Story by Geoff Tuffli
++++ DATE 13.3.2470
++++ TIME 14:00 GST
++++ LOCATION Gilgamesh Station, Sovereign Republic of Ganymede
Below, the panoply of Ganymede's surface stared endlessly back at Jupiter. With one face always facing the giant jovian king, one face was always in light, one in dark but for the faint light cast by the faraway Sun.
Twin shadows crossed between moon and gas giant, two mighty kings beholden to the Commonwealth of Callisto. The super dreadnoughts Karanus and Demetrius were each escorted by over dozen lesser shadows - destroyers mostly, but three dreadnoughts as well, and even a pair of frigates that hid in the wake of the mighty leviathans.
The flotilla represented a staggering commitment on the part of the Commonwealth, close to half the Commonwealth's naval force in capital ships. Even so, they were not enough to take on Ganymede's substantial planetary defenses, aided in part by the fact that the population was burrowed kilometers deep beneath the surface for both warmth and safety from such incidentals as threats of nuclear bombardment.
That, however, was not the flotilla's target.
A sprawling orbital naval dockyard sat on the Ganymede-Jupiter L1 Lagrangian point, flanked by a pair of dreadnoughts and a busy collection of smaller ships. Staring eternally into the Great Eye that was Jupiter, the dockyards were bathed in radiation held at bay only by the massive AMG systems sported by the station. The skeletons of a dozen ships including five dreadnoughts slowly took form under the swarm of assembly machines that crawled over their surfaces like so many autonomous metal spiders.
The Commonwealth super dreadnoughts, still sitting at extreme range, began to spat out hideous numbers of tactical nuclear missiles. Eighty-two of the things burned through the black in lethal silence, only the dim flares from their engines giving any sense of the impending apocalypse that was about to be visited upon the station.
The two dreadnoughts guarding the dockyards stirred to life, attitude thrusters bellowing in silence as the huge ships belatedly moved into an intercept position in an attempt to target the incoming storm before it wrecked the crown jewel of the Sovereign Republic of Ganymede's naval construction capabilities.
Commandant Ilse Aichinger reached down and touched a button. The holo-display flickered off. She looked across the table at the two men seating there; one in uniform, one not. The Commandant cleared her throat, directing her gaze at the man in uniform.
"Lieutenant. Thank you for joining us. You know what you just saw, I presume?"
Lieutenant Erik Manstein, naval intelligence officer in the service of the Sovereign Republic of Ganymede, had seen many things. He had seen a man blown out of an airlock. He had assisted in the forcible suppression of an ill-conceived mutiny onboard his first assignment before he entered naval intelligence. He had watched children die from radiation burns. Each of these alighted briefly in his memory as he considered the import of this latest thing.
"Yes, sir," Erik answered. "There have been rumors, but nothing official. Did either of our ships make it out?"
The Commandant looked grim. "Both the Victor and the Vainglorious were destroyed. Some prisoners were reportedly taken by the Commonwealth from the escape pods. The naval yards are a complete loss. If there were anything exposed on the surface, it'd would be frying in a radioactive stew right now. This isn't what we're here to ruminate over, however. We have to move forward. Now, what is your overall assessment of the military conflict as it stands today, Lieutenant?"
Erik drummed his fingers on the table as his mind collected its myriad thoughts into something more coherent. He spared a brief glance at the civilian, wondering what part he had to play in all this, but the civilian's features were carefully blank.
"Sir, in absolute terms of population and economy, we are relatively evenly matched with the Commonwealth of Callisto. As well, and this is simply reflection of the statistical record, we have the edge in training and military acumen. What we are decidedly not evenly matched in, however, is in fleet construction rates, particularly capital class ships. That," he said, stabbing a finger at the now quiescent holo-display, "represents a catastrophe of the first order. Not only because of loss of human life, not even because of the loss of two dreadnoughts we could not afford to lose, but because of the loss of our primary naval shipyard, representing some 72% of our entire output."
Erik shook his head. "That was an absurd risk they took there, concentrating that much of their fleet in one place. It could easily have backfired. Unfortunately for us, it did not."
The Commandant exchanged a look with the civilian, then back to Erik. "Very good, Lieutenant. Conclusions?"
"Politically, we have too few friends, sir. The Ionian Combine continues to snipe at us, the Callistans, the Europans - pretty much everyone. The Europan Consortium is doing its best imitation of a bird as it sits there on a fence. The Southern Bloc is circling like a jackal, inching closer every month to a move to supercede our possessions in the Belt and Martian Trojans. We're unlikely to win this purely militarily. We need to shift the facts on the ground."
"We have the Eastern Federation's support," the Commandant pointed out.
