Short Story: A New Enemy

Admiral Su Kovac was the hardest screw in the Earth Federation Fleet. With upwards of a thousand battles under her belt over the length of a forty year career, she was finest, most experienced officer Earth-Federation had ever seen. In all her years of command, she’d learned to emulate her ancestors by taking the unplanned as it came, or otherwise striking hard with superior force. The mix made her the EFF’s foremost Tactician.

She was deferred to whenever in reach, but no-one dared disturb her otherwise. Once, twenty or so years into her career, then Fleet Admiral Harding had pulled her off maneuvers for an utterly trivial task. She arrived promptly, learned of the task, and before realizing his mistake, was lambasted and humiliated him before his men and half the other Admirals. All of them seemed to recognize Kovac’s authority over his– to say nothing of the defeat of the already-crumbling “old guard.”

Shortly after, High-Command made her Fleet Admiral, consigning Harding to the annals of forgotten history. Kovac celebrated by completing maneuvers then tearing down the command structure to rebuild it. Despite making few friends among the senior officers, the reassignments tightened the Fleet enough to “plant the flotilla up a flea’s ass.”

Kovac was fond of the saying, but too often it came across as ego to those outside her command. The others took it as the ultimate compliment– especially given the inverse; “loose as an old man-whore’s ass.” A saying she was equally, if not more, fond of. Those under her disliked its implications, its terribly vivid imagery, but no-one questioned her judgment.

To say the EFF had never seen a greater Admiral would require the admission of how few there’d been. Kovac was one in a short line thus far, and though the bar was never set before her, it had damn sure been set by her.

One shining example was the battle over Dent Seven, a planet on the edge of Gliese 876. What had once been known by its host star and the appended letter “D,” was colloquially known as Dent. She knew the Eklobian Mauraders had hidden themselves through-out the system, minimizing their heat and power output to effectively mask their fleet. By doing so, they blockaded Dent, on the grounds of embargo, believing themselves to be deserving of a larger portion of the tariffs collected by them on behalf of the Federation, contractors that they were.

Kovac launched only a single, filled shuttle-carrier in response. She helmed it, taking only a skeleton crew of volunteers from her best and brightest. After a week of lying in wait in deep space, using long-range scanners to surveil, map, and observe the system, she and her crew had wired all of the shuttles for remote piloting. Then, placing herself in orbit of Gliese 876’s eponymous star to mask her emissions, she launched the shuttles one-by-one. Each one drew out Marauders moving in attack formation.

At each appearance, a single volley of the carriers cannons fired, eradicating the shuttle and the marauders. It wasn’t long before the Marauders learned of the tactic, and their losses, and withdrew.

In short, all future Admirals would be judged by Su Kovac, and with good reason; she was the best of the best, and it was doubtful anyone living could exceed her prowess.

That all came to a head the day Orion Expedition encountered trouble near Bellatrix. The O-E ships were approximately two-thirds of the way through a research and survey expedition when contact was lost. Admiral Kovac immediately launched a contingent of cruisers and scouts, herself at its head. The F-drives engaged, planting them a few, solar hours out from O-E’s last known position. The contingent’s bulk kept formation to the O-E transponder location. The scouts went ahead, scanners active, and guns at-the-ready.

Dead space greeted them. Dead space. Minor debris. A black-box transponder was the only whole-part of any of the twelve research vessels and four escort cruisers remaing. Kovac kept her guard up. The tension rose aboard each ship, felt by all from officers to ensigns, vets to greenies; something was wrong. Everyone knew it.

As if shouting into the frightening darkness around oneself, Kovac ordered a single, burst transmission to ping for any cloaked or masked vessels hiding from their aggressors.

The ping emitted silently, but every crew-member felt its electrical discharge strike their chests like a thunderbolt. In all of the years the EFF had existed, nothing ever so completely annihilated a contingent of its ships, nor with such stealth. Not a single trace of its presence was left. Even after the interminable wait, silence remained the ping’s only reply.

