Two star nations struggle for primacy
A protectorate of both left defenceless
A call for help from any who can hear
The Castle Federation and the Coraline Imperium have built pocket empires on the fringe of human space. Tiny by the standards of the behemoth Commonwealth born of Terra, they remain unchallenged in their own sectors—but their fleets watch the border between them with careful eyes.
When the Boudicca System’s only battleship is ambushed and destroyed by forces unknown, their leader calls for help from the Federation and Imperium alike. Admiral Darius Moonblood of the Castle Federation takes a fleet to Boudicca to answer that call, believing he is walking into an Imperial trap.
It will fall to Admiral Moonblood to either start the war Castle and Coraline have feared for years or find a different answer to the conflict looming in Boudicca.
Fleet Admiral Darius Moonblood was old. He could feel it in his bones most days, even in his nanomatrix-laced left leg and his completely artificial right leg. Almost a hundred and twenty years old, even twenty-eighth century medicine could only do so much and he was well past due to retire.
Today, though, that argument hadn’t won yet and he stood on the observation deck of the Castle Federation Space Navy’s battle station Aballava Defense Seventeen and watched the latest addition to his command slowly decelerate into her parking orbit above the gas giant. The star system he stood in was one of the quieter systems available in the seventeen-system Castle Federation. Aballava was a daughter colony of Castle, a mere half-billion or so people. There was no way this system could have supported the fleet resting in orbit of the gas giant Llandudno.
Vagabond was the newest arrival, the ship he was here to see, but she brought his Counter-Clockward Fleet up to six Alcubierre-Stetson drive battleships. Each battleship represented a full twentieth of the gross system product of a moderately well-off system.
Which meant that his fleet had a price tag equal to roughly half of the annual income of the entire star system.
“Admiral Moonblood,” a polite voice interrupted his thoughts. “Captain Michaud sends her regards and invites you to join her for dinner aboard Vagabond this evening if that fits with your schedule.”
Moonblood quirked his lips in a slight smile.
“And would you, Commander Itzel Barre, have let Vagabond arrive without having made sure I was available to dine with her Captain?” he asked.
Senior Fleet Commander Itzel Barre was his operations officer, a tall and dark-skinned woman who took careful responsibility for everything her Admiral got up to.
Once he’d convinced her not to babysit him, she’d become very useful. He was old, not broken.
“Of course not,” Barre confirmed cheerfully. “I’ve been in communication with Captain Michaud’s XO for the last week, since they left Castle.”
Quantum-entanglement communications and the immense q-com switchboards in major capitals had brought the galaxy closer together. If only that had resulted in the peace and commonality so many had expected. He sighed. His neural implant was advising him that he’d just received a briefing update from the Senate, probably the geopolitical update he’d been waiting for.
“Arrange a shuttle, Commander,” he told Barre. “Assuming you haven’t already. We will join Captain Michaud for dinner.”
“Of course, Admiral. Anything special I should arrange for?”
“I want to see a demonstration of her lances,” Darius admitted. “But since they’re still so classified I believe we’re trying to pretend the stars themselves don’t know the beams exist, that isn’t happening.”
He shook his head with that same small smile.
“No, Commander Barre. I believe we will be fine with whatever Captain Michaud puts together.”