A defector with a dangerous lead
A chance to speak for the silent
A perilous quest into enemy stars
When the star system of Legatus was preparing to secede from the Protectorate of the Mage-King of Mars, it was the secret agents of the Legatan Military Intelligence Directorate that laid the groundwork and fought the covert war to make it happen.
Now, as the open conflict draws to a bloody stalemate, LMID has been broken. Their leader is dead, murdered by agents of the Republic they helped birth. Their surviving agents have scattered, following a final protocol that orders them to defect to the Protectorate.
An old friend brings all of this to Damien Montgomery, First Hand of the Mage-King, and begs for his help in unravelling the mystery. The only answers lie where the Hands of Mars should never go: on the worlds of the Republic.
The Santiago System was relatively calm by the standards of stellar real estate, with most of its comets and asteroids limited to an outer belt outside the gas giants. Those three massive planets shielded the rocky worlds in the inner system from those belts, creating the tropical paradise of Novo Lar.
Currently, it was looking much less paradisiacal to Mage-Lieutenant Roslyn Chambers. The petite redheaded tactical officer of the destroyer Stand in Righteousness wasn’t really looking at the geography.
She was looking at the lack of in-system traffic between Novo Lar and Cova, the uninhabitable fourth planet that served as the industrial heart of the system. She was looking at the debris patterns from several short and ugly engagements between the Interstellar Navy of the Republic of Faith and Reason and the Royal Martian Navy of the Protectorate of the Mage-King of Mars.
Stand was there to scout the system for the Royal Martian Navy, to see if the Republic Interstellar Navy had reinforced the battered survivors of the Battle of Ardennes.
“I have our runaways on the scopes,” she announced aloud to Mage-Captain Indrajit Kulkarni.
Stand in Righteousness’s tall black commander sat in the middle of the destroyer’s bridge, her hands on a silver model of the pyramid-like ship she commanded. That semi-liquid silver simulacrum linked the Mage-Captain into the runes woven through the ship’s hull. From the simulacrum chamber-slash-bridge of the Martian destroyer, Kulkarni could teleport her ship a full light-year—or unleash her own impressive magical powers at a much shorter range.
Few enemies survived entering the range of the amplified magic of the commander of a Martian warship.
“Two battleships,” Kulkarni agreed slowly. “We were expecting them. What kind of shape are they in?”
“It looks like they’re patching up as fast as they can, but they’re also the only battleships in system,” Roslyn reported. “I’m not sure if they left cruisers behind when they came to Ardennes or if these are newcomers, but they have friends now.”
Every wall of Stand in Righteousness’s bridge was covered in finely-constructed video screens. Silver runes were cut through those screens, linking the amplifier to the simulacrum, but the screens themselves showed the world outside the starship.
Overlaid on top of the camera feeds, however, was a vast quantity of data. Roslyn controlled much of that data from her tactical console, and she highlighted incoming data as she spoke.
There were six of the Republic’s big twenty-megaton cruisers hanging around the pair of forty-megaton battleships. Accompanying them were two ships that would be a bigger problem.
They were the same mass as the battleships, but where the battleships were built from two twenty-megaton hulls attached to each other, these were built from two fifteen-megaton hulls with the other ten million tons coming from the launch and retrieval decks for a hundred and fifty sublight gunships.
The carriers were, thankfully, the smaller version of the Republic’s new gunship transports, but they were still a lot more firepower than Stand could deal with.
“Carriers,” Kulkarni concluded aloud. “How many gunships are we looking at?”
“Those two should carry three hundred between them,” Roslyn calculated instantly. “I’d be shocked if the Republic didn’t drop off some extras when they were bringing in the bombardment platforms and army troops, though.”
Six new stations now orbited Novo Lar and Cova. Even from this far away—Stand was almost ten light-minutes away from Novo Lar—Roslyn could identify them as fire support platforms. They were designed to drop kinetic weapons to destroy enemy positions as the Republican Army conquered and held resisting planets.
The Protectorate had never designed an equivalent system. The Protectorate didn’t even have an army. There were more Republican troops on Santiago—one of over half a dozen systems taken in the opening salvos of the war—than there were Royal Martian Marines.
“From the size, I’d estimate each of those platforms can carry enough bombardment munitions to do their job and support ten gunships without issue,” Roslyn continued.
She was already having her chief petty officers run their own estimates. She’d never even officially graduated the Royal Martian Navy’s academy, receiving a battlefield commission as Stand had fled from the sneak attacks that had opened the war.
