2950-05-17 – Tales from the Service: A Spacer’s Decision 

Ramiro W. slipped into his usual corner table at the Iris Basket and pressed the button in the middle of the table to switch the holographic menu display from its idle-state showing a vase full of blue and white flowers. Though the Basket was hardly the nicest place to eat on Henry Orbital, he always found time to visit at least once when he was in port. The restaurant had just been having its grand opening when he’d gotten his start in the small-tonnage cargo business, and he had negotiated his first contract at that very same table over a plate of Chicken Kiev years before. 

That the food contained no real chicken and the cook who’d arranged the various synthetic, textured food items had only secondhand reports of what Chicken Kiev should look and taste like hardly mattered. To Ramiro, the Basket’s rendition was a unique experience; a reminder of his first success, and of his early days plying the spacelanes aboard Jen Daley.  

Just as he punched in his order, Ramiro noticed the light blinking on his wrist computer. He’d silenced the thing and left his earpiece back on the ship, but given the insistent rapidity of the indicator, he had received quite a few datasphere messages in the twenty minutes since then. With a wince, he loosened the wrist unit’s strap, slipped it off, and dropped it into his pocket. Whatever Livia wanted could wait, and he had no intention of letting her spoil his dinner at the Basket. He had told her he’d think about her scheme, and if she hadn’t understood that to mean that he wanted no further persuasion, that was entirely her problem. 

“Ramiro, fancy running into you here!” A jovial, red-faced man slid into the opposite seat. “Just the man I’m looking for.” 

Ramiro smiled and extended a hand. “Good to see you again, Gavril. How’s business been?” Gavril, employed by the only authorized Reed-Soares distributor in the Philadelphia system, was a sporadic source of contracts; he regularly hired spacers like Ramiro to ship products out to the outlying colonies of the Galactic West. Even when he didn’t have cargo that needed shipping, the man was solid company for conversation over a few drinks. 

“A little slow, but I get by.” Gavril poked into the menu hologram to select a drink, then sat back. “How about you? I heard you’ve had some tough luck lately.” 

Ramiro shrugged. “I’m still flying and that’s not going to change. Worst case, I go into passenger service. I hear there’s money there these days.” 

Gavril scoffed. “Passengers? You? Times must really be tough if you’re that desperate.” 

“It’s not my preference.” A white-aproned young woman hurried out to the table bearing Gavril’s drink and a glass of water for Ramiro, and he waited for her to vanish back behind the kitchen doors before leaning in conspiratorially. “If you know anyone who needs to move something less annoying, I’m certainly listening.” 

“I’m sure you are.” Gavril took a long sip of his drink. “I hear tell Rafiq over at Vasilev is trying to hire someone to drag a service team out to one of the more distant colonies.” 

Ramiro scowled and shook his head. He had worked for Vasilev precisely once. After spending two months arguing with their money people just to get paid what the contract had specified, he had vowed never to work with that company ever again. 

“Yeah, I don’t blame you.” Gavril smiled. “Let one of the new crews learn a lesson on that one.” 

“New crews?” Ramiro perked up at the phrase. 

“Oh yeah. Three small-time haulers have been around since you last took off. Damn, Ramiro, they get younger every year. Not a one of their skippers was born the day I moved out here from Centauri.” Gavril sighed and looked down. “The one that just cleared out took on the only cargo I had waiting.” 

Ramiro sighed. He would have been only too happy to turn Livia down by pointing to a contract with Reed-Soares. 

Fortunately, his disappointment at missing Gavril’s contract fled at the sight of the aproned girl returning with his meal. Even when times were tough, as lately they always seemed to be, Ramiro relished the memorable, if not precisely appetizing, smell of a fresh plate of the Iris Basket’s rendition of Chicken Kiev. 

Gavril raised an eyebrow and waved the smell away from himself. “I do think you’re the only person ever crazy enough to eat that stuff twice, Ramiro.” 

Ramiro smiled. He couldn’t explain to Gavril what the meal meant to him, questionable though it was in objective terms. “It’s an acquired taste.” 

