The enemy promises conflict and annihilation
Their allies threaten betrayal and devastation
A daughter of Earth raises the call of defiance
And the Imperium has never knelt!
When the Taljzi’s genocidal invasion brought promises of aid from the oldest and greatest of the Core Powers, humanity and the Imperium looked to the Mesharom for salvation. But that salvation turns to ash as the Mesharom demand the surrender of the very weapons that saved the Imperium.
Defiance leaves the Imperium facing the Taljzi without the aide of the galaxy’s wisest race, but with their old enemies the Kanzi at their side, they have no choice but to end this war at any cost.
But Mesharom and Taljzi alike have scattered fire and death across the stars. The Imperial forces under Fleet Lord Harriet Tanaka will need every scrap of firepower and cleverness not only to defeat their enemies…but to find them in the first place.
“This is Jean Villeneuve, requesting clearance through the shield.”
It would probably have been more appropriate to have her communications officer handle the request, but Commander Morgan Casimir was well aware that Jean Villeneuve was playing for an audience today.
The brand-new superbattleship had been built inside Jupiter, in a bubble of vacuum opened up by powerful shields. Now the ship was leaving that bubble for the last time, to enter the service of the A!Tol Imperium.
Morgan was Jean Villeneuve’s First Sword—her executive officer—newly transferred to the navy of the A!Tol Imperium from the Duchy of Terra Militia.
“Jean Villeneuve, this is DragonWorks Control,” a calm Spanish-accented voice replied, and the blonde Commander’s lips quirked. Commodore Ariel Ortiz had no more business answering basic communications for her security region than Commander Morgan Casimir had sending the coms in the first place.
“Shield segment thirty-one-B-thirteen has been reduced in strength to allow for passage. It’s been a pleasure hosting you, Jean Villeneuve. Fly straight.”
Morgan’s smile expanded. Villeneuve had been built and done most of her initial testing there. DragonWorks had done more than host the A!Tol Imperium’s newest and most advanced superbattleship.
“It’s been a pleasure working with you, DragonWorks. We have thirty-one-B-thirteen on our displays and are making our way out.”
She dropped the channel and glanced over at Villeneuve’s navigator. Speaker Cosa was a Pibo neuter, a small gray-skinned alien that looked a lot like some old Earth myths.
“Destination is laid in,” Cosa told her. They were speaking their own language, but every member of the Imperial Navy had translator earbuds as part of their working uniform. They weren’t universal translators, but they held about thirty languages.
There were eleven species represented aboard Jean Villeneuve. Mixed-race ships were a rarity in the Imperial Navy, but everyone had agreed that Jean himself would have had it no other way.
He’d been Morgan’s “Uncle Jean” until she was eighteen and entered the Militia Academy, and she still missed him fiercely.
The arrival of the superbattleship’s Captain shut down that familiar train of grief, and Morgan rose from the command seat and saluted.
Tan!Stalla—the ! was a glottal stop for humans, a beak-snap for the A!Tol themselves—was a recruiting-poster perfect example of the A!Tol warrior female. Her bullet-shaped torso with its sharp beak and large black eyes was suspended in a seeming forest of tentacles.
There were only sixteen of those tentacles, but that was enough to human eyes. Twelve manipulator tentacles allowed the squid-like aliens to control a technology far beyond humanity’s when they’d met, and four locomotive tentacles moved her around.
At her full height, Tan!Stalla was over two and a half meters tall. She was large for an A!Tol female, though Morgan had known bigger. A!Tol females kept growing until something killed them, after all.
“We are cleared to commence the final tests?” Tan!Stalla asked, returning Morgan’s salute with several manipulator tentacles smacking against the central point of her uniform harness.
“The Militia has laid out targets for us along the designated course,” Morgan replied. “Course is laid in and we are on our way out of the DragonWorks shield.”
“And our audience?” the A!Tol Captain asked, glancing at the main holographic display at the center of the circular bridge.
Morgan had been intentionally keeping her focus very narrow, on Jean Villeneuve’s own targets and missions. The number of icons in that display and the nature of many of those icons sent a chill down her spine.
“The Empress’s representatives are aboard the Militia superbattleship Emperor of China,” Morgan noted. Another phrasing of that would be my stepmother and my new boss are aboard the temporary flagship of my old service, but that one would be unprofessional.
“The Eleventh Pincer of the Republic is watching from his flagship,” she continued, her gaze drifting across the holographic sphere to a set of icons she’d never expected to see as actual allies. Ten war-dreadnoughts of the Laian Republic, the closest of the more technologically advanced Core Powers, now orbited Sol. Today, they were in a high orbit of Jupiter to watch the tests of Jean Villeneuve’s new systems.
“And the Mesharom?” Tan!Stalla asked.
Morgan nodded slowly and considered the rest of the “allied” icons. She was familiar with the Mesharom, the oldest of the Core Powers—the oldest known species in existence—and had served as the Duchy of Terra Militia’s “Mesharom expert.”
Even to her, however, the Mesharom war spheres were basically a myth. Now forty of the twelve-kilometer-wide spherical warships were watching her tests, with sixty of the battlecruisers she was used to seeing with them.
“Grand Commander Tilsan is aboard their flagship, watching,” she reported. Watching summed up a lot of what Tilsan did. They weren’t an Interpreter, one of the rare Mesharom trained to deal with aliens. They were…simply in command of the largest Expeditionary Fleet the Mesharom had deployed in the five hundred years the A!Tol Imperium had been aware of the eldest Core Power’s existence.
“Hopefully, they’re impressed,” Tan!Stalla murmured, a flush of dark green covering her skin. The A!Tol showed their emotions on their skin, and that, Morgan knew, was fear and determination.
