"Elyssia Wyatt, it's good to see you again," said Steven Tyler, cheerfully. "I assume this is not just a social visit?" he enquired.
"I'm afraid not. I have some bad news," Wyatt replied, handing a datapad to Tyler.
It had been a trying couple of weeks for Elyssia Wyatt. She almost wished she hadn't joined Backstab. She'd been on a wild goose chase after the Asp after Winston and Albright got away. The Cobra she had been supplied with wasn't quite as fast through hyperspace, and it didn't take them long to leave her too far behind. The last she'd seen of their ship was a distant hyperspace exit cloud going to Alioth. She had gone directly to Enedlia and taken the NKW to the Backstab base. It hadn't taken much longer to reach the base, basking under the light from the nearby star. The base must have had a thousand ships and ten times that many personnel. Heavy duty defences made sure that the bounty hunters who had abandoned the base didn't decide to come back.
She had arranged an urgent meeting with Steven Tyler, the Commander in Charge of the entire mission. Now she sat in Tyler's office - a spartan room, the white walls immaculately clean with only a large painting of Julius Caesar to break the monotony. The two leather chairs, parked on the white-tile floor gave the impression of a dentist's surgery. Wyatt fancied that she could just detect the odour of disinfectant and a distant crack of dental laserdrills.
Wyatt decided to come straight to the point. "Unfortunately, I believe that Backstab has been discovered. My full report is on the datapad, but to cut a long story short, a bounty hunter named James Winston and his sidekick are onto us. How - I don't know, and where it will lead, I don't know, but I wasn't able to catch them."
Suddenly, Steven Tyler snapped to attention.
"Did you say James Winston?"
Wyatt stared at Tyler. Steven put his head at a slight angle, like a dog listening to his master.
"How do you know?" enquired Wyatt. She felt that Tyler wasn't quite playing straight
Elyssia Wyatt returned to her quarters. The room they had assigned her to reminded her of a cheap motel room. There was a bed, a large mirror on the wall, and a small bathroom. The room was dimly lit, to give it that homely look. She took her jacket off, and collapsed into the armchair, inserting her top security clearance ident into the datapad, then pressed the biometrics reader. There was a brief pause whilst the system verified her credentials. She hoped it was going to be an interesting read, and after Tyler's hype, would be worth her time. She could have no possible idea how stunning the information would be . . .
TOP SECRET - NEED TO KNOW BASIS ONLY
OPERATION BACKSTAB - MOTIVES
Background. As you will know, we are not far away from the next Alliance of Independent Systems Leadership and General Election. The incumbent party, the Social Democrats, lead by Philip Sorensen, is widely expected to win. With the election battle so much in the news, and the Alliance economy booming, the Alliance's general public are feeling at ease. The bulk of the Social Democrats are also feeling at ease, expecting to win a second term with a comfortable majority. However, the party leadership - particularly the Defence Chiefs - are at the moment feeling very insecure. Firstly, they are concerned that the Federation have been carrying out too many training exercises in Federation space bordering the Alliance. Their second insecurity stems from the first - they believe that elements of the Enedlian government are secretly supplying a base to the Federation, from which potential 'persuasive Federation elements' can be launched, as the Defence Chiefs have euphamistically labeled them.
The leadership of the Social Democrats have therefore hatched a plan to help secure the Alliance - or so they believe. The plan's modest roots were set over two years ago, and at the time, merely intended to encourage the Enedlians not to welcome the Federation. The AJNIB was put in charge of the mission, with Steven Tyler as the mission's leader. Unfortunately, the political leadership has become increasingly paranoid and detached from reality, and their plans have now mutated into a hideous scenario that is now a serious threat to the Alliance itself. Whilst their intentions may on the face of it make sense from their own paranoid point of view, they are in fact extremely dangerous and misguided. The intention of the Social Democratic leadership is simple - once re-elected, they intend to invade no less than eight independent systems that they view as strategically important. The leadership have already fabricated the complete string of news events to justify their invasion - the propaganda is of sufficient quality to make even Emperor Hengist Duval green with envy. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the systems that the Alliance is planning to invade, the AJN's invasion will be swift and without mercy - the AJN believing that they are acting in patriotic self-defence, being fed the same stories as the press. Our group has also discovered that the Social Democrats have an unpublished target of doubling the size of the Alliance by the end of their next term. It is not known how the party intends to carry out this aim. It is unlikely that military action will extend past the eight systems that the leadership has deemed necessary to take by force - instead, other 'persuasive' techniques are likely to be used to encourage the governments of independent systems to join the Alliance. Unfortunately, rational discussion with the Social Democratic leadership has failed, and a number of agents involved with the initial investigation have "disappeared", presumably because they were about to blow the whistle.
