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Old 08-25-2011, 12:50 AM   #1
machievelli
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Masada Shall Not Fall

A little something I posted over at FF.net set in the Honor Harrington spin-off series about the freed slaves of the planet Torch. I don't know how to edit the piece over there (If anyone does, let me know), and I have some added parts in this version.

The clock gently ticked in the operations room 1842 meters below the 'palace'. Queen Berry Zilwicki closed the file, rubbing her eyes. She had just turned twenty, and she was living the dream of any adolescent girl. To be a queen, servants to wait on her hand and foot, master of everything she surveyed, with money to burn.

It had taken less than a week for it to pall. First, she rather liked doing for herself, though she did have a full kitchen staff to assure she was well fed. But she enjoyed being, what was it Jeremy had said before she had agreed to be queen? 'A queen who can pilfer the pantry with the best of 'em!'.

Second, except for her crown, the throne, her wardrobe and the house they had built for her, she technically owned nothing. Oh about half the planet was Crown lands, as were all of the asteroid belt three planets, seventeen moons and for all she knew, a partridge in a pear tree. All of the pharmaceuticals that came from the lands were already going into the coffers of her kingdom. As she deeded them to those who would become her nobles in the future that income would disappear, but that would be a problem for her descendants.

She had been appalled to discover that enough had filtered in before her eighteenth birthday to give her a 3 million dollar 'drawing account' -what she called disparagingly a slush fund- per annum. She had thought her 1000 dollar a Manticoran month allowance given by her adoptive mother had been princely; but this was ridiculous!

So she had found a way to spend it. Not by going shopping 28/7, but by investing. She had funded five meteor extraction boats (with ten more on the way) along with the ore extractor center located on one of the moons of Liberia the first year. The rest of her mad money was being invested yet again this year, expanding the processing and giving six thousand of her citizens not only an income, but shares in the center and their boats as well. Soon to be seven.

That income she was willing to spend. After all, it was less than 20,000 a year.

But along with the throne and the crown had come responsibility. When people thought of the government of Torch they thought of her first. She still wasn't used to having herself be the most important person in a star system!

“Your majesty?” Thandi questioned.

“You've done good work with the last four raids, Thandi.” Berry said. “But this is not a raid.”

The woman nodded. Thandi Palane was almost the largest person in the room, just over two meters tall, and built like a female weightlifter thanks to her Ndebele home world's ferocious gravity and environment. Largest instead was Hugh Arai, who had finally agreed to be King-Consort. Berry joked about having to twist his arm to get him into bed, then to agree to marry; joking because his biceps were larger than her waist.

“Do we have the manpower to do it?” Berry asked, looking at the smallest man in the room, Jeremy X. Once a terrorist, now her Secretary of War nodded.

“Thanks to the loaners given by our patrons, we have two regiments of trained soldiers, and enough to man all of the frigates and the cruisers captured by Admiral Rozak. By this time next year, with the accelerated training our recruits are getting in Manticore, we'll have half a dozen divisions and crews enough for those battle cruisers.”

After Rozak had captured the remains of what had been called the People's Navy in Exile, he had turned the ships over to the Torch navy. Then, in an unexpected gesture, the Grayson navy at the behest of Admiral Steadholder Honor Alexander-Harrington gave them the squadron once called the Elysian Navy by her people in the Protector's Own. Five Warlord class battle cruisers, four Mars class heavy and three Frigate class light cruisers, and seven Republic designed merchantmen as their fleet train, five Longstraps and two Roughneck fleet colliers. Manticore had promised that two full squadrons; 16, of the Scientist class Superdreadnoughts in the next year as well.

“Then begin your planning, Thandi.”

II

Her arm felt tired, but still she lifted and slammed it down again. It felt like splitting a melon, and for some reason that satisfied her. She lifted again, whatever was in her hand sucked out of it's target and she paused. She wondered who was screaming, and leaned back.

“Judith.” She paused, considering. The voice was familiar, but her eyes were tightly closed, as was her right hand. She knew she had to strike again, to remove the evil.

“Judith.” Now she recognized the third Wife's voice, Helen.

“Helen?”
“It's done, Judith.” The voice told her, and she sighed. She had always hated her turn at cutting vegetables in the kitchen. Thomas demanded that all of his wifes be trained in the culinary arts and she had never wanted to admit cutting the meat before cooking it wanted to make her vomit. So it was good, the meat was cut for dinner. “Can you stand?”

She wondered at the question. Wasn't she already standing? Hands caught at her elbows, and she found that she had been kneeling rather that standing. What kind of fool cut meat while they knelt?

She stood, and Helen's hands ran over her upper arms and neck as if gentling a horse. “Calm yourself, Judith. Are you all right?”

Why should she not be all right? Judith felt wonderful, ecstatic to tell the truth. “Yes, sister, I am fine.”
“Then open your eyes.” Helen commanded. Judith did as she was told. Helen held her as if sure she would be struck by a seizure. “The Manties are sending a pinnace, but we have to survive another ten minutes.”

Manties, Judith mused. She had heard some of what Thomas had discussed at the dinner table when she had been assigned such duties; another system named Manticore had been assisting the Apostate, and Operation Jericho had been created to deal with their interference. Why would they be here?”

“Ruth!” Helen shouted with alarm. “Come away from the window this instant!” Judith looked toward the window. Ruth, the fourth wife stood there, staring upward in wonder. What was so important? Then she noticed that her clothes were wet, and looked down, her hands coming up. From her elbows down her sleeves were sodden in a red that could only be blood. She shrieked in horror.

Then there was a drum fire as if God himself were playing a drum solo, and there was a flash of light an instant before the window imploded. Ruth screamed, her face and upper torso shredded as the blast flung her away. Helen fell to her knees beside the other woman, frantically tearing strips from her clothing for bandages.

