If this is the first time you're reading one of the selections from my series of novels, The Reign, then thank you for joining me! This is from an unpublished book, The Reign: On Wings of Blood and Vengeance, which is part of a contest giveaway at my movie review website: http://www.lancereviews.homestead.com (Only two days left to enter, win prizes including versions of all my novels and a Reign poster!) This is from chapter 2 of the book, and the main thrust of the story is lain out here. The setting is toward the tail end of a seven decade war between the United Earth Force and the invading Calvorian Alliance. I'm sorry this is such a large chunk at once, but I felt it would be easier than making people hop around looking for a continuation or cutting it off. I hope you like it, and thanks again for reading. --Lance
Captain Travis Rand stood at one of the large bay windows in War Room A, staring down at the bright blue planet which turned slowly on its axis.
Even after half a century, the dark clouds and black scorch marks where the New York Wastelands lay were still visible, even from high orbit. The mile-high atmospheric processing vanes that covered the ten-mile area of devastation had done little more than disperse most of the hard radiation. Survival above-ground was possible for a maximum of forty-five minutes, but it seemed that only the crawling efforts of Mother Nature would eventually restore the biosphere's balance.
Rand grimly considered the fact that if he and his crew weren't able to stop this new threat to Earth's security, it was completely probable the entire planet might soon look like the Wastelands.
The war room doors opened, and Mara entered, followed by Jamie Hughes. Jamie was young, just about to turn twenty-one, yet she was the Horizon's chief engineer. She rose swiftly through the ranks to hold this title due to her brilliant intellect, which was so high it couldn't be accurately measured. Like Rand, Jamie was born in the New York Wastelands, although underground in one of the Command Compounds. Her long blond hair was tied back in a ponytail, and her ocean-blue eyes sparkled as she flashed him a warm smile. Jamie had been aboard the Horizon a year before Rand arrived, yet their shared territorial heritage instantly bonded them, and they became good friends.
As the two women took their seats, Mara sitting to the right of where Rand would be seated at the head of the table and Jamie beside her, the doors parted again. This time it was the ship's chief medical officer, Ben Williams, who entered. Ben was a large, burly bear of a black man, but his soft-spoken nature instantly offset his subtly imposing size. Ben and Rand had met years earlier, when the latter was recovering from a leg injury sustained on Titan. Rand had been placed in Ben's care at the M.A.S.H. 1675, and during the young officer's seven-month rehabilitation, the two became close friends. The two men kept in touch throughout their postings to various ships and colonies. Ben had also transferred to the Horizon before Rand, and it was the CMO who had urged Mara to suggest him for the position of captain, when she chose not to pursue the post herself.
As Ben said his hellos to all and took a seat across from Mara, the doors opened one last time to allow the final member of the senior staff to enter, security chief Tanner Matthews. Rand and Tanner had a decent working relationship, although the captain didn't know much about the man personally. The two had a mutual interest in Jeet Kune Do and had sparred in the ship's gym once or twice, though the captain was clearly the superior practitioner of the art. But aside from knowing the handsome, sandy-haired man had served with distinction aboard two previous Cruisers before the Horizon, Rand had strangely never really reached out to him.
"Grueling shift so far, huh?" Tanner asked no one in particular as he sat across from Jamie.
"It's about to get a lot less pleasant," Rand answered as he turned away from the window to face them all. "Computer, display file UEFI-two-seven-seven-six-two-D."
There was a large vid-screen set into the wall opposite the bay windows. As Rand took his seat, the screen activated, at first displaying the requested file number backed against the UEF seal, with a warning: "secured eyes only" flashing underneath. This was quickly replaced by the image of an attractive red-haired woman in her mid-to-late thirties. Her deep green eyes seemed to hold an intense intelligence within them.
"This is Lauren Bowers, captain of the Heavy Cruiser Ares," Rand began. "She's thirty-six years old, never been married. Her only living relatives are a younger sister and a nephew on Earth. Five months ago, President Ralston secretly visited the Calvorian home world to begin preliminary peace talks with the rulers of the Alliance."
This abrupt announcement caught them all off-guard. Rand took a moment to let the information register, and observed calmly as looks of surprise appeared on the faces of his officers ―mirroring that which he felt earlier when General Hsu disclosed the same information to him.
