I suspect these forts would look familiar to anyone familiar with depictions of the American Wild West- timber and earthwork construction, buildings made of logs or roughly sawn planks. Fort Salby is a more permanent masonry construction, by contrast- but Fort Salby is on the railroad and they can afford to bring up heavy construction equipment for it.
The frontier region (i.e. beyond railhead, I'm going to be using this term a lot) contains small towns of survey crews and the like, but they are being abandoned rapidly. Also confirmation that the Portal Authority maintains outposts to provide travelers with fresh horses, and to support Voices to keep up a chain of communication with the rear."I know you specifically asked not to receive any special treatment when you reported to me eight months ago, Janaki," he said, "and overall, I thought you were right. Still do, in fact. I'm not Ternathian myself, of course, but I've always thought the Ternathian tradition that the heir to the throne ought to have military experience- real military experience, not just a token version of it- makes a lot of sense. That's why I went ahead and deployed you forward to New Uromath when Halifu needed reinforcements. But I'm sure you're aware of how things have changed out here in the last month or so... You don't have a Voice assigned to your platoon, do you?" he asked.
"No, Sir." Janaki was a bit puzzled by the question. "Company-Captain chan Halifu considered sending one along with us, given the prisoners we're escorting. But we're short along this entire chain, especially with all the troop movements going on. Certainly too short to start assigning Voices to mere platoons. Besides, the company-captain knew Darcel Kinlafia was coming with us, so we were covered. Until he … went on ahead, of course."
The long overland march from Fort Brithik had taken the next best thing to three weeks. He'd been able to make better time (until, at least, he'd hit the mountains between Brithik and Salby) after leaving the majority of his wounded prisoners, in no small part because there were actual roads between Brithik and Fort Ghartoun. Several small towns- little more than a handful of roughly constructed buildings clustered around Portal Authority remount stations and Voice relay posts- had been strung along those roads like beads when Janaki and his platoon originally deployed forward from Fort Raylthar. On the journey back, many of them had been deserted, except for the Voices and Authority personnel still manning the remount stations.
No platoon-level Voice for Janaki, though given how logistics and population demographics work that was probably inevitable.
Prisoners brought back to Fort Ghartoun, including Thalmayr, who commanded the defenses that chan Tesh's company overran at the portal mouth.Although he'd left the majority of the wounded at Brithik, he was still accompanied by half a dozen ambulances. It was far simpler to load the prisoners onto the vehicles rather than try to find individual mounts for them … and accept the additional security problems which would have gone with it. A single mounted Marine with a Model 10 at the ready could guard an entire ambulance full of prisoners quite handily, and none of them was in the position to make an individual break for freedom. And, because he'd had to bring the ambulances along anyway, he'd also brought along Commander of One Hundred Thalmayr.
He hadn't wanted to do that, for several reasons. One was the fact that he continued to hold the idiotic Arcanan officer responsible for the massacre of Thalmayr's own command. Janaki had had more time now to think over what Thalmayr had done, and the more he'd thought about it, even after allowing for the unknown nature of Company-Captain chan Tesh's weapons, the stupider he'd realized the man had to be. But he was honest enough to admit that the main reason was that Thalmayr reminded him entirely too much of a zombie in his present state. Petty Captain Yar had, indeed, "shut him down" completely, and Janaki hadn't made sufficient allowance for how … creepy he was going to find that totally expressionless, blank-eyed face whenever he was forced to look at it.
Sharonan medicine apparently considers actual spinal injuries inoperable, but may be able to deal with injuries that exert pressure on the cord. Broadly in line with the "early 20th century" standard of medicine, technology, and science. Although Healers probably put them a little beyond that standard.Unfortunately, Petty Captain chan Rodair, the Fort Brithik Healer, had insisted that Thalmayr be taken on to what had been been Fort Raylthar. From his own examination of the captured Arcanan officer, chan Rodair believed that Thalmayr's paralysis might be the result of pressure on his spinal cord, rather than actual damage to the cord itself. If that were the case, then surgical intervention might restore the Arcanan's mobility, but chan Rodair wasn't trained as a surgeon. Company-Captain Golvar Silkash, Velvelig's post Healer, was a school-trained surgeon, and a good one. In addition, Silkash's assistant, Petty Captain Tobis Makree, was not only a trained surgeon in his own right, but also a powerfully Talented Healer. Given that- and especially given Makree's unusual combination of skills and Talent- chan Rodair had argued that Thalmayr's best chance for an actual recovery lay at Fort Raylthar.
