A globe of bioluminescence
rose from the violet deep, growing brighter and longer as it neared the surface. The sea opened, like a starburst, and the
vessel was airborne. Shimmering water streamed from Broadside Electric's skin, falling as liquid light back into the sea. The masts of the spacecraft's gravity lateens
flexed and she nosed up into the new day.
In the command cupola, Janni allowed the autopilot to control the attitude and rate of ascent.
The three-dimensional display was in chase mode, which generated a dynamic image of the spacecraft's surroundings from a point
one hundred meters above and one hundred meters behind, relative to the mean planetary plane. A situational overlay presented
textual and numerical information about the environs. Great, invisible hands pushed Janni back into acceleration couch and
he grunted. It was just like a simulation, except for the burbling notion that he might vomit at any moment.
Broadside Electric's flight deck was a three-place
citadel in the most protected region of the spacecraft. It housed the command cupola, combat information, and flight engineering
stations. In the right couch, senior flight engineer Park So was watching power allocation. In the left couch, senior combat
information specialist Ashelle Mor watched the exchange between the PA and iSUN batteries. Unlike the other members of the
young crew Ashelle hadn't been born on Outre Mer. She was Taken. From what Janni understood Ashelle had been a child when
the Atlantian Wave came to the world thirty years ago, meaning that she had been born on the Grey world of Atlantis. Like
most human beings over thirty Janni had met, she didn't talk about her childhood.
Broadside Electric repelled the mass of Outre Mer,
falling upward at 3g in a great ascending arc. This trajectory was a tube on the display that Janni could focus on. Janni
called up the imaginary disk of Leakey as a pulsing circle below the horizon. He set a targeting reticule for the particle
accelerators on the rim of the planet where that innermost of Adonis' major moons would rise, which was where trouble was
likely to come first. A red line indicated the weapons were out of arc.
"Ashelle, note the horizon," Janni said.
"We'll have weapons charged before moonrise."
When the iSUN Monitors started dropping bombs,
Mission Control required a change in plan. They had hoped to be able to slip through a blind spot in Monitors' sensor coverage
caused by the relative positions of the moons around Adonis and be over Cousteau before the enemy knew what was going on.
But now there were too many sensor-equipped missiles and drones flying in the neighborhood for a clean getaway. The Earthers
were being more aggressive than had been advertised. The exchange was continuing, with railgun and missile transporters trying
to suppress the batteries on Goodall in shoot-and-scoot running engagements. Every time a launcher unmasked itself to fire
it became a potential target for enemy gunners. Fortunately, the elimination of the satellite observation network deprived
the Monitors of their most direct means of targeting. And somebody in the government finally had the good sense to pull the
plugs on the media outlets.
The change in mission plan resulted in a launch delay while the flight plan was revised. Under
the new plan, Radiant Mirage and Twilight Fire would assault the fortress-moon of Goodall directly, approaching to insert their embarked platoons of duranni marines.
This was needed to limit the amount of damage Goodall's weapons systems could inflict on Outre Mer. Broadside Electric and Endless Sky would fly high guard and, when
Goodall was secured, would go on to drop their troopers on the outer moon, Cousteau, where the iSUN had its headquarters and
the PAX had its Everclear staging facility. It was reasoned that if the Monitors' headquarters could be captured then the
other stations would be inclined to surrender. If they didn't, the cutters would blast them. This was considered less desirable,
because the Provisional Authority didn't want too much iSUN blood on its fingers when it came time for the negotiations to
commence. The PAX Missionaries were another matter. That was all about blood.
Blood was flowing elsewhere. There was a major offensive
under way on Pangaea, Janni's homeland. Hunter teams were assaulting Missionary positions in unprecedented numbers at multiple
points along the line of demarcation. A lot of duranni would die. But it was a good strategy. The Missionaries would fall
back, trading land for time. They thought reinforcements were coming. Janni grinned his sharp threat. He would take special
pleasure in disappointing them. The PAX would be unable to mount a rapid relief of the Pangaean Mandate without Everclear's
marshalling yards. By the time an operation could be staged from elsewhere the Mandate would be overrun, the Missionaries
exterminated, and all duranni on Outre Mer would be Awakened.
"This is C2, Leakey moonrise in two minutes," Janni said over
the shipwide, glancing at the unspooling altimeter. The spacecraft would be clear of the atmosphere by then where she could
maneuver and fight. "I'm starting a roll."
