First, a couple of items:
1. I am in the process of improving my woefully inadequate social media presence. I started a Twitter account for announcements and communication about my books and related topics. I will tweet a bit more often than I send emails to the mailing list, but I'm still not going to waste anyone's time telling you all what I had for lunch and other silliness. I'll probably make some comments on works in progress and maybe even comment on books I'm reading myself (though writing take a giant bite out of one's reading time). If you want to follow me, I am @jayallanwrites
2. I'm going to be sending some freebies to the email list over the next few months. This will be short stories, samples of things I'm working on, and even a book or two. So if you haven't signed up for the list, you may want to do it now at http://www.crimsonworlds.com. You will NOT get spammed with foolishness...I doubt I average more than one email a month, and most of those are to announce new releases (or to give away stuff).
And now, without further delay...Chapter 4.
AS Bunker Hill
Orbiting Wolf 359 VI
“We can move this data around all day, but there’s just no way to cover everything.” Augustus Garret sat in one of the sleek metal chairs in Admiral Compton’s conference room. It was in this very compartment that Compton had met with Roderick Vance, General Holm, and Erik Cain to plan the daring – and highly risky - actions that ultimately salvaged the rebellions…and saved Garret himself from Gavin Stark’s prison. Every time he sat here it reminded him that he hadn’t been present. He hadn’t been there because he’d let himself fall into Stark’s trap. That wouldn’t happen again; he swore that much to himself. Augustus Garret would never let his guard down again. Not ever.
“No. No way.” Terrance Compton sat opposite Garret, staring at a large ‘pad displaying lists of ships and personnel. “The supply situation is good at least. Jack Winton’s done a hell of a job on logistics. Good call on your part luring him back in.”
Garret nodded. “Yes.” He allowed himself a little smile. “I’ve never seen anyone with a better head for moving stuff around. I’d blow my brains out if I had to do it every day, but he’s a virtuoso.” Garret was a combat officer through and through, and he had to constantly struggle to make himself pay attention to details like logistics. But his navy would cease to function without the services Winton’s division provided, and he was grateful to have someone he could trust to run it.
Compton grinned for a few seconds, but it quickly faded. “But we just don’t have the combat assets.” He exhaled loudly. “And we won’t for at least three years…and maybe five.” The Directorate had managed to secretly take control of the mothballed ships of the Strategic Reserve, crewing them with their own personnel. Garret and his loyal ships had been compelled to hunt them down and destroy them, and they took their own losses doing it. They were lucky if they could put a third of the strength into space they’d had at the end of the war.
Garret sighed. “Look, I’m just going to say it.” He had a sour look on his face, like he tasted something bad. “We’re not going to be able to garrison the population centers.” There were just too many Alliance colonies and not enough fleet units available. “If we put undersized squadrons in every system, we’re just throwing them away if it comes to war.” He took a deep breath. “We have two absolutely vital locations, and we need to defend them at all costs.”
“Here and Armstrong.” Compton interjected, completing Garret’s thought.
“Yes.” Garret nodded solemnly. “Here and Armstrong.”
Wolf 359 was vital. The shipyards orbiting the fifth planet were by far the biggest available outside the Sol system and, after the events of the past few years, no one in the naval command wanted to put too many eggs in its Earthly basket. The facilities were a beehive of activity, with four new Yorktown class capital ships under construction. They wouldn’t be ready for another three years at least, but when they were it would go a long way to bringing the fleet up to strength. The yards themselves were also under construction, with a massive expansion of the production facility taking place even as the ships themselves were being built there.
Armstrong was even more important. The planet was home to the Marine and naval headquarters and training facilities, as well as the giant Marine medical center, now being expanded into a joint services facility. Garret flip-flopped on whether he thought that level of concentration was good or bad, but that was how they’d decided to proceed, and now they had to be damned sure to defend it.
“At least Armstrong’s civilian population will be protected as well.” Compton was trying to sound positive. “And of course, Arcadia will be covered by the fleet positioned here.” One of the leading worlds in the recent rebellions and now the new Colonial Confederation, Arcadia was the third planet in the Wolf 359 system, just an astronomical stone’s throw from the massive shipyards orbiting world number five.
