Aug 032013

Read Me the Story:
embroidery-cropped“Blessingmother… they have arrived.” Kadaret murmured, respectfully.

“Is it so?” the old woman rose from her knees, and with the certainty of long practice, took the three steps to the hard plastic chair, and sat.

“They can wait,” she said comfortably. “It is time for my pranska. Did you bring it?” The veil turned in Kadaret’s direction.

Kadaret felt her jaw drop. “N-no, Blessingmother… I thought…”

The old woman chuckled. “You bring it, daughter. I’ll need it.”

Kadaret made a respectful knee-bob. Blind as she was, the old woman had an uncanny sense for such things. “Yes, Blessingmother.”

It had never occurred to her that anyone—anyone—! –would make the Cardinal Prelate’s own maiter wait!

She sped down the narrow corridor, past rows of the tiny cubbies that each provided a Vowed Daughter of the Weeping Handmaiden with a narrow sleeping pallet, a kneeler, and a small chest to hold her worldly goods. At the end there was a much broader cross-corridor and the arched doorway that led to the Garden Cloister. Kadaret did not spare a glance for it; she turned for the kitchen, and in very little time was back with a small dish, a spoon, and a clean napkin. She tapped the door frame.

“That was quick, very good. Very good.”

The old woman folded back the lower half of her veil, and fumbled for the spoon, digging it in to scoop a small mound of moist golden fruit.

Blessingmother Nanamet lived the most austere of lives, except for this one indulgence—one pranska, each Holyday, in the place of midday pottage. Everything about life at the Divine Mercy Monastery had been an invariant routine, including that.

With the news of the Conflagration, changes had come. But Blessingmother Nanamet still had her fruit. “Ahhhh….” The old woman sighed a little, and lifted the napkin to dab at a trickle of juice on her chin. “So delicious. Like the flesh of a beloved.”

What a strange thing to say. What would old Nanamet know of that, Kadaret thought? Everyone knew the Blessingmother’s story. She had been here, at Divine Mercy, since her very birth, more than sixty years ago. Her mother had been a Relict, Vowed here on the occasion of her Renunciation by her Ecclesiast husband who had heard the miraculous Call to Celibacy before he knew he’d engendered a child. Such cases were difficult, of course, but the Church could not deny a true Renunciation.

Born here, raised here, probably she’d expected to die here, like all the Relicts and Renunciates Vowed to the service of the Weeping Handmaiden.

Kadaret knew better than to let the slightest hint of her feelings show on her face, in her breathing, in a small movement. She knew the flesh of a beloved. Had thought herself beloved. Had believed that the Creator laid her path in the most abundantly joyful of places. Had quickened with her husband’s child, even. The miscarriage… it hadn’t been her fault! She had done everything, everything the birthwife had said!

Then Lankar had decided that the miscarriage was a divine leading, and he would heed the Call, and renounce Kadaret, and enter the prelacy.

Nanamet had spooned up the last bit of the pranska, and wiped her mouth daintily. Her face, still half-veiled, was turned in Kadaret’s direction and tilted slightly. The corners of the soft old mouth were tucked in with something that might have been compassion… or amusement.

“And what do I know of a beloved’s flesh, is that it?”

Kadaret tried not to start, but did swallow. The old woman probably heard it, with that preternaturally acute hearing, but she only shook her head a little, and let down her veil. “You still have so much to learn, daughter. All right. I shall keep the Holiest One waiting no longer.”

She stood, and replaced the chair under the little table, and turned to make a knee-bob to the ikon of the Bride on the wall above her kneeler.

Kadaret stood aside from the door. She knew better than to offer the old woman any assistance. Nanamet knew every millimeter of the Divine Mercy, moved about her daily rounds as adeptly as though she’d never lost her sight from the infection that had been diagnosed too late, and treated here with only the minimal facilities of the monastery’s Infirmary.

Beside the doorframe hung the long staff of the Blessingmother’s office. She put her hand to it unerringly, and preceded Kadaret to the Cloister Gate, where the Cardinal Prelate’s own private bounce shuttle waited, to take her to Pykalt for an Ecclesiastical Convocation. It was an unprecedented thing, to invite the Blessingmother of a monastery to such a gathering, even though technically such a rank was equivalent to Archprelate, in the Church’s eyes.

But these were unprecedented times.

“Well, come along, daughter.” Nanamet paused, and gestured to Kadaret to accompany her. “You don’t think I’m going alone, do you?”

May 082013

Read me the story
mapdragonHelset Morvaine woke, sweaty and breathless, from a nightmare of watching helplessly as her parents’ agonized faces disappeared into the raging vortexes that had engulfed their home. Silently, she cursed herself for a fool, fumbled for the light switch behind her head, and clicked it once, producing a dim glow that barely reached to the edge of the bunk. The untroubled breathing of her cabin mate indicated that at least she hadn’t cried out in her sleep.

How many people on the Time Ripper had she prescribed sleeping medication for? She hadn’t run a precise count, but she’d bet the total would be somewhere above seventy percent. She’d get a colleague to chart her an issue of medication next watch. Even the most combat-hardened men of the Second Legion were still dealing with the shock of losing homes, families—everything. What made her think she was any different? Wearily, she slid out of her bunk and donned a fatigue jumpsuit. Trying to get any more sleep now would be futile; she might as well get some work done. There was a senior medical staff meeting scheduled for her regular watch, so she’d get nothing done then.

The companionways that served residential compartments showed the three-quarter light of the deadwatch, but once she emerged into the working areas of the ship, it was brighter. That didn’t make it any less disorienting. Time Ripper was normally a First Legion heavy transport, a much larger class of ship than the Strike Forces of the Second Legion’s light carriers. Helset still got lost from time to time and had to call up the deck map on her handcom.

