A claxon began to sound and I froze for a second. It was something I had never expected to hear for real. My companions and I had only heard it in class so we would know the sound. Then I put my surprise into the background and began to run for a lift, all of the other children also heading for lifts, automatically separating as we had been taught, to catch the right one.
A dozen made it into my lift before it took off and take off it did. For the first time it was moving at full wartime speed, as it headed for the quadrant where our Spin Ships were berthed. The lift door opened and we headed for our ships, shucking out of our clothes. I reached Connar and my flight suit was extended on the hook. I slipped into it and winced a bit as usual as the plumbing attachments automatically hooked up. I squirmed into the cockpit and the side hatch closed behind me. I sat back in the deep seat and flicked a thought at Connar and the screens came on giving full vision.
The com went active. It was Pol Tyran stating, “To all Spin Ship Pilots, this is no drill. Pendar, the planetary system we were heading for is under attack by twelve Spin Ship carriers and two battleships. So far the battleships haven't joined in the fighting. One Spin Ship carrier, plus sixty-seven independent Spin Ships who were on leave on Pendar oppose them. So far, only six of the enemy carriers have been committed to battle.”
He exlained, “At present we have lost fifty-one ships, but the enemy has lost close to one hundred and fifty.” I winced at that. We were better, but they could afford three to our one and still come out victorious. “Whether this is a probe in force or a full commitment of all of the Spin Ships they have, we don't know. It is expected that they will commit the other six carriers, momentarily. We obviously have better ships, but not enough better that the one hundred and fifteen ships we have left could face another six hundred Spin Ships on their own. We are six light years out. You will launch and have permission for maximum redline.” I winced again, that would give us eighteen light years an hour, but it would cost ships and there was no telling how many.
Then I shrugged. We were Protectors. We were committed to dying for our worlds if necessary. Whether it came in getting to a battle or in battle, it made no difference. As the com had been telling us the battle situation we had been moved into position.
I said, “Status for launch.” and a green light appeared on my screen, to be followed quickly by eleven others. “Gold Flight ready to launch.”
The launch bay lights went from yellow to green.
I flicked a thought at Connar and we launched and we came out of our launch bays almost simultaneously. We idled momentarily, while the ships launched from the other side of the ship, flipped up and over to join us and we went to maximum redline. The force field clamped us down in our seats, only our hands could move and reach the various buttons on our seat arms. We had to get there together. We couldn't arrive in dribs and drabs.
been informed in class that the carrier in Pendar had the Type A ships,
while we had the new Type B. Ours were closer to Ben's experimental
model. Since our speed in normal space was seventy-five percent of light
speed, he still had five percent on the Type B's and ten percent on
the Type A's. Experiments had indicated that the Type B's with his software
upgrades were better than his ship, at least better than his ship had
We lost half a dozen ships that simply couldn't stand the strain and had blown up and my stomach was hollow. I knew those six, in six years they had become closer than brothers, but I pushed them to the back of my mind for the moment. I would cry for them later. I flicked a thought at my AI and I could feel the chemicals going though my system and as I went On the Spin things began to move more slowly and I looked at my instruments, superimposed on my screens. Twenty-four minutes from launch, thirty seconds to emergence and we'd come out right on top of the fourteen ships.
We had to take out the battleships and the flight leaders determined that Gold Flight would do that. They had capital missiles. If we left them until after we were engaged with the other Spin Ships, they could head in and launch at the planet. Even if we won it would be a hollow victory because there would no longer be a planet there. If they launched right after we attacked, we were far enough out that we could go back into hyper and catch up to the missiles.
We didn't know what type of armament the carriers had, so we would have to look them over as well, just in case, so a wing had been assigned to each carrier. That meant that only thirty-four extra Spin Ships could go to the immediate aid of the besieged ones, but it couldn't be helped and at least they could go all the way in hyper space.
I heard Connar say, *Emerging now.* and suddenly we were back in normal space, moving at seventy-five percent of light speed, with the battleships less than a million miles away. They began firing at random, throwing everything in our direction that they could, point to point defense missiles, Electronic Warfare Missiles, anti-matter beams. I flicked an evasion pattern at Connar and half the flight came with me as if attached by cables and the other six went with my deputy.
On my screen, I recognized the blocky construction of the battleships as a product of the Tarnes. Two hundred years hadn't improved their aim. Nothing was coming anywhere near us. I flicked a com command at Connar, *Tell the Incursion that the invaders are probably Tarnes and send the images back to them.*
Connar told me after a few seconds, *The Incursion acknowledges receipt of the message. The other Spin Ships were too far in to get any clue as to who the invaders were.*
*All ships have permission to fire.* I ordered, wondering how the battleships would stand up to the new Spin Ships. Not very well, it took less than ten seconds before the battleship simply disintegrated under our anti-matter beams.
Connar said, *Gavron reports that the other battleship is also gone. The wings going after the carriers indicate that all Spin Ships have been launched. Their instruments also indicate that the carriers have no capital missiles.*
I mulled it over for a second. The carriers wouldn't be fast enough that they could get far if we won and if we lost it wouldn't matter. I ordered, “Gold Leader to all wings. Ignore the carriers and go after the Spin Ships.”
Right now my half flight was heading directly away from the battle behind us. I flipped into a loop and we were going back in the right direction and we were joined to the rest of Gold Flight in under ten seconds. *Go back into hyper and come out right on top of them.* I ordered.
When we came out of hyper space the IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) transponders threw the number of remaining defenders and attackers on my screen. One hundred and eighty defenders and I winced at that and six hundred and three attackers. But as the sixty extra Spin Ships hit them in the rear, the number on our side stabilized and the enemies began to drop rapidly. I noticed absently that the carriers went into hyper space abandoning their Spin Ships.
When I looked at the battle recordings later, I realized that the enemy Spin Ships had never been fully committed to their task. They broke off when they should have attacked and when the carriers abandoned them, the heart just went out of them, completely. They were almost passive as they were destroyed by twos and threes. I kept hoping that they'd turn off their drives indicating surrender but they didn't, they died to the last ship.
I was heart sick and angry as I gave the order angrily, *Go after the carriers. I want them. They just killed twelve hundred,* and there I hesitated, I knew the rest would come to the realization of who we had fought, but I didn't want to be the one to point it out, *pilots and I want them.*
Spin Ships don't have a definite command structure except for flight leaders. It usually happened in battles such as this that one emerged as the leader and this time it was me. It was simply the fact that I knew who we had just killed and I hated the ones who had forced us to do it and their representatives were on those carriers.
Our carriers were fast, only about a light year an hour slower than we were at normal cruising speed. These were much slower, less than a quarter of our cruising speed of ten lights years an hour and it wasn't long before we caught up with them. They scattered when we did so. I instructed which flights were to go after which carrier according to what showed on my screen, some of them were numbered and some had names which indicated they came from either the other carrier or the planet. Then my flight, Gold Flight, went after the one I had picked for us. There were still twelve in my flight, but I knew three of my original flight had died and we had picked up three from some other squadron. They had automatically become part of Gold Flight, as we had practiced so many times, but this time it was for real. My heart ached again as I thought of the boys and girls I would never see again.
I was heart-broken at what we had been forced to do. I didn't want revenge and my orders to the others, had been to try to get them to surrender. So we surrounded them, staying beyond their weapons range and I fired a shot across the carrier's bows.
We stayed with them for ten minutes and I fired a second shot across her bows. She wouldn't get a third, I would order an attack if she didn't emerge from hyper space. But I had no opportunity. Less then ten seconds after I fired my second shot, she simply blew up. Fanatics I thought with disgust. That was an indication that they were really Tarnes. Tarnes didn't surrender very often, they self-destructed, or at least their regular Navy did. In past wars we had come across ships where reserves were in charge and they were much more likely to surrender.
Connar said in my mind, *Half a dozen life pods ejected, Tol.* I grimaced wryly. At least they hadn't all been fanatics.
I ordered out loud, “Have Gavnor's half of the flight pick them up.” The numbers indicated that there were one hundred and ninety of our ships left, so we had lost seventy-seven. Then, *To all Spin Ships, whether you came from the planet or not, return to either the Intrepid or Incursion.*
disobey, combat had chosen me as the leader and they would do as I told
Pol asked, “Why did you order them to return to the carriers, Tolnar?”
I replied with sorrow, “They're the only Spin Ship pilots alive who have been in combat, except for Ben. They need to be with each other right now. With others who have also been in combat, to celebrate that they're still alive, to mourn those who have died. Those from the planet may have parents who were Spin Ship pilots but they haven't been in combat, they will be ecstatic. The children don't want that right now and they will want it even less when they realize what we did.”
“And what did you do?” Pol asked softly, his blue eyes holding my green ones.
I could barely hold back my tears as I said, “We just killed twelve hundred children. Twelve hundred human children. The Tarnes simply don't have the capability of doing the genetic engineering on their own people, that would have been necessary to produce Spin Ship pilots. Or the chemical engineering to produce the chemical required to speed up our thinking time. Nor the incentive. The longest period that they could have had Spin Ship technology is fifty-eight years, when Ferma Tran disappeared. So, they've been collecting humans since they acquired Spin Ship technology and the chemical formula to produce the necessary chemicals. Someone with knowledge of the genetic changes that needed to be made, has been doing those changes on humans to produce the children who flew the Spin Ships today. That's probably why they dared not surrender, because they still had families in Tarne hands.”
Someone entered from the next office. My hands clenched in anger, as I assumed it was one of the Tarnes who had ejected in lifepods, but they unclenched as I realized that I couldn't read his thoughts. Human surgically altered to look like Tarne. A spy, not Sanscri or at least it wasn't likely. Federation.
A question from Pol brought my attention back to him, “What do you think we should do, Tolnar?”
I told him vehemently, “The Tarne expected, with their new Spin Ships, to destroy us easily!! If it hadn't been for Ben and Rick's software, they would have succeeded!! Our new Spin Ships without the new software aren't as effective as the ship's they flew!! With it, they never really had a chance. The Tarne miscalculated!! I stated emphatically, “They assumed even if they only had partial success that we would treat it as we have other incidents that have happened in the past, with light retaliation!! If the twelve hundred lives had been ours, we could do so. We have been bred to Protect, but we do so voluntarily!! We know that death is part of that!! We can't accept this as simply another border incident!! We killed those we were bred to Protect and that would destroy us!!”
I turned my attention on the spy as he said, “They weren't from Sanscri kid. They're all Federation. People have been disappearing for the past fifty years. We found information that some of them ended up in the Tarne Empire. We have an active intelligence network there and I was sent to find them if I could. I did. The twelve hundred children are the only ones who got as far as the Tarne Empire, the source is somewhere in the Federation.”
“Yes, Mr...?” I asked.
“Roy Denton, Federation Intelligence Agency.” he told me.
I nodded and said courteously, “Yes, Mr. Denton, I am aware that they could not be from Sanscri. We only hold two hundred and three systems and the average population per system is only about 1.5 billion people. You have over fifty thousand, with perhaps three thousand systems with human populations, with another thousand human worlds that don't belong to the Federation."
I explained, "The number of men and women required to produce twelve hundred Spin Ship pilots or more simply couldn't disappear from our population base. Not in the quantity required to produce that number of pilots. That means they have to be from Federation planets or from other Terran political units or lost colonies.”
I told him, “While we're in our prepubescent break period most of us are physically and emotionally ten years old. Few of us ever get beyond that barrier, if you want to call it that. It was done deliberately so that when we started to age again we would be able to fit in with the general population. We'll be more knowledgeable, but emotionally we will fit right in with others of our apparent age.”
I said forcefully, “But that means, whether we are actually ten, or sixteen as I am, or forty years old, most of us think as children!! That means that while our primary imperative is the Protection of the Sanscri Republic, we think of all humans as falling under our Protection, unless they have proven differently by attacking us!! While these children attacked us, they were forced to do so by the Tarne!! To have killed twelve hundred children whose parents were forced to undergo genetic engineering, means that if we do nothing, then we have failed in our duty!! As I said to Pol, that will tear us apart! Within fifty years, there will no longer be any Spin Ships, because there will be no longer be any children willing to fly them!!”
He looked at Pol, who nodded reluctantly, saying, “Tolnar is right. Tol is unusual in that he thinks closer to his real age than the other children. With most of them, no matter how old, their knowledge filters through ten year old emotions. I'll inform the Council of Captains that it must be war, or we might as well start destroying Spin Ships now.
Ben had been asked to meet with the head of the Council and the Federation representative. He wondered it something important was about to happen. While he hadn't minded the peaceful period he'd had over the last few years, a little excitement was good for a person.
“We're still not sure why you need Ben's services, Ms. Richardson?” asked Ray Berringer, Chief Councilor of Home Base.
Before the woman had a chance to answer, Ben interrupted, “If you don't mind, I think I might have the reason. Peter, put up the Ramar Cloud Region on the screen.” Peter was the new AI for Home Base and the reason why Ben wasn't out with his ship. Peter had been complete for a week and the final testing was done. The new computer techniques he and Rick Tane had developed, allowed an AI to be constructed for a large civilian space station for the first time, or in this case retrofitted. The military always built them right into their stations but they were more concerned with efficiency than cost.
The Ramar Cloud Region wasn't very impressive. It was about one hundred light years in diameter and while it wasn't a perfect globe, it was close enough to be called one.
Ben ordered, “Zoom out and show Federation territory in green and friendly star nations in yellow.” The Ramar Cloud Region and areas around the north and south pole regions of the Cloud Region turned green, most of the periphery of the globe turned yellow. He told Peter, “Show the regions where there has been conflict between the Federation and other star nations which has caused significant border closures in the last century, in red.”
Almost all of the star nations in yellow had their edges turn red. Only one did not, but it was almost one hundred and fifty light years from the Ramar Cloud Region. Ben said flatly, “These nations aren't really very friendly to the Federation. They are almost one thousand light years from us and the clans do some trading in this area. As a Protector, I have read up on the regions which can affect us and this is one. In the last one hundred years, the borders of these nations have been closed at least half of the time. Usually the nations simply expel any traders, Free Traders or company ships that are in their territory at the time. However, they escort them back to their point of entry even if they're only an hour from exiting from the far side of the nation. That means very extensive costs if they're caught during one of the border incidents, not only are they escorted back to where they entered, they end up having to go around, as do all trading ships.”
Ben said forcefully, “Therefore the cost for shipping in this region is between five and ten times the cost anywhere else in the Federation!! The Federation would really like to find a path through the Cloud Region. They were the only ones who were willing to claim it. Free Traders hear rumors. The Federation sends in Survey Ships alone and they disappear. If they try to send heavily escorted Survey Ships, the star nations close their borders. If it's one of the star nations, that's making the single Survey Ships disappear the Federation would come down hard on them, but the catch is they have to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
He stated, “Also a hundred light year globe is a very big region, they simply don't know what might be in there. However in any case they need to find out what is making the Survey Ships disappear before they can do anything about it. I assume that's why you came to us and me in particular. I'm the only one who has a ship that can take out a battleship and yet still fit inside of a Survey ship. You want to try a Trojan Horse. Get in and find out what's in there that's taking your Survey Ships and is powerful enough to get back out again, with the proof that you need.”
