A failed attempt on the Mage-Queen
An old friend from the gutter
An enemy that should be dead…
When a kidnapping attempt on the Mage-Queen of Mars is thwarted by luck, leaving thousands dead in its wake, Prince-Chancellor Damien Montgomery returns to field operations one more time. The evidence leads to one place: Tau Ceti.
In Tau Ceti, Mage-Commander Roslyn Chambers finds herself without a posting as her teaching tour ends. Before she can take any kind of vacation, an old friend from her pre-Navy days shows up claiming to have information about the attempt on the Queen.
Montgomery is the Mage-Queen’s adoptive father and right hand man. Chambers is one of her few true friends. Neither will let the blood of innocents go unpunished.
Neither believes the traitors called Nemesis are dead – but finding them may cost more than either of them can pay!
Four hundred pairs of boots snapped together as their occupants responded to the Chief Petty Officer’s bellowed command. None of the nineteen-year-old cadets looked old enough to be almost a third of the way through their military training, but Mage-Commander Roslyn Chambers wasn’t sure she had any right to judge.
Eight years before, while barely older than her students were now, the slim redheaded officer had been battlefield-commissioned and thrust into the war against the Republic of Faith and Reason.
Now, she’d been an instructor at the Tau Ceti Naval Academy for almost three years, and she was still surprised by how young all of the new-fledged cadets looked to her.
“Cadets,” the redheaded Tau Cetan-born Mage greeted the class. “You may be seated.”
The Tau Ceti Naval Academy of the Royal Martian Navy was impressive. The lecture hall was sized for the four hundred students occupying it, providing each of them with a fixed workstation that normally interfaced with the ubiquitous wrist-comps of the citizens of the Protectorate of Mars.
Today, those wrist-comps were disabled and they would only have the workstations. Today was the final exam for their second-year tactics course, and Roslyn was probably more nervous about it than her students were.
She’d taught a dozen courses now, and every time she worried that the exam results would prove that she was just too young to be teaching this course. It hadn’t happened yet, but Roslyn was well aware that she had been the youngest person ever promoted to Mage-Commander in the RMN.
“You all know what today is,” she told her students. “And it turns out that I have permission to give you all a special surprise.”
None of the cadets were unintelligent. Only a third were Mages—though even that was a vastly higher proportion than the usual one-in-a-hundred-thousand ratio of humanity’s hundred-odd inhabited worlds—but they were all smart, thoughtful, capable teenagers.
And they knew that “a special surprise” when it came to the final exam was probably a bad sign.
Roslyn gestured and Chief Patience Kovalyow activated the program the two of them had put together that morning. The lights dimmed and holographic projectors came online, filling the air above Roslyn’s head with a standard Navy tactical display.
“What you are about to see, cadets, took place just over two years ago in the Mackenzie System,” she told them. “For those of you who weren’t paying attention to the news when you were sixteen, the Mackenzie System was the capital of the little empire the First Legion had put together of the unprotected colonies.”
Roslyn’s last command had been tasked with locating the systems of the First Legion, a task that they’d succeeded at—by cutting a deal that had seen her ship make a reckless deep strike into a Legion system to rescue thousands of enslaved workers.
She’d saved a hundred thousand people and opened up the First Legion to the Royal Martian Navy. She’d lost her ship and a number of friends along the way, and she’d been informed that she was taking a shore posting where she would be in easy reach of therapists.
Over the following six months, Mage-Admiral James Medici’s Seventh Fleet had calmly and carefully hammered their way through the First Legion’s systems until they reached Mackenzie.
On the tactical display above her head, green icons flashed into existence. The icons were swiftly replaced with three-dimensional images of the ships themselves as the display zoomed in on them.
“At oh seven thirty Olympus Mons Time on January Fifth, twenty-four-sixty-five, Admiral Medici and his Seventh Fleet entered the Mackenzie System, expecting to find the last major formation of the First Legion’s space forces,” she told her cadets.
“At this point, Seventh Fleet had seen some minor combat losses”—including Roslyn’s own Voice of the Forgotten over six months earlier—“but had been materially reinforced. As of the Battle of Mackenzie, Admiral Medici had the dreadnought Masamune, five battleships, twelve cruisers and forty-five destroyers.”
The sixty-two smaller warships all shared a rough pyramid shape. The newer ships had a “skirt” of a partial reverse pyramid, giving them some defenses against attack from behind, but the older ships had been uncompromisingly built for the attack.
Masamune herself had that pyramid shape for her base, but she also had a cylindrical hammerhead forward containing her long-range bombardment missile launchers and a suite of heavy lasers.
The fleet took a few minutes to shake themselves out into formation—but the footage was accelerated sixty-to-one, turning that into a handful of seconds.
“For the defenders, Admiral Ridwan Muhammad had kept his heaviest ships in Mackenzie all along—a strategic decision outside the scope of this course and presentation,” Roslyn noted. “That gave him three battleships: one forty-megaton unit and two thirty-megaton units; and two carriers: both fifty-megaton ships. All were former Republic of Faith and Reason capital ships. The First Legion also fielded fifteen cruisers and, between the carriers and the orbital defense platforms, approximately two thousand gunships.”
The display had zoomed out and was now showing icons again. Red icons for the First Legion ships flashed as she spoke on each of them.
“A key factor in the events that followed was that three of Muhammad’s cruisers possessed Active Prometheus Drive Units,” Roslyn told her students grimly. “Throwing aside the Legion’s euphemisms, all of their faster-than-light-capable ships were equipped with the brains of murdered Mages, held in the control and life-support system known as the Prometheus Interface.
