Setharum Legalis

In the war of Humanity, some people fight for family, others fight for glory; when you have lost everything, revenge works just as good.

Chapter One:

1459 hours May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]

Bridge, UTEC Cruiser Resolute, Inside Terra Nova Shipyard/Repair Station,Sol System

T-2 months till Invasion

As the bridge crew of the Resolute went about their duties performing repairs and refitting new components, the front bridge monitors showed a blond-haired woman in a light blue military uniform speaking into a transparent headset microphone"This is Commander Charsi Diego reporting live aboard the UTEC Control Ship San Taigas and this is the United Terran Network News. The Deep Space Fleet is in the process of departing Luna's Oleron Anchorage, en route for the Manufacturing Hub of Debola Prime. Apart of this taskforce, the UTEC Interstellar Cargo Cruiser Sutherland contains critical components necessary to repair the Debolian Navigational Relay. These components will return the outer ridge of the network to full functionality. The network was disabled in a futile attack by the Freedom League against elements of the Ninth Fleet during the closing stages of the Pirate Wars, rendering transport of supplies and aid to nearly five hundred million Terran citizens almost impossible and cutting the Outer Rim off from the Inner Colonies. The round trip to Debola is normally eight months; however, the fleet's scheduled to be out of port for the better part of five years, resupplying loyalist outposts and reinforcing the frontiers from possible Freedom League aggression. First Lord of the Admiralty, Fleet Admiral William J O'Connor, Commander-in-Chief of Alliance Space Forces aboard the Alliance Flagship Aristotle, made this statement at a press conference earlier today…"

This was the third time the recording had been played, as it was on continual loop on one of the larger main holographic display screens that comprised the front half of the bridge. The remaining screens displayed technical readouts and communication uplinks with repair crews located throughout the rest of the ship, as well as projecting the image directly in front of the large craft. While not as large as the mammoth Vindicator Class Carriers or the Aristotle, the largest vessel ever to be commissioned under the United Terran Exploratory Command's banner, the Basilisk Class Resolute was still one of the most impressive-looking vessels moored within the massive skeletal superstructure of the shipyard.

If anyone was paying attention to the recording it was not obvious. The fact that a significant bloc of the Deep Space Fleet of the United Terran Exploratory Command was leaving port to transport supplies and equipment to some of the United Terran Alliance's fifteen colony systems was not news to them. The war had badly damaged the infrastructure of nearly every single colony on the frontier of the Alliance during the bloody nine-year conflict known as the Pirate Wars. Earth-led UTEC forces battled those rogue elements and isolationist groups collectively known as the Confederation of Free Worlds over control of planetary systems and resources that the Freedom League, as they were also called, decreed to be rightfully theirs. The Fleet was also tasked with deploying occupation forces to those colonies that were ceded to the Alliance. This information meant little to the crew, as the Resolute was in port undergoing much-needed repairs and refit from damage she sustained during the war and was not joining the fleet in either its humanitarian or military missions.

The image of the reporter that took up a portion of the screen was replaced by the image of a weathered, aging Admiral addressing massed reporters from behind a podium embellished with the gold crest of the United Terran Alliance: the stylised depiction of the planet Earth surrounded by fifteen stars in a ring, with the words United Terran Alliance, Office of Fleet Operations around it. "…From the ashes of the Old Order, we will bring forth a new period of peace and prosperity to all Terran worlds. There are no illusions that this will happen overnight. The next few years will be difficult and more blood may be shed in the interim, but Humanity will grow and become stronger as a result. In time, we will be able to put this horrible war behind us. Those who believe our way to not be the right way will see the light from our example and join us in creating a society of all human races. Our path may be difficult, but our future is bright. The same was true at the Unification of our great Alliance," concluded Fleet Admiral O'Connor before the report repeated itself; however, his statement was more for the benefit of the civilian media services that stood at the foot of the podium.

Captain Louis Augaard, the Resolute's grizzly veteran Commanding Officer, was less optimistic, especially with the notion of leaving the defence of the Home System to a handful of Comanche Class Destroyers and smaller Aegean Class Frigates under the command of the Resolute.

"Why send all the Dreadnoughts on a milk run, and leave picket ships holding the fort in case the Freedom League decide to steamroll right over us," he muttered gruffly, his words thick with a French accent, causing some nearby newly appointed junior officers and technicians to look up in surprise from the upgrades they were performing. They soon realised that the Captain was talking to himself and they returned to work, but not before discreetly sharing concerned glances.

"Historically, Captain, Dreadnoughts have had more of a morale and intimidatory impact in regions of political instability than locked up securely in anchorages," remarked a female voice behind the captain's chair. Augaard turned to face a black-haired woman in her mid-thirties with the three bars and chevron rank insignia of a naval commander on the shoulders of her high-collared dark grey uniform jacket. The Commander stepped forward without hesitation and stood by Augaard's side; the muted glow of overhead lights glistened off the silver tips of her collar, denoting her status as a telepathic Psi-Ops Officer, the eyes and ears of Alliance Intelligence; once at his side she presented a report on the status of the upgrades.

"It could be, sir, that Lord O'Connor believes that such a mission requires his personal oversight. The Fleet Admiral recognises your ability to command crucial sectors with minimal resources, especially in the event of an outbreak of hostilities; that is probably why he assigned the Resolute to command the home fleet, as a test of your bureaucratic abilities." Commander Eloise Salisbury commented almost deadpan before standing at ease beside the raised dais bearing the Captain's command chair.

