Here we go. I promised we were working on part 10, didnt I? The delay is mostly due to Windy, who was busy writing a thesis these past few months. Ever see a science student writing a thesis? It really isnt pretty. A big thanks to Claudia, our fabulous beta reader, for her help in straightening out our grammar and spelling problems. Adarkbow@yahoo.com
Admiral Erin Callejo loved to study the stars. They were what had drawn her into space in the first place and they had held her there from her days at the Coalition Academy to her posting as the head of Fourth Fleet. They had comforted her throughout the journey no matter where her duty had taken her.
Today, those stars brought no comfort to the Admiral.
Standing in front of the large window that dominated one wall of her guest quarters, the Admiral studied the view beyond. These quarters were normally given to visiting diplomats or high-ranking officers. Now, it was her prison cell.
The view through the reinforced window was nothing less than spectacular. The ships of Fourth Fleet stood assembled in formation, visible to the naked eye. Insystem transports shuttled between them in a seemingly endless chain, bringing supplies and personnel to the hastily repaired ships. Even as they were re-supplied, workers struggled to complete even more repairs on the most heavily damaged of the massive Capital ships. Fighters streaked through and around the entire area, on a constant state of high alert for possible UKNR sneak attacks.
She should have been coordinating that organized chaos. She should have been planning ways to counter-attack the most recent UKNR gains, even if it was a war she hadnt wanted.
Instead, she stood in a guest quarters watching her own ships being readied to fight under a man who had initiated a war that never should have been started. A man who was a big enough of a prick to get all of her people killed.
Gray eyes narrowed and her reflection scowled back at her. Someday soon she would have a reckoning with Senior Fleet Captain Querrel.
The admittance chime jerked her out of her dark brooding, and nearly caused her to drop the glass of red wine she had been sipping.
"Yes?" the graying-haired Admiral snapped.
"Admiral, your Counsel is here," answered the earnest sounding Marine posted outside the doors to her quarters.
Erin blinked, wondering how so much time had passed. Was it morning already? She hadn't slept at all. "Send her in." The Marine clicked off the intercom and the doors to her quarters slid open.
"Good morning, Admiral." The young Lieutenant assigned to salvage her career bustled into the room, arms full of data pads.
" In light of the new information that you pointed out to me yesterday, some interesting revelations came up." She dropped the data pads on the room's only table and turned to face the silent Admiral. "Well? Ready to get started?"
The Admiral stared at the data pads and then fixed her eyes on at the obnoxiously perky, younger woman.
"Good morning, Lieutenant. What, exactly, is all this?" She waved a hand toward the mess suddenly roosting on her table.
"Background," said the Lieutenant succinctly. "I figured that the makeup of the panel was rather odd, so I did some digging. Care to go over the results with me?" Jemina grinned evilly.
Giving the other woman an odd look, Erin picked up one of the data pads. Both her eyebrows crawled upward at the wording on the first screen.
"Are you insane?" she hissed. "Where did you get these? This is a personnel file on an Admiral!"
Admiral Vienna to be exact, the only member of her court martial panel to be an actual Naval officer. The other two, Councilor Charon and Thomas Witworth were civilians, albeit highly ranking ones in the Coalition government.
"I have connections," said the younger woman airily. "None of your concern, anyway. What we did find, is that all of these people have a vested interest in making sure this war continues and making sure its start is blamed on you.
"You do realize what ONI will do if they find out you have these?" Erin asked as she picked up the data pad with the background for Thomas Witworth. "I always hated this guy," she muttered, and then frowned as she paused at one screen. "Hmmm. He pulled all sorts of strings to have his son assigned to the Pegasus after he flunked out of the Naval Academy."
"Imagine that, a rich family using their influence to promote a progenys career," muttered Jimina darkly.
"Not all of them are like that," Erin said, although her tone wasn't quite as firm as she would have liked. Disgusted by the findings, she tossed the pad aside.
"Now, how can we use this information to do us the most good and them the most harm," the Lieutenant said tapping her chin thoughtfully.
"You're missing something." Erin went into the kitchen and reached up underneath the recycling unit. Fumbling for a few seconds, she retrieved another data pad and handed it to her defense attorney. "The proof against Witworth regarding the death of the Pegasus Captain's family."
"Right," said Jimena, taking the pad from the Admiral absently. "But, what I'm asking is, what do we do with this information? Take it to the press? We both know the government and/or Witworths cronies control it. Try blackmailing the man? He already killed a whole family. I may not talk to my family, but I don't think I could live with the guilt if I got them killed. No, what I'm asking is, now that we have the dirt, who do we show it to?"
"I had hoped we could blackmail him," Erin said pensively, closing her eyes. Jimena was right, though. Witworth wouldn't hesitate in killing everyone who knew about this. The others would probably help him cover it up, if only to get in good with the leader of the Freedom Party. There was one possible idea, and she hated to even consider it since ran contrary to her years of service for the Coalition. Damn.
Erin straightened her shoulders and resolvedly looked at her Counsel. Now that she had made the decision, she could focus on its proper execution. "Do you think you can get me to the Invincible?" She would have to get on board of the flagship of the Fourth Fleet if she was going to pull this off.
The Lieutenant blinked stupidly at the Admiral. "You want me to do what?" she asked, confused. "I don't think I heard you right."
"I need you to smuggle me onto the flagship of the Fourth Fleet."
