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.

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.”

Sep 122012
 

Finger-like dark cloudy masses with irridescent auras rising upward against clouds of light and stars in the background.The advertising for the Pleasuredome’s Homelight Lounge featured the slogan “See the World from Pleasuredome.” It needed just …one… more word.

It was supposed to be their last day at the main Pleasuredome hostel—they’d booked a private cottage in the “wilderness adventure” section of the dome for the next week. Hostin and Demis’ leaves would be up at the end of the week and they’d be leaving, Hostin for deployment on Hecht, and Demis back downside on his regular assignment at the Centrum Bek Home Legion supply office.

They had taken the children to the Grav-Krazee park that afternoon, and mostly stood around while they went on ride after ride. Jamed admitted he was flagging by midafternoon, and although the kids were adamant that they were good until until closing time, Francet and Orshel had vetoed it on the grounds of early bed and an early departure for the cottage next day.

So they’d gone for dinner while it was still daycycle, at one of the restaurants that catered to children with “fun meals” and costumed characters for service and entertainment.

“We’ll meet you in the Homelight,” Jamed had told the two girls as they’d shepherded the youngsters off to bed, and won a grateful glance from his younger son and son-in-law. It was still early enough that they managed to get a domeside table, though the credit chip Jamed had palmed to the maiter hadn’t hurt, either.

“Holy Warrior,” Hostin muttered as they sat down. “I think I’m as tired as you, Fa.”

Demis grunted in agreement. “If I had to ride that TowerTwister one more time, I was seriously considering jumping off.” He caught the eye of one of the servers, and raised an imperative hand.

They gave orders for drinks, Hostin and Demis considerately ordering for the girls. No one had much conversation left, after the strenuous afternoon. They’d eaten all they needed with the kids; no one had the energy for another restaurant, but Jamed ordered a platter of fingernibs to accompany the drinks.

The huge, slightly curved glasteel wall that butted up against the very edge of the tavis field enclosing the Pleasuredome resort was still a trifle opaque from the glare of the fading day lights, but the outline of Reveille C could be discerned, a vast bulk hanging beyond the short horizon. The planet orbited far enough out from the primary that its natural daycycle was all but irrelevant; the jathrin domes that enclosed its two rings of habitats were engineered with supplementary light cycles, just like Pleasuredome. The habitat domes were beads of light, like necklaces draping the poles.

An attractive female server in the brief Homelight Lounge uniform (well, brief for women—the male staff had ordinary service keks and tunics with a formal sash) brought their drinks. Jamed eyeballed her cleavage and had a moment’s dreamy reminiscence of that amazingly nimble and good-natured dancer from the show lounge. Really, it was a shame he wouldn’t have time for another visit… maybe when they returned from the cottage.

“What the…?” he heard Hostin exclaim, and turned.

His son was staring at the planet.

Jamed followed his gaze.

Among the lighted “beads” of the south polar habitat chain, was an expanding, multicolored sparkle effect.

He could feel the color draining from his face. His head felt light, and very far away from the rest of him.

There was a murmur rippling through the lounge, now, and more and more of the patrons and staff were turning to the windowed wall.

Someone muttered, “Creator have mercy…”

But there was no mercy today. The sparkling effect continued to expand, and small strands of incandescence began to form, fringing the main blur.

Not many in the Homelight lounge had ever seen a tavis field in catastrophic failure. But everyone knew that this light show was no part of the Pleasuredome entertainment schedule.

Helplessly, Jamed Ursek watched millions die. “Demis.”

His son-in-law was staring out the window, brows twisted in confused alarm.

“Demis!”

“Wha…” he turned. “Is that…?” His voice was hoarse, a little breathy, his eyes unfocused.

“Demis!”

Abruptly, Demis’ eyes focused. He looked at Jamed with the automatic response of a legionary to a commander. His lips parted, then closed again.

“Demis, go and tell the girls to stay in their rooms, and keep the children there, as well. Do it now. Then get your uniform brassard and shockwand, and report to the Security desk in the lobby.”

Another half-second of frozen regard, then a truncated nod, and Demis was gone. Jamed would have been glad to follow, to have something useful to do, to have a need to fill. But there was nothing he could do, not now. Kalven… Pranis… the grandchildren… everyone.

Everyone.

Around them, the murmur was swelling. A woman’s voice rose keening above the crescendo in a high, hopeless descant. The sound of someone retching violently close at hand. Crockery breaking. Something heavy hitting the floor. Splintering sounds.

A man flung himself against the window, fists pounding. “No! No! NOOOOO!!”

Jamed took one last look out the window, then turned to Hostin, watching mesmerized as the incandescent fringe wove itself into twisting tentacles, reaching north… breaking off…

He shook his son’s arm. “Hos!”

Hostin turned his head, looked at his father as though seeing a stranger for the first time.

“What?”

“Hos, we’d better go meet Demis at the Security station. Come on.”

It was something to do. Better than standing, watching.

Hostin looked over his shoulder, more than once, as they left, shoving their way through a growing chaos. As though the view might change. As though it might turn back into the peaceful bulge of Revielle C, with its serene necklaces of habitat domes, homes to half a billion people. As though the nightmare might end.

