The Draconis Alliance Navy is the unofficial name of the Defence and Commerce Protection Directorate of the Draconis Alliance – not that the official name is ever used. Unlike the other directorates, the Navy is independent and appoints its own officers instead of having its positions of power shared among the placemen of the fourteen Council houses. The Navy retains this independence from day-to-day interference because it is very deliberately apolitical in its operations, and because none of the Council houses will trust any of their rivals with direct control over the apparatus of force, especially when that apparatus is based right next to their council chambers on Crucis Station.
For most of its existence the Draconis Alliance Navy has been focused on the commerce protection part of its duties, with a force consisting almost exclusively of escorts, destroyers and lighter units. Where heavier units were required they would have to call on the house squadrons, each of which is required to maintain a ship of the line and consorts that would be available to support the Navy when required, as well as the planetary navies.
The Steiner-Cova naval reform of 2372 is dramatically changing this force into a proper navy, on a par with the Polaris Federation Starfleet and the Terran Union Navy. From having no ships of the line, the Draconis Alliance Navy is going to a fleet of thirty, starting with a long term lease of the house battleships and a purchase of several surplus vessels from the Albion Royal Navy. This is accompanied by a massive cruiser production programme and expansion of facilities at Crucis Station and four new quadrant depots. All of this is intended to allow for a new role of collective defence, replacing the need for the member worlds to maintain their own fleets. How a ‘commerce protection directorate’ can handle a sudden transformation into a first rank military force remains to be seen.
The Dragon’s Rise: An Analysis of the Draconis Alliance by Professor Jen Guatella, Margrethe University Press
“All hands, stand by for jump in thirty seconds from mark. Mark!”
Commander Duncan Tremayne heard the shipwide announcement, along with the steady stream from the talker over his headset and the spoken reports from the officers and ratings around his station in SecOp, the Vigilant’s secondary operations room. He took all of that in, along with the tactical plot in his holo display in front of him and the two side display screens showing the ship’s status and the fire plans for the weapon batteries. If you couldn’t handle all of those information feeds simultaneously, you had no business being a command officer.
If you couldn’t handle that much information, you certainly had no business being a Tremayne worthy of the name, not that Duncan saw being a Tremayne as nearly as important as being the best officer he could be.
The information on the tactical plot was five minutes out of date. Five minutes ago and ninety million kilometres away, a pack of pirate vessels were deploying around the liner Countess Anastasia, which they had caught waiting to jump between congruencies at nexus TR-41 on her route from Galloway to Bonne Chance.
Most of those pirates thought they’d found themselves a payday. A liner meant good loot, ransoms for some of the passengers, and every chance of some fun with passengers who didn’t have a ransom worth being kept intact for. One of the pirates knew that he’d got himself a payday here, as long as the Navy kept their side of the bargain. Which the Navy always did, that being the best way to encourage informers in the future.
“All hands, brace for jump. Jump in ten…”
Quick glance over the tac plot and fire plan, a slightly more measured check of the ship status. Jump web fully charged and field calculations one hundred percent complete.
Almost silent in SecOp now. The sensor and plotting teams were standing by, no point updating this plot when they would have much more up to date data in a few seconds. Just the gentle whirr of the air circulation system, which made just enough noise for a spacer to be alerted when it wasn’t working.
Duncan could sense the anticipation, the slight apprehension from everyone on the bridge. You would have to be seriously messed up to actually enjoy a jump, although this one was going to be a tiddler. They should barely feel it.
Relax. Look confident. That was one lesson the academy drummed into every officer – if you have nothing else to do, you can always spend your time looking confident for the ratings. Don’t be over-confident, but if you take everything in your stride then so will they.
