Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 44

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-03 03:43pm

This chapter begins with Crown Prince Janaki of the Ternathians arriving at Fort Raylthar Ghartoun, one of the Sharonan 'frontier' forts (i.e. the ones that the railroad hasn't yet reached).

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.
"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.
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.

No platoon-level Voice for Janaki, though given how logistics and population demographics work that was probably inevitable.
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.
Prisoners brought back to Fort Ghartoun, including Thalmayr, who commanded the defenses that chan Tesh's company overran at the portal mouth.
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.
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.
"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!
Weird. :D Surprising how modest Janaki is under the circumstances; he had to have expected to wind up ruling Ternathia after all.
"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."
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.

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.

Scene break!
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.
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.
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.
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. :D
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.
Useful trick, that... apparently Distance Viewers are rare enough that they aren't available to just everyone..
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."
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.
"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."
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.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 45

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-03 04:55pm

Balkar chan Tesh lowered his field glasses with a thoughtful frown...

How the hell do they make the thing move? he wondered. There was no sail, no oars, no paddle, and certainly no steam launch's tall spindly funnel or plume of smoke. Yet the boat- not more than fifteen feet long, at most- came sliding through the deeper channels of the swamp fast enough that its stern squatted and its bow planed across the water.
Arcanan magic motorboat in action, again.

Some description of Arcanan civilian clothes from the point of view of a person who's never seen them before ("tightly tailored, more formfitting... couldn't imagine a less practical outfit for wading aroud in swamps..."). The Arcanan boat pulls up, and the Arcanans very carefully get out of the boat under cover of twenty rifles and a machine gun.
"Hello!" the stranger said, in oddly accented but perfectly intelligible Ternathian. "We come talk?"

chan Tesh stiffened. Despite everything, he was shocked to be addressed in his native tongue, and he hoped his astonishment didn't show. Nor was he the only one who reacted strongly. He heard someone inhale sharply behind him, and then someone else snarled in what he obviously thought was a whisper, "Those bastards have a live prisoner!"
This is the first the Ternathians have heard of the Arcanans taking any prisoners... kind of an unfortunate thing.

Not without misgivings, chan Tesh decides negotiations should begin. He directs one of his senior noncoms to search the Arcanan delegation for weapons, informing them of this ahead of time. It turns out that the Arcanans haven't learned the word 'precautions' yet in the process- their translation spells and equivalent of Rosetta don't know everything. Either that, or they just haven't had time to get to that kind of advanced word yet.

The Arcanans don't like being frisked, and chan Tesh gives exactly zero damns about that fact.
The master-armsman stepped around behind him, and the civilian's jaw set hard as the noncom proceeded to search him very thoroughly, indeed. chan Tesh was impressed as the master-armsman demonstrated a previously unsuspected talent. The company-captain had seen very few police?civilian or military?who could have frisked a man so competently … and thoroughly. chan Kormai wasn't especially gentle about it, either, although it was obvious to chan Tesh that he wasn't being deliberately rougher than he had to be, and the civilian winced once or twice. By the time the master-armsman was through, however, it was quite obvious that the civilian couldn't have anything hidden away outside a body cavity.

chan Tesh was tempted to insist that those be searched, as well, given the bizarre things of which these people appeared to be capable. There were limits to even his paranoia, however, he decided. If these people were equipped with some sort of super weapon so small that it could be hidden someplace like that, then they had no need to send anyone out to talk to them in the first place. Besides, if this really was an effort to establish some sort of diplomatic contact, there was probably some professional code of conduct which ought to be followed. He didn't have a clue what it might insist that he do, but he was pretty sure it existed and that ordering a foreign envoy to bend over and spread his cheeks wasn't very high on the list of approved greetings.

chan Kormai finished and stood back. The civilian turned to face him with what struck chan Tesh as commendable aplomb, and raised his eyebrows.

"Finished," the master-armsman told him, and pantomimed lowering his hands.

"Are satisfied?"

Honestly, chan Tesh really isn't a good choice for this situation, which would matter more if the senior Arcanan representative actually wanted their own negotiations to succeed.

Very Weber-y, in my opinion. The bluff, honorable military man who is utterly out of his depth... it doesn't matter that he is, because the civilian diplomats are scheming treacherous snakes and there was never any chance of success anyway! :roll:

So then they search Dastiri, who is very huffy about the whole thing, and the Arcanan soldier manning the boat, who takes it rather philosophically.
Once all three of the Arcanans were safely ashore under the watchful eye of chan Kormai's Marines, the master-armsman turned to the boat itself. As with his search of the passengers, he took his time, proceeding with methodical thoroughness.

Each of the civilians had come equipped with what was obviously a briefcase, and chan Kormai went through both of them carefully. He took pains not to damage or disorder any of the indecipherable documents he found inside them, but he examined each folder individually. Then he paused, halfway through searching the first case, and held something up.

"Look at this, Sir," he said to chan Tesh.

The company-captain crossed to the boat and frowned as the master-armsman held out a rock. That was certainly what it looked like, anyway. A big chunk of clear quartz crystal, larger than chan Tesh's fist. For that matter, it was larger than chan Kormai's fist, which took considerably more doing.

"What do you make of it, Sir?" chan Kormai asked as chan Tesh accepted it just a bit gingerly. It wasn't quartz after all, he decided. It was too heavy, too dense, for that. In fact?
Skirvon's, ah... tablet. :D

The Arcanans watch as the Sharonans handle it- curious, worried, but not particularly nervously because theyk now what it is. They recognize it as "like that stuff these bastards use in their artillery," because the only other place they've seen sarkolis crystal is in captured enemy weapons. The Sharonans speculate on whether it's a weapon or not.
chan Tesh snorted in amusement. He wondered how the Arcanans would react if he suddenly tossed the piece of not-rock as far out into the swamp as he could. He was actually quite tempted to do just that, if only to see how they responded. But he didn't. Instead, he handed it back to chan Kormai...

As both of them had expected, there was, indeed, a second, almost identical crystal in the other briefcase. Those two enigmatic artifacts made chan Tesh a bit nervous- more nervous than he wanted to let on, at any rate- and he carefully didn't immediately return the briefcases to their owners. Instead, he set them to one side while chan Kormai finished with the boat.

In addition to the briefcases, there were three canvas knapsacks which contained food and water and what looked?and smelled?like some sort of insect repellent. Aside from what were obviously eating utensils, there was nothing even remotely resembling a blade or any other recognizable weapon.

Once the boat had been emptied, chan Kormai waved a half-dozen more troopers forward and had it hauled completely out of the water. chan Tesh wasn't sure whether the master-armsman was taking caution to its logical conclusion, or whether he was simply as curious as chan Tesh himself about how they'd made the boat move. Whatever it was, neither of them found his question answered. There was nothing at all out of the ordinary about the boat, aside from the fact that it was obviously designed for a higher rate of speed than most boats its size which chan Tesh had ever seen before. Well, nothing besides that and the small, dense, glittering block of crystal fastened to its keel near the stern.
More of the magic motorboat. chan Tesh deduces that this big hunk of sarkolis, clearly exactly like the accumulators that power Arcanan infantry dragons, is the source of the boat's motive power. One of the sergeants suggests shooting the accumulator to see what happens. chan Tesh sensibly declines, pointing out that for all they know (for that matter, for all we know) it might explode like a huge bomb.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 45, part Two

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-03 05:26pm

"I'm going to get that bastard," Uthik Dastiri muttered, glaring at the big, red-haired Sharonian who'd search them.

His voice was soft, but he was unable to suppress the bitter hatred in its depths. Rithmar Skirvon understood his reaction, although he didn't share it. After all, he'd understood the reason for the search, as well, and he couldn't hold it against the soldier. It hadn't been personal, merely professional, which was obviously something Dastiri hadn't quite grasped yet. But personal or not, it had been brutally thorough, and because Skirvon understood Dastiri's distress he only shrugged and refrained from reprimanding him for his anger.
Dastiri is very angry over the search- how dare a bunch of barbarians treat him like that? Skirvon is more understanding, noting that "He was doing his job, Uthik... "In his boots, I'd have done exactly the same thing, for exactly the same reasons."

To which Dastiri's reply is "I'll try to remember that, Rithmar. But as Torkash is my witness, I'd sooner put an arbalest bolt between his eyes than smile at that bastard for any reason."

So yeah. Limitations of Arcanan 'diplomats,' or at least the closest thing they have to diplomats on the frontier. Not good at dealing with the idea of an independent authority, as noted in the earlier misgivings of one of the Arcanan officers.
They'd been careful in their approach to deny the Sharonians any additional militarily useful information. Including, especially, any hint of the existence or capabilities of their own dragons. It was always possible, perhaps even probable, that the Arcanan prisoners these people had taken had already revealed the existence of the beasts, but there was no point in giving the other side any better feel for what they could do. So Five Hundred Klian had ordered the transport dragon to fly them and their boat to within forty miles of the swamp portal. They'd made the rest of the trip the hard way, and Skirvon devoutly hoped that the Sharonians would be thinking solely in terms of other boats for the future.
The Arcanans made their approach by boat to avoid giving the Sharonans any hint of the dragons' existence, so that their ability to airlift troops and supplies (and to attack from the air) will come as a complete surprise. This is an understandable precaution for a bunch of people who expect the foreigners to be hostile... it is even MORE understandable if you're planning a sneak attack.
chan Tesh- whose name indicated he was Ternathian, according to the information Magister Kelbryan had assembled for them?didn't look particularly happy to see them. His expression was controlled, but Skirvon had been a diplomat for a long time. He didn't need any "Talent" to recognize the anger crackling around in the back of chan Tesh's outwardly calm eyes.

"How did you learn Ternathian?" the company-captain demanded, as soon as the introductions were over, and Skirvon nodded mentally. He'd been reasonably certain that was going to be the first question, and he'd prepared his answer carefully.

"One person live. Short time," he said. "Bad hurt. Spoke words, recorded. Try to save, but Arcanan healer die in fight. Long days to new healer. Many, many days. Bad hurt. Talk words, but not live. Die before see healer," he ended sorrowfully. "Arcanan grief. We talk?"

chan Tesh's expression never wavered, but his eyes were cold, suspicious.

"Who was it?" he asked. "Who survived?"

Skirvon and Dastiri had argued repeatedly over how to address that particular point. Thanks to the girl, Shaylar, they had a complete list of names for the dead crew, not that he intended to admit that, even if this chan Tesh held him over hot coals. But they did know everyone's names, and they even knew which men she'd personally seen die. The Sharonians would have that same list, as well, since the little bitch had sent out her report- her visual report, no less!- right in the middle of the fighting.

Dastiri had wanted to select a name from the list of Sharonian men Shaylar hadn't seen die, rather than admit that she herself had survived. Skirvon had waffled back and forth over that choice, but he'd finally decided that they couldn't afford to take chances, given the number of Arcanan soldiers these people had taken prisoner. They'd had the survivors of Olderhan's company in custody for a month now, and if they'd had another of those damned "Voices" available to help interrogate them, gods alone knew how much they'd managed to learn. Shaylar had insisted she couldn't "read minds," and she might even have been telling the truth. However …

Skirvon found it disturbing that both survivors from a crew as small as the one Olderhan had encountered had "Talents" of the mind. They weren't even the same Talents, for that matter, which meant there was no way to know what else these people could do with their minds. Skirvon wasn't quite willing to risk everything by getting himself caught in an easily detectable lie this early in the negotiations, so he'd decided to play the hand cautiously.

"Arcana much, much grief," he said sadly. "Girl bad hurt. Try hard to go healer. Far, far walk. She die," he added, and actually managed to summon a few tears.

"Shaylar?" Shock exploded in chan Tesh's face. The man's hand dropped to the butt of the weapon- the "pistol- "holstered at his side, and his fingers curled around the polished wooden grip. "Shaylar survived? And you let her die?"
:banghead: :banghead: :banghead: :banghead: :banghead:

Further epic diplomatic fail. Skirvon wasted time thinking up an elaborate lie to justify being able to deny that the Arcanans have living Sharonan captives, and in the process of embellishing this lie, manages to convince the Sharonans that they just killed Shaylar the celebrity explorer-psychic. Again an illustration of the kind of dumb shit the Arcanans do by trying to 'control' the situation rather than just dealing in good faith with the Sharonans.

Also noting that the Arcanans are still worried about exactly what mind powers and weird abilities the Sharonans have, not without reason. All they really know is that there are a fairly high proportion of Talents among the Sharonans, and that these Talents are clearly diverse enough that they may never have an exhaustive list of what they all do. To be fair, neither do we, so yeah.

So anyway, all the Sharonans get very very angry at this point.
The sudden violence seething in chan Tesh's eyes was a terrifying shock, especially given the obvious strength of the man's self-control. Nor was he alone in his reaction. Every Sharonian soldier in sight mirrored the same sudden, explosive rage.

"Try hard save life," Skirvon insisted, dredging up more tears. "But bad, bad hurt. Hard talk. Long, long walk go healer. Arcana big, big grief. Arcana, Sharona, no shoot. Ne-go-ti-ate," he said with exaggerated care. "No shoot."

"If she was so badly hurt," chan Tesh demanded coldly, "how did you manage to get enough of our language out of her to learn to talk to us?" Skirvon saw the man's knuckles whiten around the pistol grip and realized abruptly- emotionally, not just intellectually- that his own life hung by the proverbial thread. Obviously, Olderhan's estimate of Shaylar's importance in these people's eyes had been on the mark. In fact, Skirvon was beginning to think Olderhan had underestimated it.

He managed (he hoped) to keep his thoughts from racing across his expression, but it suddenly occurred to him that his strategy of insisting Shaylar was dead might have been a mistake. Returning her and her husband before they'd been thoroughly interrogated back in Arcana or New Arcana was clearly out of the question, of course. He'd figured that insisting they were both dead- and he knew from Olderhan's report that Shaylar had believed Jathmar was dead even while she was busy sending her accursed report back home?would be the simplest and neatest way of keeping their return off the table. Now he was suddenly confronted by the fact that because he'd claimed she was dead he couldn't put her return onto the table even if he wanted to. Which, given the hatred looking at him out of all those Sharonian eyes suddenly seemed as if it might have been a very good idea, indeed.
:banghead: :banghead: :banghead: :banghead:

Further repercussions of Stupid Shit Arcanans do. Now they can't ever admit she's alive without causing a massive further incident, and can never release her. Plus, and this hasn't occurred to Skirvon yet, but the incident will result inevitably as soon as Sharonans find out about dragons and go "wait, you said your men had to walk back to a healer capable of saving her life..."