Louis looked at his executive officer oddly as if she had made a joke before dismissing the thought as soon as it occurred. Commander Salisbury never made jokes, let alone laugh when someone else did; it was not in the nature of the often-reclusive officer. In the twelve years she had been his Executive Officer he hadn't even seen her smile.

"XO, now would not be the time to start your career as a comedian," he remarked dryly, reading over the report before looking up with a concerned expression. "How the hell did this happen?"

Commander Salisbury did not miss a beat"Number Two Reactor suffered complete core failure immediately after it was installed, the cause of which is currently unknown to the engineering staff. Thankfully, all systems that would normally rely on this reactor were already on auxiliary station power so nothing has been directly affected at this point. Engineer Kyshamoto has been working on it since 0215 hours and expects some results within the next four hours."

"I have every confidence that Aruku will find what's wrong, especially with most of the station's engineering department at his disposal; inform him that if repair time is longer than his initial estimate, then he should requisition another reactor," Louis ordered before signing off the report.

"Captain, you have a transmission from the Flagship: Fleet Admiral O'Connor has requested your presence on Tranquil Bay before he transfers his flag to the Aristotle," reported the communications officer seated behind him.

Augaard stood, fixed his tunic and turned to his XO, "Commander, you have the bridge, inform the flight deck controller to prepare a Transport for immediate departure."

"Understood, Captain."

Louis made a brisk transit through his command preoccupied as to the reason for his summons; there could be any one of a dozen reasons as to why the First Lord of the Admiralty would want to see him personally, of which roughly half were positive. However, this in no way settled his thoughts, as the Fleet Admiral had a history of inviting battle-hardened officers to meetings then reducing them to tears before coffee had been served.

Turning a corner, the captain entered the cavernous hangar bay that comprised a sizeable chunk of the Resolute's habitable under section. It took only a moment before it registered that he had travelled the full length of the Resolute's 375-metre long hull. Shaking his head, he approached the small Bumblebee-class shuttle, sitting alone away from two lines of military and cargo transport craft. The Bumblebee aptly named for the yellow hull and enlarged main fuselage beneath its tiny cockpit was a cramped four-person vehicle utilised throughout the Alliance. Its mission profiles were various, from shuttling VIPs from ship to station, to facilitating the transfer of personnel and supplies to and from outposts.

"Captain, the shuttle is ready for departure to Tranquil Bay at your discretion," the crew chief reported while cleaning grease and engine fluid off his hands with a rag attached to the back of his jumpsuit.

"Understood, Chief, don't wait up," Louis replied before he climbed into the small access hatch and took a seat in the passenger compartment as the flight team ran pre-flight checks.

"This is Romeo-Two-Niner to Tranquil Bay Control, confirming flight plan to deliver crew, plus one, to the Luna surface," the pilot radioed their flight plan through to the military base that coordinated all transport movements to and from the Moon. The reply from the control tower was inaudible as the small craft's thunderous engines strained to make lift-off. Once the craft cleared the gravity-well of the Resolute, it rotated one hundred and eighty degrees and descended smoothly to the pockmarked lunar surface.

1529 hours May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]

Landing Platform, UTMC Fort Tranquil Bay, Luna Copernicus Crater, Sol System

The large airlock doors to Fort Tranquil Bay's expansive landing platform cycled open, depositing a flight of six stubby transport craft; their gunmetal hulls appeared to absorb the ambient light from the massive flood beacons scattered throughout the platform, coating them in long shadows. These vehicles were modified versions of the United Terran Marine Corps, Peregrine Gunship, minus any form of signage or unit markings the heavy workhorses would normally sport. It also appeared to have heavier armaments and thicker armour. Once they cleared the perimeter of the airlock, they each manoeuvred independently on multidirectional-vectored thrust engines, setting down onto designated landing pads. The Bumblebee shuttle pod entered the Landing Platform's pressurised bubble behind the Peregrines and quickly headed away from the heavy transports.

Once the craft was settled on an empty landing pad and its access hatch was popped open, Louis stepped out onto the grilled deckplates. Quickly clearing the pad, he straightened his uniform and took in the scale of the operation. Peering over the edge of the landing platform he could see a near bottomless drop, which, Louis mused, housed the Fort's actual hangar bays deep within the lunar crust.

Pressurised oxygen vented from exhaust ports throughout the platform as the Peregrines adjusted to the transfer from the vacuum of space to the variable gravity of the military base, causing the room to be a cacophony of sound as it echoed off rocky walls. Louis climbed up one of the many transit gantries that connected the freestanding landing platforms to the rest of the base, quickly noticing the large numbers of soldiers dressed in industrial-world urban camouflage-uniforms moving to and from the newly arrived craft that took up the bulk of the landing field. Most were shuttling cargo crates and lockers from the transports to locations deeper within the facility; the remainder were at work detaching vehicles from under-tail racks. Around them, base personnel worked on smaller transports or refitted a number of the unused landing pads. Despite their upgrades, the technicians appeared to be trying hard to ignore the newcomers, even though their presence did cause murmurs to spread.

Louis immediately dismissed these soldiers as genuine marines, as no career soldier wore a uniform that clean, nor did they fly around in unregistered, modified Peregrines, especially not while wearing urban camouflage when travelling to a lunar environment. Fortunately, Louis had been serving in the Alliance long enough to figure out what was going on. There was only one situation when this might occur, the covert transfer of an elite unit of the Office of Special Operations, as the marines scattered throughout the landing platform wore a combination of navy blue and drab olive base uniforms or dappled white and grey lunar camouflage fatigues. Louis pondered why one of these elite combat units was in the Sol Sector to begin with. He shook his head as he passed a pair of these 'imitation' Marines removing a weapons locker from a nearby stack, and noticed that the left shoulders of their jackets, usually adorned with their unit insignia, were blank. Judging by the frayed stitching in its place, it had been forcibly removed. Considering the pride associated with a unit's insignia these soldiers were obviously not content in assuming the identity of another unit.

