Legendary… And Untested
Captain Kyle Roberts delivered one of the Castle Federation’s few victories in the early days of the war. Even losing his ship in the process didn’t prevent him being elevated as the hero – the “Stellar Fox” – his country desperately needed.
His status with the public demands a worthy command, and he finds himself on the bridge of the Federation’s latest supercarrier and headed to the front lines of the war.
But the Navy sees his promotion as a public relations stunt. His subordinates and superiors alike question his lack of experience – and enemies at the highest level of his own government manoeuvre to destroy him.
As the war heats up around him, the Commonwealth may not be the greatest threat to Kyle Roberts or Avalon.
Midori System, Castle Federation
15:20 September 30, 2735 Earth Standard Meridian Date/Time
Corona was dying.
Even the mightiest of the Castle Federation’s battleships couldn’t take multiple antimatter hits, and she’d been hit five times. Communications were down, and Vice Admiral Dimitri Tobin had no idea how the rest of the relief fleet he’d led to Midori was doing.
“Come on, sir!” his Chief of Staff bellowed. “Engineering tells me we have minutes at most until the positron capacitors fail. The entire ship is coming apart.”
Tobin nodded and came to his feet. The immense, dark-haired Castle Federation Admiral met his Chief of Staff’s gaze and nodded calmly.
“No coms, no reports,” the Fleet Commander told him. “We’ve got nothing – all I can tell you is that nobody is shooting at us anymore.”
“It’s not going to matter for Corona,” Tobin noted calmly. “It’s the fleet I’m concerned about. Let’s go.”
With a clearly audible sigh of relief, Fleet Commander Robert Brown gestured towards the exit from the flag deck. Even to the Admiral’s implants, the room was dead – computers, networks, everything was gone.
“We’re cut off from the shuttle bay,” Brown told Tobin. “Escape pods are this way.”
The Vice Admiral followed the younger officer, coughing as the smoke began to overwhelm the rapidly failing air control units.
They’d barely made it out of the flag deck before the entire warship lurched again, and a safety bulkhead slammed shut behind them. A moment later, the massive bulkhead flashed red as energy pulsed against it.
Tobin stared at the red hot wall for a moment, then sucked in a deep breath as his shipsuit automatically activated its helmet, the transparent shield extending over his head in a single motion. His implants confirmed that air was rapidly leaving the corridor.
“I guess I was wrong about them not shooting at us. We need to move,” Brown sent over their implants. “Follow me.”
Somehow, despite the beating Corona had taken, their deck still had gravity. It seemed everyone except for unusually stubborn old Admirals had evacuated already as the corridors were empty as they made their way to the escape pods.
The next explosion was clearly internal – a set of power conduits that over-loaded as the ship’s network fragmented – and hit as they reached the pods. Brown was thrown backwards as debris hammered across the deck and gravity finally failed.
Tobin managed to catch his Chief of Staff and barely to brace himself against the explosion itself. Brown met his eyes, half of the officer missing and blood pouring from his torso in impossible quantities.
“It’s all your fault,” his loyal aide told him bluntly. “I shouldn’t have still been here.”
There was, Tobin noted in the back of his mind, no way someone missing that much of their body could speak that clearly.
And Brown had survived the Corona.
Before his mind could process that, the entire ship came apart in a shower of blood and fire, and Vice Admiral Dimitri Tobin woke up.
Castle System, Castle Federation
05:00 December 5, 2735 Earth Standard Meridian Date/Local Time
Dimitri woke up to his wife shaking him gently. Sasha Tobin was upright in bed, looking down at him in the soft light she’d turned on. She smiled softly at her husband as he shook himself.
She started to say something, but he held up a finger as he focused on his therapist’s instructions for the dreams. With a simple command, he told his implant to access its picture-perfect memory of those last terrifying minutes aboard Corona and remembered.
The power conduits had exploded all right – Brown had caught the worst of the blast, losing half a leg and taking shrapnel damage across his body. Tobin’s years-old first aid training had come in handy, as he’d thrown an old-fashioned tourniquet on the man’s leg and dragged his Chief of Staff to an escape pod.
Whatever his subconscious might think, Robert Brown had survived – and survived because one Vice Admiral Dimitri Tobin had saved his Chief of Staff’s life.
