Volume 1, Chapter 3:
Civilian Shuttle, Near Tartarus Orbit
"We're almost at the rendezvous point," commented Daniel Carter, who was piloting the shuttle. That was a relief for Marcus Kane, who had only recently been rescued from his execution. Since he had a new lease of life, he at least wanted to be able to stretch his legs before the next inevitable assassination attempt.
"Rendezvous with what exactly?" Kane asked. It sounded like this still wasn't the end of their journey.
"The Valkyrie," answered Alan Wade, who until now had been sleeping at the back of the shuttle. "It's a mining vessel that, officially at least, does a route between the mining facilities at Tartarus and the nearby asteroid fields. The Resistance uses it to covertly transport people to and from Valhalla station. Only a handful of people actually know its location I'm not one of them," he added sarcastically.
"You're taking me directly to the Resistance's headquarters? That's an uncharacteristic show of trust," Kane noted. "Fleet Intelligence has been trying to find the place for years without success, and here you are taking a former fleet officer straight to it." Kane had been expecting some issues of trust over his allegiance.
"We'll we know you have no loyalty to your former employers after that little execution stunt they pulled," said Wade.
"How do you know it wasn't just an elaborate stunt to infiltrate the Resistance?" Kane postured. Maybe it wasn't smart to suggest he wasn't being truthful, but now he had a conversation going on this long and boring flight he wanted to continue it.
"We just know," Carter replied bluntly. Kane could sense that Carter wouldn't elaborate if he asked, so he let the matter rest and kept his questions to himself.
"There's the Valkyrie," Carter pointed out the window. "She's right on time," he noted. The plan was the rendezvous with it in between its faster-than-light jumps as it headed from Tartarus back to one of the asteroid fields. Out here there were no prying eyes or sensors to spot the shuttle that probably every military vessel was looking for by now. It was as good a spot as any to switch ships.
The docking procedure went quickly and smoothly. They had a hard seal on one of the Valkyrie's starboard airlocks less than two minutes later. Both ships opened their doors once the seal was confirmed, revealing the interior of a mining ship that wasn't just for show. Kane could see that the ship was clearly actually being used for mining, and wasn't just an empty cover being used by the resistance.
Kane followed Carter and Wade onto the Valkyrie, himself followed by the other men who rescued him. In the corridor they were met by three men. The one in the middle was older, and presumably the captain. All three looked like they belonged aboard a mining ship this was actually their job, not just some flimsy cover. If the military boarded this ship for an inspection, it would look legitimate in every sense.
"Captain Miller," Carter greeted the older man. Kane was proved right.
"Carter," came the gruff reply. "You're right on time. We're already spooling up the FTL drives for our next jump. We need to get you back to the roost before the vultures come looking. You caused quite a commotion back on Athenia. Although of course, the whole things being downplayed and covered up. I expect Paige will fill you in when you reach Valhalla". Kane couldn't see much opportunity for concealing the true nature of his escape there were live cameras filming at his execution.
"These men will take your transport," Captain Miller added. "We're hoping they can get over the far side of the colonies and spread some disinformation before ditching the ship. Military brass is quite pissed at your escape they'll be throwing everything they have at you soon." Carter looked at each man in turn.
"Be careful, Miller's right. Don't take any unnecessary risks. Do your job, and then get to a safe house quick. There aren't many of us left, we need everyone we have."
The men nodded, then squeezed past the crowd in the narrow corridor to the transport behind. The airlock doors were sealed and the shuttle promptly left. Kane hoped that the men would be ok. They we're essentially risking their lives for him. That was a different kind of responsibility to commanding personnel on a warship.
"We've arranged accommodation for all of you, it'll be a few days before we arrive at Valhalla. If you'll follow me..." the Captain gestured, and headed off down the corridor.
"There aren't many of you left?" Kane asked Carter. Kane didn't realise the Resistance was in such a dire state.
"The military have been hitting us hard the past year. We've lost practically all our facilities except Valhalla station, and a few scattered safe houses and the like. If we lose Valhalla... well, then it'll be over. We can't let that happen. That's why we have the extreme need for secrecy when travelling to and from the station. If the military were to spot a number of ships heading out on the same vectors into deep space....well even they would be suspicious and check it out. Smuggling people and supplies out to the station aboard a mining ship on a legitimate heading to an asteroid field ensures that Valhalla won't be discovered anytime soon." Carter's logic was sound.
"The truth is, we're in need of a miracle. Paige hopes that you can be that miracle. I just hope she's right. We're taking a huge gamble with you." Kane wasn't sure whether he should be honoured by the thought, burdened by the responsibility or angered by the distrust. Perhaps a little of all three in equal measure.
Miller led them down a few more corridors before stopping outside a bulkhead door on the left hand side. He opened it to reveal a small room filled with bunks.
"It's nothing special, and probably not what you're used to," he said while looking a Kane in particular, "but you'll only be here for a day. Carter and Wade know where the mess hall is if you're hungry. Call me on the comms if you need me." With that he headed back off down the corridor to attend to his duties, whatever they were.
