ArcColonel James Stanton sat in his chair on the bridge of the recently recommissioned Genesis Battlecruiser Archangel Sword, rueful thoughts filling his mind. Such thoughts were nothing new to him – the past eight months had been full of unhappy sentiments and uncomfortable feelings. Today seemed even more desperate than any day before, however, because Stanton and the crew of Sword were at last making a move that reflected their concerns.
The technical term for their course of action was desertion, though the crew had caustically come to call it liberation – as far as they were concerned, it marked the end of a long and tiring ordeal.
Archangel Sword was technically a Genesis Navy Battlecruiser, one which had been part of Sarah Manchester’s squadron during the defection from the Church months before. Sword had been with ArcGeneral Manchester during the action at the asteroid belt, and in that battle had been painfully carved up by a few Church Superdreadnoughts. It had been a distinguishing action, one the crew had been lucky to survive, and it had sent Sword to Earther yards for reconstruction over the past eight months.
But the Earthers hadn’t simply repaired the damage. They’d offered to enhance Stanton’s ship, and while he’d wanted his old ship back to normal, Liz Hastings had flexed her muscle from the top. Maybe it was her new leg, maybe her new Earther friends, but she just didn’t seem to be able to say no to their kind offer. So the Earthers went ahead with their changes, turning Sword into a test-bed project.
James had watched unhappily as the Earther yards bastardized his ship, mounting their carronades instead of lasers, augmenting his traditional energy armor with their energy shield, upgrading his flux drive with their Wyndhymn generators to create an ultra-efficient hybrid, and so on. He had complained to Hastings, and then he’d met with Vice Admiral Savanna Felix, head of the Earther reconstruction efforts. Felix had been much more understanding, but he couldn’t overturn Hastings’ orders – Sword was a Genesis ship, after all. So the job was finished as Hastings had wanted it.
And the ship that James Stanton and his crew had traveled in from Earth to Genesis wasn’t the same. Technically it was a better ship, but it wasn’t the ship they’d fought in, and it represented trouble at the top of the Genesis Navy, at least as far as James was concerned – the lack of a singular vision, of a goal for the human ships.
Hastings at last had freedom from the Church, but she now seemed keen on handing influence over to the Earthers… who didn’t even want it. Admiralty House on Earth was definitely avoiding getting too close; squadrons were never mixed, as that would eliminate the tactical strength that a homogenous force provided. But Hastings persisted in trying to close ranks with the Earthers, and Sword was proof of it going too far.
The Battlecruiser hybrid was a one-off that existed in the gray area between Dreadnought and Battlecruiser. After a minor shouting match with Hastings, James had discovered the reason it hadn’t shipped for Genesis with its old squadron mates in Pat Conroy’s force: Sword was too Earther for duty in a Battlecruiser squadron, but not Earther enough for an Earther frigate squadron.
James and his ship and crew were effectively confined to Earth space.
At first James had been convinced he was alone in his anger at Sword’s marginalization, but in talking to his colleagues he’d realized they felt the same. This… alliance wasn’t right for them. Not the way Hastings saw it. And until an alternative surfaced… His officers had talked it over in his wardroom two days earlier, and the unanimous decision had been to abandon. Again.
They’d spoken privately with every member of the crew, many of whom were bitter to see their ship changed by Earther enhancements, and to be left behind. About seventy had elected to be put off the ship, but even they had been sympathetic enough to swear silence until after Sword left Earth space.
Indeed, crews from a number of ships had already expressed their unhapp-iness with the situation – it was common if unwelcome knowledge that a hand-ful of human ships had left the ranks of the combined fleet over the past months, and the Earthers had wished them well. Genesis Fleet Command had resisted more vocally, but the Earthers, operating as a separate Naval service with no responsibility for the deserters, simply queried the departing ships. When an Earther Captain asked an abandoning ArcColonel under whose authority he or she was acting and the reply of ‘our own’ came back, the Earther nodded with a serious expression, said they’d be missed and welcomed in Earth space if they ever chose to return, then wished them safe journey.
