13 Plans Change

Their schedule after breakfast started with a briefing from General Yalt.

The general walked into the room---the same one as their original orientation lecture. He gave the faint impression of fatigue as he walked up to the podium.

"I am here to tell you things that you already know," he said. "You have done extremely well in the first part of your training. You know, now, that your flight has the best record in the history of this academy--or of any academy."

"Does that mean you are the best group of young men to train on these grounds? Do you think that you are?" his tone almost taunted. "You have been impressive and I congratulate your performance. More than that, I congratulate the methods you've used to improve your performance and maximize the value of your training."

His tone changed, and the expression on his face softened.

"We emphasize, in our society and especially in the military, the importance of the contribution of all. Seldom do we single out a person or group for commendation above others. However, we must recognize when we have a resource we can use to help us in our fight. You have become such a resource. Your results have proven the wisdom of your choices and actions."

"You are starting the second half of your training today, and I have news.

"As of today, your training will deviate from what we have prescribed for more than a century. You should know that it is not because of your success, though that success did affect our decision.

"You will continue to study the tactics and technology of the Rogue, but it will last for barely more than half of the scheduled time. You will fly simulated missions against the junior cadets as the older cadets did against you, but that will be even more abbreviated.

"In six weeks time, you will be assigned to the Redun. It is the only carrier we have. We have decided that we must increase warcraft production by bringing the shipyards in the Mecran system back online. I don't need to tell you that it was the last system we abandoned after the attacks of the Rogue. It will be the first we reclaim. Sending the Redun to Mecran is a risk we feel must be taken."

The room had been silent, but this news stunned them. It seemed as if they were suddenly disconnected from the rest of the world.

The general went on. "You are not being sent to reclaim Mecran, but to defend the shipyards during their reconstruction. The system has an asteroid belt rich in the metals and other elements we need. We hope to increase production and to begin construction of capital ships here in the shipyards here at Anyar. Construction of transports and cruisers may be expanded to the Mecran shipyards when they are complete."

"The question that must be on your mind is...why?" he said, lowering his head and pausing for long seconds before he spoke again.

"We thought we had eliminated all the Rogue craft during the Redun battle. We'd hoped we had stopped any craft from escaping to carry intelligence back to the Rogue. We hoped that this was the case, but now we have reason for doubt.

"A small, fighter--size Rogue scout craft was recently detected and captured. You know how unsuccessful our attempts at such a capture have been in the past. We succeeded this time because its jump drive was damaged. If it escaped detection for this long, it is possible other, undamaged Rogue were able to jump out of the system.

"Its presence here could just be chance. We would not have expected this so soon after the last battle.

"However, regardless of why it was here, the king and his ruling council have decided that we will put the planet on a war footing. This decision makes the production of all ships and military equipment a priority--the top priority. I don't think that is a surprise, given the recent attack. This new information simply increases the urgency and the resources we will devote to military expansion.

"It will happen gradually. Ground-based manufacturing is being expanded. Initially, the production of robots and MI's will increase so that they can, in turn, be employed to speed our expansion.

"You are the first flight to know their assignment this early in training. Perhaps that is appropriate given the excellence you have shown."

The fatigue was evident on the general's face now. "Before I finish, I'll answer your questions. I urge you to break our normal reticence and ask whatever you like."

Sephen turned his palm and the general nodded for him to proceed.

"The Redun can carry two hundred fighters in addition to its other crew. Where will all these pilots come from? Does the Service have enough pilots to man it and leave adequate numbers to defend Anyar?"

"A flight of fighters will come from experienced defending forces," the general answered. "All of your flight will be assigned as fighter pilots. That is the first time in history that every member of a flight has been graduated as a fighter pilot. The class preceding you will have ten FP's. A similar number will come from the other two academies. That will give us approximately eighty new FP graduates.