Also, note one of the hallmarks of the Weber villain- cussing in the internal monologue, especially use of the word 'bitch.'
"She hurt bad," he said instead. "Head hurt- inside." He tapped his own temple, where- again, thanks to Olderhan's invaluable report- he knew the little bitch actually had been injured. "Not … work right," he continued, deliberately searching for words. "She talk. Not to us- to her. We recorded it."

He intentionally used the Andaran verb for "recorded," and chan Tesh glared at him right on cue. That's the second time you've used that word- 'record,'" he said. "What does it mean?"

"It mean?" Skirvon paused and rolled his eyes in obvious frustration. "Not know words. Can show. Please?" He managed not to heave an overt sigh of relief as chan Tesh's eyes narrowed. The company-captain's anger didn't disappear, but he was obviously forcing it back under control.He even managed to take his hand away from his pistol.
Skirvon takes out his personal crystal (all the riflemen snap up to cover him again), and he explains "Rock hold talk. It records talk." chan Tesh is, of course, utterly incomprehending.
"Shaylar," a woman's voice said.

Putting together that word list had required days of careful work. He and Dastiri had deliberately limited the audio recordings Magister Kelbryan had downloaded to them, choosing individual words on the basis of how clear Shaylar's voice had sounded when they were recorded. All of them were recognizably her voice, but distorted by fatigue … or pain. In some cases, he knew, the pain had been purely emotional, but that didn't matter for his purposes. What mattered was that the chosen words sounded like someone who'd been severely injured. Like someone who was muttering to herself, wandering through her own injury-confused thoughts.
Arcanan smartrocks can be used, even by nonwizards, to edit audio recordings and piece together short clips into a longer piece.

Skirvon finally realizes, since he didn't really believe Olderhan and Gadrial, that the Sharonans have literally no magic whatsoever (aside from 'Talents' which are different for reasons I don't fully understand but whatever). They find a magic rock that plays audio recordings quite shocking, even intimidating.
Why, they weren't nearly as formidable as he'd first believed. If they couldn't do something this simple, they were babes in an adult world- a mean and nasty one. mul Gurthak had been right, too. All they had going for them was their machines, the "guns" they'd used- used by surprise- in both violent encounters. And, as mul Gurthak had pointed out, it was only that surprise, that totally unanticipated ability of theirs to throw not a spell, but a physical projectile, through a portal which had defeated Thalmayr.

Skirvon had been convinced these people must actually have their machines and their "Talents" in addition to the magic which was the necessary foundation for any advanced civilization. But they genuinely didn't have it, and that reordered everything he'd thought about them.
So of course he immediately starts thinking of them as a bunch of ignorant barbarian savages... more Arcanans being jackasses, which is basically the driving engine of the entire plot. If not for Arcanans being too arrogant to behave in a civil and reasonable way toward the Sharonans, the escalating interuniversal war could have been stopped at any of a large number of points.
"If you could do that," he gestured at the PC," why couldn't you save Shaylar?"

"Tried. Tried hard," Skirvon insisted soulfully. He remembered Olderhan's account of the prisoners' reaction to magic healing. Given these people's total ignorance about magic, it would undoubtedly be even simpler than he'd expected to convince them that Shaylar had died of her injuries. Especially since she undoubtedly would have without the Healers' intervention.

"Head hurt bad," he said once more. "Our healer killed in fight. Tried walk to second healer, but many, many days. She die before we reach. She very brave," he added sadly. "Arcana much grief."

"Yes," chan Tesh said harshly, glowering at him. "She was very brave. And my people will demand punishment for whoever killed her."

"Please," Skirvon said again, earnestly. "Too many words. Must learn more. But now, come talk Sharona. No shoot, talk."
Note that the text makes it sound as though Skirvon understands the more complex things chan Tesh is saying, but is falsely protesting that he doesn't speak the language well enough to understand.

I don't know whether that's true, or whether that's just a breach in the third-person-limited perspective Weber normally uses. Skirvon definitely pretends, however, to record words in his translator (which in reality he already has from Shaylar), so I suspect that Skirvon does understand much more of what chan Tesh says than he lets on, and is using his cluelessness as a negotiating ploy.

chan Tesh says he can't agree to the truce that Skirvon wants, not without talking to higher authority. Skirvon insists that the diplomats meet at a specific location between the Sharonan and Arcanan portals, referring to the portal chan Tesh now holds as 'Arcana portal...' specifically, that they meet at or near Fallen Timbers. He does not, however, ask that the Sharonans retreat from the portal they now hold. Meanwhile he's doing a fairly blatant job of (literal and figurative) crocodile tears and so forth, while privately holding the Sharonan "rubes" in total contempt.

Basically, Skirvon is a snake, but we kind of new that already.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-04 12:15am

Dorzon Baskay, Viscount Simrath, had dropped the "chan" from his name for his new role. It was possible that the Arcanan diplomats had discovered that the word indicated military service, and Platoon-Captain Simrath wasn't being a member of the military just now. After all, a diplomat as young as he was wouldn't have had time to become a military veteran, as well, so he couldn't be one, either, because right this minute he had to be a diplomat. A very convincing diplomat...

And at least if he had to do this, he had the proper background for it. chan Tesh was right about that, too. He'd imbibed a basic understanding of political realities almost with his mother's milk, whether he'd wanted to or not. And he'd also had those dozens of generations of blue-blooded ancestors- not to mention his observations of several hundred currently carnate fellow aristocrats- upon which to draw for role models. He'd been reasonably confident he could act the part...
Since the Sharonans don't have real diplomatic representatives out on the frontier, having not expected to encounter another civilization, they dig out a Ternathian blueblood officer who at least has some political and legislative experience and a good education.

Note that this is one of the theoretical justifications for putting aristocrats in charge of political tasks in societies that have them- because they are, in effect, professional specialists on politics, tactics, and strategy, raised from birth to be responsible for such tasks. Whether or not the theory actually fits the experience is an open question. In Weber books it usually does.
chan Tesh had paused, looking at him with a waiting expression, and chan Baskay had heaved a deep and mournful mental sigh. He would vastly have preferred to be able to decline, but that was impossible, of course. For a lot of reasons- not least that endless lineage of service to the Winged Crown. A Ternathian noble simply did not refuse when duty called. Not if he ever wanted to face the scrutiny of his revoltingly dutiful ancestors. Or, chan Baskay had conceded, his own conscience.
Huh. Forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical, but then we only seem to see 'good' Ternathian nobles. I'm sure there's bad ones skulking under a flat rock somewhere. On the bright side, if you run into Sharonans, you can expect to deal with a fair number of guys like this, which is probably a plus.
At least he'd had two genuine strokes of luck. The first was his baby sister's idiocy. Charazan Baskay was enrolled in one of those ghastly finishing schools that specialized in turning young ladies' brains into mush, and it appeared to be working just fine, in her case. She'd decided, on the basis of logic so … unique that chan Baskay hadn't even tried to follow it, that it would be a good idea to send him a dress suit and cloak to wear at "cotillions and military balls." Exactly where she'd expected him to find either of those out here on the bleeding edge of the frontier eluded him, and he'd rolled his eyes heavenward and stuffed the ludicrous outfit into the bottom of a trunk the day it arrived. He'd intended for it to languish there until the day he finally returned to Sharona, and he certainly hadn't realized that his batman had packed the contents of that trunk into his duffel bags when he'd been ordered forward with the rest of Company-Captain chan Tesh's column.

But there it was, and he was inclined to see the hand of fate in his batman's apparent lapse into lunacy. Thanks to that, and Charazan, he actually had the proper civilian attire to pull off this charade. He'd blessed his harebrained baby sister fervently when he realized that he did.
Portal Authority officers have batmen (servants who take care of their stuff and personal needs so they can concentrate on officering). Not entirely surprising.
The second stroke of good fortune was the presence of Under-Captain Trekar chan Rothag. The dark-haired and dark-eyed chan Rothag was a Narhathan who'd grown up almost in the shadow of the Fist of Bolakin. Where chan Baskay had the fair hair and gray eyes so common among the Ternathian nobility, chan Rothag's hair was so dark a brown it was almost black, and his swarthy complexion and powerful nose could almost as well have been Shurkhali. Unlike chan Baskay, chan Rothag had no connection whatsoever to either the aristocracy or the Foreign Service. What he did have was a Talent which police agencies and military intelligence organizations had always found extraordinarily useful.

chan Rothag was a Sifter. He couldn't read minds, wasn't actually a telepath at all. But he knew, instantly and infallibly, when someone lied. He couldn't magically- chan Baskay shuddered at his own choice of adverb, under the circumstances- divine the truth they were lying to conceal or distort, but knowing they'd lied at all was almost as useful. Most commanders above the platoon level in any Sharonian army tried to get at least one Sifter assigned to them. More often than not, they failed; Sifters were too useful for senior officers to be willing to turn the limited supply of them loose. Balkar chan Tesh, however, had what amounted almost to a Talent for scrounging the personnel he wanted, which was how chan Rothag had ended up attached to his column.
Sifters- Sharonan Talents who have a 100% reliable (as far as we know) ability as lie detectors. Very handy, in high demand, and it is sheer good fortune that chan Tesh has one. Unfortunately for Sharona (and chan Tesh), chan Tesh's Sifter wasn't able to get anything useful out of the Arcanan prisoners because he didn't speak the language... but now that he's dealing with people who speak Ternathian, he's good to go.

It would appear that Skirvon was right to worry about what other psychic, mind-affecting or mind-reading Talents the Sharonans possess.
"Just play the part, Viscount, and remember our signals." chan Rothag sounded revoltingly calm, chan Baskay thought. Which might be because, unlike chan Baskay, he was about to spend the next several hours basically saying nothing at all. They had no proof at this time that the Arcanan's command of Ternathian was as limited as it appeared to be. If they were concealing a greater fluency, then trained diplomats might well be able to recognize that chan Rothag had about as much diplomatic expertise as a pig on roller skates. chan Baskay had done his best to get some of the rudiments, at least, through to the under-captain, then given up in despair.
Notably, in some senses chan Baskay has more diplomatic experience than Skirvon and Dastiri do. He's at least used to the concept of dealing with people outside his own chain of command who don't have to do what he says. Skirvon and Dastiri are accustomed to being the arbitrators who listen to the situation and decide how it's going to be.

Also, the Sifter's utility here is diminished by his being utterly undiplomatic. I suspect this is a common problem for people with a supernatural ability to tell when people are lying; they can short-circuit a lot of negotiations by saying "look, I'm a Sifter, let's put our cards on the table and get to work."
"Just keep your mouth shut," he'd advised finally. "We'll work out some sort of signal system so you can tell me whether or not they're lying. And at least we both speak Farnalian. We'll use that, if we have to talk to each other without- hopefully!- the other side understanding us. And … hm …"

He'd regarded chan Rothag thoughtfully.

"I think you've just become Shurkalian," he'd said finally. The Narhathan had raised one eyebrow, and chan Baskay had shrugged. "If we can convince them you're related to Shaylar, then we'll have an excuse for you to break in?as emotionally as possible, in Farnalian, of course?if we twang something sensitive and you need to warn me about it. Right?"
Sneaky. I like it. :D

Note: when Arcanan pseudo-diplomats tell lies, they stake out false negotiating positions that limit their future options and enrage the other side of the negotiation. When Sharonan pseudo-diplomats tell lies, they don't actually impact the course of the negotiations as such.

Although this may be because the Sharonan pseudo-diplomats are military and not lying treacherous no-good civilian government officials on the wrong side who are out to get the Upstanding Armed Forces. Dammit, Weber...
"Right," chan Rothag had agreed, not even trying to hide his relief at being denied a speaking part. Which was what made his current breezy confidence particularly irritating. On the other hand, it was also the best advice chan Baskay was likely to get, and he let his mind run back over the cover story one last time, like an actor settling his stage character comfortably into place.

According to what chan Tesh had told the senior Arcanan diplomat, Viscount Simrath was a middle-ranked Ternathian diplomat, who'd been visiting his sister in the last (carefully unnamed) civilian city in this transit chain (also carefully unnamed), to which she'd emigrated after her marriage. When the Chalgyn crew had been slaughtered, the viscount had sent a Voice message back to Sharona, asking the Emperor if he should try to reach the contact universe. On the Emperor's subsequent orders, he'd set out immediately, reaching Company-Captain Halifu's fort- now formally named Fort Shaylar- almost simultaneously with the Arcanan message requesting a truce and negotiations for a genuine cease-fire.
Hm... so Halifu's fort is the one that's relatively close to the Hell's Gate portal cluster, while Fort Ghartoun (the one with Colonel Velvelig or whatever his name is, I think?) is a universe or two further back, I think... [scratches head]
He did allow his face to harden slightly as he surveyed those telltale signs, then glanced at the waiting Arcanan contingent with exactly the right edge of aristocratic hauteur. They were, indeed, watching him closely, he noticed, and wondered if they'd deliberately insisted on meeting at this spot to push Sharona's diplomats into a state of rage.

On the face of it, the idea was silly. Why ask for talks at all, if they only meant to sabotage them by enraging the other side? On the other hand, they might have done it in hopes of keeping the Sharonians sufficiently distracted by anger and hatred to give them an edge in the talks. To win extra points for themselves because the Sharonians were too busy being furious to notice that they were giving up important concessions.

It sounded paranoid, even to him, he realized. It sounded devious. It even sounded insane, perhaps.

