Action Stations is a prequel novel by William R. Forstchen based on the Wing Commander series of games. It tells the story of the beginnings of the Terran-Kilrathi war, 20 years before the first game.
It is 8 years after the ending of the War. Col. Wilhelm Schwarzmont of the Department of Military History of the Confederation Fleet Academy is compiling a report on the controversial Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn. Tolwyn was a brilliant military genious who saved Earth against a Kilrathi offensive, but then followed dishonorfoul political actions. Schwarzmont reports that he had briefly served under Tolwyn and witnessed the fanatical devotion of his subordinates.
Schwarzmont is compiling the events surrounding Tolwyn's first military operation back near the start of the War, more than 40 years ago. He is currently writing a study concerning the beginnig of the War, to which this novel will be a companion piece. This is owing to the declassification of Kilrathi documents which shed light on their part of the war (although their infamous "lost war orders" where Tolwyn played a part in remain a mystery) although he expects that all records of boths side's archives won't be fully declasified before at least a generation.
He then goes on to list and thank his sources, Humans and Kilrathi alike, such as Admiral Vance Richards, Tolwyn's nephew, Kevin, pilot Haga Kaligara and others.
He closes his foreword mentioning that as Historian of the Fleet, he met and interviewed Tolywn during his court martial, and even visited his cell right after his suicide.
It is 2634, 5 years after the first contact between Humans and Kilrathi. As requested by a CIC Admiral, Rear Admiral Joshua Speedwell of the Confederation Fleet Intelligence is compiling an update report about the political and military situation within the Kilrathi Empire; along with evaluations of all known Kilrathi ships, bases and industry. His division's sources was remote sensing, interrogation of smugglers, and some holo images from a covert op team.
The Humans first learned of the Kilrathi from the Varni aliens, who sought refuge after a disastrous war with them. Even now, not much is known about them. The frontier skirmishes against the Kilrathi antiquated vessels doesn't allow the Confederation determine their current capability.
The intelligence is in the dark, the frontiers are expanding rapidly, the Fleet resources are inadequate and there is a worry that border worlds, where law's grasp is not firm, may be contacted by Kilrathi agents.
Based on what Speedwell knows about the predtory Kilrathi, their existence is revolving around conquest and determination of superiority; peace is considered an avoidable stagnancy and believes there will be War.
To make matters more complicated, Humans know of a galactic almighty force from the center of the galaxy which is moving towards their area; the Kilrathi are probably aware of it and they probably wish to subjugate the Confederation and make it a buffer zone before turning against this new threat.
The Empire is technologically inferior to the Confederation, but the Kilrathi culture has a term for the surprise assault against an unsuspecting prey. Speedwell believes that the Kilrathi attack will be of that nature.
It is the Imperial Palace of Kilrah. The Kilrathi Emperor is behind a translucent courtain and has just announced his decision of War against the Confederation to the presence of 8 clan leaders. Vakka did not sound the growl of approvement. He knew that if other Barons asked for a blood challenge, they would win titles and planets from him, if he died.
Vakka bows and, to indicate ceremoniously his submission, he places his dagger made from a nagga tooth, pointing towards the dais and screen. Vakka's clan first met humans when they captured a planet with Terran colonists. He was impressed and afraid of the humans, and believed that they'd rather become allies rather than conquered.
He encounters opposition from Gilkarg, the only son of the Emperor and Crown Prince. As his father defeated the Varni, and his ancestors did against the Wu or the Eyoka and so on, Gilkarg is eager to take his turn to gain honor and vehemently has been urging war. His eldest son, Prince Ratha, accuses Vakka for fear, but has not the right to challenge him as he has already placed the dagger upon the floor. The younger Prince, Thrakhath, amends that Vakka should have been killed.
Vakka then attempts to explain his position: the Empire is extending too fast, they subjugate and kill the conquered populations and replace them with their own relatives. Their forces are scarce and the borders are thin. The Confederation must be attacked, but not yet; there are other borders and other dangers, including the power approaching from the galactic core.
His concerns are countered by Ratha and Gilkarg, who give the reason why they must attack the Confederation now; the war will make them stronger and after they defeat the humans, they will gave their technology.
Vakka replies that the Humans have a deep web of alliances and colonies. The Confederation is a solid mass whereas the Empire is a hollow shell; therefore they are more useful than allies, should the challenge from the core arrives, than underlings.
Gilkarg repeats that it is a reason why they must attack now; that solid mass of the Confederation will be weakened, if not smashed, by one fierce blow. Gilkarg confirms their war of surprise tactic; first feign confusion and then strike decisively.
Vakka is defeated and meets no support, not even from those leaders whose realms lie towards the core. The immediate promise of war and glory is more attractive than years of preparations for a possible threat. He collects his knife and along with the other lords, he lifts it. They all roar in confirmation. The hunt begins.
It is right after the graduation ceremony in the Confederation Service Academy, Houston. The reception room is full of Academy persnnel, ensign and their parents, politicians and lobbyists; there are also journalists as it is believed that the Academy will close soon. Admiral Spencer "Skip" Banbridge has given a speech, and is congratulated by his old colleague, comrade and friend for 30 years, Commander Winston Turner, who is a Professor at the Academy.
They give hostile looks to Senator Jamison More, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who is being interviewed. More is one of those who believe that there are more significant problems and traditions that must be held than the navy. There hasn't been a war in over a century and the Kilrathi are a minor threat. Banbridge takes it as a bait and insist that they should go and counter his criticisms.
The two officers then see a young Ensign approaching the Senator. He brings up personal motive for the cutting "wasteful" military programs and blockage of a new starfighter to replace the existing aging fighters, and reminds the Senator that his homeworld is very close to Kilrathi space. The Senator was hustled off by his aides instead of replying to the accusations. The two officers comment that the Senator will have his revenge from the boy sometime in the future.
The two friends retreat to Turner's office and serve themselves a drink. Banbridge examines his friend's office. They remind themselves of the old years, like a photograph from their fated mission with the Marine Commando Six: Turner had led 30 soldiers against a terrorist stronghold. They did save the planet and were decorated, but Turner could not bear in his conscience the loss of his men, so he opted to be reassigned and retreat to the Academy as a military history professor and writer. During that mission Skip suffered a near-fatal wound. Skip mentions that before coming here he met Ulandi, to whom both owe their lives since that mission, on McAuliffe. There is also a photograph from the Battle of Midway, where one of Turner's ancestors have fought, serving on Torpedo Eight.