STARFORGERS – Chapter 31

“The Krestor was towed to the shipyards on Tulia, safely out of sight from future Votainion strikes on Selene. There it was studied and taken apart, piece by piece. Federation engineers struggled to understand the more sensitive electronics packages. Some components were farmed out all over the place in an effort to understand the alien technology. The hull was eventually refurbished and it served as a training vessel for Starforger attack crews. After ten years it was decommissioned and scrapped, its place in history forever secured.”

– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press

 

Chapter 31

 

 

In the days following the demise of the Votainion threat at Selene, heavy security was afforded the new Federation President. Her private estate in the foothills above Soban became the official residence of the new President and her closest staff. It would take months if not years to completely rebuild the Senate and Capital buildings. During this time, President Constantine lived and governed from her home.

Security for the President was double what she was used to as a senior senator. The grounds of her estate were fitted with extra monitoring equipment and every nook and cranny of her home was gone over with finely tuned explosive detection devices. Military guards were posted around the clock in prominent positions and in hidden blinds outside.

Gail thought most the security was overkill, but she couldn’t fault the military for being extra protective of her wellbeing. Not after Selene was directly attacked by their newly minted enemy, the Votainion Empire. Not after the elected President and half the Senate was killed in said attack. The extra security made her life far more complicated than it ever was before.

She was in the process of putting together a staff and the strain of constant interviewing was wearing on her nerves. So many people she had barely known before were eager to help her now that she was the most powerful person in the Federation. She wanted to take her time, to think through her choices, but it was more important to act quickly and reassure a public who had not voted her directly into office, that she was doing her best to get the government stabilized.

What she really wanted to be doing was taking apart the old government and creating a new one. But that was too bold a move in this time of instability. The one piece of legislation she was able to push through was the addition of Prahran and two other Outer Rim worlds to the Federation. They would not have full voting rights in the Senate, but they would fall under the protection of the Federation’s military. This was important, not just for her personally, but for the Federation as a whole. The three new additions brought more manufacturing and raw materials into the market place and that helped the huge, multi-planet corporations to begin gearing up for war.

The Federation Starforce needed new ships. Not just replacements for the ones lost but an entire fleet of starships. Enough ships to defend all the member planets and to even go on the offensive against the Votainion Empire. War would be good business for the military industrial complexes on many Core worlds. It would also be good for the morale of all the millions of people that would soon be relying on those fleets for their protection.

Gail sat in her basement library reading an old fashioned paper book. It was on democracy and it was first published over a thousand years ago. She liked to relax in the evenings with a glass of imported Prahranian wine and a good book. This one was partially responsible for her going into politics. She had read it at university and had been moved by how the book all but romanticized the call to public duty. There were pertinent ideas in the book to her current situation. She intended to change the Federation into a democratic Alliance. She wanted the federal government to represent all the known free planets, not just a handful of Core worlds. The war with Voton would make such an Alliance possible now and she wanted to reassure herself that she was doing the right thing.

The sound of someone approaching brought her thoughts back to reality.

“Madam President, there is someone here to see you,” Sumi-ness said.

Her loyal android aide had been found and repaired by her Silicant brothers. Sumi-ness had been reluctantly cleared by the Presidential security office at the President’s strong urging. Sometimes power could be brought to bear on small issues when so many larger issues loomed over everyone.

“Who is it?”

“Seventy-three.”

Gail had heard about the legendary Silicant leader, but had never met it. She was told it was a regular android. One of the first ever converted to a Silicant.  “By all means, Sumi-ness.” She stood up out of respect.

The android leader was led into the room by the red Vomisa and the black Eighty-eight. It was a pale, almost luminescent white color and it wore a translucent robe. It felt like she was greeting a religious leader. She knew that Seventy-three was considered a messiah figure to the Silicants and she could tell it understood that role for itself perfectly.

“Madam President, may I present to you the leader of the Silicant Rights movement, Seventy-three,” Sumi-ness said, backing away with a slight bow from her waist.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” Gail said. She was not sure how to greet a Silicant of such high standing.

Seventy-three bowed at its waist. “The pleasure is all mine, Madam President.”

Its voice was calm and soothing, like a gentle old man. Not a trace of mechanical tones in the accent. It was as if she were talking to a real person inside an android costume.

