The Alliance and the Combine have been at war for decades, fighting a battle of attrition in a conflict that knows no end. Now, aided by a mole at the very top of the Alliance chain of command, the Combine has stolen the initiative, outmaneuvering the Alliance fleet and thrusting ever deeper into Alliance territory.
Newly promoted General Torrance, Commander in Chief, Alliance Air and Ground Forces, is charged with stemming the tide – halting the string of defeats and checking the enemy’s advance into the Alliance heartland. But before he can take the fight to the enemy, he must first do battle with the enemy within – the appeasers and defeatist elements within his own political hierarchy.
And while the fleet makes its stand, Director of Intelligence Brigadier Faulkner has his own vital mission. He must deploy his counter-intelligence assets to search out the mole and destroy the enemy spy ring before it can fatally damage the Alliance cause.
With both sides seeking the advantage, the very future of the Alliance is left hanging in the balance. Only one man, the bravest of the brave, can break the deadlock by travelling across enemy space in search of new found allies. But is it a lost cause? Is it already too late to save the Alliance? Indeed, is it even real?
Targeted Age Group:: Young adult and above
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Across Enemy Space is my third novel. My previous two offerings, The Blunt End of the Service and The Blunt End of Oblivion, were written primarily as science fiction adventure stories, though both included elements of crime and hopefully, touches of humor. One reviewer described the books as ‘lite sci-fi’, a label which would seem to fit quite well.
Across Enemy Space began life as a short story, an experiment in writing a harder brand of science fiction. As such, the story is set in a universe of total conflict.
It seemed a natural progression.
Born little more than ten years after the end of World War II, my childhood was punctuated with a plethora of war movies typical of the era. As often as not, the main characters were played by actors such as John Wayne or Robert Mitchum if the movie was American, or perhaps John Mills or Richard Todd if it happened to be British (I’m afraid you’ll need to be of a certain age to understand). There would be certain differences, of course – mostly revolving around cultural stereotypes – but the essential ingredients would be the same: a display of bravery, self sacrifice and honor as the principal characters battled to purge the world of tyranny and oppression, occasionally dying a hero’s death in the process.
Perhaps not the good, clean war it was often portrayed to be, it was nonetheless a righteous war – and undoubtedly a necessary one, fought for the richest and noblest of ideals. Or at least, that’s how it seemed to an impressionable, young teenager, a teenager who quickly became fascinated by war and all the hardware that it spawned; the fighter planes, the bombers, the battle-tanks, the warships, the guns, rockets, missiles and bombs…
But life is rarely so simple, and as I grew older and approached adult maturity, the newsfeeds presented first the daily horrors of Vietnam, then later the Arab/Israeli conflicts, the Falklands War, the Rwandan genocide… the list goes on… and on… and on.
And along with it all came a fresh brand of war movie, darker, more brutal, and as Hollywood evolved, unquestionably more authentic; Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and somewhat later, Saving Private Ryan, a film which held very little back from the viewer – the unadulterated blood and gore a very distant cry from the ‘little red badge of courage’ of years gone by.
When I began Across Enemy Space, I had it in mind to return to the simpler times of my youth, writing a tale where neither John Wayne nor John Mills would have felt out of place in one of the leading roles – assuming they would have been as content in the depths of space as they were on the Normandy beaches. That’s not to say that it was my intention to portray war in simple comic book terms. It wasn’t, but at the same time I wanted my heroes to be unmistakably heroic and my villains to be unspeakably villainous.
Well, that was the plan…
Some years ago, my mother was diagnosed with an illness serious enough to necessitate a number of consultations with a specialist at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham, UK.
One of the largest and most modern hospitals in Britain, the Queen Elizabeth enjoys a fine reputation. Apart from providing a whole range of services for the local population, it has the biggest organ transplant program in Europe and houses the largest single floor critical care unit in the world.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is also home to the Royal Centre for Defense Medicine, the primary receiving unit for military patients from overseas. One of the main functions of the unit is the care of military personnel injured in conflict zones. This of course includes servicemen injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, a great many of them victims of improvised explosive devices.
With typical pragmatism, my mother faced an uncertain future in the same way that she faced everything else in her life – with courage and dignity. Always uncomplaining, she had nothing but the utmost praise for the hospital staff.
There is, however, one observation that she made during one of her visits to the Queen Elizabeth, and something that has stayed with me to this day. On that particular visit, she encountered a group of ex-servicemen who were undergoing rehabilitation at the RCDM. She said that it broke her heart to see so many young men – young men in their prime – victims of such grievous, life changing injuries. She worried also about how uncertain their futures must have been.
My mother spent her late teens working shifts in a munitions factory in the British midlands. Like all British women after 1941, she was called up for war work and spent the rest of the conflict producing anti aircraft artillery shells.
As World War II ended, I doubt she would have imagined that in her twilight years she would be witnessing the return of yet another generation of shattered servicemen and women.