"With only two flights, the Redun will be manned, initially, with less than a third of its standard complement. The training for the newer flights is being accelerated, and we expect to graduate them at approximately one month intervals. If the percentages of FP's remain, that will add almost sixty FPs per month. We think that the newer classes will follow your example for their study and mission tactics. We expect the percentages of qualified FP's will remain high.

"In the short term, you will be undermanned. It may take six months to get the Redun up to a full complement. It is not ideal, but it is the best that can be done.

"Until then, your training will be accelerated. Some of it will continue during the cruise to Mecran, and more will continue after you start your duties there. Any other questions?"

"Will we stay together as a unit?" Zeke asked.

"You will. The current orders are that you form a group with two flights. The other flight will be experienced pilots from home defense.

"It seems likely the Rogue will return. We are accelerating every part of the war effort. We are also starting the construction of more Redun class cruiser-carriers. Those will be built here in the home system. Most other forms of spacecraft will also be built here. The Mecran shipyards will construct transports and heavy attack craft. Most construction will be in the orbital shipyards. One shipyard is currently planned; more will surely be added.

"If there are no more questions, you'll proceed to your first training session on Rogue technology."

The afternoon session covered the scant information they had on Rogue craft and tactics. Enough hardware had been recovered to allow Anyar to create its own spacecraft. It had allowed them, within a hundred years, to scale their ships from fighters to carriers the size of the Redun.

That evening, back in the barracks, Zeke had messages from Elenne, Enne, and Danil.

The delay had been disabled. All of these messages had been sent the same day.

Danil's message spoke of his flight's training being accelerated. They were still in the last of the competitive missions. They would not be in the first group to go to Mecran, but would follow within a month.

Elenne's message was short and asked if he'd enjoyed the weekend. He didn't know when they would get a chance to see each other again; the flight's free time would be limited to a half day on Seventhday. His reply apologized for not thanking her for taking him home and he wrote at length about how much he enjoyed it, and, specifically, how much he enjoyed her company.

Enne's message was a long one, more personal than any she'd sent. She said that she had come to realize how much she admired him and how shallow her retinue of admirers had become. She must not have known the latest combat assignments because she said that she hoped she would see him soon.

At first, Zeke was at a loss as to how to reply. Finally, he decided to just speak his mind.

First, he told her that he didn't understand her sudden interest. Not that he had expected any. He was just a commoner with no social status on Anyar. It was, he said, very difficult to imagine why she would be interested in him. Surely they had little in common. Second, he admitted that he didn't see how he could be comfortable with someone with such beauty and accustomed to such luxury. That was a world he had no experience with and no desire to join.

He considered mentioning Elenne, but thought better of it. Flattered as he was by her attention, he found himself thinking about what it would be like to be with her. Still, he recognized this for what it was---a fantasy.

Finally, he thanked her for her interest and her candor. He confessed he had had a crush on her, but he was sure that he was no different from thousands of other young men. They were too different---different worlds and different priorities.

His heart was pounding loudly in his chest as he closed. He hesitated for several minutes, trying to gather the nerve to send the message. In spite of what he'd written, he didn't know for sure how he felt, nor how he should have replied, but thought that the distance he put between them the safest course. He sent the message and, with the deed done, felt relieved.

Before lights out, Zeke and Sephen went upstairs without saying a word. Soon the entire flight joined them. They all looked to Zeke.

"I don't know," he said, "if I am more excited or more afraid. Anyone else feel that way?"

Everyone nodded.

"I am glad that we will stay together," he said and paused for a moment. "I have never had a connection with anyone as strong as the one that I feel with each of you. The beginning was difficult for all of us. Now I consider you all my friends. Though we have yet to face real dangers, I feel that I can trust you. I hope you can trust me."

Dev spoke up, "I think we all feel that we have done something special and that we are--together--more than we are as individuals. I think we should continue our sessions each evening, analyzing the day's information."

There were nods of agreement and they pulled up chairs and started.

