[TGG] 55 Days in Kalunda.

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Postby Steve » 2006-10-22 04:49am

Collinfield, Gilean Confederacy

DAY THIRTY-ONE



The planet of Collinfield below was the first to be "secured" by Alliance forces in the intervention. In this case, the securing was done by Line Admiral Trisha MacCallister informing the warring factions that she had three orbiting dreadnoughts and they had none.
Now her dreadnoughts - the Tirpitz-class New Virginia and Karol Wojtyla and the newer Royal Sovereign-class King George VI - were in formation around the ship she had moved her flag to, the massive Yamamoto-class supercarrier Condoleeza Rice that had just jumped in fifteen hours before after the formal intervention orders were sent out. The 2km-long supercarrier carried over five hundred combat spacecraft, nearly a thousand when counting all of the support craft and shddles, and the prongs extending from the ship's starboard, port, ventral, and dorsal portions of the near-bow signified her flexibility as a ship with an IU jump point generator, rendering trips through IU Gate Assemblies unnecessary.
Line Admiral MacCallister waited on the hanger deck with Line Admiral Hiro Yamashita, the commander of CVBG-19 whom she held seniority over, and a full contingent of their staffs and of the ship's marines. Over the comms, the ship's flight operations center announced the approach of the Taloran shuttle carrying Lady Halsina, Marchioness of Sapai and the commander of the Taloran intervention force, en route for an official meeting to coordinate their intervention efforts.

Of all the intervening powers, the Alliance and the Talorans had arguably the most "innocent" intentions; the Talorans were mostly concerned with saving the Princess Jhayka in Kalunda and in ensuring that the future of Gilead would embody the free trade and rights of missionaries that they sought everywhere, while the Allied Nations was mostly concerned with the stability of the region so as to maintain and even promote trade and prevent future conflicts that could escalate into full-scale interstellar war.


That didn't mean that there was a total lack of tension in the relationship, after all. The issue was one primarily of how people defined stability, which was rather different from the ADN and the Taloran Star Empire; the later questioned the very stability of the ADN, or at least some of its more reactionary members had the genuine desire to do so. One of them, ironically, was the Lady Halsina herself, who waited coolly and patiently in her shuttle, not moving or speaking, in the incredible white full dress uniform, heavy on gold braid, with a massive domed and crested helmet of metal, of a Taloran Admiral of the Green, a radio broadcast from the craft innocently tapping out the Taloran signal indicating that the ‘Green flag’ was being flown, so to speak, in a just nod to tradition. The shuttle docked precisely enough: Only the best of pilots in the division would have such an honour, after all, and then she exited first as custom would dictate, gazing around at the reception with cool eyes.


There was a shrill whistle that echoed in the hanger, coming from the bosun signaling the arrival of the Marchioness and Rear Admiral, and the subordinates stood at solid attention. The Marines were the only ones visibly armed with their MP-11 rifles, wearing ceremonial dress uniforms like their Navy counterparts, both uniforms bearing the rich golden shoulder tassels and epaulets, the Marines in dress blue and the Stellar Navy personnel in dress whites. Various present personnel wore their ribbons and any awarded medals - MacCallister herself wore a Silver Star for her part in the campaigns against Plymouth.
The need for formality and ceremony when dealing with the Talorans had irritated some on the ship, given that they never usually gave such formality to a Rear Admiral-equivalent visiting officer, but the orders from Command were to observe strict formality and protocol when dealing with the Talorans.

The Lady Halsina acknowledged the salutes and approached, having schooled herself thoroughly on what the two Line Admirals should be wearing, and more to the point, recognizing the formalities that dictated seniority. By Taloran custom when dealing with foreign navies, the dignities of the welcome were acknowledged with a salute, but not the foreign officers; to these, instead, she offered a polite bow as the heels of her heavy boots clicked, which sent her long hair flying in a delightful brace of royal blue colour each time she repeated the gesture, repeating, in turn: "Admiral MacCallister, Admiral Yamashita," before she straightened, her staff following her in order of rank, except silent. "I thank you for receiving me so that we may discuss these matters of import."

“You are welcome, Rear Admiral itl Sapai. Allow me to introduce our staff....”
The staff introductions began on both sides, and when they ended the ceremony concluded. They traveled, as a group, from the hanger to the lifts that would take them to the main conference room.

The conference room, which was tied into the ship’s STELCOM chamber and computer systems, already had a digital flatscreen display and accompanying 3D holographic display of the Gilean Confederacy and their current positions. Alliance markers were present over the dots representing the Collinfield and Ma Zhou Systems. Nearby Kellior's World and two other systems were marked for the presence of Taloran and Habsburg forces, with Hispanic forces on the other side of the Confederacy at Nueva Hispania and Rucker’s World and Slavs at New Stratfield. Nueva Cartagena and the mining colony in the Beta Zellman System’s asteroid belt were marked for the presence of British forces, which were also in the frontier system of New Gaia.
On a nearby table, refreshments had been prepared, including Taloran ones bought by MacCallister from traders for the benefit of her Taloran counterpart, an act of foresight that had now borne fruit.


The Talorans settled down. Halsina made a half-hearted attempt to eat, simply to free her staff into eating and drinking as they wished. Her mind was on other matters. She didn't trust the Alliance, of course, but she didn't show any of that; she had been raised a polite girl, as she ought be. "Admiral," she began after a moment, "It seems that the most pressing issue, other than the direct military matters, is a question which has been raised by my government, of how Taloran subjects from districts secured by other navies should be repatriated to the fleet, and vice-versa for those subjects that we recover, as some form of general protocol which needs to be established."


“In our case, Rear Admiral, I would suggest that we make known to each other our chosen clearing stations for our citizens so that, whenever we come upon them, they can be repatriated swiftly and with minimal hassle. Identification is an issue, of course, but would you agree to repatriation first and leave it our responsibilities to identify our own people?”


"That's quite reasonable. I don't see it likely that we'll have much identification issues, anyway," Halsina answered. "They will want to return to their homes after this mess, save in the case of those accused of criminality, but frankly there is little chance of identifying such individuals with the Gilean government records in chaos, along with the entire system." She frowned slightly, though. "We hadn't been planning clearing stations so much as sending them back on the supply transports as space became available--though there are several liners which have been chartered which I don't need for the worlds where our presence was unexpectedly light; I could concentrate several at system.. XD-249, to the spinward of Kellior's, I believe," she gestured toward the map, "and that should serve sufficiently."


“We will relay that to our commanders. We are establishing a military aerospace base here on Collinfield, near the city of Kentwood, that will act as a clearing station for now, though I imagine that once we get to Gilead we’ll find a new one. I’ll make sure to keep you appraised of any changes to this.”
“On this matter, none of our current medical personnel have experience with Taloran anatomy, and we are still trying to find some who do. In the event of injured Talorans in our areas, do you have any spare medical personnel that could be assigned to our hospital ships and divisional ground hospitals to ensure proper treatment?”


"As a matter of fact, yes. The vast majority of Farzian priests have full certification and medical training," Halsina answered, relieved that the question and request was straightforward, though somewhat suspicious of how they might respond. "I can post a fair number of them to you, as our religion provides for educated laity to perform basic services in the paucity of the religious orders, and they will all be eager to volunteer.. Though I will probably mix up their numbers with some of my regular corpsmen who they can just as easily replace. Unfortunately, you are likely to find at least a few, as we are.. Known for not tolerating the depredations of such chaos as this, and our trade ties with this region were fairly heavy, considering the recentness of our discoveries here." A thin smile was allowed, more expressive from a Taloran than it would be from a human, by far, and she folded her hands on the table. "I confess some surprise that your people maintain chaplains as you call them, explicitly for the purpose of administering religious rites, when in our own military the religious orders always have secondary functions, one way or another. But I suppose it is among your customs to keep such matters separate... But I digress."


“Very good, then. I’ll have arrangements made immediately with the medical and supply departments for anyone you can spare.” The fact that the Talorans’ priests could double as physicians was a pleasant surprise for MacCallister and most of her people, concerned mostly with the problems at hand. “I hear that your government has had jurisdiction over the Humans of your universe for decades, so I’ve been assuming that some of your people have adequate knowledge of Human anatomy. If not, I can make arrangements for some of our corpsmen and physicians to be transferred to your command.”


"You are correct, Admiral," Halsina flexed her ears down. "Though I must defer to such a term as.. Governmental jurisdiction. The Terran Feudatories maintain a personal relationship with Her Serene Majesty; as for the Protectorates, we simply oversee their foreign affairs. There are many Terrans, I imagine, who go their lives without meeting a Taloran in person. At any rate, your people are common enough to us that we have a certain degree of experience spread around. Humans are one of the races we work better with, I am pleased to say, and there are at least several sailors and marines of that background deployed in my division offhand."


“Ah, I apologize for any misunderstanding regarding the status of Human governments in the Empire, I was simply speaking in general terms.” MacCallister didn’t look to her subordinates, but there was an instinctive concern about their reactions to the reminder of the overrunning of Humanity in another universe by an alien race, if a generally benevolent one. “With those issues settled, I was going to suggest an exchange of a liaison officer of sufficient rank and a small staff between our commands to improve coordination and cooperation, in lieu of any greater coordinated authority that our governments may establish for the general intervention effort.”


"I quite understand, Admiral. It is just important for diplomatic reasons to keep the nature of such affairs of government clarified," she answered, though it struck Halsina as quite typical that these humans would assume that their brethren was brought under government jurisdiction, especially since democratic governments were wont to such oppression themselves. "What power do you wish this liason to have?" Halsina dismissed a moment of suspicion toward the intentions of the ADN and calculated which out of her personnel might have the best effect there, though it really depended.. "Generally speaking I'd say that a Captain of the Second Rate would be the appropriate rank, considering the ordering of my own command. I believe that would be a Commander in your own ranking system."


“A Commander would suffice, with a small staff for the purpose of record keeping and maintaining his or her office,” MacCallister agreed. “Keeping each other apprised of movements, at the very least, would be the best way to ensure we don’t duplicate one another’s efforts and waste time, and if we can work out some common ground on who goes where - which I hope to discuss - it would be even better. As much as some would like this to be a race to grab positions, my main concern is getting my command and other intervention commands, in force, to Gilead. I won’t have people getting slaughtered by savages under my watch, not if I can do anything to stop it.”


"I should also like to proceed swiftly, Admiral, but you are quite right. There is to much coordination which, if lost, could lead to very bad things.." Halsina imagined her wording was not quite right there but couldn't well identify it. "Though the sectors of advance are issues which seem to be debated and redefined daily, which is already bad enough as it is." She gestured emphatically with her right hand. "Forgive me for saying it, but I think we ought just send a few squadrons directly to Gilead. They could repulse the enemy's counterattacks and send aide to the surface, I am sure. But of course nobody is in a hurry to do that among any of the other powers precisely because their goal is to seize territory, and they make up excuses justifying the need to do this, instead of pressing ahead boldly for the relief... Well, the relief of Kalunda, bluntly said, for all the numerous other nationals on Gilead who must be rescued. The relief of the city has become a point of our honour."


“It’s a sentiment I share. There’s a consulate in Kalunda and personnel still there, as well as other Alliance citizens trapped in the city. My problem for the moment is a shortage of ground troops and other assets, as well as my orders. I would gladly join squadrons with your’s to make an effort to sweep Gilean system space of any hostiles and make the relief of Kalunda a matter of getting enough troops to land in force.” MacCallister put her hands together on the table. “Unfortunately, I have orders to the effect that movement on Gilead proper is prohibited until our ambassador there can negotiate with General de la Hoya to see if we can get his military government on our side. The higher ups are concerned that without it, we might have his forces opening fire on our’s and requiring us to send even more troops to pacify Gilead.” MacCallister drummed her fingers on the table impatiently. “Our Foreign Ministry is filled with blithering idiots more concerning with coddling these fools than saving the people they’ve put in danger.”
Her staff shifted uncomfortably. Criticism such as that was not quite in line with maintaining a formal discussion, but MacCallister was burning with inner frustration. She wanted to park her ships in orbit and tell the besiegers of Kalunda to back off or watch their homelands and their troops get atomized.


"There is something to be said for that stance. Even if we were ultimately successful, to have the tribal lashkars reinforced by regular troops in the siege of Kalunda would probably mean the end of the city. But if we could just get someone through.." She looked up abruptly. "Perhaps our liasons can come to some sort of plan there. It would not need to be a great force--a few hundred men might preserve the city. But they might arrive to late; it would have already fallen. And they would need to bring enough supplies to support themselves. Or they might jump off course and all be lost in the enemy camps. It is a mission I would not in good conscience order someone on. But perhaps there is nonetheless something that we can manage." A smile. "I am prepared to apologize for success, come to it, Admiral."


MacCallister gave an understanding grin, though she knew she couldn’t say anything out loud; Yamashita was a younger officer known for ambition, and she didn’t think he would have the fortitude to go along with a potential career-jeopardizing move. “Yes, I can understand that. Our liaisons can discuss the situation in further detail at a later date.”
“For the moment, we will continue consolidating our hold on the frontier and preparing to pacify Skarsgard. Hopefully soon we can get the go-ahead - and the necessary troops - to move on Gilead.”


"That would be splendid. Our operations follow the same tack. Shall we discuss the boundaries of the pacification efforts of our forces, then, Admiral? That seems the most important remaining task ahead of us, and it is a technical one easily handled, I hope."


“Of course. My staff has already drawn up a proposal based on our dispositions and what we know to be your’s, and they’re looking forward to your input.”



It was after the meeting and the departure of the Talorans that Lt. Commander Ricardo Tapia - from Admiral Yamashita’s staff - said, “I thought my spine was going to be frozen in place.”
“You said it,” he heard the ship’s CAG, Captain Eric Franklin, agree. “Worst bunch of stiff-asses I’ve ever seen.”

“That went better than I’d hoped,” MacCallister said to Yamashita, ignoring the staff’s talking. “At least we’re on the same page.”
“Assuming she wasn’t saying what she thought we wanted to hear to simply appear cooperative,” Yamashita pointed out. “For all we know she’s already made arrangements with the Habsburgs for a joint advance to try and get to Gilead before we do.”
“Y’know, I read something somewhere that some of their Farzian missionaries are actually recruits for their intelligence services,” Lt. Commander Gerald Mackey, one of MacCallister’s staff, said. “They convince the most fanatical converts to become agents for espionage work, and to be a fifth column for terrorism and sabotage in the event of a war.”

There was a nod from Tapia. “Oh, more than that. The Talorans inevitably annex any country or race they contact. They use their religion to convert people and turn them into a fifth column so that they later have an excuse to invade if anything happens to them. They have this ‘manifest destiny’ thing, they think that it’s their duty to rule over everything in the name of their God.”
“So what you’re saying,” Franklin remarked, a hint of sarcasm in his tone, “is that anyone who converts to Farzianism must be considered a potential traitor?”
“Exactly. I’m sorry, but how can you trust their religion when it’s tied into their state so tightly. It’d be like trusting someone who joined that Feddie Idealogue Party, you know they’re on the side of the Feddies.”