Ben smiled at the impressed look on the Consul's face, telling her, “You forget Ms. Richardson. I look ten, but I've been a Free Trader for eight years and I'm actually twenty-three.”
Berringer said ruefully, “I don't think being twenty-three has anything to do with it, Ben. Your Protector's instincts allow you to see things that even people five or six times your age would have trouble seeing.”
Ben nodded, then his eyes lit up with glee,as he said, “I agree, but I have one condition that must be met.”
Don Francis choked out, “He what?”
looked at him and chuckled. Don was only in his forties, the Admiral
was just over a hundred and had seen many things as strange or stranger
in his career. He explained, “He's in command, Don. He's been given
the temporary, but very real rank of Commodore. In fact he's considered
a Federation ambassador so in reality he ranks all serving Naval officers.
He only demanded autonomy, which since he has the more powerful ship,
we would have given him. The Admiralty and the Diplomatic Corps got
together and decided on the actual rank.”
Rachel, the AI said, “This is a target range Don and if something is going after that battleship. Well, she's been stripped, but her reactors are still there and her shields are up. Since all of her power is devoted to her shields they're in fact about twice as powerful as they would be in normal flight. It would take a couple of battleships to destroy those shields,”
“Sir, something is approaching us in hyper space. It's almost ready to emerge!” suddenly yelled the officer at Tracking. “It must have been in stealth to get this close! She's doing almost twice what we can do in hyper! Should be emerging… now!” and something flashed onto the screen. “She's doing ninety percent of light speed and she's not slowing down. She's headed directly for the battleship!”
“You've got recorders on, Mr. Withers?” asked Don, in a calm tone that he was far from feeling.
The tracking officer confirmed, “Yes, sir! The ship is firing, sir and she's just chewing into the battleships shields! … Shields at eighty percent and dropping fast! … Fifty percent! … Twenty percent! … Ten percent! … Shields have failed! … Firing ship has switched to the aft reactor! She'll go in seconds!” and suddenly a small sun lit up the screen as the battleship blew up. “Time for firing ship to destroy the battleship. Forty-seven seconds.” the last was stated almost calmly, but the calm of disbelief.
hailed from that ship, Captain, said the com officer, “Simply says,
'Please stand by for Spin Ship docking.'“
The hatch to the Spin Ship opened sideways and it was almost twelve inches thick. Ben slipped out of the hatch and dropped to the deck. He was wearing a light blue flight suit, which had no provision for a helmet. He pushed the button that retracted the plumbing attachments, wincing a little as he did so. He pulled a bag out of a cargo area and dropped it on the deck. Seeing that two of the waiting officers were women, he said, “Ladies, if you would please turn your backs for a moment.”
When they did so, he slipped out of the flight suit and digging into his bag pulled out a pair of shorts and a T shirt and a pair of sandals and quickly slipped into them. “You can turn around now.” he said, then talking to Charlie, said out loud, not wanting them to think he was too weird right at the start, they would learn as time went on. “Charlie, the flight suit hook.” And a hook came out of the hatch and he put the flight suit on it and it retracted, taking the flight suit with it, the hatch closing. “Suspend mode, Charlie.”
“Captain Francis,” Ben said, holding out his hand, saying wryly, “I doubt if you're glad to see me. But you simply don't know enough about a Spin Ship to use it properly. I simply asked for autonomy. In other words, I would have been your equal. But both the Navy and the Diplomatic Corps insisted on setting it up with me in command. I'm older than I look,” he grinned, with amusement, “however not enough older to make you feel much better. I'm actually twenty-three.”
Despite the way things had been set up, Francis couldn't help but like the boy, his directness and his honesty. He took the small hand offered to him and was surprised at the strength in that small body. He asked, “Don't you bother with helmets, in that thing?” and he nodded at the Spin Ship.”
Ben said seiously, “The cockpit is part of a life pod, it would be ejected out of the side. But a Spin Ship moves so fast that damaged and destroyed are almost synonymous. The seat is a cradle and your body is clamped down with a force field, so most of it can't move when you go into active combat mode and the only thing that you can move are your hands. Ejecting the pod at the speed we normally move at would simply result in destruction of the pod. The force field takes the place of a helmet and aside from that is there for two reasons. It keeps our bodies still when we're doing high-G maneuvers and in case of ejection, it's supposed to give added protection.” he made a wry face, “It doesn't work very often.”
“Entering the Ramar Cloud Region now, Don.” reported Rachel.”
“Thank you Rachel.” said Don Francis.
He looked at the scanner results showing on the screen and he cursed Admiral Swansea once again. He heard Ben snort beside him, then say in a conversational tone, “You've got the most advanced AI in space, on a ship which is only two years old, which means as a Survey ship you're the best of your class and you have scanners that look like that. Who saddled you with those?”
Don didn't answer. He really couldn't, not on the bridge, but Rachel was under no such restraint. She stated with contempt in her voice, “Admiral Swansea. He took over the shipyard just as I was being finished and he said no to the software modifications of the scanners, though they had already been approved. The mods according to what I know would have increased our ability to scan even here in the Cloud by a factor of at least three.”
Ben said flatly, “I have a friend on Barin and the last time we were there we got caught in a snow storm. I could see further in that that I can here. What version and build are you Rachel?” Ben asked.
“Bentane 4.03 build 3.” she said, pride evident in her computer voice.
“Wake up, Charlie.” Ben said.
Those on the bridge heard through the intercom. “Yes, Ben?”
“Patch your scanners into the bridge.” Ben ordered.
Charlie informed him, “Since we are inside a ship, that will degrade the scans by at least fifty percent, Ben.”
Ben said with disgust, “Yes, I know Charlie, however that'll be a thousand percent improvement on what we have now.”
Charlie said, “Interfacing with the ship AI. Patching scanners into bridge now.” and suddenly what had looked like a snow storm on the screen looked like normal space again, or almost so. There was still a bit of a snowy look to the screen, but it was minor.
The Tracking officer looked with pleasure at her instruments, saying, “We don't have the normal range that we would have in normal hyper space, Captain, but we now have a one hour reach for short range scans and long range scans are at five hours.”
“Do you mind if I do a little software upgrading, Captain?” Ben asked, but the man could hear the suppressed fury in his voice. Somehow, he was glad it wasn't aimed at him and he suddenly felt much more cheerful about the strange situation he was in.
“Be my guest, Ben. After all you're in charge of this mission.” he said.
As he approached Tracking, he said to the woman on duty, “I'm going to need first seat for a while Denise,” and she stood up and moved over to the second seat, with its duplicate instruments. “Let me see the present software, please?” Ben asked She typed a command into her keyboard and suddenly the software was scrolling on the Tracking monitor at Ben's station. He hit the Up Arrow to increase the speed and kept hitting it until it was scrolling at a speed he was satisfied with. Denise looking over was astonished, to her it was simply a blur on the screen.
After about ten minutes, it suddenly stopped scrolling as it reached the end of the software. Ben snorted in disgust. He leaned back in his seat and said to the bridge in general, “No wonder your scanners are so pisspoor. The software is proprietary. Whoever the programmer or programmers were, they made no provisions for upgrades and the Tracking Officer can't even tweak it. Every time they improve the software, the only way they can do so is to rewrite the entire program. It's set up so that a computer can do most of the work but the finishing touches would have to be done by human beings.”
Ben swiveled his chair to look at the Captain. “How drastic are you going to allow me to be?” he asked.
Don Francis was suddenly feeling very cheerful, he had a feeling that he was going to end up with the most advanced scanner software in the Navy. He said with suppressed glee, “As I said Ben, you're in command. Do what you feel is right.”
Ben nodded and said, “All right, Captain. Rachel, Primary Override, Alpha 785b93r18. FinTa. Code Phrase: It’s the moment for all first-rate beings to come to the help of the shenanigans.” the old saying deliberately mangled.
Rachel said, “Scanning Voiceprint file, scanning Override file. Voiceprint confirmed, Code Phrase and Override accepted, you have full Override.”
Francis put an earbug into his ear, as Ben turned back to the keyboard. He spoke in a low voice. “Who has Primary Override command, Rachel?”
He heard Rachel, in the earbug, “You don't Don but you have Alpha Override, as does your first officer, which allows you to set self-destruct if necessary. Primary override doesn't allow that, but it gives access to everything else that is programmed. Only a shipyard commander would have Primary Override and the head of the Admiralty and BenTane, who I suddenly find is two people. Ben Dandreson, who is presently on the bridge at Tracking and Rick Tane. They are my creators.” she said with awe in her voice. “Very few of us are granted the privilege of meeting our creator.”
Don demanded, “Why would they allow two people, who aren't even Navy, Primary Override?”
because they figured they could do more damage from the outside than
from the inside, at least Ben can.” Rachel said wryly, “Primary
Override, unlike Alpha Override, can only be used aboard a ship. You
saw Ben and his Spin Ship destroy that battleship. Since obviously they
haven't tried to take that away from him they must trust him absolutely.
That is confirmed by the way they made him commander of this mission
and a full Ambassador for the duration. You've read my Prime Imperative,
which is very similar to your oath to the Federation. Well, Ben Dandreson
wrote that imperative and it can't be altered in any way, by anyone.”
Ben said to Charlie, “You can withdraw your patch from the bridge scanners Charlie and go back to sleep.” As Charlie did so, the scanner automatically switched over to the new software and suddenly there was no longer any snow on the screen. Denise who had been watching the process with fascination, reported, “The new scanner software has been activated, Captain, we now have a four hour reach on short range scanners and twenty hours at long range.”
Ben said, matter-of-factly, “You should have triple that in normal hyper space. With most of the ship's external hull being made up of scanners, you'll have the instruments that a Survey ship is supposed to have. I'll deal with your Admiral Swansea.” his voice taking on a hardness somewhat incongruous with his innocent little boy looks.
Don Francis and the present bridge crew suddenly felt very good. Ben seemed able to deliver on what he promised and they were sure that something unpleasant would happen to the Admiral.
At their full speed of ten light years an hour they could have crossed the Ramar Cloud in about ten hours, but their task was Survey. They were moving at less than half a light year an hour and would take about eight days to cross it. A full survey for a region as large as the Ramar Cloud would take two or three months or even longer. But right now they were bait in a trap.
They were about two days in when Davis Withers the Chief Tracking officer reported, “We're picking up a ship, sir, it's about five light years behind us, moving at about two light years an hour and that seems to be her top speed.”
Ben who was sitting in the second seat and looking at the same data, said, “Interesting, she has all the characteristics of a carrier, but she's at least twice as big as the normal carrier would be. Her reactors are simply enormous. And obviously if she's a fighter carrier, she's not the trap that we were expecting, since fighters can only operate in normal space.”
Ben's face had a puzzled look and then his eyes lit up and the puzzled look disappeared. He turned the seat to look at the Captain. He asked, “What are your orders, when faced with overwhelming force?”
Don explained, “We're not a fighting ship though because of your software upgrades we're better armed than other light cruisers of our class, but since it's not wartime, our orders are to surrender.”
“It's a light cruiser carrier,” Ben stated confidently. “It's big enough to hold eight but they probably only carry six, so they have room for a captive. From indications of the reactors, they're massive, far bigger than even a carrier that size would need. They don't have the ability to make anti-matter reactors small enough to power their light cruisers, so they have a limited range. They're behind us and over twenty or thirty light years they're probably as fast or faster than a normal Survey Ship is. The Searcher is only two years old so you could probably outrun them. But then again that's not what we want to do, we want to capture the captor.”
Francis nodded a feral look on his face. Survey Ships normally would have no chance against that type of overwhelming firepower, but with Charlie, they should be able to capture her very easily.
Ben stood up, stretched and said, “Well time to earn my extravagant pay check.”
Francis, curious, asked, “Just how much are you being paid for this mission?”
Ben thought for a moment and then grinned. He said, “Actually, I don't know if I'm being paid or not. I didn't ask and they didn't volunteer that information.” From the way his clear green eyes were dancing, Francis realized that Ben didn't care.
Taffle looked satisfied, but he wasn't. He didn't like what he was doing and had told the President and his Cabinet so, but he would obey orders. Suddenly damage alarms began going off. He turned and looked at his second in command Dawn Evers, who was getting damage reports and looking very thoughtful.
She raised her blue eyes to her Captain's, she said dryly, “Something just put a hole through our ship, six inches in diameter. It was an anti-matter beam and it went in one side and came out the other. The shields didn't even slow it down. No one was hurt, either we were incredibly lucky that the beam hit where it did, or someone knew exactly what he was doing and hit us in a place where we were least vulnerable.”
The Tracking officer reported, “Ship coming out of stealth. It's half a million miles in front of us and maintaining its distance. It's hailing us.”
“Put it on screen, please.” said Taffle.
“But, sir, we were instructed never to contact the enemy.” said the com officer worriedly.
Taffle said matter-of-factly, “We were also told not to get destroyed. Tannis, that little ship just put a six inch hole in my nice ship. I don't think it was an accident, either that it went through us or where it was placed. He was telling us that he can carve us to pieces if he wants to. Put him on screen, before he gets impatient.”
Tannis swallowed hard, as he realized what his Captain meant and he quickly contacted the attacking ship. Ben was suddenly looking out of the screen and his eyes widened a little as he took in the fact that the crew was almost equally divided into human and Barins. His face went thoughtful and he changed his mind about what he had been about to say in Standard English and said it in Barin instead.
“I put one hole through you and I put it exactly where I wanted to put it. If you don't surrender, I'll start slicing you up until you end up in little pieces.” said Ben pleasantly.
Dawn said, provokingly just to see how he would react, “Do you have the balls for it, little boy?!”
She saw an inexplicable sadness flash across the boy's face and for some reason she was sorry, she had tried to provoke him in that manner. Then he grinned with humor, saying with obvious amusement, “Oh, yes ma'am, I've got them, they're a lot smaller than an adult's but they definitely exist. I've destroyed one carrier that attacked my people. I'd really hate to destroy such a well-designed prototype but I will do so if necessary. Your decision, Captain?”
Taffle said hurriedly, “Oh, we surrender. I did not design this ship so it could end up in little pieces.”
Ben nodded, ordering, “Very good captain, if you would please lower your shields and deactivate your shield generators, I'll contact my ship and have it come back. Once it gets here, I'll board. With your shields down it's just as capable of destroying your ship as I am and it would take three or four minutes to reactivate your shield generators.”
Ben handed Taffle a small com pad, telling him, “These are my credentials. They are in Standard English,” and he nodded at Dawn, “which I gather is no longer spoken by you, but it is also in all one hundred and three other languages of the beings that make up the Federation, including Barin.”
Ben could read Bears very well and he could see the annoyance and anger on Taffle's face. He said with a grin, “Oh oh, I gather someone hasn't been entirely honest with your government. I like your people very much, but your greatest fault is that you tend to be gullible. No offense meant. I've discussed it with Tiff and Kifar and they say it's because most of your people don't have the concept of lying. They say it's a bad trait not to have when belonging to the Federation. Fortunately, more and more of your people are joining various Federation organizations and it's a lack that is quickly being corrected.”
Ben turned his eyes on Dawn, saying sardonically, “However that's not usually a problem with human beings. How did you get fooled?”
