Chapter One

~ September 12th, 2281 ~

"Suicide!" Minister of Intelligence Vertap Aloyandro said fervently in a rare display of personal emotion after viewing the vid message received from the Uthlaro Prime Minster. He then closed his eyes and shook his head sadly.

"Suicide?" King Jamolendre, the monarch of all Hudeera, echoed in surprise. "I asked for your most positive assessment, Vertap."

"And I have given it to you, my King. We have gained much territory as a result of our recent military actions, but this endeavor, rooted in avarice, will certainly result in our ruination. This proposed pact will be our undoing; it is tantamount to— suicide."

"Lord Melendret, and the noblemen loyal to him, favor the pact."

"Your Highness, we both know they are drunk with power. They saw our massed military attacks on sparsely populated and lightly defended Milori outposts as great victories; although they were nothing but lightning raids against an enemy whose resources were stretched far too thin to properly protect its vast territory. When the Milori pulled back, deserting their forward positions along our border, it was to marshal their forces to defend their home world from attack by warships of the Galactic Alliance. The nobles foolishly looked upon the withdrawal as a magnificent triumph by our forces. Our nobles have deluded themselves into believing that we somehow drove the Milori out."

The king stood up, stretched his six-foot ten-inch frame, and stepped from behind his desk. Silently circling his enormous office in the royal palace, his scaly, mottled, greenish-brown skin shone brightly, absorbing welcome warmth from the bright daylight streaming in through the windows. The three fingers and opposing thumb of his left hand tightly gripped his right behind his back, and his glance never left the embellished, hand-woven carpet as he passed the elaborate sculptures and magnificent paintings that lined the walls. On the third pass he stopped near the seating that surrounded the large circular fireplace in the center of the room and dropped heavily into his favorite chair. The massive, thickly-padded piece of furniture, covered in a red velvet-like fabric, had been made to his specifications and body contours, and included the normal rear cutout for the short reptilian tail that all Hudeerac males sported. He lightheartedly referred to this chair as his seat of power, and always enjoyed its wonderful comfort while he presided over the frequent, informal meetings with the rich and powerful noblemen of the ruling class.

"This pact," Jamolendre said, "if signed by all parties, would combine the military might of four interstellar powers. We know that the Galactic Alliance is more powerful than our own meager forces, but surely even they can’t stand against the combined might of all four nations."

The Minister of Intelligence moved to the fireplace area but didn’t presume to occupy any of the empty chairs because he hadn’t been invited to sit down. "My King, I’m not prepared to agree with that assessment, and Admiral Carver has a deserved reputation for defeating enemies who underestimated her abilities and resources. As the senior ranking officer of Space Command in the territory that was previously the Milori Empire, and what they now refer to as Region Two of the Galactic Alliance, she would be the one to direct the action against any intrusion, so we would be pitting our forces against hers. I can’t imagine a more dangerous opponent."

"The Galactic Alliance apparently believes that they’re entitled to annex all of the territory formerly claimed by the Empire simply because they conquered the Milori. How can they possibly control an area that large when they didn’t have enough ships to cover Galactic Alliance territory before it was tripled in size?"

"It has long been an accepted reality of war that to the victor belong the spoils, my King."

"I don’t deny that the Milori, bent on conquest of the galaxy, invaded Galactic Alliance territory on two separate occasions, but our noblemen don’t feel that one small fact entitles the Galactic Alliance to all the territory of the former Empire. We suffered at the hands of the Milori for generations, and we are entitled to a share of the conquered territory.

"That the Milori twice invaded the Galactic Alliance is not what concerns me, Sire. It’s the fact that Space Command twice defeated the Milori invaders handily. And they did promptly return the former Gondusan and Hudeerac territories, taken by the Milori during our decades of hostilities, as was agreed before we commenced our raids against the Empire’s border positions. They promised nothing else."

"We took our former territories back ourselves, Vertap–– although the actions of Space Command against the Milori certainly helped make it possible by drawing off the forces protecting the border."

"My King, this proposed pact calls for the entire area annexed by the Galactic Alliance to be divided equally among the four signatories; that’s considerably more than a share of the conquered territory. The Galactic Alliance isn’t being asked to share, they’re being ordered to get out. They won’t leave without a fight."

"They aren’t needed here, or wanted here, any longer. With the Milori defeated, and beyond any hope of ever resurrecting their forces, this part of the galaxy rightfully belongs to those who suffered for so long."

"The Uthlaro and Tsgardi never suffered under the Milori, your Majesty; they were active trading partners at all times, and benefited greatly from their association. Do you feel this entitles them to half of the conquered empire?"

"They’re included in the pact because we need their ships," Jamolendre said angrily. "Like the Gondusan territory and ours, their realms border the former Milori Empire, and neither has any particular love for the Galactic Alliance."