There was a shriek like a hawk diving on it's prey, and Judith staggered over to the shattered window to look up. A dark shape like that very hawk shot past, and figures dropped from it. For a moment Judith wondered. The figures didn't have parachutes. From that height they would die on impact. Yet less than a hundred meters from the ground, the bodies stopped falling, now dropping as if they were being lowered on wires.

The door to the outside slammed open, and two men in the uniforms of Thomas' bodyguards ran in, spinning to fire outward. Her hand closed on whatever was in it as she stalked forward.

The thing in her hand impacted, and something squirmed against it as she held on. Her right hand moved again and again, the squirming thing slowing, yet her grip was tight even as something sliced her left hand. A heavy weight slammed into her, and she found herself pinned to the floor. The man turned to shout, his eyes widening, then he turned, and she could see the muzzle of his rifle turning to center on her face. Before it could do so she blinked as his face exploded.

She stared at the corpse as it collapsed, wondering what had happened. Her right hand seemed to be locked. Another figure came into view and her right hand moved, then was caught by an iron grip.

“Stand down!” A woman's voice shouted, and she paused. The figure before her was sheathed in powered armor better than her husband had ever seen. The hand that held her was slightly larger than her own, yet was as strong as a troll of legend. She felt her hand relax. The figure before her was half again the size of a human, and as she watched the off hand shifted from it's rifle to the helmet. There was a snap and she looked into a woman's face. “Stand down, damn you!”

“Help Ruth.” She whispered.

The head turned, then saw the carnage. “Damn! You, get to the pinnace.” The figure dropped her, running over to the stricken woman. “All of you, get aboard now!”

Judith staggered to her feet, moving into the courtyard. An immense ship sat there and she moved toward it. A figure in unpowered armor waved to her, and she moved down the aisle to the seating. Whatever was happening Helen had saved them. She found a seat. In her hand was a butcher's knife, and she considered it. Why would Thomas, her husband, have wanted her so equipped?

Husband, father... Her hand came up and she screamed as it plunged into her own abdomen. She screamed in agony, yet her hands turned the blade in the wound, making it worse as she ripped it out to plunge it in again. Hands caught hers, and she looked up into the same face she had seen before.

“Goddamn it, you're not dying on me. Do you understand!” The woman screamed. Judith wanted to tell her it was all right, that it was her time to die, but suddenly she felt so tired. Someone was screaming for a medic as she faded into unconsciousness.

1

Judith Simonds jerked upright, her hand against her abdomen. Always the same dream, she mused. She remembered every second of that time now. Five years of therapy had brought it all out, though she had hated it. Only now she recognized the audible demand, and her hand slapped down on the reply button.

“Captain Simonds?” Someone asked.

“Here!” She gasped.

“Colonel Fuqua wants you in briefing two in an hour.” The voice told her.

“Understood.” Her hand shifted, the order already given, the clock subsided. For a long moment her hand still pressed against her stomach. She visualized her own hand holding a butcher knife, the agony of a blade rammed into her own stomach. Then the feeling was gone, and she sat there, gasping.

It was the same dream, remembrances of old horrors; but it was still there.

She sat up, soaked with sweat from her nightmares. She twitched, then stripped off the sodden clothing. She padded into the shower, switching it on with a savage movement. She gave the shower a moment, then shifted into it. The water was perfect, and she luxuriated under it.

She scrubbed herself as she remembered. It had been two decades since those events; five years of therapy with a psychoanalyst had gotten her beyond it. The first months had been silent, the therapist sitting there nattering about anything and nothing as she has sat silent.

It had taken over a year before she had spoken, explaining why she was not worth redemption. Masada had originally had only eight hells, but with the advent of Barbara Bancroft they had added a few. The ninth hell was for woman that dared to place themselves above men. In that hell all of the women that had led chaste lives got their chance to punish those who had failed. The chaste women were armed with whips and clawed gloves. They would scourge their prey for all eternity. Judith had always assumed she would be consigned not to that hell but the tenth. That hell had been reserved, according to doctrine, for Barbara Bancroft; the Whore of Satan herself. In that hell every godly man was so armed, and she writhed forever in torment. Yet where else would a woman who had dared to attack her master before god be tormented?

Four more years passed, and she was weaned away from self hatred. It wasn't until the third year that she had begun to pay attention to her surroundings again. This was not the world she had been born to. She discovered that she had spent three years on Grayson, a guest of the Harrington Steadhold. Her therapist worked on, and after five full years, she was free of most of her problems. She would have occasional nightmare, the woman had told her. Her own actions coming back to haunt her.

But her willingness to forswear the religion of her birth had set her aside, had alienated her. The other wives and children of Masada still considered her a freak. She had spoken to Master Chinkscales, and he had agreed to her decision. Judith Simonds, seventh wife of Thomas, joined the Manticoran Royal Marine Corps.

15 years of service. She had gone from a private to sergeant major in the Manticoran Marines. Then the truce, and a request from the newly formed Kingdom of Torch. She had volunteered for the duty, and had been given the rank of Captain.

The shower shut down, and she dried herself. The uniform, the brown and gold of the Torch Royal Marines suited her very well. She pulled on her boots, tapping the toes as she assured the fit, then put on the red beret of the Marines. Her heels clicked down the hallway to the conference room, and she looked at the waiting throng; Five other captains, 24 lieutenants, and on the podium a major and Colonel. She moved down to join her associates, and sat as they waited patiently.
“Ten Hut!” A voice shouted and all of the officers snapped to attention. The side door opened, and three figures entered. Judith felt a thrill at the last of those figures. A slip of a girl barely twenty years old, but her heart swelled as Queen Berry followed her associates.

“Be seated.” The first figure, a large woman with pale cream hair and hazel eyes scanned them as they sat. Thandi Palane was as easily recognized as their Monarch Commander of what military Torch had, and in two years it had grown a lot. “For those who do not know him, I present Admiral John Brown.”

