Brothers in Arms

Author: Matryoshka <Matryoshka_01[at]>

This is as much of a test-balloon as it is setting the scene; John (greywizard1235) and I have been kicking about the idea of a co- operative fic on this crossover premise for a couple of weeks, and we're looking to see if anyone wants more. I know *I* like the potential character dynamics, but *your* reaction is the key to whether we keep going or back-burner it.

The title, BTW, is a working one, but seems appropriate. Besides, Dire Straits kick all kinds of ass. :-D

DISCLAIMER: The premise, universe and all canon characters belong to people who get paid to write them - which immediately rules out John and myself. :-P We're just having fun borrowing their ideas and looking at them from different (perhaps skewed?) viewpoints.

CROSSOVER: The 'Starfire' universe, particularly the novels 'In Death Ground' and 'The Shiva Option', by David Weber and Steve White.

RATING: PG, for now. Violence and language may get a little raw in later chapters.


OCTOBER 27th, 2432

What the directing intelligences of the Fleet felt might have been called despair in another race. The World Which Must Be Concealed had been built into a World Which Must Be Defended in a time any other species might have considered impossible, then spent all the time after preparing for the time when their species might again emerge from its lair and feed on other sentients.

Ten years ago, a pattern of Enemy robot probes had entered through the system's only known warp-point, and ready or not, the Fleet had reacted the only way it could: attack. The Enemy survey flotilla – they had been of the furred New Enemy race known as Orions – had died under a blizzard of warp-capable SBMHAWK missile-pods and gunboats, but they had sent an alarm, and the Fleet knew that once the Enemy knew of the Fleet's continued existence, they would once again order their extermination. Unless, of course, the Fleet could secure an advantageous position and keep them from actioning that extermination order until such time as the Fleet could effect their extermination – which was, after all, the only true safety.

The offensive that had followed had used both old technologies and new, old tactics and new; reduced to a single System Which Must Be Defended and its limited resources, they had been forced into the unnatural act of asking their warriors to expend themselves and their ships only at need, not at opportunity. Instead of attacking and expanding beyond the limits of their resources, the Fleet had committed another unnatural act and stopped at easily-defended firebreaks, digging in deep to give the new World Which Must Be Defended time to build more ships and breed more warriors so they could renew their expansion at a pace which could be sustained. The new small attack-craft had proven invaluable; although smaller and lighter-armed than gunboats and not warp-capable, they were faster and could be built and deployed in even greater numbers, and their parent craft could recover and rearm them without having to shut off their drives – and tactical speed, the Fleet had learned, had been one of the Enemy's key advantages in the last war.

They had chosen their chosen outpost systems well: the systems the Enemy called 'Shanak' and 'Bug-12' and 'AP-6', 'Pesthouse' and 'Orpheus-3' and 'Bug-04' – all were points of contact with the Enemy, true - often close contact - but they were also within a conveniently short transit time of the dead System Which Must Be Defended that the Enemy had called 'Home Hive One'. While that dead System Which Must Be Defended could not be restored to productivity – which was... inconvenient – it could be used as the hub of a nodal defence-in-depth strategy, able to rush massive reinforcements to any threatened outpost in short time, especially with the new, faster drives. Every single one of those systems, and every system between the outposts and the current System Which Must Be Defended, had been fortified beyond all imagining, their warp-points virtually smothered in minefields and defence-cruisers and OWPs - many of them carrying complements of gunboats and attack-craft considered large even by the Fleet's standards – and backed by Fleet detachments large enough to hold almost any attack until the nodal force could arrive. And while the Enemy were still confused and unsure of what was happening, Fleet battlecruiser-speed squadrons equipped with gunboat-tenders and attack-craft carriers and accompanied by freighters and foundry-vessels carrying the necessary machinery to manufacture missile-pods and gunboats and attack-craft from asteroid mines had progressed as far up the various warp-chains as they dared, going into cloak and hiding in the Enemy's rear areas to harass and attrite his shipping as it sought to reach the outpost systems.