“Sounds like the kind of thing people said about my ancestors,” Commander Rosa Spinelli said irritably. She was on Yamashita’s staff, supply if MacCallister remembered right. “Some still say that, y’know. That ‘Catholics can’t be loyal Americans’ and all.”
“Theoretically, you can’t, since your first loyalty has to be to the Church if you don’t want to, y’know, burn in Hell when you die.”
“Okay, people, that’s enough of the idiot paranoia about a people that we don’t actually know that much about.” MacCallister wasn’t about to have the two staffs start fighting. “Anyone here want to volunteer for the liaison work?”
There was no response at first, but finally Lt. Commander Samantha Walker, one of MacCallister’s aides, raised her hand. “Excellent, Sammy. Go add a gold star to your uniform, you’ll be breveted to Commander by the time you leave.”
“I still think we’re trusting them too much,” Yamashita complained. “Despite what was said, this is a race. Everyone wants as much as the Confederacy as they can get to improve standing when negotiations begin. I think we should be careful in how much we let them know of our dispositions, we don’t want them working with the Habsburgs to hem us in and keep us from getting to Gilead as well.”

“I’ll keep your position in mind, Admiral, but for now, we’re going to cooperate. In the end, the only thing that matters is that the fighting be stopped and the lives of innocent people saved.” MacCallister smiled wryly. “Given the opinions some of you expressed, I wonder what they’re saying about us right now?”



T.I.S. Rhun,
Gilean Confederacy,
DAY THIRTY-ONE



“Captain Korvus, thank you.” Halsina sighed out as she settled down in her office, the staff dismissed. “Well, I was not stabbed, poisoned, or otherwise murdered, and in fact the commander of the Alliance force is quite agreeable. I half-wondered if she is of the old nobility; there's some sort of Mac-thing in front of her name which might be a kind of titulary.”

The Captain of the Rhun was being thanked for the cup of dhpou that Halsina had been offered. The spicey and hot beverage was soothing to Halsina's nerves as she sat with the Captain and mused on the exchanges.

“They don't like us. They're xenophobic racists. But, as democrats, I shall acknowledge that they're not nearly as bad as I have sometimes though they would be. They are, to be precise, only somewhat worse than the inhabitants of the Quesadi City States in general mannerism, and the Line Admiral in Charge was especially polite.

“Frankly, what I worry about in the future is them aligning with the other humans here to hamper our recovery efforts, or more importantly, to block further penetration by the missionaries of the Lord Justice.”

“Even the Habsburgs might do that, Your Ladyship,” Karvis Korvus replied with a frown. “Though, I grant, for very different purposes. Do you really think they are as xenophobic as you say?"

“Absolutely, I'm afraid. They reacted most strongly to the fact of the humans of our own universe being under the guidance of the All-Highest. They even assumed they were under direct governmental administration! Such a thing as that—they seem to have the misconception that the whole of human space is some sort of zone of martial law, or even a labour camp of the hideous kind that humans themselves build. It bothers me.” She grimaced, her ears flexing down. “It seems quite possible that they may launch some sort of irredentist conflict against us with their inter-universal technology for the purposes of human racial unity.”

“So in the long term you see them as rivals.”

“Yes. And the Habsburgs are perhaps our only security, since they also reject nationalism, and by extension, racial preference and xenophobia, since they stem entirely from nationalist sentiments. Empires based on ethnic distinctions between humans naturally lead into a general xenophobia against other races, I would believe, something that is entirely lacking under a personal feudatory lord and the mediating influence of the Farzian religion. This leaves me convinced that democracy as such is not so much a problem—the Quesadi City-States function just fine under the All-Highest, after all--as a democratic ruling government combined with nationalist sentiments.”

“It's an enlightened opinion,” Captain Korvus replied, delicately. “But you surely don't think they can set aside their differences so easily simply out of xenophobia and fear of our religion, do you, Your Ladyship?”

“That we'll see. I want to be careful in advancing, even though it is an issue of honour to reach Gilead as swiftly as possible. I don't trust them. But perhaps, they can prove themselves, if they can muster enough of a force to send it through to relieve the Princess or help her to keep holding out. I should like to see them do some of the bleeding, for a change, in fighting their own primitives, instead of relying entirely on us.”

Korvus didn't presume to dissuade the Marchioness from her sentiment, simply nodding again as he drank his own dhpou. “Of course, Your Ladyship.”

“Fortunately, the Admiral in charge had exactly that sort of idea. So we shall perhaps get some sort of genuine effort out of them.”

Korvus looked to Halsina, then. “But do you really want to see the Princess of the Lesser Intuit relieved, Your Ladyship? No offence tendered, Admiral, but your distaste for her is well known.”

“Captain!” Halsina looked quite offended, and proud, at the same time: “It is a point of honour! The reputation of the armed forces and of Her Serene Majesty demand that we relieve Her Highness, at all costs. That is really what this expedition is about, especially now that the proles have seized it so as an epic of the imagination, and I do agree, at least, with them that something must be done. The honour of the Empire has been laid on the line, however foolish she may be, and far more important than trade and missionary rights is the simple need that we prove we are able to relieve the Princess and rescue her entourage from the heart of a barbarous foreign land. That is what our advance is all about; prestige, and the pride of the nation, and they are by far the most legitimate considerations before us, no matter the comtemptible personal behaviour of the Princess herself.”

“Then we had best find some way to push hard, Admiral.”

“We'll see how far we can work the Alliance to that purpose, Captain. Keep everything ready; we'll be moving out to the nearest system quite soon, though I need to coordinate with the Habsburgs next...”
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

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Postby Steve » 2006-10-28 06:09am

Warning: Evil atrocities to be found in this post. Try to shut down your mind's eye when you get to them lest you get sick.

Post co-written between myself and Marina.

DAYS 33 - 35
No Glory Here.
On the Valera Line.



Sporadic fighting had continued throughout the night. The mass killing of the day when the lines stabilized was not repeated but instead there was something different: There was no lull in the fighting whatsoever. Throughout the night the men of the allied front line platoons slept desperately and little and they pushed forward in a dozen-dozen tiny actions, to be met by spirited resistance and equally small-scale local counterattacks.

And all the while the artillery thundered, equally sporadic but continuous. The field of battle had now become something entirely different. It was a continuous action. There was no slowly down, no stopping, no disengagement, no rest and recovery for the armies as a whole. Individual units might be rotated off the line, but there was no general cessation of the fighting. Neither side attempted to retire.

The next day, Warleader Erqui found himself standing above the Emir Amin Moqtadr and the Ubar Park simply because his own shock columns were unengaged and therefore he had the power, by the decision upon where they should be committed, of determining if a decisive blow should be struck. He could not make up his mind, and kept the units ready and waiting for orders to commence an attack. The two other main leaders of the allied coalition were determined to see the Stirlin forces fighting as hard as their own had been the day before, and thought for sure it would bring a breakthrough against the badly strained Kalundan lines.

The three leaders met in a large tent in the headquarters complex well behind the lines, though the thunder of the artillery was omnipresent. Park fancied that he was starting to go deaf from it, though that was something which could be remedied after the war. The rain was still falling, though it was lighter today; the ground, however, was as muddy as it had been, soaked through and through with water, and most of the trenches were filled nearly to waist-height, creating tremendous ammunition wettening hassles, though they were actually worse for the Kalundan light mortars, which relied on blackpowder and were accordingly unusually silent, reducing their defensive firepower.

Of course, the exceptionally muddy conditions would also hamper the operations of the huge Stirlin MBTs and their remaining Norman counterparts. That was Erqui's first observation: “Gentlemen, if you wish me to attack today, I warn you that the tanks can only be used in a supporting role. I cannot let them get bogged down in this morass leading out in the front where they are exposed; our tank arms will be totally slaughtered in that case by Kalundan hunter-killer teams with ATGMs. That has been proved by the earlier phases of the siege.”

“Then use your infantry. You proclaim your soldiers to be the best on all of Gilead, so prove it to the world!” Park answered. “These delays are just seeing our men killed at no cost to you.”

“I am trying to determine the best strategy,” Erqui answered.

“There is no strategy here, as far as I have discerned from my efforts,” Amin spoke up. “Warleader, you must simply hit them until they crumble. We have forced them out of four defensive lines and we are on the verge of seizing their fifth. We have conquered an area of territory several times larger than what they still hold. We are winning.”

Erqui sighed. The necessity of maintaining the spirit of his allies clearly demanded a major attack, even though he thought there was a better way. That said, he could see advantages in that attack, in advancing his own strategem that he had been working to perfect. Therefore he would accept the casualties out of the understanding that though he expected the attack to fail they would advance grand strategy and preserve the coalition for further action against the government.

“Very well, gentlemen, I will order an attack today. But on certain conditions only. I shall call the assault off if I believe it has failed, and you will not protest. Furthermore, I insist that should this attack fail I be allowed to pursue a plan which shall, I believe, give us the city by strategem.”

“I find that acceptable,” Amin proved easy enough to win.

Park frowned. It did not seem at all like Erqui planned to seriously press the attack, so he demanded a countercondition: “I want your tanks to be in close support, even if they are not in the lead. Our remaining tanks will be held back as the reserve.”

“Very well,” Erqui smiled broadly. That was already planned, and in his evaluation of the enemy capabilities would not present so great of a threat. He rose, and immediately began issuing orders for the assault to commence at once. There would be no preparatory barrages; the columns would just swell forward like a tide, washing the existing lines of the combat back toward the city with inexorable force. Or not. That would be remain for the fates to see.


Jhayka watched the displays from deep under the palace of Kalunda as the attack developed grandly. The full force and the skill of the Stirlins was behind it, and it was telling. At several points the initial reserves had already been committed and even the secondary reserves for the whole sectors of the line.

Nonetheless, the Kalundan troops were being inexorably forced out of the trenches which had been turned into a muddy sea, the wounded left to drown in the sludge, and it seemed that the Valera line would shortly fall, and with it, the enemy would have an excellent chance of cracking through the army, and then that would be it for the city. Assuming, of course, another withdrawal was not made after all. But Jhayka had no intention of losing, and also no intention of making another general withdrawal and break from contact with the enemy.

Accordingly additional trenches had been prepared behind the Valera line—behind the Taliya Line in the north--for her forces to fall back into, and these were already lightly manned by many of the units which had been decimated in the fighting of the week before. First among these was the 7th Division of the Crimson Guard, now functionally a brigade in its strength, still commanded by the walking-wounded Major General Arlisa.

These light and battered units along the line had the job of holding it when the Stirlin assault columns, which they had been ordered to deploy behind, reached them, and to resist the Stirlins until the rest of the units retreating in the other places could reestablish their lines along the whole length of the temporary entrenchments. Concurrent preparations were made in the north.

Arlisa could only watch as streams of retreating units fell back behind the thin red line of her division, which huddled deep in the narrow slit-trenches which had been dug the past night, scarcely a genuine defensive position. It was, instead, more of a concealment for the fact that a strong infantry force was placed there, combined with foxholes for the troops to fight in. That was all they could do in the short span of time that Jhayka had demanded the additional entrenchments be thrown up in. Defiles in the muddy fields prevented the immediate discernment of their position...

“Signal all regimental commanders weapons free, repeat, weapons free,” Arlisa ordered at last as the remaining stragglers of the retiring units had passed their field of fire, while the Stirlins, covered in mud and surging forward slowly through the morass low to the ground, cleared the trenches of the Valera line and slogged forward in a stready and grand pursuit, their tanks snorting forward to their rear and sometimes lobbing shells that fell amongst the 7th Guard's line with their explosive force damped in the mud.

From a thin red line of guardswomen, from prepared machine-gun nests and support rocket launchers to the rear rose a furious salvo as the Guard presented themselves by the company and put devastating rifle fire supported by the machine-guns directly into the advancing Stirlins. The surprise of the appearance of this defensive line and the strong fire from it stopped the Stirlins short. Men collapsed like puppets, their strings cut, down into the mud, and the crackling and continuous hell of the bullets whipped over their heads.

The smart among the rest followed the dead into the morass, to hide and avoid choking on the mud and sometimes worm their way forward toward less churned up ground where they could gain footing and crawl and then dash forward again. The rest advanced straight-up, and made ground fast, but lost hideously among their numbers. This scene was repeated at several points around the battlefield, and it seemed that the Stirlin attack had been stopped cold.

Though Erqui himself was quite prepared at this point to order a halt and consolidate his gains, his subordinates had a fair degree of initiative. To the southeast of the line one of them had found that the ground there had a slight rise with better drainage, which had allowed his tanks to move faster. He ordered them forward to support a rush of the infantry, with many squads detailed to ride on the sides of the tanks to provide close cover. This worked.

Snorting and snarling the heavy Stirlin MBTs rushed forward, 'action front!', firing beehive rounds point-blank into the Kalundan defences, countless of the hideous little fletchettes slashing men into shredded meat and chipping bone to nothing. The tank riders leapt down and cleared out the trenches to the sides of the mechanical beasts with their assault rifles and grenades at point-blank. The Kalundan militia brigade holding the position was ill-equipped to the deal with the assault and was quickly overrun in several places.

A single battery of light howitzers placed in the Eibermoni Line saved the day, providing covering fire with VT fused shrapnel rounds which forced the attacking Stirlin infantry in that sector to take cover, slowing considerable the measured advance of their tanks. This was done on the initiative of the sector corps commander; the light howitzers were in very short supply and were actually a corps asset for the strained Kalundan Army, nevermind the rarer still heavy howitzers concentrated in the city under Jhayka's direct command, and none of the direct-fire field guns had the power to deal with the MBTs; yet they didn't, in this case. The light howitzers just had to hold back the infantry, and this they did. Safety demanded the tanks be slowed to a crawl because of it.

With a brigade of their last reserve line forced back in disorderly retreat, some sort of counterattack had to be formed immediately to preserve the integrity of the lines as they settled into the light entrenchments to try and hold just a bit longer, even as the militia units not yet ready for full front-line company had been shifted back to engineering work on strengthening the Eibermoni Line, taking fire the whole while. There was not a safe place except the deep tunnels anymore, and one position outdoors was as dangerous as another, save the front line itself.

Jhayka ordered Trajan to lead his special battalion forward on another counterattack. It had worked the last time, with stunning success, and now could only try and make it work again. Or more precisely trust that Trajan could succeed in making it work again. The Clan Warrior was determined to prove to his liege-lady that he could do precisely that.

He had seen in the battles of the past five weeks, and in the escape from Ar before that, such fighting as he had been born for. He had become the warrior he longed to be, and he was following the path. This, for Trajan, was the culmination of his life. He fought under an honourable and noble lady, in a foreign land, far from the land of the Clans or the holy Terra he would never see, and he might well die here. But this, he had learned, was the lot of a soldier, and his blood burned with the demand to fill it no matter what.

Death was all around. Trajan led the short battalion in dismounting from their transports, clad in modern armour and carrying fully modern weapons. The same ground which had allowed the Stirlins to commit their breakthrough allowed him to bring his seven hundred soldiers up with good rapidity and on firm footing. They dispersed into hunter-killer teams as they had done before and pushed themselves forward against the Stirlin tanks as the roll of the artillery was maintained until the last minute in suppressing the Stirlin infantry, so that they could get as close as possible with it suppressing their advance, before it must be ceased to avoid excessive friendly-fire casualties.

“Go for the tanks! Always go for the tanks!” Trajan instructed to his men vigorously before giving the order: “All companies, press the attack!” He led forward himself, his command team more of a raiding party, and carrying an anti-tank missile launcher by himself with his immense physical strength.

For a clan warrior, the task of hunter-killer operations against tanks was truly the most glorious thing he could conceive of, now that the old way of the duels between 'mechs was long dead and buried. This was, if anything, even more challenging, as it required a few men with hand-held weapons to close to point-blank with a vast 150-tonne war machine, and proceed to knock it out with high explosives and luck and skill. Out of all the bravery in this siege, the anti-tank teams showed the most, and that spoke a lot to their credit.

