Prologue

He stands in silence as the lift takes him from the council chambers at the heart of the space station, to the operations centre nearly 15 Kilometres away, the second longest trip on the station. The Ajax was built by 10 different alien races over the course of 30 years. She was to be a beacon, a symbol in the galaxy that different species could work together to do something great. That message was entirely lost before the celebration of her opening even finished. A huge district of the ship was set up for commerce, and strategic detonations in the commerce wing nearly destroyed the whole station as she began to plummet into the planet below. It took another 5 years to get the station operational again, only now most of it’s proposed commerce has disappeared. No one wants to do business on a station that lost over 200,000 galactic citizens the day it opened.

Jack Hammond was a career soldier. He was in command of the UED mission of first contact, meeting 6 of the 10 founding races for the first time himself. Politics had never once entered the Colonel’s mind, which is perhaps why he advanced through the ranks so quickly; he was never after anyone’s job. The only thing Jack Hammond ever wanted was just to get a little bit further out into the black. It’s still all he wants of course, but as he rubs his knee along the framing of the titanium brace, he’s reminded it’s not his life anymore. His job-

“We need a response team Jack.” The lift doors wisp open and standing before him is a young Captain with fire in her hair and her heart.

“Good morning is usually the minimum a Captain gives a Colonel.” Jack says with a grin as he walks past the much younger woman.

If Jack Hammond’s rise through the ranks of the UED could be called incredible, Rosetta Hawk’s rise through the Alliance’s could only be called miraculous. At only 23 years old she has more commendations than some 40 year admirals. It was her actions on the day the Ajax was attacked that saved so many lives as she commandeered a cargo freighter and a handful of soldiers to head into the fires. She pulled 200 souls out of the burning and falling wreckage that was the commerce wing. She went from second lieutenant to captain within two months. Of course, she could have been a colonel herself by now if not for – “I don’t give a shit Colonel, sir, good god damn morning. Have you seen the videos from Mars? It’s the fourth planet in 2 days.”

“There is some part of you that comprehends you can’t talk to an officer – twice your superior – like that, right?”

“Damn it Jack we need a response team! These things are jurisdictional nightmares and by the time anyone manages to agree who is or isn’t allowed to go check it out, all hope of catching anyone responsible is gone.”

“Has that part been taken over by the part thinks you actually need to explain things like that to me?”

“When are you going to talk to the council again Jack!?”

“I talked to the council.”

“Well what did they say!?”

“They approved the response team.” the door to the Colonel’s office slides open.

“Jack you have to go back, you have to make them understand! They’re politicians and desk jockeys they don’t understand how this-” Captain Hawk stops just outside the doorway. “-wait, what?”

“See? If I slam on the brakes hard enough you just skid right by.” The door closes as the Colonel rounds his desk and takes a seat. The office straddles the line between ornate and spartan. Models and some photographs line one wall, with the opposite being a window looking over the ship yard. Behind the Colonel’s desk is a line of book shelves with various volumes on combat and tactics, while seating remains simple. Two arm chairs opposite his desk and two small couches around a square glass coffee table. He presses a button on the intercom “Alease?”

Yes Colonel?

“Bring me a couple coffees and pick up the good Captain’s jaw off the floor on the way in, would you please?”

He can hear the young Duvian smile and reply in her sultry voice, “yes sir.” A few moments later a 128 year old Duvian enters with a tray of coffee and donuts with various dressings for the former. Duvians are a universally beautiful race living on average 3000 years and Alease fits that description well. The Duvian are a race that require interbreeding among species. They also take on several of the physical traits of their fathers. In Alease’s case her skin is red and smooth with deep blue hair owing to her Yuran father. “Anything else sir?” She asks with a grin after placing the tray down on the desk.

“That’ll be everything Alease.”

“Thank you sir.” As she walks back past the captain she stops and whispers in her ear, “you have this Captain Hawk.”

It snaps the young woman back into the moment and she looks briefly at the Duvian before swallowing and entering her CO’s office. The door closes behind her with another wisp.

Elsewhere…

Du’gra is a good Portchu. He works hard every day to bring home money to better his clan. He does everything he can for his clan, and he loves his clan. And his clan loves him. They love Du’gra dearly and they sing his praises nearly every day before desert. He is worthy of his rank, a chief of the scrappers.

But still, his clan suffers. Good scrap is harder and harder to find in this quadrant, forcing Du’gra and other chiefs to venture further and further out into space. Further and further out into danger. It’s more regular now that ships don’t return to the class-8 asteroid they call Wudabah. It has taken them over 20 years to get Wudabah to a state of stability. Mounted canons on the side of the asteroid keep rogue asteroids and rogue rogues from doing any damage to Wudabah. Wudabah is safe. Wudabah is their home.

Which is why more and more clan chiefs have been pained to consider having to abandon their home, their Wudabah. But Du’gra will save them. Du’gra will make a trade, he has already been contacted by an alien who will buy the shiny rock they bury in other asteroids to keep it from getting Portchu sick. In exchange he will give them an engine large enough to move Wudabah! Clan won’t have to leave Wudabah! Wudabah will leave with them!

Du’gra’s wife was not happy about the deal, she doesn’t like Du’gra being so far from home. But when Du’gra saves his clan, she will understand.

She will understand.

Office of the Allied Military Command…

“The Alliance Command response Team or ACT-“

“My God how diplomats love their acronyms.”

“-has been commissioned. All of the original signatories for the Ajax have agreed to the proposal save for the Tukra, but the team isn’t their concern so much as finding a way out of their commitment to the station. The team will have special command authority on any planet that falls under the alliance’s purview meaning you should receive full cooperation from any local military or law enforcement of any species that signed.”