For some reason, for three precious years the primate-descended race of New Enemy, the Humans, had not attacked the Fleet, neither through their System Which Must Be Defended beyond Harnah nor from the base that lay on the far side of what had been 'Home Hive Three'. The Orions and their centauroid Gorm allies and the Old Enemies had sought to dislodge the Fleet from Kliean and Franos on their own, but had achieved nothing but bloody stalemates; it seemed that with 'Home Hive One' in the Fleet's possession, those powers could not communicate with each other, which meant their efforts were essentially uncoordinated. Indeed, without the help of the Humans, neither Enemy had presented a real threat; the directing intelligences had had to resist the temptation to press their advantage and resume the offensive. It was exactly such... exuberance that had led the Fleet into over-extension and near-annihilation in the last war.

Then something had changed within the Humans – the directing intelligences would never know the details, and in truth didn't care. How it had happened was irrelevant, but what had happened was both immediately apparent and the certain death of the Fleet and the World Which Must Be Defended. The Humans and their avian allies the Ophiuchi had abandoned their long quiescence and started hunting down the raider detachments while they mobilized their Reserve and their Worlds Which Must Be Defended.

And with the full military and industrial might of the Humans and the Ophiuchi behind them, the Orions and the Old Enemies had become real threats again; even as powerful as the Fleet's forces were, they were still the product of only one System Which Must Be Defended pitted against the product of possibly dozens of such worlds in Human space. In the end, all of the Fleet's densely-erected fortifications, the new missile-pods and the new attack-craft and a dozen other new technologies... hadn't been enough. Each of the outpost systems had been reduced and captured in turn, and with the loss of Orpheus-2, the Fleet's nodal Deep Space Force had been forced to retreat into Orpheus-1 before the Humans cut them off from the System Which Must Be Defended. They had thought that the next offensive must come from the Humans, through the Orpheus chain, or from the Old Enemies, through Franos.

They had thought wrong.

The blow had come from Orion territory: a truly massive combined force of Orions and Humans and Gorm and Ophiuchi had somehow been assembled in secret behind Telmasa, then hurled itself forward in a single, unstoppable wave... and the Fleet had learned what it was like to face Juggernaut rather than be Juggernaut. The combined New Enemy fleet coming from Telmasa was apparently under the leadership of an Orion, and once he had taken the offensive, he had not stopped or swayed; casualties and attritional losses had delayed him only as long as it took him to adjust his plans – or been ignored completely. With the fall of Bug-06, the Deep Space Force had once again had to retreat or be cut off, this time falling back to Home Hive Two, holding the system in what they had thought was unassailable strength.

They had thought wrong. Again.

The Orion had smashed aside the warp-point defences and demolished half of the Deep Space Force in a mere three days. The survivors had been forced to flee back to their last fortified system outside of the System Which Must Be Defended, the so-called 'Bug-08', where they had thought they could conduct a successful warp-point defence against any force, even one led by this unstoppable Orion.

They had thought wrong. For a third, and possibly final, time.

Now the Orion's forces had crushed the defences on both ends of the warp-point that led into the System Which Must Be Defended, taking losses that would have deterred any of the Enemies, New or Old, in the last two wars – but that seemed merely to spur him on to new efforts in this one. Now he had wiped away every last gunboat and attack-craft and cutter that the Fleet had thrown at his ships in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable.

An attempt that had failed.

And the directing intelligences knew that a species that failed did not survive.

The species that was the embodiment of the punishment for failure... was about to undergo that punishment itself.

It was... most inconvenient.

But even as the Enemy brought his forces into invasion range of the World Which Must Be Defended - once again exhibiting his bizarre reluctance to bombard and sterilize a world that housed food-animals – there was a flicker of what another species might have called hope. The Special Project was approaching completion – would be completed if the Enemy's next acts took as long as was projected - and if/when it succeeded, it might become what this World Which Must Be Defended had once been.

A chance for their species to find an unknown, unknowable bolthole.

A chance to escape extinction.

That the Special Project also offered the chance to... punish the Humans whose Worlds Which Must Be Defended had twice been the doom of their species was...

Well, it was most convenient.