"Right. That's what I thought you said." The JAG officer ran her hands through her hair. "Are you going to let me in on your plan, or are you going to explain it to me in our adjoining cells in the brig?"
The Lieutenant raised her hand to stop the Admirals reply. "On second thought, I don't really want to know. That way I can't confess to anything if we get caught." Seeing Erin's expression she quickly added, "But we won't get caught. People on the station owe me favors, but I have no pull on the ship itself. I hope your crew loves you."
"They are the best," Erin smiled slowly. "One of the finest crews in the fleet." If she was right, Commodore Guillermont might even have anticipated this next move.
"I just need to get on board, then we can use these." She motioned towards the data pads strewn across the tabletop.
"I hope you are right," Jimena stated. "Even I won't try and fight a stacked Court Martial Panel." She grinned suddenly, "It would ruin my perfect record."
Erin let out a small chuckle, "You really are insufferable, did you know that, Lieutenant?"
"I hope so, Admiral. Otherwise I would be afraid that I was losing my touch."
"So, do you have a plan to get me there?" Erin hoped the attorney did. She, herself, had yet to figure out a way to get off the station without being spotted.
Jimena eyed the Admiral. "How close are you to those Marines out there?" She jerked her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the guards outside the compartment.
"I know Sanderson pretty well, " she replied thoughtfully. The Marine sergeant seemed to be a pretty decent sort. "Not certain about the other one."
"So, would they look too hard if your mother came and visited you?" asked Jimena slyly.
Erin gave the younger woman a strange look. "My mother?"
"I was talking with this guy," and Jimena blushed slightly, "he works maintenance in this section. Since you are in the guest quarters, not the brig, there are service access panels in your room. The maintenance people can actually get in and out without other people knowing." She held up her hand, "However, only the maintenance workers can move about in the access passageways without setting off the alarms. So you can't go out that way, but he can." Jimena grinned widely and slowly, and with dawning recognition, so did Erin.
"I feel ridiculous," Erin muttered as she adjusted her clothing. It felt odd not to be wearing a uniform. She glanced at herself in the mirror and staring back at her was an older looking woman wearing a ridiculously large brassiere, a hideously, bright flowered dress, with curled, bleached-blonde hair and garish makeup. "You do realize my mother looks nothing like this, right?" she called out to the other room while making a small face at the figure in the mirror.
"I hope not," muttered Jimena, thinking that if they got caught, she would find out exactly how well the Admiral aged as her cellmate.
The Admiral stepped out from her bedroom and nearly fell. She wasnt used to wearing heels. Another reason why I love wearing a uniform, she thought darkly.
Erin glared at the young Lieutenant. "Don't say a word."
"Not a one," agreed the smirking JAG officer.
She finished closing up the panel behind the cute young maintenance worker who agreed to help out in her scheme. "I'll probably have to go out with him for this," she sighed.
"He was definitely interested."
Jimena grimaced, knowing that the Admiral was probably right.
Erin straightened her hair and glanced at the outer hatch. "Let's get this over with before my common sense takes over."
"Now if we had an over abundance of common sense, would we be in the mess in the first place?"
The Admiral simply glared again at the young officer, then stalked toward the doorway, nearly killing herself again as she forgot about the high heels. Gritting her teeth with disgust, she slowed her walk, doing her best to imitate an old woman's shuffle. Then she hunched down her shoulders slightly, "I should have thought of getting a cane."
"Most seniors have surgery to correct any problems that would cause the use of a cane," reminded Jimena. "The cane would draw undue attention to you."
That was true enough. She shouldn't hunch over very much either. With one last deep breath, she keyed the door panel, stepping through as it slid open. Both Marines stiffened to attention as she exited her room.
If either of them noticed that she wasn't the same as the 'old woman' who had entered an hour earlier, they didn't show it. Without a backward glance, her heart thudding in her chest, Erin moved slowly down the corridor.
Jimena followed behind the Admiral, trying to keep herself from looking back at the Marines and only breathing easier when they had both rounded the corner.
"Phase One complete. Now, onto the docking bay," whispered the JAG officer as she led the way down the passageway, the Admiral following in her wake.
"You were kidding about the packing crate. Right, Lieutenant?" Erin called after the younger officer as she struggled to keep up.
To her horror, the young lieutenant hadn't been joking. The supplies sent out to the forth fleet were packed away in large crates and then taken by Intrasystem transports out to the various ships.
"Are you out of your mind?" Erin hissed as they both entered the cargo bay. "Most of these aren't even going to be pressurized!"
Erin hobbled carefully after Jimena, high heels being a health hazard on metal grating floors.
"Yours will be, I assure you. I trusted you. You now have to trust me." The JAG officer opened a crate. "Now, get in, please. If I wanted you dead, I would have given you the defense that my superiors ordered me to. I am assuming that once you get on your ship, you can fix both of our problems."
The Lieutenant looked the Admiral straight in the eyes, extremely serious for once. "My career is in your hands, Admiral Erin Callejo.
Erin studied the young woman in front of her, then glanced at the shipping container, got inside of it and asked abruptly, "Where are you going to be?"
Jimena climbed in next to the Admiral and handed her a bag.
"Right next to you. From now on, I'm your shadow. You are the closest thing I have as protection until the chips fall where they may." She closed the container and they could hear the automatic seal locking them in.