Just as he raised the first fork-full to his mouth, Ramiro saw Livia walk into the Iris Basket. Where most of the clientele was wearing spacers’ fatigues cut and colored in various styles, she stood out in a sheer dress of bright blue cloth that, though it covered her from throat to ankles, left none of her ample proportions to the imagination. Her dark hair, normally worn loose over her shoulders, lay piled up inside a huge, broad-brimmed hat, and touches of shimmering metallic makeup accented her face. As most of the patrons turned to gawk at her, Livia spied Ramiro across the room, and a broad smile split her painted lips. “Ramie, dear!” She waved and began weaving her way between the tables. 

Ramiro set his fork down and dropped his shoulders. “Of course.” 

Gavril looked with interest between Ramiro and Livia. “Friend of yours?” 

“Sort of.” Ramiro ground his teeth as Livia reached his table. “Hello, Liv. Didn’t think I’d run into you here.” 

Livia dragged a chair from a nearby table, pushed it next to Ramiro’s, and sat down. “Oh, I bet you didn’t.” She glanced at Ramiro’s plate, then at his companion. “You must be Gavril. I’m Livia.” 

“That’s me.” Gavril raised his glass to Livia. “You seem to know me, but I don’t think we’ve met.” 

“Did you need something, Liv?” Ramiro shot a warning glance to Livia, increasingly certain that she was up to something. She made a living on social subtext, and couldn’t possibly have missed his hints that he didn’t want her company. 

“You weren’t answering messages, and I was worried.”  

The way Livia arched an eyebrow after she replied told Ramiro that whatever she really wanted wasn’t for Gavril’s ears. “Can you give us a few minutes, Gavril?” 

Gavril chuckled and shook his head. “No problem, buddy.” Taking his half-finished drink with him, he got up and moved a few tables away, though not before giving Ramiro a congratulatory nod. 

“Seems nice enough, even if he is imagining us in bed together.” Livia scooted her chair a bit to the side and adjusted her hat. “What are you eating?” 

“The menu calls it Chicken Kiev, but I’m not sure-” 

Livia snatched up Ramiro’s fork, and before he could stop her, the morsel speared on it passed between her painted lips.  

Ramiro winced, remembering how many horrified faces he’d seen in the Basket after people curiously ordered his preferred meal. “It’s an acquired taste.” 

Livia frowned over the mouthful, chewed thoughtfully, then swallowed, with no obvious signs of disgust. “Not bad. Is real chicken anything like this?” She pulled his plate toward herself.  

Ramiro chuckled and reached into the menu display to request another meal. For reasons that had nothing to do with the unavailability of other work, he knew he’d go along with her Maribel passenger scheme. “Nothing like it in the slightest.” 

This is the last section of the account sent to me by Ramiro previously, and it likely took place in the latter half of last year. Obviously, we will not be publishing anything which could identify him directly, in case Ladeonists wish to take revenge for the little swindle he and his partner played in the Galactic West. 

The Iris Basket is, interestingly enough, a very real business on Henry Orbital. It gets middling reviews from the locals and visitors. Perhaps if anyone is in the area, they can try the Chicken Kiev, but based on Ramiro’s description, I doubt that’s a good idea. 

[N.T.B. I’ll try it next time I pass through. Doesn’t matter how bad it is; I’ve had worse.] 

2950-05-10 – Tales from the Inbox: A Spacer’s Partnership 

While we were out of contact with Centauri during the battles at Håkøya, several entries from the account of Ramiro W. relating to his misadventures in partnership with the con artist Livia F. (both pseudonyms, obviously) were provided on this feed. As it’s been a bit of a slow week and I’ve been asked several times about that account, I’ve elected to pull the remaining section of Ramiro’s story out of the backup post system, as it might be months before it is seen if I leave it there. 

“Are you sure you don’t want to hear it, Ramie?” 

Ramiro took in Livia’s deliberately cocked hips, tilted head, and pouted lips, and made a show of turning his chair back toward the controls for the ship’s cargo crane. He knew her well enough by now to know that those were the markers of trouble, and that he wanted no part of whatever was about to happen. He also knew that a simple “yes” would do absolutely nothing. 

