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PROLOGUE

Earth

Present Day

 

Fortune favoured the bold and none were more bold than General Zhang of the People's Liberation Army, as long as he was not required to participate in actual combat. That was for lesser men, those lacking in intellectual and military genius for example.

Zhang spat the last fragment of his celebratory cigar onto the dirt. The ground was a rich red, so deep in colour it seemed to pulsate with the rising sun. He found the colours of the landscape unnatural despite his advisers telling him the area hadn't changed since the age of the Dinosaurs. "Dammit," he snarled as another blowfly bit his neck. He swiped at the critter with a free hand and succeeded only in hitting himself in the face. The fly evaded the strike with ease and settled on his forehead. "Best to leave them in place Sir, they like the salt in your sweat,” his intelligence officer said.

Zhang needed no reminding of the oppressive heat and grimaced at the prospect of yet another hour without shade. According to Chinese Army surveyors this area wasn't even a desert, it was semi-arid farmland. It felt like bloody desert to him. "How much longer until the helicopters return, haven't the Press Corp got enough photos?"

"Ten minutes out Sir," an apologetic Press Officer replied, not daring to look the General in the eyes. The photo shoot, intended to showcase the General as the fearless conqueror of the untamed Australian outback had not gone well. The dust clogged the camera lenses, the shimmering rocks played havoc with the lighting and the flies were relentless. Every photo would need to be photo shopped.

Zhang made a mental note to use a green screen next time. Sighing he removed another Cuban from his top pocket. His Adjutant leant across to light it. The harsh aroma of the cigar brought temporary relief from the dust, and seemed to deter the flies at least.

"Would you mind turning a little to the left Sir," a Corporal holding a state of the art Sony camera asked delicately. Zhang obliged. He still hadn't decided on the title of his documentary, but he liked the sound of ‘Zhang – The modern Caesar,’ or maybe ‘Zhang – Hero, Genius, and Legend.’ He would think on it some more.

 

 CHAPTER ONE


PROXIMA CORPORATION

The only party underwhelmed by the invasion were the logisticians of the Proxima Medical Corporation currently in orbit around Venus. Having to reschedule the distribution of drop ships for the harvest of Earth's population would eat into the consortium's profits. Anything that ate into profits got the Viceroy's attention, and he was not a man known for his forgiving nature. The overcrowded prison moons of Proxima were testament to his distaste for anything adverse to the bottom line, no matter what the cause.

Chief logistician Harper Lane swore as she read the latest reports. She needed to find a way to offset the cost of additional fuel or her team would soon be guests of the Proxima Prison Service, an organisation whose deprivations were legendary for all the wrong reasons.

It was no secret Proxima Corporation secured the deal of the millennium when it purchased the supposedly desolate sector later found to be home to 7 billion humans. Harper shook her head in disbelief, uncontaminated humans too, with no trace of the Prometheus gene. This made the tiny blue orb the most valuable prize in the Spiral. That explained yesterday's arrival of the Vofurion armada who immediately adopted a defensive posture at the only possible jump point to the system. The Viceroy was taking no chances especially after the recent merger of the Centauri and Sirius Corporations, Proxima's largest competitors.

Harper tended to find terrestrial matters uninteresting; she hadn't set foot on a planet for two years. But this world was truly fascinating. Its inhabitants had somehow managed to work out how to build fission weapons six centuries earlier than any other human civilisation on record. That would send the scholars of the Academy of Anthropology back to the drawing board.

Harper's deputy George thought it a little sad a people with such talents were destined for medical experimentation and eventual termination on Proxima 7. Harper was beginning to feel the same. Especially given this society's sentimentality for fossil fuelled transportation despite having developed greener alternatives. Maybe they were like her and appreciated vintage technology.

"Ten minutes to the next phase shift," the speaker above her desk said in its infuriatingly high pitched voice. She hated the Vofurion accent, it was like metal scrapping on glass, but as a native of the Hyperion cluster she kept thoughts like that to herself. She needed this job. If it meant pretending Vofurion's were a culturally sophisticated race, rather than the ruthless mercantile vultures they truly were, she could play the part a little longer.

CHAPTER TWO


LORD TYCHO

Chairmen Hiro Tycho was unaccustomed to being kept waiting. The Duchess was one of only a handful of people who could waste his time.