Jimena reached into her pocket and took out something. With a breaking sound, a faint light emerged from it and became brighter when the JAG officer shook the light stick. "I put your uniform in the bag," the Lieutenant grinned. "It wouldn't do for you to show up in that outfit, now would it?"
"As long as we get to the right ship." Flinging off the high heels, Erin unzipped the pouch. "With the luck Ive been having lately, we'll end up on a garbage scow."
With a pointed look at the younger woman, the Admiral waited until she'd turned around before starting to change.
"You don't have anything I haven't seen before," grumbled Jimena.
"How about we pretend I'm still a superior officer?" Erin retorted.
"Does that mean you have superior parts that Im not privileged to see?" said the JAG officer glibly, trying to hide her nervousness by the close quarters and the risk she was taking on the Admirals unknown wild scheme.
"Something like that." After tossing aside the wig, Erin pulled the top of her uniform over her head. She felt infinitely better being in her uniform again.
None too soon either. With a metallic clank, the overhead loader latched onto their crate. As it lifted the crate, the sudden motion sent both of the women tumbling. They had only a second of respite before they were sent tumbling again as it traversed the large bay towards the transport that would be taking them to the Invincible.
"I'm thankful that those superior parts are soft and squishy," quipped Jimena from where she landed on top of the Admiral.
Erin shoved a leg off her face. "Glad I could break your fall," she said wincing. Once she was certain the worse was over, she untangled herself from the Lieutenant and got up. A series of loud metallic clanks signaled they had been lowered into the cargo hold of the transport. "You're sure we're going to be pressurized?"
"Yes!" Jimena said between clenched teeth, but she secretly wondered the same thing.
By the dim light of the light stick, Erin gave Jimena a doubtful look. "Guess we'll find out soon enough."
More and more cargo crates continued to be loaded into the transport. More clanking signaled the addition of another crate to the space above and to either side of them. Sitting down in one corner of their container, the older woman settled in as the transport was loaded.
After only a few minutes, Erin broke the silence. "Why don't you speak with your family?" At the JAG officers questioning look, Erin shrugged. "Back in my quarters, you said you don't talk to your family. Why not?"
"They disagree with my lifestyle," Jimena curtly said.
"The military?" Erin hazarded a guess. She was well aware there were quite a few families who opposed their children entering into the service.
"Yes." The JAG officer started to rock slightly in her corner of the crate. She had never liked enclosed spaces.
Both of them jerked upright as a low grinding noise filled the transports cargo bay when the outer hatch slid shut. Then, with a slight shiver, the transport dropped free of the station.
Gray eyes watched the Lieutenant with growing concern. "Are you all right?"
"I used to get shoved into lockers. I'm not fond of small spaces."
"Good reason to stay in JAG," the Admiral said with a grin. Spacers had to be used to small spaces, they were often forced to be in them for extended periods of time.
"I wanted to serve, but I'm not exactly the warrior type." Jimena grinned weakly.
"Of course you are," the Admiral answered cheerfully, now that she was pretty certain the cargo ship was in space and they were still alive. "Your weapons are words instead of guns."
"It took a while for me to realize that," Jimena admitted.
The hum of the transport ship's engines slowed as it completed its final turn towards the first stop.
"Is this transport going to any other ships besides the Invincible?"
"No, Jorge promised to go to the Invincible first."
"Jorge?" Erin asked with a raised eyebrow.
"The shuttle pilot. He has smuggling experience." At Erin's other raised eyebrow, the JAG officer clarified, "I never said he didn't smuggle, I just said I got him off." She shrugged, "Entrapment is still illegal you know."
"Maybe the less I know about this, the better." She was well aware smuggling took place in the Navy. She just didn't want to know too much about it.
A small change in momentum signaled the slowing of the transport as it prepared to dock with the flagship of the Fourth Fleet.
"Looks like you upheld your part, Lieutenant Alverez. Now lets see if I can uphold mine."
It was easier getting out of the cargo pod than the Admiral had expected. With a clang, the transport docked with the Invincible, then the Capital ship's small cargo loaders began transferring the cargo pods.
In less time than it had taken to load, each of the cargo pods transferred into the warship. Each pod was supposed to be scanned before loading at Starbase and after unloading onboard the ships. She guessed that the crew was so swamped with other duties that they were behind on the shipboard scanning.
When all outside movement stopped, Erin whispered a small prayer and cracked the cargo pod. Peering out cautiously, she could see the dim shape of other pods stacked around in a cargo bay. Their cargo pod had been stacked on top of another one. With a glance behind her at Jimena, Erin climbed down to the deck.
"Come on." she called up, after a quick look around to make certain they were alone.
"What is the charge for stowing away, anyway?" asked Jimena as she followed the Admiral out of the pod.
"Shouldn't you already know that?" the Admiral asked, lightly teasing the young attorney.
"There's JAG law and shipboard law. Which we are now subject too, as you know full well."
Making her way over to the panel next to the heavy blast door, Erin pulled the mechanical access hatch panel off. With a grimace she reached inside and fiddled around with something. There was a series of clicks then the reinforced cargo bay doors hissed open.
"At the very least we'd be thrown in the brig." Erin said, trying to wipe the grease off her hands.
"Wow, you really know your ship," said Jimena, her eyes widening.
She shrugged. "Not really, I did a tour as a landing bay officer once, a very long time ago."
A quick glance sideways showed the corridor empty, something that Admiral had been hoping for. By shipboard time, it was well into the Gamma shift and most everyone would be sleeping or busy with repairs.