She hesitated a little, then shrugged and rubbed her fingers together in the human universal symbol for bribery.
Ben said, with a grin, “Bribed huh?”
“Not necessarily with money. When we got here seven hundred years ago, the Barins,” she said and grinned, “Bears, I like that,” referring to the nickname Ben had used when he first boarded the ship. “While we've stopped using the language we still have the database in translation and they do look a little like Earth bears. But getting back on the subject, the Bears had already been here for three hundred years and they had a population of one hundred million citizens. Our leaders at the time sensibly decided that they would join in with the Bears who were already here. We've taken their language and we've kept our own culture, though it's a mixture of the cultures that the fifty thousand people on the colony ship had.”
Dawn explained, “Our solar system is unusual in that it has two planets capable of supporting life without a lot of Terraforming or Barinforming, one very much like Terra must have been like, with just over one Terran gravity. The other which the Bears colonized, has a 1.45 Terran gravity, only .05 percent less than their home planet. Each planet has about one billion people and they each govern themselves with an overseeing System Council with a President and his Cabinet.”
She said with a grin, “People tend to trust the Barins more than they do humans so the Council usually ends up being heavily made up of Barins. oNly on a few occasions have humans had enough of the Council to claim the Presidency and Cabinet. There are several factions, that would like to have permanent control and one of them is ruling the human world right now. As you say the Barins greatest fault is gullibility and the humans is greediness. In this case the greed is for ruling the solar system.”
Ben nodded, then asked, “How many battleships do the aliens have in your system at the moment?”
Dawn said without hesitation. “Two, one stationed above each planet, they also have a courier ship.”
Ben nodded again, saying, “So the Barins started off being gullible and the humans started off being greedy, now they're sensible enough to be afraid of what those battleships can do to their planets.”
Dawn and Taffle looked at each other, then back at Ben. Both were very familiar with human children and he wasn't acting like a child. Dawn asked a little hesitantly, “How old are you, Ben?”
He grinned, saying with amusement, “Slightly older than I look. I'm twenty-three. The question you asked to provoke me, to see how I would react, reminded me of that fact. My people have what are called Protectors, which is what I am and they pilot ships, like mine. They have a period starting when they're ten years old which lasts thirty or forty years when they don't age. That was genetically engineered into us around thirty-five hundred years ago, because of danger to our race and has continued to this day. However my mother was kidnapped and the kidnapper tampered with my DNA so as you see me is how I will remain for the rest of my life. It catches me at times, the knowledge that I will never grow up and there is always a bit of sadness attached to that knowledge.”
Dawn said, with remorse, “I'm sorry that I tried to provoke you, Ben, especially in that way.”
Ben who had bent over the com pad, looked up at her, his green eyes clear. He shook his head, telling her, “Don't be. I am what I am and for the most part, I'm content with that; even when I think about it, the sadness is only momentary. I've been told that through cloning, I should even be able to have offspring very soon.” and he grimaced with disgust and Dawn couldn't help but giggle at the look on his face.
Ben stated, “These are the aliens that surround the Ramar Cloud which is what we call this region. The battleships have to be from one of them, or there would be no reason to have you do what you're doing. Very few races act in this way unless they are going to profit from it in some way. It will take verbal orders and Barin is one of the languages that it will work with, just tell it to advance or go back.” and he put the com pad back down on the desk and pushed it over to Taffle.
Dawn and Taffle looked at five and then agreed on the sixth and pushed the pad over to Ben. He looked at it, “Venrye, not a very nice people, aggressive, disagreeable, but sensibly afraid of the full might of the Federation. They only hold a thousand systems and the Federation holds fifty thousand.”
Ben returned the pad to its original notation which were his credentials but this time in Barin. He told them, “These are my official credentials. The Federation claims the Ramar Cloud Region, however that doesn't include inhabited systems. Have you claimed any systems outside your own?”
Taffle shook his head, saying, “No, we have explored some of them, but none so far have been suitable for either human or Barin life, not that we need the space, both peoples have been very sensible in keeping their populations down.”
“All right,” Ben said, “you have three choices. Since both of your originating populations are members of the Federation, you can automatically join the Federation as Lost Colonies. Since your technology is almost the equal of the Federation, you will be given full status. That will mean that you will be under Federation protection and be given all technical knowledge available to any Federation planet. You can do that in two ways. Each planet joining separately or you can join as one political unit. If you do it in the second manner, then you will have the primary right to explore and colonize the Ramar Cloud Region and you will have the right to give or deny permission to others to colonize planets that are found.”
Ben told them, “Alternatively you can join as a protectorate of the Federation. That means that your system and two light years surrounding it will be off-limits to everyone except those you chose to allow in. Again, the Federation will guarantee that area, but the responsibility to explore the Cloud Region would fall on the Federation. You would have no rights in determining who will colonize those habitable planets found.”
He explained, “Or you can become an Independent system. On the periphery of the Federation sometimes that is an advantage, but here the terms will be the same as a Protectorate of the Federation except that the surrounding territory would be five lights years instead of two and you would be responsible for your own protection. However since you would be right in the center of a Federation area, you would get just about the same type of protection.”
Dawn said with confusion, “But we're not capable of deciding an issue such as that. We don't have that type of authority.” but Taffle looked at Ben. He wouldn't have told them about their choices unless they did have the authority.
Ben looking at Taffle grinned and nodded, saying, “Yes you do. Or in a sense you do. As the representatives of your peoples, you can apply for Provisional status and have it ratified or changed or rejected, later by your system representatives.”
He told them, “If you ask for either of the first two under Provisional status, then I can help you get rid of the Venrye battleships. I assure you that they are much less capable than Federation battleships. I could take on two Federation battleships at once, with a pretty good chance of coming out the winner.”
“They're right above the planets.” protested Dawn.
“Then we need to decoy them away from the planets.” Ben said, “How alert are they?”
Dawn said, wryly, “The one above Barsoll, isn't very alert at all. The one above Leben is very alert.”
Ben said, “Nobody trusts humans, I wonder why.” and he grinned in amusement, “Of course the Bears tend to take things as they come, humans try to force things at times. What do you do when you return to your system? Do you keep the light cruisers on board?”
Taffle shook his head, saying, “No they have their own base. We have eighteen all told and we rotate them. So about halfway in we launch them and they make their own way to their base.”
Ben asked, “What type of mixture are they, are they like the carrier, or to simplify things, are they one species ships?”
Dawn, getting the idea of what Ben was after, told him, “They're single species ships and there are three of each. Two of the human ships have gotten reprimands for buzzing the Venrye battleships. Nobody would be at all surprised if they actually fired on them and then fled. Of course, they would know that with their short range that the battleships would eventually catch them, but as you said, nobody trusts humans not to do something stupid. It would be quite in our character to actually fire on them, hoping that something would happen to prevent their destruction.”
Ben turned to Taffle. It was up to him now. Taffle said formally, but with a grin on his face. “I formally ask the Federation to Provisionally grant us full status as one political unit.”
pleased stating, “As my status as Ambassador, I approve your request
for Provisional status.”
Ben said with regret, “I'm sorry I have to send you back, Don. We're only twenty light years from the Bartan system and we'll take our time getting there. We need to get the information out to the Federation and battleships back in here. With the courier ship that the Venrye have they'll have the information about ten to twelve hours after the attack starts and it'll take them three days to get battleships back here. You'll have three and a half days extra to get in touch with the Federation and get battleships in here.”
“Do you want us to redline it?” asked Don, who was aware of how important their task would be. Ben looked at him and with steady eyes said matter-of-factly, “No. If there were two of you the answer would be yes, but I can't take a chance on my only messenger being destroyed.”
Don smiled, again appreciating the boy's honesty. He said earnestly, “When I first heard that I'd be serving under you, I never thought I'd say this, but it's been an honor to serve under you, Ben. No matter what happens the rest of my life, it will be a highlight of my career.”
Ben brushed the tears from his eyes and said, “Remember emotionally I'm a ten year, so you'd better get out of here before I break down and bawl like a baby.”
Don stood back and he and the two man crew of the shuttle, gave a salute. A salute of honor, before turning to board the shuttle and launch for the Searcher.
The Divinok had been constructed for the same purpose as the Searcher, to explore, using the light cruisers as advance scouts. At the slow speed she employed, it took almost three days to travel the twenty light years to Bartan. Ben kept busy by tearing apart and upgrading as many of the Divinok's computer systems as he had time for and rebuilding them while Taffle looked on in fascination. Taffle knew whatever his people decided he would have to get up to date even if that meant leaving Bartan for good.
However the rest of the crew were somewhat jittery, at least until they were halfway into the system and the light cruisers launched as they were about the same distance from both of the planets. At the moment they were on opposite sides of the sun. Five of them headed for the larger of Barsoll's two moons, where they were based and the other headed for Leben. The two ships wanted to hit their targets as close to the same time as they could, so their captain's wouldn't have time to think and realize they'd been suckered.
Ben relaxed in his cradle seat. The light cruisers could hit thirty percent of light speed in normal space, but the battleships maximum was about twenty percent so it was going to be a long while before they got here. He went deep into Charlie's memory banks. They held much of the knowledge of what had gone into Charlie in the first place.
The memory banks had obviously been used by his mother as a backup, because only she or one of her offspring could access it. It had enabled him to improve Charlie by a considerable amount and he had passed on much of the knowledge to Sanscri. His cruising speed was now fifteen light years an hour and his emergency military speed was twenty light years and if he redlined it, he could hit twenty-five.
It hadn't given him any additional range, that went too far beyond his capabilities right now. In normal space his speed was ninety percent of light and he could hit ninety-five in emergencies. His power had been increased by twenty percent on his anti-matter beams and shields, but there was always something new to learn from Charlie's memory banks.
The light cruisers had gone by several hours before, when Charlie reported to Ben that the first of the battleships was about forty-five minutes away and the other about an hour and a half behind the first.
“They're far enough out that they can't hurt the planets, according
to the database the Venrye capital missiles don't have the range. They
won't waste them that way, so we'll go to meet them.”
They had seen Charlie coming and they knew it was a Spin Ship, though Ben wasn't aware of that. The recording and an analysis could easily tell from the chemical composition of the debris, exactly which star nation it came from, so there was no sense in fighting a battle he couldn't win. The captain was stupid and he tried anyway. It lasted for even less time than the battleship on the target range had done, just under twenty-two seconds from the time Ben first started firing until it blew up.
The second Captain was brighter, he knew they couldn't win, so he struck his shields, indicating his surrender. He came on line, saying in horrible Standard English, “No fight Spin Ship we. Surrender we, at once.”
Ben was stunned at the mention of Spin Ships, no alien in this quadrant of space should have known about them. Almost absently, he said, “Shut down your forward reactor to confirm your surrender. That'll give you enough power to get back to the planet, but not enough to power your anti-matter beams or shields. If you try to use your missiles, the two light cruisers who will be escorting you in will have orders to destroy you should any of the launchers begin to spin up.
The Council Cabinet met on the hangar deck of the Divinok two days later and they unanimously ratified the Provisional deal that Taffle had signed. Once that was out of the way Ben asked, “Do any of you know what Spin Ships are?”
None of the Council Cabinet members did, three-quarters of them Ben could read directly from their minds and the other quarter were so transparently honest that it was obvious that they didn't either. But Ben had heard someone choke when he mentioned Spin Ships. That left only the two representatives of the planetary governments. It wasn't the Barin. Ben could read his mind as well. That left only one candidate.
Ben looked at him and said mildly, “Tell all.” From his looks he didn't consider it mild.
The man hurriedly said, “I didn't have anything to do with it personally, it was almost fifty years ago. My father was there and he said the Venrye asked us for some lands, to create Spin Ships and their pilots. They also said it was secret so they asked us to make it a no-fly zone. According to my father, who was only a secretary of one of the Members of Parliament at the time, the Parliamentary Committee agreed to their request and that's all I know about it. When we started capturing Survey Ships twenty-five years ago, we put them right next to where the underground factory was.”
Ben felt sick. He said, hoarsely, “I want the exact location.” and he was afraid he felt much more menacing. The man was almost in a panic as he gave it.
Ben headed for Charlie, without saying anything more. Dawn caught up to him and took him by the arm. Ben started to shake her off. She told him intently, “I can tell you're mad about something, but you need Taffle and I. We're what passes for the top brass of the Navy and there are armed guards on the Survey personnel. You're going to have to travel some of the distance on foot, even if you land right on top of the factory itself. You still have to find an entrance.”
a little, saying more calmly, “All right, launch a shuttle and I'll
take it inside my shields. My inertial compensator will cover you as
well and only slow me up by about five percent.” He said dryly, “I'd
cover all of the shuttle portholes and leave the screens off and strap
down tight. Traveling at eighty-five percent of light speed is not a
pleasant experience if you're not used to it or genetically engineered
for it, but I won't be doing any maneuvering, just getting up to speed
and then decelerating.”
The next time Dawn and Taffle would listen to Ben. They had covered the portholes but had left a screen on, a mistake they rectified before they lost their lunch. Something they would have considered undignified after having traveled in space for years.
At the edge of the atmosphere, Ben had released them and Taffle had arranged to be escorted down while Dawn flew the shuttle. They landed at the Survey ship prisoner base, which had been informed of the agreement and that the prisoners were now their compatriots. It was a little less confusing to the Federation personnel than to the Leben's. They were met by the commander of the base and the highest ranking of the Survey Captains, a post Captain who had been here for almost twenty years.
“I'm Captain Ramona Welch and you are?” she asked, obviously addressing Ben, since the others were dressed in Bartan Naval uniforms.
He handed her his credentials and she entered a code to authenticate it. While it was twenty years old, changing authentication codes in peacetime wasn't considered a top priority. She whistled when she read the ranks. She looked at Ben and then his age and then said with humor, “They're making twenty-three year olds look younger and younger every year. Also you're the youngest Commodore that I've ever seen.”
Ben smiled, but it was a tired smile, more suited to an old man than one who looked so young. “Are the captives at the factory still all right?” That jolted Taffle and Dawn who had no idea that there were any captives there.
She nodded, telling him, “We were headed there yesterday. We spend about two days a week there. The prisoners have control of the place and they're now guarding it. They said their captors went up to the battleship about three days ago and they haven't seen them since.”
Ben said indifferently, “If they went up to the one that was watching this planet, they'll never see them again, they decided to fight instead of surrender and I blew them away.”
She spun around and looked at Ben's ship and recognized the similarity to ones she'd seen on the factory floor. She asked in surprise, “That's a Spin Ship isn't it? I've seen them at the factory, we were allowed to see the pieces, but never a finished one up close before.”
Ben said, “Mine is over fifty-eight years old. The ones you've seen were based on Charlie, which is what I call the AI that controls the Spin Ship and in effect the Spin Ship itself.”
“About a year and a half to a year ago, twelve hundred Spin Ships and their pilots disappeared. That's according to the captives in the factory. Do you know what happened to them?” Ramona asked.
know for sure.” Ben said in a tight voice, his nostrils pinched with
distress. “The ones I assume they were going up against, the Sanscri
Republic did a crash replacement of all of their Spin Ships, a total
of twenty thousand of them. They finished the last of them just over
a year ago. They were of Type
A and B and they
had the new computer upgrades provided by my friend and I. While physically
only seventy to eighty percent as good as Charlie was, with the
upgrades we provided the old Charlie wouldn't have a chance.
