[Author’s Note: This is a novel I wrote about fifteen years ago. It was my first attempt at writing anything longer than a history paper or short story. I’ll be putting it on here on Wednesdays and probably posting my thoughts about it on Thursdays. The Intro is here and Chapters 1 and 2 are here. As is my custom there will be a Thursday post discussing the lessons I have learned.]
Earth Command Shipyards, Venus Orbit
May 18th, 2356, Terran Standard Calendar
1022, Terran Standard Time
The shuttle dove toward the small speck off in the distance. As it slowly took the form of a ship, David allowed himself to grow more and more excited. He knew the ship before him was his ship, the Nightwind. The most powerful ship humanity had ever produced was rising to meet him. And it was his. All his.
Gradually the ship grew large enough to allow David to make out its details, first elongating, then widening out. As it grew he realized just how little help the pictures and schematics the Admiral had shown him were. Diametrically opposite to the appearance of the squat, blunt ECS Phoenix, the Nightwind possessed an organic grace singularly lacking in other Earth Command ships. From a sharp point the bow spread out in an arrowhead shape. Halfway up the bow a round lump jutted out, a small bulge in the smooth, windowless expanse of metal, slightly mottled from the outer anti-radiation coating. Behind the arrowhead two spars connected the bow to the after section, a smooth, elliptical structure over twice as long as the arrowhead. The aft section, according to his schematic, contained much of the ship’s storage space and the engineering section. Smoothly tapering into a point at the very end, the ellipse almost gave the impression of a giant, elongated teardrop. Four tails spread out from the tapered end at ninety-degree angles. At the ends of the tails the engines sat at idle, waiting to launch the ship across the night.
The shuttle swept past the bow section before performing a fly over of the engineering section and turning around. It headed back in towards the bow section and the small craft bay between the spars at the back of the arrowhead. It was here that the ship’s sheer size finally hit David.
Nearly a kilometer in length and massing nearly three quarters of a million metric tons the ship was four times the size of his old ship, the ECS Phoenix. Only the huge colony ships: Jove and, until recently, Winged Messenger were larger.
Rotating to face back out toward space, the shuttle gently touched down in the large, uniformly grey shuttle bay. A blast door at the back of the bay opened and two lines of sailors filed out to form an honor guard. Three officers strode down the line, coming to a stop at the rear of the small craft. The ramp dropped and David stepped out.
“Captain on deck!” a petty officer yelled. The sailors in the bay saluted as one.
David returned the salute and looked at the officer. “Permission to come aboard?”
“Permission granted, Sir!”
David then turned to the middle officer in the group of three before him. The muscular, brown haired officer saluted him. “Commander Walter
Gregory, Sir. Acting commander of ECS Nightwind, prepared to turn over command.”
“Consider command transferred, Mr. Gregory. I’m Captain David Anderson.”
“It’s a pleasure, Sir. This is Lieutenant Commander Sara Jackson, head engineer,” he said, gesturing to the petite brunette on his left, “And this is Lieutenant Commander Mark Templeton, head Ops officer,” he pointed to the stocky, ebon-skinned man on his right.
David saluted each in turn. He turned back to his Executive Officer. “Is everything ready to go, Commander?”
“The Marine contingent boarded yesterday. The fighter squadrons joined up about an hour ago,” Gregory responded. “We are fully crewed, fully armed and fully supplied. Nightwind is ready for your orders, Sir.”
“Let’s head for the bridge then, Commander,” David said, gesturing towards the door. “I will have to save the tour for later.”
The Commander led the other three officers out of the bay and into a lift. As the small group rode up to the bridge, David noticed something. He turned to Gregory with a quizzical look. “Commander, are we moving yet?”
His XO smiled. “No, Sir.”
“So then how is there gravity?”
“One of the alien technologies in this ship is a gravity generating system, Sir,” Lieutenant Commander Jackson volunteered, “We now have the ability to create a mobile system that can handle any size vessel. Nightwind is, of course, the first to use it.”
“Of course,” David nodded in appreciation. “That should make life easier.”
“It also allows us to travel faster, assuming it works,” the woman added. “There are still a few bugs to work out in the system.”
“What do you mean ‘travel faster.'”
“The gravitational system compensates for the effects of acceleration on the ship. Now, not only do we not need to accelerate to simulate gravity, but if we are are going at, say, three g’s we won’t even notice. Again, though, it may not be perfect.”
“From what the Admiral told me, Lieutenant Commander,” David tapped on the wall, “I’m surprised you have all the wiring covered up.”
“We’ve been working nonstop to prepare for your arrival, Sir.”
The lift door opened, revealing an empty corridor. At the far end another door led to the ship’s bridge. David paused as he entered, unsure of what to make of the room. He turned to Gregory, “Are you sure this is the right place?”
