Read The Black Sheep (A Learning Experience Book 3) Online

Authors: Christopher Nuttall

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #War, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Military, #Space Fleet, #Space Marine, #Space Opera

The Black Sheep (A Learning Experience Book 3)

The Black Sheep

 

(A Learning Experience - Book III)

 

Book One: A Learning Experience

Book Two: Hard Lessons

Book Three: The Black Sheep

 

 

Christopher G. Nuttall

 

http://www.chrishanger.net

http://chrishanger.wordpress.com/

http://www.facebook.com/ChristopherGNuttall

 

 

All Comments Welcome!

Cover Blurb

 

The third stand-alone book in
A Learning Experience ...

 

In the wake of Earth’s collapse into chaos, Captain Hoshiko Stuart made the mistake of speaking her mind - and was exiled six months from Sol to a naval base in an unexplored and uncontacted sector.  Placed in command of a single squadron of starships, she expected nothing but boredom.

 

But when she discovers an alien race threatening to exterminate all other races within the sector, Hoshiko and her squadron are drawn into a war to stop them, even if it means forging an alliance with aliens who may themselves become a threat to humanity and building an empire that may alienate her from her family once and for all.

Prologue

 

Datanet Discussion Forums are buzzing after Captain Hoshiko Stuart stated, publicly, that the Solar Union should not consider intervening in the ongoing civil war on Earth.  Her comments have been repeated by a number of other ‘Solarians’ who feel that the affairs of our former homeworld are none of our concern ...

-Solar News Network, Year 54

 

“Admiral,” Lieutenant Marie Campbell said, over the communications network, “Captain Hoshiko Stuart has arrived.”

 

Admiral Mongo Stuart, Commander-in-Chief of the Solar Navy, looked up from his desk, keeping his face impassive despite his inner dismay.  He knew how to reward good performance and he was an expert at chewing out the incompetent or criminally stupid, but dealing with someone who had crossed the line without
quite
doing anything against the Solar Navy’s regulations was a little harder.  The whole affair left a sour taste in his mouth. He’d seen enough good men and women railroaded by the former United States Navy on Earth, all for political reasons, to hate the thought of doing it himself.  But there was little choice.

 

“Send her in,” he ordered.  “And then hold all my calls unless they’re urgent.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Marie said.

 

Mongo sat upright as the hatch hissed open, revealing Captain Hoshiko Stuart.  She was third-gen, the granddaughter of Steve Stuart - Mongo’s brother - himself, the closest thing to outright royalty in the Solar Union.  Not that she or anyone else in the Stuart family had been allowed to
think
of themselves as royalty.  Hoshiko had earned her stripes, as surely as any of her peers in the Solar Navy; no one, not even the handful of politicians who argued the Stuart family exercised undue influence within the Solar Union, questioned her
competence
.  But that hadn't stopped them from using her words as a talking point.

 

“Admiral,” Hoshiko said.

 

Mongo studied her for a long moment, allowing the silence to lengthen.  She was tall, her features a mixture of Caucasian and Japanese, her skin tinted and her almond eyes dark and expressive.  Like all third-gen children, she had the genetic modifications that ensured both a natural lifespan of over two hundred years and an immunity to disease, most poisons and even tooth decay.  She could have turned herself into a goddess, if she’d wished - most teenagers went through a stage of changing their looks on a daily basis - but she’d stayed with the appearance her parents and grandparents had gifted to her.  At thirty-five, she looked twenty-one.  And she held herself with the poise of a seasoned veteran, waiting for him to speak.

 

Her file flashed up in front of his eyes, prompted by a mental query to his implants.  Born in Year 19, entered the Solar Navy in Year 35 - the youngest possible age - and graduated from Sparta Military College in Year 39.  Assigned to a destroyer, then to a light cruiser; assigned to command an alien-designed battlecruiser during the Battle of Earth, where she acquitted herself well.  No black marks in her file until two weeks ago, when she’d made a number of statements to the Solar News Network that had ignited a political firestorm. 

 

And she’s certainly bright enough to understand what she’s done
, Mongo thought, as he directed his attention back towards Hoshiko. 
The only question is why
?

 

“Captain,” he said, coolly.  He might be her Great-Uncle, but he wasn't going to do her any favours and she had to know it.  “Do you know why you’re here?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Hoshiko said.

 

“Explain,” Mongo ordered.

 

“I gave an interview to the Solar News Network,” Hoshiko said.  Her voice was very flat, suggesting she was either keeping it under tight control or using her implants to ensure she betrayed none of her internal feelings.  “I expressed my feelings on the planned intervention on Old Earth.  The interview went viral and spread through the datanet.”

 

“Correct,” Mongo said.  He cocked his head to one side.  “Why did you give that interview, Captain?”

 

Hoshiko, for the first time, showed a flicker of animation.  “I was asked for my opinion, sir,” she said, “and I gave it.”

 

Mongo lifted his eyebrow, inviting her to explain further.

 

“I am a Solarian,” Hoshiko said.  “My parents may have been born on Old Earth, but I was not.  I grew up on an asteroid colony, sir, with all the boundless wealth of space all around me.  My fellows and I enjoy a freedom that none on Earth can even comprehend.  The problems of Old Earth do not concern us.  They are free to move to the Solar Union, if they wish, or continue to live amongst the dirt.  The social and political breakdown on the planet is none of our concern.  We certainly do not wish to spend blood and treasure trying to save the Earthers from themselves.”

 

“And that was what you told the reporters,” Mongo said.