The man stopped, looking them over. He was short and almost a jolly figure except for his cool look. Like Jeremy X, he was an ex-slave of the entertainment line. But he had been freed by the Manticoran Navy almost half a century before and had served all of that time in the Manticoran Navy. When the Navy of Torch had been formed, he had been one of the first to volunteer.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it has been almost two years since our nation was formed, and in that time we have made a dozen raids, netting us information and almost 60,000 freed brethren. It is time we upped the ante.” He motioned, and a hologram flashed into view. “Cascade system, the space station Good Times.” The holo squeezed down until it was merely a station about 70 kilometers in diameter. “Until recently, the galaxy has believed that it is owned by the Sudalov/Sony corporation of Old Earth. However our intelligence has found that seventy percent of the station is actually owned by Hartwell Entertainment of Mesa, a wholly owned subsidiary of Jessyk shipping, which as we all know, is also a wholly owned subsidiary of Manpower.”

He paused as the voices ran across the room. “That means we have a legitimate target, and this will hit them where they live. According to what we have discovered, there is a 'sex-object' meeting scheduled for one month from now. There will be thousands of people who have purchased sex-slave models all in the same place at the same time. By all the god of all of humanity, we're going to free a quarter million of our fellows in one fell swoop!”

There was a pause, then the officers were on their feet screaming their hate for the enemy. He allowed it, basking in their fury, then he raised his hand. The room grew silent as he paused.

“Now, the ground force will be the 1st Regiment 'Berry's Own' supplemented by our Ndebele 'Thandi's own' company.” He told them. “Obviously, since you are the officers here, what? The Navy will be theheavy cruisers Spartacus and Lara supported by Light Cruisers Harper S Ferry, Judson Van Hale, and Genghis with the Frigates Nat Turner and John F Kennedy protecting the two Roughneck and five Longstop class transports of our fleet train. Four of our Mesan designed LACS will be transported internally by the Roughnecks for close support. If the space is necessary for additional freed slaves those LACs can be scuttled there.” He almost harrumphed at that. Manufactured by Mesa Customs Industries, they were four generations behind even the first generation Cimeterres they had been promised.

“We'll have a briefing after lunch with the staffs of those ships, but your part is simple; capture the station, push the slaves into the supply ships, then bug out. We have copies of the plans ready, all you need to do is work out how to do it. Clear?” He looked first at the audience, then at the Marines on the podium. “Let's be about it, people.”

*****

“We still need a motto, skipper.” Lieutenant Jennifer Douglas commented.

“What?” Judith asked. The table was covered in empty dishes from their hurried meal. Jenn was her adjutant, and Judith had decided to have the woman work with her on this. That meant lunch had been taken at Judith's desk. Jenn stretched, leaning forward to lay her hands flat on the floor before her.

“We need a Company motto.” Judith stood, her hands still firmly on the floor.

“Masada Shall not fall.” Judith said.

Jenn turned her head. If she had allowed more than a buzz cut of hair, it would have hung down by her hands. “Masada Shall not fall?” She queried. “I know your home planet was named Masada, but why that?”

“That isn't where it is from.” Judith replied. “My people used it in defiance of Grayson, warning them that we would be as fanatical as those zealots. Back in the second century Pre-Diaspora there was a nation called Israel. They were a lot like Torch is, people oppressed through history that formed a new nation, and immediately found themselves at war. The name Masada was from a fortress that had been destroyed by the Romans in the 20thcentury Pre-Diaspora.

“It took the Romans over a year to finally breach the stronghold. They were a lot like Manpower; slavers that had conquered the known world, and their victory parades were nothing without lines of captured enemy troops to turn into slaves. But the people who held it, the Sicari decided to make sure they did not have such a parade.” Her hands lay on the desk, eyes clouded with thought.

“When the Romans broke in, only seven who had hidden, were still alive of almost a thousand. The men had drawn lots, and they had killed everyone, men women, and children until a single man remained who took his own life.

“When the Nation was secure in ther 2nd century pre-Diaspora, they created a ritual for their soldiers fresh from training; they would deliver them to the site, a place known to all of them, and there they took their oaths of allegiance to their homeland. And all would shout, 'Masada shall not fall!'. It is also home to where the roots of Autentico Judaism started.”

The lieutenant stood. “Sounds good to me. Now I was thinking we could carry extra ammo just in case-”

“Wait, we have the briefing with the navy.” Judith stood.

III

The marine officers were in their places, surrounded by as many naval officers in the Black tunic and navy blue trousers, Dark blue berets along side lighter blue ones of the ship captains. Judith recognized one face, but didn't know where she had seen it. The woman stood, looking like a female sumo wrestler. She came over, then snapped to attention. “Captain. It's been a while.”

She stared at the woman, then pictured it in a powered armor helmet. “Gunny Alvarez?” She answered the salute.

“Master gunner now.” The woman replied. She had been the one that saved Judith when she had tried to kill herself. Master gunner was a rank between enlisted and commissioned officers; Her rank tab was of a Warrant 2nd class, equivalent to a first lieutenant in pay.

“Master gunner, congratulations. Why are you here?”

“Seconded over from Manticore, just like you.” Alvarez replied.

“But you didn't get an automatic promotion?”

“Not yet. A few months from now I'm supposed to be promoted to Major. As it is right now, I am your senior NCO.”

“It's good having you watch my back again.”

“All part of the job, ma'am.” The room started to fall silent and they took their seats.


This meeting was merely to arrange which unit were to do what. The marine barracks aboard the cruisers had been emptied to house the 1400 marine assault force, their cutters replaced with pinnaces so that they could move swiftly when the time came. Judith made notes of the assaults. As commander of the 2nd company, her unit was assigned (along with the third, fifth, and Thandi's own to capturing any ships caught in orbit. Except for a reaction platoon of powered armor each they would be in unpowered armored skinnies. Judith automatically assigned Jennifer to that. Questions were asked and answered. Judith felt good about the preparation and the mission.

