[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. Everything is tagged under Nightwind Wednesdays. As is my custom there will be a Thursday post discussing the lessons I have learned.]
Midway Atoll, Earth, United Commonwealth
May 29th, Terran Standard Calendar
1158 Local Time
“Come on in,” Robert said in response to the light knock on the door to small stateroom. “It’s open.”
The young woman walked in carrying a tray of food. “Lunchtime, Robbie,” she said.
“I think you’re the only one who can get away with calling me that, Lesley,” he told her, stroking her cheek affectionately. “In fact, most people call me ‘Mr. Laird.'”
“I’m just lucky, I guess,” she rewarded him with a bright smile.
“Something like that,” he smiled back. She was a perfect Earth Now member: hard working, idealistic and very, very naive. She had joined the group four months ago. He had recognized her almost immediately and made her his personal assistant. Young, buxom, blonde and shapely, he had chosen her for purely physical reasons while allowing her to believe it was her skills and intelligence that had led him to offer her the position. Her wide-eyed naivete had caused her to give in to his charisma almost immediately and join him in his bed her first night on the job. She had been there ever since and would remain until he had no more use for her. “Come on,” he stepped around her and through the door, “Let’s have lunch on deck.”
She followed him out of the room on to the deck of the ship. It was anchored a kilometer off of the tiny Pacific island of Midway, Earth Now’s headquarters. All around the ship the vast, blue expanse of the ocean stretched to the horizons, isolating him from the chaos that now ruled on the great landmasses of the planet.
The history of this tiny dot on the map was nearly palpable, however. Near Midway Atoll the United States Navy had handed the Japanese their first real defeat of the Second World War, using the new technology of the aircraft carrier to its full potential for the first time. It had also been chosen as the top secret location of the signing of the United Commonwealth Charter due to the threat of a terrorist attack on the delegation. He had chosen the location for its history. He could think of no better place from which to rewrite history according to his vision.
“I still don’t understand why you had to use this ship, Robbie,” Lesley said, wrinkling her nose and looking up at the huge superstructure.
“You have no sense of history, my dear,” Laird told her, turning to take in his new favorite toy. “Besides, who wouldn’t want their own battleship?”
“I know I wouldn’t,” she responded, “It’s so..barbaric.”
He laughed. “Barbaric? I think not.”
“Well, it’s at least far too violent for what we are trying to do.”
Shaking his head at her foolishness, Robert sat down at the table bolted into the deck, “Have you ever studied history, Lesley?” he asked.
“Not since high school.”
“So from what great background of knowledge do you draw that conclusion?”
She put the tray on the table and sat across from him. “Well, I know that Earth Now can achieve its goals peacefully,” she responded.
“What makes you think that?” he pressed her.
She paused, visibly confused and uncomfortable. “Well, we just can…can’t we? You’re trying to get rid of the warships in space, after all.”
Robert sighed. “I’m trying to get rid of Earth Command,” he said, “And the United Commonwealth. They have been in power for three hundred years now. We’re changing the social structure of the human race. And anyone who tries to change the structure of a society must be prepared to fight.”
“Do me a favor,” he smiled at her. “Stay young and idealistic forever,” he said. “Never grow old and learn of the great stupidity of the human race.”
“You think people are stupid, Robbie?” she asked. “Why?”
“Because they don’t understand,” he responded gently. “They never want to see things change. They’ll fight against anybody who tries to show them the way, even when it’s the way to a better life. They just don’t understand.”
“So is that why you took this ship?”
“Indeed,” he reached over and patted her shoulder. “I didn’t just want some new toy. I need a way to hold off those who do not understand. And that’s why we now have the New Jersey.”
The U.S.S. New Jersey was one of the last of the battleships. Kept in perfect working condition as a floating museum, it was only fitting that he found use for it as his floating headquarters.
Robert had learned of the condition of the powerful warships during a trip to see the Row as a young child. At the time he had imagined himself as the commander of one of the great, ancient leviathans of the sea. The fantasy had never been completely subdued, even when he had been in the Earth Command Navy, commanding one of the patrol ships. After his court martial and Dishonorable Discharge for an action he had felt entirely justified in taking he had been forced to change his name and appearance, fleeing the courts and looking for a way to get back at the Navy he had once so loved.
