Captain (substantive Battlemaster, promotion from Battle Captain effective three days before) Zhen’var f/k/a Zhengli Varma had arrived on the ASV Huáscar one month before her commissioning ceremony for the intensive trials and efforts which would result in her being stood up as an active-duty ship of the Alliance Stellar Navy. A month of shipyard trials being run by the dockyard personnel with Lt. Commander (substantive Battle Expert) Elia Saumarez as the ranking naval officer had concluded with a reasonable punchlist of items to be corrected, and soon after the Battle of Germania Captain Zhen’var had arrived to assume command. The pre-commissioning trials had shaken loose a few more problems, and the shipyard personnel were still working to remedy them in many areas of the ship even as the ceremony was being held.
Within a week of her commissioning ceremony, she was expected to leave for a month-long final shakedown cruise under regular commission with her crew at full list strength and her arms lockers and magazines full. When it was finished, she would begin to receive regular duty assignments as a part of the Fleet. Thus it would be only three months and one week after her physical completion as a functional ship that she would be fully operational, as a testament to the efficiency of the shipbuilders.
The ceremony was held at Naval Fleet Base Alexandra in H1E4 on the docking-arm main assembly concourse. Admiral Maran was there, as well as the Foreign Minister and Warmaster Shai’jhur. The Foreign Secretary was of course the first to speak. Lentiro Onaran was a Dorei gentleman with ocean blue eyes and teal spots, dressed in a yellow and bronze formal suit of Dorei fashion as he came to the podium. In attendance, in formation, were the crews of the Huáscar and the Heermann, all in their dress uniforms. The Marine complement was present, too, in their own dress blues, the officers in their dress whites.
Everyone was there: There was Commander Imra, decorated twice for bravery. Daria Seldayiv, her bright colouration contrasting with the white of the uniform, decorated much the same. So was Lt. Commander Poniatowska and several of the others. There was Elia and Will, Operations and XO, the two most important people, Zhen’var’s Hands, looking a bit uncomfortable at the ranks of medals and campaign ribbons a hell of a lot of their subordinates had. None of the medals matched the odd contrast of the two that Zhen’var wore. One was for operations over Germania, and one was the Line Medal. It stood above even the highest decorations for bravery in the whole of the Alliance. It was the medal which let someone know that you had held the Line, and there was no equal, save perhaps if the Spartans had seen fit to strike one for Thermopylae.
In the audience was one fellow in a uniform like Shai’jhur’s, with a medal like Zhen’var’s. Governor the Battlemaster Ari’shan, looking uncomfortable between his Line Medal and the ribbon hanging low from his neck showing him the Grand Chief of the Order of the Champions that Warmaster Shai’jhur had created to award valor. He couldn’t help but keep peeking a look toward his son in the ranks of the pilots in their sky-blue full dress uniforms. Close by his side was Commander Montgomery Scott, having arranged to be in attendance for Anna Poniatowska, one of his engineers like Tom Barnes, and now standing up to commanding the engineering spaces of her own ship.
Minister Onaran cleared his throat and politely steadied himself on the podium. “Gentlebeings, welcome to Fleet Base Alexandra. I shall keep my remarks short. I would not be present for the commissioning of a conventional warship, however, the Huáscar is a bold experiment at inclusion which promises to realise the great objective of ‘a more perfect union’. Crewed equally between the nations of the Alliance and a State in the admissions process, the Huáscar shall demonstrate the power and potential of the alliance to represent all nations in the Alliance’s stand for peace and sapient rights throughout the Multiverse.
“The hour of supreme danger in the formation of the Alliance is over, and the terrible power of the Nazi Reich has been forever broken. Now is our chance for bold experiments to build the peace and hold our course as a beacon of liberty. The Multiverse still has many dangers in it, and to maintain the vision of the Alliance against those dangers, the Stellar Navy assumes all risks. In welcoming the Dilgar into the Stellar Navy, we make a powerful lesson for this Multiverse: The sins of the past will be forgiven in the deeds of the present, and nothing else. And nothing is more appreciated than the absolute willingness of the Dilgar nation to demonstrate those deeds. Your thirty-five ships and twenty-five divisions at Germania made the difference between victory and defeat. Your willingness to adapt to the Alliance is a testament to your future course. We want to walk this course hand in hand, eventually as one. And with that vision in mind, we bring the Huáscar to life, as one exemplar of a shared sacrifice in duty and honour to the ideals and mission of the Alliance. Without further ado, I present Warmaster Shai’jhur, Head of State of the Honourable Union of Tira and Rohric.”
Slight and frail, with her grey-tinged fur, Shai’jhur stepped to the podium next. She held her right hand out as a gesture, moving it in short, sharp movements. “Comrades and friends, today we are gathered to celebrate something I long held as an objective. I believed urgently and correctly that our future would be in understanding humans, and appealing to humans with our deeds and with the moral reform of our society. This comprehensive reform, which evidenced itself in the way Dilgar voluntarily took up dharma study and democratic institutions founded on a completely indigenous conception of participatory government, led us to the moment over Tira where we could justly proclaim ourselves the wronged party, fighting for our lives and our homes, and desirous of being allies and members of the great experiment of the Allied Systems.
“Today is the culmination of that effort. We will stand together as allies and friends all on the same ship, as we stood together in the fleets over Welthauptstadt Germania. Huáscar is now a unique name for the Dilgar, since it was the name of the ship which also defended Tira under Captain Zhen’var. When I subsequently read the history of the name, I was struck by the amazing courage which marked this ship. I decided the name had to live on in the Alliance Service, and Admiral Maran as Chief of Naval Operations kindly agreed with me. I thank our allies and I also take our place of pride: In four months we mobilized one-point-five million Dilgar to fight this war. Our population has barely reached forty-five million; in fact half that number, about two percent of our entire population saw action on the fronts against the Reich, even though they were engaged for a brief time. I do not wish our new friends in the Alliance to think this was but a single burst of activity for our people. We shall make ourselves useful henceforth as well, and to me, the Huáscar is the manifestation of that promise to our friends and allies. Be proud, Huáscareños, no matter what your blood is, you are the spirit and the future of the Dilgar Champions!”
She stepped aside, flashing a wryly pleased look to Admiral Maran as he approvingly went to the podium next. He coughed, and smiled. “Gentlebeings, together we are gathered here to give life to a ship. The Huáscar is no common ship, but one of the finest, newest ships of the fleet, a showcase of the technology which was brought to us by the Aurora, of the legacy of the Darglan. Her mission is simultaneously exploratory and military, to be one of the foremost ships in defence, humanitarian aid, and discovery that we can field. She will follow in the footsteps of sisters and half-sisters like the Aurora, Enterprise and Excalibur. Yet for all her technology, it is the sapient intelligence, the power and emotion, the service and the honour, of those who crew her, that truly matters.