But it felt accurate.
As yet we have no information on whether or not it's true. We do know Skirvon didn't tell the Sharonans Shaylar was dead with the specific intent of enraging them, because he was unpleasantly surprised when they damn near shot him dead on the spot. But we don't know what else he may have in mind, at least not yet. We do know, and/or it will soon become clear, that Skirvon is dragging things out to lull the Sharonans into a false sense of security while the Arcanans move their forces into position for an offensive.
.The Arcanan negotiating party had arrived early. As stipulated by the initial agreement, the two men in civilian clothing- who had to be the Arcanan diplomats, Skirvon and Dastiri- were escorted by no more than twenty-five of their own soldiers. Company-Captain chan Tesh had accompanied them- ostensibly as a mark of respect; actually to make sure they didn't get up to anything of which Sharona would have disapproved- along with Petty-Captain Arthag and the Arpathian officer's cavalry platoon. When the twenty men of "Viscount Simrath's escort were included, that gave Sharona a manpower advantage of over two-to-one, and none of those troopers were taking any chances.

My, chan Baskay thought mordantly as he watched the various military contingents not quite fingering their weapons as they glared at one another, isn't this a soothing atmosphere, well suited to the dispassionate negotiation of an inter-universal cease-fire?
I like chan Baskay already. Also, Arthag is a bit special, but we'll get more on that later.
The Arcanans in question had set up a conference table at which the deliberations were to take place, and that "table" was sufficiently startling to capture chan Baskay's attention for several seconds. It was made from several narrow slats of wood which had been hinged together to form a folded up bundle that could fit onto a pack saddle. When it was unfolded, crosspieces slid into place across the bottom, stiffening it and locking it in the open position.

That much was fairly unremarkable, but it did have one small feature guaranteed to arrest his attention instantly: it had no legs.

The tabletop simply floated there, perfectly level despite the rough terrain, hovering in midair at the ordinary height of a standard table, and chan Baskay's scalp crawled at the sight. It wasn't natural, he thought, and the back of his brain even whispered the word "demonic," before he squelched it back down where it had come from.

Not demonic, he told himself. It's just different. Very different, perhaps, but only different.
When Arcanans build a folding table, they don't mess around. Also, their levitation spells are so casually used and so reliable they use them in place of table and chair legs. This suggests that levitation spells for small objects are extremely cheap, since they're being used here to save the trouble of carrying several pounds of wood. This also suggests that the spontaneous failure rate is low, because I for one would not agree to sit in a chair that would, on average, dump me ass over teakettle when the hoverspell failed once every few thousand hours.
The words coming from the "PC" were much clearer, smoother, than anything Skirvon had produced in Ternathian. Even chan Tesh, who'd already seen multiple examples of the Arcanans' astounding technology, was clearly taken aback, and it took all of chan Baskay's self-control not to show his own astonishment. But he managed it somehow, and looked at Skirvon levelly.

"So, if I speak to your rock, it will translate whatever I say into your own language?" he said, and heard a voice which wasn't quite his saying something in a language he'd never spoken.
Personal smartrocks have translation software. It's pretty good when it has an adequate database...
Skirvon watched the Sharonians' response to his newest ploy and managed not to smile like a fox in a henhouse. Despite their best efforts to conceal it, they were clearly impressed by this fresh manifestation of magic. Of course, they didn't know the PC had an unfair advantage. They thought it was still learning the language as it went, and he had no intention of suggesting otherwise. In fact, he'd loaded the same translation spellware Magister Kelbryan had used with Shaylar into his own crystal. It contained the complete vocabulary the magister had acquired from her prisoner, as well, and Skirvon had to remind himself to phrase his comments in Andaran rather more simply then he would have normally. It would never do to inadvertently reveal the fluency in Ternathian which he already possessed.

On the other hand, he thought, it won't hurt a bit to impress these yokels with how quickly the "learning spellware "improves its grasp of Ternathian" in the course of our little chats.
...which this one does, because Gadrial learned a lot more Ternathian than the diplomats are letting on. Also, yet again, Arcanans thinking of the muggle civilization as 'yokels.'
Skirvon was impressed. This Viscount Simrath obviously had been just as surprised as chan Tesh and the others, but there was remarkably little evidence of it in his expression or his voice. The man's title?forty-sixth Viscount of Whatever??indicated an incredibly long aristocratic pedigree, which was entirely in keeping with the preposterous age Shaylar had imputed to this Ternathian Empire. That was impressive enough, but his obvious self-control and total self-confidence was even more impressive. Clearly, the man was an experienced diplomat, as well, despite his apparent relative youth, and Skirvon wondered what stroke of luck had put him far enough down the transit chain from Sharona to get him to this place at this time.
Remind me not to play poker with chan Baskay. Then again, to be fair, it may well be that Skirvon's idea of a 'master diplomat' IS my idea of a half-trained amateur. Because, again, Arcana hasn't had any real ongoing diplomacy in centuries. Only arbitrators, of whom Skirvon is one.

So, viscount Simrath is rather blunt and forthright: "Your soldiers attacked our civilians. When one of our officers- Platoon-Captain Arthag, I believe?- attempted to approach your soldiers under a flag of truce to inquire as to the fate of our people, he was fired upon. From our viewpoint, it's quite clear who fired the first shot in each of those incidents."

Skirvon responds using the 'we can't translate well enough' schtick and trying to slow things down, because, and we now get explicit confirmation of this, he's trying to spin out the talks for at least a few weeks.
chan Baskay cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips thoughtfully. He suspected that the Arcanans' marvelous hunk of rock was doing a better job of translating than this Skirvon wanted to admit. At the same time, he had to concede that the man had a point. If they were going to talk to each other at all, they had to at least listen to the other side's view of the events which had led them to this point.
chan Baskay has figured out about the gap in the translator's performance, but is willing to play along; Sharonans just seem so doggone reasonable as long as you don't attack them repeatedly without warning.
chan Baskay considered pointing out that the Arcanans had gone into that same battle with a woman of their own in tow, but he chose not to play that particular card just yet. So far, the other side had given no indication that there were any Talented Arcanans. It was difficult for him to conceive of a human civilization in which that was true, but, then, he'd never seriously conceived of one which routinely used magic to float tables in midair, either. So it was entirely possible the Arcanans were as ignorant of the possibilities open to the Talented as Sharona was- or had been- to the possibilities of magic. If that was the case, the less the Arcanans knew about the capabilities of Sharonian Whiffers and Tracers, the better.
Not that chan Baskay isn't concealing anything of course...
"We were horrified to find her," he resumed after a moment. "We tried hard to keep her alive. But the healer attached to our soldiers was killed in the fighting. They had a magister with a minor arcana for healing, but nothing even remotely close to an actual healer. So they tried to carry her to a real healer."

chan Baskay frowned, then unlaced his fingers and leaned back in his floating chair, tugging at the lobe of his right ear in one of his prearranged signals to chan Rothag. The Narhathan petty-captain didn't appear to notice, but he sat back himself and crossed his legs. So, chan Baskay reflected, not exactly a lie, but not the entire truth, either. Well, that's hardly a surprise from a diplomat, now is it?
First instance of a Sifter's lie detection in action. It's actually quite good, to the extent that they can spot half-truths and evasions.
"Very well," he said. "You say you were horrified to discover a woman among your victims." He allowed his eyes to harden slightly. "How and when did Shaylar die?"

"She had suffered a terrible head injury," Skirvon said. "She was burned, as well. Not as badly as some of the others, but the burns made her other injuries worse. We transported her as quickly as we could to our nearest base with a fully trained healer, but we were unable to get her there in time. She lived for six days."

chan Rothag sat up, uncrossing his legs, and chan Baskay's nerves tightened abruptly. "A moment, please," he said courteously, and glanced at chan Rothag. "Look sad," he said in Farnalian. "Then tell me what he's lying about."

"He's lying through his teeth about the burns, and about the six days," chan Rothag replied in the same language. He looked as if he wanted to weep. "The rest of it is pretty much true. Do we want to call him on the part that isn't?"

"Not yet." chan Baskay leaned towards the other man, laying a hand on his shoulder with a concerned, sorrowful expression. "There's no point letting them know you can tell when they're lying," he said softly, gently. "Besides, let's see how much rope he'll give himself."

chan Rothag nodded, still looking stricken, and chan Baskay patted his shoulder comfortingly, then turned back to Skirvon.

"Lord Rothag is Shurkhali," he lied with an absolutely straight face. "The confirmation that his countrywoman suffered such horrible wounds and lingered for so long is very painful to him."
...Facepalm. Of course, being able to tell other people are lying doesn't mean they know the truth. chan Baskay can now tell the Arcanans are lying about "Shaylar was burned," and "Shaylar lived six days." But they don't know whether the truth is "Shaylar is alive and well," or "Shaylar was kept awake for forty-eight hours while we tortured her for as much of her language as we could get, then shot her and buried her in a ditch."
He watched Skirvon's expression carefully without seeming too. Presenting such a bald-faced lie would have been unthinkable if he'd faced other Sharonians, since both sides knew the other one was bound to bring its own Sifters to any negotiations. But he'd done it deliberately, as a test, and he saw no sign Skirvon could tell that he'd just lied. Which was something to bear in mind. Clearly, Skirvon and Dastiri came from a totally different tradition, one which used no equivalent of Sifters.

I'll bet they're used to being able to lie to each other, he thought. Which means they'll do it at the drop of a hat. That's something else to bear in mind.
This is probably the reason WHY Sharonans are so dadgum reasonable all the time. It's kind of pointless to bother bullshitting at a negotiating table when the other side brought their own perfect lie-detecting psychic, so it's gotten to the point where in Sharonan culture people don't even bother trying anymore.
"The civilian killed in your attack on our camp was one of the most important research magisters our civilization has ever produced. Magister Halathyn vos Dulainah was in our camp. He did not even try to fight, but he was killed without pity. The whole of Arcana is or soon will be in an uproar. Magister Halathyn was beloved by millions, hundreds of millions. The shock of his death, the anger felt over it, is very terrible."
chan Rothag, the Sifter, looks over this remark of Skirvon's, and is able to detect "something's fishy" about it, but not exactly what. The truth being, of course, that Halathyn was killed by a mis-aimed lightning bolt from one of the Arcanan heavy weapons...
"...Hell's Gate is Sharonian territory." chan Baskay's tone was flat...

"...However much we may regret the violence which has already occurred, your Emperor and your Portal Authority must recognize that the control of so many portals is not something either of us will gladly give up, especially to someone we do not fully trust because of the violence which has already occurred.

"At the moment, each side desires complete control of the entire cluster, if only to provide for its own security, and neither side will be willing to concede that to the other. In the end, some sort of agreement... would have to be worked out if we were to have any real hope that our natural desires and fear of one another will not push us into additional conflict. Working out any such agreement would certainly be difficult, and would without doubt take much time and patience. But surely, it is always better to talk rather than to shoot."

Beside chan Baskay, chan Rothag crossed his legs once more, and chan Baskay sighed inside, wishing chan Rothag could tell him exactly which parts of what Skirvon had said this time were "mostly true."

Part of him wanted to stand up and call Skirvon on his lies about Shaylar right then and there. In fact, the cavalry officer in him wanted to choke the truth out of the bland-faced Arcanan. If Shaylar hadn't died the way he said she had, then how had she died? What had they really done to her in their quest for information like the words stored in their crystal? He could think of several reasons why her stored voice might sound slurred, confused, even broken. Reasons which had nothing at all to do with any wounds she might have suffered here at Fallen Timbers. Had they done those things to her? Was that how she'd died- in some grim little cell somewhere? And if so, did this smiling bastard across the table from him know she had?
All this lying is really making chan Baskay angry, unfortunately... this is going to be a persistent, ongoing problem.
The sovereignty issue was going to have to be dealt with. That much was painfully obvious, as was the fact that he must not do anything at this point to prejudice Sharona's position on the issue. It would be another five days before Company-Captain chan Tesh's message that the Arcanans had asked for talks could even reach Sharona; it would take another week after that for any response to reach Hell's Gate. He could not allow his own emotions to erupt and sabotage any possibility of a diplomatic solution- especially not when he'd never actually been authorized to represent the Authority or his own Emperor in the first place!
Explicit confirmation of the roundabout message time for the Sharonans. Whereas getting a message back to the seat of government of the Arcanans would take several months, getting a message back to Sharona takes about a week.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 47

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-04 05:44am

Anyway, part of the reason I've been doing so much extensive quoting is that I want to analyze culture and behavior for the Arcanans and Sharonans, not just weaponry. Sharonan weapons are the same ones we had historically so they're well understood; Arcanan weapons are poorly quantified in many ways. And frankly, for a lot of questions in a crossover scenario, culture matters a lot more- it makes a difference whether you're dealing with a power that sucks at lying but will go the extra mile to deal with you in good faith, or a power that lies chronically and has multiple internal factions working at cross purposes in a mutually destructive way.

Anyway, this is another Shaylar chapter, so I'll mostly summarize their dialogue and mention any consequential highlights. It takes place during a sea voyage across one of those water gaps, with the two of them chilling out in deck chairs (Arcana has deck chairs! :D )

Mention of dragon riding as being 'strenuous,' which is understandable since unlike riding in an airplane you're being constantly buffeted by wind and you're directly exposed to the weather. Jathmar is mentioned as being still a little cranky around Jasak, because unlike Shaylar he's not an empath who can read the guy's emotions, plus he's got this whole conflicting 'alpha male' thing going which is embarrassing to him because Jasak views himself as the protector of both Shaylar and Jathmar himself, and Jathmar is like "hey that's my job." Incidentally indicates that the state of Sharonan animal psychology is such that 'alpha male' is a well defined concept, although frankly medieval peasants probably had that concept from their own observation of their own herd animals. Cursory research on my part suggests that the word 'alpha' was first explicitly used to describe animals in the '40s, but it may have been in use before that time.

This may suggest that Sharonan grasp of behavioral and psychological sciences in general is in advance of what we'd expect from their early 20th century technical base. Which, when you think about it, is totally unsurprising given that they have so many literal mind readers walking around.
That was why Gadrial and Shaylar had effectively packed the two of them off to the lookout pod where they could?hopefully?spend a little time getting over the worst of their mutual prickliness. Of course they can, the magister thought dryly. And the Evanos is only a little damp. "Do you think they've said three words to each other the whole time they've been up there?" Shaylar asked, and Gadrial blinked as the other woman's words broke in on her thoughts.

"What?" she asked, and Shaylar snorted in amusement.

