2950-06-14 – Tales from the Inbox: The Professor’s Calculations

“This is not going to work.” Rachel Aldershoff shook her head, turning one of the flexible-mounted displays to face her passenger. “There are two cruisers in orbit. That means a lot of strike patrols. We’re going to have to wait and see if they leave. I think they will, but we’re going to be here a while.” 

“Hmm.” Professor Jarvis Courtenay perched his chin on his fingers as he watched the two huge warships drift over the dull-brown face of Adimari Valis amid the silhouettes of smaller, boxier ships. “Why are they here?” 

“Convoy escorts for all those transports, I’d guess.” Rachel shrugged. “Could be days or weeks. We’ve got supplies, but there are other problems.” 

“But you aren’t being paid to sit out here and watch them.” The professor sighed. “I can pay you more than we agreed if this takes too long.” 

“Are you daft?” Rachel turned her chair around. “For what you’re paying, I’d sit out here near a month, if we weren’t going to be found out by then.” 

“Found out? I thought this ship was hard to find when you wanted it to be.” 

Rachel scoffed. “Sure, Rubicelle Randy is sneaky, but it’s not invisible. Out there, you’re looking at two military grade optical surveillance suites which are scanning the sky in all directions. They’ll see us eventually, probably just as a weird piece of metal where it shouldn’t be. Then they'll send a flight of Coronachs out here to have a look.” 

“Presumably, those will shoot us to bits.” Courtenay nodded. “How long do we have?” 

“I’m not staying here more than three or four shifts, not for a hundred million credits.” Rachel stood up and pushed past her passenger, heading for the food-fab machine in the ship’s passenger lounge. “I’ve got some decent monitoring gear too, though. Maybe good enough to detect when they send someone out to get us with time to escape.” 

Courtenay followed her through the narrow gangway and down into the lounge. “You don’t seem all that worried.” 

Punching in a request for coffee, Rachel flopped down in one of the more comfortable chairs. “There will be time for that later. Since we’re stuck for a while, though, maybe you should tell me something, Doctor Courtenay.” 

“Eh? What was that?” The man, leaned on one bulkhead, his head stooped down as if in thought, looked up. 

“You told me your son is down there at a dig.” Rachel gestured forward, to the planet far ahead. “You implied he was a xenoarchaeologist, like you, but he’s not, is he?” 

Courtenay’s eyes went wide, then his face became an unreadable mask. “What makes you say that?” 

“I know my business, Professor.” Rachel leaned over to take her coffee from the machine and watched her passenger over the top of the cup for several seconds. “You told me your son’s name, and I looked him up before we left Maribel. He’s no xenoarchaeologist, but it was more interesting to me that, at least officially, he’s been dead for two years.” 

“Ah.” Courtenay met Rachel’s eyes, and a slight smile tugged at his thin lips. “You read the records correct. But did you read deeply enough, I wonder?” 

Rachel shrugged. “The records say his ship was blown up trying to flee Adimari Valis a few hours too late. That ship was a mercenary troopship, not a research expedition vessel. Your son was a merc ground-pounder on a protection contract. Perhaps you were not lying when you said he was at a dig site, were you?” 

Courtenay arched one eyebrow. “My son is not very much like me. That did not seem relevant to our arrangement.” 

“You knew he wasn’t on that ship.” Rachel pointed to Courtenay. “You let the authorities score him dead, when you knew better. I found no record you even contested it.” 

“You stand at the edge of a precipice, Miss Aldershoff.” Jarvis Courtenay stepped away from the wall. “Care you do not fall in.” 

“What was he wrapped up in that-” 

A harsh beeping from the cockpit controls interrupted Rachel’s question. Scowling, she hopped up and rushed to see what was the matter. It was too early to have been spotted by Incarnation surveillance, at any rate. 

“Before you finish your question, be sure you will want the answer when you have it.” Courtenay called after her as she slid into the pilot’s seat. 

Rachel rolled her eyes and scanned the displays, noticing that the alarm had been raised by a change in the formation of ships orbiting the planet. The transports had grouped up into a tight formation, with one big Tyrant cruiser moving out to break orbit and the other falling in behind them. 

