DOCKING BAY
TCS FELIX (DDG-526)
REGALIA SYSTEM
1444 HOURS CST
OCTOBER 12, 2565

Marc frowned as he floated in the small docking bay of the Felix. It was the only place aboard without gravity generators installed in the decks. Mostly it was used as a place for the crew to indulge in zero-g recreation since Felix only carried one small shuttle for Marc's use in port. Now though the nul-grav racquetball players would have to wait, mainly because the Centurion engulfed the entire bay. There was only inches between its wingtips and the bulkheads, Marc didn't even want to think about the heart-attack his tractor operator had had getting the blasted thing in here.

Right now though, the Centurion itself wasn't the problem, it was her owner. Marc floated down next to the Gunnery Sergeant that lead the small marine detachment aboard Felix, the bull mastiff looked like the poster-boy for Marine drill instructors everywhere. The buzz cut and, well honestly ugly face complemented the picture that really only needed the ancient campaign cap to be complete.

"What's going on Gunny?"

"The owner won't come out Marc," Gunny said with a frown as he easily maneuvered in zero-g, as if he were born to live in it. His voice betrayed the intelligence in the man, not many knew the veteran held a doctorate in military history. Gunnery Sergeant William Weeds was the only person aboard, let alone officer that could get away with calling Marc by his first name on duty. The experienced jarhead had been the instructor for most of Marc's physical fitness and basic marksmanship training at the academy.

Marc frowned, and looked for the external entry key system. As luck would have it, this one was a military grade tri-stage bio-metrics lock with an alpha-numeric combination, thumbprint reader and retinal scanner. Any two could be broken fairly easily with ConFed equipment but all three together made things quite different. "well this is going to be interesting."

"We can always get a can opener Marc," Gunny responded, referring to the hull cutter most often used for force entry by Marines.

Marc was about to say something but was cut off by the hissing snap of a hatch popping open and a blur flying out. Marc admittedly had not taken well to Zero G combat training and before he could understand what happened, he had his buk to his marines, with a rather pretty fox pointing a medium laser pistol at his chest as he shielded her own body. "Touch my ship with a can-opener and you get fried...." She smiled, obviously she had been waiting for him, or atleast someone of higher rank than gunny to be around.

"Lady you fry him an' my boys'll burn you to cinders just on principle, then take your ship apart in spite and malice," Gunny said as he leveled his own heavy laser pistol on the woman as the marines leveled their rifles, a little miffed that they had been caught off guard.

"Gunny... no offense, but your solution means I'm dead..." Marc said and turned to the woman, who's raven black hair formed a halo about her in zero-g. "and I suspect that, you don't like the idea of being turned into free-floating atoms any more than I do, so, why don't we drop the pretenses."

"She frowned at him, but her face, if not her eyes and gun hand, relaxed. "all right, we'll play this your way."

Marc nodded, suspecting she had wanted to talk to the 'boss' of the ship the entire time, and he knew Gunny wouldn't have let her if she just popped the hatch on her ship and said 'high.' "Commander Marc Xavier, captain of the TCS Felix."

The woman looked at him before responding. "Zannah Lyles...."

"Aw bloody... I should'a known, a privateer," Gunny spat out."

"So?" Zannah shot back.

:So, why don' you have the guts to sign up and fight for something more than money freelancer..."

"Gunny...." Marc said, keeping his eyes on Zannah. "I don't think this is a good time to air your thoughts on privateers."

"I, er, aye aye sir," Gunny responded, he never called Marc by his first name around anyone other than the crew.

Marc nodded. "All right, mind telling me why you were jumping in from Cat territory, with a Ralathi rather eager to turn you into sub-atomic paste?"

She fround. "One of you Confies hired me for a quick little SigInt mission, unfortunately he neglected to tell me that it was at the Cat Gemini Sector command post."

"What? That's six jumps from here! At the most!" Gunny exclaimed.

"Not if you use that pirate point, shifts between twelve different locations at random, I was lucky I popped up in this system."

"Apparently so, and whatever you were carrying the Ralathi wanted you dead for it."

"Well, I was in-system for about sixteen hours, donno what all I picked up, got my computers running over it right now."

Marc nodded. "let me guess, you were heading for New Scotland?"

She smiled at him slyly. "How did you ever guess?"

Marc sighed, then floated to a com panel. "Bridge, this is the captain, make for the Jump to New Scotland, best safe speed."

"Aye sir."

"Well, at the very least I am going to get paid now."

"I for one, would like to know what the heck is aboard those documents the Cats wanted so badly," Marc returned to her.

"Well, we'll find out in about four days, that's how long it'll take my computer to decrypt and translate, assuming the Cats haven't switched crypto-systems again."

