Authors: Jack Campbell
Ace Books by Jack Campbell
THE LOST FLEET: DAUNTLESS
THE LOST FLEET: FEARLESS
THE LOST FLEET: COURAGEOUS
THE LOST FLEET: VALIANT
THE LOST FLEET: RELENTLESS
THE LOST FLEET: VICTORIOUS
THE LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER: DREADNAUGHT
THE LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER: INVINCIBLE
THE LOST FLEET
BEYOND THE FRONTIER
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3, Canada (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Group Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.) • Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.) • Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi—110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, Auckland 0632, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
THE LOST FLEET: BEYOND THE FRONTIER: INVINCIBLE
Copyright © 2012 by John G. Hemry.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
: May 2012
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Invincible / Jack Campbell.—First edition.
pages cm.—(The lost fleet. Beyond the frontier)
1. Space ships—Fiction. 2. Space warfare—Fiction. I. Title.
To Lieutenant Colonel Robert W. Lamont, USMC (ret.), who wanted to see the Marines assault a fort; Commander Christopher J. Lagemann, USN (ret.), who really would have made a darn good admiral; and Captain Michael A. Durnan, USN (ret.), who (with varying degrees of success over the years) has tried to keep all of the rest of us out of trouble.
For S., as always.
I remain indebted to my agent, Joshua Bilmes, for his ever-inspired suggestions and assistance, and to my editor, Anne Sowards, for her support and editing. I’ve been well looked after by Katherine Sherbo and Brady McReynolds at the Berkley Publishing Group as well. Thanks also to Catherine Asaro, Robert Chase, J. G. (Huck) Huckenpohler, Simcha Kuritzky, Michael LaViolette, Aly Parsons, Bud Sparhawk, and Constance A. Warner for their suggestions, comments, and recommendations. Thanks also to Charles Petit and to “the remoras” (a.k.a. Alex and Daniel) for an important suggestion regarding the most essential achievement of human technology.
THE FIRST FLEET OF THE ALLIANCE
ADMIRAL JOHN GEARY, COMMANDING
SECOND BATTLESHIP DIVISION
THIRD BATTLESHIP DIVISION
FOURTH BATTLESHIP DIVISION
FIFTH BATTLESHIP DIVISION
SEVENTH BATTLESHIP DIVISION
EIGHTH BATTLESHIP DIVISION
FIRST BATTLE CRUISER DIVISION
SECOND BATTLE CRUISER DIVISION
FOURTH BATTLE CRUISER DIVISION
FIFTH BATTLE CRUISER DIVISION
SIXTH BATTLE CRUISER DIVISION
FIFTH ASSAULT TRANSPORT DIVISION
FIRST AUXILIARIES DIVISION
SECOND AUXILIARIES DIVISION
THIRTY-ONE HEAVY CRUISERS IN SIX DIVISIONS
First Heavy Cruiser Division
Third Heavy Cruiser Division
Fourth Heavy Cruiser Division
Fifth Heavy Cruiser Division
Eighth Heavy Cruiser Division
Tenth Heavy Cruiser Division
FIFTY-FIVE LIGHT CRUISERS IN TEN SQUADRONS
First Light Cruiser Squadron
Second Light Cruiser Squadron
Third Light Cruiser Squadron
Fifth Light Cruiser Squadron
Sixth Light Cruiser Squadron
Eighth Light Cruiser Squadron
Ninth Light Cruiser Squadron
Tenth Light Cruiser Squadron
Eleventh Light Cruiser Squadron
Fourteenth Light Cruiser Squadron
ONE HUNDRED SIXTY DESTROYERS IN EIGHTEEN SQUADRONS
First Destroyer Squadron
Second Destroyer Squadron
Third Destroyer Squadron
Fourth Destroyer Squadron
Sixth Destroyer Squadron
Seventh Destroyer Squadron
Ninth Destroyer Squadron
Tenth Destroyer Squadron
Twelfth Destroyer Squadron
Fourteenth Destroyer Squadron
Sixteenth Destroyer Squadron
Seventeenth Destroyer Squadron
Twentieth Destroyer Squadron
Twenty-first Destroyer Squadron
Twenty-third Destroyer Squadron
Twenty-seventh Destroyer Squadron
Twenty-eighth Destroyer Squadron
Thirty-second Destroyer Squadron
FIRST FLEET MARINE FORCE
Major General Carabali, commanding
3,000 Marines on assault transports and divided into detachments on battle cruisers and battleships
you find yourself going through hell, keep going.”
Admiral John Geary didn’t shift his gaze from the display, which showed his fleet in chaos as it tried to re-form in the wake of an attack by whatever creatures lived in this star system. “Did you just make that up?”
“No,” Captain Tanya Desjani replied. “Some ancient philosopher said it. My father likes to quote him.”