Weird. Surprising how modest Janaki is under the circumstances; he had to have expected to wind up ruling Ternathia after all."That's about what I'd gathered. In this case, according to the SUNN reports we've been getting over the Voicenet, he was more than justified. In fact, most of the Conclave seemed to feel that way. Which explains why he's been nominated as the first planetary emperor of Sharona."
For a moment, Janaki just looked at the regiment-captain. He'd known from the beginning that his father and his family were going to have a prominent part to play in whatever decisions the Conclave ever came to, but he'd never expected anything remotely like what Velvelig appeared to be suggesting.
For several seconds, it simply refused to sink in. Then it did, and his first reaction was that he couldn't think of anyone on Sharona who could possibly do the job better than Zindel chan Calirath. His second reaction was that it had been extraordinarily thick with it at him not to see this coming. And his third reaction was a stab of sheer, unmitigated terror as he realized who would someday have to succeed his father in that role, if it was confirmed. Which, he thought a moment later, might just explain why I wasn't about to let myself think about this particular possibility!
To be fair, giving up your own empire's sovereignty when it was founded and continued to exist for centuries in large part out of a desire NOT to get gobbled up by the Encroaching World Hegemon that just happened to be, as I said earlier, "playing on Easy mode..." I'd ask for some pretty big concessions too."Oh, it gets even better," Velvelig assured him. "You see, there were two candidates for the nomination. Your father … and Chava Busar."
The eyes which had widened a moment before abruptly narrowed and went very cold, Velvelig observed. That, too, pleased him immensely. There were very few Arpathian septs which didn't have at least one bone to pick with Emperor Chava, and Velvelig's sept- what was left of it- nursed long and homicidal memories of the debt it owed the Busar Dynasty. Which, although he'd never actually explained it to Janaki, was one of the reasons Namir Velvelig had been so pleased when Platoon-Captain chan Calirath reported to him for duty.
"I can see where that could get ugly, Sir," Janaki said after a moment. "Still, I suppose it was inevitable. Who else could possibly put together an opposition candidacy?"
"It wasn't much of a 'candidacy,'" Velvelig demurred. "As nearly as I can tell from the reports we've gotten so far- and remember, they're a week old- your father buried him in the voting. It wasn't even close. Unfortunately, Chava's refused to accept that the Conclave's decision is binding upon him. Which, since the Conclave is a purely voluntary association, is probably a not unreasonable position," the regiment-captain conceded unwillingly.
"He's flatly refused to accept the outcome of the vote, then?"
"No, not quite. But he's put forward an incredible shopping list of demands which he insists have to be met before he'll even contemplate the possibility of 'surrendering Uromathia's sacred sovereignty to a foreign crown.'" The regiment-captain made a face. "The Conclave is considering those demands now. Personally, I don't see any way he can genuinely expect to get ninety-nine percent of them, but he seems perfectly prepared to go on arguing about them forever."
In any event, though, Janaki is told to hurry on back home, with the wounded stopping here at Fort Ghartoun while the prisoners continue back but with more horses to make better time. Velvelig says to Janaki "I'm afraid your days in uniform are over. We can't afford to have anything happen to you now." Janaki reluctantly agrees; "What had been an acceptable risk in peacetime for the heir to the Winged Crown was not an acceptable risk in wartime for the man who might be about to become heir to the crown of all Sharona." So Janaki's platoon takes time for a hot bath and a hot meal, but that's it.
