Arkan Ginova gazed thoughtfully through one of the many view ports on Griggs Camp station. The stars beyond glittered with promise against an infinite curtain of black; a sight that would capture the imagination of any hopeful dirt-sider who had never been lucky enough to travel among them. For the Fleet Commander of the Raven’s Scouts, it was as familiar a vista as a sunrise over Xyile. He watched as a pair of approaching vessels went about their business. The familiar form of a Zorgon Peterson Hauler and the old, dependable and still widely used Cobra Mk III buzzed over the platform like busy insects at a flower bed. Still, compared to the larger, well established stations in and around the areas of space collectively known as the bubble – the sphere of human expansion into the stars – Griggs Camp was a quiet outpost which saw little traffic and harboured only a few thousand people. The small population consisted mainly of mining personnel who were instantly recognizable by their red overalls, and who filled the corridors and main thoroughfares of the outpost.
Beyond the station, Ginova surveyed the planet unceremoniously known as Paipai One. In orbit of the grey-brown planet were stationed the Raven Guard; a fleet of ships composed of some of the best combat pilots the Raven’s Scouts had to offer among their roster. However, as soon as Ginova had ordered the fleet into Paipai, Admiral Drayton’s Coalition Defence Force had been deployed to counter the intrusion, leading to a stalemate that had lasted for weeks. Talks between the two factions had reached no satisfactory resolution despite the obvious popularity of the Ravens policies and objectives among the populace. In addition, Drayton’s Coalition of Paipai had very recently found themselves under attack from a group of subversives in nearby Sedna; perhaps a fortunate turn of events for Ginova’s party in a sense, but it had the undesirable side effect of pushing back peaceful negotiations between themselves and the Coalition. Another, perhaps more aggressive faction may have pressed on with an attack using the clear advantage, but the Ravens only engaged in battle as a last resort. Still, as the weeks had passed, Ginova and the fleet were becoming more and more restless.
While Project: Black Horizon had been something of a success and business was booming in their home system of Cai, the expansion into Paipai had been plagued with issues that had stalled progress since the first initial trade agreements had been settled. Admiral Drayton had been proved to be a bigger thorn in Ginova’s side than the Fleet Commander had expected. Paipai held very little wealth and even less in the way of orbital or planet side assets. Its only real value was in its location. The system would make a good launch point to begin expanding into the more resource rich independent systems beyond. Raven Command had made it blatantly clear that a move towards the edge of the frontier was of high priority. The resources on worlds towards the far reaches of the bubble were substantial yet Ginova wondered at how many more battles, talks and deadlocks with Federal factions would be necessary to achieve this lofty goal. It’s only a matter of time, he thought, dispensing with the negativity as soon as it had shown itself.
He knew that Shizuko had been running day to day operations extremely well in Cai and he had expected as much. She had proven her worth time and time again over the years. Ginova was lucky to have such an able and dedicated second and he reminded himself to put her forward for promotion once things got a little more controlled across the Raven’s tiny empire. In Bedaho, Dillon Reade had also proven to be a confident and capable leader. Alongside the 8th Dragon Squadron – Furieux’s past associates – progress was steadily being made. Both Dragon and Raven wings had fought side by side in a bid to expel the threat of yet another Federal cohort with eyes on the system, a faction known as the Ice Storm Squadron. The vigilance and remarkable combat prowess of the 8th had caused the retreat of Winter’s lapdogs back into Athena, leaving the system of Bedaho one step closer to being an independent sector. The current controlling party, the Conservatives of Tiliala were still posing a problem however, with their wealth, power and influence felt in many neighbouring systems too. Public opinion seemed easily swayed by the promise of an exclusive pass into Tiliala. Furieux himself had proved to be something of a handful. Ginova hoped that he hadn’t played the truth card to soon. The smuggler’s obvious predisposition towards self destruction could be a problem, in both a personal sense and for the future of the Raven’s Scouts.
A shrill voice pulled Ginova out of his thoughts. “Admiral Drayton will see you now, Fleet Commander.”
Ginova turned around in the foyer. Drayton’s aide stood for a moment, then proceeded to cross a raised aisle into what Ginova assumed was Drayton’s main office. The foyer was a reasonably large, open plan affair, filled with artificial greenery, faux glass and steel decor and predictably, the walls were adorned with holographic Federal propaganda. Curiously, there were more portraits of the shadow president than the actual president, Zachary Hudson. It was clear to see who, among the corporate slogans and dogmatic advertisements, ruled the roost around these parts. Ginova followed the aide, making sure to keep himself a few steps behind.
