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Authors: Joel Shepherd

Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Military, #Space Opera


BOOK: Renegade
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The Spiral Wars
Joel Shepherd

© 2015 by Joel Shepherd

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and is not intended by the author.

Cover Illustration by Stephan Martiniere.

Titles by Kendall Roderick.


ny thought
of a leisurely homecoming from the war ended when
UFS Phoenix
entered Balise System. Nearly a third of the entire human Fleet was there — about four hundred ships, and nearly double that of merchanters and other vessels, mixing with the insystem runners and causing all kinds of confusion.

Approach to Homeworld was ‘interesting’ at the best of times, a moon in orbit about a ringed gas giant always presented navigational challenges, particularly when that gas giant was as magnetically active as Balise, and tried to flip all your instruments several times a shift. Add to that fourteen other moons, countless assorted asteroids and ice-chunks, and an entire ecosystem of mining runners, outpost stations and sub-light vessels ranging from transports to haulers to tankers and sweepers, and bridge crews were as busy on approach into this peacetime crowd as they were in any active hot zone.

Peacetime. The word crossed Erik Debogande’s mind several times, but failed to register as something real. Mostly he was too busy. As
’s third-in-command, he was the junior command officer, and thus was responsible for all the things that Commander Huang and Captain Pantillo were too busy to deal with. That meant docking prep, and setting all the warrant officers to the task of getting
clean and presentable at dock. After a two year deployment in operational conditions, that wasn’t easy, and there were galleys to clean, storage lockers crammed with worn and half-repaired gear, and an awful lot of junk to be jettisoned that now couldn’t be because of the hazard in crowded space lanes.

Most nerve wrackingly of all, there was the matter of the upcoming parade. All through the ship, crew were breaking out dress uniforms from cramped storage that hadn’t seen the light of day in twenty-six months. There followed the discovery of horrifying creases, of ‘how the hell did that get there’ stains, and a frantic dash to storage for spare shirts, shoes and ties to replace those damaged or mysteriously disappeared. Most crew hadn’t been on parade since departure colours, and some couldn’t recall basic formation procedures, having their heads too full of things that actually mattered in a war.

Erik was thirty-five years old, a baby by the standards of combat command staff, and for him academy graduation had been only ten years ago. And of course Captain Pantillo and Commander Huang
he’d remembered all this stuff, and was always spotlessly presented in any uniform, so preparing the
’s entire crew for the biggest military parade in over six hundred years naturally fell to him. On top of which he had to sit the Captain’s chair for eight hours a rotation on third-shift, while Pantillo and Huang were either sleeping or fulfilling other command responsibilities. After two days of crawling their way through the Balise System to Homeworld, Erik could only think wistfully of sleep and reflect that all in all, the war had been easier.

Occasionally he’d glance at newsfeeds from Shiwon, at the ridiculous crowds and the gathering of forces. All the human leaders were there, from hundreds of settled worlds and systems, all the politicians from the Worlder and Spacer Congresses alike, recalled in what would usually be a non-sitting period for both houses of government. Wealthy people were arriving on private or chartered vessels from a hundred lightyears away, and sleeping on their landing shuttles at various spaceports or open fields in the absence of hotels. There were stories of big ocean ships tied up in harbour for accommodation and charging fortunes by-the-hour, and tent cities in virgin forest where visitors were camping. Lots of the crew had families down there waiting, but trying to get messages through at this light-lag, and with Homeworld communications in knots with a hundred times the usual volume, was nearly impossible. Erik was not particularly worried that his family wouldn’t have a good vantage to watch the parade. If Alice Debogande had to rent an entire city block to get a good view, she would do so.

The last few hours before dock were crazy. Erik reviewed the parade plans, consulted with warrant officers and lieutenants about details, ran short rehearsals in cramped corridors and comforted at least two tearful spacers who messed up the sequence of hands on rifle drill and were terrified they’d embarrass
in front of half-a-trillion watching people. Orders were placed ahead at dock for several missing hats, rifle-safety was reviewed for scan-techs who’d barely held a firearm in the last year let alone paraded with one, and meals were arranged on the run to spacers too busy to sit down and eat, who wouldn’t get another chance during descent. If Major Thakur hadn’t ordered her marine company to give their hapless spacer counterparts a hand, Erik was certain they wouldn’t have been ready in time.

