Dec 232012
 

Read me the story
"Wings of Infinity" insignia of the Supreme CommanderThe Joint Command meeting was the first opportunity for Klaros’ military leadership to discuss strategy. Now that the Lord Commander of the Second Legion was back from Hecht, they could begin figuring out how to clean up after what might have been the biggest military fuckup in human history—although the military was, naturally, attributing it to civilian contractors’ disregard for safety procedures. No one would ever know, and by now, blame was irrelevant.

The Supreme Commander had to be replaced as the first order of business. Senior Admiral Drell had been Acting Supreme Commander based on his status as the ranking surviving Command officer in Klarosian space, but now the Command Staff would be required to confirm that position. Tallis was the wild card. Lord Commander Taglev had died, along with the Supreme Commander, when the Conflagration had engulfed Jait Hurst, and Lord Commander Kestarrat had perished with the rest of the Home Legion’s High Command at Morj Alpha.

It had taken awhile to sort out the surviving chain of command for the First and Home Legions, but Garch Vardak of the Pykalt/Insystem regiment had been in line for promotion to Commander anyway, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for him to take over the Home Legion. There had been some back-and-forth among the surviving First Legion Command, but seniority had won out. It was just a lucky fluke that the Third Corps’ Commander Strun had been on his way back from an inspection tour of the maintenance depot at Marduk base.

Tallis was technically senior to Drell—his date of promotion was more than a year prior to the Senior Admiral’s. And the last Supreme Commander from Fleet had been Stabnov, of Mutiny infamy. Some senior Legion officers had been muttering about deciding Supreme Command “the old way,” and no one doubted that Drell would have no chance against Tallis on the takho, if it did come to a challenge.

“Are you going to take him?”

Grotal Ralin was one of the few people who could, by reason of long friendship as well as cold nerve, put such a question to the Lord Commander.

The two men had been reviewing the promotion lists for Second Legion senior ranks. Neither had slept much since arriving at Orbital Base One, the new location (by default) for the Military High Command of Klaros.

Tallis’ eyes glittered. “We really can’t afford self-indulgence in the High Command.”

Ralin barked a laugh. “How long has it been since you’ve had a good spar?”

“We were on our way to Hecht.” Tallis’ tone was dry.

“Well, the question remains. Even without a challenge, you probably have the support.”

“Can you see me as an Oligarch?”

Ralin grinned. “Someone’s got to do it.”

“I get more leverage by letting Drell have it.”

One of Ralin’s thick brows rose. “Leverage for what?”

“I can see an infinite number of strategy options that will make the level of pudu we are wading through deeper and hotter. How many potentially viable plans have you heard over the last few days?”

Ralin’s expression answered for him.

“I trust Drell to look good in the Supreme Commander’s uniform and keep the Civ and the Church off our backs. Especially if he knows he’s wearing it because I gave it to him. I do not trust Drell to manage any kind of operation that might be required to pull us out of the waste tank, assuming the Creator in His Infinite Mercy provides a feasible option.”

The Lord Commander glanced at the wall chrono. “All right, let’s get to the meeting.”

“Me?” Ralin blinked.

Tallis turned the notescreen he’d been noodling on. The final promotions list had an addition: Grotal Ralin, promoted General Hartman and appointed Chief of Staff to the Lord Commander.

“Ooh, a desk job. Just what I’ve always wanted,” he smirked.

“Enjoy it while you can.”

When they arrived at the Joint Command meeting, Drell was already there, seated in the Supreme Commander’s traditional place, but not wearing the uniform. He nodded to Tallis, warily, and got a noncommittal chin-dip in return.

Drell asked for reports. The meeting was about an hour old before someone seemed to recall the main order of business—Vardak, unsurprisingly. He grabbed the table baton, on the heels of a supply summary. Drell nodded to him calmly. “Lord Commander Vardak has the table.”

“Comrades, we have to ratify an Oligarch.” Vardak stared pugnaciously around the table as if expecting an argument.

There was a suppressed murmur from the lower table where the Generals, Admirals, and Commanders sat. Glances were exchanged, a good many eyes turned, overtly or covertly, in Tallis’ direction. He seemed unaware of the scrutiny.

“We should settle the matter, hrhrm…” Lord Commander Strun trailed off with an ambiguous throat-clearing. The wording might have been deliberately provocative, or simply infelicitous.

Drell nodded calmly. “Then it is time to appoint a Military Doyen. I suggest our Comrade, General Hartman Jamed Ursek.”

There was a pause. It was a good suggestion; when retired and reserve officers had been re-activated, Ursek had been one of the first to report. The ones poised to object, on principle, to anyone the Senior Admiral might have suggested, hesitated and lost their moment when Strun and Tallis signed their assent in the traditional way, pounding fists lightly on the table. Vardak hesitated a moment, then placed the table baton back in its place, and followed suit as a thudding chorus from the lower table ratified the choice.