The foundation of Earth Now had been his first step. Taking the mantle of an idealistic crusader against the evils of space travel, he had gathered a group of followers. Neo-Luddites, such as Lesley, made up the backbone of the organization. Energetic, hard working and, for the most part, volunteer, they were the public face of the group. They had hung posters, distributed fliers and demonstrated, generally making a nuisance of themselves and distracting the authorities from the second part of the group.
The Specials were a group of highly capable operatives that shared his dissatisfaction with the status quo. Two-hundred forty strong, the Specials carried out the dark, shadowy objectives of Laird’s group and were the keepers of the true Earth Now agenda. He had put them in charge of preparing the necessary ammunition and provisions to take the New Jersey back to sea. In the end the task had been absurdly simple. Taking on the guise of a historical reenactment group, the Specials took the ship out of Pearl Harbor, dumped their Earth Command liaison overboard and made for the Atoll. By the time anyone noticed the missing ship, pandemonium had broken out all over the planet and no one had the time to wonder why only two battleships now floated on The Row.
The massive warship, once used as the centerpiece of huge naval fleets, made an excellent headquarters. Fitted with a custom-built, compact, portable communications suite on the cruise to Midway, she was now a perfect nerve center for his plans.
So far his efforts had been wildly successful. Assassinations had crippled the government beyond any hope of salvage while the mistrust created during the rioting made it impossible to find anyone who wanted to try. While he destroyed the Commonwealth government, Laird had also set in motion his plan to return the world to a state of war.
It was simple, really. All he needed was to utilize an ancient weapon: terror. Carefully planned bombings and shootings occurred daily in some areas, hourly in others. The Specials made it certain that the proper groups took the credit or the blame for the attacks.
Then, of course, came the truly brilliant part of his plan. Fake bombings. An unassuming package left in a San Francisco mass transit station emitted a puff of smoke. When investigators arrived, they found a note which read, “This could have been a real bomb. Watch out next time.” News spread, then was corroborated by similar devices in Johannesburg, Calcutta, Tokyo and even smaller towns. Masked gunmen burst into the middle of a rally in Paris and opened fire with guns loaded with blanks.
Within seventy-two hours the world was in a state of abject panic. Local governments were completely paralyzed, utilities shut down, stores closed and people tried to hide in their homes. Unfortunately for them, very few homes could be run for long with no supplies. People had to take to the streets again. Unnerved by the climate of mistrust and unaccustomed deprivation, people turned on each other. Fighting broke out almost immediately.
Then came his master stroke; the destruction of Rome. When the Eternal City disappeared into a mushroom cloud, the last possibility for civilization based on the old system evaporated, too. The Specials made sure that several groups claimed responsibility almost immediately. Their respective opponents followed by calling for their destruction.
He smiled at the thought of the Commonwealth being torn apart from within by the very groups for which it had supposedly created peace. History was never on the side of those who legislated peace. In the century prior to the creation of the United Commonwealth alone there had been many events to prove that very fact. The fighting in Palestine, the breakup of Yugoslavia and the mutual genocide between those factions, the Korean conflict of 2008 and the Chinese invasion of Taiwan that precipitated the “last” World War in 2043.
Creating the Commonwealth was supposed to end such fighting. On the surface it had, the most obvious effect being the premature end of the War of 2043-2044. But people like Laird knew better. He knew that all it had managed to do was subdue the conflicts, leaving century or millennia old hatreds to simmer unchecked until the right events or person came along to set them off.
Robert knew he was the right person, and the “Messenger Riots” he had created were the perfect series of events.
Members of the Specials had also touched off fighting on the Mars Colony. He had not heard anything from them for a few days, however, and did not know the results of his activities there.
Meanwhile, isolated on Midway, Robert could protect himself from accusations of involvement, not to mention nuclear fallout. Then, when the time was right, he could step back in, use the New Jersey to stop the fighting, and take control of the planet.
Robert took his plate from the tray and took a bite of the fried fish. “Very good, Lesley,” he complimented the young woman. “You’ve outdone yourself.”
