Never In Vain (Lincoln's War Book 2), p.1
NEVER IN VAIN
Lincoln’s War: Book II
Lincoln’s War 2: Never In Vain
Copyright © 2018 by Richard Tongue, All Rights Reserved
First Kindle Edition: April 2018
Cover By Keith Draws
With thanks to Ellen Clarke and Rene Douville
All characters and events portrayed within this ebook are fictitious; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
The escort cruiser Santos-Dumont flew through space, holding her position at the head of her convoy, three tankers loaded with the petrochemicals required to fuel industrial civilization on Lemuria, its homeworld. Her sensors swept the sky, watching and waiting for the attack they feared would come, knowing that the forces of the Guild would be unlikely to pass up a chance to steam their precious cargo, either to fuel their own refineries or to hold for a ransom Lemuria could ill afford to pay.
On her cramped bridge, her captain, Lieutenant Commander Carlos Garcia, sat at the helm, glancing across at the sensor display. Behind him, the commander of the ship’s fighter complement, First Lieutenant Valentina Benedetti. Both of them knew all too well that they were in the danger area, the overloaded tankers struggling to maintain their acceleration as they swept towards safety, towards the gravitational transfer point that would allow them to reach their homeworld in a matter of minutes.
Hyperspace was strange, and even after centuries of constant use, still largely unknown. The mysterious other-dimensional space which had granted mankind access to the stars at the tail end of the 21st Century could not even be perceived by human sensors, and its secrets were barely comprehensible even to the greatest geniuses of humanity. One day an Einstein, a Hawking or a Chan Liu would appear and unlock those secrets. One day.
Until then, the four ships of the Lemurian convoy were locked into the same trap. Each system was littered with transfer points, scattered at locations of gravitational stability, but for reasons still unknown, not every transfer point led to every star within range. Lemuria was one of the hardest to reach, a blessing that had left the distant outpost unscathed from the wars which had led to the destruction of Old Earth and the collapse of interstellar civilization, long centuries ago, but which now meant that the convoys of vital material that kept the world’s machinery working were forced onto long, dangerous routes.
And always, the Guild was watching, waiting. Their goal was nothing less than total control of interstellar space, to ultimately merge all humanity into their commercial empire. They’d survived the Final War as one of the few spacefaring powers, initially dedicated to the revival of civilization through the maintenance of trade links. Altruism had transformed to cynicism, idealism replaced by the urge to dominate, a belief that some sort of manifest destiny compelled them to own all of space. Worlds under their control had no self-government, were little more than slave labor camps dedicated to bolstering the wealth of their masters. Lemuria had escaped that fate, so far. The loss of this convoy would almost certainly condemn them to fall under Guild control.
“Anything on the sensors, Abbott?” Garcia asked.
“Nothing yet, sir. All systems are still at maximum active resolution,” the veteran technician replied. “Eight minutes to hyperspace threshold.”
“Damn, we could almost coast it,” Benedetti said. “Maybe I should get down to the flight deck. If they’re going to launch a strike, they’d do it now.”
Turning to her, Garcia replied, “You’re assuming they know we’re coming.”
“Aren’t you? Security’s becoming a sick joke, Commander, and has been for far too long. Too many people willing to turn traitor for a few shiny silver pesos. And it only takes one disgruntled shuttle jockey to bring us all down.” She looked around the bridge, and added, “Don’t tell me it hasn’t occurred to you at some point.”
“No, I’m with you on that, but there’s nothing we can do about it if you’re right.” Shaking his head, he said, “We’re in the gap. You realize that. One more year, and we’ll have two new ships like this in service. With three cruisers, there’s no chance in hell that the Guild would try anything. Once we get this convoy back home...”
“Then the streets are paved with gold, all our wishes come true, and the bad guys will disappear in a puff of smoke. I don’t buy it. I never have.” She reached across to the console, tapping in a command sequence, and said, “All pilots, prepare for immediate launch on request.”
“They know that,” Garcia chided.
“No harm in reminding them,” she replied, glancing at the commander. Both of them were young for their rank, a sign of a navy in the process of rapid expansion. Most of the crew were significantly older than the officers who commanded them, transferred from the merchant service. The ship was newer than both of them, less than six months from launch, young enough that they had yet to work out all of the bugs.
“Possible contact ahead,” Abbott warned. “Could be a sensor glitch, but I’m picking up gravitational interference that might be from an approaching ship.”
“If it comes,” Benedetti warned, “it won’t just be a single ship. They’ll come in strength. Recommend that we turn the tankers.”
“We’re so damned close,” Garcia said.
