An empire broken by hubris
An officer raised by chance
Oaths that must be honored
Oaths that must be betrayed
Rear Admiral James Tecumseh barely survived his last mission against the Alliance of Free Stars with his reputation and life intact. Under a cloud of suspicion, he has been assigned to a quiet sector far from the front of the Terran Commonwealth’s war with the Castle Federation and its allies.
But when the Federation’s Operation Medusa cripples his nation’s communications and plummets an interstellar empire into silence, Admiral Tecumseh finds himself thrust into command of an entire fleet—and responsible for the safety of billions of innocent souls.
Enemies internal and external alike challenge the nation he is sworn to serve. Duty and honor call him to action to protect the innocent, and the Admiral and his new fleet are called to war once more.
But the darkest treason lurks where no one expects it…
08:00 October 10, 2737 Earth Standard Meridian Date/Time
The universe could change in a thousand ways. A proud old indigenous nation could divide itself across the stars, guarding new worlds and old alike against the failures of mankind. A child of that nation could rise to some of the highest ranks of the military that guarded that nation and a thousand others.
But grandmothers didn’t change, and Rear Admiral James Tecumseh of the Terran Commonwealth Navy grinned at his incorrigible ancestor as she waved a hand at him.
“Always the excuses with you, James,” she told him. Nizhoni Tecumseh was an old woman, even by the standards of the twenty-eighth century. Her hair was thinning and pure white now, but her century and a half of life hadn’t slowed down her mind or will.
“There are a thousand reasons I’d accept for this, you know,” she said. “But you are in Dakota, child. There are as many Shawnee on Dakota as there are here on Earth! And children of a thousand other Old Nations like ours.
“You could find a nice girl of our people, or a similar one as your father did.”
James laughed and gestured around him. The dark-skinned Shawnee officer was currently sitting cross-legged in the meditation chamber attached to his office. Unlike his grandmother, his hair was still pitch-black, drawn back into a short braid that ended in the middle of his neck.
He was also in full uniform with black suit, tie, red sash—and the stars and sleeve stripes of his Admiral’s rank. That uniform and insignia marked him as the senior officer aboard the carrier Saratoga and the commander of her two-ship battle group.
The uniform also helped cover the scarring where three of his limbs had been amputated and replaced with prosthetics. His current limbs were the best cybernetics available, but the original emergency procedure had left some permanent reminders.
“I am responsible for twelve thousand lives,” he reminded his grandmother gently. “And under something of a cloud with my superiors still. I have no time for personal attachments, Grandmama. I love you, but you’ll have to wait for great-grandchildren.”
She sighed and waved a hand again.
“Like your father before you, so focused on the here and now,” she said. A moment of deep sorrow crossed her face. “Of course, the future can sometimes disappear on us unexpectedly, can’t it?”
James bowed his head in silence. His parents had died a long time before.
“There will be time,” he promised her—and as if to prove his words a lie as he said them, an emergency alert suddenly pinged the neural implant that linked James Tecumseh to the massive starship around him.
“Strategic Omega alert,” his chief of staff snapped over a silent communicator in his head. “Multiple core systems are under attack, including Sol and Tau Ceti!”
Those were two of the key star systems of the Terran Commonwealth, the interstellar nation James Tecumseh served—and one of them was both the home world of humanity and the system his grandmother lived in.
“I have to go,” he interrupted Nizhoni Tecumseh before she could say anything. “Duty calls. I…” He paused. He shouldn’t tell her anything, but if an enemy force was in Sol, he couldn’t not, either.
“Grandmama, I need you to get somewhere safe,” he told her. “I can’t say more, but you need to get to safety now.”
Nizhoni had served in the Terran High Guard once, a long time before. She knew that tone, and her hologram straightened to look James directly in the eyes.
Every motion each of them made was being transmitted across almost a hundred light-years by use of quantum-entangled particles, making their conversation as clear as if they were in the same room, and she studied him carefully.
“Our family is named for a great hero,” she told him calmly. “Walk your path, James Tecumseh. You will prove yourself worthy of your name, I promise.
Tecumseh’s meditation chamber was one of two attachments to his main office, but his office itself was connected to the main flag bridge by a single secured door. It was a matter of seconds for him to traverse from the space he used for resting and personal communications to his main battle station.
His flagship, the Lexington-class carrier Saratoga was the better part of a kilometer long, an elongated egg flattened at the front and back to open the carrier deck to space. Her scale was set by the Alcubierre-Stetson drive system that would propel her faster than light, and it left plenty of space for an Admiral’s flag bridge.
That space was a thirty-meter horseshoe shape, with a large holographic display extending out from the flat end, concealing the access to the Admiral’s office. Rows of consoles and work stations filled the room, holding the support crew for Tecumseh’s staff and the Admiral himself.