"And what of the Ruwalchu Confederacy? They share a common border with the former Milori Empire as well."

"The Ruwalchu are too far away to be of consequence. Their border with the Milori Empire territory is over two hundred parsecs from their home systems, and they rarely travel this far out. I’ve always been amazed that the Milori didn’t lay claim to part of their territory decades ago."

"The distance might have had something to do with it— and the Milori were pre-occupied with us and the Gondusans. But perhaps the real reason is that the Milori feared them. My agents have reported that the technology of the Ruwalchu is far superior to our own, or that of their other neighbors. "

"We asked them for assistance when the Milori were driving us from our territory, but they refused to become involved unless the Milori invaded their space. I’ll be damned if I’ll see them benefit in any way from this accord!"

"Yes, my King. Have I understood correctly that this pact was first proposed by the Uthlaro?"

"That’s right. They have the longest common border with the newly annexed Galactic Alliance territory, and they fear that their Dominion will be targeted next if the GA isn’t stopped and pushed back inside their former borders."

"That’s a preposterous position. The Galactic Alliance has never exhibited unprovoked aggression towards any of its neighbors. For many decades it has shared common borders with three nations, three nations far less capable of defending themselves than the Milori, but it never coveted it’s neighbor’s territory. It only responded to the invasion of its territory by the Milori, and even went so far as to allow the battered Milori invasion fleet to simply leave GA space after they defeated them the first time. If the Milori hadn’t invaded a second time, the Galactic Alliance would not have had to attack the Milori home system. They only annexed their territory after defeating them a second time to insure that the Milori threat was gone forever. The Uthlaro are using fear of invasion as an excuse to expand their own territory, and want to use us to help them accomplish their goals."

"Perhaps, but our own nobles won’t be restrained from moving into the annexed territory to acquire new systems, and they believe that the might of our combined forces will leave Space Command with no option but to quit the space."

"We’ve twice witnessed how Space Command responds to invasion fleets that threaten their territory, my King. I fear that any incursion will bring a dire calamity unforeseen by Lord Melendret and his supporters. I doubt that Space Command will be as generous with us as they were with the Milori. After all, the Milori were declared adversaries all along, while we were their allies. Are we prepared to have all our territory annexed by the Galactic Alliance should we declare war and be defeated."

The king remained quiet for several moments, and then responded with, "We shall have to make sure it doesn’t come to that."

"There’s one more consideration, my King. The Uthlaro claim that they want us to participate so that we appear to have a united front. They no doubt appeal on that issue because our small fleet will add little to the combined forces arraying against the Galactic Alliance. Should our forces be destroyed in this campaign, who is to protect us from invasion by our Uthlaro ‘allies?’"

The king was silent for several minutes and the Minister of Intelligence began to wonder if he should quietly depart. He was about to declare his departure when the king suddenly said in a more subdued and weary voice, "Vertap, I share your concerns, but I’m caught up in something I’m powerless to control. I don’t wish to join this pact with the Uthlaro, but the nobles led by Lord Melendret have sufficient support to insure we will. If I oppose too strongly, my power base will be so eroded that I’ll be nothing more than a figurehead; a figurehead ripe for removal. It’s an open secret that Melendret covets my crown. I can’t let that fool depose me. I must sanction the Uthlaro plan."

"I understand my King," the Minister of Intelligence said solemnly.

* * *

"And we are meant to believe that this union will benefit the kingdom?" First Warlord Kalisnacos asked angrily, as he stood up in front of his chair in the large circular building that was home to the Tsgardi War Council when it was in session.

A warlike alien race that more closely resembled tall, upright Terran baboons, than human beings, the Tsgardi were only space travelers by virtue of having enslaved an expedition of peaceful travelers to their planet. They had forced the Flordaryn visitors to take them back to their home world, where, through brutality, they quickly subjugated the entire race and forced them to begin making spaceships for a species whose lack of intellectual acuity insured they would never be capable of making their own.

"Our ships are no match for those of Space Command," Kalisnacos continued, his short, thick, yellow fur bristling. "Their ships are faster, and their hull plating is far superior. Our Flordaryn slaves have made no improvements in our technology since we conquered them, while Space Command continues to improve their fleet with every new class of ships. If we join this pact, we will be nothing more than cannon fodder."

"The Uthlaro are promising to share their technology with us if we become signatories," Premier Warlord Qerdesqa said. "Our participation will bring Light-375 speed to every ship in our fleet."

"That’s a lie," Kalisnacos said. "The Uthlaro have never exceeded Light-262. They promise what they can’t deliver."

"Light-262 capability was the most they would allow their shipyards to sell to anyone other than their own military," Qerdesqa said. "Their own ships have had Light-375 capability for some years. They also promise to help us improve our hull plating by providing Tritanium, for a price."