"I asked if you think they've said three words to each other the whole time they'd been up there," she repeated, waving one hand at the lookout pod.

"I'd like to think so," Gadrial said after a moment, grinning as they both admitted what was really going on. "I'm not holding out a lot of hope, though."
Heh. That said... hm, I've always wondered how to apply the Bechdel test to conversations like this, which start with two women talking about men, but then move on to other (infodump-ariffic) subjects.
Shaylar chuckled. As nearly as she could figure out, they were traveling from the eastern coast of the great island-continent of Lissia across the Western Ocean to the western coast of New Farnalia. That was almost five thousand miles, which was going to take them around nine days, even aboard one of the Arcanans' marvelous ships.
I... think that means Australia to South America? I really wish we had maps of Sharona and Arcana with the names filled in. Maybe someone's done that online, I just don't know about it. Shaylar goes on to ask more questions about dragons. Gadrial takes a certain amount of patriotic basking because this is like the one kind of magic where Ransarans are and have been ahead of those nasty Mythalans.
"I got the distinct impression that there are more significant differences between 'battle dragons' and what Fifty Varkal calls 'transports' than just their size and maneuverability." Shaylar ended on an almost questioning note and raised both eyebrows...

"Well," Gadrial began, "as Daris suggested back at Fort Talon, battle dragons are deliberately designed to be faster and more maneuverable than transport dragons."

"'Designed'?" Shaylar repeated. Gadrial looked surprised by the question, and Shaylar gave her head a little shake. "I haven't had much choice but to accept that your people can do all sorts of 'impossible' things, but I guess I'm still just feeling a bit … uncomfortable over the notion of 'designing' a living creature... [snip blah blah]... genetic map..."

"And what's a 'genetic map'?" Shaylar inquired with an air of slightly martyred patience.

"Sorry." Gadrial looked back at her and smiled. "The word 'genetic' is derived from the Old Ransaran word for race or descent... it's basically a symbolically congruent representation of the physical characteristics of the creature. It's a fundamental principle of magic that the map is the territory, and once Hansara came up with a way to represent a living organism's characteristics in a fashion which could be visualized and manipulated, it really did become possible to 'design' creatures to order."
Arcanans can do genetic engineering to a standard that is frankly ahead of us today, which is why they have mutant super-horses, and griffins that act like killer attack dogs, and hummers as super-carrier-pigeons, and of course actual firebreathing dragons. This lends itself to the obvious question...
Shaylar shivered as if a sudden icy wind had found its way up and down her spine. And, in fact, one had, in a metaphorical way of speaking. "And does that include people?" she asked after moment.

"No," Gadrial said firmly. Shaylar looked both relieved and skeptical, in almost equal measure, and Gadrial shrugged. "There's no arcane reason it couldn't include people," she conceded. "Human beings' codes can be visualized just as well as those of any other creature. But from the very beginning, any efforts to tinker with humanity were outlawed."

"Even in Mythal?" Shaylar said, with rather more skepticism, and Gadrial surprised her with a harsh bark of laughter.

"Especially in Mythal! The last thing any shakira would want to do is come up with a way to turn garthan into shakira. Given their religion, they'd see it as blasphemous, at the very least. And from a practical perspective?which I personally happen to think is even more important to them than their ludicrous religious concepts?if they were to turn all of the garthan into Gifted shakira, what happens to the existing shakira's slave class? It's been my observation that their 'religious principles' serve their more worldly ambitions much more than the other way around."

"But what about turning garthan into even more obedient slaves?"

"Now that probably would be something that would appeal to the caste-lords," Gadrial admitted with a grimace of distaste. "These days, at least. But at the time the rules and laws which prohibit tampering with humans were being put into place, no Mythalan garthan had any hope of ever managing to escape or defy his overlords. There was no need to turn them into 'more obedient slaves,' because it was impossible for them to be disobedient under the existing system."
Arcanans do not, at least not in any general sense, practice genetic engineering on humans, although honestly I'd be shocked if they haven't experimented with using genetic engineering to manipulate or eliminate genetic diseases, or if there aren't renegades who've experimented with the techniques on humans.

Also, pre-unification Mythalan society had security measures (presumably magical) so strict that it was for all intents and purposes impossible for the garthan caste to escape or to resist the system meaningfully. Or at least, Gadrial thinks that's true 300 years after the fact. Given that the Mythalans probably aren't above selectively editing their own historical record, who knows?
"And why did everyone else feel it should be outlawed?"

"Because, at the time, it was all a process of trial and erro... In fact, that's still the case whenever anyone begins mapping a new species, in a lot of ways. Hansara had found a way to producer congruent map, but it's an incredibly complex chart... So he and his fellow magistrons not only had to come up with techniques to modify the chart, they also had to figure out which parts of it they needed to modify to achieve a specific objective. Most of their initial efforts- for decades, literally- produced creatures which couldn't possibly survive on their own. Or, at best, which were far, far cries from what they'd wanted to produce. No one was willing to allow them to experiment on humans when they might as readily produce a three-headed monster as an improvement on the original model...
Arcanan genetic engineering is a crapshoot, and was more of a crapshoot 300 years ago, although obviously they're doing something very right in the modern era if they have actual dragons and have for 200 years since their last big war. That puts a fairly tight upper bound on how long it took for them to get it right in... whatever species dragons used to be.

Anyway, Gadrial rambles on about Ransaran and Mythalan religion, attributing the rivalry between the two world-civilizations to it. Mythal practices a religion that believes in reincarnation, with magic-users having enlightened souls that bring them into unity with the godhead which is why they can use magic to begin with.

Apparently there is a religion called "Lissians" on Sharona, which works vaguely like this, but Shaylar says "But the Lissians are among the gentlest, most compassionate people on Sharona," which at least tells you their reputation.

So anyway, Mythalans tend to view their system as perfectly logical given their religious beliefs, or at least the magic-users do. It's all for the good of the eventual unification and oneness of the human race, and eventually all those oppressed muggle peasants will build up enough good karma (not that they use that exact word) to become enlightened magic-users, so it really doesn't matter what is done to them in the present anyway? "In fact, some of the greatest cruelties the shakira have traditionally practiced upon the garthan, like the law codes which take Gifted children away from garthan parents and give them to shakira to raise, are justified on the basis of helping their victims attain enlightenment sooner."
Shaylar looked at Gadrial for several seconds, reminding herself that, by her own admission, Gadrial hated Mythalans. But she'd also come to know Gadrial Kelbryan. If the magister hated Mythalans, it was probably because she despised their beliefs, rather than a case of her despising- or distorting- their beliefs because she hated them.

"So how do Ransaran beliefs differ from Mythalan beliefs?" she asked finally.
Meanwhile, the Ransarans are (mostly) monotheistic, though with a plethora of different monotheistic religions. Gadrial's own religion is centered around the prophet Rahil and her teachings; Gadrial is open about the fact that Rahil's "miraculous" abilities appear to be the result of remarkable healing magical talents "back in the days before the theoretical basis for magic was at all understood." Their deity is very personally involved with individuals, et cetera, et cetera...
"Over the centuries, the Rahilians and the other two major Ransaran religions have spent quite a lot of their time massacring one another over various points of religious disagreement," Gadrial admitted. "We stopped doing that about, oh, nine hundred years ago, I guess. Not that we all turned into sunshine and light where our differences are concerned, of course. But at least all of us got to the point where we agreed that whoever was right, God would probably be fairly irritated with His- or Her- worshipers if they insisted on slaughtering everyone else in job lots simply for being mistaken.
She says that so casually...
"At any rate, there are three things that all three of our major religions have in common. First, we believe there's an individual God, an all-powerful being who exists outside the material universe, rather than being bound up in it.

"Second, none of us believe in reincarnation, although all of us do believe in the immortality of the human soul. And we believe that each soul has a single mortal existence in which to establish its relationship to God. There's some disagreement among us about what happens to the souls that don't manage to establish the right relationship with God. In fact, that's one of the points we used to kill each other over, back in the good old days.

"Third, we believe each individual must have the greatest possible opportunity to become all that he or she can become. Not simply because all of us agree God wants us to love one another, but because it's in the process of becoming all a person can be, that person is brought closer to God and so to the ability to establish that 'right relationship' we all believe in … even if we're not quite in total agreement over what it ought to be."
Personally I feel like it's almost as though the Mythalan religion was tailored to make Weber's readerbase dislike it, and the Ransaran religion(s) were tailored to make them like it!

Shaylar makes the same observation in a different tone, noting that almost nothing could be more irritating and horrible to the beliefs of one worldview than those of the others.
The more Shaylar heard about the Mythalans, the more she preferred the Ransarans. Yet it was obvious to her that even the humanistic Ransarans were very, very different from her own people. Most Sharonians would have found it exceedingly difficult to "sign off on" that sort of experimentation upon any creatures, not just humans. There were exceptions, of course, as she was well aware, but the existence of those like her mother, whose Talent allowed communication with sentient non-human species, made them rare. Very few Sharonians would have been prepared to suggest that a cow, or a chicken, was intellectually or morally equivalent to a human being. But, by the same token, very few Sharonians would have been prepared to deny that the great apes and the cetaceans had attained a very high level of intelligence which, if not equal to that of human beings, certainly approached it very closely. In some ways, that same Talent kept them from over-anthropomorphizing the lesser animals, with whom no meaningful contact was possible. Still, by and large, they tended to regard themselves as the stewards of the worlds in which they lived, and the notion of creating experimental monsters would have been highly repugnant to them.
By contrast, Sharonan views on genetic engineering, at least in the cultures Shaylar is familiar with and from. Since this tends to be related to their Talents and those are a worldwide phenomenon, though, it may be fairly common across cultures.
Not that she had any intention of discussing that with Gadrial just now. Especially since, so far, she'd managed to conceal the existence of that specific Talent, despite her mother's life work.

If they ever ask me exactly who Mother's an ambassador to, keeping that particular secret a secret is going to get sticky
, she thought. So let's not go there just now, Shaylar.
Wonder why she's specifically keeping that a secret... maybe she's speculated that speak-to-animal Talents may be able to subvert dragons or other Arcanan creatures? Dunno.
"Well, it was Ransaran magistrons who built the first dragons," Gadrial said, as if she were discussing how to go about baking a cake, Shaylar thought.

"'Built' them out of what?" the Voice demanded.

"There's some dispute about that," Gadrial admitted. "According to at least one tradition, there were still some of the great lizards living in Ransar at the time." She shrugged. "I've always had problems with that particular explanation, myself, since the fossil record seems to indicate that all of the great lizards had died out- rather abruptly, in geological terms- long before dragons were ever developed. Still, there are undeniable similarities.

"At any rate," she continued, as if blithely oblivious to the way Shaylar's eyes were bugging out ever so slightly, "the original dragons were developed in Ransar strictly as beasts of burden. As a way to move cargo quickly from point to point, for the most part, although there are still some wingless dragons in Ransar, where they've been used for centuries instead of horses or unicorns as really heavy draft animals. For the most part, though, their military applications were limited strictly to improving transport...
Dragons were originally developed for transport. And apparently their origins are 'lost' despite, according to Gadrial, having been developed no more than a few hundred years ago. It makes me wonder, sometimes, just how much damage the Portal Wars caused to Arcanan civilization, because you get these hints that they have only vague information about their own history.
"...Until the Mythalans got into the act, that was."

"And why did I see that one coming?" Shaylar demanded rhetorically.

"Because you're so clever," Gadrial told her with a wry chuckle. "I've always rather suspected that Mythalan resentment that we primitive Ransarans had produced something they hadn't played a part in what happened," the magister continued. "After all, to be brutally honest, most of us were pretty primitive compared to Mythal, at that particular point. Hansara was a Tosarian, and Tosaria had evolved a much higher level of civilization than most of the rest of us. My ancestors, for example, were still painting themselves blue and yellow and pickling their enemies's heads as door ornaments at the time. As far as Mythal was concerned, though, all Ransarans were still doing that, and yet the Tosarians had produced not just dragons but Hansara's basic work. Given shakira arrogance, I'm sure they felt an enormous temptation to prove they could do it better than we had. But they weren't interested in simply improving transportation capabilities; they were looking for direct military applications."
I'm confused... on the one hand she said the Ransarans stopped fighting religious wars 900 years ago... on the other hand she says genetic engineering was invented 300 years ago... did I miss something or get something wrong?
"You mean battle dragons do have other weapons?" Shaylar's eyes widened.

Mother Marthea! she thought shakenly. Surely the things' fangs, claws, and horns are vicious enough! How could even Mythalans want to add still more weapons to their nightmare?

"They certainly do." Gadrial's voice was as grim as if she'd actually Heard Shaylar's thought … and shared it. "The weapons Jasak's men used against your people are called 'infantry-dragons' because they replicate the 'natural' weapons the Mythalans built into their real dragons, Shaylar. Some battle dragons breathe fire?or, rather, spit fireballs. Others throw lightning bolts. And still others, despite periodic efforts to ban the breeds in question entirely, project poisonous gases and vapors."

Shaylar gazed at her in horror, and the magister shrugged. She was obviously sympathetic to Shaylar's reaction, but there was something more than simple sympathy behind that shrug, and she returned Shaylar's gaze levelly.
Gadrial plays the "war is full of ugly ways to die" card when Shaylar freaks out over the idea of dragons' breath weapons. Come to think of it this may be the first time their capabilities are explicitly spelled out in the novels, although I mentioned them a few chapters ago.
"...I was saying that they call the infantry support weapons 'dragons' because of the way they replicate dragons' natural weapons," Gadrial said. "But they aren't anywhere near as deadly as an actual battle dragon. The artillery's field-dragons are many times more powerful than the infantry-dragons Jasak's men had with them that day, and much longer ranged. But even the heaviest field-dragon is much less powerful than the weapons built into battle dragons. All of the infantry and artillery weapons rely on charged spell accumulators, but battle dragons are spell accumulators. They charge themselves from the magic field after every shot."
Artillery needs ammunition, dragons don't although I imagine their rate of fire is limited by their recharge rate.

