Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2017, Karl Leffler
SEAL, Part II: Returned
Continued from the previous excerpt
“Approximately 80 hours ago,” Major Brevor announced, “patrol ship 27 was captured in the trailing group of Jupiter's Trojan asteroids by United Nations forces. Your orders - our orders from the Pentamvirate - are to recover or destroy the ship to prevent Marsten technology from falling into the hands of the enemy.” Her narrative was unnecessary. The information was clearly displayed on the pad in Ternel's hand.
The Commodore's thoughts raced. How-? -No, it had happened, blame could be assigned later. But why him? The SEALs, his creation, were more than capable-
“Politics,” he cursed.
“If this gets out,” Brevor answered with a nod, “even a piece of it, the diplomatic and propaganda implications....” She didn't need to finish. An interstellar cold war had smoldered for over a century, between the Republic, loose among the stars, and the United Nations of Sol System, trapped around their own sun by their lack of faster-than-light technology. There was still communication and trade - using the terms generously - but Sol was a cage and the Navy were the zookeepers. “We're not ready for a war,” Brevor continued. “You would know better than I, sir. Politically, economically, socially, even militarily, we're not ready for a real, declared war.”
Ternel did know. “You need people who will never speak of it. How many know?”
“The Pentamvirate, one Senator, three Representatives, Rear Admiral Ching, Major General Schwarzwald, two Navy Captains-” the Jeffersonian Republic Navy was rarely called such, usually styled the Space Patrol- “one Commander, one Navy Lieutenant, and one very unfortunate Spacer First comm tech.” Who, Ternel could guess, was in a cage of his own.
He scowled at the thought of a brother or sister Spacer suffering such injustice - but knew it was necessary. The Republic as she now stood could not win a “conventional” war - whatever that would look like in the Interstellar Age. Instead, he had helped draft the emergency plans: The widespread use of kinetic, nuclear, and even relativistic weapons against all of Sol System. If those plans were used during his lifetime, he planned on ending his life the same day. “The FB?”
The FTL Bureau, next to the Investigators' Corps, was one of two not-quite-detested organizations in the Republic's government. Police forces, explicity prohibited under the Constitution. They'd've been exterminated decades ago, as “governor” Webb's “Public Safety Corps” had been on New Texas, if not for their narrow focus and tightly-bound powers, and the legal technicality that they were part of the Navy. The IC handled more mundane cases, robbery, murder, like old police forces used to do - but they were only called in on sworn warrants. If they went hunting for “criminals” under malum prohibitum “laws”, they would become the hunted. The FB, on the other hand, had only one job: To keep anyone outside the Republic from learning the secret of the Marsten Drive. So far, the only people outside the Republic were trapped in Sol System - the prison Ternel's and Brevor's ancestors had shot their way out of.
“Less than a dozen, though others are beginning to suspect. They're giving us everything they have, of course. Frankly, sir, they're in a panic. They've always known the secret would get out, but no one ever expects it to happen to their generation. -Sir, I've been to their headquarters. They are genuinely expending all efforts, but they're oriented almost exclusively for domestic operations, hunting spies and plugging leaks on our end. This is their worst nightmare and there's very little they can do about it.”
“And that's where I come in.” The Navy's overflights were necessary to cover what the FTL Bureau could not, monitoring, if possible suppressing, and if necessary giving warning of Terran development of the Marsten Drive.
Ternel's career in the Jeffersonian Republic Navy had been long and varied. After creating the SEALs and leading them in secret battle for years, he moved to more technical areas and designed the ships to carry them. Patrol Ship 27 had been built with a great deal of Ternel's input and personal supervision. The class were too small, and too secret, to have official names, but he had always thought of #27 as Caroline. Brevor said, “As the ship's co-designer, you're more familiar with her than anyone else available in time. SEAL Teams Two and Five are standing by at Monticello Station. The Meteor is readying for immediate departure on your orders.”
