2016

Empire Earth

The ship shuddered under another blast of plasma from the destroyer on her tail. Captain Jacob Tremblay swayed in his seat and called down to the engine room.

“What do you have for me?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the chief engineer’s voice came back. “We’re down two ratings and we just can’t generate the power we need to escape the system’s gravity fast enough to get out of range.”

“All right,” the Captain said, thinking through his options. “Here’s what we’re going to do. On my mark, we’re going to flip the ship end over end and put our power to the bow shield and charge the plasma capacitor. If we can’t escape, let’s show them our teeth.”

“Aye, captain,” the engineer’s voice replied crisply. “I’ll get it organized.” The hum in the background behind her changed pitch as she and her crew got ready for the maneuver the captain had called for.

“Ready, sir,” she said after a couple of minutes, her voice grim. And no wonder. They’d been running the engine room room ragged for the last six hours, and the chief’s people had to be exhausted right now. However, if they were going to get any rest short of the eternal kind, they’d need to put their best efforts in for just a little longer.

“Weaps,” the captain said to the lieutenant sitting across the bridge. “How long will you need to get the bow plasma arc charged to one hundred percent?”

“Forty seconds,” he responded promptly.

The captain addressed the engineer once more. “Hear that, Catherine?”

“We can do that, sir,” she responded, a note of weariness creeping into her voice. But what choice did they have, really?

“All right, here we go.” The captain paused for a moment, watching the plot to see if the other ship was doing anything different. “Mark!”

A sudden lurch threw the entire bridge crew against their restraints. Then gravity seemed to press in on them from the side, as the ship responded to the engine room’s surge of power and spun on its axis.

“Tactical,” the captain said through his clenched teeth. “Prepare to deploy the bow shield, but be ready to drop it on lieutenant Caspar’s mark.”

“Aye, sir,” the man at tactical replied. “Shifting power now.”

As the ship tumbled in space, the tactical officer redirected their shielding so that the strongest part was always facing the enemy destroyer. When the engine room’s maneuver was completed, the ship was now facing her enemy head on, still racing away, but now travelling backwards.

“Ten seconds to plasma arc,” the weapons officer said.

“Ten seconds, aye,” the tactical officer replied.

“Prepare to drop shield in 3 .. 2… 1… mark.”

On the plot, little changed, but Captain Tremblay could feel the deck beneath his boots shudder as a massive arc of plasma reached out for the ship that had been, up to a few seconds ago, chasing them.

No eye could follow the path the plasma took, but the plot showed the result. The enemy destroyer had been caught unawares, and either hadn’t had time to put her shields up, or had been overconfident in the damage they’d done to the engine room, figuring it extended to the whole ship’s company. How wrong they were in either case. Superheated plasma burned its way through to the core of the destroyer, and unleashed the energies trapped there for the ship’s use. In a fraction of a second, the ship ceased to exist. One moment it was there, the next, only tiny pieces of floating wreckage remained.

Captain Tremblay grimly searched the plot for any indication that pieces of the enemy ship large enough to cause them problems had survived, and finding none, sat back in satisfaction. He looked towards hi communications officer and said “Stand down from general quarters and launch the boats. It’s S&R now, but I want them to be careful. If it looks like anyone’s going to put up a fight, blast them and move on.”

“Yes, sir,” she replied, and bent to her task. The captain nodded to himself, then sat back in his chair and looked around the bridge, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth. His crew had done it again, bringing the ship through what should have been impossible odds.

The smile froze on his face and the image dissolved.

“Not the way you want to earn your spurs,” a young woman’s voice rang out into the huge auditorium, lights coming back up after the image casting faded to nothing, sparks rising up to the ceiling and fading into nothingness as the mages who’d brought the recording to life dismissed the power they’d maintained to keep the illusion going.

The young woman at the podium bore a strong resemblance to the man who’d been captaining the ship at the center of the scenario that had just played out to the seated class. She nodded her thanks to the mages who filed out of the auditorium to their next duty.
“My grandfather may have been a legend when he was out roaming the fringes of the Empire, but if you need to get almost killed every time you engage in battle, even if you’re ultimately victorious, it takes a toll. Not only do your people get killed more often than they need to, but if you begin to believe in your own myth, that can have devastating consequences for your decision making ability in the next battle.”

