Jenna Hayes glanced at her two counter-parts—and she was somewhat relieved that the shock on their faces mirrored her own. Zheng Bao just shook his head and Sir Edward whistled as the three ranking officers in Beowulf space gazed out of the portholes of the shuttlecraft.
These . . . Colonials
, as they called themselves, clearly they had developed a strike fighter doctrine much like the UAA and the FEU—and the TWE to a lesser extent. But, the size of the five warships! And the sheer number
of what had to be rail-gun turrets which they mounted! The smallest warship—the one that Sulaco
had encountered at Acheron—was larger than any destroyer or frigate in service. The next matched Bao’s Changzheng
in length (if not mass) and the other three were even larger
. The truly massive one was a monster of a ship—she dwarfed all but the largest and most fragile of bulk carriers.
And while there was no sign of lasers or particle beam cannons, Jenna could see the grim twin barrels of heavy rail-cannon on turrets—in unbelievable numbers. And hundreds of smaller clusters of what had to be kinetic point defense. And if those weren’t heavy missile silos on the dorsal surface, Jenna would eat her hat.
“Big bastards, aren’t they?” asked Sir Edward quietly. “At least they come in peace.”
“We have only their word for that,” snapped Bao. “And it was your
marines, Admiral Hayes, who informed these people of the location of Beowulf. My government will be most
displeased if those who are in pursuit of these refugees find their way here—we must consider how much culpability your government bears if one of our people is harmed.”
“Save the threats, Admiral Bao,” Jenna said softly. “It could just as easily been your marines—not mine. And you are well aware of that.”
“Of course he is, my dear,” drawled Sir Edward. “He’s just staking out his position ahead of time—never waste a crisis, eh, Bao?”
The CAC Fleet officer didn’t answer; he just looked at the other group of men and women in the spacious passenger compartment—the civilians in exquisite business suits.
“What are they doing here?”
Jenna grimaced. “They are doing the same as your own watchdogs from Kurisaka Dynatronics and Hainan Heavy Engineering Corporation,” and Bao bristled at the term watchdog, but he didn’t correct her. All three of the officers knew who the true powers that be on Earth were. They didn’t like it—but they were well aware. “They are jackals, savoring over the chance to walk away with signed contracts that will leave these people paupers.”
“A pack of jackals, yes, Admiral Hayes—but one lion there in the midst that the jackals fear,” Sir Edward said quietly, nodding at the isolated man standing alone. James Alistair Sinclair, the head of the Interstellar Commerce Commission. It was the influence of the corporations that ignited brush wars—but it was the authority of the ICC that kept those conflicts from expanding. No mere CEO dared to openly challenge the Board of the ICC—on which Sinclair had a seat.
Jenna snorted. A century ago, the ICC had been nothing but an advisory board—the sole remaining international entity that mediated between corporations and national state governments. But slowly, inexorably, the ICC had become something more than the corporations had ever intended. Concerned only with the protection of humanity, the ICC had recruited . . . fanatics. True believers. And with each successful arbitration, with every regulation that prevented a new plague, with every circumvention of their rules by the corporations highlighted for the teaming masses of mother Earth, the ICC gained more and more power unto itself.
Today, it was the ultimate authority whose anger no one, corporation or national state, wanted to awaken. That had been shown forty-three years ago when the ICC had black-listed General Atomics after the CEO had violated ICC quarantine. No ICC bonded freighter loaded any of GAs products, their raw materials inbound to the Earth factories were seized, their assets were assaulted by cyber-attacks and drained. Two weeks after the ICC ruling, the entire company went bankrupt—leading to a major global recession until the components of GA were auctioned off.
No mere CEO wanted to provoke the ICC into repeating that with their corporations.
Jenna smiled. Yes, Sinclair’s presence made the jackals nervous. After all, they never knew if the lion would simply accept their feeding at his table—or if he would eviscerate and consume them
The shuttle banked, and Jenna blinked as she got a good look at the escorting fighter.
“Damn,” muttered Sir Edward, his upper-class pretentions forgotten for the moment. That fighter was far smaller than Earth’s strike vessels—and her own sensor readings on board Constellation
had shown that the lithe little craft’s performance envelope exceeded that of Earth-build strike vessels. It exceeded them by a large margin. Of course, the tiny fighter could not carry the ordnance that UAA Hammerheads carried—or the Cheyennes.
Then the pilot nodded and rendered a hand-salute, and the fighter veered sharply away as the shuttle passed through the massive bulk of the twin landing decks three of these warships carried. It was different from any Earth design—but Jenna could see the utility of such an expanse of deck to launch and recover strike vessels from. The shuttle set down gently and an expanding gangway emerged from the bulkhead and clamped against the airlock.
She drew in a deep breath, and with her two companions, fell in line behind the corporate liaisons as the airlock opened—with James Sinclair of the ICC walking behind, and watching, all of them.