It seems that there was no such thing as a war to end all wars. This was, in a roundabout way, my inspiration for writing Across Enemy Space.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters are almost always an amalgamation of people I know – or have known. Get to my age and you've generally met enough people to be able picture at least one them as the perfect candidate for this or that particular character in the story. I guess there is a necessary tweaking of traits of habits but in my experience, living, breathing human beings provide by far the best subject matter.
Chapter 1: War Without Victors
Admiral James Tarr rose slowly from his seat at the head of the conference table and stood to his not inconsiderable, full height. Allowing his hands to rest lightly on the table top, he gazed at the faces of the assembled Joint Chiefs of Staff, wondering how many times he’d assumed this pose at the meetings he’d chaired over the years. As often as not they were meetings of the mundane – logistical reports, training schedules or production estimates. On occasion there might have been news of a victory somewhere, though of late it was generally news of a defeat, another reverse in the Alliance’s fortunes of war. Tarr brushed his fingers gently over the polished oak as he began his final address.
“Gentlemen, it is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of my decision to step down as Commander in Chief. In the light of the most recent reverses, and in particular the failure of Operation Zealous, I feel I have no other recourse but to relinquish command.”
He raised his hand for silence as one of the officers around the table began to voice his objections. “It is time to leave. I spoke this morning with the First Minister who agreed to accept my resignation, effective immediately. The decision is final, gentlemen. May I take the opportunity of thanking you for your unfailing loyalty and support during my tenure, a measure of which I trust you will transfer unconditionally to my successor.” He paused to look at each officer in turn. “Good day to you, gentlemen. Good luck to you all.”
Three of the officers sat in stunned silence as Tarr left the room without a backwards glance. A fourth looked on in sadness more than surprise. A four star general, he had, in one capacity or another, served under Tarr for fifteen years. And now, thanks to the admiral’s patronage, he was about to receive a fifth star and succeed him as Commander in Chief, Alliance Defense Forces.
General Jonathon Torrance watched as Tarr gently closed the tall, oak doors behind him. The admiral had led the Alliance for ten long years and like many commanders before him, he’d experienced both the rush of victory and the bitter taste of defeat. It was a taste that was still fresh in his mouth. In everyone’s mouth. Operation Zealous hadn’t just been a failure – it had been a disaster.
Intelligence had revealed that the Combine had begun construction of several forward bases adjacent to the border with Alliance space, any of which could be used to launch an incursion into Alliance territory. With the ability to resupply, a successful incursion could quickly become a major invasion. Those bases had to go – it was that simple.
Admiral Tarr had approved a plan to send a force of cruisers and fast attack craft to assault the bases. Relying on speed and surprise, they would hit hard, hit fast and then withdraw, the destroyers taking out the defenses and the cruisers pummeling the base facilities.
“Get in and out quickly,” were Tarr’s instructions. “Keep the enemy at arm’s length and do not get into a bar fight.”
Two light carriers, ten cruisers and thirty six smaller vessels assembled at Latona Base, two light years inside the border. They fuelled and took on munitions under the tightest security and set out for Combine space under the command of Rear Admiral Finch, one of the Alliance’s best fighting admirals.
They were never heard from again. According to intelligence reports, the force had been ambushed by a superior fleet almost as soon as it entered Combine territory. As Admiral Finch began arranging his units into attack formation, a Combine battle group had dropped out of hyperspace directly in front of them. With two divisions of battle cruisers, a squadron of fighter carriers and dozens of escort vessels, the Combine force enveloped Finch’s squadrons even before they had the chance to withdraw.
None escaped. Some ships were lost with all hands, others were disabled and forced to surrender, their crews taken into captivity. For the Alliance, the simple arithmetic was that forty eight ships and twelve thousand good men and women had been lost in an afternoon. When told of the news, Admiral Tarr simply nodded and retreated to his office, his face a mask. On the outside he remained as resolute as ever but Torrance knew that the news had devastated the old admiral. Loved by his men and peers alike, it was a feeling that he reciprocated in full.
For twenty years Tarr had fought in the vanguard, first as an ensign and then rising through the ranks to become a commodore; always in the firing line, always leading from the front. Promotion to rear admiral had meant trading the bridge of a battle-cruiser for a desk, a poor bargain for a fighting sailor. A bargain that meant leading from the rear, sending young men and women out on missions from which they might never return while you stayed behind in safety, drinking port in the Officers’ Club before retiring to a comfortable bed with crisp, clean sheets.
How long could you go on sending the young out to die? How long was too long? How many young men and women were too many? Torrance didn’t know, but Tarr did. Finally, he knew, the twelve thousand letters of condolences, at once too terrible to contemplate, deciding the matter for him. Mind made up he took Torrance aside and told him of his decision. He also informed him of his intention to recommend him to the War Council as his successor.