"Light-375 will make us faster than most of the ships in Space Command," First Warlord Ramdesci said, standing to deliver his comment. "And if we could strengthen our hulls, we would at last be able to face them on an equal footing."

"And when are these marvelous improvements to be made?" Kalisnacos asked. "The Uthlaro want to start this offensive immediately. It will take many years to replace the outer hull plating on every one of our three-hundred warships, and perhaps just as long to improve our engine speed once we have the knowledge."

"As soon as Space Command is driven out of the new territory, the Uthlaro will help us begin to upgrade our ships," First Warlord Ramdesci said. "It will be worth the wait to become the equal of Space Command."

"We believed the Milori to be far superior to Space Command," Kalisnacos said, "and we’ve seen what happened to them. Space Command wiped out their fleet with ease, and then laid waste to their home world when Maxxiloth still refused to surrender."

"The Milori invaded Galactic Alliance space," Ramdesci said.

"And isn’t that exactly what we would be doing?" Kalisnacos asked rhetorically. "The Galactic Alliance laid claim to all of the territory belonging to the Milori at the time the Milori finally surrendered to them unconditionally, although they allowed the Gondusans and Hudeeracs to reclaim the territory taken by the Milori since Maxxiloth’s great-grandfather first began to expand their borders into the territory of other nations."

With the combined might of the four members of this pact," Ramdesci said, "Space Command won’t stand a chance. Most of their ships are hundreds of light years away, while ours are massed at key defensive outposts along our border. They can be made ready to cross into Region Two within a week. The Uthlaro have promised more than six hundred ships to this effort. We have three hundred ourselves. The Gondusans would add more than seventy, and the Hudeerac have more than thirty. That’s a thousand ships. Space Command has only about four hundred warships total, and most of them would have to remain behind to defend their original territory."

"The Uthlaro don’t have six hundred warships," Kalisnacos said. "Our spies report that they have only about three hundred, at most. They have a few dozen battleships and cruisers, an equal number of frigates, and the rest are destroyers. An impressive fleet to be sure, when compared to the Gondusan or Hudeerac forces, but not so impressive when compared to that of Space Command."

"The Uthlaro had three-hundred decommissioned ships when the Milori first began their invasion of the Galactic Alliance. Those ships were immediately refitted and moved to their border with Milori space lest Maxxiloth’s aspirations include plans to absorb Uthlaro space as well. Although the older ships are a little slower and have less hull protection than their current fleet, they represent a formidable force. We estimate that Space Command won’t commit more than two-hundred ships at most," Qerdesqa said. "We’ll have them outnumbered by five to one."

"Carver destroyed a Milori fleet of a hundred-three warships with just fifteen SC ships," Kalisnacos said, "and then destroyed almost four hundred more of Milori’s newest and most powerful warships with her fleet of a hundred sixty-two. And all without losing a single ship of her own in either engagement. She’s the new military commander of the annexed territory."

"We won’t foolishly attack Carver’s ships in one large armada, like the Milori did twice," Ramdesci said. "We’ll spread out along the borders and simultaneously absorb the territory. She’ll have to split her forces into numerous small battle groups to confront all of us. Since she can’t be in dozens of places at the same time, she won’t be able to direct the actions of her ships in battle. We’ll have destroyed most of her forces before she even learns of the battles."

"I ask that the matter be put to a vote," Premier Warlord Qerdesqa said to the council. "All who agree that we accept the terms of the pact, stand up as your name is called."

The names of the council members were called out one at a time, and the member either rose or remained seated. Only First Warlord Kalisnacos and two others of the eighty-six members remained sitting.

"The matter is settled," Premier Warlord Qerdesqa said. "We shall join the Uthlaro in driving out the invaders of the former Milori Empire. We shall deploy our forces and seize all systems in our path until we meet our allies coming from the opposite direction. Long live the Tsgardi Kingdom."

* * *

"How can we even consider making war against such a powerful neighbor?" Senator Prime Curlekurt Emmeticus asked, in addressing the Gondusan planetary senate. "We were unable to beat the Milori in a single battle, yet the Galactic Alliance destroyed their massive invasion fleets without losing a single ship."

"We have only their word for that," Senator Neodeet Literamus said loudly. "For all we know they might have lost hundreds."

One of the most human looking alien species yet encountered that hadn’t originated on Earth, the Gondusans’ most obvious external difference was their nose. Two pieces of cartilage, covered by skin, extended down each side of a single nostril, rather than a single piece of cartilage in the center of two nostrils. The Gondusans always carried their fashion to excess, and the more powerful the person, the more excessive the fashion. Their garish costumes and use of gaudy makeup make them look like someone overdressed for a Mardi-Gras celebration on Earth.