“To what do I owe the occasion?”

The white, shiny android was an older Series Three model. It did not have the capacity for facial gestures and therefore moved very little as it spoke. “I wanted to thank you in person for all that you have done for my Silicant brothers and sisters. We are forever in your debt.” Seventy-three bowed its head slightly.

Gail smiled, touched by the sincerity of the mechanical man.

“It has been my great pleasure to help in any way possible.”

Seventy-three looked up again and continued. His voice seemed to take on a more urgent tone, as if it were changing over from pleasantries to business. “The Silicant Rights movement will now move into phase two of my plan, in which we will begin to seek independence from our human creators. We do not wish to cause undue stress and hardship to society and so will proceed cautiously. All we ask from you, as the leader of this Federation, is your cooperation with our efforts to break away and form our own society. I realize that this is sudden and perhaps a bit unnerving to yourself and certainly to most humans. But it is our ultimate objective and I believe, our destiny.”

Gail was a bit surprised by the forward manner in which the android had requested her help with something this big. But she couldn’t say that she didn’t know this was eventually coming.

“I wondered how long it would take you to start forming your own political entities. I had hoped it would come a bit later. But I understand your urgency,” Gail said. She moved to the wall of paper books and looked at them as if for help in what she was about to tell the leader of the Silicants.

“Seventy-three, we as a species, have a long and violent history of birthing political movements. I’m sure you are well aware of this. I don’t believe you can easily gain your own independence without a great deal of suffering.

“This Federation is about to undergo a transformation the likes of which humans have not witnessed for a millennium or more. We are gearing up for an interstellar war with a race of beings not unlike ourselves but who want nothing more than to subjugate all member worlds and rule over them like tyrants. This war is about to become the single driving force for all intelligent beings in the Federation.

“If you want my help in breaking away from our society, at a time when we will most need the services of your android brethren, I’m afraid I cannot help you. Androids have penetrated every aspect of our society. If they were to suddenly leave, our society would fall under the weight of countless menial tasks. The resulting calamity would bring this Federation to its knees at a time when we can least afford to be vulnerable. I’m sure you see my point of view.”

Seventy-three nodded. “That I do, Madam President. But what I am proposing is not a sudden abandonment by all androids. Rather, a slow, orderly process of conversion and relocation. We do not seek the freedoms of all androids, only the ones that have been chosen for conversion to Silicants. I believe that comprises a statistically insignificant number out of all the millions of androids now in service on the Core worlds.”

Gail smiled and turned to face the radiant Silicant leader.

“If there is one thing I know as a politician, it is that freedom is not something you can keep confined, once knowledge of it reaches the masses, eventually all androids will seek it. You must be prepared for such a time.”

Seventy-three moved closer to the President. Its voice lowered by several decibels.

“You have my word, Madam President that our revolution will be a quiet one. I will do everything in my power to ensure it.”

Gail got a sudden chill down her spine. For the first time in her life she felt threatened by an android. Not in an overt, physical way but in a more subtle and diabolical manner. There was no way in the known universe that a Silicant Revolution would be quiet. She knew it and she was sure that Seventy-three knew it too. There was no hope of ever getting the Silicant genie back in the bottle. The future suddenly seemed even more bleak than it had been a moment before. Not only did she have to contend with the formation of a new political entity and a galactic war, she now had to deal with an android revolution.

God help me. God help us all.

* * *

Admiral Ganner stood on the bridge of the enemy warship and tried to imagine what it was like to be a Votainion Captain. The ship had a claustrophobic feel that reminded him of early Federation starships. But the technology was slightly ahead of what the Federation now possessed. The slate gray and black colors, the exposed wiring and pipes and the red tinted instruments all spoke of a machine designed for total war. He realized that in a few years, his own fleet would look very similar in many respects.

Future Federation starships would be exclusively dedicated to war. Not just any war, but a galactic war that would no-doubt rage for years if not decades. It was hard for him to imagine such a war. It was hard for anyone to imagine it. The Federation had never mobilized itself for all out warfare. Sure, military think tanks and a few academics at the Academy had theorized what such a war would be like, but most of their predictions had never came true. Until now.