Zeke's face was intent. He told them, "I have a hunch that if we understand why the Rogue spend so few resources defending their convoys and other installations, we will have learned something important."

There was a murmur of agreement, then they began discussing the Rogue and their motives. Ideas were thrown out, analyzed, and criticized. Everything was recorded and stored in the comm-net.

"Is it that they just don't care about the losses, since they don't have a human perspective and values, or is it something else?" Zeke asked.

Geren expressed doubt. "We don't even know what their perspective is. They must not have an unlimited supply of ships and other craft or the attack force would surely have been much larger."

"Maybe," he went on, "they suffer from the same problems we do, a lack of intelligence about how we operate. In addition, they may not have encountered resistance before."

It was a plausible explanation.

"What we need," proposed Dev, "is better intelligence. We know very little, and the assumption has been that we have no way to learn more. I think we should inquire about the current intelligence gathering methods. Maybe there is a way they can be improved or expanded. If they haven't been effective, maybe they need to change."

"How do we present this proposal?" Sephen asked. Eyes turned to Zeke. They knew he'd had more than his share of private conversations with the general.

Zeke spoke, "I don't think it is deserved, but I seem to have some credibility with the general and his staff. He asked me a question a few weeks ago. Now I think I have an idea how to answer his question."

Zeke hurried to his console to send a message to the general saying that he had some ideas and asking if they could meet.

The lights were already out when he was done. He made his way to bed and thought about all the information he'd received that day. With the help of his flight, an idea was beginning to form.

His response from the general was quick. In the morning, his comm-bracelet had a message, sent in the middle of the night, setting up an appointment over lunch that day.

The morning's classes covered Rogue small flight units and their capabilities. They spent some time flying low-def simulators in preparations for simulations against Anyari craft in the afternoon.

Lunch was served in the classroom, but Zeke left to keep his appointment with the general. Again, they met in the officer's mess.

Zeke started as soon as they were seated. "We are only in the beginning of studying the Rogue and their ways, but last night we discussed the current lack of information about the Rogue. Our conclusions were clear: we need more intelligence on the Rogue. I don't know what resources have been devoted to this currently, but we believe they should be increased, and increased substantially," Zeke told him earnestly.

The general explained, "We have a group which analyzes enemy hardware and all the data from the engagements we have had with the Rogue to date. The problem is those engagements have been few, except for the three attacks. Sending patrols to other systems would weaken our defense and we assume they would have little chance of finding anything. Worse, if they did, they might be destroyed and we would not get the intelligence."

"You have destroyed all the Rogue craft you've encountered?"

"When the forces were small, we tried to disable craft with as little damage as possible---with mixed success," the general replied.

"Why not leave the craft and follow them to their destination?"

"Staying within the distance where we could track them means we would also surely be detected. There is a trail of particles from the drives, but it is narrow and almost impossible to track."

"Can you attach devices that would send out a signal that could be tracked?"

"How do you attach the devices? Even if you could, you would need to use a QE communicator, anything else would be detected. Direction can't be determined from QE communications, so an MI or some sophisticated device would be needed---increasing the chances it would be detected."

Quantum entanglement communications devices were a recent development utilizing the counter-intuitive aspects of particles at a quantum level. Information could be sent, at an agonizingly slow rate, instantaneously across unlimited distances. At least the theory indicated that it could.

Zeke thought for a moment. "I don't have an answer, yet, but I think we can find one. On Earth, we had a war that, for us, was as dangerous to our society as the Rogue war is to yours. Intelligence was a key factor in the victory of my country and those allied with it."

"Was this idea yours?" General Yalt asked him.

"No, it was Dev's, but it was apparent to me, and to everyone in the flight, that this might be the key. Before, you asked me what I thought we should do with regard to training."

Zeke hesitated for a moment, ordering his thoughts. "This is unusual, I know, and now I'm coming to you with a much bigger idea. We have much more to consider, and we need to find a way to solve these problems. I think this could have a tremendous impact on the war against the Rogue."

