Grand Admiral Ryan Hawk rarely shaved his beard, but today he felt it necessary to present as strong a look as possible with the people he was about to meet. Nerves churned, his breathing was shallow, and he felt his heart hammering in his chest as he stood outside the entrance to the Senate, preparing for an address that he feared would be his last.
I failed so many people… Sachi… Please forgive me. In truth, Hawk had no idea if she was alive or dead, but word of the attack on Manticore had sent shockwaves through him, and the personnel under his command. So much effort had gone into shoring up a dozen key worlds, that the frontier had been left exposed, and the Chon’ith had mercilessly exploited that, only not in the expected manner. A number of border worlds had gone untouched (though Hawk suspected his reports were out of date on that front), with other, more important systems coming under attack. Rios, Dallas, Noah… All of them had lost considerable portions of their infrastructure, because he’d ordered the fleets to reinforce other locations.
Of course, if I’d had a bigger budget, and hadn’t been told to scale back defences, we might be in a stronger place. Not that such an argument would ever wash with the Senate. They’d force the responsibility upon him, blame the military, and shunt him off to a backwater world somewhere. That wouldn’t stop him from trying.
In fact, Hawk was already growing concerned that the general public would turn against him. The media hadn’t gotten hold of the early reports, but civilian craft had fled from Felix, reporting many Chon’ith warships. No one outside of Command knew of Manticore’s fate. Rumours were abound about the loss of the Rios shipyards, but nothing was concrete. He could only hope that the Senate didn’t decide to make a public show of his ‘execution’.
In the middle of the circular room, lined with row after row of chairs and walnut desks, was a podium, with a pedestal, that Hawk stood behind, feeling hot in his pristine white dress uniform. His golden buttons were reflecting light right back up at his face, and dozens of eyes were upon him. He did not gulp, but instead raised his head to face the Senate, wondering if he should offer his resignation right away. Resisting the desire to look to the heavens (or the girders that lined the ceiling and supported a network of harsh glaring lamps), Hawk waited for the first cutting question.
“Grand Admiral Ryan Hawk, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to address the Senate this afternoon.” Began the Speaker, an old gentleman, his ebony skin etched with the lines of age, his hair wispy and white. Nonetheless, his voice, amplified by the microphones in front of him on the desk immediately facing the podium, was a deep baritone, carrying across the chamber and commanding respect. Victor Arnold had been a general in the Confederation Army, having risen through the ranks, and he had a presence about him. Hawk knew he had an ally in him, even if Arnold’s role was strictly neutral.
“I appreciate the Senate taking the time to receive me.” Hawk replied in measured tones.
“This Senate session is not open to the gallery, though it will be recorded for posterity and for accuracy.” Arnold began. “The Senate Chair recognises Senator David Williams, representative of Earnhide and Ricksdale.” A mature-looking man in a black suit stood, a pair of lights focusing extra attention upon him. His pink skin shone in the lights, picking up on his completely bald head. Piercing blue eyes were picked up by the monitors, that gave Hawk a clear view of the man. His expression was grim, lips set tight.
“Admiral Hawk…” Williams’ English accent came through immediately. “Under your stewardship the Confederation has been invaded, and four of her star systems pillaged. What strategies do you have in place to ensure other systems are not hit?”
Hawk bristled, and he feared his cheeks had flushed, just a little. “Sir, under the directions of the government, my resources have been cut. That decision was a collective one, based on intelligence reports. Everything we did prior to the renewed hostilities was done on the basis of available facts. Clearly those facts were incorrect, so now, we need to redeploy our forces, reinforce the frontier and surrounding regions. I have already given orders to make this happen.” He paused, his eyes sweeping the room for any sign of a reaction. None was forthcoming, so he pressed on.
“I also formally ask the Senate that we contact our allies, to see if they are prepared to offer more than just material aid to the war effort. If the Confederation cannot contain the Chon’ith, they will be next.”
“What exactly are you doing to reinforce our defences Admiral?” Williams asked, which irritated Hawk, for he had already answered that question.
“As I have said, we will redeploy. We have forces we can draw upon. The incursion into the Felix system was a dummy move, a decoy to persuade us to leave our fleets further from the front lines. They dummied us with false intel that lured fleets to the border. They won’t be able to fool us again.”
Williams looked directly at him, studiously. “And once our defences are strengthened, a counter-attack perhaps?”