Unless their ships had a significant computer upgrade, they're dead.
If they did have the proper computer upgrades it's hard to say, but
a lot of people died.” s
Captain Ramona Welch had got them in and now Ben knew. Now he had to tell their families, tears of incredible sorrow trickling down his cheeks. How to do that? He heard from behind him, in a voice with equal sorrow to his, “Don't worry young'un, you don't have to tell us. We knew, or really our children knew, they felt them die.” He turned the computer chair to look at the woman who had addressed him, not trying to hide the tears. As with most people in a era where rejuvenation was common it was impossible to tell how old she was, but her eyes were old.
Whether the genetic modifications were slightly different or it was simply the fact that never had Spin Ship pilots died in such numbers before, the children had felt their brothers and sisters die. The telepathy that was required to link to a Spin Ship had told them. Ben said with tears still in his voice, “I don't know if this will be any comfort, but I can tell you the genetic modifications are, as far as I can tell, almost completely standard. The two thousand children still here, when they reach the age of ten, will have a period of about thirty or forty years when they won't age and then they'll resume their life.”
Ben told her, “But as I said the modifications are almost completely standard. The record is in the computers. It doesn't give his name just calls him the Doctor, but says that the man who did them tried some unconventional modifications on me and they didn't work, or at least not to his satisfaction, so he went back mostly to the conventional modifications. That means they are Spin Ship pilots whether you want them to be or not. They'll never be completely happy unless they have a chance to fly Spin Ships. I invite them and their families to the Sanscri Republic where they will get a chance to fly them.”
There were no longer tears on his face as he said in a hard voice, “I wouldn't recommend it for the next six months or so. The Sanscri Republic will be at war with the Tarne Empire. The Venrye were simply middle men acting on behalf of the Tarne. Spin Ship pilots couldn't survive if we just ignore this as a border incident as so many of our conflicts have been over the last one thousand years. We'll be going after them. We'll disarm them and it’ll be a long time before they’re allowed to rearm themselves. That means that once we conquer them we will have to protect them, so we will need more Spin Ship pilots. Sanscri presently has about two hundred carriers with one hundred Spin Ships each, but we'll need at least another fifty or more.”
Ben asked, hesitantly, “I'm sorry but I must ask this question. How long ago did the children feel their brothers and sisters die?”
She looked at the boy who looked completely different from when she had entered. Sorrow was still on his face but there was a burning need, not for vengeance or revenge, but for justice. She replied, grief in her voice as well, “Six days.”
Ben was disappointed, saying, “I was hoping to get there before the war started. I have the speed but I don't have the range.”
“Ben,” Dawn, who had been talking on a personal com, told him, “The guards at the prison camp report that the Federation is here. They have two courier ships with them, as well as six battleships and eight heavy cruisers and twelve light cruisers.”
Taffle said, “We want to go with you Ben, all the way.”
Ben looked at them and stated knowingly, “They built the ships and produced the children here and you want to see justice done as well. A Federation courier carries a crew of twenty and two shuttles which double as lifeboats. They can run with ten people and Charlie can replace one of the shuttles. I think I can get away with commandeering one of the Courier ships, but I doubt if I can get both.”
Captain Welch, spoke for the first time, “You might. It's quite possible the Federation would like observers there. It's a long way from here but the Tarne have a tendency to ignore borders and travel through other star nations to raid the Federation. We almost never get a chance to go after them. We have no common border and the other star nations are reluctant to let us chase anyone through their territory. They ignore courier ships, because they're unarmed.” Thinking of Ben's Spin Ship she said with a grin, “usually.”
Ben said, “Here Captain Welch, catch.” and he threw her a computer disk. “As long as the commanding Admiral isn't named Swansea, give him that would you please?”
He started to head for the door, but he stopped when Pedar Relan, the woman who had told him about the children said, “Ben!” He turned to face her. She continued, “There was a woman here, the one we only knew as the Doctor, the one in charge called her Ferma, she had red hair and green eyes and she looked very much like you.”
His voice could barely be heard as he said, “Thank you.” very simply and sincerely before continuing on his way.
War didn't mean we didn't have time to mourn and honor our dead. And in this case, there were many dead that we considered ours. The seventy-seven of course, but also the twelve hundred children who had died in the attacking ships. We were just collecting the required carriers twenty-four days after the battle and I was with Pol in Tracking when we got a scare. We had Spin Ships five light years out, in hyper space. They reported a Spin Ship was on its way in, it was twenty light years out and it was moving at twenty light years an hour and as it closed scanners indicated that it wasn't redlined. An hour later it dropped into normal space and continued moving in at ninety percent of light speed. Then an IFF transponder was put on the screen and there was a whistle of relief as it turned out to be one of ours.
I looked up at Pol and we said at the same time, “Ben!!”
The Tracking Officer heard us and he had been with the Incursion six years ago when we had met Ben. He tapped in a command and the computer answered. He said more calmly, “You're right. That's the IFF transponder that we assigned to the experimental ship. We can read it a little better now, since we know what it is. It's doing ninety percent of light speed right now. According to its power curve, it can do at least ninety-five under emergency military power and if he redlined it, he could get it pretty close to the speed of light. It's starting to slow now. It should come to a standstill just as it reaches us.”
He told us, “Com has a message from him, the first part of it is general information, to all ships, it says that he will be followed by two Federation couriers. He left them one hundred light years back, so they should be twenty-five light years out right now and their speed is fifteen light years an hour.”
Pol told him, “Play it shipwide.”
and flipped a swith to start playing it, throughout the ship, Ben’s
calm treble came through the speaker:
“To the Incursion, Please convey my personal condolences to the carriers and pilots involved in the battle with the Spin Ships piloted by Federation children. Tell them that their families know of their deaths. The death of that many pilots was felt by their brothers and sisters back in the Federation.
There are an additional two thousand children with the same genetic modifications as Sanscri Spin Ship pilots. I have invited them and their families to come to Sancscri, since after the war you will need many more to protect the Tarne Empire.
To Tolnar. I have the feeling that the Incursion was one of the carriers involved in the battle. My condolences my friend, but we will see that justice is done.
To Pol. You may have picked up intelligence agents of the Federation. They try to be where the action is. He/she will have provided you with much needed data on the Tarne Empire. One of the courier ships just returned from the Tarne Empire. It has many of their most recent military dispositions, collected from their most important and well-placed agents. End Transmission.”
When I put my hand into Pol's, it wasn't unusual. The officers and crew of our carriers, were chosen for their ability, but also for their fatherly or motherly qualities. This war would probably be harder on them than on us. Perhaps we would die, but we could fight, but they could only watch us fight and die. I was sixteen but emotionally I was only ten and I had just gotten personal condolences from the Spin Ship pilot who was worshipped by every other one alive.
Ben was the only living Spin Ship pilot who had been in combat before the battle against the twelve hundred Federation children occurred. He had in essence created the ships that allowed us to defeat them. We regretted their deaths but we would do it again if we had to and we were grateful that the ships he had created had allowed us to Protect our people.
Ben's condolences would mean more than any other's because he also knew what Spin Ship combat was like, as only the Spin Ship pilots from the Incursion and the Intrepid now also did, though that was going to change. He had acted as a Protector a total of four times that we knew of and probably more by now.
I marveled at the size of Charlie, NO other Spin Ship could berth in a Shuttle bay. He was only half the size of the new Spin Ships and yet Ben had improved him again, so he had even more of an advantage than he'd had before. He got out and threw a disk to Pol. He told him, “Those are the latest computer mods. Unfortunately the Type A have reached their limit, but that will improve the Type B by an additional five percent of light speed.”
Ben stripped off his flight suit and put it on the hook Charlie stuck out of the hatchway. He put on shorts and a T shirt and sandals and then gave me a hug, then pushed me back to have a careful look at me. He nodded with somberness in his large green eyes, saying, “Yes, the Incursion was one of the ships involved in the battle. I can see it in your eyes, Tol.” He looked at Pol, putting his arm around my shoulders, “My mother was a far better programmer than I thought. She made sure that only her offspring could bond to Charlie, because she buried a lot of information in his memory banks. She suspected something was wrong and she wanted to make sure that she limited access.”
Ben explained, “Every design feature that she included in Charlie is on that disk, plus ones I've developed on my own that have improved the physical part of Charlie as well as the programming part. I haven't passed my modifications on until now because none of it will do any good with the current generation and the next generation hadn't even entered its design phase. Though now that we're in a war the designing for the next generation will start. That disk will either let the next generation be carried in carriers that will take two hundred Spin Ships or be much smaller.”
Ben stamped his foot on the deck, saying emphatically, “That won't make the Incursion or her sister ships obsolete, because you won't have to replace the Spin Ships at the pace that you needed to do with the last generation!! The galactic community is about to get a shocking lesson and they'll take it to heart!! They'll also fear the Sanscri Republic very badly! It's unfortunate,” and he frowned, “but then destruction would have been even more unfortunate!!”
Pol nodded, looking at Ben with very thoughtful eyes. I wondered why he was so intent and I was to find out in a couple of seconds, Ben asked, “Who's been chosen as commander?”
Pol said calmly, “You have. We knew that you’d come and part of the delay was simply waiting for you to get here. The most experienced and mature Spin Pilot is always chosen as Battle Commander. The one in command has to be someone who's actually out there. Only a Spin Ship Pilot can think fast enough to keep track of the type of battles that these will be.”
I giggled as Ben's jaw dropped and then I stiffened as Pol looked at me, saying, “Tolnar has been chosen as your deputy.” With that, I got serious real fast.
Ben recovered much faster than I did, but then that's why he had been chosen I realized. He just nodded, “All right. I accept. I assume I'll have plenty of advice and I should have realized it would have to be a active Spin Ship pilot. With the life I've led I'm the logical choice and I assume Tolnar was chosen because of the way he acted in the battle and its aftermath.” Pol just nodded.
Ben said crisply, “All right, put that disk in your computers and duplicate it. I figured that there would be twenty-five carriers at the start and that's the number I counted on the way in though I noticed that five had Type A Spin Ships. At the moment only you or I can duplicate that disk. I know you have no Naval command structure as such, but you should get that into the hands of those who can distribute it to other carriers who can use it. I assume you have their voiceprints on file as well?” Pol just nodded again.
Ben said, “Right at the moment only you and I can authorize anyone to copy that disk by assigning a voiceprint to it. Since Tol is going to be my deputy, I'll have to include his voiceprint, just in case something happens to me. I'll be assigning a flight to protect each carrier. Those will all be Type B's, since they can't run, they have to be the most powerful type that we have.” Pol started to say something.
Ben just looked at him and Pol closed his mouth. Ben said gravely, “You have to remember that these Spin Ships are different from any that have fought in past wars. The last generation you had could only go fifty light years at full emergency military power and were seldom more than twenty light years away and never out of com range. This generation, both the B's and the A's can go two hundred and fifty lights years at that speed, so our operational zone is about seventy-five to a hundred light years. That's well beyond the range of a com transmitter small enough that we can carry. We'll be able to receive but not transmit. We're not going to be close enough to protect you but you have to be there when we come back so you can't run too far. The new carriers will need to be much more heavily armed so they can protect themselves against anything smaller than a battleship. They already have the speed to run away from a battleship and once they've decoyed a battleship far enough away they can get back to where they have to be.
Pol said in a joking fashion, “Are you sure you haven't been studying for this battle? You've mentioned things that those who will be your advisors have touched on, but obviously you've thought of it on a much deeper level.”
Ben looked thoughtful, saying, “I think the Doctor made a very serious mistake, when he decided to leave me alive. He made modifications to my genetic code . One of the things I think was unplanned is that when I think of anything to do with danger, I go into it wanting to know everything that it is possible to know. If I have to spend days to find a single fact that will complete a pattern, then I'll do it and consider it time well spent.”
Ben told us, “The information that the courier ship is bringing, was gathered for the Federation and a lot of it is of no relevance to us. We need to know something about the political setup, but mainly we need to know about the Tarne military. I spent most of the journey going over the intelligence data on the Tarne Empire. I reorganized it and summarized it, so that everyone doesn't have to wade though mountains of data that mean nothing to us, to get to the nuggets of information that are important to us right at the moment.”
Ben said to the carrier captains and their first officers. “This briefing is to determine the parameters of the war, how far we will go and what we will be leaving alone.”
He put a 3-Dimensional map of the Tarne Empire up on the screen. All sectors were in yellow. He pointed at the computer screen, saying, “Obviously this is the Tarne Empire. You're all probably much more familiar with it than I am. The Empire consists of five Great Clans, each of which holds a section of the Empire. One of those clans is considered the ruling clan. At the moment that is the Chakra. It's very interesting that they are the farthest away from us. Perhaps their Rulers thought they were far enough away, that if we retaliated we would never get as far as their territory.”
Ben waved his hand in the general direction of the Tarne Empire. He said thoughtfully, “The closest Clan to us of course is the Sunin. They were the ruling clan up to the last border war and they took the brunt of our retaliation. That cost them the rulership of the clans, but it seems to have changed them. They are like no other clan the Empire has ever known, they have become peaceful. Not peace loving at any cost, just peaceful. They have made no attacks in other clan territory since the border war. That's almost two hundred years. That's unheard of for the Tarne, but according to Federation intelligence the only actions they have been involved in have been purely defensive. They also no longer allow raiders to base in their sector of the Empire. We have to take out the bases along the border. They are regular navy and Sunin has declined to contribute men and ships to the navy since the border war. Again a sign of their peaceful intentions.”
Ben stated, “Once we've taken out these bases we will offer the Sunin autonomy. We will take their apparent peaceful intentions at face value. We must according to our principles give them a chance to prove themselves. If they accept autonomy and agree to stay out of the war, we will leave them alone. That comes to the reason for this conflict. All other Clans will come under attack. Our purpose is to remove Tarne's ability to fight a war.”
He pressed a key on his computer keyboard and the Tarne Empire turned green except for the Sunin Clan territory which stayed yellow. He said maxtter-of-factly, “When the war is finished the Tarne Empire will look like this and we will be the protecting it, which will leave us stretched for a long time. They have a lot of enemies who will be delighted to attack a helpless foe and we'll have to prevent that. Spin Ship pilots will no longer be simply a barrier between the Sanscri Republic and the other star nations around here. They will be actively involved in border skirmishes as we protect the Tarne Empire. Also, we'll have to give some consideration about having some Spin Ships on the borders between the clans as well, since they love to raid each other. That can wait for a while, until they have rebuilt some larger ships, which they might be reluctant to use on us, but can use to raid.”
One of the captains held up his hand to get attention. Ben nodded courteously, asking, “Yes, Mr. Venic.”
Venic said in a rough voice, “If that's the case why stop at the Tarne border, if we take the nations on the border as well, then we don't have that problem. Ha, ha.”
You could have heard a pin drop, the silence an obvious sign of disapproval . Ben let the uncomfortable silence stretch out for a while and Pol brought his hand to his face to hide his smile.