Ternel nodded slowly. JRS Meteor was another of his own creations, one of his last projects before retirement - first of a new class of special operations ships, faster and stealthier than any yet built. They were disguised, and frequently used, as fast government couriers, with Third Generation Improved Marsten Drives exceeding forty times lightspeed; the class, only eight ships so far, held the present hyperspace speed record.
As for the troops... Ternel stayed in touch. Just as he had known about Brevor's record, he knew that Team Two was presently composed of relative rookies, though they'd all passed the training Ternel himself had devised decades ago, and their leader, LT Ron Daniels, was experienced. Team Five were hardened veterans, like Brevor all having seen combat with the JVGs on Terra, and their leader, LCDR Kyle Black, had been a student of Ternel's. There were no better throat-cutters in the galaxy.
Jeffersonian SEAL Teams were smaller than their American ancestors, rarely comprised of more than twenty personnel when deployed. Team Five currently held seventeen, while Two had only a dozen - but every last man was worth a dozen of anyone but their own predecessors. Pilots, demolitions experts, combat medics, snipers, hand-to-hand experts, computer experts, linguists, codebreakers, EVA experts - every one was several of these things. A few, like some of the Team leaders and Ternel himself, were all of them.
When he heard his Team Name, “Trident”, spoken on behalf of his old teammate, he wondered what he felt - revulsion, fear, longing.
He decided it was all of those things. Popping a last battered scallop into his mouth, he rose from his seat, tossed coins on the table, and said, “Let's go.”
On the shuttle flight to Monticello Station, Ternel read the details of the seizure. The ship's commander, listed as LT Quincy Chalmers, had approached an asteroid in the trailing Jovian Trojans to investigate a signal intercept.
The surrounding asteroids had erupted with heavy laser and projectile fire, crippling the ship's realspace engines and weapons. It was a deliberate ambush and the signal had been bait. Chalmers fought what was left of his ship as best he could, until subsequent shots cut him in half. The Marsten Device kept transmitting from the flight recorder until Ensign Norman Walters, the communications officer, threw the self-destruct lever.
Unfortunately that hadn't been enough - connections had been severed by enemy fire, and while the Drive had been crippled and heavily damaged, it had not been destroyed.
Patrol Ship 21 - which Ternel thought of as Elizabeth - had been ten light-minutes away. Her captain, LT Gerald Yance, had immediately ordered a Transit to the scene. Emerging from hyperspace within a hundred kilometers of the site, her Class Three Marsten Guns had killed four of the nine enemy ships and crippled two more, until another had put a swarm of kinetic slugs through her fusion containment bottle. Before that happened, Yance had made contact with Walters and had streamed updates to Patrol Central until Elizabeth had been destroyed.
Meanwhile #24, Beatrice, had been monitoring the battle from a dozen light-minutes in another direction. Her captain, LT Michael Kusanagi, would have attacked as well if not for an engineering casualty knocking out the Marsten Drive the day before. Instead, he kept a passive watch while making repairs, sending constant updates through his backup Marsten Device. These updates included intercepted Terran communications, which codebreakers at Patrol Central had deciphered.
Of Caroline's crew of thirty-one, nineteen had been killed by fire from enemy ships, and five more resisting the boarding action. The remaining seven were all wounded, three critically and not expected to survive. Ensign Walters had been taken alive and was being, in the Terrans' own words, “strenuously interrogated”. He had scrambled the computers' access codes but had been unable to destroy the data they carried - including, somewhere in their electronic depths, technical information on the Marsten Drive. If recovered, it would jumpstart Terran efforts to duplicate the Drive and escape Sol.
And then there would be war.
There were a few factors in the Jeffersonians' favor. The ambush had used, and lost, most of the ships the UN could spare. It would be weeks before more ships could reach Jovian orbit to secure their prize. If JRS Meteor left right now, and her Engineering department got out and pushed, she might arrive in time to do something about it. Fueling and loading was finishing as Ternel and Brevor came aboard.