“When her name was proposed to me by Warmaster Shai’jhur, I hesitated in agreeing. First, I turned to the histories of the name. They reassured me immediately. Here was a ship whose crew, in the service of two nations, had followed Right, rather than the simple, the easy path. Many of them paid for it with their lives. Our mission is not an easy nor a safe one, and theirs was much less so. They stayed the course, just like the most recent Huáscar did with her terrible and painful choice and struggle over Tira. We honour all of that with her name. Most of all, though, I believe as, a Gersallian, we can learn a great deal from the first Huáscareños. It was Captain Miguel Maria Grau Seminario who, on defeating the Chilean Esmeralda and seeing Captain Arturo Prat of the same struck down on Huáscar's decks in a ferociously brave boarding action, decided to write this most tender message to Captain Prat’s widow:
I have a sacred duty that authorizes me to write you, despite knowing that this letter will deepen your profound pain, by reminding you of recent battles.
During the naval combat that took place in the waters of Iquique, between the Chilean and Peruvian ships, on the 21st day of the last month, your worthy and valiant husband Captain Mr. Arturo Prat, Commander of the Esmeralda, was, like you would not ignore any longer, victim of his reckless valor in defense and glory of his country’s flag.
While sincerely deploring this unfortunate event and sharing your sorrow, I comply with the sad duty of sending you some of his belongings, invaluable for you, which I list at the end of this letter. Undoubtedly, they will serve of small consolation in the middle of your misfortune, and I have hurried in remitting them to you.
Reiterating my feelings of condolence, I take the opportunity of offering you my services, considerations and respects and I render myself at your disposal.
(Signed) Cpt. Miguel Grau
“This great humanitarian soon enough fell in battle in the defence of his country in the terrible War of the Pacific. The Chilean service of the Huáscar was no less meritorious than that for Peru, and the ship remained as a museum, a reminder of the heroism of two nations, a promise of peace and reconciliation between two peoples--the grave of two brave men. It is that spirit which transcends the name Huáscar being something heroic, and makes it into an ideal, just like the ideal of the Aurora and the ideal of the Enterprise. Truly, we should all meditate on the story of the Huáscar and be happy and confident that her latest incarnation shall serve as those of the past have served.
“As for her Captain, Captain Zhen’var served valiantly in the attack on Welthauptstadt Germania, providing critical naval support. Her record there is well-publicised, so is her record over Tira, where she lost her home and her command for the sake of what is Right and Just. These were not easy choices, and they showed she was a fit woman for the Alliance, where we shall always strive to make Right and Justice the values for which we fight. In closing, I will simply say that the rest of her career requires no explanation and her choices require no defence. This is her ship to bring to life. Captain Zhen’var, please report.”
“Admiral Maran, Captain Zhen’var reporting, aye!” She wheeled out to the side, stepped forward, and came to attention, forcing her hand not to salute by raw strength of will to avoid the wrong tone at the ceremony. Twenty years of muscle memory screamed at her and reminded her how informal the Alliance service was even at a time like this.
“Captain Zhen’var, I hereby give to you the commissioning pennant of the ASV Huáscar. By the power vested in me by President Morgan and the Government of the Alliance, you are directed to proceed without delay in crewing the Huáscar and insuring that every billet is taken to strength, securing that she is structurally fit for War in every respect, and taking aboard all the stores and arms required for her service as a Ship of War in regular commission.”
“Sir, I accept my charge and order, Sir!” She again forced herself not to salute and accepted the commission pennant into her hands.
“You may step forward and speak,” Admiral Maran added with a gentle, almost grandfatherly smile, as he stepped to the side.
Zhen’var stepped forward to the podium. “Thank you, Admiral Maran. Gentlebeings, Huáscareños, I would like to add a little bit to the story of Captain Miguel Grau. You see, Latin America in the 19th century had endured wars which were utterly terrible, and traditionally governed by things like the Decree of War to the Death. Prisoners were not taken, or were brutalized and then killed. Atrocities governed the liberation wars against Spain and often occurred subsequently. Nothing like the Geneva Convention existed. But instead of decency being imposed from without, it grew from within. Miguel Grau was part of that process, the Knight of the Seas, famous for his humanitarian conduct toward his prisoners of war and civilians.
“He gave his life cleanly and bravely, fighting for his country on the deck of his little ironclad against overwhelming odds. In that way his life is a lesson in both humanitarianism and in courage. He reminds me strongly of another man, who the crew of an earlier Heermann than our own were some of the last to see alive. A man who’s struggle with Rightness, to uphold dharma and condemn adharma, was a personal one in which he overcame the prejudice of his time. He was refused for the Naval Academy because of his three-fourths Indian blood, enlisted, and promptly won an academy spot anyway for merit. In the American participation in the Great Pacific War or Second World War, he first served on a destroyer forced to flee during the East Indies campaign.
“He swore his first taste of defeat would be his last. On October 25th, 1944, he was in command of his own destroyer, the USS Johnston, when confronted by the overwhelming force of the Japanese Combined Fleet. With the rest of the screen out of position, and his ship the nearest, he immediately launched a headlong torpedo attack against four battleships, eight heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and twelve destroyers. Delivering his torpedoes and crippling the Japanese cruiser Kumano, his ship was shattered with a dozen rounds of main-calibre fire.
“Breaking off into the squalls, he received the order of Admiral “Ziggy” Spruance that all screen ships were to conduct a general attack. His torpedoes exhausted, two fingers from his left hand severed by shrapnel, half his ship’s propulsion plant disabled, limited to seventeen knots with the helm worked by the chain falls on the steering gear, he swung back into line and attacked the full strength of the Imperial Japanese Navy a second time. Again taken under intense fire, the bridge was hit by main-calibre shellfire and most of his command staff slain. Badly wounded, Evans was last seen cheerfully waving to the Captain of the Samuel B. Roberts as he stood on the fantail of the Johnston, shouting helm orders to the men on the falls and steering closer to the enemy to engage a third time, his ship a burning ruin.
“I will be plain with you, Huáscareños. Evans’ words when he commissioned the Johnston are my words exactly, and we will all pray to the Almighty that we will not see the day we must true them. ‘This ship is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in Harm’s Way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.’”