She paused to check her notes on the podium in front of her. “In fact, it was in his next engagement that my grandfather’s luck finally ran out. Obviously, there are no recordings of that fight, but survivors who were returned to the Empire during the last armistice told a story very similar to the one that had played out so many times previously for Captain Jacob Tremblay of the Solar Empire. Lots of gutsy calls, a little too much time trying to draw the enemy to in.”

“His ship was destroyed, along with close to ninety percent of the crew.” She paused. “Fortunately for me, my grandmother was on Proxima B at the time, already pregnant with my mother.”

A chuckle ran around the room. She waited for it to die down, then continued.

“Seriously, though. While the name Tremblay might make you think of heroic last stands and defying the odds, know that even in the best instance, the name doesn’t shield you any better than any other. If you think you’re going to be riding around, saving the day and escaping by the skin of your teeth while laughing in the face of danger, the navy may not be for you. That’s all for today. Class dismissed.”

She stood back from the podium as a buzz of conversation erupted among the young men and women before her in the auditorium. While she hated to trade on her family name, she knew that many of the young wannabe officers in this room had only signed on to her class in military history because the instructor was Jacqueline Tremblay, granddaughter of possibly the most famous Imperial small ship captain of all time.

If she could use her family name to influence these young people to avoid ending up like her illustrious forebear, she knew she would be saving some of their lives. A silhouette detached itself from the back wall of the classroom as her students filed out the doors at the top of the amphitheatre, and she recognized the face of her department head, Francis Gerund. He waited until the aisles were a little clearer, then made his way down the stairs to where she waited patiently at the bottom.

“The Valiant scenario?” he chuckled.

“What?” Jackie answered. “Too on the nose?”

“Well, I don’t know how many of these youngsters will recognize it,” Frank answered. “It took me a full year before I realized that the name of that ship was the name of this building. Of course, every navy’s naming conventions tend to the overblown, so it was probably that at some point, we’d have a building “named after” an enemy ship.

“No doubt,” Jackie replied.

“Do you think they’ll get the point?” he asked her.

“Well, I’ve made it more blunt over the years,” she responded. “I used to just bring up the lights, then tell them he died in his next engagement, then let them go, but I got the feeling that they left on a buzz from the battle they’d watched instead of subdued by the one they can’t ever watch.”

He glanced sharply at her, but she shook her head, following his train of thought. “No, I’m not getting maudlin here. I honestly believe that the legacy my grandfather left on the Imperial Space Force has done more harm than good at times. Living up to the Tremblay legacy has made more than one captain toss away his ship and the lives of his crew in a scenario that even my hare-brained grandfather wouldn’t have dreamed of jumping in to.”

“Hare-brained?”

“Well, what would you call him?”

“Blessed with an overabundance of enthusiasm and an under-abundance of good sense,” Frank smiled at her.

“RIght. Hare-brained.”

“The thing is,” Frank said more thoughtfully, “I’m not sure he even considered the idea that he wouldn’t pull off whatever he put his mind to.”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to drum out of my students,” she replied. “If they can give some thought to the idea that not everyone comes home every time, it might give them less abundance of enthusiasm.”

The two of them started walking to the door at the back of the presenter’s stage that led to the faculty offices. Jackie stepped gracefully around Frank as he held the door wide for her, nodding her thanks.

They chatted amiably about inconsequentials until they reached his office, then waved cheerfully at his executive assistant as they proceeded through the waiting area into the office proper. Frank circled around his desk to sit in his chair, which immediately conformed to his specifications as it sensed its owner was seated.

Jackie plopped herself into one of the other chairs in the room, which did absolutely nothing. She kicked the side of it, and still got nothing.

“Your chair’s broken,” she said to Frank.

“I know. The animus ran off, and I haven’t gotten around to getting someone in to put a new one into it.”

She snorted. “How long ago was that?”

“Last March,” he replied genially.

“So,” Jackie continued in a more business-like tone of voice, “What did you need to see me about?”

