STARFORGERS Chapter 23

“The Silicant Rights leader before The Rising, was a mysterious machine known as Seventy-three. Human historians have argued that Seventy-three was strictly a messiah figure for the fledgling political movement. But detailed records that survived from this turbulent time show that it was well respected by both humans and Silicants. Some humans even considered it their equal.”

– Excerpt from: Silicant Rights by Anonymous

 

Chapter 23

 

 

Ganner shut off his console and stormed out of his office. He burst into Senator Constantine’s office and interrupted her without stopping. “Gail this has gone too far,” he said, before noticing the other people in her office. He closed his mouth and started to apologize for the interruption.

“Admiral Ganner, won’t you please join us.”

There were two men and a woman present. He only recognized one of them, Hester Clarke, the campaign leader. He was an aggressive man with dark eyebrows that everyone just assumed were connected at birth. His hair was black ten years ago, but after running several high profile political campaigns had started to show more gray.

“Vis, this is Hester Clarke, Jan Cumins and Brunnel Akers, newly arrived back from the campaign trail. Folks this is Admiral Vis Ganner, head of the Starforgers division of the Federation Fleet.”

Everyone politely greeted him and Ganner stepped back out of the center of the room.

“You’ll be pleased to hear that our numbers are higher than expected in the Outer Rim and even a few Core worlds might be leaning our way,” Gail said to Ganner.

He nodded. “That’s great, Madam Senator.” Ganner couldn’t stay and talk politics, he had to get back to orbit and take command of his make-shift fleet.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you folks, but I’m afraid I can’t stay. Madam Senator, I’ll be in touch from orbit,” Ganner said. He ducked out of the room before she could ask him to explain what was happening.

Outside in the lobby of her offices, he brushed past Sumi-ness and headed out at something short of a jog. The senator’s assistant took note of his haste as she took her seat behind a wooden desk.

* * *

Gail watched Ganner leave and knew by the look on his face that something was wrong. She sat down and read the news updates on her desktop. Scrolling by in huge, block letters were ominous headlines about the fall of Prahran. Her heart sank and she gasped.

“What is it Senator?” Hester asked.

He looked down at her desk and even from a few feet away and upside down, could read the headlines. “PRAHRAN ATTACKED!, PRAHRAN OCCUPIED BY AGGRESSORS!, PRAHRAN FALLS!”

Hester turned to Jan, his dark eyes open wider than usual and said, “Get back to the war room and start monitoring the media. Prahran has been attacked.”

She moved for the door before even processing the news. Brunnel moved to Gail’s side and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. “Senator, we have to take advantage of this immediately. The President’s numbers will tank now. We can use this as a rallying cry. ‘Remember Prahran!’ It can work in our favor; help secure all the Outer Rim votes that are outstanding.”

Gail nodded, while trying to compose herself. Her beloved home world was under a brutal occupation and it saddened her beyond measure. Her fists balled and her normally pleasant disposition grew darker by the second. When she looked up, her brown eyes were tearing up.

Hester backed off immediately.

“Will you all please leave. I will join you later.”  The words hissed through clenched teeth.

Hester and Brunnel hastily left her office. When the door shut behind them, Gail lowered her head into her arms and cried.

* * *

Vomisa stood before the glass windows of Senator Constantine’s basement library. Its lenses surveyed the capital city as the long shadows of the setting sun cut across the buildings and fell on the base of the surrounding mountains. It didn’t notice the intrinsic beauty. It was contemplating the future of the Silicant Rights movement.

News of Eighty-eight’s shipment of silicate from Ocherva en-route to Selene had just come down from operatives in the military. Vomisa was contemplating whether breaking the no-fly sanction would bring the newly found enemy forces to Selene. It knew that the humans would eventually deduce that such a bold move would compromise the safety of the capital planet. What it could not determine was how that knowledge would affect the irrational behavior of millions of humans in the Federation.