IV

Five light hours from the hyper limit of the Cascade system space was rent by the arrival of fourteen ships. Captain Zur Zee Gunter Li-Chen grinned as his task group reconfigured to impeller. He watched as his crew went about their duties. Training had been interesting since so many 'godparents' had been part of Torch's mix. There were loaners seconded from the Manticorans, Graysons, the Republic of Haven, Erewhon, The Andermani, Solarians, and Beowulf, along with those being trained in such diverse climes. He didn't think any fleet in the galaxy had such an eclectic training regimen. It was funny how much they differed, instead of being in lock step. Oh all had honorifics that were different but that was just the start! Most had the idea that your reply to an order was 'aye, aye' though the Andermani went for 'zu beufehl' instead. A century from now they'd have it ironed out, though he was having fun with it now.

“Whisker lasers up, captain.” Lieutenant James Brown reported.

“Good. All ships tied in?”

“The LACs are linking up now.” He didn't need to look at the display to know the four LACs would be last; after all, they had spent the trip as cargo.

“Whenever they are all ready.” Gunter commented. The Torch navy, as with their army, had found themselves recreating the old Israeli military command. That army had been long on officers, and short on senior NCOs, but had done good work in their time allowing a lot of leeway in how the officers dealt with their troops. There was a slightly sarcastic comment about it from Bill Mauldin, a war correspondent from the second world war who had served in the same role during the 1967 'six day' war. When he had needed batteries for his tape recorder he had asked the private that had driven his jeep if that worthy could ask the lieutenant for more. The driver had turned and shouted, 'Hey, Moishe! Got any batteries our reporter can use?'.

“All captains online, sir.” The communications officer reported. Gunter looked at the display as his captains came up on the screen.

“You all know what we're doing. So we're going to go full throttle for 20 hours, then go completely black for seventy more. Cruisers, be ready to drop pods if we need to. LACs, when we get close enough, I want you to peel off and stop anyone from escaping. Clear?” He got their agreements. “Good. Now let's kick their balls up around their necks.”

The ships began to accelerate; none of the cruisers LACs or transports had the Grayson mod inertial compensators, though the frigates did. Their acceleration was the comfortable and safe 200 gravities of the merchantmen. Slowly, like a pat of butter sliding across a frying pan, they accelerated. They had reached 40% of light speed before the order to cut acceleration and shut down their nodes was given.

Like an ax dropping on the neck of a murderer, the task group plunged toward the enemy.

2

It was boring at this time of night Jason Carruthers sighed. It wasn't like Good Times was a typical Theme Park, after all. It had once been such a thing, and the place would be packed with children of all ages, and their parents. But about a decade ago that had ended. Now more furtive people used the site, and he wished he'd bowed out of it then.

“Anything, people?” He asked. It was a routine thing, the CO, or watch officer, asked them if anything was incoming or outbound that had not been reported, usually every hour. They said no, or sometimes yes, and the watch officer would make a note in the logs.

This evening there was nothing to report. He sighed, leaning back to sip his coff-

“Sir! Large mass inbound! It's, Jesus Christ!”

The screens flashed as eighteen masses between seven million and 11,000 tons were just there! Impeller wedges came up and the four smallest, LACs from the look were snarling toward the mooring area beyond the station, followed by two ships his sensors tried to classify as Frigates, though they were almost the size of full up destroyers. Lidar and radar caused his threat displays to scream as the remainder of that force decelerated.

He could see the system picket, a division of Mesan destroyers frantically trying to bring their wedges up, A score of small targets dropped from the larger contacts, and missiles leaped across, shattering three of the four destroyers even as lasers and grasers ripped the survivor apart.

“Sir, they're hailing us.” The communications officer looked up from her desk, eyes bright with fear. Before he could ask she punched a button, and an Oriental man in a Black over blue uniform glared out.

“This is Captain Gunter Li-Chen of Torch, commanding TRMS Lara, and task group Amistad. You will surrender the station or we will destroy it. You have thirty seconds to reply.” As he spoke, a score or more of small targets dropped.

He hit his own button. “We surrender, God above, we surrender!” He screamed.

The ships were still running through, and if he had been willing, it might have been enough to resist. But two of the ships read as almost battle-cruisers in size, and even the most niggardly battle-cruiser would take apart his station as readily as they had slaughtered his mobile defenses.

Pinnaces leaped from the cruisers, and he looked at the one light source not belonging to the enemy. The freighter Solomon, that had been outbound for four hours now. 'Tell them!” he wanted to scream.

“Ship outbound.” Paul Andretti reported. His LAC, TRMS Puma turned.

“Can you catch them?” Gunter asked.

“No way this side of hell.” Andretti replied.

“Then ignore it. We have enough problems.”

“Yes, sir.” Born on Manticore, Andretti had problems with the Germanic leaning of his CO. But his training had assured he knew what to do. The mooring area had over a dozen ships, and he tagged the ones with active impellers. “This is Lieutenant Andretti, commanding TRMLAC Puma. All ships with active impellers, shut down or we will destroy you. There will be no further warnings.” He paused, then added. “Remember people, we are ex slaves and children of freed slaves. The Cherwell Convention is more than a piece of paper to us, and you live on our sufferance from this moment on.”

II

The hatch into the liner Angel Star irised open, and marines in powered armor came aboard through the zero gee tube. They aimed their weapons at the officers and men within. As they spread out the next unit in unpowered armor came aboard. Their leader was a cold faced woman who looked until she spied the man in a captain's uniform. She walked over, standing in an easy parade rest, then snapped a salute. “Captain Judith Simonds, Torch Royal Marines. Your name, sir?”