Janni rolled the vessel to keep the sea and the curvature of the world
over the bow. This angled the pac spires at the horizon, and the firing line turned green.
Janni had never actually flown an aircraft,
and had never been into space. He had learned all of his practical knowledge through simulators. In Command School, he also
learned to use mission planners, which were like artist's tools for creating environments in which simulations could be run.
The simulators were enjoyable, but the mission planners filled Janni's imagination. They let him do anything. He could build
a solar system with physical resolution down to the subatomic level. Of course, most of the models he employed were from canned
modules: Weathervane, Plate Mason, Waterworld, Living Clay, PopSim, etc. Janni didn't have to know every detail of how the
universe worked. But he did have to know how it all went together. At first it seemed odd that he would learn how scenario
builders worked before exercising with them.
Into his universes Janni could insert models of spacecraft, weapons, facilities, and other objects
related to space missions. Most of these models came from a great database of known systems, but it was possible to modify
these models and even to build entirely new ones. Janni could assign agents with characteristics of logic, motive, morale,
and various skill sets to these objects that governed their actions and behavior. These agent-driven objects populated the
universe, providing opponents, allies, and third-party players. Janni spend hundreds of hours designing scenarios and planning
missions to achieve objectives most efficiently.
Once he understood the nuances of the builder's toolkits, in his second year of Command School,
Janni's instructors disabled them and started giving him canned scenarios and objects to work with. At first these took place
within a simplified but fully realized solar system. The only operative variables were those related to mission selection,
prioritization, and the planning of his forces. Moreover, the amount of control he was granted varied from unit to unit according
to the scenario. In some cases he could plan complete missions for select units. In some cases he could only assign objectives.
Some of his allied forces were entirely independent actors. Over time, the solar systems he exercised in became more intricate.
Eventually he was working with a scale model of the Iota Horologii system.
By his third year of Command School, Janni was running
campaigns that spanned multiple star systems, and receiving excellent grades. He was managing interstellar wars in a universe
that modeled economies, politics, and social dynamics. Each of these aspects had an attending course structure of mathematics,
and philosophy. As he progressed in his subjects and his simulations, the Missionaries didn't seem quite so hateful, because
they were so relatively insignificant. The Missionaries could be removed from Pangaea, and with them the barrier to his people's
enlightenment. Thank God all human beings weren't like Missionaries.
His whole life, Janni had grown up hating the Missionaries. This was easy.
Everybody hated them. The trick was hating the Missionaries while not hating human beings in general. Janni found that this
was something he could do. He also found that this point of view isolated him from his comrades-in-arms, most of who subscribed
to the generally understood notion that duranni males would follow anybody of authority. It was their nature, supposedly.
Janni's thoughts breached a wall that was more fragile than he had hoped. Suddenly he was reflecting on his disastrous stint
in the Territorials fighting Missionaries in Pangaea.
"Park, let's open up the datalinks," Janni said.
said. "Hands out and open."
Janni looked over to his active datalinks. The link to Mission Control was tight. Three other links
were open but didn't have a handshake yet. Handshake was an unfortunate term from a duranni's perspective. But it was traditional.
The tactical display showed the icons of the three other assault shuttles rising from different points on the globe. The link
"Endless Sky, this is Broadside Electric," Janni said. "Reporting a good link."
"Hi Electric," said the other shuttle captain. "I confirm a solid link. Be
advised that we have linked with Twilight Fire as well."
"Outstanding," Janni said, noting a thumbs-up from Park. "We are receiving Fire's telemetry."
One by one the spacecraft
established bi-directional datalinks with each other as they came into line-of-sight over the arc of the planet. The datalinks
were extremely tight steered microwave beams that formed an extended network between the ships enabling voice and data communications
between them without omni-directional broadcasting. The links were also used to cooperatively process a single integrated
aerospace picture so that every connected spacecraft and ground station was working from the same tactical display.
Near orbit was a frightful
scene and beautiful with the backdrop of jeweled Adonis and the luminous nebula beyond. Energies flashed and stabbed as incoming
warheads and missiles encountered air-defense kill vehicles and pac beams. Some incoming weapons got through and lit up as
they streaked into Outre Mer's atmosphere, becoming lost against the immensity of the world. At the same time, it was possible
to watch outgoing railgun rounds and missiles rising up, disappearing into the void between the inner moons.