"The President was accompanied by fifteen Cruisers, the Ares among them," he continued. "The ships were met at pre-arranged coordinates outside the areas of conflict by twenty Calvorian battlecruisers, and thereafter all ships proceeded to the Calvorian home world. All the ships waited in orbit while the President took a shuttle to the surface. While he was planetside, Calvorian science teams came aboard each of our ships to make certain all navigational information on the route taken to their world was purged from the ships' systems, as agreed upon earlier. After the President returned, our ships were ordered to turn off all stellar compasses and navigational systems. They were escorted out of Calvorian space, and allowed to go on their way.
"Three months ago, the Ares was presumed destroyed in battle near Theta Persei. The log buoy was recovered, along with several tons of steel alloy debris. Two days ago, while playing a vid-disc game with her son, Captain Bowers' sister, Kristen, came across a star-map hidden within the disc's save-codes. The map lays out the exact path the Heavy Cruisers originally took to the Calvorian home world. Kristen Bowers immediately turned the disc over to UEF Security, which soon discovered that not only the star-map, but the game disc itself were both copies."
"So what happened to the originals?" Ben asked.
"Computer, advance file," Rand said to the ODC as he pointed to the vid-screen, Ben's gaze following his finger. Bowers' photo was replaced with a map of several star-systems, with Theta and one other highlighted. A bold red line traced a path from Theta to the other highlighted system. Several other routes were also lain out in segmented lines between the two.
"The star-map wasn't any big deal in and of itself, but the fact that it was a copy aroused UEF Security's suspicions. After intense scrutiny from their forensics division, it was determined the 'debris' from the Ares was simply the spare hull plating every Cruiser carries in storage for emergency repairs, should a planetary base or shipyard not be available," Rand explained. "Two days ago, a protest was lodged to UEF Command by the Cuscatian Parliament. One of their fighter ships was stranded alone near Delta Trianguli, running out of oxygen. A Heavy Cruiser passed by at sub-light speed without answering the pilot's distress calls or stopping to help."
"The Ares," Jamie deduced. "Backtracking to try and avoid detection, before proceeding back on course. Obviously, Bowers is alive."
"Then what the hell is she up to?" Tanner asked in complete bafflement.
Rand stood and moved toward the star-map. There was a troubled, burdensome weight in his voice as he revealed, "Earth Force Intelligence believes that Lauren Bowers and her crew are on their way to the Calvorian home world, to destroy it."
He looked back at his senior staff: Mara had an expression of pure astonishment on her face. Ben's mouth had dropped open. Tanner was in a state of disbelief. But Jamie simply shook her head slowly, remorsefully; she had already figured it out, and Rand could see her mind was even now racing forward ―more than likely considering how a single Cruiser could destroy an entire planet.
"Consulted psychotherapists believe Captain Bowers hopes the Calvorians will be too demoralized by its loss to continue the war, and will either surrender or, at best, call a cease-fire," Rand continued. "However, the Intelligence Division doesn't believe that would happen."
"Why?" Mara asked.
"Turns out Intelligence knows more about the Alliance than they've shared with any of us front-liners," he answered bitterly. "The Calvorian Alliance spans at least forty or more light-years of space, with more than fifty worlds in its grip. The bulk of their military is allocated to keeping those worlds subdued, which is why they've never sent their entire fleet to Earth at one time. If they did, the war would be over in a day."
"Lord in Heaven..." Mara muttered in horrific realization.
"And this is what Intelligence believes is going to happen if Bowers acts out her plan?" Tanner asked, barely able to keep some fear from creeping into his voice.
Rand nodded. "Rather than demoralize the Calvorians, Intelligence feels it'll only piss them off more. They'll regroup, more determined than ever, and overwhelm us in numbers. They'll either conquer Earth, or make it into a fading memory in galactic history."
There was a tense, uncomfortable silence in the room. "Wait a minute," Ben finally spoke up. "From everything I've ever read about our ships, having served on two others besides this one, and from talking to every captain I've ever known...well, I may not be the smartest monkey in the cage, but even I managed to come to the conclusion that our Heavy Cruisers are pretty darn powerful." The group chuckled at Ben's statement of the obvious―his attempt to lighten the mood. The doctor turned serious very quickly however, as he focused his attention on Rand. "But even the Ares can't destroy a planet...at least not all at once, even as heavily armed as the ship is. That would take time. The Calvorians must have a protective fleet around their world, just like we do."
