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Episode 1-17 - "Tides of Fire"

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Teaser


4 October 2641

D -10 Days

Robert and Angel woke up to the sound of the alarm chime they had set with the computer. Just as on any other morning. Mornings that would have seen them make pleasant morning talk before going off to shower and a breakfast to start their day.

But this wasn't any other morning.

They got ready with urgency. Shower, a quick breakfast without a word, and then into their uniforms before departing Robert's quarters.

As they moved down the deck, Julia joined them. Her hair was brushed and pulled back into a proper ponytail and her uniform was without a single crease. Her green eyes burned with the same intensity their own eyes had.

Jarod joined them next. Cat arrived alongside Leo, and then Meridina came up with Lucy. Scotty nodded in greeting as he moved into place with them.

They met Data, Worf, and Shepard coming up to the Transporter Station. Worf, as well as Data, were in their standard Starfleet uniforms; Shepard was in the blue uniform of the Systems Alliance Navy, complete with the striped shoulder boards.

The door slid open. Locarno was there and nodded. Commander King, not to be outdone, was already present with her crew. "So." Robert looked at them all. "This is it?"

"This is it," Julia agreed.

"Let's go, then." Robert nodded to the Egyptian man at the transporter station. "Are they ready?"

"We just received the clear signal from Command, sir. You are cleared for transport straight to Defense Command."

Robert didn't bother thinking about what had happened the last time they were in Defense Command. That was the past. This was about the future, their future, and stopping a terrible threat looming over everything they cared for. "Then let's go."

 

 

 

In the central structure of Defense Command, about ten stories down from the Defense Committee special room where they had been grilled just four months ago, Robert and his crew stepped into a large chamber illuminated by a giant holographic starmap. Lines were drawn through the space depicted and insignias were displayed in each partition; the torch of the United Systems, the emblem of the Phosako State, and the swastika of the Nazi Reich.

There were already several tables laid out, as well as lines of chairs. Robert, Julia, Jarod, and Caterina went to one table marked with the seal of the Alliance President. Cat was visibly nervous, prompting Robert to put a hand on her shoulder. "It'll be fine," he promised her in a low voice.

The reason for her nervousness was clear; there were more tables and even more chairs. And some were already taken up. Robert recognized various uniforms of Alliance member states, the Systems Alliance, Starfleet, several other allied states… and to his surprise there were even a number of Rangers from E5B1.

The others took up chairs in the seating area. That is, except for Worf, Data, and Shepard, who went to the tables for Starfleet and the Systems Alliance respectively. Robert watched her salute Captain Anderson and an older man with lighter skin and a scar on one cheek that went down to his mouth. She took a seat beside Anderson.

Worf and Data, meanwhile, joined a Starfleet table where Captain Picard was present, as was Admiral Nechayev. An older man wearing what Robert saw to be one star admiral rank was sitting beside Nechayev. The holographic name marker in front of him identified him as Rear Admiral E. Jellicoe, Starfleet.

The Alliance table was only occupied by one flag officer for the moment, Marshal Gulinev. The gruff Russian nodded in acknowledgement to Robert and the others standing at attention before him. They took seats marked for them.

Over the next several minutes, the seats filled in with more officers. The Citadel Council table was soon filled with Turians, primarily, save a small party of Asari led by a Matriarch named Aethyta. A couple of Salarians in the uniform of the Salarian Special Tasks Group sat at one end of the table.

The main doors opened and heads turned. Everyone watched as a large group of Klingons stomped in. Robert and the others recognized Councillor Kurn among them, but he seemed to defer to another Klingon with a large, medal-adorned overcoat. Said Klingon's wild eyes darted around the room. He looked to the Alliance table and Robert realized he was looking right at them. A smile came to the Klingon's face. They watched as he led the Klingon contingent up to the central platform and the Alliance table. "So, you are the captain they say caused the war," the Klingon in the overcoat said. He smiled a toothy grin. "I thought you would be older."

Robert smiled thinly. "I enjoy surprising people."

