Read From The Beginning By Clicking FAITH & EMPIRE — Chapter – 1
We filed into the hanger deck where thousands of chairs were set up in concentric half-rings around a raised dais. The first few rows, but for two in the center marked reserved, were filled with Angel Fighter pilots in their bright blue flight suits. Our regiment’s other four battalions occupied the seats behind them. We filed into the outermost seats.
A couple of minutes after we were seated, Colonel Llewellyn L’Amour entered from a separate entrance on the ship’s starboard. He wore a white brigandine, red sash and black zouave trousers tucked into black, knee-high boots. His gaiters were white with red buttons. He had large, thickly-veined hands and a bald, egg-shaped head beneath his white and red beret. The colonel had a black beard, cut in the short, spade-shape favored by his order of knights. His dark green eyes regarded us coolly from above a large hooked nose as he made his way to a raised dais at center stage.
At the colonel’s heels followed two men in red brigandines, gold sashes and black, straight-legged pants tucked into red, long boots. Gold capes hung from their shoulders to the back of their calves. Swords hung from their sides in gold-fluted and gemmed sheaths. Their sword belts were wide, black and buckled by golden, double-headed griffins. Their heads were uncovered.
One of them was a young man, no older, I guessed, than my own twenty-two years. He was fair of skin, blue-eyed with a full head of blond hair that reached to his shoulders. He was handsome in the extreme, possessed of the softly-chiseled good looks that could’ve made him a holoflix star, with or without acting ability.
The second man trailing our colonel was considerably older, sixty or seventy years old. He was just as fair but also taller, leaner and wore what was left of his gray hair close-cropped, seeming like a thin layer of ash across a bony skull.
Our company’s Captain, Dayo Obey, black and lean of face and limb, snapped to rigid attention and bellowed, “Lords on deck!”
The regiment rose to attention together with the more than three hundred pilots. We clicked our heels and our right hands snapped to our shoulders in the Imperial salute, thumb, fore and index fingers raised and spread in representation of the Trinity, ring and pinky fingers curled together against the palm symbolizing the human and divine natures of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
More than five thousand voices cried out as one, “Faith and Empire!”
Colonel and companions returned the salute before L’Amour added, “At ease, gentlemen. Take your seats.”
Our raised hands balled into fists and we beat them once against the center of our chests. We then dropped our hands and sat.
When we were settled in, Colonel L’Amour continued. “This is Lord Zoltan, First Born of Prince Sandor Kelemen of Crimea Secundus.”
The young man bowed his head and clicked his heels in greeting.
“And his aide-de-camp, Lord Earl, Kosta Kolchick.”
The elder repeated the greeting in turn.
“Our lords will be sitting in with us. They’re here to represent the Princedom of Austros which, as you all know, has, with noble generosity, volunteered to buttress our ranks with their justly celebrated First Regiment of Space Marines, the ‘Sons of Thunder,’ as well as with Martel’s Marauders, Second Armored Company, the Destroyers, Emperor Karl and King Sobieski, the carrier Czar Peter Magnus as well as a dozen Flying Hussars of the Royal House, Kelemen.
“We are honored and most pleased to have these brave, brother Christian warriors of Austros in our company. They are watching our briefing aboard their various ships. So, a warm welcome to you all and allow me, once again, to express our beloved Emperor’s gratitude for joining our ranks. The Princedom of Austros is dear to his Imperial Majesty’s heart and he counts House Kelemen among his most fierce and faithful of friends. You are ever in his prayers.”
Colonel L’Amour paused to bow to Lords Zoltan and Kolchick before continuing, “As for myself, the Imperial Marines of 3d Regiment and on behalf of Commodore Alba and all the officers and crews of the Lepanto and her escorts, we welcome our lords and Austros’ finest into our ranks.
“Be assured dear brothers in Christ, it will be our great honor to fight alongside you if it be our good God’s will that our mission lead us into battle. Is that not so, gentlemen?”
Third Regiment and the assembled Angel fighter pilots sprung to attention again and responded with an enthusiastic and quite loud, “I-O!”
The men on stage smiled. Lords Zoltan and Kosta bowed deeply in gratitude.
Colonel L’Amour gestured to the pair of empty seats in the front row. “My lords, if you would.”
Once Zoltan and Kosta took their seats, we took ours.
Colonel L’Amour aimed a thin, two-inch long remote at the bulbous, volley ball-sized holographic projector floating ten meters in the air above us. A holographic representation of the Muvurunian system appeared between the dais and our seats.
Muvuru was a yellow star, similar to Sol in both size and age. Seven planets orbited Muvuru, none of which were habitable. Muvuru one, two and seven were presently on the far side of the system. The other four were spread across the hemisphere before us. A broad asteroid belt separated the inner two planets from the outer five. Icons representing the Lepanto and her battle group were clustered just outside the sphere of orbits.
“We are farther beyond the Empire’s borders than any Imperial ship has ever gone,” Colonel L’Amour began. “Up until three weeks ago, Muvuru was just a name overheard on pirate chatter. Imperial Intelligence guessed it was their secret base, the lair from which they struck out and retreated to, but until La Valette and the Shimabara began purging the sector of its pirate infestation, I.I. had no idea where to find Muvuru.
“Since our arrival, we have determined that, as well as serving as the pirates’ Alliance home base, Muvuru is also a heretofore unknown system of the old Dominion of Man. More than that, it appears to be a remarkably well preserved system.