Roslyn was probably the youngest full Lieutenant in the Navy. She was definitely the youngest-ever holder of the Mage-King’s Medal of Valor. People seemed to expect more of her than she was sure she could deliver!
“Chief Chey thinks it’s more,” she told Kulkarni a moment later. “She’s eyeballing it at fifteen each.” Roslyn shook her head. “I see the Chief’s point, but I think the platforms are designed as primarily bombardment stations. The gunships are secondary—and the Republic would probably want an even ten-ship squadron.”
“If we split the difference, it’s another light carrier’s worth of gunships,” Kulkarni said grimly. “That’ll have to be enough of an estimate; we’ve been here too long already.”
Stand in Righteousness was many things, but she was not stealthy.
“What about the cloudscoops?” Roslyn asked. “That was where the stealth ship found them before.”
“Agreed, but we’re already pushing our welcome,” the Mage-Captain replied. “Furious Hope of Justice is supposed to be scoping out that side of the system, so let’s hope Mage-Captain Becskei gets the look we need.”
Roslyn wasn’t going to argue with her captain—especially not as her sensors informed her a cruiser had started moving in their direction ten minutes before.
“Even if our friend decides to jump, she’s a good hour away,” the Lieutenant noted as she flagged the cruiser to her Captain. “But they’ve definitely seen us.”
“I think we know what we need to,” Kulkarni concluded. “Jumping us.”
The Mage-Captain settled her hands on the model and focused on it for several seconds. Roslyn felt the surge of power ripple through the ship, and then Stand in Righteousness was elsewhere, a light-year away.
Kulkarni wobbled. The jump spell took a lot out of a Mage, and she slowly levered herself to her feet.
“You have the conn, Mage-Lieutenant,” she told Roslyn. “Standard jump sequence. Let’s get back to the fleet and report in.”
The “fleet” was now something worthy of the name. It had been almost three weeks since the Battle of Ardennes, and most of the Militia ships that had answered the call to defend the system had gone home now.
In their place was a solid core of warships of the Royal Martian Navy.
Her Royal Highness Mage-Admiral Jane Michelle Alexander had brought two battleships and twelve cruisers to reinforce the system when she’d arrived. In the aftermath of the desperate fighting to hold it, a lot more ships had followed.
Now five of the Protectorate’s immense battleships hung above the planet, accompanied by twenty cruisers and forty destroyers. Over a quarter of the entire Royal Martian Navy was now under the command of the Mage-King’s sister.
Roslyn was almost convinced it would be enough. Almost. The problem that the Protectorate faced, however, was that the strength of the RMN had been a matter of public record when the Republic had seceded.
Less than two years wasn’t enough time to change that.
“The Admiral is requesting a call with the Captain, the XO and the tactical officer,” Lieutenant Armbruster reported. The coms officer was busy catching up on the dozens of messages flying around the star system, but anything from a Mage-Admiral had a priority no lesser mortal could match.
With her royal blood, Mage-Admiral Alexander probably matched the priority a Hand could field, and the Mage-King’s handpicked troubleshooters ranked above everybody as a rule.
“Inform the Captain,” Commander Katz, the destroyer’s XO, told Armbruster. “Chambers, join me in the conference room, please? Let’s give the Admiral the full update.”
Alexander stood through the entire briefing, letting Roslyn and the other officers from Stand in Righteousness get through everything as she listened calmly.
“I’ll have to wait for Furious Hope of Justice to report in to be certain,” she finally concluded. “But that sounds positive. You’re certain there were no new battleships and no heavy carriers?”
“That we saw,” Kulkarni said cautiously. “We did miss the refueling stations, but that’s why Furious Hope went in. That’s also a lot of gunships, sir.”
“I’m not concerned about the mosquitos,” Mage-Admiral Alexander replied. “I’m worried about the ships that can take my battleships one on one.”
Roslyn managed to bite down her response. Those “mosquitos” had wiped out entire fleets. The trail of wreckage that led from Stand in Righteousness’s posting in Nia Kriti to Ardennes was made up of wrecked Martian ships and dead Martian crews, many of them dead because they’d misestimated the Republic’s gunships.
But she was a Mage-Lieutenant and Alexander was the Mage-King’s sister and one of the senior-most military commanders in the Protectorate. She had all of the data, too.
“We’ll see what turns up at the refueling stations, but I think we know what we’re going to do.”
She smiled thinly.
“Stand will join the screening elements. There’ll be no more scouting runs into Santiago, I think. It’s time to free our people.”