That prompted a chuckle from the Klingon leader. "Your ship looks impressive, Captain. I will enjoy seeing how it fares in the battle to come."

"And my crew and I will enjoy showing you how good we are in a fight."

That caused another chuckle. "I look forward to judging that for myself."

The Klingon led his contingent to their table. Robert swallowed at seeing the chair he took; adjacent to Klingon lettering was the English translation: Chancellor Gowron, Klingon High Council.

"You just faced down the leader of the Klingon Empire," Cat squeaked.

"He was testing us," Jarod observed. "That's all. Don't let it get to you, Cat."

"But… but look at all of these leaders…"

Cat stopped when the door opened again. This time it was President Morgan leading a group of figures. Admiral Maran, Admiral Davies, General Hatcher of Military Intelligence, and Defense Minister Hawthorne all walked in behind him and made their way to the Alliance table. Indeed, save for Davies' chief of staff, they took up all of the remaining seats.

The Aurora officers were thus the only other people sitting with them. It was intimidating as hell.

But there was one last surprise. The door swung open one last time and admitted a final contingent. They were mostly Minbari in white and yellow robes, a couple of Humans and Minbari in Ranger uniforms, and finally...

Vice President Delenn walked regally through the seating and to the steps leading to the middle platform and its giant holodisplay. She and her group took the last table.

"Ledosh has had a busy week, I guess," Julia murmured.

Robert nodded back. He looked back to the crowd of people attending. Officers and officials from all of the allied powers that were working with the Alliance. Phosako, Klingons, Gl'mulli, Dre'kari...

Admiral Maran stood. "Greetings, gentlebeings, and welcome to Alliance Defense Command. I am Admiral Maran of Drelin. And it is my honor to present to you the President of the Allied Systems, Henry Morgan."

There was polite applause from some as President Morgan stood and walked to a podium. "Thank you all for coming. This strategy summit has been called to address the main issue over which our states have allied against the Nazi Reich of Universe S4W8. We have been able to confirm that there is a Darglan Facility in said universe, and in range of the Reich's fleet. Indeed, we know that even now they are looking for it, although they may not know the extent of what they are looking for." Morgan's expression was stern. "If they discover this Facility, it is a certainty that they will discover the means to develop the interuniversal jump drive developed by the Darglan. And that is what we are gathered here to prevent."

That prompted nods.

And, much to Robert's consternation, Morgan looked directly at him. "I now call Captain Robert Dale of the Starship Aurora to the floor. Captain Dale and his crew will present the planned operation to secure the Facility."

 

Undiscovered Frontier
"Tides of Fire"

D -11 Days

 

The fabric of space tore open with crackling green energy. The resulting vortex in space formed just long enough for a single vessel to fly through, surprisingly swift for her kilometer-long hull.

Such was Starship Aurora's arrival at Earth L2M1.

On the bridge of the ship, Robert and the others took in the sight of the plentiful starships arrayed in orbit. A Federation Excelsior-class ship, the Crazy Horse, was nearest to them, along with a couple of smaller Federation vessels of the Miranda-class. A massive Klingon battlecruiser that Robert had never seen before loomed ahead, joined by an even larger pair of warships; dreadnoughts from M4P2, the Systems Alliance Kilimanjaro and a Turian dreadnought.

And among them was a massive blue starship, taller than it was wide or long. "That's a new one," Locarno mused.

"I have it in the newest recognition charts," Jarod said. "It's a Minbari Warcruiser."

"The Minbari are attending the strategy conference?"

"According to her ID signal, she's called the Branmer. On special assignment to the Rangers."

"Quite a lot of people are here," Julia mused. "Isn't that the Negh'Var? Chancellor Gowron's flagship?"

"This is going to be one hell of a strategy summit." Robert stood up. "Already everyone. Let's get to Briefing Room 1. We need to go over our presentation."

