The battleship had taken four months, three billion dollars, fifteen hundred people and seventy five thousand tonnes of material to build, but at last the Flare Lights All Enemies was ready to launch on her maiden flight. It was owned by an independent firm labelled Be Safe Out There, which had long had a presence in this part of space, sprawling across a dozen mining systems whose resources would last at least five more years of intense exploitation.
The Flare Lights All Enemies would act as a new flagship for the organisation, with range enough to reach their borders and deter any rival corporation seeking to muscle in on their territory. The ship was an expensive outlay to build and run, but also a signifier of growing power. Be Safe Out There weren’t situated far from the PTA’s extreme borders but their executives didn’t worry about the Great Power’s proxies, as while expansive, the PTA weren’t anticipated to arrive in this part of the galaxy until BSOT had finished stripping anything valuable and moved on. It was also entirely possible the PTA would simply leapfrog them and settle further afield.
As Hui stared at the monitor, watching the final checks being carried out on the FLAE, he reasoned that such an event would put them firmly in the PTA’s backyard anyway, which would make them that much safer, if more likely to have to pay taxes.
The comms were full of chatter; people were excited, jubilant that they’d managed to build such a huge ship undetected by other corporations. Hui wasn’t so sure – intelligence assets had indicated that enough people knew about the ship that it couldn’t really be called a secret. No one had pitched up though and BSOT material transports hadn’t been harassed during the build phase. It was enough to make a man think the universe sometimes rewarded the hard working.
BSOT patrol ships were out on the borders, so if trouble did arrive, they’d be relying on the various fighter and defender class craft idling around the system. The construction bucket, a massive ship in the shape of a skeletal hand, was currently wrapped around the FLAE, but in the next hour it would release its grip and the two ships would part for the last time. The last crew shuttles were just now departing from the battleship, having delivered the last of the seven hundred men and women needed to run the thing. The battleship had charged most of its capacitors but had some hours before it would be fully operational.
It amazed Hui that even with computers and automated systems the ship still required the equivalent of a large village worth of employees to keep the lights on. They weren’t cheap either. Fortunately BSOT had people enough to fill all mission-critical roles without having to hire from outside. Most of the rest of the crew were colonists and graduates, happy to work for any corporation willing to give them a pay cheque and medical cover.
The system had its own jumpgate, and the construction vessel was anchored at one of the Lagrange points not currently serving as a departure to any local star systems – located as it was between a mid range gas giant and it’s largest moon. Although constant, the Lagrange point was volatile and not well suited to providing a stable jump from one star system to another that was guaranteed to work every time. Getting to the correct destination nine times out of ten wasn’t going to work for anyone if the tenth time left them in the dark of space with no way home.
Hui’s personal comm buzzed, ‘Hi.’
‘Hui, we’re ready to go. The FLAE will take about three hours to power up now everyone’s on board. During that time she’ll have defences and minimal offensive networks but not enough energy to use her lasers.’ The voice on the other end was Soobin. The two of them represented forty percent of the corporation’s management team.
‘And she’ll be floating there like a corpse.’
‘Amazing though, isn’t she.’
‘Just a ship, Hui.’ Soobin laughed, she was the project manager who’d made this happen, but she was no romantic. ‘Feels good to have it done.’
On the other channel came static and shouts, Hui just about made out the word ‘jumpgate.’
‘Keep us safe out here,’ called Soobin before dropping off.
Hui powered up his ship, a spy class rig called the Precision Pinprick, and started moving. He wasn’t going anywhere just yet, but wanted to be oriented towards the jumpgate if his presence was needed. The Precision wasn’t going to help in any fight, but he’d relay information back to the BSOT command ship, the Satisfaction Coordinated, which had put itself on the far side of the gas giant. BSOT had chosen their name for a reason and contingency plans had run through an attack at the point when the battleship was at its most vulnerable.
The initial panic following the call that alerted Hui had subsided, individuals falling into their roles as discipline reasserted itself. Around the gas giant more than seventy ships were taking formation and readying themselves for whatever might come from the jumpgate.
‘Where do you need me?’ Hui sent out.
‘Stay there commander, the enemy have not contested the jumpgate, instead they entered the system and jumped straight to your location. C&C will coordinate. We presume you still have your ace in the hole?’
‘I’d rather not reveal that, the price is not one we want to pay.’
There was a pause on the other end, then, ‘we will leave it with you, but you know the risks we are not in a position to take.’
Hui put the Precision into its least visible configuration; systems came online that would make it exceptionally hard for anyone to see him even if they were looking. If the expedition were competent then someone would be seeking him; counter measures. However, Hui was confident – they were in his territory.
The antagonist force emerged from their local jump, their signatures were of Penrose engines, efficient tells of CIS affiliated firms who often adopted a closer relationship with their faction of origin than the BSOT was comfortable with. The Satisfaction Coordinated flicked the idents and numbers of the enemy onto all screens; one hundred and thirty four fighters and bombers, half a dozen scouts and three interdictors that were going to try to seize the FLAE from out under their noses.
‘Bastards,’ pinged Soobin.
‘No wonder no one harassed us during the build,’ said Hui. ‘Command, are we well placed?’
‘Cuspy.’ The response was immediate.
The Satisfaction Coordinated began directing BSOT’s own forces to defend the FLAE. The two fleets closed on one another, missiles and long-range energy weapons lighting up the space between them. The gap closed and the sides merged except for one of the enemy patrol boats, flanked by defenders that made straight for the battleship.
The Satisfaction Coordinated tried to divert ships to intercept but no one could disengage from the invaders who outnumbered BSOT nearly two to one. The other two interdictors got stuck in interfering with comms and engines across the fleet and, even with the defensive turrets and drones surrounding the construction barge, the battleship was not safe.
‘If you’re going to do something, do it now.’ C&C sounded desperate.
‘I’m two days ahead of you.’ The enemy hadn’t found Hui and so he was able to open up the encrypted channel he’d kept live for this eventuality and make the call he’d rather hoped not to have to make.
From the far side of the moon a patch of black space emerged, followed by a broadcast on all frequencies, ‘this is the Carrier group Shenlong of the PTA; you are invaders undertaking aggressive action against an officially licensed company of the Alliance. You will cease and desist. This is the only warning.’
The fighting stopped immediately, close range ballistic weapons cooling suddenly when seconds before they had been overheating in the melee.
‘Hui, the Flare Lights is ok. Well done.’
“Thank you.’ Hui was satisfied but another message stole the sweet taste from his mouth.
‘Hui Teh of the Be Safe Out There limited company, we welcome you to the Alliance. Once we have processed the criminals in our system we shall send someone to discuss how your company can serve us in our expansion.’