"Come on, we have to get to Marine country."
"Um, excuse me? Aren't the Marines the only ones allowed to carry guns on ships? And aren't we kind of in a fugitive status here?"
"Yes," the Admiral answered with a swift grin. "Don't worry, these won't shoot us. We will need them to take over the ship though."
Jimena stopped dead in her tracks. "This is your plan?" she asked incredulously. "We take over a ship in the middle of home space? I am seriously wondering if you are a Section 8."
"Too late now, Lieutenant. You'll just have to trust the old woman," Erin answered, glancing around the corner to make certain the corridor was still empty.
With a look back at the lawyer, she sighed, grabbed Jimena's arm and pulled her along as she made her way down the corridor. "Come on, it's the only way."
"Only way to what? Certain imprisonment?" Jimena struggled, but the Admiral had her slightly off balance and easily dragged the younger woman behind her.
The quickest way to where she wanted to go was to take one of the lifts. The nearest one was just down the hall and Erin hurried towards it, fully aware of how exposed they were in that stretch of corridor. If anyone from Security happened to be watching that section on the internal sensors, they were out of luck.
Just as they reached the lift doors and Erin was about to push the button to summon a lift, a chime announced the arrival of a lift. Eyes going wide, Erin yanked Jimena to the side, pressing them both into a small space between a structural support and the outer hull.
The lift doors slid open behind them and a pair of grumbling technicians headed toward the cargo bay they had just left. "I can't believe we have to scan all these stupid cargo pods right now! I mean, I haven't slept a full night since we got back here," one of them complained to the other.
Erin turned to Jimena and hissed, "Who knew we were coming in the cargo containers?"
Jimena hissed back, "Only the shuttle pilot, honest."
The second the two men had gone a little ways down the corridor, Erin stepped out from behind the structural support and dragged the other woman into the still waiting lift. The doors slid shut as the older woman repeatedly pressed the close door button.
Just as they slid shut, the men spotted the open cargo bay doors. "Hey? Why are these open?"
"Shit." The Admiral swore, pressing a button for level three, and then entering an override code to keep the lift from stopping at any other level.
Jimena groaned and sank back against the lift walls. She banged her head against the bulkhead, muttering as the lift moved upward.
Nervously, Erin tugged on her uniform jacket, but it took only moments for the swift moving lift to bring them to Marine country. With a deep breath, Erin stepped out of the lift as the doors slid open.
Even this late in the shift, the floor was quiet. Although a few Marines would undoubtedly be beating each other up in the rec room or having a snack in the ship's mess hall, most were still in their quarters.
But it wasnt going to be simple.
A pair of Marines walked down the corridor chatting quietly. Erin turned the opposite way away, dragging Jimena with her. Neither Marine seemed to notice them. They both let out a shaky breath.
"Are you sure the Marines are going to like the idea of taking over the ship? I understand the sibling rivalry here, but honestly, you are talking mutiny here." Jimena still wasn't sold on the Admiral's plan.
Erin gave a crooked little grin, glad she hadn't told the JAG lawyer all of her hare-brained idea, but said nothing as they continued down the hallway. Reaching the cabin door she'd been looking for, she pressed the admittance chime.
When that didn't yield any results within a few seconds, she pressed it again, and again. Until a very annoyed voice from inside called out, "I'm going to kill whoever the fuck you are!"
Jimena tried to disappear behind the Admiral.
"He's grouchy when he hasn't slept a lot," Erin whispered conspiratorially to the shrinking attorney.
Jimena prayed that whoever he was, wasn't so grouchy that he'd toss them both out the nearest airlock.
The doors slid open to reveal a man who was shorter than the Admiral by a good few centimeters, but at least twice her width. He was wearing only regulation white boxers, had a hairy chest and was completely bald. Jimena thought he looked a lot like a bulldog.
The man glared at them both, then blinked in astonishment as he looked back at Erin.
"Hey, Harm. Surprise!"
"Son of a bitch," he marveled.
The older woman glanced around. "Mind if we come in?"
He seemed to notice Jimena again, nodded and stepped aside so they could enter the lodgings of the onboard Head of the Marine detachment.
With a tug on Jimena's arm, Erin stepped into Harm's quarters. A glance around the quarters showed them to be as sparsely decorated as ever.
The Marine scratched his chest, shook his head and headed for his bedroom.
"Harm, I want you to meet Lieutenant Jimena Alverez. Jimena, that hairy beast is Major Harmond Levi, head of the ship's Marine contingent."
"Pleased to meet you, I think," Jimena said.
That earned the young woman a snort from the Marine as he came back out, wearing a uniform this time. "You in the habit of helping your clients break out of the stockade, Lieutenant?"
Erin smiled and sat down on the couch, making herself at home as she gathered the data pads out of their bag.
"How did you know I was her lawyer, Major?" asked Jimena as she sat down at the other end of the couch.
Harm let out a guffaw at that. "Please! As if I didn't know who they assigned to represent this old warhorse? I even know what rank you graduate at."
Erin sighed. "Would you please stop calling me an old warhorse?"
The Marine Major snorted, poured them each a glass of whiskey and sat down, waving the Lieutenant towards a seat. "You know," he said, taking a sip, "I should have arrested both of you the moment I saw you."
"You're right, you should have. By the regulations you should have us under guard ready to be shipped back to Starbase right now," Erin answered, taking up the heavy glasses Harm preferred and taking a sip of whiskey. It burned as it went down and she made a face at it.