Rockets fired from 20 meters! Satchel charges and plasma-grenade bundles! Magnetic mines flung down just before the advancing tanks! Phosphorous grenades aimed for the engine intakes! Hypervelocity railguns targeted at specific sections of the track after rockets that failed to penetrate had blasted the protective skirts off. That was the stuff of close combat, man against tank. Quickly seven Stirlin tanks had been knocked out by the Special Battalion.

By then, the infantry had recovered, and suddenly this wasn't the same kind of one-sided cakewalk they'd had a week before. Even with greatly inferior weapons, the Stirlins had a huge preponderence in numbers, and they used it well. Quickly the hunter-killer teams themselves were pinned down under the fire of the supporting infantry, and not a single other tank was knocked out. In fact, they began to advance again.

The situation was infuriating to Trajan and critical for the survival of the defensive strategy which Jhayka had chosen. Trajan was quite well aware of this, and burning with the desire to prove his worth, he led his unit personally, and now, recklessly of his own personal survival.

“Come forward! What do we have to fear against men who cower in tanks!?” He shouted over the com link, and provided an example by rising up and dashing toward the nearest tank. Its turret swung toward him, and he dropped to a half-kneeling crouch and levelled his rocket-launching in full view. The Stirlin infantry focused in on him, but his armour resisted their light rifle rounds for the moment. He fired the first missile, and was rewarded with the skirts blasted off and mobility damage to the tank; its turret intact, it directed a beehive shell toward the position of his men behind him that killed and wounded many; he didn't care. He reloaded and fired again, and this time the blast blew the turret clean off the tank, so close to it that he was knocked back by the blast wave of the exploding ammunition.

As he pushed himself up, he found himself beset by Stirlin troops, mixed gender and all vicious and short and very muscled in the way of the Stirlins, showing no mercy to the wounded and no respect for the laws of war. He hated them, and fortunately for himself and his cause, he was better than they were, stronger and better armed and more determined and protected besides. Using first a rifle fired one handed at full-automatic he mowed down several, and hurled grenades with the other hand to drive them back, before expending the magazine of the rifle and abandoning it to charge with two grenades thrown and a sword drawn into the midst of another six; the grenades left them mostly wounded and he cut through tendons and organs and flesh and sundered bone in a few desperate seconds of power, striking them aside with the immensity of his genetically engineered muscles before dispatching them to avoid their cowardly back-shooting that they liked to engage in while wounded.

In the meanwhile his battalion fought on under his example, further guidance not really necessary, though the casualties were savage. This time, two hundred were wounded or killed in total out of the battalion in the close-in infantry fights which they had to endure to knock out the tanks, though they were very successful in their task, disabling 19 MBTs in total and forcing the retreat of the tank force, stopping the Stirlin breakthrough in its tracks by their preponderence of firepower and skill at modern close-in dispersed fighting tactics.

Jhayka, on hearing the news, immediately pulled back Trajan's unit. But she could not leave the Stirlins in possession of part of the new improvised defences. A counterattack had to be organized; over Trajan's protests she refused to include the special battalion in it. Instead she called the Slavian Charge d'Affair.

“Boris Stepanov. You have so-far held back a very decently collection of well-armed modern troops. My own and those of the other nations have far to little ammunition left, and have suffered far to many casualties. If you are serious about committing to the defence of this city then you will send all of your men forward to spearhead a counterattack by the 6th Militia Brigade, which has rallied from its previous defeat and may now be used in such a counterattack before the evening falls.

“No hesitations. I want your agreement now.” The menace intended in the Taloran's voice showed through even with the alienness of her emotional expression, intentionally, for she had been learning about humans enough to use their emotional expressions to very good effect when she desired to.

“They will go forward!” Boris Stepanov answered without further thought. He had been following his government's instructions, such as they were up to the jamming, and had refused to aide in the siege, but the shelling of the Affairs Building, which had forced them into the fortified basement (built that way like all in Kalunda according to the building code which had civil-defence in mind), along with the arrival of the Taloran operative, Madame Fridalyn, who had carried among other things news of the fact that Slavia was in the international relief expedition.

He had therefore included that it was probably expected that he should be participating in the defence, and certainly he was well-prepared to do so, as his actual duty was to head the Orthodox League Against Human Slavery in the Gilean Primitive Zone, and so the Affairs building contained a strong contingent of Cossack paramilitary soldiery to guard the missionaries and liberation specialists and information gatherers of the OLAHS from the banditry of the slavers. Many additional detachments had been spread at the various railroad stations, which had managed to fight their way back to Kalunda in time to avoid being massacred (a few had not been so lucky). These men had been reinforced by a small levy of Kalundan-allied peoples who'd sought refuge in the Slavian buildings from the squalid conditions in the refugee tunnels where they'd been placed after arriving in the city in flight from the advancing allied armies, and found themselves instead conscripted and armed, which the cynical observer might note they had been given no choice about.

Boris Stepanov was a moral man, however, and ultimately the duty to safe the city, even without definite instructions, was not simply moral but obvious, and he felt now that the only reason he had not intervened before was due to the fact that God had been holding him back until his forces had been precisely needed. Now he sent forward an overstrength company with modern arms to go ahead and spearhead the glorious assault of the previously savaged militia brigade, which had reformed with random elements separated from other heavily torn-up units and landed in its area, nonetheless ready to fight again.

Jhayka did not pay him further heed, however, save to give the instruction: “Tell me when your force is in place, Boris Stepanov.”

And this he did.

The attack was launched in the evening as the sun was setting. The Slavians and their trained levees dashed forward against the Stirlin position, which had not been properly fortified because of miscommunications of Warleader Erqui's intent or lack thereof to hold the gains that had been made, in a position he felt to be exposed. He had been worried about flank attacks against them, however, as had the commander of that division. The direct frontal assault caught them all off-guard, as did the arrival of an unexpected modern contingent, which caused the Stirlin division commander to believe that he was facing a resumption of the attack by the special battalion.

In short order the Slavians had closed up, and the Cossacks showed themselves devils equal to Trajan's men, and with a bluntly more skilled leadership, if less flashy. They knocked out five tanks before getting fully bogged down, where the lack of motivation on the part of the levee'd portion of their force showed and the casualties, particularly in it, stacked up rapidly. The cossacks, however, simply left the two platoons (sixty-eight man units) of levee troops to be massacred by the Stirlin infantry and concentrated on knocking out another nine tanks before retreating in small groups before the Stirlins could turn against them; they had proved the perfect sacrificial lamb.

The Stirlin commander concluded that the raid had been repulsed as a great victory, and his men set to stripping the dead bodies for their advanced equipment, when the full strength of the Kalundan heavy howitzer brigade rained down on the area with the intense power of their 24cm shells, slaughtering hundreds of Stirlin troops outright who had been scavenging the dead bodies of the Slavian levees and the few Cossacks killed.

After this the 6th Militia Brigade was ordered forward, the Slavian platoons which remained, essentially all the Cossacks, dispersed amongst its formations to stiffen them. The sight of the brigade, and the smaller and disorganized remnants of other units which advanced along with it, completely demoralized the Stirlins in light of the severe bombardment they were under.

The commander of the division overestimated the attack as being that of a fresh division, and certainly could not imagine that the force he had routed earlier in the day was now counterattacking in strength. Erqui was sick of the massive loss of tanks which had been suffered for very little gain, and he immediately ordered the division back—and sacked its commander for good measure. In this fashion the men of the 6th Militia Brigade seized their old defensive lines and recaptured most of the lost equipment with scarcely any additional casualties, proving a huge boost to their morale, and finishing the fighting for the day in that sector, though it continued sporadically in almost all others.

So ended the last chance of the allies to achieve a breakthrough in the Kalundan defences via main force. It did not end the attempts to avoid a meatgrinder for the rest of the siege, though; Erqui was quite sure of that, already planning and preparing for the weakness in the city that he had identified, to be exploited to the full in the days ahead.

Jhayka, for her part, immediately ordered that aggressive trench-raiding of the enemy's lines, now so close to their own, should begin at once to keep them off balance, do material damage, and maintain the fighting spirit of the defenders, which was at such a low in almost all the units that King Julio was quietly fearing his army might well collapse. These raids would, it turned out, find out something that would end up crystalizing the situation firmly for the Kalundans and their enemies alike.

The next day consisted of sporadic fighting along the lines, with the allies making some minor gains at light cost which they stopped to consolidate, and the Kalundans falling back with equally few casualties. They did not seem to have the heart to contest further, and the trench raiders were only being motivated with the greatest of difficulty. Shortly before midnight on the 33rd day of the siege one such trench raid, by pure accident, penetrated very deeply behind the enemy lines, and found in a bunker established in some of the dugouts of the Taliya line some kilometers beyond the fighting, a sickening discovery.

Nobody expected the allies to treat their prisoners well. But Jhayka had given them the benefit of the doubt, and most had assumed that for negotiation, if nothing else, the prisoners would be kept unhappy but still alive. Instead, this raiding party, at platoon strength, discovered in their old lines a full brothel—and its contents were young girls, sixteen and seventeen, eighteen and nineteen and twenty year old members of the Crimson Guard who had been captured.

Captured, and pinioned through the legs. Captured, their tendons on their legs artfully severed so that without extensive reconstructive surgery they would never walk again. Captured, their eyes put out by hot irons. Captured, their eyelids sewn shut with steel thread, looking daintily closed as though relaxing in pleasure, for the amusement of the continuous chain of rapists they had endured for the weeks of their captivity. The number of scars was few, so that they might be used as pleasure slaves; the damage, and the sadism, of the crippling, was incomprehendable, and well beyond inhuman.

The commander of the raiding party was an engineer from the railroad company who had served in the Gilean Army before mustering out to get that job, and deeply Catholic. For all that his faith taught about forgiveness, there was none left in his heart now. There was a lot of quiet murmuring, and over it he spoke: “We must leave at once. But if you first, my sons, avail yourselves of your knives, I will not see it.”

Within thirty seconds every one of the guards and the manager of the brothel had their throats slit, left to die in the mud and the dirt as their life's blood spilled out as they struggled in their bonds.

For all that forgiveness availeth not, compassion reigned supreme. “I need twenty volunteers to carry the girls. There is an excellent chance you will not survive on the way out, but I will not leave them behind.”

Every man took a step forward. The Kalundans were not without honour toward their own wives and daughters, sisters and cousins.

Already response forces were converging. They had waited much to long. Their commander waved the first twenty forward; they took the girls, and began the long retreat. Most of it was under fire, a constant, hellacious fire from every side. A diversionary night attack with two companies had to be launched to clear a path for them back through the enemy lines toward their own, so thankfully now in very close proximity.

Half of the unit had fallen because of their tardiness, though. Yet, of the twenty girls, fourteen had been brought back alive, though twelve had been wounded. Of the original twenty volunteers, only one survived to get back through the lines. Thirteen men, at least, in the midst of a constant hell of fire and death, and seeing that their comrades who carried such great burdens in the retreat were so clearly doomed, had nonetheless stepped up and taken those burdens from the fallen bodies of their friends, and carried on with their precious human cargo, in a superhuman feat, to safety.

The commander of the raiding party, wounded by active, at once made his report. The magnitude of it was such that it was not believed until the medical condition of the girls was reported. Then it shot up the chain of command with lightning speed, until it reached the very top. Almost. Jhayka was asleep; Ilavna Lashila took the message instead.

Her stomach curdled as she read it. The Taloran girl saw herself looking evil in the face, and in a flash of her own righteous anger was about to pray to the Lord of Justice for the utter destruction of the allied cities until she remembered that night, a month and a half ago, when she had spoken with the gentle and curious Norman patrician girl, Rodaka, confined to a house for her whole life. She calmed, and demurred from waking Jhayka to tell her. Her reaction will be bad enough on the 'morrow. But of course Ilavna could not sleep, and she spent the night in desperate prayer, seeking a course through the sadistic madness sentients had proved themselves capable of. It hardened her. For all that she no longer contemplated mass destruction, her mind and heart were given over to retribution, and it was these she intended to counsel to Jhayka when in the morning she awoke from slumber in the bed she shared with Danielle Verdes. Ilavna had found herself a Holy War.


DAY THIRTY-FOUR

It was after the fierce battle and the relenting of the Allied advance that Trajan was able to rest, eating at a mess with some of his unit.

They had remained silent for most of the meal when a throaty, deep voice said, "You are Trajan, the retainer and warrior to Princess Jhayka." It wasn't a question.
Trajan looked up and saw a man sitting down opposite from him, an older man with graying hair. He had hard ridges on his large forhead, and his teeth were sharpened to the point of being almost like fangs. "I had heard that there was a Klingon here in Kalunda, but I had assumed he or she had died a long time ago. Your people have a reputation for blundering into battle without tactics or strategy."
The old Klingon roared with laughter. "That we do, Trajan, that we do. I am Ro'takh son of Kregoh, of the House of Lorakh. I am from Boreth, and there, the wise amongst us know that there is more than one way to fight and to win a battle."

"That is good." Trajan noted the Klingon's markings. "You are with the militia?"
"Yes, they needed someone to teach the young discipline, and as a scholar I have studied the military ways of many cultures, including Human ones." Ro'takh watched Trajan finish a bite from his meal. "You were impressive in the battle. You do honor to the legacy of your forebearers."
"Hopefully, it will make amends for the dishonor I have brought upon the House of Osis," Trajan remarked sullenly. "I once served a man who lived with the Normans, who indulged in the trade of slaves and the atrocities they commit against the innocent. And I stood by without acting, disgracing the legacy of the Osis line and of the Smoke Jaguars."

Ro'takh put his hands together. "Kah'less served Molor at one point. What matters is the honor in which you live your life, not a single mistake. But please, warrior, tell me your tale."
Trajan did. He told Ro'takh of his childhood, of the fall of the Clans, and his search for the chance to be a warrior as he was born to be; most importantly, of how that search led him to Ar and the mistake he made there. Ro'takh listened with interest, mentally recording everything so he could write it down later with maximum accuracy.
Finally Trajan finished eating. "Thank you for your time, Ro'takh. I hope you bring honor to your House in this war. Perhaps we shall talk again some time."
"Yes, perhaps we shall," Ro'takh replied with a toothy smile. "Qa'pla, Trajan. May you bring more glory to your House."
Trajan nodded and walked off.


Later, when Ro'takh returned to his bunk, he brought out his bundle of papers and began scratching away in short-hand Klingonese, transcribing Trajan's story, which to Ro'takh was one of the greatest and potentially glorious he had heard in his travels. It was the classic Klingon epic; the great hero embarking on a quest to become a warrior, making a mis-step on his path, and amending for it with selfless courage in battle after battle against those who led him astray, slaying them with seeming impunity.
Trajan had given Ro'takh a chance few Klingon scholars ever got; the chance to create a legend to inspire Klingons for centuries to come.



DAY THIRTY-FIVE


Danielle's waking would be to the feel of Jhayka's long lean body no longer in bed with her, to the sound of the tonal Taloran language taking on a particular bite to it. Jhayka couldn't help it. She woke up Danielle up at last, as she was pulling on one of her bathrobes, pink hair a wild long tangle and ears upright, alert, expression angry. Ilavna Lashila was in the room, and seemed overcome, pacing and talking to Jhayka a mile a minute, to be sure. Neither of them bothered to use English, naturally, leaving the subject in the dark at least for now. Both were, however, highly agitated, Jhayka leaning against the wall as Ilavna paced and flung herself about and spoke wildly. Something very bad was afoot.

