Bush Fires (a Core-verse story)

The first spin-off from The Terra Core (see http://www.movellas.com/en/book/read/201310281154034479-the-terra-core for the details), this story will take a look at the wider universe the Core stories inhabit- and take us into the world of the United Western Alliance military, as they deal with terrorists, insurgents and crumbling regimes.

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4. Lets Move!

The UWAN had a proud tradition of excellence. When they set out on a mission, they did everything in their power to ensure it was completed successfully and with as few casualties as possible. Indeed, they would plan missions to ensure the odds were firmly stacked in their favour.

So when Vice Admiral Louise Sterling, seated on the command deck of the battleship Hercules, prepared her fleet to move out, she couldn't help but wish the odds were easier to stack with this mission.

She ran a hand through strawberry blonde hair and wished Admiral Cooke had chosen someone else to command the naval side of things. It was flattering that the Navy's chief had thought her worthy of such a task, but peacekeeping missions were always thorny, awkward affairs, that inevitably went wrong at some stage, and she didn't need the hassle.

At least she had a decent sized force to work with. Twenty battleships, sixty battle cruisers, sixty heavy cruisers, forty light cruisers and sixty destroyers, plus numerous auxiliary vessels, were now orbiting earth, awaiting her commands. The sizable force represented the coming together of four sector fleets, and was seen as a fairly significant fleet for a mission of this nature. One of the admiral's responsible for one of the fleets had expressed his... doubts... that such force was needed. Sterling had told him he could take it up with Admiral Cooke if he so wished. The admiral had backed down pretty swiftly.

Luckily for Sterling she had attached herself to a good officer. Rear Admiral Jurgen Eichel, a man whose appearance belied his actual age, had turned her head- for more than one reason.

Looks wise, he might as well have been a gift from God himself. For a man of fifty-eight, he looked remarkably younger- so much so that upon first being promoted to Rear Admiral he had struggled to be taken seriously. His bright blue eyes and short, cropped black hair, that firm jaw, those good cheekbones... and his tight ass...

Sterling tried not to blush as Eichel bent over a control console near her and gave her a wonderful view. She was fifteen years older than he, still very much in good shape herself, but also happily married and not usually given to flights of fancy. Part of her wondered if her husband was alright; it was a good thing the Texan ranch she'd bought had a lot of space- for grandchildren and dogs alike.

Eichel hadn't struggled to be taken seriously for long. In war games he'd cleaned the clocks of nearly all his opponents, including more senior admirals, who silently seethed but had to admit the man had talent. His crews were organised, efficient and enjoyed their work. Eichel understood the importance of keeping morale high and in making sure people were kept busy. As a tactician he had an eagle eye for opportunities and knew when to gamble- and when to bluff. Sterling was thankful he worked for the UWAN and not a rival navy!

Some admirals and captains didn't take too well to another officer commandeering their ship, but Eichel was a professional. He had acknowledged Sterling's status as commanding officer with nothing more than good grace and had gone about ensuring his own sector fleet and Hercules herself were operating at their very best.

His crew were right now readying the ship for its departure, with the command deck a hive of activity. Officers were seated at a number of control stations, performing systems checks and awaiting orders. Signals were coming in from all across the fleet, as ships announced they were ready to set off.

"The fleet is ready Ma'am." Eichel marched up beside Sterling's chair. "We can move out on your order."

"Well then..." Sterling replied, letting out her Texan accent. "Lets get to it. Comms, open a channel to the fleet."

"Aye aye Ma'am." Replied the comms officer. He flicked a switch and in an instant Sterling was fleet-wide.

"This is Vice Admiral Sterling. We will shortly be departing for Free Sirius 3, whereupon we shall begin our peace-keeping duties. This mission will be long, and difficult, but I have every confidence that we shall succeed. To all of you, I wish you safe travels. Move out!"

Two hundred and forty warships, along with their support vessels, activated their Van Rompay fields and shot into hyperspace, hurtling at over twenty light years per hour toward the frontier.

****

At 22 light years per hour, it would take six days to cross the distance of over 3,000 light years between earth and Free Sirius 3. For the troops on the transports, this meant an opportunity to rehearse several scenarios on the ground. For the naval officers, it was a chance to practise for possible circumstances they'd face in space. In both cases, the commanding officers expected their people to work hard.

Simulators ran day and night and emergency drills could happen at any time. Even Vice Admiral Sterling wasn't immune to being awoken at 3am to tend to a drill- she hated it, but she understood why it was necessary.