Most thought the Duchess beautiful. She had an innocent quality about her, with soft green eyes that might be considered attractive. But she was certainly not to Lord Tycho's taste. The thought of intimacy with a Royal from the House of Elara disgusted him. A Tycho would never mix blood with an inferior breed.

"You must forgive me Lord Tycho I was pre-occupied with the floral arrangements for the Southern garden."

Hiro knew she was lying. She made him wait because she could. The Duchess knew nothing about flowers and had no interest in gardening. Tycho knew she rarely ventured outside; his spies assured him the twin suns orbiting Vofurion Prime were incompatible with her alabaster skin.

"Majesty, I am honoured you made time to see me. How is the re-design of the gardens progressing?"

"Well," the Duchess lied. She had no idea nor did she care.

"You have a proposal for me Lord Tyco." The Duchess pointed to a scroll in his hand.

Tyco bowed and unfurled the scroll. "Indeed Majesty, a most promising proposal in my opinion."

The Duchess glanced at the scroll. "Have we not already completed extractions in that cluster?"

"Yes Majesty however, it has come to my attention a relic from the Progenitor Arcanum may be located in that region."

That got her attention, the greedy witch.

"Is that so?" she said trying to sound disinterested.

The Progenitor Arcanum had been lost for millennia. They both knew it carried 70 kilograms of Triglesium at the time of its disappearance. The Royal Treasury held a mere 9 kilograms of the precious substance and the Duchess and her family were the wealthiest and most powerful family in the Vofurion Confederacy. With 70kg a person could control the entire Spiral.

"I was hoping you might combine your fleet with mine to recover it. That area of space is teeming with Shadow Weavers."

The Duchess knew Tycho's family possessed a formidable fleet, more than capable of dealing with Shadow Weavers. He probably wished to protect it for the inevitable showdown between the Royal Houses of Tycho and Elara. "I am afraid the Royal Fleet is occupied with operations in the Gleeshan sector. I will ask Admiral Voron to dispatch a flotilla of frigates to assist you." Of the oldest and slowest type she didn't add.

Tycho bowed with thanks in a gesture they both knew was as sincere as an offer of a fair price from a Dragonian tea merchant. Now all he needed was permission for his fleet to pass through Elaran territory to reach the Irikini sector.

The Duchess pretended to deliberate before granting the request. She had enough spies on Tycho's ships to be confident she would find out what Tycho was really up to.

"Has there been any word on the search for my god daughter," the Duchess asked.

"Alas your Majesty, despite our tireless efforts we are yet to find her. Rest assured every resource of Atlas Corporation is dedicated to finding the Princess Bria."

The Duchess pretended to believe it. She doubted a single mining skiff of Atlas Corporation was looking for Bria. It had been years now and a significant portion of her family's fleet were still searching the depths of space for the poor girl. The Duchess prayed she was still alive. She knew Hiro was behind the murder of Bria's father but had no way of proving it. Hiro was too calculating and slippery for that. To accuse a Vofurion royal of a capital crime was a serious thing to do, even for a Duchess. She needed hard proof and so far her spies had come up with nothing.

"I must apologise, I have a meeting with the Union ambassador shortly."

"I wish you a delightful afternoon Majesty," Hiro said with a bow. The way he said delightful meant the complete opposite.

The Duchess feigned a smile. "Lord Tycho."

Tycho bowed again and left the garden. The Duchess relaxed, she hated the man. He made her skin crawl.

A handmaiden whispered in her ear. The Ambassador had arrived. The Duchess ignored the message. As a Royal it was her prerogative to be late and she felt like a cup of Draconian tea. The Ambassador was almost as vulgar as Lord Tycho. She would need the boost the pungent tea was famed for.

The cup was inches from her lips when a brightly dressed retainer sat next to her, deliberately bumping her arm, and causing her tea to spill on the seat. "Scarlett, you know too much of that tea makes your hair darken."

Scarlett frowned. Helena was right, even her Physician said the same. The Royal House of Elara were famed for its dazzling red hair. Scarlett's was beginning to turn a light brown, yet another reason for her mother, the Queen, to be displeased with her youngest daughter.

Helena took the tea from Scarlett and poured it onto the ground. "Hey," Scarlett protested. Helena merely raised an eyebrow.