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

Mongo had to admit, if only in the privacy of his own thoughts, that she had a point.  The Solar Union’s invitation to everyone on Earth remained open - and would remain open for as long as the Solar Union itself endured.  Leave the gravity well and live in space, where even a low-paying job could ensure a decent lifestyle.  Hoshiko, like so many of her peers, couldn’t comprehend just why so many Earthers were scared of implanting technology, let alone genetic splices and fixes, into their bodies.  Hell,
Mongo
found the concept scary at times ... and, without the nanotech and automated doctors they’d captured from the Horde, he knew he’d be dead by now.  But there were other concerns.

 

“Many of us have ties to Earth,” he pointed out.  “Don’t you feel we might have legitimate concerns?”

 

“No, sir,” Hoshiko said.  “The Solar Union was founded on the concept of
escaping
Earth, of escaping governments that were too controlling to allow true freedom.  I see no value in looking back to our roots.”

 

“You have relatives down there,” Mongo pointed out.

 

“I don’t know them,” Hoshiko countered.  “Surely they could come up here, if they wished?”

 

Mongo gave her a long considering look.  Hoshiko had never seen the Stuart Ranch, where Mongo and his brothers had been born and raised.  She was used to controlled environments, not the beauty of Earth.  But, at the same time, he knew she had a point.  The American melting pot had only started to come apart at the seams when it had become easy, too easy, to remain in touch with the Old Country, for old grudges to cross the oceans and infect the United States.  Mongo still mourned the country he’d served, even though it had left him behind a long time before the Solar Union had been formed.  It was hard for him to say goodbye.

 

“Military officers are not supposed to talk to the press,” he said, instead.  “You should not have given that interview.”

 

“Military officers are supposed to speak their minds, as long as they can back up their statements,” Hoshiko countered.  “Can I speak freely, Admiral?”

 

“You may,” Mongo said.

 

“Am I in trouble because I’m a military officer who spoke to the press,” Hoshiko asked, “or because I’m a
Stuart
who disagreed with the family line?”

 

“The family does have an interest in its property on Earth,” Mongo said.

 

“Which it shouldn’t have,” Hoshiko said.  “It provides a tie to the planet we sought to escape, sir.  The older generation may want to keep it, but the younger generation sees no value in it.”

 

“No, you wouldn’t,” Mongo agreed.

 

He cleared his throat.  “Yes, you
are
in trouble because the family can no longer present a united front,” he admitted.  “Our opponents in the Senate have not hesitated to capitalise on your remarks.”

 

“The united front did not exist,” Hoshiko pointed out, coolly.  She waved a hand at the walls, where a number of images from the Battle of Earth were prominently displayed.   “You may want to try to recover territory on a single world;
we
want to get out there and build empires, carry the human race to heights unmatched even by the Tokomak!  There is nothing to be gained by becoming involved with scrabbles on Earth when there’s an entire universe out here, just waiting to be seized.  Our manifest destiny is out there, Admiral!”

 

“We are one small system, with a handful of allies,” Mongo said.  “There is no way we can hope to conquer the entire galaxy, let alone the universe.”

 

“Not now, no,” Hoshiko said.  “But we seem to have a choice between building an empire - call it what you like, Admiral - of our own or taking the risk that someone
else
will build an empire.  The Tokomak still have
millions
of starships under their command, sir, and we’re not the only ones who can innovate.  Even if the Tokomak Empire falls apart, sir, one of the successor states may pose a greater threat.  We don’t have time for narrow-minded people who look at the prospects before us and flinch away.”

 

Mongo took a second to place firm controls on his temper before speaking.  “You present us with an unusual challenge,” he said.  “If you were to be court-martialled for your actions, it would require open discussion of the issue, which would not rebound to anyone’s credit.  But if you are
not
punished, it will look as though the family name has protected you from the consequences.  I’ve decided to take a third option.”

 

He waited for a long moment.  Hoshiko said nothing.

 

“We have been asked to establish a military and trader base in the Martina Sector,” he explained.  Hoshiko closed her eyes for a moment, clearly consulting her implants.  “This base will have a battle squadron of heavy cruisers attached to it, as well as a handful of support ships and intelligence personnel.  You will be reassigned to
Jackie Fisher
as her commanding officer, but you will also be in overall command of the detachment and roving ambassador to any local alien powers.  I’ll assign a steady hand to serve as your XO.  You’re going to be very busy.”

 

“That’s six months away,” Hoshiko said, shocked.

 

“Yes,” Mongo said.  He hid an amused smile.  The rest of the assignment clearly hadn't sunk in, yet.  “You and your squadron will be on a five-year deployment.  During that time, you will have considerable autonomy, as long as you stay within the standing orders.  Assuming all goes well, you will be relieved by another squadron at the end of your time on station.  By that point, one would hope the political crisis here will be resolved, one way or the other.”

 

It was, he thought, a neat solution.  Hoshiko couldn't remain in touch with anyone in the Solar Union, not when it would take at least a year for her to send a message and receive a reply.  If anyone questioned her deployment, he could point to it and say it was a punishment, but if she did well, her career could resume its more normal course after her deployment came to an end.  A court-martial, on the other hand, would terminate her career even if she was found innocent.

 

“You’ll receive a full intelligence brief, what little we know about the sector, once you reach your new command,” he told her.  “Martina itself is a shared world, thanks to the Tokomak, but there are several alien races nearby that may pose a threat.  There’s also a large number of humans, descendents of alien slaves, living within the sector.  We’d like you to try to build ties with them, as well as protect shipping and generally represent the Solar Union to the locals.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Hoshiko said.  She snapped off a tight salute.  “I will make you proud.”

 

“See that you do,” Mongo warned.  “You’re going to be on your own out there.  Good luck.”

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