The fleet was following a planet - the third planet from the sun in a system of gas giants, planets and planetoids. The fleet had taken positions several hundred thousand miles away from the planet in question, shadowing its 60,000 mile per hour orbit.
On board the cruiser, the mood was tense - as it always was when they were about to begin a military operation. Even so, the Lorwardian soldiers, though they were all experienced veterans, felt a chill as they heard a pair of heavy footfalls echoing through the corridors of the battlecruiser. Even among Lorwardians, their commander was feared and respected. BattleSkaar strode through the halls of the flagship he commanded. Those who served on his ship all froze and saluted as he passed, while he casually saluted back, allowing them to return to their duties.BattleSkaar was one of several captains in the Lorwardian fleet. He commanded all the ships in the forward and center wings, comprising his command ship and nearly fifty smaller cruisers. BattleF'yuri commanded the ships in the left wing, while BattleKry commanded the right. BattleLeon commanded the rear wing, which rankled the younger general - a fact which he had voiced quite loudly during several staff meetings. Eager and ferocious, he had been insulted at having been assigned to the section of the fleet that was least likely to see any fighting. But commanding the entire fleet was supreme general Warhok - and even BattleLeon did not dare to question him. At Warhok's orders, he had submitted to the dishonorable position of rearguard for the fleet.
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Being of a race that honored prowess in battle above all else, the Lorwardian society had evolved accordingly. Military persons held all rank and privilege. And ranks within the Military Class were divided according to an individual's strength, skill, and the number of victories to their credit. Names were given according to progression within that rank, distinguished by the level of conflict they were deemed capable of enduring.
The highest rank was War. And among Lorwardians, to have a name coupled with war was considered among the greatest honors. Supreme General Warhok had earned his title through countless victories, and by vanquishing many rivals. His captain general, Warmonga, was of a similar sort. General Warweery was older and more cunning, but as he aged he became less strong and brutal. Warlok was considered a strategist without peer, though he was more fond of planning battles than he was of fighting them.
Beneath them in rank were the Battles, of which BattleSkaar was one of the most respected. They commanded the Riots, who saw more direct action in the field as they oversaw the Feuds. Beneath the Feuds were the Clashes, who commanded platoons of ten squadrons. Each squadron was led by a Skirmish, subdivided into troops, each troop led by a Duel. The Duels commanded the smaller squads, who were led by the Fights, and the Fights commanded each soldier in their squad, who were the Spars.
And then there were the numberless people on the homeworld of Lorwardia, who had no title of honor attached to their names. They simply had names - without appendages of battle or glory. These were deemed too weak for fighting, fit only for planting and raising food, working metal, building machines, or other mundane tasks. They were peons - chattel - laboring in anonymity while the warrior class reaped honor and glory in battle.
Nevertheless, these workers and civilians had to be kept pacified. After all, they outnumbered the military by over ten million to one, a fact that the military did not overlook. Without the peons, there would be no buildings, ships, weapons, food or supplies - all things which the military needed. Though the thought of doing the menial labor required to produce them was repulsive to the military class. Lorwardia had to be kept prosperous enough that the peons caused no trouble and voiced no discontent. Unrest meant fighting against their own people, troublesome inquisitions, trials and executions. It was simply easier for the military to let the peons have their fun by handing them occasional spoils of war, rather than having to deal with unruly mobs.
And that meant the military had to conquer other worlds periodically. It served the dual purpose of satisfying the military class' desire for conquest, while at the same time supplying the peasants with enough trinkets to keep them quiet. Things had gone well for a long time. But lately, things had begun to change.
Where exactly it had started, no one could tell, but a murmur of discontent had begun among the peasant class. Many of them were beginning to question the wisdom of their interstellar campaigns. Weak and sympathetic, a number of citizens were actually thinking about the other worlds that had been conquered, and the state they had been left in.
They had begun outrageous talk about 'having more than they needed', and of actually leaving other worlds alone. They began telling stories about the suffering which other races endured as a result of their brutal military. And then a prophecy began to spread, tales of a 'Great Blue'. Someone who would reach out to Lorwardia from across the stars.
The military took the strange prophecy to mean the arrival of a new captain general who would lead them in ever more glorious campaigns of conquest. The peons, however, were not convinced - and were whispering that this might be a new kind of leader who would show Lorwardia a way they might live in peace with other worlds, tend to their own affairs, and bring an end to their constant state of war.
To many, it was nonsense. But even among the military class, some took the prophecy seriously enough that it began to affect their behavior. Even Warmonga had run off to some far-flung world after viewing one of its satellite transmissions, believing that some strange being with blue skin was the 'Great Blue'.