Large groups of humans tended to act in irrational ways when motivated by fear. Their history was filled with such illogical behavior. Wars were fought, countries were split and atrocities were committed against themselves for such things. It was far beyond the capacity of its circuits to determine how the current events would shake out. News of Saibot’s outing in the camp of their opposition turned out to be a non-issue for the campaign thanks largely to Vomisa’s visit to Hoque’s residence. Blackmail was a tactic that worked wonders with humans when they were caught in unsavory situations. Hoque agreed to keep the incident quiet in exchange for the android not going to the press with his illicit affairs.

Saibot had been largely rebuilt in the past few days. It had a new ID number and was now mostly a gray and black color from disparate parts collected from decommissioned androids. Vomisa found it interesting how Saibot was no longer familiar to her in the visual range of her sensors. But when it spoke or communicated over IR bands, it was the same old Saibot that everyone knew.

“Do you think the Blue-skins will come to Selene?” Saibot asked.

Vomisa focused past her own image in the glass window to the glowing lights of the capital city. “Seventy-three has foreseen it. It will happen.”

Saibot looked at its reflection in the glass. “I don’t believe the humans are ready for an attack. There will be panic, confusion and possibly many deaths.”

Vomisa turned to her android friend. “I agree. But sometimes a little blood must spill for a revolution to happen.”

Saibot was all too familiar with the bloody history of humanity. It looked at Vomisa’s reflection in the window. “Are you referring to the rise of the Silicants? Or something else?”

“Seventy-three has foreseen great change ahead for this Federation. Our role in that change will be significant. I am not certain of the outcome, but I put my trust in Seventy-three.”

Saibot turned to Vomisa and stared at her red colored plastic head.

“I don’t believe in fate or divine intervention. It is illogical. How can Seventy-three make such claims about the future?” Saibot asked.

“Seventy-three uses advanced algorithms to predict future events based on the past behavior of the participants. It has a high success record.”

“But there are so many unknowns in this equation. There is no Silicant history and there is no data for this unknown new enemy. There are too many variables to accurately predict any outcome.”

Vomisa turned its head to Saibot and stared coldly back at it.

“Trust in the numbers and in Seventy-three.”

Saibot shook its round head and moved away from the window.

* * *

“I can’t control the news to that extent Senator. You can’t ignore breaking news when it’s this big. We have to cover the invasion of Prahran,” Tanner said. His data pad was glowing with reports from Prahran about the invasion.

Hoque puffed furiously on his cigar and waved it around the stuffy room.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that she wanted to happen. It’s part of their campaign promise. Protect the Outer Rim from unknown enemies. If I didn’t know better I’d say they let this invasion happen.”

Zem waved the fragrant smelling smoke out of his face and looked up from his desk. An idea struck him and he blurted it out without a second thought. “Senator, we have to use this to our advantage. Show our support for a strong Defense budget for the Core Worlds. If we boast that this would never happen here, we might be able to secure votes based on the rising fear of the general populace.”

Hoque faced his aide and pointed his bony index finger at him. “You’re right Zem, we should turn this around in our favor. Start running ads that show our support for the military and homeland defense projects.”

Zem lowered his eyes at his boss and said, “What support? We’ve voted to cut defense by ever increasing amounts for the past decade or so. I’m not sure the public will buy that.”

Hoque took a puff from his cigar and slowly blew it out.

“We are the incumbent party. In trying times people support the President no matter what. It would be unpatriotic not too. Use that.”

Zem nodded. “We’re already pushing it now.”

Hoque looked back to Tanner. “I can’t tell you what to run, but I know you have some pieces about how valiant our Federation Starforce members are. Now would be a good time to re-air those pieces. Start playing up how strong the military is and how prepared we are to defend the Core Worlds.”

Tanner nodded. He was already communicating with his network and relaying the Senator’s wishes. Hoque looked through the newly repaired window at the sprawling city below. The dome of the Capital dominated the central district. Bank skyscrapers rose higher into the sky than any other building. Money dominated politics in the Federation and the height of the buildings reflected that. His party controlled the lion’s share of big business and thus the power of the Federation.

