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.

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.


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