All six major trading stations for Homeworld orbit were full, with no berths even for perhaps the most famous warship of the United Forces First Fleet, let alone its accompanying seven cruisers, three haulers and four frigates. They held at parking orbit from Fajar Station, locked the crew cylinder and made a series of runs in
shuttles onto station transfer hub, where they crammed onto waiting Fleet shuttles that had been set aside for the purpose. Hats and other missing dress items were collected from floating station personnel at docking transfer, and then the shuttles took them down through the storm of orbital incoming and outgoing traffic from the atmosphere below. Erik then had several hours of absolutely nothing to do, and with no ability to influence outcomes anyway. He slept most of the way through reentry, waking only briefly when the Gs made it hard to breathe.

The military spaceport outside of Shiwon was nuts, with traffic that in recent times would have heralded a full planetary invasion. All the spaceport interiors were full, so
’s full complement of eight hundred and forty six formed up and waited in a huge empty hangar as endless vertical and horizontal takeoffs and landings shook the ground and filled the air with fumes. The crews of
joined them, packing the hangar to capacity, while the poor bloody army units had to form up outside and hold their hats against rolling waves of jet-wash.

Erik took the time to form up the warrant officers again and practise. Rifle drill was the real problem, no one remembered what the hell to do and when — for most warship crew rifles were foreign objects only seen in basic or on parade. Again Major Thakur and her marine lieutenants helped, calmly adjusting rifle placement against shoulders, and giving tips on memorising hand movements and position with different commands. Usually marines would make fun of spacers for not knowing such things, and Erik was sure they’d be reminded later. But Thakur and company were nothing but helpful in a crisis. There was a standing bet amongst spacers for a lot of money for anyone who could make Major Thakur angry without breaking regs. Most didn’t believe it was possible, but still no one had the balls to try.

Several times while drilling, Erik glanced to see Captain Pantillo by the hangar’s edge, in deep conversation with several serious looking people in suits, their fancy black groundcars waiting on the shimmering tarmac with guards and drivers. Erik knew well that Pantillo had many friends in Spacer Congress, and had been overlooked for Admiral many times because of his politics. Some talked about political ambitions, about furthering the cause of the Worlders, always unhappy with their under-representation in the corridors of true power. Many Spacers had bad names for other Spacers who sided with the Worlders, but Pantillo was one of the greatest names in the whole United Forces — the most successful warship captain of the last fifty years, in command of one of the most legendary vessels of the entire Triumvirate War. He got a pass where others wouldn’t, and no one would dare accuse him of receiving Worlder money for backing their side.

A group of chah'nas warriors ran by the hangar, weaving about the cars without breaking formation. Seven-foot-plus and four-armed, they ran with thudding, muscular precision, many arms swinging in unison, with a rhythmic chant on every fourth step. They were an imposing sight in full battle armour and weapons, as chah'nas had no such thing as dress uniform, only ‘fighting clothes’ and ‘not fighting clothes’. Getting them to understand such things as parades had been a struggle in itself, as Erik recalled Commander Huang telling the crew all around a mess table one shift, having once spent a year as liaison officer to a chah'nas battle fleet. Now they were here to indulge this odd human custom, and fly the flag for their people on this, the great victory day for humans and chah'nas alike. Humans had not fought this war alone, nor had they won it alone. Were it not for the Chah'nas Continuum, all of humanity would have ended a thousand years before, at the hands of an entirely different enemy. The chah'nas liked to remind humans frequently, and on this day in particular, most humans would not begrudge them that reminder.