End. That was it.

“See the World End From Pleasuredome.”

Sep 032012
 

Colorful painting of female figures dancing, with red, green, yellow, and flesh tones predominating.“Wow. That was nice, Jamed.” Yalet stretched, luxuriously, a ripple of motion down a body whose loveliness owed almost nothing to bio-sculp. “Thank you.”

“Thank you, my dear. It’s nice to know that my youth isn’t entirely a thing of the past.” Jamed Ursek chuckled gently, and caressed the abundant soft hair spread on the pillow beside him.

Yalet blinked up into his face, blue eyes wide. “You’re not very old! And anyway, the young ones are…” her nose wrinkled a little. “Well, they’re energetic, but they don’t have much style, if you know what I mean.”

Jamed laughed. She probably said the same thing to a hundred men a year, but she certainly managed to deliver the line with sincerity. He groaned a little, involuntarily, as he turned and swung his legs out of bed. He was in decent shape, worked out regularly, but he’d used muscles that didn’t come into his regular regimen.

The heavy lirasilk robe was tossed over a chair beside the nightstand; he reached for it and swung it over his shoulders.

“No, no, stay where you are, my dear. I’m just going to get us a drink. I could certainly use one, anyway. You?”

She turned, and raised herself on an elbow. “One of those jet-propelled fruit things? Sure! I never had anything like that before, those are good.” It had been one of several pleasant surprises that, while he’d welcomed her with a glass of very expensive brandy, he’d then switched to the amazing tangy-sweet fruit concoction from a real crystal decanter in the room chiller. She’d not had to worry about palming more booze, just enjoyed the light glow of the one brandy and then really liked the tart, sweet thing he’d called a “rembek tootie” or something like that.

“Ah. I’m glad you approve. The rembek comes all the way from Surimaka Delta, shipped intact, since they don’t deconstitute well. A very expensive vice, but I developed a taste for it when I was stationed at Raliki.” He poured the sparkling, pale-green concoction into two tall, narrow, footed goblets.

Her eyes widened again, as she reached for the goblet he extended. “You’re not a Homie, then? I didn’t think so!”

“Certainly not. Klaros Legion, retired General-Hartman.” He set his goblet on the nightstand and slid back in next to her, reaching to dial the canopy lights to a marginally brighter golden glow that gave her skin a warm luster. His eyes dwelt appreciatively on the exquisite curve of shoulder and breast for a moment, then he picked up his goblet and held it out.

Her eyes sparkled as she tapped it with her own glass. Yalet wasn’t too sure of the higher military ranks, but she knew that any kind of General was pretty far up there. “I always kind of envied military women,” she confessed. “It must be wonderful to travel, and see how people live on other worlds. Even if they are all benighted heretics,” she added hastily, her gaze becoming suddenly wary.

Retired General-Hartman Jamed Ursek suppressed a cynical grin. “A very proper sentiment. Yes, it’s interesting,” he gazed into the middle distance for a moment, remembering a few things, then pulled his attention back to the amazingly lovely woman beside him. “Oh, well, they also serve who only help retired old officers ease a little biological back pressure,” he smiled.

She laughed. “I guess it’s the least I can do, as a patriotic citizen.” She sensed he was drifting a little, and lay quietly beside him, sipping the delicious drink occasionally. His gaze had returned to the middle distance, and his face was hard to read. She wondered if she should make a gesture toward going, decided to leave it for a bit. When he came out of his brown study, she’d be able to get a better read on it.

He’d pleasantly surprised her, and she’d been glad to deliver with real sincerity the conventional thanks she delivered so often with carefully calculated coquetry. Older men sometimes, especially if the ‘biological back pressure’—she grinned a little at the phrase—had been building up for a long time, were a little too abrupt for her to really hit her stride. Jamed had been one of the lingering kind, and also one of the confident ones, neither intimidated by her looks nor anxious about their own capabilities. It had been nice. Very nice. Why, she wondered for the billionth time, did the Church have such a down on it?

She looked up at the half-dome canopy that covered the upper third of the bed, lights gleaming subtly from artful recesses. A sideways glance at him reassured her that the customer was still off in his own thoughts. Sometimes they wanted to talk, and sometimes not. Sort of a shame Jamed wasn’t the talking kind, he had interesting stories, she’d bet. The little he had told her, that he was a widower, retired, treating his two daughters and their families to a family holiday at Birval before taking up a lectureship at the Altyne Orbital educational facility, was intriguing enough. Altyne Orbital was that big satellite cluster, riding out beyond Revielle D, where all the famous scientists and writers were. EduTel had run a vid program on it last year.

Yalet always watched EduTel when she had a chance. Her own education had ended at Eight-level, which was better than most in Reschek, the small Fard Karachik community she’d grown up in, but she always wished she’d been eligible for the extra two levels that the better-class cit kids could request.

One more sip, and the lovely fruit stuff was gone. She glanced sideways at Jamed, who was, she thought, smiling faintly now, and set her glass on the nightstand beside her. The tiny chink seemed to recall him, and he turned his head to look at her, and smiled. “Sorry, my dear—Yalet. How discourteous of me to leave a lady unaccompanied.”