“Been up here hundreds of times, Captain,” the XO responded, offering a knowing smile. “We figured that with a new ship we would need to create a new way of doing things.”
The group stood at the back of a smooth, oval-shaped room colored in a simple shade of gunmetal. About twenty meters long, six wide and four or five high, it seemed like an over-sized, spartan room. Against all design convention, less than half the floor space appeared to hold anything useful. A raised platform stood in the center of the room, surrounded by a huddle of consoles. The area outside the consoles was flat and uniformly gray. David walked up to the edge of the platform and mounted the two steps. Gregory followed, offering the Captain a rundown of the setup.
“These,” the Commander put his hands on the back of the chairs in the center of the dias, “Are our chairs.”
“I’d gathered,” David turned around slowly, deciding that being in the middle of the room didn’t take away the appearance of wasted space. A navigation console at the leading edge of the dias faced what he supposed was the front. Two more, apparently belonging to the engineering and tactical operations officers, defined the equator of the platform, both facing in toward the captain’s chair. A communications console rounded out the equipment. The room’s only other features were a pair of doors, the one he entered through and a second, labeled “Captain’s Office.”
“So what is this?” David asked after a moment, “Some sort of joke?”
Templeton laughed. He stood at the tactical operations console, running his hands over the controls. “If you’ll allow me a brief demonstration, Sir.”
“By all means.”
“This,” the Lieutenant Commander said, “Is standard running mode.” The forward section of the room’s wall became a viewscreen displaying the familiar star field of the Solar System at Templeton’s command. “We use it for navigation and it’s a visual communications screen.” The screen switched, replaced by a yellow grid pattern. “It’s also the tactical screen.”
Gregory nodded at the Ops commander. “Go to Combat Mode.” He turned to the Captain. “I’d hold on to something if I were you, Sir.”
The tactical overlay disappeared and once again became an outside view. This time, however, the rest of the room joined in. David suddenly found himself standing in empty space. Stars surrounded him, the walls, the ceiling, even beneath his feet. His knees buckled as a sudden sense of vertigo descended.
“Told you to hold on,” Gregory said, steadying the Captain.
“Nightwind is designed to fight enemies in all directions,” Templeton explained, “And to eventually be the centerpiece of entire fleets.”
“And you did all this in two years?” David asked.
“Well, no, actually,” Gregory responded, “Many of the components on the ship were put on the drawing board almost two decades ago. Nothing could be done until the engines were available, however.”
Now more amazed with the bridge than disappointed, David spun slowly in place. “Is everyone aboard who should be aboard, Commander Gregory?” he asked the new Executive Officer.
“Yes, Sir,” he nodded, “Full crew of five hundred and twenty is aboard, and all families reported yesterday.”
“Excellent. We’ll leave…” David stopped, furrowing his brow in confusion. “Commander, did I just hear you say ‘families?'”
“Yes, Sir. Many of the crew have families aboard.”
Angry that no one had informed him there would be civilians on board, David rounded on his new Executive Officer. “Doesn’t anyone realize this is a warship, Commander?”
“It was decided early on, Sir” Walter responded defensively, “Due to the type of ship Nightwind is she might be away from Earth for months or years at a time. So space was made for the families of the crew.”
“I wish Admiral Belden had briefed me on this. This is no place for families.”
The Commander sighed. “You mean nobody told you about this, Sir?”
“That’s what I’m trying to say.”
“Ensign Lindros,” Gregory turned toward the comm officer, “Get in contact with Admiral Belden so we can work this out.”
“No,” David ordered. “Cancel that. We need to get going. This can wait until we get back.”
“Aye, Sir,” Gregory agreed.
“Helm, are we ready to go?”
“Yes, Sir,” the young Lieutenant at the console responded.
“Excellent. Bring us about on course for Tethys,” David said. “Mr. Templeton, please put the viewscreen back on running mode.” He then turned toward the engineering station. “Lieutenant Commander Jackson, is the conduit drive ready to go?”
“Ye…yes Sir. It’s on spec, Sir,” she responded from his left.
“You seem hesitant.”
“Well, Sir, the Conduit Drive has never actually been used.”
“You’ve at least tested it, then?”
“No, Sir. We haven’t had time.”
“Great,” David sighed. “Just great.”
“Sir,” came the voice of the lieutenant at the navigation console. “Course is laid in for Tethys.”
“Well, no time better than now to find out if the drive works. Are you ready, Lieutenant?”
May 18th, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
1045, Terran Standard Time
Robert Laird stood at the window of the hotel penthouse he had turned into his base of operations, his attention focused on the commotion in the street below. He smiled.
Everything was going according to plan.