"And that's about as long as it will take for us to make it to New Scotland," Marc said with a nod, knowing his own computer core was not set up for cryptography work. "all right, we'll take you back, and find out what the heck is going on."

IKV KRO'LA'ATH

K'LRATH SYSTEM
GEMINI SECTOR FRONT LINES
1542 HOURS, CONFEDERATE STANDARD TIME (CST)
OCTOBER 12th 2565AD

Sher frowned as he felt the thump of the Kro'la'ath break its moorings and drift free just before her massive main drives lit off to push her free of the station. He let a small, almost unnoticeable smile trace his tiger features. The crew had performed the task of breaking station with every efficiency that his flag ship should have. All ready the Khantahr of the ship was snapping crisp, concise orders to put the ship on course for the jump out system. Sher knew Lord Khantahr narr I'vara well, and knew that those orders were not simply to show off to his superior. The puma-looking Kilrathi had not earned command of one of the greatest carriers in the Imperial Fleet by being a lording commander. He was a strict, proud disciplinarian who drilled his crew till they only thing the dreamt about was not their lifemates, but the ship, sailing and fighting her as one of the fiercest weapons in the fleet. That was why Sher had chosen this ship as his flag ship. J'kra was actually a larger vessel, but so impressed with the Kro'la'ath's crew that he decided to grace them with his presence while underway.

"M'lord?" the young Larhss said as he bowed to his commander. Sher had taken a liking to the young officer, he had backbone, and would make a fine ship-commander one day, if he did not run afoul of the Prince and his senile grandfather. Sher needed an aid on this mission, so he had chosen the Lynx.

"Yes narr T'creal?"

"Lord, H'rath has not reported in through hyper-pulse. Intelligence believes she was lost."

Sher frowned. "Her captain was a fool if he lost his ship to a mere picket vessel..." Sher growled. "This adds a complication, but one not so difficult to surmount. Is Intelligence online?"

"Yes M'Lord, they are trying to determine if the picket ship had any data of importance to the mission."

Sher waved his paw. "Do not have them bother, we must assume the canines have the launch orders, but, if we can deluge them with information..."

"M'Lord?"

Sher gave a feral smile. "One thing you must learn, present your enemy with what he wants to see, and he will ignore the truth. I want intelligence leaking reports of the striking hand moving through all sectors of space, provide the strongest evidence on the most plausible routes towards their systems, give some evidence to our real coarse, but make it look so undesirable that it would seem a fools mission to pursue."

The lynx nodded. "Yes M'lord."

"Sher waved him off and thought as he watched the stars, yes, this would play into his claws better than his original plan. He would move the canine striking hands out of position, and swipe their logistics out from under them while they were leaning to pounce in a different direction. Excellent. He knew he would have this sector soon.

CONFEDERATION GEMINI SECTOR COMMAND
NEW SCOTLAND
GEMINI SECTOR FRONT LINES
1234 HOURS, CST
OCTOBER 16, 2565 AD

Zannah frowned as she walked the corridors of Naval Station Portsmouth, the major base facility planet side of New Scotland. Her mood was not a cheery one, especially after reading the decrypted orders from the Kilrathi sector command. They were on the move. An entire strike fleet on the move.

Of coarse, NSP didn't make her feel any better, she heard the screeching roar of a RF-44B Ferret recon fighter doing a full burn 'combat' take off even through the heavily constructed walls of fleet intelligence. Sounded like some hot shot pilot was showing off from the sound of things as she shook her head. She wondered how many of these brats had actually seen combat. The equipment around NSP and the accompanying Naval Aerospace Station Boyington, the fighter base that was the main ground-side servicing and refit center for the ships in orbit above, was slip shod at the best. Oh, everything looked wonderful, immaculately clean and gleaming but one of the F-45A Rapier space superiority fighters she had seen coming in had a drive mis-alignment that could be heard for miles, and this building looked like it had seen more coats of paint than repair lately.

She shook it off as she continued to walk, she had information to deliver. "You didn't have to come along commander," She said as she looked at mark, wearing a fresh set of blues neatly cleaned and pressed.

"Actually I did, I was the senior ConFleet officer present during your mission, granted it was at the end of that mission but..."

Zannah simply sighed. "whatever, lets get this over with so I can get my money."

Marc nodded as he opened a door marked with the announcement "CONFLEET INTELLIGENCE, LT. GERRINGER." It surprised Marc that the head of Sector Intelligence was only a Lieutenant, but, he had seen stranger things in ConFleet.