Geary nodded, only half of his attention on her words. Desjani’s meaning was clear enough, if you defined hell in terms of a fleet far from human-controlled space on a mission to determine the strength and size of a newly discovered intelligent alien species, a fleet that had fought its way out this far only to face another alien species, which seemed even more hostile than the first. Or maybe hell could be defined as getting into a damaged survival pod as your stricken cruiser counted down the last moments before it self-destructed, to be frozen into survival sleep and lost for a century, only to be eventually found with death imminent and revived to discover that in your long absence and apparent death, you had been elevated to the status of legend. For an instant, Geary’s mind flashed back to those moments, recalling how it had felt to learn that everyone he had once known was dead, that the war that had started as he froze into sleep was still going a century later, and that the people who had awakened him expected the great Black Jack Geary to save them from what seemed certain defeat.
He had managed to save them then though he saw no connection between the legend of Black Jack and who he actually was. He had managed to win the war with the Syndicate Worlds. And now he had to manage somehow to save this fleet from this trap in an alien-controlled star system very distant from any human help.
But he had done none of that alone. Without the support of this fleet, and of people like Tanya Desjani, he could have done nothing. And those who hadn’t died in battle were still with this fleet, still with him.
“Your concern is noted, Captain,” Geary said, banishing thoughts of the past to concentrate on the present. “We won’t hang around here any longer than we have to.” The fleet wasn’t at rest right now in any event. They had been accelerating outward as the aliens tried to overtake them, and now that the immediate threats had been destroyed, many ships had altered trajectories and velocities, but both the fleet and the wreckage of the alien attackers were still racing away from the massive alien fortress guarding the jump point at which the human fleet had arrived. Orbiting the distant star and slaved to the jump point, the fortress was almost large enough to qualify as an artificial minor planet.
A squadron of destroyers tore past beneath and to one side of
, close enough to the battle cruiser to trigger collision warning alarms. Desjani’s jaw tightened. “Tell those tin cans to keep their distance,” she ordered her communications watch. “Admiral, request permission to assist you in getting this fleet back into order.”
Well aware that his fleet more closely resembled a swarm of agitated insects than any kind of military force, Geary gave her a sour look. “The maneuvering systems have already produced solutions. It’s taking a while to untangle everything and avoid wreckage.” Fortunately, the great majority of that wreckage came from the alien attackers. There wasn’t anything left of the destroyer
, though, which had only taken one hit. The warheads on the alien ships were so large they had blown the destroyer into little pieces.
had also taken at least one direct hit, inflicting massive damage on the lightly armored battle cruiser. That was the worst news, fortunately.
had been struck twice by the blasts from near misses while knocking out two alien craft on final approaches against
, but though battered,
was still reporting combat-ready status. Numerous other warships had suffered lesser degrees of damage from near misses, even the vacuum of space no protection against explosions that massive and that close. “We got off very easy,” Geary marveled. “Did you see what
did during the last part of the fighting?”
“I didn’t catch that,” Desjani admitted. “I was busy watching
almost ram my ship.”
“I’ll have another talk with my grandniece when time permits.” Jane Geary had been reliably steady and dependable, not flashy or prone to high-risk actions. Had been. Now she was flinging her battleship
around as if
were a battle cruiser. Wishing that new problems didn’t develop as fast as he dealt with old problems, Geary called Commander Shen of
Shen’s expression never varied all that much, so Geary wasn’t surprised to see Shen looking ill-tempered. “How is your ship doing, Captain?” Geary asked. He could call up the information about damage to individual ships on the fleet net as quickly as the damage was assessed and entered, and usually he did so since that was fast and simple. But sometimes he needed information from the people on the scene, information that always contained important impressions and details that couldn’t be found in the automated reporting.
can still fight.” Shen seemed ready for Geary to challenge that assertion. “Seventy-one casualties; of those, thirty dead and the rest injured, five seriously. Two of those may have to be transferred to one of the assault transports for treatment.
’s sick bay can handle the rest. Main propulsion unit one is off-line, but repairable. Most of the damage is on the port forward upper quarter. Armor breach, compartment damage ranging from total to minor. We’re sealing that area off pending major repair actions. All weapons and sensors in that area are nonoperational, reducing
’s combat capability by twenty percent for the long term. Numerous systems elsewhere in the ship require repair because of shock transmitted through the hull and structure, but we can handle that.”
, such an optimistic assertion was unprecedented in Geary’s experience. “I saw
. Those ships probably wouldn’t have survived a hit from something that could inflict that much damage on a battleship. You and your crew acted in the finest traditions of the service and have greatly honored your ancestors.”
“That’s what battleships are supposed to do,” Shen replied in a gruff voice. “We bail out the battle cruisers when they get into trouble and can’t handle things. Please tell Captain Desjani I said that.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather tell her yourself?”
“She’s right here.”
“Then she already heard it, sir.” Shen paused. “Hell of a mess there. I thought we’d lose a lot more ships than we did. Interesting tactics. Is that all, Admiral?”
“No. Keep me informed about the status of your wounded. I can get
over to you if you need her medical assistance. And we need that propulsion unit online again as quickly as possible. If we tangle with the inhabitants of this star system again,
will need full propulsion capability. Captain Smythe will be sending
over to assist in getting that propulsion unit working again.”
“Thank you, Admiral,” Shen said.