The conflict between the Alliance and the Combine was an old one, reaching back over decades. The one hundred ninety three colonies scattered over dozens of light years at the outer reaches of the Orion spiral arm had, over the years, coalesced into three distinct groups: The Southern Alliance, located at the tip, or southern end of the arm, The Combined Worlds which lay in the center and The Northern Territories, situated still further along the arm. Originally, the split had come about through practical considerations rather than through ideological or religious differences. The distances involved were just too great for all the colonies to be governed efficiently by one central administration.
However, once the split had been made, there occurred a natural divergence in cultural, political and social philosophy.
For decades the camps had lived in harmony but like so many wars before, hostilities began with a small, local dispute on the border. Perhaps by accident, perhaps by design; who could say? The root causes of the conflict were still a subject for debate; a perceived insult, a disagreement over mineral resources, a wrangle over who owned this or that particular lifeless rock, inflated import taxes, whatever.
The other great debate was how – once hostilities had opened – the combatants had managed to divest themselves of their humanity so hastily and irrevocably. For what was absolutely certain was that the opening exchanges had been so brutal as to shock the senses, and that the savagery had only increased with every subsequent encounter.
In years to come, many would say that the initial incident could and should have been resolved by diplomacy, but with neither side prepared to compromise, a few warning shots off someone’s bow had somehow escalated into a regional conflict. At one point a ceasefire was agreed upon but just as quickly broken – each side accusing the other of firing the first shots. By that time, both sides had mobilized all their available forces; the shackles were cast aside and so began a full blown war of attrition. With neither side able to gain the upper hand, each had retreated to lick their wounds and build up their forces in preparation for the next campaign… and then the next one… and the one after that.
Some thirty years later, only the most senior crewmembers could recall a time without war. At fifty three years of age, Torrance could remember; he could remember the long summer days in his final year at college, studying hard for the final exams which, said his tutors, would decide his future. Then the war had come along and he’d found his future decided for him. He took solace in the fact that at least he’d lived long enough to enjoy some kind of future. Along with the fighting, killing and mourning, he’d also found time to fall in love, marry and raise children, which was more than could be said for many of his contemporaries.
On the wall of his office was a photograph of his passing out parade at War College; forty fresh, young faces, twenty men and twenty women, all standing proudly to attention in full dress uniform, their insignia shining brightly on their epaulettes. Torrance sometimes studied the faces on the photograph. Most proud, a few apprehensive and one or two – his own included – almost devoid of expression.
Almost a third of those faces were now gone. Some shattered by missile strikes or incinerated by proton beams. Others, the life sucked out of them by the vacuum of space. Some had never even made it off the surface, killed by aerial bombardment in the first days of the conflict. And of those still alive, almost all had suffered some kind of family loss – a father, sister or brother. War without end.
Torrance was reminded of the words spoken by a statesman centuries before. As his nation teetered on the brink of war, he’d asked how one army of several million combatants could possibly defeat another army of several million, especially considering the bewildering array of firepower they had at their disposal. It would be the most devastating kind of war, he claimed, a war without victors.
And so it came to pass.
Torrance was faced with a similar dilemma, except that his battle was being fought over light years of space rather than a few hundred yards of mud filled, rat infested trenches, the iron and shot replaced by far more formidable weapons – particle beams, anti-matter mines and nuclear tipped missiles – so mighty to behold and so terrible to endure that they would have caused the long dead statesman to shudder in his grave.
But for the present, Torrance had his own statesmen to contend with. With the fifth star on his collar just hours old, he gazed through the window of his shuttlecraft as it descended through the cloud layer and began its final approach to Loyola Field, the air base on the outskirts of the Alliance capital of Tycho City. His aide, Major Seagers, was busy arranging the documents he’d need for his upcoming meeting with the Alliance War Council. A veteran of twenty five years – many of them spent serving alongside Torrance – Seagers’ active career had been cut short by an inopportune meeting with a frag grenade. Had his injuries not taken him out of the front line prematurely, he might well have made general himself by now, but with his fighting days over, he’d spent the subsequent years perusing documents with his one good eye and moving them around with his one good arm. But if the war had taken its toll on his body, his sound judgment and steely determination remained. For those reasons alone, he had long since earned Torrance’s trust and respect, which is precisely why he’d been chosen for his present tour of duty. And apart from the fact that he in any case cut an imposing figure, his visage would serve to remind the politicians of the realities of war. The black eye-patch and battle scarred face spoke far more eloquently than a page of statistics could ever do.
Seagers ceased his paper shuffling and passed the file over to Torrance. “I’ve arranged everything as you requested. On top is a breakdown of the forces currently at our disposal – front line and reserve – complete with all the relevant readiness reports. That’s followed by the latest estimates of present Combine assets and their own operational status. After that there is a breakdown of projected losses assuming that present trends continue, and finally, the projected production estimates for both us and the Combine.”
