“Is everyone clear on their roles in Operation Golden Return?”

Julius Thrall addressed the holograms of his seven Fleet Admirals, sitting in chairs around the table in the Stockton Administration Building. Off to one side, and out of range of the holo-transmitters, his naval attaché Mandy Elven sat in on the meeting. She remained silent, though, as any words she spoke would be picked up by the others.

Admiral Cooper nodded, the silver wings of hair above his ears dipping up and down. He said, “I hate to give up my Marines, but I’m willing to loan some to Admiral Kwan on the condition I get them back.”

Admiral Kwan smiled. He traced his dominant ancestry to Singapore. Like the others, he was in his 50s. Early 50s, in his case.

Kwan said, “I suspect we’ll need more Marines to help take a Republican planet than you need to keep a League one.”

A light round of chuckles rippled around the table.

“The important thing,” Thrall said, “is to combine the power of the fleets at the beginning. As you all know, we need to bring an overwhelming force to Seychar. Let’s go over the plan one more time.”

Above the table, a presentation began as holographics swirled in the air. All would be seeing the same thing above their respective tables, thanks to the quantum-computing matrix, where communication throughout the galaxy occurred in real time.

Thrall said, “We plan to bring in Admiral Kwan’s Fifth Fleet to the Seychar system, for a total of 60 ships. Admiral Cooper will temporarily grant Kwan command of all his Eagles, and most of his Hawks, for an additional boost of 32 destroyers.

“Presently, the Republic keeps one squadron based at Seychar, consisting of 15 ships. The majority include a combination of Eagles and Hawks, with a Sparrow or two for parts and other support.

“Needless to say, StarCen is confident of our chances of success.”

More chuckles rolled around the room. The numbers looked very good, with 92 ships against 15.

“We believe the Republic’s fleet stationed at Diego will depart for Seychar almost immediately after we attack. That is their standard battle plan, to arrive in force about two weeks later. But during that time, we will be reinforcing Kwan with Admiral Ricci’s Third Fleet.”

Ricci, an older brown-haired woman who had managed to avoid going gray so far, nodded as the others looked at her.

“And that’s when the real battle commences,” Thrall said. “The Diego fleet by itself is larger than any one of ours.”

This was true, Elven thought. Republican fleets were comprised of squadrons with 15 ships each instead of 20-ship divisions like the League. So the squadrons were smaller, but each fleet was composed of six squadrons for a total of 90 ships. Granted, the size and quality of the squadrons varied. They were not always filled with Eagles and Hawks. Still, despite less capable ships, the Republic had proven maddeningly effective against the League throughout the war. Their Sparrows had proven deadly in several encounters as well.

“Even so,” Thrall continued, “with two and a half of our fleets against the Diego Fleet, StarCen calculates we will have the advantage and will win the battle.”

Silence ensued as Thrall looked each Fleet Admiral in the eye.

He took a deep breath and said, “We have never managed to draw their entire forces out in this long conflict. We have superior ships, superior numbers, and yet the Republic has bled us time and again, mainly with hit and run tactics. In fact, we are now down throughout the Navy, and our number of ships are on par with theirs for the first time.”

Several Admirals shifted uncomfortably in their chairs.

“This is why Fifth and Sixth Fleets are fully staffed and operational. And this is one of the grand strategic reasons for placing Admiral Cooper around Juventas in the first place. Because now, for the first time ever, we are going to draw the heart and soul of the Republic’s Navy into the Seychar system, and we are going to decisively win the day.”

The Admirals stared back at him silently. Elven thought Thrall was at his most intense, at this moment. He seemed so alive and filled with purpose. This was the side of the Tetrarch she liked the most. The leadership, resolve, and determination he displayed at times like this made her heart flutter. Every person in that room would willingly follow him into battle and die for him and the League.

Thrall sat back and the intensity in his eyes lessened. He said, “I realize this will result in massive losses on our side as well as theirs. But, at the end of the day, StarCen calculates we will be victorious. And once the Diego Fleet is wiped out, that is when Admiral Sullivan’s First Fleet moves.”

The graphics on the holo showed First Fleet ships showing up around a lightly defended Diego.

Thrall said, “This is our bold gambit to end the war, ladies and gentlemen. First, we take Seychar and eliminate their home fleet. Then we attack the heart of the Republic, Diego itself. Capture Diego . . . win the war.”

Everyone nodded silently. It was a good plan. Even better, their AI had determined it had a solid chance of success. Each Fleet Admiral silently committed to doing their part.

“Very well,” Thrall said, standing up to adjourn the meeting. “Execute Operation Golden Return. Admiral Cooper, have your ships meet Admiral Kwan’s at the rendezvous point. From their, Admiral Kwan, move on Seychar.”

Cooper and Kwan recited the ancient, time-honored Naval term for assent.

“Aye aye, sir!”


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