“You’re walking away from a lot of money, and that’s exactly why you needed me in the first place.” Livia leaned over the back of the chair, and Ramiro scowled at the strong scent of her exotic floral perfume. “Unless you change how you operate, you’re just going to need me to bail you out again.” 

“I paid you back, Liv.” Ramiro pulled down the slider and watched the crane’s hook drop down toward the netting-encased mass of crates in the middle of the hold. “With interest. And that doesn’t include your share of the profits from your little scheme.” 

“It was hardly little.” Livia pretended to be hurt. “And you wouldn’t have anything to pay me back this time. Won’t you let me-” 

“I don’t want to know.” Ramiro sidled out of his chair and past her through the hatchway into the cargo hold. “When we get back to Philadelphia, you’re getting off my ship.” 

Ramiro could hear Livia’s fashionable heels clicking on the deck as she followed him. “Look, I know you weren’t happy about all the shooting, so I came up with something where there won’t be any trouble like that.” 

Ramiro snorted. Trouble was the air Livia Farran breathed. “Anything that doesn’t have trouble would bore you to death. I want to go back to boring.” 

“Look, Ramie, I’m trying to meet you halfway here. I’m talking about easy, safe money. It’s even legal.” 

Ramiro grabbed the cargo netting and climbed up the stack toward the hanging crane hook. “That’s not far off what you said the last time.” The last time, her pitch had been that they were only stealing from people who deserved to be stolen from, and they’d both come far too close to being killed in the process. 

Livia of course would not follow Ramiro up the side of the netted cargo shipment. She stopped at its base, though she raised her voice to compensate for the greater distance. “Just hear me out before you say no, okay? I really...” She paused for several seconds. “I really thought you’d like this idea.” 

Ramiro, one hand on the dangling hook and the other disentangling the carry loops from the netting he’d wrapped around the pile of goods, paused and glanced over his shoulder. Livia was looking down at her expensive shoes, not up at him, her dark hair hiding her face. She looked disappointed and almost embarrassed, and for a moment, he almost forgot that she was always acting and started to feel sorry for her.  

“Fine. Pitch it.” Ramiro looped the first few loops around the dangling hook. Livia might be a con artist, but she had never swindled him, at least not directly; the worst she’d ever managed was to trick him into being an unwilling partner in swindling someone else. “That way I know what I’m saying no to.” 

Even though he wasn’t looking at her, Ramiro could almost see the reflection of Livia’s suddenly sunny smile on the opposite bulkhead. “It’s like this: my contacts say there’s profit in moving the monied people and their stuff out of Maribel. Seems like the rich parasites of the whole Frontier are off for safer hosts, and the usual services aren’t moving much cargo.” 

“Don’t see how that’s any good for me.” Ramiro hooked the final loops in, then closed the crane’s hook and locked it. “Jen Daley isn’t equipped for pampered passengers, and I’m not in this business for the social scene.” 

“With a few quick touches, I could make your cabin comfortable enough for a family of four. You’d have to use the second bunk in the little closet I’m sleeping in, of course. Think of how much we could charge them.” 

Clambering down from the cargo pile, Ramiro glared at Livia. “Let me guess. You’ve got some angle to siphon their money off while we’re in transit?” 

Livia looked away. “I, um. Yeah, that was-” 

Ramiro walked past her and back toward the crane control booth. 

“That was my thought too, but then I realized that was stupid. If we played it honest, they’d tell their friends.” Her heels clicked a hurried beat on the deck as she scurried to catch up. “I think the best money in this one is to stick with it and just do the job, no angle. People are scared enough to throw all kinds of credits-” 

Ramiro tossed himself back into the chair and flicked the controls. Out in the cargo bay, the crane began to lift, straining the loops and the netting they were woven into until the whole mess of goods lifted slowly off the deck. He watched it for several seconds before Livia’s hurried words finally filtered past the barrier his brain put up every time she was talking. “Wait a damned minute.” He turned toward her as she re-entered the booth. “Liv, did I just hear you utter the phrase, ‘no angle?’ When is the last time you slept?” 