She went to her tiny cubicle office first to collect her mug, then to the J-deck galley. Sometimes if you brought your own mug, the galley crew would fill it for a single coffee chip, even if it was a little larger than the standard galley cups. She was well into a caffeine-bolstered productivity surge when her handcom chimed a reminder of the staff meeting.

The Chief Medical Officer of the Second Legion, the Fleet’s Chief Surgeon, and General-Hartman Ralin were sitting in a row at the work table that served as a focus for the meeting. Helset slid into a chair next to Senior Partiram Jesney, Surgeon of the Vengeance. There were about a dozen other senior medical staff in the briefing room, and as Helset sat down another three or four arrived.

General-Hartman Ralin checked his chrono and stood up. No preliminaries, no courtesies, but that was how the General was. He was not an attractive man—short for a Klarosian, barely 160 centimeters tall, and nearly as broad, but it was all bone and heavily-knotted muscle. His face had been reconstructed in a field unit after a close encounter with forcebolter backwash. He’d never bothered to have it prettied up afterwards. There were a whole range of speculative rumors about why; you paid your credits and took your choice, depending on how you felt about the General.

“Our strategy is pending operational confirmation at this point, as it’s based on limited intelligence. Nevertheless, the broad outline is unlikely to change much,” he rumbled, “and the Lord Commander wants the Medical Services both to be prepared, and to provide further planning input—more on that later. For now, the outline is simple.”

He activated a wall display with his handcom, showing an aerial view of the large continent that was G417.902c-D’s only substantial landmass. An extrapolated grid representing known intelligence was superimposed over the static image. He gestured to the dots scattered over the right-hand side of the picture.

“The eastern half of the continent is populated widely but very thinly. The only substantial concentration of population is here—a city of about half a million, with an adjacent low-traffic spaceport. There are orbital systems…” he made an adjustment, and the planet shrank and receded; the overlay changed to show conjectured orbital paths, “including proximity detection satellites and random probes, close-orbit drone platforms, and at least one manned orbital station with some insystem fighters. On the surface, the only substantial defenses are the spaceport security, which doubles as city defense, and a network of small permanent installations scattered over the inhabited portion of the continent.”

“Current analysis of known and postulated weapons systems has been downloaded to your handcoms, but I emphasize—this is preliminary. We’ll do more reconnaissance as we approach the system and revise final mission planning then. Based on what we know now, we don’t anticipate much effective resistance. We’ll take out the orbitals at the same time we knock out their comsats and deploy our own disruption probes to disable their communications. Small strike forces will be dropped to neutralize the dozen or so permanent installations, and the main thrust will be focused on taking the spaceport area and securing the city.”

“Specific strategic and tactical protocols are dictated by our mission objectives, which are unique to this mission, and unprecedented. All of our planning is based on the requirements of long-term colonial occupation.” Ralin shut off the display, and sat down. “Let me hear your understanding of those requirements, please.” He nodded to General-Kenterum Stavran Orlot, the Chief Medical Officer.

Orlot returned the nod. “We’ll be greatly outnumbered by the indigenous population, for a start. Twenty-six million or so. We’ll have less than a million colonists to protect.” He looked dubious. “There’s sure to be heavy casualties among the natives if they try to fight, but they can’t hold out long with primitive weapons, so it probably won’t reduce the population too much. We’ve got nearly 28,000 effective combat personnel with us to hold the planet until the rest of our people arrive, with another 90,000 or so coming with them. That’s not a good ratio.”

“Why are we worrying about the native population at all?” Chief Surgeon Scharnav asked coldly. “If they give trouble, selective large-scale depopulation would both make the ratio more favorable, and the remaining population more docile.”

Ralin nodded. “That’s the most logical solution. But the Lord Commander wants to avoid large-scale depopulation for a number of reasons. So does the Church. The Archprelate places a high priority on, ah…” the General’s gaze fell on Helset, and he hesitated perceptibly before continuing. “On redressing our current gender imbalance.”

“In other words,” Orlot drawled, “we need their women.”

Helset felt her shoulders tightening, but as the only female officer in the Medical Corps, she’d long since learned to hide any emotional reactions.

Senior Partiram Jesney glanced at her, then addressed the General. “It’s an anachronist colony, so they’ll have very little in the way of technical resources or materials to support our population, except what we can capture from those Guardians. We’ll have to look at building everything we need from scratch, so we’ll need native labor, as well.”

Ralin nodded. “The city isn’t even domed. We’ll have to construct at least one habitat to be ready for our colonists when they arrive.”

“Why?” A voice asked mildly.

Helset turned to look, although she thought she knew that voice. Sure enough, it was Colonel Ridder. His head was tilted, and there was an odd sparkle in his eyes. Ralin frowned at him, and Scharnav narrowed his eyes. Orlot suppressed a grin.

“What do you mean, ‘why’?” Ralin asked.

“Why will we need to build a habitat? The native Veran colonists seem to have occupied the planet successfully for a good many centuries without domes. Surely habitat construction will use resources and energy we can ill afford, especially if our control of the population depends on our ability to present a credible military threat for a very long time?”

“The natives,” Scharnav said, with the suggestion of a snort, “fight with spears and swords. They eat unprocessed foodstuffs, and timps, they probably wear furs and skins, too. Are you suggesting we join them?”

Ridder was unabashed. “We can hardly expect to recreate a type-4 terraformed colony on a type-2 planet. Particularly since we can’t exactly hire any of the big Hub planet-engineering firms to condition the place.”