Finally a convoy of busses arrived, and the assembled crews filed aboard. Another long drive out of the spaceport, weaving through bus, truck and other traffic, and chatter increased as excitement levels rose. There was no civilian traffic between the spaceport and Shiwon, just a long expressway reserved solely for the military, then some pretty suburbs, green trees and houses whizzing by below. Above were formations of jets, fighter drones and gunships, then a group of assembled army dropships like giant, howling bees. Crew peered from the bus windows to watch, then pointed and exclaimed in amazement as a mixed formation of craft roared by, assembled around a massive assault shuttle, like moths about an eagle. All this activity was expensive and very loud, but today no one would be complaining. Erik wondered if the whole event really was as expensive as a planetary invasion. Just so long as the expense this time was only measured in currency, and not in many thousands of lives.

The expressway entered a huge tunnel under the great war memorial, where an entire low hillside overlooking central Shiwon had been converted to parks, walkways and pretty views about a series of monuments to the dead from a hundred and sixty-one years of war. There were other, even grander memorials on Homeworld of course, to other wars that told the story of how humankind had ended up here in the first place. But this memorial was to
war, Erik’s war, the one that had been going for a hundred and twenty seven years before he was born, and that he’d occasionally doubted he’d live to see the end of even should he
meet some violent and glorious death in the cause of human freedom.

The busses queued in the long tunnels before finally disembarking their passengers and doing a U-turn onto the opposing lane. Ahead were more endless rows of soldiers and spacers, forming up now with yells from their officers, a last minute check of buttons, hats, collars and weapons. As the
crew scrambled to make formation, Erik felt his heart thudding faster as a thousand thoughts and possibilities tumbled through his mind, things he hoped he’d gotten right and that wouldn’t disgrace his ship and his family if they all went wrong.

The marines went first, by convention. Not a single spacer begrudged them that, recalling many times when enemy or otherwise non-compliant stations or ships had required capturing, and it had been marines who fought their way aboard through gunfire, booby traps and explosive decompressions, while spacers stayed safe and pressurised in their ship. Somewhere ahead the tunnel ended, and Erik could see over the heads of second-shift that Major Thakur’s marines had left the tunnel into sunlight. There was a roar, and applause, and the echo of loudspeaker announcements up the road. The population of Homeworld were knowledgeable followers of the war, and knew their warriors like sports fans knew their football players.

Next would be Captain Pantillo, marching alone before first-shift. Then Commander Huang heading second-shift, then Erik himself leading third. It suddenly struck him that he was going to be marching here all alone, with no one at his flanks to provide the anonymity of numbers. The cameras would find him, of course. There goes Lieutenant Commander Erik Debogande, the commentators would say. The second-youngest-ever naval officer to make warship command. And on the legendary
UFS Phoenix
, of all the vessels to do it on, under one of the greatest Fleet heroes of the war, Captain Marinol Pantillo. Who could possibly believe that this promotion was earned, and not somehow political, given the extraordinary clout and finances of the Debogande family? Is this boy really that good, or did Mommy Debogande pull a few strings in senior command? Because really, given the sheer numbers of officers graduating from the Academy with exceptional scores, what were the odds?

Well. Erik himself sometimes wondered.

Rifle tucked to his shoulder, he took one final opportunity to look back and view his small line of third-shift officers. Most of
had two-shifts only, but the bridge alone had three. It meant that while Pantillo and Huang were marching before a formation of three hundred and one each, Erik had only his bridge officers and reserves — a little line of fifteen plus himself out front. They looked straight, and marched well enough, for spacers who hadn’t been on a planet since leave on Tepi four months ago. Four months, and then the flanking feint on Thilum, followed by the secondary push to Moana Junction, then a month’s regrouping before the final assault on Kattil Karam, on the very outskirts of the tavalai homeworld. Then the counter attacks, and Captain Pantillo’s desperate flanking assault at the tavalai assembly point at Dhuvo, where
had been destroyed and a thousand lives lost. And then, a week later, news that the chah'nas had crushed an entire sard fleet at Trongkul, and the kaal were squabbling with the tavalai about surrender. And a week after that, news that the tavalai had finally caved, and were willing to surrender unconditionally.

BOOK: Renegade
11.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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