The Dilgar rankers erupted into cheers that sounded much like howls and growls. “Harm’s Way is the Valiant Way!” they cheered in their native tongue, the translators working to capture the intent. To avoid the moment being lost for the human crew of the Huáscar, Zhen’var raised her fist into the air. “Viva Huáscar!”
As the three cheers finished rolling across the hall, Zhen’var turned, ramrod straight, to face Elia Saumarez, and presented the commissioning pennant to the black-gloved woman. “Lieutenant Commander, your order is to man the ship and bring her to life!”
“Aye-aye, Sir!” She spun on heel and marched to the front of the column of the assembled. “Huáscareños, man the ship and bring her to life!”
With Will at her side, Zhen’var stepped back up to Admiral Maran. Again her arm twitched. “Sir, by your instruction, the Huáscar has been crewed. I invite you to inspect the crew at review stations.”
“Your offer is accepted, Captain. Lead on.”
They toured the crew mess, engineering, the bridge, the magazines and ammunition lockers, the flight decks, the Marines’ bunkerage, the science labs, seeing in the crew turned out, lining the main halls at attention in their dress whites. Ari’shan, as a distinguished guest, accompanied the Captain and XO and Admiral Maran. The Foreign Secretary had already gone off to his next important event.
A group of Dilgar officers were waiting, at attention. Behind them was one of the most impressive pictures that Will had ever seen. It was a terrible visage of a half-ruined ironclad ship, surrounded by four others, two close, two far, pouring fire on it. Wrecked and burning, the ruin in the heart of the formation returned fire fitfully, but defiant.
“Admiral, Captain. Our gift for the Mess.” The leading woman, in a Lieutenant’s uniform, bowed. “La combate de Angamos. We wished to show we could be true Huáscareños to the memory of such a man as Grau, too! His death was as valiant as a Dilgar could seek. Please, accept the token, that we may never bring dishonour to our name.”
“It is a very fitting work.” Zhen’var leaned in at the detail of the canvas, and nodded. “I accept the gift in the spirit it is presented, Lieutenant. It shall hang in the mess, as a reminder of our profession - and our traditions.”
“You honour us, ma'am.” The officers came to attention and saluted. Unlike Zhen’var, they didn’t even bother to try and stop themselves. The punishment in the Union Navy was too harsh to consider anything else.
Afterwards, Zhen'var and Will went to Zhen'var's ready room with Admiral Maran to meet Commander Imra--and Warmaster Shai'jhur. The ready room had its own portrait, of Miguel Grau, a copy of one commissioned long ago for the Peruvian Naval Academy.
As the junior Dilgar officer there, Zhen’var stiffened to attention, and spoke conversationally for the sake of the other two there; “Here stands a Warmaster!”
“At ease, Captain,” Shai’jhur responded mildly, stuffing her hands into her pockets and looking coolly at the image of Miguel Grau. “It’s a good reminder to keep in your office, Captain.”
“He was a remarkable man,” Maran agreed, moving to sit with the Warmaster. “At ease, Commanders. Please sit with us as well.”
Zhen’var moved to sit, glancing about the still sparsely decorated ready room, making mental notes what she’d place where, and what she would have to try and find. “The crew is ready, from my impressions.”
“I agree,” Maran said. “They snapped to duty with a remarkable alacrity, and your handling of the matters of cultural integration like the cheer was very wise. I don’t think integration is going to prove a difficulty at all.” A slight frown. “However, your shakedown cruise could be relatively difficult. For reasons that are not particularly germaine, you are to conduct your shakedown cruise in E5B1.”
The captain’s face stilled, though she gave a single nod. “Of course, Admiral. Do you have the briefing, then?” Could be relatively difficult? That is quite the understatement.
“You will be proceeding to reinforce the Darglan patrol, and conform to the orders of Captain Feroi of the Riachuelo. There are intelligence indications of instability in Interstellar Alliance territory focused on the Earth Alliance. That is a suitable duty for a shakedown cruise, for the duration you will have a supporting role only.”
“Of course, Admiral. We will stand ready to support Captain Feroi’s command as-ever may be necessary.” Her response was automatic, though already, her mind was thinking to what she’d seen from the news reports, trying to think of what it could be in the recently unstable Alliance.
“Then, there is one final consideration,” Shai’jhur now spoke, softly, and deliberately. “Battlemaster Ari’shan will be your guest aboard for the shakedown cruise. He is there at the special request of the Alliance government… Provide him every bit of assistance possible. His mission is primarily a diplomatic one, but unfortunately the details cannot be forthcoming at this time.”
“I obey in ignorance, Warmaster.” She replied, wondering if there were any more problems that were about to be thrown her way. The war hero of the Dilgar War, who’d fought on the Line and actually shot down several Nials? No pressure at all, Zhen’var!
“Thank you, Captain.” Shai’jhur exchanged a sharp look with Admiral Maran, who sighed.
“My apologies, Captain. Your ship will bear this trial as her first, however. And I am confident in the outcome.” He rose, Shai’jhur rose. The other officers moved to depart.
Shai’jhur paused at the door, turned back, and winked. “It will be fine, daughter-Zhen.” With that, she too departed.
Zhen’var flopped back into her desk chair, and carefully forced the informality of first names she would soon get used to through her lips--and one name that she had plenty of familiarity with. “Will, please get Anna and Elia up here so we can start planning. We are going to start with the assumption that our playing backup for the Darglan guardship is going to last for all of five minutes, and go from there!”
"Matters of Honour"
Spacers, by and large, thought space to be beautiful. For the most part the crew of the Huáscar was no exception, loving the space around them. They were after all volunteers. Even the Dilgar had been volunteers, at least for this duty. They held themselves a breed apart, but so did many sorts of people, for many different reasons.
With her crew still settling down, a week into the voyage, Zhen’var had invited her senior officers to dinner. Will, Abebech, Anna, Elia, Nah’dur, Fei’nur. Operations was “over the others” as a matter of practice, though by rights one could argue that Lar’shan could be invited--however, Zhen’var treated Abebech as the supreme commander of her attached parasite forces, fighters as much as the Heermann, and it made a certain level of sense, since the Heermann could easily be used as a Forward Air Control ship for the fighter wing.
She held a brief moment of silence at the start of the meal, as the inherently multicultural nature of the Service dictated. They were an intensely eclectic bunch, as Zhen’var’s eyes roved over the group. Each was settling into their roles, and she smiled as the moment of silence ended.
“Our mission has lasted longer than five minutes, thank the Divine for small favours. Your reports all indicate that everything is coming together well.”