Louis could not remember the last time a unit from the Office of Special Operations was deployed to the Home system; he speculated that it was quite possibly before the formation of the Alliance, some three hundred years ago. There was a time when the home system was not known for its stability, he mused, probably even before it was referred to as the Office of Special Operations. He quelled any concerns he might have had about having an elite combat operations unit stationed near Earth, and hoped that his meeting with Admiral O'Connor would provide answers to his ever-growing list of questions.

As the captain reached the lip of the landing platform, a junior naval officer fell into step beside him amidst the ever-flowing lines of soldiers. "Captain, I'm Lieutenant Bridges of the Fleet Admiral's staff; sir, if you will follow me, the Fleet Admiral is currently in the Command Centre. We should hurry, as Lord O'Connor departs for the Aristotle within the hour." The young officer motioned for the captain to follow him to a waiting vehicle, the vehicle's radio was broadcasting the local news-net stating the recap of the previous hour's stories.

"….This disappearance marks the ninth craft to go missing in the Expanse in the last six months. Alliance Fleet Command states that it is too early to speculate on its fate, but they have suspended all travel into the region of the stellar phenomena until a proper investigation can be mounted…"

"Terrible thing to happen to them, to just go missing like that," the lieutenant mentioned offhand as the staff car made its way through the expansive facility passing marines performing daily calisthenics and drill on artificially created parade grounds.

Augaard nodded absently; while the safety record for UTEC vessels was exemplary, there were simply celestial objects out in the deep reaches of space that existed, as far as he was aware, to spoil a ship's day.

Several minutes later, the vehicle pulled up alongside the base command centre and the Lieutenant led Louis into a secure meeting room.

Inside the room, the captain noticed a sea of gold and silver as six military officers, two Admirals of various grades, two Colonels one from the United Terran Marine Corps, the other wearing the black buckled uniform of a UTSpecOps Legionnaire and a red-and-black-uniformed woman from Alliance Intelligence, stood or sat at one end of a rectangular desk opposite him. Among them was Fleet Admiral First Lord William J O'Connor, who turned from the conversation he was having with one of the other Admirals, noticing Louis. His weathered features clearly displayed a lifetime of service to the Alliance, as the rows of medals that adorned his white jacket testified.

"Captain, I am glad you could make it; I hoped to have a little chat with you before I took the fleet out into the black," O'Connor remarked before taking his place at the head of the long table. The other officers followed suit, leaving a seat at the end of the table free, in which the now nervous captain carefully sat. On the table's polished mahogany surface was a clear datapad with Top Secret embossed on its opaque cover.

Louis scanned the room, recognising a number of the officers present based on their service medals alone, before returning his gaze to the Fleet Admiral. "Thank you, sir, for this opportunity," he managed to say.

O'Connor nodded warmly at the Captain's apparent nervousness, and gestured to the officers seated around him. "To my left is Rear Admiral Christopher Jenkins, Head of Operations for the Inner Colonies; Vice Admiral Vladimir Terchenko, Head of Fleet Security; to my right, Colonel Jayant Foteda, Post Commander of Fort Tranquil Bay; beside him is Colonel Julian Stevens, UTSpecOps. The officer seated closest to you is Adjutant Commander Alexis Rainwright from Fleet Intelligence Command."

Louis silently acknowledged each of them in turn as they were introduced before Vice Admiral Terchenko cleared his throat. "Captain, we have all heard your reservations about leaving Earth under-defended, and that the Freedom League is waiting for the Deep Space Fleet to embark on this frontier excursion to launch attacks against the Capital. While your concerns have been taken into account by the Joint Chiefs; Psi-OpsCom and FleetIntel operatives tell a different story and can back up their findings. The Freedom League has been crippled beyond the chance to be anything more than a simple nuisance to fringe Alliance colonies, and they don't have any bases in the Core to pose any significant tactical threat to Earth."

Fleet Admiral O'Connor nodded approvingly before he started speaking, "There is no illusion that this situation is ideal; in order to form this taskforce we had to strip a number of fleets responsible for protecting the mid and inner Colonies of critical resources. However, we are getting daily reports from the Outer Colonies of piracy, and continued hostilities from units of the Freedom League who refuse to acknowledge the terms of the surrender. We need to show the Independent Colonies that we do not appreciate piracy, and threats to Alliance security will be dealt with severely. This is how we are going to reinforce morale and keep the frontiers on our side.

Louis nodded absently as he looked over the datapad; glancing up he cocked an eyebrow at the Fleet Admiral. "I understand, sir; at this point so soon after war, we need to look to security, but what of the Inner Colonies? Having so many of our anchorages undermanned will make internal security very difficult."

It was the Adjutant Commander's turn to speak. "Aside from the occasional transport violation or freight issue, internal security shouldn't be a problem for you. Our FleetIntCom and PsiOps assets in the region support the established notion that the Inner Colonies have always been too loyal to the Alliance to support secessionists and terrorism. There has not been a reported case of piracy since in my lifetime. oHowever , Captain, if you are correct and the Freedom League has developed a way to fool our operatives and have wormed their operatives deeper into the Alliance than we are aware, High Command has granted you complete control of all Orbital Defence Installations and planetary garrisons in the Sol Sector. While you will still be required to go through High Command, if you wish major asset transfers you will have free reign to coordinate tactical strategy within the Sector."