“The dream again?” Sasha asked as he opened his eyes and returned his attention to her.
“Yes,” he said quietly. “It is… getting better.” He checked the time and groaned. He wasn’t due at Joint Command for another six hours, but he wasn’t sure he would be able to get back to sleep.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” she asked. After thirty years, he swore his wife could read his thoughts. “You did get an entire starship blown apart around you, Dimitri.”
“And the war continues, Sasha,” he answered, his voice still gentle. “I put on the uniform, I took the stars they gave me. If Kane and Blake want to give me a new battle group, I can only obey.”
“We both know you don’t have to go,” she told him. “The Federation isn’t that short of Admirals, my love.” She shook her head. “You went to one war for them, love, and almost didn’t come home. What will I tell the boys if you don’t come back from this one?”
With Dimitri away at war for most of the first few years of their marriage, they’d been late to have children. Their two sons were in their early teens, not yet ready to face a world without their father in it.
“I plan on coming home,” he told his wife. “But if I don’t…” he sighed. “It has to be me, my love. Someone else might get it wrong.”
“I knew you’d say that,” she told him, smiling. “I want you to stay, my love, but I know who I married. Now, go back to sleep!”
07:30 December 5, 2735 ESMDLT
Captain Kyle Roberts was a massive redheaded man, almost two meters tall with shoulders to scale. He had faced battleships and Commonwealth fleets and emerged victorious against the odds. He was, the media assured him, a Hero of the Federation.
He was currently being frustrated by an eleven year old boy.
“Yes, Jacob, you do still have to go to school today,” he assured his son. On the other side of the kitchen table, his son’s mother – who was not his girlfriend, hadn’t been for twelve years in which they’d hadn’t even spoken – laughed into her coffee.
“But Mom doesn’t!” said Jacob Kerensky, who looked to one day grow into his father’s height.
“That’s because Lisa has finished her school, and gets to job hunt today,” Kyle explained reasonably. He checked the time in his implant. While Jacob had to be at school in half an hour, the school was ten minutes away. Kyle needed to be at Joint Command in New Cardiff at ten hundred hours – and the main headquarters for the Castle Federation Space Navy was much further away.
He glanced at Lisa for support, and she just continued laughing into her coffee and gestured for him to carry on. She was enjoying subjecting him to his first tantrum ever. He had missed eleven years of them, after all.
The Marine Sergeant standing next to the door was no help. That worthy, in charge of the seven-person security detail assigned to an O-7 ranked Federation officer, was currently pretending to ignore the whole scene.
“Sergeant Rosenberg,” he said, assuring himself he did not sound desperate, “when is the aircar due for me?”
“Corporal Heimdall reports they’ll be arriving in about five minutes,” the gaunt, shaven-haired man in a black uniform with green piping informed him calmly.
Kyle looked back to his son, who was momentarily distracted by the thought of the military aircraft he’d seen come round the house all of twice now. His neural implant wasn’t what it had once been – lethal doses of radiation always left some scars – but it was enough for him to judge that he had extra time.
“If you eat your breakfast,” he told Jacob, whose toast was cooling rapidly, “and promise to be very good at school today, we can drop you off in the aircar.”
His eyes suddenly wide, Jacob dug into his breakfast with gusto, even as Lisa finally stopped chuckling.
“That’s not fair,” she objected. “I can’t bribe him with military vehicle rides!”
“It would be improper tactics not to use every resource at my disposal,” Kyle told her virtuously. Her response was a flung piece of toast, and he grinned.
Twelve years of hating and hiding might have killed any spark between them stone-dead, but they at least got along for more than just Jacob’s sake now his existence had finally forced them to speak again.
As Jacob ran off to grab his school things and the sound of ducted fans suggested the arrival of the aircar outside, Lisa gave Kyle a hard appraising glance.
“You’re going back out, aren’t you?” she demanded.
“I don’t know,” he told her. “But… probably. They left me grounded longer than I expected after decommissioning Avalon. It’s been three weeks since we stood her down. Kane has a job for me – hopefully a command.”
The neurophysician his high school girlfriend had grown into shook her head.
“Good luck, then,” she said quietly, as their son came pounding down the stairs.