Three days earlier — at an Earth Now-organized protest — a rock had been thrown at a sergeant of the 5th Mechanized Battalion as the unit stood guard around the Earth Command Headquarters on Oahu. The unit commander, unsure of how to properly react, had taken the worst possible course of action, ordering his unit to apprehend the rock thrower. Heavily armed soldiers pushing through a crowd caused a panic and three people were trampled to death in the ensuing stampede. The rock thrower was not caught.
Early the next morning the protest began again, but this time most of the crowd had rocks. Several also carried the ages-old weapon of civil unrest known as the Molotov Cocktail. Basically a glass bottle filled with a mixture of gasoline and soap with a gasoline-soaked rag stuck into the open neck, it was not so much a weapon of war as a terror device. All the user needed to do was light the rag on fire and throw it in the general direction of something that needed to be set on fire. The bottle would explode on impact, creating a firestorm that probably had a much greater psychological impact than anything else.
The 5th Mechanized had very little choice of how to react. They opened fire on the crowd, killing twenty protesters and injuring many times that number. Four more people were killed and another twenty required hospitalization after the ensuing rush to escape the guns.
Shocked and outraged, people all over the world poured into the streets protesting the United Commonwealth’s actions. Order was already breaking down. No one in authority understood how to properly deal with civil unrest, as the commander of the 5th Mechanized had amply proven. The army was composed of play soldiers who had never had to fight for real or kill anyone. The police were fat, lazy bureaucrats who pushed papers back and forth across their desks, mostly keeping track of the complete lack of crime in the prosperous Commonwealth.
No, they were not going to be able to stop him. They were soft and content. He was hard, angry, hungry with a hunger that would not be satisfied until he had his revenge.
He was, without a doubt, the proverbial right man in the right place. For those who paid attention to history it was obvious the United Commonwealth was slowly falling apart. After the explosion in productivity and huge advancements in living conditions the all over the world that occurred over the Commonwealth’s first century things had slowly begun to unravel. At first it seemed like the world was simply trying out a new way of bringing the nations together to discuss issues and prevent war. Frightened at the potential for mutual destruction if the War of 2043-2044 was allowed to progress, no one raised a voice against the change. As the quality of living steadily increased the new organization’s power grew until the world’s militaries combined and nations lost all vestiges of autonomy.
By the end of the Twenty-Second Century dissident voices were clamoring for attention. At first it was easily ignored, passed off as the complaints of people who did not understand the issues. Nationalistic movements slowly emerged, gaining power and momentum over the course of the Twenty-Third Century. Regional conflicts broke out, only to be quashed by the Commonwealth. At the beginning of the Twenty-Fourth Century terrorism reared its ugly head. A wave of attacks nearly brought the Commonwealth to a halt and threatened to ignite all-out war.
The government’s response was heavy handed. Large-scale assaults on suspected strongholds, secret tribunals and government cover-ups became commonplace. Far from helping the situation, the response revealed the Commonwealth’s weaknesses. Poor contingency planning and an undermanned, untried Army seemed to guarantee future unrest.
With the elections of 2325 a liberal government came to power. Several of the old nations were restored to positions of prominence and regional governments received greater levels of control. On the surface the Commonwealth seemed to calm down and become a big, happy family once again.
Some people knew better. Some knew the truth. He knew the truth. Drawing together the Earth Now movement as a front, Laird created a network of like-minded people. His supporters all agreed with him that the United Commonwealth was nothing but a teetering anachronism. Before he had arrived, though, none had been sure of what to do about it.
Most had actually feared the results of the breakdown of the Commonwealth. They were sheep, scared of what would happen if the shepherd was killed. Because of his efforts, though, Laird had turned them into wolves. Now that order was breaking down, his wolves would tear apart the real sheep.
Even though news of the Winged Messenger’s destruction came at the wrong time for him, it didn’t really matter too much. Public outcry after an incident like that would have been enough to bring the United Commonwealth to its knees on its own.
He was simply in the right place to make sure it stayed there.
No one would have expected the actions he took over the past few days. His parents, from what little he knew, were loyal Commonwealth supporters. They died when he was two, caught in the middle of one of the myriad conflicts between the Commonwealth and its smaller enemies.
His aunt and uncle had taken him in and raised him in a succession of neo-Luddite communes. The NeoLuds believed that technology was robbing humanity of everything good and important and attempted to get back to an older, simpler lifestyle. Communes sprang up in Australia, Argentina, South Africa and England, the spiritual home of the movement. By the time Robert was taken to live with his aunt and uncle the NeoLud movement boasted over half a million members.
The United Commonwealth basically ignored the group, believing it to be a harmless fad. Its members enjoyed almost unprecedented freedom, moving from place to place without having to register or even provide papers. Robert would come to see it as a breeding ground for dissent and the perfect place to recruit an army, but as a teenager he simply saw it as a backward, hopelessly useless collection of dreamers and idealists.