“Captain Brian Orwell.” The captain thought for a long moment, then he returned the salute. “This ship is property of Interstellar lines, and therefore neutral.”

She dropped her hand. “I am sorry, sir, but that is not the case.” She held out a Pad. “Interstellar is wholly owned by the Hartwell Entertainment of Mesa corporation which is a subsidiary of Manpower of Mesa. That makes your ship a legitimate prize. We will take you and your crew into custody, but once the ship has reached Torch, your crew; except for any that prove to be guilty of violation of the Cherwell Convention will be repatriated.

“We would ask your patience as we check your records, captain. I will warn you that any attempt at resistance will be met with lethal force. Do you understand me, sir?” He nodded shortly. “Sergeant Lindsey, take your squad and secure engineering, Sergeant Hopkins, the fusion plants. Lieutenant , split your platoon into pairs and check the passenger decks.” As she snapped out the orders the same was being done on half of the surrendered merchantmen.

A few of the ships were obvious slavers, and their records were searched. If any of the crew were guilty of crimes against slaves or of dumping 'cargo', they received exactly what the Convention allowed. Soon space was littered with men and women spaced by the troops. As the marines assigned to capture the station moved, the pinnaces returned for prize crews. But that was when the big surprise came up.

III

Gunter waited as the conference call went through. The screen was divided so that every ship's captain and all of the senior Marine officers from Captain up would have their own spot on it. One by one they filled. Once they had, he looked to Lieutenant Garon late of the Republic of Haven navy. “Report, Luetnant.”

“We have been checking and double checking the records of the station and ships in orbit. We have more than a quarter million slaves here sir, if you count the seccies that had asked for asylum. Much more.”

The seccies were freed slaves that had only been allowed here because it was still technically Mesan soil. As the name implied they were 'second' class citizens of their home world.

“What numbers are we looking that?” Gunter asked. He had read the reports of Steadholder Harrington's escape from Cerebus, and had been admiring of someone wiling to risk it all to rescue almost 400,000 prisoners from the hell hole. In fact he hoped one day to command GNS Farnese, the ship that had been Harrington's flagship. But he didn't have that many ships... He had brought the fleet train because they could lift a quarter million people without too much trouble.

“Final numbers are not in yet sir, but we are looking at between one million three and one million five.”

“One and a half million!” Colonel Sir Richard Fuqua almost gasped. “Can we lift that many?”

“Even with every captured ship we may not be able to.” Captain Estes, commander of the third company commented. “Our estimates were off by too large a margin.”

“What do we do, people?” Gunter asked.

“We can start by loading the fleet train and the smaller warships to the deck-heads. From Lady Harrington's report you can carry 3,000 people each aboard the heavy cruisers, almost two thousand each aboard the light cruisers. The Frigates can only carry an additional one hundred or maybe a bit more. With the 300,000 we can pack into the fleet train it means we still have the better part of a million stranded.” Garon replied. “And we have only a week to ten days before the enemy will be knocking on our door.”

“Solutions, people.”

“We load the warships and fleet train, then send all of them except for the frigates and LACs.” Judith suggested. “We still have those merchant ships, and every man the cruisers send as prize crews along with marine quarters gives us more slaves to rescue. Transfer the crews of those prizes except for the liner and her passengers to the station, that will give us space for maybe 5,000 more.”

“Why not the liner?” Captain Staines late of the Erewhon army asked.

“We do not know that the passengers are engaged in the slave trade.” She replied levelly. “If any are proven to be, they can join the captured merchant crews. Their families however, are our responsibility.”

“What about our own marines?” Captain Bardolf late of the Solarian Frontier fleet asked.

“We go last.” Judith said.

“Pretty cold blooded, Captain.” Captain Fitzgerald late of the Grayson navy said.

“Sir, my men are last to by evacuated by my own request to the colonel. “We will die to save another two hundred souls from damnation.”

“Mine to.” Captain Ravika Sukaragi, commander of Thandi's own replied. “Hasn't been enough fighting to interest my girls yet. We may get the chance if the evacuation hangs up.”

Gunter looked to the colonel. “Sir Richard, it's your call. We can lift out all of ours but that leaves what, Garon?”

“Twenty thousand according to our estimates, sir.”

“But leave 20,000 in hell.”

“We don't need a rearguard that badly-”

“Sir.” Judith's soft voice stopped him. “I would rather die than leave a single one of them. My men agree.”

“And your station in hell is measured by your bodyguard.” Ravika laughed. “If they have to board the station we'll all be dark lords in hell.”

Gunter wasn't sure which of the two faces disturbed him most; the fierce Ndebele woman or the serene face of the junior Marine captain. “Agreed. The fleet train goes first, along with the cruisers. Once the last cruiser is loaded, they will leave in convoy. Everything but the liner will be loaded next, and as soon as the liner is fully loaded, they will go. Hopefully our first flight will reach Torch in time to return with lift for the rest.” He knew he was whistling in the dark. It was less than two weeks to the nearest Solarian league outpost, almost exactly two weeks to Mesa itself. If the league didn't help Mesa could drop on them ten days after that, though the League navy could be here four days earlier. “Let's be about it, people.”

3

Master Gunner Alvarez checked the pad. The next compartment was registered to Senator Coleman of Travis, and had only two names listed, the senator and his daughter Felicia. She tapped the annunciator, then froze for a split second. She heard a sound she'd heard often as a marine, the sound of a blade being rammed into a body. Rebecca Alvarez was from San Martin, and her size confused most people. Born and raised in a gravity three times that of old Earth those that went into military service had been described as engine turbines with an attitude. At almost 150 kilograms she was the largest person in her company.