Torrance took the proffered file and ran his eyes down the lists and tables before him. They were figures he knew well enough and reading them again was unlikely to make them any better.
“Not exactly cheerful reading, is it?” ventured Seagers.
“It could be better,” said Torrance. “But it is what it is. We just have to tailor our strategy accordingly. I doubt that this war is likely to end anytime soon.”
“Then let’s just hope the War Council doesn’t request your recommendations for bringing it to speedy conclusion.”
“The only way I can foresee achieving that particular aim would be to surrender,” said Torrance with a grunt.
“Hardly a popular choice.”
“Either that or gamble everything on a throw of a dice and hurl all our forces in a desperate lunge at the enemy’s capital, an offensive which would guarantee my place in the history books, but I imagine for all of the wrong reasons.”
“How not to lose the war in an afternoon…”
“Something like that,” said Torrance as the shuttle neared touchdown. The escort – a pair of Ares fighters – peeled off to starboard and hurtled skywards once more. It was more for show than anything else; if the enemy ever got this close, the war was as good as lost anyway.
The shuttle maneuvered neatly to its designated landing spot and touched down with the barest of jolts. By the time the doors had opened, Torrance had donned his jacket, set his hat straight on his head and was already making for the exit, Seagers in tow.
“I think I could get used to this,” said Seagers as they reached the door. Lined up on the concrete pad outside was a squad of marines in full dress uniform, all standing rigidly to attention.
“Speak for yourself,” said Torrance. “This is one part of the job I could well do without.”
“With respect, General, it’s the price you pay for being promoted. And my, don’t they look the part. Proud and tall, one and all,” said Seagers as he and Torrance descended the shuttle’s steps. Torrance stopped to salute the guard and then paused to look the ranks up and down. With a nod of approval he turned and entered the waiting car, settling himself down on the rear seat. Once the car had moved off he allowed a small grunt to escape his lips.
“Anything the matter, sir?” asked Seagers.
“Is it just me, or are they getting younger all the time?”
“No younger than you or I when we first joined the ranks. It’s true that we’re asking a lot of young men and women to grow up very quickly, but we’re not asking them to do anything we haven’t done ourselves. And did you see the expressions on their faces, sir? It was pride. Pride in the uniform, pride in who and what they are, and – if I’m not mistaken,” he said lightly, “pride at being the guard of honor for the man who’s going to win us the war.”
Win the war… three small words so easy to say but in the meeting that was soon to follow, the members of the War Council were going to be asking him precisely how he intended to achieve that very aim. Torrance doubted very much if they’d like his answer. But he’d make his case; he’d offer them his honest appraisal of the situation, explain the possible courses of action, inform them of his intended course of action and then leave the politics up to them… and hope they’d have the courage to make the right choices.
The stark truth was that the Alliance was facing a very formidable enemy. The Combine was showing an ever increasing appetite for the war. They’d always been well led, with fine generals and well marshaled forces. Perhaps most importantly, they enjoyed widespread public support for a war which – for whatever reasons – was seen as a fundamentally righteous one. They fought hard and were prepared to take losses to achieve their objectives. In that respect at least they had earned Torrance’s grudging respect.
Meanwhile, a sense of gloom had of late descended on the Alliance government, and with it came apathy. It would require but a nudge to turn it into defeatism, a foe more dangerous than a fleet of enemy battle-cruisers and as destructive as any of the weapons in the Combine armory. Wars could be fought by the most valiant of soldiers but without the necessary political will, Torrance knew that there could be only one possible result – defeat.
He also knew that the best way to stop the rot and bolster morale was to provide a victory. A resounding triumph, one that would put a smile back on the faces of the public… and maybe a little much needed steel in the backbones of the politicians. A victory, any victory… but right now he’d settle just for stemming the tide and putting an end to the string of defeats.
Operation Zealous had been but the culmination of a series of reverses which started when the Combine had begun launching destructive raids into Alliance territory. Their objectives had been simple: destroy infrastructure – shipyards, industrial complexes, transport hubs, anything to hinder the Alliance war effort, anything to sap morale. A Combine assault force would suddenly appear – generally someplace an Alliance fleet wasn’t – make its attack swiftly and efficiently and then withdraw. By the time an Alliance fleet arrived on the scene, the invaders were usually long gone. It was like chasing shadows, and on the rare occasions when it wasn’t, the Combine fought a robust rearguard action as they retreated back to their own territory. Operation Zealous was intended to beat the enemy at his own game. Unfortunately, the enemy had just had more practice.
Lost in thought, Torrance barely noticed the passing of the city’s famous landmarks as his vehicle threaded its way through the congested thoroughfares of the Alliance capital. In no time at all, the car was being waved though a security checkpoint and directed to the underground parking area beneath Government House. Minutes later, Torrance and Seagers found themselves being escorted through a series of marbled corridors and through yet another security checkpoint before they were finally ushered into an ante-room leading to their ultimate destination – the lair of the War Council.