“Very funny.” Livia tossed her head, her loose black hair briefly flopping around her face before she brushed it back. “Yes, that’s what I said. If we robbed the first customer blind, we would score big, but-” 

“The run from Maribel to the Core is weeks long. If we played it straight, you’d get so bored you’d con them to avoid getting bored.” Ramiro shook his head. “Or you’d start messing with me instead, and I’d put you out an airlock. Either way, no second run.” 

“Please, Ramie.” Livia raised one eyebrow and places her hands on her hips. “Do you really think I hadn’t thought of that?” 

“Cards on the table, Liv.” Ramiro slid his finger across the controls, and the netted cargo slid toward the big double doors at the rear of the hold. “Play this one tight, and you play it without me or Jen Daley.” 

“I’ll give you two of them.” Livia leaned in conspiratorially, and Ramiro tried to keep his eyes away from the dramatic view presented by this posture in collaboration with her low-necked, tight-fitting shirt. “First one, I think I might be onto something a lot bigger. Buy-my-own-continent money, maybe. It’s going to take time to figure out how to make it work. Might as well make some easy, safe money nursemaiding scared rich people while I’m working on it.” 

Ramiro nodded. This was more like the Livia he’d come to know far too well for his liking. “Whatever that big score is, keep me out of it. What about that second card?” 

Livia smiled, but her eyes avoided his. For once, it didn’t seem fake, but that somehow didn’t make it any less uncomfortable. “You... How do I put this. You look at me different.” 

“I know you're bad news.” 

“So do most of the people I get the better of.” Livia put her hand on the console next to Ramiro’s own. “But they see someone they can use for their own purposes. Someone easy, someone weak, someone they have an advantage over, someone they can cheat or control. That’s how I get them.” 

Ramiro glanced from Livia’s hand to her face, looking for the usual signs that she was up to something, but not finding any. Was she trying to be genuine? Could she ever be genuine? 

“Nobody with that look like yours can ever be a mark, not really.” Livia straightened and turned away, letting her hand briefly fall on his as she did in a way Ramiro knew wasn’t accidental. “I've always wondered what I could do with someone who can’t be a mark. Maybe a few months on honest runs would be my chance to... find out.” 

“You did swindle me once.” Ramiro almost hated to remind her of that fact. 

“I lied to you a little bit, and you lost nothing.” Livia smiled over her shoulder. “That’s all the cards you get. Think about it, Ramie. Only a few days to Philadelphia.” 

As Livia swept away toward the ladder leading up to the habitation area, Ramiro locked the cargo crane in place and scowled past it. He tried, and failed, to tell himself that time spent with Livia Farran was, and could only be, bad news. 


2950-05-03 – Tales from the Service: The Protest Line

There has been very little action here on the Frontier in the last few weeks. The Incarnation is consolidating at Håkøya, and the Navy is reconstituting some of its lower-level fleet organization to rebuild complete action squadrons after the losses among light ships in recent battles. Fortunately, reinforcements of this type of ship seem to be in ready supply; just this past week alone five destroyers and seven frigates have arrived here to take up duty with Fifth Fleet. True, only three of those ships were new vessels, the rest being refitted from reserve, but few of the ships in the fleet are of the still-rare newer models.  

It seems, paradoxically, that replacing losses is making the fleet newer and stronger. Of the eleven Vantchev-class frigates launched since the lead ship was shown to the public in 2945, I’m told six now serve with Fifth Fleet, and one more was crippled in action at Margaux and hasn’t returned to service yet. 

One might ask (and I have) why we can’t have the new ships without seeing so many older ones destroyed or crippled. The answers I get are varied. On the one hand, obviously the reinforcements are coming whether or not any ships are lost; on the other, the ships in Fifth Fleet have operated together for a long time, even before the war, and introducing untested ships and inexperienced crews into the squadrons without time for maneuver exercises is seen as a bad plan. Admiral Zahariev seems to be trying to mostly assign the new ships to new squadrons operating together, and he seems to be keeping them in secondary roles while they work up. 

This week, I must call to the attention of this audience the situation on the beautiful blue-green planet once again visible outside Saint-Lô’s lounge viewpanels. A little unrest here after the fall of Håkøya was only to be expected, but the situation seems to be only worsening over time. A trooper by the name of Floyd Grier has been sending regular reports of the situation on the streets around the government center, and I’ve elected to employ his account to demonstrate the situation. 

