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Authors: Stephen A. Fender

Dark Space

BOOK: Dark Space
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DARK

SPACE

 

Kestrel Saga:
Volume V

 

 

A novel by

Stephen A.
Fender

 

Edited by

Lynda
Dietz

 

Published by

JRP
©

www.JollyRogersProductions.net

 

Dark Space

Copyright ©
2014 Stephen A. Fender

www.StephenFender.com

 

First
Edition: November 2014

 

Published
through Jolly Rogers Productions (JRP) ©, a subsidiary division of
StephenFender.com.

 

All rights reserved.
All characters and settings are the sole property of Stephen Fender.

 

Ordering
information: [email protected]

 

Printed in
the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5
4 3 2 1 

 

ISBN-13:
978-1503053441

 

ISBN-10:
150305344X

 

 

Cover art
layout by Stephen Fender ©.

 

“If I were to say that I
was grateful for anything in that war, it would be that it wasn’t fought a few
hundred years ago. I don’t mean that from a technological standpoint, but from
a bureaucratic one. If, in their infinite wisdom, Sector Command was still
intent on using
paper
to get anything done, we would have all surely drowned in the piles of it
before the first shots were even fired.”

 

-Quote
attributed to Fleet Admiral Salus Hansen, Unified Sector Command (Ret.)

 

Prologue

 

Office of the Commanding
Officer, 2nd Sector Command Fleet, Admiral William Blackwell, Command Station
14, Mintar Sector.

 

   Fleet Admiral Blackwell
was quick on the heels of his second in command, Vice Admiral Coralin,
commander of the 3rd Strategic Force, as the last of the flag officers strode
into Blackwell’s briefing room. The compartment was dimly lit, with only three
overhead spotlights shining down—two on the table and one on the lone
polished-steel podium at its head. Emblazoned on it was the insignia of Sector
Command Station 14, a fourteen-point gold star inside a red circle, both
surrounded by fourteen smaller stars of silver. To the left of the conference table
were three rectangular view ports that stretched from floor to ceiling, which
afforded a nearly unobstructed view of the filled moorage and docks inside the
cavernous bell-shaped station. As Admiral William Blackwell approached the
podium, the cadre of fleet commanders rose to stand at attention.

   Newly promoted Rear
Admiral Salus Hansen, the former commanding officer of the battle cruiser
Baton
Rouge
and now the commanding officer of the 7th Squadron, gazed at Blackwell
with understandable curiosity. Hansen, along with the 9th Squadron's commanding
officer, Rear Admiral Dar'an, and the commanding officer of the 11th Squadron,
Rear Admiral Darius Cody, had been assembled for what the three officers
assumed was going to be a large-scale joint operation.

   And there was little doubt
why.

   In the three months since
the Battle for Second Earth, the Meltranian invaders had managed to push back
several combined Sector Command fleets, in some cases with a total decimation
of the combined Unified-Kafaran-Rugorian groups. At first Hansen had found it difficult
to believe; that the strike fleets, which consisted of no fewer than thirty
starships, could be so overwhelmingly outmatched by less than superior Meltranian
forces so close to Unified space was appalling. Now, only a few months later, Hansen
and his fellow colleagues almost felt that those conflicts were becoming the
norm in the former Outer Sphere. It came as no shock, then, that the brass of Sector
Command admiralty were now gathering even larger groups of warships—flotillas
consisting of no less than sixty vessels each—to counter the Meltranians in the
Unified Collaboration of Systems’ own backyard. However, up to this point, there’d
been few positive results to show for it.

   Now, with over two hundred
Unified, Kafaran, and Rugorian ships assigned to each of the admirals seated
near him, Hansen was beginning to have doubts it would be enough.

   “Good afternoon,
gentleman,” Blackwell began, his gray eyes darting from one admiral to the
next. “Please, be seated.”

   Hansen noted how young Blackwell
was, younger than he by nearly a decade, and briefly entertained the thought
that this man alone would more than likely be the pivotal cause of defeat or
victory for the Unified Collaboration in this war. When it came to figuring out
who was in operational command of the Unified forces currently battling the
Meltranians, nearly every officer from the lowliest ensign to the brass present
in the briefing room knew that Fleet Admiral Blackwell’s word was absolute. As
if he were reading the thoughts that were directed at him, Blackwell
immediately looked to Hansen. “Admiral Hansen, I believe you know everyone
present?”