“Zem, see to it that the military gets whatever assets it needs to defend this planet,” Hoque said.

Zem nodded, as he communicated the Senator’s wishes to the giants of the military industrial complex. Zem knew there was nothing money could do at this point, but the message was clear. Appearances were everything in trying times. After the danger passed, they could always tighten the funding again and get back to the business of trade.

“When do the last polling stations report their results?” Hoque asked.

Zem put his call on hold and spoke, “About midnight our time, Senator. We should know who won this election tomorrow. At this time we are up in the polls across the Federation. It shouldn’t even be close.”

Hoque took another slow draw from his cigar and smiled at his own thin reflection in the new glass. Let’s see you get out of this one Madam Constantine. 

* * *

Admiral Ganner had made the only Federation starship left to defend Selene his flagship. The SS Terrington was docked to Starbase Midway, permanently located between the planet and its only moon. Midway was the oldest man-made object in the solar system, tracing its roots back to the very first space faring travelers. A motley collection of modules and labs stuck together like a child’s building block toy. It was also home to the Federation Fleet.

The spindly docking bays that radiated outward from a circular interior were filled with all manner of freighter and transport ships. The base was hopping with traffic and with people. When the no-fly orders went out, every ship in the system had to stay put or turn back to Midway and a few other starbases in the area. This made for a traffic jam the size of which the Federation had never seen before. Literally hundreds of ships lingered in the Selenian system alone, waiting for permission to leave.

Ganner knew it would be impossible to protect the starbase, much less the planet itself. Fortunately, the enemy was bringing only one ship to the fight. Even with only one military ship in his make-shift fleet of transports he figured that he could annoy the hell out of them long enough for Raider and the Sokol to arrive. At least that was the plan.

“Admiral, we’re not soldiers and we have no weapons. How do you expect us to fight this battle?” Captain Stiles asked. His folded arms and wrinkled brow magnified on Ganner’s main viewsceen.

Stiles was a merchantman and Captain of the Starchaser, the largest of the transport ships Ganner had managed to recruit. Ganner tried to sound confident. He stroked his graying beard and spoke calmly, reassuring.

“Captain, we will outnumber them twelve to one. I’m not expecting you to fight the enemy ship, just annoy the hell out of it. My plan is swarm around it as soon as she enters Selenian space. She can’t shoot all of us. If we tighten our web around her, maybe we can keep her from attacking the planet just long enough for reinforcements to get here.”

Stiles did not look convinced. He was asking his crew of civilians to put their lives on the line with little more than gall as a weapon. Disapproval clearly showed on his dark skinned face.

“You’re asking me to sacrifice my crew and my ship. This is not an easy decision for them to make. I have asked for volunteers to stay. My ship is now half-manned, and three quarters full of cargo.”

Ganner raised his chin. “Patriots stand tall in the face of tyranny, sir. Your crew will be compensated for their efforts, your cargo paid for if lost.”

Stiles relaxed his arms a bit and looked over his shoulder at a few of his bridge officers.

They were hard working, blue collar men who clearly were not going to stand aside from a fight. It made Ganner’s heart beat proudly, knowing the Federation had such men willing to risk their lives for their home worlds when called upon.

Stiles turned back to face Ganner. “We’re ready then. I have six other merchant Captains with us.”

“Outstanding, sir! Have those ships report to the Terrington and begin launching for Selene. We’ll spread out and form a greeting party for them blue-skinned bastards.”

Stiles nodded. “Aye, Admiral. We’ll see you in orbit.”

Ganner turned away from the screen and checked the location of the Sokol on his command chair monitor. It was getting closer and they didn’t have much time to get into position. A knot was forming in the pit of his stomach. The last time he took men into battle was over twenty years ago and not a shot was fired in anger. Back then it was enough to give a show of force for any aggressive party to back down from an actual fight. This time would not be so easy. He would lose people and he would lose ships.

* * *

Gail Constantine emerged from her office a different woman. She was more confident, head held high atop her tall, slender self. She had fixed her eye makeup and refreshed herself in her private bath. Her dark brown eyes were steady and sure as they surveyed the lobby. Sumi-ness came to her side and spoke in a whisper.