She shouted for backup even as she kicked the door. It would usually take a powered armor suit to do this, but she grinned. I don't need no stinking armor! It shattered into splinters, and her eyes caught on the man standing over the crumpled figure of a girl. She flashed back to the invasion of Masada, a seventeen year old girl who had butchered three men to protect herself and her sister wives, then shoved a butcher knife into her own stomach to kill her husband's unborn child.

Two quick paces, and she caught the man by the upraised arm, flipping him into the bulkhead with bruising force. Her back up came running in, and she pointed at the bloody girl. “Medic, now!”

Two marines, one with a Medic brassard were kneeling over the girl when Judith walked in. She took in the scene, then looked to the Master Gunner who stood with her weapon aimed at the groaning senator. “Report, Master Gunner.”

“The bastardo sin honor was trying to kill that girl.” Alvarez gritted out.

“Captain.” The medic reached in, pointing at the tag on the attacked girl's tongue. “She is a slave.” The girl muttered something, and the medic bent to listen. When he sat up, his face was cold. “Captain, she asked us to help her sister.”

“Sister?” Judith looked at her pad. “There is no other name listed. Him, her, no one else.”

The man assisting the medic brought up his pad. “Checking her barcode. Sex slave, number four of nine.” His brow quirked. “Specialized unit; The others haven't been decanted. This series belongs to a series where the owner wants them to be replaced as needed.”

“As needed.” Judith said softly. “Check the suite.” Two more marines came in and began searching. A moment later one of the marines came back.

“Captain, I think you might want to see this.” She looked at the Medic. “Once she's stabilized, we need you in here.”

Judith walked over, stepping into the room. It was a little girl's room, mainly pink and cream. On the bed a young girl lay, blood staining the bedspread as the marine held a compress against her stomach. She looked like the other woman's sister; the same face but changed by time and almost ten years, five to her fifteen. The marine with the pad came in, gently parting the little girl's lips to pull out her tongue. For a moment he knelt, then he looked up. “Same designation, number five of nine.”

Judith considered it. Ten years between them, fifty years of servitude to one man. Considering their ages, she even knew why the pervert had commissioned them. She turned, returning to the main room. “Master Gunner, this man has a date with destiny.”

Alvarez smiled. “Understood Ma'am.” She reached down, catching the man by his collar.

“How dare you!” The man gasped. “I am a Solarian League Senator! I have diplomatic immunity.”

“Mierda resistente.” Alvarez snarled. She caught the man by his collar dragging him. It was three decks down, but Alvarez didn't mind. She had carried backpacks heavier then this pendejo. The airlock stood open and she waited until Judith joined her.

The senator had gotten his breath back. “Who the hell do you think you are!” He screamed. “I am a Solarian League Senator! I have diplomatic immunity!”

“Do tell.” Judith stopped by the door. “Master Gunner.”

Alvarez flipped the man through the hatch, hearing his scream as the hatch slammed. Judith walked over to the viewport in the hatch. “You maybe a senator, but the Cherwell Conventions are clear. Do you have anything to say?”

“I have diplomatic imm-” Judith signaled and the marine at the controls tapped the switch. With one blast the man flew backward out of the hatch.

machievelli has requested a fanfic review for this thread.

'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

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II

Judith checked her pad as the people flowed past. Most were in simple coveralls; slaves. The fleet train ships were almost completely loaded; the cruisers were packed to the deck-heads, and the first flight was almost ready to leave.

Now the injured; a few of the slaves had been killed or injured in the original action, and had been left in hospital until now.

A hover gurney slid down the hall pulled by a nurse. Judith signaled her to stop, and looked at the girl. She touched the gurney gently. She was looking better, but not having blood spurting out of you was always a good thing.

Amber, when Felicia had finally awakened she had given Judith her sister's name. Like her sister she had been decanted just because of a pervert. It seemed he didn't like girls over fourteen. He had brought Felicia here because of the interest a businessman had shown, and that man as well had been spaced.

Felicia reached up to touch Judith's hand, and Judith took it in hers. “Thank you, Captain.” The girl whispered.

“All part of the job.” Judith replied. She grinned inwardly; hadn't the Master Gunner said the same thing?

“I have something for you.” The nurse handed over a bundle. Judith opened it. A dress made of bright blue Jensen's World spider silk. She held it and wanted to laugh. It would never fit her but...

“Thank you, Felicia. Now get aboard the ship and be well.” She squeezed the hand again, watching as that litter and the one bearing Amber were taken into the pinnace.

Half an hour later, 12 ships headed for the warp limit.

4

The loading had become frantic as time went on. The deadline for Solarian ships came and went. There were a dozen ships to load, then eight, then six, finally the last four were being loaded.

Judith and Ravika shepherded the people aboard. With the last six ships they had made it women and children first. Still there were almost 60,000 who would be left behind. “Hyper footprint!” The sensor officer reported. Judith turned.

The man checked the sensors. “Fourteen point sources.” He reported. Thanks to Manticore, they had first Generation Ghostrider drones, and they were reporting in almost real time, since gravitic waves propagated at 64 times light speed. “Two dreadnoughts, four battle-cruisers, five heavy cruisers, three light cruisers. Mesan transponders.”

Judith nodded. Communications, hail the Kennedy.” She leaned back in her chair as Captain Shaw of the Frigate Kennedy came up. “Llewellyn, we have company. Time for you to go.”

“We see them, Captain Simonds.” He looked at a screen out of her view. “We can still lift half of your people.”

Judith shook her head. “We've paid for the ride. Get the LAC crews out instead.”

“Captain, we have a hail from the Puma.” The communications officer reported. Judith nodded. “Stand by, Captain Shaw.” She motioned and the screen came up. Paul Andretti looked at her, grinning like a maniac.

“Good Times, we've been monitoring your chat with the Kennedy. No way are we leaving you alone. When you get to hell, we're taking point.”

