2949-09-14 - Tales from the Inbox: Monty Crow’s Neighbors 

This week we continue to draw from the submission by David M. (yes, this is a pseudonym) about his experience having unwelcome visitors come to his home on Botched Ravi. 

Next week we’re hoping to finally release some of the stories Naval Intelligence has been sitting on for some time – the first batch of them got through the censors two days ago, and we’re working on sifting through and figuring out which ones are still immediately relevant. 

David Montero adjusted the makeshift veil shielding his face from the brutal Botched Ravi sun as he emerged from the escape tunnel. He’d left home with only the clothes on his back and the guns he’d been carrying, with not even a canteen to help him on the open badlands. Grif would want proof of David’s death and would find the tunnel looking for his body, but the gang would be sifting through the collapsed ruin of his house for hours before they found the trapdoor. Hopefully, that would be enough of a head start for Botched Ravi to erase his tracks. 

Fortunately, even without a canteen, David had preparations of another kind. The tunnel he’d dug years before emerged in a stand of corpse trees clustered in a blind defile a few hundred meters behind his house. The trees’ leathery flesh, revolting to the eye, concealed a mass of spongy, water-storing flesh which a human could suck on to obtain moisture, even if the alkaline taste would make any but a local gag. He drank from the trees until he couldn’t swallow any more, then used his belt knife to cut a six-foot length of one tree's stiffening rib to use as a walking-stick. Anyone foolish enough to brave the Ravi badlands without a walking-stick was as damned as if they were without a veil and a canteen. 

David’s would-be assassins hadn’t been lying when they’d claimed a storm was coming as a reason to be let into his homestead; every gust and eddy of fickle wind told him that his stretch of the wastes was about to suffer a big one. Botched Ravi’s furious storms drove swirling clouds of razor-dust which could strip human flesh from bone, and he’d been dressed for the stifling heat of the morning, not these late afternoon premonitions of a howling night. He would be reduced to a well-armed skeleton in mere minutes if he couldn’t find shelter before it hit. The tunnel mouth and gorge offered some protection from a storm, but Grif and his men were still too close for comfort. 

Though he briefly considered making an aboveground dash for his homestead to retake the freshly blasted ruins, David abandoned this mad scheme. He’d called Sherriff Deering when the pirates appeared and would need to leave clearing his destroyed home of the ruffians to the ragtag posse that passed for local law enforcement. He didn’t envy the outsiders their inevitable gun-battle with Deering and whoever else the lawman could scare up in short order, especially with a storm blowing in; most of his neighbors were reformed upstanding citizens like himself. They would relish the excitement offered by a firefight with a gaggle of overconfident space pirates. 

His best chance to make it through the day alive would be to make it to the home of one of his neighbors - Old Man Palumbo was the closest, but the pirates had been there already, so instead he set a course for the Mendel home three klicks in the opposite direction. Leopold and Phyllis Mendel were the newest settlers on the badlands, and he’d only met them twice, but they would probably let him call Deering to check in and ride out the storm in their parlor. David might do the same for them, if he was in an obliging mood. 

Peeking out of the gully and seeing no sign of his pursuers, David scrambled topside and set off toward a brilliantly white speck on the eastern horizon. With the nearness of the dusk and its promised storm, his feet itched to run, but he moved with deliberation, tapping the ground in front of his feet firmly with the end of his cut walking-stick. The Csorba Basin where he’d made his home was one of the flattest places on the planet, but flat and open did not make it safe. If he put his foot into the mouth of a ringbiter he’d never get it loose before the storm overtook him, and ringbiters were among the least deadly of the creatures which prowled the area. If he happened to cross into a tunnel cat’s stalking-ground or a songbird run in his haste, neither Grif nor anybody else would ever find his remains. 