Orlot interjected himself smoothly between his staff contrarian and the Fleet Surgeon. “That cuts both ways, Ridder. Our population isn’t prepared to meet the challenges of a type-2 environment. We’ll need time to adapt. It’s clear from the little we do know that the original Veran colonists did not eradicate all of the planet’s xenic bioforms. We’re looking at potential threats from disease and other organisms, for which our people will have little preparation and no resistances. Which brings us back to the subject at hand,” he turned to General Ralin. “Is the Lord Commander including such potential threats in his operational planning?”

The General’s eyebrows—or what was left of them—rose. “The Lord Commander is certainly aware of the potential biological threats, General. But I think he expects his Medical Corps to provide the analysis and operational planning expertise that will be required. We have two teams working on operational planning: A General Staff team working on the assault, and a team of military and civilian specialists working on the occupation and colony preparation phase. Both teams need technical advice from the Medical Corps.”

Helset felt her spine lengthening a bit. An operational planning assignment would suit her perfectly—use her background in Infection Pathology research, and, just possibly, give her a chance to get noticed at higher levels and restart her stalled career track. She’d reached her present rank of Ord-Colonel nearly seven years ago. Becoming the first female full Colonel in the Second Legion would be a considerable achievement.

Orlot’s eyes traveled over the staff assembled. Scharnav shook his head. “My people are too damn busy, General. We’re pulling double watches as it is, and our techs are hot-bunking.”

Orlot’s eyes rested for a moment on Ridder, then on Colonel Lest Bardrep, then moved on. He glanced at Helset, at Hartman Stavross, then gave a quick nod. “Colonel Bardrep, you can report to the General Staff Secretary, and…” he glanced at Ralin. “Who’s coordinating the other team?”

“Senior Lieutenant Rynart Joklan, First Corps, HQ Intel Brigade.”

“Good. Colonel Morvaine, you can report to Lieutenant Joklan.”

It wasn’t working with the General Staff, and Helset had her doubts about the importance of any planning group that included civilians—especially if it was coordinated by a mere Senior Lieutenant—but it did promise to be interesting.

Not to mention a welcome distraction from the discomfort of thinking about the past. Or what they were doing heading for Veran at all.

Apr 112013

Read me the story

For every effect is itself a cause, just as every cause proceeds from prior causes. So was the Divine Warrior doomed to fight battle after battle, each battle the effect of the previous and the cause of the next. Not until He saw the tyranny of the temporal imperative was it given Him to cleave Time and open the Gates of Eternity.
Immutable Truths, v. 7-8
The Book of the Third Avatar
New Standard Revision

coffee tokenThe only possible justification for conquering Veran, Senior Lieutenant Rynart Joklan reflected, was that the alternatives, in their limited array, were all so much worse. He shook his head, trying to clear it of the thought. Mordant humor was common these days but it had never been his style. He broke the tab on his ration pak and waited for the red line to appear. He didn’t think much of Fleet catering, although you couldn’t deny that they were dealing with the overload pretty well.

“Hey, Ryn.” The voice came from behind him, and he turned his head, looking up enquiringly.

“Hey, Mat! Grab a ratpak and park the fundament.”

He was peeling the seal back from his own pak when his friend returned. “Haven’t seen you since…” Joklan stopped himself. No one referred to the past if they could help it, these days. “Well, congrats on the promotion, anyways. First in our class to make Kenterum, no less.”

Donley shrugged. “Just means you get chewed out by Colonels and Hartmans instead of Hartmans and Majors. I saw your name on the manifest but I’ve been on deadwatch all the way, so far. And they’ve got this crate so crammed full of bodies you’d never find your legs if they weren’t attached to your ass.”

Joklan glanced around. The mess compartment was pretty quiet compared to the usual mob scene, but then he was usually sleeping by this time. “It’s not bad, at that. Maybe I should put in for a duty transfer. Gotta be better than wetnursing a bunch of civilian eggheads.”

“Yeah, I heard you were moving in exalted circles. Practically the inner-inner, heh? So maybe you can answer the question everybody and his squadmen are asking.”

Joklan took a spoonful of reddish-brown stuff, lifted it to his mouth, chewed meditatively for a moment, and swallowed. “Chili, I think.” He eyed Donley. “Ask, O Seeker. The Oracle hears.”

Donley snorted. “Oracle. Two years in an Intel battalion and he’s an Oracle now. So riddle me this, oh well-informed one: Why in the name of the Holy Warrior and all His Avatars are we taking this much ordnance to dance with a bunch of sword-wielding savages? And for that matter, why in the name of the Warrior’s Blessed Bride are we dancing with savages at all? Whose brilliant brainstorm was that? Faithful Seekers want to know.” He spooned up some greenish-brown glop from his own ration pak and shoveled it in. His nose wrinkled. “Moogoo Gaipan. Bleah.”

Joklan assumed a consciously superior smile, and shook his head pityingly. “Such assumptions, my son. It’s easy to see that someone, despite his exalted rank, hasn’t been listening with attention to his Mission Updates.”

“Awww, haven’t you heard? Flitter jockeys are exempt from everything but flight briefings.”

“Oh, that’s right. Can’t risk overloading the limited cognitive abilities required for pilot training,” Joklan grinned, then lost the grin abruptly. “Actually, your questions come very apropos, in spite of the unreasonable assumptions.”

“Unreasonable how? Are you going to tell me that they’re not sword-wielding savages? And yes, I know about the whattayacallems, the Guardians, with their flash pistols and their concussion blasters and their sonic artillery and beam cascaders and feckall. But there’s only three thousand of them, right? There’s twenty-eight thousand of us. And our ordnance has a considerable edge over beam cascaders.”