Whilst the Federation publically states that the Alliance Joint Navy is second rate, this cannot be further from the truth. Since the AJN was formed in the wake of the Veliaze crisis, an increasingly paranoid Alliance government has ensured that the AJN is extremely well funded, and that the best training possible is given to AJN personnel. Internal Federal Navy classified documents that were obtained last year by the AJNIB indicate that the Federal Joint Chiefs of Staff believe that in a direct battle between the AJN and Federal Navy, the AJN would almost certainly prevail. Understandably, they have used this as justification for increased funding - and Federal Navy funding was quietly increased by 50%, using the Imperial bogeyman as the justification since the Federation has no intention of starting an arms race with the Alliance. Emperor Hengist Duval unwittingly helped the Federation in this respect by choosing this moment to begin another round of empty but threatening rhetoric aimed at the Federation. Therefore, there was little press scrutiny of the budget increases. Federal funding for defence research has been increased by 100% after it was discovered that the AJN's new Victor-class vessel - whilst no bigger than the large Federal Navy ships - has twice the range and three times the firepower of these Federation designs. Federal Navy chiefs were also horrified to discover that the AAAI in New Rossyth had managed to bridge three large hyperdrives - something that the Federal Defence Research Agency has so far failed to achieve. The Federation population remains unaware of the widening gap between the Alliance's technology and that of the Federation.
The target systems - inoffensive independent systems which do not wish to join the Alliance - are ill-equipped to defend themselves from an Alliance attack, and will be conquered in a matter of days with the loss of their entire defence forces and many thousands of civilians. Of more concern to the Federation, one of these systems recently began secret talks to join the Federation. It doesn't take a great leap of logic to realise that the Alliance's actions will lead to an armed confrontation with the Federation, and ultimately - war. Even if the Federation quietly withdraws and never meets the AJN in battle, the Alliance's invasion of sovereign independent systems goes against every principle on which the Alliance was founded. Any right-minded Alliance citizen if presented with the full facts would be deeply disturbed by their Government's plans.
In the interests of galactic stability, the Federation leadership has not been informed of the Alliance's plans. A group, named Backstab, led by Steven Tyler has been formed. The group consists of personnel from the Alliance, the Federation and the INRA. The objective is to prevent the Alliance government from taking the actions outlined by whatever means are necessary. The group has amassed a large number of ships, operating them under the cover of a trade association called Nova Rodstein Associates. Nova Rodstein ships are now a common sight around Alliance systems, moving goods and parcels between systems.
Solutions. Many possible solutions were examined, from using the press to spread the word to interfering with the elections. Unfortunately for us, the Alliance leadership have left nothing that we could use as proof to the press that this threat is serious. Over the past year, attempts have been made to publicize the plan. Only Random Intergalactic Gossip (RIG) has published stories - and no one believes them. Respectable publications told those who informed them of the plans that the whole idea is just another conspiracy theory, and refused to get involved. At the other end of the scale, interfering with the Alliance elections to engineer a Social Democratic loss is not an option since polling security is too tight - and with the party widely expected to win - an unexpected loss would generate a great deal of external scrutiny. A detailed plan is therefore in place to replace the troublesome members of the party leadership with Imperial clone agents, who will act exactly as the replaced leaders - with the exception of embarking on the unjustified invasion of several other systems. Use of the NKW and ships from a 'transport firm' now commonplace in Alliance space will allow us to covertly get to the heart...
Elyssia flicked the datapad off and quickly removed her top secret clearance. She'd read enough, and her mind was spinning. It was simply unthinkable. The Alliance had never bothered her in the past, and as a Federation citizen, she had always believed it to be a kind of sister to the Federation, except young and naive like the Federation must have been centuries ago. Most Federation citizens, herself included, thought the Alliance was no threat! Then she recalled her school history classes. Out of paranoia is often born savage dictators...and the idealistic energy of the Alliance seemed to be turning to paranoia. The threat was obviously deadly serious if Alliance personnel had contacted INRA to try and stop the madness! Especially if those same Alliance personnel had lost faith in the freedom of the press to destroy the Alliance Government's misguided plans. So Tyler wasn't a double agent after all - well - not as such. It appeared that Tyler was extremely loyal to the Alliance, believing that he was saving the Alliance from itself. Was Tyler really sure that this was all correct? It all sounded so unbelievable. And bringing the INRA into it made this whole story sound a bit fishy. What if the Alliance was not plotting anything nefarious, but Tyler was plotting something? Could she trust Tyler? But on the other hand, surely Tyler couldn't manage to dupe so many people into joining Operation Backstab, including the Zearlans, Diamond, and undoubtedly others?
She thought back to her brief encounter with James Winston in the corridor at Diamond's headquarters. Winston had seemed convinced that Backstab was some kind of financial scam. He'd even known that the operation was called Backstab...or so she thought. He seemed very sure that it was some kind of underhand financial dealing. The words "sordid little plans" in Winston's voice drifted through her tired mind. The datapad, which she hoped would explain so much, seemed to only make her more suspicious.
She got up and left her room, intent on finding the answers - whatever they were. And whatever they were - whether it was what the datapad said, or whether it was what James Winston had said as they struggled on the floor in that corridor - it probably wasn't good. It just didn't seem plausable. But surely Tyler knew that and wouldn't make something like that up, knowing no-one would believe him? Or maybe people were really that gullible and willing to follow - aiding and abetting some kind of huge criminal network unaware? Confused, and hungry for answers, she made her way towards the Backstab Headquarters.
There was only one way to find out what was really going on.
© 2001 Dylan Smith.