"So, tell me, what's stopping me?" he asked.
Without a word she slid the data pads across the glass coffee table to him. He stared hard at the two women and then picked the pads up gingerly, as if fearing they might bite.
"We found that the deck is stacked against us," said Jimena, then she threw back her whiskey in one gulp.
The Marine grumbled to himself as he scanned through the pads, lips twitching every time he came across something he didn't like. Erin sat in silence, sipping her whiskey, giving Harm time to read through everything they had accumulated before telling him the rest.
Finally he sat the pads down, looking more tired than he had when they had just woken him up. "Damn it. Why the hell do you have to keep bringing shit to my door, Erin?"
"I have a talent," the Admiral answered wryly.
"What do you want to do now?"
"I'll need to be on the bridge to do what has to be done next, Harm," she answered, swirling the whiskey around in the bottom of her glass.
The Major stared at the two of them, dark eyes unreadable. "You realize what you're asking me to do, Erin?"
She simply nodded, watching him. They had served together long enough that she knew him closer than her own estranged family.
He snorted, slamming back the whiskey as Jimena had just done. Then, standing, he walked to his communications panel and punched a button. The screen lit to a sleepy, "Sir?"
"Sergeant, wake up Lieutenant McKinnley and tell him I need to see him immediately in my quarters."
This was crunch time and Erin glanced sideways toward Jimena, wondering if her tension showed. Now they would see if she had made a mistake coming here.
Lieutenant McKinnley turned out to be a spit and polish career man. Even though the Lieutenant had just been woken up, he was one of those annoying individuals who always appeared to be freshly groomed, a poster child for Marine recruiting officers.
Jimena hated him on sight.
Erin carefully set down the glass of whiskey and watched silently as the Major got up from his chair. The Lieutenant's expression didn't change as he spotted the JAG officer, although his eyebrow did twitch in surprise upon spotting the Admiral.
"Sir?" The Lieutenant came to attention.
"Get the ready action squads suited up and secure the armory," Harm barked. Then I want you to rouse the rest of the men and arm them. Your squad will accompany us to the bridge."
The Lieutenant's body went completely still, only his eyes flicked back and forth as he studied Jimena and Erin's face.
"Well?" the Major growled.
"Sir, I must advise you that this course of action will be considered as a mutiny."
"Oh, I'm quite sure we all know what a mutiny is," said Jimena. "The question is, however, are you going to help us, or spend some quality time locked in the Major's closet?" She raised her eyebrows at the spiffy-looking Lieutenant.
The Lieutenant blinked in surprise, then stiffened even more at the slight insult from the Navy lawyer. "Yes, Sir." He saluted Harm, sent a glare towards Jimena and did a perfect about face, exiting the Major's quarters.
Erin let out a shaky breath and then shook her head at Jimena. "You like to live dangerously don't you?"
"He pissed me off. Like an Admiral, a Major and a JAG lawyer don't know that its illegal to take over a ship." She threw herself back down on the couch. "Please tell me that he's as good a Marine as he is at polishing his boots?"
Erin rolled her eyes, and stood up. "That almost sounds like a joke I know."
Harm simply harrumphed and went to a cabinet that he unlocked with a retinal scan to retrieve his sidearm and light body armor. "He's good at coordinating," was the Major's only comment.
"I'm sure the handbook never covered taking over his own ship, though," muttered Jimena.
"Good thing he has us to keep him in line then, right, Jimena?" Erin grinned, absent-mindedly tugging on her uniform jacket to smooth it out. A glance at Harm showed that the Marine Major had completed his preparations.
"Come on, I want to have a word with Senior Fleet Captain Querrel." Her mouth twisted at the name as if she had tasted something sour.
"Is this the gentleman that started all of this crap?" asked the Lieutenant as she stood up.
"Yes, he is," Erin said through clenched teeth, and followed Harm to the doorway. "Here, take care of these." She handed Jimena the data pads. "Keep them safe, we'll need them again."
"What, no gun?" joked the younger woman as she juggled the data pads.
"Do you know how to use one?" Erin asked, as they stepped out into the corridor. The quiet that had reigned when they had entered it was shattered now. Marines were scrambling up and down the hallway, suiting up in armor or rushing toward the armory to receive their weapons.
"Of course I do," she scoffed. "Just make sure the small end with the hole is pointed at the bad guys, and try not to pull the trigger too quickly."
"See, thats how you Navy types get yourselves killed," Harm grumbled, waiting as the Marine ready squads shook themselves into position on the opposite wall of the corridor from them.
"Hey, I prefer to think thats why the Navy employs the deadliest force in space, you Marines," Jimena shot back, stung by the Major's jab.
The four-dozen Marines of the ready action squads finished forming up. They were clad in light armor and armed with powered rifles for close in shipboard fighting. Harm stepped aside, clearly giving the floor to the Admiral.
"Show time." she whispered to Jimena, then took a step forward.
"As many of you know, I am Admiral Erin Callejo." A ripple of murmurs spread through the ranks. "You all know what I've been accused of, and the shame of a court-martial that I've been subjected to." That was common knowledge and a few heads nodded.
"What many of you don't know is that Senior Fleet Captain Querrel is the one who started this war by firing, without provocation, on the UKNR ships. What you also don't know is that the powers to be inside the Coalition needed a different scapegoat. Someone other than the son of a powerful man of the Freedom Party." She had their attention now and she knew it.