Rear Admiral Jenkins leant forward at his end of the table, picking up the datapad that sat in front of him. "Captain, it is not going to be easy; the fleet will be out of effective response range for the next two years. The bulk of the Alliance will be on its own during that time. Fleet Commanders throughout the region may need assistance as not every system is as stable as the Home System, and while they will provide any assistance you may require they also expect the same commitment."

"I understand, sir, and thank you again for this honour, sir," Louis remarked nervously, "I can think of at least five other command officers in the fleet that are more than capable for this task, if not more deserving." He was still not entirely sure why he was being left in charge of the most prestigious piece of real estate in the known galaxy with little more than a picket fence in the way of would-be invaders.

"Captain, it is no accident that you were chosen for this position and not those other officers. Your actions during the war, particularly the way you rallied the Twelfth Fleet following the loss of the Antigua in the closing stages of the Perseus Nine Campaign, make you more than qualified for a Fleet posting. The bureaucrats in High Command are talking demilitarisation and mothballing the Deep Space Fleet; this Frontier expedition is supposed to be our last hurrah, so such an action isn't currently feasible. This was the best that could be done within the current constraints," Lord O'Connor replied, leaning back in his chair, and resting the clear glass of tea he had been sipping.

"What of the vessels the Titan Fleet Yards are producing? Will they be joining you on the frontiers, or will they be staying here?" Louis enquired, quietly hoping that the new Peacemaker Class 'Battlecruisers' currently in production high above the tiny Titan Colony would be staying to shore up the Home System instead of joining the Aristotle.

"The Ark Royal, Lexington and Yamato are the three closest to completion, with the Ark Royal and Lexington expecting to be launched within the year. The Yamato should be finished once the Navigational Array is fully operational. Both the Yamato and the Ark Royal have anchorages in the Mid Colonies, while the Lexington will be staying within the Sector, replacing the Athena as the Alpha Centuri Flagship. If necessary you may transfer your flag to the Lexington once it is completed," Terchenko remarked before checking off points on his datapad.

As the Admiral finished speaking, Lord O'Connor stood and withdrew a small rectangle box from his jacket; he approached Louis who immediately stood rigid straight. "Now, Captain, there is one more thing before the fleet leaves port: I have made an executive order, and have the approval of High Command. By my authority as Commander-in-Chief of Space Forces of the United Terran Alliance, I am appointing you to the flag rank of Rear Admiral Grade 1. Now, Rear Admiral, you have been placed in charge of the Sol Sector Defence Fleet in my stead," he stated warmly, opening the case to reveal a set of single gold coil insignia of a lower half Rear Admiral.

The grouped officers all stood and applauded before stepping forward to issue personal congratulations. O'Connor shook the new Flag Officer's hand vigorously as a staff officer approached him.

"I leave the fleet in your capable hands, Rear Admiral; I know you will do the Alliance proud. I am expected on the Aristotle."

Louis and the other officers stiffened and collectively snapped off a crisp salute before the Fleet Admiral left the room.

One by one, the other attendees also left, leaving Louis and Colonel Stevens, who by this point had returned to his seat. By whim of the chain of command, Stevens and his UTSpecOps Legion sat outside the direct control of Augaard; essentially his presence at the meeting was more of a courtesy.

'Rear Admiral whoever would have thought that would happen when I enlisted,' Louis thought as the Legion Colonel approached him.

The UTSpecOps Legionnaire watched the new Rear Admiral as he stood in a state of shock at his recent promotion, "I take it you will be returning to your command then?" Stevens queried, adjusting the neck seal on his armoured jacket. Contrasting the grey naval officer's uniform Louis wore the black Legion fatigues of the Colonel seemed almost by design to absorb all ambient light around them, elongating his shadow.

Louis nodded absently, still uneasy at standing in such close proximity to one of the Alliance's most elite soldiery.

"As you might have noticed, my troopers are moving in here, and before you begin to worry that we are here to watch you, I would like to put your mind at ease. The Legion was granted leave for our actions during the war. It also allowed our Atlas to undertake its required Service Life Extension at the Titan Fleet Yards. Unfortunately, due to the Cairo being our normal billet, we required a separate posting for the next three months. Sure, Earth isn't the Fersoa Colonies, but how often do you get to visit the capital?" he said, collecting his black service cap from the table and following the Admiral out the door.

Fort Tranquil Bay, the largest of the three Alliance bases located on Luna's surface, sprawled out for kilometres, encompassing all the available land area within the cavernous Copernicus Crater and extending the same distance into the satellite's crust. The crater existed almost in perpetual shadow caused by the orbiting repair station, subsequently the facility was lit by artificial means. Located within its complex was a latticework of warehouses, barracks and training grounds, the 1st EHO, or Extreme Hazardous Operations unit, the Seth Legion, was busy setting up its base of operations. Due to Constitutional amendments prohibiting military assets being directly deployed on the Capital World Earth Luna, as Earth's closest non-terrestrial body, was permitted to billet any visiting military forces. EHOs were elite peacekeeping forces, picked from the best and brightest soldiers available to the United Terran Exploratory Command. They received advanced training to deal with any crisis, any situation, military or civilian, in the multitude of environments on which UTA and non-aligned human colonies operated. To say they were solely peacekeepers was a fool's errand as they were also elite special forces soldiers.