Arcanans HAVE artillery, in the sense of heavy weapons that are not conveniently man-portable, but which are more powerful than the little infantry-dragons. However, I get the sense that they don't actually have much (if any) of this stuff in the frontier theater where the war is being fought. Which is understandable since there's almost no need for heavy artillery in the kind of combat they might see on the frontier normally, and if anything like that does come up, well, a battle dragon can get to the scene of the crisis pretty fast and provide as much fire support as is likely to be required.
"I know, I know." Shaylar shook her head. "But are you saying that you think it's something about the … magic the Mythalans used to graft those horrible capabilities into their battle dragons that causes them to hate me where transports like Skyfang don't?" Shaylar asked, deliberately trying to step back from the horrendous vision of dragons flying over Sharona belching death and devastation.

"Probably," Gadrial said, leaning back in her deck chair as if she, too, was grateful to back away from the same vision. "Although, actually, I think it probably has less to do with the weapons themselves than with the changes in the dragons' … personalities, for want of a better word, that went with it. The original Ransaran dragon breeding lines had deliberately emphasized docility. The breeders didn't want something that size which would suddenly decide it ought to be eating its handlers. The Mythalans, typically, decided to 'improve' upon that when they set out to create dragons for combat. So they spliced in several of the characteristics of a Mythal River crocodile." She grimaced once more. "You might say that their personalities are just a little more aggressive than those of a pure transport, like Skyfang."
This may help explain dragons freaking out around Shaylar. Based on her psychic impressions, transport dragons are like big whales (huge gentle giants), whereas battle dragons are more like sharks or barracudas or other predatory creatures.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Post by Ultonius » 2016-04-04 08:48am

Just a few observations.
So the warrior-class includes magic users but is not all-magical.
Gadrial states that with only 'some exceptions', non-Gifted Mythalans are garthan, while the Gifted are shakira and multhari, which implies that the vast majority of multhari are Gifted. (She doesn't explain what those exceptions are, but I suppose it's possible that garthan enlisted soldiers could be made multhari for acts of heroism and/or long and distinguished service. Alternatively, perhaps shakira and multhari can be reduced to garthan for extremely severe crimes, or if non-Gifted children are born to shakira or multhari parents, which is presumably very rare if it happens at all, they retain their high-caste status.) While the shakira are called the 'Gifted caste', it seems to be because they conduct magical research and theoretical studies, and perhaps also because they tend to be more strongly Gifted than multhari.
secretly a member of the Mythalan 'shakira' elite caste of magic-users
His shakira status and right to the 'vos' prefix doesn't seem to be a secret. Both Gadrial (who mentions to Shaylar and Jathmar that 'though he hasn't chosen to flaunt it, he comes from a fairly prominent shakira clan-line') and Jasak (who 'didn't know how strong mul Gurthak's Gift might be, although the fact that the two thousand chose to go by "mul Gurthak" rather than the "vos and mul Gurthak" which a shakira officer was entitled to claim could be an indication that it wasn't extraordinarily powerful') know about it. Presumably his motivation for not using 'vos' is to help disguise his role in the Mythalan conspiracy, by giving the impression that he is relatively cosmopolitan and less snobby about his caste status than some shakira, and that his Gift is relatively weak, as Jasak speculates. We learn in the second book that he does deliberately conceal how strong his Gift is.
Although this may be because the Sharonan pseudo-diplomats are military and not lying treacherous no-good civilian government officials on the wrong side who are out to get the Upstanding Armed Forces. Dammit, Weber...
Though they are getting their instructions from mul Gurthak, a military officer (albeit with his own agenda).
Apparently there is a religion called "Lissians" on Sharona, which works vaguely like this, but Shaylar says "But the Lissians are among the gentlest, most compassionate people on Sharona," which at least tells you their reputation.
Lissians are a nationality, not a religion. As you quoted earlier, they're 'traveling from the eastern coast of the great island-continent of Lissia', and the Lissian Republic also includes New Zealand and most of Oceania. And Shaylar's mother is Lissian, from one of the islands of Oceania, which is presumably why Shaylar is somewhat familiar with them.
I'm confused... on the one hand she said the Ransarans stopped fighting religious wars 900 years ago... on the other hand she says genetic engineering was invented 300 years ago... did I miss something or get something wrong?
Well, she doesn't say anything about the wars her ancestors fought in Hansara's time being religious in nature. Also, she says that genetic engineering is 'one of the few areas in which Ransar actually led the way in both theoretical and applied research for something like three hundred years'. To me, that phrasing implies a period of three hundred years in the past, after which Mythal caught up, presumably by designing dragons with breath weapons (which are implied to have existed for over two hundred years, since before the Union was formed), rather than from three hundred years ago until the present.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 48

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-04 09:32pm

This chapter is mostly "like wow man" speculation on the nature of the universes the two civilizations pass through, by a couple of Sharonans, I'll strain it for relevant facts.

One thing we observe is that Sharonan public opinion has already started thinking of Arcanans as murderous barbarians (their words, not mine). Voices are unable to lie to each other when communicating en rapport, but emotional overtones can be misleading.
"I was talking to one of the Authority's theoreticians," the Voice correspondent said. "From the way he was talking, this may be the only point of contact we'll see with these people. So if we get control of it, or just seal it off, wouldn't that be more or less the end of it?"

"Only point of contact?" Perthis leaned back in his own chair. To be totally honest, he'd never thought of Elivath as the sharpest pencil in SUNN's box. He respected the strength of Elivath's Talent, and his integrity, but he'd also always thought of Elivath as one of his correspondents who required rather more careful direction than many... "Why should this be the only point of contact?" the Chief Voice continued after a moment. "Aside from the fact that we've never had one before, which might predispose us to expect it to be the only one, that is."
"Anyway, this fellow I was talking to says that all of the empirical and theoretical work that's been done suggests that all of the universes in the multiverse had the same common starting point. What caused them to … separate from one another were events that had multiple possible outcomes. Each possible outcome happened somewhere, and that started the separate, divergent universes."
This is a more or less universally (heh) known explanation for where the multiple universes accessible via portals come from. Personally I have problems with this theory. You have hundreds of known parallel Earths, presumably countless thousands of them in the greater Multiverse. In 99% or more of these Earths (assuming we have a representative sample), humanity does not even exist.. Yet at the same time, these worlds are otherwise identical in terms of their ecosystems. Animal species are virtually identical from one universe to another, to the point where even finding a funny-colored squirrel is remarkble... but note that there is no mention of anthropoid protohumans being found in the Great Rift Valley of all these alternate Earths or anything.

So the point of departure for all these parallel universes would have be in the distant geologic past- before anything recognizably ancestral to humans and recognizably different from chimpanzees evolved. In which case a lot of other species should still be around, or should have diverged from the 'template' found in our world. Say, in some worlds there should be North American megafauna that survived the last Ice Age due to not having human hunters killing off masses of them. Or there should be species of big cats that fill the same niches as lions and tigers and so on in real life, but look different due to five million years of genetic drift. Things like that.

Since we don't see that, it suggests that the point of departure for the alternate Earths is such that the distribution of flora and fauna on those Earths is pretty much the same as ours... except that, mysteriously, there are no members of the genus homo, and no evidence that they ever existed.. And, in turn, I can't really think of an explanation for that that isn't both highly selective and rather sinister.
"Well," Elivath continued, "this guy I was talking to says that up until recently we always figured that whenever a new universe was created, it went off in its own unique direction. That each new universe radiated at what I guess you could think of as right angles to the universe it split off from because of the particular event that created it. But he says that that theory's been challenged lately, and that the brains' best current guess is that the universes that are most similar lie … parallel to one another, for want of a better word, instead. They're all 'headed the same direction,' so to speak, not racing away from each other."

"I got the same briefing when this whole thing blew up in our faces," Perthis agreed, nodding again. "In fact, they said something about the Calirath Glimpses proving the existence of parallel universes."

"Yeah." Elivath made a face. "I remember. It made my head hurt, actually."

"Only if you tried to follow the theory instead of the consequences," Perthis pointed out with a wry grin. "Just remember that the boffins think that what a Glimpse is is really a sort of precognitive peek across into those parallel universes, whereas a straight precog is stuck looking along the event line in his own universe. A Glimpse isn't true precognition, but more of a … statistical process. They do have some unique capability in their Talent which lets them follow possible human actions and outcomes, but the unpredictability of human nature means they can't be sure what any particular human in any particular universe is going to do. What they can do, apparently, is see the possible actions and outcomes of a whole bunch of people simultaneously. The same people, living in parallel universes. And what their Glimpses are is the most common outcomes of all those actions."
Attempt to explain precognition (which is a thing some Talents have) and Calirath Glimpses. Realistically these guys have no way of knowing how things actually work, but it's a nice try.
"I think I see where you're headed with this," Perthis said slowly. In fact, he was impressed by Elivath's analysis. Of course, he realized the Voice hadn't come up with it on his own, but it was obvious he'd been thinking hard about it for some time.

"So your basic point," the Chief Voice continued, "is that since we're all … traveling along in this same direction of yours, the odds are against any of the universes in our 'cable' colliding with another universe in their 'cable.'"

Actually that's interesting, the idea that in some N-dimensional space, universes that are similar are described by parallel or near-parallel tracks, and are therefore statistically unlikely to intersect, whereas universes that are highly dissimilar are more likely to intersect. The problems are:

1) This should lead to intersections with radically different universes that diverged earlier in geologic time- universes that still have dinosaurs, or where radically different organisms evolved, or even where non-human intelligent species exist.

2) This should not lead to all those other universes being near-identical to one another, and near-identical to Sharonan/Arcanan Earth, except for the absence of humans, unless...

3) Maybe the above could be addressed if we posit that what's actually happening is two parallel 'bundles,' one of empty Earths and one of human Earths, are intersection, except...

4) Then you wouldn't expect to see lots of connections forming among the parallel empty Earths, which is what's actually happening- 99% of portals connect an empty Earth to another, seemingly identical, empty Earth.

Some more remarks, mostly disapproval of Chava Busar...
"...More or less … although he wasn't prepared to admit it for public consumption," the Chief Voice said dryly, and it was Elivath's turn to laugh.

"On the other hand," Perthis continued, his smile fading, "I think he's probably right."

"If I were Zindel, I wouldn't want Chava marrying into my family," Elivath said sourly.

"Neither would I," Perthis agreed. "But, as Tarlin pointed out, Chava's picked his demands pretty shrewdly. He's right, after all. Intermarriage has always been part of the traditional Ternathian approach to guaranteeing the inclusion of 'subject peoples'- although I hate the way Chava keeps throwing around that particular term- in the mainstream of their Empire." The Chief Voice shrugged. "If we're going to institute a planet-wide Ternathian Empire under the Calirath Dynasty, then demanding that the heir to the throne has to marry someone from the Uromathian royalty actually makes a lot of sense."
First mention of something that's coming up; Chava wants a royal marriage to the Caliraths for his family, if Zindel is going to be elected God-Emperor of (Sharonan) Mankind.
"Not by a long shot," Perthis said again. "But Janaki's a Calirath, and they've been making dynastic marriages for as long as anyone can remember. For that matter, for as far back as the oldest histories go! They haven't all worked out very well on a personal level, of course, but Janaki's going to understand the political necessities. And let's be fair, Darl. Whatever we may think of Chava, Uromathia is still the second most powerful nation on Sharona, and there are an awful lot of Uromathians. They deserve to be fairly represented in any world government. And if they aren't represented, what does that say to everyone else? You and I may be confident that Zindel chan Calirath isn't going to produce some sort of tyranny, but if we expect countries all over the planet to surrender their national sovereignty to him, then they need to know he's prepared to be reasonable about inclusiveness, honesty, fairness … and access to power."
Objections like that are, frankly, fair.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 49

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-04 11:01pm

Cut to Fort Ghartoun (?) where Colonel (okay, fine, Regiment-Captain) Velvelig is watching over the prisoners, including Thalmayr, who was commanding the Arcanan troops at the portal when chan Tesh rolled over them.
Hadrign Thalmayr lay rigidly on his side on the white-sheeted bed in the airy, sunlit room. His eyes were screwed tightly shut, beads of sweat stood out on his forehead, and his fists were clenched so tightly that his nails had cut bleeding crescents into his palms.

The breeze through the open window moved gently, almost caressingly across him. He could hear the distant but unmistakable sounds of a drill field: voices shouting orders in a foreign language, whistles shrilling at irregular intervals, the occasional clatter of weapons as troops went through their own version of the manual of arms, and the deep-voiced sound of drill formations counting cadence. The air was cool, the distant background noise- deeply familiar to any professional soldier, despite the fact that he couldn't understand a single word of the orders he overheard- only made the quiet around him even more soothing, and he could almost literally physically feel the relaxing, comforting peacefulness which had settled over this place.

It was all reassuringly calm and normal … and its very normality only made his terror and helpless rage still worse.

The man sitting in the chair beside his bed spoke again, in that same utterly incomprehensible, comforting voice, but Thalmayr wasn't fooled. He squeezed his eyelids even more tightly together and bit his lip, welcoming the pain of the bite as it helped them summon all of his resistance while that insidious, loathsome touch slid once again across the surface of his mind.

It took all he could do not to moan or whimper in terror. He called up all of his hatred, all of his fear and disgust, to bolster his defiance, but it was hard. Hard.
Thalmayr is... not responding well to Talent psychiatric treatment. Surgery didn't fix his condition. Apparently Thalmayr is able to resist Voice contact. For the record they're not actually trying to torture him... but he really can not tell that.
He wanted to roll over onto his back, but the sandbags holding him on his side prevented it. Which, he admitted, was just as well, given the incision across his spine.

His teeth clenched again as he thought about that wound and all the pain their so-called "healers" had inflicted upon him. Butchers- barbarians! He'd been right about them all along, and he cursed Sir Jasak Olderhan in vicious mental silence as he remembered the other hundred's precious "shardonai."

I should've fed the pair of them to the nearest godsdamned dragon! he thought savagely. Them and all their fucking friends!

He'd long since figured out that that sneaky little bitch with her bruised face and pitiful "poor me" eyes had somehow managed to get a message out to her butchering friends. He still didn't know how, but the way they'd flung her name at him again and again in their questioning proved she had … and the way they kept battering at his own mind suggested several ugly possibilities as to how she had.