Few people got away with calling the Duchess by her first name, let alone confiscating a tea cup from her Royal hands. Ordinarily such an action would leave a person without their head but Helena was a special case. She got away with anything. Being the best friend of a Duchess came with certain indulgences.

Helena was born in the same month as Scarlett to the Queen's favourite handmaiden. The pretty handmaiden became a little too close to a visiting Union military officer, and Helena was the product of a passionate yet brief liaison. She inherited her father's height and stood a half foot above Scarlett, while her darker skin stood out like a beacon in the majority pale Confederacy.

Sadly for Helena she never met her father. He survived the second Vofurion civil war, but died in the interwar years saving the Union President from an assassination attempt organised by General Rikoyan, Scarlett's Uncle.

"I think I will skip the Ball, I am tired of egotistical Duke's and their mundane conversation," Helena said.

"Being egotistical is a pre-requisite for a Duke," Scarlett grinned. "Besides, I don't recall you being unhappy with your conversation with Duke Montrose at the last Ball."

"We didn't exactly talk much," Helena smiled. "We spent our time walking in the garden."

"Is that what you call it?" Scarlett teased.

Helena pretended to be offended. "The Duke may not be a conversationalist but he has other qualities, his body for example," she said quietly.

"Anyway enough about me and steamy men. What did the vulture want?"

"Oh, Lord Tycho. He wants the fleet to go chasing around deep space for the Progenitor Arcanum. Probably a trap to draw our ships away so he can attack our colonies in the Kalinor sector."

Helena shook her head in disgust. "Tychos, the bottom feeders of the Confederacy."

"Unfortunately true, but rich bottom feeders with title granted by the King Principalas, whatever that madman was thinking at the time," Scarlett added. The reign of the first Vofurion King had been fraught for the aristocracy and commoners alike, with billions losing their heads because of the King's mania.

Helena laughed but looked around to make sure no one was listening. "Speaking about the founding King of the Confederacy in such a manner could get even a Duchesses killed. The Invidium Security Forces took heresy seriously. Helena would hate to see Scarlett before the inquisition. Even the King and Queen had no jurisdiction over Invidium. Their obsession with heresy and keeping the faith made them frightening. Thankfully they had the heretic Shadow Weavers to occupy them.

"Imagine if the Arcanum was really out there," Scarlett said suddenly.

"It's a fable, a bed time story to scare children Scarlett."

"But I loved the story as a child. Father would read it to me every night before tucking me in. He would act it out with a silly voice." It was a good thing her father was a better King than actor.

Scarlett instantly regretted sharing her memory. Helena never had a father to tuck her in. "Sorry," Scarlett said.

"It's okay," Helena replied.

"Imagine what we could do if we found the Arcanum," Scarlett said quickly to change the subject.

"Rid the Spiral of the Tychos first up," Helena smirked. "We could hire every known mercenary and bounty hunter with that money."

Scarlett nodded thoughtfully. Her family was wealthy but the Arcanum contained wealth beyond imagination, rivalling even the Banking Guild's holdings.

Scarlett felt a chill down her spine. What if the Tycho's found it first? It was rumoured they kept detailed records of the bloodlines of the aristocrats and Governors behind the coup that overthrew the Tycho dynasty 10,000 years ago. The bloodletting would be severe if they ever managed to wrestle power from the House of Elara. No one held a grudge like a Tycho.

Helena raised a projection of the Arcanum on her holo-viewer. The sharp angled vessel with its triple bow was a feat of engineering even by contemporary standards. The most advanced Shipyards of Proxima would struggle to build a vessel that size.

"Even if there was no Triglesium, just the scrap value would be worthwhile," Helena mused.

Scarlett was horrified. "Helena, how could you even think of scrapping such a beautiful ship?"

"Well I couldn't afford the fuel to run her."

Scarlett had to concede that point. A ship like the Arcanum needed more fuel for a single hyperspace jump than the Royal Navy consumed in a year.

"If you found it would you at least rename it?" Helena teased.

"Of course, it would be the Jester, what else could it be?"

Helena nodded, "So you want to name the most powerful warship in history after your dog?"

Scarlett nodded as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Helena giggled and waved her arms theatrically, "The Duchess Elara solves the greatest mystery in Vofurion history. After missing for 5000 years she discovers the lost flagship of King Helios and promptly rechristens it the Jester."