Floyd Grier stared through his transparent face-plate at the crowd on the other side of the barricade. Most of the faces in the front row were familiar to him by now, or perhaps they were only types, replaced with indistinguishable alternates each time the sun went down and the night’s clashes discouraged some, injured others, and emboldened still more. 

The traitorous orb of Maribel’s primary was about to betray Floyd and his compatriots once more, and already the crowd had gone from loud but orderly to borderline riotous while the shadows lengthened. The people screaming for the attention of the planet's civilian and military officials weren’t bad people, but they were scared, and that much unease squeezed into such dense crowds was as dangerous for Floyd and the other troopers guarding the perimeter as murderous malice. He told himself every night that the sensible majority of citizens were at home, finding more productive outlets for their unease at having a conquering enemy fleet barely five light-years away at Håkøya. 

Not for the first time, he wondered if perhaps he was wrong, and that everyone on Maribel had lost their damned minds. Too many of the people choked into the metropolis and its outskirts were refugees from worlds now fallen under the Incarnation’s shadow: Håkøya, Margaux, Adimari Valis, Mereena, and more. They had already fled one home for the promised security of the fleet base at Maribel. As far as those people were concerned, the titanic battlewagons of the fleet had proven themselves powerless to stop the enemy, and soon that fleet would depart or be chased away. 

Floyd could hardly blame the people on the other side of the cordon for believing it. Rationally, he knew the fleet could never abandon a major base like Maribel unless its fighting power was utterly smashed. Rationally, most of the people screaming and shaking their fists probably knew it too, but rationality never survived exposure to crowds for very long. 

“Attention, demonstrators.” The loudspeakers set up behind Floyd barked. “You are required by local ordinance to disperse at sundown.” 

This warning had been issued every day since the demonstrations had started. Floyd hadn’t seen the crowd obey it even once in his eleven nights on duty. Sure, some people began to look uneasy and filter back toward the fringes. Those would generally head home with clean consciences, believing that the rest of the crowd was just as reasonable as themselves and expressing outrage at the injury and property damage reports in the morning newsfeeds. Surely, they’d say, the authorities had provoked a clash; after all, they hadn’t seen the crowd do anything aggressive all day. 

Floyd and the other troopers on the line knew only too well how quickly crowd psychology shifted after the sun went down. In the twilight, all it would take was a single spark to set off the fear-consumed protestors, and unfortunately, someone always provided it. Personally, Floyd suspected enemy-sympathizing agents of most of these instigations; the authorities never managed to get their hands on the culprits. 

Floyd’s helmet comms pinged, and a reticle appeared in the heads-up display in his helmet, swooping in to bracket a face in the third row of the crowd. “Grier, that’s the instigator from two nights ago.” Janssen, one of the troopers in the reserve line behind and above Floyd, called out. “He’s in your arc. Watch that bastard. He’s going to try something.” 

“We should go in and get him before the sun goes down.” Floyd’s eyes narrowed. Two nights ago, his good friend Sharif had been mobbed by rioters and badly injured. The medics said he’d pull through all right, but Floyd had been the one to console Sharif’s wife and kid, and to get them inside the cordon in case someone marked them as targets. Ladeonist insurgents were like that on other worlds; they’d pick on the families of the injured to try to goad the authorities into a brutal crackdown. The higher-ups weren’t taking any chances now. 

“Negative.” Lieutenant Holmwood snapped. “Leave him be until he actually starts something. I’ll have one of the big guns on him in case he does.” 

“Attention, demonstrators.” The loudspeaker’s voice cut easily over the shouting mob, reciting another rote warning required by local law. “Directives will be enforced with acoustics.” 

Floyd grimaced. He could almost see the telescoping booms of the acoustic disruptor cannons rising from their mounts on the building behind him. All along the perimeter, those sinister towers would be rising. He hated the acoustics as much as any protestor, but without them, there was no way for a force of about twelve hundred troopers to hold an urban perimeter nearly a mile in circumference. 