Janni opened a comms
window and found the Interpol's open channel. The iSUN HQ on Cousteau was broadcasting a cease-fire offer. The Provisional
Authority was silent. Electronic attack units were jamming all of iSUN's tactical frequencies. Janni put a monitor on the
channel for anything interesting and maximized the navigational display. Under the mission plan, the four shuttles would run
silently with their exception of their datalinks, which enemy receivers on the moons wouldn't be able to detect. They were
not to use their weapons to engage incoming weapons bound for ground targets on Outre Mer. However, they were cleared to fire
in self-protection and mutual-defense modes. The assault shuttles would cover each other.
On the display, the shuttles' courses diverged,
their traces suggesting the shape of an opening flower. Janni locked a view on Endless Sky, his high guard partner. The spacecraft wore a muted
gray scheme as they all did for the ascent. He reviewed the next waypoint. Then the threat alarm sounded.
said. Anti-radiation munitions.
"Oh, shit," Park said.
"Language," Janni said.
It wasn't so much the word Park had used
that bothered Janni but the context indicated panic, even if temporary. You say "Oh, shit" and you really aren't
thinking about or more importantly doing anything else at that moment. It was lost time. Training was supposed to eliminate
"They picked up splash from the datalinks," Ashelle said.
"Shut the links down," Janni said. "Go to burst updates."
The loss of datalinks
would seriously degrade the flight's coordination but it would hinder anti-radiation seekers from homing on them.
Park said, shaken.
"Good," Janni said, gently. "Ashelle, who's the target?"
"Oh, shit!" sent the captain of
along with a visual feed.
Janni watched Twilight Fire disappeared into a fountain of brilliant white globes.
"Oh..." Park cried.
Ashelle stifled a gasp.
Janni watched what
they all saw without comment. Momentum carried Twilight Fire's scorched body up and through the maelstrom. Her gravity masts stripped away, she nosed over and
began to lean sickeningly. Pills popped from her flanks: survivors in their fighting chairs. Janni didn't have time to count
them. He was scrolling through section reports in another window. But as he examined his own ship's status the knowledge leaked
in that none of the duranni marines embarked in Fire's transport pallet would make it.
Janni was slightly surprised at how little he felt. With a couple of manipulator
taps he could have flipped through all the section heads of Twilight Fire's crew and most of her specialists. He could call up their faces. He knew
the names of all of the Fire's duranni marines, of course. They were an exclusive club, the duranni in the space service. Even if the marines
didn't particularly like him, Janni remembered their signature noises and high slang; a joke or two.
The threat alarm went silent.
Beacons sounded on the search-and-rescue band. These weren't Janni's responsibility and he couldn't spare them more that a
hopeful thought. He opened the internal communications system.
"Janni speaking," he said, scowling at the upturned faces of
Ashelle and Park, who promptly turned away. "We are engaged and Twilight Fire is down. We must fly and fight our ship. Remember your training. Focus
now and we will win. Out here."
It was all true as far as Janni was concerned. Four years in simulators had given him an expectation
of how things really worked. There was no point now in contemplating whether the models reflected reality or not. Certainly
the way people reacted to death was within the probability of error.
"Those ARMs were launched locally," Ashelle said. "They've
mined the near orbit."
"Yes," Janni said, disgusted with himself for not anticipating that. "Key the point-defense
"Point defense is now active," Park said.
Janni passed along the clearance to the other ships to light up their
own self-defense systems, although their captains had probably hadn't waited for it. He felt loss, and he blocked it. He was
responsible for factoring loss into his actions. So, responsibly, Janni wrote a mission update for three shuttles. He cancelled
the Goodall drop and put the Mirage on overwatch, with her marines in reserve. She would cover the Electric and Sky as they dropped on Cousteau.
"Put Radiant Mirage back on the Goodall drop," said Launch Director Houghtling down at
"We can't take Goodall with one shuttle," Janni replied, silently cursing the presence looking over his
shoulder and violating his comms blackout. "It's too heavily defended."
"Then assign Endless Sky to the drop as well. Goodall
must be taken."
"I don't think so," Janni said. "Cousteau is an absolute priority. I want two platoons for it."
"We don't concur,
Janni," Director Houghtling said. "If we don't take Goodall then the rest of the mission will be in jeopardy."
