’t buying it. Admiral Ganner cut in, his voice calm and reassuring.
“There is no possible way that the Federation’s fleet can protect the interests of the Core worlds and the Outer Rim at the same time. We’re spread too thin right now. If we encounter a belligerent species bent on conquering our worlds the Outer Rim planets would be left to fend for themselves. But they have no standing fleet and would quickly perish. If that were to happen it would only be a matter of time before the Federation would crumble. Our trade with the Outer Rim is too vital to the health of the inner core. The economic and political mayhem that would follow would tear the Federation apart.”
Trimble understood her superior officer’s angle but the idea of dismantling the Federation still left a bad taste in her mouth. Not unlike the spiced rice and vegetable dish she was finishing. She had never had Prahranian food before and she wouldn’t ask for it again. It was a staple from the senator’s home world. Trimble took another sip of her wine, also imported from Prahran.
She glanced at Captain Raider sitting beside her. It was clear that he was on their side in the discussion but he said nothing.
“So you see, it’s in our best interest to expand the fleet to protect all the known worlds. I believe the best way to accomplish that would be to dissolve the Federation and create a new, stronger political union. The Alliance Party wants to ensure the safety of all the free worlds,” Senator Constantine finished.
“I just don’t see a threat that would justify dismantling the Federation.”
Admiral Ganner patted his mouth with a napkin and eyed Captain Raider. He inclined his head slightly, imploring the admiral to try again.
“Commander, have you read the intelligence reports about the SS Bourke? They didn’t experience a core meltdown. They were attacked. There are dangers in the unexplored regions of this galaxy that most people are unaware of. But trust me, we are not alone out there and what I’ve seen quite frankly scares me to death. The faster we build up the Starforgers the better.”
Trimble nodded politely, but she still wasn’t buying what they were selling. Senator Constantine shared knowing glances with the admiral and tried a different tack.
“When I was a little girl, my daddy used to tell me about blue-skinned demons who lived in the depths of space and took great pleasure in killing little Prahranian girls and boys. When I grew up I just assumed that he was telling me fairy tales. But even in fiction there is often a kernel of truth. I’ve seen the same intelligence reports that the admiral has alluded to. Those scary tales of my childhood are indeed based on a real race of beings that are expanding into the Outer Rim territories. It’s only a matter of time before they decide to come deeper into known space.”
“I guess I just don’t see the threat. Excuse me Madam Senator, Admiral,” Trimble said. She flashed Raider an apologetic frown and stood up. Both Raider and Ganner stood as she headed for the door. Captain Raider excused himself and followed her outside.
* * *
The night air was cool and felt good with her heavy dress uniform. Trimble stood against the wooden rail on a porch that looked out over the capital city. Raider came to her side and looked from her to the city lights below. Lightning lit up storm clouds approaching from the west.
“I’m sorry sir, the air was getting a bit stuffy in there for me.”
Raider nodded. “I’ve spent many an evening on this porch trying to escape the politics.”
She looked at him with surprise. His bearded face was serene as he leaned against the railing. “I thought you agreed with them, you didn’t voice any objection.”
“I don’t always agree with the politics but I do agree with the strategic reasoning for it. The Federation military is woefully unprepared for war. A thousand years of prosperity and peace has lulled us into a comfortable slumber. Our ships are out-dated and under-equipped. The fleet is smaller than at any time in our history while our reach is greater than ever before.
“Ships like the Sokol and Kelley are funded by fickle Deep Pockets who only want to use the military for testing new stardrives that they can then equip their trade fleets with, rather than use it to defend their homelands from hostile threats. A strong military has always been the best defense against aggression. We can’t keep expanding into the black forever without paying for it. I used to think the Admiral was a crazy old man, until I saw firsthand what they were talking about.”
Trimble saw the pained look in Raider’s eyes and it gave her pause. She had only known him for a few months and he always seemed confident and driven while on duty. Now she saw the frailty of fear in his eyes. It was a sobering look that gave her a chill.
“My family hails from Kew, the farthest planet in the Outer Rim. My father owned a small, independent mining company. Sometimes he would send prospectors out into the nearby systems looking for minerals and oil. Most of these missions were uneventful and unfruitful.
“When I was fourteen he went out with one of those missions and didn’t come back. We never knew what happened to his ship. Everyone just assumed it was an accident. It was not until I met Admiral Ganner a few years ago that I learned what happened to my father.”
Trimble hung on his every word, compassion welling inside her for her Captain.
“Years later he military had been investigating mysterious disappearances in the area. They came across my father’s prospecting ship. Apparently, they had set down on an asteroid and were drilling for ores when they were attacked by an alien ship. There were logs that indicated their attackers were humanoid and violent. At first the evidence pointed to pirates but then they found the personal log of my father. He had survived the initial attack and lived for a few days after. He described his attackers as brutish thugs with a blood lust not seen since ancient times. He died alone from his fatal wounds.”
Trimble put a hand on Raider’s arm. “I’m sorry, Captain, that must have been hard to learn about your father.”
“It wasn’t easy. But thanks to his log, and the logs of many others like him, we have some idea what lies beyond and why we need a stronger military.”
Trimble took her hand back and gripped the wooden railing. She understood his motivation now but it still didn’t feel right about talking treason against the Federation. She grew up on Selene and was completely insulated from the troubles outside the inner core of worlds. To her the Outer Rim was a far away place filled with adventure and discovery. She joined the military to see the galaxy and get as far away from her comfort zone as possible. The Sokol would be heading off to deep space soon and she would be right in the thick of things. Careful what you wish for.
* * *
Admiral Ganner stepped onto the porch, a communicator pressed to his ear. Raider turned to say something and Ganner stopped him with hand gesture.
“The Kelley’s been attacked by pirates. I’m initiating a recall, get back to the Sokol and get her ready for launching.”
Raider nodded curtly as he and Trimble started back inside. Ganner spoke as he looked out at the tranquil city lights of the Federation capital. “Alright, we’re launching the Sokol as we speak. We can have more ships in the area in a few days. Ganner out.”
He headed back inside and met Senator Constantine as he was making for the door.
“The senate has been informed. Are you sending Captain Raider out there?”
“Yes. Sorry to rush away Gail. It was a lovely dinner. My compliments to your chef.”
He took her hand and kissed the back of it gently as was the custom of the day. She pulled him closer and they embraced. “You’re not leaving Selene are you?”
He looked into her brown eyes and marveled again at their depth.
“No. But I must return to command. The fleet is on alert until we know more details.”
They had managed to keep their affair a secret for a long time, and each knew when to drop the formalities of their positions to catch a moment’s intimacy when they could.
“Goodbye, Love,” she said. They kissed with deep affection before separating.
Thunder rumbled in the distance as Ganner left. Sumi-ness entered the room and nodded subtly to her owner. Her doll-like features, smooth, and pale, were illuminated briefly with a flash of lightning from outside the picture windows.
“Madam Senator, the base on Sillecore has been attacked.”
We are starting to get a feel for this universe by this point in the story. We know that the bad guys, the Votainions are known, but exist mostly in fairy tale form. We also begin to learn that the Silicants are operating independently of some humans and in cooperation with others, like Senator Constantine.
This is all pretty much set-up to get our heroes off on their journey. For more background between Ganner and the Senator, please read the free short story: A Promising Alliance, found right here on the blog.