Curse this infernal delay.
General Diana Villiers paced the bridge of the Bellerophon. Her boots clunked against the metal deck with each step.
“Status?” she demanded curtly.
A young lieutenant responded quickly, tapping a few commands on her control panel.
“The fleet is in position, ma’am.”
Diana breathed deeply, her hands twitching at her sides, her armoured Lunar Suit preventing her from clasping them behind her back.
“Would you like me to request a more detailed update from the fleet?” Colonel Trevelyan asked.
Diana stared down at the woman sitting a little too slouched in her command chair. She couldn’t tell if she was being obsequious or passive-aggressive, but she didn’t like either.
“If the fleet is in position, then the fleet is in position. There is little more to know.” If they forced her to wait much longer, Diana might snap that woman’s throat just to give her hands something to do.
“Message incoming on Quantum, secure channel only.”
Diana spun around, scanning the room for the owner of the efficient announcement. “I’ll receive it in my office.” She marched from the bridge without looking back, the security door hissing shut behind her.
It was just a few steps to the ready room, but even that felt too far. Anticipation thrummed through her body, ringing in her bones the same way the hum of the engines thrummed through the ship. This was it. The long wait was over.
Diana offered her forearm to the security scanner and the shining white door in the bright white corridor snapped open, revealing the warmth of the general’s office. As she entered, a small cleaning droid scuttled back to its base concealed behind the wood panelling. She ignored it and rounded the large wooden desk filled with scattered documents. But even knowing every detail of every ship and every crewman in the Jovian Spacefleet couldn’t guarantee victory. That came at a different cost, one she wouldn’t know until it was paid.
Despite the cold adrenaline pumping through her body, screaming at her to snap on the quantum projector the moment it was within reach, General Diana Villiers paused. Taking a breath and centring herself.
This wasn’t just any message from Jovian Fleet Headquarters. This was the one she had been waiting for her entire career for.
She eased her armoured body into the large chair, then decided against it and kicked it away, standing over the projector before taking one final deep breath and clicking the projector into life.
A green shimmering haze bubbled up from the centre, forming a familiar greenish bubble that took just a fraction of a second to form into the dour features of Field Marshal Augustus Frederick.
“Villiers?” he demanded from a hundred million klicks away.
“Yes, Field Marshall, I’m here. Secure location confirmed, eager and ready to receive your message.”
“And the fleet?”
“Awaiting your orders, sir.”
“What happened at Hildas-Bravo 95?” his jowls quivered as he spoke, blurring the hovering projection.
Diana’s mouth twitched and for once she was glad that the image projection was only one way. “The issue has been resolved, sir, and no other incidents have occurred.”
“Dammit, woman, I asked you what happened.”
Diana closed her eyes and took a breath. “A small mining station sent out an anticipatory mayday. A Pallas Defence Force Vessel entered the demilitarised zone and was immediately dealt with by my forces in the area. It was barely a skirmish, Field Marshall and well within the expected parameters.”
So far, the training exercises and fleet preparation had gone extraordinarily well. Pallas brass had stayed well behind their mother’s skirts and let the Jovian fleet amass on their borders with barely more than a raised eyebrow. This pompous, soft-bellied pencil pusher should have been licking her boots instead of jabbering about a few lost vessels and a mining station.
She managed to offer the required ‘Yes, sir’s and ‘No, sir’s without screaming and tearing the flesh from her own bones in sheer frustration. Was this it? Was this all the little man had called her for? To dress her down for the loss of one mining station and a few ships where another General in her place might have lost a dozen?
“Of course, sir,” she reassured him for the thousandth time.
“But I want it to be noted,” he added, “that I have given my view and these orders come not from me…”
Diana tensed. Her whole body was simultaneously alive and frozen still. Orders? Was this it? Was it finally happening?
“… but the President, long live her gracious self,” he tapped his head reverently in the slightly disturbing manner that some of President Godolphin’s most loyal followers had taken to doing, “has deemed that it must be.”
“Today, sir?” Diana asked, trying to hold back the unsightly enthusiasm.
His eyes seemed to find her in the room. Even a million miles away, she could see the hardness in his eyes, concealed behind his sluggish exterior. He may not be a true military man, not like her father, but he knew his place, and he knew it was not her place to presume orders.
Diana swallowed. Her hands balled into fists below the desk. She knew he couldn’t see her and yet she felt so very watched in those few quick seconds.
“Today,” he confirmed.
Diana held back a yelp. Every fibre of her being thrummed with the excruciating joy of receiving that for which it has ached for too long.
“Then today it shall be, sir,” she replied, fighting to keep the tone in her voice neutral. “Have you notified the other fleet generals?”
“We have. You are the last.” There was a smugness in his voice that was easy to overlook after the joy of finally receiving orders. “You will cross the Trojan Line at 05:00 Ganymede Central Time. Your mission is to secure Ceres and ensure the smooth and continued operation at Ahuna Mons. I cannot understate the importance of this target, General. If the fleet runs dry, we die.”
“Thank you, Field Marshall. I understand.” The plan was hardly a surprise to her. They had been running operations and battle scenarios for months, but there was always a chance that those at the top pivoted plans, either because they had been spooked enough, or paid enough. It was a relief to be taking the target she had prepared for.
“Yes, Field Marshall?”
“Take it quickly. We do not want a war of attrition out here.”
“I understand, sir. Ceres will be ours. Glory to Jove.”
“Glory to Jove,” he repeated before his green visage shimmered and disappeared, leaving General Diana Villiers alone in her office.
Diana stared at the empty space where Field Marshal Frederiks’ head had been just moments before. She allowed herself a moment of silence. A final contemplation, a final moment of calm before the frenetic activity began. In just a few hours, she would be crossing the Trojan Line into enemy territory. And so would begin the largest organised invasion the solar system had ever witnessed.
Death, chaos, and glory awaited her. She couldn’t suppress her joy.
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