“We can’t lose them, Carlos, and they know that. They’ll be expecting us to push towards Lemuria, and that’s what they’ll have based their attack pattern on. This way we can trick them, but not if we continue on this course.”
“And if it is a sensor ghost?”
“Then we’ve wasted half an hour.”
He nodded, turned to the communications station, and said, “Lieutenant, instruct all tankers to proceed to standby transfer point.”
“Aye, sir,” the young officer replied.
“I think you’d better…,” Garcia began, but Benedetti was already stepping into the elevator, slapping the control to send her down to the launch bay. Her toe impatiently tapped on the deck as she waited to get to her fighter, knowing that every second could be critical, could make the difference between life or death for her homeworld. Just as the doors opened again, a klaxon sounded, echoing through the decks.
“All hands, battle stations. I repeat, all hands, battle stations.”
“Knew it,” she muttered, racing to her fighter, one of the deck gang tossing her a helmet. “Get moving, everyone! Enemy forces incoming, and we’ve got to hold the bastards off!” She looked at the sleek shapes lined up before their launch tubes, six gleaming fighters as yet untested in combat. Lemuria had been using the same designs for a century, with no money or perceived need for technological investment. Now they were having to move too quickly, and were paying the price for generations of inactivity. A price that she increasingly feared might be too great to pay.
Her pilots sprinted to their ships, but she was first into t
Four enemy ships. Guild Monitors, their usual design, heavy, lumbering beasts, drifting into an arrowhead formation. Her guess had been right. They’d positioned themselves on the assumption that the Lemurian convoy would be heading home, and scattering the tankers had bought them a few precious moments. Even so, the race was on. There was no expectation of destroying the enemy ships. That was out of the question. Survival was victory.
She felt the familiar kick of the magnetic catapult pushing her back against her couch as she raced into the sky, the cold blackness of space all around her. At one-second intervals, the rest of her pilots followed, merging into a wide claw as they gathered into their attack formation. The tankers were burning their fuel recklessly to get away, Santos-Dumont following, deliberately hanging back to provide defensive cover.
The fighters would be further back still, the first line of defense against the enemy ships. And one that had little chance of survival, if the Guilders really wished them dead. Fighters and pilots could be replaced. Two million tons of oil, a year’s harvest from the fields of Nueva Aragona, could not. Her decision was easy to make, and she tapped a control to order her fighters to war.
“Keep tight, people,” she ordered, keeping an eye on her fuel gauge. “We make this nice and quick. Just one attack run to throw them off, then we run for home.” She reached down to her tactical computer, bringing up a trajectory plot. Her fighters were missile carriers, with a punch well above their weight, a low-kiloton warhead that had to be delivered at far too close a range. Designs for an escort fighter were on the drawing board, and until more funding could be wrested from the Treasury, there they would remain.
The enemy ships were moving into a strike formation, line astern, the lead ship setting up to take the hit for the others. She had no intention of playing their game, and worked her navigation computer furiously to find an attack path that would take them past the shield. Finally, she found what she had been looking for, a long, low loop that would give the squadron the briefest window to intercept. Committing to the course, she glanced across at her engine monitors, making quick adjustments to the power controls in a bid to gain a little more power, a slight additional boost.
“We’re going for Target Beta,” she said. “Go for engines. Engines exclusively. We need to slow them down, and they’ll have trouble making repairs out here.” While her squadron prepared for the battle, she flicked a switch to isolate her fighter from the communications system, playing a burst of loud hard rock music through the cockpit, psyching herself up for battle. She was going for another target, a known weakness of the Monitors, the oxygen reservoir. One hit in the right place, and she’d give them more problems than they could cope with.
As the music rose to a mighty crescendo, a countdown flashed onto her screen. One minute to firing. All the fighters had isolated their systems now, shielding themselves from the efforts of the Guilder hackers who would be frantically attempting to invade their internal networks. An old trick, and one that these fighters had been designed to deal with.
The enemy ships grew closer by the moment, now visible as points of light on her screen. The battle would be over in a matter of seconds, but it would be meaningless if the enemy failed to take the bait. Her first assessment had identified the lead two ships of the Guild formation as the dangers, those most likely to reach the precious tankers, and if Target Alpha held its course, they could still do almost incalculable damage. She was playing interplanetary chicken, waiting for the enemy to blink.
And, at the last second, he did, turning to defend his comrade from the attack that was coming. He’d lingered too long to provide the defensive fire that might have saved Target Beta, and the squadron released its missiles as one, six warheads racing into the void, tracking towards the enemy. The fighters turned, burning their engines at the edge of their design limitations as they sped back to the cruiser. Whether or not any of the missiles found their mark was unimportant now. They’d done their job, and it was time to go home.
