Authors: Evan Currie
Copyright © 2013 Evan C. Currie
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Well here we are again, the final chapter of the Hayden War is about to play out for you and I think and hope that you will find the ride enjoyable. I’ll just say here and now that this isn’t the end for this universe or the characters in it, I’ve got more ideas for the series so don’t worry about that. In many ways this is my opening salvo and World War One/Two book in this universe. The next arc will probably be a Cold War arc, so I think it’s safe to say that not only will Sorilla be back… she’ll actually be in her element when it happens.
The Valhalla Call has been both a fun novel and concept to work on and an insanely tough one. It kicked my butt so many times I’m pretty sure I’ve got dents in my backside, but I like where we’ve arrived at and I think it’s a good stopping point for the immediate future. Next I have to revisit the Odyssey Universe to wrap up that story arc, then I believe we’ll be touring Ancient Rome and the court of the Mad Emperor Nero in Steam Renegades. That, I believe will be a powerful and painful visit, but we’ll see when we get there.
So, welcome back to SOLCOM dear readers, strap in and suit up because the horns are sounding The Valhalla Call… and someone must answer.
Unnamed Star System
Base of the Orion-Cygnus Arm
It had been a long time since Masters of Ships Parath had observed a fleet quite as disparate as the one his personal transfer craft was currently skimming through. Parithalian cruisers and battleships were the norm for his experiences, and he had of late become used to seeing Ros’El Gravity Destroyers. But by his count, at least three other peoples were present, and that made this one of the more diverse Allied movements he’d been a part of.
It is not usual for so many different species to come together in this way
. He frowned curiously, trying to determine why. To the best of his knowledge, there was no reason for it. Certainly the species they’d encountered out on wheel fringe of Alliance space wasn’t enough to warrant it.
He continued to ponder on that as his transfer craft docked with the Everlasting Glory, one of the Parithalian flagships.
None of this makes any sense. Why send the Glory out here? This is a small fringe empire at most.
“Master Parath.” A young Parithalian approached him as he disembarked, stepping down onto the deck while tenders took care of the transfer craft. “I’ve been sent to escort you to the meeting.”
“Thank you,” he said simply, gesturing to the back of the ship bay. “When you are ready.”
“Of course. With me then, Master.”
They took a short walk to a transfer station, then rode the car up to the upper command deck. Built into ships like the Glory, the upper decks were for Masters of Fleet Operations and were only used on Flagships. Parath followed his guide into a secure room, standing to order when he recognized the people within.
“Master of Ships Parath, Masters,” the Officer said quietly, announcing his arrival.
For a few long moments, his presence was ignored, until finally an elder Parithalian looked over at him and nodded.
“Welcome, Master of Ships. We have some work to finish, please be seated,” Master of Fleets Demescene said.
“Thank you, Master of Fleets,” Parath said, advancing deliberately to take the proffered seat.
He remained there, silently, for a significant time until the murmurs of the Upper Deck Officers finally quieted down and the Master of Fleets again turned his attention to Parath.
“Well, Ships Master,” he said, using the informal, “you managed to land yourself in a particularly pungent pile of excrement, I see.”
Parath stiffened, not sure how to take that. It was in some ways a literal truth, but to his mind it was more accurate to say that they’d all be pulled into the pile by the Ross. He finally settled for a stiff acknowledgment that gave away little else.
The Master of Fleets smiled slightly in return.
“You disagree?” he asked, his tone deceptively mild.
Parath considered his response for a moment. “That would depend on what we’re intending to do about it, I would think.”
“Oh?” Demescene asked, seemingly amused. “I would say that our intentions are clear.”
“I saw one of the most extensive fleets I’ve ever personally been a part of as I transferred over,” Parath acknowledged slowly. “However, I must admit that I cannot fathom the reason behind it. This is, at best, a minor fringe empire. They’ve shown no technical, or numerical, edge to elicit this sort of response.”
“No, they haven’t,” the Master of Fleets sighed. “And if it were purely another pocket empire on the fringes, we’d not be overly concerned. I looked into the records, and the Ross agree that the primary contested system was populated originally by people from this empire.”
Parath winced, rubbing his eye bones lightly. This entire mess was just one headache after another.
“If that is the case,” he asked finally, “why are we involved at all? Other than trying to keep the Ross from imploding planets wholesale, that is.”
“That alone would be worthy enough for our attention, Master of Ships,” Demescene admitted. “But no. We analyzed instrument logs from your ships and found something that concerned us.”
Parath frowned. “I don’t recall anything of particular interest.”
“You would not have noted it,” Demescene sighed. “This comes under your Oath to the Fleet, and to the Alliance, Parath. It is not to be repeated.”