She had returned in humiliation. The being she had pledged loyalty to had been a fraud. And it was shortly afterwards that the entire Lorwardian fleet had been mustered, and word went out that another world was to be invaded.
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BattleSkaar strode onto the bridge of his ship. The rest of the crew, the Fights, the Duels and others, were at their stations. Everyone turned and saluted, then immediately went back to their labors after his nod of acknowledgement. BattleSkaar's heavily muscled frame caused the command chair to lurch as he sat down. His first officer, Sor'dClash, stood next to the command chair, awaiting orders.
'Remind me again, Sor'dClash - what plaything is this?' said BattleSkaar. 'What world is it that Warhok now seeks to add to his list of the conquered?'
'An obscure body in the S-K system, Captain.' said Sor'dClash, in a drawling, idle voice. 'The inhabitants refer to it as the planet.... Earth.'
BattleSkaar looked at the viewscreen at the glowing blue orb. It was blotched with green landmasses, and overlaid in places by streaks of white cloud. 'How peaceful it looks.' he said quietly.
'Looks are deceiving in this case, sir.' said Sor'dClash. He held up his data pad, and read from the data that scrolled across it. 'There are several factions vying for dominance, though their efforts, in the main, are focused on economic dominance. The actual fighting seems localized to various tribal disputes which are being fought through secret combinations. There are bombings, terrorism, snipers, and a number of declared intentions of hostility. But as of yet, none of them have massed armies large enough to challenge the dominant nations, and a balance of power exists, albeit a fragile one.'
BattleSkaar nodded. 'What do they have in the way of technology - offensive and defensive?'
Sor'dClash scrolled through more data. 'By our standards, quite primitive. They rely mostly on missiles, projectile weapons and a variety of land and air based vehicles to deploy them. The projectiles are mostly lead slugs. The missiles have varying range and explosive capabilities. Some of them are thermonuclear. Crude.'
'But effective.' BattleSkaar growled.
'Easily circumvented.' said Sor'dClash. 'They have only limited exo-atmospheric capabilities. The fleet can easily bombard this world from space - we can lay waste to them...'
BattleSkaar rumbled deep in his throat, and Sor'dClash went silent at once. 'It is the wish of General Warhok that this world be taken in battle.' he said.
Sor'dClash seemed to be trying to stop his face from grimacing. 'That... complicates matters, Captain.' he said. 'May I ask why? It would take considerably less time and effort to destroy them from orbit.'
BattleSkaar stared at his first officer. 'You are very intelligent, Sor'dClash.' he said. 'And you have freer access to the men than I do. Tell me - what have they guessed, and what are they saying?'
Sor'dClash really did grimace this time. He glanced around the bridge, moving nothing but his yellow eyes. At last he said, 'That may not be a matter for many ears.' and he had lowered his voice almost to a mumbled silence.
BattleSkaar stood up suddenly, and strode towards his private chamber, motioning for Sor'dClash to follow. The stark metal door hissed closed behind them, and they were alone in a small room off to the side on the bridge. It was dark, and a number of weapons and war trophies decorated the walls. Beyond that there was no furniture besides a computer console desk and a rough chair. 'No one else will hear.' he said. 'Speak plainly.'
Sor'dClash nodded in a half-bow. 'If... you command it, my captain.' he said.
'I do.' said BattleSkaar impatiently. 'Speak!'
Sor'dClash heaved a sigh, and kept his head lowered so he was not looking directly into BattleSkaar's eyes. 'The men have observed and analyzed this planet. They know this world has barely enough resources to sustain itself. Any spoils we gain from conquest would be pitifully small and would not come close to covering the cost for this campaign.' He paused.
BattleSkaar folded his arms, his muscles causing his armored uniform to creak. 'Go on.' he said.
Sor'dClash raised his head slightly. 'Nearly all the men also know that this world has no strategic value. Conquering it brings no additional security to Lorwardia. Several of the strategists, even Captain BloodFeud, are openly saying that coming here diminishes our security since it is so far away from our quadrant.'
'I see.' said BattleSkaar. 'And... what do you think?'
Sor'dClash relowered his head. 'I hesitate to speak, Captain.' he said.
'If you seek to prevent me from becoming angry, it is too late for that.' BattleSkaar growled. 'Only honesty will get you out of this room alive.'
Sor'dClash's skin turned a pastel green as he paled. 'I serve Lorwardia.' he said, his voice shivering slightly. 'I obey my superiors. My loyalty is to our world and to my Generals...'
'And yet you doubt them?' said BattleSkaar. 'Is that what you are trying to say?'
'What the men are saying is true, sir.' he said, sounding afraid. 'This world has nothing of value to justify the cost and effort of this campaign. And if we are expected to conduct the campaign conventionally, we will expose the fleet to needless losses. Their weapons are crude, but as you say, effective. They have enough nuclear devices to inflict heavy damage - if we cannot destroy them from space. The men are saying it is only because of Warmonga....' he cut himself off suddenly.