“Thank you,” she smiled. “It’s a new recipe.”
He ate a few more bites and decided that he really had two reasons to keep her around. Taking a drink of iced tea, he almost choked when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Sorry to frighten you, Mr. Laird,” Jared Koff, head of the Specialists, said, “But I have some important information.”
“What is it, Jared?”
“I need to tell you this in private, Sir,” the sneak insisted. Thirty years old and completely average in size, height and appearance, Jared made a perfect spy. He also further separated Laird from the activities of the Specialists, allowing him to disavow unsavory activities and shift blame.
“Alright,” Robert stood up and led the other man into the stateroom. “What happened?” he asked, closing the door.
“Two things. One good, one not so good.”
“Give me the good news first.”
“The force that was planning on attacking Geneva arrived today. They are already engaging the defensive forces.”
“How far have they gotten?
“Not far, but we now know that when the 4th Mechanized arrives they will face very weak opposition.”
“Excellent.” Laird smiled, savoring this latest victory. “Now,” his smile faded, “Tell me the bad news.”
“We finally figured out what Semmes is up to,” Jared told him. “One of our agents overheard him talking to some smugglers on Mars.”
“Is Mars back up?” Robert interrupted.
“No, Sir. The agent has been using a high speed stealth shuttle to tail the Phoenix,” Jared said, “He sent us a message from there.”
“Too bad,” the older man shook his head. “I wish I knew what was going on up there.” He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “So what does our guy have to say?”
“Semmes has been organizing a convoy to take supplies out to Europa and Tethys,” Jared told him. “And he recruited Morgan and Fernandez to help him escort it.”
“That is not good Jared, not good at all.”
“No, Sir,” the other man replied, shaking his head.
Robert thought for a moment. “Are any of our ships in the area?”
The spy nodded. “The Dragon is a half-day’s travel away from Luna. It should be able to beat the Phoenix to the convoy.”
“Good.” Laird nodded. “Slip the info to the commander of the Dragon. I don’t want that convoy to get anywhere.”
The young man nodded and left the room.
Robert walked back on to the deck and sat back down at the table.
“Everything okay, hon?” Lesley asked.
“Just fine,” he responded, finishing his lunch.
She stood to take his plate, “I’ll just go get these cleaned up,” she said, turning to leave.
He put his hand on her wrist, stopping her short. “How about you get to that later,” he said. “I can think of better things to do right now.”
“Mmm,” was all she managed as he pulled her close and his lips met hers.
* * *
Luna Area, United Commonwealth
May 30th, 2356 Terran Standard Calendar
1120 Terran Standard Time
Commander Horatio Semmes urged the Phoenix forward as if his will alone would be enough to drive the ship to greater speeds. The patrol ship cut through space toward the convoy assembling near Luna under an increasingly oppressive cloud of doom.
The Phoenix had departed Mars on course for Luna without stopping to check on the fighting inside the Dome 2. Knowing that Mars was large enough to deal with the problem itself, he had decided the greater good could be achieved by pressing on with his mission. Morgan and Fernandez had made it out of the colony with no difficulty. The Gold Brick was now roughly an hour behind the Phoenix and Morgan’s Glory was forty-five minutes farther back but gaining steadily.
Halfway between Mars and Luna, Fernandez had called and informed him that the Gold Brick had detected a small craft shadowing Phoenix, hiding in the sensor blind spot created by the engine wash. Semmes knew that if his ship had been travelling alone they never would have known about their tail. Feeling that his new alliance may have already paid off, Horatio attempted to reverse course and capture the shadow. Their quarry had managed to evade both Phoenix and Gold Brick, disappearing somewhere in the great inky blackness of space. The search had taken nearly a day and cost nearly that much time by pulling Semmes’s ship off course for Earth. Although he thought he saw the glint of a drive flare off to starboard several times, Horatio had stopped trying to find the elusive ship. He didn’t have the time.