The whole time that fucking idiot Olderhan was standing there 'protecting her,' she was busy telling her friends where we were and how to come find us and kill us! It's the only way they could've known she was still alive!

His molars ground together. It was all her fault. She was the one who'd brought the attack in on Thalmayr's command. It wasn't his fault. There was no way he could possibly have known what the little bitch was doing, that she'd managed to bring an entire godsdamned regiment down on him! If it hadn't been for her, his men would still be alive. Magister Halathyn would still be alive.

And Hadrign Thalmayr wouldn't be the half-paralyzed prisoner of the butchers who'd started all of this by massacring that brainless incompetent Olderhan's men in the first place. The butchers who'd somehow transported him over what had to be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles without his remembering a single thing about the journey. The butchers who cut open the flesh of helpless captives in some obscene pretense of trying to "help them," and then, when they were weakened by the pain, tried to rape away any useful information in their minds.

Well, they might break him in the end. Any man could be broken by enough torture, enough cruelty, and he had no way of knowing what other, even more horrendous powers of mental destruction they might yet be able to bring to bear upon him. But they wouldn't find it easy. He swore that to himself yet again, repeating it like a precious mantra of defiance, while despair poured over him with the gentle, soothing breeze.
By Thalmayr's standards, Sharonan medical care is both incompetent and torturous, since it involves literally cutting people open. By his standard, 'good medical care' is when a wizard points a magic wand at you and you magically (literally) get better with little or no convalescence and a full recovery. He doesn't know what the Sharonan Talents are trying to do for him, so he interprets it as brainwashing and resists.

Cut to medical officer Silkash talking with the regiment-captain about the patient from the Sharonan point of view.
"Frankly, Sir," Company-Captain Golvar Silkash said, "I'm at a loss." The Healers' Corps officer shook his head, his eyes unhappy. "I've done all I can, and Tobis is still trying, but I've never had a patient with this man's attitude. I just don't know what else we can do to get through to him...
"Is Tobis right, do you think?" he asked.

"What? About the man having at least a trace of Talent of his own?"

"Yes. Could that be what's going on?"

"I suppose it could," Silkash said with a grimace. "Tobis knows a lot more about that sort of thing than I do, but I think even he's shooting blind on this one. We just plain don't have any experience with people who've never even heard of Talents!"
So it's ambiguous from this, whether a non-Talented person can resist mental contact and healing Talent, or whether it's because some Arcanans (including Thalmayr) have latent Talent of their own. The former is basically unheard of in Sharonan society, apparently.
"I suppose, if I'd been captured?especially after the sort of massacre these people got put through- I wouldn't be in any hurry to cooperate with my jailers, either. After all, they're probably as imbued as our own people with the idea that it's their duty to refuse to give the enemy any useful information. And despite the total incompetence of their commander, it's obvious these are elite troops..."

"Because that's exactly the reaction I'd expect out of elite troops who'd suffered the sort of pounding these men survived. Think about it, Silky. From chan Tesh's reports, it's obvious they never even suspected we could fire on them through a portal. Their CO- such as he was, and what there was of him- went down in the first volley, which decapitated their entire command structure. The mortar rounds coming in on them must've been the most terrifying thing they'd ever experienced. chan Tesh was massacring them- literally- and they couldn't even shoot back. So how did they react?"

Silkash's perplexity was obvious, and Velvelig waved his tea mug for impatient emphasis.

"They charged, Silky. They came out of their fortifications, got up out of their protective holes under fire- which is harder than hells for anyone to do, trust me- and they charged straight into the fire that was killing them." He shook his head. "Whatever we may think of what they did to the Chalgyn crew, and however stupidly they may have been commanded when chan Tesh hit them, these men were magnificent soldiers. In fact, I'll absolutely guarantee you that that idiot Thalmayr didn't have a thing to do with training them. Not these men. They were so much better than he was that there's no comparison. And that's exactly why so many of them got killed. Instead of turning around and running away, instead of breaking, they charged in an almost certainly spontaneous effort to get their own weapons into action on the far side of the portal. It's probably the bloody-minded septman in me, but I'm prepared to forgive men for a lot when they show that kind of guts."
Velvelig the Arpathian septman on his assessment of the Arcanan troops. Who, being elites, didn't expect to lose, or be able to lose, and are accordingly humiliated.
"Now that you've got me thinking in the same direction, neither am I," Silkash conceded. "But Tobis is probably right that their lack of familiarity with Talented people is also a factor. First, because they don't have a clue what chan Tergis is trying to accomplish, which sort of automatically precludes the possibility of cooperating, even if they wanted to. And, second, because if any of them do have a touch of Talent of their own, they might well react the same way Thalmayr is."

"Probably," Velvelig agreed. "Which, I'm afraid, brings us back to Thalmayr." The Arpathian's lips twisted briefly with all of the contempt he refused to feel for Thalmayr's unfortunate subordinates. "Just what is his prognosis?"

"Physically... chan Rodair wanted him here at Ghartoun, because he thought the damage to Thalmayr's spine might be amenable to surgical intervention. Well, he was wrong. For that matter, I was wrong when I first examined the man. I think it may have been because I wanted so badly for chan Rodair to have been right, but that doesn't change the fact that we were both wrong. So we subjected him to a completely unnecessary- and useless- operation. That's bad enough, but even worse, whatever it is that's causing him to be so resistant to Tobis' efforts to get at his mental and emotional traumas is also hampering our efforts at pain management. So we've inflicted that additional suffering on him, as well."
Thalmayr's spine is damaged beyond Sharonan capacity to repair. Note that Arcanan medicine is drastically superior to Sharona's, which does seem to be at about the early to mid-20th century level, where they know about antiseptic surgery and have a pretty good idea of anatomy, but haven't developed the techniques we have today. Then again, Arcanan medicine is probably also superior to ours in real life, because, well, wave a magic rock and people get better.

Sharonans rely heavily on Talents both to aid in physical healing, and for pain management after surgery.
"chan Baskay and Rothag are still convinced these people are lying about entirely too many things for my peace of mind," he admitted. "What bothers me most about it isn't that diplomats … shade the truth. Gods know, they do that back home whenever they can, and if our diplomats didn't have Talents on the other side to keep them honest, they'd probably do a lot more of it. But if they're as urgently interested in negotiating some sort of permanent cease-fire as they claim to be, then I'd think they should have a lot more incentive to be at least forthcoming, if not completely honest. But they haven't really given us a lot more information. They seem almost obsessed with the little stuff, the fine details about how we're supposed to go about negotiating, rather than more substantive questions like what we're supposed to be negotiating about. And I don't much care for the attitude their military escort seems to be showing. There've been a couple of potentially ugly incidents already."

"What sort of incidents, Sir?"

"That's just it, they're the stupid kind. People who take umbrage or even insult from innocent remarks. Or people who insult our people, apparently by accident. Three times now, this Skirvon of theirs has suggested postponements in the talks themselves in order to 'let tempers cool.' I'm not there, of course, but I'm inclined to back chan Baskay's view. I think their troopers are actually under orders to provoke incidents as a deliberate delaying tactic and I've said as much in my own reports up-chain."
Sharonans are aware of what the Arcanans are trying to pull, but don't want to believe it. Speculation has run rampant. chan Baskay has deduced that Skirvon may be there to slow things down until a more senior diplomat can show up, and so on. Nobody has figured out the "they're massing for an attack" hypothesis... not sure why, honestly.

Meanwhile, on the Arcanan side of the fence...
Commander of Two Thousand Mayrkos Harshu looked up from the paperwork in his PC as someone rapped gently and respectfully at the frame of his office doorway. His dark, intense eyes focused like a hunting gryphon on the officer standing in the open door. Then he laid his sarkolis crystal stylus on his blotter, much the way another man might have sheathed a sword...

The two thousand had a near-fetish for not "wasting time." Especially with what he considered pointless, unnecessary questions. Of course, he also had a reputation for cutting people off at the knees if they made mistakes because they were too stupid or too lazy to ask questions. Which could make things rather … difficult upon occasion.
Problems with this type of boss. Harshu is a hard-charger and is sometimes prone to act without deliberation, I think, which may be why vos Gurthak wants him in charge of the field force. Neshok, who has just entered his office, has been promoted to acting five hundred... but is thinking about how vos Gurthak's criticism of him in front of Olderhan was just an act. Neshok has in fact been promoted to acting intelligence officer for Harshu... and frankly, this is a job he is at once good at and very wrong for, as demonstrated by his hateful inner monologue and eager ruthlessness.
"Good." Harshu's tone added an unspoken "and it's about time," and Neshok ordered the office's spellware to dim the lights. Then he tapped his PC with the stylus, and a moving, living image glowed into being above Harshu's desk. The fidgeting two thousand stopped fidgeting instantly, as his fiercely intelligent eyes darted from place to place, carefully comparing the present image to the ones he'd seen before. As always, once the keen intellect behind those eyes had a fresh task to engage it, most of the affected impatience and hyperactivity disappeared quickly.

"As you can see, Sir, we're still getting very good imagery," he began.

"Yes, we are," Harshu agreed thoughtfully. "In fact, are we sure they don't know we are?" His eyes darted up from the small moving images of Sharonian soldiers to impale Neshok. "Could they possibly be setting all this up to show us what they want us to see?"

"No, Sir," Neshok said confidently, then snorted. "They're still pulling every boat up onto the island and turning it keel-up before they let anyone cross over into Hell's Gate." The Arcanans had adopted the Sharonian name for their contact universe. After all, as the Sharonian diplomat, Simrath, had pointed out at the time, it was grimly appropriate for both sides. "It's obvious Master Skirvon's observation is correct. The stupid, superstitious barbarians don't have a clue how magic works, so they aren't taking any chances … they think."
Neshok is getting reconnaissance imagery of the negotiation site. Also, more Neshok having contempt for Sharonans.
"It might not be a bad idea," Harshu said almost pleasantly, his eyes returning to the images before him, "to spend a little less time patting ourselves on our backs for cleverness and a little more time making certain we aren't underestimating the other side."
On the other hand, Harshu definitely does use his head for more than just holding up for his hat. :D

Anyway, the Arcanans are attaching camera-crystals to their boats in positions where the Sharonans don't think to look for them, allowing them to get pretty good information on the defenses immediately around the site where the boats come ashore. Thus, they can evaluate the Sharonans' defenses in preparation for an attack. They also have audio.

That's a relevant Arcanan capability- they can 'bug' things with a hunk of rock.

They've also put bugs on the "dress uniform-"wearing officers (because Sharonans can't tell a gem on the dress uniform is actually a bug), allowing them to effectively walk around inside the Sharonan defenses wearing cameras and microphones.
"I see." Harshu frowned thoughtfully, leaning his folded forearms on his desk. "And is there confirmation about these two?" He twitched his head at the two Sharonians under the canvas sunshade at one end of the portal.

"Yes, Sir." Neshok nodded. "We're still not certain how they do what they're apparently doing... we've definitely confirmed from their conversation and the chatter of their buddies that they're some sort of lookouts. And we've also confirmed that whatever it is they're doing, they can't do it through a portal any more than we could cast a spell through one. They rotate around the end of the portal on a quite rigid schedule, apparently to clear the blind spot the portal creates for them... they never deviate by more than a very few minutes from their set timing."

"I wish we had managed to determine exactly what it is they're doing," Harshu mused, and Neshok nodded.

"So do I, Sir, but there's just no way of guessing how these 'Talents' of theirs work. From what we've been able to overhear, it sounds as if the Talent this one is using-" he indicated the smaller of the two Sharonians "-works sort of like one of our scrying spells. It isn't the same, obviously. For one thing, they don't need a crystal to gather the image. And, for another, they appear to be able to sweep a general volume, rather than needing to know exactly where whatever they're trying to observe is within that volume. And, for a third thing- and we're not certain about this one, Sir; it's based on a couple of fairly cryptic remarks we've overheard and translated- he appears to be limited to the ability to detect living creatures."

"I suppose that could make sense," Harshu said thoughtfully. "If these Talents of theirs are all some kind of weird mental powers, then perhaps what they're picking up on is some sort of vibration or mental wave. Wouldn't get much of that off of a rock, I imagine."
Neshok has deduced the use of the two Talents as lookouts, but doesn't know their maximum range or other parameters of their capabilities. The Talents have fallen into a rather rigid sweep pattern, which the Arcanans have learned to predict. They don't know the Talents' range, which makes Harshu cranky, buuut...
"Actually, Sir, we do have at least an approximation. Or perhaps I should say a bottom limit at which we know they can't 'see' us." Harshu unfolded his arms and made a "go on" gesture with his right hand.

"As you know, Sir, we've been taking pains to conceal the existence of our dragons from them... [they] don't seen to have a clue that we have [aerial capability]." Which, he didn't add aloud, just confirms what utter barbarians they are, doesn't it? "Apparently they'd been wondering for some time how we got people in and out from the Second Andarans' base camp through all that muck and mire. Now that they've seen our boats, they think they know... And the fact that they don't know about dragons or gryphons clearly indicates that their lookouts haven't 'seen' our diplomats or their escort being flown in.
So basically, they deduce that whatever Talent-sensor range is, it's less than forty miles, or they'd have spotted the dragons a long time ago. They have also noticed that he never looks up... uhoh.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 50

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-04-16 01:13pm

Cut to a conversation between Harshu (the brigadier general-equivalent commanding the Arcanan forward forces) and Klian (the (major-equivalent who previously commanded the fort that is now Harshu's headquarters). Snipping a lot of stuff that isn't really relevant...
"Two Thousand," he said, "you're in command. Whether I 'approve' of your contingency planning or not is really beside the point, isn't it? Since you've asked, though, there are aspects of your plans- as I currently understand them, at any rate- that do cause me some concern."
Klian is comfy with Harshu's defensive plans (which involve gradually falling back and hitting the Sharonans with air attacks while they struggle through a massive swamp). He is, however, worried about "the feel I'm picking up from the majority of your officers that they're actually anticipating offensive operations."