Feeling groggy after another night of insufficient sleep, Dani looked up to see where Jhayka and Illavna talking. Illavna was rambling in Taloran far faster than Dani could help to keep up with the rudimentary Taloran she knew and Jhayka looked like she was on the verge of erupting into rage. "What happened?" she said, after which she had to suppress a yawn.

Ilavna turned from Jhayka and spoke first, her voice almost incomprehending in its expression of what she thought of the affair. "Danielle, they've tortured their prisoners most hideously."

"To be precise, my love," Jhayka added a moment later, turning to Danielle with a cold look, "they have raped them and mutilated and crippled them and blinded them, the women, at least, and distributed them for the pleasure of the troops. We found the evidence late last night."

Dani put her head in one hand. As happened sometimes, she could feel the razor whip ripping across her back and the chains dislocating her arm. She looked to Jhayka, her skin paling. "Do I want to know more, Jhayka?"

"I am going to order the execution of the Norman prisoners," Jhayka answered in a voice which spoke of her being dead serious. "And probably those of the al-Farani as well. So perhaps if you wish to continue to respect me you will hear what was done for the sake of your love and respect toward me."

Ilavna added, in an almost hissed whisper: "It's not something they would do normally, either. It was the work of evil, Danielle, real evil--refined evil. I think the Orions set them to it."

"I love and respect you anyway, Jhayka. But, if it helps you, go on."

"You tell her," Jhayka said, turning away, as though unable to bear the words, and leaving it up to Ilavna to continue, reciting it with exceptional pain:

"They... Put their eyes out, Danielle, painfully, and sewed their eyelids shut with wire so they would not look deformed. They cut the tendons of their legs with surgical incisions, so they would just leave little scars, but cripple them, render their legs entirely useless and make them helpless. Their medical technology is advanced enough.. Just enough to safely do harm. We thought this was the worst of what had been done, but the medical examinations proved worse: They spayed them, ruined their ovaries, so they could give pleasure but never have children. Then their teeth and nails were wrenched out, and replaced with soft rubber fakes, which would look pleasing to the eye. We are told by the Vulcans in the city that this was favoured by certain extreme Orions as a way to punish and humiliate women who resisted slavery or behaved in ways they considered unfeminine, crippling and mutilating them, making them incapable of resistance, while leaving them pleasing to the eye, so they could serve their purpose as sexual slaves for a whole army. It appears the Orions with the Normans convinced them to.. adopt this policy, to punish the women of Kalunda who dared to fight instead of submit as women should to sexual slavery. All of them must have been raped hundreds of times."

Dani, at that moment, tried to vomit but failed, her dinner from the previous night having already moved into her intestines. What happened instead was a number of sickly dry heaves until a few spatters of stomach fluids made their way through her mouth. "Kill the fuckers." Dani's fist clenched, tears coming from her eyes. "God forgive me, I... I... I fucking hate them and I want them all to die. But, oh God, what will they do to our people then? If we kill them all?"

"What worse can they do?" Jhayka growled from where she faced the wall, ears flexing downward. "I would issue the orders at once, save that I may impinge upon Julio's prerogatives by doing so. I plan to go to him personally quite shortly, and would ask that you accompany me." She turned abruptly, and seized Ilavna in a tight hug, a startling break of her usual reserve, whispering: "Dear, I know that you are close to madness and that only prayer has kept you from it. And I know what you wish to do. But the emotions will be too strong if you go to see those girls yourself. I forbid it."

Dani's hands were shaking violently, her body filled with pent-up energy. She felt a desperate need for violence, some kind of outlet for the pure hate and rage filling her. "I want to kill them now," she muttered. "I never thought I'd feel like that about anyone. But I want to go up there right now and find the nearest Norman to beat him to death."

"Blind anger is not righteousness," Ilavna responded at last, her voice pensive, her thoughts clouded. She had been praying. "Let us see if we can make some good out of this, and save those who are otherwise lost."

"I don't know of what you speak, Ilavna," Jhayka answered.. "I feel just like Danielle at the moment. But let us go to Julio.. And I'll let you speak when I've finished." She slipped away and walked to Danielle's side, offering her hands. "Come, let me help you up and get you dressed. We must have a serious meeting about this with the Kalundans."

Dani let Jhayka bring her to her feet and went off to get dressed.

The party of three went through the corridors under the palace to where the King's office was located. They had, of course, warned him well in advance--Ilavna had, actually--enough time to gather his staff together. At least some of them would already be aware of what had happened.

Julio was in conference with his new Minister of the Palace, Duke Lukas d'Rettia, as well as Lady Sarina, and with the heads of the Alliance and the Slavian consulates in attendance as well. Stepanov nodded in respect to Jhayka, while Consul Farouk al-Khalid gave a slighter nod. Duke Lukas was an older man, a survivor of the Long March, but with anti-agamic treatments received too late to withstand the onset of middle-age so that the ordeal of siege had made much of his hair gray. Lukas was known in Kalunda primarily for his uncompromising hatred of the Normans. His first wife had been raped and enslaved in the Sack of Kalunda over forty years prior, even now a neurotic mess who had been recovered from Norman brainwashing just to suffer daily from memories of it before her suicide twenty years before; his second wife was in the field with the Crimson Guards, wounded thrice already, and he had lost a daughter and a son to the siege so far with a second son and his third daughter fighting for their lives in the hospital and his other children either in the field still or somewhere else contributing to the all-consuming war effort.
Consul al-Khalid was a Zanzibarian Arab from Universe FHI-8, a minor diplomat with some experience and whose command of Arabic had led to his appointment to Kalunda, allowing for him to also be a natural negotiator with the al-Farani.

Sarina's face was white; she had already been appraised of what had been found. Julio motioned to seats for Dani, Illavna, and Jhayka, with Jhayka sitting near him as his Chief of Staff. "Marshal, you might as well confirm the rumors for us all and tell us what has happened," he said solemnly.


"A raid by a platoon of the twentieth regiment of the regulars of Your Majesty's Army, attached to the Third Division, led by the excellent First Lieutenant Johann-Karl Eylau, penetrated to the old Taliya Line at around 2330 hours last night," Jhayka began matter-of-factly as she sat. "Your Majesty's troops found in a bunker of the older fortifications would appeared to be a field brothel, in which twenty women identified as regular soldiers of the Crimson Guard were found, captured early in the fighting, during the retreat from the first line of the defences, we believe, and originally part of the fifth brigade of the Guard. The Normans holding them who had been captured... were executed outright as caught in flagrante delicto violence of the laws of war." She paused for a moment. "They were severely tortured in ways devious using the technology of healing, their tendons cut after their legs had been pinioned through the knees, at which point they proceeded by incisions to also destroy the ovaries of the reproductive tract, and to put their eyes out with hot irons, after of which their eyelids were closed over their eyes and sewed shut with steel wire. Their teeth and nails had been ripped out by pliers and poorly replaced by soft rubber imitations, intended to look the same, but prevent them from scratching or biting the men that they were raped by.. As they were left in the brothels and raped continuously. At least several hundred times each. From what we've been able to tell--some of them are remarkably composed and have answered questions--this has happened to all the female prisoners caught to the south of the city, reputedly at the urging and suggestion of Orion advisors with the Norman forces."

"We've gained an impression from our brief contact with the Amazons that they required, as part of their negotiations, to have possession of all female prisoners taken to the north of the river, though of course what they have done to the male prisoners they equally received, we cannot say. The defecting Amazons understandably gave us no indication of any abuses." Jhayka remained calm the whole time, but Ilavna was unable to stop herself from compulsively drumming her fingernails atop the table as she listened, despite the breach of protocol. "That said, it appears from what those of the survivors--only fourteen of the twenty lived to get back inside our lines, and only then due to the greatest sacrifice on the part of Lieutenant Eylau's platoon--that the Normans and al-Farani have as a general rule initially sent the male prisoners back to Ar, fancying them to be worth more in trade than the women, considering their own predicilations... But in retaliation for our use of poison gas, have started to send them back, castrated. While being held for transfer to the brothels after being 'prepared and punished', as the Orion euphenism was used, they were held with some male prisoners and apparently were able to speak to them--some of them had been castrated on capture or otherwise sexually mutilated, and others had not, so that the impression is their policy of torture toward male captives is much more haphazard." Jhayka lapsed into silence then, only to speak again, briefly, in conclusion: "The vulcan family resident in the city has confirmed the particulars of how certain more barbaric Orion clans punished women who attempted to escape in a very similar fashion to them, which essentially renders them physically helpless, while retaining a superficial attractiveness which allows them to be used for sexual pleasure."

Sarina's slow nod when Julio looked toward her confirmed the accuracy of it. Lukas' fists clenched strongly and hate burned in his eyes. Stepanov whispered a prayer, distinctly using the Russian words for "beasts" and "Japanese", and Farouk muttered in Arabic a curse upon the enemy. Julio looked to the sky for a moment. "They will die for this offense," he muttered, tears streaming from his eyes. "My people, they did this to my people...." In anger a fist smashed on the table. "If we survive here, I will burn their cities! Every Norman man above the age of twelve shall be put to death and their lands scorched and salted until it is nothing but wasteland! I shall destroy them utterly and completely! Barbaric savages! Curse them all!"

"Your Majesty.." Ilavna spoke up from the end of the table, raising her eyes in fervent supplication toward the monarch who had expressed his anger so thoroughly, and now, coming to her own, she rose, aware of the nature of her religion. "Let us not rush into rash declarations and declamations. Let us not give ourselves over to evil. There are many prisoners that have been taken by the Normans.. Let us send them parley and offer them a chance to repatriate their prisoners in exchange for those prisoners we have taken... Let us, by doing so, save those whose lives might still be saved, instead of dooming them to death, even if death is surely more welcome than what they have now suffered. Send a parley forward under a white flag and offer terms of a prisoner exchange, I beg of you, O King. We have a duty to those who still live."

Julio looked toward Illavna. His angry, hateful expression lasted for a few moments as he bit back the impulse to bark at her for speaking out of turn. Slowly, her words made their way into his heart. "I hear your words, priestess, but in my mind a different voice is speaking them. That is what Sara would say to me. Only she would be able to look past the barbarity of the Normans, and her own suffering at their hands, to give such counsel." Tears of anger were still moving down his eyes, but his fists unclenched. "I can still remember the words she spoke to me all those years ago. That as a King, I have a duty to my people that surpasses my desires. Thank you, Illavna Lashila, for reminding me of that in Sara's absence."

"Your Majesty, surely we cannot leave this offense to Your subjects unavenged!" Lukas protested.
Julio looked to Illavna, as if beckoning her or Jhayka to reply.


"Revenge ages like wine," Jhayka murmured, and Ilavna seized on the reference, understanding it in a Taloran context perfectly, so that when she spoke again it was with a renewed belief: "Your Majesty, we may punish the Normans in victory, for their sins committed now, when they do not have the power to harm innocents against our power to stop them. Justice is slow but certain. Now, let us save those who may be saved, Your Majesty, and deal out punishment when no innocent may be harmed by it."

Lukas smoldered at that, while Julio nodded. Finally Lukas spoke up again, "Majesty, if we do this, they will only be emboldened, thinking us weak! And we will be returning to them fighting quality men!"

"Give them parole," Jhayka answered. "So that they are only released on condition that they may not fight again. And pierce their left ear with a charred stick--if we find such a scar on any man we capture in the fighting, we may put him to death."
"I do not expect it to work, they will use them anyway. But that will just have to be our sacrifice."

"Like you can trust them...." Lukas muttered.
"All of our enemies, save maybe the Stirlins, hold to oaths if they are sworn in a proper fashion," Sarina remarked. "Why not force them to give oathes that their own culture considers binding?"

"Upon their homestones? In the name of Allah? Perhaps so. But I still expect they will violate them," Jhayka answered quietly. "Your Majesty, ultimately it doesn't matter much. Yes, I expect them to immediately resume fighting, no matter what we do. What we do will just allow us to execute them outright if they are caught again. That is not the point. There is a practical argument here, as well, which I hate to make; but they only have a few thousand prisoners of our's. On the other hand, we have some thirty thousand prisoners in the city. They are consuming food which could allow us to stand the siege for even longer--a few more precious days, at least. That food is worth more than giving the enemy another twenty-five thousand reinforcements able to fight."

Julio nodded. "Very well. They are wise terms, and I accept them. I want the parley readied immediately."

Jhayka seemed exhausted by her support for Ilavna's proposal. She had clearly wanted a harsher approach, herself, and it showed it how she held herself under control only with the most exceptional discipline. Ilavna, however, seemed as though a great burden had left her, and she slumped down against the table, but somehow mustered herself: "Your Majesty, let me bring the proposal to them myself. I will be able to tell truth from falsehood."

"That might be too dangerous," Sarina warned. "They hate your people even more than they hate us. Let me go instead."

"Your Ladyship," Ilavna pushed her head up on the table, ears lowered. "I am able to tell if they will betray the flag of parley or not. I am able to know and look into their hearts. They do not have a defence against the gift with which I was born. I must go."

Jhayka interjected here, to avoid confusion: "Are you not aware of the powers of certain races, which belong to the Alliance, King Julio, or to the nations it has encountered in other universes? We speak little of this, but the rare among us, have similar gifts.. And my young Ilavna, born in the household of my ancestors to a family of most faithful service to them, has such power, and was trained by the orders of the Farzian faith to use it wisely. Every evening we were in Ar, she left our apartments, unencumbered by the dress of a native woman, and went where she pleased in the city without being seen. I trust her in this."

"I can verify this," Dani said. "When I was being tortured, I felt Illavna enter my mind. It's how Jhayka found out where I was and came for me."

Julio gave a stiff nod. "Very well. Lady Sarina, arrange a suitable honor guard. We'll make arrangements immediately."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-10-28 08:48am

Post by Marina and myself.

Allied Camp, Near Kalunda, Gilead

DAY THIRTY-FIVE




The Ubar Park looked the Warleader Erqui over as they discussed the particulars of the parley which had come forward from the Kalundan lines. "A twenty-four hour cease-fire? Perhaps they are finally coming apart," Park mused.

"That is quite so, Ubar," Erqui dipped his head modestly. "But the preparations for the Burning River should go ahead regardless. We must have it ready to be unleashed at once. I need not remind you that the international forces are coming; we must complete these siege and finish off East Port quickly, before their strength becomes so much that they can stop us. And then, melt into the forests and the grassland, the snowy mountains and the harsh desert, and bleed them white."

"I think you overestimate the speed of their response," Park frowned. "I will consent to the cease-fire, if for no other reason than to mask your preparations, War Leader, which I do believe you have convinced me are really the best chance we have to decisively finish Kalunda in a quick fashion. Even if it fails, however, we will still have the time and the strength to reduce both this city and East Port."

"Perhaps, but I do not plan to fail." Erqui looked devious. "Ubar, give them a longer cease-fire if they ask for it. Nothing could aide us more, and hurt them more, than to launch the attack in a few nights, in the middle of a cease-fire, when most of them are sleeping peacefully and they are not fully aware, when we have the advantage of surprise. Then with the flames on the river amongst them, cutting of their lines of retreat, burning their navy, threatening the whole city with inferno, we can launch a general surprise attack."