 

 

 

In the Aurora's large Briefing Room, Data and Jarod had taken charge. A star system was now displayed over the central holoprojector. "This is System BB29938," Data stated. "Known on Federation starcharts in our home universe as Gamma Piratus. The system includes one Y-class planet, one O-class, three gas giants, and one M-class planet where the Darglan Facility is located. According to the data recovered from the Darglan computer banks, the Facility is located on the tertiary continent in the northern Hemisphere."

"Under a mound, I'd guess," Julia remarked. "Given our Facility was and the data center on 33LA."

"Likely so." Data tapped a key and zoomed in on the planet and the location. "The area is a river valley with several strategic peaks that could be utilized for ground-based defensive emplacements."

"Do we know what's inside of it?", asked Commander Shepard. The System Alliance Marine was seated in Alliance blues between Worf and Meridina.

"That data was not forthcoming in what we recovered," Data replied.

"If it's anything like our Facility, it'll have a utility ship and maybe an Emergency Ship," Julia pointed out. "I mean, one of our Kelley-class ships and a hullform for another ship like the Aurora."

"The tricky question's going to be if we can keep the place," Angel pointed out. "I mean, once the Nazis know it's there, how do we keep them out?"

"If we get there in time, we could shut down the surface transporter," Cat pointed out. "Our jump drives let us jump into the Facility itself, I mean. We don't need the surface access."

"It would buy us time at least," Shepard observed. "We could use it if we have to set demolition charges."

"Granted, we need to make sure the actual portal to get in and out works." Jarod drew attention to himself with that comment. "There's no data on how intact the place is, whether the local systems are functioning. I think we need to bring signal enhancers so we can beam right into the Facility if we need to. But that's not the real problem we're facing." Jarod pressed a key. The image of the system zoomed out until it was but a speck on a larger map of their section of the galaxy. Additional markers popped up. "The real problem is getting there." Jarod pointed to various red specks. "There are at least ten enemy warships in the area around Gamma Piratus. And the enemy fleet base at New Austria is within two days' travel at standard warp. The moment they see us coming, they'll react."

"What if we send a Discovery-class ship?", Cat suggested. "I mean, they're fast, and they can cloak. Maybe the Challenger, or I hear the Gagarin is ready to fly."

"The Reich has tachyon detection grids and other technology that can detect a cloaked vessel given time," Data noted. "The Klingon raids on their supply lines have determined this capability as in place. Even if such a vessel evaded initial detection, it would be incapable of resisting an enemy arrival at the site."

"And we may not have time either." Jarod pointed to the spots. With a keystroke the red dots began moving in a pattern. One easily recognizable. "They're getting closer than before. Whatever method they're using, they're fine-tuning it. It could be a couple weeks, if not sooner, before they actually find the Facility."

"So we can't sneak around without setting off an enemy fleet to come after us," Julia said. "And we don't have time to try something more subtle. That leaves us with the direct approach."

Robert nodded. "A direct assault."

 

 

 

D -10 Days

 

 

"I have shared our findings with Admiral Maran and Defense Command," Robert explained to the gathered. "The fact remains that given the location of enemy forces, the best way to secure the Facility at Gamma Piratus involves defeating the Reich fleet and eliminating their fleet base at New Austria."

"A difficult target." The uniformed military officer of the Phosako contingent wiggled his chin. "We have planned for such a strike for months, but currently our forces are insufficient for such a bold strike."

"Given the strategic situation on your front, I'm not sure you can afford such an attack." This was the Turian military commander beside Primarch Fedorian. The holographic display before him identified him as General Adrien Victus. "Although it would certainly be a bold move."

"The Klingon Empire is ready to dispatch ten more squadrons to the war," Gowron stated. "We would have the forces, together, to eliminate this base. But getting to it will be difficult."

"If I may?"

Robert looked to the new voice speaking up. Delenn stood from the ISA table. "I am still unfamiliar with some of the aspects of your interuniversal jump drive technology," she admitted. "Would it not be possible to simply jump to this New Austria system from one of the other universes?"