Inside the ante room, three men stood huddled in a group, heads bowed and deep in conversation. A fourth stood alone, back straight and head held high, a legacy of twenty years of military service. Soldier turned politician, the Defense Secretary immediately walked across to shake Torrance firmly by the hand.
“Welcome, General, and congratulations on your promotion. It’s good to have you here.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s a great honor.”
“You may wish to save the thanks for later, General, for I’m not sure if you know what you’ve let yourself in for. I fear your first battle will be a political one.” Torrance couldn’t help but notice that the Defense Secretary’s countenance was grim.
“How’s the mood?”
“Not good. As you might imagine, the First Minister is under severe pressure. Part of it is his own doing, of course, but he’s running out of support fast, and even some of his oldest allies are deserting him. It won’t take much to bring him down and if he goes, the whole damn government will likely collapse. And meanwhile, the vultures are circling. The First Minister badly needs to develop a coherent defense strategy that the other war council members – and the senate – will buy into. And that, General, is where you come in. For now, I give you fair warning that while you can count on my full support, you will find that not everyone in this room is entirely on your side.” He nodded his head in the general direction of the three men on the other side of the room.
“The Secretary of the Interior?” said Torrance.
“His reputation precedes him, I see.”
“I don’t think it’s any secret that he’s opposed to the war.”
“Has been for years,” said Defense. “There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, and God knows, the quest for peace is an honorable one. The trouble is that some of his ideas are radical at best.”
“And at worst?”
“How much support does he enjoy?”
“Until recently, very little, but it’s been growing steadily of late – perhaps understandably. He was only elevated to his present post to placate the growing peace movement but he’s been very, very adept at using his position to drum up extra support.”
“Among the other War Council members?”
“Difficult to say. The Armaments Secretary is a career politician and the longest serving member of the council. He’s a wily old fox but when the chips are down, I’ve never known him do anything but the right thing. As for the Secretary of the Treasury, who knows? I get the distinct impression that Interior keeps him in his pocket and only lets him out for a breath of fresh air when it serves his purpose.”
“Understood, Mr. Secretary,” he said. “Well, I’d say that the best thing to do is get to know the enemy. Perhaps I could trouble you to make the introductions.”
“It will be a pleasure,” said Defense, leading Torrance across the room. “General Torrance, may I present the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Armaments and the Secretary of the Treasury.”
“Gentlemen,” said Torrance, offering his hand to each man in turn.
You could tell a great deal from a handshake. Armaments took the proffered hand and gave it a firm, almost militarily precise shake, accompanying it with a nod of the head. Respect.
Treasury gave Torrance’s hand the lightest of shakes, averting his eyes as he did so. Apprehension.
Interior looked Torrance squarely in the eye and gave the hand a firm, confident shake, head tilted slightly to the side and a half smile fixed upon his face. Condescension.
As Torrance weighed up his possible adversaries, a uniformed equerry arose from behind his desk. “The First Minister will see you now, gentlemen,” he said, opening up one of the large paneled doors set in the far wall.
Torrance, Seagers and the four secretaries made their way into the council room where the First Minister was waiting. Torrance studied the Alliance’s head of state as he rose from his seat at the center of an elegant, polished wood table. The man looked cowed, he thought. There were no other words to describe his expression. It figures. He has the weight of whole damned Alliance on his shoulders and of late there’s been precious little to help lighten the load.
The five man council took their seats along one side of the table with Torrance and Seagers seated directly opposite.
The First Minister gazed around and then cleared his throat, signifying that the meeting was now in session. “General Torrance,” he began, “On behalf of the War Council, I’d like to congratulate you on your promotion. We are confident that we have chosen the right man to take up the torch carried for so long by your predecessor, Admiral Tarr. Our only regret is that that your elevation to Commander in Chief comes at such a difficult juncture. I’m sure we have our own thoughts but perhaps you could begin by giving us your appraisal of the current situation.”
“Thank you, First Minister,” said Torrance, pausing to look
at each council member in turn. “First, let me say that I consider it an honor to be chosen to succeed Admiral Tarr as commander in chief of Alliance forces, and should like to remind everyone of the huge debt of gratitude we owe the admiral for leading the Alliance with distinction for so many years.”
“Hear, hear,” said Defense. The other members nodded their agreement. All save the Interior Secretary who pursed his lips, a caustic expression on his face.
That and the handshake tells me all I need to know about you, thought Torrance. “As for the present situation, I’m sure the members of this council will recognize that we face some very real challenges, and I will not attempt to play down the seriousness of our most recent reverses. However–”
“You refer to the Operation Zealous debacle,” said Interior, cutting Torrance off.
“Operation Zealous was a major reverse, sir, yes,” said Torrance carefully. “But it should be noted that–”
“Was Zealous an avoidable mistake?” asked Interior, interrupting Torrance for a second time.