"Perhaps I might name one of its shuttles the Helena if you behave yourself at the Ball," Scarlett countered.

"No chance of that. Besides it's you who needs to play up. You've been so tense since your parents went on holiday to Proxima 5 and left you in charge. It's making you neglect your most important duty."

"What!" Scarlett gasped more in anger than shock. She took the administration of the Empire deadly seriously.

"Finding a husband."

"I have no need for a husband" Scarlett said firmly.

"It would get your mother off your back."

"I'm only 300. I've got centuries to choose a husband." Scarlett made a face which Helena knew meant there would be no more discussion on the topic.

Scarlett frowned. She hated it when Helena bought up her lack of a husband. There were no shortage of eligible Counts on Proxima, all rich, handsome or both. But she had absolutely no intention of letting a husband get in the way of her agenda. Unifying two Empires with a history of 100,000 years of animosity would leave no time for sentimentality or romance.

CHAPTER THREE


WAR

General Zhang was a product of his generation. Old enough to remember the days of the glorious revolution but young enough to know it wasn't over. He'd been waiting for this moment his entire career, or had it been waiting for him?

The smell of eucalyptus trees would take getting used to but he was fond of Australia. He'd studied civil engineering at the University of Melbourne in his early twenties and smiled fondly as he recalled the first time he'd watched a game of cricket at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground. He still didn't understand the strange sport. Maybe as the Governor of Australia he would finally have the chance to learn.

The heavy beats of rotors sounded from the East. About damn time! As the doors closed on the executive craft Zhang relaxed into the leather chair. The air-conditioning quickly overcame the beads of sweat on his forehead. The triple tinted glass allowed him to finally remove his sunglasses. He glanced at the summaries from his commanders on his IPad. It was all a bit too easy so far. He secretly hoped something would go wrong for the opportunity to demonstrate his true talents. Perhaps a little more resistance could be arranged. His intelligence cell kept telling him Australian's were outstanding war fighters so it was a shame their leaders had completely missed all the warning signs this time.

A red diamond appeared in the corner of his Ipad. Flash traffic. Zhang clicked on the icon and an encrypted dialog box opened. It was Admiral Chen again. The man was clearly becoming concerned he was not going to share in the credit for the invasion as Zhang's ground forces had captured most of the Australian Navy still in port. What to do with a Chinese fleet spoiling for a fight when the United States no longer posed a threat? Defending the offshore gas terminals around Darwin when nothing threatened them would be tedious and Chen could be loose cannon when he was bored. Zhang typed a short message suggesting Chen tow three of the captured Australian frigates in Darwin out to sea for a live fire exercise. He suggested the Admiral film their destruction and send the footage home to enhance the prestige of the Chinese Navy in action. Chen replied instantly. The suggestion appealed to his love of Hollywood. Could he also use one of the captured Australian submarines as part of the theatrics? Yes, Zhang replied feeling generous. In his mind the Navy was merely the taxi for the army but he was keenly aware infighting amongst his commanders would only diminish his own prestige, and he had no intention of allowing that to happen.

Zhang failed to notice the plume of white smoke emerge from the valley below. Luckily the pilots noticed it and pointed the nose down violently causing Zhang to drop his Ipad, shattering its screen. The sudden acceleration slammed him back into his seat as the sound of alarms filled the cabin. The pilots were yelling excitedly and a strange hissing noise alerted Zhang to the deployment of clouds of chaff. Had someone dared to fire a missile at him?

The pilots began weaving between trees to confuse the missile's track. It worked and the missile detonated harmlessly against a low hill. Zhang glanced below as four escorting attack helicopters launched rockets at a nearby ridge. Tracers spewed from their rotary cannons, racking the rocks and sending shards of trees flying. "A man portable heat seeking missile crew Sir" his Adjutant said after gripping his headset.

"Do we have footage?"

"Yes Sir, the escorts filmed the whole thing."

"Wonderful, upload it to my social media accounts immediately."

"Of course Sir."

Zhang beamed. This would finally tip his follower count above that of the US President.

CHAPTER FOUR


BLIND

Chief Analyst Scott Walters was not looking forward to this briefing. As the CIA's top expert on the South Pacific he'd always been the one with little or nothing to report. Not anymore. A third of the Chinese fleet were parked off the coast of Australia at this very moment, together with hundreds of troop transports unloading tanks by the dozen every half hour.