At the sight of the acoustic booms rising, the man bracketed in Floyd’s headset sneered. His eyes seemed to flash in the slanting light, and then he ducked backwards and vanished. 

“Janssen, did you see where he went?” Floyd scanned the crowd, but the instigator did not reappear. 

“Negative. But he damned well didn’t go home.” 

Floyd looked up at the sun, partially obscured now by the top of one of the lower buildings along Bryant Causeway. He knew the night would be another bloody mess, and wished he could be anywhere else than in the thick of it. 

2950-04-26 – Tales from the Service: The View from Headquarters, Part 6

As I have mentioned in recent weeks, we’ve been working with Admiral Zahariev’s headquarters to set up a proper interview about the two battles in the Håkøya system. It’s taken some time, but we’ve finally arranged a virtual conference with Colonel Durand and Captain Kirke-Moore, who we have spoken with in the past. 

As is usual for interviews conducted by this embed team, the audio recording can be found on the Cosmic Background datasphere hub.  

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.    

C.S.D. - Colonel Carolina Durand is the Naval Intelligence attaché to Admiral Zahariev.     

B.K.M. - Captain Bozsi Kirke-Moore is a former pirate who has experience with asymmetric warfare in the Coreward Frontier, serving as an adviser to Admiral Zahariev. His rank is provisional, as he has never held it in Navy service prior to his recent appearance on the Fifth Fleet staff.  

[D.L.C.] Thank you both for joining us. I’m sure the last few weeks have been very busy. 

[C.S.D.] As always, Mr. Chaudhri, it is a pleasure to work with you and your company, though I’d hoped our next talk would be under better circumstances. 

[B.K.M.] Yes, it is good to talk to you again, Mr. Chaudhri. I heard you were injured last month in the first battle. How is your recovery? 

[D.L.C.] Thanks to the med-techs, I’m almost back to normal. Luckily my job is mostly desk work. 

[N.T.B.] He got off lucky, but we’re glad he pulled through all the same. A lot of good spacers in Fifth Fleet weren’t so lucky that day. 

[B.K.M.] Good to hear your voice as well, Mr. Brand. Has this war tarnished your notoriously spotless optimism already? Fifth Fleet’s prospects so bad as they sometimes seem. 

[D.L.C.] Perhaps we should start there, then. You remain quite optimistic even after the loss of Håkøya. Obviously the battles there were not unmitigated disasters, but what specifically gives you reasons to be positive? 

[B.K.M.] The simplest one is that this fleet has twice contested an enemy for a system over a sustained period, and still has lost none of its eight capital ships. The enemy's fleet seems to either totally lack capital units, or to possess few and to keep them in reserve on the other side of the Gap, and while this gives their forces excellent mobility, it does mean that they lack a real answer for Confederated battleships. 

[N.T.B.] It doesn’t seem like they really need to destroy the battleships to achieve their objectives, though. 

[D.L.C.] Er, yes. If they can damage battleships enough to force them out of the fight, does it really matter if they can’t destroy our capital ships? 

[B.K.M.] The force economics of disabling ships temporarily does not favor The Incarnation in the long term. After all, new battleships are already arriving here on the Frontier for both Fifth and Seventh Fleets to supplement those already here. Already this year, they’ve been thwarted at Berkant and barely salvaged a pyrrhic victory at Håkøya in which they lost many ships to gain an empty world and almost none of its system-level infrastructure. If not for the fleet tenders that were stationed there, they might have gained nothing at all. 

[N.T.B.] Nothing except the planet and system, which is barely five light-years from Maribel. 

[B.K.M.] That works against them at least as much as it works against us. Maribel is well fortified against raids even without the fleet present, and we left Håkøya without any such defenses, excepting facilities for a large ground garrison. They’ll try to hold the place, but their leaders will regret it in the end. 

[D.L.C.] You’re looking at plans to counter-attack and retake the place, then? 

[B.K.M.] Eventually, of course, but there is value to the enemy fleet being so close. For example, Fifth Fleet’s skirmishing elements have the range to strike enemy forces there directly without committing tenders or other large ships, which means we can strike without warning at any time. They’ll have to use heavy escorts just to ferry their supply and troop ships in and out of the Håkøya system. This takes their limited supply of cruisers away from other duties. 