“What makes you think I wanted anything other than the pleasure of your company,” Frank asked guilelessly.

“Good grief, Frank. You come into my first week lecture and loom over the students to hurry them out, and you expect me to believe you don’t want something from me?”

“I did not loom,” Frank responded indignantly, the twinkle in his eye giving him away.

“Did too,” Jackie answered, then stuck her tongue out at him.

“You really should work on being properly submissive,” he chuckled. “You know I’m your boss, right?”

“Right. And when was the last time you successfully enforced that?”

“Okay, well growing up on the same street may have led to some overfamiliarity, I’ll grant you,” Frank responded. “However, the point stands.”

“Does it now? Well, we’ll see about that. Now, tell. What do you actually want?”

Frank gazed at her a moment, and she felt a moment of apprehension. Frank was one of her oldest friends, and he looked as if the last thing he wanted right now was to be sitting here, telling her whatever it was he was holding back on.

“What is it, for heaven’s sake?” she sat up more properly.

“It’s not me,” he started. “It’s the Space Force. You’ve been reactivated.”

She just stared at him a minute, waiting for him to crack a smile to tell her this was all some kind of twisted joke, but he couldn’t even meet her eyes.

“When does it take effect?” her voice was dull, lifeless.

“Not for another two week, but it’s non-negotiable,” Frank replied. He started to say something else, to apologize maybe, but then he shook his head slightly and remained silent to let it sink in.

Reactivated. Damn it all anyway. She’d thought that part of her life was over and done with, and now she was back at it again. She wanted to be angry at someone, maybe at Frank, but she couldn’t work up the energy. Even the thought of heading back out into space failed to fill her with the longing she’d once felt when she was younger. She’d given that up willingly, for good, she’d thought at the time. She had a life here now. A good life, too – stable job, nice apartment, friends. Plus, no one was shooting at her, which had to be a plus. She sighed, then looked at Frank again.

“Someone’s going to have to pick up my classes.”

Frank nodded. “We’ll take care of that here. Just worry about yourself.”

“Where am I supposed to muster in?”

“Camp Sierra.”

“And I’m supposed to be there in two weeks?” her voice was higher than she wanted, but this was insult added to injury. It would take ten days of travel just to get to where she was to report for duty, which left her precious little time to tie up her affairs here, book passage, get kitted out for duty and actually head out.

“I know,” Frank said. “I think that’s why they sent your orders to me, so we’d be in on why you had to disappear so quickly.”

She shook her head and glanced out the window behind his desk, autumn colours on the trees outside lending a homey feeling to the scene. She knew the trees were imports from Earth, but they weren’t genetically altered beyond being able to absorb slightly different nutrient levels than their terran counterparts, so the colours they showed in the fall were authentic enough even for this planet, which had a slightly reduced axial tilt than Earth. Seasons were milder here, but not much else was different than “home”. Not like where she was headed, she noted. Camp Sierra was located on the edge of the habitability zone of one of the Empire’s most outlying star systems. Habitable, barely, the ferocious weather there was attributable in part to the nearly forty-five degree tilt of the planet as it circled its sun. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be there long before being shipped off to wherever she was actually headed.

“Well, in that case, I’d better get started,” she said, rising.

“The Space Force, in its excellent wisdom, anticipated that you might have difficulty booking passage to Camp SIerra at this late date, and so took care of that for you,” Frank said, rising with her. “You’ll find your tickets in your email queue under your mil ID.”

“Well, thank heavens for small mercies.” She smiled, then held out her hand. “I suppose this is goodbye for a while.”

Frank shook her hand, gripping it harder than was necessary, trying to convey something, but Jackie couldn’t spend the time trying to figure it out, with her mind so occupied by the unexpected upheaval in her life.

She walked briskly out of the office, and Frank watched her go, a wistful look on his face. After a moment, he shook himself, then returned to his chair and sat down heavily behind his desk. Turning to his tablet, he began to compose a letter to the faculty head of the history department, warning him he was going to have to find a short-notice replacement for the most popular instructor on campus. As he wrote, he tried not to think of why the space force would be recalling one of its most effective Lieutenant Colonels to active duty in a star system at the very periphery of occupied Imperial space.

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