Still, having just completed a scenario where four USP battle cruisers had tried to breach the blockade and the UWAN only had one heavy cruiser and four destroyers present to stop them, Sterling felt exhausted, but it was now 7.30 and she knew she'd never be able to get back to sleep. Her mind was too awake, even if her body was protesting. Rather than retiring to her quarters, she made her way to the mess hall, whilst considering all the options she could have tried in the simulator.

The midshipmen and lieutenants that were currently getting breakfast had not expected to see a Vice Admiral wander into the ship's Mess. They immediately stood to attention, hoping their deep blue uniforms were in perfect trim, and wore looks of pure fright. Sterling inwardly smiled at the plight of the young men and women before her- she remembered similar experiences and how they felt.

"At ease everyone." She did smile this time. "Carry on."

Like everyone else, she grabbed a tray and made her way to the food, trying not to grin at the nervous look on the chef's face as they dished up bacon, eggs (scrambled or fried) and hash browns onto plates. She gratefully accepted the fried tomatoes too- and got herself a cup of coffee (milk, one sugar, had to be real sugar!) and sat herself down, taking care to seat herself a reasonable distance from other crew members, so as to ease their discomfort.

Her first sip of coffee was always the best. Good old Joe always seemed to refresh her brain. A mouthful of well-cooked bacon... mmm, always nice. She got started on her scrambled egg, and was savouring the surprisingly good quality of it when she noticed the officers present once again stand to attention- this time because Rear Admiral Eichel had entered the Mess.

The poor chef looked ready to collapse. He wasn't used to entertaining such high-ranking officers! From the corner of her eye Sterling noticed that other officers had discreetly turned around upon seeing her in the Mess- a situation that would no doubt continue now there were two admirals present.

Eichel spotted Sterling but like her, went to get something to eat first, only he went for the cereal. Muesli- or 'saw dust' as Sterling called it. Healthy, but not satisfying!

Still, it partly explained why he looked so good.

Eichel sat down opposite Sterling, and took a few spoonfuls from his food, before he spoke.

"The simulation was a tough one this morning Ma'am." He said quietly.

Sterling sighed. "Yes, yes it was."

Four battle cruisers against one heavy cruiser and four destroyers was the computer's way of saying 'I want to screw you over'. Even USP battle cruisers, despite being decades behind UWAN standards, were going to be a potent threat in that sort of situation.

The captain in charge of the heavy cruiser (who had also been given the unfortunate position of acting commodore in the scenario) had tried- wisely in Sterling's opinion- to remind the simulated USP officers of the political ramifications of trying to breach the blockade. The computer had decided that the USP officers were desperate enough to take the risk, since they wanted to help their beleaguered colleagues on Free Sirius 3, and they'd made a move anyway.

The UWAN vessels had opened fire, first with warning shots. Sterling would have done the same. Next, they'd tried once again to talk.

It was here that Sterling might have been more ruthless. If the USP had been able to deploy any reinforcements to ground positions, or worse, decided to attack rebel positions from orbit...

In fact, that was what happened. The simulated USP forces attempted to land marines to the surface, and the acting commodore had been forced to destroy the landing craft. This had triggered an attack by the battle cruisers, and in the ensuing fight the heavy cruiser and three of the destroyers had been destroyed.

Two enemy battle cruisers had perished as well, and a third had taken extensive damage, but they'd been able to go on and deploy more marines, meaning a greater headache for the troops on the surface. They'd also fired on rebel strongholds, and the political fallout had been awful.

"It wasn't a fair simulation." Sterling muttered after chewing on some bacon. "The computer is coming up with scenarios that we all known are completely unreasonable."

"I agree, but in the heat of the moment the unexpected can happen. Who knows what might happen? The computer is keeping us on our toes." Eichel sounded so calm and looked so awake!

"Well, I for one might have a word with Sims when we get back. This most recent exercise was demoralising. Captain Anderson is disappointed with himself when he doesn't need to be, and I don't appreciate my people having their confidence shattered by a stupid machine." Sterling snapped, then winced and looked up at Eichel. "Sorry, I didn't mean to sound so pissed off."

Eichel smiled. "No apology necessary Rear Admiral. We are all tired and none of us are happy. I think I will arrange for all simulations to stop the day before we arrive, give the crews a chance to sleep and feed up."

"A good idea. I wonder if the Army is facing equally stupid situations?"

"I would imagine so. the Army Sims team is, from what I hear, sadistic."

Sterling laughed. Despite feeling completely shattered, she laughed. Eichel was probably right.

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