“Ship operations are as smooth as can be expected after a relatively short duration of operations. We’re meeting our objective metrics for decreases in response time across drill scenarios, though not really outperforming them, either,” Elia explained, gloved hands slicing fish. They ate a lot of replicated fish to keep group meals respectful of everyone’s diets. “Which is management speak for ‘we’re meeting your objectives, Captain, but not exceeding them.’” She grinned.
Anna was eating her salmon with a dill sauce, and looked up thoughtfully. “Engineering is exceeding objectives for recommended times in reactor shutdown drills. I’ve always considered that a personal objective. The rest is within metrics.”
“Is the breakdown the same across the operating divisions, Elia?” Will asked.
She shook a gloved hand in the air. “Mostly. Tactical is bringing up the tail, but it’s strictly due to the lack of experience in anyone except L’tenant Seldayiv.”
“That sounds like an excellent reason for more holodeck sim time.” Huáscar’s crew already found (in)famous their Captain’s love of the things for training, though trying to get a recreational pass was another matter entirely.
“I could devote some time to one run as the OPFOR,” Abebech remarked pleasantly from her side of the table. She ate, but it always seemed like she was just picking at her food.
“Merciful God, that might humiliate Daria a bit,” Elia looked skyward.
“Do not crush their spirits, Commander, but do not go easily on them either. I need them to get better, not feel the effort impossible.” Zhen’var replied, neatly nibbling apart another morsel of fish.
“Of course, Captain.” Abebech drizzled some sugar into her coffee and stirred the froth.
“I’ll go over some strategies with Daria tomorrow on accelerating their learning in the sims,” Will added, jotting down a note on a pad. By mutual consensus Zhen’var and Will had banned omnitool use at the dinner to avoid distractions--department heads could easily spend all night signing e-docs--and had to lead by examples.
“Thank you. Colonel?”
“No problems, Captain, though a real battle will do more than anything else to settle the differing cultures in the detachments.” She grinned, as Zhen’var shook her head.
“So noted, but I am not going to try and give you one. Surgeon-Commander?”
“Oh, ah, Captain. Everything is fine in sickbay. The Mha’dorn Mental Hygienist--Lieutenant Va’tor--has established her evaluation schedule for the secure information authorizations and I have ninety percent compliance with physical standards and get-well plans for the rest.”
Will leaned over to Elia. “...Do they really call them mental hygienists?”
Elia grinned. “I know it sounds bad, but she’s just a therapist.”
“Yes, the Dilgar have therapists. I know this is something the wider multiverse will not believe even after meeting her.” The captain’s voice was intensely dry as she took a sip of her tea.
“So, how long is our VIP going to be aboard?” Anna asked from her side of the table. There wasn’t much else to cover at the moment, and it was odd.
“I assume until he leaves.” There was a pause, before she broke into a smile. “More seriously, do they ever really tell the Fleet why they are hosting VIPs for no reason? I am sure there is some reason we do Not Need to Know.”
“Yet.” Will added with a cheerful grin.
“Spare us surprises,” Elia gestured grandiloquently with a wry roll of her eyes.
“Oh, at least there will be excitement when we find out.” Zhen’var gave a soft laugh as she replied.
The dinner turned to some lighter topics, and lingered for a while, until the officers slowly let themselves out when Zhen’var signalled it over. In the end, it was just her, Will and Abebech, Captains and XO.
“Well, Captain, quite the merry bunch. Feels almost amazing not to be thrown straight into fighting, too,” Will chuckled.
“We needed it, and I am grateful. We shall be in desperate combat soon enough. Thank you for being here, both of you. You’ve both proven yourselves even better than your files said.”
“I execute my orders, Captain,” Abebech smiled. “Thank you for the endorsement, nonetheless--it does mean much to me. Will and I shall try to avoid being your Attacker mafia.” The last sentence raised a chuckle from her fellow Commander.
“Well, thank you for that! I disagree, profoundly, with how they’re organized. We are one crew, one ship in two hulls, and should be inseparable.”
“I concur. It is an idiosyncratic operational system which comes down to a good personal relationship between the three of us to be successful.”
“The good news is that I think we have one. Other ships are not nearly so lucky. Have a good evening, Commanders. I have the usual drudgery of daily reports to finish.”
“Thank you,” they chorused, and rose, leaving Zhen’var alone to retire to her ready room and cabin.
It would be shortly after she had settled down when the chime activated on the door and the computer provided that slightly-too-helpful introduction. “Governor Ari’shan of Tira.”
The Dilgar woman frowned as she triggered the unlock from her console, forcing herself to rise to her feet with a soft groan under her breath. “Governor. What brings you here so late?” Datapads and holo-displays covered the desk in neat stacks before her as she waved the lights marginally brighter.
“Captain Zhen’var,” he stepped in politely, remaining standing. “My apologies, but the final details of my mission came through, and I wanted to inform you immediately.”
“Go ahead, Governor. Sit, please.” Her look was more than a bit wary. “It does not involve you flying a starfighter, does it?”
“Certainly not. It’s part of a diplomatic effort,” he answered, moving to sit as offered. “As you may recall, I made friends with many of the Earth Alliance Intelligence personnel who debriefed me after my capture.”
“I do.” She felt her face still slightly, almost involuntarily. Anything involving Earth was still an intensely raw nerve. “I am suspecting I see where this is going, but, please, continue.”
“You certainly are well-aware of the reality that tensions between the Allied Systems and the Earth Alliance are at an all-time high… It was your mother who explained to me many of the moral principles that are the basis of our government’s legitimate criticism of the Earth Alliance, in fact. There is a fear these could escalate, and a desire to prevent it--a desire which is fervently held by EAI. They’re trying to reach out to me to arrange a series of informal talks to discuss issues between our nations and reduce tensions at the institutional level.”
“The deep state indeed… very well, Your Excellency. What do you need from Huáscar?” She took in the information and accepted it, without making any comment of how awkward it was for her.
“I’m not sure who had the idea of using your ship, Captain,” Ari’shan offered, perceptive enough to see the unspoken comment. “You will just host talks on the frontier with claimed Earth Alliance space. It is only ten hours by warp, and their ship should arrive eight hours after that, roughly, from the intelligence message I just received.”
“Perhaps someone who does not want the talks to succeed. Very well, Excellency. I will brief Fei’nur to have security measures in place, and we’ll keep to a moderate speed to not raise suspicions from others, but I will be briefing my senior officers first thing in the ship’s morning.”