“We do have one thing that’s helpful, though.” Garret was glancing down at the ‘pad as he spoke. “Our gains in the war really rationalized our outer systems. Most of our worlds on the Rim are deep in our own territory relative to the other Powers.” The map on the large ‘pad was a stylized 2D representation of human-occupied space. The interconnecting lines representing warp gate connections between the systems looked like a large glowing spiderweb. Garret stared at the CAC and Caliphate systems in particular. The red and orange dots representing those Powers’ holdings were fairly close to the Alliance’s primary colonies, but they were on the other side of those inner worlds from the frontier. “I’ve pulled everything back from the outer sectors to beef up our core forces.” He pointed toward the frontier area on the display, where all of the dots were a uniform blue. “Even so, we’ll still be reacting in any new conflict. If the CAC or the Caliphate hit us, they’re going to take whatever systems they target, and we’re going to be left responding, trying to take them back.”
Compton sighed. “The Marines are even in worse shape. Most of these planets have nothing defending them but militia.” He was tapping his fingers on the table nervously as he spoke. “Fortunately, neither the CAC nor the Caliphate is ready for a new war.” He looked at Garret. Friends and comrades for 40 years, they could read each other’s unspoken thought…we hope they’re not ready. Any aggression would have been suicide a few years earlier, when the Alliance was in a preeminent position after the war. But the rebellions and the internal fighting and scheming had shattered the Alliance military and squandered its dominance. War was still unlikely in the short term, but it was no longer unthinkable.
They both paused for a while, perhaps half a minute, each of them staring at the map and the columns of figures scrolling along the edges of the ‘pad. “I think we could pull more from the base on Farpoint.” Compton was reading the deployment notes on the ‘pad, though he already knew them by heart. “Honestly, we could just about close the base entirely. Forty years ago it looked like that was going to be a hotly contested sector, but now there’s no enemy within 6 transits.”
Farpoint was a continuing lesson in the need to employ long-term thinking when naming worlds. At the time it was founded it was the deepest into space man had yet ventured, but now the name was somewhat of a joke. The planet served as an ersatz capital and administrative center for the Alliance’s rimworlds, but it was at least four transits from the frontier along any warp path.
“I think you’re right.” Garret glanced down at the map, sliding his finger to move Farpoint to the center of the display. “We need to keep the base functioning to support the transport and colony ships heading to the Rim, but we can go to a skeleton crew.” He paused for an instant, thinking about the forces currently stationed there. “Let’s leave Stingray, Raptor, and Hornet….” The three vessels were fast attack ships, and they would serve well for general patrol and policing. “…and reassign the rest of the 5th Fleet to the Armstrong forces.” He looked up at Compton. “What do you think?”
“I’d do it.” Compton inhaled deeply, holding the breath for a few seconds before exhaling. His tone was tentative, uncertain. “There’s no rational reason not to, but something about it still bothers me. It feels wrong to leave a base that size with such a small squadron.” He rubbed his fingers along his temples – the small headache he’d had when the strategy session started was getting worse. “I still say do it, though. We need those ships to cover Armstrong…at least until the stationary defenses are upgraded.”
The planet Armstrong had been fairly well-protected, but its new status as headquarters for the Colonial Confederation’s military forces demanded an entirely new level of fortification. A dozen orbital installations were under construction, each bristling with weaponry and defensive systems. But it would be several years before they were complete, and until then the nerve center of the Alliance military would be protected by mobile fleet units.
“OK, so we’ve got First Fleet at Armstrong.” Garret was sliding his fingers along the ‘pad, moving ship names into place in a series of columns. “I will take direct command there.” He stared down at the screen, doublechecking the list of ships. “I can split my time between headquarters planetside and the flagship...” He looked at the list again. “…which will be Lexington.”
Garret paused, his eyes still focused on the lists of available vessels. “The forces you have here at Wolf 359 will be the redesignated Second Fleet.” His fingers slid more ship names into a box marked Second Fleet. “You’ll continue to command here.” He glanced up at his companion as he spoke.
Compton nodded. “I think we can defend both systems against any realistic threat.” He looked back at Garret, his expression troubled. “But what about a reaction force?” He slid his finger across the ‘pad, centering a box with a large Roman numeral III on it. “Third Fleet is a joke. There’s not enough there to counter any serious enemy attack.” He glanced next to the Third Fleet box to a similar area marked with a IV. “And Fourth Fleet is even worse. Calling it a fleet is a bad joke.”
“I know.” Garret leaned back in his chair. “But there’s nothing to be done about it….except…” He slid a datachip across the table. “I worked out a plan, but I want it kept secret. I don’t even want it on the network.” He hated having to think that way, especially in his own navy, but after his experiences at the hands of Gavin Stark, he trusted almost no one. Stark’s organization had infiltrated the navy far more effectively than Garret would have thought possible, and he wasn’t going to forget that.