A grunt. The Ubar didn't like the idea of attacking in such a cowardly fashion. He didn't like the idea of his force suffering another hundred thousand casualties in reducing Kalunda, either, though, and the subject tribes far more than that in turn; some of them were already essentially annihilated, and the Normans needed their manpower to hold onto their Empire after the war. That was really what settled it. "I am reluctant to agree to such a devious attack, but if it can bring total victory decisively, then I will gain you the time you need, and agree to the plans; but the al-Farani will not be pleased."

"Then present it to them as a fait accompli, and tell them it was the Will of God."

The Ubar smirked. "You do have a way with words, War Leader," to which Erqui smiled modestly and bowed again, as the Ubar continued. "They will accept that, I admit, and so certainly we may go ahead with the plans. I will gain you as much time as I can in the meeting with the Kalundan emissaries--assuming they are not really coming to negotiate a surrender, at which point I will inform you the first chance it is possible to do so. Until then, best of luck, War Leader, in preparing the oil."

"A thousand thanks, Your Excellency," Erqui answered, bowed with a flourish, and left in silence, leaving the Ubar to gain him the time needed to turn the river from a source of succor into a channel of death for an inferno of oil upon the water, by which he would burn Kalunda down!


No Man's Land, Near Kalunda


The sun was setting to the back of Carlis Park, Ubar of Ar and ruler of the Norman Empire, as he led his entourage, including representatives of the allies, to the parley. He was dressed almost regally, with an ermine coat and a sword at his hip that he'd never used outside of practice, while his array of muscular warriors wore more conventional warrior fare and carried threatening sidearms with them.

The Taloran girl - the accursed Jhayka itl dhin Intuit's confessor - was walking forward. She was flanked by the Crimson Guard, a calculated insult to the Normans for how they felt about women warriors, and Carlis recognized Sarina d'Kellius in her ceremonial red silk and armor, a sword and pistol at her side. She was tremendously beautiful, as rumored, and Carlis also recalled all of the stories that Sarina had never been touched by a man but only by women. He imagined the scene of her on her knees before him, a collar around her throat and a body otherwise uncovered, and the pleasure he would derive from being the first man to take sex from her. If she survived the siege, Carlis fully intended to take her and her sister as slaves for his own household, though he would probably give Amber to the Emir as a gesture of continued friendship and alliance.

The Taloran girl, comparitively, was ugly; too thin, too pale, and simply too alien. The only thing he wanted to see from her was her mutilated body dead upon a wooden spike, impaled like he intended to do to every single Taloran in the city. He had, indeed, already planned his victory parade when he got home, the head of Princess itl dhin Intuit placed upon his chariot and the bound and collared naked bodies of the d'Kellius sisters and Danielle Verdes - or their heads as well if they were found dead - before him. He was envisioning it even as they arrived at the agreed upon spot between their lines. He looked briefly to the Stirlin representative with him. Erqui's men would be laying the oil any moment.

"Illavna Lashila, you have come to parley on behalf of your mistress and King Julio?" he said to her, his voice clear and strong.

"It is the custom of my people that the religious go forth to speak peace," she answered, somehow keeping herself steady--resisting the impulse to simply slump against Sarina--from the powerful images of lust and rape in the minds of the Norman men all around, which disturbed her much more than the images of her own death, which she had been steeled toward. The feelings of violation were an omnipresent hostility, a menace in the air, the desire of sexual conquest that left shudders in her and for the first time allowed her to understand precisely why her liege had never once laid with a man. Those feelings would fade, but they were strong, then. "I am therefore given the full power of His Majesty to parley, but only on certain specific terms.." She mustered herself and looked coolly to the Ubar. "This is not a negotiation of surrender, though I am prepared to offer you, conversely, an immediate and permanent cease-fire should the alliance consent to withdraw from Kalundan territory and respect it for the duration of the civil war. If you refuse that offer, however, I am limited to discussing a temporary cease-fire, and with it, the exchange of prisoners."

Park nodded diplomatically. "We have no intention of withdrawing. On the other hand, if Kalunda surrenders your mistress to us, we are prepared to let the rest of her entourage leave the city in peace and to allow Kalunda to retain it's autonomy, with only monetary and financial tribute to be paid to our alliance and hostages to be taken from it's population to guarantee Kalunda's behavior." Not, of course, that he expected them to accept, and even if they did Park was sure the Stirlins would refuse to accept the agreement would readily attack Jhayka's people as they traveled to East Port.

"We have virtually inexhaustible stores, Your Excellency, and our ammunition factories have survived your continuous barrages against them," Ilavna answered, trying to imitate the diplomatic style she had seen in Taloran holovids of her childhood, which was of course probably much more cordial than Park was used to. "You win every meter of ground only through a sea of blood, and you have not even reached the city yet. His Majesty King Julio does not think his position desperate. The city has been besieged for only a pittance of time; not even a month--a Taloran month, I should say. Certainly you know that the resistance of our arms is unslacked, even with your reinforcements. No, we are not prepared to discuss any such terms."

"Then your fates are on your heads, because we will not cease until the attack on our city has been avenged," Park replied. "As for a prisoner exchange.... your people have proven rather suicidal when surrounded, and I'm afraid we have few prisoners. And as I'm sure you've discovered, we have uses for them that would make them solely a burden upon you. That said, we would happily return the few we have in exchange for those of our men you have." At that, Park hid a smirk. This was the sentamentality of lesser, weaker peoples at full force. His men might be irritated at losing the pleasures of the brothels he had placed in the line areas, but they would gain more prisoners later, he was sure, and there were possibly thousands of men and Amazons who could replenish his ranks and bring victory closer.

"God grants victory to the righteous, and shows justice toward the side of compassion, Your Excellency. The Almighty Lord of Justice will protect this city against your arms, considering the blackness of your deeds," Ilavna answered, and those words were certainly from the heart. She said nothing about the fact which Park should have thought of--that every prisoner was a mouth they had to feed when otherwise the food could be saved. "That said, your terms are quite reasonable. Obviously we have an idea of the number of prisoners taken, and we expect... There will be consequences if we do not receive an appropriate amount. Roughly, Ubar, that means that for every ten prisoners we release we must receive one back, or else we must halt the exchange."

"Of course. We can begin now, if you wish." Park chuckled. This was amusing, if only because while they were doing this, Erqui's people were completing preperations for his grand strategem. He imagined a pool of thick black oil flowing downstream along the river that divided Kalunda, one that they would set alight and which would burn it's way through the city's waterfronts, wiping out their annoying gunboat navy, their waterfront buildings, and those trenches flooded with water coming from the river. The heat would warp the bridges that spanned the river, causing their weakening and collapse. In one fell move they would split the enemy in two, kill untold numbers of them, and cause massive distraction along their rear areas that would allow for the renewal of the offensive. Here the Kalundans and their allies were, negotiating a prisoner exchange to save food and their people, while the Allies were preparing for the blow that would win the siege for them.

"We have medical personnel standing by to receive the injured into our care, Your Excellency. We expect to see them being treated properly when they are transferred. We cannot undo what has been done by you already; we will, however, consider the terms violated if we see further indignities in our sight. How many days do you think the exchange will be required to take on your side? I am prepared to offer a cease-fire for however long you belief the reparation will take..." Ilavna continued automatically. Instead of being focused on the terms now, she was focused on something else, which she could read in the Ubar Park's mind clearly enough, the images of fire rolling down the river, and they frightened her and warned her of something amiss, but she did her desperate best--glancing to Sarina and in doing so, expressing her worry--before looking back.

Park mentally calculated how long Erqui thought it would take to get sufficient oil into the river. He'd said a couple of days. "It will take a few days to get those sent already to Ar. Five days should be more than enough."

"Of course, then. May we commence the exchange in an hour with those prisoners on hand?" Ilavna twitched her head and her ears slightly, trying to shake off the distraction. A few days.. Something was happening. The thoughts came together for her, and her ears stiffened, but the Normans would of course know nothing of the importance of such an expression by a Taloran.

"An hour is fine," Park agreed. "Shall we continue exchanges through the night, or would agree to maintain our mutual safety by suspending all further exchanges until the morning? If you choose so, I will swear an oath to you, on my home stone, that none of the remaining prisoners will be harmed from this point on, and that if any are then those responsible will suffer at my order."

"They may be halted during the night. We are well-aware of the risks of confusion the night brings, generally," Ilavna answered, wishing to be away from these horrible men and their horrible minds, and doing something about the urgent news she'd come to understand.

"Very well then. Let the exchange begin until nightfall, and recommence in the morning." Park nodded to her and gestured to his men that they were to depart. His mind thought of victory and even ignored the idea that the Stirlins would claim credit for it.

As he walked away, Sarina snarled. "I saw them undressing me with their eyes. Bastard Normans, the King is right. We should slaughter every single one of them."

"I felt them doing a lot more than undressing you with their eyes," Ilavna responded almost automatically, and then sort of slumped down, and added: "Your Ladyship, I am afraid to say this, but you are right and I am wrong and this whole effort of mine has failed. But it was still mandated by the Lord of Justice. You see... They do not plan to keep their agreement." With the Crimson Guard behind them, they reached their lines... And then Ilavna turned intensely to Sarina: "They are flooding the river with oil and burning liquids, ma'am, I sensed it in his mind. The Stirlins do this, upstream. They will float a wall of fire down the river into the midst of the city, under the cover of the truce."

Sarina's jaw tightened. This would be their doom, if it succeeded. Even the hope of escape with their triumphant fleet would be gone, as the fleet would surely not survive. "We need to inform the Marshal and His Majesty immediately."

"At once, yes." Ilavna turned, paused for a moment, and ducked forward into the battalion command bunker. Sarina's presence guaranteed her from the quizzical officers on duty the use of the radio, and within a few minutes she was in touch with Jhayka herself. "Your Highness... It is a trap, I sensed it. They mean to send a great mass of burning oil down the river from upstream, under the cover of the truce I was just negotiating."

The Princess' voice was silent for a while, several minutes, in fact, and then, she spoke again, but not directed to Ilavna... "Sarina, this is the Marshal. Please do nothing out of the ordinary, and implement the terms of the cease-fire perfectly. Save as many as you can, for sake of maintaining our cover. We will counter them on the river tonight--and then we will punish them for their treason."

"Of course, Marshal," Sarina replied. "Our troops will respect the ceasefire."

"Very good. I'll speak to you once you return to the city in more detail." Jhayka disconnected from the communication and turned back to the staff in her command centre. "Someone get me Admiral Verdes. Immediately. There's work to be done on the river."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-10-29 01:56am

Post co-written with Marina.

On the Kalunda River, Gilead

DAY THIRTY-SIX



It was past midnight, the thirty-sixth day of the siege starting, when the small inflatable craft moved upstream, their motors off and their crews quietly paddling to avoid detection. They, thankfully, hadn't had to move far upriver.
The crews were all Kalundan men, the strongest arms that could be found in the river forces, with Jason Toudos - nominally the commander of the gunboat Rakel Shameel - looking at the river banks with high-powered binoculars. He alternated between night-vision and thermal imaging, and it was a few kilometers upriver that he found what he was looking for.

The thermal imaging showed the running engines of trucks pulling up to the riverside, driven by mercenaries or by Normans familiar with the tech-world's devices, and still-small plumes of red revealed men around the trucks and other things. Coming by a clearing in the forested areas along the river, night-vision showed tanks and barrels and other assorted containers within meters of the river on both banks.

Toudos' jaw clenched and he nodded to the others. They stopped paddling, one man controlling the rudder and others paddling only when necessary to keep the river from beaching them in enemy territory. They had accomplished their mission.

Kalunda

AFTERNOON, DAY THIRTY-SIX



Dani had left the briefing with her commanders, all of whom were to get ready the boat for the night's emergency sortie, and found herself returning to her room with little to do until combat came. She opted for a shower immediately, washing off mostly just to feel the pleasure of warm water and soap on her body and it's cleansing feel.
She finished, draping a green towel overself, and headed to the bedroom. Reports were stacked on the part of the table that was her's, and she went over them, accidentally causing some of the top ones to get wet because her hair hadn't finished drying fully. She felt the desire to nap soon, specifically to help her stay awake when they headed off to fulfill their mission.

It had all come down to this. If she succeeded, the siege would continue and they might still hope for either an escape downriver or relief. If she failed, she would likely die in the process, and the wall of fire down the river would doom Kalunda to defeat, leaving only the hope that someone would come along and exterminate the people who would slaughter the city's people.

There was a brush of air in the room as Jhayka entered, cape brushed in the wind of her swift walk, and pink hair brushed back neatly as she stepped up behind Danielle at the table. "If you fail..." Jhayka began and then fell silent. "Well, I've got a plan in place to withdraw as many troops to the north bank as can be done, and the ammunition stockpiles are here already. Try to make for the north bank. We'll withdraw to the citadel and hold as long as we can if they succeed. We might still even last long enough to be relieved..." She put her hands on Danielle's shoulders, rubbing them most gently, her face grave.

Dani shook her head angrily, though she enjoyed the six fingers rubbing against her tense shoulders. "I won't fail. If I have to go ashore and personally light a match to the oil, I will."

"I don't want you to get yourself killed. We will survive it, even in the worst case. But I'll leave those decisions to your judgement.." Jhayka seemed to shift faintly as though she was would sigh if she were human rather than Taloran. "I want to protect you, Danielle, I confess it freely. You're beautiful and wonderful but I must remember you are also a fighter in times like this."

Dani blushed at Jhayka's praise. "Yes, lover, but I don't think kicking around the Ubar and the Emir will end this, as much as I'd enjoy it." Dani put her right hand up in her hair, feeling it's remaining wetness between her fingers, and put her left hand on one of Jhayka's. "But hey, I can have some confidence, can't I? They're not that far upriver."

"No, no, they're not. They can't be that far away to make this work..." She rubbed Danielle's shoulders slowly, her own eyes heavy, and closing them. "I'll need to get some sleep.... The consequences of this will be unimaginable. Though at least we have received one thousand prisoners from the hand of the enemy; their lives were saved by Ilavna alone, bless her. Most of them are the worst off of the women, all like the others. We gave them ten thousand in return these past two days of exchanges, about.. Slightly less. I made sure to send the Amazons first, since they might defect instead of fight... And after them, those who had suffered the most serious injuries from being gassed, which they'll never fully recover from. In reality, not a single one of those soldiers who's been gassed is really fit to fight.. So they will not get many troops out of this. Perhaps a thousand Amazons who will elect to stay and fight. Nothing more. If you can stop them, our situation will be good, though I fear we will have to take a hit tonight; I suspect they are violating the terms in other ways and are probably preparing for an attack. But if we make preparations of our own then they will detect them, suspect something amiss, and all shall be lost."

"In a sick way, this whole thing has been good," Dani muttered. "Now that the others have seen what has been done, they'll fight all that much harder." Dani slowly stood up, giving Jhayka time to move her hands away. She turned to Jhayka and put a hand on her chin. "Thank you for the shoulder rub, I really should rub your's more often given all the weight that is on them."

"I've born the weight for my life, Danielle. And I won't stop when this siege is over." She smiled wryly, and then stepped forward to embrace Danielle in her taller body, and kiss at her cheek gently. "Worry not, my love. We will succeed."

Dani nodded slowly. She smiled weakly at Jhayka. "As for now, maybe we should lay down and get some sleep like you wanted." She sat down on the bed, taking care to remove the slightly-wet towel so as to avoid getting the bed wet. "We'll wake up together tonight, when it's time to do some work."

"There will not be much sleep, sadly for no reason than that we must leave soon.. But yes, let us rest." She answered, following Danielle.

