“I’ve always hated Stellar Rangers. Cocky and self-righteous the lot of them. And yes, my brother-in-law is a Ranger, so I know first hand. That pompous lerra’s ass.”
– Personal Journal of Commander Jaye, SS Sokol
The VCF Krestor was flanked by the other cruisers of the armada as it entered the outer reaches of the Prahranian system. All the cruiser Captains were standing around a table in the Krestor’s conference room. Several of them were sweating profusely, lending a horrid stench to the confined room.
“This system isn’t protected. There are regular transport flights from neighboring systems but no military ships on patrol. The planet is about twice the size of Voton, but with nearly the same gravity. Despite the size, I believe we can occupy it with the ground forces we have,” Kantor said.
“Sir, what about land forces? We have no idea what kind army the enemy may have on the surface. We could easily get overwhelmed,” said Krom, a stout man with a heavier than normal brow line.
Kantor flashed his black eyes at the general who expressed doubt. “There’s nothing to suggest that this planet is anything but a sleeping giant. Your forces will enjoy full orbital support, General Krom. Even if you are overwhelmed, the enemy will have to endure the superior firepower of this fleet.”
Krom nodded curtly and wiped sweat from his blue forehead.
“Standard planetary invasion tactics will be utilized. Take the urban centers and secure all star ports,” Kantor said.
“Chief Strategist, how long will we occupy this planet? Are we going to be moving on to the other ones in this sector?” Captain Voss asked, his face thin and gaunt in the low light.
“The Empress wants us to hold as many planets as we can for as long as we can. More ships are on their way. Scans indicate there are more populated planets here, and here,” Kantor pointed to several star systems further from Votainion space. My plan is to leap from system to system until we find the core worlds of this race. It is possible we will meet with stiffer resistance as we get closer to their home world.”
“Your plan is sound, Lord Kantor, but we have never engaged a foe with such a vast amount of planets. The industrial complex alone of this species could out-produce the Empire if given the chance. We must destroy their will to fight, before they can organize a serious resistance,” Voss said.
“Precisely, Captain. If we can strike fear into their central government, they will capitulate before our warships. But we must act swiftly and decisively.”
An older Captain, Kvorn, spoke. “This species is remarkably similar to our own. I have a strong feeling it could be the lost Kastra.”
Kantor bared his teeth in a grin that resembled a snarl.
“I believe it is the lost tribe of Voton. When I returned from that desolate moon I had a vision of the future. It was magnificent. War and unrest in these parts for many years. Huge starfleets battling for dominance. We stand at the edge of a new war. One that will expand the Empire and lead to our eventual dominance of the galaxy.”
The other Captains seemed to buy into Kantor’s vision. Their dark eyes shined with satisfaction. It was every Votainion’s dream to conquer new worlds and be victorious in battle. Kantor was offering them the chance to lead the Empire into battle with a worthy foe who would never know what hit them.
* * *
They had made the tunnel jump successfully and were slowly moving through the space where the Kelley had reported pirates. Raider left the bridge and retired to his quarters. He had some messages from Selene and wanted to view them in private.
The first was from Admiral Ganner. Several shipping lines were attacked near Prahran. It was not clear if the attackers were pirates or someone else. There were no further transmissions from the Kelley. That one was disturbing. Raider wondered if the crew had been killed when the pirates attacked. He didn’t want to think about losing Captain Dobson and his crew. But he knew that pirates could be ruthless and if they had been attacked there was a strong possibility they were all dead.
The second message was from Senator Constantine. She was concerned about her daughter on Ocherva. Raider had forgotten about the senator’s daughter. Devon was her name and she was a bit of an outcast. She had joined the Stellar Rangers like her old man, much to her mother’s chagrin. Senator Constantine had been grooming her daughter to be a diplomat and was disappointed when she ran off and married a young officer in the merchant fleet. Raider had never met Devon but knew of her exploits from many conversations with the senator.