"What you also don't know is that we have proof of this and more flagrant atrocities perpetuated by our own Government. A government we have taken an oath for and have sworn to protect from external and internal threats. Ladies and gentleman, make no mistake, this threat is real and comes from the inside. We must make certain that this rot at our core does not spread."
The assembled Marines watched Erin walked up and down the corridor, meeting their eyes, trying to convince them she told the truth. It wasn't that hard, considering how often these men and women had been thrown into battles by the Coalition government only to find they were fighting to protect only private and personal interests.
"What I need," she continued her plea. "What I ask of you is to get me to the bridge of my ship. Get me there and we can start to put a stop to the Coalition lies and end this war." She stopped next to Harm and asked the Marines, "What say you?"
The resounding "Aye, Admiral!" was deafening.
The Major nodded with pride and turned to the Admiral, saluting. "Your orders, Ma'am?"
Erin held out her hand, waiting for him to shake it before answering, "Get me to my bridge, Harm."
He nodded, and waved Lieutenant McKinnley over. "Let's go, Lieutenant. I want a squad to cover engineering, life support, CIC, and communications. I'll lead the one escorting the Admiral to the bridge."
"Aye, aye, Major." The Lieutenant braced to attention, then turned and picked out squads of Marines to protect the areas that the Major had indicated.
The Major waved over two privates who were carrying body armor. "Here, you and your Lieutenant better put these on."
Jimena looked suspiciously at the plumbing facilities sticking out of the suit. "I'll pass, thank you." she swallowed.
"You might be a good lawyer, missy, but I doubt you'd be able to talk your way out of being shot," the Major intoned.
"No Harm, she's right. We should stay in our uniform for this." Erin sided with Jimena, although for a different reason.
"Thank god," breathed the relieved JAG officer.
Harm muttered to himself, but didn't press the issue as he waved the two privates away. "Then stay back, for the love of God."
Erin shared a glance with Jimena. "No problem, Harm. I promise we'll stay back."
"Waaaay back," mumbled the younger woman, wishing that meant her own quarters back on the space station.
The Marines streamed down the corridors, with squads peeling off to head towards the designated targets. Erin and Jimena trailed behind the lead squad, squeezing last into the lift that would take them to the bridge.
The Major linked the battle comp located on his suits left wrist into the lift's computer. As in Erins foray, it only took a few commands for him to override the controls so that the lift couldnt be stopped until they had reached the bridge.
Erin took a deep breath, glancing sideway to where the JAG officer was crushed in behind two large Marines. "You okay?"
"Peachy," came the muffled answer from the younger woman.
The lift slid to a stop and the double doors opened. The Marines erupted from the lift in textbook order, shouting at the completely startled Navy officers to drop to the ground. The unarmed and unarmored Navy officers didn't need much convincing when faced with twelve heavily armed and armored soldiers.
"Down! Get down!" Harm shouted, brandishing his impressively large rifle and shoving down a Navy lieutenant who hadn't reacted quickly enough to hit the deck.
"How dare you? A voice screamed, sputtering with outrage. A short, dark- haired man wearing the uniform of a Vice Admiral stood up from the central command console. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
Jimena and Erin stepped from the lift. "You!" The man's voice was caught between outrage and disbelief.
"I strongly suggest you take the Major's advice, Querrel. That is, if you want to live," replied the Admiral.
Two Marines on either side of him leveled their rifles at his head. With his face red with rage, Quarrel sank to his knees, and then laid face down on the decking. Erin gave him a sneer as she headed for the communications station.
"How are we doing, Harm?" The Major was checking the small battle comp again, muttering at his heads-up display.
"We've secured engineering, communications, CIC and environmental control."
Erin let out a small breath of thanks for that. "Jimena, you have those data pads?"
"Right here, Admiral." She walked over to Erin, making sure to "accidentally" kick the prone Vice Admiral as she walked by him. The Marines on either side of him pretended not to see her little move.
"Good." the Admiral shook her head at the JAG officer, but couldn't help smiling. "Download them into the ships computer."
Querrel spoke up from his place on the deck. "They'll have you in front of a firing squad for this, Callejo! You're as good as dead, you traitor!"
"Can't we gag him or something? I'm sure we can find a really dirty of pair socks or underwear somewhere on this ship," asked Jimena as she continued to download the pads.
The Marine standing next to the screaming Vice Admiral did Jimena one better. He tazered the man in the back. Querrel convulsed for a second, then collapsed unconscious to the deck. Erin blinked in surprise, glanced at Harm who simply grinned, then decided against commenting.
"I have got to get me one of those," muttered Jimena, thinking of her more unruly clients. She waited until the last of the data pads had been downloaded before taking the seat next to Erin at the communications panel.
"Let's see if I remember how to do this, it's been a long time." Erin started to open a message to be transmitted on every channel in the entire sector.
"You know, I'm sure one of those nice Naval officers over there," Jimena motioned to where the Marines were standing over the prone men, "would be more than happy to help you transmit everything correctly the first time."
Erin gave the JAG officer a look, then sighed and sat back in her chair to survey the prone naval officers. She only recognized a few of them. Querrel had apparently gutted her command team. "Rogers?"
The Navy ensign in question peered up at her from the floor. "Ma'am?"
"Think you could give us a hand over here?"
She spared the young man with a smile. "Good, come on."