“Field authority?”

“Complete, but before you get too excited,” the colonel takes a deep breath and leans back in his chair rubbing at his leg, “you need to understand Rosetta, we’re on thin ice.”

“What do you mean thin ice?”

“I mean this is an entirely new operational set up and you losing your cool out there like you do in here won’t fly Captain.” Rosetta looks around awkwardly and eases back into her chair. “You’re getting this command because your rescue has the attention and respect of just about everyone here, and plenty of people out there as well. But if you cowboy up and blow someone up for the hell of it there’s not just going to be consequences for you but… well for a lot of people.”

Rosetta had been campaigning for a response team the moment her cargo ship ran out of fuel and they were stranded in deep space watching the commerce wing slip into Drimba-5’s atmosphere. Intergalactic terrorism was a real threat, and it was here to stay. In the days and weeks after the explosion different military and governmental intelligence arms came forward. Each had a piece of information that if they could have shared amongst each other would have allowed them to stop the attack. But these aliens, as much as they talked about cooperation at various galas and diplomatic dinners, the truth of the thing is they tolerate each other. Each race positioning themselves to swiftly strike the other in case of some perceived threat.

The Ajax and now the ACT are real action towards the goal of galactic peace… and the weight of that is only just hitting the captain.

The intercom buzzes, “Colonel?

“Yes Alease?”

Captain Laufiet is here sir.

“Good, send him in.”

“Blowhard.” Rosetta mutters under her breath and rolls her eyes.

Captain Laufiet, an older man with a thick high english accent enters and snaps to attention offering the Colonel, and most definitely not the captain, a salute. “At your service Colonel.”

“Rosetta, meet your new XO Captain Blowhard.” The Colonel says nonchalantly searching through his desk.

Rosetta’s eyes bulge. “Jack-” the colonel shoots her a glare and she strains to correct herself, “Colonel, sir, if I may? Don’t most commanders get to pick their teams?”

“Well there’s a problem with that. First you’re not a commander. Yet.” He produces a jewelry box and waves it for measure standing up from his seat prompting Rosetta to do the same. “And second — quite frankly — nobody likes you.”

Rosetta freezes for a moment. “Sir?”

The colonel makes his was to stand by the still saluting Captain. “At ease Laufiet. Captain Rosetta Hawk, step forward.” She does as asked and stands in front of her CO and mentor. “Captain in standing with the highest traditions of both the Alliance Military Command and the United Sol Directorate it is with great honour I commission you as Major and Commander of the ACT with all privileges and responsibilities afforded that rank. Do you have any reasons such a rank should not be bestowed upon you?”

“No sir.”

“Shame, I think Captain Laufiet was ready to push you to the floor.” The colonel unpins the Captain’s Bars and pins a major’s oak leaves in their place along with the commander’s bars above.

The major takes a moment to look at her oak leaves before smiling. “Lots of people like me.”

“I regret to inform the Major that you are mistaken.” The moustached XO says staring straight ahead.

“I believe you two are already mortal enemies, so I’ll leave you to it.” The colonel smiles and heads back to his desk.

“I told you one day you’d have to salute me.” Rosetta says with a cocky grin.

“Turns out they really will pin oak to anyone. Including damned fools who steal-”

“-and by that I mean get out of my office.” The colonel says without looking up from his paperwork. The pair glare at each other for a long moment before exiting the room shoulder to shoulder.

They walk to the lift in silence. “Military Docks.” Rosetta says to the computer.

“Belay that.”

“Excuse me?”

“Take us to code name ‘sparrow’.”

Access to code name sparrow is restricted, authorization codes.

“What’s your problem?”

“Your penchant for disobeying orders not withstanding? I don’t want to waste time going to the docks where your crew and ship are not located. You’ve been upgraded from your usual cargo transports.”

“How do you know where my ship is?”

“Because I was briefed by the council and Colonel Hammond.”

You were briefed? Before me?”

“Perhaps they wanted someone who knew what they were doing.” The captain replies dispassionately.

Access to code name sparrow is-

“Alright asshole let’s get one thing straight.”

“Yes, let us. I am your ship’s XO. I have seen enough of your file to understand that you don’t really understand what that means. What we are doing? What we have been entrusted with? It changes everything. You’re going to have to make sure at any given time that a minimum of a hundred plates are spinning. But your job isn’t to spin them, no no, that responsibility is mine. I make sure things run smoothly so you can keep your focus on the task at hand, on the larger picture. On the weight of this once in a century opportunity. Keep the plates spinning. That’s my job. That. Is. My. Job.”

“Oh really, and you think-”

“What do I think? In private I think you are reckless, foul mouthed, and a terrible candidate for latrine duty, let alone the fate of the alliance. And make no mistake Commander, that is precisely what we are talking about. But in front of your men – in front of your men, your responsibility – I will support every call you make and every shit you take. You want me to bust a lieutenant to guard duty? Say the word. You tell the men to leap from a cliff? I will promptly begin pushing people to their deaths. You tell me to throw the ship’s cook out the airlock for overcooking your eggs? I’ll suggest the garbage disposal so to avoid wasting our precious O2. Now. Do we understand one another?”

Access to-

“Hawk, Rosetta Major. Access code x-ray, lima, alpha, zero, three, gulf, one, niner.”

Access granted.” the lift offers a friendly chime and begins moving, but neither soldier breaks the stare with the other. After a long moment the simultaneously turn to face the lift door.

Rosetta leans in, “Three sunny side up on two pieces of toast with fresh garlic and cracked pepper. Little bit of ketchup on the side.”

“Noted, you goddamn heathen.”

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