Secrets have been unleashed
Worlds have fallen
A Mage-King has died
But the war rages on!
Secrets and warships combined to turn the tide of the Siege of Legatus, delivering the capital of the Republic of Faith and Reason into the hands of their enemies. With Damien Montgomery called away to lead the entire Protectorate of Mars, fighting the war falls to Mage-Admiral Jane Alexander and Mage-Lieutenant Roslyn Chambers.
As the Martian Second Fleet moves against the remaining Republic worlds, Captain Kelly LaMonte’s covert stealth ship sweeps the worlds away from the conflict, searching for the Republic’s government-in-hiding and a chance to end the bloody conflict.
But this war began in the shadows, and the secrets hidden in those shadows threaten to turn the tide of the war once more—and bring it to the heart of the Protectorate!
“Governor Niska, welcome,” Mage-Lieutenant Roslyn Chambers told the old Legatan cyborg as he entered the big briefing room aboard the dreadnought Durendal. “Here’s your briefing chip. It’s still encrypted until the Mage-Admiral releases it.”
“I know the drill,” James Niska, Military Governor of Legatus, told the young blonde woman. He was the only native of Legatus in the briefing room on the warship orbiting the occupied capital of the Republic of Faith and Reason.
Roslyn was the Flag Lieutenant of Mage-Admiral Jane Alexander, the woman whose fleet had reduced the defenses of that capital ten weeks earlier. A lack of munitions and the murder of the Mage-King of Mars had kept Second Fleet at Legatus for over two months.
“Is this going to be much the same nothing as the last few were?” Niska asked, surveying the small collection of Martian flag officers with resignation.
Roslyn wasn’t supposed to give anyone any idea of what was coming, but Niska had been instrumental in getting them all this far. She shook her head silently at him, as much information as she could really provide.
“Interesting,” he said gruffly in response to her silent answer. “I will leave you to your duties, Lieutenant. If you could have someone bring me a coffee? It’s been a long few weeks.”
“Yes, sir,” Roslyn confirmed, tapping a quick set of commands on her wrist-comp. The stewards supporting the briefing would get the message—in a smaller meeting, coffee would be her direct job, but there were a lot of people coming today and she had to turn her attention to the next arrival.
“Mage-Admiral Medici,” she greeted the man in charge of Second Fleet’s cruisers. “Here’s your briefing chip.” She passed him the small piece of black plastic. “Do you need anything to get set up?”
“Please tell me Marangoz is seated on the other side of the room,” Medici muttered, the dark-skinned officer trying not to be heard. “If I hear the idiot rattle on about the ‘inherent versatility of our battleships’ one more time, I might engage in conduct unbecoming an officer.”
Mage-Admiral Soner Marangoz commanded Second Fleet’s battleships and was surprisingly twitchy over the fact that they were no longer the heaviest units of the fleet. Durendal and her two sisters in Second Fleet dwarfed even the largest battleships, rendering the former queens of the fleet into a secondary role their commanders weren’t quite sure of yet.
Roslyn checked her seating chart quickly. It probably wasn’t a serious request—it wasn’t even particularly professional as a joke to a junior officer—but when an Admiral asks, the Flag Lieutenant obeys.
“He’s in the middle and you’re on the left with your squadron commodores,” Roslyn told him quickly, before daring a small joke of her own. “He’s definitely out of reach of your retribution, sir.”
“Shame,” he conceded with a wink. “If there’s water at the tables, I’ll be fine, Lieutenant.”
He gave her a nod and strode away, sliding the briefing chip into his wrist-comp as the six cruiser Commodores began to gather around him.
Roslyn shook her head, then refocused on the task at hand and smiled up at Mage-Commander Tirta Kruger, the captain of one of the older destroyers.
A hundred and one captains, fifteen commodores, seven admirals and ten civilians like Niska. She was one of three officers greeting and passing out briefing chips, but it still felt like they were going to be seating people for longer than Mage-Admiral Alexander would be speaking!
Once everyone was seated in the large briefing room, Roslyn’s job became simpler if not necessarily less important. She took her own seat next to the presenter’s dais and linked her wrist-comp into the controls for the room’s holographic projectors and screens.
She’d prechecked everything before the shuttles had even started arriving, but she checked everything again as Her Royal Highness, Mage-Admiral Jane Alexander, Crown Princess of Mars stepped up to stand behind the lectern and survey her officers.
Alexander was not quite into her second century and had spent an entire lifetime in the Royal Martian Navy. Her late brother had been the Mage-King of Mars and her niece was now Mage-Queen, but the Admiral had focused her life on serving the Protectorate in its Navy.
“Officers and respected guests, welcome aboard Durendal,” she told them. Roslyn made sure that the backdrop behind the Admiral was the view of Legatus from the dreadnought’s main scanner arrays, as planned. “We’ve spent a lot of time here in Legatus, both during the Siege and since taking control of the system.