   Salus began a slow glance
around the table. The first one to catch his eye was the man seated just to the
right of Blackwell, Vice Admiral Coralin, the Polysaurian commander of the two-hundred-plus
ships of the 3
rd
Strategic Force and Admiral Blackwell’s right-hand
in the current engagement. The vice admiral was by far the oldest member of the
assembled officers, having served in Sector Command for the last sixty years.
The quills atop his round head, which Hansen knew were once dark red, had faded
with time to a dull sheen, the toxin-tips now tinted silver—a sign of high
honor in the Polysaurian society. His yellow eyes, soft and welcoming, seemed
to draw Salus in as they locked eyes on one another. They’d served together
many times, and Hansen was sure that they each still owed a favor to the other
for some good deed done in the past.

   Hansen then looked to Rear
Admiral Dar’an of Ibon, who had served with Hansen while they were both junior
lieutenants on board the destroyer
Hancock
. Dar’an was a tall human,
with his pitch black hair pulled tightly against his scalp—traditional of Ibonian
culture for the last several centuries. His ice-blue eyes had a gaze that could
melt steel, but he wielded a style of command that left every officer under him
feeling as if they were a part of a larger family. Hansen was momentarily taken
back to a time on the
Hancock
, when he and Dar’an had had a particularly
humorous run-in with the ship’s commanding officer. As Salus looked at Dar’an,
it was safe to assume that Dar’an was probably remembering the same incident. A
brief smile was shared between the two men who hadn’t set eyes on one another
in nearly ten years. Hansen nodded slightly, hoping that many more good
memories could come to fruition, then turned his attention to the remaining
officer, Rear Admiral Cody.

  Salus and Darius had had a heated
run-in during a court-martial convened several years ago while Cody was a commodore
at Command Outpost 4. Cody had been asked to prosecute the case, while Hansen—being
a senior commander and unbiased third party—had been requested to sit on the
board of judges. Hansen had watched for hours as Cody systematically picked
apart the defense’s case, one witness at a time. Some would charge off the
stand in frustration, some had broken down in tears, and others were simply
shocked into silence by the cold methodology of Cody’s scrutiny. 

   Hansen had later learned
that Cody was just as vicious outside the courtroom as he was while he was in
it. A story had circulated about his run-in with an Angoran ambassador, and how
the ensuing argument had effectively pushed back the Unified government’s
relations with that culture by nearly a decade. Though it was determined that
it was the visiting ambassador himself who had both instigated and enraged Cody
with no provocation, the embarrassment to Sector Command was firmly set in
stone. Considering that Outpost 4 was in a perilous position of hosting a
delegation of Angorans during another trade negotiation in the upcoming weeks,
it was decided that, for the good of the Judge Advocate General's office—as
well as Cody’s career—he should be transferred back out to the fleet after his
JAG tour ended. Cody, always the opportunist, had apparently refused to leave
the JAG unless he received a promotion to the admiralty. Sector Command decided
it was a small price to pay for the abdication of his position, and Cody was
soon back in the fleet and in joint command of the 27
th
Strategic
Group under Admiral Tyson. When Tyson was killed in a skirmish near the Epsilon
Tiranan Nebula during the Great War, Cody was temporarily placed in charge. Not
long after, some said due to a disagreement with the upper echelon of Sector Command,
Cody was “transferred out” and took command of the 11
th
Squadron
under the direct command of Fleet Admiral Blackwell, where Cody had been
languishing for years. Hansen inclined his head in the direction of Cody, which
the almost ball-shaped officer returned in an apparent self-satisfied manner.

  
Pompous ass
, Salus
thought to himself. He then looked to Blackwell and nodded that he was ready to
begin the briefing.

   “Very well,” Blackwell
said in a slightly scratchy voice. “As you all know, the Meltranian forces near
the established front lines have become increasingly active in the nearby
sectors. Sector Command Intelligence, in conjunction with reports from deep
cover agents in the Office of Special Investigations, believes that a major Meltranian
push is about to begin. It’s purported that this will be the prelude to a surge
that could, if they are successful, give the Meltranians a foothold that would
double the size of their current gains into Beta Sector, to say nothing about
putting them within striking distance of Unified-controlled space. It is
imperative that we stop them at all costs.”

   The assembled men gave
each other concerned glances. “What kind of a surge are we looking at, sir?”
Dar'an asked.

