25 years of quiet, smoldering disgrace, were about to come to an end.
Around the Admiral, the palatial expanse of Secretary-General’s bridge hummed with orderly activity. Uniforms were crisp and neat — the Admiral had ordered dress reds for this, a most historic occasion. Plainclothed civilians from the media kept a respectful distance from the crew, recording the bridge’s proceedings with wireless headcams. Dung’s flag officers smiled for the cameras and orbited around him on the command dais, their chests laden with numerous and impressive rows of ribbons and crests; trophies from lifetimes spent in the service of their government. Dung’s own breast was heavy with awards — a potpourri of color nineteen rows high. Still, all of this bureaucratic achievement meant little to him. It was a necessary formality prior to having his ultimate, long-delayed revenge.
“Positional status,” Dung requested.
Several junior operations officers rapidly touched keys on their consoles. The master bridge holo — a full-color jumbo visual fantasy projected out of the AV equipment in the bridge’s arched ceiling — flicked to a tactical overview of the space surrounding the planet New Mojave. Nineteen red symbols representing the Admiral’s punitive fleet, orbited New Mojave at various distances. Fighter squadrons from the carrier Argentine had dispatched New Mojave’s relatively sparse network of defense satellites, while the occupants of the planet’s primary space station were left as helpless spectators for the show about to unfold.
As worlds went, New Mojave didn’t have much to recommend it. A scorching desert banded the planet at the equator, with brown sands and baked landscape dominating all but the poles, where tiny seas and sparse green zones permitted human settlement. Half of the fleet was staged to hit the south pole, while Dung’s half was staged to hit the north. If all went according to plan — and there was no reason whatsoever to believe that anything could stop Dung now — there would be no survivors left on the surface.
It was a message. One Dung hoped would be received loud and clear.
The Admiral swiveled his chair to face the only person on the bridge who outranked him. Deputy Overseer Brynhildjur from the Colonial Administration Authority was a petit, stern, white-haired old woman. Her featureless ash-gray business suit reflected her mood as she stared at the projected image of New Mojave suspended in the air over the command dais.
“I do hope this is worth it,” said the Deputy.
“The renegades didn’t respect us last time,” said Dung, “because we weren’t prepared to do what it took to bring them back into the fold.”
“Yes, but now that we’re about to take action, I have to wonder. So many lives… is it necessary?”
“The Emancipated Worlds are a house of cards,” Dung reminded. “Bleed them heavily here, now. Shock them. And whatever bravado they still possess, will quickly fail. Common sense will bring them to the table, saving countless people as a result.”
Brynhildjur nodded silently, though her jaw was still tense.
A lightning blow. That was the plan. A show of overwhelming, deadly power, designed to demoralize the enemy into acquiescence before too much time and too many bodies were wasted.
It was a fiction Dung had peddled heavily during his years of slow rise through the expanding and evolving command ranks of the Colonial Administration Authority’s Peacekeeper navy. The Peacekeepers had been badly shocked by the revolt of the 37 planets calling themselves the Emancipated Worlds. Neither Earth nor the CAA had been prepared to have their own turn against them, and the CAA had suffered a series of embarrassing defeats en route to an unofficial armistice with the EW, when Dung had still been a Fleet Captain.
He’d lost six ships then — including his own command — at the Battle of Morrowdown. The final battle of the Secession War of 2685. Since then the CAA had left the EW more or less alone, though the assumption in the Peacekeeper General Command had always been that Earth would take action to repair the rift — when the time was right.
In truth, the time was not right. The EW was not nearly as unstable as the CAA had come to believe, and the EW’s nascent Defense Force was both better trained and better equipped than even many of the other senior Admirals liked to think.
For Dung, such ignorance was bliss. He didn’t want a quick solution.
He wanted the EW smashed. Utterly.
Which was why behemoths like Secretary-General had been built. Dung would need them, for the war he was about to create. A war that would — he hoped — prove so terrible and so ghastly, that no sane person would ever again think to threaten the iron bonds that kept the colonies loyal to Earth’s global government.