Moving as fast as he dared, David watched the speck on the horizon grow into the top of a white stone monolith jutting into the sky. Despite having a squared-off shape and resisting even the patient teeth of the wind, the structure was a natural outcrop. Its base lay in the bottom of a broad canyon at the intersection of several of the defiles and gullies which channeled the basin’s seasonal rains. Despite being warned that their chosen spot would turn into a lake once every thirteen T-years, the Mendels had raised their home at the base of the monolith. 

In three more T-years when the rains returned, David meant to deliver a long-awaited told-you-so to the flooded-out homesteaders. For the moment, though, their ill-advised choice of building site didn’t bother him. He only needed shelter for a few hours. 

Reaching the edge of the Mendels’ dry lakebed just in front of the storm, David didn’t have time to appreciate the lush greenery which carpeted the bottom. Even in the interminable dry season, the water table lay close to the surface at the bottom of the white-stone pillar, and Leopold Mendel had built piping to irrigate an extensive garden of exotic plants. True, he could only plant crops that could resist the wind-whipped razor-dust, but even that bit with far less force on the lakebed. Between the couple’s sprawling house and the numerous outbuildings around it which sheltered the pumps and farming equipment, the Mendel homestead had enough roofs to look like a whole town, rather than a single house. 

David started down the switchbacked trail to the bottom, but stopped after only a few steps when he heard the rasp and click of a cartridge-rifle’s bolt sliding home somewhere nearby. Raising his hands and walking-stick, David turned around. “Mendel, is that you?” 

“Montero.” The gruff settler’s voice echoed crazily among the rocks, and David couldn’t figure out where he was. “Go home.” 

“Wish I could. With this storm. I’d never make it back.” Already the horizon to the south had darkened, and the sky above had turned the killing coppery color every Botched Ravi settler knew meant it was time to seek shelter. “I don’t want any trouble. Just shelter and to drop a line to Deering.” 

After a long, tense moment, Mendel emerged from behind the rocks, raising the barrel of a long hunting rifle to point skyward. “Damnation, Montero, you should have called ahead. I could have shot you at fifteen hundred meters. Haven’t you heard? There’s a mess of outworlders about, and they’re baying for blood.” 

David looked up at the monolith, realizing that the peak would be a perfect place to put a ring of surveillance cameras; with good optics, the Mendels could keep an eye on their neighbors even from many kilometers away on a clear day. “Yeah, I heard.” How closely he was affiliated with those outworlders would be a story best kept to himself. “They attacked my house. Blew the place to all hells. Birds know what for.” 

Mendel looked up at the approaching clouds, then beckoned down into the lakebed valley. “Come on, let’s get under cover. This is going to be a rough one.” 

2949-09-07 – Tales from the Service: Monte Crow’s Ruination 

This week, we’re continuing the account from last week of a retired pirate being visited by his old foes on Botched Ravi, as we’ve received a few messages indicating interest in the story’s continuation There’s another part to this story I might be able to edit up for next week, if interest persists. 

Still no luck with Naval Intelligence on those other stories. 

David Montero slammed the door at the base of the cellar stairs behind himself just before a burst of railgun fire battered the exterior. Dragging the thick metal panels used to make parts of his house more or less proof against gunfire across the badlands on a ravimule-pulled cart had been among David’s least pleasant experiences on a planet that excelled at producing unpleasant experiences, but as he slid the heavy bolt into place, he was glad for the trouble.  

The door wouldn’t hold his assailants for long, but he didn’t want it to. He fished into his pocket for the big brass key he always carried and slotted it into a round lock-plate fitted into one ferrocrete wall, releasing the tension on a set of gigantic springs buried behind the wall. With a creaking noise and then a snap, the wall opposite the door bowed outward, its thin plaster façade falling to pieces as a pair of concealed panels swung open. Behind the panel, a closet-like space contained racks of cloth-wrapped guns and a trapdoor leading to his escape tunnel. 

As the thugs outside rattled and then banged the metal cellar door, David unwrapped the oily cloth covering one of the long, sinister shapes racked behind that panel. When his would-be assassins came through that door, a spread of fifteen-milimeter explosive fragmentation microgrenades would probably make short work of them. The microgrenade rifle wouldn’t last long in Botched Ravi’s inclement conditions, but it only needed to last long enough to add five or six more tally marks to the ones David had already scored into its polymer handguard. 