The delay did have one benefit, as Morgan’s Glory had nearly caught up with the other two ships. Tina Morgan’s heavily armed and shielded craft had been forced to shut its main engines down six hours out of Mars in order to repair a malfunctioning fuel manifold. If Phoenix hadn’t stopped to make its search Glory would still be forty-three hours behind. Semmes could only assume that he would be facing resistance from both Wyvern and Dragon and Gold Brick didn’t have the firepower to face one of the patrol ships on its own. Glory would tip the scales in his favor.
“Commander Semmes!” Lieutenant Commander Mary Bixby, his Executive Officer, called from the Ops console. “I’m picking up another ship.”
“Can you identify it?” he asked.
She worked the console for a moment. “Yes, Sir. It’s…the Dragon.”
“About ninety degrees off our course, vectoring on the convoy,” she told him. “It looks like it will reach them about ten minutes before we do.”
Semmes took the news like a punch in the gut. Doing his best to maintain his composure, he called down to engineering.
“How are the engines running?” he asked his Chief Engineer.
“Completely up to specs, Commander.”
“Good, we’re about to go into combat, so prepare everyone.”
He closed the line down. “Lieutenant Commander?” he asked, turning back to his Executive Officer. “How long until we reach weapons range on the Dragon?”
“Fifteen minutes, Sir.”
“Great first month, eh Lieutenant Commander?”
“Yes, Sir,” she said, managing a weak smile. “It certainly has been eventful.”
When Captain Anderson had been transferred and Horatio took command, Lieutenant Commander Bixby had been promoted to Executive Officer of the Phoenix. They had not had time to find a replacement for her at the Ops Station, however, so she had been pulling double duty since then. He somehow doubted the situation would change anytime soon. “Put the tac map up on the bridge screen, Ops,” Horatio ordered.
“Aye,” Bixby responded. A moment later the tactical map of the area surrounding the convoy appeared on the screen. The group of basically defenseless transports sat in a cluster in the upper left corner of the screen. An icon labelled Dragon approached it from the right, nearly centered in the upper quadrant of the screen. In the upper right corner of the screen a tiny piece of Luna was visible almost directly behind the Dragon. Another icon indicating the Phoenix approached the convoy from the bottom left corner of the screen.
Semmes stepped up behind the helmsman and leaned over the console. “You ready for this?” he asked.
“Uh, yes Sir.”
Semmes stepped over to Bixby’s station and hit the button to activate the ship wide intercom. “Attention, everyone, this is Commander Semmes speaking,” he said, “We are about to begin a drastic slowing maneuver. Please sit down and strap yourself in.”
The bridge crew fell silent for long minutes. On the screen, the icon representing the Dragon approached the convoy. It flashed briefly, indicating weapons fire. One of the freighter icons flashed a second later and the color changed from blue to amber, indicating heavy damage.
Semmes stepped over to his seat and sat down. He strapped himself in and braced for what he knew was about to happen.
“Two hundred thousand kilometers,” the helmsman announced at the predetermined moment. “Slowing.”
All ships propelled themselves through space by accelerating at a constant rate. This allowed them to both move quickly and simulate gravity. The generally accepted rate of acceleration was between one half and one gravity.
Constant acceleration necessitated an equal amount of deceleration, however. Standard procedure called a ship to cut the engines and flip end for end at the midpoint of the journey and point them in the exact opposite direction. Firing back along the direction of travel, the engines would then slow the ship, bringing it to a stop at the destination.
There were other ways of stopping, however. Most required straining the ship’s engines and risked destroying the structural integrity of a vessel. Captains only tried different braking methods in cases of extreme emergency.
Horatio felt he was dealing with an extreme emergency. As soon as Gold Brick discovered the tail, Semmes decided to hold the braking maneuver until approximately the three- quarters point of the journey from Mars to the Moon. Phoenix had started braking several hours before, but would still had a lot of speed to bleed off.
The pitch of the engines changed, accompanied by a long shudder and the sound of protesting metal. A force the equivalent of seven gravities pressed him into the chair. He sagged in to the chair, feeling like his skin was about to become loose and run down his bones like liquid. Something crashed and shuddered deep in the bowels of the ship behind him. Reflexes kicked in and he tried to check, but any attempt at movement was futile.
