2949-12-21 – Tales from the Service: A Sovereign Entrance 

As we and all the spacers and service personnel defending Berkant prepare to celebrate Emmanuel Feast this week, the members of this embed team wish all our readers a wonderful holiday, whatever incarnation of that holiday you celebrate. 

[N.T.B. - May God keep you strong in these dark and uncertain times, wherever this holiday finds you.] 

While official sources with both the company and the Navy have not confirmed this, rumors indicate that the battleship Sundiver has been seen in Sagittarius Gate in the last few days. This ship, the mobile headquarters of Sovereign Security Solutions, is a vessel of Terran-Rattanai War vintage, but its rumored current capabilities rival those of any Confederated Navy battleship. One can only speculate the absurd fee the company was paid to deploy their prestige-piece flagship to an active theater of war. 

Technician Gabriel Hackett set his cup of lukewarm coffee aside and turned back to his console when it chimed. As the third shift sensor officer aboard Philadelphia, the Seventh Fleet flagship, any time the Sagittarius Gate sensor drone network picked up the gravitic disturbances created by an incoming ship’s star drive, he was notified, but most of these incoming ships were Navy supply haulers, arriving singly or in convoy. Occasionally, Incarnation ships would arrive to lurk and spy, but even these rarely proved worth a major alert. 

This time, though, Gabriel could tell in an instant the incoming ships were not cargo carriers or Incarnation snoopers. The mass profile was all wrong for a convoy, and none of the ships matched any of the common Incarnation or Confederated Navy drive signatures he’d memorized weeks earlier. The largest of the newcomers clearly outmassed even Philadelphia herself. 

Seconds after Gabriel flagged the intruders and sent an identification challenge order to the drone network, Commander Reva Shelby appeared over his shoulder. “What have we got, Hackett?” 

Gabriel pointed to the estimated mass profiles of the incoming ships. “With one big ship and a mess of small ones, it’s not Nate, but they’re not Navy either. We’d have been told to expect a battleship, and they’re not following our protocols.” 

“Who else would be all the way out here?” Shelby pointed to the data readout for the biggest ship. “That thing’s bigger than any battleship in any fleet.” 

Gabriel tapped the display thoughtfully, calling up the first blurry raw images from the sensor drones’ telescopes. The huge ship had a wasp-waisted, organically curved profile. “Reachers?” 

“If so, that would be a first on this side of the Gap.” Shelby put her hand on Gabriel’s shoulder briefly. “Let me know if they answer the challenge. I’ll call down to the Staff.” 

Gabriel groaned. He knew it would be more than two hours before the drones’ reports on any replies to the challenge signal would filter back to Philadelphia. The admiral’s staff officers would probably want to put the better part of Seventh Fleet on alert, waking thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of spacers in the middle of their sleep cycle. As Seventh Fleet contained only three battleships, any sortie against the monster ship would probably include Philadelphia herself. 

As Commander Shelby stepped away and activated her comm earpiece, Gabriel pulled up several images of the incoming ship. Each drone in the network had a different angle, and while only a few had included visible-light and radio-telescope images in their alert signals, he had enough grainy pictures to form a decent impression of the ship’s general outline. The profile was familiar, but he couldn’t quite remember where from. He could at least rule out that it was some sort of mega-hauler, at least – no merchant hull had lines like that. 

“Mr. Hackett, send any identifying data down to CIC.” Shelby didn’t wait for her order to be carried out before pacing away down the bridge’s long, broad main walkway, deep in conversation with someone on Admiral Abarca’s staff. 

“Holzmann is hailing, Commander. High priority.” The new third-shift comms officer sounded nervous, and Gabriel didn’t blame her; she was interrupting a conversation between two officers each at least six ranks above herself. 

To her credit, Reva Shelby didn’t snap at the interruption. “Put them on display three.” 

A moment later, a holographic display near Gabriel’s station shimmered and resolved into the washed-out image of a slick man in a dark non-Navy uniform. Gabriel, knowing his image wasn’t being transmitted, allowed himself a grimace at the mercenary captain’s garish attire; the black tunics and gold braid of Sovereign Security Solutions officers was more in line with Rahl Hegemony uniform customs than those of the Confederated Navy. 

“Commander... Shelby, is it?” The slick officer’s voice oozed self-confidence in a way that Gabriel instantly disliked. “Pause your plans for a general alert.” 

Commander Shelby took a moment to reply, presumably allowing the obvious question of how a mercenary vessel not privy to the sensor stream from the picket network would know that Philadelphia was moments from issuing such an alert. When she did reply, it was with an icy coolness that Gabriel suspected hid as much distaste for the mercenary as he felt himself. “Your opinion is noted, Captain Drake, but your company does not control the command of Seventh Fleet.” 

Drake smiled rakishly, either misreading or ignoring Shelby’s tone. “Admiral Abarca will want to know that the ships that just arrived are ours, won’t he?” 

“I’ll tell his people you were expecting someone.” 

Gabriel glanced back at the images on his display, and suddenly saw the indistinct shape of the incoming monster in new light. Its vaguely familiar profile was one he’d seen in newsfeeds throughout his childhood. “Stars around, Commander. That’s Sundiver.” 

Drake must have heard Gabriel’s outburst, because he nodded. “Your man has it right. My boss told me to say that he’ll be along to talk with the Admiral’s staff as soon as possible.” 

Gabriel frowned at this claim; even if Sundiver wanted to send a tight-beam message to Holzmann as soon as it arrived, it would need to wait for the speed of light several times as IFF challenges bounced back and forth before the trajectory of such a transmission could be computed. How could the commander of the incoming battleship already be giving orders to his subordinates more than a light-hour away? 

Whether or not she understood the strangeness of this claim, Commander Shelby nodded. “I’ll pass that along.”