Harshu responds that "offensive-mindedness" is an important trait for soldiers, which ties into his general reputation as an aggressive officer... and solicits more of Klian's thoughts, because he actually cares and isn't a bad commanding officer as such.
"First, however good our intelligence on their tactical dispositions right at the swamp portal, or even between there and Fallen Timbers, may be, we know literally nothing about these people's real military power. We don't have any clear indication of what their heavy weapons' capabilities may be, how close to the point of contact their major military bases may be, or how big they are. I know the current intelligence assessments are that they're not anticipating reinforcement within the next several weeks, but what does that actually tell us? We don't know anything about how big the reinforcement they are expecting might be, or what might be in the pipeline behind it. Even if we managed to punch right through everything they've got in the immediate vicinity, what happens when we run into their reserves? How does the fact that we'd presumably have better reconnaissance capabilities, thanks to our dragons and gryphons, play off against the superior communications these Voices of theirs give them? And how do these 'Talents' of theirs- including any we can't evaluate at all, because we've never seen them in action-play off against the capabilities our Gifts give us?
All good questions. And Klian also points out that there is reason to think all this began as a misunderstanding, in which case attacking the Sharonans would guarantee a major war.

Harshu acknowledges the validity of these concerns and falls back on "I have my instructions from Two Thousand mul Gurthak, and I can't allow myself to be paralyzed by all of the perfectly good arguments for doing nothing..." Interesting how in the Arcanan military, vos Gurthak is entitled to give such binding orders to his equal in rank. Then again, I may have missed a part where vos Gurthak was formally placed above Harshu in the chain of command by their respective superiors.

It is also noteworthy that vos Gurthak doesn't seem too worried about these threat- about the Sharonans showing unexpected capabilities. This may be because as a Mythalan he is predisposed to underestimate non-magical societies.

Harshu goes on... Despite translation difficulties,
"...Still, it's clear that they're bringing up a lot of combat power. Quite possibly more than we've been able to assemble. But they won't be able to get it into position for some time, whereas ours is almost completely into position now. And, of course, there's a corollary to that, because the striking power we'll have concentrated here by the end of next week represents everything currently available in this entire chain... In other words, we're probably looking at the most favorable balance of forces we're likely to see, at least until the Commandery finds out what's going on and starts sending in additional forces, and that's going to take months yet.

"And, finally, there's the difficulty that what we're talking about here is the biggest, and almost certainly the most valuable, portal cluster in our history. From some of the things they've said, it seems apparent the same thing is true for them, and at the moment, they've got possession of it. If we had it, how quick would we be to give it up, or to share it? Especially with someone we regarded as murderous barbarians? Which," the two thousand's eyes suddenly bored into Klian's across the table, "is precisely how they think about us, judging from the RCs' take."

Klian looked back at his superior and wished he had an answer for those last two questions. Or that he quite dared to ask how important the possession of any portal cluster was compared to the possibility of a general war with another inter-universal civilization.

"I have to balance all of those questions and considerations against Two Thousand mul Gurthak's instructions and my own evaluation of the situation," Harshu continued after moment. "And, despite my loose-dragon reputation, I'll be honest and admit that it scares the tripes out of me. But that doesn't mean I don't have to do it anyway, now does it?"
Harshu is in the process of talking himself into launching a preemptive attack on the Sharonans...

The Arcanans aren't actually unrealistically stupid or obnoxious compared to real life, but they do have a remarkable faculty for persuading themselves that in order to 'control' the situation they must escalate the situation. A cautionary tale, in my mind, about the drawbacks of 'realpolitik' and brinksmanship.

Cut to Zindel and... um, I forget, his chief of staff or one of his senior ministers, Taje, discussing the negotiations to form a world government on Sharona. In particular, discussing the actions of Chava Busar:
"Well, at least he's finally stated what have to have been his real terms all along."

"I know." Zindel's expression changed subtly. Taje knew he would never have been able to describe the change to anyone else, yet it was instantly recognizable to someone who knew the Emperor as well as he did. It was the expression of a weary, worried father, not a nation's ruler.

"I know," Zindel repeated quietly, "and I wish to all the gods that I could spare Janaki this."
Chava Busar wants a royal marriage between his descendants and those of the Ternathian royal house, which at the moment sounds like Janaki marrying an Uromathian crown princess. Unpleasant for Zindel who Does Not Like Uromathians, but honestly not THAT bad... and not unreasonable given the balance of power, so...
"Very well." Zindel never turned away from the window. "Inform Representative Kinshe that Ternathia formally accepts Uromathia's proposed amendment of the draft Act of Unification. I suppose," his mouth twitched with just a trace of genuine humor, "that the crown of Sharona is worth a Uromathian daughter-in-law."
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 51

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-11-30 01:37pm

So, I decided to have another go at this, in part because I've recently picked up the long-awaited third installment of the series (Weber is now co-writing with Joelle Presby rather than Linda Evans).

This is another Sharonan chapter. The first part is from Shaylar's parents on Sharona (who think she's dead, remember, because the Arcanans said so). The second is the Ternathian royal family, so Andrin's point of view again.


Thaminar Kolmayr barely glanced at the banner headline on the morning issue of the Gulf Point Daily News their new press secretary had brought in. He didn't need to do any more than that, because he was intimately familiar with the story beneath that headline. Indeed, he'd gotten depressingly good at political analysis over the past dreary, endless weeks.
Observation: the Sharonans do HAVE regular newspapers and so on, because 80% of their population is no more psychic than you or me. I'm not sure they would, if they were all Voices or other Talents.
It had hurt desperately, seeing their daughter's photograph and name splashed across newspaper and magazine pages, or embedded in the telepathic Voicecasts. None of it carried anything approaching the sheer agony of Shaylar's final Voice message, but neither he nor Shalassar had the heart any longer to View those Voicecasts. Using their Voices at all, these last two months, kept bringing back the searing pain of their daughter's death. So they read the newspapers, instead, and told themselves they'd almost gotten used to seeing little Shaylar's picture everywhere they turned.
Emotional content comes with the territory for telepaths, which is another limit of relying on it as "just another form of communication."
Shalassar glanced at the headline. Just beneath it was yet another black-bordered photograph of Shaylar between the photographs of the only two men in the entire Conclave who truly mattered. The Conclave's delegates had already voted to create a united Empire of Sharona based on the Ternathian model and with Zindel chan Calirath as Emperor. Uromathia's refusal to accept the outcome of that vote as binding upon it had created an enormous amount of anger, but no one had really been surprised. What had been at least a little surprising was the fact that Emperor Chava had managed to convince half a dozen smaller nations to stand with Uromathia by appealing to supposed ancient Ternathian wrongs.

Actually, Thaminar reflected, it probably has less to do with 'convincing' them to go along with him than it does with finding ways of threatening them into going along. He's supposed to be good at that, after all, and every one of them borders on Uromathia.
Another illustration of the "everybody loves Ternathia" weirdness of Sharonan culture. Unlike basically every real-world empire in history, Ternathia has what I can only call a 'Mary Sue immunity' to actually being blamed for doing anything significantly wrong in the thousands of years that they've spent as the center of the global hegemon. Outside observers, with the notable exception of Uromathians, tend to side with the Ternathians on just about everything.

I somehow doubt that being ruled by precognitive monarchs for three thousand years would be enough to bring about a result like this in real life.
He smiled back at her, but the truth was that he didn't really know what was going through the minds of the men and women in Tajvana. On the one hand, it seemed remarkably cut and dried; on the other, some of the delegates- the reports suggested that Emperor Ronnel of Farnalia had probably had a little something to do with it- had dug in their heels in stubborn resistance. Apparently the thought of finding themselves one day living under the rule of Chava Busar's grandchild was more than they could stomach...

People who love the idea of handing the world over to the Ternathian emperors... until they realize that this means that the identiy of their future rulers is subject to Ternathian dynastic marriages!
Thaminar hadn't even tried to keep track of the number of times he'd read or heard the phrase "Death before Uromathia!" in his kingdom's newspapers and public debates. He'd been in total agreement with the sentiment, and he'd been well aware, through news reports, that Uromathia had done everything in its power to stir up old and vicious hatreds of Ternathia amongst those nations she'd once conquered in an effort to generate some sort of counterbalancing backlash against Zindel.

Despite the miserable failure of Chava's effort to put his own candidacy forward, he had succeeded in energizing a vociferous lunatic fringe almost everywhere outside the current-day boundaries of Ternathia. Fortunately, that fringe had found itself increasingly marginalized as the debate had raged. And as Zindel had emerged more and more strongly as a reasonable, moderate-minded, honorable man who steadfastly refused to allow his own allies to ram his candidacy down anyone's throat, the tide had shifted decisively in his favor.
Sharonan global politics and diplomacy are just so doggone... reasonable. Mild-mannered. It's kind of cute, really. Maybe there is something to the idea that having a significant fraction of the population able to just switch and swap not only communications but memories, experiences, and attitudes back and forth brings them closer together?
An ambassador to aquatic sentients couldn't do her job the way other diplomats did theirs, and Shalassar's life- and that of her family- had always reflected that inescapable reality...

The ambassadors assigned to serve the great apes- the mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, baboons, some of the higher monkey species, and so on- lived far less organized lives. They couldn't expect comfortable quarters in the fashionable, diplomatic sections of Sharona's capital cities, because they had to live close to the populations they served. So they ended up parked out on the fringes of the wilderness areas set aside for the apes … which allowed primate emissaries to simply walk up to their houses and knock on the door whenever they felt like it. Which they were notoriously prone to do. The apes were much less interested in the sort of formal, regimented protocols and scheduling humans preferred.
The great apes and many of the cetacean species are intelligent lifeforms on Sharona, and the Sharonans are in regular Voice contact with them, having dedicated ambassadors for the purpose. However, nonhuman species don't share humans' interest in scheduling and formalities.
Sometimes no permission was forthcoming, but those cases tended to be the exception, not the rule. Usually, some sort of quid pro quo could the arrived at. Sometimes the agreements hammered out provided for moving the whole clan into an unoccupied region capable of sustaining them. Sometimes all it took was a gift of technology to help the clan improve its standard of living. More than one large cat had been unpleasantly surprised by sword-wielding chimps protecting their young and infirm, and most of the clans loved steel axheads and saws. Other clans had acquired access to medicines and Healers, paid for by the private developer or government negotiating the treaty.
Negotiations between humans and chimpanzee tribes. Knowing how chimpanzees behave in real life, I'm honestly doubtful they'd be able to function on this level in real life, even assuming they were intelligent- because chimps are significantly more aggressive than humans. Then again, maybe humans aren't the only species on Ternathia with psychics, and maybe their social mammals are more social on average than Earth's- just as their politics seems almost absurdly mild and reasoned compared to our own.

The Sharonan chimps are confirmed as being able to engage in basically the same kind of trade and tool use as low-tech tribal societies of humans. And their rights to territory are, frankly, respected a hell of a lot better than human tribes' rights were respected in any real life culture at this tech level.
Human beings might be unable to do much more than barely scratch the shallows of the cetaceans' endless oceans, but they did exploit at least some of the same territory. And since the emergence of Talents among them, it had been the humans who had initiated contact. No one- Shalassar included- quite understood how cetaceans maintained their historical record, but the fact that they did was beyond dispute. And because they did, they remembered the days in which even the greatest and most intelligent of them had been no more than one more food source for humanity … and how that had changed.

There were those, among the cetaceans, who remained wary of, even hostile towards, humanity because of things which had happened thousands upon thousands of years ago. More of them, though, remembered that humanity had altered its actions once it realized that it was dealing with other intelligent species. And even those who remained wary, recognized that at least some contact with human beings was inescapable...
So there's a very definite role and need for people like Shalassar (again, Shaylar's mother) who are in regular psychic communication with all these dolphins and whales. They do at least a decent job here establishing that living in a very different environment, with different needs and physiology, combine to make the cetaceans alien to humans. Not hostile, but uninterested in and uncomprehending of a lot of things humans spend time fretting about.

Now, cut to the Ternathian royals, currently engaged in political/strategic hammering in Tajvana (site of OTL Constantinople, near the site of Sharona's great portal to the multiverse, former capital of the Ternathian Empire before it was abandoned a few hundred years ago during their withdrawal from empire).
"Do you think Ronnel is really on our side?" Ekthar Shilvass murmured quietly in Shamir Taje's ear...

Taje's lips twitched in what could have been amusement or irritated agreement... but the First Councilor didn't respond. Perhaps he was too well aware of all of the attention focused on the Ternathian delegation as the debate raged onward. Andrin wished he'd responded anyway, and, after a moment, she decided to take advantage of her own youthfulness. She didn't do it very often, but she was barely seventeen years old. There were times when being a teenager allowed her a degree of latitude the official adults around her were denied.

"Papa," she said quietly, looking up at her father in the chair beside hers, "why is Emperor Ronnel kicking up such a fuss?"

Zindel chan Calirath found himself restraining an abrupt temptation to burst into deep, rolling laughter. "Such a fuss" was precisely the right word for what his old friend was doing at the moment...
Rapid shift in viewpoint here, unless the Caliraths are reading each other's minds well enough to tell things like this about each other, which I suppose isn't impossible on Sharona.

Now, it's a bit unclear to me whether Princess Andrin genuinely doesn't know what's going on, or whether she knows and is just trying to get somebody else to say it.

Given her apparent ignorance and cluelessness, and that we earlier agreed that she's basically a teenager with raw mental talent who somehow managed to dodge all the extensive tutoring you'd expect a Ternathian princess to receive... my gut is saying the former.
"Ronnel is just a bit … stubborn," he said, with massive understatement. "To put it bluntly, he doesn't like Chava, he doesn't trust Chava, and he doesn't want Chava anywhere near the imperial succession. Not in any empire that he belongs to, at any rate."

"But if you don't object to it, then how can he?" she asked. "I mean, it doesn't seem very logical."
Andrin makes my brain hurt. I'm not sure whether seventeen year olds are normally like this, but most of the ones I know are... not this naive?
He considered telling her about his intelligence reports on Chava's use of terror tactics against suspected opponents among his own people … and against his neighbors, as well. The "brigandage" which no one could ever quite stamp out in the mountains and valleys along his borders had been inexplicably on the upsurge over the last couple of decades- a period which just happened to coincide with his accession to the throne. And for some peculiar reason, it appeared to be directed primarily against people the Uromathian Emperor didn't like very much. That was bad enough, but there were other, still darker reports which even Ternathian Imperial Intelligence hadn't been able to definitely confirm or rebut.
The Uromathian government tends to fight proxy wars against people it doesn't like. Well, that's better than World War-era levels of ethnic cleansing in real life?