Kane suddenly realised that he was in fact rather hungry, given that we hadn't eaten for a long time, and even then his meals while in captivity were less than filling. Wade appeared to be thinking along a similar line.
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm bloody starving," he announced. The soldiers murmured agreement and Kane nodded. "Well, shall we?" Wade invited, gesturing out towards the hallway.
The food was far from exceptional, but Kane imagined it was far above the standard you'd expect onboard an ordinary mining vessel. He certainly had no complaints about the taste after his recent meals.
After a filling meal and a bit of light-hearted discussion on topics ranging from the Resistance to the latest sports games, they all headed back to their dorm to bunk down for the night. Of course, there was no actual night in space, but ships still operated on a standard 24 hour day schedule, and it was already past 2300 hours.
* * *
Kane was woken from his much-needed slumber by Wade at 0900 hours.
"We're about to arrive," he announced. Kane begrudgingly sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. "You should come up to command, it's quite a sight."
Kane headed over to the washbasin for a quick wash while Wade waited. Together they headed off down the corridors. They all looked the same to Kane, but luckily Wade seemed to know his way around.
Two minutes later they entered the command deck. It was an unusual sight for Kane. All the command consoles were vaguely familiar, but the vast screen at the front of the deck offering a wide view into space was unfamiliar to him. Warships didn't have windows, as they were structurally weak compared to the armour plating, and posed a high risk of explosive decompressions during combat engagements. The Pegasus' CIC was deep within the heart of the ship, so that it would be safe from incoming fire no matter what happened to the hull.
Ahead of the nose of the ship, Kane could just make out the outline of a space station. It gradually grew larger as they approached, until Kane could make out the details. It certainly wasn't pretty not compared to some of the military stations that Kane had seen at least. In fact, it looked like several sections had been hastily bolted on the main structure to enlarge the station.
He watched as Captain Miller gave out the orders to come alongside and eventually dock with one of the stations arms. There was a slight tremble in the ship as the docking clamps latched into place.
"We're leaving in 30 minutes, so you best grab your gear and get aboard the station" said Captain Miller. Wade nodded, and gestured for Kane to follow.
"Quite a rust-bucket isn't she?" He asked. Kane nodded in agreement. "Don't worry; she's nicer on the inside. I suspect you'll have quite the welcoming party."
He wasn't wrong either. When they left the ship, there was quite a crowd on the other side of the docking hatch Including some armed guards. A blonde woman with a hard stare stood in front of the others.
"Kane, meet Karis Paige the leader of the Resistance." Kane wasn't entirely sure how to deal with the introduction, especially under these circumstances. "You know, Military Intelligence thinks you're a man," he noted.
"They think that, because that's what I want them to think," came her harsh-toned reply. "Understand this You could be a great asset to us, and we've been watching you for some time - however events have forced our hands. Frankly, I don't know whether I can trust you yet. If you try anything which looks like you're betraying our trust, the station guards have orders to shoot you on sight."
With her introduction out of the way she headed off followed by her entourage, leaving Kane to ponder the hospitality of his new environment.
"Don't worry," Wade offered his support. "The Ice Queen's like that to all her new friends."
Friends. Kane wondered if that was the right word.
"Sir, If you come with me I'll show you to your quarters," said one of the guards who remained behind. At least someone here still had manners.
"If you need me, Michael here knows where to find me," Wade said while slapping the guard on the shoulder. He then headed off into the distance. Kane now felt totally isolated in his new environment.
"This way sir," beckoned Michael the guard.
Kane was lead to some corridors which were clearly the residential part of the station. The interior looks just as cobbled together as the exterior of the station. It served its function, but wasn't as refined and pretty as one of the alliance stations. Still, Kane guessed the Resistance had to work with what little it had. And based on what he had seen so far, that was a lot less than he had expected. He began to wonder if Intelligence had exaggerated reports on the Resistance's military strength.
"Here we are sir," said Michael as he opened the door to some rather humble accommodation. It was even smaller than the room on the Valkyrie. Kane wondered what this room's purpose was before being turned into bunk space, because it was far too small by anyone's standards. A bunk and a desk alone had filled most of the room. "Restroom is just down the hall," gestured Michael.
"Thank you," said Kane, returning his manners. He closed the door and made a beeline for the bunk. He still needed to catch up on some sleep.
* * *
Valhalla, Conference Room
"We should bring him into the circle straight away," said Wade. "We've just scored a political win, we need to capitalise on that right away."
"I don't trust him. It's far too early to trust him with all our secrets," replied Paige.
"You don't even trust us with every secret," countered Carter. "I don't see how that's going to be an issue."
"We've had to extract him far ahead of schedule. If we open up to him and he betrays us then it's all over, and they've won. That's a risk I will NOT take!" Paige was adamant.
A female voice in the corner spoke up. It was Claire Larkin, head of the Resistance's Intelligence division.
"Our inside source was certain that Kane's loyalty to the establishment was broken long ago. Copies of the ships logs confirm that he isn't their puppet. He played fast and loose with the rulebook for years. The only reason the Admiralty let him get away with it was because he was their star prodigy".
