“I saw Hari as a little sister,” Cassandra’s image said. “Me with my Military experience and her with, well, nothing. You could tell by the way she carried herself that she had lived a life of privilege. Hell, she once told me she cheated on one section of her HEATs so she could get into the Academy. Back then, I was very naïve, but knowing what I know now, I can see that her motivations were political.”
Atara sat on her bed with her legs crossed. It was as if she were a little girl again watching her mother in the flesh. Xannissa was there, too, lounging against the bed’s headboard. Cassandra’s last words from the first recording struck home, and Atara wanted to watch the subsequent recordings with her partner.
“It turns out that being an admiral in the Greater Federation Navy is more political than I would have liked. If you’re anything like I am, then you would quickly grow to hate this job. I hope you never let them force you out of ship command.” Cassandra’s expression turned to sadness, but she shed no tears. Xannissa saw that same emotional blockade working in Cassandra that Atara had always possessed.
“You see me starting to get emotional and fighting it,” Cassandra continued, “and you’re probably thinking that we are just alike. Of course we are. We’re family. But trust me when I tell you it’s a lot more than that. You and I share the exact same genetics.”
“Playback, pause,” Xannissa said, and Cassandra’s image froze. She turned to Atara and asked, “Did you know about this?”
“You know,” Atara started, “now that you mention it, I remember way back after my mother died that our family physician left me a message suggesting it. I think he even wanted to know how it was possible, but I was too distraught at the time to return his call. I eventually forgot about it until now.” They reflected on Cassandra’s words for a moment before Atara said, “Playback, continue.”
“It’s strange for a mother to raise her own clone,” Cassandra stated, “but you’ve always been so much more to me than that. Hari had a knack for finding things out, and one day she sat down with me and told me about a secret reproduction program the Military had been conducting for decades. If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘we need more people like you,’ that is what this program is meant to solve. They call it… Gemini. Project Gemini. Whoever runs it identifies luminaries: their word for people whose genome and epigenome are worth replicating. The ethics of such a thing; I mean, can you imagine what the general public would think? It harkens back to Miridan experiments into genetic predestination.
“When Hari explained it to me, she also told me that I had been marked as a luminary, and I didn’t believe her. She was upset that she hadn’t been chosen. She worked her way into grabbing some of the luminary files in order to convince me, and that’s when I told her that I wanted to raise one as my own. I don’t know how she did it. She never told me. But my first was you: a luminary offspring to a luminary.”
The recording abruptly terminated at the conclusion of that sentence, but Atara wanted more. “Fiori, do you have any other recordings?”
Fiori’s orange figure materialized before their bed and said, “Unfortunately, I do not. You must allow me more time to discover them as I continue my investigation.”
“Alright,” Atara said. “Thank you for everything, Fiori.”
“Any time, Atara,” Fiori said before vanishing.
Later that day, the senior officers assembled in the briefing room. Atara was the last to enter. The captain greeted them, took her seat, and to them all said, “Naval Intelligence was recently handed a treasure trove by the Republic’s Intelligence Ministry. Until now, we’ve been operating under the assumption that the Voulgenathi was a known design. On the contrary, it’s an Alliance design we’ve never seen before.” Atara evoked a lumigraph of the Voulgenathi, like a scale model, that stretched across the entire length of the table. The ship was completely black with no noticeable markings—not even a designation or a state emblem. Some of the officers stood from their seats to take a better look.
“A Republic patrol fleet in Onen stopped the ship for forty-five hours,” Atara continued. “What you are seeing now is the sum of their internal and external scans of the ship. This gives us a more complete picture of what we’re up against.” The lumigraph presented the battleship in such detail that the navigation lights were strobing and tiny strikecraft could be seen behind the hangars’ airscreens.
“What about ecksivar?” Xannissa asked.
“They found it,” Atara told her, “and they tried to recover it, but the Republic team was killed in a shootout with the elsheem before the ship went into hyperwarp. It’s stored in what they’ve identified as the Emperor’s Suite: Emperor Tarete’s living quarters in the core of the ship. The ship itself is three-and-a-half kilometers long, but it also serves as a mothership for these two small frigates,” as Atara explained, the frigates attached to the core ship highlighted and were located at the Voulgenathi’s stern, “and a complement of strikecraft more than triple the Kelsor’s. The armament and defenses are what you would expect of your typical battleship: thick armor, potent shields, and lots of weapons. Aboard, they have something like twenty-two-thousand crew, seven-thousand officers, and twelve-thousand soldiers: a little more than double our own.”
Xannissa stood, walked around to the side of the table behind Kyora and Virn and, pointing to the ships starboard side, said, “I’m interested in these circles here. These smaller ones look like escape pods, but these look like missile tubes.” Atara followed the engineer as the latter placed her finger directly on the image. Xannissa used her index finger and thumb to draw a virtual ruler across one of the circles and found its diameter to be about ten meters.
Standing with Xannissa, Atara said, “They’re actually large troop-transport systems.”
“Drop pods?” Kyora asked, sitting beneath them.
“The people at NavIntel seem to think that they may be hull-breachers,” Sesh stated loudly from the split head of the table. “There are forty of them spread across the ship’s exterior. If we get too close to the Voulgenathi when we engage them, we may have boarders drilling straight into our hull.”
“At least they’re not using jump systems, right?” Xannissa told them. “I mean, this way, all we need to do is shoot them all before they land on us.”
“Easier said than done,” Atara admitted. “They still have about a hundred strikecraft backing them up. I would like to keep them at range as long as possible. Other than strikecraft, their battleship can’t fight as effectively from a hundred-thousand kilometers.”
Sesh asked, “Are you thinking about having our warp missiles ready to fire when we kick them out of warp?”
“That’s the first part of the plan,” Atara told them.