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.

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.

Sep 072012
 

A multi-barrel configured ship making insystem transit, showing blue & green energy trails against the background of a major space station.“Sir? I’ve never seen an init code like this before…” The communications technician was an Ensign on his first cruise, so Themat Jurnis wasn’t too surprised. He didn’t hurry as he strolled to the com station, moving only with his customary orderly dispatch. He looked at the codes on the screen and frowned. He’d never seen them either, but better safe than sorry. “You’re relieved of duty, Ensign,” he said formally, as he clicked the log tab.

“Relieved, Sir,” the Ensign left.

The string of initiation codes contained some Jurnis did know, however, including the one that signified that the contents of the message was a triple-encrypt, eyes-only message for the Lord Commander of the Second Expeditionary Legion, in person and with every security bell and whistle the brass could tack on. Too well-trained to even allow himself to imagine curiosity, Jurnis initiated a security trace for the Lord Commander: In the Orbital Command Platform, not unnaturally. He didn’t need to know why or where, merely relayed the message’s init codes to the Lord Commander’s Adjutant, Major Callet, with an “urgent” flag. Then he waited, sternly disciplining himself from even thinking about what could possibly rate such a stew of security.

Callet was inspecting inventory lists when the double tone of the com flag alerted him. What he saw on the scrambler sent him to the next room, in spite of the red “privacy” light on the doorlatch.

The Lord Commander was meeting with Alren Tydar, Hecht’s new Military Governor, and the Regional Command Staff. He looked up with no more sign of annoyance than a minute eyebrow movement, but when he saw Callet, he nodded. Wordlessly, the adjutant circled the meeting table, and handed over the scrambler.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” the Lord Commander stood.

“Lord Commander, I must insist that we resolve this…” Tydar caught the Lord Commander’s eye and trailed off.

The OCP’s secure communications facility was adjacent to the main Situation Room. Karth Tallis placed his palm against the lock, then blinked into the retinal scanner, then spoke a series of nonsense syllables in a precise sequence for the voiceprint analyzer. Triply-encrypted, eyes-only messages were never sent with good news, he reflected, as the doorseal winked green. He prepared himself, he thought, for the worst.

An appreciable time interval later—less than half an hour, although it felt like a day, maybe a year—he sat back and frowned. Whatever he’d prepared himself for, it wasn’t this. Methodically, he re-checked the encryption. Then re-checked it again.

Again he sat back. That was it. Nothing more. Just that bald command. Could it be a trick? Frowning, he ran through the possibilities. None seemed likely, given the initiation codes and routing guide on the message heading. Outside his chain of command, yes, but it did carry the triple sealcode of the Three, the ruling Oligarchy of Klaros. And yet… why, if they bothered to put the sealcode on, would they not sign it? Surely, given the content of the message, they would want to forestall any conceivable doubts about its legitimacy.

He left the communications facility, punctiliously re-engaging the security seal. Callet was waiting in the Situation Room. The only other personnel were the security monitor and the Lieutenants standing watch at the various regional control consoles. Tallis gestured to his adjutant, and gave a few low-voiced orders.

Less than an hour later, the Situation Room was packed. The Expeditionary Legion Command Staff, the Fleet’s Flag Officer In Charge, and the Occupation Administration leadership were all gathered around the main table. Watch functions had temporarily been re-routed back to Combat Command, and the room was secured and sealed.

“We have a directive from the Three,” Tallis wasted no time on preliminaries. They all knew it was an extraordinary conference. Some brows rose. Tydar’s eyes narrowed, but his mouth folded in at the corners. Had he expected this? The Military Governor was not, in spite of his title, a military officer, but an appointee of the Civ, which had no secure communications facilities in the Hecht system yet. Tallis watched him as he continued.

“The directive is unequivocal. We are to withdraw all Klarosian personnel from the Hecht system, evacuating entirely, within four hundred hours. We are to commandeer every functional interstellar vessel in the system, and to load the maximum quantity of transuranics that can be transported by our own Fleet vessels plus all commandeered vessels. We are to return to Orbital One by the shortest possible route, without calling at Bejan Base, with the ker-equipped Fleet vessels preceding the standard-drive vessels, which are to be convoyed by adequate Fleet vessels to ensure they make a safe journey. We are not to discuss these orders with any personnel below Command Staff ranks.”

He touched the tab that relayed the segment of the decrypted message cleared for Command Staff ranks to the wraparound view projector at the center of the table, so that they could all see the sealcode of the Three, and waited. His own Command Staff, and Admiral Destane, the Flag, read the message carefully, but refrained from comment. The Civies, on the other hand, were agog. Amazing that a mere half-dozen individuals could generate such a babble. And, by the expression on Military Governor Tydar’s face as he re-read the message for the third time, whatever he might have been expecting, it wasn’t this.

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