2947-09-10 – Tales from the Service: Source Gabriel 

As some of you may know from my personal datasphere hub, a cousin of mine (the very cousin who first introduced me to Cosmic Background when I was still a student) was a crew tech aboard Reiter’s Kite, which went missing during a Silver Strand border patrol two weeks ago, and is as of yesterday presumed lost with all hands. 

Reiter’s Kite is the largest of several ships damaged or lost in the last month, as most of you well know, and my mourning is hardly unique or special. The Ladeonist insurgents attacking Navy patrols in the Strand sector have claimed the lives of almost one thousand Navy service personnel, though the Navy is giving at least as good as it’s getting in what many see as a secondary theater of the Frontier War. Unfortunately, this is not the case; Ladeonist terrorists, pirates, Rattanai imperialists, and other dangerous elements keep elements of two fleets almost constantly busy on the borders of the Reach, even in peace-time. Likely the Hegemony has a comparable amount of its navy assigned to this sort of duty on its own borders. 

I remind you all of this only to remind this audience that my extended family’s grief is neither special nor unique. I will not be taking time off covering the conflict to travel back to the Core Worlds for the memorial service, and do not wish this feed or its social media presence to focus on my (or any) personal tragedy. 

This week, we have another account provided by a semi-cooperative prisoner of war, this one housed here at Maribel in the prison ship Vibiana Kobe. While no Cosmic Background staff have talked with him, Nojus followed up with the source, a Naval Intelligence junior officer whose name we must unfortunately redact from this feed, who provided audio recordings of the interview from which it is drawn. The prisoner in question is known in Intelligence records only as Source Gabriel, and we will use his code-name here rather than his real name. Source Gabriel was captured by a mercenary outfit which engaged the enemy at Bitterweald, and he has given the Navy a large body of useful intelligence, including data about the capabilities of the Coronach strike interceptor used heavily by the Incarnation. 

The Coronach is the same interceptor which has been in this feed repeatedly misidentified as a drone; these tiny one-seat war-launches are far more maneuverable than the Navy’s workhorse Magpie gunship, but they are exceedingly fragile and carry only short-range energy cannons. 

His revelations about the hierarchy of the Incarnation’s military and their use of counterhuman tech to enhance their warfighting abilities, though general, has also been most helpful. For my part, I’m just happy he provided their names for some of their machines and systems; it makes my job a lot easier. 

He also gave some insight into the mindset of the foe; I must say it bears considerable resemblance to the beliefs of Ladeonism, at least as it first appeared shortly before the Terran-Rattanai War. 

Gabriel stood at attention next to his Coronach as Flight Leader Yasin conferred with the woman in red. According to the briefing-pulse, two pathetic strike carriers – converted haulers, really – were the only enemy force in the system, and the captain intended to wipe out both carriers while his own squadrons tore the defenders to pieces. 

Something had changed, however, and a new briefing-pulse had not been issued. As the eleven pilots watched Yasin stand motionless in the middle of the flight deck with the newcomer’s silver-traceried hand resting lightly on his temple, uneasy messages flickered invisibly on laser-link between one and the next. They had all seen the woman in red at least once before, and all found themselves unable to learn anything about her on the ship’s datasphere. The cruiser’s computer told them all that she did not exist, but she appeared with the captain often enough that her presence was certainly authorized. Even now, she stood in the launch hangar, in full view of perhaps a hundred security data monitors, without fear. 

Among the laser-linked messages crossing the hangar-deck, one meant for Gabriel struck his implants’ photosensors. “She’s an Immortal.” Tashi’s voice, synthesized from a text-only missive, trickled into his auditory nerves. “Did you see those traces just appear on her hand?” 

“So is the security chief. So what?” Gabriel sent back. The Incarnation’s chosen few had once seemed a sinister rarity, but their presence aboard ship had become a constant and even comforting reality since the war had begun. A few of them supposedly even mounted up with the Coronach squadrons, though none of Gabriel’s squadron-mates could be counted among the Most Fortunate Children. 

“What if she’s a Harmonizer?” Tashi’s voice carried no particular tone when synthesized from text, but Gabriel knew his friend was worried. Where Harmonizers struck, cancers were cut out of the Incarnation’s great body, and sometimes healthy tissue around the cancer also needed to be excised. “What if there’s a traitor aboard?” 

“A traitor? On this ship?” Gabriel remained still and stony-faced, but the idea was almost humorous. Who would be so catastrophically mad as to betray the cause of preserving humanity for all time, after taking an oath to carry that cause to the ends of the very universe? And if madness so wildly aberrant manifested itself among the personnel aboard a warship, how could it go undetected by security systems? 

Tashi didn’t respond before Flight Leader Yasin, released by the woman in red, staggered backward, then saluted smartly. A second later, a supplemental briefing-pulse unpacked itself into Gabriel’s memory systems. The mission had changed, but only slightly; the flight leader would mount up in a Coronach modified by the woman in red, in which he would pursue and capture particular target among the ramshackle combat launches currently attempting to intercept the ship. The rest of the flight would need to tackle the remaining enemy ships without their leader. 

“Flight, mount up.” Yasin barked the order out loud, as was traditional, and with a barked shout as one, the other eleven pilots in the flight turned on their heels and leapt into the waiting embrace of their tiny, deadly ships. Just before the Coronach’s pressure-cabin closed around him, Gabriel caught Tashi’s eye across the flight deck, and received one final message on laser-link. “Looks like you’re the Section One lead now.” 

As the clamshell cabin sealed itself, Gabriel received another briefing-pulse, opening wide the command signaling systems for a flight leader. Normally, he wouldn’t be field-promoted to flight leader unless Yasin was dead; this was a unique situation and a big responsibility. He had to make sure Tashi and Azurra made it out alive, because he would be answerable to Yasin if he lost any of them. It would be better, he knew, not to return at all, than to return without Tashi and Azurra. 

As the interceptor powered up, its hardlink connectors fixed themselves to his neckline implant jacks. In an instant, the pure darkness and silence of the cockpit suddenly vanished, replaced by the lights and sounds of the hangar outside. Instead of hands and feet, Gabriel felt the steady hum of the drive and the reassuring strength of the twin plasma lances. 

All around him, the other Coronachs, each clearly labeled in his camera-vision with its pilot, warmed up and tested their control interfaces. The last few tech-rigs trundled away, and Gabriel saw the modified Coronach just being hauled out of its enclosure. Its twin plasma lances were gone, replaced by the ill-fitting apparatus of a gravitic net. At a nod from the woman in red, Flight Leader Yasin climbed inside. 

“There are sixteen enemy strike ships, and eleven of us." Azurra observed over the Section One combat interlink. “What do you think about those odds?” 

Gabriel smiled, the sensations of tensing cheek-muscles clashing strangely with the feedback sensations of the Coronach’s systems. “These hired mercenaries are always weak. Make it fifty, then maybe we should worry.”