BattleSkaar sighed. At last he was getting to the core of the matter. And it was a matter that even the generals were discussing in whispers among themselves. Warmonga, and her ill- fated trip to this planet. Sor'dClash lowered his voice again as he kept speaking.
'The men know it was this world where Warmonga was tricked and nearly defeated. They are saying it is only because she is Warhok's battle-mate that we are even here - that this war is being waged simply for the sake of her pride and his affection.'
BattleSkaar walked over to the viewport window, staring out into the inky void speckled with white stars. Earth was visible as a larger orb in the distance. Warmonga. Ever since she had gained that victory in the battle of the thirteen moons of Jingos, she had become steadily more reckless and proud - and annoying. Her victories had given her an inflated opinion of herself. She had even developed an insufferable habit of screaming her own name every time she struck a blow, or launched an attack. Even among Lorwardians, it was arrogant.
'There is more, sir.' said Sor'dClash hesitantly, though he seemed a bit more steady, as his Captain had not shown any more visible signs of anger. 'The Galactic Governing Body, as you well know, has become ever more meddlesome...'
BattleSkaar grunted. The Governing Body was a source of constant vexation to the Lorwardian Empire. They launched fierce protests every time Lorwardia began another campaign. For the most part, the Lorwadians ignored them and continued in their conquests. But Lorwardian territory was ever expanding, and getting closer to the worlds that the Governing Body claimed as their territory. So long as the Lorwardians did not attack any member worlds of the Governing Body, they seemed content to simply protest their 'brutish' Lorwardian neighbors. But it was only a matter of time before their excursions led into territory held by the Governing Body. When that happened...
Sor'dClash was still speaking. 'Our spies have learned that their genetic scientists created the creature they called Experiment 626 as a specific attempt to deceive us by providing a 'Great Blue' that they alone would control.' he said. 'They had thought we would accept that creature as our leader, and through the creature, they thought to control us. If Warmonga had been the one who encountered 626, they might have succeeded.'
BattleSkarr heaved a deep sigh. Sor'dClash was right. The intelligence reports indicated that experiment 626 had been a powerful creature, and an able fighter. That alone would have had Warmonga bowing before it. And if enough gullible military followed her... BattleSkaar shook his head at the thought of how much discord it would have sown among the troops. 'Go on.' he said.
'Some have wondered if the Great Blue that Warmonga encountered on this world is yet another instance of the Governing Body's attempts to wrest control of our Empire.' Sor'dClash said. 'Given the distance of this world from Lorwardian space, and given its proximity to territory held by the Governing Body, and given that this excursion severely weakens the fleet in more crucial sectors...'
BattleSkaar turned. 'Then you will inform the men, at every viable opportunity, that this is their chance to take vengeance on the Governing Body for their trickery.' he said. Even though a conventional invasion would be more difficult and time-consuming, he was a Lorwardian commander. And it was his duty to inspire the men behind the cause. 'If the Blue one who lives here is another of the Governing Body's puppets, then our troops will have the honor of crushing him. This entire world will suffer our wrath. If any of the men fear the weapons that this world possesses, then have them report to me. I will personally strip them of their rank and send them back to Lorwardia - to join the laborers.'
Sor'dClash winced, but he bowed his head. 'It shall be as you command.' he said.
'Then let us return to the bridge.' said BattleSkaar. 'You will speak none of your doubts to the men - raise their spirits, with the promise of conquest and victory!'
Sor'dClash bowed still lower. 'Yes, Captain.' he said.
Even as they strode back onto the bridge, there was a beeping noise from one of the stations, and a group of several Fights were examining their consoles while the Duels muttered to them. BattleSkaar sat in his command chair. 'Report!' he bellowed.
DuelLyst approached and bowed. 'We have received a strange message from one of the fighter squadrons in charge of the marker project.' he said.
BattleSkaar nodded. As part of the preparation for the invasion, Warhok had ordered a special task force. These were their stealthiest fighters, practiced in surprise attacks from their ships. Their orders were to set marks on the surface of the planet, designating each marked area as a landing zone for their walker drones.
It was a tricky operation, because Earth had a vast web of communication satellites. The satellites mostly monitored things taking place on their planet, and were not geared towards scanning space. But Warhok had ordered them to set the markers, and to do their best to avoid detection. Warhok would not allow the invasion to start until all the markers were set. It was a time-consuming process that was going very slowly, and leading to impatience among the more eager Spars and Fights.