"You will need information, knowledge of our technical capabilities, and more detailed knowledge of our analysis of Rogue craft capabilities and limitations."

"Yes, how much more exists than what will be covered in our classes?"

"Somewhat more. There isn't time to cover all that we have. A great deal of it might be meaningless, especially with respect to your idea. Should we change the content of your classes and focus on Rogue craft capabilities and technical information?"

"I don't think so. I do think we are on to something. Before I did not see a reason for the attention I've received. Now, I think that greater access to you--to update you on our analysis and ideas might be useful. Can that be arranged?"

The general answered, "If necessary, yes, but for now, if I arrange for a liaison, someone you can brief whenever necessary, who has a good grasp of our technical capabilities, and who has access to me should the need arise, will that be adequate?"

"Yes, I think that would be fine," Zeke answered.

They had hardly eaten any of their meals. Zeke was hungry now and quickly polished off his plate.

"I have missed the lunch lecture. I would like to return before I miss more. I think we will, with your approval, continue with our evening sessions. I have a hunch that things will change quickly. A number of things come to mind, and I have seen the rest of the flight pick up things before I do, things that I would have missed."

The general smiled. "That is encouraging. The newer flights are adopting your methods, and it is improving their performance, though not as much as with your flight. There are two reasons I can think of: one of which can be helped by having others attend your sessions, or having some of your flight sit in on their sessions."

"Our current discussions might not be as helpful. We aren't analyzing tactical missions. We could rotate some of our members in a schedule to attend the junior flight's sessions. Tell me how many you would like, and when, and I'll send a list."

"You send the list and we'll figure out how to assign them."

Zeke made a note on his comm and took his leave to return to class.

That afternoon they flew simulated missions as Rogue, starting with the slow moving Rogue freighters, accompanied by a few Rogue fighters controlled by MI's. Tomorrow they would move to flying the fighters.

After the evening meal, when the flight reached the barracks, Ereine was waiting for him. She attracted more than a few looks as the rest of the flight filed inside. Zeke could not blame them. When she had led them on their initial orientation, he was as aware as any that she was attractive, but he hadn't realized how rare blonde hair was on Anyar. He'd seen relatively few women in the Academy and had only had the opportunity to talk with Elenne and Ereine.

"The general sent me," she said. "I've been fully briefed on your flight, your methods, and your most recent ideas."

"That didn't take long," Zeke replied.

"With General Yalt, not much does."

"Everyone is checking their messages from home. We'll go up to the dayroom in a few minutes. Sometimes the sessions last until lights out. Why was the message delay disabled, by the way? Not that I'm complaining."

"It was? I wasn't aware of that. I don't think it has been for the junior flights. Don't know about the flights senior to you. It may have been because of the accelerated training schedule and your imminent deployment."

"Let me check my messages, then we can talk before we start."

He had another short message from Elenne, hoping they could find some time together. He replied, again apologizing for being brief, and told her he would inquire as to when they would get some free time and would let her know as soon as he could.

From Enne, the message was long--many pages. Evidently she didn't have a lot else to do.

She said that she understood his reservations, that she felt that there was too much division of classes within Anyari society. Didn't he think, she said, that someone as well known as he'd become, with a common background, would set a precedent that could help to change that part of Anyari culture? And too, she went on, his actions had elevated him to a status that made him a suitable companion for her. Her arguments were contradictory and naive, even to him. She was young and perhaps accustomed to getting what she wanted.

He struggled to write a response. The crush he'd felt upon first meeting her had not disappeared, but since Elenne, the intensity had waned.

Again, he chose to answer her honestly. He could not deny what he felt for her, but he questioned his own motivations. He was simply one young man, among many, who fantasized about being with her. Certainly he would like to meet her, and get to know her, if for no other reason than she was Danil's sister. Beyond that, he thought that anything else would likely only lead to unhappiness for him. The suitors she entertained now would still be there, but with his deployment, for a long time, he would not.