Reaching the door, the aide stepped aside and gestured for Ginova to enter. The Fleet Commander nodded politely and continued on. Inside, the office was dim, lit by wall mounted lamps that barely cast a shadow. On three sides of the rectangular room, were large viewports similar to one in the foyer revealed additional views of the modular design of Griggs Camp and the stars beyond. Silk banners, bearing the insignia of the Coalition of Paipai hung from the ceiling. Everything in the room was functional in true Federal style. There was no room, or indeed demand, for aesthetics so fondly appreciated by citizens of the Empire. A black desk was positioned at one end of the room and behind it, staring out of a view port, stood Admiral Vance Drayton, his hands clasped together behind his back. His cropped greying hair the only indication of his years.
“Ginova,” Drayton said brusquely, without turning around. “Sit.”
The Fleet Commander moved to the front of the desk but remained on his feet. “I appreciate the offer, Admiral, but I’ll stand. This exchange wont take long.”
“As you wish,’ Drayton replied coldly. “You know Ginova, contrary to what you may believe, the Federation has much respect for the individuality and unique culture among the independent systems in this region. The societal diversity is interesting and refreshing. It is a real pity that we cannot see to eye. After all, our goals are one and the same. The preservation and success of our people through commerce, technology and…”
“Greed?” Ginova broke in. “Appropriation? Corporate backstabbing? Trust me when I say that we have absolutely nothing in common, Admiral.”
Drayton turned away from the view port and made eye contact with the Fleet Commander. He was perhaps in his eighties, yet fit for his age. He was a walking advert for modern medicine and advancements in biotechnology. “Sacrifices must be made to ensure that we all have a bright future,” he said. “Solidarity is key. We have always endeavored to make our decisions with the best interests of humanity in mind.”
“Ah yes. Sacrifices. Sacrifices that solely benefit the Federation and its many sub factions? How many more sacrifices shall be required to meet the demands of your success? How many more worlds shall be bombed from orbit? How many more stations will be acquired in the name of human advancement?”
Drayton bristled. “Let us not forget that you and your Raven Guard threaten us over this very station. Blockading our trade routes and halting our industry is not exactly exemplary code of conduct for men of peace, now is it?”
“You brought this on yourself by refusing to relinquish control,” answered Ginova. “The people of this station desire change. Public support for the Ravens is considerable compared to your own. Your citizenship have voiced their discontent with Federal policies yet you refuse to surrender control of Griggs Camp to us. We truly wish to avoid conflict, yet until such times as the Coalition step down, the Raven fleet will remain in orbit as a deterrent to any acts of aggression on your part. We will no longer stand aside and let you take what you do not deserve. The loss of Future Hopes station to a Federal party was a solid blow to both the Raven’s Scouts and the citizenship of Cai. The many thousands who were killed in that conflict will not be forgotten. Is it any surprise that we consider you untrustworthy?””
“That was years ago, and nothing to do with us.” said Drayton dryly.
“We lost fifty percent of our market share in agricultural exports, not to mention revenue from the station’s shipyards to your Federal allies. Also, we have information suggesting that Federal Farragut class warships are now stationed in Sedna, less than twenty light years away from Cai. We will not tolerate this. The Federation hasn’t changed at all, and there is nothing that you can say that will convince me otherwise.”
“The war in Sedna is no concern of yours,” the Admiral hissed. “Our enemy is a common one. The Crew of Sedna are piratical scum, a blight on the system’s potential. They deserve to be annihilated. Surely you can understand that. You have your own strain in Cai if I am not mistaken.”
“Granted, but how long before you bring those ships to Paipai, or worse, Cai? Forgive me, but I will never trust the word of another Federal lackey again.”
Ginova watched as the Admiral’s face began to redden. Clearly he had struck a nerve. “Lackey? Now listen here, crow…”
“No you listen. We are not going anywhere, Drayton. Our ships will remain in orbit for as long as it takes for you to come to your senses. We would rather the handover went peacefully with no bloodshed. I suggest that you speak to your superiors as soon as possible and inform them that you have lost control of Paipai. You have failed, Admiral. I hope you prove to be a man of your word and do what is right by the people of Paipai.”
With that, the Fleet Commander about turned and left the room. It was apparent that further talks would be pointless and he had no desire to listen to Vance Drayton’s rants and excuses.
“This isn’t over Ginova!” screamed Drayton. “You don’t want peace! You want a war! And I’ll give you a damn war!”
Ginova didn’t hear him. Through choice, mostly.