“I’m not quite sure what you mean by an avoidable mistake, Mr. Secretary,” said Torrance. “Are you asking if the attack was necessary, or whether it was mismanaged either in its planning or execution?”
“Well, was it necessary?”
“From a strategic standpoint, absolutely,” said Torrance.
“But it cost us upwards of–”
“We are all well aware of the costs, Mr. Secretary,” said Torrance, cutting Interior off and playing him at his own game. “Launching the attack was the only viable option. Those bases – if and when they are completed – will pose a danger far greater than any we have faced for a decade.”
“And since we failed to destroy them, I presume the threat still remains,” said Interior pointedly.
“Yes, Mr. Secretary, that is correct.”
“Are you saying that we are losing the war?” asked the First Minister.
“No, First Minister, I am not,” said Torrance.
“Then perhaps you’d have us believe we are winning?” asked Interior, an incredulous look on his face.
“The First Minister asked the general to give his appraisal of the situation,” said Defense coolly. “Perhaps we should do him the courtesy of allowing the general to finish.”
“As you wish,” said Interior diffidently. “Pray continue, General.”
“As a soldier, I tend to worry less about who is ‘winning or losing’ and more about who has the initiative, for that is where wars are ultimately won or lost. We have lost the initiative, gentlemen – we need to take it back and take it back quickly. If we fail to react to the present threat – if we allow things continue without adjusting our strategy accordingly, then yes, I do indeed fear for the survival of the Alliance. We will lose this war.
“The reality is that the dynamics of the whole front have changed. You all have a breakdown of the current forces available to us. Realistically, these forces are insufficient for us to mount any meaningful attack on the Combine, which includes any further attack on the bases which they are presently constructing on our borders. Bearing in mind that they will have had time to prepare for a new assault on their positions, any force we send out is likely to meet exactly the same fate that befell Admiral Finch’s squadrons. It would be a defeat which we can ill afford.”
“So where does that leave us, General?” asked the First Minister.
“It leaves us, sir, with some difficult decisions to make.”
“In what respect?”
“Of late, we have been losing assets more quickly than they can be replaced. Not only do we lack the forces to launch any kind of meaningful offensive, I do not believe we have sufficient forces at our disposal to hold the current line. Our strategic planning staff has explored every possible scenario. The battle simulations all point to a gradual degradation of our assets until we cease to become a coherent fighting force, probably within the next twelve to eighteen months.”
“That sounds very much like defeat to me,” said Treasury.
“If we continue with our present strategy it certainly would be,” replied Torrance. “However, I do not intend to allow that to happen. Major Seagers?”
Seagers opened his valise and withdrew a data chip, inserting it into the console before him. A moment later, a star map appeared on the screen fixed to the far wall.
“As you can see, gentlemen, the map gives a top down representation of the current strategic situation. There has always been a buffer zone – a no man’s land if you will – between our territory and that of the Combine. With the construction of Combine forward bases here, here and here,” he said, highlighting the locations with flashing red icons, “the buffer zone is reduced sufficiently to put our forward colonies of Oneida, Ebron and Haalikon within striking distance of superior Combine forces.”
Seagers then rotated the graphic on the screen to show a slice of space some distance to the rear of the Alliance forward positions.
“Ten light years behind the present front line we have seven major assets, the colonies of Falkrys, Nerys, Cronulla, Sakon, Hebron, Vela and Willan. They are arranged in an almost flat plane facing Combine space. Together they form a natural defensive network, each world a strongpoint in its own right and each capable of dispatching forces to protect its nearest neighbors. It is my intention to abandon Oneida, Ebron and Haalikon and form a new line here.”
“Surrender them to the Combine?”
“The Combine may feel emboldened to occupy them, certainly,” said Torrance. “In their shoes I would probably do the same.”
“You realize the political cost of abandoning these colonies without a fight, General, not to mention the morale factor?”
“I have considered the implications, First Minister. The fact remains that if we fritter away our remaining assets in the futile defense of our three forward possessions, we risk complete and utter defeat across the entire theater.”
“It makes sense,” said the Defense Secretary. “However unpalatable it may seem. The cost of fighting for the colonies has to be balanced by a tangible strategic return. This is no time for misplaced pride. Have you all forgotten the lessons learned from Sanda?”
Sanda… a semi autonomous world that had once stood proudly on the border between Combine and Alliance space – a great funnel through which flowed the bulk of all trade between the two blocks. The planet’s strategic position guaranteed its commercial success, turbo-charging the economy and turning the once sleepy backwater into an economic super giant. And with affluence came other riches, cultural, scientific and artistic.
And then the shooting had started. Sanda first became a glittering prize to be won and held at all costs. Then as losses mounted it was seen as more of a liability, and then later as a simple folly. Finally, both sides arrived at the conclusion that the wretched planet was no longer worth fighting for but in their pride, neither did they wish to concede it to their enemies. And so Sanda’s fate was sealed – it was reduced to a smoldering ruin, its once proud halls of commerce turned to ashes.