Hangar operations was located in a build-out that the earlier members of the class lacked, a sponsoned, windowed control tower molded into the hull lines on the starboard side above the main dorsal hangar as an additional hull blister. There, Chief Warrant Officer Anastasia “Stasia” Héen was queen of the void in the immediate vicinity of the Huáscar, dishing it out to the pilots with her handleless navy mug in one hand and microphone on her headset pressed not-quite to her lips in her light blue starfighter forces uniform, the septum ring as a personalized touch from her Tlingit ancestry. Her voice brooked the steady confidence of a civilian professional, handling the operations like air traffic control, the impersonal voice of God, between slugs of the dubious coffee made from an actual pot in PriFly rather than a replicator.
Surrounded by glass, windows to give a 360 degree view of the dorsal surface, crew working at a dozen screens that processed anything from sensor displays to control boards for monitoring space utilization inside of the hangars, it was second only to main engineering as a place of apparent action on the ship. It also offered the perfect place for Ari’shan to watch his son.
“Do you have the waypoints confirmed, Sir?” Stasia glanced over to Lieutenant Arterus tr'Rllaillieu, the ship’s Astrogation Officer.
“Confirmed and set,” Arterus repeated from his temporary console. “You are free to execute, Airboss.”
“WC-50 Actual,” Stasia keyed the channel over to reach out to the commander-on-scene of the 50th Naval Flight Wing, Lar’shan, “you are clear for grid area epsilon-43, repeated epsilon-43. Navigation waypoints set and locked for high energy manoeuvring. I have placed recovery shuttles in epsilon-42 station ninety-alpha and epsilon-38 station seventy-foxtrot, over. Proceed at your discretion.”
“Huáscar PriFly, this is WC-50 Actual. Commencing high energy manoeuvres through grid area epsilon-43. The squadron is now manoeuvring according to engagement waypoint pattern. I read epsilon-42, epsilon-38 as locked and nav on all fighters confirming restrictions.”
“Restrictions verified and set. You are clear, WC-50 Actual. Huáscar PriFly out.”
Ari’shan watched the holotank in PriFly that was, now that the wing had rapidly moved beyond visual range, his only image of what was going on. He watched as the fighters blossomed in a half-a-hundred directions and began a series of manoeuvres, not for combat, but just to practice deconfliction and close-quarters handling without collisions. His son was there, directing them all.
“He’s a damned fine pilot, Sir,” Stasia remarked as she watched the holotank herself, old-style headset dangling--she wanted to avoid the sometimes imperfect computer-directed voice pickup in a operations room that had a dozen people. Also, it was a tool of the trade.
Ari’shan smiled up to the taller human woman. “I wouldn’t go around denying that.”
“He speaks in glowing tones about you, Sir. Damned fine pilot yourself, I would think?”
“...That, perhaps, he needs to do less of.”
Arterus stepped up to the older Dilgar ace’s side. “I confess, from the way he does, Sir, it seems like you should have been given your own wing or two for Germania simply by asking.”
Ari’shan smiled, in a way Stasia interpreted as wan. “Perhaps it is so, but I am getting old, and don’t have any flight time since the Line. Reflexes ultimately grow slow, and I’ve never commanded a warship. Or even served in the operating crew of one.”
Perhaps it could have been left at that, but instead he continued, his eyes never leaving the holotank even as he spoke of something unrelated to his son’s manoeuvres. “It was also a delicate time on Tira, and they needed someone of the Old Imperium to guide them into our future. War Expert Fiy’jash was … Unwell, and the Warmaster wanted me. At the end, I spoke at length with my mate and with the Warmaster’s eldest daughter Battlemaster Tia’jhur and we agreed that, as odd it is for me, my place was there, not in the cockpit. This is a time for my son’s glories.”
“To everything there is a season,” Stasia murmured, and then turned aside to deal with something.
“It’s hard to admit there’s a time when the front-rank is no longer for you,” Arterus remarked. “Few would be able to overcome the vanity.”
“Well,” Ari’shan laughed, “Front-line service, yes. But not completely. As the civilian governor I am fortunately not supreme commander of the defence force, which lets me serve in the reserves as a Wing Commander for one of our aerospace fighter wings. I expect I might still do a little to even the odds for the reservists.”
Considering the man’s reputation, Arterus couldn’t help but laugh. He expected Ari’shan would do altogether much more than ‘even the odds’. There was something very Rihannsu in the unassuming, droll tone to an expectation of mayhem that sentence had promised. He liked the man.
Then an alarm trilled and Stasia jerked to the side, studying the holo. “Distortion in Epsilon-39 -- that’s a jump point. Block it off as an incoming.”
“Incoming, Epsilon-39,” one of her plotters repeated.
“WC-50 Actual,” Stasia toggled her line to Lar’shan’s fighter. “We have incoming. Keep your wing clear of Epsilon-39 and stand by for orders from Huáscar Actual.”
The ship that arrived was an Omega, as yet unmodified. She ran close to the border after leaving hyperspace and her thrusters fired and fired again to line her up to tread along the imaginary line in space. Zhen’var came up to the bridge a minute later.
“Captain,” Elia came to attention. “The ship is the EAS Charybdis. It appears that the Governor’s friend is ready to come aboard by shuttle.”
“Very well. Signal our readiness to receive them in the main bay.” Zhen’var gave a wary look to the tactical display. So they’ve sent an Omega, and not one of the ones that would let us see their progress at multiversal adaptation. “Colonel Fei’nur, get your teams ready to meet them. I do not want Earth Alliance Intelligence to learn too much avoidable.”
“Understood, Captain!” The Dilgar woman stiffened to attention, before starting to move to the lift. She was still not used to the rank, but then with her promotion to Battlemaster on the same day as Zhen’var, she wasn’t used to her Dilgar rank either.
“Commander Saumarez, please, lead the side party so she can concentrate on the security arrangements.”
“Understood, Captain. Do I stand relieved?”
“You stand relieved, Commander. This is Captain Zhen’var, I have the deck and the conn.”
Around Elia the bridge remained a well-oiled machine, seamlessly moving from her direction to the Captain’s. She caught a second turbolift belowdecks, leaving behind the starship for the uncertainties of the surface. The shuttle took long enough that she had enough time to quickly switch from duty wear into full dress whites. Confirming that the shuttle was two minutes out, she headed from her quarters and took another turbolift to the main hangar.
The commander of their Marines and security forces was standing ready for her, having thrown on a light combat rig. Fei’nur was intimidating even in a state of perfect peace. “Commander, I’ll be keeping an eye out for any infiltrators, and have escorts available for the party. They’ll follow your direction, though Lieutenant Har’un will be the tactical lead if anything goes wrong.”