“We think there’s three thousand of them. Crap, Mat, do you have any idea how little we actually know about these jonzos, not to mention the planet they’re on?”

Donley shrugged. “What’s to know? They’re Anachronists, right? Bunch of back-to-primitive-purity types, playing noble savage beyond the perimeter of inhabited space. Nutjob infidels with some kind of fetish about nature. Why them? We couldn’t find anyplace a little more, uh, civilized, to go for?”

“No,” Joklan said baldly. He was scraping his spoon around the main compartment of the ratpak, now, getting every last chunk. “We couldn’t. There isn’t a feckin’ thing within reach that will both get us off the Galactibank scanners, and provide a safe haven and the resources we need to rebuild the colony. Oh, great, cherry cobbler,” he gazed down into the supplementary compartment and made a face. Everyone hated the ratpak version of cherry cobbler, which tasted like cardboard soaked in cherry antifreeze.

“Lucky you. I got… mmmmm, chocolate profiteroles,” Donley spooned up a chunk of soggy, brown-streaked wrapping paper. I don’t get that thing about the Galactibanks. Did they really mean that, about all of us being subject to the Default Clauses?”

“Every double-decayed word of it, my friend. As soon as the Klaros colony is officially in default, we can expect every mercenary outfit this side of the Hub to descend on us, confiscate every confiscable asset—including all of us trained sojers, don’cha know—write up debt-bond contracts for everyone, and start the auction, selling everything—again, including us—to the highest bidder. Thus dispersing the Creator’s Chosen throughout the decadent heretical worlds of the Hub. So, in their infinite and Divinely-inspired wisdom, our revered Oligarchs decided that the only viable (and doubtless, Divinely-ordained) course of action is to sneak off the scanners, find ourselves a planet that will support life with the pittance of resources we have on hand, and breed ourselves back up to a respectable threat to interstellar peace and security, in a few centuries or so. That’s the strategic summary, you understand.”

“Timps, whatta feckup.” Donley crumpled his ratpak, spoon, and napkin, narrowed his eyes at the cloaca inlet on the bulkhead opposite the table, and lofted the wad neatly to oblivion without touching the sides. “I think I’ve earned me a coffee.”

For all the offenses of Fleet catering, the coffee aboard the Time Ripper atoned nobly. Unfortunately, like everything else, it was on ration. There was a brisk trade in coffee ration chips among wardroom poker players. Donley fished a handful from his pocket, and glanced at his friend. “I’m feeling generous, O Oracle. Wanna cup?”

“Thy sins are forgiven thee, my son. Plus I owe you one.” Joklan was a lousy poker player. Chess was his game.

Donley shoved two chips across the table. “You can do the fetching, then.”

Joklan disposed of his own debris and returned with two cups of steaming, heavenly-smelling, lifesaving fluid. “Here. I evaluated them both. This one’s better, so you can have it.”

“You dickhead.” Donley eyed the cup, which was not quite full. “You drank out of it!”

“Hey. Evaluation is my job. Don’t thank me,” Joklan grinned benevolently.

They sipped in silence for a few moments. Around them, personnel drifted in, in ones and twos, to draw their midwatch ration paks. There was a low hum of conversation, but no one was sitting nearby.

When Donley spoke, it was in a different tone of voice. “You aren’t too happy about this Veran thing.”

Joklan shrugged. “I’m just a lowly analyst. The Lord Commander doesn’t share his strategic and tactical planning sessions with me, neither does Old Steeleye.” He used the nickname for General-Hartman Ursek, the Intel Chief—a reference to the mythical Eagle who spied out the ground for the battles of the Divine Warrior.

“Well, the Lord Commander has an unbroken string of victories, my friend. Against opponents far more formidable than a bunch of Anachronist sword-swingers.”

“Maybe. I mean, yes, his victories are impressive… Timps, we would have mopped up Hecht and handed it to the First Legion on a gold plate if we’d had a couple more weeks, and Hecht was a tough rock to shatter. But as Old Steeleye says, what we don’t know can really hurt us. And we don’t know so much about Veran it makes me hurt just to think about it.”

“What’s to know? You think Caslon’s out of date? Inaccurate?” He referred to Caslon’s All the Colonized Planets, the standard almanac of the Hub, maintained and regularly updated by the University League, and published by a Galactibank publishing consortium.

“It’s not that. Well, it’s a little out of date—they don’t update on fringey systems like Veran more than once a decade or so—but that’s not a lot of information. And we don’t have a whole lot else. Articles in various publications, U-League archives, an Independent Fleet trade facilitation package and some intercepts between I-Fleet traders and various military hardware suppliers… and that’s it, brother. That’s all.”

Donley was startled. “You’re right, that’s not much,” he said slowly. “Why so little?”

Joklan shrugged again, a little uncomfortably. “It’s never been on any of our regular watch programs—for Bridesake, who’d ever have imagined we’d give a ping about it? And after the mess-up, the last thing we’d want to do is draw attention to our, ah, interest. So we had to go with what was on file. And that’s pretty much feckall.”

Chimes sounded on the ship’s intercom, five tones. They finished their coffee, and stood.

“Well, I know you don’t have much confidence in luck, Ryn. But you can’t play poker for crap. Me, if I’m going to bet on anyone’s luck, it’ll be the Lord Commander’s.”

“It’s not the Lord Commander’s luck that worries me,” Joklan said drily. “Let’s face it, Mat. Klaros Colony’s luck is one long string of cloaca flushes, for a long time now.”

