Feb 192013
 

Read me the story
vivid deathThe evening after she raised Veran Banner, the Lady drew me aside, after the daysend meal.

“Ilvren, I need you to return, now, to thinking as a Guardian.”

This I had been anticipating. Raising Veran Banner now could mean only one thing—that the Lady had determined to continue resisting the barbarian invaders, and that implied military action of some variety.

“My life is Veran’s, Lady.”

She looked at me for a long moment, then nodded. “Let us, then, summarize what is known. First: The invaders are indeed techno-barbarians, world-killers from the Hub. They issue their demands in the name of a place called Klaros.”

This was new information to me and had doubtless been included in the information brought by Captain Matyas’ bird relay. “Alas, Lady, the study of the Hub and its many powers and worlds was not part of my Guardian training. I can tell you nothing of these particular barbarians.”

She accepted disappointment philosophically. “Second: The King perished at a great battle in the foothills of Quavi north of Traaki Citadel, to the west of Gallyvaran Pass, nine- no, ten, now- days ago.” She canted her head. “Speculate upon the implications of this, please.”

I was already feeling the old thought-patterns sliding into place. It was not dissimilar to a planning exercise during Practice Wars.

“We know the blood-banners were sent forth the day we set forth from Bellflower House. That leaves a period of nine days for the levies and Militias to gather to their muster-points. The Traaki Citadel was already overcome, so the principal gathering would have been at either Nendaari House or the Charter City of Pequavil. Both are designated muster points. Nine days…” I tried to recall what I had known of the strength estimates for those karils, but most of my actual experience had been in the west.

“Perhaps eighteen thousand Militia, and another sixty thousand levies. The supply caches at Pequavil, Missar Valley, Old Syxarth, and Nendaar Gorge would have been available, and anything scavenged from Traaki.”

She frowned. “But Traaki was destroyed on the first day.”

I realized that she would, in all probability, know little of the matters concerning the Guardians and the Emergency Protocols.

“If the Captain of a Citadel judges an attack to be of clearly overwhelming force, his primary objective becomes to enable as many Guardians as possible to escape, using secret ways, and taking as much as possible of the Citadel’s materiel. It is certain that at Traaki, Captain Erillas will have made that decision.”

Her brows were drawn together, assimilating this. She nodded for me to continue.

“In any case, Lady, however many Guardians survived to fight at Quavi, they will all have perished quickly. To preserve the King’s life, and remove him from the battle zone to a planned fallback fortification would have been the task of the most skilled and best-equipped fighters that the Marshal could appoint. If this was not accomplished, it would seem to indicate that these Klarosians attacked in overwhelming force, and quickly destroyed all of the Royal forces.”

“It’s likely, however, that the Mayor of the Palace and other key Royal Officers will have not been at the battle site, and some may have survived. They will be making their way to dispersed muster points, and enquiries there may give us more information. Information is what we need the most. We cannot formulate much more than a broad strategy until we know more about what we are facing.”

Again, she nodded. “And that broad strategy…”

“Well, the basic strategy in a barbarian invasion scenario has always been the same, Lady.”

Her eyes darkened, the pupils dilating with emotion, but she did not speak, merely nodded again for me to continue.

“Increase the cost of their objective to where they will abandon the attempt to achieve it.”

“And what is that strategy likely to cost us?” She asked, her tone both dryly ironic, and curiously fearful, as though she knew the answer but hoped to be proven wrong.

“Lives, Lady. Many, many lives. Perhaps millions.”

Her eyes dropped, and there was a long silence, before she thanked and dismissed me.

We stayed another night at the Lyrin Chancel. The Lady sent one of the marsh women back with a message for Captain Matyas; she left with the Chancel’s debt-send in the form of metal slugs and powdered dryland herbs. The rest of the morning, the Lady spent with Leifara and Canon Lennari, preparing the messages that would send the banner forth throughout all Veran. No more, just now, than that the blood-banner of Veran was raised—that would suffice to let all the karils and Great Houses know that she lived, and thus Veran lived, and the world-killers had not prevailed.

After daymeal, I was summoned to Canon Lennari’s chambers. He and Elder Kevrilaasya, Leifara and the Lady, were gathered there, discussing Chancel business. The Canon and the Elder greeted me politely, and then took their leave.

“Ilvren, we must set forth the possibilities for our course,” the Lady began, without preamble. She seemed less weary and tense than at the banner-raising.

I nodded. “I am at Veran’s service.”

“I must assume that the Marshal of the Guard is dead, and the eastern and western Captains-Major, too. I have no experience in military matters, nor do I feel hopeful that military action—as I understand it, and my understanding is limited, I grant—will serve our purpose well. Nevertheless, it is a fight, and I must now lead warriors. You must teach me what you can.”

I nodded.

“You told me of Citadel Captains’ strategies—buying time for Guardians to escape, for the salvage of weapons and materials.”

“Yes. In the Protocols, that strategy goes by the name of Relnara, after the plant that scatters itself as it dies, to live again from each piece.”

She smiled. “How apt.”

“Precisely so, Lady. Like relnara nodules, surviving Guardians will be dispersing themselves as widely as possible, and seeking the resources which will enable them to raise a new generation of fighters.”

“Ahhhh…” Her eyes narrowed in comprehension, and she nodded for me to continue.

“Dispersal helps to avoid competition and make efficient use of resources, and increases the chances that some may avoid the notice of our invaders, as the relnara escape the rootling snouts of mountain talgar.”

“And how should Veran use this resource?”

“We do not yet have enough information to determine that, Lady. We must know more of the enemy.”