“Coming with us, Major?” the Commodore - Admiral, now - asked.
“Yes, sir. As long as I'm here.” Women in combat was still a touchy subject. Brevor was qualified, obviously, one of the few who were, but if she were taken alive... United Nations “laws” on the treatment of women, and the treatment of prisoners, were more reasons to keep the savages caged around Sol. “I have a suicide device implanted, sir.” He nodded and dropped the subject.
JRS Meteor, APF34, first of her class, was nearly twice the size of the Type 159 Patrol Ships she was racing to the rescue of. The Type 159 was the smallest ship class ever fitted with a Marsten Drive, at barely a kiloton; they were little more than naked Drives with thrusters, weapons and life support bolted on. Meteor massed over 3,500 tonnes, and was armed with six Class Five Marsten Guns, ten 8MW pulse lasers, a dozen small, rapid-fire mass drivers and four missile tubes, many concealed behind false panels. Her fusion torches could drive her through realspace at over thirty meters acceleration for over a hundred hours, performance no other ship could match. Her crew numbered fifty-nine, with room for up to forty passengers depending on their comfort, in modular berths which could be combined or divided.
Her captain was Commander Louise Mardigan, Jeffersonian Republic Navy. Ternel knew her record too: a brilliant Navigator, trusted and respected by those ranked above and below her. She often played the public relations game - she was as attractive as Brevor, in a less predatory way - while ferrying Representatives, Senators and Councillors from one world to another, but she was far more than decoration. She, too, had seen combat with the JVGs. Though she never wore the trident badge in public, to maintain the peaceful illusion for news cameras, she was SEAL #1021. She'd passed training at the very bottom of her class - but she had passed. One of only five women to ever do so. Ternel didn't ask about her suicide implant. He still had his own, as every SEAL did.
She'd been fully briefed of course. “Admiral on deck!” she barked, as Ternel floated into the bridge compartment. His Rear Admiral's uniform had been waiting on Brevor's shuttle. Stone-Heart knew he wouldn't refuse.
“As you were,” he replied, and the crew returned to their tasks. “Captain, report readiness for departure.”
“Four minutes, Admiral,” Mardigan replied, gesturing toward a readout. “We're cramming aboard every drop of fuel we can carry.”
“Very good, depart when ready. You know the mission, don't waste time on formalities.”
“Aye aye.” She resumed the orders she'd been giving when Ternel and Brevor arrived, releasing moorings, testing attitude thrusters, checking systems.
Peering over her shoulder, Ternel could see the navigational data, the plotted course from Tau Ceti to Sol. Interrupting, he observed, “Captain, that's a speed figure I've not seen before.”
She turned and grinned at him. “Lieutenant Iannoco, sir, our Engineer. Genius with a Drive. He wants to break fifty times lightspeed and he just might.” Her grin faded. “Not the most spit-and-polish officer, though....”
“Geniuses rarely are,” Ternel agreed. The projection was 49.4c, a new speed record they didn't dare make public, meaning 2,111 hours, or 88 Terran days, to be spent in hyperspace. Terran ships, lacking the Marsten Drive, had to crawl through realspace; their more-primitive fusion torches could only generate a few meters of constant acceleration, not even a full g, or mere centimeters for a journey that long with onboard fuel. Reinforcements were expected at the Jovian Trojans at... just about the time Meteor would arrive. “I'll leave him to it, we've more to worry about than military etiquette.” Mardigan nodded her appreciation and returned to her work.
Brevor followed Ternel - he knew the way - to the troop compartment, usually disguised as passenger quarters. One of the crew, a Petty Officer Haenel, apologized for the lack of accommodations befitting his rank, but Ternel waved it away, as he selected an empty berth no better than any Lieutenant would have.
He didn't want it - he didn't want to want it. But he was a warrior again, and part of him felt at home.
Continued in the next excerpt....