A blink, a slight twisting sensation that was little more than a tightening of the skin this time. Five light minutes was less than a tenth of the distance a ship’s jump field could handle – easy enough to compensate for that level of dispersion. The sensor displays jumped to accept their new inputs and the tactical plot updated with the new data, first as tentative IDs by the computers, then firmed up as the humans in the loop checked and confirmed the machines’ assumptions. There were nine pirate vessels, but even the two converted tramp freighters were a fraction of the size of the two hundred meter long Vigilant. One of the freighters and what was tagged as an actual assault shuttle were moving to dock with the Countess Anastasia, while the mixed bag of half a dozen one and two-seat fighters were arrayed threateningly around the liner. The second freighter, presumably the command ship, stood back but still well within weapon range. Which meant that all of the pirates were within easy range of the Vigilant’s weapons now that she had jumped in close by.
Duncan grinned as he listened to Captain Raines’ broadcast call for the pirates to surrender or be destroyed. The pirates were in what Commander Devakaran, his tactical instructor at the academy, was wont to refer to as an unenviable tactical situation. Trying to fight was futile. Vigilant was a warship, with a full military shield. Nothing those pirates had was powerful enough to burn through that shield, and all of them firing together probably couldn’t hammer the shield enough to destabilise it even if Vigilant didn’t throw up a flak wall to interdict their fire – which she would, as Captain Raines wasn’t a man to take any chances he didn’t have to.
In theory, the fighters could close with Vigilant, use their own shields to slip through hers and fire into the ship’s unprotected hull. Pirates didn’t have the discipline and guts for that sort of close assault though, and while it might have worked against a destroyer if they were lucky, Vigilant was an escort, a larger warship built specifically to carry massive batteries of rapid-firing light pulse cannon. Killing fighters was what escorts were born for.
That left flight, but the pirates had only just jumped in one their victim a few minutes ago. It would be at least ten minutes before their jump webs could be recharged, and unless those freighters had been upgraded with some serious astrogation computers it would take them even longer to plot their field calculations for themselves, never mind ones for the fighters and shuttle as well. Vigilant’s comms officer had already sent an override command to the nav beacon at the congruency, which would lock them out from requesting calculations from the beacon computer.
Their only hope of escape was to scatter and try and evade in normal space for long enough to make an escape jump. Evade fire from a ship that carried twenty four quick-firing dual mounts on each broadside, backed up by eight twin rail missile launchers. And was already in range. Not exactly a lot of hope there.
There was a moment’s pause, and then the plot was updated as first the pirate command ship fired up her engines, and then after a few seconds the others followed suit.
“Looks like hope really does spring eternal, Duncan,” the captain said on the command channel.
“Not sure if that’s hope sir, or just stupid.” Duncan checked the plot. “Looks like Tango Six is going for the safe vector. Watch out for Tango Three…”
Most of the pirate ships were trying to get away, including one of the fighters that was heading off on a very specific course, the pre-arranged safe vector for that only the informant knew about. The assault shuttle, however, was speeding up its approach to the Countess Anastasia. Duncan had to assume that the pirates thought that they could still get aboard the liner, take hostages and then either escape with their prize or at least negotiate their way out of the situation. It might work, he conceded. It wouldn’t take too long for the shuttle to get too close for Vigilant to fire without risking stray shots hitting the liner. Vigilant only carried a single platoon of marines – there could easily be as many pirates aboard that shuttle, or even more, making recapturing the liner a chancy proposition and bound to result in civilian casualties even if they did succeed.
“I see it. Guns, priority fire on Tango Three. Lock fire control on the others but do not fire until I give the word.”
Vigilant’s aft port batteries both flashed to active on Duncan’s display. That was eight weapon mounts, sixteen guns, each gun firing a hundred times per minute. The projectiles were forty millimetre balls of high energy hydrogen plasma – fragments of suns, for all intents and purposes – each encased in a very temporary force field that was timed to collapse at the target’s range, so any pulses that weren’t direct hits would still blossom into miniature nuclear fireballs all around it.
The batteries hammered away at the target for six seconds – long enough for ten rounds per gun. A hundred and sixty shots at a target that was at close range, running a predictable course and had no electronic countermeasures worth a damn when it came to trying to throw of the aim of an escort, a class built to engage much more difficult targets. The shuttle’s shields lasted maybe a second and a half before flaring and dying, after which the plasma pulses were blasting away at the exposed hull. The last couple of seconds’ worth of fire was more a matter of scattering the debris than anything else.