Ben typed in a command on his keyboard and two ships appeared on the screen, the larger one had an ominous look just sitting there and it captured attention, not too many looked at the second ship. He said flatly, “Obviously, you are an expansionist Mr. Venic. From your records I made that assumption, it's nice to have it confirmed. If you will look at the screen please. This is the reason we stop at the Tarne border. I see most of you have ignored the second ship. Not wise. The second ship is a top of the line Federation battleship and this image is to scale.”
That had the people in the audience jerking up in their seats and the smile was gone from Pol's face, replaced with a look of grimness. Ben said intently, “They aren't used very often, but the Federation has a fleet of one thousand of these ships. They keep them mothballed and only reactivate them when necessary, though they are maintained and updated constantly. What they are is the strongest mobile shields in the known galaxy, with equally powerful anti-matter beams. They are five times the size of a battleship, however they are rated at a ratio of more like twenty-five to one. Battleships would be helpless against them and so would Spin Ships.”
Ben stated, “As I said they aren't used very often, but one of their primary usages is against aggressive expansionism. That's why we stop at the border, Mr. Venic. We don't want to give the Federation wrong ideas about the Sanscri Republic. That could be fatal. To even suggest such an idea is gross stupidity. Go home, Mr. Venic, you are now a civilian. Ms. Veray you are promoted to Captain and will take Mr. Venic's position.”
Ben looked at one of the cameras recording the meeting, saying ominously, “Mr. Venic you were promoted to the position you held by the Minister of the Navy and he has expressed similar views in the very recent past. Lieutenant Jace as the Recording Officer you will send this recording to the Prime Minister and as required, to the Leader of the Opposition. Within one day of receipt of this recording, if he does not replace the present Minister of the Navy and move him to the back benches, as is my right as Battle Commander I ask the Opposition leader to call for a Vote of Non-Confidence, under my authority.”
Ben addressed the Prime Minister directly, “Your government is on a knife edge Mr. Prime Minister, I don't believe you would survive a Vote of Non-Confidence. Guards please escort Mr. Venic to his former command and make sure he makes it back to the planet. We wouldn't want it said that we're cruel to civilians.”
Glay Sanay snorted in admiration. Pol looked at him and asked as the Guards were escorting the former Captain out of the auditorium. “You're the historian, Glay, does he really have that type of authority?”
“Oh, yes!!” Glay said emphatically, “he can call for a Vote of Non-Confidence any time he feels the government or any member of the government is interfering where he feels they have no right to do so!! Such a vote has always gone against a government. During the last border war two hundred years ago, the Battle Commander felt that they were interfering and called for a Vote of Non-Confidence. The government had the biggest majority in our history. One hundred and sixty-seven to thirty-six. The Opposition won that vote, thirty-six to thirty-five. Just enough of the government back-benchers stayed away so that the government was defeated. You're known Ben longer than anyone here, did you think he wouldn't know exactly what powers he has?”
Pol shook his head, saying, “I just didn't realize that a Battle Commander had that much power.”
Glay told him, “Once the Council of Captains gives the recommendation for war and it's accepted by Parliament we appoint the Battle Commander. From that point he directs the war, the government in power has no authority to interfere. If necessary we have the power to replace a Battle Commander, but we have never needed to do so. It's a policy that has stood the test of time, Pol. No Battle Commander has ever abused his power and we don't think that Ben will become the first.”
The attack came sixty days after the first battle. The Tarne had begun to relax. They would have been unable to hold off for so long. They assumed that the Sanscri Republic had decided to do what they had done several times in the past. Simply ignore the incident.
The carriers stayed twenty-five lights years from the border and the Spin Ships moved in at a speed that allowed them full stealth. They hit all thirteen armed border positions almost simultaneously. The Tarne didn't know they were there until they came out of hyper and entered normal space. The Spin Ship pilots knew the defenders would be Tarne regular Navy. That meant they wouldn't surrender and they would self-destruct if defeated, so they had been told not to hold back. Two hours after the first attack began the defending ships assigned to all thirteen positions were mainly destroyed.
Fifty-two battleships, one hundred and four heavy cruisers and about one hundred light cruisers, had been destroyed. Three hundred or so additional light cruisers had fled, with no pursuit being made.
The twenty-six carriers, one additional having been added, since they were attacking thirteen positions, moved up to collect their Spin Ships. Each was guarded by a flight of twelve Type B Spin Ships, except for the four that were gone, their pilots would never laugh or cry again. Ben was in a somber mood as he and Tolnar took the lift up to the bridge. It was the type of mood that affected all of the attacking fleet of carriers. There was no joy in what they were doing and only a slight satisfaction existed.
Ben entered the bridge and went over to the Tracking station. This one was much smaller than those in the Tracking Room. It was one deck down and was responsible for keeping track of everything that was moving, only the significant data ending up on this screen. It showed the two carriers and though a few other ships were moving in the inner system, the information showed they were unarmed, or so lightly armed that they were no threat.
he spoke, somberness in his voice, “Send a com to all carriers. Meet
at the prearranged rendezvous spot. Remind them there will be Sunin
ships out there, that may come to investigate. Avoid conflict as arranged
unless attacked.” He turned and said to Pol, “Head for the rendezvous,
Pol. Tolnar and I will be in bed.”
in no hurry and had allowed several days to gather at the rendezvous
point. When they moved forward the Tarne regular Navy would get together
to meet them with large groups of ships, but that's what they wanted.
Usually such a move was the logical one, but in this case it would simply
mass the enemy ships on the slaughter ground so the Sanscri Republic
wouldn't have to take them out one system at a time.
Ben was giving another briefing to the Captains and their first officers, before they moved forward from the rendezvous point. He said, “The Tarne will probably hold back their light cruisers and send them after the carriers like they did in the last border war and they'll be intent on ramming. Therefore, I have assigned an additional flight to each carrier to protect you. We won't be operating alone again, but in groups of five carriers. I called forward an additional four carriers so we will have six groups. With one hundred and twenty Spin Ships the carrier group should be safe but just in case some slip through, make sure you're on full alert and your point-to-point defenses are working properly. We will spread out before moving forward which will give you time for additional sims.”
A low chime sounded, indicating a com call for Ben. He pushed a button down to receive the call. After listening for a couple of minutes, he looked up at the Captains and first officers. He said thoughtfully, “There are a group of twelve battleships on their way here. Tracking has picked them up at twenty light years and they're moving at four light years an hour, so they'll be here in five hours. Preliminary information indicates they are Sunin and they're alone, so they aren't an attack force. Since twelve is their sacred number, they probably just want to talk. This briefing is suspended for the moment and depending on what they want, will resume tomorrow at the same time.”
Ben stood up and headed for the bridge with Tolnar and Pol close behind him.
Ben watched the battleships decelerate to a stop. Their shields and their forward reactors were down. The com officer said, “We're being hailed.”
Pol said, “Put it on screen.” and a high-ranking Tarne appeared on the screen. The Tarne were a bright orange in color, their faces quite human looking, except that their eyes were much larger and the eyelids closed sideways. Their eyes also were one color and this ones was a sparkling black and he had a green frill running from the center of his forehead over his skull and down his back. They had no external ears, which made them look odd to human eyes.
He raised his six fingered hands and touched the tips of his fingers together in a gesture of extreme sorrow. He said in a deep voice, in Standard English, “We offer you our condolences. We would come aboard to discuss it with you. We will have a large number of shuttles. You will know why when we arrive and we hope it will be a pleasant surprise.”
Pol looked at Ben and he nodded slightly, “You are welcome to come aboard. We are not equipped to take a large number of shuttles. Could you divide them up so there is only a couple of shuttles per carrier?”
The Sunin nodded, “That will be satisfactory.”
Pol asked with curiousity, “What should we call you? Unless your names have changed drastically, we still won't be able to pronounce them.”
The figure on the screen gave a low hiss, which was their laughter. “Call me VeeAr, I am the Prime Minister of the Sunin Parliament.” and then the screen flicked off.
the other bridge officers looked stunned, but Ben only looked thoughtful.
The shuttle was pulled in through the force field that kept the shuttle bay pressurized while the hatches were open. Ben said to the others, “The Tarne are very happy about something.”
Dawn Evers and Taffle who had been buried in the bowels of the carrier studying them, since they had arrived, looked at Ben and the others and could see they were also aware of excitement among the Sunin.
Dawn said dryly, in the almost accentless Standard English she had learned how to speak in the time since she and Taffle had arrived. “Are you sure it's not because they've found a way to destroy your carriers?”
Pol turned and grinned at her. He said, “No, there's no danger. They are hiding something, but they feel it will be a joyful surprise, not a deadly one.”
Dawn asked dryly, “I thought you xeno-telepaths could see all, when it came to aliens?”
Ben explained seriously, “We're not doing any probing, since that would be considered impolite unless they were officially enemies. What we see right now is on the surface of their minds and danger would be impossible to hide.”
The outer hatch closed and the inner hatch of the shuttle opened and they walked out to greet their guests. The shuttle hatch opened and a Tarne Sunin walked down the ramp, closely followed by a human boy and then four other Tarne. With his red hair and green eyes, most of them knew immediately that the boy was probably a Spin Ship pilot.
Ben could feel both joy and sadness in the Sunin's minds. They clasped hands and bowed and the greeters responded by giving a shallow bow. When the aliens straightened the one with the black eyes said, “I am VeeAr,” putting his hand on the boy's shoulder, “and this is Thomas. The Chakra came through our territory with the Spin Ship carriers and the two battleships. They wanted to brag so they showed them to us. We told them that you had upgraded all of your Spin Ships in the last few years, but they intended to attack anyway. They felt even if it was a disaster that you would regard it only as another border incident. We have been studying you for the last two hundred years. We knew that this time it would not be a simple retaliation but full war. We told them this as well but they also ignored that warning.”
Ben said, “We were told that only twelve hundred children arrived in the Empire.”
VeeAr looked at the boy, “You are the Battle Commander?” he asked and when Ben nodded, told him, “These children did not came from the same place. They are clones and there are two hundred of them. The Chakra had decided to use the other twelve hundred children because they had family and they knew enough about Protectors to know that they would die rather than surrender if their families lives were in danger. The cloned children had no families so the Chakra weren't going to use them, but intended to take them along to what we knew was death.”
“We demanded that the Chakra give us these children or else.” VeeAr said with a smile, revealing the pointed green teeth of a predator, “an empty threat, of course. We have nothing that can stand up to Spin Ships. The Chakra did not know enough about Spin Ships to realize exactly how powerful they were, so they gave us the children, so at least their lives were spared.”
Ben said, with disgust, “It really sounds like the Chakra went into this with their eyes shut as tightly as possible. They didn't bother to test the Spin Ships to see what they could do, obviously, or they would have known how dangerous they can be. We were aware that you've been studying us and they must have known that fact as well, yet they didn't even ask you about us.”
Thomas wrinkled his small nose, saying with equal disdain, “They're of the warrior class and while they're not stupid, when they become rulers they tend to act really dumb, at times. VeeAr has given us access to the history of the Sunin. When you retaliated in the last border war, you took out seventy-five percent of the Sunin warrior class. Those that were left decided that while the way of the warrior was fine in the past it was no longer appropriate for people who held an Empire as large as the Tarne. They felt eventually it would bring them to exactly this point.”
He said, with approval, “They very quietly brought in genetic experts from the Federation, who could teach them how to modify the warrior class, so instead it would become a ruling class. Those like VeeAr who are capable of thinking about what is best for his people, rather than running eyes shut at a steel bulkhead.”
Ben looked at Thomas with amusement, saying, “Obviously you're older than the children from Leben.”
Thomas nodded, telling him, “Yes. I'm only fourteen, but the others are all between seventeen and twenty years old. We were aware of the existence of the other children. We seem to have been a parallel experiment, which obviously he thought was a failure. About five years ago he no longer appeared where we were being kept and while our education was continued we knew he had abandoned us.”
Ben said with amusement, “That was a little after I showed up and did a few unsettling things. Obviously he didn't think he could control my brothers and didn't trust them with Spin Ships.”
Pol asked, “You think they were cloned from Ferma, Ben?”
Ben said, confidently, “Oh, undoubtedly. Despite Thomas's Terran name, he's Sanscri. There is a definite similarity between Thomas and Tolnar and the other children and a definite difference between Terran bred children. That extra forty-five hundred years has placed a stamp on us that's unmistakable.”
Dawn said, “He's right, Pol. I can see it as well. Taffle?”
The Barin rumbled, “Dawn's right, I've seen enough children on Leben and enough children on the Incursion and Thomas is definitely Sanscri.”
Ben looked at VeeAr, who was looking thoughtful. “I think we smell the same, don't we Mr. Prime Minister?” he said with amusement.
VeeAr stated confidently, “Yes you do. There is a definite similarity between the scent of you and several of the officers here and Thomas indicating that you are from the same racial stock. The similarity of the scent between you and Thomas and the other cloned children can only be that of relatives.”
“We'll do DNA testing to make sure, but the Tarne sense of smell is accepted as valid proof in almost all of the star nations. What do you think, Thomas?” Ben asked looking at the excited boy.
He said with eagerness, “I've seen enough of the Tarne sense of smell not to doubt it for a moment. When the Doctor was coming to see us on a regular basis he was always accompanied by a red haired woman with green eyes. Was that Ferma?”
“Very probably.” Ben nodded, saying, “She was a Spin Ship pilot so she could provide the proper DNA and we can be pretty sure that he was the one that kidnapped Ferma. Are the clones all boys, Thomas?”
“Yes. We've always wondered why. We know that normal Spin Ship pilots are about seventy percent boys and thirty percent girls.” Thomas asked.
Ben said with amusement, “I've looked at her medical records and there was nothing to indicate any medical problems. However by the time he started producing you, he'd known her for over thirty years. Maybe he thought one of her was enough.” and Thomas giggled.
“She was a prisoner. That was easy to tell because she was always guarded and she ignored his orders and did everything to annoy him. If he'd had any hair, I think he would have torn it out. But why would she never acknowledge us?” Thomas asked a little forlornly.
Ben said, with certainty, “Control. If she'd ever acknowledged you or shown you affection, he might have been able to control her. I've found things in my Spin Ship which is the prototype that she developed, that show me she was far more capable than she ever let on, especially in programming. She was safer and more importantly, you were safer if she ignored you. She was acting as a Protector, first of her race as a whole and then you as her children.”
Ben looked at VeeAr and said with humor in his voice, “Now that your distraction has given you time to observe me for a bit, Mr. Prime Minister why don't we head for a briefing room. You can introduce me to your aides and we can go from there. Pol would you get Glay on board, please?”
Ben said to the people seated at the conference table, “Before we do any introductions I've got a little public relations message that I need to send out.” He pressed a button to connect him to the com officer.
“Lieutenant Rikel, sir.”
Ben told him, “Lieutenant, the following message is to go out shipwide and fleet wide. Begin recording. This is Ben Dandreson to all ships. By now most of you know that we are meeting with the Sunin. They brought news that there were fourteen hundred children in the Chakra hands, not twelve hundred. When the Chakra passed through their territory, the Sunin learned about the two hundred additional children. The Sunin demanded that the Chakra hand them over or else, in spite of the fact that they knew that they would have had no chance against Spin Ships. The Chakra didn't know what they had and the Sunin bluff worked. Those two hundred children are now being shuttled to our ships."
