Balance of Power
GTVA and UEF Fighter Corps
Where the GTVA had invested in cheap, sophisticated superiority fighters capable of independent operations since Capella (an answer to qualitatively inferior Shivan bombers), the UEF fighter corps maintained a moderate reserve of extremely capable high-firepower fighters and gunships. Lacking intersystem jump drives or sustainable energy weapons, these short-duration, low-fuel, high-intensity UEF fighters (the Uhlan, Kentaroi, and most notably the Uriel) were an easy match for the GTVA's four- and six-ship wings of obsolete Myrmidons and Nahema-screening Kulas. UEF pilots, meanwhile, had trained to operate in close coordination with their warship assets, whereas GTVA pilots generally stood well clear in order to avoid friendly beam fire. The Jovian pilots of the UEF Third Fleet, unlike Terran pilots from the First Fleet's Solaris, were disciplined, very well-trained, and largely drawn from active-duty military ranks rather than from reservists. While many of the GTVA Fourth Fleet's pilots had comparable combat experience and better training, they were thrown into battle without appropriate preparation or complete orders due to the hastiness of the Fourth Fleet's move from defensive posture to attack.
The combination of fast, cheap GTVA fighters and non-survivable bomber assets built to attack numerous but thinly defended Shivan warships made even experienced GTVA pilots easy pickings for their UEF counterparts. Only the GTVA's more sophisticated warcraft, including the Perseus interceptor and Aurora scout fighter, excelled in the Terran theater, and this would remain true for the remainder of the war. In order to compensate, GTVA High Command put a premium on new ejection systems, close teamwork with AWACS and friendly warships, and the use of TAG systems. Ironically, the Erinyes heavy fighter - popular among SOC units and heavy fighter squadrons - was not agile enough to stand up to the firepower of UEF gunships, and more than one GTVA ace lost her life in the cockpit of these formerly superior ships.
The GTVA's major advantage was the Balor cannon. Modular, powerful, and intimidating, the Balor became the bread-and-butter weapon of GTVA pilots. The UEF fighter corps grew to fear the Balor intensely. Novice pilots generally lost their life when attacked by Myrmidons or Persei wielding Balors: the oncoming arcs of silver light triggered an instinctive reaction to break and turn away, and the Balor chewed through both shields and UEF armor with ease.
Reclaiming the Beachhead
The 13th's failed assault on Neptune had been intended to secure the area as a staging ground for attacks deeper into the system. However, it became apparent that the element of surprise had been lost, especially when Aurora scouts indicated that the UEF 3rd Fleet (under Calder) was ready to jump to any threatened location immediately. GTVA High Command made the decision to fortify and secure the node and then hold until the disappearance and return of the Orestes and her battle group could be fully explained.
Examination of the 14th Battle Group's recorded telemetry immediately put the Security Council into closed emergency session and led to the temporary disappearance of hundreds of analysts and engineering personnel. The full details of what was discovered can still only be speculated at. Squadrons based on the 14th Battle Group (including the 222nd Nightwolves) were dissolved and all surviving crew members were put through rigorous psychological screening. Some of the 14th's ships were no longer available for analysis - the GTC Duke, GTCv Labouchere, and GTL Solace had defected wholesale to the UEF.
Meanwhile, the UEF Fleet Admirals (particularly Calder of Jupiter) agitated for a massive military push against the vulnerable beachhead. The Elders consistently vetoed these requests. The belief amongst the Council members was that the invasion must be motivated by a misunderstanding and that diplomatic contact would be productive. This belief was bolstered by the arrival of thousands of defectors from the 14th Battlegroup. These defectors were extensively debriefed in the months to come, providing the UEF with its first understanding of GTVA beam weapons and tactical doctrine - including the use of tactical meson bombs, which would become critical in the later stages of the war. Several Elders performed lengthy interviews in order to gain an understanding of GTVA history.
These Elders meditated for some time on their findings before producing reports for the UEF public. They picture they drew was chilling. Earth's children had ventured out amongst the stars and found only unknowable hostility and infinite hatred. The GTA of old had broken and collapsed, just as it had on Earth.
But unlike the Council of Elders and the Ubuntu Party, which had been only a minor splinter faction at the time of the Lucifer's destruction and earned power by popular appeal, the GTVA had been reborn as a primarily economic and political entity, rather than a cultural force. This focus on 'hard power' and military defense had left the GTVA vulnerable to internal ideological rifts, first during Reconstruction and then during the turbulent Neo-Terran Front rebellion. The Terran identity had become characterized by militarism and fear, and - as one Elder put it - these were traits that could sustain an army, not a people.
In effect, the GTVA had maintained the trust of its people through the promise of an impenetrable military aegis. The disaster at Capella had shattered this ideal. The fall of Gamma Draconis and Capella was, by all accounts, a military miracle, a masterpiece of defensive play and quick thinking. It was not, as some asserted, a case of hubris or overweening pride: the GTVA had enacted contingency plans in the event of a massive Shivan invasion, and enacted them successfully.
But the GTVA had portrayed itself as the great answer to the Shivans. The public did not listen to the calm and clinical debriefings of the GTVA's officers; it listened to the eyewitnesses who broke down into fits of dread and anguish when reminded of the shadows that had filled Capella's skies. This backlash was exacerbated by the difficult aftermath of Capella. The total population of Capella (250 million) was distributed evenly across the GTVA in a smooth and well-run diaspora. But the loss of the Capella system and its node connections had critical economic ramifications. The journey between Vega and Epsilon Pegasi was now a 5-jump trip instead of a simple 2-jump hop, increasing transit time and costs for outlying colonies in Mirfak, Adhara, and Procyon. Small increases in shipping costs, combined with the desperate need for commandeered civilian ships to help move and resupply the Capella refugees, led to a massive economic collapse that began in the outer systems but eventually shook the entire Terran half of the GTVA. (The shipping troubles were only one cause; a general atmosphere of fear and insularity after Capella also contributed).