"The Galactic Alliance is an open society," Senator Prime Curlekurt Emmeticus retorted. "They allow anyone to travel freely in their space, even Tsgardi, as long as the travelers respect their laws. They have gone so far as to allow news reporters in a free press to travel on warships during military operations. Our intelligence service tells us that the news reports were completely accurate. Outnumbered seven to one, they did suffer casualties during the first invasion attempt by the Milori, and all ships were required to make repairs afterwards, but following the second invasion, where they were outnumbered only three to one, virtually every ship at Stewart Space Command Base was back in service within a few days of destroying a Milori invasion fleet of more than four hundred warships. Two ships, the most seriously damaged, were back in service within a month. Does my esteemed colleague honestly believe that we can hope to defeat a powerful military like that?"

"We don’t have to defeat them," Literamus said. "We merely have to drive them out of the former Milori territories and then pursue a peace agreement. The Uthlaro promise that the combined forces allied against Space Command will be comprised of over a thousand ships. Space Command will never even engage our ships. They’ll be too busy running back to their old border."

"I believe that you underestimate their resolve, Senator. They laid formal claim to the Milori Empire when the Milori surrendered, so this act would now be treated as an invasion of their territory. Everything we know about them indicates that they will not run. They will stay and fight, to the last ship, to the last crewman if necessary. They are every bit as tenacious as the Milori, and when crossed, even more dangerous."

"The forward ships in their fleet are still at Stewart Space Command Base, more than two-thousand light-years from our borders, and a large force can’t be assembled and travel here in less than eight of their years. This war will be over long before then, and we will have a large share of the newly commandeered territory. The arriving Space Command ships will find they have no bases in the new territory from which to launch a campaign. Now is the time to strike, before they have time to expand into the new territory."

"The ships that destroyed the Milori had no bases in the Empire, yet it didn’t stop them from laying waste to the Milori home world."

"After the Milori invasion fleet was destroyed, the home world was left practically defenseless. Maxxiloth was a fool to send his entire home world protection force to the borders to fight us and the Hudeeracs."

"That was Admiral Carver’s plan. She used us to draw off his remaining forces, giving her an opportunity to destroy his infrastructure."

"Yes, that’s exactly my point! Without us she would not have been able to destroy the Milori! And how does she repay us? By declaring possession of the entire Empire in the name of the Galactic Alliance, and not allocating even a single system to us."

"Not true. It could have made her task more onerous, but I’m sure she would have prevailed even without our help. And though it might have escaped my esteemed colleague’s attention, for our participation we regained all the territory that the Milori had systematically stolen from us over decades of war. That was all Carver promised in exchange for our staging a few lightning raids against border outposts. We lost no ships and quadrupled our territory."

"We were only taking back what was ours to begin with."

The battle of words raged on between the two senators for some time, with neither willing to concede to the other’s point. The other senators listened attentively and quietly until the two tired of the verbal fencing.

* * *

"It is arranged," Uthlaro Prime Minster Taomolu Barguado said to the Council of Ministers. "The Tsgardi, Gondusans, and Hudeeracs will join us in this endeavor."

Barely anthropomorphous in appearance, the Uthlaro had a very distinctive appearance. Their heads were shaped similar to the letter ‘T’, and with eyes located at the ends of the cross piece, they were reminiscent of a Terran hammerhead shark. It gave them the ability to see more than three hundred degrees around their body without moving their heads. Their mouth was located at the very bottom of the skull.

"I never had any doubt about the Tsgardi willingness to join," Minister Ambello Neddowo said, "but I’m surprised that the Hudeerac and Gondusans joined so quickly. I expected them to debate the issue endlessly. After all, they have only recently reacquired territory lost to them for decades. I thought they might hold some misguided appreciation towards Space Command."

"The vote in each case was close," Barguado said. "The Hudeeracs had fifty-eight percent in favor of the pact, while the Gondusans had just fifty-two percent in favor. Apparently there was some gratitude. That, or they fear the Galactic Alliance. We shall have to watch them both closely. They may try to withdraw from the pact after losing a few ships. We must be prepared to take over their forces if their leaders falter."

"You mean before we intentionally move against them and seize their entire territory?" Neddowo said, smiling.

"Of course," Barguado said. "The fleet that we’ve been building when we first decided to annex the Milori Empire many years ago is now ready to begin operations. The special battle groups that we’ve secreted throughout the former Milori Empire, will join the Gondusan and Hudeerac forces as they move forward, but our battle plan will always place our allies in the most dangerous battle positions. By the time Space Command pulls back to their borders, our allies will have no fighting forces left, so there will be no resistance when we also annex their territory. The Hudeerac, Gondusan, and Tsgardi are truly witless to think that we need them to defeat the Galactic Alliance, or that we would share the conquered territory with them.

End of Chapter 1

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