“I repeat, cut your engines, stand down and prepare to be taken into custody. Any further attempts to escape or resist will be met with further deadly force.” Captain Raines broadcast, projecting just a touch of exasperation, then switched back to the command channel. “Duncan, assuming there are no more outbreaks of stupidity, how do you suggest we go about securing this merry band of gentleman adventurers?”
“Depends how many there are on those freighters sir, but we don’t really have a lot of spare capacity for guests here, sir. I would suggest we hold the ringleaders on the Vigilant and put the bulk of the prisoners on the Countess Anastasia with some of the marines to keep an eye on them, they have much more room.”
“The civilians are going to love that.”
“Needs must, sir. It’s only as far as Bonne Chance, so that’s less than a day.”
“Makes sense. Prize crews for the freighters then, and arrange appropriate accommodations aboard for the leaders of these brigands.” Duncan noticed that Captain Raines couldn’t quite bring himself to use the word ‘officers’ for the pirates. “I’ll have a word with Lieutenant Hobdell and the captain of the Anastasia, and then we’ll know who needs to get shuttled where and when.”
An escort’s executive officer might not have much to do during action, but there was plenty to be done afterwards. The ship’s two general purpose cutters were already standing by with a couple of squads of marines in each, but they needed prize crews. Duncan paged a couple of junior officers to serve as prize masters, then placed a call to the bosun, senior chief Valdes.
“Bosun, I need prize crews for those freighters – a pair of bridge ratings, two engineers and an environmental tech on each, plus three or four deck ratings.”
“Are you sure that’s enough, sir?” Valdes was a small, dark-eyed woman who could pass for a school teacher or something equally inoffensive out of uniform, but she had command presence to spare. Duncan had seen her stop a drunken brawl with her voice alone, and nothing he’d asked had ever fazed her. If she didn’t know how to do something, she knew who to assign it to or would come up with a thoroughly reasonable approach of her own. Assigning prize crews was the sort of routine matter she could handle in her sleep.
“Should be – we’re taking the prisoners off the freighters so they won’t have to worry about watching them.”
“Sounds about right then, sir. You’ve already assigned the officers?”
“Yes, Lieutenants Frain and O’Brien. We’re going to need to secure those fighters as well, and I don’t much fancy stacking them in our boat bay even if there is enough room, which I doubt. Any bright ideas?”
Valdes grunted. “Tell the pilots to EVA, and we’ll send the launch to pick them up. Once the cutters have dropped off the marines and ferried the prisoners they can haul the fighters here and we can secure them to the hull.”
“Sounds like a plan, bosun. One other thing – we need to improvise a brig for a few of the pirates. I thought maybe we could use thirty two delta three, if we cleared the stores from there. It’s half empty already and mostly canned goods, as I recall, so should be relatively straightforward to clear.
“By your leave sir, I’ll get a team started on that now. Bosun, out.”
Once the cutters had docked with the freighters and the launch had picked up the free-floating fighter pilots, Vigilant’s crew could stand down from action stations. Duncan swung by the wardroom to grab a mug of coffee and a couple of cookies to take back to his office. Properly victualled, could get on with collating the departmental after action reports for the captain, highlighting a couple of Operations Room ratings who deserved commendations and making a private note that one of the damage control teams had taken several minutes longer to close up than the others. There was no reason given in the report, but Duncan would do some quiet digging. Damage control team four included Able Spacer Warren, who was due for Captain’s Mast after an altercation with two of her crewmates. If the delay was down to more of the same, then Duncan would have to let the Captain drop the hammer on her, but best to make sure he had all the facts before making a decision that Warren would regret.
With the after action reports out of the way, Duncan could get back to ploughing through the crew’s quarterly efficiency reports. He didn’t even hear the clunks and clangs of the captured fighters being pushed against the hull and secured with monocable tie-downs by the bosun’s teams of deck ratings in EVA suits. He had to be reminded by the senior wardroom steward to preside over dinner, which was a high-spirited affair with a good few drinks being sunk by those fortunate enough not to be standing watch afterwards – the Alliance Navy hadn’t adopted the silly American tradition of keeping their warships dry.