The hardest hit were the newest colonies and their vulnerable ecosystems. With shipping schedules, population sizes, and consistent offworld assistance disrupted, carefully balanced planetary ecologies broke down. At least two worlds were downgraded to 'marginally habitable' by massive ecosystem collapse: plankton die-offs, algae blooms, catastrophic crop failures, and worse. The citizens of these worlds had to be relocated in turn, leading to a chain-reaction economic and environmental crisis. Only Vasudan intervention prevented further disaster, but this came at its own price: massive debt amongst Terran worlds and widespread resentment at continued Vasudan prosperity.
Insurgencies in outlying systems, classified encounters, and corporate rebellions sparked a series of brush wars. The GTVA needed an ideological center to win the hearts and minds of its teetering citizens. Before his death, Admiral Petrarch provided this center: a return to Earth. Instead of Neo-Terra, the GTVA would earn the genuine article.
This promise sustained the Terran elements of the GTVA for eighteen years, until the completion of Centaur Station and the Sol gate. However, this came at the cost of an increasing break with the Vasudans. By the time of Centaur Station's commissioning ceremony, the Terran and Vasudan elements of the Security Council and High Command were barely in communication, President Demitri Toqueville was only marginally recognized by the Vasudan government, and diplomatic relations were frosty.
It was in this atmosphere of tension that the first probes into Sol were sent. GTVA High Command (or, more specifically, the Terran strategic elements) had drafted a set of contingency plans to deal with possible conditions on the far side of the portal. Contact by STL probe and transmission had been attempted but largely failed due to technical issues.
Initial probes confirmed one of the GTVA's more drastic fears: Sol had been overrun and completely amalgamated by a radical religious ideology called Ubuntu. This new party had completely removed the old GTA power structure, de-unified the three major colonies (Earth, Mars, and Jupiter), deprecated the military , decentralized the government, and left Sol completely vulnerable to Shivan incursion.
Furthermore, the appeal of the Ubuntu ideology was so great that GTVA sociopsychologists predicted massive conversion amongst a populace already yearning to abandon failed colony worlds and emigrate to Earth. The military might of the GTVA would be brought down by ideology once more.
Under the guidance of President Toqueville, as advised by a panel of psychohistorians and sociopsychologists, the Security Council elected to enact its most severe contingency: the invasion of Sol. This contingency was hotly debated but ultimately selected for several reasons:
It would shatter Sol's obsolete militaries while largely preserving its manpower and industries to use in defense against the Shivans.
It would unseat the Ubuntu regime and return legitimate GTVA authority to the system. Many members of the Sol population had been alive during earlier GTA rule and would, it was judged, welcome the return of their original state. Moreover, probes suggested there were dissident elements in the Kuiper fringe who might be receptive to assistance.
It would create a hostile outgroup for the GTVA's Terran population to unify against.
There were hints of a major project underway in Sol space which might serve as a weapon against the GTVA.
The ethical implications of this plan were considerable, but the Security Council believed that the alternative was the disintegration of the GTVA, its replacement by a non-militaristic Ubuntu government, and the massive centralization of the human population in Sol, leaving the fringe worlds vulnerable to the inevitable third incursion.
Vasudan elements of the Security Council were never consulted, but it is believed Khonsu II became aware of the plan shortly before its execution.
The Great Umbilical
The failure of the GTVA forces to make immediate headway into Sol (or, in fact, to do so for the next several months) must be placed into context. Admiral Bei had been hand-picked to lead the beachhead, and his defection left the plan without a leader. The High Command instantly recognized that the entire GTVA OrBat and plan of attack had been compromised by Bei's defection. In order to prevent massive losses, the interim commander, Admiral Cyrus Severanti, elected to pursue an extremely conservative plan of attack in which fortification of the node would be paramount.
It would be months before a second assault on Neptune would begin. These months were marked by moderate-intensity warfare that saw the devastation of planetary infrastructure around Sol and the destruction of most of the regional defense militias not placed under the Jovian Third Fleet's jurisdiction.
In spite of this long break, the UEF was not able to prepare a military response, and the Council of Elders elected to pursue diplomatic avenues instead. Some high-level talks did occur, in which the GTVA outlined its demands:
The liberation of GTA citizens in Sol (meaning all Terrans) and their repatriation to GTVA citizenship.
The accession of Sol to the GTVA by ratification of the Beta Aquilae Convention and submission to the will of the Security Council, General Assembly, and High Command.
The immediate end of the isolationist and antimilitary policies that had placed Sol's defense in critical jeopardy.
These demands were met with bewildered refusal.
In the meantime, the GTVA built up forces at the node, establishing a 'great umbilical' that would supply further pushes into the Sol system. Facing a military infrastructure and population base nearly comparable to their own, the GTVA relied on its superior tactical capabilities and experienced officer base to gain abilities. The critical need, however, was for Anemoi logistics ships to permit extended operations away from the node. In a strategic environment defined by the instantaneous nature of subspace travel, it was vital that GTVA assets be decentralized and new beachheads be established.
When the assault on Neptune came, it was not because Neptune was geographically distant from the major colonies - subspace made this irrelevant. It was because Admiral Severanti judged that the UEF would not commit resources to the defense of such a sparsely populated and unimportant location.
Severanti was correct. The attempted defense of Neptune was perfunctory and ineffectual. Admiral Calder was, by this point, in a state of near-constant rage with the Council of Elders, and went so far as to comment that the GTA's final demand should very well be instituted.Part 1: The Reunion