Honestly, the fact that Uromathia is Sharona's idea of a bad government says a lot; it would be rather unremarkable by Earthly standards, unfortunately.
"I've told Ronnel this is how it has to be," he told her. "But he's not at all convinced that it's how I want it to be. Which is fair enough," he conceded, "since if I had any choice at all, I certainly wouldn't do something like this to Janaki! ..."

Andrin shook her head with a grimace, and Zindel shrugged.

"...Getting back to your question, though, it's the combination of Ronnel's own reasons to despise Chava, coupled with the fact that he's trying to 'defend' me from a decision he feels has been forced upon me, which accounts for his decision to oppose me on this particular issue..."
Discussion of the rather disagreeable (to the Caliraths) plan to marry Crown Prince Janaki to an Uromathian princess, as Chava Busar of Uromathia's "price" for agreeing to the whole "make the Caliraths emperors of the world" plan.
"But if this is necessary??" she said, and he shrugged once again.

"Ronnel and I differ on just how necessary it is," he said. "I think we need Uromathia included from the outset. And I think we need to do it in a way which makes it perfectly clear to everyone that we've made an extra effort to accommodate Chava's reasonable demands. I think we can't afford to leave an excluded Uromathia sitting out there like some sort of canker, distracting us while we're trying to gear up for a major war against the Arcanans. And if we're going to include Uromathia, I want to do it in a way which cuts the legs out from under any future attempt on Chava's part to argue that we didn't meet him at least halfway.

"Ronnel's view is that the Conclave's already approved Unification and already approved my election as Emperor. As far as he's concerned, the rest of Sharona can get along quite handily without Uromathia. In fact, I think he'd just as soon see Uromathia excluded in order to keep Chava as far away as possible from the levers of power. And the news that the Arcanans have initiated negotiations leaves Ronnel feeling less of a sense of urgency than he felt when unification was originally proposed. So where I'm willing- even determined, however little I like it- to include Uromathia, he's perfectly prepared to exclude it. And all he has to do to accomplish that is to prevent me from assembling a big enough supermajority to amend the original Act."

He smiled down at his daughter, but his eyes were dark.

"So you see, 'Drin, it's the very fact that he's my friend which is driving him to do everything in his power to defeat what I'm trying so hard to accomplish."
Ah, the joys of political whipsawing.

To summarize one more fact- the Caliraths tend to have trouble perceiving details of events that they foresee involving them painfully... and they foresee a lot of pain coming up.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 52

Post by Simon_Jester » 2016-11-30 05:01pm

Arcanan viewpoint.
The bright morning sunlight only made Sarr Klian's mood even darker by comparison.

The final draft of Two Thousand Harshu's reinforcements had arrived last night, and it was, Klian conceded, an impressive force... He'd not only managed to dig up two complete Air Force talons, but he'd even come up with an additional four-dragon flight of the rare yellows. Klian hadn't expected that.
I forget what a "talon" is (four dragons in a flight, but how many flights to a strike and how many strikes to a talon?)

To summarize, like in D&D, Arcanan dragons originally came conveniently color-coded by their breath weapons, although the colors have been altered in the intervening few hundred years. "Reds" spit fireballs, the air-to-air specialist "blacks" breath out blasts of lightning that fork out across a relatively narrow path, and "yellows..."
[Blacks and reds] were, of course, also effective against ground targets. No one in his right mind wanted to get in the way of dragon-spawned fireballs or lightning bolts, and it had been two hundred years since anyone had...

Almost every peace organization on Arcana- and a rather surprising number of officers within the Air Force itself- had tried repeatedly to have the yellows banned along with the weapons of mass destruction which had been outlawed when the Union was formed. Although the yellows' opponents hadn't succeeded in getting them completely banned, the Air Force had allowed their numbers to run down drastically... Klian hadn't imagined that any of them were out here in the Lamia Chain. Nor could he imagine why they'd been sent in the first place, or what possible use anyone in the Commandery might have expected them to be.

Yellows were poison-breathers.

The shortest-ranged of all the dragons, they were also the most lethally effective against unprotected personnel. Their breath weapon had the largest area of effect, and without gas masks and a sound doctrine in their use, there was no defense against it.

They came in several varieties, the most deadly of which breathed what the Healers called a nerve-toxin that was uniformly lethal. Others breathed gases like chlorine, which were horrible enough but at least offered some possibility of survival if the wind was in your favor, or if you could get out of the gassed area quickly enough. But even a tiny concentration of the nerve-toxin was deadly once it was inhaled. There were rumors that the Mythalans had developed contact nerve-toxins during the Portal Wars. If that were true, at least they'd never been used, thankfully, but the existing varieties of yellows were more than enough to make Klian's skin crawl.
Arcanan chemical weapons, up to and including nerve gas. Apparently, Arcanan dragon nerve gas is inhaled, not contact like the historic chemical-warfare nerve agents like tabun. Also, not all Arcanan yellows project the same substance.

Less nasty chemical agents used by other yellows include, but are not limited to, chlorine.

Arcanans themselves have, or at least have the technology to build, gas masks. Sharonans do too, but won't be finding out they need to for a while, unfortunately for them.
Especially now, as he stood on the Fort Rycharn parapet, gazing out across the crowded dragonfield at the rows upon rows of canvas tents. According to the latest returns, Harshu currently had two cavalry regiments and eight infantry battalions, plus artillery support, assembled under his command. That gave him over two thousand cavalry and almost nine thousand infantry, even before he counted the artillerists, the Air Force personnel, and the special combat engineer units. All told, Harshu had better than fourteen thousand men- as many men as many a full division could have boasted- and Klian felt a deep surge of inexpressible bitterness as he gazed out across that crowded encampment and thought how easily he might have contained this situation at the outset if he'd had it under his command...
A rough count of Harshu's forces. As I've remarked before, Arcanan military ranks viewed as numbers tend to grossly underestimate the size of the actual forces placed under the officers' command. I wish Weber would just render the ranks as 'colonel' and so on.

But I digress.
"Gentlemen," Two Thousand Harshu had told his assembled officers less than two hours ago, "Master Skirvon's latest dispatches make it quite clear the other side is not negotiating in good faith. That fact has become increasingly clear to him over the past several weeks, and he's communicated that conclusion to Two Thousand mul Gurthak. In addition, our reconnaissance has confirmed that the enemy actually on the portal are anticipating the arrival of substantial reinforcements within the next sixty to ninety days."
Skirvon is of course utterly bullshitting, I forget if Harshu is privy to that bullshitting. I'm a bit confused about the timetable on those reinforcements; I know that there's a division of mechanized cavalry coming up by rail, but I thought it would take more than two or three months to get there, if only because of the thousands of miles required to get from the railhead at Fort Salby to the Hell's Gate portal cluster.
He'd paused, and Klian's heart had sunk into his boots. The five hundred had looked around at the silently watching faces, willing one of them to speak. When no one else had, he'd drawn a deep breath and lifted his own hand.

"Yes, Five Hundred Klian," Harshu had said.

"Excuse me, Sir. But if they aren't negotiating in good faith, what, exactly, does Master Skirvon think they are doing? Why talk to us in the first place?"

"They haven't requested a freeze on troop movements," Harshu had pointed out. "Obviously, that's because they believe- or hope, at any rate- that they can move their reinforcements to the front faster than we can. Unfortunately for them, they appear to be wrong. Master Skirvon's assessment is that they've basically been intent on buying time to bring those troops into play, without any intention of ever seriously attempting to resolve the differences between us peacefully. They continue to insist that the original confrontation was entirely our fault, and they've persistently refused to move beyond that to any discussion of the future possession of the portal cluster. Master Skirvon- who, I hardly need to remind anyone in this room, has by far the most personal experience in dealing with them- is of the opinion that they intend, at a bare minimum, to secure their own permanent and exclusive possession of Hell's Gate. Whether or not they intend to move beyond the cluster into our own territory is more than he's prepared to say at this point. That possibility cannot be overlooked, however."

Klian had hovered on the brink of pointing out that Skirvon hadn't requested any freezes on troop movements, either. But he hadn't said it. Harshu already knew that, and Klian had no doubt that Skirvon had waited to see what the other side proposed specifically as a test of the Sharonians' sincerity.
This mirrors Skirvon's instructions from mul Gurthak, which were to keep the Sharonans tied up in negotiations while Arcana ferried in reinforcements. I'm not clear whether the reports Harshu has from Skirvon about inbound Sharonan reinforcements are complete fabrications, or whether they're real, but it's very clear that Skirvon is tailoring his analysis of Sharonan intentions to suit his ultimate purpose of provoking a war.
"Based on Master Skirvon's dispatches," Harshu had gone on, "Two Thousand mul Gurthak has authorized me to take preemptive action against the enemy, if, in my judgment, the situation requires it." Klian's plummeting heart had seemed to freeze as the two thousand paused briefly, then continued in measured tones. "He hasn't ordered us to attack, but he's eleven days away by dragon. As he says, he can't possibly be as good a judge of the immediate situation as we can here, at Fort Rycharn."
We know that this is because mul Gurthak is using Harshu as a cutoff, trying to give Harshu enough leeway that the hard-charging Andaran general will start a war on his own initiative, while allowing mul Gurthak to deny direct responsibility and deflect the blame onto the Andarans as a whole.
"At the moment, we have a clear and overwhelming superiority. All of our reconnaissance confirms that they have less than one full regiment equivalent, and they remain in complete ignorance of our aerial capabilities. We have an equally overwhelming advantage in the speed with which we can move our troops. Given the fact that we know they have heavy reinforcements headed in our direction, I believe we have no option but to strike quickly and decisively...

"Our immediate objective, obviously, is to secure Hell's Gate and control of its portal cluster," he'd said. "Two Thousand mul Gurthak has made it quite clear that the Union can't afford to leave it in Sharona's possession. Especially not given the fact that they may well have designs upon even more Arcanan territory. However, while the seizure of Hell's Gate itself ought to be a relatively straightforward proposition, given the balance of forces currently available, holding it may be quite another matter, given the hostile forces we know are already headed in this direction. To be blunt, we need additional defensive depth, especially given the size of the Sharonians' entry portal to that universe. We can't possibly adequately defend a portal that size with the forces currently available to us.
So Harshu resolves not just to launch a pre-emptive attack against the Sharonan forces holding the Hell's Gate cluster,* but also to proceed up the portal chain through world after world. He plans to keep going, leapfrogging ahead with dragonborne infantry, capturing or destroying all Sharonan installations, until he finds a defensible point further 'forward' that he can hold with his full force. This also gives him the advantage of being able to use his dragons to hammer the supply lines of the Sharonan forces, even if they do manage to dislodge him from his own blocking position.

This is known as "strategic offensive, tactical defensive," and it's very good military strategy, if you are already at war. Harshu has made the decision to put Arcana at war with Sharona, because, basically, he considers it "unacceptable" that the Sharonans get to entrench in the Hell's Gate cluster.

*Who, it must be remembered, occupied that blocking position after their envoy was shot at by Arcanan troops, the envoy having been sent to inquire about the massed Arcanan attack on the civilian survey party at Fallen Timbers. Harshu continues.
"...It's essential that we buy enough time for the Commandery to dispatch heavy reinforcements of our own, and we can't do that by standing passively on the defensive in Hell's Gate."

Still no one had spoken, and he'd shaken his head slowly.

"I realize that if we continue beyond Hell's Gate we'll be clearly and unambiguously moving into Sharonian territory. That, of course, would constitute an act of war by anyone's definition. But there's no point in deceiving ourselves, gentlemen. The moment we attack Hell's Gate, we will be at war with these people."

He'd said it unflinchingly, and continued in the same level tones.

"I don't say that lightly. Nonetheless, as Two Thousand mul Gurthak has pointed out, leaving Sharona in possession of Hell's Gate, and a foothold in our own territory, constitutes an unacceptable risk to the security and interests of the Union of Arcana. As soldiers in the Union Army, it's our duty to protect that security and those interests. I intend to do so. And once we've opened the ball by attacking at all, it would be criminally negligent of us to fail to act in accordance with the military realities and imperatives of our mission. The diplomats can sort out who's responsible for what and which of their universes we're prepared to hand back at the negotiating table, after the shooting is over. Our job is to make sure that when they sit down at that table, they sit down with the winning cards already in their hands. Is that clearly understood?"
You keep using that word 'diplomacy,' Harshu; I do not think it means what you think it means...

Anyway. As a collective establishment, the sum total of all its Mythalans and Andarans and whatnot... Arcana is really good at talking itself into doing stupid things. And at deciding to attack people in order to "maintain control" of the situation, to "protect its interests," and in general for reasons other than "there is an actual direct threat that is likely to get people hurt." Expect them to be the aggressor in any versus comparisons. They are, indeed, practically designed to talk themselves into becoming aggressors, while the Sharonans are pretty well designed to be just so doggone reasonable, as befits a Weber Protagonist Nation.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Post by Kingmaker » 2016-12-01 05:04pm

As a collective establishment, the sum total of all its Mythalans and Andarans and whatnot... Arcana is really good at talking itself into doing stupid things. And at deciding to attack people in order to "maintain control" of the situation, to "protect its interests," and in general for reasons other than "there is an actual direct threat that is likely to get people hurt." Expect them to be the aggressor in any versus comparisons. They are, indeed, practically designed to talk themselves into becoming aggressors, while the Sharonans are pretty well designed to be just so doggone reasonable, as befits a Weber Protagonist Nation.
Weber has pretty much always had a problem - though I think it has gotten dramatically worse over the years - with aggressively incompetent antagonists, where they'd quite honestly be better off if their major decision makers were to all drop dead of a heart attack. I don't know that the Hell's Gate books are there yet (haven't gotten book 3), but the Arcanans seem very much like they could be headed down that road.
In the event that the content of the above post is factually or logically flawed, I was Trolling All Along.

"Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful." - George Box

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