As Ursek stood and walked to the high table, Drell rose from the Command Seat and took the Senior Admiral’s chair.

Ursek wasted no time. Standing behind the vacant Command Seat, he asked. “Who, by virtue of rank or by virtue of combat, rises to claim Supreme Command?”

There was a long, long pause. The Lords Commander and the Senior Admiral did not exchange any glances.

Someone at the lower table drew a deep breath, audible in the silence, and then the Senior Admiral stood. “I rise to claim Supreme Command, by virtue of rank.”

Almost every eye in the room was on Tallis. He continued to look blandly ahead at the lower table, catching no one’s eye and avoiding no one’s eye.

General Hartman Ursek glanced at him, then at each of the other Lords Commander in turn. He turned to Drell. “A claim is made, by virtue of rank. There are others here who might claim by virtue of rank. Do I hear any challenge?” He glanced over the Lords Commander again, allowing the silence to stretch for just the right number of seconds.

“There are no challenges to the claim by virtue of rank. Do I hear any endorsements?”

You might have been able to hear a dust mote settle, Ralin thought. He was afraid if he grinned, it might be heard and attract attention.

“The Second Legion endorses the Supreme Commander,” Tallis said matter-of-factly. A little sigh of tension releasing rippled through the room.

The other Lords Commander offered their endorsements, rather anticlimactically, and General Hartman Ursek pulled the empty Command Seat back. “The Lords Commander have endorsed, will the Joint Command acclaim?” He fixed the lower table with the gaze that had won him the nickname “Old Steeleye” when he’d been General Hartman of the Intel & Recon brigade. Fists hit the table in a ragged rhythm.

Drell stood, and walked back to the Command Seat, Acting no longer, but Supreme Commander by military law.

With all the headaches and appurtenances thereunto.

Dec 032012
 

Read me the story
Colored electron microscope image of a cell.The Tranest Aureole loomed in the orbit of Ponik Retsa III like a third moon, nearly as big as the airless planet’s two artificial moons, but more streamlined. In a luxuriously-appointed dining room in the Executive Suite, the Executive Committee of Tranest Corporation was sharing breakfast.

The six women and men consuming swan-hawk omelets, sake-marinated pearl shrimp, and slices of iced jasmine melon represented more raw economic power than many entire colonies, or even clusters, in the Hub’s central axes. Everyone was on their best behavior. No one relaxed.

There was no one else in the dining room. Beverage service had been provided, when they first arrived, and an exquisite buffet had been arranged on the sideboard, but now they were alone. Not even bodyguards were permitted, although everyone present had been scanned with a thoroughness that most security services could only dream of achieving.

An active toxscan field over the sideboard showed a reassuringly pale-green nimbus. As the host was Nadis Orms, it was safe to assume that the toxscan covered all of the staggeringly vast array of assassination tools that could be applied in the context of a meal.

Conversation, while they ate, remained casual. Although the Orms family, and its several branches, controlled nearly seventy percent of Tranest, two of the board members present could not be considered family. Nadis had strict rules about discussing family business when non-family members were present. Light family gossip was exchanged, comments on the latest Hub Mercantile Council election, and the occasional discussion of a newly acquired art object or other collectible.

Ni-quan !Xe, senior representative of the !Xe subclan, was seated opposite Nadis. On his left, Stenevra Orms Chuko chatted with Dantas teVrenth-Wansi, who represented the Ermetyne Finance Conglom’s interest in Tranest. Tranest had two representative on Ermetyne’s board, too, as well as Executive Committee representation.

On Nadis’ left, Mengath Farfrazi Orms discussed Mercantile Court politics with Den Kaddets, whose family held the largest single share of Telnas TPEFab, the beacon manufacturers.

The pace of consumption slowed, and finally Nadis winkled the last pearl shrimp from its shell, popped it into her mouth, set the pick down beside her plate, and leaned back in her chair.

There was instant silence.

She gestured to Mengath “I think we could all use a little more coffee.”

He went to the sideboard and picked up the carafe, and moved from place to place like a waiter, topping up the gold-rimmed shell porcelain mugs at each place setting.

“Now. The Colonial School Small-Cluster conference will be opening in less than 600 hours, to discuss progress on the Devlin Survey. Would anyone like to comment?” Nadis glanced around the table, and nodded thanks to Mengath as he topped her coffee, setting down the carafe in front of her and resuming his seat.

Dantas teVrenth-Wansi smiled. “Plus or minus thirty-seven currently sub-Optimal planets potentially released for colonization. We have retainer deposits on escrow for sixteen, and are currently negotiating for another six. I understand Transcluster Finance has nine retainers on deposit.”

Ni-quan !Xe frowned. “That leaves six known potentials available, as well as an additional…” he glanced at a wristcom datafield, “fourteen that might come up as well if the survey is sufficiently, ah… generous.”