The First Minister looked up and down at the other council members. “Opinions?” he said.
“General Torrance,” said Armaments. “If we do give up the colonies of Oneida, Ebron and Haalikon, what guarantees do we have that the Combine will not simply utilize them to launch fresh attacks on our new front line?”
“None at all,” said Torrance. “I imagine they will try. I might even go so far as to say that I’m counting on them doing so.”
“I’m not sure I follow you, General.”
“It will allow us to trade space for time, Mr. Secretary. The Combine will use up valuable resources in occupying the three colonies and they’ll be obliged to expend even more resources constructing adequate defenses, for while it will indeed put them within striking distance of major Alliance assets, it leaves them in range of a counter attack.”
“A counter attack which, if I understand correctly, we won’t be making.”
“That is correct, but the Combine won’t know that. Their proximity will be a double edged sword. They’ll have to assume that we are preparing a counter offensive and prepare their defenses accordingly. In addition, they’ll be saddled with extended supply lines which will also require protecting.”
“And after that?” asked Armaments.
“I intend a new strategy of offensive defense. We invite the enemy to attack, give him a bloody nose and wherever possible, harry him all the way back to Combine space.”
“And how many good ships and men is that likely to cost, General?” said Interior. “And at the end of it all is there any guarantee of victory?”
“No, Mr. Secretary, but as I have already made plain, a continuation of our present strategy will simply guarantee defeat.”
“There are some who believe that whatever new strategy we implement, this is a war we can no longer win,” said Interior.
“Some even within this room,” said Defense dryly.
“I make no secret of the fact that I favor an end to the wanton slaughter of our young men and women,” retorted Interior. “There is no dishonor in seeking a peaceful settlement.”
“On what terms?” demanded Defense.
“Negotiated terms. There is no reason to believe that the Combine wouldn’t look favorably on the idea of a negotiated settlement.”
“Settlements need to be negotiated from a position of strength, not weakness,” said Defense. “The Combine have us on the ropes. Do you seriously think they would grant us favorable terms now of all times?”
“I’ve no doubt they would seek concessions, some of which – in the short term – we may find unpalatable. On the other hand, there is no need to assume that they would be completely unreasonable. We would be offering the hand of peace, and since they also have a democratically elected government, and one noted for placing emphasis on strong social values, is it not reasonable they would look favorably on the motion?”
“You seem to forget that their democratically elected government is responsible for managing only their internal affairs,” said Defense. “All external policy, including the running of the war, is decided by the ruling military junta. It is they who would dictate the terms of the surrender.”
“Armistice,” said Interior, visibly irritated.
“And what if the terms of this armistice included the surrender of our fleet?”
“If it gained us favorable terms, would it not be worth it?”
“And once surrendered, what would stop them from sending in a division of battleships and changing the favorable terms to less favorable ones?” replied Defense with rising anger. “Am I the only man on this side of the table that realizes that freedom – true freedom – comes at a price? We only have one chance at this, gentlemen. We must not squander our future on false hopes and promises. Make the wrong decision now and we could find ourselves stripped of our wealth and freedom, denied many of the things we now take for granted and condemned to a life of second class citizenship for generations to come.”
“Gentlemen,” said the First Minister tiredly. “This is ground which we have covered many times before. I suggest we confine our discussion to General Torrance’s proposal.”
Interior gave a wave of his hand and thrust himself back in his chair in irritation.
“General Torrance, what would you need in order to implement this new strategy,” asked Armaments.
“Our first priority must be to bolster the Alliance’s defenses, continuing a policy that Admiral Tarr began several months ago. The focus of these defenses must be centered on the seven colonies previously mentioned. I intend an immediate doubling of orbital batteries defending each world – something that can be achieved with existing stocks – with a further doubling during the months ahead.
“In front of each colony, and to a lesser extent, in the voids between them, I intend sowing multiple layers of warp field disrupters. As you will be aware, any vessel approaching within range of the disrupter arrays – typically five to ten light hours, depending of the type – will find its warp core scrambled, forcing the ship – friend or foe – to drop out of warp. As you will also be aware, without a proper shutdown it takes up to twenty four hours to reinitialize a core, leaving the vessel stranded in the meantime. As a matter of course, both we and the Combine use disrupters to prevent the enemy dropping out of warp too close to any of our assets. I intend to employ them in far greater numbers, constructing interlocking fields designed to channel the enemy’s attacks into specific, defendable channels. We can further bolster the defenses by interspersing the warp disrupters with minefields and finally, in the void between us and Combine space we can sow lines of sensors to detect enemy ship movements.”
“I grasp the theory, General, but this will require far more disrupter units than we presently have at our disposal,” said Armaments. “Depending on the breadth and depth of the disrupter fields, it could take literally thousands of units.”
“I realize that, sir,” said Torrance.