It was unorthodox by human standards, but the Earthers just let the deserters go.
And go Sword was about to – the ship was now returning to open space, with a large sum of its old crew still aboard and a healthy crop of other carefully selected Genesis spacers filling the holes. Cruising out into deep space without orders from above, and with no clear idea of where they’d end up. A gamble, to be sure, but James couldn’t stand to be in the company of his Navy anymore – he’d go make his own war on the Kroggs if it came to that. And Sword would not be made a white elephant, never to see service. No one was going to stop them from leaving today.
The 74-gun ship of the line Apollo, under the command of Captain Draco Maximane – a good-natured lion who had an interest in human nautical his-tory – halted Sword on its outward journey. Courteously keeping his gunports closed and crew stood down, Maximane brought his ship up alongside the hybrid and matched speed.
Maximane truly hated to see good ships and crews like Archangel Sword and its complement go, but he acknowledged their right to do so – the psychological stress of being flung from the clutches of the Church into the foreign Earther lifestyle had to be immense, even if some of the humans were handling it well.
Although he couldn’t pretend to understand them entirely, Maximane was willing to give these humans the benefit of the doubt. They’d proven their good character with spilled blood a year ago, and the Earthers had no right to ask anything more of them.
What would the Genesis Fleet Command say? Well, Maximane couldn’t worry about that, “Query them please, Signal Officer. Master, keep us alongside.”
A signal lanced across the gap between the two ships, and James indifferently watched a lion appear on his bridge screen, “Good day, Captain.”
The lion nodded with customary Earther courtesy, “And to you, ArcColonel. Might I inquire as to your mission today?”
James Stanton paused ever so briefly, assessing his reply, “Captain, my ship and I are intent on leaving the system, under our own initiative.”
Maximane paused as well, then nodded, “It’ll be a shame to lose a good ship and crew such as yours, sir. But all the same, good luck to you – take care of yourselves out there.”
James’ expression remained neutral, and he offered a quick nod in reply, “Thank you, Captain. Good day to you.”
As the screen blanked and the Sensor Chief on Sword’s bridge reported the large 74 to be moving off, James felt a momentary stab of uncertainty. He could honestly see himself fighting alongside the Earthers – playing a role in the liberation of Genesis – but damned if his own Navy would let him.
It was not an easy thing, to walk away, but he simply couldn’t fit into this version of an Earther world, nor could his crew. He didn’t know where he could fit anymore.
Draco Maximane was grim as Apollo turned back to its patrol route along the belt, but he was still obliged to perform another duty related to the desertion.
“Signal Officer, send to Admiralty House that the Battlecruiser Archangel Sword has left the system of its own volition.” Maximane turned to his First Lieu-tenant, a polar bear named Garvin Jardaw who’d been with him for several years in the Third Rate, “Are there any human ships on the Sword’s base course?”
Jardaw had already predicted the question and was searching through charts of the Sol sector on his screen, “One Dreadnought, Saint Damian Freedman, on the Pluto patrol.”
Maximane nodded silently – it seemed that the officers of other Genesis Naval ships were not kind to those who chose to leave. Maximane didn’t quite understand the sense of possessiveness the Genesis Navy felt over its crews. The Earther Navy was a volunteer fleet; it was the Captain and crew who made the decisions on an Earther ship, and it was the combined commitment of these two groups to the Navy and to the mission that guaranteed the strength of the fleet. No one in the Earther service ever pretended differently, but the humans clearly had a separate set of standards. And unfortunately, Maximane realized, those standards were causing as much division as unity in the Genesis Fleet.
In immediate terms, that sort of division could prove deadly…
Maximane ground his jaw for a second, then turned to his Signal Officer again, “Send to Castor, we’re going off station for twenty minutes.”
