Chapter One- Shall We Play A Game?
Disclaimer- See the prologue
"It was five years since the end of the war between the Manticore Alliance and the People's Republic of Haven. The old regime had been torn down, and the Republic of Haven had risen in its place. Haven and Manticore, while not exactly friendly, were at least tolerating each other. Peace had taken hold in this region of the galaxy for the first time in over a decade.
"We should have known it was too good to last."
- Jonathan J. O'Neill, 1st LT GSMC
Flag Bridge of the GNS heavy cruiser Andreas Venizelos
It had been another boring patrol for Grayson Space Navy (GSN) Heavy Cruiser Squadron Seventeen, patrolling the edge of the Grayson system hyper limit for any possible threat, and ensuring that all ships and habitats in the area were safe or, if they needed help, were within reach to assist. The twelve ships of CRURON Seventeen were broken up into their four divisions and moving around the system in trios.
It had seemed that nothing was going to happen during this patrol.
Of course, that was the signal for something to go wrong. Murphy had been listening.
A squadron of Havenite Mars-B heavy cruisers decided to drop out at the hyper limit and screamed in at full military speed for Grayson itself. This was a strike or raiding attack, as they did not have the capability to take and hold any major target.
CRURON Seventeen snapped around at the orders of RADM Glenn van Ross, GSN, late of the RMN, but currently on loan to them to assist with training and operations. The four divisions were howling after the Mars-B cruisers and trying to overtake them. As all the Grayson cruisers had improved compensators and the best impellers that Alliance technology could produce, they would be able to catch the invaders, but they would be knife fighting almost in Grayson Orbit.
Divisions 17.2, 17.3 and 17.4 were in the lead by three light seconds of Division 17.1, the command division with the flagship GNS Andreas Venizelos. Ross knew his people were good, and he trusted his division commanders, but he was annoyed that he had let himself and his division be out of position for a potential attack. He wanted to lead the attack, as that was where any good commander would be. The best commanders never say 'Go here and do this.' They say 'Follow me.' That was how he was taught, that was how he commanded. Still, his people were top notch. The Graysons had started with little experience, but what they lacked in that, they made up for in dedication, enthusiasm, and a determination to either die for their nation and their God, or, more preferably, make the other bastard die for his.
It was a philosophy he could, and did, get behind.
"Tactical, time to target?" asked Ross to his Flag Tactical Officer.
"Sir, Invader squadron will arrive at Grayson defense perimeter in thirty minutes, current course and speed. Divisions 17.2, .3 and .4 will close the gap in twenty minutes, and we will encounter them five minutes after that," reported his new Flag Tactical Officer, LCDR Lord Alexander Harrington.
"Well, not like we can do any better, but it is the best we can hope for. Have them roll pods at contact minus five minutes, and ensure they have a good lock on them. If we time this right, we might get the kilt shot. Comms, what is the status of Grayson Orbital Defense?"
"Last report, sir, was that all Forts were online, weapons charged and sidewalls were activated. Unfortunately, due to the ECM being put out by the Invaders, we have not been able to get a good signal from Orbital Defense Command. I'm working with the other Comm stations to set up a workaround, and will be letting you know when I have something solid, sir."
"Very good. Keep me informed." Now it was just a waiting game. Ross hated clock watchers, those who just watched the chrono tick by until the time to go came, but that was what he was reduced to at this point. Nothing to do but wait.
At contact minus three minutes, seventeen minutes since the report, the situation had not changed from the predicted encounter. The three divisions were rolling pods, deploying internalized missile pods for a massive opening salvo. The number of pods they deployed reduced the maximum speed of the ships, but they remained in the engagement window.
But once again, Murphy was listening.
"Sir, Contact bearing one eighty degrees, range six light seconds!" exclaimed the Flag Communications Officer.
"Gravitics picked up a massive surge six light minutes aft of our position. Contact is unknown, and we are getting a signal from the Referees. We are to cease scenario and move to battle stations. CRURON Seventeen and Republic Cruiser Squadron Forty Four to approach and investigate. Admiral Ross to command, ordered by Admiral Harrington, confirming authorization -- authorization confirmed. Also a signal to the Havenites. Orders are confirmed and CRURON Forty Four moving to support."
"Well, this is damned peculiar. Alright, Flag to all ships, Red alert, cease exercise and prepare for possible combat. Repeat, the exercise is over. All weapons stations are to go hot. I say again, weapons hot."
"Aye sir, cease engagement, weapons hot, Havenites are allies in this."
Xander shook his head as he looked over the status reports and the tactical plot. Of course, a simple wargame was not going to go easy.
Three Grayson Marines were on the Flag Bridge at this time: LCOL T. C. McQueen, commander of the CRURON Seventeen Marine Detachments and two of his platoon lieutenants, Second Lieutenants O'Neill and Lehane. Both had been sent up to Flag territory to learn about the coordinated combat operations for a naval squadron, as they were still new to the Corps. Their graduation from the Academy and from their finishing schools was less than a year ago, so they were still nuggets to McQueen. Still, he saw potential in them, and he had the full intention of making sure they knew their stuff.
McQueen remained at his pose of attention, and, like all others on the ship, Marines, sailors and treecats, he was in his skinsuit. He watched the situation unfolding, but let it go as he knew the individual MARDET Company Commanders would get their orders and do what they were needed to do. He just observed and waited to see who made a mistake that would need correcting. McQueen was not a micromanager, but he made sure his people were able to do, and did, their jobs.
Faith and Jon looked at each other and wondered what the hell was going on.
Jason, the skinsuited treecat that had claimed Xander as his Person, looked over the situation with what appeared to be bored indulgence, but inside he was bouncing with excitement. Something *new* was happening, and *he* was the 'cat that got to see it first. His father had told him stories, but this was the first time he would see something go on like this with his own eyes.
Xander looked back at his partner in crime and securely fastened his helmet and activated the life support for the skinsuit.
"Be careful what you wish for, partner. You might get it," he warned. Jason just grinned a 'cat grin at him.
Xander noticed a feed from one of the recon platforms in the vicinity of the contact. Keying the display, he frowned in confusion. Confusion gave way to complete perplexity, and was vocalized in a quiet, "What the hell is that?"
On the merchant ship Serenity, sitting in the middle of a formation of Manticoran, Havenite and Grayson ships, a group of high ranking individuals watched their entertainment, as it were, slip away into an actual situation. Honor returned to her seat at the conference table surrounding the conference room's holotank, one that was set up to watch the wargame scenarios between the two squadrons.
Captain, junior grade, Prescott 'Scotty' Tremaine looked at Chief Warrant Officer Harkness, Admiral Duchess Lady Honor Harrington, and Secretary of War for the Republic of Haven, Tom Theisman and his aid and fleet commander Vice Admiral Shannon Forakker.
With a wan smile, he asked what was the most pressing question, at least until they knew more about what exactly was going on. Looking at the book with numbers, names, amounts and possible outcomes, he asked, "So, does this count as a win, lose, or draw?"