He agonized over how to close. Anyari custom was the same as on Earth in that regard, finally putting "Affectionately" in the closing. Honest though it was, he feared it would make the situation even more complex. The idea of leading her on seemed ludicrous; nonetheless, it seemed that it was what he was doing. Trying to discourage her might actually have the reverse effect and make her more determined. Outright refusing to communicate with her seemed a bad choice, too. In the end, he changed it to "Your friend."

Ereine was waiting for him up in the dayroom.

"What should I do?" she asked.

"I guess, to start, you should plan on attending all of these sessions. There will be, I expect, a number of things we will want to present to the general."

"I would keep it to a minimum," she recommended. "The fewer there are, the more attention each will receive. Brevity is something we value."

"Thank you. I'll keep that in mind," he said. "Don't hesitate to advise me on how we can best communicate our ideas and recommendation."

She nodded.

"You know, then, that we are suggesting that we increase our efforts to gather more intelligence on the Rogue. We don't yet know what will be useful. Nor do we know much about what is already known. Can you get us access to that information?"

"Yes, there are files that are not normally accessible, even to high ranking officers. I'm sure you'll be granted access to them---probably all of them."

"We'll need access for everyone in the flight. And, I think, you, too, if we are to work closely together."

She hesitated, "I don't know what the reaction will be. General Yalt will almost certainly approve, but he is not the only person involved in such decisions."

"Do what you can and let me know." She nodded.

The flight started to enter the dayroom. Everyone was prompt and it was only a minute or two before everyone was seated. Except for the occasional glance at Ereine, their eyes were intent on him.

"You know I spoke with General Yalt today. He is open to our recommendations. Hopefully, that will also be true for the rest of the general staff. There are obstacles, technical obstacles, to gathering the information we need. I know that resources have already been working on this, but I believe we can refocus efforts in this area and find ways to learn more about the Rogue."

"I'm sure you remember Ereine from our initial orientation tour," he said with a smile. He wasn't sure, perhaps he only imagined a slight blush on her cheeks.

"She will be our liaison with the general. She will also help us in gathering any information we need. Finally, she has technical knowledge and can answer questions for us, or find those answers if needed."

Zeke explained his conversation with the general and the problems he had pointed out.

He began, "Let's take the problems one at a time. We need to find the Rogue first, without being detected. Ereine, General Yalt told me that a group is currently working on intelligence, but they only gather information from encounters that occur.

"So how can we find a Rogue without being detected?"

Zeke had an idea, but he wanted to see what the others came up with. He let the conversation travel around the room.

"The first factor, of course, is the EMS, the electromagnetic signature. So powering off is essential," Geren pointed out.

"But you can't have someone in a ship waiting for long periods of time in a powered down state, surely not long enough to have a chance at detecting a Rogue. And you certainly can't do it in enough numbers to make it practical," Ereine protested.

"You can't have someone, meaning some human, in a ship," Dev countered. "I think that makes a part of the answer obvious."

"Yes," Pretr said, "and that solves another problem. If the ship, or craft, or whatever is not manned, it can be smaller, further reducing its chances of being detected."

An air of excitement filled the room. They were onto something, and they knew it. Zeke looked at Ereine; he couldn't tell if she was dumbfounded or impressed.

Problems and solutions were thrown about, "But how do you get the information back? QE units are expensive and their communication rate is extremely slow--a few bits per minute."

"Does each one of these units need to have a QE device?" Zeke asked. "We may---we will--surely need to make trade-offs."

There was silence. Everyone was lost in thought.

"What kind of information will these probes collect? How often and how quickly will it need to be gathered to be analyzed?" Geren asked.

"If only a few of the 'spy drones' were QE capable, you would need to send that information using the EM spectrum, which you couldn't do if Rogue were still in the system," Sephen pointed out. "Though there would seldom be a reason for Rogue to pass through a system, then quickly leave."