Several murmurs of approval went up around the Senate. Hawk’s gaze followed the ripple of noise, quietly dismayed. He’d have preferred a grilling.
“Senator, we know the Chon’ith have improved their technical performance, and they will have been rebuilding their industry. Their overall capabilities are still inferior to ours, but that gap is nowhere near what it was. How they’ve managed to develop new, improved missiles and ships is yet another failure of intel, and in light of that, we have to assume their systems are being upgraded. An attack on them at this time would be… catastrophic.”
“We cannot do nothing Admiral.” Williams remarked.
“Nor do I propose doing nothing. However we need to move with haste to implement our own upgrades and refits, and any ships currently mothballed need to be reactivated. That will bolster our numbers and allow us to hold the line, long enough for new construction, or for our allies to join us in overwhelming strength.”
Williams looked unsatisfied with the answers, despite their thoroughness, but nodded, and sat back down.
“The Chair recognises President Haruko Isikawa.” Arnold said.
Isikawa stood, dressed in a business suit not too dissimilar to Williams’, albeit grey in colour rather than black. Her eyes locked onto Hawk.
“Admiral, when you were promoted, you assured me you had the resources to fulfil your role and to fulfil it adequately. Today, four human star systems are ruined and vulnerable, and many ships, equalling tens of thousands of lives, have been lost. This does not strike me as adequately fulfilling your role.”
“Madam President…” Hawk tried to keep his rising anger from his voice, but he failed to keep the irony from dripping out. “When I was promoted, I was assured by the Senate I’d have the means to carry out my job, given the political climate. Clearly, a lot of people have gotten things wrong since then.”
Isikawa’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, there have been mistakes. What do you believe the Chon’ith will do next Admiral?”
Hawk shrugged. It was hardly a dignified gesture, but he didn’t care. “I don’t know Madam President. Our intel was misleading, probably because the Chon’ith figured out what we were doing. They’ve gone to great pains to understand our stealth and sensor technology. Their scouts have poked around several systems, in line with what our faulty intelligence suggested, only for attacks to take place elsewhere. Our frontier worlds are now highly vulnerable, assuming they haven’t already come under attack. Unfortunately, until we can shore up our numbers, we can’t do a lot to help them.”
“Are you proposing we abandon colonies?” Isikawa asked dangerously.
“I am proposing, in light of the reduced resources I have available, to make sure we can defend the most important targets. Felix is but one of many systems that are vital to our economy and war machine. I do not wish to lose any further systems, but we cannot defend everything, at least, not to a reasonable standard.”
An older man piped up, Hawk didn’t immediately recognise him.
“As Senator to the Dallas system, when do you propose driving the Chon’ith out of our territory?!” Came the shouted, heated question.
“Senator Wainwright, the Chair appreciates your anger and shock, but please…” Arnold began, but Hawk held up a hand.
“It’s alright. Senator, we are drawing up plans, but as I have already informed Senator Williams and President Isikawa, nothing will happen quickly. Rest assured…”
“Plans?!” Wainwright’s Texan drawl came over the speakers again. His green eyes flashed, and he ran a hand through greying hair. “Plans?! We need action, real action!”
A ripple of approval and murmurs of agreement went through the hall, to Hawk’s dismay. Surely the Senate wasn’t going to be collectively so stupid?
“We will take the fight to the Chon’ith when the time is right.” He said forcefully. The chances are the Chon’ith are not even in the systems they attacked anymore. They didn’t arrive with any troop transports, so it appears their aim was to cripple our industry, then leave. They’d love for us to send warships in, which can only be achieved by uncovering other systems. I have no intention of playing into their hands.”
“What course of action would you recommend Admiral?” Asked Isikawa, stalling the growing argument.
“Madam President, as I suggested earlier, we should ask our allies for assistance, and we need to set up emergency training programs to recruit new officers to crew reactivated ships. I would strong recommend we look at Felix and other core systems and beef up their weapon platforms and strengthen their sensor networks. We need to make sure that, if and when the Chon’ith attack those worlds in force, they run into a brick wall and break themselves upon it.”
For a moment Isikawa did not reply, then she inclined her head. “Very well. I am prepared to acknowledge that the failings of the Navy are not entirely of your own making Admiral. The Senate certainly shares that responsibility. You will have any resources that you require, however the cost of failure will be your career.”
“Madam President, the cost of failure will be the freedom of our species.”