“Since the Alliance last went to war with the Ross’El, there have been a few things that were never brought to the light of the stars,” Master of Fleets Demescene said seriously. “One of those things is that we’ve added an instrument package to every ship built in Alliance space since the end of the last war. Every ship, Master Parath, save those of the Ross. We would have put it on theirs as well, were they built anywhere but deep inside Ross’El-controlled space. This package is very secret, and its purpose even more so. Whenever an Alliance ship lands in any major, and many minor, ports throughout Alliance space, the data from this package is retrieved and sent to the central worlds.”
Parath’s mind boggled. There were tens of thousands of Alliance ships, hundreds of thousands even. The data take from military vessels alone would be staggering, to say nothing of civilian ships.
“That’s…that is incredibly difficult to believe,” he finally choked out.
“Believing it is not a requirement,” Demescene growled. “The instrument package from your ships recorded something we’ve not seen since the last war with the Ross’El, something that makes us believe that the Alliance may be on the cusp of another war with the Ross.”
A dark chill shuddered through his body as he considered that. The Ross weren’t what anyone would call a “warrior” race. However, when pressed, they had no conscience and no limits. That, combined with a knowledge of space-time that was literally unrivalled by any known species, made for a very dangerous group to list as your enemies.
“Why do you think that?” he asked finally.
“These readings.” Demescene passed over a modular display.
The information on it made little sense to Parath, however, but he did note the timing involved. “These signals were detected during our last scouting encounter.”
“That is correct,” Demescene acknowledged. “That was our first hint of what the Ross might have been flying so close to the light for.”
The Masters of Fleet sighed. “During the last war, the Ross had several installations deep within their territory. They were centers of research, we believe, core to their space-time manipulation technology. We detected them originally because they seem impossible to hide due to the enormous warping of space from the technology within. It can be detected many light years away, almost in life time.”
Parath hissed through his beak. For a warping field to be detected that far away in life time… well, there were singularities that weren’t that blatant. Large ones.
“What did the facilities do?”
“We never found out,” Demescene admitted. “The Alliance had intelligence that they were vital to Ross’El war efforts, so Command sent in the Sentinels.”
Parath dipped his head, understanding. When you absolutely wanted something destroyed in the least time, you asked for Lucians. They had unparalleled records in the field and were the devil itself to kill. And you didn’t stop a Lucian Sentinel, you could only kill one.
“Not one of them returned,” Demescene went on, drawing another shocked hiss from Parath. “However, the systems in which we’d detected the warping… no longer exist.”
Parath dropped the display to the table, eyes bulging as his inner lids snapped open to expose the inner eye completely to the air. “Excuse me?”
He must have heard that one wrong. Star systems didn’t vanish. You didn’t destroy them. That was insane. Even the Ross’El had never imploded stars during the war.
“We don’t know what happened,” Demescene admitted. “They were all extremely populated Ross’El star systems… And now they’re all extremely hazardous point singularities. The Ross began negotiations for peace shortly after that, and applied for alliance membership fifty stellar intervals later. The Alliance has always considered it better to have them close and know what they were doing than to leave them to their own devices.”
That much Parath was well aware of. The Ross had never been the most trusted players in Alliance politics, but it had always been clear that they were too powerful to be sidelined in any significant way, despite the intense communication problems engendered by the enigmatic species.
Like many in the Alliance military, Parath had done at least a few studies of the Ross’El; it was practically required that at some point an officer candidate write up some treatise on the Ross and their unique gifts to the Alliance.
He was in general agreement with the popular view among his peers that the Ross simply didn’t observe or experience the universe the same way most sentient species did. It was clear that they had some form of sensory connection to space-time that went far beyond normal senses. Many believed that they could see, or in some other way sense, gravity itself.
They certainly can’t seem to see much else, Parath thought sourly. Ross’El blindness when it came to any sort of interaction with people was nearly legendary.
“Do you believe that these people are somehow on the same level as the Ross?” he asked finally, rather skeptical of the thought.
“No,” Master of Fleets Demescene gestured negatively. “What we believe is that the Ross had backup facilities and one of them was hidden in this backwater part of the Galaxy. Likely they either lost contact with it after the war, or intentionally severed contact to prevent us from locating it. It’s been over a hundred stellar intervals. This empire expanded to absorb former Ross territory and now control the facility, likely without even being aware of it.”
Parath snorted. “So they have something buried somewhere near their worlds that could quite easily collapse an entire star system into a singularity, and they have no idea? Knowing the Ross, it’s most likely in an attractive system as well. They have a peculiar affinity for certain forms of life types.”
“Most likely,” Demescene nodded. “However, our concern is securing the device or, failing that, seeing it destroyed. The Ross can’t be permitted to believe they have a war edge on the Alliance again. It would be far too destructive.”
Parath acceded, “That will be difficult. Particularly if we must fight these people while hiding our intent from the Ross.”
“Yes, I’ve seen the new data,” Demescene said. “They’ve massively increased the acceleration potential of their ships. They approach Ross’El speeds, now, surpassing some of our own ships.”