Together they slipped off into a rare peaceful rest in each other's arms, to dream for a short time of better places to be.



DAY THIRTY-SEVEN


The coffee and the early afternoon nap were helping to keep Dani awake as the Liberty and over half of the remaining Kalundan gunboats marshaled together for the dash upriver. They were in the middle of the city so that the enemy would not realize they were gathering until they were already making the upriver dash, but all surprise would be lost when they raced by the enemy lines and their engines could be heard.

"Admiral, our forces are in position," one of her Crimson Guard subordinates, a seventeen year old girl named Janila, said. She was a bright girl, freckled with brown hair and lovely green eyes, somewhat attractive if a little thin. Far too frail for the lines, but certainly not for this job.
Losses from the last fight, two weeks before, from the lucky hits by shore batteries of the enemy, and the need for troops on the front, meant that more and more of her crew numbers consisted of young people or old ones who weren't fit for front-line service. Some of the boats were even mixed gender now, though Dani didn't quite mind that.

"Patch me in." Dani held her headset mike close to her mouth. "Everyone, I cannot stress how important this mission is. We are literally deciding victory or defeat tonight. We must, at all costs, destroy their stocks of oil and petrochemicals to prevent their attack, or the city will fall. Your loved ones in the trenches and in the bunkers are counting on us. I am counting on you. And I know you'll come through for me again." She nodded to her helmsman and the Liberty's engine roared to life. One by one, twenty of the remaining thirty gunboats in the Kalundan River Navy moved west and upriver for their rendezvous with destiny.

Dani watched, nervously, as they passed by the quiet front. It was, ironically, the ceasefire that was going to hurt them here, as a fight along the front would have provided noise to mask their passing. Not now. She watched the Allied frontline pass without comment and waited, nervously, for the beginning of the bombardment.


Carlis Park was reclined on pillows in his tent, almost a cabin now, one of his favored kayira laying before him in the nude and still moaning from the intense ravishing he had just given her, when the roar of guns was heard outside. He jumped, surprised by the sound, and pulled his trousers on before stumbling outside. He seized one of his guards by the collar. "What the Hell is going on?!"
There was a squawk over their radios. "Enemy boats headed upriver! Enemy boats headed upriver!"
Park let go of his man and put a hand to his forehead. How could the enemy have known? Did they know, or was this some other stratagem they had. "All guns, fire on the river!" Park barked. "I don't care how long it takes, I want every cannon we have firing on those boats and I want the troops moving forward! And send word to the dumping crew, we have to begin dumping now!"


Massive splashes of water and erupted around the Liberty and her boats, protected primarily by the darkness from being hit by the enemy. Dani gripped a chair, one she was supposed to be using, as her fleet made it's inexorable approach to the dumping grounds. "All guns, ready to fire," she ordered, knowing that her boat and the Emancipator would be the first to be able to hit.

There was a massive explosion not too far from them. Dani's heart sank when she saw Captain Richard Cohen's Tanya Hendricks disappear from her status screens, it's hulk burning in the water as a direct hit had mostly torn it apart. Cohen was from the Alliance, vacationing in Kalunda with his family when everything hit, and had sent them to East Port while staying to volunteer for service. Dani would have to be the one to tell his wife and children about his death.
She had put a hand on her forehead, weeping silently, but that was disrupted by a near-miss that made the Liberty rock and nearly made her fall over. Dani slipped into her chair finally, putting on a safety harness and watching the distance close.

A glancing blow knocked out the Golda Meir's main gun and engine, forcing it to turn back (though it kept firing with it's secondary weapons as it drifted downriver, giving the rest of the fleet a reprieve as it focused attention upon itself). Two lucky hits had cost her two boats, but most of the enemy fire was, thankfully, missing.

They came into range and Dani felt the ship shudder as it's massive 150mm gun belched fire, throwing a shell into the midst of the enemy oil containers. Night-vision sensors, and reports from the boats taking point, confirmed that the enemy had even laid track to bring up railcars filled with oil and other flammables, intending to put as much as the burning stuff as they could into the river. Gripping her chair tightly, Dani gave the order to commence immediate bombardment on the spot as soon as any ship was in position to do so. The flame-thrower boats and "monitors" took up escort positions, allowing the howitzer, cannon, and mortar ships to bombard the oil containers on both sides of the river.

An inferno lit up the night, joined by echoing explosions that shook even Liberty, the light of the flames soon blinding the thermal vision systems as container after container exploded with it's contents burning brightly. The fires spread through the enemy's rear area rapidly, lighting up the remaining trees. Even near-misses had been as good as direct hits, spreading hot shrapnel that burst oil into flame.
"All boats, come about!" Dani shouted. "Full speed toward home!"
The boats came about in unison, trained perfectly, and their navigators followed the river exactly as they headed back to Kalunda. The light of the expanding fire was illuminating their hulls and making them more visible, but Dani's boats had an increased speed advantage now that partially made up for it. As they headed back, the enemy fire intensified. Another of her boats exploded in a burst that threw shrapnel into the sides of the Liberty. Her medical corpsmen ran above-deck, following the reports of someone brought down by the shrapnel. God forgive me, Dani wept to herself as another boat blew apart, her crew slain and the blood, at least in her mind, on her hands.

Liberty shook again, another near-miss, but it would be fortunate, with no further hits. Other boats weren't so fortunate, with near-hits and hits from smaller caliber shells sending showers of shrapnel to slice up crew or to cause fires that would burn or even consume the ships.
"Admiral!" Janila's young voice came to Dani's attention immediately. "Emancipator.... she's grounded! She hit one of the sand bars on the northern bank! Enemy troops approaching!"
Dani's stomach twisted, painfully. She wanted, with all her heart, to turn back and evacuate the ship. "Provide them cover fire and order them to abandon the boat," she said, face buried in her left hand. "Pull up the monitors alongside, as close as possible, to catch any survivors as they go past."
The guns of her fleet echoed even greater than on the retreat back to the city, trying to buy time for the Emancipator's crew as they leapt over the side and swam to other boats while Norman troops swam out to it, shot and shell coming down around it to cripple it's guns. An explosion on it's deck signaled the death of it's main gun, and the sidearms fell silent moments later. Dani's stomach twisted hard when the ship failed to explode at first, until concentrated shots from Dani's own fleet, by commanders acting on initiative, blew the ship apart and, hopefully, any survivors that would have been captured.

The fighting ended as they moved past their own lines, but from the river Dani could see that a fight was happening there too, the enemy advancing once more. She ordered her boats into formation and began to bombard the enemy's positions, aiding Jhayka's own artillery despite her dwindling stocks. The battle was not over; it had just begun.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Postby Steve » 2006-10-31 09:10pm

The first three segments are by Marina, the last two are by me.

DAYS 36/37
LOWER HENLEY DELTA



"In order that he might rob a neighbour whom he had promised to defend, black men fought on the coast of Coromandel and red men scalped each other by the great lakes of North America." -- Macaulay on Frederick the Great.


Who knew what the cause of the battle Najhasi witnessed was? It was certainly related to the war.. But what brought thirty-five hundred pikemen supported by four hundred riflemen and two little 95mm mountain guns to besiege this quaint fishing town at the mouth of the Henley, which looked so much like the place that her parents used to take her as a child for their rare vacations? All it needed was a fasji stand along the beach and the bright hair of laughing, happy children dashing about..

Of course it had none of that. Instead it had burnt-out buildings, damaged walls, wisps of smoking rising from a fire just being put out, the crack of artillery, and the whiz of bullets, while a mixture of primitive blackpowder weapons, bows, and crossbows, returned fire bravely from the walls. They were hundreds of kilometers from Kalunda. What could be said of the relationship between this siege, and that one? How many innocents would be slaughtered and violated because the Normans had chosen to obey the customs of their culture, in opposition to the ironclad law of morality? Or was it even that? Had perhaps this whole conflict only been started by the actions of Sara Proctor those many decades before? Had one woman's personal desire for freedom literally led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, in two rounds of bloody war over the space of years upon years?

Did it even matter? No, of course it didn't; it was simply happening, and really, nobody in this battle was surprised. To primitive peoples, without civilizing and mitigating influences on the customs of conflict, war is like a primal force. It simply happens, on the whim of a far-off King or dictator, and sweeps you along, smashing through your life and livelihood and claiming all that you might own or desire or feel pride in, exactly as a hurricane or a tornado or an earthquake or a wildfire or a great flood might do the same thing, your son dying with his guts torn open as easily as he might expire sweating and writhing in bed from an incurable fever. War, like all other tragedies, happened. You survived it or you didn't, and if you did, you picked up the pieces and moved on with what you now had left. For thousands of years, this was the way conflict had been viewed.

And the worst thing was that the view was for the most part correct. Najhasi Fridalyn did not much like war. She had never been a soldier. She was an operative, a spy, ultimately. But she could not ignore the inescapable fact that as long as evil existed, indeed, until the very culmination of the universe at the end of time, war would be an omnipresent fact. With her mission ahead of her, as modified as it was, there was little reason for her to care about the fate of that fishing village, however quaint it looked.

Except for one thing.

The field guns commanded the river channel they were descending through the last verges of the delta on, and it was daylight. There was no way past. Najhasi lowered her binoculars in realization of the fact that they would certainly have to fight, and they couldn't do it from the boat; it was much to vulnerable to artillery. Her team would have to go ashore and take out the guns.

Eight Talorans with the most modern weapons in the megaverse against some four thousand neo-barbs. As they coasted to shore amongst the reeds, it might seem like long odds... “Fravei,” Najhasi gestured to the stout man at the thwarts, “Distribute the anti-tank rockets.”

They had sixteen of them in total, simple, very compact, highly miniaturized rockets in disposable launchers that looked like long lengths of thin metal piping, which wasn't far from what the launchers were as a matter of fact. Aiming at the guns themselves was the first obvious goal, but that proved impossible from the lay of the land as they crept forward, two of them forming a team for a squad assault weapon (they also carried submachineguns), Fravei with a sniper rifle (special equipment precluded the need for a spotter), and the rest, Najhasi included, with railgun assault rifles.

So they needed to clear the way for a direct assault with grenades and satchel charges. That meant a diversion, and that's what the rockets were really being used for. “Ghasimi,” Najhasi whispered, “Let's form up tight, so we look like we're a single launcher.. Two missiles apiece.”

The group of eight, concealed in the mud and the reeds, carefully distributed and checked the launchers, and then on Najhasi's silent hand-silent—the operatives had a whole language of the hands to themselves—they rose up and as one salvoed their launchers with a terrible scream of acceleration, nearly straight up into the sky. Accuracy need not be considerable for this work. They crashed down into the siege lines around the town with total surprise, burrowing into the ground before exploding.

Dropping the expended tubes, on signal they grabbed another one each, working silently and efficiently, and repeated the salvo within fifteen seconds of the first. Craters formed as rock was flung with deadly force and shrapnel and hot gasses ripped through the besieging soldiers. They scattered in fear, the untrained riflemen firing their guns wildly in all directions at the threat, mostly into the air, and causing several friendly-fire casualties, while the bravest men converged on the area of the explosions as though there might be an enemy there to fight.

“Fravei!” Najhasi signaled up, toward the stand of willow-like trees higher up the bank. Then she tossed her hand forward. “Get the SAW up in position below him,” she ordered, and the team dashed up, setting up the belt-feed for it which rendered it immediately into a fine light machinegun. Then the remaining four members of the team she led forward herself, assault rifles ready and bandoliers of grenades prepped.

They were on the position of the guns, up over the dunes of the briney marsh-fringe and suddenly upon them in a silent heartbeat. The artillerists did not realize they were under attack until the five Talorans had thrown themselves down and opened up on them with six-round bursts of hypervelocity rounds which immediately followed a volley of stick-grenades. At throwing range, it was an instant massacre. They were not nice soldiers, either; they were trained to fight mercilessly, for when they had to fight it was under excpetionally circumstances and they were not soldiers regardless. Any of the wounded from those horrendous rounds were shot again and again, until they did not move.

Then they dashed forward. To disable the guns they would have to move rapidly. In a moment they were around them, and then Najhasi realized something. The gunners had been adjusting the guns to fire on the position of the rockets. They were loaded, and they had been swung toward the bank.. But hadn't reached it. That meant the guns were facing their own side at the moment... “Stand clear!”

As artfully as a dancer—and Najhasi had been a truly wonderful and impulsive dancer as a youthful and cheerful girl before she had entered this world of spycraft—she pirouetted from one gun to the next, each time yanking the lanyard, and sending two high-explosive shells crashing down on the enemy position to add to the chaos there as they tried to organize for an attack on their unseen attackers. That gave away their position, but so much the better....

“Two charges under the ready ammunition,” she instructed, “And shoot up the mechanisms of the cannon.” A clatter of fire greeted the later order, and the hypervelocity rounds were sufficient to do very permanent damage to the steel which comprised the artillery pieces, while in the meantime the four satchel charges available, all they had, were collected and placed, two apiece, under the piles of ready ammunition for each gun.

“Fuses for two minutes,” she ordered, and waited until they were done.. “Let's go!” They were off in a moment, and not a moment to soon for the chattering of rifles of approaching men caught up with them, though their aim was hideous enough to let the Talorans fling themselves bodily down the dunes into the mud and reeds of the marshey banks below, and into a position of secure cover. The men pursuing them ran right past the position of the guns...

And then the satchel charges blew and a series of tremendous secondaries went off as well. Najhasi gave into the temptation and ordered her little squad up into firing positions, a suppressive full automatic fire on the survivors followed by targeted fire which simply decimated them without a response. It was like killing children; the riflemen didn't even properly know how to aim their kalash's, often firing them one-handed and up into the air, or jumping up and down in plain sight as they emptied their magazines on full auto. The grenades that followed were frankly gratuitous.

Then from behind them they could hear the supersonic scream of the rapid bursts of the SAW firing underlaid with the crack of a sniper rifle. Clearly one group was attacking their rearguard, which meant it was time to go. The distance was not great, but as they arrived, Najhasi saw the saddest sight of her life: It was a column of pikemen who had gotten formed up, and in lieu of knowing anything else to do in the situation, had tried to charge head on toward the machine-gun position.

Their armour made the hypervelocity penetrators of the SAW, more powerful than those of the REQ-49 assault rifles, even more lethal than against unprotected flesh, the penetration heating them into molten tungsten which slammed into the bodies of the men with supersonic force. Fravei had already killed all of their officers, standing plainly in the open, and was working through the men, each shot surely dropping somebody. But they had to drive the column back, despite the lopsided slaughter, to safely escape, and so Najhasi and her party, with a feeling of some regret considering their bravery, and the total inability their enemies had to hurt them at the moment, dropped down and proceeded to open up on the column, full automatic.

The flanking fire from five assault rifles brought them to a stop. The Talorans had mostly expended the two hundred round helical over-barrel magazines of their REQ-49s and replaced them quickly to resume firing. A second such expenditure proved more than sufficient to break the formation, which led to the panic and general flight of the enemy from the field at that point, though the riflemen were approaching as skirmishers with more caution. It was beyond time to go.

They left as silently as they had entered the battle, the engine of their partial-inflatable raft powering them away toward the far shore quietly, leaving behind bodies oozing out the remainder of their life's blood onto the sandy ground. They left not knowing who they had fought, or what side they were on in the battle they had left behind! They were simply a danger in the way of the mission, and they had been eliminated. None of the Talorans had been wounded by enemy fire.