The banging stopped, and David, knowing what would come next, backed into the secret closet and pulled the doors mostly closed, with only his gun-barrel protruding between them. Sure enough, with a flash of an explosion sheeting around it on all sides, the door buckled, then swung inward on shrieking, abused hinges. 

David, ears ringing, held his fire, waiting for his attackers to appear out of the smoke. Instead, he saw a pair of small camera drones zip out of the smoke and into the center of the room, surveying the dust- and smoke-choked cellar. 

"Drones on Ravi?” David muttered. As if to verify his disbelief, one of the two automatons sputtered, slewed to one side, then made a grinding noise and fell to the floor, its bearings choked with razor-sharp Ravi dust. “Idiots.” 

The second drone lasted barely a minute longer than the first, but it did last long enough to sweep the small cellar with its glassy eyes, what it saw transmitted back to the wrist-screen of its operator above – the barren floor and walls, the opened secret chamber, and David’s microgrenade rifle protruding from between the doors. 

When the second drone finally sputtered and died, an eerie silence fell. David, knowing the local posse was on its way, nudged the doors open and stepped out. “You don't get credit for killing Monty Crow by waiting for him to starve, boys.” 

“Don’t worry, old chap.” A voice echoed down the still-smoke-hazed steps. “We don’t got that kind of time.” 

The voice sounded familiar. Of course it sounded familiar. “Grif? Shucks, you came all this way yourself? I would have expected you’d leave the dying to someone else.” 

Griffon Baum, one of David’s rivals from his space-pirate days, chuckled. “I’m leaving the dying to you this time, Monty.” 

“I’ve been out of the game for years. My dying’s not going to put credits in your account.” 

“I’m a man of my word, Monty. I told you I’d pay you back for Jaffe’s Nest before I was through.” 

David winced. He’d never felt right about betraying Griffon’s crew in the Jaffe’s Nest raid, not even at the time, when his morals were somewhat less well developed. Still, that was business, as far as there was a consistent thing to call business among pirates. He and his crew had been stabbed in the back at least as many times as they’d done the stabbing. 

“It’s a shame, though.” Griffon continued, not remarking on David’s silence. “You had a nice set-up here. Shame what’s about to happen to it.” 

“Sure, Grif.” David sidled to one side in the tiny space and lifted the hatch of the trapdoor at his feet, glad the big barrel hinges didn’t squeak much. If Griffon was going to blow up his homestead, he wasn’t keen on sticking around. “Damned shame.” 

2949-08-31 – Tales from the Inbox: Monty Crow’s Homestead

Despite the existence of a small number of Incarnation Immortals taken captive or changing sides since this conflict started, very little public information is available about the capabilities of these cybernetic monsters. Though we’ve cataloged encounters with them whenever Naval Intelligence permits, it is widely (and, I can say with certainty, accurately) suspected that Immortals are far more capable than these stories indicate.

The reason Naval Intelligence wants the capabilities of these enemy soldiers and agents secret is not clear, even to me. Evidently, they have a good reason, but aren’t willing to share even that.

What mystifies me (and most of the analysts I’ve talked to recently) is the Incarnation’s decision to employ as many as hundreds of these very sophisticated bionic weapons in behind-the-lines terror attacks on Confederated planets far from the front lines. The agents at Maribel and other systems near the front can at least conceivably worm their way into infrastructure that might effect the Navy’s logistics train; those spending their time on petty terrorism in Farthing’s Chain and other regions where there isn’t even a major link in Fifth Fleet’s supply chain to break.

As with Intelligence’s decision to keep the capabilities of the Immortals highly secret, there must be a reason for such a baffling decision. If anyone in this audience has any ideas (and would not be breaking Naval Intelligence directives to share them) Nojus and I would be interested in your thoughts, as it is pertinent to a story we’re hoping to publish soon.