"Ships do not jump from one exact point to another, Madame Vice President," Robert explained. "There is a spatial aspect margin to each jump. And it can be random. Unless you lock one jump drive onto another, or to a receiving device designed to provide such an anchoring effect, any jump point you open would be to another point determined by various complicated circumstances. And if you did it with multiple ships, then each jump point opened would have a different arrival point over many light years of space. My ship could arrive two light years outside of this solar system while yours might arrive in orbit over Jupiter, or somewhere outside of Alpha Centauri. If a fleet attempted a large-scale jump without something to anchor their jump drives to the spatial location of New Austria, they'd be scattered across the better part of a sector. The Nazi fleet could engage and destroy them in detail."

"So they would see these points open from so far away?"

"Yes." Robert nodded. "Given the large reaches of space, it's very unlikely that a jump point would open close enough to a sufficient gravity source to hide the point from long-range sensors. They'd see enough of our fleet coming to know."

"I see." Delenn nodded. "Thank you, Captain Dale, for that explanation."

"You say the enemy is growing closer to the Facility?", Davies asked. "Are you sure we don't have another few months? Admiral Relini has rebuilt the 9th Fleet and should be able to win a decisive engagement by the end of November. By New Year's, we'll have two more fleets to send at New Austria."

"The pattern of their movements suggests that we have only three weeks before their search pattern moves into Gamma Piratus," Data stated from the Starfleet table. "Commander Jarod and I have run multiple strategic simulations. Four weeks was the absolute longest before discovery was unavoidable."

"And we probably only have two or so," Jarod added. "I'm sorry, sir, but we've run out of time."

Davies didn't respond with any hostility to that. He nodded with understanding. "So we need to launch the attack," he said. "But we don't have forces fast enough to blast their way to New Austria before the enemy fleet could intercept us. We would get overwhelmed and destroyed."

"You have said your jump drives can lock onto one another for jumps?", Delenn asked. "If you cannot get a fleet to the location, could you not send just enough ships that a fleet could lock onto them?"

"There is a hardware limitation to how many locks a jump drive can sustain," Jarod answered. "At best, maybe three different jump drives could lock onto one. To take out a fleet and the base? We'd need to get the better part of a fleet there, and the enemy would likely intercept…"

Robert noticed Jarod go quiet with thought. And he wasn't the only one. "Commander?", Admiral Maran asked.

Jarod blinked. And then he smiled, and it made Robert's heart lift to see that. Jarod had something in mind. "Commander Jarod?", he asked.

Jarod stood. "We can outfit probes to act as drive anchors," he said. "A lot of them. Enough that entire fleets could jump to a single location fast enough to engage the Reich forces at New Austria."

Picard was quick to act on the idea. "Commander, is what you are proposing technically feasible in such a short time?"

"A week, at most," Jarod proposed. "We just need to manufacture the same systems our jump drives use for anchoring other drives. It has been proposed before." Jarod looked to Cat, who blushed and smiled. "So I've been giving it some thought."

"What do you propose for our battle strategy?" The speaker was Admiral Hackett, the scar-faced man at the System Alliance table beside Prime Minister Shasti. "Once we come through a jump point we'll need time to form the fleet up for a general action."

"We can seed the anchor probes with probes configured to jam enemy targeting sensors," Cat proposed. She swallowed. The fact that she wasn't stuttering out of reaction to all the eyes on her was purely from her mind focusing enough on the technical issue at hand. "I mean, I've seen Nazi sensor systems in action before, I know their limitations."

"That would let us buy time to maneuver any intercepting enemy ships into an advantageous position," Robert added. "Then we send a launch signal on our IU bands and the fleet can jump in and engage."

Maran stood. "If this can be done, I would move that the Coalition commit to this operation. A committal of such force to destroying the Reich fleet base at New Austria would send ripples through their communications and logistics networks. It could cause a collapse across the entire front."