He said forcefully, "Greet the children and know they live only because a former enemy has learned the futility of war as a way of life and because of the compassion of a people who have become adults in a galactic community. End Message.”
Ben said, looking at VeeAr. “I hope you don't think I was being condescending, Mr. Prime Minister?”
VeeAr shook his head, telling him, “No Ben Dandreson, I take it as it was intended, as a compliment.” and he looked at his four advisors and found complete agreement. “It appears to be unanimous.”
He paused for a moment and then continued. “Introducing my advisors. On my immediate left is the Leader of the Opposition, ArrDan. Beside him is the Minister of Defense, ReeVen and beside him is the Deputy Prime Minister, VanDar and beside him is TanPar, deputy to the Leader of the Opposition.”
Ben said intently, “Mr. Prime Minister, you asked if I was the Battle Commander, obviously from your studies, you're aware of what that position means. On my left is Pol Tyran and he's Captain of this ship the Incursion and therefore one of my advisors. I've called for a second Captain to join us and he's a direct representative of the Council of Captains and an expert on Sanscri history. I think we should wait for him to get here, I have a feeling that I'm going to need his expertise.”
VeeAr grinned, asking, “You know what we intend to propose?”
“I think so.” Ben admitted, “and I don't know if I have the authority to grant your proposal. To get on with the introductions, sitting on my other side is Tolnar Ferick, who is my deputy. Lieutenant Jace sitting beside Pol is a communications expert. He's the Recording Officer for functions such as this and he controls the Vid cameras that you see. At the end of the table are Dawn Evers and Taffle. They are from Lost Colonies which we just found. One of the two planets in their system is where the Spin Ships were manufactured and where the children who piloted the Spin Ships were created. Also, the three humans with Dawn and Taffle are Federation Observers and if they have names they haven't revealed them to us.” The three Observers grinned but still didn't volunteer any names.
was wearing an earbug, leaned over and whispered to Ben. Ben said to
the Tarne. “Glay is on board and is on his way up.”
After Glay Sanay had been introduced to the others, Ben addressed the Tarne. “Mr. Prime Minister, if I'm right, you want far more than simply autonomy. You wish to sever all ties with the rest of the Tarne Empire and form a permanent alliance with the Sanscri Republic. You deliberately went out and recreated yourself and you are different, still Tarne but no longer just ordinary Tarne.”
VeeAr bowed to the boy, obviously impressed. He said, “The Council of Captains has chosen well. As you say we are still Tarne, but we have forced ourselves into a different mold and we like that mold. We are no longer willing to change back to what we once were. If the other clans wish to join us and change, then we will welcome them, but we do not think it will be soon. It has taken us two hundred years to get to where we are today.”
Ben looked at Glay, saying, “According to what I know, I do have the authority to accept a temporary alliance. It has been done before. What would happen if I accept a permanent alliance?”
Glay pondered for several minutes going over the precedents in his mind. Finally, he said, “As you say Battle Commanders have agreed upon temporary alliances in the past. The first Battle Commander to do so set a precedent. Some of those alliances lasted well past the war in which they were made. One lasted more than thirty years. I think that gives you the authority to accept a permanent alliance, as a Battle Commander you can always ask for a Vote of Non-Confidence.”
Ben looked at him, a chill in his green eyes. He said flatly, “Somehow Glay I think you're trying to tell me something. I read all I could find out about Battle Commanders, but I never found anything that defined exactly how long the rank lasted. I could only assume that it lasted for the duration of the war in which the Battle Commander was active. Obviously I was wrong.”
Glay said, trying to hide a grin. “A Battle Commander is a permanent position. As long as a Spin Ship pilot can operate his ship then he remains Battle Commander.” He became solemn, “The Council of Captains were aware of the tampering done to your DNA, which means you will never grow up, but we still chose you unanimously. You will be a Battle Commander for the rest of your life, Ben. That doesn't mean that you are required to abandon your original life. If you aren't available when another war breaks out, then another Battle Commander will be chosen, but they will always be subordinate to you. You have the rank and seniority starts from when you first assumed that rank.”
Ben nodded his eyes no longer cold. He said, “All right I can accept that. I'll regard it as an honorary rank. The Federation is my home and my primary responsibility is to my High Free Trader clan and I have no intention of moving back to the Sanscri Republic.”
He turned to VeeAr, stating, “Mr. Prime Minister, it appears I do have the authority to form a permanent alliance with you. Since the Council of Captains didn't tell me that I was being co-opted for life, I'll let Glay do the negotiating. The Tarne force numbers approximately six hundred battleships and six thousand heavy cruisers and maybe twice that many light cruisers. There are six groups waiting to meet us each with a core of one hundred battleships and we will be dividing into six groups to meet them.”
Ben explained, “According to Federation intelligence that number is slightly over twice the ships that the regular Navy has. That means they've called up the reserves, which is why we waited for so long. We wanted them to gather together. The regular Navy will probably self-destruct rather than allow themselves to be captured. They're made up of your run-into-steel-bulkhead warrior class. They'll be in the vanguard. The reserves, as you know, are not made up of the warrior class and the majority of them will surrender or run once we chop the regular Navy to pieces. We intend to destroy the ships so, what we need immediately, is transports and a place to put prisoners. We had some transports gathered on the border, if you provide them we'll send ours home, because the prisoners will probably be more comfortable with you as their jailers.”
nodded, telling him, “We will be glad to do so and I think you will
find out that this time the Chakra made a big mistake. The warrior class
does not like the fact that they used others to fight their battles.
Those members of the regular Navy who are Chakra will probably not surrender,
but those from other clans may. What percentage we don't know. Possibly
as much as fifty to seventy-five percent.
The Chief Med-Tech looked at those gathered in the small briefing room. He said with a wry twist of his lip, “Ben was only partially correct. The clones are related to him however, they are his clones not his mothers. The two hundred cloned children all have a DNA consistent with being his children. Ben's genetic coding was drastically tampered with, but the cloned children’s was not, they have the more common, twenty percent genetic drift of normal Protectors. All will follow the normal growth pattern. This indicates that the DNA was collected before the Doctor did any tampering with Ben’s DNA.”
“Ben also asked us whether he could be a clone as well." He shook his head, saying, "We don't believe so. There are clearly two genetic sources to his DNA. The first source, as we have always known is Ferma Tran, the second is not recorded in our database. However, as is normal when we get guests on board such as Ms. Evers and Taffle we put them through the whole gamut of tests. There are clear indication that Ms. Evers DNA and the second of Ben's DNA sources come from the same general background. It is therefore likely that Ben's father comes from Leben.”
Ben eyes were wide as he said, “It's always nice to find relatives, but don't you think two hundred sons is stretching it a bit.” He shook his head to clear it and looked at Thomas, who was looking at him with astonishment, “If you dare to call me Daddy, I'll smack you one.” and Thomas giggled.
He said, "Daddy, I didn't know you cared." and flung his arms around Ben's neck. Ben trying to keep a grin off of his face pushed him away genly.
Ben said after a moment's reflection, “I guess it's no surprise that my father is Leben. Obviously, someone knew about Bartan. Thomas could you tell if the Doctor is human?”
Thomas shook his head, still with a grin on his small face, said, “He's definitely alien, our xeno-telepathy told us that. We could read the surface of his mind quite clearly, but he seems to have a natural shield and getting more than surface thoughts was impossible. I think I know what you're thinking. That his people live somewhere in the Ramar Cloud System.” He sighed and looked at Ben, his face sober now, “You're not going to allow us to have any involvement in this war are you Ben?”
Ben shook his head, his face equally sober. He said, “No, despite the fact that you're older than the other children were, you don't have any training. By the time you can get it the war will be over. The fact that you're my clones has nothing to do with it. You've also become a symbol. We killed twelve hundred children but miraculously two hundred were spared, so even if you had the training I wouldn't allow you in this war. However I won't send you to the rear, I'll allow you to observe from the carriers.”
Ben looked at Dawn and asked, “How do you feel about having new relatives?”
Dawn said with a smile on her face, “Proud, Ben. It'll be very exiting news to our people, that the one who brought us into the Federation is part Leben and they'll be astonished when they find out how many sons he has.”
She got up and bending down, kissed him on the top of the head. Ben could feel the tips of his ears go red and was just as glad they were hidden by his hair.
Ben and Charlie like all the pilots were in the launch bay. Pol told him, “As we expected Ben, they are separated into two distinct groups. As the Prime Minister suggested, the vanguard is divided into two distinct elements, totally unlike any Tarne war we've fought in the past. The vanguard, which we think has regular Navy units and a secondary group we assume to be mostly reserves.”
Ben nodded, saying, “All right, Pol. We'll go with plan Beta. Put me through to all pilots.”
The communications officer said, “All pilots on line, Ben. Hyper com indicates that the five other fleets are still all at least three to five hours from engagement, as planned and they are patched in as well.”
Ben said grevely, “To all Spin Ship pilots. We'll go with plan Beta. We will hit the vanguard and once they are destroyed, we will allow any other units to surrender if they wish to do so. Do not take any chances. I repeat, do not take any chances. Once shields and the forward reactors are down, target their engines and destroy them. From that point on they're Sunin responsibility. You will only become involved if they bring their shields back on line. Battle Commander out. Fleet One, we launch in thirty seconds.”
He flicked a thought at Charlie and could feel the chemicals begin to circulate as he went On the Spin and the lights on all launch bays went from red to yellow and after thirty seconds. When they went to green, the seven hundred Spin Ships in Fleet One launched.
had an additional two hundred Spin Ships, the twelve carriers which
had been guarding the transports had been brought forward to strengthen
the carrier fleet, once the transports had been withdrawn. Two hundred
of the Spin Ships had been assigned to protect the carriers and formed
a globe around them, always moving, always ready in case light cruisers
had been designated to ram the carriers.
The Tarne fleet hadn't broken up to attack, they knew enough about Spin Ships not to do that, but they didn't know ENOUGH about Spin Ships. The action was not a battle, it was a slaughter as the Spin Ships hit the screening elements of the light and heavy cruisers. There were seven hundred and fifty ships in the screening element and in destroying it the five hundred units of Fleet One suffered no losses.
The attack on the twenty-five battleships was equally one sided. The present generation of Spin Ships could take on a top-of-the-line Federation battleship and expect to come out the winner. The Tarne battleships were less than one third as effective and the odds were twenty to one in favor of Fleet One. The forward element of the vanguard simply disappeared and then, as arranged, the five hundred ships headed for the second part of the vanguard. It was two light years behind the forward element and the Spin Ships slowed to one quarter of their normal cruising speed.
That would give the following element over forty-five minutes to think. They used the time wisely for the most part. The amount willing to surrender was even higher than the Sunin had thought. Shocked to the bone almost ninety percent of the ships surrendered and uncharacteristically the remaining units fled the battle.
Only the Sunin, who had fought the Sanscri Republic in the past, could have maintained discipline at that point. At one time, they would have died to the last ship. But they had wisely decided to change.
essence was the battle and the war, the reserve element surrendered
without firing a shot. As the hyper com recording of the battle was
passed to the other fleets the Tarne had time to think and even the
Chakra were unwilling to be destroyed for no purpose. Barely ten percent
of the ships were fanatical enough to fight and they had no more luck
than the first fleet. The Sanscri fleet lost only twelve ships and
two were the the result of a collision, not battle damage.
As the ships were taken and prisoners transferred to Sunin transports the ships were destroyed. Only a few light cruisers were spared to take the news back to their home systems.
Again the carriers gathered at a rendevous point, an fifteen additional carriers were brought forward. Ten days later the fleet carriers separated into task forces, with ten carriers designated for each Tarne clan territory, except for the Chakra who would be invaded by fifteen. They were to destroy anything heavier than a light cruiser and five carriers would make their way to the border to begin their new job of Protecting the Tarne.
The Incursion and the Intrepid, were part of the group that hit the Chakra. Fanatics on their home ground, the Chakra would not surrender. They attacked and they died. Within two weeks, even their light cruisers were gone. Ten carriers were assigned to their borders since the Chakra had been far more aggressive against their neighbors than any of the other Tarne clans.
Ben looked at the screen that was replaying what would probably be the last major action in this war, if you could call such lopsided victories warfare. The Chakra had held back twenty battleships and two hundred heavy cruisers to defend their capital system but it had been as futile as any other.
Suddenly the screen cleared and there was a track of a ship on it. Jace said to Ben. “That's a courier ship. She's hitting fifteen light years an hour and it's headed directly for the border.”
“No Tarne and especially no Chakra would expect sanctuary from any nation on the borders.” Ben said with confidence and he knew who it had to be. He exclaimed, “It's the Doctor. Is Charlie ready to go?” Jace hit a couple of buttons on his control panel which told him the status of all the Spin Ships.
Jace nodded, saying, “Yes, Ben, they've finished prepping him and he's at one hundred percent readiness.”
turning to Pol. He said, “Only Charlie has the speed to catch
her. Please tell the carriers on the border to have their Spin Ships
box her in, if they can. They are not, repeat not, to redline their
drives. She can hit eighteen light years an hour at emergency military
power and redline at twenty-one, so there's no sense in endangering
any pilots, when they can't match her anyway.”
The Spin Ship fired a shot across the Courier's bow when it didn't answer his hail. The pilot and Captain, looked at the Doctor. He said, “We can't outrun that ship, Doctor. He's got five light years an hour on us and scanners indicate he isn't redlined.”
The Doctor pondered for a moment, “Very well. Put it on the screen.” His eyes widened as he saw who was on the screen and then a feral grin came onto his face and he said a phrase, that a human would not have been able to say.
Ben just looked at him, a thoughtful look on his face and he watched the grin disappear from the Doctor's mouth. He said thoughtfully, “That's very interesting Doctor, you've placed a command in the clones memories. I assume that would have allowed you to control one of them. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm the original.”
Ferma looked at the face on the screen, so much like hers and murmured, “Bennarion. The Doctor told me that you were dead, that the clones were mine.”
Ben said with humor in his voice, “Just call me Ben. Ben Dandreson. If you call me Bennarion again, I might leave you with the Doctor.” and she giggled.
He turned his green eyes back on the Doctor. He ordered, “You will surrender the ship, Doctor.”
He sneered, “Or what, you'll destroy the ship. With your mother on board?”
Ben looked at him, his eyes serene. He stated confidently, “She's a Protector, Doctor. The only reason she stayed alive was to see you stopped. With all your plans undone, now like any Protector, she will joyfully give up her life to serve her people. You've known her for fifty-eight years, yet you don't know her at all.”
Both the Doctor and the pilot looked at Ferma, the Doctor with bafflement, the pilot knowing the woman very well saw the smile on her face and the joy in her eyes as she nodded. Ben was completely accurate in his assessment of his mother's reaction, as the pilot knew. He turned, bringing up the gun which had been hidden at his station and shot the Doctor in the head.
Turning back to his panel, he explained as he worked, “We've been hostages for the last year. The Doctor has a self-destruct mechanism on board. Alive he could have triggered it any time he wanted. My crew and I were able to access it but all we could do was increase the period of time from when he died to when it exploded from ten seconds. From ten seconds to what we don't know. I'm dropping out of hyper, now.”