[C.S.D.] Obviously this is not secret information. The enemy knows about our raiding elements very well by now. Their admirals can see this possibility as easily as we can. 

[N.T.B.] So the war really has come down to attrition? To seeing who can replace ships and spacers fastest? 

[B.K.M.] Attrition is the sad reality of any full-scale war, Mr. Brand. The war is not about who has stormed the most planets, but about who can maintain an effective fighting force longer. Reneer and I have discussed many ways to save the lives of Navy spacers and magnify casualties on the enemy side, and one of those ways is to let The Incarnation take and hold low-value systems to thin out their resources. 

[D.L.C.] Has this thinning out provided any real benefits? 

[C.S.D.] Civilians on the unoccupied Confederated Frontier worlds have probably already noticed a considerable drop-off in enemy raiding activity in the last six months. As they need to keep ships on station over occupied worlds and to replace losses in their main offensive fleet, they have fewer to devote to raiding action. 

[B.K.M.] The homogeneity of the Incarnation fleet is both its great strength and its great weakness. They use largely the same equipment in all roles and have very few second line warships. This is probably helping them maintain their long supply lines, but it also means that they have almost no ships designed for garrison and raiding duties. Our garrison and raiding squadrons cannot stand up to their cruisers, it is true, but they also are not needed to support the battle line in main engagements. 

[N.T.B.] In other words, ours are smaller, but there are more of them, and the Tyrants can’t be everywhere. 

[B.K.M.] That is a reasonably accurate simplification, yes. Also, our various raiding units are far stealthier than any cruiser could ever be. 

[C.S.D.] We have even experimented with brief ground-side raiding strikes on occupied worlds, such as at Meraud and elsewhere. The details of some of these raids cannot be divulged, but most were far more expedient than the attack at Meraud. 

[D.L.C.] When we spoke to Seventh Fleet, Admiral Abarca indicated that he hoped to see one or both fleets on the offensive this year. Do you think that timetable is still realistic? 

[B.K.M.] I would say no. After Berkant, I would have thought that was a safe bet, too. Perhaps Seventh Fleet will still achieve that timetable, but Fifth Fleet will be on the strategic defensive at least until all its battleships have been repaired and returned to service. We will certainly still move out from Maribel to contest further Incarnation advances. 

[N.T.B.] What about Farthing’s Chain? Does defending that region fall under Fifth Fleet’s responsibilities? 

[B.K.M.] I don’t know the jurisdictional situation very well at all. 

[C.S.D.] We have been informed that the Admiralty Council is sending elements of Third Fleet to patrol and reinforce vulnerable Farthing’s Chain worlds as a precaution against raids, but no major advance into Farthing’s Chain by the enemy is expected. If they do try that, their supply lines will have to run through Håkøya, where they can be easily cut by Maribel-based Navy forces. 

[B.K.M.] Ah, yes, I remember that conversation now, my apologies. I agree with the Council at least in that an attack on the Chain would allow the immediate liberation of Håkøya. 

[D.L.C.] An attack into Farthing’s Chain would be a public relations disaster, though. Does that factor into the Navy’s calculations? 

[B.K.M.] It must, of course. A loss of confidence in the Navy by the public at large is the easiest way for the Incarnation to win this war, and Admiral Zahariev is always very aware of this fact. The long-term prospects for victory still remain very good. 

[D.L.C.] Are you worried about the investigation into the loss of Håkøya? 

[C.S.D.] We cannot comment on that in any detail, unfortunately. 

[B.K.M.] I think it would be reasonable of me to say that I am not worried, but then, the worst they are likely to do is send me back to my cottage on Allsop. That world, by the grace of God, remains free of hostile forces. 

[D.L.C.] I suppose that’s- 

[C.S.D.] Excuse me, gentlemen, but I’m receiving word that Captain Kirke-Moore is needed in an urgent conference with Admiral Zahariev, and that we need to cut this short. 

[D.L.C.] That’s all right, Ms. Durand. Thank you both for your time. 

[B.K.M.] It is no trouble at all. Hopefully we will speak again quite soon.