The Phosako leader - Turrellso - seemed to ponder the idea. The colors of his eyes seemed to shift, as they always did in the somewhat feline eyes of the Phosako, as if to go with the thoughts in the blue-furred being's head. "Such an accomplishment would have a severe effect upon the Reich's hold on star systems across several sectors. Many worlds in the region were settled by subordinated nations with little love of the Reich. Such a blow to the Reich's aura of military invincibility would have interesting socio-political ramifications. Ramifications to our immediate and long-term strategic advantage."

"In other words, Premier Turrellso, you believe that a victory by our fleets at New Austria could very well win the war," President Morgan stated.

"Indeed, Mister President. I will not say so with certainty, of course, the variables are simply too complicated to make a guaranteed calculation. But it would certainly do extreme damage to the Reich both materially and psychologically."

"We would shatter the Reich's aura of military invincibility." Robert nodded. The more he thought of this plan, the more he liked it.

Hackett nodded with approval. "The Fifth Fleet will be finished outfitting with IU drives and enhanced energy shielding by the end of the week," he said. "We can be in position to launch an attack in nine days."

"The Citadel Fleet will be prepared by that time," Victus added.

"If this works, I will commit eight squadrons to the battle." Gowron smiled his toothy smile again. "I will lead them myself from the Negh'Var."

"The InterStellar Alliance has not agreed to any military action on behalf of your coalition," Delenn stated. "But I am Entil'zha and I will commit the Rangers to fight against this evil. A week should be sufficient time to outfit enough of our ships to assist in this battle."

"I'll have an Alliance fleet ready as well." Maran nodded. "That leaves one matter. We need a ship that can penetrate their defense perimeter and deploy the anchor probes. The ship has to be fast enough to avoid interception and big enough to carry the anchor probes we'll need, not to mention tough enough to endure enemy fire to set up their fleet for the ambush."

Robert swallowed. He knew just which ship fit that criteria.

And indeed, Maran looked to him. "Captain Dale, the Aurora is the only ship that can accomplish this mission effectively. We can deploy some of our fast ships to follow you in and distract their defenses but I'm not sure they can follow you all of the way in. Is the Aurora ready for an operation like this?"

It was a good question. Were they ready? This was everything they had been building up to, after all. All of the diplomatic work, all of the searching for answers… everything, really, since the strike on 33LA.

It all came down to this.

Robert looked to his crew. Julia's green eyes were on him. She nodded, almost imperceptibly. Angel, Jarod and Cat, Lucy and Meridina, Leo, Nick Locarno and Scotty, Laurent, they were all looking at him with the same thing on their faces.

"Admiral, sir," he said, turning to Maran. "We've been training for this for weeks now. Commander Shepard and Commander Worf have put us through our paces. So, yes, we are ready. As ready as we can ever be."

"Good to hear it, Captain," Maran said. "Now, General Victus, Admiral Hackett, let's start with you. Can you give us a complete rundown on…"

Robert went back to the table and set beside Julia. She smiled at him. "Here we go," she said. "Good reply."

"Thanks," he answered. "Hopefully the Nazis won't be as ready for this as we are."

"Don't think of it like that," Julia chided gently. She kept her voice low so as to not disturb General Victus as he listed the Turian warships being prepared for the war. "Think of it this way; it won't matter if they're ready or not, because we're going to kick their asses."

"I can get behind that." And as he said that, Robert found himself wondering. I wonder what they're up to on their end. What are they planning? Do they have anything in mind for the Facility as well?

And, of course, a question that had nagged him for months.

Are we ever going to run into Lamper again?

 

 

 

Over a world marked with towering spires and marble monuments to the glory of the founding regime, a spiraling set of structures dominated the orbital spaces. Various ships filled the spaces around it. Some were plain-looking private vessels, merchant transports and spaceliners and the like. But most were gunmetal gray with the blue ramscoops and red field emitters of the Reich's feared warships. All had the swastika of the Party and State emblazoned on them and a number had the twin lightning bolt-shaped “S” letters marking a ship in operation by the Schutzstaffel.