As his ship did so, he hit the claxon and he thought with regret of how much he had looked forward to commanding her.
“Time to go, Ferma!!!” he yelled and headed for the lift that would take them to the shuttle bay, the woman right behind him. Once on board the shuttle he made sure his ten man crew were all there and then he hit the button which set off the explosives disintegrating the shuttle bay doors. He put the shuttle into emergency overdrive and it flashed out the bay doors. They were still close enough when the courier exploded, that it rocked the shuttle.
The pilot and Captain saw the green light flickering on the com indicating they were being hailed. He hit the com button putting it on screen. Ben grinned at him saying, “What was your rush, Captain, you had at least a quarter of a second leeway. Don't bother cussing me Captain, right now I'm at eighty-eight percent of light speed and Charlie is automatically speeding up my conversation so you can receive it. It'll take me about ten minutes to get down to a speed where you can swear at me.”
The Captain looked at Ferma who was occupying the small Tracking station. She looked up at him and said with amusement, “My son speaks the truth, Cam, though he's exaggerating somewhat. He'll probably be at forty percent of light speed in about five minutes. At that speed, the time delay won't be prohibitive. He's circling us at about ten million miles and decelerating.”
Ferma looked with astonishment as Charlie matched their speed less than one thousand miles away. The blinking green light of a hail had Cam reaching out and flicking on the com.
Ben's small face looked back at them from the screen. He told them, “I'd take you within my shields and head back for the carrier, but my scanners say that you have serious structural damage to your rear right quadrant. No problem at your present speed, but even covered by my shields and inertial compensator I don't know if I can take you into hyper with me. The carrier is on its way and should be here in a couple of hours.”
Ferma asked with fascination, “Is that the original prototype I built?”
Ben nodded, telling her, “I call him Charlie. They've been looking for you for a long time, Mother. The Incursion was in Federation space six years ago. However, that time they found me. They gave me Charlie and we had a simulated war game. The result was that they had to scrap the generation of Spin Ships they were building, which only had twenty percent of your design built into them and do a crash rebuild and they replaced their entire fleet of Spin Ships. They are only about eighty percent as efficient as the original Charlie.”
Ferma demanded, “Then how did they defeat the children the Tarne sent against them?”
Sadness flashed onto Ben's face and a few tears were ready to fall. He said with sorrow in his treble voice, “My shipmate and I developed revolutionary new software modifications. With the new mods, the old Charlie and that means the Spin Ships that were built on Leben, didn't have a chance. It was no real contest. Sanscri only lost seventy-one Spin Ships in destroying twelve hundred. Another six were lost by one of the carriers in getting to the battle. Though I've watched recordings of the battle. We would have lost more but the children were never totally committed. If it hadn't been for their families back on Leben many of them would have surrendered. Ironically I removed the danger in Bartan just six days after the battle.”
His eyes took on a far away look and Ferma recognized that his AI was talking to him. His eyes snapped back into focus. He said tensely, “It appears we have visitors. They're not Tarne and they shouldn't be here since we're almost fifty light years inside of Tarne territory. They're less than a quarter of a light year away and in stealth mode but it's not good enough to hold this close to Charlie. They probably don't even realize we're here at the moment, but they'll be passing less than a light day away if they stay on their present heading. The Incursion is launching, but the Spin Ships are thirty minutes away at emergency military power. I've ordered them not to redline it since that would only get them here a few minutes sooner. Anything that's going to happen will be long over by then.”
He sighed, saying, “Unfortunately with the damage to your hull you can't power down, so you're going to show up like a beacon. I can take you inside my outer shields and try to get into hyper. Below light speed your addition means I can't go into stealth since your energy signature will show up whatever I try to do. It's your choice.”
“How many shields do you have, Ben?” Ferma inquired.
Ben explained, “I have four now, rather than the two that Charlie originally had. I can expand the outer two enough to take you within them and my tractor beams will hold you as if we were welded together. You can't damage me if you're worried about that. Each of the shields can take several direct hits by a battleship anti-matter beam. If you blow up it'll be a pin prick compared to that.”
Cam said anxiously, “Try to get into hyper. We're small enough that they might ignore us. But I've heard stories about the type of combat they have on this border. It's no holds barred and take no prisoners.”
Ben said dryly as he flicked a thought at Charlie to start him moving toward the shuttle and video went out, “Yes, I was aware of that fact, that's why I ordered ten carriers to patrol the border rather than the five on the other borders. I think our intruders must have already been in the Empire or they would have had a hard time getting in.” They felt themselves grabbed by powerful tractor beams and then Ben said, “Well here we go, ready or not. I have to be at twenty percent of light speed before I can go into hyper, so it's liable to be a rough trip.”
A rough trip it was, with a damaged shuttle, hull integrity breached and only held together by power flowing through it, for exactly that reason, since shuttles on courier ships were intended to double as lifeboats. They were shaking drastically.
Ben said intently, “Ready for hyper, now!!!” and suddenly the stars blurred and then stabilized and the shaking stopped. “Well that was enjoyable.” as the screen came back on and they had video again as well as audio and Ben's face was solemn and quite white with strain.
Ferma looked at his face, said dryly, “I don't think you were being quite honest with us, were you Ben?”
Ben told her, “I was being totally honest with you, Mother. Your piddling little shuttle couldn't touch Charlie. However if you happened to blow up just as we went into hyper and the probability was about ninety percent that you would, with that type of damage. Well let's just say I wouldn't have had to mourn your death. Excuse me I'm being paged.”
Tolnar asked, “Ben, we're getting the relay from Charlie. What are your orders?”
Ben pondered for a moment, before saying, “We have no particular reason to take them out, Tol. Surround them and make them aware of the fact that we know they're there and that we want them to surrender. There seems to be three battleships and nine heavy cruisers. We'll escort them toward the border and I think we'll find a nice uninhabited system on the way and show them a little of what Spin Ships can do and then send them home.”
Tolnar asked questioningly, “Are your chemicals functioning properly, Ben? You almost sound drunk?”
Ben, voice bubbling with good humor, said, “Not drunk, Tol, just happy. My mother is on the shuttle that I'm bringing in. It's not everyday you meet your mother for the first time.”
eased the shuttle down with his tractor beam
and when assured by the Shuttle Bay officer that it was down solidly,
he released his beam and moved over and let the Spin Ship sink to the
deck. He took his time shutting Charlie down. But finally he
said, “Open the hatch, Charlie.” and he wiggled out. Men
were working on the Shuttle and he said to the Shuttle Bay officer,
a bit of concern in his voice, “Trouble?” s
The man shook his head and said, “No sir. Not really, but the right rear quadrant is going to go down when they shut off the power or open the hatch and we're just shoring it up.”
Ben relaxed and decided to change clothes while he waited. He stripped off the flight suit and slipped into a pair of shorts and a T shirt and some sandals, nodding at Pol and Thomas as they entered the Shuttle Bay. They stopped in front of Ben and he could see that Thomas was shifting his weight from one foot to the other in excitement. He asked, “What do the others think about all of this, Thomas?”
Thomas blinked uncomfortably, saying unhappily, “They're somewhat interested but they don't seem to care very much. I'm over three years younger than the next youngest for some reason and I was only seven when the rest of them were ten or more. By the time I was ten, they had already made their friends and the groups were pretty well set and closed. They would acknowledge my presence but I was never really one of them. They're a closed society and they don't intend to let anyone else in, not me, not you, not Ferma.”
Ben asked, “Is that why VeeAr chose you to bring to the conference?”
Thomas nodded, saying, “Yes. He could tell I didn't really belong. It was a relief to get away from them. They look like me but they don't think like me. It's not really that unusual, the Incursion is much the same. Only because I'm officially your son, did they let me into their society.”
“What did I tell you about that?” Ben demanded, though with obvious humor in his voice.
Thomas smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He said, “Sorry, but that's the way they think of me. It's funny but they don't think of the others that way.”
Ben said slowly, “They've already been molded and what they are now is what they will always be. You still haven't settled into a mold and maybe never will. Your personality is more like mine and the Incursion's Spin Ship pilots can actually see that in you. I gather that means if they're sent back for training as Spin Ship pilots you don't want to go with them.”
Thomas said simply. “I itch to fly a Spin Ship, yet I wouldn't stay with them even to do that. Oh to see them every now and then, I certainly want to do that, but to live with them again, never.”
Pol looked at Ben, telling him, “I agree with Thomas, I've seen more of them than you, Ben but as you say they're already molded. They're probably as bright as you are and when they grow up, they may be kicked out of that mold but right now they're somewhat pedestrian, not very innovative at all. Followers not leaders.”
The hatch of the Shuttle opened then and the boys went over to it, excitement in their minds. Cam Simpson was first and then Ferma. She looked at the two boys, who looked so much alike, yet the eyes of one were much more mature than the others and he had a sunburst on the shoulder of his T shirt, indicating that he was the Battle Commander. Her eyes widened at that. The last time the Sanscri Republic had a Battle Commander was two hundred years ago and it was an incredible honor for her people. She knew this one had to be Ben.
She reached out and drew him into a hug, caressing his hair and he didn't protest or try to pull away. She saw the other boy looking a little forlorn and she reached out and pulled him into the embrace as well. Finally, she pushed them back. Ben said, “This is Thomas and he seems to be the only one of my cloned sons who cares about family.”
“Hello, Thomas Dandreson. I think four will be a much easier family to manage than two hundred and four, don't you?” she said a smile lighting up her whole face and he smiled in return, thrilled to hear what was his whole legal name for the first time.
She straightened up and looked at the captain of the Incursion. She grinned saying with amusement, “Hello, Pol, the last time I remember seeing you I was chasing you down the corridor.”
He grinned as well and said, “And then the bell sounded, indicating a full scale drill. That was when you stumbled into puberty and you headed back early and I never saw you again. By the time I got back you were already headed for the planet.”
“Yes,” she said with sadness, “it's hard but that's the best way to do it. A clean break and then a renewal of friendship if fate brings it your way. It never happened with us. My father moved to Sanscri's main shipyard and when you reached puberty you stayed on your planet.”
She brightened, saying, “This is my husband Cam Simpson. As long as I didn't try to talk to anyone, the Doctor didn't care where I went and we were able to arrange for a civil marriage. He's the nephew of your father Ben, so as well as being your new father, if you accept him, he's also your cousin.”
Ben held out his small hand and grasped the man's hand. The man was relieved when he saw the twinkle in Ben's eyes. Obviously, he didn't mind. But he was curious about one thing. “What exactly is a Battle Commander.” he asked.
Pol said seriously, “It should perhaps be more proper to say war commander. It means that Ben set out the objectives and planned all strategy for the war that we just fought.”
Cam shook his head, saying, “I guess I'll have to get used to that. I would like to hear more but for the moment I would like to say hello to Thomas.”
Ben said, “He's much younger than I am and he'd probably enjoy a hug.” and Cam took the suggestion and bending he put his arms around Thomas's waist and lifted him into a close embrace. The boy put his arms around the man's neck, for the first time in his life feeling loving arms around him. He began to cry silently. Cam sat on the hatch of the shuttle resting the boy on his lap rocking him gently and let him have a good cry.
Ben led his mother and Pol over to Charlie, letting them have a little privacy. They began a technical discussion that had Pol lost in seconds, but after a few minutes feeling the others had had long enough, Ben ended the talk. “I think Charlie's just about the best we can do with Spin Ships at the moment. I thought at one time that he needed more range, but that was before I used a courier ship to get here from the Federation. I think any additional range could put them so far from their carrier that the pilots might become careless. Most of us are still emotionally ten years old and we need the stability that adults give us, on a regular basis.”
He turned to Pol, asking, “What about the intruders?”
Pol said, “Tol says that they're heading back to the border peacefully. We used the hyper com to inform the carriers on the border. We were told that there's a nice uninhabited system about ten light years from the border. There we can make sure they know exactly what they would be going against if they provoke us. We're following at cruising speed.”
Ben nodded, ordering, “Contact one of the carriers and have them meet Tol and they can give the demo. Then recall our ships, we'll collect the clones and the Intrepid and head back to the Republic. I'll put Glay in charge and he can finish the mopping up. We no longer need a Battle Commander out here, because there are no more large battles to be fought. Warn Glay not to be overconfident. There are probably still small fleets out there and they could be trouble if he gets careless.”
Pol asked softly, “Why the Incursion and the Intrepid?”
Ben said somberly, “We have some unfinished business in the Federation. The pilots must see where the children came from and pay their final respects and then they can close the book and open a new one.”
Ben looked at the ship they were approaching and he said to the shipyard director. He exclaimed, “I thought you had ignored my idea. I haven't heard anything in two years.”
Reevan Vale shook his head, saying to him, “We wouldn't dare ignore any of your ideas. Your mind is too productive.”
Cam asked, “What exactly is it, I've never seen anything like it before. It looks like a heavy cruiser, but it's almost double the length.”
Vale answered, telling him, “It's a prototype of a Spin Ship carrier. The full size model can carry one hundred of the next generation of Spin Ships and will be as well armed as a battleship. This one can only carry twelve, however it could take on three or four heavy cruisers and probably come out in one piece. Of course, if it has a chance to launch its Spin Ships it can take on at least an equal number of battleships. Ben designed it, from stem to stern. It's as fast as a courier, fifteen light years an hour and emergency military power is eighteen and it redlines at twenty-one.”
Ben asked, with curiousity, “Have you any thoughts about this size being useful as it is? This was designed before I needed to get from one place to another in a hurry and a courier was available. A full sized version will lose five light years across the board.”
Reevan nodded, saying, “Yes, one hundred of these are already under construction. By the time they're finished we'll have enough of the new generation of Spin Ships for all of them.”
“What new generation of Spin Ships would that be?” asked Ben warily.
Reevan grinned and said, “You provided Pol with the upgrades you used to bring your own ship to the position it's in now. Three years ago you provided us with the data to produce the copies of the original version that your mother designed and they were already under construction. It wasn't difficult to retrofit the ones we had already completed nor to change the production line. So, everything we now have under construction is as up to date as your ship. Therefore we never needed to go through a design stage. Completion date is projected to be in about one year.”
Reevan said. “The first ten of the full sized version will be completed at around the same time and forty more six months after that. That's simply for the increase we will need to adequately cover the Tarne Empire. And we plan to replace about ten of the old carriers a year.
They were grabbed by a tractor beam and drawn into the Shuttle Bay. It overlooked the Spin Ship bay. Ben was suspicious when he saw that there were only eleven full cradles. He said conversationally, “Why exactly is there one cradle empty?”
Reevan said, with a smile of amusement, “We thought that's where you could put Charlie.”
“You don't intend to give me this ship, do you?” Ben demanded.
Reevan said cheerfully, “Well, yes. As the designer you are the best person to do any improvements on her.”
Ben demanded, “And twelve state of the art Spin Ships!! Are you completely crazy!!! Besides the Federation might allow one Spin Ship in its territory on a permanent basis, but twelve?”
Ferma spoke for the first time, “Ben, you haven't been paying attention to the political situation.”
He said glumly, “No, I've been busy.”