   “Let me show you what
Intelligence has come up with,” Blackwell offered. He held his hand up and
flicked his index finger toward an ensign that none of the admirals had even
known was sitting in the darkest corner of the room. The young woman dimmed the
already-low lights in the conference room as a large display screen was lowered
behind the podium. The screen glowed to life with a high-pitched beep and began
to display a map of Beta Sector, with Unified space at the far right, and
Kafaran space at the far left. In the lower center of the screen—stretching for
nearly four sectors—was a thick red line forming an irregular horseshoe shape
that extended from the Kafaran Empire at the bottom of the map and penetrating
over two sectors into the former Outer Sphere. “This is the currently
established front line of the war, gentleman. You can see that the Meltranians
have penetrated as far as the Nigold system. I don't need to tell you that this
means the Meltranians have gained nearly twenty-four light-years of our space
to this point.” He used a laser pointer to highlight the topmost portion of the
inverted horseshoe. “This is the apex of nearly fifty square light-years they’ve
successfully conquered.”

   As the admiral finished
speaking, the red area of space occupied by Meltranians began to flash in a
steady pulse. Blackwell allowed that information to sink in before he
continued. “To answer your question more precisely, Admiral Dar’an, I'll have
Admiral Coralin go over the next details.”

   Coralin, planting two of his
three hands on the table for leverage, rose from his chair and glided past Blackwell.
As he stepped to the podium, the beams cast by the dimmed spotlights bounced
off the heavily decorated breast of his gray dress uniform. From where he was
sitting at the far end of the table, it looked to Salus as if the vice admiral
had a dozen diamonds on his chest, sparkling in reds, blues, and greens as the Polysaurian
admiral’s thick chest rose with his breathing. The quills on the crown of his
head bristled as he clasped two clawed hands behind his back and used the third,
central one, to control a small pointer.

   “Gentleman, Sector Command
Intelligence believes that the majority of the Meltranian surge will happen
here,” he said, then fired his pointer. A beam of soft green light landed
precisely on the Klef system.

   Klef: a small, nondescript
system devoid of nearly anything remarkable. There was a small Rugorian mining
colony and an associated trading outpost on the only habitable planet in the
system. It had been established some fifteen or so years ago, but the
population had yet to make a major name for themselves in the intergalactic
trading market. Based on what Sector Command Intelligence was now reporting,
Klef was about to get a much larger plot on the map.

   “That would seem like the
most opportune target,” Hansen remarked as he looked over the entire display. He
noted, and he was sure the other assembled officers had as well, that Klef was
roughly twenty light-years from the newest Sector Command shipyards in the
Drakkath system. It was probable that the Meltranians had somehow managed to
decipher that the yards were now in operation, and that production of ships for
the war effort was in full swing.

   To date, almost nothing
was known about the Meltranians’ intelligence service, but it was assumed to be
extremely efficient. On more than one occasion, the invaders seemed to know
where their adversaries were, even though Sector Command Intelligence was still
deciphering the locations of those same Meltranian forces. Even if the Meltranians
didn’t know about the existence of the shipyards, Drakkath itself was still well
in the direction of their current push toward Unified space, not to mention a
jumping-off point into several heavily populated regions of Beta Sector.

   Coralin nodded to Hansen’s
remark. “If the Meltranians take Klef, they'll have an enormous strategic
advantage over our forces. If they change course here,” he said, now pointing
at a spot several parsecs from the Meltranians’ presumed current location,
“they will head in the direction of the Drakkath system. If, however, they
decide to change course to a more galactically north heading, they will be on a
direct heading for the Sult system, which Intelligence believes will be a jumping
off point for them to reach out and eventually strike us here at Outpost 14.”

   “You mentioned that the
push for Klef would be the major objective in the area,” Admiral Cody began, a
metallic pen twirling between his fat fingers. “What about the minor ones?”

   Coralin stepped from one
side of the map to other, aiming and firing his pointer at a position opposite
Klef by about fifteen light-years. “This is the planet Ogolo. It’s a Unified
trading post headed up by the local Argelian government. There’s a small Unified
Marine encampment there on the far side of the planet, as well as a fairly
sizeable shore leave facility on the southern hemisphere used by multiple
branches of Sector Command.”

   “Why can’t the Office of
Special Investigations and Sector Command Intelligence work together to give us
a truly accurate picture of what’s happening?” Cody said with disgust. “Who’s
to say this isn’t some sort of wild goose chase?”

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