|Date||08 OCT 3007||Time||14:58hrs|
|Location||Bridge, IFNS Cutlass|
Toán Harvir looked down at his display on the bridge of the IFNS Cutlass, Flagship of the newly formed Liberation Fleet. He had spent most of the day reviewing the Fleet’s composition. He couldn’t say that he was entirely happy with what he saw. Over half the ships were civilian, ranging from converted merchant transports to privately owned vessels supplied by the different groups interested in Arkadia. He didn’t know how he was supposed to co-ordinate a fleet with so many civilian ships in a potentially hostile zone, especially when many were unarmed. He had no problem with the supply or medical ships since they were vital to any military engagement, but it was a different story for the ships owned by mining companies, private entrepreneurs and scientific vessels. There was even a ship leased by the Archaeological Society, a small but high tech cruiser.
Even though the civilian craft were under Harvir’s command, along with the rest of the task force, he knew that they were not trained to respond to his commands during battle. If they did encounter a hostile force around Arkadia, his first duty would be to protect the civilian ships. Some of humanity’s greatest war machines would therefore be reduced to acting as escorts. He’d always been proud of his ability to keep people under his command alive. But he found it irritating to be forced to protect civilian ships for the reason of ensuring public support for this operation remained unwavering. He’d already been subtly warned by the Admiral that it would be a bad idea to let any of the civilian ships or personnel come to harm. This warning had come directly after the Government had guaranteed their safety even though they had no idea what truly awaited Humanity on Arkadia. Now it was up to him to fulfil these promises.
‘Damn, I hate politics’ he mumbled to himself.
Despite all his worries and the many details that still required his attention, Harvir managed to find time to marvel at Earth, the planet of his birth. It was a sight that never failed to amaze him. He wondered if Arkadia would affect him in such a way.
He forced his mind back to the task at hand and checked the time. He had ordered all ships to be ready to launch fifteen minutes from now. So far the preparations had gone relatively smoothly, especially considering the speed at which the ships had been forced to assemble. He had been concerned the Fleet’s departure would be delayed by the assembly and loading of the civilian ships. But it seemed that when the various companies put their minds—and their money—to work, preparations went like clockwork. Harvir could only think that it was because they were able to pay the workers enough that they were willing to go without sleep.
The Fleet was equipped with everything the troops would need to conduct a campaign on a foreign world. All the usual equipment needed for an operation of this size was present, such as weapons, vehicles and support units. They also had the latest gadgets for establishing rapid-deployment Forward Operating Bases. The modularised forts and firebases that could be assembled by VTOL drop craft were particularly exciting. These forts included some serious ground based firepower, as well as the new upgraded automated gun turrets for remote sites. The military ships in the Fleet were at capacity transporting this volume of hardware, barely leaving enough room for the troops. Nowhere near enough troops in Harvir’s opinion. Especially for an undertaking of this size.
‘And with no backup,’ he murmured to himself.
His eyes strayed back to the civilian ships again, as if hoping they’d turned into destroyer class ships to support his troops. These merchant ships were also heavily loaded, carrying everything that the companies would need on Arkadia. Harvir had to admit that the converted transports were proving useful, since the Military’s warships were not designed to carry such cargos. Some ships were full of miners and their machinery. Others contained all the construction equipment and tools the engineers would need to expand their bases—or to help the Arkadian’s restore their shattered cities, should any remain to be saved. Most of the remaining ships were occupied by a range of scientists, from biologists to physicists and everything in between. Finally, there was the Archaeological Society’s cruiser.
Harvir exhaled slowly as he remembered that there was also Milton Lee, who was supposed to be on IFNS Newton, a ship commissioned by the scientific community. But of course he wasn’t. No one could explain how he’d managed it, but the Professor’s name had somehow found its way onto the crew manifest of the Cutlass. By itself, this was bad enough, but Lee had also had Sundari Zhen re-assigned to Cutlass as well. Harvir didn’t even want to imagine why. He’d only met Lee twice but it was already clear that he was going to cause difficulties. The man seemed almost proud of the fact that he’d broken regulations to get reassigned. If he could have, Harvir would have had Lee transferred to Newton where he was supposed to be, but the launch was so close that there wasn’t time. Holding up the entire launch would probably only serve to satisfy Lee’s ego, he thought.
Soon they would commence charging up the powerful wormhole drives that they would use to travel to Arkadia. Wormhole drives that are significantly more efficient thanks to the work of Milton Lee, Harvir reminded himself, almost feeling guilty at his previous thoughts about the Professor. He had to admit the man was good at what he did, even if he was incredibly annoying. Despite some resistance, Harvir had insisted on the Fleet emerging from the wormholes early to be sure they didn’t appear in the middle of an enemy armada. None of the civilians seemed to realise that such an encounter would quickly put an end to the entire expedition, not to mention their lives. Dropping out early would also give them a chance to observe the situation from a distance so they could work out the best approach.
Only minutes before they were expected to leave, the last ship signalled that all systems were green and the Fleet was ready to jump. Back on Earth the media had begun a countdown to the moment when the Fleet would launch. This many ships simultaneously engaging their wormhole drives would be visible from the surface. People on the other side of the world would be able to access data streams of the launch from the newly established Planet Arkadia News and Information broadcast. Harvir was not about to deprive Earth of such a spectacle. The captains all knew their orders and were just waiting on their Fleet Commander to initiate the countdown. After one final check, Harvir nodded his approval.
‘T minus ten seconds,’ the helmsman announced.
Harvir swept a look around the bridge, noting the distinct air of excitement among his crew.
‘Five.’ The drive reached a consistent pitch.
Harvir settled into his seat, hands gripping the rests. His return to command had been a long time coming, but now he savoured the moment.
Everyone held their breath with anticipation. Surely nothing could go wrong now.
‘Activating wormhole drive.’
Dozens of tongues of fire streaked the sky and then they were gone. The Fleet disappeared from orbit and Earth itself disappeared from the ships’ sensors. There was nothing more to be done, except await their fate on Arkadia.