"And that is why you have minions," whispered Jimena to the Admiral.
"Smart ass," Erin whispered back, watching the Marines escort Rogers to the communications console.
The young ensign glanced at her for reassurance. She nodded and he went to work opening the broadband call. "What should I send, Admiral?"
Erin leaned over and typed a quick command, highlighting a portion of the data that Jimena had just downloaded into the ships computers.
"All of that on the broadband and then I want you to send the complete data package to every ship in the Fourth Fleet on a tight-beam, scrambled frequency, Priority one."
Then, with the press of a button, the information began to be transmitted to every Navy, government ship and installation in the sector.
Erin settled back in her chair, lacing her fingers together. "And now, we wait."
"Great," muttered the JAG officer as she leaned back and eyed the still twitching Vice Admiral.
"Just wait until the people onboard the space station start reading what we just sent." Erin gave Jimena a nasty smile. "Think that will get their attention?"
"Oh, yeah," replied Jimena as she nudged Querrel with her foot, "Question is, are they going to reply with a hail or by opening fire?"
To that question the Admiral had no answer.
They didn't have to wait long. A series of alerts flashed across the nearby sensor console. Erin peered over and raised an eyebrow. "Well, that answers that, I guess. Spacedock is targeting us."
"You, you, and you," Erin picked the naval officers who were at least somewhat familiar. "Take your stations." With leave from the Marines the three officers scrambled to their positions.
"Harm? Get the rest of these people out of here. Toss Querrel in the brig."
The Marine Major grinned, "With pleasure." A jerk of his finger and several Marines dragged the unconscious Fleet Captain and escorted the rejected Naval officers off the bridge.
"Jimena, do me a favor. See if you can call the rest of the bridge crew up here? We're going to need them. Rogers?" The young man nervously watched the Admiral. "Hail the other ships, see who we can count on?"
The JAG officer walked over to a section of the bridge. At her look of confusion, one of the handpicked naval officers discreetly indicated the correct console. It appeared to be very similar to the ones in the Academy so she was reasonably sure she could work it. She keyed in what she thought were the correct codes, and in her best courtroom voice, announced " Attention, all off-shift bridge crew. Report to your stations, immediately. I repeat, all off-shift bridge crew, report to your stations. NOW!" She keyed the mike off and turned to watch the controlled chaos that the Admiral was effortlessly directing.
Erin hovered over Rogers shoulder, watching the communications readouts as the young ensign contacted each ship of the Fourth Fleet. Three battleships, four cruisers, and three of the destroyers were siding with her and the Invincible. The remaining cruiser, and four destroyers wouldn't even answer Roger's hails.
"Well, I guess we know where we stand now," the Admiral sighed, turning around to glance toward Jimena. "Now we have to make certain we don't start a civil war."
The lift doors slid open and the group of officers inside it froze as the remaining Marines on the bridge aimed their rifles their way. With a quick glance of the faces, Erin nodded to Harm. "They're okay."
The Major signaled his men, letting the relieved officers enter the bridge.
"Move it, people." Erin's voice snapped them out of it, and they hurried for their stations. One of them tactfully slid into the spot that Jimena had been sitting at.
"Sorry, Ill get out of your way." The JAG officer moved to stand near one of the Marines, feeling superfluous in a room full of officers of the line. This was the Navy that she never saw, only got glimpses of through her training and the lives of some of her clients.
Erin moved over to where Jimena was standing, folded her hands behind her back and actually smiled at the commotion. This was where she belonged, in command of the flagship. It was the first time she felt alive since the entire debacle had begun.
The holo tank area on the bridge flickered to life as CIC once again began to function.
The Command and Information Center, CIC, was the nerve center of any flagship. The heavily guarded center was buried in the bowels of the carrier, in a heavily armored compartment. The naval techs that worked there sorted through the information from each ship in the battle net. A network that currently consisted of a little over half of the original Fourth Fleet.
Ship icons fluttered into place across the space surrounding Spacedock 21. The massive Space dock dwarfed the Fourth Fleet. It was a mountain of metal, bristling with weaponry and targeting systems. What it lacked in maneuverability, it more than made up for it with shields and the sheer amount of weaponry. Even a complete carrier battle group would have trouble taking it in a fight, and the Fourth Fleet wasn't a hundred percent.
Smaller icons identified groups of fighters. It was a chaotic mix of symbols, as each side tried to figure out who was who. Erin kept her attention on that particular visual as the ships on her side began to form up around the Invincible.
"Rogers, keep hailing the Spacedock. Harm, lets get down to the CIC."
The Admiral, the Major, the JAG lieutenant, and an escort of Marines took the lift down to the CIC, which Harms Marines had taken earlier with some gentle persuasion.
Erin glanced at the blast marks along the bulkhead, then back at the Marine Major. "Do I even want to know what happened down here?"
The two Marines standing guard on either side of the entryway, still clad in armor, snapped to attention as they approached.
"We had to open the door somehow." Harm answered simply, waiting for Jimena to follow the Admiral into the dimly lit compartment.
Row upon row of brightly lit consoles lined the walls, each staffed by naval sensor technicians. At three times the size of the holo-tank on the bridge, this big brother dominated the center of the compartment. The larger holo-tank was much more detailed, containing every sensor reading that flowed through the battle net.