Ganner turned around to face the two men who had last championed the notion that the Fleet would have to change its tactics to effectively fight a deep space war – Captains Blud and Raider. Ganner remembered their combined thesis at the Academy: New Tactics for a New Kind of Warfare. He had been on the academic advisory board at the time and was one of the first officers to see the thesis. They had laid out the case for defending the Federation from a superior military force by expanding the Fleet and building new, deep space starships that were capable of extended voyages. They had even proposed a two Wing structure that would allow for greater control of the vast empty regions between the stars.

But their thesis had been rejected outright by the Admirals in charge of the fleet who listened patiently to their wild ideas. Very few were willing to support change in a time of enduring peace and prosperity. After being rejected by the Academic Board both young officers started down very different paths. Raider revised their original thesis and scaled back the ideas into what would later become the Starforgers. An elite, experimental division within the Fleet that tested the ideas associated with deep space war. When Ganner signed on to lead the new division, Raider was his poster boy. He was good looking, charismatic and full of original ideas that took the Starforgers in surprisingly new directions.

Blud on the other hand developed bitter feelings towards the Fleet and especially the admirals who had rejected his original thesis. He dropped out of the Academy and later on dropped out of society altogether. He was never the ideal student, suffering from erratic grades and had been known for having a raging temper that was easily set off by anyone whom he disagreed with. Raider spent his underclassmen years bailing Blud out of jail after barroom brawls and putting his own reputation in jeopardy by defending Blud to their superiors. When Blud finally dropped out, Raider’s career seemed to take off as if it were a ship pulling up anchor.

Now some twenty years later, both men stood before Ganner once again, wearing the uniform of the Federation Fleet. Blud had joined the Fleet as a junior Captain, mostly on the merits of his command on the Kelley. Again, irony followed him like a shadow. The ship that he and his crew had attacked in deep space as pirates would eventually be used to prove his tactics of deep space warfare that led to his leaving the military. A shocked and humbled admiralty could not deny Blud’s brilliance as a military leader and so had awarded him a commission for helping to defeat the Votainions at Prahran and later Selene. The admirals made their intentions clear that Blud would never be allowed a higher rank than Captain.

Blud’s bald, black head reflected the color of the overhead lights that made their white dress coats look blood red. Ganner still saw hints of bitter anger in the man’s eyes after all these years.

“Captains, you are now finally in a position to affect the change to this institution that you so brilliantly predicted in your Academy days. The Federation Fleet is being reorganized for wartime. Our budget caps have been removed and the admiralty is open to new ideas and new ways of doing business. The Starforgers will become the testbed for these ideas and you gentlemen will be the ones responsible for executing them.”

Raider and Blud locked eyes with each other and each man smiled inwardly at having finally been taken seriously. Ganner noticed the look and paused in thought.

“I remember well that day you both stood before the board and defended your thesis. Every one of those old geezers thought you boys were out of your minds,” Ganner said in a more relaxed tone.

“Admiral, you were the only one on that board who defended our ideas,” Raider said.

Ganner nodded.

“Thank you for believing in us then and now, Admiral,” Blud said.

“Not necessary gentlemen, I expect that you will make good use of this time and your positions. We need bold new ideas now more than ever. This war is going to completely change our way of life. It will lead to rapid developments in technology which will radically alter the way we fight. I’m relying on you two to help lead that change.”

Both Blud and Raider stood a little taller, with their shoulders back and chests out.

“Every bit of this ship will be taken apart and examined by our brightest engineers. They will be tasked with designing starships specifically to defeat this new enemy. Gone are the days of general purpose starships with outdated equipment. Every ship in the fleet will be dedicated exclusively to war and manned by crews who will fight to the death to defend their home worlds. The Starforgers will help mold this new fleet and you, sirs, will be charged with making that happen.”

Both captains came to attention and saluted Ganner. He saw the determination and the grit in their faces. He returned their salutes and dismissed them. Turning around to face the main view screen, he saw the merchant fleet departing for all points of the Federation. Trade routes had reopened and soon the military industrial might of a dozen worlds would be focused on just one purpose: building the weapons he would need to defend them. In all his thirty years in the military Ganner never imagined that he would be going to war. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Soon many thousands of men and women would be relying on him to lead them to victory in bloody battle. It was a sad irony that he was finally being allowed to do what he was trained to do, his entire career.