Her eyes crinkled at the corners with her smile. “Not at all, if you were enjoying yourself. I like seeing people enjoy themselves.”

He chuckled then. “You do, don’t you. How admirably suitable.”

She had the read on him now, something in the tone of voice told her the evening was over. She slid out of bed, and came round to his side, and leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “You’re a great gentleman.”

“Well, thank you. You must go?” It was a polite enquiry, but he was already elsewhere.

“Indeed, I have to get some beauty sleep, Citi… er, General. I have three shows tomorrow.” She let a saucy lilt come into her smile. “’But all you have to do is…whistle!’” She quoted the classic line from Evening at the Tower.

“‘Ahh… and I do know how to whistle!’” he smiled, capping the quote.

She went to the chair beside the table where she’d left the wrap and low-cut gown and provocative underthings she’d been wearing. “Shall I take these in the ’fresher?” Some men, she knew, loved to watch a woman undress but didn’t care for the reverse process.

“You needn’t, unless you’d like to.” She was pleased by his attention as she drew the garments on, carefully, one by one, then went to stand before the vast mirror by the console between the windows, and tidied her hair and face.

Jamed wasn’t conscious of how much he enjoyed watching her dress at first, but then he realized it had been, what…–nine years?—since he’d been both intimate and relaxed enough with a woman to watch the little smoothings and pattings and attentions she gave to herself during the dressing process. He thought of Liret, but it was a warm nostalgia, not the painful ache that often came with such memories. As Yalet gathered the tiny gilt bag and scarf, he slid from the bed himself, took a folder from his dressing-gown pocket, abstracted a credit slip, and walked her to the door.

“I hope you’ll allow me to express a little extra appreciation, Yalet. I very much enjoyed myself… and you.” And he bowed over her hand just as though she were a real exec-class type lady.

He was a real gentleman, to be sure. She gave him her warmest smile and most appreciative wink, as the door closed behind her.

Sep 032012
 

Two long, curving tubes next to a metal walkway and handrail. Reflections from overhead lights highlight the long depth and distant vanishing point.On the fifth day before the world ended, Jamed Ursek, retired General-Hartman of Legion Intelligence, departed the surface of Reveille C for a family vacation at Birval Pleasurdome, adjacent to the Moonstation habitat complex on the planet’s larger satellite. This involved catching a gravprop tube at the central station in Port Andall, part of a habitat complex in the planet’s northern ring of settlements.

“Alright, Fa,” his son Kalven assured him, with only a touch of anxiety. “Demis and Francet will be at the station when you get to Centrum Bek, and Hostin and Orshel will be minding the kids at the shuttleport. Assuming they all coordinate on time, anyway. Silly idea, all meeting at Centrum Bek—why didn’t Hostin and Orshel just go direct to Pykalt from Mag Alpha, instead of traveling all the way north with three little kids?”

Kalven had always been a bit of a fusser, but it made him a formidably competent logistics officer. Jamed grinned at his son. “Sure you don’t want to ask for a little leave, and join us?”

Kal snorted. “What, to help you ride patrol on seven noisy kids at Pleasuredome? As you’re always reminding us, Fa, you didn’t raise any fools.” He glanced up at the departure board. “Capsule incoming.”

“Five minutes out. Plenty of time. And yes, I agree your brother-in-law is a stiff, but it wouldn’t hurt you to come along and congratulate him on his promotion.” Kalven had never cared much for Demis, and considered that his sister had married beneath her when she became the bride of a Home Legion Senior Lieutenant. It was a common prejudice among the First Legion officer class. And, if the truth be told, Jamed thought his son-in-law rather a dull dog, too. But he made Francet happy.

“It’s not just that, Fa. I’ve got duty this afternoon, and we’re… busy.” Kalven carefully said no more. His father was a General-Hartman, true, but he was a retired General-Hartman, and that didn’t give him the security clearance to know anything about his son’s current assignment.

Jamed glanced sideways at his son, and debated whether to discomfit him by a reference to the First Legion units being readied for deployment to Hecht. He still tracked plenty of Klaros’ many current military operations. But it wouldn’t do. More than thirty years in military intelligence made him constitutionally disinclined to reveal any information at all to anyone who didn’t already know, even to remind Kalven that “retired” did not equate to “vegetative.”

The tube capsule indicator changed from “approaching” to “arriving,” and Jamed picked up his small bag—the rest of the luggage had been sent on by freight carrier to the Treasuredome resort hotel—and gave his son a light tap on the upper arm. “All right, Ord-Colonel Ursek. Duty first, as always. Warrior inspire you, Bride protect you. See you in three weeks.”

Kalven smiled. “You too, Fa. My best to the girls. And Hostin. And Demis, and congratulations on his promotion.” He stepped back from the rush of air that signaled the capsule’s impending arrival.

Jamed gave him a wave, as he boarded. The capsule door slid closed, and a honeyed mechanical voice announced, “Please be seated, and strap in. Next stop, Centrum Bek Shuttle Port.”

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