"How the hell did you miss this Walters?" the Deputy Chief of the CIA yelled before Scott had a chance to sit down. His boss remained standing and pointed a finger accusingly. "I approved your request for more satellite time only last year, how did you miss the entire Chinese fleet putting to sea?"

That was an exaggeration. It was a third of the fleet. Scott decided it was not the time correct his boss on that one. "We have been watching the new artificial islands in the South China Sea as you ordered Sir."

That was not the answer the Deputy Chief wanted to hear. "Islands don't move Walters, ships do. Why weren't you watching them?"

Walters knew it wasn't really his job to monitor the movements of the Chinese fleet. That was the role of the US Navy and they had suddenly withdrawn to Hawaii a month ago. Scott was smart enough to know something bigger than him, bigger than even the CIA was afoot. The Deputy would soon realise himself and in the meantime Scott was not going to be made a scapegoat for whatever the hell was really going on. "I filed several reports Sir warning of the build-up of armoured divisions in Southern ports and the loading of troops onto transports when no exercises were scheduled."

The Deputy waved his hand, ignoring the answer.

Scott felt sorry for the Australians. It must be the deal of the century for the US to agree to stand aside and let the Chinese invade his country's closest ally. What was the US receiving in return? Whatever it was it was way above his pay grade.

"You're fired, get out of my sight."

"What!"

"You heard me, your career is over, security will escort you out."

The Deputy Chief took the glass of water offered by his secretary. "How many more to go?" "Four more Sir," she replied.

"Good, it's exhausting firing good people for doing their job."

His Secretary merely nodded. They both knew Scott was one of the agency's best analysts. But someone had to take the fall for this.

The Deputy had been in the room with the Chinese Ambassador when the agreement was struck to allow the Chinese to invade without US intervention. He'd been angry about it at first, but what else could the US do when the Chinese presented an alien artefact capable of triggering magnitude 10 earthquakes at will. The might of the US nuclear arsenal was rendered instantly worthless.

The Deputy recalled how casually the Chinese Ambassador had described the plan for the settlement of Australia by millions of Chinese families. A special ballot would decide which families were successful.

The Deputy could see where the Chinese were coming from. The resource rich island of Australia with its vast unsettled interior and pristine environment was an attractive target. The overpopulated, heavily polluted Chinese mainland could not be rehabilitated the Ambassador claimed. The damage to its rivers and soils was too great. "Stay out of it and there will be no need for earthquakes to obliterate your coastal cities," were his parting words.

CHAPTER FIVE


CABINET

Zhang continued to smoke his cigar despite the concern on the faces of the flight crew. He would smoke wherever he wanted, this was his helicopter and he was a fearless conqueror, just like Napoleon. Besides he'd just survived a missile attack too. Nothing could touch him.

Australia was just the beginning. New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Japan were next. China had been slighted by the world's recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign nation and he was the man to restore her dignity.

Zhang recalled the Central Committee's vote on the invasion with a smile. General Rau, chief of the Air Force, suggested 26 January as a joke but the committee liked the irony of it. The vote was unanimous, although officially all votes of the Central Committee were unanimous, as the Chairman happily pointed out prior to the ballot.

As the helicopter approached the landing zone Zhang gave up trying to find the Koala his Adjutant assured him was in the tree to the left. He'd see one at the zoo later. An animal that routinely slept for 23 hours a day was the perfect symbol for the Australian military, caught napping while the hammer of the Chinese army swept them away like dominos. "Round them up, time to play," he yelled to his Sergeant over the sound of the rotors. This was one meeting Zhang had been looking forward to all morning.

The Prime Minister of Australia sat stony faced in the Cabinet room of Parliament House Canberra, surrounded by his Ministers. A small number of additional attendees sat on chairs around the edges of the room. Normally reserved for aides and advisers, today they were occupied by strangers. It was rare to have representatives of a foreign power participating in a Cabinet meeting, especially when they wore the slate grey uniforms of the Chinese army.

The Prime Minister was not sitting in his usual high backed leather chair at the head of the ornate Tasmanian oak table. Instead a slightly overweight man wearing the neatly pressed uniform of a Chinese General sat leaning casually in the chair reserved for the Prime Minister.