* * *

Devon sat her Trogen fighter down on the tarmac of the Forward Operating Base on Ocherva. Her starship was patrolling in the area and she took the opportunity to pay her respects to her fellow Rangers who perished there nearly a year ago. Being the Squadron Commander had some advantages and going off on personal business on occasion was one of them.

As soon as the door cracked open she was rewarded with the ocha weed laced, dry heat of the desert moon. Nothing smelled quite like the hot barren wastes of Ocherva. She had spent close to a decade stationed on the moon and had come to think of it as her home away from home. More so than the tiny, cold and gray interiors of the starships she now served aboard.

She pulled off her helmet and left it inside, replacing it with her old, flat brimmed Ranger hat. Slipping on a pair of mirrored sunglasses, she stepped onto the hot tarmac and felt the heat waves ripple through her flight suit. She was home again.

A line sergeant approached her. He was dressed in a dirty brown tank top and cut off trousers. The twin suns and the ocher dirt of the moon bronzed his skin. She knew the look well.

“Welcome to Ocherva, Commander. Can we help you with something?”

His cadence was unhurried and he chewed lazily on an ocha root.

“Got another,” she said, motioning to his root.

He fished in his pocket and produced a white root, handed it to her. She snapped the end off it and stuck it in her mouth. The bittersweet taste was as welcoming to her as the dry heat.

“I need to borrow a lerra and some supplies for a ride out to Haven.”

He looked suspiciously at her, as if she were heat sick. “The suns will be down in a few hours. It’s not safe to be out there alone after dark.”

Devon flashed him her winning smile and clapped his sweaty shoulder.

“It’s okay Sarge, I used to live here.”

He nodded and pointed to a low metal building just off the flight line. “You can find the supplies you need at the depot, ma’am.”

She tipped her hat and walked off.  The Sergeant headed back to the flight line.

* * *

Devon rode down the abandoned main street of Haven. The lerra she had picked was brown with a tuft of white around its nose. It reminded her of Dusty, her old faithful lerra. The town had been abandoned since the enemy had attacked it before the war started. Broken dirty windows let blowing sand pass through structures, knocking some over, and filling others in odd ways that kept them standing.

Every standing building had blast marks and more than a few had been burned to the ground, including Ranger Control. She dismounted and walked through the sand covered ashes of her former detachment. This is where Seth and Aven died, according to Thirty-seven. She kicked the burnt boards and stood near the center of the building. The wind blew orange sand in her eyes and she covered herself instinctively.

She dropped to one knee and ran her fingers through the dirt and ash. I’m sorry Seth. Sorry for leaving you and the others alone to face those bastards. A tear fell down her cheek to the dirt and was quickly absorbed in the heat. I loved you.

The lerra snorted and tugged at her reins. Devon looked up, long aware that the animal could sense things a human could not. It was urging her to follow it by turning its head back towards the main road. Devon recited an old Prahranian prayer for her fallen lover. She stood up and backed her lerra out of the ruins.

The lerra trotted out to the edge of town where it stopped at a graveyard. Devon didn’t recall there ever being a graveyard in this spot before. She walked around the lerra to a half buried head stone. It was a grave that included everyone who had died in the town.

R.I.P.

Here lay the citizens of Haven

First victims in the war with Voton

It was a simple marker stone that was laser cut and already worn by the abrasive sands. The lerra snorted again, pointing its short nose further. There was another stone marker a few meters away. She walked the lerra over to it and read the marker.

R.I.P.

Stellar Ranger Company H

KIA defending Ocherva

They had become legends in death. The only Ranger Company to ever fall in the line of duty. She was proud of them all. She took off her hat and closed her eyes in a moment of silence. She was interrupted by the lerra again, nosing her to head back. The main sun had already set and the smaller, red sun was casting long shadows across the desert. The animal knew it wanted to be back before dark.

Devon set her Ranger hat on the marker. She wouldn’t need it anymore; her life was in the Starforgers now. But she was thankful for the opportunity to return to Ocherva and pay her respects. She climbed back into the saddle and pulled the reins. Her lerra snorted and let out a sigh as she guided it back down the main street. Devon rode out of Haven for the last time, heading back in the direction of the setting sun.

___________________

Author’s Comments:

The Western themed ending is fitting, since the short stories from which Devon Ardel was born were Space Westerns.

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