This week, I’ve pulled the first part of a multi-part account from the responses to our story related to odd military goings-on at Botched Ravi. That world has been a refuge for those seeking to move beyond a fast-paced life for decades, and it seems some of this sort of Ravi homesteader are happy to tell stories of their own arrival on the world and the usually unsuccessful efforts of their enemies to appear as locals themselves in an attempt to settle old scores.

For what will become obvious reasons, the names of people and places used here are all pseudonyms chosen by the submitter, and I cannot verify the story’s accuracy as a result. It is at least broadly consistent with the sorts of confrontations Ravi settlers do occasionally have with their pasts, though this one seems to have become more violent than most.

David M. could tell the men standing on his broad synthwood-planked porch were bad news before one of them banged on the door. The pair were dressed like locals, with heavy dust-shedding cloaks, smart-glass goggles, and wide-brimmed hats, but they carried themselves like no son of Botched Ravi, adopted or otherwise.

Watching the pair through the eyes of a security camera hidden in the decorative scrollwork of the lintel, David waited on the off-chance they would simply go away. Outsiders on Botched Ravi were trouble, doubly so if they knew that and had bothered to try to blend in. The local posse would ride to David’s help if he called them, but they were minutes away, and the twitchy way the pair’s hands drifted unconsciously toward the smalls of their backs told him that they weren’t going to wait that long for him to open the door. While he waited, he drew and checked his side-arm, a rugged Volkov cartridge-gun which had for years refused to let the razor-edged dust of the world corrupt its simple, sturdy mechanism. No complex machine survived extended exposure to Botched Ravi - it was part of why David had chosen to live there.

The man at the door banged again, this time harder, while his partner scanned the horizon behind them. From the way the second man’s gaze switched between a few directions rather than scanning slowly across the dust-hazed horizon, David knew they had backup out there – three or more additional men who probably had high-powered weapons trained on the door. The cart they’d rode in on, one of Mr. Palumbo’s, might also conceal one more, hiding below the rails of the cargo bed. 

David decided to assume there were at least six, and that their caution indicated they knew who he’d been before he’d come to Botched Ravi. Slowly, to minimize the creaking of the house’s frame, he got up from his sitting chair and opened the desk drawer in the corner to collect an additional pair of magazines for his Volkov, which he checked and stuffed into the breast of his vest. He would have preferred to avail himself of the sealed locker in the basement where he kept the bigger and feistier souvenirs from his fifteen-T-year stint as a space pirate, but there wasn’t time for that now.

Fortunately, David had always known the day would come when either the authorities or a rival gang would pay him a visit. Had it been the authorities, talking might have at least delayed a confrontation, but he’d seen enough to know he wasn’t dealing with lawmen. The men were henchmen of one of his old rivals, one too cowardly to come in person, and it didn’t really matter which. David quietly tapped out a message to Sheriff Deering on a hardened communications terminal built into his study desk, then crept toward the door. The local posse might not be able to help, but they could at least help bury the bodies after the shooting was over.

“Mr. Montero, you in there?” The man at the door banged hard enough to rattle the sturdy synthwood panel in its frame, then gave the door a savage kick for emphasis. “Palumbo down the road sent us.”

David snarled at the mention of his closest neighbor. He’d taken a liking to the crotchety old man the moment he’d started building his homestead on Botched Ravi and would happily torture the ruffians to death if any harm had come to him. Palumbo liked to be left alone most of the time, but he’d been happy to lend David a wagon and Ravimule to help move supplies and finish his house. They spoke rarely, and only about the three Ws - weather (which was always bad), work (by which unending and unpleasant toil human life persisted on Botched Ravi) and women (in largely theoretical terms, since no eligible female lived within a hundred klicks of them). Like him, David got the sense that Palumbo had come to the world to escape an unpleasant past, though it was one perhaps less unpleasant than David’s own.

“Come on, Mr. Montero. Let us in. Storm’s coming, and we’ll be cut to ribbons out here.”