Elia headed for Fei’nur, though she blinked at the combat rig. “Colonel Fei’nur, they’re heading in now. Are we ready?”
“We are. Don’t worry, Commander, just an old woman’s paranoia.” She shifted on her feet a bit, and there was a momentary shimmer as the harness disappeared.
“It’s your judgement.” Elia flashed a smile and a gloved thumbs up before walking out into the bay. “Just as long as the side party isn’t rolling hot, right?”
“Don’t worry, I have missile teams for that!” It was said with a laugh as the side party assembled.
The LSO had programmed the computer to display Earth Alliance standard landing signals for the shuttle’s approach, and the Christmas Tree flashed with the instructions. The ACHO was already re-spotting several shuttles with manoeuvring dolleys to make sure that the fighters could be recovered successfully despite the big EA atmospheric shuttle sitting in the VIP position in the main hangar.
The shuttle came to a stop smoothly, whomever was piloting was quite veteran at it. As the hatch to the shuttle lowered, the bosun’s whistle blew. An older man walked down the ramp, and Elia immediately tensed. Even she recognised who it was instantly.
“Permission to come aboard?”
She cleared her throat and presented a neutral smile. “Permission granted. Director O’Leary, welcome to the ASV Huáscar. I am Lieutenant Commander Elia Saumarez, Ship’s Operations Officer. This is Lieutenant Colonel Fei’nur, FMF Commander Huáscar. Governor Ari’shan will be in Conference Suite Two.”
Fei’nur considered not giving one of the men most responsible for the loss of the Dilgar War a death glare of homicidal intent to be one of her greatest efforts of self-control in recent memory, for her part, as she stared resolutely and blankly ahead.
“...Lieutenant Commander,” Francis O’Leary answered stiffly, looking at the gloves, and the Flying Eye of Dilgar telepaths being worn on a human. “I understand this must have been a surprise for everyone involved,” he allowed after a moment, nodding in Fei’nur’s direction. “Colonel.”
“I’m pleased to do my part for pacific relations between our nations, Director,” Elia answered diplomatically. She could feel the eyes on her from the group of EAI personnel who had followed Francis O’Leary down the ramp. With the eyes came a smattering of thoughts from insulting to obscene; none were new. “Right this way.”
As they walked, one of O’Leary’s subordinates couldn’t help it. “You think you’d take off those gloves now that you have the chance,” she said, sotto-voice.
The response she wanted to give, would you kindly take off your panties and flash us? had been one she had never yet vocalised in her life. She had been raised from a young age to de-escalate situations with Mundanes, not escalate them. “Some things are worth keeping because they work best, Miss…”
“Sara Danvers, Lieutenant Commander,” she answered sharply, as if the rank itself were something of an embarrassment or a joke. Even strictly restraining herself, Elia knew that in fact both thoughts were true.
“Be polite, Sara,” Director O’Leary’s voice interrupted from behind. “I’m the one with the most complaints against the Corps and that doesn’t give me, or you, reason to be impolite to the Operations Officer here and her ship. They’re all Ari’s friends.”
“Of course, Director,” she replied, ruffled.
Elia wondered, for a moment, what it meant to be in someone’s good graces solely because of their alien friend. The fact that she was on only that basis had been made very clear. She shrugged lightly. Professionalism helped. “Director, I’ve arranged to have Chief Ashley Sherrod organise refreshments in the conference suite with the Food Management Team, and she’ll be waiting to make sure everything is right, and depart on your request. She’s our PAO lead and also has responsibility for coordinating VIP space, so if any of you choose not to return to your ship for the evening she can make sure Billeting has suites arranged.”
“That’s unlikely, as nice as the digs probably are on your ship, Lieutenant Commander,” he answered, sincerely bemused. “I’ll need to return to the Charybdis on a regular basis for secure communications.”
“Understood, Director. The Air Boss, Chief Warrant Anastasia Héen, has orders to clear your shuttle upon the request of anyone in your group. Just ask and you can cycle through. And of course we’ve been cleared to hold station on the frontier for as long as necessary.”
“We’ll certainly avail ourselves of it. Is the Captain going to be attending?”
“At the request of yourself and Governor Ari’shan only.”
“Well, we’ll check up on Ari first.” On reaching the Conference suite, Director O’Leary stepped in with no further ado. His staff followed in a cluster -- and one of them pressed the door-close pad as they stepped in.
Elia came up short as she watched the door close in her face on her own ship. In a sense it was a relief, since it ended her exposure to their minds. “I suppose you will,” she muttered after a moment, and then stepped to the side and activated her omnitool. “Captain, this Lieutenant Commander Saumarez. Our guest is nobody less than Director O’Leary of EAI. He wanted a private meet and greet with the Governor, but you should probably expect to be down here shortly.”
“Understood, Commander. Take a short spell in the wardroom, then I will hand the deck to you when you arrive back on the bridge. Thank you.”
Elia deactivated the comm channel. Too bad this isn’t an Aubrey-Maturin novel, then I could make it a wet lunch. Of course, that didn’t stop the Dilgar crew.
Zhen’var’s omnitool was trilling an incoming message just a few hours later. “Captain Zhen’var, Governor Ari’shan here. Director O’Leary has requested your presence.”
“Understood, Your Excellency. I should be down in about fifteen minutes?” Her voice was calm, as she rose from her desk.
“That will be fine, Captain,” Ari’shan replied.
Well, that took less time than I was expecting. Let us see just what the director wants… She schooled her face to blankness when she stepped out of the lift, walking to the Conference suite. “Your Excellency, I am here.”
“This way,” Ari’shan offered with a smile. One of the Food Management Team members was putting out snacks in one of the small, side conference rooms. “Francis, Captain Zhen’var.”
Every. Single. Eye in the room was on her. Francis himself betrayed no emotion, but several of his subordinates were veritably transfixed.
Zhen’var didn’t hesitate, only moved to offer her hand. “Director O’Leary.”
“Captain Zhen’var. Ari was explaining to me some of the complexity of your relationship with the Alliance of Systems. And just catching up.” He shook her head readily enough, meeting her catlike eyes levelly. “Tira sounds lovely, I’ll have to visit after I retire.”
“It is, Director. Rohric has its’ own charms, though I understand why you would be unwilling to subject yourself to them.” There was a hint of challenge in her eyes as she said it, though none showed in her voice. “I am glad to hear that you two have such a strong friendship despite recent travails.”
