Trapped between warlords
The choice is simple:
From the Solar System itself, Imperator James Calvin Walkingstick prepares the remaining fleets of the Commonwealth for a desperate and brutal campaign to retake their borders and unify humanity once more.
On the other side of the Commonwealth’s seceding star systems, Dictator Kaleb Periklos gathers his fleets to avenge their humiliation. To the mercenary Admirals of the Stellar League, it doesn’t matter whether the worlds they conquer still kneel to Terra.
Caught in-between these two would-be conquerors are Admiral James Tecumseh and the newborn Dakotan Confederacy. Now guardian to a nation, Tecumseh faces enemies on all sides. He’s left with only one answer true to his and his new nation’s principles.
18:00 January 30, 2738 Earth Standard Meridian Date/Time
“You can’t be serious.”
With everything that had changed over the last three weeks, it was a tiny thing for James Tecumseh to find a step too far, but the insignia laid on his desk was perfectly familiar—and that made it the problem.
The jewelry box held four gold stars, each of them a match for one of the three he already wore. Except that he’d only been a Vice Admiral for a few months—and these were the four stars of a full admiral.
“The new Cabinet was unanimous,” Quetzalli Chapulin told him. The new Interim President of the Dakotan Interstellar Confederacy—formerly the First Chief of Dakota itself—was a pale and delicately built Nahuatl woman whose build showed no sign of her sixteen years as a Marine officer.
“Unanimous,” James echoed, still staring at the rank insignia. There were only three people in Chapulin’s office, and he knew the other two women well by now. Very well, in the case of the new Interim First Chief of Dakota, Abey Todacheeney.
His girlfriend had enjoyed the noncommittal title of secretary when he’d first met Dakota’s leadership, but by the time James had talked the planetary representatives of two sectors of the Terran Commonwealth into secession…well, it hadn’t been a surprise when the currently black-haired woman had been elevated to Interim First Chief.
“We need to show the people of our new Confederacy that we have an equal military force to the Commonwealth we have abandoned,” she told him gently. “That means we need a Fleet Admiral in command of the new Confederacy Navy.
“And there is no one else we can put in that role. Even if we wanted to.”
“Which we don’t,” Chapulin concluded. “You led us into this whole mess, Admiral, and you’re not getting out of it this easily. Put on the damn stars.”
“There’s more changes to the uniform than just the stars,” James warned drily. “I’ll have to warn Chief Leeuwenhoek to get started on those. God alone knows when she’ll have time to swap them out, though.”
Chief Steward Sallie Leeuwenhoek was James Tecumseh’s personal steward and general minder and keeper. Since she had previously conspired with Todacheeney on such things as completely redecorating James’s quarters and office while he wasn’t around, he suspected she already knew—and his girlfriend’s slight grin told him he was bang on.
“She already knows, doesn’t she?” he asked.
“I messaged her the moment I handed you the box,” Abey told him. “We weren’t going to let you turn this down. As our President said, you led us into this mess.”
“I know a fight I can’t win,” he conceded. “Though that wasn’t what I came down here to discuss with you two.”
“We know,” Chapulin confirmed. “Politics, as always.”
A silent command from the President’s neural interface brought the office’s holoprojectors online, the blinds on her windows automatically closing. The room had been the office of Dakota’s First Chief—it hadn’t moved over to Todacheeney with that job, as the new Confederacy needed a space for its head of state.
That meant that it was on the top floor of one of the taller buildings of Tááłaʼí’tsin, Dakota’s planetary capital and the DIC’s temporary interstellar capital.
Twelve key star systems lit up on the display, in a clear wedge of territory covering space from the Arroyo System, the closest Dakota Sector system to Sol, to the Persephone System, the farthest Meridian Sector system from Sol.
“We have heard back from all of the Dakota Sector systems,” Chapulin told him. “We have at least interim approval from Shogun, Gothic, Desdemona, and Krete.”
“What about Arroyo?” James asked, looking at the sixth system of the sector.
“While Patience Abiodun had the authority to do a lot of things, her governor feels that seceding from the Commonwealth was an overstep on her part,” Todacheeney said grimly. Head of state for Dakota or not, she was still fully linked in with the new Confederacy’s politics and government.
“Governor Hoxha will come around. I have no concerns,” Chapulin noted. “She’s putting it to a vote of the planetary assembly, which will take some time to arrange. Minister Abiodun assures me that vote will go our way, but Hoxha wants that authority—given that she’s the most vulnerable of our systems…”
“I understand her position,” James conceded. “We’re going to have to look hard at how we secure Arroyo going forward. Without q-coms, I need central fleets, but I also need warning.”