Erik snorted. "With all due respect, sir, I am not so sure that is a good thing. Yes, their dreadnoughts and destroyers are helping us even the odds against the Commonwealth, but frankly, if we win this war only because of their military aid, we may wind up as a protectorate of the Eastern Federation. I don't think I would care much for an Eastern Federation Ganymede Authority. Sir."
The Commandant said nothing for a long moment, then looked at the civilian. "Satisfied, Piers?"
The civilian suddenly smiled. "Yes, quite, Ilse. I'm convinced." He shifted his gaze to Erik. "Lieutenant Manstein, I am pleased to finally meet you. My name is Piers Turchin, civilian contractor and patriot, macrosociodynamicist and student of history."
The Commandant touched a button, and the holo-display flickered back to life, this time showing an abstract map of the force distribution throughout Jupiter's system. "Lieutenant, we have a plan to, as you said, 'change the facts on the ground'. It will be extremely hazardous, and could backfire, but we are rapidly running out of good options, and as such must consider less orthodox methodologies." She typed something into the desk terminal. "There. You now have clearance for this project. I have forwarded the information to your terminal."
Erik's terminal flashed a notification of receipt. He brought up the file, quickly scanning it. "Project Diogenes. Interesting name."
Piers Turchin shrugged. "That is the official name. Between us, I have taken to referring to it as 'The German Plan'."
Erik's eyes flicked up from his terminal. "I am trying to decide if I should be offended, sir. As I have no doubt you know, I was born in Germany."
The civilian shook his head. "There is no cause to be offended, Lieutenant. It is a reference from the compilation of ancient swordwork of one Paulus Hector Mair. One of the particular actions of swordwork in his compilation is what is called a double-feint. Project Diogenes is itself a double-feint."
The Commandant folded her hands in front of her on the table. "The simplest way for us to regain the advantage, Lieutenant, is to bring the Europan Consortium off the fence and into our corner. If the Commonwealth were to threaten their interests, perhaps even destroy one or more of their ships, that could make the difference for us in this war."
Erik shook his head. "Sir, if you're thinking of what I think you are suggesting, it will never work."
"What do you think we are suggesting, Lieutenant?"
"Dress up one of our ships as a Commonwealth ship, use it to take down some poor, innocent Europan convoy or station, and then ride to the rescue. But it will never work. The Europans know how desperate we are, and they know the Commonwealth would be insane to open a second front."
Erik narrowed his eyes. "Sir?"
"You are correct, Lieutenant. But you have it backwards. We are going destroy that innocent Europan convoy."
"Sir? Under our own colors?"
"Exactly." The Commandant sat back, waiting as Erik processed the information.
Erik frowned. He turned the plan over in his mind. "I see. That's why you're calling it a double-feint. Since the Europans would never believe a Commonwealth ship would destroy one of their interests under their own flag, we do the destroying while at the same time convincing the Europans that it was actually a Commonwealth ship pretending to be us." He glanced back up at the Commandant. "There's a lot that could go wrong with that, sir. Not to mention if word ever, and I mean ever got out."
"Lieutenant, you may have been born on Earth, which I understand has caused some to doubt your loyalties, but you have consistently demonstrated a well-deserved reputation for discretion and a sense of duty. To pull this off, we will need to maintain absolute levels of secrecy. Nobody outside this room now will ever know the full details of this plan. Even my superiors only know that I am handling this situation in an unspecified way by means of a very healthy black budget and a lot of looking the other way."
"I presume my role in this is to prepare and take command of the ship on this exercise. What about the crew, though?" Erik asked.
Piers Turchin nodded. "We have purchased an older dreadnought through intermediaries, and are prepping a crew of artificials."
Erik cocked his head. "Has that ever been done before, sir? I mean, A.I. piloting a destroyer is one thing, but a dreadnought...that's an order of magnitude more complicated."
"Technically, no, not an order of magnitude. The fact that it has never been done before says less about any technical restrictions and more about our own distrust of artificial intelligence," Piers Turchin corrected.
"The artificials aren't stupid. They'll know they'll be wiped clean after anything like this, even if they don't know the exact details of what we're doing."
"Probably," Piers Turchin agreed. "Part of our task will be to find a way to resolve that. I have a few ideas we can discuss later. If all else fails, well, we will simply lie to them."
"Our task, sir?"
"Yes, Lieutenant. We will be working together at an operational level on this. You," he hastened to add, "will of course have final say within the constraints of your orders. This is, however, my brainchild, and I imagine I will be able to be of some moderate degree of assistance."
"I see," Erik said consideringly. "Well then. I think we'd better get to work."