StarCen called the spot “Rendezvous Alpha.” The location was technically inside the Republic, but it was truly an out-of-the-way spot in the Galaxy, light years from any sun or other celestial body of significance. It was also a spot two weeks travel time from Seychar.
Here Admiral Kwan’s fleet waited in formation, using their standard drives to keep from drifting apart. His fleet had been fully replenished, its losses in other battles replaced, and 60 ships in good order and fully crewed passed the time performing maintenance routines, battle simulations, and sailors playing in Off World, watching movies or reading during their down times.
At long last, the first ships from the Sixth Fleet popped into existence near this isolated point in space. StarCen brought them in five at a time, placing them apart from the previous groups by a safe margin. Most of the new Hawks and Eagles arriving, Kwan knew, were filled to capacity with Marines. They would be needed for taking the surface of Seychar, where additional fighting was expected.
As the numbers swelled, the ships under Fleet Admiral Kwan’s command grew from 60 to 75, and eventually 90 ships. A final Sparrow popped into place in the very back of the formation. Kwan watched the holofeed of the new arrivals from the deck of his flagship, the Reliant.
He said, “StarCen, how many total do we have now?”
“You have 91, sir.”
“I thought we were supposed to have 92.”
“One ship is running late, the Excelsior. They were waiting on final parts and supplies but are en route now. I will bring them along. You may depart for Seychar without them. I have calculated your chances of success are not diminished by their absence in the first wave. One less ship affects the outcome by a negligible margin.”
Kwan grinned at his Captain, a man in his early 40s by the name of Nichols. He stood medium height, black hair cut militarily short.
“I guess the ‘Lucky Lady’ remains lucky.”
Nichols said, “I don’t know if missing out on the action counts, Admiral.”
“Anytime you can miss out on getting shot at is lucky.”
Kwan’s eyes twinkled as he added, “Knowing Captain Benson’s luck, she’ll show up just in time to save the day or something.”
The others on the bridge chuckled. Benson and her ship were already legends in the Navy. She was late to the Battle of Nocturnus, and helped change the outcome. Perhaps she could pull a similar stunt this time, although no one really expected the 15-ship squadron waiting for them to be much trouble.
Kwan stood straighter and said, “Very well. StarCen, alert the other Captains and take us to Seychar.”
The Reliant and the four closest ships, all Eagle-class vessels, popped out of existence. A second later, another five disappeared. Twenty seconds later, Rendezvous Alpha was devoid of any and all ships, with nothing but empty space remaining for light years in all directions.
An hour later, the Excelsior popped into existence.
Captain May Benson stood on the bridge of the Eagle-class ship, freshly repaired and fully operable, with a rested crew ready for their next battle. No Marines were onboard, they had all taken other ships leaving earlier. They also were way down on drones, having lost the others to combat or repairs.
Benson’s straight brunette hair was long enough to cover the back of her neck, nothing more. She had recently celebrated her 41st birthday after they took on supplies and parts at Juventas before heading this way. This marked the 28th year of her commitment to the Navy, she noted. At age 13 she had applied for and was accepted into the Naval Academy on Epsilon.
She ranked in the bottom first quartile of her graduating class, but if war showed anything it revealed class rank mattered little in the heat of battle. Several who graduated above her were already dead.
Supplies on Juventas had been depleted with an entire fleet in orbit. As well, rumors indicated there was unrest among the populace. The Tetrarch had been assassinated, and it was rumored the Navy had something to do with that. That may have some validity, she reflected, since Admiral Cooper was now in charge of the quadrant and serving as the de facto Tetrarch in Lopez’s place. The Navy owned Juventas, under the old “you break it, you buy it” principle.
With all the supply depots planet-side depleted, logisticians scrambled to find food and parts for the many ships above, especially those peeling off to support Admiral Kwan for Operation Golden Return.
As luck would have it her ship, last to arrive and thus last in the queue, had the dregs of the food supplies. Finally, somebody found a large shipment of soy wafers earmarked for prison consumption. The Navy diverted these and sent them up to the Excelsior so her crew would have something to eat during their weeks in space.
Nobody was happy about that. Soy wafers were tasteless, and a far cry from the fresh meat and vegetables, or at least the cryo-preserved versions closely mimicking fresh food, they were used to.
But Benson brokered no discontent. She accepted the food supplies without complaint and left orbit as soon as StarCen could send them on their way. En route, the crew gave her a birthday cake made entirely from soy wafers. She smiled at the memory. After everybody had a good laugh she sent out an order that they all had to eat at least one slice. The laughter dried up after that, she remembered with a smile.
Now they were at Rendezvous Alpha. The holovision showed nothing but the empty vacuum of space all around them.
“Late to the party as usual, Captain,” her XO said, a large man of Chinese descent by the name of Chung, who kept his head shaved bald so that hair would not be an issue for him. One less thing to worry about, he would tell anyone who asked.
“Well, we’ve been late before and everything worked out. StarCen, bring us to the action, please.”
The Excelsior disappeared, leaving Rendezvous Alpha void of anything once more.