Kovac ordered scouting parties, sending a battleship, a pair of cruisers, and a handful of corvettes together to stand guard. Others were sent along patrols around any plausible perimeter an escape pod might be in. She kept her Dreadnought, Shepard, and the Carrier, Heinlein, at the center of the contingent’s remnants, surrounded it with EFF Destroyers, Battleships, and Cruisers, then split the remaining Corvettes into two groups. Opposing patrol routes between the rest of the ships would ensure nothing escaped visual inspection.

Shepard’s senors suddenly went out. Alarms screamed through the Dreadnought. The fleet began radioing identical issues. Comms crackled despite short distances. Kovac immediately ordered back her teams. Comms went out altogether a moment later. Screeching static stole the airwaves, most officers’ breaths. Without comms, the fleet had no way to maneuver or relay orders.

Were it not for her subordinates’ respect and her expert instruction, she might have lost complete control. Whatever had caused the issues might have struck, leaving nothing short of total chaos in result. Instead, each man and woman sat at the edge of theirs seats, waiting to enact any orders.

Centered amidShepard’s Bridge, Kovac skimmed the force-field windows and their clear, 360-degree view of open space on all sides. Nothing was amiss, aside from the obvious sensor issues. Space was peaceful, as empty as it had always been.

She squinted at the blackness outside the ships’ collective field of light. Something came at her like a torpedo, rocketed toward the Bridge windows. Shepard’s shields repelled it in a shower of sparking flame.

“Cut all lighting,” Kovac ordered.

Her words echoed between various officers. The lights went out. She fished a blinding hand-lamp from a compartment beside a bulkhead, switched it on. The Bridge lit, a beacon in the night. A series of hand movements signaled in now-ancient Morse-code to a cruiser in range. The code was long out of use, but every person under Kovac’s command had learned it under her orders.

Moments later, the Cruiser’s Bridge went dark. The fleet began to shift. Kovac’s voice was a steady stream of orders. Meanwhile, her hand worked, relaying orders to the cruiser, in turn relayed to other ships in range light signal beacons. Before long the entire fleet reformed. All ships now had views of Shepard’s Bridge.

Fighters were launched, two pilots to a ship; one for flight, one for comms. Orders to sweep in formation were dispatched. Space was suddenly swarmed by the criss-crossing and swirling of a thousand and more fighters.

A Destroyer erupted. The shockwave of blue-plasma rocked the other ship’s shields. A second later, violet plasma manifested from seemingly empty space. Kovac snarled. Firing trajectories were calculated, relayed. Weapons were charged. Before the hidden ship could comprehend it, the fleet’s volley launched. Red-violet. Azure-blue. Electric greens and reds. The small streaks of proton-missiles all aimed for a single point in space. They met the hidden vessel with a mosaic of small explosions that birthed another, larger one.

In the final moments before its reactors went critical, a Dreadnought unlike any she’d ever seen appeared beneath the mosaic shroud. The EFF had not built or envisioned it. Indeed, the design was so alien Kovac doubted a human mind could have concocted it. She had no words to describe it xenoicism. Its various curves, hard angles, and exorbitant plating veined with fire. Then, post-nuclear shock-wave exploded, dissipating eon-blue and red-violet through-out space. Most of the EFF fighters were caught off-guard, lost. A small price, Kovac decided, given the alternative might have been the entire fleet.

Upon returning home, there were no medals. She wouldn’t have accepted them anyway. They were trophies, conversation pieces, thin veneers for people without true accomplishments beneath their belts. Preparation was more important than ceremony anyhow. This new enemy was smart. They’d completely eliminated an entire research party without being spotted; caught the fleet– and Kovac– off-guard, and almost wiped them out in the process. As far as the EFF was concerned, they’d declared war.

For Kovac’s part, they’d exposed critical flaws in the Fleet’s stratagem. Their possession of advanced cloaking and EMP tech meant she needed a defense. Rather than be shaken, she locked herself away to think.

This new enemy was good, but Kovac was better. She knew it. It wasn’t arrogance but discipline. Everyone else agreed. To her diligence and training were everything. She withdrew the fleet to Sol for maneuvers to test against her stratagem, then sent out patrols and scouts. She would be damned certain they were prepared for any future confrontation with this new enemy.

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