For long heartbeats all they could do was hold on and hope the ship did the same. Finally, after a few minutes that stretched in to infinity, the noise and shaking died down and the normal sounds of the ship returned.
“We’re at safe approach speed, Sir,” the Ensign at the helm reported. “Six hundred kilometers from the convoy, orienting on the Dragon.”
Horatio let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and stood up. “Excellent work, Ensign,” he nodded. “Steady on.”
The voice of his Chief Engineer crackled over the bridge speakers. “What are you trying to do, Commander?” he asked,
“Tear us all apart?”
“Sorry about that,” Semmes said, activating the comm system. “We had an argument with physics.”
“We did, I hope,” Horatio responded, far too tense to laugh with his engineer at the small joke. “How did the old girl hold up?”
“Everything looks good. Try not to take us in to combat before we get a chance at a full workup, though.”
“Um…” Semmes felt the blood begin to return to his face and, with it, his sense of humor, “I’ll see what I can do, but I think the Dragon might have something to say about that.”
“We’re ready down here. Give ’em hell.”
“Will do.” Semmes cut off the communication, grinning.
The Executive Officer called out from the Ops station. “Dragon is changing course, Sir,” she said, “Vectoring in on Luna.”
“Follow it,” he ordered.
“Aye, following,” the helmsman confirmed. “Changing course now.”
The Dragon headed for the moon, pursued by the slightly faster Phoenix. For twenty minutes Horatio watched the tactical display as his ship drew inexorably into firing range. “Switch to direct visual,” he ordered when he felt the moment was right to open fire.
The tactical map dropped off the screen, replaced by a view of the area directly in front of the Phoenix. The scene in front of Horatio took him almost completely by surprise. The Dragon was just tens of kilometers above the desolate surface of the moon and decreasing altitude.
“She’s going for the deck,” Bixby reported.
“Helm, stay on it,” Horatio ordered.
The other ship levelled out bare meters above the surface and blasted around a rock formation. It weaved in between two outcroppings and zoomed over a ridge, nearly scraping the boulders lining the top with its hull.
“Fire whenever you get an open shot,” Semmes told his Executive Officer. “I want that ship out of my sky.”
The Dragon dove to the bottom of a canyon and led the Phoenix on a weaving course around huge boulders and through sharp turns, constantly changing its height and varying speed. Throughout the chase the other ship managed to avoid staying in front of the Phoenix long enough for Lieutenant Commander Bixby to achieve a target lock.
The walls of the canyon suddenly fell away. The sound of a target lock sounded from the Ops station. “Missile one away,” Bixby called, “Missile two away.”
On the screen the two missiles launched from the Phoenix tracked straight in toward the tail of the Dragon, defenseless now that it had no terrain to hide behind. Out in the open it had nowhere to hide. The other Commander was not quite out of tricks yet. The Dragon fired a pair of chaff canisters and stood on its tail, rocketing up and away from the surface.
The chaff canisters released twin clouds of thin metallic strips. Technology as old as guided missiles, chaff had a single purpose: to throw off guidance systems and allow the targeted craft to escape from a hard lock.
Dragon‘s evasion attempt was a complete success. The missiles couldn’t track the patrol ship’s radical direction change, plowing straight through the cloud instead. Upon passing the countermeasures, they followed their programming and searched again for the target.
One tenth of a second later both missiles acquired one.
The bridge crew of the Phoenix could only look on in stunned silence, powerless to stop the inevitable as the missiles tracked straight into the dome of Luna base.
“Oh, God,” Horatio finally muttered, breaking the silence after what seemed like days. “What have we done?”
The helmsman fired the reverse thrusters and cut the main engines, bringing the ship to a hover above the ruined dome. They surveyed the wreckage, trying to figure out how to undo the scene before them.
“Call the Brick and the Glory,” Semmes croaked out, “Let them know what happened. And we need to organize a party to see if there are any survivors.”
“Sir,” Bixby called out, “The Dragon appears to be vectoring on the convoy. What do you want to do?”
Horatio closed his eyes for a long second, hoping the scene would be different when he opened them again. It wasn’t.
“Order the convoy to scatter in the direction of the Brick,” he finally said. “We have to look for survivors.”