Zhang could appreciate the Prime Minister was having a particularly bad day. He almost felt sorry for the man. Going down in history as the man who lost his country to the first invasion by a first rate power in over 200 years was not the kind of legacy Zhang intended to leave. Waking up to a squad of Chinese commandoes pointing submachine guns in your face would be a sobering experience for any leader. Especially on the morning of Australia Day, the most sacred of Australian public holidays.

Zhang held up his hand and the noise in the room came to an abrupt end. These Australians could not stop arguing. Even as their country was being occupied by Chinese forces all they could do was squabble.

The Defence Minister sat glumly at the end of the table looking as if he'd forgotten where he parked his car. Earlier in the morning the Defence Minister had been a little more animated when he blamed the Treasurer for depriving him of funds to equip the Australian military. The Treasurer responded by blaming the Education Minister for depriving him of funds to give to the Defence Minister. Australians seemed unable to take responsibility for anything.

"Gentlemen and ladies, please. I appreciate it will take time for you to absorb the reality of the situation. However, I must warn you I am operating on a strict timetable. While it pains me to say this I am authorised to execute each and every member of your families if necessary."

"You can't just expect us to surrender," the Defence Minister protested. He had finally found his voice. "We haven't been able to contact the leaders of our armed forces. We have no idea what the status of our military is. We are not going to just surrender if there is a chance parts of our country have defeated your invasion."

Zhang resisted rolling his eyes. The ignorance of the man.

"Minister," Zhang spoke gently as if to a child. "The high command of your military are dead and I can assure you there are no parts of your country which successfully resisted Chinese forces. We control the entirety of Australian airspace, all maritime approaches and offshore installations and have destroyed or rendered ineffective all of your military facilities, bases, munitions stockpiles, communications and the like. As I explained previously my Government means no harm to your people if they do not resist. We are giving you an opportunity to avoid large-scale bloodshed and destruction of property."

Zhang paused and stroked the corner of his moustache, a habit he'd developed while on exchange to Sandhurst.

"Now if you will excuse me I have other matters to attend to. I will return in one hour. If you fail to sign the instrument of surrender I will order my Adjutant to commence with the execution of your families and to proceed with an artillery bombardment of Western Sydney. I am reliably informed this is your most densely populated region."

Zhang rose and left as the faces of the Australian's began to pale.

CHAPTER SIX


HMAS COLLINS

Commander Ryan Forbes was confused as hell. There were ships where ships were not meant to be. "I don't like this," Forbes said to his executive officer.

Forbes had received detailed briefings on the Chinese formation transiting Australian waters to join the Indian navy for joint exercises. The Chinese had lodged all the necessary advisements and been fully compliant with international maritime law. Well at least until an hour ago when they dramatically altered course.

HMAS Collins was at 100 feet and shadowing the Chinese as they passed within 20 miles of the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone. Navy Command had determined it was too good an opportunity not to snoop on the Chinese, especially as their fleet included two of the latest Type II Titan class destroyers. The Titans were rumoured to be fitted with a high speed magnetic propulsion system capable of a 45 knot cruise and 60 knot sprint. But Forbes and his crew had seen no evidence of this, as the Chinese formation continued to plod along at a leisurely 16 knots. No speed records were at risk of being broken today.

Forbes went to periscope depth for a quick star fix just after midnight. While his submarine had an advanced automated navigation system Forbes always did a manual star fix when the diesels were recharging the batteries. An old habit drummed into him by his first commanding officer who could never bring himself to trust computerised systems.

Forbes was ordering the periscope lowered when Lieutenant Anderson his communications officer tapped him on the shoulder.

"Sir you got a minute?"

"Sure Harry."

Harry seemed quieter than usual. Normally he was the most animated of Forbes' officers.

"Sir we received a message from Navy Headquarters in the clear."

"In the clear?" Forbes said shocked.

"Yes Sir, no encryption at all. At first we thought it was a joke being Australia Day and all."

Harry passed the message slip to Forbes. It was a short message.

"Thoughts?" Forbes asked.

"If it's true we had better arm the torpedoes."

"Do it," Forbes said.

Forbes had made it to the coveted position of commander of one of only six Australian submarines by playing it by the book. If the message was genuine he would be ready.