Duncan had to shoot a couple of quelling glances at watchstanders who were tempted. The regulations didn’t forbid drinking before going on watch, they merely specified horrendous penalties for those who impaired their judgement, but the XO’s disapproval was far more real and effective for a junior officer than any formal regulation.
“So what are you going to be doing with your prize money, sir?” Ensign Callaghan asked. Her neighbour tried shushing her with a whispered he doesn’t need the money, you doofus! that was far too audible, and then turned bright red as Duncan looked at him.
“Mister Howell –“ and that was a sign of just how gross a breach of etiquette had occurred, as junior officers were normally addressed by their first names in the wardroom “ – there are a number of ways to address a fellow officer, depending on the circumstances. ‘Doofus’ is not appropriate in any of them. I suggest you apologise to Kate and to the wardroom at large – say, by signing the chit for the next round of drinks.”
Once Bill Howell had stammered out his apology and tried not to wince at the total on the chit that a grinning steward brought for him to sign, Duncan smiled and answered Kate Callaghan’s question.
“In the short run, I’m not going to be doing anything with my prize money, and neither will the rest of you, I’m afraid. It will be months before the sale of those pirate vessels goes through, even after their crews have all had a fair trial and they are no longer required as evidence. And once the Operations Directorate have completed the sale, they will take their own sweet time passing the proceeds to the Council and Financial Directorate, who will then drag their heels before crediting the funds to the Navy, who will eventually pay out the shares to the crew of the Vigilant, who actually did the work of capturing the pirates.” Duncan paused, and then raised his glass – water, as he had the next bridge watch. “Ladies, and gentlemen, the crew of the Vigilant, may they someday get paid their fair dues!
“Anyway,” Duncan continued after the toast, “I’m not trying to dishearten you, just give you fair warning that it will be a while before any of us actually receive any money, so don’t go spending it just yet. But to answer your question, I’m banking mine as part of my nest egg for when I retire.” He smiled.
“You’re saving? But… I thought…”
“I’m sure you thought that, given my name, I had far more money than I’d ever need? Not the way it works in my family, I’m afraid. The family – that is, the Tremayne Foundation and its trust funds – are staggeringly rich, individual members of the family aren’t. I get an allowance that I could live on reasonably comfortably without working if I chose, and makes a very nice addition to my salary, but that’s it. Believe it or not, my daddy did not give me a planet of my very own for my eighteenth birthday, and I spent my time at the academy trying to convince my classmates that I really didn’t have a private palace with hot and cold running dancing girls that they could visit.”
Lieutenant Commander Owens changed the subject at that point by segueing the comment about dancing girls into a long and highly improbable story about local customs on a planet of the Sagittarius Reach and how they pertained to young spacers on liberty. Duncan gave him a grateful nod, and then left the wardroom as soon as he could decently do so. After twelve years in the service, he still found his family background an uncomfortable subject with his fellow officers – almost as uncomfortable as the twisting, stretching sensation of jump travel. The captain had allowed time for the crew to have an uninterrupted meal before starting the journey back to Bonne Chance, but once underway they would be making a jump every hour in consort with the Countess Anastasia and the prizes, resulting in a restless and disturbed ship’s night for everyone aboard. Normally, liners would coast in normal space during the night for the comfort of their passengers, but after the attack and with the pirates on board as prisoners, the Anastasia’s captain wanted to make port as soon as possible.