“The ‘Active’ units had been brought out of the semi-coma most of those brains were kept in and indoctrinated to fight for the Legion. This gave those vessels capabilities no other Prometheus Interface ship could match.”
Roslyn smiled thinly.
“Outside of those three ships, anchored on the cruiser Battlemaster, these were otherwise identical to the ships that fought the Republic’s secessionary war against the Protectorate,” she told her students. “There were some upgrades, primarily to their software, but there were no real surprises in the First Legion’s order of battle at Mackenzie.”
As she spoke, the tactical plot was running forward, still at sixty-to-one time compression. As the missiles started launching from both sides, the compression slowed to twenty-to-one. Instead of seven seconds for the missiles to cross the distance between the two fleets, it became twenty-one seconds.
Just before the first wave of the big Samurai bombardment missiles—with three-fifths of the duration and twice the acceleration of the standard Phoenix capital missiles, they were the longest-ranged weapons in the battle—arrived, three of the Legion cruisers were suddenly duplicated.
The Picard Maneuver, named for an old TV show, took advantage of the fact that sensors were limited to the speed of light but the teleporting magic of Mages and Prometheans wasn’t. The tactical plot updated to remove Battlemaster and her sisters from the Legion fleet after they appeared within laser range of Seventh Fleet—but that was an artificial adjustment made after the fact.
In truth, Seventh Fleet’s sensors had seen the cruisers duplicated for almost an entire minute. A minute in which the three ships had thrown every weapon at their command directly at Masamune.
Roslyn’s students had seen footage and recordings of what it was like aboard a warship under fire, but nothing could compare to the actual experience. She and Chief Kovalyow had both been where Masamune’s crew had been on that day, relying on a complex weave of advanced metals, energy-dispersing systems, and outright magical additions to hold the warship together against twenty-gigawatt laser beams and multi-gigaton antimatter warheads.
The dreadnought had given as good as she’d taken, with forty-gigawatt beams tearing into the Legion ships and the amplified magic of her Mage-Captain ripping apart one ship after another.
Admiral Medici’s flagship had survived. The three attacking cruisers hadn’t—and that was the last clever trick Admiral Muhammad tried. The battle had played out over about an hour in reality, but Roslyn ran through it in under ten minutes for her class.
The lights came back up and she surveyed the four hundred faces looking back at her.
“After the last twelve weeks together, I know all of you are looking at Admiral Muhammad’s tactics and finding them lacking,” she noted. “Outside of Battlemaster’s group jump, the Legion did nothing complicated or impressive at the Battle of Mackenzie. They were badly outgunned and outmassed, but battles have been won against worse odds.
“Now, let’s be honest, no one in this room wants the Legion to have won at Mackenzie,” Roslyn said with a chuckle. “Especially not me. I had far too close an exposure to them!”
The real issue at Mackenzie, from what Roslyn could tell, was a combination of Admiral Ridwan Muhammad’s being an absolute authoritarian who brooked no advice or defiance—but also only having been a second-tier cruiser squadron commander running security for a logistics outpost.
The Republic had been born, lived, and fallen inside three years. They’d had a severe lack of senior officers…and even they had put then-Commodore Ridwan Muhammad, a twenty-year veteran of the Legatus Self-Defense Force, well away from the front line.
Her cadets didn’t know enough about the war to be certain how to take her pale joke about the First Legion. A lot of the details were still semi-classified—or at least not public knowledge. Roslyn had been fully briefed on the war all along, but she’d been instrumental in allowing it to be fought.
“But since the Battle of Mackenzie is now well in the past, we’ve been authorized to use it as a test study for the next semester here at TCNA,” Roslyn told the class. “And since that authorization came in before the exams of this semester, your instructors all got together and decided to use it.”
There were four tactics classes for the first and second years—and three instructors, all Commanders drawn from active duty, to handle them. The later-year tactics classes were smaller and taught by more-senior officers on a more-interactive basis.
But for the sixteen hundred larval officers that made up the youngest half of the Academy’s student body, Roslyn had convinced the other tactics instructors to let her pull this on them.
“Normally, you would have a relatively traditional exam for the end of first-year tactics,” she continued. “This year, we’ve decided on something more hands-on.”
All of the workstations hummed to life.
“Your workstations now contain summaries of the key information available on both forces at the Battle of Mackenzie. Your final exam, cadets, is to give Admiral Medici nightmares.”
That got her chuckles as the students realized what she was asking them to do.
“You have the next four hours to go through all of the information provided and assemble a superior battle plan for the Legion fleet at the Battle of Mackenzie,” she concluded. “A copy of the template you’ve used in your studies this semester is also on the workstation, but use of it is optional.”
She studied them all silently for a few seconds, then blatantly checked the time.
“Your exam begins…now.”
Four hundred sets of hands and eyes turned to the task at hand, and Roslyn let the lights on the stage dim. She’d be there through the rest of the exam as well, but her main part of the job was done.
The students didn’t need to come up with good plans. They were nineteen years old and had just completed their first two semesters of military education. To pass, they just needed to assemble a plan in the right format and with the right ideas.
But Roslyn knew her students—and she knew that with sixteen hundred bright young minds in four lecture halls like this one, there were definitely going to be some results that would give the Martian officer who’d commanded Seventh Fleet nightmares.