One ship completed its approach to a docking port. On the bridge of the cruiser Reich's Glory, Kapitän-des-Raumes Joachim Lamper noted their arrival in his log. "Frigattenkapitän, make sure all wounded are offloaded," he ordered his Executive Officer, Frigattenkapitän Hermann Falk.

The dark-haired Neusachsenische replied with a nod. "Jawohl, Kapitän."

"And do not let that little creature Geisser avoid giving us the replenishment we need," Lamper continued, moving toward the lift. "We need every torpedo and missile we can get from the fleet locker."

"You can rely on me, Kapitän Lamper," Falk swore.

A mere nod was Falk's reply from Lamper. The older man stepped into the lift and barked the proper command to head to Deck 7. From there he moved through the spartan halls of his ship, ducking compartment beams and accepting salutes from his loyal crew. He noted their devotion with pride, pride that he had brought them through so many battles. After the Nebula, as costly as it had been, it had seemed like victories would never end… but of course the Alliance had recovered. And more than recovered....

He moved beside one blackened area. Specks of blood were still visible. One of his crew had his skull smashed at this spot during the last battle near Grodni 3. Those Klingon beasts had torpedoed the Reich's Glory quite extensively in the action. That their "Birds-of-Prey" had succumbed to his tactics and disruptor fire did not erase the fact that his ship had taken damage and casualties. Fifty dead, Lamper contemplated bitterly. We are reaping a bitter harvest in death for this war. And it will not get any better.

A chief petty officer saluted him on his way off the ship and obediently logged his departure from the ship. Once through the airlock Lamper started walking down the wide terminal bay for the line of docks his ship had connected to. A passing anti-grav transported stopped. A young woman, a brunette with freckles, saluted him. He recognized her dark uniform; the womens' auxiliary for the Raumkriegsmarine. Women could not serve in combat capacities, obviously, but German women dedicated to serving their Fatherland were found places in the auxiliaries as clerks, secretaries, drivers, galley cooks in central bases… anywhere that combat was not a persistent possibility. "Kapitän", she called out. "Do you need a ride?"

"Ja." He nodded politely and accepted the seat beside her. This made the journey to the central areas of the New Austria Naval Base far faster than he had anticipated. So much the better; he wanted to report to Admiral von der Goltz as soon as he could.

The trip was still on the slow side. Other anti-grav vehicles were carrying stores and supplies to be transferred to ships, allowing power from transporter use to be conserved only for high priority cargo transport. And yet more vehicles carried personnel, bright-eyed young men being taken to ships as replacement crew. Lamper wondered how many were bound for his vessel to replace the men who had died in the past weeks.

Once they were out of the docking areas their journey became swifter. The Base had a commercial area full of civilians, young Germans and those of trusted nationalities who were permitted residence on German military outposts, all seeking better opportunities providing services to the fighting men of the Raumkriegsmarine. Their uniforms gave Lamper and his driver the right of way on their trip. Within minutes they had crossed this section of the commercial areas to arrive at the administrative sections. Here Lamper took leave of his young driver, who blushed with thanks at his praise of her ability. She drove off and he entered the nearest lift, taking him all the way to the peak of this section of the station. A tower jutting out of the toroid-shaped main body of the Base.

Every door on the level belonged to an admiral. Logistics staff admirals, planners, chiefs of staff to fleet commanders, it went on. And, alone among the most important, was the office marked as belonging to Admiral Georg von der Goltz, commander of 5. Raumkampfflotte. An older blonde greeted him, also in the uniform of the auxiliary, and waved Lamper in.

Admiral von der Goltz was looking over reports at his desk. The commander of the battle fleet to which Reich's Glory was assigned looked up as Lamper came to attention and raised his arm in salute. "Sieg Heil," he declared.

"Heil Sauckel," von der Goltz answered, hand raised at his desk. "Be seated, Kapitän."

Lamper did so. He knew better than to inquire; the Admiral would speak when he deigned to, not a moment earlier.

"Your performance at Grodni 3 has won the approval of Vizeadmiral Haus," von der Goltz stated finally. He looked up from his digital reader. "He has submitted your name for consideration for a Ritterkreuz."