In its entire 3-D splendor, it was a beautiful thing, and Erin's practiced eyes took in all the chaos on it with a glance. Normally Commodore Guillermont would be here with her, acting as her liaison with the bridge. She missed him now, but he was coordinating with the other Fleet Admirals.
"Welcome to the nerve center of the ship, Jimena."
The younger woman's eyes were wide with shock. They never covered this in the Academy. If they had, she might have been tempted to drop JAG and try her hand at being a line officer. The beauty of the holo- tank belied the danger each one of the different color images represented. At first glance, it looked like a piece of art, with multi colored images winking and moving around independently of each other, every one in a silent dance.
Erin glanced at one of the nearby techs.
"Admiral? We're being hailed by the Spacedock."
Erin tugged on her jacket top, "Show time, again!" Grinning at Jimena, "You ready?"
"As I'll ever be," the young JAG Lieutenant said nervously.
Erin gave her a reassuring smile, and then turned to face the large communications console. "Open the channel."
"Aye, aye, Admiral," replied the petty officer and an image appeared on the display at the far end of the holo tank.
Thomas Witworth's face filled the screen, red with anger as he stared at Erin and Jimena. "I'll see that youre both put in front of a firing squad for this!" he raged the moment the channel opened.
Jimena grabbed one of the techs and whispered urgently in his ear. He nodded and turned back to his station.
Erin ignored the movement behind her, focusing her attention on the powerful man on the screen. Between him and Querrel's father, she had managed to earn the hatred of the two most powerful families in the Coalition.
"If you aren't ready to talk to us cordially, shall I send the rest of my information broadband for everyone to read?"
The veiled warning forced him to check his next torrent of words.
She smiled coldly. "Let me make this abundantly clear, Mr. Witworth, if you push or threaten me, I will transmit all of the information Lieutenant Alverez has gathered on an open frequency. Then, I guarantee you that you will have a civil war on your hands. Which the Coalition can't afford right now, since we're in the middle of another war. One maybe not of your making, but definitely one continued under your encouragement. Do you understand me?"
The man nodded. Not wanting to, but he still nodded. "This is blackmail," Thomas Witworth grounded out, fury making a vein on his forehead throb.
Erin glanced over her shoulder at her legal expert. "What do you say Lieutenant, is this blackmail?"
"No ma'am. I would hardly consider this blackmail. I would call this leveling the playing field, myself." Jimena tried to conceal the smirk on her face.
"Well, there you have it Mr. Witworth, you can't argue with a JAG officer about legal matters." She gave the fuming man a tight smile. "Here's what is going to happen, Mr. Witworth. You are going to drop all the charges against me. You are not going to come after Lieutenant Alverez, or any other Naval officer who helped me. You are going to stay out of handling the war. The Council may not have wanted it started, but we will see it finished."
Jimena nudged the Admiral. "And Querrel?" she whispered.
Querrel, she would handle personally. Unfortunately the best she would be able to do, though, would be to have him dishonorably discharged from the service. There was a fine line to how much she could ask for in this delicate position. Directly blaming the start of the war on the son of a Freedom party leader would completely snap that line.
The man looked like he was going to spit glass. "The Council will never go for it, and you damn well know that. We need a scapegoat."
Erin knew he'd ask for something like that. It was the only way for the Coalition Council to save face.
"Captain Maria Exposito," said Jimena suddenly.
Erin blinked and turned to look in surprise at the Lieutenants words.
"You did kill her family after all, so who is going to stick up for her?" the JAG officer pointed out realistically.
Witworth leaned towards the screen, a glint of interest in his eyes. "She and the rest of her crew are presumed lost," he said thoughtfully. "Yes, that could work." He ignored the Lieutenant's accusation of having the Commander's family murdered.
Erin hesitated, not liking this at all. It felt like making a deal with the devil and no good could come of that. But she couldnt think of any other options.
The Admiral glanced at her spitfire lawyer. "You realize that accusing him of that is going to get you into trouble down the line?" she whispered.
"Maybe, maybe not," whispered back the younger woman with a small smile.
Letting out a troubled sigh, Erin turned back to face Witworth. "Well?" He nodded slowly, and then smiled, an action that reminded Erin of a shark.
"We have a deal, Admiral Callejo, head of the Fourth Fleet." Reluctantly Erin nodded in agreement. She hoped that the crew of Pathfinder was indeed dead. If they weren't, she had just sealed their exile from their homes in the Coalition.
Onboard the Spacedock, in a quiet office away from the hustle and bustle of the war effort, sat the JAG offices. Inside, the senior JAG officers, three of whom had been scheduled to prosecute Admiral Erin Callejo, watched the feed of an unusual conversation. The video had been sent to them from someone onboard the flagship Invincible, but that had been the least of their surprises.
One of them, a senior Admiral, quietly turned off the feed.
"We get a copy of that?"
Another of the officers nodded.
"Good. Send them a short message. I think its time we start another investigation."
The tech that Jimena had instructed earlier came up behind her and pressed a data pad into her hand. The Lieutenant read the data pad and smiled. It seemed that someone in the upper levels of the Judge Advocate General had taken her accusation under advisement. She knew that certain upper echelon officers were tired of laboring under the yoke of a corrupt Council. This might be their chance to deal with the families once and for all.
Erin looked over at the younger woman. "What have you go there?" she asked.
Jimena handed over the data pad to the Admiral to read.
Erin scanned the contents and broke into a smile. "We might just turn you into a strategist yet," she chuckled.
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