At sixteen he joined the Earth Command Navy, providing forged papers to show he was eighteen. For five years he worked his way through the noncommissioned ranks, but lacked the connections and resources to gain a higher rank than Chief Petty Officer. Then came Tethys.
Tethys was a moon of Saturn. Odysseus Basin, the Commonwealth research facility which was the farthest insystem settlement from Earth, suffered food shortages and famines on a fairly regular cycle. No one could explain them or predict them exactly, but once the warning signs showed a convoy was assembled and dispatched. Laird was assigned to one such convoy at the head of a Marine security detachment. As his ship docked with the station a mob surged into the cargo bay and pressed against the door, desperate for the new shipment of foodstuffs. The military governor of Odysseus Basin ordered his detachment to open fire on the crowd. It soon dispersed, leaving five dead and twelve wounded Tethians lying on the deck.
Laird was given a promotion to Lieutenant, with the understanding that his new rank was in exchange for his silence. Six months later he had a nervous breakdown and took a furlough. He returned to the NeoLud commune in Argentina and used his leave of absence to create his master plan for destroying the United Commonwealth. Within three months he had met with most of the leaders of the NeoLuds, as well as recruiting several like-minded military officers. Upon returning to the Navy he was assigned to train to take command of one of the patrol ships and promptly began working on a plan to make use of a warship.
A few years later he was promoted to Captain. Shortly afterwards he befriended the head of Mars Command and learned the Martians were unhappy with the United Commonwealth’s heavy-handed tactics. He immediately attempted to commandeer his patrol ship and take it to Mars.
His officers had not understood the importance of his mission. A cadre of mutineers conspired to stop him and nothing he did convinced them that he was doing the right thing. He was arrested and given over to the United Commonwealth for a court martial and eventual execution. On his way to the tribunal he escaped and returned to the anonymity of the NeoLud society for long enough to change his physical appearance and rally the Earth Now movement. Taking the destruction of the Winged Messenger as a portent for the fall of the United Commonwealth, he had struck fast.
He was already winning his war, as the scene below amply proved.
Laird turned from the window as the door behind him opened. A short, blonde man of about twenty-five entered the room carrying a folder. Twisted and cruel, he was a perfect fit to his role as a member of the small section of Earth Now to which its leader had entrusted his true goals.
“I used to think the neo-Luddites were weak and useless. I held the entire movement in contempt,” Laird said, surveying the destruction. “Then came Brisbane. Then Buenos Aires. Then Liverpool. Now we’re in Geneva and they again show their worth.”
“What do you mean?” the other man asked.
“They were never more than idealists,” Laird smiled. “Trying to change the world with peaceful means. They thought the Commonwealth would listen to their message and change. It wasn’t until nearly ten thousand died in Brisbane at the hand of the Army’s darling, General Schroeder, that they developed a backbone.” He paused. “But I suppose you didn’t come here receive a history lesson.”
The other man nodded. “We have received three communications, Mr. Laird,” he reported, voice barely above a whisper.
“All good news, I hope.”
The other man offered a smile frightening enough to make small children cry. “Yes, Mr. Laird. Very good news.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“First, the Captain of the Wyvern has informed us that Captain Turner of Dragon, Captain Hunt of the Zephyr and Captain Anderson of the Phoenix have been reassigned. Their executive officers have been given temporary command of the ships.”
“That is good news,” Laird responded, mulling the implications of such a drastic change in the command structure of the Navy.
Wyvern was a big part of his plan. Her captain was one of his old friends from his time in the Navy and had been easy to sway to the cause. Still, that had left him with three out of the four patrol ships as opponents. The Executive Officer of the Dragon was on his payroll and when the time came to take overt action Laird had considered using that asset to take Dragon out of the fight. This new development made that unnecessary. He now had, for all intents and purposes, a Navy to equal Earth Command’s. The Zephyr and Phoenix were still problems. He had been incapable of planting an agent on either ship, and he knew neither commander would give up their loyalties easily. Commander Horatio Semmes of the Phoenix would be an especially big problem, maybe bigger than his old Captain, David Anderson.
“Any word as to where the Captains have been reassigned?” he inquired, doubting it would be anywhere they could do more damage than at the helms of their ships.
“No, Mr. Laird,” the agent shook his head. “There are rumors of a big secret project, but no one knows what or where it is.”
“Very well. What’s next?”
“The 4th Mechanized Battalion has achieved their objective. Operations will go off ahead of schedule.”
“Excellent. What else?”
“Mr. Koff has reported that the package is on its way. You may take delivery at any time.”
Laird offered the agent one of his wolfish grins. “You’ve just made my day. Tell everyone to pack up. It’s time to move to our new headquarters.”
“Yes, Mr. Laird.”
“Oh, and send a message to all of our operatives. It’s time to begin the next phase.”
The other man nodded once, then walked out of the room. Laird couldn’t help but raise a fist in celebration. His victory was almost guaranteed.