"And you trust the source?" Paige was still sceptical.
"Implicitly," replied Larkin. Paige sighed.
"As much as it pains me to admit it, we need him, more now than ever. This is a huge gamble, I just hope it's the right one. We'll reconvene at 1800 hours; get Kane's guard to bring him up here then." The room dismissed itself.
* * *
Valhalla, Kane's Quarters
Kane woke up some time later, and felt the need to use the restroom. He opened his door to find Michael standing guard outside.
"Oh," was his initial reaction. "Is this really necessary?" he asked.
"I'm sorry sir, I'm just following orders," he looked genuinely ashamed.
"Is there something wrong?" asked Kane
"Sir, my brother served under you on the Scylla. He trusted you without reservation, and I trust my brothers judgement." Kane was honoured by this frank confession.
"What's your surname soldier?" he asked.
"Shaw, sir," he replied. Kane thought for a moment.
"Ah!" he remembered "Ensign Jonathan Shaw. A fine young pilot." Michael looked surprised that Kane remembered someone relatively insignificant from his old crew.
"You know all your crew well sir?" he asked.
"I believe that to be an effective commander you need to know the people who serve with you, so that you can expect the best from each other. I have no interest in being some ominous figurehead at the front of the ship leading with an iron fist." Michael realised that maybe all the praise his brother put on his former commanding officer wasn't exaggeration after all. He also noted that Kane had said served with instead of the more traditional served under.
"How is your brother anyway?" asked Kane. Michael was jolted out of his thoughts.
"He's a lieutenant now, sir. Still serving aboard the Scylla."
"Forgive me for asking but...you're effectively on opposite sides of this conflict. How does that work?" Michael knew from the tone of his voice that Kane wasn't being accusative, he was just genuinely curious.
"Well sir, my brother's an idealist. He's supportive of our cause, but he believes that just quitting the fleet isn't the right answer. He believes that as long as good people remain, there's hope for the Fleet yet." Kane considered that opinion. It hadn't worked out quite so ideal in his case.
"I need to use the restroom."
"It's almost 1800 sir. Once you're done I need to take you to the conference room. Paige wants to see you." Kane nodded an acknowledgement and they set off down the corridor.
Valhalla, Conference Room
The door opened to reveal a number of people sat around an elaborate conference table in the centre of the room. He recognised Paige, Carter & Wade but not the woman at the back.
"I believe you're acquainted with most the people in this room," said Paige as if reading his mind. "This is Claire Larkin, our Head Intelligence Officer." Kane shook her hand. "Please be seated," Paige gestured to an open space between Wade and Carter.
Kane couldn't believe her change in attitude since their first meeting.
" I apologise for my rude behaviour when we first met," she began. Wade appeared to choke with amazement. Clearly he wasn't used to Paige apologising to anyone. "My reasoning still stands though. I don't know that I can trust you yet. However it appears that we don't have a choice. We've had our eyes on you for some time. Unfortunately, due to the incident at Phrygia we had to escalate our timetable. I hope you can appreciate the sheer risk and audacity of rescuing you from your own televised execution," she asked.
"And for that I'm thankful," replied Kane. "However I'm sure that the televised nature of the event made the political coup well worth it," he noted.
"Indeed that proved a decisive victory for us. The military couldn't just bury this one. They stopped the cameras rolling, of course. But not until after you'd been freed from your noose. The whole Alliance saw the rescue attempt."
"Attempt?" questioned Kane. Larkin answered him.
"Yes, the official line is that you were recaptured shortly after. They stopped short of officially declaring you dead because of the potential embarrassment that could cause if when your freedom becomes public knowledge. However they spun events as if this proved you had direct ties to the Resistance prior to your arrest. Which of course further justifies your removal from command. In short, they scored a few political points as well."
"It wasn't just a political victory for us though," said Paige. "It was for tactical reasons as well. As you probably know the Resistance has taken some pretty heavy defeats in the last two years as the fleet has stepped up its campaign to crush us. What you probably don't know is just how close to defeat we actually are. We needed you because you are a master tactician, and would be the best candidate to turn our fortunes around. Turning you would of course also be a major loss to our enemy also, and not just for the political reasons."
"What are our military assets?" asked Kane. This time it was Wade's turn to answer.
"We have one cruiser class ship, three frigates, and two armed shuttles. Additionally, several unarmed vessels such as the Valkyrie, and a fair number of trained soldiers"
"Military Intelligence led us to believe that you still had the equivalent firepower of up to two of our fleets. You're saying it's less than a quarter of that?" Kane was surprised. Or perhaps concerned would be more accurate.
"Obviously we would need to increase our assets before we could stand toe to toe with anything the Alliance has at its disposal. That where you come in. We need you to gives us some tactical victories so we can get off our back foot and go on the offensive." Paige clearly didn't like being on the defensive.
"The Alliance is regrouping. They want no, NEED to capture or kill you as quickly as possible to prevent further embarrassment. We need to work fast to exploit our victory or they'll be all over us," said Larkin.
"I suggest you rest yourself. We start planning tomorrow at 0800 hours."