Someone pointed out, "Some drones could be jump capable, but that would alert the Rogue to some kind of presence in the system. However, the energy signature of the jump would be different than anything else they've encountered."

"That would be expensive, too," Ereine pointed out, but she was clearly warming to the idea. "It would increase the size of the drone, but that is something to keep as an option."

Zeke looked at Ereine. "On Earth, I have heard of a system we called a laser. It transmitted energy in or near the visible spectrum. It could be focused into a narrow beam. I know that it was used for communication, though, perhaps more in fiction than in reality. Do you have anything like that here?"

"I have not heard of it being used," she said, "but if you had it on Earth, we can duplicate it here. I will check into it and let you know tomorrow."

Ereine was taking notes on her comm. "I have recorded this session. I will erase it if you like, but I think we should capture everything, every idea that was mentioned. I have to admit, I had my doubts, but I think you're on to something."

The lights out warning flashed.

Zeke asked, "Ereine, can you have that overridden? I have another idea or two, and I suspect there will be others before we're through."

She tapped on her comm. "Done."

"I mentioned trade-offs; we should not think in absolutes. We have been successful by exploring all possibilities and I think you should continue to consider alternatives to every idea."

"For example: we can't equip every spy drone with a QE device. Information transmitted across a system could take minutes to hours. That might not be a problem. Gathering information, even if it takes longer to get it back to us, is better than not getting the information at all."

Geren added, "The more QE drones we have, the more information that can be transmitted back and the more redundancy if any of them are found and destroyed."

"Do you have any idea of what it would take to produce such a drone?" Dev asked Ereine.

"At one time, we had courier drones. There hasn't been a use for them in a long time. If the jump drives were removed, that would leave space for additional sensors. I don't know for sure, but I would think we could have prototypes in a few weeks to a month. All the components already exist. For equipment of this size, ramping up production could be pretty rapid."

She looked at Zeke. "Do you have any idea of how many we're talking about?"

"That's a number for the MI's to calculate. How many systems do we monitor? How big a volume of space? Do we need to monitor the whole system?"

Zeke looked around the room. "Anyone have anything else? I think we've come up with something good."

There were nods of agreement. The ended their session and most of the flight headed downstairs. Ereine remained behind.

She came up close to him. Anyari women had a different sense of personal space. Initially, he'd thought it provocative, but now he wasn't sure what to think.

"So what they say is true."

"What is that?"

"That solutions to problems flock to you."

She moved a little closer still.

"I thought I was still hated, resented, by almost everyone in the Academy---not just me, but the whole flight."

"That is changing. If this is approved, the whole world will look at you in a different way."

"If it is approved?"

"There are still elements in the general council and the grand council that are conservative. Elements that resist change, even in the face of all that has happened. You have had, I imagine, a narrow view of how Anyar is ruled. Not that it is bad, or the people are evil, but even as the situation has changed, there are many whose views have not."

Her face was very close to his. "Is this how Anyari women express their interest in men?"

She smiled, but did not back away. "Perhaps."

"A lot is going on right now, and there is someone else..."


"I care about her, and would not hurt her."

"Why would she be hurt?" She looked perplexed for a moment. "Ahh. You have a lot to learn about Anyari society. Tell her about me, ask her."

"Uhmm, I don't know."

"Go ahead, you might be surprised."

With that, she did step away, but not before she kissed him lightly on the lips.

"I will contact you tomorrow, check your messages on your comm early. There might be something by then," she said as she descended the steps.

The lights flashed, indicating the end of the extension for the evening. He lay awake for some time, wondering what this new idea would bring and worrying that it would be opposed. So much was happening so quickly that he didn't have time to worry about the many things in this new life that could go wrong.

The thought of Eriene's lips on his made him feel guilty.

He was in over his head--- way over his head.