Compton reached out and picked up the chip. He too had become more careful since the true extent of Alliance Intelligence scheming was exposed. But he was worried about Garret. His friend had become truly paranoid, suspecting everyone except those very few who were closest to him. Compton understood, but he also knew how much damage it could do. The navy was a team, and a good team had to function based on trust. Garret had always had faith in the men and women who served under him, and they had followed him to hell and back. Now he looked at them all and wondered if they were spies.
“I’ll review it.” He lowered his voice, though it was just an instinctive reaction to the secrecy. They were alone, and the room was sealed. No one could hear them. “What is it?”
“It’s a plan to subdivide First and Second Fleets into tiered task forces.” Garret also spoke softly, though it was unclear if it was intentional or if he was subconsciously emulating Compton. “It will allow us to evaluate any enemy action and detach segments of the fleets to reinforce the reaction forces. The tiers are based on threat levels. If an enemy attack is big, we know they’ve tied down a lot of their forces and won’t have them available to move on Armstrong or Wolf 359. That will let us peel off squadrons from the garrisoning fleets to supplement our reaction forces.” He shifted again in his chair, but he couldn’t get comfortable. He was on edge – too little sleep, too much work. The back of his neck was one big knot. “The tiers are carefully organized to complement the reaction forces. That way we have well-organized fleets rather than ad-hoc combos of whatever ships are around. The AIs of the ships in the tiered forces will all have protocols for both fleets. They will be able to instantly plug into either command structure.”
Compton smiled. “That is brilliant, Augustus.” He scolded himself for not thinking of it. “It’s as close as we can come to cloning those ships and having them two places at once.” His head was really pounding now despite the two analgesics he’d taken before the meeting. How, he wondered, can they regrow lost limbs but still not come up with a decent headache remedy?
Garret arched his back in the chair, still trying to get comfortable. “It doesn’t really give us more strength, but by doing some planning now we’ll be ready to react more quickly. If we have to do some shuffling of forces, it will be better organized than some last minute cut and paste job.”
The two of them sat quietly for several minutes, both deep in thought. Finally, Garret rose slowly, stretching slightly to drive away the stiffness in his arms and legs. He started to roll his head, but he decided that getting rid of the tension in his neck was a lost cause. “Well, Terrence, I think I will get a couple hours of sleep if I can manage it.” He turned as his companion rose, and he extended his hand. No salutes between these old friends…just a warm handshake. “I’ve got to leave early tomorrow. You have things in hand here, and I need to get back to Armstrong.”
“Take care, Augustus.” Compton’s voice was friendly, but a touch subdued. “I’ll hold down the fort here. You just get that mess in Armstrong under control.” He smiled at his friend and superior. “After all, I wouldn’t want to make you look bad.”
“No…” Garret smiled warmly. “We couldn’t have that now, could we?” He turned and walked toward the doorway, the hatch opening automatically as he approached. He glanced back from the entry. “I’ll see you before I leave, Terrance.”
Compton nodded and watched Garret walk out into the corridor, the hatch sliding shut behind him. He stood quietly for a couple minutes then walked slowly toward the end of the room. “Open outer shield.”
“Opening outer shield, Admiral Compton.” The ship’s master AI had a pleasant sounding voice, highly professional, with just a touch of casual familiarity. There was a soft sliding sound as the heavy armored doors along the end wall pulled back, revealing a large expanse of clear polymer. There weren’t a lot of portholes or windows on warships, but this was one of his favorite things about Bunker Hill. It was a luxury, pure and simple…an aesthetic provided for a fleet admiral flying his flag from a Yorktown class battlewagon.
The view was spectacular, the glory of space laid out before him. It was so majestic, so peaceful. He thought sadly to himself – you’d never know to look at this, what a blood-soaked warzone we’ve managed to make it. An entire universe, endless and magnificent, and we still fight over every scrap. “Man really is a wretched creature.” He spoke to himself, so softly it was barely audible.
He looked out over the forward hull of Bunker Hill to the glowing sphere of Wolf 359 V. The gas giant was as beautiful as any artwork he’d ever seen, a hazy blue globe, with just a hint of a ring floating around it. The orbital shipyards weren’t visible. As huge as they were to man’s sensibilities, at this range they were infinitesimally small, far too tiny for the eye to see.
“Well, we’ve done the best we can.” Compton was still speaking to himself as he gazed into the void. Finally, he sighed and tuned away from the window and moved slowly toward the door. “At least all of this is theoretical. The other Powers are all too beaten up to start a war anytime soon.” He stopped at the doorway and glanced back one last time. “We’ll have the time we need before we have to fight again.”