Judith sighed. “Come for the ride then, Captain.” She went back to the link to Kennedy. “Captain Shaw load those berths with more slaves. Then get out of here.”

Shaw sighed. “Understood. We have your last messages. Anything else?”

Judith looked at the young man, then smiled. “Yes. Tell Queen Berry, Masada shall not fall.”

“Understood. Kennedy out.”

5

The naval ratings left from the cruisers manned the weapons systems. The station had few weapons, but the cruisers had left 50 pods. They were Republican MDMs, with a range of over 50 million kilometers They had also seeded a few dozen recon drones to use as forward missile controllers. As the enemy ships closed, the recon drones formed a narrow oval between them and the station. As everything was getting ready, the small craft of the station were loaded. The 47,352 slaves were pushed aboard first, followed by what they could move of the prisoners. All told there were only 2700 people still aboard; mainly the ones guilty of crimes.

“Captain, we've received a message from the enemy flagship.”

“On screen.” Judith ordered. The screen came up with a man's face glaring at her.

“This is Admiral Fairbanks of the Mesa System navy, speaking to the terrorists that have captured the Good Times Station. I am ordering you to surrender at once. Any attempt to resist will be met with lethal force. You have ten minutes to comply.” The screen went blank.

Judith looked at her crew. She wanted to get the other crew away, but the techs had been as adamant as the LAC crews. “Chief Harker, prepare to record.”

“Yes ma'am.” He flipped a couple of switches. “Ready, ma'am.”

“This is Captain Judith Simonds, Torch Royal Marines. As this station is property of Manpower through their subsidiaries, our actions are legitimate acts of war, not terrorism. We have legally seized this station, and will defend ourselves if attacked. I suggest you stand away or be fired upon. Simonds clear.”

“On the chip.”

“Send it.”

The ships continued to close. The chief was able to ID the dreadnoughts as obsolete Nation class units; Bharatiya Ganarajya, or India Hōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó, China. Before the First Haven war they would have been hopelessly obsolete; fifteen missile tubes per broadside with a dozen lasers. But their point defense would have been inadequate being older chain guns instead of lasers and only ten point defense clusters per broadside. Even a modern light cruiser like the Frigate class ships of their own fleet had better defenses.

The Battle-cruisers were also obsolete, 700,000 ton Leader class, the Abraham Lincoln (A lot of the people chuckled, one of the Nat Turner frigates were also named Lincoln) Benjamin Disraeli, Menachem Begin, and Charles De Gaulle. The heavy cruisers were older General class ships, George Patton, Erwin Rommel, Isoroku Yamamoto, JEB Stuart, and Francis Ney. Only the light cruisers were new; Solarian Bridgeport class ships, Salinas, Buenos Aires, and Tokyo.

There had been no reply from the task group approaching, and Judith leaned into the command chair. “Chief, recording.”

He nodded. “Ready, Ma'am.”

“Admiral, this is your last warning. If you approach closer than 40 million kilometers, we will use force to persuade you. Simonds clear.” Her plan had the virtue of being simple. They had 700 missiles in the tubes of their pods. The LACs had punched forward at their full 600G when the enemry had been sighter then had gone stealth before they could be detected as they ran toward the enemy.

The ships made turnover, still closing. Judith turned this part of the battle over to Harker as she went down to the main deck. Her people were prepping for the attack. The two companies of marines had divided the station in half, Thandi's own taking from 0 to 180, Judith's second from 180 to 0.

She checked her own weapons, the tri-barrel and her sidearm. The pulser's action was clean and smooth, and she smiled as she flexed her right had and the 30 centimeter blade snapped out. She had demanded the addition, and she was glad. Part of her own soul was linked to that time when she had killed three men; including her own husband to save the other wives. Now she settled down to wait.

Harker watched the approaching ships, marking each for their portion of the salvo. If it were merely missiles they worried about, he would have fired the lot at the dreadnoughts. But any surviving ship would deploy their marines, and even the smaller cruisers carried more marines each than the defenders boasted. He allocated 150 missiles to each of the dreadnoughts, 50 to each battle-cruiser, and twelve to each cruiser. Passing thirty million now. The admiral probably thought the 40 million kilometer deadline was an idle threat; except for Manticore and Haven most other navies had a powered range of only about thirteen million kilometers, so this would be a surprise.

Seven hundred missiles howled downrange, splitting to choose their targets. Compared to the battles of the first Manticore/Haven war it was a miniscule attack. The ratings on the station transmitted course corrections to the missiles when they started to drift off target, a thankless job. Five minutes later they reached the edge of the enemy outer zone. The counter missiles came out, dozens of the missiles were destroyed, but they flashed across the outer zone in less than ten seconds. Their lasers and chain guns added their weight, and a few score more missiles died, but fully 600 missiles screamed in to the attack. A drumfire of warheads went off, gouging armor, ripping away weapons and sensors. Bharatiya Ganarajya staggered as her impeller wedge dropped to half strengh as her forward ring was blasted into wreckage. She was luckier than her sister ship; Hōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó staggered, then her compensator took a freak hit. The ship drove on for three seconds, her crew already dead from being under a 400G field with no protection.

Abraham Lincoln staggered from the fray, the only undamaged battle-cruiser. Benjamin Disraeli had taken some serious damage, her port sidewall completely down, her broadside shredded. Menachem Begin broke in half, her forward third exploded as her fusion plant went, the aft portion spewing lifepods. Charles De Gaulle drifted free both impeller rooms down, over six hundred casualties littering her decks.

George Patton staggered from the fire, scarred but still combat capable, as did JEB Stuart and Isoroku Yamamoto. Erwin Rommel had lost her aft impeller ring, but Francis Ney exploded. Salinas came through completely undamaged. Buenos Aires and Tokyo had taken a couple of hits each.