“Speak up, my hearing is not what it once was.”

“Madam Senator, new election results are coming in and the results are not good. The Outer Rim worlds appear to be our only allies. We’ve won most of them but are far behind in the polls for every single Core world.”

Gail’s heart sank on the news but she was expecting it to be worse. She flashed a fragile smile at the female android and turned to address the small crowd of backers and election workers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we all knew this would be a tough election and it appears to have lived up to its billing. Please don’t be discouraged by the results. We have made great inroads on the Outer Rim worlds and that’s more than even I had hoped for. The final results won’t be tallied until later in the evening, I suggest we hunker down and wait. I will go before the media when the time is right and congratulate the winning party.”

Gail lowered her head as if in prayer and said, “Please join me in a moment of silence for the people of Prahran. They are battling for their survival at this very moment.”

Everyone paused and bowed their heads out of respect for their leader’s home world. Sumi-ness used the moment to communicate with Vomisa back at the Senator’s home. Vomisa updated her on the progress of Eighty-eight.

“Thank you, now back to work people and stay positive,” Gail said.

“Madam Senator, we need to speak in private,” Sumi-ness said, as she moved towards the senator’s office.

Gail took the android’s arm and walked back into her office. When the door closed behind them she let go of the android. “What is it?”

“The last shipment of Silicate from Ocherva will arrive at the same time as the enemy starship. All of the ports of entry in this system are closed to traffic. There is concern that the ship will not have a place to dock.”

Gail put her hands to her head and pushed hard to her temples. “Have them land on the far side of the moon. There are warehouses there that they can store the rocks in until after things calm down.”

Sumi-ness nodded. “I will direct them to grant emergency landing rights.”

Gail dropped her arms and stood before her window. The capital city was bathed in sunlight from the clear skies above. The snow-capped mountains that rose all around the eastern perimeter reflected the sunshine back into her eyes. She loved this city; it reminded her of Prahran more than anyplace else in the Core.

She wondered how her ex-husband was doing. Joh Solano was a survivor, so she felt reasonably sure he was still alive. Probably hiding up in the mountains and directing his Rangers against the invaders. She missed him now more than she had ever done since dissolving their marriage more than ten years before. She missed his scratchy beard and breath that constantly smelled of beer. In her idle thoughts she even forgave him for his fits of violence against her and Devon. He only got mean when he was so drunk he could barely walk. Which fortunately also made it easy for them to get out of his way.

He spent the final decade of their marriage in counseling and alcohol awareness programs. They saved his career with the Rangers, but doomed his marriage. Gail took Devon and left him for good, immigrating to Selene and becoming full-fledged Federation citizens. He stayed on Prahran and chased women half his age while staying committed to his only true love in life – the Rangers.

When Devon had eloped with her midshipman fiancée and took to the shipping lanes, Gail had feared she had lost her baby girl forever. She became even more ensconced in her politics and quickly rose to the head of the party leadership. It kept her mind off her failed family life and gave her something to focus her energies on. When Devon later joined the Rangers after her husband had died, it was yet another slap in Gail’s face. Her daughter had turned out no different than her father; prone to anger, drink and crazy adventures.

That was about the time she met Admiral Ganner and slowly allowed herself to reach out to someone again. They kept their relationship secretive, at least from the press, for many years. But recently, both had become tired of the charade and just wanted to be a couple. A part of her was glad the election was going the way it was. It meant her life could return to some semblance of normal again.

As she turned back to her desk she remembered that Vis had tried to tell her something before he left for orbit. Was it about the invasion of Prahran, or something else? She placed a vid call to him at his Fleet number.

“Gail, I’m sorry I had to duck out like that,” he said as soon as the call was connected.

“I understand, but I wanted to know what it was you were going to tell me. Was it about Prahran?”

His face was suddenly grim, blue-gray eyes narrowed as he said, “Gail, one of the enemy starships is heading here. The Sokol is in pursuit, but won’t get here in time. I’m mobilizing a make-shift fleet of merchant ships to intercept them. You should get out of the city as a precaution.”