Saratoga was designed to act as a fleet flagship, but she was also twelve years old and five years out of date. Tecumseh commanded Task Group Dakota-One, a carrier group consisting of Saratoga and the battlecruiser Booth.
The battleship Adamant, clearly visible twenty thousand kilometers “above” Saratoga relative to Dakota, held Vice Admiral Gabriel Banks, the commanding officer of Sector Fleet Dakota and James Tecumseh’s boss.
“Report,” James ordered as he glanced past the status reports on Booth and Adamant to check on the strategic alert.
“Alliance forces have launched deep-penetration strikes across the Commonwealth,” his chief of staff, Captain Arjun Ferreiro—addressed as “Commodore” aboard Saratoga to avoid confusion with the ship’s commanding officer—told him.
The darkly tanned Mediterranean officer focused the main hologram on the strategic display, an astrographic map showing the extent of the Terran Commonwealth, the largest human nation ever known.
A hundred and five star systems with inhabited planets and over three hundred claimed systems without planets, the Commonwealth was a large green sphere in the heart of the display. Toward the galactic rim were the Rimward Marches—also known as the Alliance of Free Stars, a loose collection of almost seventy star systems that was defying an attempt to militarily annex them into the Commonwealth.
And, it seemed, doing so with style.
“Locations?” Tecumseh asked, watching as red icons began to sparkle across the green marking the Commonwealth’s systems.
“Sol. Tau Ceti. Bastion. Beowulf. Sigma Draconis. Keid. Astral. Meridian. Muscovy.” Ferreiro sighed, gesturing at the map. “Fifteen star systems, sir. I’m not sure what the connect—”
“It’s the switchboard stations,” Admiral Banks’s voice interrupted, a hologram of the Sector Fleet commander appearing on the corner of the big display, the platinum-blond man looking more afraid than Tecumseh had ever seen them.
“Leviticus is also under attack,” Banks told them. “My aide is trying to make contact with my wife aboard the switchboard station, but communications are clogged.”
Leviticus was twenty-four light-years from Dakota. Not part of the Dakota Sector, the six-system administrative and military district that Sector Fleet Dakota—and both James Tecumseh and Gabriel Banks—was tasked to defend, but still their closest quantum entanglement switchboard—or q-com—station.
“Three of the switchboard stations have already gone down,” Banks continued. “Tecumseh, I need you to make contact with the deployed units of Sector Fleet Dakota. This is a recall order. All ships are to return to Dakota immediately.”
“Surely, this won’t work,” James asked.
“We have to assume it will,” Banks replied grimly. “This is a Hail Mary, Rear Admiral. The Alliance has thrown everything they have at knocking out our communication network.”
“What happens if they succeed?” Ferreiro asked.
“There are supposed to be fallbacks,” Commander Rylie Prebensen said softly. Tecumseh’s communications officer was a petite raven-haired woman from Tau Ceti, and like Admiral Banks, she looked scared.
“But we’d lose q-com communications with our fighters, our probes and the rest of the Commonwealth,” Tecumseh said softly. “Correct?”
“The fallbacks are likely only enough for basic communication between systems and starships,” Prebensen confirmed. “And…I doubt they came this far without at least thinking they knew about all of our backups.”
James nodded grimly and met Banks’s gaze.
“We’d lose our q-probes and our communications with our fighters at the minimum,” he noted to the senior Admiral. “While in two simultaneous wars.”
Here in Dakota, it didn’t normally feel like the Commonwealth was at war. The Stellar League was a perpetually dysfunctional but large nation to clockward—clockwise around the galactic disk—of the Commonwealth, currently more unified than usual under a dictator determined to make Terra pay for what Tecumseh would freely admit were several centuries of economic exploitation.
“I’m trying to get in touch with my wife,” Banks said quietly. “Can you recall the ships, Tecumseh?”
“Yes, sir,” James confirmed with a crisp salute. “Nothing else we can do, I’m afraid.”
Even Leviticus was almost ten days away. The faster than light Alcubierre-Stetson drive had to decelerate as much as it accelerated, which made longer-distance trips more efficient.
The good news was that meant the Alliance task forces couldn’t reinforce each other. The bad news was that the first Alliance ships had entered Sol barely forty minutes earlier…and seven of the seventeen q-com switchboards had already gone dark.
So far, Saratoga had enough spare q-com blocks to keep her communications up, but James had mirrored Prebensen’s primary console to his implants. No one else could see the virtual screen hanging in the air in front of him, but it gave him the metric he was worried about.
