Chapter I: SNAFU
It had not been a good day for Emperor Valerian Mengsk of the newly-reformed Terran Dominion. In fact, this whole week had gone to shit. It had only been 3 years since the destruction of Amon and the hybrid threat, and already the political infighting and bickering had started. His current headache was a very simple matter that had been blown completely out of proportion, thanks in no measure by the unwillingness of the two parties to work together. The issue was the day of the elections. Ever since he had announced his intention to abdicate and have free democratic elections, the two major political groups had been fighting about election day. The National People's Party wanted it on the birthday of his deceased father, Arcturus Mengsk. The Democratic-Labor Party, an unlikely fusion of two very different idealogies wanted it on the first Tuesday of November. Why? He had no idea. Both sides had argued about it for weeks until the leaders of the parties refused to even speak to each other. It was a political clusterfuck that he wanted no part in. He was half-tempted to cancel the elections just to see the shitstorm he would conjure up. Of course, that would never happen. He still smiled at the thought of it. Even he could pretend once in a while, no?
It had been a huge relief when he had gotten word of the testing of an experimental new warpdrive. He'd use any excuse to get away from the toxic political-land known as Augustgrad. He snorted. If this was how democracy worked, he wasn't seeing much out of the future. However, he would never tread the path of his father; he adhered to the concept that no one man should have absolute power, for absolute power corrupted absolutely. A cliché, but even cliché were clichés for a reason.
His musings were interrupted by the First Mate. "Officer on deck!"
The entire Command Information Center went dead silent as Commodore Damian Rohan stepped into the room. He fired back a casual salute at the crew. "At ease, sailors." Chatter again picked up as normal activity resumed. Commodore Rohan walked over to where Valerian was standing.
Commodore Damian "Trouble" Rohan was an average man by all physical standards. At exactly 6 foot, he wasn't the shortest but he wasn't overwhelmingly tall either. His face had no memorable features, except perhaps a faint scar that ran down his sideburns. A gift from a zergling. His jet-black hair was combed neatly to the side, in a typically efficient military-style. What was perhaps the most striking about him, however, were his eyes. His piercing green eyes had all the intensity of a nuclear blast but with the focus of a laser scapel. There was an urban rumor floating around that he had almost been fired as a clerk, but he had stared down his boss until he had relented. In short, he was a man you did not want to mess with.
"Emperor Mengsk. It is an honor."
Valerian smiled. "Hopefully not for long, Commodore Rohan. I pray the democratic process proves suitable for our great nation as it plows through the waves of fate."
A small smile crept up the corners of Rohan's mouth. "I see your flowery language hasn't change one bit, my soon-not-to-be-Emperor."
"Old habits die hard, my friend." With that, the two embraced.
"You bastard. You haven't changed a bit. Hell, I'd say you're shorter now than ever," said Valerian teasingly.
Rohan's face contorted into one of great offence. "Shorter? Surely your eyes deceive you. Perhaps some laser surgery is in need for my Royal Highness."
"If anyone is in need of laser surgery, it is you, Damian. Perhaps an operation on your, uh, genital areas? We can't be having individuals such as you reproducing. Imagine the corruption you'd bring to our gene pool! No. You must never be allowed to reproduce. In fact, I think this mandates an Imperial Order. My first and last before I abdicate the crown."
A knock on the head from the Commodore revealed that it was not funny. No jokes about that area of the body ever were.
4 hours later
The Dining Room was ornately decorated, with red walls overlaid by gold bands that ran around the room. The table was obviously built for far more than the current occupancy for two, and was very expensive-looking as well.
Dinner was fantastic, a very impressive feat considering their location and the materials the chefs had to work with. Valerian made a mental note to give the mess hall staff a pay raise after this particular vacation was over.
"So," asked Rohan in between bites of caviar, "How's running the nation been so far?"
Valerian put his face between his hands. "Awful, my dear Damian. Just awful. Can you believe we're fighting about what day we're going to put elections on? Jesus Christ, some days I swear the leaderships of both parties just graduated kindergarten."
Rohan nodded. "I feel you. Back when I was a paper-pusher myself there was a lot of shit I had to deal with. An order for a coffee machine for the office took 11 weeks to process and another 7 weeks to deliver. Jesus, can you imagine 18 weeks with no coffee?"
Mengsk attempted to do so, then found it was too painful to imagine. So he simply shook his head.
"Best decision of my life," continued Rohan. "Leaving that hellhole and enlisting. You have no idea how liberating that is. Just getting free of all the bureaucrats with their bureaucrap. And miles of paperwork. Shit, I still do paperwork, but it isn't one-tenth of what I used to do. And that was as a low-level 'crat. I don't think I'd survive at the top. Honestly, I should have just let myself get fired that one time. Remember? I stared at that motherfu-"
Rohan's sentence was interrupted by the ringing of a sudden klaxon. Used since the early 20th century on bicycles, there was no better way to communicate sudden danger to a crew. Mengsk's bodyguards rushed in, pulling the unfortunate Emperor off his chair. Others took positions around the room, pointing their deadly C-14 rifles at the door. CMC armor meant guards couldn't bury their principal any more, but they sure as hell could stand in front of him. Which accomplished basically the same thing.
"What the hell is going on here?" demanded Mengsk.
The leader of the small, selective unit answered, "We don't know, sir. But we recommend staying put until the crisis is over."
A member of the crew took this unfortunate moment to run into the room. Suddenly noticing the large number of loaded guns pointed his way, he nervously put his shaking hands up.
"A message from the CIC," he squeaked. "A malfunction with the warpdrive. Uhh, nothing's clear as of right now."
Valerian took this as a chance to get out of his protective circle. "At ease, soldiers." When he saw none of them listened, he repeated, "At ease, gentlemen." They finally caught on and reluctantly lowered their weapons.
Emperor Mengsk walked over to the very frightened crewmate. "Son, can you lead Commodore Rohan and I up to the CIC? We can get a better sense of what's going on up there. I'm sure these kind gentlemen will make themselves useful someone else while we figure out this snafu."
"Y-yes, your Highness," said the man in a very small voice.
"Very well. Lead on."
Once they reached the CIC, Valerian could see it was bad. Very bad. Bad as in FUBAR-bad.
Rohan's word perfectly summed up their situation. "Shit."
The fleet itself had taken no damage. Nothing had changed inside the fleet. The problem was outside. Because it seemed they had someone jumped right in the middle of a battle between two opposing forces. Two very angry forces.
"Contact! Radar shows 2,191 unidentified small spacecraft and 28 capital-level ships. Nearest contact 17,000 kilometers. Energy levels in the gigatons, sir."
Another crewmate with a similar yet totally different task suddenly shouted, "Contact! Vampire, vampire, vampire! Missiles in the air, ETA 4 minutes. Leaking radiation, highly likely to be nuclear in nature!"
Rohan and Mengsk shared a look. It was Mengsk who said it this time. "Shit."