Forbes didn't need to wait long. The Chinese ships detected the message too, not surprising as it was unencrypted. The Chinese suddenly accelerated. Forbes' sonar team called out their tracks and merged them onto the commander's display. Forbes swore. The sudden acceleration told him two things. The first that the message was true, the second the Chinese knew exactly where his submarine was.

"Battle stations," Forbes barked.

Forbes watched the large red diamond on the display as it moved rapidly towards his submarine. He still couldn't believe a ship of that size could move so fast. The Chinese destroyer was clocking 65 knots and still accelerating. Forbes had already evaded one air launched torpedo but now a second Chinese helicopter was closing in.

"Full ahead flank," Forbes bellowed.

"Sir?" the XO replied confused.

"Do it!" Forbes replied.

The XO looked at Forbes. Forbes saw the realisation dawn in man's eyes.

"Helm, full ahead flank make your course 060," the XO said firmly.

"Full ahead flank, course 060," the helmsmen answered.

Forbes didn't have many options. The waters were too shallow in this region to go deep and the heading of the destroyer confirmed the Chinese intended to cut off his only escape route.

Forbes last act as commander was to order the launch of all six torpedoes loaded in the forward tubes. The submarine shuddered as the torpedoes entered the water. Forbes felt a strange sense of satisfaction. He'd never fired live munitions in exercises during his entire career. Continuous budget cutbacks meant the navy no longer conducted exercises with live munitions.

The Chinese torpedo struck the Collins just below the conning tower. Forbes and his crew died without knowing Chinese countermeasures destroyed the first five of their torpedoes. The final torpedo detonated underneath a Chinese frigate breaking its back and sending it to the same watery grave as the Collins.

Forbes and his crew were also deprived of the satisfaction of knowing the Collins was the only Australian naval vessel to destroy a Chinese vessel in the defence of Australia. The remainder of the Australian navy was wiped out in less than 24 hours.

CHAPTER SEVEN


PERTH

Zhang took the satellite handset from his communication's officer. There was a short delay as Colonel Shen spoke from Western Australia.

"I am delighted to inform you General that all military installations in Western Australia, in particular all naval bases are in our hands."

"Casualties?" Zhang asked.

"Nineteen Sir."

"Nineteen what?"

"Nineteen marines Sir, oh and one helicopter that experienced engine failure but it was not combat related."

"Is that all!" Zhang said shocked.

"Resistance was practically non-existent Sir. Most Australian bases are guarded by unarmed civilian contractors and Australian Federal Police with pistols."

Zhang shook his head. "Unbelievable. What about their munitions and backup communications?"

"All secure Sir. The port facilities are ready to receive the second wave of transports. The Australian warships tied up while their crews were on leave will be scuttled later this afternoon."

"Excellent work Colonel."

"Thank you Sir, I must say the Australian warships were in a sad state. My engineers tell me their state of readiness and maintenance was poor. Only two of the five frigates we captured had live ammunition on-board."

So the shortages were true Zhang thought.

"What about their new amphibious transport?"

"Yes, you mean the HMAS Canberra Sir. We captured her intact but she has major electrical problems and struggles to make 6 knots. My engineers are working on her now. She would make a handy addition to our re-supply fleet if we can get her fixed."

"I admire your initiative Colonel, now what about the SAS regiment and their base?" There was only one thing Zhang was truly scared of. Australian special forces. He'd seen them in action while posted as a UN observer in the Middle East early in his career.

"They put up a hell of a fight despite only a small number being on base at the time. We cut them off from their ammunition and heavy weapons so they didn't cause too much trouble. They did manage to damage two tanks but they can be repaired."

"How long to lock it down?"

"Twenty-four hours maximum Sir. There is an SAS sniper team active on the edge of the base but our helicopters are dealing with that now."

"Good, let me know when the second wave of transports dock."

"Will do Sir."


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Tom grew up in country Australia and served in the Australian Army Reserve. He now works as a lawyer and looks forward to first contact. He imagines contracts for interstellar trade will be far more interesting than those he works on now. Tom lives in Canberra with his family and enjoys bushwalking, horse-riding and Michael Jackson.

Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
Michael Crichton and Arthur C Clarke.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
When I served in the Australian Army there was an assumption the United States would automatically intervene in any conflict involving a direct threat to Australia. I always wondered what geo-political factors might stop that from happening.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
The role of Duke, our MacGyver style hostage negotiator would definitely suit Harrison Ford.

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