“People used to question my relationship to the Admiral, but after the war started those same people seemed to suddenly approve of the relationship. Nothing had changed between him and I, but now it was somehow a more honorable relationship. I think in those first dark days of the war, people were looking for hope wherever they could find it.”
– From the personal diary of President Gail Constantine
Admiral Ganner sat down in front of Senator Constantine’s desk in her senate office. It was a familiar seat for him. Not only did he report to her on military affairs, she had in recent years become his close, personal friend. At least that was the official line they both gave anyone who asked. But those in their inner circle of friends all knew that the Senator and the Admiral were more than just friends.
They tried to keep their personal lives separate from their public lives but somewhere along the way, it all started to blend together. It was difficult for them to keep from becoming attracted to one another when they spent so much time together in their respective jobs. His administrative position at Starforce Command was located in a building adjacent to the Capitol dome where she spent her long days in public service. He had been attracted to her from the moment they were first introduced. Her poise, intelligence and timeless beauty made his tired, old heart dance in ways it had not done for many, many years.
The sneaking around they attempted early in their relationship also added to the attraction both of them had for each other. But what he cherished most of all about her was her compassion for her job and those who called her friend. She was the type of woman who always put other’s needs before her own and would make anyone feel welcome and important. Old fashioned characteristics perhaps, but he found them irresistible nevertheless.
She was running late again so Ganner spent the down time thinking about the events of the past week. Ever since they had received the horrific news of the Bourke’s destruction, his life had kicked into high gear and things started happening that he never believed he would ever see happen. A new and deadly race of aliens had come out of deep space and started attacking Outer Rim establishments, sparking fear and political dissent. The Federation Starforce had always been a small, specialized military, more a police force than anything; funded by multi-planet corporations. There had not been a war or even major military action in hundreds of years. Peace and rampant prosperity had enjoyed a long run in the Federation.
That was all about to change. War clouds were on the horizon. But war could also bring political change.
The Federation had always been a select club of industrial elites that all worked together to keep the machines of commerce running. Every few thousand years they invited a new planet into the club when it had reached an acceptable level of technological advancement and political stability. But in the last thousand years more planets became colonized than at any time in the past. Presently there were more people living on the Outer Rim worlds than all the Core worlds combined. The Outer Rim was larger too. The colonized planets were spread out over hundreds of light years and technology had to advance in order to keep the lines of commerce open into the Core worlds.
The latest development in starship engines enabled them to tunnel through holes in the space-time continuum in order to reduce travel time. Of course the Starforce pioneered this technology and it was only now starting to make its way onto ships of the line. The Sokol and Kelley were two of the first operational starships with this new tunnel drive. All the other ships in the fleet were standard, nuclear drive ships with limited reach.
Each of the six Core worlds had one or two standard drive starships permanently stationed in their systems. A few starships rotated out into the Outer Rim territories but none of them were permanently stationed there. In all, the Starforce Fleet had between eight and twelve deep space starships operational at any one time. A disturbingly small number of ships to protect an increasingly large population spread out over an even larger area spelled trouble for a Starforce charged with protecting everyone.
Working with Senator Constantine and the many heads of industry in the transportation categories, Ganner had received permission to create a new division within the Starforce Fleet. It was known as the Starforgers. So named because Ganner believed that what they were testing would be the future make-up of the entire Starforce. Using the few tunnel drive starships that were just coming on line, the Starforgers would be a quick reaction fleet that could get to any part of the Core or the Outer Rim in less time and with less resources than the old fleet could.
Who could have known that Ganner’s little experiment would be battle tested before it was even operational? Certainly not him and his supporters, including Senator Constantine.
“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting Vis. I was late getting out of my Foreign Affairs Committee meeting,” Gail said as she rushed into her office. She brushed by him with a gentle tap to his knee. He sat up, his tired face brightening as she came into the room. The air in the room was suddenly alive with her perfume.
“It’s okay. I was just taking a moment to collect my thoughts. Been rushing around like a bird with its head cut off lately.”
Gail sat down with a warm smile. Her dark green dress had subtle details that were brought out by a ray of sunshine coming in from the only window. She always has impeccable taste in clothes. It was one of the many things he loved about her.
“I suppose you’re looking for more ships.”
“Yes. I would like to have some political support before I go before the transportation council and beg for help. Also, it might become necessary to shut down the Core shipping lanes in the coming weeks. All this traffic will act like a neon sign pointing to every planet in the Core.”
Gail shook her head slowly as her smile faded. “That’s not going to go over well with anyone. This Federation lives by the shipping lanes. If you shut them down for even a day or two, supplies will get backed up and businesses will grind to a halt. Not to mention all the lost revenue or the starvation that would eventually happen.”
“I know. But you can tell them about all the death that would result from an attack on a Core world, like Selene. If we don’t stop these aliens in the Outer Rim, they’ll be here eventually. It’s just sound military strategy to go after the heart of your enemy.”
Gail looked away in thought for a moment. “Vis, do you think these aliens want that? I mean, what have we done to them? It seems strange to me that they would engage us in warfare without first trying to establish communications with us.”
“Maybe that’s not their way. Maybe they prefer to shoot first and talk later. Just because we haven’t encountered a militant race of aliens in the galaxy doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.”
“The diplomatic core has asked to send representatives to the Outer Rim. They think we should at least attempt to communicate with them.”