Which meant that she and her Captain were on roughly the same page.
“Emergence from the DragonWorks shield…now,” Cosa reported. “Entering Jovian atmosphere. We will bring the drive to full power and commence the tests on your order.”
“Tactical?” Tan!Stalla asked.
Lesser Commander Nidei, a tall and gaunt red-skinned Ivida, muttered to themself in a language the translator didn’t understand. Morgan had almost no familiarity with Ivida languages—not least because, as an Imperial Race, neither did most Ivida!
“All systems are green,” Nidei reported. “I’ve asked Lesser Commander Tanyut to take a closer look at some specific sections of the plasma lance, but there’s no major problem.”
“All right.” Tan!Stalla’s black eyes focused on Morgan. “First Sword. Any concerns?”
“I’m concerned that we get to do this in front of two Core Powers,” Morgan replied. “Other than that, I believe Jean Villeneuve is ready to show her talents to the world.”
“As do I. Nidei, Cosa…commence the demonstration.”
Jean Villeneuve was unlike any ship built before her in the A!Tol Imperium. Ships across the nation were being refitted with the same basic technologies, but she and her three sisters were the first superbattleships built from the ground up with everything the Imperium had begged, borrowed and stolen over the last twenty-five years.
She was a twenty-one-million-ton beast, with a twenty-five-hundred-meter-long core hull in the shape of a double-ended spindle. Four arched “wings” covered the rear half of the ship, stretching out to her full twelve-hundred-meter height and width, and shallower extended arches spread defensive systems away from her core all along her hull.
Cosa brought her out of Jupiter’s atmosphere at a delicate ten kilometers a second, then brought the ship’s engines to full power.
The interface drive—the gravitational-hyperspatial interface momentum engine—only played fair with Newton when measured across both real space and hyperspace—and needed four more spatial dimensions in both to do it. Jean Villeneuve went from ten kilometers a second to fifty-five percent of lightspeed in slightly over seven seconds.
“First targets live,” Nidei reported. “Firing Echo batteries. Second targets in the line in twenty seconds.”
Forty proton beams flashed in the void. Once the main close-range ship-killer of the Imperial Navy, the energy weapons had survived into the Galileo-class superbattleships only because half of her other weapons didn’t work in hyperspace.
Obsolete the beams might be, but the shielded and armored targets laid out for them vanished in the single salvo as the capital ship blazed away from the planet.
“Second targets in the line; firing Foxtrot batteries.”
One of the technologies the Imperium had stolen from the Laians had been the spinal plasma lance. Jean Villeneuve and her sisters were the first to use the technology without basically building the ship around it. Now, specially designed conduits flashed plasma out into the superbattleship’s wings. Instead of firing a single lance from the nose of the ship, Villeneuve fired a lance from the tip of each of her four wings.
Those four targets didn’t last as long as the first set, but Cosa was already flipping the ship around, keeping them within a light-minute of Jupiter as they hammered toward the third set of targets.
“Alpha and Bravo batteries firing on third targets, loading the fourth targets…firing Charlie and Delta batteries,” Nidei continued their chant.
Missiles screamed toward the third set of targets, a hundred and twenty interface drive weapons moving at eighty percent of the speed of light. The fourth targets were farther away but actually died first, as Charlie and Delta batteries were the first of Villeneuve’s FTL weapons: the hyperfold energy cannons vaporized the fourth set of targets before the missiles arrived at the third.
The targets, Morgan noted absently, were moving. They carried interface drives of their own and were evading at forty percent of the speed of light. It just hadn’t been enough to save them yet.
“We are receiving hyperfold telemetry from the fifth set of targets,” Morgan announced as the data came on the displays of her own seat. She had less data there than she would in her actual combat station in the combat information center, but for this she’d wanted to be on the bridge.
The fifth set of targets was a lot farther away, several light-minutes from Jupiter: near the maximum range of Jean Villeneuve’s primary weapons and outside the range of their instantaneous tachyon scanners.
A recon drone near the targets, preplaced along with them, was now feeding their location to Villeneuve by a hyperfold communicator. Like the weapons, it was instantaneous at this range. Unlike the weapons, it was transmitting at a low-enough intensity to have a range of nearly a light-year.
Nidei’s last report hung in the bridge. There were twenty-four targets this time, a test for the superbattleship’s main armament: the hyperspace missiles that could reach this range.
A blip on Morgan’s displays told her that the portals inside Jean Villeneuve had opened and closed, launching the weapons into hyperspace. A few seconds later, new icons appeared on the drone’s feed.
Moments after that, all twenty-four targets vanished.
“Full sweep, Lesser Commander Nidei,” Morgan declared. “Every target down with one salvo from each battery.”
“Well done, Lesser Commander,” Tan!Stalla agreed. “Speaker Cosa, set our course to rendezvous with Emperor of China. The Fleet Lord awaits us.”
Jean Villeneuve would be under Fleet Lord Harriet Tanaka’s command, but the need to refit so many ships meant Tanaka’s command was somewhat…theoretical at the moment. Today, Tanaka had joined the Duchess of Terra aboard the current flagship of Earth’s Ducal Militia.
Duchess Annette Bond. The woman who’d turned humanity’s conquest by the A!Tol Imperium into the greatest opportunity they’d ever had. Who’d negotiated with the Mesharom for much of the technology that underpinned Jean Villeneuve. Who’d negotiated the unexpected alliance with the Kanzi, the Imperium’s age-old enemies, that had saved Terra once again a mere three months before.
And also Morgan Casimir’s stepmother.
No pressure living up to that example.