The lesser damaged ships maneuvered to take those more seriously damaged in tow. That set them up for the next attack. As they passed 12 million kilometers from the station the LACs lit up their impellers. Their drift into position placed them perfectly. They were three hundred thousand kilometers from the heavy cruisers, and less than one hundred thousand from the light cruisers. Broadsides ripped out, 25 missiles lancing toward each surviving combat capable heavy cruiser, 50 outbound toward Buenos Aires and Tokyo, their lasers hitting the Rommel, and all of the lasers in the opposite broadside aimed at Salinas.

Battle steel shattered as beams of energy were already ripping into the ships. Sidewalls bent some beams, but the LACs had two lasers in each broadside. Rommel staggered and broke in half, the missiles targeted on her merely finished her death agony. Patton and Yamamoto staggered free, impellers down, life pods spraying free. Buenos Aires lost her impellers and drifted from the fray Tokyo and Salinas exploded. Their answering fire was on the way, and the four LACs were blotted away moments later.

The ratings picked up the weapons they had gotten from the marines, and headed to the fusion control room after sending the self destruct signal to the recon platforms. Their duty now was to protect the self destruct rigged into the system.

At the edge of the hyper limit, Kennedy waited, recording the death match. The defenders had done better than anyone would have imagined; with a dreadnought disabled with her entire crew killed, one battle-cruiser two heavy cruisers and two light cruisers destroyed outright, they had inflicted casualties at almost ten to one before the first infantry shot was fired.

“Pinnaces incoming.” Master Gunner Alvarez reported laconically. Judith acknowledged absently. Her chosen position was two passageways from the docking bays. The master gunner was closer, right outside the docking bays themselves. Some of the pinnaces headed for the boat bays, but others anchored to the hull, their crews cutting into the hull to flank the defenders. Judith and Ravika would have needed ten times their numbers to even attempt a proper forward defense, so they had not tried, aiming for choke points instead.

“Here they come.” Alvarez whispered, then her tribarrel went to bursts, pulser darts shredding the attackers. “Fall back.” She ordered. “I'll cover you.”

“Gunny-” Judith shouted.

“Can't pull back, captain.” The tri barrel went to full auto. “Give 'em he-” The channel shut down. It became a free for all as the defenders fell back, raising shieldwalls of the enemy before they did. Judith found herself pushed back toward the fusion control room, her troops falling like sand in an hourglass. She knelt firing until her magazine ran dry. She slapped in another. “Ravika, report!”

“They will overrun us in minutes.” The woman replied. “Down to my last magazine. We're charging.” She heard the magazine ram home, then Ravika screamed, “Inkululeko!” and there were answering shouts as her forlorn hope charged their enemy.

“Chief Harker, we're almost done out here.”

“Understood, ma'am. Thirty seconds.”

“Goodbye, chief.” She checked her HUD. Only a dozen of her people, and their indicators were vanishing like candy at a child's party. Her last magazine ran empty, and she threw the weapon aside, the blade snapping out. As the enemy came around the corner she screamed, “Masada shall not fall!” She stood to meet them.

From 22 light minutes away Kennedy recorded it all. The last internal scanners showing Ravika laying among a score of men that looked like they had run into an insane food processor, Judith's snarl as she charged into her enemy like a high tech valkyrie. Then the fusion plants exploded and the station vanished in a ball of plasma, leaving the field to their battered enemy.

6

Queen Berry took Hugh's arm, entering the concourse of the station above Torch. The newsies had been informed of her schedule, and they stood a polite distance from the pair, snapping pictures, but politely not shouting questions.
“Final boarding call for Torch of Freedom's inaugural run; Erewhon, Manticore, New Berlin and return.” The Angel Star had been renamed Torch of Freedom, and her battle-cruiser speed meant the route would take only weeks instead of the months of a merchantman. Berry would have paused to watch her departure, but she had serious business today.

They boarded the shuttle car, riding to the other end of the station to the navy docks. There they boarded a cutter, and the small ship set out for the fleet anchorage. They passed the ranks of ships that had been upgraded but still didn't have crews. Some still bore the names given when the Solarian League or Republic of Haven had owned them; but that was changing. Berry had put her foot down when it came to naming conventions. Where the Scientist Class Sds mainly retained their own names the first few had been named after the capital planets of the Star Nations that had supported them from the beginning; Manticore, Haven, Erewhon, Grayson, New Berlin, Beowulf and Maya Sector, but the next two were named for groups, one named for 'Queen Berry's own' and 'Thandi's Own for their sacrifice at Good Times. One Mars Class Battlecruiser named Judith Simonds, another Ravika Sukaragi. Then finally Masada and Inkululeko; Freedom in Zulu, not for people but ideals.

She paused at the controls as the cutter came to a stop ten kilometers from the Judith Simonds, once named Wallenstein. She looked down at the blue dress. When Angel Star had arrived, a rating had delivered a package with this dress and a note in it. 'It was given to me, but it would have never fit. I am sure it will fit you, your Majesty. A gift from the 2nd company, Queen Berry's own.' signed Captain Judith Simonds. She had hoped to meet the woman and thank her; it fit perfectly, and she looked beautiful in it. Instead...

She touched her throat mike. “Named for a brave woman who died in defense of our people, may you live up to that tradition.” She looked up as she hit the button, a grav driver slamming out a bottle of champagne that shattered against her hull. Berry wiped tears from her eyes as her hands rubbed the small bulge at her waist. “If she's a girl, I will name her Judith.” She whispered. Then she spoke aloud again. “Masada shall not fall!”


'To argue with those who have renounced the use and authority of reason is as futile as to administer medicine to the dead.' Now who said that?

From the one who brought you;
What we die for...
Acceptance
KOTOR excerpts
Star Wars: The Beginning
Star Wars: Republic Dawn
Return From Exile

Last edited by machievelli; 08-25-2011 at 01:05 AM. Reason: last minute editing
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