“Looks like our luck is holding.” Rachel squinted at the displays. Somehow, she knew Courtenay had come to her to barter passage already knowing something about the movement schedules of the Incarnation ships. She could never prove it, of course, and was hesitant to ask. Something about his suggestion to be sure she wanted the answer made her shiver. Who was the man she had aboard her ship? 

“Ah, excellent.” Courtenay appeared behind Rachel’s chair. “I trust this lessens your concerns about being detected?” 

Rachel looked up at the man, but not even a twinkle in his eyes suggested what he knew, or what he was thinking. “A bit.” She switched on the stealthy hooded-ion drive and carefully eased the throttle up to a tiny fraction of one gee acceleration. “Let’s get you down there.” 

This week, with everything here at Maribel still settling down after the leadership change, I have little to report. The fleet’s command staff has been pretty tight-lipped about Admiral Venturi’s first days as Fifth Fleet’s commander in chief, though I suppose that won’t last long. Rumors have been circulating about a big shakeup, but nothing has happened yet. 

2950-06-07 – Tales from the Inbox: The Professor's Adventure

Today, Fifth Fleet announced the resignation of Admiral Reneer Zahariev, effective immediately. In theory, the investigation into the battles in the Håkøya system is still ongoing, and nobody in the government or in the Navy’s central bureau has openly declared Zahariev at fault for losing the system, but it seems all but certain that Minister Neirin and the Admiralty Council requested his resignation shortly after the Causey War Memorial dedication. 

Though I cannot confirm this, rumor has it that Captain Kirke-Moore departed the Maribel system three days prior to Zahariev’s resignation, apparently on a ship bound for Allsop. As this embed team has enjoyed positive interactions with the Fifth Fleet staff through Captain Kirke-Moore, we wish him the best in his apparent desire to return to retirement. 

Though no official announcement has been made, it is expected that Admiral Tamara Venturi, the second in command of Home Fleet who was part of the Navy delegation to the memorial dedication, will be Zahariev’s replacement. Venturi, young for a flag officer at 49, has apparently occupied ground-side postings in the Core Worlds for most of her career, but Captain Liao informs me that she has a good reputation as an out-of-the-box thinker, at least in terms of military theory and performance in simulated fleet battles. A formal announcement of Zahariev’s replacement is expected in the next few days. 

Yes, I will attempt to set up an interview, but I offer no guarantees. 

“You’ve gotta be kidding me. Twenty-five thousand?” 

Rachel Aldershoff stared down the scowling man with only a single raised eyebrow. She’d been flying too damned long to let a penny-pinching customer intimidate her into slashing her profits. 

“It’s only what, fifty ly to Saunder’s Hoard?” The man, waving a slate and trying to loom over Rachel, banged the device against Rubicelle Randy’s nearest landing strut. “I could almost buy a wreck like this for twenty thousand!” 

“You’re welcome to try.” She knew all too well that no ship on Maribel that was anywhere near spaceworthy could be had for less than five times that amount. Just the previous day, she’d seen someone sell a forty-year-old Albatross Explorer for three times its going market value on any other world. “Twenty-five thousand is the fee. Load what you want, as long as it fits, it’s yours, and it’s no trouble with the authorities. I know you can afford it, Mr. Velasquez, and moreover, I know you won’t find anyone willing to take you for less. I could charge you forty, and you’d probably still have to pay it.” 

“You spacers are all the same. Greedy, heartless pieces of-” 

“Finish that sentence, and the fare is thirty thousand.” Rachel turned back toward the gangplank which led up into her little ship’s belly. 

Velasquez sputtered and fumed for several seconds before tossing the slate onto the landing pad and storming off. 

Rachel smirked and patted the familiar hull of Rubicelle Randy above her head. Though it had started life as a humble Columbia personnel transport, Randy had been overhauled so many times that it only superficially resembled its numerous sisters. It deserved to carry better than Velasquez and his various pointless posessions, but Rachel didn’t discriminate; she’d move whoever could pay, wherever they wanted to go, as long as it was legal or she had plausible deniability. 

“Excuse me.” 

The timid voice caused Rachel to turn around, and she found there a figure almost perfectly matching the voice. Tall but stooped, slim and grey-haired, with an almost stereotypically academic bearing, the man leaned on a carved wooden cane. “Would you be Captain Aldershoff?” 