A four hour watch meant four jumps, two congruency jumps and a local hop within each nexus from one congruency to the exit one. Four sets of jump calculations to be run and authorised, each giving a specific field topography that should translate each infinitesimal point within it to somewhere else and keep all of those points in the same arrangement relative to one another. Four moments of wrenching pain because even the most powerful computers humans could devise still couldn’t get those fields exactly right, just close enough. Four tense moments as the Ops Room updated the plot after each job, until they could be certain there was no imminent danger to Vigilant and her consorts and they could get on with plotting the next jump in peace. And in between those four moments of pain and four moments of tension, four hours of trying to keep busy and stay awake while the computers ran the calculations. Someone had once described war as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. Space travel was much like that, if you substituted aches and pains for the terror and accepted that the punctuation was a bit more frequent. However, it was also routine, and it was well known that humans could get used to just about anything if it becomes routine enough. Duncan’s watch ended without incident, just like most of the thousands of watches he’d stood over the years, and he could get a few hours of sleep. Routine even let him sleep through the jumps, or at least get back to sleep so quickly that they didn’t register.
The working day starts early on a navy ship, even for those who aren’t on watch, but an executive officer’s day starts even earlier. Duncan made a point of carrying out a couple of surprise inspections before breakfast every day to keep the departments on their toes – today it was the turn of the supplies office and the galley, so he made a point of inspecting some of the bacon that was being prepared for the ratings’ messes. It made a fine sandwich.
By mid-morning the ship was in the Bonne Chance system, where one more jump was followed by a burn on the thrusters to put the ship into orbit. Duncan was working through notes for the next training rotation when Captain Raines paged him and asked him to come up to his cabn ‘at his earliest convenience’.
“Right away, sir.” That was what ‘earliest convenience’ meant in the navy.
“Good morning Duncan. Take a seat, will you?” Raines said when Duncan reported to him. “I’ve got some news.” He looked a little troubled.
“Far from it, I think. Our dispatches have caught up with us, and they include your next posting, which is a bit earlier than we expected. I’m ordered to detach you at the earliest opportunity to report to Crucis Station.”
Duncan frowned. “They’ve given me a staff posting?” He’d done a tour on the staff before Vigilant, and didn’t expect to go back again – not yet, anyway. He’d completed the Command Officer Qualification Course, which had the inevitable nickname, which should have put him securely on a fleet track rather than being destined to be a staff weenie.
“No, they haven’t. Tell me, what were you hoping for after leaving Vigilant?”
“Command of my own, ideally, or XO on a cruiser or ship of the line, sir. But ideally command of a destroyer – maybe even an escort, the way the fleet’s expanding.”
“That’s fair enough. You’re a ‘cock’ in the nicest possible sense of the word, and as you say the fleet’s expanding rapidly and is short of command officers. But evidently neither of us realised just how rapidly it’s expanding and how short it is of command officers.” He handed Duncan a sheet of paper.
Duncan scanned through the orders rapidly. Detach at earliest opportunity… briefing at Crucis Station… granted leave until 17th June… accept delivery and take command of DNS Warden on behalf of the Draconis Alliance, for and by authority of the Draconis Council… is hereby promoted to the rank of Captain. He sat there, staring at the last sentence for several seconds while it sank in. Then he realised something else.
“The Warden? Isn’t that…”
“One of the ships of the line we’ve purchased from the Albion Royal Navy, yes. Congratulations, Commodore.” There could only be one captain aboard a ship, so any other person holding the rank of the same name was addressed by a higher rank. Duncan hadn’t expected that particular piece of etiquette to apply to him.
“There must be more experienced captains they could give that ship to!”
“And yet, the navy in their infinite wisdom chose you.” Raines looked at Duncan strangely. “Unless you’re planning to decline?”
“No, sir!” Officers who turned down any responsibility they were offered, let alone command of a ship of the line, very quickly ceased to be officers in the navy in any capacity.
“Well, congratulations. And stop trying not to look sorry for me, Duncan. I’m staying with Vigilant for a while yet, apparently they want me to break in a couple more XOs for them, but I got my first star in the same set of dispatches. Apparently I’m now Commanding Officer, Eighth Commerce Protection Group, whatever that is, details to follow.
“Now, since we’re in orbit the sun is always over the yardarm so let’s have a drink and toast each other’s good fortune before you go and give Lieutenant Commander McHale the good news that you are dumping your entire workload on her and swanning off to Crucis Station.
“Oh, and Duncan?” he paused. “When you get there, watch your back.”