At the lip of the pressurised landing platform, Major Travis Winters, the Legion'sexecutive officer, stood overseeing the transfer of men and equipment from their outbound Command Ship, high in orbit of the satellite, hidden from public view by gantry cranes and cargo haulers of the orbital station. The major was a typical officer in appearance: experienced, supremely fit, confident. He was marked by a shrapnel wound down the left-hand side of his face, judging by the rate of healing, it had occurred as the result of a Freedom League grenade that had destroyed his helmet's combat visor during the closing stages of the war.

Around him, troopers were hurrying about in orchestrated chaos, busily transferring crates and lockers from the unloading Peregrines to storage racks located in warehouses deep within the massive base. Beside the major stood Master Sergeant Miguel Chavez, the Legion's senior NCO, assisting him with the transfer.

"Sir, Platform 25 reports that there will be a slight delay with our heavy load transfer. It seems that Lima Two-Nineteen is experiencing mechanical failure with its magnetic couplings. Tech crews are attempting to remove the attached Phantom manually, but it is proving a problem to unload the palettes located within its cargo hold. Estimates are tabbed to be at least half an hour before normal operations can resume," MSgt Chavez reported, referring to the Alliance's small reconnaissance and support vehicles. "Complicating matters is the fact that the vehicle garage is also overflowing, with the repair crews using that space for storage while they complete upgrades."

The Phantom reconnaissance vehicles were nimble craft, with a capacity for a fully equipped squad of soldiers plus any materiel they needed for their operation. Their oversized wheels were perfect for almost any terrain, and their low profile meant they could go practically anywhere and do so virtually undetected. Their defensive armament was a .57 calibre chaingun on a powered turret behind the driver's compartment along with composite ballistic armour plating.

Travis shook his head in disbelief before tugging at the collar of the ill-fitting urban camouflage uniform he was ordered to wear, wishing that he were wearing the form-fitting, black service uniform that was more of a second skin to the elite Legion troopers. "What is it about technicians that they always decide that force rotations are a perfect time for system upgrades? For the time being, instruct crew chiefs to park the Phantoms in Grid 3-51, alongside the parade ground. As for Lima Two-Nineteen we need to figure an alternative, although I'm partial to simply taking a crowbar to the damn thing," he remarked, checking the list of Legionnaires on the blue semi-transparent Heads up display screen that partially covered his right eye, and marking off those who had already arrived. He was disconcerted that Colonel Stevens had not returned from the 'brief meeting' he had been called away to almost as soon as he landed. He ran his retina-tracking reticule over the radar sphere and a single green 'friendly' officer blip appeared at the far corner, almost as if he had wished it there. This blip's appearance on the radar sphere caused the small device to connect to the owner's neural chip, determining their name, rank and serial number.

"Major, if we are going to have to resort to crowbars, I would hope that we would have exhausted all other options before then," a familiar voice remarked pointedly from behind the pair. At that point, the blip's ID tag became visible on a clear panel below the HUD's inactive ammunition counter [Col. Julian Stevens].

"Understood, sir," Travis replied before saluting the colonel. "Master Sergeant, notify base stores, as well as the Landing Tower; let's see if we can get the techies to stow their equipment elsewhere so we can park our trucks in the garage."

"Aye, sir," Miguel replied before saluting and exiting the bay, heading towards Tranquil Bay's Logistics office.

"How's our transfer coming, Major?" Colonel Julian Stevens asked, before handing his duty case over to a subordinate trooper. Like his fellow Legionnaires, he was now wearing the same urban camouflage, having changed out of his Legion uniform soon after leaving the briefing.

"Smoothly, sir, Bravo and Charlie Companies are boots on dirt, and Alpha is currently unloading our Peregrines. Our techs and support crews are still being transported down. Because of the delay caused by the Phantoms, we are slightly behind schedule. The Cairo ships out to Titan for Service Life Extension in little under an hour and we still have over two hundred people aboard," Travis reported, using his HUD's retina tracking ability to access the compiled report from the already large number of lists he had cascaded across one portion of the screen.

"We'll get it done, Major, just make sure everyone has their equipment; the last thing we need is what happened on the Saratoga occurring again," Julian replied sourly, before unzipping his BDU jacket and letting it hang loosely at his sides.

Another blip appeared on the Major's HUD as another officer entered behind him. The small device accessed the Tranquil Bay'smain computer and identified the individual in question. Travis noticed that while the ID tag possessed the gold labelling of a Flag Officer, the officer attached to it was wearing the uniform of a naval captain. The major shrugged. "It seems that we have a visitor," he commented before motioning over his shoulder, "Friend of yours?"

"Passing through, Admiral? Or is this an official visit?" Julian asked turning and nodding in greeting to the Admiral whose company he parted soon after leaving the command centre.

"Just seeing how your move is progressing, Colonel, before I return to the Resolute," Louis replied, crossing the bay to join the two officers.

"To schedule, thankfully; due to that media frenzy above us, we've been able to slink in through the shadows. As far as we can tell, no one knows we are here, though these 'costumes' they make us wear whenever we do this are becoming ridiculous," Julian remarked as the Rear Admiral approached a nearby weapons locker and inspected its contents.

"Excellent to hear, Colonel, the last thing we need to worry about is the media getting angsty about having your men sulking about watching Parliament's every move, especially with so much of the fleet out in the backwater," Louis remarked. One of the Legionnaires opened a weapons crate nearby, and withdrew an AR-91 Legion Assault rifle so he could inspect it closer. "Yes, very impressive. Colonel, is there anything else you require?"