“Captains fly ships bigger than this, Mister.” Rachel shrugged. “What do you need?” 

“I’m looking to book a trip off-world. To visit family.” 

Rachel nodded. The “visiting family” euphemism had become quite popular among Maribel’s well to do citizens for their flight from the world that seemed poised to fall next. “I’m in that business. Fee is-” 

“Twenty-five thousand?” The tall man smiled. "It is a bit farther to Adimari Valis than to Saunder’s Hoard.” 

“That would be-” Rachel stopped, blinked, and held up one hand. “Are my ears finally going, or did you say Adimari Valis?” 

“Is there a problem?” 

“What rock have you been living under, Mister? Adimari Valis has been an Incarnation world for more than a year. If you really had family on that rock, God have mercy on their souls.” Rachel waved her hands. “I don’t do runs to enemy systems. That’s suicide.” 

“Come now, Captain Aldershoff, we both know it's not suicide. You just need to have the right ship, and the right pilot.” The tall man brought his cane up to tap the stubby nose of Rubicelle Randy, which extended almost to where he was standing. “If it is an issue of money, I can pay more.” 

“You’re serious.” Rachel glanced past the man, seeing no-one who might overhear. She had no idea what he knew about the real capabilities of Rubicelle Randy, but anything at all was bad news. “Why don’t we discuss the details inside.” 

The man nodded and gestured for Rachel to lead the way. Thinking furiously about who might be leaking information about Randy’s capabilities to the general public, she escorted him up into the ship’s main passenger compartment, currently configured as a sort of lounge. 

Once he stooped to pass through the hatch, the man looked around. “Quite comfortable.” 

“Who are you?” Rachel pressed a button on her wrist computer to close the hatch and activate the various anti-surveillance systems built into the compartment. 

“My name is Jarvis Courtenay.” The man’s name matched his appearance so perfectly that Rachel almost giggled to hear it. “I’m a professor of xenoarchaeology at the Slaine-Wyrick Institute, and my son really is on Adimari Valis.” 

“I don’t know what you’ve heard about me or my ship, but I’m not a miracle worker. If your son was there when the Incarnation landed, he’s probably dead.” Rachel shuddered, remembering stories she’d heard about the other alternatives. “He’s lucky if he’s dead.” 

“Oh, Raymond is not dead. At least, he was not dead twenty days ago, when he recorded a message for me. I pray that has not changed.” 

Rachel shook her head. There was, obviously, no direct way to get information in or out of Adimari Valis, but she had heard of foolhardy spacers who snuck in close to Incarnation-held worlds to collect covertly-transmitted messages and deliver them elsewhere. If these illicit post-men survived, they could make quite a profit, but there was no way of knowing if any message they carried was sent by someone compromised by the enemy. “He sent you a message asking you to come? That sounds like a baited Inquisition trap.” 

“Oh, no.” Courtenay shook his head. “His message only said that he is faring well, despite everything, and that he’d found something marvelous. He dared not say much more.” 

“Then why?” Rachel gestured to the man. “You’re an academic. No offense, but you’re in no shape to be skulking among the rocks and avoiding chip-head patrols.” 

Courtenay shrugged. “Raymond was at a dig in a very remote part of the badlands when the Incarnation landed. He is probably still there, and I doubt the foe has visited even once.” 

“And you came here to ask me not to help you rescue him, but to help you join him?” Rachel waited a few seconds, hoping the obvious insanity of this position would become clear to what seemed otherwise to be a reasonably sensible person. 

Unfortunately, Jarvis Courtenay seemed impenetrable to reason. “That is precisely what I want, Captain Aldershoff. Trust that an old academic has done his research.” He winked conspiratorially. “I know you can help me. What would you charge?” 

Rachel winced. She could turn the old man down flat, of course, but if he knew too much, he could make a lot of trouble for her with the authorities. Worse still, she didn’t really want to turn him down – suicidally crazy or not, she knew she’d enjoy a week aboard with Professor Courtenay. “Make it forty thousand up front. We leave tomorrow at zero six hundred local time.” 

“Forty.” Courtenay nodded, then reached into his pocket, withdrew two one-thousand credit chits, and set them on a shelf near the hatch. “I’ll have the rest when I arrive tomorrow.”  

Rachel opened the hatch and the old man ambled out, seemingly impervious to the peril which he had just signed up for. 