"They do," Rand replied. "But there is a way for the Ares to destroy the planet all at once. Every Heavy Cruiser captain is given a self-destruct code for their ship. It's one of the first things they drill into your head when you're promoted: your ship, at all costs, must never fall into enemy hands."
"All the Ares has to do is get past the planet's defenses," Tanner pointed out, addressing them all. "If I were planning this strike, I'd come out of hyperspace right into the planet's exosphere. No one would expect an attack like that, and it would get my ship past any blockades or satellite defenses. Then, dive into the lower atmosphere, overload the quantum engines―boom!" He threw his hands up in the air, simulating a mushroom cloud for emphasis.
"The force of the blast would be in excess of two billion megatons," Jamie spoke up, yet it seemed she was thinking aloud more than speaking to any of them. "The blast itself would kill every living thing on the planet, while the heat would eradicate the atmosphere. Radioactive fallout from a quantum engine overload is theoretically negligible. But in this case, the trace amounts would be in such a high dispersal radius that the planet would be uninhabitable for twenty thousand years, minimum." On this last she glanced at the others, as if realizing she weren't alone in the room.
"How did Bowers fake her ship's destruction?" Mara asked, as she looked to Rand. "She couldn't just toss whole, intact pieces of hull plating into space; she would've had to make them look damaged. But the energy signatures of our weapons are different from Calvorian weaponry."
"Forensics determined the debris was created by reconfiguring the Ares' laser emitters to fire more concentrated energy bursts, although the standard signature remains underneath," Rand explained. "However, this means the Ares now has maser-like weapons."
"Not necessarily," Jamie rebutted. "They probably did it by channeling all power from the ship―and I mean all of it, with the exception of life support―through their forward emitters," she postulated. "The bad news is, that makes for one hell of a powerful blast which could cut through our shields and hull plating with only a modicum of difficulty. The good news is, there's no way they could emit a blast like that even once without severely depleting those same energy reserves. Recharge time ship-wide would be at least a minute or two, during which they'd be a mile-and-a-half-long sitting duck."
Rand nodded thoughtfully as he took in what Jamie had put forth. Addressing his senior staff, the captain then said: "Bowers has planned this out well. She's somehow gained the complicity of her senior staff and her entire crew in committing a suicidal act of planetary genocide. She's faked the deaths of herself and that crew, convincing them to allow their government, their families and loved ones to think they're dead and carry out funerals." There was a growing disgust in his voice which they all heard, along with a genuine contempt for this woman, this traitor, which they were all beginning to feel. "Then she lies low for months, until the Ares is forgotten about, and proceeds to head off to carry out her plan. This is a cunningly intelligent, focused, single-minded and dangerous person we're talking about."
He pointed to the red path on the map. "This is the original path President Ralston's ships took to get to the Calvorian home world. It cuts right through the heart of their space, and is too dangerous for any ship to go through without being intercepted at some point." He tapped his finger against one of the segmented lines. "Intelligence theorizes Bowers took her ship along one of these routes. Each one is slower, slightly more roundabout, but are outside of their main star-lanes, where the possibilities of detection are slim-to-none. The incident with the pilot at Delta Trianguli was, in fact, a fluke. With no other ships in Earth Force aware the Ares is still around, Bowers has the luxury of time to carry out her plan. It's our task to determine the most likely route she's taken and intercept her."
"She's got at least a two day lead on us, Captain," Tanner said doubtfully.
"At full thrust, the Horizon can catch up to her," Rand replied confidently. "Ares came off the assembly line nearly a full year before we did. While our weapons are similar in design, our engines are a touch faster, and she doesn't have the advantage of a forced titanium outer hull. We're the superior vessel."
"And just what are we supposed to do once we do catch up to her?" Ben asked, dreading the answer.
Rand held them all in an unwavering gaze as he replied firmly, "We are under orders. The Ares is not to reach the Calvorian home world...and it is not to return home."