“I opposed the forced relocation, it’s not in the best interests of the Earth Alliance,” Director O’Leary answered. “Come on, let’s sit. We do have a lot to discuss. I’d extend that to complimenting Warmaster Shai’jhur’s bloody-minded brilliance in laying low on Rohric, but unfortunately we do have some more serious matters to concern ourselves with.”
She moved to sit, then, finally giving the others in the room a quick once-over. “Of course, Director. What seems to be the matters at hand?”
“Well, first of all, I just want to verify what Ari’shan said--it’s important to have it for the record, you understand--that despite the fact you are not a legal Alliance citizen, you have the right to function on the behest of its government, like a Consul.”
“As long as I hold command of this ship and am not actively under direct command of a superior officer, that statement is correct, Director.”
“That’s good enough for me. So, the first thing is that I just want to be emphatic that we don’t have a long term problem over the Dilgar. Our allies might, but Earth doesn’t. Our points of friction are purely with the Alliance and have come primarily over competing territorial claims and issues with,” his expression was a bit pained, “criminals fleeing Earth Alliance space.”
“Criminals, Director?” Zhen’var’s face reflected the honest confusion she felt. On her patrols in the League when she’d served in Earthforce, she’d never heard anything of the like before.
“Telepaths, Captain. There is a serious issue with unregistered telepaths leaving the Earth Alliance. The government has come under pressure from Psi-Corps to find a solution. I wanted to act pre-emptively to try and strategize a solution which will reflect our best interests.”
“Would not that be an Earthforce function, Director? Certainly, it is a matter of concern for Geneva, I would think.” And the Free Colony is a bit problematic, depending on what you are wanting from me.
“Let’s be clear, Captain. Personally, I understand someone’s striving to be free. I’ve seen what Psi-Corps is, and I’ve lost friends I respected to their actions in regimes of dubious legality. But I am here to make sure that Earth’s interests are communicated clearly to the Alliance of Systems and that I have an opportunity to report to President Luchenko on how we might begin to de-escalate tensions between our countries. That’s what this is about. Well, one of the biggest tensions is created by the feeling in certain parts of EarthGov that you have a giant terrorist camp in your space right now.” Francis O’Leary was playing a double-game, his opposition to Psi-Corps he was making clear even as he carefully maintained the government line, and in principle it offered an opportunity.
“I understand why they would think that, Director. Some matters, I will need to consult with Portland before opening discussions upon, but attacks on Corps assets are unacceptable terrorist activities. If they are happening, and supported from within Alliance space, we will certainly move against such actors.”
“I know you’ll have to consult, and that’s fine. EAI doesn’t have the longest leash, either, we’re just here because of the connections. However, I think we might just be the best-placed people to see a path to a solut…” he trailed off as his comm trilled. “Major Johansen, what’s worth the interruption?” Barely the moment he’d said it, Francis stiffened almost imperceptibly.
He offered a smile to Zhen’var a moment later. It didn’t reach his eyes. “Captain, I’m going to have to return to the Charybdis for consultations right now, in fact. We’ll reach out to you when we’re ready to resume, but based on shipboard time here, I’ll give it at least nine hours so you can sleep.”
Zhen’var felt a slight flicker of worry at his expression. “Understood, Director, nine hours. That will not be a concern.”
Of all the people that Zhen’var had expected to be woken up by after only two hours of sleep, her science officer was lower on the list than most. But Lieutenant Commander Fera'xero’s voice sounded urgent through the comms. “Captain, I was watching ISN to learn more about human culture in this universe, and there is breaking news. A major terrorist attack just occurred on Mars. However, I believe the footage is at least several hours old and has been subject to editing.”
Zhen’var kept rolling, straight out of bed. She tried to think of what would be the easiest place to display the footage. “Computer, summon all off-duty department heads and senior officers to the Wardroom.”
“Acknowledged,” the mechanical voice droned back.
Damn it all, this is a poor omen.
A large collection of sleepy people, humans, Dilgar, other species, had assembled at the directive, since the ship’s time meant most of the Department Heads were off duty. Will had the conn, though, so the XO was absent. Abebech had brought along the department heads of the Heermann, three human men and the very proper looking Lieutenant Ca’elia who had put herself together even in the middle of the night.
“Good… well, calling it a morning is rather a joke at this point. Commander Fera’Xero has some footage for us to view. There has apparently been a major terrorist attack on Mars, several hours ago. I have already requested information from higher echelons on the details involved.”
Fera’Xero himself activated the holo-projector, zooming in to ISN. It was still in full coverage mode, nominally ‘live’. Someone had a drone camera which was showing a prominent hole in the side of a Martian dome, about mid-point.
Anna stepped forward and insistently traced it with her finger. “Commander Fera’xero, do you agree it’s bowed outwards?”
“Yes, and not enough difference in atmospheric pressure to make it a result of the depressurisation, either. Internal blast, but,” he used his omnitool to scroll back through the images he had recorded. “Here’s one that came externally, and there are reports of atmospheric raiders operating against the domes. This is dreadfully unfortunate, the Martians justly fear a dome-breach as we do a suit-breach.”
“Free Mars, even the radical ones who do not agree with any remaining ties with Earth, would never strike big domes as that, and especially not with atmospheric raiders. Clark’s strikes on the domes would be far too raw. Do we have any information on the targets?”
“The first Dome was a habitation, but the second one Fera’xero showed,” a tired Elia with bloodshot eyes spoke, fixed on the images, now showing ships manoeuvring as someone talked about evacuations, “the one attacked by atmospheric raiders, I mean. That was a Psi-Corps facility.”
“Damnation.” Zhen'var growled, looking balefully at the screen for a long moment as she gathered her thoughts from a fatigued and scattered brain.”It is my belief that the second target was the primary aim, and I am concerned by the Earth delegation bringing up a worry that the Alliance was harbouring ‘terrorists’ in the Free Colony. Thoughts, my fellow Huáscareños?”
“We’re about to be accused of supporting a terrorist attack,” Nah’dur said very matter-of-factly.
“Concur,” Abebech added.
“But why Mars?” Goodenough ran a hand through his long hair and stared at the screen in frustration. “All right, why Mars? It’s a foreign country to Earth these days here. I thought.”
Elia groaned and squeezed her gloved hands before moving to sit. “Allow me to explain to our comrades, Captain?” The wardroom attended some informality, even in the moment.
“Please do. Not everyone has the same background. While you do, I need to send some urgent follow-up messages. The now very urgent risk is that the Alliance has harboured the planners of this attack, unintentionally.”