"The three weeks R&R on Titan Colony I was promised," Julian remarked candidly. "Not really, there isn't anything we require that isn't being shipped aboard. I'd made arrangements with Colonel Foteda before you arrived at the meeting."

"Perfect, Colonel, if there is anything you do require, let me know," Louis replied before a nearby loudspeaker chimed.

"Admiral Augaard, your transport is ready," blared over the bases loudspeakers.

Louis raised an eyebrow before approaching a nearby wall mount and depressing the mic button. "This is Admiral Augaard; patch me through to the Resolute, berthed inside Terra Nova."

"Admiral? Sir, I take it that your meeting was beneficial; also, sir, the fleet is about to enter Rift Space," Commander Salisbury reported aboard the Resolute.

"Understood, Commander, I'm departing here momentarily, Augaard out," Louis replied, releasing the button to end the transmission before turning to the Colonel and his executive officer. "Colonel, Major, I bid you good day. I'd welcome you aboard but there is a chance that the media will start watching me, and it would raise too many questions."

Julian nodded. "Understood, Rear Admiral, no doubt our paths will cross again before our rotation here is through."

"Well, in that case, gentlemen, I bid you adieu," Admiral Augaard replied, before heading towards his waiting Bumblebee. The two Legion officers snapped to attention before tilting their heads in farewell, then returned their attention to the transfer.

1643 hours May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]

Hangar Bay, UTEC Cruiser Resolute, Inside Terra Nova Shipyard/Repair Station, Sol System

Louis climbed out of the Bumblebee as soon as its small access hatch had been opened. Stopping just outside the yellow-outlined hazard zone that surrounded the still-powering-down transport, he saluted the Deck Officer and Commander Salisbury, who stood beside her.

"Welcome aboard, sir, the ship is yours," Eloise remarked before returning the salute.

"In that case, I relieve you, Commander."

Eloise clasped her hands behind her back. "I stand relieved."

Louis smirked at the old protocol, one that was slowly being removed from service and was generally only used on formal occasions. Straightening his jacket, he headed for the nearest transit tube with the Commander on his heels.

"Report, Commander," he asked as the lift car's doors opened in front of the two.

"Firstly, congratulations, sir; the Fleet Quartermaster is sending you your correct uniform, which should be here within the next day or so. Aside from that, the Cruiser Flotilla has departed for Debola and the rest of the Deep Space Fleet has not yet entered the Flight Range; they appear to be making final flight preparations. There is a component of the fleet in port undergoing repair and refit, and the 63rd Taskforce is out on exercises near the Serion Fleet Base," she responded before depressing a control stud, "Main Bridge."

"How is that that reactor going, XO?" Louis asked, turning to face her as the lift car made its way quickly through alternating portions of gravity and zero-G.

"Number Two Reactor has sustained total core failure. It would appear that the technicians unknowingly damaged one or more of the distribution nodes when they installed it. There has already been a requisition form for a new reactor dispatched to Supply, along with an official reprimand to the technicians who installed the reactor," Eloise reported. The lift slowed as it approached the bridge.

"When is the new reactor scheduled to arrive?" Louis asked once the doors opened. Stepping onto his bridge, he took the cup of coffee handed to him by the aide who seemed to be waiting for him. Due to proximity to Earth, this was real coffee, not the simulated goo that was normally supplied to Alliance craft.

"Due to orders direct from Lord O'Connor to have the Sol Flagship battle-ready, the Quartermaster's Office will have a Type Seven Reactor unloaded and installed within the next two weeks," Eloise reported.

"Excellent news, we may yet be able to join the rest of the fleet for live trials at the end of the month," Louis remarked before his communications officer turned from his post.

"Sir, I'm receiving transmissions from the Deep Space Fleet; the Carriers are entering the Rift." His statement caused the bridge staff to look in his direction.

"Seeing a Carrier Battlegroup, Rift Jump is always an interesting spectacle," Louis said, before leaning against the guide rail that ringed the interior of the Bridge.

The after-effects of the Cruisers entering Rift Space caused the Luna Gravity Well to distort, sending a spiral of red, blue, green and magenta outward from the pole in massive spirals. The normal effects of a single Basilisk Class Cruiser's 375-metre size would last around fifteen seconds, but the effect of one hundred and fifteen Cruisers entering simultaneously caused the light show to last for several minutes. While it was possible for the entire fleet to Rift Jump at the one time and was standard operational procedure, to arrive in the thick of battle as one Battlegroup, this trip was staggered more for its propaganda than its tactical value.

1657 hours May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]

Bridge, UTEC Carrier Belepheron, Luna Flight Range, Sol System

Captain Horatio Braggins stood next to his Command chair, unlit corn pipe resting in the palm of his hand, as his Command crew went about the bridge performing their duties.

Compared to the bridge of the smaller Basilisk Cruiser; the bridge of the UTEC Belepheron was large enough to play field hockey on, easily twice the size of the command centre of the smaller cruiser, taking up a bulk of the tower that extended from the very top of the craft.

"Helm, take us to the Flight Range, speed one third," Commander Kyle Anthradge ordered from his position between the twin Flight Control consoles at the front of the room. Before them hung the massive Holovid screen that displayed the area of space just above the Luna Northern Pole directly in front of the craft, which was still overcome by the effects of the Cruisers entering the Rift. At times, the gravity ripples would strike the Belepheron, causing the massive ship to shudder slightly.