“Captain, my daughter heads the Stellar Ranger company on Ocherva. I know you are short on trained starfighter pilots, but if this situation gets out of hand, you could enlist her and some of her Rangers. I’ve spoken with my ex-husband on Prahran and he agrees that in time of war, Rangers are allowed to resign in order to accept a commission in the military. She’s the only person who has battled with those green fighters. I also happen to know that they are in possession of the wreckage. That could prove invaluable to helping you counter them.”
She paused on the recording and shook her head in disgust.
“The Senate has started debating my Alliance Resolution. I’m still getting resistance from the opposition. Sometimes I’d like to wring their necks. I’m just about done with this whole Presidential campaign. It’s wearing me down more than I expected. Enough of my troubles, Captain, good luck with finding the Kelley. If you decide to enlist Devon, give her my best and tell her to send me a message.”
Raider noticed the strain in the senator’s voice as she signed off. It must be hard on her being so far removed from her family and running for President. He thought about what she had said concerning the enlisting of Ranger pilots. It was a good idea. He pressed the comm link.
“Commander, meet me on the flight deck in ten minutes.”
“Aye sir,” Trimble replied.
* * *
Raider stood before the parked starfighters in the hanger. There were a handful of standard fighters lined up together on one side and about a dozen mixed prototypes strewn around everywhere else. The fleet was in the process of evaluating several new starfighter designs. The Sokol had been selected as the test bed to determine if the new designs could be deployed on the next generation of starships.
Some of the prototypes were one-off designs. Others were nearly completed programs with huge corporate sponsors behind them. Raider was not a pilot. He rose to command through traditional methods rooted in leadership tracts. He didn’t always understand Feet’s interest in fighter pilots. To him they were an anachronism. Star battles of the type that the Sokol was built to engage in were not going to be won by single-seat fighters anymore. Not when the battles were light years away from planetary systems. His lack of faith in their importance let him place their selection at the bottom of his priority list. When they left Selene, they had six pilots, half the normal compliment. If they were somehow able to get six or eight more starfighters flying, they would be short pilots.
Trimble came on deck and hustled over to where Raider was standing.
“I’m waiting for Commander Jaye to join us,” Raider said.
Trimble looked around at the various fighters in disrepair on the deck. “I didn’t know we had so many prototypes down here.”
Commander Jaye climbed out of the nearest fighter and jumped down to the grated deck beside Raider and Trimble.
“G’day, Cap’n. Commander,” Jaye said.
He was wearing greasy overalls and looked for all the world like a mechanic. He extended a dirty hand to Raider. Raider accepted with a firm grip that was returned in kind.
“How many fighters have you and Mr. Allen managed to get working?” Raider asked.
“Including this little beauty, four sir. Of course that’s not including flight tests. We could lose half of what we just gained after we take ’em for a test flight.” Jaye seemed confident that losing ships to technical problems was inevitable.
“I think we can get you a handful of former Stellar Ranger pilots when we get to Ocherva. They will have to be assimilated into the fleet but they are at least more disciplined fliers than most civilians.”
Jaye quickly lost the enthusiasm in his demeanor. “Rangers, Cap’n?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Well, they do tend to be a bit rowdy sir,” Jaye said.
“He’s right, Captain. Stellar Ranger pilots are known far and wide as being undisciplined. They may turn out to be more trouble than we’d like.”
Raider didn’t need to hear that. He was probably heading into a war and the last thing he needed was dissension in his ranks.
“I’m holding you two personally responsible for making sure they get assimilated into your units as quickly and painlessly as possible. We need every person on this ship in top fighting form. Do I make myself clear?”
Jaye straightened up and gave him a stiff salute. “Aye, Cap’n.”
Raider looked him hard in the eyes for a moment before returning the salute. Then he stormed off the deck with Trimble tagging along behind him.
Another transition chapter, so not much action. We get a peek at the Votainions planning to attack Prahran in this chapter. I tried to make my bad guys as realistic as possible. I didn’t want them to come off as cold, unfeeling thugs, or so completely alien that the reader couldn’t begin to sympathize with them.