Donley grimaced acknowledgment as he headed out the hatchway that led to the flight decks.

Mar 132013

Read me the story
invasionColonel Father Jartyl Haldred wasn’t surprised by the summons (phrased as a polite request, of course) to meet with Lord Commander Karth Tallis. In addition to serving as the Director General of the Chaplain’s Corps for the Second Legion, he’d been Tallis’ assigned Chaplain for more than twenty years. It was a working relationship, not personal, but it was productive for both of them.

The Lord Commander was not alone. General Hartman Ralin, the new Senior Admiral, Vrag Manchuk, the Lord Commander’s Adjutant, Ord Hartman Callet, Commander Praukent, and formerly-retired General Hartman Jamed Ursek, Old Steeleye himself, were all present. There was no need to ask about the security level of this meeting. Haldred placed a silent bet with himself as to whether he’d be greeted as “Colonel Haldred” or “Father Haldred.”

He won.

“Colonel.” Tallis nodded to him. There were no introductions. They all knew each other, at least by sight and reputation.

Haldred took an empty seat and hoped he was adequately prepared.

Praukent was apparently doyen for this confab. “The Oligarchs have reviewed the recommended course of action with reference to Klaros 3. As you anticipated, Jamed, they did not approve the Guran Wen option. They leave the choice between Vynar Nisk’ta and Veran to us, but the Supreme Commander’s opinion is that they lean strongly to the Veran option, based on known population variables. And it is likely the softer target.”

The Commander exchanged a glance with Old Steeleye, who shrugged. “I’ve said my say.”

“You have.” Tallis nodded. “But for a good many reasons that have nothing to do with military strategy, we’re targeting Veran. Expeditionary planning’s underway, as speed is very much of the essence.”

Praukent continued. “Planning for long-term civilian occupation dictates that the Expeditionary force will carry both a large contingent of civilian engineers and technicians, and a Church Legate and Secretariat.” He touched the presentation control, and a chart appeared.

“Our Civil Advisor will be Imberton Baleth, a sub-Minister from Rations,” Praukent tapped a name. “But his Engineering Consultant, one Kelm Poquard, is likely to be pulling most of the strings. Director of Materials Manipulation at Center University. Our Engineers think we can work with him. He’ll be focusing primarily on adapting habitat and adding capacity for our population. Baleth will be keeping tabs on things for the Speaker.”

There were nods. All of CivAdmin’s Seated Members tried to ensure they had a couple of mid- to high-level snouts in each others’ Bureaus. Baleth’s brief would be mainly watching, but he’d toss up an elbow if either the military leadership or the Church looked like making a grab for CivAdmin power.

“What do we know about Baleth?” Manchuk rumbled.

Praukent shrugged. “Career ’crat. Exec-class family connected loosely to Parkel interests. Been solidly parked in the Moonstation administration of Rations for the past four years and looked to remain parked. Married for eighteen years, three children. Shareholder in three Democratic Companies.”

“And this Legate?” Ralin glanced at Haldred, one eyebrow-fragment lifted.

Haldred nodded. “Lorgan Edrell was a Senior Interlocutor for Doctrinal Purity, before his elevation to, uh, Assistant Home Provincial for Klaros 3, and Cardinal Legate. He has the reputation of an ambitious man, I believe.” He said no more, but there was no pressure to do so in the short silence that followed. The implications of an ambitious prelate being appointed to the post of Legate would be appreciated, variously, by everyone present.

Praukent switched the display to a timeline. The tension in the room thickened perceptibly.

“This is the overriding factor in tactical map construction: Time. More so even than usual. Our schedule is dictated by economic logistics and population management. Transit: About ten thousand hours. We are allocated a generous two thousand hours for military operations. Another two thousand hours for engineering and preparation for the colony landing, including habitat preparation. A very generous thousand hours or so for contingency.”

Haldred swallowed. Even a Chaplain could correctly asses this as borderline realistic in a situation with plenty of reliable intel. Surimaka Delta had come in just under three thousand hours for Second Legion operations, with another fifteen hundred hours to set up habitats and infrastructure civilian Protectorate administration colony.

Ursek’s smile was grim. “So they’re giving us a five thousand hour head start. They think they can hold off the wolves that long. The First Legion and Fleet will manage the evacuation of existing protectorates, bases, and other facilities, and rendezvous with the evacuation from Moonstation and the Insystem facilities. They’ll show up at Klaros 3 five thousand hours or so after we get there.”

The Lord Commander’s voice was carefully expressionless. “Therefore, gentlemen, our strategic matrix will be dictated by the need for speed first, and the need to preserve and pacify the native population second.” He glanced at Old Steeleye, and nodded.

Ursek returned the nod. “That doesn’t mean, however, that we can sacrifice the second priority, as it will be the most critical determinant of long-term success. We need those population resources.”

“We know far too little about them to construct a detailed profile that will allow us to fine-tune at this point. We have to assume, based on what we do have, that the ideological and philosophical goals that inspired them to adopt a semi-anachronist Charter have shaped their cultural motivators over the colony’s history- more than fifteen hundred R-Years of it. So a key tactical consideration will be the early establishment of an anthropological database, and development of tactical modeling inputs based on that database as it evolves.”

Old Steeleye’s gaze turned to Haldred. It reminded him of how the General Hartman had gotten the nickname.

Haldred swallowed, but he was prepared. “The Church has, from time to time, discussed the theological basis of conversion. Naturally, the loss of half a billion of the Creator’s Chosen has re-ignited this discussion. But the doctrinal basis for Chosen status remains unambiguous: The transmission, from father to children, of the Divine Imperative. Children of converts attain Chosen status not from the profession of the father, but from their eventual union with a Bride or Warrior of the Chosen, and the children of that union are naturally Chosen themselves.”