"Aye, sir, speed reading one third, compensating for gravity disturbance, ETA three minutes," reported the chief flight control officer from the left console.

"Mr Henderson, activate the Rift Generators, commence feed from gravity well," Commander Anthradge ordered. Standing opposite his Captain with one hand on the armrest of the Command Chair, he noted his commanding officer's unease, but then that could have been anyone on the Bridge.

"Aye, sir. Collectors at 25%, we will be at sufficient power to jump in seven minutes," Engineer First Class Joseph Henderson reported from his post at the rear of the bridge.

"Has the Battlegroup reported its readiness?" Horatio enquired, before signing off a situation report and handing it to his bosuns mate for transmittal to the Aristotle.

"Affirmative, sir."

"Bridge to all decks, prepare for Rift launch, secure all external antennas and hatches," Horatio ordered before leaning on an armrest. He didn't need to be a telepath to tell that the crew was uneasy; it was expected, as the Rift Jump technology, while the backbone of the UTEC Exploration, it wasn't always known for its safety record; ships could end up in two separate locations, at times, ships had be known to simply disappear.

Almost as one mammoth body, the twelve Vindicator Class Carriers used powerful Hylieon thrusters to move their massive 675-metre-long frames into a tight wedge formation above Luna's Northern Pole and activated their Rift Generators.

Light emanated from their large parallel engine booms, reaching to their wide blunt noses, causing them to glow iridescently.

"Captain, the Battlegroup signals they are in position, Rift Generation at 100%," Henderson reported before placing his hand against his earpiece. "The task group reads as ready, sir."

"Prepare to relay triangulation coordinates to the rest of the Battlegroup. Helm, plot a course to Debola Prime," Horatio ordered, biting down hard on the end of his pipe, taking his seat and locking it in place. This was the most dangerous part of the process, under normal circumstances, the Battlegroup would have received up to the second navigational telemetry to ensure a safe transit; however with the Navigational Relay damaged, a bulk of the work had to be done by guess work to prevent the Battlegroup from exiting into a star or other stellar mass.

"Captain, all compartments read ready, sir, engineering reports greens all cross the board, ready to commence Rift Jump at your word," the System Operations Officer reported from his station on the sublevel of the Bridge.

"Prepare to channel Grav-energy from collection tanks to the focusing array," Braggins ordered, chewing the end of his pipe rather hard, as this was the most dangerous part of the jump.

"Aye, sir, commencing Grav-feed," Henderson reported while inputting commands into his console.

The lead Carrier the Belepheron - channelled the energy it had generated to her massive focusing array, which projected it in front of them to the centre of the Cruisers' entry point. Initially the point was small, but it slowly grew in size until it was large enough to accommodate the Carrier, similar points appeared nearby, as the other carriers performed the same operation.

"Captain, the Rift is at maximum capacity," reported Engineer Henderson from his post.

"Helm, you may proceed when ready," Horatio ordered before locking his chair in place.

"Aye, sir."

As one body, the Vindicator Carriers fired a powerful burst from their thrusters, propelling them into what appeared to be a single swirling vortex of light and colour. In an instant they were gone, leaving behind a light display as their massive forms used the moon's gravity well to propel them at three times the speed of light through a small rift in the fabric of space.

1702 hours May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]

Bridge, UTEC Cruiser Resolute, Inside Terra Nova Shipyard/Repair Station, Sol System

Despite the day-to-day usage of the Rift Drive, the crew stood awed at the spectacle that played out in front of them; it was rare to have a Rift Jump so drawn out. Louis resumed stroking his beard as he leant against a guardrail. Although he had seen plenty of Rift-Jumps in his forty-five-year career, he was impressed at the scope of the venture.

Commander Salisbury, leant against the opposite railing and shook her head at some of the newer members of the crew sitting at their posts, with mouths agape, "I can see why the media creates such a circus whenever they occur," she commented.

"The only thing the Rift System is, is an extremely dangerous form of transportation; all this prolonged activity will render transport between Earth and Luna impossible for about a month," Louis replied,

A number of the newer bridge crew shared concerned looks between each other, especially with a Psi-Ops Officer, one of the eyes and ears of the UTEC High Command, standing opposite the admiral; deciding to make no comment on it, they quietly returned to their duties.

For several minutes, the bridge was devoid of conversation barring what was required for the running of the ship until the silence was broken. "Rear Admiral, Luna Command reports that the Aristotle has slipped her moorings and is about to enter the Flight Range," Warrant Officer Gregory Saunders reported from his communications console.

"This should be interesting, the Aristotle hasn't ever jumped without a relay marker," Louis commented, resting a boot upon the dividing step, and taking a sip of his coffee.

1706 hours May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]

Bridge, UTEC Flagship Aristotle, Luna Flight Range, Sol System

The twin-level command deck of the jewel of the UTEC crown, the Liberty Class Flagship Aristotle was a mass of activity as officers of various ranks rushed about bearing status reports on the Aristotle. Reporting the status of the last transmitted reports on the rest of the fleet before they entered the Rift, and the status of the Flight Range orbiting one of Debola Primes' three moons.

Fleet Captain Chenoa Webster stepped out from her annexe office and onto the lower level of the command deck clutching a series of reports in her small, gloved hands.

"Mr Miller, are we underway?" Chenoa asked, taking the command chair from her executive officer.

"Yes, ma'am, we've disconnected from Oleron's auxiliary generators and are under mains power. We will be entering the Flight Range in five minutes," her executive officer, Commander Anthony Miller, reported, walking over to check the readouts from the System Operations Monitor.