, Captain.” Geary ended the conversation, then looked at Desjani. “You didn’t seem bothered by disparaging comments from a battleship captain.”
“He earned the right to one comment during that fight,” Desjani replied. “Besides, he saved my butt once when we were both serving on the
. And he told you how much you’d impressed him, so I’ll give him a pass this time on his otherwise-amateurish opinions.”
“He told me I’d impressed him?” Geary asked.
“Absolutely. In his own way.”
Geary shook his head, looking at the damage being displayed on
. “Luck had as much to do with it as anything I did.”
“Wrong,” Desjani said. “Sir. Look at the combat systems evaluation of the engagement. When our formation scattered, the enemy required from ten to twenty seconds to alter courses and seek out new targets. We weren’t lucky. The last-minute disintegration of our formation confused the aliens, just as you intended. Those seconds of hesitation gave us enough time to evade and blow away the enemies who hadn’t already been destroyed. The ships that took advantage of that avoided getting hit, except for poor
. She must have just had bad luck.”
. . .” He ordered the combat systems to replay the moments before
got hit. The order went out to scatter, maneuvering independently to confuse the attackers. All around
, warships altered trajectories, but the battle cruiser didn’t change either direction or velocity as seconds crawled by. Five seconds. Ten seconds. At fourteen seconds,
’s thrusters started firing but hadn’t been able to change the warship’s vector before an alien missile ship slammed into contact and detonated. “He froze up. Captain Vente froze up instead of immediately taking action.”
“And you’re surprised?” Desjani murmured.
“Assuming he’s still alive, Vente has had his last command in this fleet,” Geary replied, hearing the savage edge to his voice.
Why didn’t I relieve him earlier? Why didn’t I find a reason? Now who knows how many of
’s crew are dead because Vente wasn’t qualified for his command, and I had good reason to believe he wasn’t qualified but didn’t act in time. It’s my fault as much as Vente’s, damn it.
“It’s not your fault,” Desjani said.
He stared at her. “How did you—?”
“I know you. Listen. Headquarters assigned him to command of
. You had suspicions he wasn’t qualified, but you can’t relieve a commanding officer purely on suspicions. Otherwise, you might have taken Shen off
before this. You need
to relieve a commanding officer. It’s been that way for a long, long time, and for good reason.” Desjani watched him. “Understand?”
“No. It’s still my fault. We may have lost
because I didn’t act in time when I knew I should.” As if summoned by his words, an alert flashed on his display. “Message from
, Admiral,” the communications watch announced.
“Forward it,” Geary ordered, and an instant later the image of Captain Smythe popped up before Geary. Smythe, commanding officer of the auxiliary
and the senior fleet engineer, for once lacked his usual jaunty attitude. “I’ve personally gone over the damage to
, Admiral. I doubt that you’ll be pleased to hear that your choices are simple and limited.”
“She’s hurt that badly?” Geary asked.
Space being as huge as it was, ships were often light-minutes or light-hours apart, leading to incredibly frustrating delays in conversations as messages crawled across millions or billions of kilometers at the speed of light. This time the fleet was close enough together that only a couple of seconds passed before Smythe shrugged in response. “It depends which parts of
you’re talking about. Many of her weapons are actually in surprisingly good shape. But what really matters is the structural and propulsion damage inflicted by those missile ships. It’s severe.
can’t move herself, and if anyone else tries to tow her, she’ll probably crack into a few large pieces. Give me a few months and a fleet dock, and I could get her going again.” Even though that couldn’t happen, Smythe clearly wished he could fix up the wrecked ship.
“We don’t have either the time or the repair facilities,” Geary said, his eyes going to the part of his display showing considerable numbers of other alien warships, some of them massive but, fortunately, none of them close. After the fleet’s dash away from the orbital fortress guarding the jump point, that menace was now about seven light-minutes distant and getting farther away with every moment. Some of the alien warships were about three light-hours from the human fleet, but the main armada of alien warships had been identified at nearly four light-hours away, near the primary inhabited world in this star system. That armada wouldn’t even see the light from the human fleet’s arrival for another three hours; and then, even if they immediately accelerated on intercepts with the human force, would require days to get within range unless Geary decided to turn and race toward contact. But
couldn’t maneuver, making her a sitting duck even if the aliens had been a week’s travel time distant. Looking at the huge warships that made up the center of the alien armada, superbattleships massing three times as large as the biggest human battleships, Geary had no intention of coming any closer to that armada than he had to. “Exactly what choices do I have, then?”
or leave her for the, uh, whatever it is that lives here.” Smythe looked and sounded unhappy at having to lay out those options.
Geary knew that his frustration was showing, but he tried to keep it out of his voice. No one liked delivering bad news, but he had learned long ago how easily a commander could discourage anyone from passing on important information by reacting harshly to the bearers of unpleasant truths. “We can’t leave her. Not when the occupants of this star system have demonstrated such reflexive aggression toward us. I’ll order
’s surviving crew members evacuated immediately. Have your engineers prepare her for scuttling, and make sure it’s complete. I don’t want anything left intact.”