Manchuk gave an impatient nod—everyone knew this—but the Lord Commander was sitting back, attentive and apparently relaxed.

“Given the doctrinal clarity on the conversion issue, the Church is unlikely to divert already-stretched resources to missionary practice on Klaros 3. However, the ongoing theological debate on the question of whether union with an infidel who has not converted, invalidates transmission of the Divine Imperative, can be regarded as settled. The Cardinal Prelate is even now formulating a Doctrinal Memorandum clarifying that while the union of a Chosen woman with an infidel will produce Lost children, the union of a Chosen man with an infidel will transmit the Divine Imperative in full, to produce Chosen children.”

No one was surprised.

Praukent glanced at Ursek, and shrugged. “I’m not sure this will be as large a factor on the early tactical map, although I agree with regards to the long-term implications. We can assume substantial initial casualties if the native population undertakes armed resistance, but we’re dealing with Anachronists, here, not Hub infidels. The casualties are more likely to be among the male population- the fighters. And with, what— twenty-eight million or thereabouts? –we can afford a high casualty rate. Might even be beneficial in the long run.”

Haldred’s indignation overcame his calculated good sense. “We cannot think like that! The Creator values all His creation, even the Lost and the infidels.”

Manchuk shrugged. “We are doing His work, we are His Chosen. Isn’t the re-vitalization of His Church a worthy death that will open the Gates of Eternity, even for the Lost and the infidels?”

“Enough. We can presume substantial casualties, but we do not have sufficient intel to determine the effects of those casualties. Therefore we’ll start by the application of overwhelming, but targeted and focused, tactics aimed at producing a victory while limiting casualties to combatants.” When the Lord Commander used that voice, discussion of a particular topic was finished.

“Operational planning will begin on that basis, and proceed on an accelerated timeline. Divisional assessments will be in the Intel database fifty hours from now. We’ll have a workable pre-Ops plan in seventy-five hours. Logistics will have two hundred hours to implement and the Expedition will depart,” he glanced at the chrono projection, “In three hundred hours.”

The meeting was over.

“The widest gate for evil to enter Time is not the heart of a man bent on doing it, but those comfortable rooms where well-intentioned groups of men make practical plans for attaining the greatest good of the greatest number.” Father Haldred found himself recalling the day in Divinity School when they’d studied the writings of Avatar Kanstan. That long-ago discussion had been in relation to the Civ, of course—the management of Democratic Companies and the CivAdmin. The Mutiny had just been crushed.

He avoided thinking about why it had popped into his mind today.

Mar 012013

Read me the story
convapodSomething was beeping somewhere. Too loud to ignore, but not loud enough to give a clear sense of pitch or rhythm. It came and went. It was… annoying.

Eventually it was annoying enough for Deran Chagarth to notice.

There wasn’t anything else to notice, in the formless iteration of consciousness provided by a convapod. But the sensation of noticing the annoying noise added enough stimulus to simple awareness to begin coalescing into a more complex awareness. Chagarth became aware of existence, first.

Some time later it occurred to him that existence implied identity. He rummaged around the available concepts to see if any of them would attach to “self.” But they hovered tantalizingly out of reach. And it was too much effort to go after them. Much easier not to try.

Time floated past him, spiraling slowly. It seemed to have qualities, but again nothing to which he could attach concepts. It occurred to him that it would be useful to have a way to differentiate and define… things. Ideas. Thoughts. Awareness. Thoughts…

That produced something definite. Defined. Thoughts. There. “Thoughts.” It was a… word.

The time that had been spiraling leisurely past him seemed to rush into a tightening vortex, and then he lost awareness of it in that form. But another word appeared. “Time.” “Time” was… “passing,” yes. A linear process. The spiral was gone, replaced by this unsatisfying linear progression.

Words. He had four, so far. “Thoughts.” “Word.” “Time.” “Passing.” It was a lot. It felt heavy. Consciousness receded.

In the control module of Medbay 2 aboard the Taskmaster, Ord-Colonel Helset Morvaine reviewed the neuroscans from convapod 9c and frowned. Very slow comeback from Trooper… she glanced at the chart readout, Trooper Chagarth. A further review of the chart enlightened. Chagarth had been on the very limits of the triage criteria for cryostasis and revival. If the surrender hadn’t come through just as they were dispatching Medcorps for pickup, he’d probably have been downchecked and left dead.

She glanced at Major Qualar, their cryo expert. “Options?”

He pursed his lips, eyes narrowing. “We can try neurostim, or give it more time. The neurostim… we’ve had good results with the cad-GABA nanites, but we’re almost out of those. We’d probably have to use the Adran-4 sequence, and that…” he trailed off.

Her grimace matched his. The Adran-4 nanite suite was a specific for neurological trauma repair, and Chagarth’s brain hadn’t sustained any. Oxygen deprivation and toxic saturation from the aspiration of chemical byproducts of suit environmental systems failure were a different type of problem altogether. In some similar cases the Adran nanites had been known to actually cause injury. “Well, we’re not in a hurry, for a change. Let’s leave it for now.”

Qualar scanned the chart and agreed.

They turned their attention to the next convapod just as the shipwide alert tone sounded.

“All personnel, prepare for loading and transit. All personnel, prepare for loading and transit. Transit will commence at 2300.”

“What in Kronnos…?”

Colonel Morvaine shook her head. “No idea. I thought we were on station.”