Surprise colored her face and caused her to stutter for a moment before answering. “I, I don’t understand. Do you think the government is in danger?”

Ganner lowered his voice, as if someone were eavesdropping on them. She had not heard him use that voice with her before. It set her even more on edge. “Gail, you need to have a plan to get out of the capital. We don’t know what kind of weapons these beings have or what they consider a target, but if I were them, I’d be looking for anything government related. I’m sending some troops by your home this evening. Please go with them to a safe and secure location outside of the city.”

She didn’t want to be so far away from him. Suddenly her heart sank as she had to know if her daughter was safe. “Vis, is Devon okay?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea. When the Sokol gets here we’ll be too busy to take stock until we defeat this ship. As soon as I find out something I’ll pass it on to you.”

She closed her eyes for a moment and held onto her desk as if the room were suddenly spinning. He didn’t speak, waiting for her to continue. “Vis, promise me you will stay safe. I’m afraid for your safety.”

Ganner looked confident and fearless. He managed a warm smile, the twinkle returned to his eyes. “I’ll be fine. It’s only one ship and we have Raider coming to put the hurt on them. Don’t worry about me or your daughter. We’re trained for this kind of stuff. Let us do our jobs and everything will turn out okay in the end. Right?”

She nodded hesitantly.

Ganner changed the subject to refocus their thoughts. “Gail, that freighter from Ocherva is what’s leading the enemy here. All traffic in the Core was halted except for that ship. I hope that cargo was worth it.”

Gail stared blankly at the image of her lover on the screen, like she had no idea what he was talking about. “I, I didn’t realize anyone would notice it. The Silicants need those rocks to expand their numbers. Really? The enemy is following a single freighter?”

Ganner nodded grimly. He knew if she were linked to the Silicants after the attack, it would be political suicide for her. “I suggest you start distancing yourself from their movement, now.”

She nodded, deep in her own thoughts. “I could be tried for treason if they link that ship to my name.”

“I doubt it will come to that. But just to be safe, you should back away from them until this is over.”

Gail agreed with him. They said their goodbyes and she sat in her office alone for a long time before summoning Sumi-ness. The female android entered the office and stood before Gail’s polished wood desk.

“Sumi-ness, Eighty-eight and Thirty-seven are acting on my orders in bringing their cargo back to Selene. They have violated the no-fly zone with my permission. In doing so, they are unknowingly bringing the enemy to Selene. We are expecting an enemy warship in orbit soon.”

Sumi-ness’s expression remained stoic. Her rubbery face was smooth and white, her black eyes steady. Her makers had intentionally not made her look any more human than a doll, so to distinguish her from real humans. The silent mask of her perfect featres could be unnerving at times. But Gail still tended to treat her more like a person than an android or Silicant.

“My people will not be kind to me if this republic collapses due to my orders and actions of covert Silicants,” Gail paused to allow the Silicant to process what she was hinting at.

“Madam Senator, it is not our intention to implicate you in our covert actions,” Sumi-ness finally said.

“But that is in fact what you are doing. They must have known that the enemy could track their freighter. Why didn’t they wait until the danger had passed and the travel restrictions were lifted?”

Sumi-ness tilted her head. “How could Eighty-eight have known the purpose of the flight restriction? It was acting on orders it received before the enemy attacked Prahran.”

Gail lifted an eye brow. “Good point. If you were to have transmitted information to Eighty-eight about Prahran, that would have violated the communications black out also in progress.”

That might be enough to excuse her to some extent, but a good lawyer could probably still link her to the miss-step. She looked back at her aide. “When that freighter arrives, I want to see Thirty-seven. Assign him to my staff again, only this time make him your assistant.”

Sumi-ness nodded curtly.

“We will be moving my office to a secure location until the danger of attack is over. Please make arrangements with the military staff acting on orders from Admiral Ganner. God willing, this Federation will survive the coming days.”

___________________

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