2950-05-31 – Tales from the Service: Veslemøy Park

This week, a Confederated Assembly delegation led by War Minister Gennady Neirin visited Maribel for the dedication of the Causey War Memorial in a groundside cemetery near the Maribel Spaceport. Despite its name, this memorial bears the names of all those confirmed and presumed dead after the battles on and above Margaux. Captain Liao allowed this embed team to join him at the dedication, at which Admiral Zahariev and most of the other senior captains and flag officers of Fifth Fleet were present.

Rather than bring an account sent in by one of the many spacers and adventures involved in the war in peripheral roles, I’ve elected to reproduce a portion of Minister Neirin’s speech at the dedication.

(NOTE: The speech below was given during of a public event which was, by request of Fifth Fleet officials, not recorded by any audiovisual device. A transcript recorder in the podium provided a textual record of the event for the Naval Archives, and it is from this record which this selection is drawn.)

Yes, we are here to dedicate a few hundred square meters of Maribel soil in the memory of those who fought The Incarnation to a bloody standstill at Margaux. Think on that for a moment. Perhaps you can see, as I do, that this offering of ground, synthcrete, and stone is too little to immortalize the memory of so much blood and so many sacrifices.

Many centuries ago, when dedicating a memorial not too different in principle from this one, one of our forebears made a revolutionary remark, that perhaps in the short remainder of his life he did not fully understand. Indeed, many centuries of great leaders and thinkers have pondered his words without grasping all the implications of what that man said.

What he said, standing on the beaten and blasted soil of the battleground on a grey day in Earth’s late autumn, was that we, the living, cannot really consecrate a fitting memorial for the dead. The memorial they consecrated through their valorous struggle consecrated a memorial for them which was, as he said, far beyond our power to alter.

You have already heard a few anecdotes from Bishop Anderson and Father Pamphilos telling the stories of a few of the many heroes of Margaux. In the light of these stories, and in the certainty that there are thousands of other stories of valor which history will never know, can we ever expect to build or consecrate any memorial truly worthy of their memory?

In view of this sobering reminder, let us not think too highly of what we do here at this memorial. Soon, we will all return to our posts, to our ships, to our halls of government, and it will be time to return to the unfinished work started by the dead whose names you see on these pillars. True, we now look at Margaux as a defeat, and a bloody, sobering one, but it represented the hopes and prayers of all the peoples of the Reach. At Margaux, the brave souls now departed across the Sea of Glass showed that our foe can be beaten, and now it is our duty to complete the work they started, to ensure that their sacrifice is not in vain.

Even as far as we can give these dead a memorial, I would see that this place, here on Maribel, should not be the final remembrance of their sacrifice. Some day, whether it be in one T-year, in five, or in twenty, we will return to Margaux, and take back the enduring monument which our dead built and hallowed for themselves. When we do, it will be the battlefields and redoubts of the Causey Plana themselves which will stand for all time as a testament to their sacrifice, and to the victory whose foundation is watered in their blood. Their enduring memorial to future generations will, God willing, not be found in any edifice of stone; it will be in the freedom and prosperity of Margaux and all the other worlds now fallen into darkness.

To that end, my friends, we must be active in our own roles in this conflict, but do not forget also to pray unceasingly. Pray for our spacers and troops, and pray that God grants them victory on their battlefields on this beachhead, or on the next.

2950-05-24 – Tales from the Service: A Sovereign’s Offer

While most of the mercenary companies supporting the Navy’s defense of the Coreward Frontier are quite happy to send reports to this publication, the one from which nothing has ever been sent is Sovereign Security Solutions.

Indeed, many mercenary companies seem to view Cosmic Background as a dumping ground for press releases thinly disguised as direct accounts of their victories and activities. We do, I hope, a good job of filtering this out of both the vidcast and text feed programming, and these companies are perfectly welcome to submit sponsored items following our usual sponsorship process if they wish to use our platform to advertise their interests. 

The total silence from within such a massive organization as Sovereign extends to our competitor outlets as well. This can only be the result of a deliberate policy of retaliation against anyone who leaks the company’s doings, and it strikes me as highly suspicious. We’ve seen several accounts on this feed of Sovereign acting suspiciously (most recently A Sovereign Entrance), but the Navy seems to trust the company’s leadership, and so far the company has not done anything to change this. 