This, at least, was probably true. There was always a storm coming on Botched Ravi, with wind kicking up the razor dust into swirling cyclones capable of stripping human flesh from bone. Most of the local wildlife had thick, hardened skin, but even those creatures adapted to surviving the storms rarely chose to go out in them.

“Go away.” David called, then quickly darted into the next room, keeping low to avoid showing the movement through the windows. “This isn’t some bed and breakfast.”

The two men on the porch responded by kicking the door again, this time harder. David reached one of the alcoves in the main hall and knelt there, lining up sights on his Volkov with the center of the door. The alcoves, with sturdy metal plates built into the walls, had been intended as firing positions from the moment he’d built the house. The bearings that gave motion to automated weapons turrets quickly failed on Botched Ravi, and electronic booby-traps set outside quickly corroded, so he’d always known the only way to defend his homestead would be with a gun in his hand.

When the door finally gave way, David unloaded the big handgun’s magazine into the first man who stepped through. At least one of the bullets struck home – the man staggered back two steps.

David felt the floor below his feet tremble as the man collapsed, but he didn’t see it – he had already ducked back behind the metal plate protecting his alcove to avoid return fire from the other man. A burst of railgun fire cracked down the hallway, shredding the wallpaper and plaster of the walls but failing to penetrate the sturdy metal behind them. The second man was already shouting something, probably demands for backup, but David couldn’t make out the words over the sounds of ferroceramic slugs chewing his home to pieces.

The spray of projectiles ceased, and David could hear the second man moving. After swapping to a fresh magazine, he peeked out to find the second man ducking behind a big chair in his front parlor. The other saw him as well, and rewarded his appearance with a fresh spray of railshot, but David had once again ducked into cover. 

Unlike the alcoves in the hall, David knew his furniture couldn’t stop gunfire. Rolling out of cover, he fired a pair of snap shots into the chair, then dove for the opposite alcove. Though he was rewarded with a cry of alarm, another spray of shot chased him into cover. If he’d scored a hit, it had probably been a flesh wound.

“Give it up, Monty Crow!”

David hated hearing his old pseudonym. He had left that life behind a long time ago. If his neighbor heard them shouting it like that, he’d be run off Botched Ravi even if he did survive. “Monty Crow is dead, you damned idiot. Hesperus blew her reactor. Lost with all hands.” It was with just such theatrics that he and his former crew had purchased their retirement five T-years before – they'd picked a fight with a rival outfit, then blown up their ship after engaging in a close-range exchange of railshot and laser fire, letting that hapless band of brigands think they’d won an upset victory. Perhaps one of the others had slipped the secret – David would have to find out who and figure out how to go see to them without the trip looking suspicious to his new neighbors.

“You really think anyone buys that?”

The man continued, but David heard the crash of reinforced armor-glass being smashed behind him, and knew he didn’t have much time before he was surrounded. Diving prone into the middle of the hallway, he emptied the rest of his second magazine into the legs of the man crouching behind the chair. This time, he scored more rewarding hits – the self-expanding bullets blew huge holes in the meat of the man’s legs, and he went down screaming and gushing blood.

David didn’t bother to reload and finish the rival pirate off. He got up and sprinted toward the steep set of stairs leading down into the cellar, where he kept all his bigger toys. If the kill-team was stupid enough to follow him that far, his biggest problem would be explaining to Sherriff Deering how the resulting massacre could be considered self-defense.

2949-08-24 – Tales from the Service: The View from Headquarters, Part 4 

Duncan here. Since some of the stories I’ve been working on are still stuck in the workload queue of our Naval Intelligence liaison officer, I reached out to Colonel Iantha Platt, the Seventh Fleet staff representative in Admiral Zahariev’s headquarters, to see if we could set up a cross-Gap interview with the Seventh Fleet’s top brass, as we’ve done in the past with Fifth Fleet representatives. 