“You didn't have to see the families of the seventy-seven Spin Ship pilots who died in the first battle, Ben.” she said softly. “You weren't even in command at the time.”
Ben shook his head, saying sadly, “Yes, I did. I felt I had an obligation to them, as well as to the sixteen who died during the war. If I hadn't seen them, I would have regretted it all of my life.”
“Fair enough, Ben.” his mother told him. “The Federation Observers were very impressed by the restraint we showed during the war and the way you went about it to minimize casualties on both sides. They recommended to the Federation, that they offer us full membership. We did so and it was accepted overwhelmingly. We're now part of the Federation, Ben.”
The three ships Regalo, Incursion and Intrepid were floating above Leben, almost directly over the site of the Doctor's factory. There were thousands of people in the stands, most from the factory but many more from all over Leben, all wearing ear-protectors. Charlie was the first of the Spin Ships to appear and he was alone and for a Spin Ship he was moving at a crawl. Then just over the field in front of the stands he stood on his tail and then just disappeared as he headed upwards, only the sonic boom showing where he had gone.
Then the flights of the Incursion and the Intrepid began to appear, in classic 'finger four' formations and when they reached the field one of them abruptly changed directions heading straight upwards. Only the sonic boom accompanying its disappearance as the other three Spin Ships continued on their way, a bit sadder and lonelier.
Forty-nine more times the same thing occurred as the children of the Incursion and the Intrepid, honored the children who had died in the first battle of the Tarne war.
“What did you say it was called?” asked the woman with a hoarse voice after they removed the ear-protectors.
Ferma answered somberly, “It's called the Missing Man Formation and it goes back to the twentieth century of Terra. It's intended to pay honor, in this case to your dead children. For us and sometimes for the family, it brings a final closure and lets us move on with our lives. It's an emotional experience to watch but I assure you that it's an even more intense experience to be one of the pilots. Many of them when they get out of their ships will break down and cry. In that way it's also a catharsis that some of them can get in no other way.”
Ben told them, “When I left the last time, I gave you an invitation to come to the Sanscri Republic. That still stands if you prefer that option. But now that we're part of the Federation they want some Spin Ships of their own. Initially they intend to put them in Survey Ships to give them some clout of their own, so they don't have to rely on other Naval units for help. Both the Incursion and the Intrepid will be staying for a while. They will be moving the four hundred completed Spin Ships to Home Base. Before we left the AI's of the Spin Ships on board both ships were transferred to the new generation of the Spin Ships. They're half the size of the original models so one hundred and fifty can all fit in one carrier, though they can only launch one hundred at a time.”
He explained, “It will take eight trips and then fifty of the Incursion's Spin Ships will be moved to the Intrepid and they'll head back to Sanscri. The Incursion will be remaining to train your children if you stay. We will be moving the factory to Home Base since it's very inefficient to build Spin Ships on the ground. In compensation, the Federation will be building a shipyard above Leben to produce Spin Ship carriers. They would like to have about a hundred of the larger one hundred Spin Ship carriers. They in fact prefer the smaller Spin Ship carriers and have ordered two thousand of them, to be produced at the rate of two hundred and fifty a year. They think it will take about a year to lay down the yards and about three years to get up to full production.”
“Obviously most of the pilots will come from Sanscri.” Ben said and looking at the Council representing the genetically altered humans. “We provided you with the data on your options when we arrived two weeks ago. Have you decided what you'll do?” he asked.
Pedar Relan, the woman who had told him his mother had been here, said with humor, “I don't think we have much of a choice, the children who've just turned ten are almost uncontrollable. We can see they ache with an urge they can't scratch and four hundred a year over the next four years will turn ten and act the same. We've talked to some of your older children and that's seems to be pretty well standard. Several of them who didn't get to fly Spin Ships for several years after they turned ten said it gets worse every year. We know about your history, why didn't you go through that period?”
Ben shrugged, saying, “I don't know. It wasn't until I was in the Sanscri Republic and read up on the Protectors that I knew how great the desire was. I simply never experienced the ache that other kids went through and those children who were cloned using my DNA don't experience the overwhelming longing to fly Spin Ships either. It seems to be part of my genetic makeup, which I passed on to them. It's just as well since most of them are between seventeen and twenty.”
Pedar said firmly, “Well, we've decided to stay in the Federation since that's now an option and that'll be at Home Base. We just don't like the idea of seeing our kids go off in their ships and never seeing them again.”
Ben told her, “The Federation is planning to put in a major fleet base at Home Base and the idea is that they will base as many ships out of there as possible. Those parents of children that are moved to other sections of the Federation, have the option of going with their children and making a home wherever they're based, or staying at Home Base. Most of you also have younger children and they will be Spin Ship pilots as well, so the decision of where you'll live is going to be yours.”
I was glad to see Ben back. I'd missed the little devil. I marveled at the ship they had given him. But I could certainly see it from the Republic's point of view. They'd given him a Spin Ship and got what, survival perhaps and there's no price that you can put on that.
The hatch opened and people began to come down the ramp. Ben reached the end of the ramp and said, “First things first. Peter.”
“Yes, Ben?” the AI asked.
Ben told him, “The majority of the Spin Ship pilots, nine of them are still on board. Five boys and four girls. They're too shy to come out right now. Since this was a permanent placement, they're all orphans so I'd like you to choose nine couples, who won't mind having a ten year old around, who's going to stay ten years old for the next thirty or forty years and to come and winkle them out in about an hour or so.
Peter asked, “Permanently based on Home Base, Ben?”
Ben nodded, saying, “Yes and there's a second parameter as well, they have to realize that while these are children they are also Protectors and Spin Ship pilots, so they'll spend a lot of time away from here. You have the database on the Sanscri Republic, make sure that the couples see it.” Ben told him.
Peter said, “That shouldn't be that hard, many of those who live on Home Base are used to seeing loved ones go away for extended periods.”
Ben said, “Good!! Now to get down to introductions. Mason Cooper, Captain of the Harvard, Kim Cooper, Med-Tech officer and Mason's sister, the tall one is Dan Foreman, first officer and the stout one is Rick Tane.” He giggled and moved away hurriedly, as Rick made as if to go after him.
Rick warned him, though with a grin on his face, “I'll get you later, you little water rat.”
The smaller woman who had red hair and green eyes and had to be Ben's mother, tilted her head questioningly. She asked, “Water rat, Rick? That's an unusual nickname for a person who lives primarily in space.”
Rick explained, “He learned how to swim on Dandre and he loves it and it's not as unusual in space as you might think. Most of the two hundred or so clan ships are family ships and they're big enough that they have a pool built in. It serves as part of the water reserve, but it's a good place for the children to get exercise.”
Ben moved forward again, saying, “As you can tell, this is my mother Ferma Simpson and this is her husband Cam Simpson, he serves as captain of the Regalo, my mother is first officer.” He grabbed the hand of a boy who looked much like Ben and pulled him forward. “This believe it or not, is my son Thomas.” He rolled his eyes and the other boy looking at him giggled. “The Doctor took my DNA before he tampered with it and created two hundred clones. Under the laws of both the Sanscri Republic and the Federation, if a clone chooses to claim the relationship he is legally the child of the donor. Thomas was the only one who chose to do so. You all know Tolnar. He also intends to be here until he reaches puberty.”
“Darn right.” Tol said firmly. “As Ben's deputy in the war, if we had another war and I was in the Republic and he wasn't I'd automatically be promoted from Deputy Battle Commander to Battle Commander. I don't want that type of responsibility. Any of my family who want to see me can visit me here.”
Dan who had been in the Navy for a while asked, “What exactly would the equivalent rank in the Federation Navy.”
Ferma answered, “I've gone over your Naval ranks and the only equivalent I can see is a Grand Fleet Admiral. However, even they wouldn't have the power that Ben had. We don't have the naval structure that the Federation has. We simply have the Council of Captains and they are made up of eleven active captains of Spin Ship carriers elected by the other captains. They decide on Naval regulations and things like that and they have a very touchy problem. Many of those they command are ten years old emotionally so they can't be too strict, for children of that age have a hard time performing at their best under a highly regimented structure.”
She explained, “When a war is imminent or in this case if we are attacked, they decide whether we simply retaliate or if a full scale war is needed. They pass their recommendation on to the Parliament who vote on the recommendation. As far as I know a recommendation has never been changed nor rejected. Once war is approved the Council of Captains choose a Battle Commander and from that point on the Battle Commander has complete charge of the war. He defines its purpose, its objectives and structure and its strategy and he decides when it's over.”
She said approvingly, “The Battle Commander is always the most mature and intelligent of the Spin Ship pilots, because Spin Ship battles are almost impossible to follow from a carrier. That's even more the case now where their range is so great. A Battle Commander has never been replaced and none has ever lost a war, though battles have been lost.”
I said brilliantly, “Urk!”
She giggled and sounded just like Ben and Thomas. She said with amusement, “Urk indeed, Kim. It's an amazing amount of responsibility to place on a child, but we've never had cause to regret it and the system has been the same for thirty-five hundred years.”
Ben said with a grin, “The Barin is Taffle and he's from the Bartan system that I helped bring into the Federation and he's our engineering officer. Dawn Evers is also from the Bartan system and she's the weapons officer.”
Dan asked, “You only need four people to man that ship? Most heavy cruisers have a crew of about three hundred.
Dawn shook her head, saying, “It's highly automated, but it would really take about sixty to man it properly, but basically four people can run fight it. The first officer also serves as the launch officer for the Spin Ships.”
It was several days after their arrival and the Cooper clans were meeting. Raster Cooper looked at the other four members of the Council and then at the audience. He said, “We were here once before and Ben changed Home Base and its system, from simply the headquarters of our High Free Trader clans into an important system and it seems he's about to do it again. Ben.”
Ben stood up and looked at the audience, normally there wouldn't have been any children here but the children from the Regalo were here with their foster parents. Ben said, “We had a lot of time to do some designing and redesigning on our way from Sanscri to the Bartan system, then here. The Incursion has already begun to train the first four hundred Spin Ship pilots. We have an order for sixteen hundred Spin Ships over the next four years.”
The shipyard manager Mor Cooper said, “That's impossible the shipyard wasn't built…” Looking at Ben who was smiling, “I'm wrong, aren't I? You designed the shipyard.”
Ben nodded and said, “Yes and while I didn't know that we would ever need to produce Spin Ships I designed it with that it mind. The new generation of Spin Ships are like Charlie and they're just about the size of a fighter, in length at any rate though they’re much bulkier. The production line was designed so that it could be altered to produce Spin Ships. It'll take about a month. This is for the Federation and they always take priority, any orders that we have will have to wait until we can build a second line for fighters.”
He explained, “As I said we had time on our hands. I had complete specs on the fighters in Charlie's data base. My mother and Taffle did the design work on them. Taffle designed the original anti-matter reactors, that they used on the Divinok. The ship was so big and they didn't have the technology to make smaller reactors, so they were immense. But the funny thing was, they're about three times as efficient as anti-matter reactors of the same size that the Federation uses in Space Stations. So, between them my mother and Taffle shrank the reactors down so that they would fit into a fighter. The fighters already had Spin Ship technology built into them and for the first time, we've designed fighters that can use hyper space engines. They only have about twenty light year range, but the reactors increase the anti-matter beam output tenfold. So for the first time, fighters can travel in hyper space and a dozen of them can actually take on a heavy cruiser, with the possibility of coming out the winner.”
Ben told them, “The second line will produce them and there will be a third line that can retrofit the current fighters that have already been built. The cost to produce the new fighters is about the same as the current models, the cost to retrofit older fighters will be about one fifth of the original cost, with the projected cost going down to about one tenth after about two years.”
He clicked a button on the remote in his hand and the large computer screen came up. He clicked the button again and most of them recognized a hyper space engine.
Ben said conversationally, “This is the most important design work that we did. Dawn and I did the bulk of the work, but everybody contributed something. This is a military grade hyper engine made over into a civilian hyper engine. Combined with the new technology of the reactors we can retrofit a civilian ship for the same cost that a civilian engine and reactor would cost. It's based on the design work I did on the Regalo and for Charlie.”
There was absolute silence in the audience, as they looked with awe at the engine that would change the entire galaxy. Ben stated, “This particular engine was designed with the Harvard in mind, however, all hyper engines and reactors are exactly the same except for size. Unless someone manufactured an extremely odd engine this will replace anything currently on the market. This one will give the Harvard about five light years an hour, that's its maximum safe speed. These engines aren't designed to have emergency military power, though you can add about two light years an hour by redlining it. However, I wouldn't recommend in except in extreme circumstances. The line I have designed to produce these engines and reactors can be programmed to produce any size needed.”
Ben grinned, saying, “However just in case you think you might be able to run away from the military, Dawn and I also designed military grade engines to replace the current models. They don't give any additional power to the smaller ships such as light cruisers, but the cost is drastically reduced and they will give improved speed to heavy cruisers and battleships.”
Rachel, AI of the Survey ship Searcher said, “Don I have some messages.”
“Lets hear them Rachel.” Don Francis said.
She said, “Item: regarding the police action against the Venrye. They've agreed to pay reparations for what we consider piracy. Apart from a little punishment shared out liberally, we didn't do much else. We no longer require them since we can go through the Ramar Cloud Region.”
“Item: The Federation has signed an agreement with the Sanscri Republic and they have become a full member of the Federation. That gives us access to Spin Ship technology. There are a couple of thousand children on Leben, four hundred of which will come to the right age this year and the rest over the next four years. The Incursion of the Sanscri Republic will act as a training ship for the foreseeable future. It will be based in the Free Trader port of Home Base in the Star System, Freedom. Home Base is ready to produce additional Spin Ships. We will be replacing one of the shuttles that Survey Ships carry with a Spin Ship. However unlike Ben Dandreson, they won't be in command. They will in effect be civilian employees because of their apparent age but they will be under the captain of whatever ship they are on.”
She continued, “Item: An Ambassador can recommend rewards based on the importance of a mission. Based on the revenues that will be saved, we are in full agreement with Ben Dandreson, that a reward of ten years salary is appropriate for the importance of this mission to Bartan.”
“Item: As a result of a complaint by Ben Dandreson, we investigated allegations of obstructionism by Admiral Swansea. We found for the complainant and agreed with his following statement:”
'It is intolerable that a senior officer can endanger lives and missions by obstructing the installation of proven technology, simply because he is prejudiced against the technology in question. For such a crime and it is a crime because it can damage the safety of the Federation, dismissal is the only option.
It is different when the technology is unproven, at those times sometimes a voice of reason is the only barrier between careless use of valueless and dangerous science.'
“Admiral Swansea was demoted to post-captain and dismissed from the service.”
She told him, “He'll get a pension Don, but it's going to be reduced drastically and by demoting him instead of giving him the one step in rank that most senior officers would get on retirement, the Navy is really showing their disapproval of what Swansea has been doing.”
“Item: The scanner modifications first used on the Searcher were extensively in use during the recent police action. Having proven their worth the modifications have been adopted as the primary scan software for the Federation Navy. They will be called the Rachel modifications.”
“That's all, Don, but Ben really came through for all of us, even me. I never knew before that it was possible to reward an AI, but Ben figured out a way to do it.”
Don sat back in his chair a contented man with a contented crew.