It was the meeting with another human ArcColonel that James Stanton had most feared for his outward journey – the Earthers were not abrasive, but another human ship of war might be less inclined to let him leave Sol space with Sword. When the Heavy Cruiser Grendelsbane City had departed just a month before, the ArcColonel of an intercepting Superdreadnought had actually threatened to blow the ship out of space if it didn’t turn back. It had been a tense moment, but the swift Heavy Cruiser had managed to get around the battleship and escape. The Earthers had quietly expressed their desire to keep Sol space free of combat, but Genesis Fleet Command still seemed to have its blood up.
As did most of the patrolling ships’ ArcColonels – that’s why Hastings posted them out there, to discourage desertion through threat of conflict.
Sword could likely outrun or outgun any human ship it came across, but Stanton had never been one for trading threats with his own officer cadre. Now, as Saint Damian Freedman loomed in the space before them, James doubted if he could get away without such an exchange.
The two Genesis ships slowed to face each other just inside missile range, and a standard hail came from the larger Dreadnought, asking for course and mission. James watched the text message scroll up on his screen and tapped back an equally impersonal reply:
ArcColonel James Stanton, Archangel Sword
Course: Outward as bearing 188 by 232 by 112
He keyed the ‘send message’ button and waited as the Dreadnought processed it. A few seconds later a visual hail came from the larger ship, and James sighed and told his Comm Chief to put it on the main bridge monitor.
Seconds later, an angry-looking oriental woman filled the screen, “This is ArcColonel Hoshi Chen to Archangel Sword. What in the name of the Gods are you doing?”
James recognized Hoshi immediately – she’d been junior to him only a few months before, the exec on one of Manchester’s other Battlecruisers, Paladin Saint. She’d obviously gotten a nudge up to ArcColonel and had been given a Dreadnought. It seemed a mixed blessing – the battered old battlewagon was probably too badly damaged to accompany the mixed fleet heading for Genesis, so it’d remained in-system.
“Good day, ArcColonel. It’s been a while. How goes the shakedown cruise?”
Chen’s eyes flamed. Her expression was dark and the scowl on her face held an unpleasant message, “Damn you, James! You can’t leave us too! What in the gulags of hell do you think you can accomplish on your own?”
“Well, Hoshi, I don’t hope to accomplish anything in particular, but I know I’ll be a lot more comfortable with my ship and my crew. Maybe we’ll actually get a chance to do something out there. But we’re not sitting on our hands anymore, with our own fleet refusing to give us a job.”
Chen’s face flushed crimson and she glared lasers through his monitor, “I can stop you, ArcColonel. Don’t make me. By Gods, I’m loading my tubes–”
A chirping on both bridges cut off Chen’s words, and James frowned and glanced at one of the nearby screens, almost feeling his mood shift to pleasant.
Apollo slipped out of energy drive alongside Sword, linking immediately into the comm conversation. Captain Maximane appeared on Sword’s bridge monitor, splitting the screen.
“Is there some trouble here, ArcColonel Chen?”
Hoshi’s eyes were burning, and James’ eyes narrowed as he offered an absent nod of greeting to Maximane, “Nothing to trouble yourself with, Captain. The ArcColonel was just giving us her best wishes as a sendoff.”
Maximane cocked an eyebrow, “I find that rather hard to believe. ArcColonel Chen, I must ask that you stand down from action stations and return your missiles to your magazines. I believe you know standing policy for Sol space.”
Fleet Command and Admiralty House would love this, James decided with a grim wit.
“We’ll get out of your way, Captain,” James said quietly, and Maximane nodded.
“Safe journey, Mister Stanton.”
“Don’t ever show your face in our space, James, or by Gods we’ll remove it. You got lucky today… don’t expect that to continue,” Chen cut her link first, and then with raised eyebrows and a last brief nod, Maximane cut his link too.
James took a deep, cleansing breath, then looked to his executive officer, “Well, let’s keep moving before we get those two shooting at each other.”
Archangel Sword accelerated outwards from the Sol star.