While the limited bandwidth of the Gap-spanning links in the Hypercomm network precluded a properly real time conference, Nojus and I spent the better part of a shift exchanging audio messages with the Seventh Fleet headquarters in Sagittarius Gate. The following transcript is accurate, though the time between message and reply was in most cases several minutes long. 

And yes, before anyone goes around the datasphere claiming we’re stirring up trouble, we cleared this exchange with Fifth Fleet headquarters beforehand. 

This interview was conducted remotely via exchange of audio recordings, and its participants are listed below. 

D.L.C. - Duncan Chaudhri is a junior editor and wartime head field reporter for Cosmic Background.   

N.T.B. - Nojus Brand is a long-time explorer, datasphere personality, and wartime field reporter for Cosmic Background.  

K.T.K. - Captain Kenneth Kempf is the Naval Intelligence attaché to Seventh Fleet commander Admiral Shun Abarca. Kempf contributed to this interview remotely from the battleship Philadelphia at Sagittarius Gate. 

S.R.A. - Admiral Shun R. Abarca is the commander of the Philadelphia battle-group and interim commander of the Seventh Fleet, pending a permanent assignment by the admiralty council. Abarca contributed to this interview remotely from the battleship Philadelphia at Sagittarius Gate. 

[D.L.C.] Admiral Abarca, Captain Kempf, thank you for speaking to us, even remotely. 

[K.T.K.] It’s a pleasure to talk to you, Mr. Chaudhri. I’m familiar with how you’ve conducted this sort of interview with representatives of Fifth Fleet, and I appreciate your organization’s candor and willingness to cooperate with Naval Intelligence secrecy procedures. 

[N.T.B.] It’s not always easy. Naval Intelligence has its hands full these days, or so I hear. 

[K.T.K.] Yes, especially in your area. While I’m not briefed on the situation in detail, I would speculate that it’s probably to do with the intraservice disputes going on in the Fifth Fleet area of operations. Naval Intelligence is trying to prevent any news reporting from inflaming those disagreements further while the Admiralty mediates them. 

[S.R.A.] Seventh Fleet’s front has not had any of the same disputes that Fifth Fleet is suffering. I’d love to claim my headquarters has developed a solution to the problems Fifth Fleet has encountered fighting the Incarnation, but the simple fact is that the forces under Seventh Fleet have no colonies to defend – all our forces are concentrated at Sagittarius Gate, a system with no planets. We’d have had the same problems if my staff’s and Zahariev’s were reversed, because we are following the same doctrine. 

[D.L.C.] So you think bad doctrine is what caused the disaster at Margaux? 

[S.R.A.] It has a number of factors. Confederated Navy doctrine is tailored to fighting non-peer opponents, because since the middle of the Terran-Rattanai War that’s all we’ve fought or expected to fight. For all their martial skill and formidable warship designs, even the Rahl Hegemony can’t expect to match our fleets qualitatively or quantitatively if we should ever go to war with them. That has led to a hundred years of plans and training focused on forcing smaller enemy forces to fight on our terms.  

[K.T.K.] The idea of tying a fleet down by forcing them to commit to a ground invasion is based on what happened to the Rattanai armada after the invasion of Earth. Had they simply bombarded Earth from orbit as they did to Barbora, they could probably have won that war, Angels or no. 

[N.T.B.] Sacrificing a world to kill a fleet seems a cold decision. 

[S.R.A.] Admittedly so, but the idea was that if the ground could be prepared beforehand, as it was on Margaux, the cost to civilian population and infrastructure would be light. Throughout history, many seemingly unstoppable invaders have failed by committing to a lengthy siege of prepared fortifications. I was a junior officer on many staff college studies of the scenario years ago. If anything, I would have committed to it even more than Admiral Zahariev. He has been remarkably flexible in his approach, perhaps due to the influence of Captain Kirke-Moore. 

[N.T.B.] Unofficially, I have heard grumbling from the middle-rank officer corps of the Fifth Fleet. about the slashing hit and run raids. They call them “Samarkand Sallies” and think they’re distracting the fleet headquarters from planning a proper offensive. 