“For the first time since the surrender of the planet, however, we are finally looking to leave,” she concluded. “People, Operation Eagle Tickle is a go. We have finished restocking our magazines with the new missiles and we are finally ready to deploy.”
The new Phoenix IX missiles had far superior acceleration and range to the old Phoenix VIIIs—and given that their enemies in the Republic had used missiles with longer ranges than the VIIIs, that edge had proven absolutely necessary.
“We have not, of course, been nearly as well reinforced as any of us would like,” Alexander continued. “We have received fifteen destroyers since the fall of Legatus, but that’s all the Protectorate has to spare. We remain the single largest concentration of hulls and tonnage the Protectorate of the Mage-Queen of Mars has ever mustered.”
Second Fleet’s order of battle was now floating in the air around Alexander. Three dreadnoughts, eight battleships, thirty-eight cruisers and fifty-two destroyers. That was every dreadnought in commission, a third of the battleships and over half the cruisers.
“While intelligence suggests that we have neutralized the only accelerator ring the Republic has, a lack of fuel is unlikely to materially impede the RIN’s operations,” the Admiral noted. “We have also neutralized the only shipyards we know to be capable of installing the Promethean Interface. While there are reasons to suspect our knowledge is incomplete, we have yet to locate any evidence of additional major antimatter or Promethean Interface production.”
The room’s silence took on a deadly chill at the mention of the Interface. No Mage—no human, in Roslyn’s opinion—could find what the Republic had done to fuel their warships less than horrifying. At the core of each RIN jump ship were the extracted brains of several Mages, linked to a device that forced them to cast the teleportation spell on command.
Without the cadre of Mage officers who formed the beating heart of the Royal Martian Navy, the Interface was how the Republic had duplicated the ability to magically travel between the stars—but the UnArcana Worlds that had become the Republic had banned magic. The only Mages they’d had access to were the teenagers who’d been identified with the Gift and had chosen to remain on their homeworlds.
The Republic had built their star fleet on murdered children, and Roslyn doubted she was alone in thinking that could never be forgiven.
“What we have confirmed is that the Nueva Bolivia System contains the largest gunship-manufacturing plant in the Republic after Legatus itself,” Admiral Alexander said grimly. “So long as the Republic retains any carriers at all, possession of the Nueva Bolivian yards will permit them to continue to replenish losses to their combat groups.
“Eagle Tickle intends to remove that capability by the simplest means available: Second Fleet will be leaving Legatus in thirty-six hours to move on the Nueva Bolivia System. Our scouting runs have left us quite confident in our ability to engage the forces there, and I expect to be able to secure the system inside of two days of active combat.”
Roslyn switched the holograms and screens over to the Nueva Bolivia System. The system had eight planets: one habitable world, Sucre, and two gas giants. The rest of the planets and the asteroid belt were only really important as supplies of raw materials.
“Our current estimate is that the defensive fleet around Sucre consists of roughly four thousand gunships and the reassembled remains of two RIN carrier groups,” Alexander told them all. “A Courageous-class carrier, three battleships and seven cruisers. That’s backed by the existing fortifications put in place around Sucre to defend their orbital industry.”
Sucre was one of the more human-friendly worlds ever discovered, with vast world-circling oceans, gorgeous archipelagos, and calm weather. The colonists had always wanted to keep it that way and had put almost all of their industry in orbit.
That industry was a vulnerability now that they were at war, but the RMN wasn’t looking to wreck the planet. Just take control of it.
“We also need to make sure that Legatus itself remains in our hands,” Alexander continued. “So, I will be detaching a Task Force Twenty-Two under Mage-Admiral Hovo Tarpinian.”
That worthy, the man who’d brought the three dreadnoughts to the Battle of Legatus, bowed slightly as he was indicated.
“Mjolnir will remain here in Legatus, accompanied by two battleships and a cruiser squadron,” Alexander said. “The rest of Second Fleet will proceed to Nueva Bolivia and commence operations against Sucre itself.
“Details of the plan are on your briefing chips, which should now be unlocked, but Mage-Captain Kulkarni will run us all through the high levels,” the Admiral said, indicating Roslyn’s boss, Alexander’s operations officer.
Indrajit Kulkarni stepped up beside her Admiral. She and Alexander were both tall, but where the Crown Princess of Mars was gray-haired with the ambiguously brown coloring of a Martian native and a descendant of Project Olympus, Kulkarni’s skin and hair were black as night as she captured the audience’s attention.
The Mage-Captain gestured for Roslyn to switch to the next part of the briefing and smiled levelly at the gathered officers.
“While the force we are bringing to Nueva Bolivia should be overwhelming,” she noted, “the reality is that we cannot count on the RIN to roll over politely for us. They like their surprises—and our scouting operations have yet to locate enough of the force they brought against us at Centurion to make me happy.
“Therefore, we will…”