At around 2200 hours that night, the security directorate's modified J'u'crea assault ship surfaced out of the ocean to the signal of Najhasi's party. The interior stank horribly, considering the crew had been waiting for them for close to three weeks; the muddy and cut-up Talorans of the exploratory party who had been living for the past ten days on a little raft in the midst of hostile, madcap territory, were even worse in that regard. They all wanted to bathe.

The lack of the Princess aroused Mratefha's attention naturally enough, but one look to Najhasi killed that question. “What's our new orders, OpLeader?”

“To support the relief of the Princess by a regular military force in any way possible. The situation has changed,” Najhasi answered simply. “Even everyone in the primitive zone knows it-- there's relief forces coming, and I need to get the word out that Kalunda is still holding out, that there's still something to rescue. We're headed to East Port at once, stealth until we approach, then broadcast full IFF on close-range transponders. Post-haste.”

“At once!” Mratefha headed up to the cockpit to begin the power-up sequence for the drive engines. In fifteen minutes they were skimming in the ground effect field at a minor supersonic velocity of Mach 2, tearing up the water like crazy behind them as they raced south toward East Port. Then everything went crazy.

Homing alarms blared and Mratefha reacted in a moment, connected directly into the computer via a neural interface, and it was needed to save their lives as the J'u'crea snapped around into the incomings almost exactly, but not quite, and abruptly accelerated at max power and climbed. The incoming missiles couldn't shift their vectors in time this close to the water and the four missiles plowed into the surface of the ocean at supersonic speed, violently coming apart and exploding tremendously just behind the craft, which Mratefha immediately dropped back down to the surface, only thirty meters off, and cut all emissions. The missile salvo was not repeated. The whole event had taken perhaps four seconds.

A minute later they were contacted by the East Port area control and cleared when they delicately squawked their IFF, and were provided with the late warning: “You're just clearing a rebel missile battery vector—you're inside our point defence here..” Which was punctuated when a second salvo finally did come. Much to late; this time Mratefha could only jink before the threat was rendered irrelevant by the interceptor missiles of the Gilean naval ships, exceptionally narrow and long finless cones, which accelerated at 700 gravities straight off the launching rail, the rocket fuel literally consisting of a nitroglycerin compound mediated by high-end chemical explosives.

They accelerated so rapidly that their outer coverings of sprayed graphite ablated into a cone of plasma which surrounded the missiles and caused them to glow brilliant red in the night's sky, burning into the retina for the split-second that they were visible as they blasted past the Taloran craft. The tails of the missiles, massive plumes of solid white-orange exhaust gasses more intense than could possibly be imagined, lingered after the solar intensity of the missiles themselves had gone, as though torch-lines through the sky.

Each one of the interceptors connected with one of the—now eight, this time—incoming missiles, and destroyed it in a kinetic-kill intercept, perfectly. The second salvo of interceptor missiles as aborted as needless while the orange fireballs of the detonating fuel of the anti-aircraft missiles, ignited instantly by the plasma cone around the interceptors, turned the night into day for many kilometers around. Mratefha was, of course, trained as a starfighter pilot and didn't flick an ear to what had just taken place. Instead she guided the J'u'crea-type vessel safely to a designated landing position at East Port.

In twenty minutes, the news of the survival of Kalunda, and Jhayka's continued stand, was spreading throughout CON-5, and beyond.

But in the city itself, the survival was far more tenuous, and uncertain, than this splendid and welcome news to the outer world.


DAY THIRTY-SEVEN
THE SIEGE LINES
AT KALUNDA



“Treachery! Treachery! We are betrayed!” Ran the cry down the allied lines as they learned of, what was told to be to them, the pernicious sneak attack of the Kalundan fleet against their supply dumps. Danielle's successful attack was obvious to all as the sky was illuminated for miles around by the intense fires and explosions of the burning fuel dump, turning the night into an unearthly day. That their own leaders had planned to break the truce was obviously not explained to anyone. They just knew that it had been broken.

The artillery which was prepared for their own violations salvoed out tremendously as soon as the orders had been issued, and then the officers all along the lines issued exhortations as the men spilled out, much more ready to fight than the Kalundans across from them. Much of the speeches were along these lines, desperately screamed at the top of the officers' lungs: “Attack! Attack and avenge the dispicable treason of the Kalundans! Slit the throats of every one of them you catch! Show no mercy to the traitorous bastards—we'll have their daemon princess on a pike by the dawn! Attack, and show Kalunda your mettle, my boys—up and at 'em!!”

The allied troops spilled out of the captured trenches. Illumination flares and star-shells burst overhead to provide them, along with the fires of their own fuel dump, an intensity of flame which looked like it was worthy of hell and which cast such an eerie, oily illumination over the place. They advanced, only to find that they faced virtually no resistance. The Kalundan trenches were silent, save a few who could not evacuate in time to Jhayka's desperate order the moment the fuel dump had gone up to escape. They stayed and risked their own lives until the last minute to pour fire onto the attackers.

But then the Kalundan artillery opened up, the howitzers raining down their powerful anti-personnel shells onto what was essentially a human wave attack with the bayonet, a reversion to older tactics but at the same time laid on with such speed and vigour that it was a complete reversal of the prior engagements. The allies pushed forward victoriously in mass at every point, simply totally vacating their trenches to rush forward and relying on speed and the bayonet.

The Kalundans were not prepared, could not be for Danielle's mission to succeed, and so it worked, as surely as the awe-inspiring and hideous power of an old Japanese banzai charge. Conducted virtually simultaneously along the lines, the position of the Kalundans just behind the Valera Line gave way and they were retreating in haste to the Eibermoni Line in the south; in the north they retreated to the Valera Line. And in both cases, the enemy kept coming anyway, making the best progress they had ever made.

They overran some stragglers, those who were slow, or those who were valiant. They were not to be slowly tortured, not with the enemy in a bloodlust like this; they didn't think to wait and engage in such sadism. Instead, male and female alike, they were stabbed dozens of times, beaten with rifle-butts, clubbed and beheaded and their bodies ripped to pieces in a minute or two at most of vicious work, the pieces ripped smaller and smaller and ultimately mostly distributed as souvenirs in a hideous practice that even civilized peoples were not entirely immune to indulging in.

They carried on to the last line of the Kalundan defence before the suburbs of the city itself in the south, and the second to the last before the old ramparts in the north. But at these points they were stopped. The reserves were in these trenches, and they were, by that point, ready. As the Kalundan forces on the original lines retreated passed them and cleared their fields of fire, the reserves, including many fresh militia regiments which men like Brigadier van Doorn had been training until the past few days, had their first baptism of fire.

It was in many ways exactly like the repulse of a banzai charge. The artillery enmasse, the huge VT-fused 24cm shells, massacred hundreds and hundreds of the men as they charged over open ground. It scarcely slowed them as they raced straight into the abbattis and wire of the Eibermoni line, which for the first time was not thoroughly chewed up first, funneling them into the machine-gun positions. Higher here, closer to the built-up city, the the ground was dry enough for the mortars to be effective again and the high-angle weapons pounded down on the advancing men.

Despite it all they surged over the front lines, swamping them often without killing the defenders and forcing them to fall back in small groups, pell-mell toward the rear, as though they should just keep on going and bodily fling themselves right into the city from the south where the main attack as usual develoepd. It was incredible, and indeed, the assault did by pure elan nearly carry through. Yet, in the centre of the Eibermoni line to the south there was a steep rising artificial hill covered in churned dead grass and dirt and now with massive decaying piles of its innards exposed—the old town garbage dump.

There had been a few batteries of light howitzers positioned on the reverse slope. A quick-thinking commander had these manhandled up onto the crest proper, and while men along the military crest provided the defence against local attack, preserving the front line here, the guns were fired, and for the first time the allied infantry encountered point-blank firing of modern artillery, using beehive rounds. Each round the light howitzers were firing—and they were pumping out 24 a minute, maximum rapidity—contained 8,000 steel-wire, fin-stabilized darts which spread out radially from the point of detonation, about sixty feet above the ground.

The limited quantities of this ammunition Jhayka had, were reserved for precisely a last-ditch moment like this. It saved the Eibermoni Line from total collapse, even though it inflicted massive friendly-fire casualties in the process. Hundreds of men were literally torn to pieces, their bodies factually reduced to hamburger, when caught point-blank by these terrible blasts. For as long as the ammunition lasted, for as long as the gun-crews had the physical strength to ram the shells home in continuous mechanized fashion, the fire and the slaughtered was unabated, and the allies were checked.

The attack front of the allies generally collapsed under the terrific fire and the continuing desperate resistance of the infantry in the trenches, and the Kalundan troops began to rally and counterattack here and there in a crazy night-battle under the constant explosion of shells and the burning of starshells and flares, all backlit by the massive burning fuel dump, while the constant secondaries from it blurred out even the sound of the massed artillery fire, huge thick clouds of black smoke rising high into the air, blocking out the stars and the moons and leaving only the unnatural light of fires and explosions to illuminate the battlefield.

There was, though, no capability, no energy, for a general counterattack. Though in areas the Normans were pushed entirely out of the Eibermoni Line, in many areas they held sections of its forward entrenchments, and sporadic fighting in these continued without ceasing through the dawn and long into the next day. Yet, Danielle had succeeded, the Norman attack had been stopped, and Kalunda still stood firm and free.


Valeria, Talora Prime.
9 Ojhwa, IY 617
DAY 37


KALUNDA FALLEN. PRINCESS OF THE LESSER INTUIT SLAIN ON THE WALLS. POPULATION PUT TO THE SWORD. VICIOUS ARMY OF THREE MILLION SAVAGES ADVANCES ON CIVILIZED REGIONS FOR RAPE AND PLUNDER. THE LAST MOMENTS OF THE VALIANT GARRISON REVEALED IN ALL THEIR HORROR AND COURAGE.


So had been the headlines six days ago, when the norminally respectable Dharimi Standard had published an exclusive story supposedly told by refugees from the primitive zone. It said that the Normans had “raped women in such a terrible fashion, that the members of families would shoot each other rather than be taken”, and that “baby males were impaled on stakes,” and “Girls as young as six months violated and murdered in fashions to grusome to repeat here,” with “The Princess of the Lesser Intuit died fighting as a common soldier at the north breach in the walls with her party around her, loyal to the last, not one being captured,” etc, etc, on and on.

As it turned out the whole story had been a complete and lurid fabrication of some criminally and profit-minded huckster in the Kingdom of Devenshire. This morning, the real story had broke, carried by the swiftest relays from CON-5 straight to the heart of the Taloran Star Empire. The Quesadia Shield had published it first, and its computer net relays were running full blast with the news:

KALUNDA STILL HOLDS. SECRET IMPERIAL MISSION REVEALED: ELITE TEAM WENT INTO THE CITY, CARRYING NEWS AND INSTRUCTIONS. RETURNED SAFELY. ATTACK FOILED BY OUR SPIES. PRINCESS OF THE LESSER INTUIT AND CITY 'HOLDING WELL', SUPPLIES GOOD. EXTERIOR LINES STILL UNBREACHED. TWO MILLION SHELTER IN SQUALID TUNNELS AS REFUGEES FROM CONSTANT TERROR BOMBARDMENT.

Working-class Talorans spilled out onto the streets to buy copies to read themselves on their work-breaks, and some employers counteracted this tendency by simply buying a bunch themselves and distributing them on the work lines. The Princess' popularity had soared, particularly on rumour of her death, which was so pervasive even elements of the government had been convinced, and her return to the living was seen as neigh-miraculous.

Holovid crews converged to find any angle possible on the incredible story which consumed all of the morning news. Most of the soundbites were worthless and easily to be forgotten, dismissed in Taloran city. But one of those interviewed had a pithy comment which stood out above the rest. Her name was Tralee Savanjh, and she was the conductor of the Imperial Philharmonic Orchestra of Valeria. Coming from a poor background from one of the hardscrabble outer colonies she was known as an eccentric, of eccentric views, and all of this was accentuated by her tendency to wear solid black clothes including flowing capes, which were completely contrary to the Taloran sensibilities and were made, essentially intentionally, to make her seem as ugly and unnatural as possible.

Yet she was a brilliant conductor and a brilliant composer, and on the reports of the fall of Kalunda she had promised a memorial composition to the Princess of the Lesser Intuit; being of common origin herself she had some fondness for the woman. Tralee with her red eyes and blue-silver hair, skin gray-pale, was an intimidating figure as she strode up toward the grand hall of the Philharmonic from her residency, but not intimidating enough to keep away holovid crews.

“What do you think of the news that Kalunda still holds and the Princess of the Lesser Intuit still lives?” Someone shouted. “How does this change your plans to compose a memorial peace?”

“Show some respect,” ears erect and eyes flashing Tralee looked toward the crew and intimidated them outright. “You misinterpreted what I previously planned! I had no intention to compose the piece until after the news was confirmed.. And I frankly knew it wouldn't be confirmed, anyway.”

“How did you know, Madame Savanjh? The whole capitol seemed to believe that the Princess was dead!” Another shouted.

She smirked. “Because Her Highness the Princess of the Lesser Intuit is a Taloran. And I shall now be composing a celebratory of this siege.” A pause, and now, her audience caught, she veritable lectured the camera crews: “For millennia we thought ourselves supreme in the universe! And then in the past years we have found this supremacy frayed by the reality of the human powers in other parts of the great multiverse that we live in, each of which matches our strength, and in combination, considerably exceeds it.

“This might make us doubt our divine mission. But I say, do not doubt it, for the Lord of Justice has sent us a sign. Look at the Princess! Look at her! She is leading primitives, against a vast and well-equipped horde of savages who completely lack in civilized behaviour. She has with her less than a hundred Talorans and scarcely again as many civilized humans, in a lonely neo-barb city without resupply—and yet, she imitates the Sword's Epic of Filidmarn! This is worthy of song; this is worthy of epic.

“Indeed, this is epic! Here we are, wondering about ourselves, questioning if we are truly fit to lead or if we are but another power. But look at who fights savagery in the very midst of these human powers. It is not a human; it is a Taloran who commands the defence of Kalunda, who stands up to the machinations and the forces of Idenicamos, despite being so deep in human territory, and surrounded on every side by obstacles. Yes, this proves that we are the righteous, and our mission is righteous! The Siege of Kalunda is nothing less than The Epic of the Race, for it proves to us that we will not lose our way among the numerous powers!”

“And with that, I must get to work,” the last comment was offered slyly, with a smirk and ears adjusted to accentuate it, and Tralee strode inside ignoring every other comment. But the words of the conductor's last sentence strangely had the most effect, simply because they stuck in the popular conscience so easily, and the usual tabloids promptly seized on it, such that in an irony Jhayka would have found bitter and suitable to her luck and fate, a siege that she grimly sustained for the honour of a human neo-barb monarch and for the affection of her human paramour, was popularized and brazenly declared as The Epic of the Race.


Minneapolis, Minnesota, Earth
Alliance of Democratic Nations
Universe Designate SE-1

12 February 2163 AST
DAY THIRTY-SEVEN



The Verdes family home was a nice, medium-sized home in one of the newer, outer suburbias of the Greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. Within the home lived Raphael and Agnes Verdes, who lived comfortably on Raphael's Navy pension and his management job at an industrial plant that had, until recently, been geared primarily to the production of military vehicle parts for the war effort. The house itself was a bit beyond his financial means, but it had been secured already by Agnes' inheritance from her parents. The living room, the den, and the kitchen were filled with family photos, though they all omitted one important member; the couple's daughter Danielle, as the devoutly Catholic Agnes could not bring herself to even look at pictures of her apostatic and lesbian daughter. The only photos of Danielle in the home were those in her father's wallet and other trunks he personally kept.