The Terran Commonwealth’s interstellar communication network was gone, destroyed by the people they’d tried to conquer in the Alliance of Free Stars. That had thrown a hundred–plus inhabited worlds into chaos, allowing their enemies in the Stellar League—on the opposite side of the Commonwealth from the Alliance—to try to conquer border systems.
And had set into motion the chain of events that had led to Fleet Admiral Walkingstick becoming Imperator of the Commonwealth—and ordering James Tecumseh to turn the Dakota Sector into the arsenal of the Commonwealth, regardless of the price for the systems of that Sector.
Every lesson James Tecumseh and the other Commonwealth Admirals had ever learned about strategy, operations and tactics had been predicated on the assumption that they would have FTL communications the Alliance had wrecked. Worse, their enemies—like the Stellar League—still had those coms.
“The other systems are holding votes of some kind, yes?” he asked delicately, which got him amused looks from both women.
“You know Dakota did,” Todacheeney told him. “A planetary referendum with eighty-seven percent in favor, if you forgot.”
“None of the others have had time. We have encouraged them all to hold referendums,” Chapulin noted. “The approvals so far are interim but sufficient for us to move forward as a nation for the moment.”
James nodded with a sigh.
“Sorry, starting to get…twitchy about everything.”
Freedom. Justice. Democracy. Unity. These were the principles and core values of the Terran Commonwealth. Except that the Commonwealth had always put unity above the other three, leading to the whole campaign of Unification…and some other, even-less-pleasant things.
“This nation will be born and built on democracy,” the Interim President told him. “Or we are throwing away the opportunity you gave us, James.”
“Gothic should be holding their referendum today,” Abey noted. “We won’t hear the results for a week or so, but the last polling we saw was suggesting an even-more-thorough blowout than here.
“All the planetary governments seem to need to do is put your little speech on the airways on constant play.”
James grimaced at that. He was a soldier, not a politician, but his appeal to the Dakota Sector Governance Conference had come from the heart…and it had worked.
“So, everything is proceeding as planned?” he asked.
“On our side, yes,” Chapulin confirmed. “Yours?”
“We’re finished the repairs to Saint Bartholomew.” The battleship had carried the Imperator’s chosen representative to Dakota—and when James had decided to defy the Imperator’s orders, he’d had his Marines storm the ship.
“She’s being brought back online under Captain Ferreiro.” Arjun Ferreiro had been James’s chief of staff when he’d been the second-in-command of Sector Fleet Dakota. He’d been at loose ends since then, as James had inherited the Sector Fleet staff along with the fleet.
“Though”—James looked down at the insignia and tapped it—“may I assume that this comes with blanket authority to promote as I see fit?”
“You are the uniformed head of the Dakota Confederacy Navy,” Chapulin told him firmly. “Once we have a full constitution and legislature, I’d like to run flag ranks through them—but for now, the Cabinet would like to be consulted on flag-rank promotions.
“But with that condition, you may promote as you wish.”
“I need a personnel bureau,” James realized aloud. “But for now, I’ll stick to making Ferreiro a Commodore so there’s no argument whether he’s senior enough for a battleship, and mull over stars for my staff.”
Saint Bartholomew was his largest battleship, too—and if she’d been a second Volcano-class carrier, the Saints’ fighter-carrying counterpart, James would have picked a more-senior officer to command her. But even Saints didn’t rate that highly on his list. Battleships were backups.
Carriers fought wars.
“There are a lot of changes to come as your ships move from being TCN to DCN,” Todacheeney reminded. “Obviously, the civilian side of the Confederacy admin will support as we can, but we have our own tasks ahead of us.”
“We’re all going to be very, very busy,” James agreed. His implant pinged, notifying him that a new ship had arrived in-system. No, two ships flying in company.
That was unusual—and so was the fact that their vector suggested they were from the Brillig Sector. There’d been limited contact with the sector to their galactic north—decided by the orientation of old Earth, a hundred light-years away—which at least explained why the ships weren’t on any schedule.
“James?” Chapulin asked.
“New arrivals,” he told the two politicians. “From Brillig, though my people haven’t nailed down the exact system yet.”
“That’s a good sign, if we’re seeing trade come in from outside our sectors now.”
“It should be, yes,” James agreed, but he was rolling the information around in his mind.
“You seem concerned,” Abey said softly.
“It’s nothing…I think. But I also think I’m going to cut this meeting short with my apologies,” he told them. “Something doesn’t sit right…and if there is anything even remotely out of the ordinary, I should be on my flagship.”
“Of course,” Chapulin agreed instantly. “We can pick up the rest of what we were talking about this evening on a holocall.
“We trust your judgment, Fleet Admiral Tecumseh.”