The Fleet's Old Lady – out for one last dance
Avalon was the flagship of the Castle Federation in the last war, now twenty years past. The first of the deep space carriers, no other warship in the fleet holds as many honors or has recorded as many kills.
No other warship in the fleet is as old.
Accepting the inevitable, the Federation Space Navy has decided to refit her and send her on a tour of the frontier, showing the flag to their allies and enemies as a reminder of her glory – and then decommission her for good.
But Avalon has been a backwater posting for ten years – and has problems a mere refit can't fix. The systems along her planned tour have been seeing pirates for the first time in decades, and there are rumblings of Commonwealth scouting ships all along the border.
It may be Avalon's final tour – but it looks to be anything but quiet!
Castle Federation – and Space Carrier Avalon – is straight up military SF in the finest tradition. I ripped through the first three books in this series in a matter of days last year but I missed the fourth book's release. An oversight I intend to remedy. – Nathan Lowell
"Space Carrier Avalon is straight up military SF in the finest tradition [with] enough pew-pew to scratch the itch for action and enough characterization to make you care about who gets killed"– Nathan Lowell, Author of the Tales of the Solar Clipper
"This story has it all, great characters, political intrigue, and lots of action in a beguiling sci-fi setting. The book stands on its own merits, yet is an integral part of the series."– Reader Review
"Great characters, good story, plenty of action and romance and minimal technobabble."– Reader Review
09:00 September 5, 2735 ESMDT
SFG-001 Alpha Six – Falcon-type starfighter
Michelle yawned and stretched in the cockpit of her starfighter. For all that most of her awareness was wrapped up in her implant and the semi-artificial world it was projecting to her optical nerves, she could still feel the simple pleasure of the stretch in her muscles.
"Are we keeping you up, boss?" Deveraux asked over the net, her mental voice carrying an overtone of gentle amusement.
"Waking me up early, more like," the Flight Lieutenant replied. As she spoke, she automatically rechecked the positions of the ships around her – most especially, Senior Fleet Commander Kleiner's shuttle.
"And for baby-sitting duty at that," Garnet interjected. The engineer's tone was grumpy. He sounded like he'd needed more beauty sleep.
"The Cap'n and the CAG are worried," Michelle told her flight crew, glancing across the other ships. Two more Falcons, the remainder of the current CSP, orbited roughly a thousand kilometers forward of Avalon. Jäger, the old ex-Imperial battlecruiser, was nestled against the main orbital station, opposite the freighter that was causing everyone's navigational headache.
On the edge of her mental screen, the second star freighter slowly drifted forwards. Her orbit would bring her barely ten thousand kilometers from Hessian Orbital, though over fifteen times that from Avalon.
Almost unconsciously, Michelle tagged the freighter for the starfighter's computer to watch. She didn't expect trouble, but the Stellar League ship was also the only major vessel moving around in orbit. The only other ships she could see were sublight schooners, a hundred thousand tons at most.
"Kayla, does your crew see anything odd?" she sent to the other starfighter escorting the XO's shuttle.
"Not a peep," Flight Lieutenant Kayla Morgaurd replied. "Hell, this place is missing a bunch of ships that should be here."
"This isn't Castle," Michelle said quietly, but she had the same feeling. It wasn't that the system was being quiet, or anyone was hiding – the system was just dirt-poor. Most systems could build better vessels for in-system shipping than the schooners she was watching. At least two of the small ships were using ion thrusters – and had no mass manipulators aboard at all!
"The Commonwealth took out most of their extra-planetary industry during the war," Garnet said quietly, interrupting Michelle's thoughts. "A hundred and forty years of investment and about thirty million people – a war crime, but it's not like anyone from that battle group ever made it home to be held accountable."
Michelle shook her head silently. For all of her dislike of the behemoth that had tried to conquer her home, even she had to admit that the Terran Commonwealth usually fought its wars cleanly. The exceptions, though, tended towards the utterly horrifying.
"Escort-Alpha, this Avalon Two," the shuttle hailing her interrupted the depressing conversation. "We are entering approach now and are under Hessian Orbital's guns. Commander Kleiner says thanks for riding shotgun, and you're clear to return to CSP."
"Pass on my regards to the Commander," Michelle replied. "Gentle docking."
She and Morgaurd slowly decelerated their fighters, curving in an arc that would take them back to Avalon, passing right under the Stellar League ship.
"Check your vector," she ordered Morgaurd after glancing over the course plot for the other starfighter. "We don't want to get that close to the freighter – League ships tend to be uncomfortable around other people's starfighters."
Morgaurd acknowledged with a wordless click, and the vector shifted further away. With the two tiny ships' scanners stretched to maximum, it wasn't like they needed to be that close to Avalon to keep an eye on everyone.
The scanner macro that she had set up on Kleiner's shuttle informed her that the transport was docked with Hessian Orbital and locked down. According to her brief, the shuttle would remain aboard until Kleiner was done with her meetings.
For all of the jitters and 'itchy shoulders' that seemed to be spreading through Avalon's crew, Hessian was quiet – dirt-poor, but harmless.
Then another scanner macro pinged. It took Michelle a good second to realize it was the one she'd set on the Stellar League freighter.
Her starfighter had just passed 'behind' the ship, into the ionized path left behind by the freighter's station-keeping engines, and the macro was bleeping a higher than expected level of radiation.
Even linked into her implants, Michelle wasn't sure what the system was telling her. Elevated levels of radiation at the five hundred eleven kilo-electron-volt level?
Her implants then happily told her the meaning of that energy level, and her heart stopped as it resolved the separate point sources.
A hundred zero point cells?
She hit the Q-com activation sequence.
"Vampire! Vampire! Vampire!" she snapped. "The League ship is a pirate!"
Even as the words left her lips, her starfighter's sensors – now focused on the raider – saw paneling eject away from her hull. Missiles blasted away from the freighter's hull, targeted on Avalon, followed by dozens of starfighters.
All of that paled in Michelle's mind though, as four half-megaton-per-second positron lances ripped out from behind concealed panels. Two hit Jäger, ripping through her unprotected hull and shattering the battlecruiser before she could even move. One hit the Federation freighter, blasting the civilian ship into pieces.
The last hit Hessian Orbital dead center, ripping its way through the hydrogen fuel tanks in a flash of annihilating matter that tore the station apart in a ball of white flame.