The Major sighed. “No one ever tells the Medcorps.”

The Colonel’s handunit signaled. “Hey, look! Someone’s going to tell the Medcorps something, apparently.” She scanned the instructions. All Divisional Staff chiefs and seconds required at a… “security briefing?” she murmured.

She exchanged eye-rolls with the Major, just as the Medcorps Division Chief, General Kenterum Orlot, pinged her unit.

“And it seems that I’ll need to take over for Scharnav, on the Steelflame, while he accompanies the boss to HQ. Great. Do the best you can, Javak. I think we had all the evac personnel accounted for, but there’s still that skiff on the supply run. Make sure the Loading Officer knows we’ll be using extra supply cubage.” The Major nodded and threw her a salute as she left the bay control module.

Back in convapod 9c, a random series of stimulations—sound, light, tactile—continued slowly, timed by the unit’s analytical processor based on its assessment of Chagarth’s brain activity. Now and again, consciousness surfaced. The battle between a subconscious that believed in his death, regarding the concept of consciousness too painful and demanding to endure, and the ongoing currents of life flowing through the brain’s physical architecture, continued.

(Special thanks to TWYRAH for sound assistance. You know who you are.)

Feb 182013

Read me the story



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.”

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 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.

Oct 142012

Read me the story:
abstract representation, in blues & grays on white, of binary dataThe look Jarvin gave her as she entered the Meeting Room would have peeled duracoat from titanium-alloy, and the impatient, skeptical looks on the faces of some of the other sixteen Seated Members promised signal vengeance for this disturbance visited upon them by (presumably) a female whim. She’d said very little in the three regular sessions they’d held so far, so it was hardly surprising they believed in her reputation as the eccentric, erratic, Kerant family ne’er-do-well. Only Undas Matlor, the cynical Member for Transport and a survivor of the old CivAdmin, knew her at all.

“Honorable Speaker, Esteemed Members,” she began, conventionally enough, but then dispensed with protocols that had evolved in a more leisured and less perilous era—all of twenty days ago. “The matter at hand is a notice from Ermetyne Finance Conglom that they have petitioned Galactibank Central for precautionary liens on our colony’s protectorates of Nerith Zeta, S’dernat, Lojau Hen, Surimaka Delta, and Aijala w’Oth. They have also placed the payment schedules of our primary and secondary notes under pending review.” She paused a beat.

“It is highly unlikely that the petition will be denied.”

She waited a moment for this to sink in, and sure enough, only half-a-dozen or so seemed to grasp the situation. One, for a wonder, was Jarvin, whose petulant expression had vanished into a half-frown. Another was Undas Matlor, who leaned back in his chair with a blank expression she knew meant he was connecting the dots… he’d be ahead of her in a minute or two, the old fox.

“I’ve routed to your screens,” she clicked the ‘send’ button, “a breakdown of those notes, the refinanced payment schedule that was contracted seventeen years ago, and a summary of the last semi-annual balance sheet. Please review.”

Frowning, the Seated Members turned attention to their screens. One by one, their looks of irritation, puzzlement, or indifference changed. Mostly to shock, but in some cases to wary confusion.

“Blessed Warrior…” muttered the Member for External Commerce, the other survivor (besides Jarvin and Matlor) of the old CivAdmin.

“But… I don’t understand! These figures… on the remaining notes outstanding… can’t be right! Certainly, we contracted additional obligations in the wake of the Mutiny, but those were a separate transaction. And short-term. Weren’t they?” Pentik Mabry was the newly-Seated Member for Planning Coordination. “And these figures are, uh, arranged differently than when they were presented at the last semi-annual review. Aren’t they?”

Zarel spared him an approving nod. Mabry might be young, but his family had been grooming him for a CivAdmin seat. He’d been following the issues of importance to his Seat, and since his hasty appointment, he’d been working hard to grasp the essentials of his division’s responsibilities. “Quite so, Member Mabry. A well-chosen word, ‘arranged.’ Without going into the sins of our predecessors,” she carefully avoided glancing at her brother, “past Finance reports seem to have aimed more at avoiding awkward questions than providing a clear financial picture.”

“The initial notes taken out from Rezprom Interhub after the Mutiny were secured separately with a revenue interest in the Lojau Hen protectorate. Once it became clear that the net revenues from Lojau Hen would remain, ah, inadequate, for an indefinite period, we offered to refinance. Rezprom refused. They sold the note to Ermetyne Finance Conglom, who offered us what seemed—then—favorable terms on a consolidation and refinance, to be secured by capital shares in the protectorates aforementioned.”

“I had no idea that the capital debt was still so large… Wasn’t the whole point of having protectorates to develop revenue sources to speed the payoff rate on our capital debts?” The Member for Air frowned.

Undas Matlor chuckled mirthlessly. “Theoretically. Unfortunately, the costs of the military operations required to take and hold the protectorates invariably exceeded—by a large measure—the expense estimates. And we’ve never been as successful as we’d like to think we are at generating revenue from protectorates.” He glanced sardonically at the Speaker.

Jarvin, to his credit, didn’t rise to the bait. Of course, he’d been Seated only three years ago, so it was still possible for him to blame any sins of his division on his predecessors.

The Member for Military Liaison, however, seemed to take a personal affront. “Perhaps if certain Democratic Companies in the military supply sector worried less about inflating profit margins, and more about meeting timelines and staying within budgets, there would be less discongruity between estimates and reality,” he sneered, glancing pointedly at the Member for External Commerce and at Zarel herself.