[S.R.A.] Admiral Zahariev took a great risk bringing Kirke-Moore into his staff, but I think if he hadn’t, things would be far worse than they are. As for what the Fifth Fleet staff is or isn’t working on, though: simply put, I don’t know. We try to compartmentalize as much as possible for security reasons. 

[D.L.C.] What about on your front? We’ve covered the relief of the Lost Squadrons extensively, but we haven’t heard much from Sagittarius since then. What’s been happening there? 

[S.R.A.] The Incarnation is always probing the Sagittarius Gate system. Most days, there are two or even three Tyrants sitting in the outer fringe of the system, keeping an eye on us. They send strike raids to harry our supply ships if they see an opening, but if we send ships out toward them, they jump out of the system. 

[K.T.K.] Why they don’t just park a few stealthy cutter-analogues at Sagittarius Gate to watch us is still a mystery. My best guess is, they’re trying to tie down the bulk of the Seventh Fleet. As long as they’re skulking around, we would have to split our forces to expand our beachhead in Sagittarius, or lose the supply base. 

[S.R.A.] We’ve managed to send out a few scouting squadrons to neighboring systems, but Sagittarius Gate juts out from the edge of the Sagittarius Arm, so anything we send out has a long way to go. 

[D.L.C.] My understanding is that your fleet is still small compared to the others, with only three battleships to its name, two of them quite old. What would happen if the Incarnation sent a force to Sagittarius Gate of similar size to what they sent to Margaux? 

[S.R.A.] True, the Seventh Fleet battle line is still not complete. We’re at least as strongly equipped with heavy cruisers and carriers as any other fleet in the Confederated Navy, and we have the fixed defenses of the Sagittarius Gate installations. At the very least, it would be a very interesting engagement. We’re expecting to receive a new battleship early next year. 

[N.T.B.] I’m guessing that would be the Maribel? 

[K.T.K.] It’s not official, but yes, Maribel is most likely. The fleet does not finalize assignments until after a ship has completed trials, of course. 

[S.R.A.] With four battleships, even if two are older, and with the increasing defenses of the fleet base, we’ll have the firepower to defend Sagittarius Gate and also strike out toward the habitable systems nearest to us. I expect that when we do that, the Incarnation pressure on the Fifth Fleet and Coreward Frontier will ease considerably – after all, they have home-world somewhere not far from here; they will need to defend them. 

[D.L.C.] So you expect a turn in fortunes early next year? 

[S.R.A.] That is what I hope and pray for, yes. War is of course never predictable, so I will only say that I and all my officers and spacers will do what we can. 

[N.T.B.] What do you plan to do with the Lost Squadrons personnel? My understanding is that they’ve been assigned to your fleet. 

[S.R.A.] About a third of them have been reassigned to postings on Seventh Fleet ships already. Many of the vessels in the fleet left the Core Worlds quickly, and as a result arrived at Sagittarius Gate slightly under-crewed. The rest are scheduled to be assigned to vessels that are already on their way here, excepting a few senior officers who are transferring back to the Core Worlds for teaching and staff rotations. 

[D.L.C.] Has what they learned during their ordeal changed your strategy or tactics any? 

[K.T.K.] I will answer for Admiral Abarca in saying that while there are changes to the procedures of both Fifth and Seventh Fleets derived from debriefing Lost Fleets personnel, we cannot release the details. 

[S.R.A.] Sorry, Mr. Chaudhri. I will say that I am honored to have the Lost Fleets spacers in my command, and that I only hope to show as much tenacity and courage in action as they have. 

[K.T.K.] I second that. Naval Intelligence passed on more than a hundred merit recommendations after debriefing the survivors of the Lost Squadrons, but if you ask me they should all get a medal. 

[N.T.B.] Damned right, if half of what I've heard is true.

[S.R.A.] While it has been a pleasure, gentlemen, I have other duties to attend to. Perhaps we can do this again in a few months. 

[D.L.C.] I would like that, Admiral.