Several mercenary outfits we are in contact with have gotten strangely generous buyout offers from Sovereign in recent weeks. Most have stalled or rejected these offers, but a few have taken them up. The companies receiving these offers have been ones with fielding armor-suit infantry units, but we can only guess why Sovereign needs ground troops in the Coreward Frontier, while most of its best assets are tied up in fighting and raiding around Sagittarius Gate. Nevertheless, I’ve selected the account of Captain Xasan Maas as representative of the sorts of encounters multiple people have reported to me; whatever Sovereign is planning, it’s here, and it involves putting boots in dirt. 

[N.T.B. - Sovereign’s top leadership includes people alleged to be former pirates, and its overall top officer is rogue Navy officer best known before his mercenary career for almost single-handedly starting war between the Confederated Worlds and Rahl Hegemony in the 2920s. Its biggest contracts before the War were all for the Hegemony, and its forces have put down at least one anti-Hegemony rebellion. While I’d love to have a few drinks with the self-styled "Commodore" Madoc and talk about his various adventures and close scrapes, I’m not sure I’d let him watch my back.] 

“Let me make this as clear as I can.” The woman in the black and gold Sovereign uniform grinned and leaned in, dropping her voice to a conspiratorial tone. “You run a good outfit, Captain Maas, good enough for Sovereign. What do you say to a buyout at twenty-five?” 

“Twenty-five million.” Xasan Maas tried to sip his drink nonchalantly, pretending to mull over her offer without letting his eyes pop out of his head. The whole sum of his little mercenary company’s assets came to less than sixteen million credits, of which their lovingly-restored troopship represented the lion’s share. Twenty-five million would pay off all his creditors with millions to spare, and as the sole owner of the company, Xasan had no obligation to share those millions with anyone. “I’d ask what the catch was.” 

“Only the standard points. You can’t retire for eighteen months but we’ll pay you a salary as a Sovereign skipper. We’ll give everyone else on your payroll a ten percent raise, and even throw around a few one-time bonuses to head off any grumbling about your take.” The woman grinned, her eyes darting across the room to where Xasan’s senior officers were chatting with a group of mercenaries from other outfits, including Sovereign. “The offer is for all of the assets and employees of Maas Holdings, not for the company or its branding. We’re not interested in all the corporate paperwork, and we find our branding quite... sufficient.” 

Xasan nodded, feeling uneasy even as his brain worked through the millions of credits he would gain from the transaction. Ever since he had brought his mercenaries to the Frontier, he’d resented Sovereign Security Solutions for its smug, elitist way of doing nearly everything. The company seemed to have infinite funding, perhaps the result of obscenely profitable Navy contracts that no other company could even bid for. The Sovereign representative was offering him a Faustian bargain, and the sly cant to her easy smile suggested she knew it. 

Bonuses or no, most of his people would resent him for letting Sovereign buy him out. Some of his people hated Sovereign even more than the Incarnaton – after all, the Incarnation showing up anywhere was good for business, whereas Sovereign showing up there was bad for it. Sure, most would stay on through the grumbling, but the most principled mercenaries – a contradiction in terms, perhaps, but a real enough phenomenon – would quit on the spot to avoid taking Sovereign’s blood money.  

Sensing his hesitation, the woman tsked and sipped at her drink. “We can help you message it to your people. We have done this before.” 

To Xasan, this was a step too far. Having consultants help him figure out how to message something to his crew and troopers was a step too far. Squaring his shoulders, he held out his hand as if warding away the temptation of all those millions. “It’s a fine offer, and I’m flattered, but I’m not selling the company.” 

“Of course you’re not.” The woman shrugged and tossed her head, clearly not used to taking no for an answer. “But if you change your mind...” A holo-card appeared between her fingers, and she stepped forward to slip it into the pocket of Xasan’s grey tunic. “My door is open for the next few days.” 

After hovering at an intimate distance for a few perplexing seconds, the woman from Sovereign slipped away and vanished off toward the bar. Xasan watched her go, more to appreciate the way her black uniform accented her build and proportions than out of any regret for refusing her offer. Sovereign, in his experience, was always trouble, and working for them had to mean the most trouble of all.