Combining Saratoga and Booth’s communications together, Dakota-One had lost thirty-five percent of their bandwidth already. And as he watched, the Beowulf station went dark…and his task force lost another six percent of their FTL communications ability.
The most fortified q-com switchboard station in the Commonwealth was probably the Central Nexus, the first-and-largest station suspended in Earth orbit. At oh eight hundred and fifty-four hours on October tenth, the Alliance fighter strike landed…and James Tecumseh’s bandwidth projection fell to zero.
“My god,” he whispered. “Prebensen, can you confirm for me?”
“We have lost all q-com connections,” she said. “Approximately sixty percent of our entangled-particle blocks are simply…no longer entangled. Their counterparts have been so badly disrupted that the entanglement effect has been lost.
“The remainder are simply spitting garbage data. They are loose particles that happen to be entangled with particles in our systems. There is likely no way to usefully retrieve the other side of those pairs, even if we were present in the systems with them.”
“Which we are not,” Tecumseh concluded. “Can you confirm which of our subordinates received my message?”
“Mediterranean in the Gothic System confirmed receipt,” Prebensen told him. “Captain Werner did not confirm compliance, but if he received the message, I assume he’ll be on his way.
“I believe that Valiant, in the Desdemona System, received the message, but we did not receive automatic or manual confirmation,” she continued. “I…am not certain at all about whether Arctic received the message.”
James nodded grimly, zooming in the main display with a thought. There was no point in considering the wider Commonwealth at the moment. Their entire universe had just shrunk to their area of responsibility.
The Dakota Sector was eleven star systems with six inhabited worlds—but it was also purely a civil and military administrative structure. There was no sector government. No one between the planetary governments—like the Dakota Confederacy itself—and the Star Chamber on Earth.
With no communications between the Sector and Sol, though…
He shook his head.
Arctic was in the Shogun System, the farthest clockward of the Sector’s systems. That still put the strike cruiser thirty-odd light-years from the front of the war with the League, but it also made her the most vulnerable ship in Sector Fleet Dakota.
Fortunately, the totality of the nightmare didn’t fall on James. After his last independent command had nearly ended in a court-martial, he’d managed to escape with his career intact—and somehow picked up a Rear Admiral’s star along the way—but Central Command had decided to have someone else keep an eye on him.
This was Gabriel Banks’s problem, and James reopened the link to Valiant’s flag deck.
“Admiral Banks, what are your orders?” he asked.
Only silence answered him, and an icy chill broke through his determined calm. Everyone around him was walking the line of panic. James had to be calm and collected, projecting a cool readiness as the galaxy collapsed around him.
But he needed his superior officer to give him orders…and he wasn’t getting an active communication link.
“Commander Prebensen,” he addressed his com officer. “Can you double-check the radio links to Valiant?”
“I’ve been coordinating with Commodore Mac Cléirich for the last five minutes,” Prebensen confirmed. “We have an integrated three-way radio network between the Navy units and are working to incorporate Dakota Fortress Command.”
That was good—that was the minimum James would have expected, but he was pleased that both Prebensen and Captain Sumiko Mac Cléirich, Banks’s communication officer, had started on it without any prompting.
On the other hand, it also meant that his channel to Banks was working fine and the Admiral wasn’t responding. That was…bad.
“Get me a link to Commodore Voclain,” James ordered. Madona Voclain was Banks’s chief of staff, his equivalent to Ferreiro and the third-ranked officer of the entire Sector Fleet Dakota.
It took a few seconds, longer than it should have, before the hawk-nosed blonde woman appeared on the screen, looking utterly shattered. Her uniform jacket was askew, her formal sash appeared to have been torn and she had the beginnings of a black eye.
“Admiral, apologies,” she greeted him instantly. “We have a situation.”
“Report,” he ordered. “I was trying to reach Admiral Banks.”
“That would be our situation, sir,” Voclain admitted. “We managed to connect with Leviticus Communication Prime and get Madame Banks on the call…for about forty seconds before the station was blown to hell.”
James swallowed hard, focusing on his calm. Whatever had happened, his people needed him now.
“And the Admiral?” he asked.
“Went into shock, sir,” Voclain told him. “Dr. Piccoli is on his way, but he ordered me to disarm the Admiral before the medical teams arrived.”
“He resisted.” James said quietly. It wasn’t a question.
“Violently, sir. He was not attempting to use his sidearm on me, though.” She touched the bruise forming around her eye.
“He was attempting to use it on himself,” the Rear Admiral guessed.
“Yes, sir. We have restrained Vice Admiral Banks. I was about to reach out to you… Dr. Piccoli will have no choice but to relieve Admiral Banks on medical grounds.
“That puts you in command of Sector Fleet Dakota, Rear Admiral Tecumseh.”