"Excellent, what is the status of the Rift Drive?" Chenoa queried, tapping her armrest console to upload the contents of the report disks that she was cradling in her lap to the main computer.

"Still in standby mode, ma'am. We will need to be within one hundred kilometres of the Gravity Well before we can commence energy feed," Chief Engineer Benjamin Von-Gallus reported from the engineer's console, situated just before the second level of the command section.

Chenoa nodded slightly, before resting her chin on an open palm. "Understood. Once we are in position, commence gravity feed."

"Aye, ma'am."

"Comms, contact Luna Observation Posts, notify them of our progress. What's the ETA for our meeting with the tenders?"

"The Fleet Tenders will be in place to guide us to the Departure Point in twenty seconds; from then on, we'll be under their control," reported the Chief Flight Control officer, standing behind the twin helm stations in a sunken well below the lower command deck.

"Perfect, that's one thing we have to worry about. Put the Tenders on the main screen," Chenoa ordered as a series of heavy thuds could be heard as the Tenders latched onto evenly spaced sections of the hull by way of magnetic clamps in order to effectively manipulate the flagship's course.

The small four-person Fleet Tender craft buzzed around the mammoth 1250-metre long hull that was the Aristotle like worker bees tending to their queen, cradling her if she was a newborn as they guided her carefully to the very centre of the Flight Range, aiming her angled nose towards the Departure Point. Their destination was still under the effects of the carrier's departure. While the Aristotle was powerful and manoeuvrable for her size, pinpoint actions required the assistance of more agile and responsive craft to guide her.

"Captain, we are ready to begin to bring the Rift Drive online," Von-Gallus reported, inputting a series of commands into his console.

"At your discretion, Lieutenant, I am not about to make any mistakes," Chenoa ordered, leaning forward in her chair.

"Understood, Captain. Bringing primary coolant tanks online, preparing to bring reactors six and seven online. Engineering, prepare to shunt drive plasma to the Rift Drive from the fusion generators. Bringing Grav-Accelerators to full power. We'll have enough power to jump in six minutes," Von-Gallus communicated to his staff deep in the recesses of the flagship.

"Understood, notify all decks: secure all external hatches and antennas, lock all weapon emplacements into standby position and secure all ordinance. We are going to do this by the book," Chenoa commented before her bosuns mate approached to collect the reports she carried to deliver them to their specific destinations.

The Aristotle's four massive engine pods, each the size of a frigate glowed bright red, as the gravimetric energy flowed through them, arcing out from Luna's Northern Pole, into collection tanks deep within her hull. Due to the size of the Aristotle, it wasn't practical, or environmentally safe, for it to use the conventional Rift Drive found on the Basilisk or the Vindicator, simply because the power collection requirements would tear any planetoid it collected from to pieces. In order to combat this, the Aristotle utilised a modified version of the system often utilised to send Rift Probes, while still referred to as the Rift Drive, instead of creating a tear in space bridging the two regions together, it created a wormhole-like vortex, bridging the Aristotle's location, and its destination, via a corridor in subspace.

"Ma'am, Collectors are at full capacity," Von-Gallus reported as the command deck lighting darkened as power was diverted to more critical systems.

"…Aristotle, this isthe UTNS Santa Monica, we've been monitoring your progress, give the word and we'll cut you loose," reported over the Aristotle's speakers.

"Fleet Admiral, we are ready to depart, any final orders?" Chenoa asked before turning to face the Fleet Admiral, who stood in front of the large open observation level that separated the main command deck from the wardroom, which took the entire upper level.

Fleet Admiral O'Connor placed a hand on the guardrail, and retrieved the glass that sat on a small pedestal nearby.

"You have a go, Captain, take us into the Rift," the Fleet Admiral ordered, before bringing the glass to his lips, and downing a portion of its clear contents.

"Santa Monica, this is the Aristotle, detach as soon as possible, we're about to enter the Rift, so get the hell out of here," Chenoa ordered, before locking her chair into place. "Helm, take us in."

"Aye, ma'am."

The front portions of the Aristotle's engine pods started to glow electric blue, before all four points fired a steady stream of neutrinos and anti-protons into four precisely targeted coordinates. Each of these four points marked the outline for which the Rift portal would be created. Once these four points were secure, a fifth beam, emitted from the craft's large navigational deflector fired a single pulse towards the very centre of the four other points. Once the pulse had reached its programmed distance from the ship, it exploded.

Initially it appeared to have failed, as nothing happened, before, seconds later the area of space between the four points appeared to tear itself in two, and erupt in a giant swirl of colours. For a split second, the Aristotle hung in space, before her massive thruster banks roared to life and propelled her into the small wormhole, which closed in on itself as soon as it entered.

1721 hours May 22, 2237 [Alliance Military Calendar]

Bridge, UTEC Cruiser Resolute, Inside Terra Nova Shipyard/Repair Station, Sol System

The entire bridge crew stood, or sat in silent awe at what they had witnessed, before one after another they returned to their duties, each bearing embarrassed expressions as they realized that those around them had already done so, as they still gazed at the dissipating gravimetric residue.

Rear Admiral Augaard stood next to his command chair in amazement; nothing in his forty-five year career had prepared him for what he had just witnessed. Running a hand over his face, he returned to his normal state, "Well…that was interesting," Rear Admiral Augaard remarked before closing his open mouth and fixing his jacket, "Okay people, back to work…why in the blue hell are you all still standing about lollygagging for? You all have things to do."