Her brows drew together. “But you were a Guardian, Ilvren—surely you know how barbarians fight?”

“In general I do. But as to particulars—there are thousands of worlds in the Hub. They share some technology and an economic framework, but little else. How an enemy fights is only one aspect of the intelligence we need to be effective against them. Why they fight… who they are, how they conceive of themselves… what tactics they favor, what they avoid… their strategic biases…” I shrugged. “It is all important.”

Her eyes were on mine, intent, narrowed a little. “I see. It is like striking a balance. You can’t be effective until you understand how all the elements fit together. How will we learn this?”

I had been turning an idea over in my head for some time. Not an attractive idea to me, personally, but personal considerations no longer held merit.

“We are making for the Westmarch. There is one there who might provide a starting place.”

“A Westmarcher?”

I nodded. “He is the brother of Westmarch’s mother’s mother. He served four terms in the Guardians and became Elder Preceptor of the War Academy, before he retired. The Hub and its worlds were his particular study—I believe he even took ship with an Independent Fleet trader once, and visited some Hub worlds. Back in my mother’s time.”

“If he is still alive,” I added, belatedly. “Arrestar must be over a hundred and twenty by now.”

“We will hope he is still alive.”

Feb 182013
 

Read me the story

TargetsMOST SECRET:

Transcript

Strategic Briefing to the High Command

General-Hartmann Jamed Ursek

“The notion of planetary conquest may be a crazy one, but then, we may all qualify as madmen anyway. How else? With our homes destroyed, our families dead, our colony facing bankruptcy and repossession, ourselves facing forced debt-contracts for sale by the Hub Galactibanks that hold the colony’s notes, insanity seems the least of our concerns. Let’s concentrate on feasibility, instead.

There isn’t even anyone to blame, since whichever ham-handed idiot stumbled onto the catalytic reaction at Rayki Weapons Lab, was certainly the first to die. We can only pray that the death that engulfed half a billion of the Creator’s Faithful within hours was a swift and painless transition to Eternity.

The Church promises it was so. And they have presented us with a rationale for planetary conquest: The dissolution of the Klaros Colony would mean oblivion for the True Faith, scattering believers among the heretics and heathens of the Hub, and placing them under the influence of the corrupt anti-Church of the Old Colonies.

Therefore, they as well as the CivAdmin have proposed the remedy: Find another planet to become Klaros III. And since our about-to-be-bankrupt condition rules out the normal route of contracting with one of the big terraforming combines to transform a fresh planet into a human habitat, we’ll have to steal one. A planet already inhabited.

And it will have to be from someone who can’t put up much of a fight. We have plenty of military assets left, since most of them had been off-planet among the various Protectorates, mining facilities, or Insystem bases, but there is no longer a colonial infrastructure of population and resources to replenish personnel and supplies. We must be very careful about how we spend what remains.

The chosen planet will have to be situated so as to take us off the scanplots of those who would be eager to pick our colonial bones dry as soon as the news of the disaster percolates through the far-flung communications network of the Hub. Better than a thousand hours, by subspace transit, from the thickly settled clusters of the Central nexi. Someplace our remnant population of nearly a million can hole up for a couple of centuries and breed itself back into a respectable threat to Galactic peace and security.

Oh, yes—and someplace with plenty of women. With the exception of the population center around the Moonbase complex—Pykalt and its various exurbs, the Treasuredome recreational resort, and a couple of female monasteries of the escape-the-world variety, none of the surviving clusters of Klarosians has much in the way of female population. Men currently outnumber women by better than ten to one. Which leaves a most unfavorable ratio for the Divine mandate of propagation laid upon the Faithful. One way or another, we’ll need to get more women into the mix.

Although somewhat impeded by the necessity of maintaining sequestration from the standard datanets, my staff have identified three potential targets:

Target one is a Vynar mining base, colonized for its location in a system whose Kuiper Belt was assayed rich in transuranics. The planet still has a good hundred years or more left in its terraformed lifecycle, but the Vynar has been pulling their people out to work a new claim much nearer to the mother colony. Whether they’d devote substantial resources to defending and/or reclaiming the relatively minor remnant on Vynar-Nisk’ta is doubtful at best. However, it is a bit less than a thousand hours interstellar from the Pvronich Cluster, the nearest Hub commerce center and Mercantile Authority subsector.

The second target is a Rim daughter of Wen Amashi, colonized fairly recently, far enough off the main axis of Wen’shi population to make its defense problematic. The downside here is the Wen’shi reputation for ferocious tenacity. It is just possible that they’d mount a real defense—and if they do, they are a pretty even match for us. The other downside: The Wen’shi are heretics of the Neo-Tritemprian cult, which would expose the Faithful to a particularly pernicious form of spiritual contamination. The Church may find this target problematic.

The third target is called Veran, a thousand hours interstellar from Klaros and perhaps half again that from the nearest Hub commerce nexus. What little intelligence we had on it comes from a sketchy entry in Caslon’s All The Colonized Planets, a few Independent Trade Fleet references and old University League records. It’s well off Hub scanplots, its sole contacts with the rest of human-inhabited space being an occasional I-Fleet trader. It is reputed to have decent planetary defenses primarily of the orbital type, to discourage potential piracy, and a small contingent of modestly-equipped planetary forces. It was initially colonized by some fringe group of Anachronist fanatics to be a non-tech colony, so long ago that little information is available on its charter and terraforming. But non-tech colonies had much longer terraform lifecycles, and the few recent I-Fleet references indicated that its habitation resources remain substantial.”

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