Talents used as sentry outposts. A good Plotter can detect intruding humans at 2-4 miles' range, and can sweep the full arc of terrain they can monitor in about twenty minutes- faster than people on foot could reach him, but not faster than good cavalry, let alone dragons.Petty Armsman Harth Loumas sat in the hot patch of shade cast by the small canvas tarp and tried to ignore the insects whining around his ears. He told himself that, despite the bugs' irritation quotient, he couldn't really object to his present duty. Or, he shouldn't, anyway; obviously he could, because he was. All the same, he knew that most of his fellow PAAF troopers would willingly have exchanged places with him. For one thing, he did get to sit in the shade, which was more than they got to do. He knew that, and in an intellectual sort of way, he actually agreed. But that wasn't exactly the same thing as saying that he actively enjoyed sitting here sweating.
He checked his watch, then closed his eyes again and reached out with his Talent. Loumas had extremely good range for a Plotter, but he was still limited to no more than four miles, and he had to concentrate hard, at any range beyond about two miles, if he wanted to separate human life essences from those of other animals. It took him a good twenty minutes to sweep the total area he could See from his present location, and the portal itself created a huge blind spot in his coverage. Since no Talent could operate through a portal, he had to move physically around to its far aspect in this bug-infested swamp if he wanted to See around it. That was why he was parked at one end of the portal with Tairsal chan Synarch, Company-Captain chan Tesh's senior Flicker. They were outside both the sandbagged outer picket posts and the main defensive position chan Tesh had thrown up on the Hell's Gate side of the portal, but they could shift to the other aspect of the portal by simply walking around it in this universe, which took all of fifteen minutes.
Flickers have some advantages for tactical communication, among other things because they can transmit to people who are not themselves psychic. On the other hand, they also can't transmit to a moving target reliably. Still looking forward to someone who starts Flicking hand grenades at the enemy.It also meant that if anything did turn up, chan Synarch could nip around to the Hell's Gate side of the portal and Flick a message straight back to chan Tesh and Company-Captain Halifu in a handful of seconds.
Useful trick, that... apparently Distance Viewers are rare enough that they aren't available to just everyone..Damn! I wish we had a decent Distance Viewer! he thought.
His Talent would let him spot living creatures, but what he Saw of them was always … fuzzy. The creatures themselves were clear enough, but exactly what they might be doing, or exactly what their surroundings were, was often almost impossible to discern. Half the time, he had to extrapolate, and like most Plotters, he was fairly good at that. But extrapolation depended on some sort of familiarity with what the people he was Plotting were likely to be doing, and who the hells knew what these people were likely to be up to? If he'd had a Distance Viewer to team with, he'd have been able to coach the other Talent into finding the proper distance and bearing, and the Distance Viewer would have been able to See exactly what was happening.
Arcanan small boats, moving about as fast as a real life motorboat with a good engine. 25-30 mph was quite fast by 1900 standards.Loumas closed his eyes, concentrating hard, then punched chan Synarch's shoulder. "Huh?" The wiry Marine snorted awake. His head snapped up, and his eyes cleared almost instantly as he looked a question at Loumas.
"We've got an incoming contact," Loumas said crisply. "I think it's a small boat, headed in from the east."
chan Synarch nodded sharply and reached into the cargo pocket on his right thigh and extracted a pad of paper and pencil.
"Shoot," he said tersely, pencil poised.
"It's not as clear as I'd like," Loumas admitted, knowing chan Synarch would understand why that was. "They're about four miles out. I can't get much of a feel for the boat, but it's moving damned fast- I make it at least twenty-five or thirty miles an hour, whatever that is in the 'knots' or whatever it is you Ternathian swabbies use."
So a Plotter can see clearly enough to make a good guess as to whether a stranger is carrying weapons and how they're dressed from a distance of 3-4 miles away."There's three of them. One of them's in some kind of uniform, but it doesn't look like anything we saw here. I don't think he's wearing a helmet, and his tunic or jacket is red, not the camouflage pattern they had." His hand stabbed in the direction of the wrecked Arcanan fortifications and camp. "I think the other two are in civilian clothes. Doesn't look like any uniform I ever heard of, and they aren't dressed alike. I don't See any weapons on any of them. None of those tube things, and no crossbows anywhere I can See, either." Loumas grimaced. "A Distance Viewer could probably tell us more, but that's all I've got right now."