"It was a simple action, sir. I do not consider my victory of sufficient weight or skill to warrant high praise."

"Well-spoken, Kapitän." The older man appraised Lamper with light blue eyes. Brown hair had long darkened to wolfish gray, now growing white at his brow. "Whether or not the commendation goes through, the promotion will."

"Promotion, sir?"

"As of the first of the month, yes." Von der Goltz cracked a slight smile. "Congratulations, Flottenkapitän. You will take command of 12. Kreuzergeschwader, to be led by Reich's Glory. Effective at the end of the month."

Lamper remained quiet for a moment. He had not sought such a promotion, at least not yet, and had assumed that his past conflicts with the SS would poison the ability of the RKM to promote him. "I am honored, Herr Admiral. I will redouble my efforts to protect the Reich."

"I know you will." Von der Goltz put his hands together. "But before your promotion and new assignment come into effect, you and your vessel have another assignment to fulfill."

"Admiral?"

"You have been requested for special duty, Kapitän," the admiral explained. "I do not expect it will be pleasurable, however."

Lamper knew what that meant. "The Schutzstaffel."

"Indeed."

The new voice came from the corner of the room. Lamper had not paid attention to the office, having seen it before, and so he had not noticed the extra occupant. The black-suited man turned.

"Sturmbannführer Fassbinder," Lamper said evenly. He noted the change in the rank insignia on his former SS detachment commander. "Or rather Obersturmbannführer. Congratulations, Fassbinder, I am sure the SS has been quite pleased with your performance."

"Of course," the SS man replied. His piercing blue eyes focused on Lamper, as if to emphasize his genetically-engineered Aryan appearance. "As the RKM has with your own. Your victory over the barbarian beasts the Alliance has drawn into the war will do much to pave our way to conquest."

Lamper felt bemusement at that. Conquest? Against a foe whose homeland was safely protected by the unbreachable barrier between universes? The Alliance's security measures to protect their IU drives from being salvaged from destroyed ships were quite effective, so the idea that the Reich could strike back for the moment was farfetched…

Or was it? There was something in Fassbinder's eyes, a glint of triumph that had to be more than typical SS arrogance.

Could he be wrong? Could the SS have found a way to unlock the enemy's technology? If so… Lamper reeled at the prospects before him. We may actually win the war.

"The SS will be commencing an operation soon," Fassbinder continued. "It will be led by Oberführer Eicke from the Eichmann. We will require your ship to provide additional escort for the Eichmann."

Lamper took that with surprise. "Truly? The SS, with all of its own ships, lacks sufficient cruisers to protect one of their dreadnoughts? You must come to the RKM for aid?"

"We have our own operations to consider, Kapitän. Our forces are spread thin in relation to these operations, many of them critical to our victory in this war." Fassbinder's smile was sharp with enjoyment. Lamper knew he was enjoying being able to drag Lamper and his crew around.

"The orders come straight from Oberst-Gruppenführer Lammers," von der Goltz informed Lamper.

Lamper nodded. Lammers was one of the highest ranking officers of the SS. Moreso, he was chief of staff for the Führer himself. If Lammers was directing this operation, it meant that this had the Führer's personal attention.

Which did nothing, admittedly, to make Lamper feel better about this.

"My ship is at your disposal, Obersturmbannführer," Lamper said. "We will require repairs and crew replacements, but it should not take us long to be ready for action."

"Take your time, Kapitän, we still have some time before departure." Fassbinder nodded. "In the meantime, I will be pleased to reacquaint myself with your ship and to check on Sturmbannführer Stammel's progress."

"Of course." Lamper looked to von der Goltz. "May I depart, Herr Admiral? My ship requires attention to ensure we are fully prepared for the coming mission."

"You are dismissed, Kapitän."

Lamper left immediately. He felt the need to, reeling as he was with everything being set into motion. I am promoted, I may get a Ritterkreuz... but first I must endure the SS and their schemes. Damn it all.