Each mark could only be set once they were sure that all the Earthling satellites were clear from an area. It would have been easier to simply destroy the satellites, but again, they had been forbidden by Warhok. Sor'dClash had not understood why, until BattleSkaar had informed him of Warhok's order that the campaign be conventional.
DuelLyst continued. 'Marker 23 was successfully set, after much difficulty avoiding their satellite network.' he said. 'But it seems to have... disappeared.'
BattleSkaar leaned back, glaring. Recognizing the silent cue, Sor'dClash broke in. 'Explain.' he barked.
DuelLyst fidgeted. 'I... have no explanation, sir.' he said. 'One moment it was there, then it was gone.' He turned towards the main viewscreen and tapped a control module on his wrist. A glowing green map, showing one of Earth's larger landmasses appeared, then zoomed in closer until it zeroed in on a blinking red dot. There were a few other dots on the landmass, but they were green and glowing steadily.
'Curious.' said BattleSkaar, scratching his bearded chin. 'Perhaps this is another instance of the way Earthling technology has evolved in ways that ours has not. Warmonga reported they have developed some kind of cloaking devices. Could this be an instance of it?'
'I do not think so, my Captain.' said DuelLyst. 'The cloaking Warmonga described was an electronic distortion that rendered anything within its field invisible. In this case, the marker is still there. But it seems to be shrouded in.... darkness.'
BattleSkaar tapped his finger on the armrest of his command chair for several silent seconds. 'Send the fighter craft back for a closer look.' he said at last. If any Earthlings have uncovered the marker operation, we must silence them. Order the fighters to use any means at their disposal to avoid detection. Once they have determined the source of this... aberration, have them return and report.'
DuelLyst saluted. 'For Lorwardia!' he said, and went back to the other Deuls at their consoles.
Sor'dClash cleared his throat and muttered quietly. 'If any earthlings have discovered our movements, Warhok will be very displeased.'
'And so will I.' BattleSkaar growled. 'Weeks of labor, undone by a moment's carelessness. The punishments will be most severe. But... I will wait for the reports, and then decide. Go, Sor'dClash, and make sure that my orders are carried out. Oversee them personally.'
Sor'dClash nodded and hastened away.
BattleSkaar tented his fingers and stared at the main viewscreen and the distant blue planet. For some time, he remained that way, ignoring the bustle of the others around him. His mind went over preparations, plans and possibilities that might unfold when Warhok finally gave word to begin the invasion.
Even in a conventional war, the Earthlings could not hope to match their military technology. But he knew as well as anyone that planning a war was one thing - and carrying it out was another matter entirely. A solid strategy was important. But equally important was to make plans for the unexpected.
A marksman trained endlessly with his firearms, using them, maintaining them and handling them until doing so became a muscle memory that could be put into action in an instant. It was the same with almost any weapon, and the principle applied to battle tactics as well. A troop of soldiers who drilled and prepared for a specific action was more likely to succeed than a troop who had no such preparation.
This unknown eventuality with their markers may be a small matter - then again it might not. But it troubled him to the point where he felt he needed to find out more, and put a plan into action to account for it.
And while the fleet continued its operations, BattleSkaar continued to think and plan. To prepare for anything possible. And anything probable.
Author's Notes: Sorry about the slower pace on this one. But it requires some pretty careful thinking out. I hope you find it worth the effort. A number of people have asked the question over the course of the All Things Probable series, and the question was, 'Did Team Probable do anything during the invasion?' This story will be the answer to that question!
Team Probable had to have a Graduation too, and this is it! This story will be more like 'Back To Kwitcherbeliakin', in the sense that Team Possible and Team Probable will not directly interact with each other. According to canon, Team Probable was not seen anywhere near Kim and the gang during the events of Graduation. But anyone who knows Team Probable by now knows them well enough to realize that they do some of their best work from the sidelines!
The Graduation episode had some gaping holes in it, as most KP fans well know. The biggest of which was the glossing over of a worldwide Lordwardian invasion that seemed to have only ONE spaceship and two Lorwardians. Where were the others? What was going on all over the rest of the planet while Kim and Ron were dealing with things on their end?
As readers of the ATP series know, I love filling in those nagging gaps. Hopefully readers will agree that this story will provide that in spades! (Don't worry - I don't anticipate the tale being as long as A Friend in Darkness :) )
Incidentally - there have been a number of things going on in real life for me, including the loss of my 10 year job over the summer. While I've found a job that can keep the bills paid, I'm still on the hunt for something closer to home and that pays better. So I'm dividing my time between work, job hunting, making portfolio projects and other things. As such, I don't have as much time for writing and drawing for this project. I fear that means I'll have to limit my drawings per chapter to about 2 or 3, unless inspiration REALLY hits me and I can't stop myself. It just takes too much time. Sorry about that....