“Just so.” Nadis Orms reached for her coffee cup. The green stone in the ring on that hand—the only jewelry she wore—sparkled with red highlights. She picked up the cup, and smiled. “We have put a good deal of effort into ensuring a favorable report on the classification stratae from the Survey.”

She lifted the cup, but not to her lips. “Mengeth. I really think you’d enjoy this more than I would.”

There was a sudden heavy, sticky feeling to the air, and a breathless silence as everyone else looked at Mengeth, whose face had gone an unattractive, muddy shade.

“Nadis, I…”

She continued to hold out the cup to him, a slight smile on her face. But her eyes glittered like ice shards. “Mengeth.”

He shook his head, swallowed.

“Mengeth.” Her voice was velvet over steel. “You’d really prefer it to the alternative.”

He shook his head again.

“Dear me. My new toy,” she glanced at the ring, still glittering with red undertones, “isn’t equipped to provide a precise analysis, but may I assume that you indulged yourself? That we’re not looking at something discreet, and comparatively merciful, here? No apparent myocardial infarcts, or massive cerebral accidents? Something a little more… baroque, perhaps?”

Her eyes had returned to his, and he was unable to look away, even as he shook his head again. “Nadis, it wasn’t my…” he trailed off.

“Not your idea?” Her smile widened. “What a surprise. Well, let me reassure you, Mengeth. If you had co-conspirators, they’ll be treated to something infinitely worse than whatever you provided for me here.”

The silence gathered layers, poised itself on a knife edge, as she held the cup out to him. His eyes searched hers again, and the muddy color paled further. Slowly, he reached out, took the cup, and drank, gulping it down almost frantically.

Someone at the table drew a breath, as though about to speak, and she held up her hand. She sat back, watching with clinical detachment, as his eyes bulged, and he began making unattractive, breathless mewling noises.

His body spasmed in the chair, and rammed hard into the table. His arms twitched, his mouth opened, the tongue protruding swollen and grotesque.

Nadis sighed. “I’m not really a sadist, you know,” she murmured.

In a gesture too swift for the others to follow, she grasped the table pick she’d just laid beside her plate, and plunged it into the back of his neck where the spinal column meets the skull.

The body went limp, sliding with a messy thud against the table, then off the edge of the chair, which tipped momentarily and then righted itself even as what had been a senior Tranest executive landed in a heap on the floor.

She touched a panel on the table edge. “Cleanup crew, please.”

The silence grew spikes and danced a slow waltz around the room while a couple of imperturbable crew members removed the remains of Mengeth Farfrazi Orms, tidied away the place setting, refilled the coffee carafe, and set out fresh cups for everyone.

When the door slid shut behind them, Nadis poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. The ring sparkled a reassuring green.

“As I was saying, we’ve invested in assuring a positive survey result, but there may be some… unforeseen factors, arising at the Conference. I’d like to do a little contingency planning.”

Dec 022012
 

Read me the story:
Meal packs in plastic wrap“Look, I’m telling you what I’m telling you, and that’s that as far as I can tell, we have three hundred days, maybe if we stretch it, three hundred and fifty, worth of raw substance to run through these processors.” Vetkar Allis tried not to let the panic seep into his voice, telling himself that there was no real need for it, since he didn’t know what resources were elsewhere, stockpiled by whom, or even what production capacity existed among the remaining Klarosian habitats.

The bureaucrat, a plump, harried-looking man with the rather dark UV-affected complexion of a low-status Moonstation native, shook his head. “But that’s unacceptable. This is the largest processing facility in Moonstation and we’re responsible for the bulk of production. I can’t go to Chair Levett and tell him we’re going to run out of substance in less than a year!”

“Not telling him won’t change how much substance is in those warehouses, Citi. The best we can do is restructure the production matrices to give us Basic ratpacs, that will stretch the output another hundred days, maybe. But a calorie is a calorie, Citi. You can’t make machines produce calories that aren’t there to be processed.”

“Basics! That won’t do, we’ve got less than ten thousand res-class allocations to fill! I know we can’t do specialty runs, but we have to produce at least a Grade Three suite!”

“Then you’re back at three hundred, maybe three hundred fifty, days of production, Citi.” Vetkar said patiently.

The bureaucrat stared at him in baffled frustration, then turned on his heel walked away, muttering something about “ignorant agronists” and “need a real maintenance engineer.”

Vetkar’s hands were shaking as he turned back to the control junction box. He hoped he’d not talked himself out of a work assignment, and a good one at that. He could have lied, of course, told the damn’ ’crat what he wanted to hear, but what good would that do? Sooner or later it would become obvious even to a bureaucrat that the vats in those warehouses held enough raw substances to keep the processors running less than a year. If they had a year.

There’d been a broadcast last night, that Speaker talking reassuringly about the civadmin confiscation of private cubage being a purely temporary measure, just for the duration of the emergency…

How long was the “duration” of a destroyed world? Vetkar turned back to the chip array he’d been working on, pulled his work goggles down dialing up the mag as he did so.

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