Elia grimaced, feeling the worries and confusion around her. “Of course, Captain.” As Zhen’var left, she looked around at her colleagues. “Comrades, Mars was granted independence at the point of the bayonet, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. But the independence is incomplete. Several critical services are managed through Earth. Technically in fact Mars only has representation in the ISA, it relies on the ISA for foreign representation.”
“And one of these services is the Psi-Corps, Elia?” Abebech looked down, having remained standing. She was as composed as Ca’elia.
“...Yes,” Elia said after a frustrated pause. She knew Abebech was a telepath, couldn’t prove it, wasn’t her business necessarily, but she wanted some support as she thought of the civilians who would have been inevitably swept up in the attack on the installation. Like, basically all of them…
“So, an attack on Psi-Corps on Mars.” Jonathan Goodenough fiddled his fingers. “A weak point in their campaign against the Corps? The government has the power to disband it, might be more receptive?”
“It’s possible,” Nah’dur kicked her feet onto a chair, and looked back and forth between the door and the replicator, unable to decide if she wanted to give up sleeping or immediately return to bed. “Go where control over telepaths is weakest, where opposition to the Corps exists because it’s seen as ‘Earth’, hit it hard there. Except, there’s a lot of Martian civilian casualties, so why would anyone be well-inclined toward telepaths after the attack? Something about this doesn’t make sense.”
“Psi-Corps is more than a government department,” Elia replied, clearly uncomfortable. “It’s a culture, a home, a people, with their own language, their own culture, their own standards. I wouldn’t, you know, we don’t talk about it, but these gloves, I could no more take them off than an observant Muslimah take off her headscarf. So Psi-Corps invested heavily in retaining its influence on Mars, because Marsie telepaths are still telepaths. They’re closer to the rest of us than to other Marsies.”
“This entire thing is a set-up, El’sau,” Nah’dur said, using the Dilgar-form of Elia’s name and yawning. “I’m just not sure who’s behind it yet. We’ll get our orders soon?”
“I imagine so, Surgeon-Commander,” Abebech said. “But they might well involve remaining in place and doing nothing. In fact, I am almost certain of that. We would need a request from the Martian government… And even then, the EA would push back.”
“And they might accuse of us of doing it anyway, it appears,” Fera’Xero added.
“Quite. Oh, in fact, certainly,” Abebech elaborated. “The Byron Free Colony opens us to the charge if we are correct. Ah well. Comrades, I suggest you all get some sleep, we will have duties tomorrow.”
The Department Heads and senior officers filed out, slowly, until it was just Elia and Abebech left. Elia looked steadily at Abebech, at the foreign woman from S0T5, with her gloves and her glasses. “They’re killing us,” she said softly. “It’s begun.”
“You will find,” Abebech replied with a gentle, sad smile, “that this is a more common store for Espers than you could imagine. If only it were not so.”
Elia closed her eyes and nodded. When she opened them, they confirmed what her senses had already told her. Abebech was gone, and she kept a tight lock on her own mind that it was usually like she wasn’t really there. Elia was alone. So very, very alone. Stretching her hands, she got up, unable to even think about sleeping, and wandered out to find Va’tor. She needed someone.
The Chai came out of the replicator to the side of the great painting of Captain Grau. It was as hot and delicious as one could ask for, as good as anything Zhen’var could remember from a Chaiwalla back in Mangaluru as a child. She understood nothing of the snobbery of some folks about replicator rations. Earthforce’s had taught her to love the convenience and variety now at her fingertips, even as her body still adjusted to the diet Nah’dur had given her.
As she reached her desk, the workstation pinged an income message on the priority secure channel. Her reports to headquarters had been taken seriously, and urgently. She let out a soft sigh as she reached for the teacup, tapping the acceptance button with her other hand. Stimulants this time of ship’s day were quite necessary for what promised to be a very intense conversation.
“Captain Zhen’var,” a man in Gersallian civilian dress meeted her. “I’m Feraiju, the Admiralty Foreign Ministry Liason. Thank you for your very prompt report. The government of the Earth Alliance had revealed nothing and we were uncertain of how widely this was being reported by Geneva until you confirmed it was actually being broadcast galactically.”
“I do not believe in assuming my superiors have information in my possession unless they have already indicated so. It is my belief based upon personal experience, that this may prove a matter of political crises that will drag in the Alliance for any of several reasons as enumerated in my report.” Taking a sip of her tea, she focused on the screen. “Mars has a very complex relationship with Earthgov. The Psi Corps even more so.”
“That is quite…” Feraiju shook his head wryly. “I understand, Captain, that the closest equivalent anyone has been able to find is the Irish Free State between 1922 - 1931, amongst human examples.”
“An understatement, yes. I do not expect the situation to go predictably, nor calmly. I have briefed my senior officers, and we are standing ready for any of the multitude of possibilities.”
“Nothing at the moment, you will receive any directives from your chain of command when they are decided, Captain. However, I can tell you that there are problems on Mars as a result of the damage that are serious enough that Marsies are actually seeking temporary shelter elsewhere in Earthspace. This is apparently quite irregular and the reason for these temporary refugees, the kind of damage Mars has suffered, has not been made clear. We’re seeking out permission to provide aid to the Mars government, and you will be updated on that. They key thing right now is that the Earth Alliance is actually refusing requests to grant temporary shelter.”
“I can understand why they would not do so. The gravity issue would loom high over any refugees, Luna has always been loyalist by comparison to Mars, and public opinion on Earth is not exactly pro-Mars, it has not been since the Minbari War. As to the irregularity and damage… There were always rumours about black sites on Mars, but I can’t see why anyone would attack an old weapons depot with that level of collateral damage at risk.”
“There is much about the attack which is not at all clear yet. Has the Director of EAI withdrawn, or is there any other indication the private talks have been cancelled?”
“He withdrew for consultations with his government. I expect talks to resume in approximately four hours, but in this situation, I would not expect a great deal from them.”
“Understood, Captain. Hold the line on the fact that we freely accept telepath immigration. I find it interesting that the Director has not seen the situation as one meriting his return to Geneva. Of course, terrorism is intolerable and unacceptable.”
“It is rather more complex…” She trailed off, and shook her head. “I understand my instructions and shall carry them out. I will request reports to support the position that we are attempting to prevent any such crimes, in the event they attempt an ambush with their own reports.”
“Understood. They will be prepared, Captain. You can expect to hear more details in the morning from your chain of command, and I will report on our conversation to the Foreign Ministry and attempt to continue coordination with the appropriate contacts from the EA, ISA and Martian Government. I believe that’s all, Captain.”