Benedetti hung back, giving her pilots a chance to get ahead, ready to take any fire that might come their way. The Guilders didn’t use fighters, hadn’t made the investment that might have helped them win this fight, though somehow she suspected that might change in the near future. Bursts of maser fire raced into the air all around, attempting to pick off the fleeing fighters despite the extreme range, and she carefully weaved from side to side to throw off the enemy gunners, knowing too well that the only way to escape destruction was not to be in the path of one of the deadly bolts of energy.
With one last pulse on her afterburners, she was clear. A glance at her aft sensors showed the last of the squadron’s missiles exploding, just short of its goal, close enough to damage the paintwork but nothing more. It didn’t matter. They’d done their job, and with a series of blue flashes, the three tankers made their escape, only Santos-Dumont remaining to gather her wayward squadron. Gently working the docking thrusters, she guided her fighter home, into the waiting airlock, and unlocked her systems as soon as the outer doors closed, the sound of rushing atmosphere flooding inside.
“Nice and smooth,” Garcia said. “Six out, six home. Perfect.”
“Finest kind,” she agreed. “Just out of interest, where are we going?”
“Zemlya. Word is that they’ve got some new friends out there. Maybe we can get them interested in our troubles.”
“From what I hear,” Benedetti replied, “They’ve got enough of their own.” She paused, then asked, “What sort of new friends? The Exilarchy?”
“Close,” Garcia said. “Abraham Lincoln.”
“The President?” she asked. “Carlos, come...”
“Maybe. In a couple of hours, we’ll find out.”
Captain Catherine Forrest, commander of USS Abraham Lincoln, the sole surviving ship in the United States Space Fleet, walked through the bustling streets of Gagaringrad, capital of Zemlya, picking her way through the crowds. She was wearing one of her few civilian outfits, donated by the Ministry of Defense to allow her to keep a low profile, and the unfamiliar fabrics felt strange on her skin. Older, tougher fabrics. A paradox, given that they were five centuries in the future, but Zemlya was still, in many ways, a frontier settlement, and such worlds had little room for luxuries at the best of times. Certainly not while waging a twenty-year cold war on the verge of turning white-hot.
In her day, this world had been marginally habitable, the right gravity, right pressure, but too cold, the oxygen content too low. Over the intervening centuries, it had been carefully terraformed, turned into a friendly duplicate of Old Earth, perhaps intended to replace the one that had been destroyed. Despite the onset of the Interstellar Dark Age, they’d continued the work, throwing all their resources into it, a gamble that had paid off, creating a new haven for humanity amid the cold, uncaring stars.
She paused for a moment, looking up and down the streets, tall skyscrapers reaching to the clouds, the faint whir of the underground railway buzzing beneath her feet. She could have been in any city on Earth, only the Cyrillic writing over every building a hint that she wasn’t back home, back in New York, Chicago, San Angeles. She’d ordered her crew to start language courses immediately, had managed to find the time to start them herself, but she was still barely able to puzzle out one word in ten. Fortunately, English had remained one of the common languages of space, and most of the people she had to deal with on a daily basis were fluent enough, even if some of the syntax felt archaic, forced.
Turning down a side street, the crowds dispersed as
The two guards on duty at the entrance recognized her at once, snapping to attention as she walked past, returning their parade-ground salutes. Their eyes escorted her into the waiting elevator, the controls demanding a quick DNA test before allowing her to proceed to her destination, the top floor. She didn’t begrudge the security, not in the slightest. While the Zemlyans were strong opponents of the Guild, that didn’t mean that the enemy didn’t have agents, perhaps right here in this building. The victory at Enkidu had gone a long way towards strengthening the hawkish elements on the planet, but there were still a few factions in favor of peace. No matter what the price.
She pulled out her datapad, flicking through the latest reports from her Executive Officer, Commander Singh. After six weeks, Lincoln was just about ready for battle once again, though her crew were a different story. Some of them were still struggling to make the transition to their new century. A couple of dozen were down on the surface right now, beginning long-term therapy, and more than half the crew were regularly speaking to local psychiatrists. That didn’t worry her. What concerned her far more were the ones the screening had failed to pick up.
The doors opened, and she stepped out into the meeting room, the walls gleaming glass that showed the spectacular view, city sweeping into sea as the waters of the Azure Ocean washed onto the glistening shore. At the heart of the room, an oak table, deliberately designed to look old fashioned, and a series of flags flying beside it. Including, as of a week ago, that of the United States, hanging with the four pennants of the Constituent Republics of Zemlya. At her entrance, the group at the table rose, all but one of them familiar to her. She walked to the nearest, a tall, gray-haired woman wearing the sharp black uniform of the Zemlyan Space Force, a smile on her face.