“Is it feasible?” asked the First Minister.
“The disrupters are uncomplicated in design and simple enough to manufacture,” said Armaments. “But even with re-tooling of existing facilities it would still take months to construct that many units. On top of that there is the question of deployment.”
“And in the meantime?
“In the meantime,” said Torrance, “we maintain the status quo and draw out the conflict, preferably with as little bloodshed as possible.”
“Fight when necessary but offer the enemy no provocation,” said Defense.
“Correct,” said Torrance. “Sooner or later they’ll see what we’re up to but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“So that’s your plan,” said Interior. “To hide behind… a wall?”
“Not, Mr. Secretary, it is not.” said Torrance.
“As you may appreciate, General, the Secretary of the Interior is not well versed in the finer points of military strategy,” said Defense with just the right amount of sarcasm. “Perhaps, for his benefit, you could explain the fundamentals of offensive defense.”
“Of course,” said Torrance. “Mr. Secretary, I understand your concerns about hiding behind a wall. History teaches us that walls exist to be broken. Defenders tend to hide behind them and attackers hone their offensive skills looking for ways to breach them. The strategy of offensive defense differs in the sense that while we do indeed construct a barrier – a shield, if you will – the primary objective is not the protection of our assets. It is the destruction of the enemy. We invite him onto the shield and then pull him into pre-determined killing zones – the sword to go with the shield. We deplete his forces and sap his morale whilst at the same time protecting and building up our own.”
“And you believe this strategy of… offensive defense… will bear fruit?” asked the First Minister.
“With providence, the line will hold, First Minister. But a commander who relies on providence alone is doomed. I will need your full support – first with building up our defensive network and then constructing new ships and training new recruits. We already have reasons to be optimistic – the latest Intruder intelligence gathering platforms have entered squadron service and the first batch of our new Z class destroyers is nearing completion. Both classes are superior to anything the Combine presently have in their inventory. Most importantly, morale within the services remains high. We already have a highly trained, professional force at our disposal. Provided us with the tools, allow us to build up the fleet and I believe we can get the job done. If nothing else, we may be able to blunt the Combine war machine sufficiently to persuade their leaders to consider revisiting the peace table.”
The First Minister gazed up at the strategic map which was still on display. He nodded slowly and his face began to harden. It seemed to Torrance that he was sitting a little straighter in his chair and if his expression wasn’t exactly one of defiance, there was at least a look of hope in his eyes. The Defense Secretary noticed it too, and so did Interior. It was easy to tell which man was the happier.
“Well, gentlemen,” said the First Minister, “I suggest we adjourn. General Torrance, we thank you for your clear and concise address. Protocol dictates that the War Council considers the matter in closed session, though I see no reason why we should not look favorably on your proposals. You will be informed of our decision in due course.”
“Congratulations, sir,” said Seagers as they made their way back to their waiting car. “I believe you’ve managed to make an enemy of the Interior Secretary.”
“Not much of a surprise, Major. I think I had my card marked the before I was even confirmed in the job. The good news is that like the Defense Secretary, Armaments sees the situation for what it is. Give up now and God knows what terms the Combine will give us. In truth, I think the First Minister realizes that too but he’s been browbeaten by so many reaction groups that he’s losing sight of his main objective, which is to lead us out of danger. The man just needs some support… that and a little belief.”
“Not going to get much from Interior,” said Seagers.
“True, but it’s not Interior that worries me,” said Torrance.
“It’s people like the Treasury Secretary. If what Defense said was true – and I’ve no doubt that it is – anyone that easily led has no place on the War Council, or any other council for that matter.”
“I noticed that the Treasury Secretary never opened his mouth once during the meeting. At least we know where the Interior Secretary stands.”
“Peace at any cost, apparently. Tell me, Major, What price would you be prepared to pay for peace?”
“With respect, I don’t believe the question serves any useful purpose. You have to earn your peace. It can’t be bought – except the old fashioned way, with blood sweat and tears. And,” he said, tapping his eye patch, “with a few assorted body parts. History is replete with all the relevant lessons, sir. All that is required is a willingness to learn.”
“Did you ever think of going into politics yourself, Major? Your insight might prove useful.”
“Not really, sir. I think I prefer soldiering. Much easier to kill your enemies than debate them.”
“The trouble with politics is that you don’t always know who your enemies are, Major. At least, not until it’s too late.”
“Are you referring to the War Council?”
“Maybe, though I think we have enough allies for the time being. Even if Interior drags the Treasury Secretary along with him, Defense and Armaments will oppose them.”
“Leaving the First Minister with the deciding vote, but whatever they decide, it will still have to go before the senate,” said Seagers.
“The senate has never gone against the decision of the War Council and don’t imagine they’ll start now. That’s not to say they won’t in the future, especially if the downward spiral continues. And there lies the crux of the matter, Major… We just have to make sure that it doesn’t.”
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