However, it was also apparent that they were not the only ones to see the Lieutenant. "Lieutenant Gerringer I believe you are taking too light the advanced reports transmitted by the TCS Felix," a dignified voice with a strange accent said in controlled, even tones as the two stopped at the outer office. The door was wide open though the yeoman who sat mere trying to avoid seeming to wince than anything else motioned for them to sit down rather than enter.

"And I do not care what you think Admiral." A far less controlled voice returned. "I have enough on my plate without a runner bringing in wild claims, look at the fleet dispositions that are being reported by my field operatives! Operatives that I must remind you, Admiral, are duly enlisted members of the Confederation Armed Forces, not some mercenary."

"A Privateer you yourself hired Lieutenant Gerringer. One also that you put into harms way by refusing to provide her the information of her target system."

"That was need to know information Admiral."

"I would suspect Lieutenant that she needed to know. Do you know the dangers of Jumping blind?"

"Don't lecture me Admiral. If she would have been captured then she could have blown an entire intelligence operation. As is she tipped the blasted Cats off to the fact that we know about the Pirate Points into their Sector command!!!"

"Lieutenant, did you really expect sending a craft into that system would not divulge that information."

"If done properly she wouldn't!"

"Then at least give her the respect of not throwing her information away out of hand Lieutenant."

"Don't lecture me Admiral. Do you know why you command the oldest carrier out here, in the least important sector of this war? Its because your not fit to command a task force of plastic models on your ready room desk!!! Now get out of my office!!!!"

That last eruption caused the young fox-terrier yeoman to wince, and wince hard. However, instead of stalking out like Marc and Zannah expected the owner of the cultured voice to do, a English setter, strong back, tall and slim, wearing the white un-dress uniform of a ConFleet Admiral, the rank of Vice Admiral on his shoulders, walked out evenly, a measured, calm, military step in his bearing, his posture not one of anger, in fact, his poise and bearing didn't seem all that right for a flag officer who had actually just been dressed down by a junior officer. The one thing that both noticed was the gleaming golden wings set just above the Admiral's rather impressive 'salad bowl' of ribbons, signifying he was a starfighter pilot.

Standing in the corner, until then surprisingly unnoticed by either Zannah or Marc, a tall, broad spitz mix in a starfighter pilot's duty uniform wearing the dark blue beret that many wore when out of their flight suits took up position at the English setters side, not saying a word as he walked out with him at a respectful pace or so behind the Admiral.

"Lansing get those two misanthropes in my office now!!!" the un-calm voice calle out and the young petty officer yeoman nodded at the two, who stood and entered the inner office as a tall, rather rakishly handsome, and immaculately groomed wolf looked at them. "I suppose your hear to collect your money Lyles?"

Zannah frowned, stepped up, slapped a data chip on his desk and not so much hit the wolf, but nearly snapped his entire head around with the punch she leveled on him. "That! Was for giving me a blind jump into a Cat system!"

The wolf growled back at her. "Thank you Lyles, but you didn't need to know where you were going." He tossed a card on the table. "There is your pay, minus twenty percent of course."

"What?!?"

"You were detected leaving the system, giving away vital information; I am docking your pay for your ineptitude."

"There was no possible way I could sneak out of that system without being detected!"

"There is always a way Lyles, you were just stupid enough to choose the way that cost us valuable information."

"What about the information I nearly died for!"

"Irrelevant."

"Excuse me Lieutenant, I think it is far from irrelevant information, those are departure orders for an entire strike fleet."

"An entire strike fleet that is heading for New Scotland Commander Xavier," Gerringer said turning and giving the captain of the Felix an icy stare. "I didn't need here botched mission to tell me that. I wish I would have known before I sent this incompetent runner on that mission, but it is too late now."

"How did you know we were brining evidence of a fleet putting to space?" Marc asked.

"I didn't, but I have been deluged with reports of that fleet you saw, its moving through the sector rather fat and dumb, just like the Cats."

"Lieutenant?"

"Sigma Four's outpost reported an entire wave of picket ships jumping in, along with several other confirmed, reliable reports of the fleet's movements, I don't need your reports.

"But what about the other information..."

"In consequential, dump it from the Felix's data core."

"Excuse me..."

"I said dump it! That is an order Commander!! From ConFleet Intelligence. Now get out of my office!"

it was obvious the lieutenant wasn't going to listen to any more as he turned back to the holo-map he was viewing, stabbing a caller. "Get me Admiral Fuentes, Pauler and vanAragon, do not, I repeate do not request Admiral Rikes, he is never to be in my office again without an express appointment."

Marc blinked frowned, and tried to keep cool at the rebuke by the lower rank officer, who apparently believed he ran the entirety of the secotr as they walked out. Zannah, on the other hand, simply growled as she didn't bother to hide her emotions. "Damned fool, he's going to get people killed...."