She snorted. “Member Nexep, having requested this Emergency Meeting to acquaint the CivAdmin with a very real and very immediate threat, I’ve done my job. If we don’t want to discuss this information further in any substantive way, I’m happy to adjourn the meeting, and you can convene a meeting to discuss the sins of our dead rivals at your leisure.”

She was older than anyone at the table except Matlor, and most of them were young enough to be her children. The tone of voice she used was one that had always been particularly effective with her own tiresome offspring during their pre-adolescent adjustment adventures. There was a momentary, rather shocked, silence.

Jarvin stared at her, eyes narrowed. All of Harlis’ warnings about their sister’s intractability, unfeminine willfulness, and filial disrespect came back to him in a rush, and it took a severe struggle of will to set aside the impulse to deal with a wayward sister, and address the crisis at hand. A crisis she’d brought to their attention, of course. He found himself on the verge of grinding his teeth, and pursed his lips, instead. She hadn’t actually created the crisis, after all.

“Order, please, Members. As Member Kerant has reminded us, this is her Emergency Meeting until she chooses to adjourn or until a majority votes for adjournment. Do I hear a motion for adjournment?”

He let the silence stretch a good fifteen seconds before he nodded at his sister. “Member Kerant.”

She nodded back. “Honored Speaker.” Then she looked around the big table. “Members, the facts are at hand. The liens will be granted, I can assure you. Nothing in Galactibank Central’s historical pattern gives us any hope otherwise. You have all seen our current balance sheet, and our current revenues and immediate projections. Even with full control of the protectorate revenues, we would soon have fallen behind on capital debt payments. I’d hoped we could squeeze five years out, to give ourselves time for contingency planning.”

She shook her head. “We would have faced the decision soon enough, in any case. But the Three must now chart our course of action in the light of this new information. It will be incumbent on us to ensure that our Speaker,” she nodded in Jarvin’s direction again, “has the information and support needed for these deliberations. Honored Speaker,” she addressed Jarvin directly, “What do you wish from our divisions, and from this body?”

He blinked a moment, then picked up his cue. He looked down at the figures on the screen, then back up at the others. All eyes were on him. He blinked again, and drew a deep breath. “Right now, we need to be sure we understand all the implications of this information, and develop some preliminary recommendations for action. I will have to present this information to the Supreme Commander and the Cardinal Prelate, and it might be useful to have some options to consider.”

“In addition, I would ask each of you to accelerate the timing on the resource inventories your divisions have been conducting. If the Member for CivAdmin Operations would be so kind, could you coordinate the receipt and summarizing of the inventories, Felep?”

Felep Kostak’s mouth dropped open, but he nodded. “Yes, Honored Speaker, certainly.”

“Very well. Member Kerant, if you accede, may we adjourn this Emergency Meeting, and I will convene a regular session in one hour from now?”

“The meeting is adjourned, Honorable Speaker,” Zarel bowed respectfully. Slowly, the eighteen civil leaders of Klaros dispersed.

Oct 072012

Read me the story:
line drawing of a young boy, lying on his side in a resting position, eyes openVetkar Allis looked down at the faces of his sleeping children and fought a welling despair that threatened to close his throat. Angrily, he blinked back tears, futile and redundant. When you existed in a chasm of endless, overwhelming grief, tears were—

Well, Father Rillem talked about Man’s duty to accept the Creator’s Providence without understanding it, but Vetkar still had trouble understanding any Providence that would let a whole world of believers be destroyed. Half a billion children, men and women, including his own bride, Gislet. Gone. All that Man had created in reverent obedience to the Creator’s will, warrens and factories and domes and agroneries and, yes, Churches, including his own agronery. Gone.

He’d feel worse, he knew, if it weren’t for the anti-shock meds that were added to the food, and the subliminal broadcasts designed to soothe and encourage the survivors. At least they were honest about that. Subliminals had been outlawed for all of Klaros II’s history, their use permitted only under medical supervision and with the approval of an Ecclesiastical Court. But now, who could argue? Anything that would help them get through another day.

His hand went out, finger extended, toward the sweet curve of Kace’s cheek, but he restrained himself from touching the boy. Let them sleep. At least the nightmares were lessening, now, and the long bouts of tears and pleas to “bring back Marm, Da, please, can’t we bring back Marm?” were over. Again, he blinked back tears, and turned away from the narrow bunk Kace and Pralet shared. He needed sleep, too. Everyone’s workdays were long, now, and his came even earlier than most.

He hadn’t far to go; his own narrow, fold-down bunk was on the other long wall of the tiny compartment, a bare step away. Tired as he was, he dreaded lying there in the dark, desperately wanting sleep but tormented by the fear that he’d dream again of all they’d lost. They’d given out transdermal patches, at first, to help people sleep, but that was only for the first few days. Then they’d put sleep-induction vids on the com menu, but now com hours had been cut and the only ’casts permitted after hour twenty were emergency messages from the Church or the Civs.

Power, like everything else, was strictly rationed.

He had to sleep, though. Tomorrow they were taking down the big carb-processors for maintenance and he’d have to be alert. Having an important job was the only guarantee that he and Kace and Pralet would be able to stay together and earn a decent Colony Share when the survivors finally moved to Klaros III. Maybe even another agronery. New colonies always needed skilled producers of raw foodstuffs, and at least he had the experience. A new agronery… maybe if he could get allocated enough cubage he could even try breeding his own strain of maticale, something that could be licensed— that would ensure that Kace and Pralet would have status and generous family stakes.

When sleep came, he dreamed not of his own, familiar agronery, but of terraces and shelves of growvats, waving with pale-green spears bearing fat heads of ripening grain under an unfamiliar sun.


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