“From what our probes and long range scans have been able to determine, this system was being mined for various ores and gases when the Dominion collapsed. It must have been abandoned about that time and then simply forgotten until it was rediscovered by the pirates who presently hold it. We’ve detected several facilities throughout the system, processors and refineries mostly, some automated and others dormant.
“There are also three large, deep-dug personnel bases where our pirates are presently holed up. The first two are found on the moons of the gas giants, Muvuru 5 and Muvuru 6. The third and largest base is on the planet Muvuru 3.”
The planet and moons were highlighted in the hologram by glowing auras.
“Now, as much as we would prefer to just bombard the bases from orbit, reduce them to dust and be on our merry way, we can’t,” Colonel L’Amour said. “Unfortunately, this system is an historic find. Muvuru could turn out to be an archaeological treasure trove and…”
“We’re not going to bomb them from a safe distance so that archeologists and historians can have something to scribble about?”
The question was put forth by Hervis Bucci, a pale, red-headed corporal in our company. The major smiled indulgently at him, but it was Captain Obey that responded. “One of those scribblers happens to be our Emperor, corporal.”
“Oh yeah?” Corporal Bucci asked with what struck me as feigned surprise. The corporal was one of the biggest recipients of my prayers in the company, for I so disliked the man.
“His Highness is quite the historian,” Colonel L’Amour said. “And the Emperor takes a particular interest in old Dominion history, in fact.”
“I did not know that,” the corporal said with an exaggerated nodding of his head. Some laughed at his comic performance.
“Yet besides the historic nature of these sites,” Colonel L’Amour continued. “There may also be hostages among this brood of vipers.”
“Ah, damsels in distress and other innocents to rescue,” Corporal Bucci said. “That I can get behind!”
“So glad to have you back with us, corporal,” Colonel L’Amour said to a round of chuckles I thought Bucci took inordinate pleasure in. With some effort I turned my mind from some inviting and uncharitable thoughts about the corporal’s interjections.
Colonel L’Amour went on. “As I was saying, four caravels out of Caraquador were captured by these pirates ten months ago. Their crews and passengers may be squirrelled away on one or all three bases.”
“If they haven’t already been sold to an Orion slave market,” Lord Kosta Kolchick offered.
“Certainly a possibility, my lord,” Colonel L’Amour conceded with a grave nod of his head. “But we’ll err on the side of hope, where we can.”
“You must forgive my Lord Kolchic,” Lord Zoltan said. “He always insists on pointing out the worst-case scenarios.”
The elder lord raised an eyebrow in a side glance to his junior royal. It was a look of mild askance at perhaps having heard the complaint too many times.
Our colonel chuckled softly before responding, “No need for an apology, my lords. It is right that we are reminded of all the possibilities before us and, not to mention, the exact nature of the enemy.”
Both lords gave L’Amour ever so slight nods of their royal heads.
The colonel acknowledged them with a smile and continued. “Thus, while there exists hope of finding hostages, ours is as much a search and rescue mission as it is a punitive one.”
The colonel clicked the remote and the icons representing our fleet began moving, splitting into three groups as they penetrated the system.
“The fleet will split into four attack groups,” L’Amour continued. “Attack group Alpha and Beta led respectively by the Frigates, Misilmeri and Cerami will tackle the moons of gas giants Muvuru 5 and 6. Four Lance Interceptors, six Spontoons, and a Flight of Angels will provide orbital support to each battle group.
“Alpha group’s objective is to capture the base on Muvuru 6, moon 4 of 6,” The colonel paused to summon the image of a red and black striped orb. “The Santa Isabella, the Santos Pelayo and Bernal Diaz will drop our 2nd Battalion for the surface raid. Austros’ 3rd Battalion will join them courtesy of the Hussars, Almos, Turul and Victor Orban.
Colonel Llewellyn L’Amour spent several minutes detailing the surface conditions of the moon, the known defenses of the base and outlining the general plan of attack. When he was done, the colonel clicked his remote and brought up the image of the gas giant Muvuru 5 and its satellites, focusing eventually on the third of its seven moons, a gray and green-mottled orb.
“Attack Group Beta’s assault on Muvuru 5, moon 3 of 7 will be shared by our own 4th Battalion and Austros’ 2nd Battalion,” L’Amour continued. “The Santos Ferdinand, Guifre and Cervantes will drop the 4th and the Hussars Prince Henry, Prince Kazimierz and the King Wladyslaw will deliver the 2nd to the fight.”
The colonel took a few minutes to detail the conditions and resistance group Beta was likely to encounter and the strategies they would employ against them.
“As we penetrate deeper into the system,” the colonel continued. “The remainder of the fleet will split into groups Gamma and Delta. Gamma will consist of the Lepanto, the frigates Montgisard and Roncevalle, the halberds, Richard Lionheart and Raymond du Puy, the destroyers, Emperor Karl and King Sobieski and the hussars, Romanov and Habsburg.
“Gamma group will engage the enemy fleet. While they do so, Delta group, led by the frigate King Alfred, will lead the assault on Muvuru-3.”
A click of the remote brought forth an image of third planet and ballooned it until it took up the space formerly filled by entire system. It was an orb brindled in blue and russet loosely latticed bands, mottled with pock marks of gray craters, scarred by ridges of tall and jagged mountains and capped by two small patches of polar ice.
L’Amour started up again. “This ball of ice is where the Dominion miners built the system’s main base and where our pirates are most heavily concentrated and defended. We’re going to assault it with the remaining six battalions because it is bound to be the hardest nut to crack.”
I sat forward to pay close attention, knowing that my battalion, the 5th, would be in on this assault.