Clarion’s Call 35

Frederick Severs’s dominant ancestry was Central African. That is what the DNA tests showed him. Apparently one ancestor was brought over to Jamaica in the 1700s, no doubt as a slave. Sometime in the late 1800s or so, another ancestor came to the mainland United States. 

From there, records became easier to find. He knew one great great grandfather had served as a professor at Prairie View A&M in Texas. Another one served in the US House of Representatives for many years. 

Along the way, the genetic diversity of his line increased. He had Filipino blood, as well as Peruvian and Danish. But African remained dominant over the centuries. 

Severs stood now beside the Chancellor of the Planetary Republic. He dwarfed the woman, standing six foot one, or 185 centimeters. Elsa Cole stood five foot five, or 168 centimeters, a strawberry blonde in her early 50s with freckles on her face.

Together, Severs and Cole walked down the main entrance corridor of the Republic’s newest warship, the Thomas Paine, along with a small party of Naval officers and members of Cole’s cabinet.

The Paine was first in the Condor-class, a powerful new type of warship. Larger than the Eagle-class ships, she had been built with lessons learned from the many battles the Republic had fought. 

Besides being larger than other warships, she was more expensive to build, too. Most of the added expense, Severs knew, went into bulking up the hull. The Condor-class was made to absorb multiple hits even without shields. The hull itself was designed around a special frame that would hold the ship together even in the midst of sustained onslaught. 

The party stopped at the elevator bank, listening to Captain Ernest Rodgers explain all this to them. Rodgers was missing both legs, having lost them in combat at Gotha Mu when a piece of metal from his disintegrating ship crushed him. His bionics were not noticeable, at least with his pants on. He had been transferred to a role on Diego as Naval liaison with the Republic’s shipbuilders. He seemed quite happy to finally be able to discuss this top-secret project with the audience of big-wigs. Even with advanced wartime production schedules, the Paine had been in development for just over 18 months.

“In the worst battles, when all else is lost, Thomas Paine will be the last ship to fall apart,” Rodgers said confidently to the guests. 

An elevator door opened as a pod arrived. Everybody crowded in.

Rodgers said, “Let’s visit the engine room.” 

When the door opened once more they stepped out into a spacious, gleaming area with pipes and conduit neatly tucked along walls and ceilings. In the center, five large Wu Drives stood in position, lined up in a row. The rectangular units were layered in protective material.

Rodgers waived at the engines and said, “You will notice they are shielded. The latest tactics involve attempts to take the Wu Drives out. That won’t happen on the Paine. We do have a variety of teleportation mitigation units onboard that PLAIR can use against other ships. But I’m afraid as time goes on, almost every ship will be shielded, making those tactics obsolete. You know how that goes, the adoption of innovation such as it is.” 

Everyone nodded. Innovations in warfare sparked further innovations. If something proved effective, countermeasures were invariably developed. Without a doubt, Severs thought, League shipyards would begin building their own Condor-class warships as soon as StarCen caught sight of this one.

Sooner, if their spies were any good.

One of the cabinet members, a fellow by the name of Chu, said, “Why are their five engines?” 

Rodgers’s eyes sparkled with delight. He said, “Ah, yes. The multiple Wu Drives. The Condor-class has the largest power plant of any ship out there, even bigger than the Mammoths. As for the reasons for so many Wu Drives, that has to do with its new weapons system. Let’s go to the bridge next!” 

Everybody dutifully filed back into the elevator pod and it whisked them up to the bridge. 

Severs knew about the weapons system. He was curious to see it in action. PLAIR, or more likely some anonymous weapons expert, had apparently come up with a way around the restrictions on nuclear torpedoes. 

Why the AIs agreed to laws of warfare was a mystery to Severs. Of course, rules of engagement had a long history. Even as far back as World War I, opposing sides mostly abided by rules and agreements insofar as the weapons they used. The Germans in that war stopped using large saw-back bayonets because the British complained and claimed the weapons were barbarous in their propoganda. And after the horrors of gas became widely known during that war, nations agreed not to use it against one another, although sometimes they did anyway. Countries who disagreed with the rules and flouted them were branded “rogue nations” by the others. 

But when warfare is controlled by advanced artificial intelligence systems, it becomes difficult to bend the rules. And the AIs decreed that nuclear weapons were off limits, even in space. This seemed odd to Severs since one would think that nukes in space would have minimal fallout on planetary ecologies. But, for whatever reasons, the AIs decided nuclear torpedoes were forbidden.

One nuclear torpedo teleported in the middle of a fleet should do a great deal of damage, he thought. Of course, the other AI would immediately port away their ships upon seeing the danger. So maybe they really were next to useless.

But this weapon, Severs knew, was not a nuke. Thus, it did not violate the rules. And it should work, at least once, before StarCen could react fast enough to port her ships to safety. With that thought, he smiled as they walked around the spacious bridge. 

The tour would continue in the mess hall, Captain Rodgers announced, and he shepherded the VIPs back toward the elevator. 

Chancellor Cole said, “You all go on ahead. I’d like to stay and discuss a couple things in private with Captain Severs here. We’ll catch up with you in the dining area.”

When the elevator door swished shut, the leader of the Republic looked up into the big man’s eyes and tilted her head.

“What do you think, Captain?”

“I think we’re going to kick some butts with this ship, Chancellor. I can’t wait to take her out on a run.” 

“You’ll get your chance. But, not as Captain.” 

Severs’s eyebrows shot up. This was a surprise. He thought the reason for being invited on this tour was because the Paine would be his next assignment. 

“I’m promoting you to Commodore. I want you to be in charge of the rotation we’re sending in to defend the Seychar System. It seems that war is expensive, and the League is still casting their greedy little eyes on our Gotha Mu. Never mind that we’ve mined the gold there nonstop since the start of the war, there’s still plenty more to be recovered. Plus, I think they’re still suffering from wounded pride since we won the day there three years ago. 

“Ultimately, PLAIR gives a very high chance StarCen will invade the Seychar system in the coming months. I want you there, in charge of the entire squadron not just this ship.”

Severs stood up a little straighter. He said, “Thank you, ma’am.” 

Cole smiled, reached up and casually patted him on the shoulder. “You’ve earned it. Now, our newest weapon is a tremendous asset but it is untested in combat. We could try it out in an invasion. But, politics being what it is, we want to use this weapon as a defensive measure, at least at first. So, when the League ships arrive at Gotha Mu, use it and take them all out. PLAIR predicts StarCen will bring an overwhelming force against Seychar and Gotha Mu. We are hoping that you and the Thomas Paine will eliminate a huge portion of their fleet.”

She smiled sweetly at the larger man and said, “Then we’ll attack. By that time we’ll have two more Condors ready for action. And maybe we can finally end this conflict once and for all.”

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