"We are taking a lot of hits down here on the ground," Director Houghtling said.
Janni felt oddly calm in his
annoyance. "Are there no shelters?"
"The Provisional Authority is insisting that you pacify Goodall with maximum effort,"
Director Houghtling said, punching syllables in ‘Authority' and ‘insisting.'
The reply that sprang to Janni's mind was
that in point of fact, the mission's success required securing the Adonis moon system against an eventual counterattack, not
the pacification of some inconvenient batteries. The Monitors' available war stocks would be exhausted long before Outre Mer
suffered any real damage in a big picture sense. Almost certainly the duranni units driving into the Pangaean Mandate were
taking heavier losses than people in those areas under the thin bombardment from Goodall. Fortunately, Janni was able to keep
the safety on his initial response.
"The iSUN senior officers are on Cousteau," is what he said. "Listen to the wideband.
They're looking for an excuse to surrender. Once we capture Cousteau we'll tell the acting commander to have Goodall throw
its locks to us or else we'll crack them open with railguns."
Houghtling was silent for a moment. "We want the facilities intact."
don't want to die out here. Out on what they call the Frontier."
After a longer silence: "Okay, Janni," Director
Houghtling said. "We agree that it's your show."
Good, he thought. As far as Janni was concerned it had been since he left
"Launch the decoys in thirty minutes as scheduled," he said, distributing his updated mission plan to the
He tried not to notice the face of Park beaming at him. Ashelle nodded gently at her station, which from her was
like an ovation. Janni couldn't help but grin at the burst message from the Mirage's captain crawling across his flatscreen:
**thank christ for
Captain Sean Curry had relocated to an underground command and control bunker of the Goodall Monitoring Station.
There was no panoramic view of the moon's surface, which at that moment was being pounded by fire from Outre Mer. All surface
structures of the complex had been smashed or compromised. A few subterranean sections had been torn up by bunker-busters.
There were deaths. Fortunately, enough of the space search network was operating for the area-defense system to target incoming
rounds. Still, some got through. Unfortunately, it was just about impossible for them to get any post-strike assessments of
their outgoing fire, so it was hard to know how well they were doing.
The young officer sat next to the even younger Lieutenant
Fritz Eiger, who was reduced to targeting with optics and passive sensors. The sophisticated sensor network on Leakey was
unavailable due to enemy jamming. The Provos were directing primarily "soft-kill" electronic attacks against the
facilities of that moon. They were jamming everything except the wideband with maddening effectiveness. The voice of Major
Ragnvard droned on the monitor. He was trying to negotiate a cease-fire.
"That was a ship we bagged," Fritz said.
"Good use of reactive
mining," Sean said, examining a replay of the kill taken through a telescope cued by the detonation of the missile warheads.
"I told you I
know my business, Sean," Fritz said. "Orbit denial is one of my specialties."
"I've never seen a craft like that before,"
Sean said. "But it was clearly a warship."
"There'll be others," Fritz said. "She was talking to somebody.
That's how the ARMs caught her out."
"She couldn't have been talking to the ground?"
"Might have been as well. But for the
ARMs to pick up a directional broadcast they would have had to be more or less in line with it. Besides, these missiles filter
out ground-based sources."
"It is a nice piece of equipment."
"I was thinking more along
the lines of our predicament, Fritz. The spacecraft add a new wrinkle. We may have company before long."
"You think they'll
try to land?"
"Might you want to tell Major Ragnvard?"
"Tactical's jammed, Fritz. And we don't have line-of-sight
for the laser."
"I know. You could use the Red Channel."
"That would be illegal," Sean said. "No tactical communications
on the wideband. That's for D and D: disasters and diplomacy."
"I'm frankly astonished at your sudden fundamentalist outlook,"
Fritz said. "Particularly at this point."
Sean frowned. "If I send a warning in the open the Provos will hear
it and start jamming that channel as well. We wouldn't be able to listen to Major Ragnvard's peace overtures."
"A little," Sean said, watching the display. "Change your targeting priorities. Try to get the jamming
"It's tricky," Fritz said. "They seem to have mobile and redundant emitters."
"Just try. We
need Leakey's sensor feed to help detect any ships heading our way. If we can bag the ships we can win this thing."
Although at that moment
Sean Curry was thinking that the thing was already more than he had signed on for.