Ganner sighed in exasperation. “I can’t blame them for wanting to give peace a chance. This Federation has known peace for so long people have begun to accept it as the normal way of existence. But history proves them wrong. We have always had wars and there is no reason to expect that to change, just because nobody living today has experienced it. History is long with tales of those who refused to prepare for war in times of peace. I for one do not want this Federation to fall because of such hubris.”
She returned her eyes to his. “Neither do I.”
“I’ll see what I can do to get you some merchant ships. But unless the President declares war, there’s not much I can guarantee.”
“Thanks,” Ganner said. He started to get up from his chair.
“There is some good news today from the Outer Rim.”
Ganner looked down at the dark eyed senator.
“The latest election returns have us up in the polls on nearly every planet. Hoque and his people are getting nervous. Finally.”
Ganner managed a grateful smile. “Good. With all the events of late, I can just about promise you the military vote here at home. Most of my peers are trying to get money from their constituents to expand the Starforce. Let’s just hope we can counter this new threat before anything major happens. Otherwise it won’t matter who’s elected because our way of life will be finished.”
He tossed her a two fingered salute and she returned the parting gesture.
* * *
The staff room at Starforce Command was dominated by a long table in the middle of the room and a large picture window that overlooked the capital city of Selene. Members filed in and took their seats at the table, speaking to one another in quiet greetings. Each planet in the Core had a representative, usually an admiral or an army general. Ursai, Selene, Drexel, Tepik, Cadia, Tress and Arkab were all represented and one Outer Rim world, Tulia.
Admiral Ganner sat beside the Chief of Staff, Admiral Danes. Since the Starforgers were a new unit, sitting beside Danes afforded Ganner’s unit some recognition that he might not have garnered by himself.
The room was decorated in wood trim and earth tones as it was located in the historical old Military Affairs Building. Congress had been promising the Starforce a new state of the art home for nearly as long as Ganner had been an officer, but it had never materialized. During peacetime, little money flowed to the military. A fact of life that everyone who served eventually recognized.
“Good afternoon, folks,” Chief Danes said as he took his seat at the table. “I’ve just come from Intel and we have an update from Prahran. General Solano of the Stellar Rangers has informed us that his outpost on Ocherva has stopped sending updates. In fact, there has been no communication with any of the mines or settlers on that moon.”
“That’s not entirely unusual for a moon that far out in the black, is it?” Admiral Torrin asked. He was based on Ursai and hadn’t been out of the Core for his entire career.
“It is, actually,” Ganner said. “Especially Ranger outposts. They are required to check in daily with SITREPs and to report stellar traffic. They are in many ways our eyes and ears on the frontier.”
Torrin nodded, duly impressed with Ganner’s knowledge.
“If we assume that Ocherva has fallen to these new invaders, it would seem that we are dealing with more than one group of them. Am I correct in that assumption?” Danes asked.
Ganner made direct eye contact with the Chief of Staff. “Perhaps, sir. But then again, our intelligence data is extremely weak in the Outer Rim. The Sokol is in the area in pursuit of the alien ships. Captain Raider has informed me that they are heading towards Prahran, where they expect to encounter the aliens. Prahran is the jewel of the Outer Rim and a logical target for them to attack next.”
Danes shook his head. “Tam, send your ship at Tulia to Prahran, they are going to need all the help they can get.”
Admiral Tam Darnel spoke from across the table. She was a stern looking woman with hair more gray than brown. “Already done, sir. Admiral Ganner requested it before this meeting. I am all too happy to oblige.”
“Good. It looks like we are in for a stand on Prahran,” Danes said. He looked back to his right towards Ganner. “Your Starforgers are going to get battle tested before they are quite ready. Capital idea that unit.”
“Let’s hope so, sir. Right now I’d like to have my second ship back. Although it’s not going to do much good without any weapons.”
“Damn pirates,” Danes said.
Ganner agreed with the statement, embarrassed that his new ship had been taken so easily by them.
“Folks, we have to assume that these alien invaders might not be stopped at Prahran. If they take that planet their next logical targets will be inner Core worlds. We have to assume that due to all the traffic to and from Selene, they will eventually come here.”
“I think that’s a bit rash, sir. I mean, we’re a pretty fair distance from Prahran. It might take them months to get this far into the Core systems,” Admiral Seldon said from beside Darnel.
“Not if they have something similar to our new tunnel drives. The Sokol has not been able to track them using conventional means. Either they are hiding or they can move without leaving tracks. Tunnel drives are hard to track too. They leave a brief electromagnetic signature when activated but due to the manner in which they warp space and time, nothing can track them after they jump,” Ganner said.
Seldon was still skeptical as were many of the people around the table. New technology was always hard for people to grasp, especially when it completely changed the rules for traveling, like tunnel drives did.
“I’m not taking any chances. This Federation is not worth risking over it. I want to move some ships from two of the furthest planets to Selene to augment our defenses. That means Tepik and Ursai. Any objections?” Danes looked around the long table in the direction of those planet’s representatives. Both men shook their heads.
“Good. In the meantime, I will move the home guards to Condition Yellow until further notice.”
This is another transition chapter. We are introduced to the affair between Ganner and Constantine. This is an important character development chapter for them. I briefly mention when they first met and if that interests you, you will enjoy the free short story, “A Promising Alliance”. You can read it right here under Free Short Stories.