Raphael was a tall man, taller than average, with a decent build that he had kept since his days in the United States Star Navy. Agnes was somewhat tall in her own right, around five foot ten, though rather lean for her size. Her skin was a few shades lighter than Raphael and her hair lighter, with bright green eyes to contrast with her husband's brown. At the moment, Agnes was in the kitchen cooking an early winter meal while Raphael sat in the couch, watching college football and reading an old-fashioned newspaper, made of easily-replicated paper.
There was a tone on Raphael's PDA and he looked it up. "Raphel, is that Mary Rosa?" he heard his wife call.
"No, not her number, Agnes, it's e-mail." Raphael accessed his account and was surprised to see that the message had been directed through, strangely enough, government diplomatic channels; the header identified the message as originating, within the Alliance's interuniversal comms network, from the Embassy of the Taloran Empire in Washington HE-1. Now that's odd he thought to himself as he brought up the text.

He saw the "Dear Dad" at the top and immediately forgot everything else.

Dear Dad,

I wanted to tell you how I've been doing, and I don't know if my letter to you last month got through. I don't even know if this one will get through. It has been twenty-seven days since Kalunda was cut off from the rest of Gilead. We have been fighting hard, making the primitivists around the city pay for every chunk of soil they take. I have been given an Admiralcy, the only one actually, to lead their gunboat fleet. I designed all of it's ships myself, actually.

I don't know how long we can hold, but I do know that it will be a very long time. I won't leave here, though, not without Jhayka. In my last letter I told you about Jhayka, and in this one I will admit to you that I have fallen in love with her, and she with me, and that we are lovers now. It is the most wonderful thing in the world to be with someone that you know you love. I finally know what has kept you and Mother together for all these years, and I understand how beautiful it is. If I have to, I will die instead of leaving her.

I don't know what's been said in the media, but I can tell you that these people here - the Kalundans - are the most wonderful and brave people I've ever known. They fight even when they have no hope of life, they fight for every inch of land like it is the most important thing in the world. People say that hedonists, or any people that love pleasure, can't fight. They haven't met the Kalundans, Dad. Every single one of them will die before seeing their city fall, and they'll fight like hell before dying. It's almost beautiful in how brave and courageous they are.

I know this better than I did before, because they saved my life a few days ago. We met the enemy's fleet on the river. They had the numbers, we had the firepower. It was a close call, but we came through in the end. I didn't see it, because I was shot in the head when our ship was boarded. The only reason I'm alive now is because their bullets are cheaply made and because my crew kept them from dragging me over the side. I have a concussion and it's kept me here in the hospital. All the spare time I have, compared to what I had before at least, has given me time to think on things. On how much I miss you, and what I wanted to make sure you knew if something were to happen.

If, somehow, Fayza got out, if she got free and you can reach her, please give her my affections. In these past awful years, since I've lost Sharon, Fayza has been a better friend than I could have asked for. I went through hell to try and find her. If only I wasn't here, I'd still be looking for her. Just, please, tell her this, ask her to forgive me for not finding her, and tell her - and I mean make sure she knows, because she can be so guilt-ridden - that whatever has happened to me is not her fault, that my life is in my hands and is my responsibility, not her's.

I love you, Dad. You, more than anyone, are responsible for the good things I"ve done in my life. I only hope you have as much pride in me as I do in you. And even though I know she doesn't even want to think of me, make sure Mom knows I love her too. Please, if something happens, tell her I love her and that I forgive her, and that I hope she forgives me. I know that she doesn't approve of me and the choices I've made, and I know how angry it's made her, but it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter at all.

I'll see you again, one way or another.

Love,
Danielle





Tears flowed down the face of Raphael as he thought of his daughter, caught in the middle of a war with raping, murdering savages, and the things that could happen to her. He closed his eyes, trying to block out the images of the worst.

"It's her, isn't it?" His wife's voice made Raphael's head turn. "I don't want to know, Raphael. She had her chance, and she's made her choices. She has to live with them."

"She's your daughter, Agnes. She'll always be our daughter, our little Dani."

"God dammit, don't you think I know that?!" Agnes put a hand to her mouth and made the sign of the Cross in repentence for cursing. "And that's why some of it, it's our fault. It's our fault that our daughter is like this and not a...."
"Not a what? 'Not a good woman', is that what you were going to say?!" Raphael leapt from the couch. "Our daughter has served proudly in the Navy, she's done more than her fair share of the war effort, and she's lived a great life, and you still hate her because... because she's a lesbian?! Open your damned eyes, Agnes, Dani has done much better than a lot of people you thought were going to be good in this life, and... and now.... Now she's trapped in a city surrounded by savages who want to rape and murder her! By God, if only I had the means I'd go trade places with her."

"She wouldn't be there if you didn't put it in her head that she could escape from her moral obligations to obey God by enlisting!" Agnes shot back. "If you'd kept her here Father Dawson and I could have gotten through to her. We could have convinced her to change, to be a good Christian woman, not a sl...."
"I'm not listening to this!" Raphael stomped toward the door, yanking a coat as he got to the door and pulled it open, slamming it shut behind him. Agnes stood at the entryway from the living room to the kitchen, staring at the door before weeping softly. She picked up her rosary from the nearby table and began praying fervently, asking for forgiveness and for the preservation of her poor, lost daughter's soul.


Cranstonville, Gilead

DAY THIRTY-THREE



Gilean Army troops flanked the doors into the waiting room and into the office proper of the President. The secretary was Army as well, a blonde light-skinned woman who bid the visitors to sit down.

Sitting across from her now, in proper business attire, were Ann Pepper and Jeffrey Franklin, the ambassadors respectively of the British Empire and the Allied Nations. Pepper was the older of the two, though neither was particularly old or distinguished given the junior nature of appointments to Gilead; the British representative was a slimmer dark-haired woman who still wore glasses and who talked with a strong, formal London accent. Franklin had sand-colored hair and a stronger jaw than his British counterpart, filled out more as well - perhaps too much.

After several minutes of waiting they were called in. The prior month had not been good to de la Hoya, as he looked considerably more tired and less robust than he had before the siege of Kalunda began. However, he did his best to hide the visible aspects of his weakness. "Gentlemen, it is good that you came to see me. I apologize for making you wait all these previous days, as I was busy, so I suppose this is why I was not told of your exact plans involving intervention."

"Our governments also wish to apologize for this failure to communicate," Ambassador Pepper replied with her alto-toned voice.
"I'm sure they do. So please, tell me something that will keep me from having you expelled from the capitol now that our nations are at war?"
The two looked at each other, realizing this wasn't going to be as easy as hoped. "I would like to point out, Mister President, that neither the Allied Nations nor the British Empire have declared war on Gilead. The intervention is to stop the fighting, rescure our nationals and other foreign nationals in danger, and to bring peace."
"And to do this, you invade the sovereign territory of the Gilean Confederacy," de la Hoya pointed out. "I did not ask for intervention, nor did I want it. I would have accepted foreign military missions to relieve the siege on Kalunda solely for the purpose of securing foreign nationals trapped there, but you're talking about an all-out military effort to disarm my country."

"We had little choice in the matter, President. Your government, frankly, has shown insufficient strength to end the fighting. Your army and navy splintered in several pieces when your coup succeeded and the militias and private armies of the enclaves and established governments in the Confederacy have proven powerful enough that a war to defeat them would take years, years which your neighbors are not willing to wait."

De la Hoya's jaw clenched. He had clearly been hoping to hide some of the defections from the central military, giving the appearance that the matter of reimposing his authority would be linked to destroying the private armies of the individual governments and enclaves within the Confederacy. "So I am to accept the partitioning of my nation?" he asked coldly.

"Not at all, Mister President," Franklin said cordially. "We're here to help you prevent that. It's not in our interests to see the Gilean Confederacy partitioned by it's neighbors."

"You have an opportunity, Mister President, one that you alone have among the leaders of the former Confederacy," Pepper explained. "As it stands now, even the Hispanics must acknowledge that you have a legitimate claim to the leadership of the Confederacy, as head of the military and the man who had the courage to remove Crayshaw from office to try and end the fighting in the Primitive Zone. You cannot be blamed for the civil war; that is the fault of the enclaves who started it out of paranoia. When the intervention has pacified Gilead, if you support it, you would naturally have to be given a seat at the table when Gilead's future is decided."

"Alternatively, Mister President, if you resist the intervention, there will be no one who can speak for Gilead at the negotiation table," Franklin added. "You might delay our efforts by standing against us, but can you expect to stand alone against the power of Slavia and the Hispanics alone, not to mention the other powers involved in the intervention? You honestly can't win a military conflict, but you can win at the negotiating table."

De la Hoya leveled an angry gaze at them. He didn't like being pressed like this, being reminded of just how weak he was. Nor was he certain they were right, and that supporting the intervention would earn him a chair at the negotiating table when he frankly deserved more, like the right to reform the Confederacy on his initiative and not with the input of foreign powers. But the reality of the situation was undeniable.

"It will take me several days to make proper arrangements," de la Hoya said. "I must consult with subordinates. As you gentlemen may already know, when the military takes over the government it's generals find it easier to justify removing it again if the people in charge act against what they want."

"Of course, Mister President, we understand. And we trust you to be as swift as possible about this."
"Naturally. However, I do have one term.
Pepper and Franklin each looked rather curious, though they both had a good idea of the term. "What is the term, Mister President?"

De la Hoya put his hands together. "I insist that Gilean troops relieve Kalunda."

Pepper spoke first. "Kalunda may yet have fallen, and the barbarian forces between East Port and Kalunda are far too strong for the troops you have there now. You will need foreign support."

"As you may have already known, I have sent General Rosaria and the Cartagenean Corps to East Port. Other minor sundry forces, such as those of Berglund now that Erik Berglund is in control, are moving to join them by my request or of their own initiative. We will break through. As for Kalunda falling, our latest satellite photos show that it's defenses have held, if barely. They are armed sufficiently in our estimation that they can likely hold for another month. And if I am wrong..." There was a harsh look in de la Hoya's eyes. "I will order the annihilation of every single 'enclave' that has participated in the battle against them. The Primitive Zone is a mockery of law, an example of the bad ideology that governed this planet over the centuries, and it's time is happily over. Kalunda, which has modernized on it's own to it's credit, must either be saved or avenged, and as for the others, they will be forced to abandon their savagery or I will sweep them from the face of this planet."

This was something of a shock, if only because Pepper and Franklin had both been of the opinion that de la Hoya would mostly tolerate the Primitive Zone for the moment and leave it's status to the future. Such a feeling against it could have consequences for his government, even if it certainly resonated well among the Great Powers. "We'll communicate your desires regarding the relief of Kalunda to our governments," Pepper assured him. "Please, have a good day Mister President."

"May you as well, Madame Ambassador. My guards will show you both out."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-01 09:52pm

(written by Christopher Purnell.)

Published in the Habsburg Domains and elsewhere upon the 37th Day of the Siege.


A Record of the True Facts of the Great SIEGE OF KALUNDA, as recorded in the Year of Our Lord Three Thousand Two Hundred Ninety by Barthold Doorn, a traveller from New Hollandia.

It is the twenty-eighth day since the barbarian forces have invested this primitive zone citadel, and yours truly. The bursting of shells has unceaselessly marked the progress of the hours. The cries of the wounded and of the disconsolate are drowned out by the sounds of combat and explosives. In their extremity, and in accordance with their heathen customs, the people of this city have conscripted women as well as men into their defensive forces. The perversion of feminine nature so undertaken does not, the fair judge will observe, place them in any greater danger of violation or murder. The rules of war in this savage place have always taken on the horrors of the classical age and worse besides.

The foreign residents of the city, if unmoved by the plight of the Kalundans, have been sparked to volunteer by the prospect of their own fates. The Norman barbarians will, it is certain, violate any female not too aged to be unappealing (and the standards of barbarian warriors long frustrated by siege are not high) or too young as to make such acts impossible. The Stirlins, a newly arrived group of barbarians, are reputed if anything to be worse than the Normans. We have reliable intelligence of a split in the Amazons, so named after the ancient Greek myth and representing an even greater perversion of the social relations of the genders than Kalunda herself; but even so the greater part of their confederacy remains against us, and the indiscriminate slaughter of all males is promised by their presence, did not the conditions of the siege assure it anyway. The fanaticism of the Mohammedian forces outside may perhaps be the noblest expression of human intent of the enemy.

Being no stranger to reason and of sound if aging and generous body, I have volunteered my services alongside the rest of the foreign community. So far I have been left to a command of militia, given the unglorious but important task of insuring the siege regulations are enforced. Should I be called into combat the worst will have taken place, and as such the disaster above mentioned will have made death inevitable. So I reassure myself, and the fatalism of the moment suffices to infuse me with what might be called courage. I still hope, for my sake as well as for the people of the city, to be called forth to no more distinction than the obscurity of a job well performed, so that others might maintain the fight until relief arrives. The aid of fellow volunteers has been invaluable in that regard, providing a range of skills otherwise unavaliable to myself. I should certainly not seek to inflate my role or claim to myself credit I have not earned and do not deserve.

The Kalundans under my direction, mostly the young and old men, walking wounded, and so forth, have proven amenable to discipline and sensible in obeying orders. The siege regulations, establishing rations and curfew, have been implemented with efficiency. The population has adapted in the face of the brutal threat posed despite its customary hedonism. The removal of much of the population to shelters as the enemy has neared and the artillery bombardment has intensified has simplified matters. So far casualties among the noncombatants have been mercifully limited despite the best efforts of the depraved foe. Our efforts in the short run will come to focus on insuring that disease does not ravage the pre-modern inhabitants, to say nothing of the soldiers. Keeping control of tempers and fears amid a vast multitude crammed together in tight space will undoubtedly be a further challenge.

Rations in a siege leave much to be desired. I should disappoint my faithful audience if I do not include all manner of advice on making the most of matters. Alas, the pre-packaged nature of military field meals defeats all efforts at improvisation. Nutrition, and not palatability, is the rightful concern of the designers of these culinary catastrophes, but one ponders what the impact of these bland packages on the morale of the soldiers forced to consume them day after day in the field must be. So far as provisions hold out the most basic staples of bread, cheese, salted meats, olives, and so on are avaliable as supplements, and the produce that gathered in the city before the start of the siege is being distributed before it expires. Most of the better items went early, of course, and I had the pleasure of producing an exquisite dinner for the officers of my command...

The city's tribal head, claiming the grandiose title of King, one Julio, has helped to set an example for the civilians. His absence from the front may be explicable in the utmost necessity of his presence to maintain the committment to sacrifice of the people of the city. His death would almost certainly be an immediate demoralization of the people of Kalunda. For all that he is a slave to the rootless and artificial customs of the city, and its empty ideology (if a facile sort of hedonism can be called that), he has at least brought a veneer of civilization and modernity to them. One might anticipate further positive developments in the material condition of the people, though I should very much fear for the state of their souls if the situation is not altered after this struggle. But for the time being Julio is the symbol of a brighter and more genteel future, providing something more than basic fear and desperation to motivate the soldiers and levies of the tribe.

Of the commanders of the city, the mercenary alien named Jhakya, a noble of her people, is the most prominent. It has been her hand and mind devising the many stratagems and defensive lines that have so far held the enemy at bay. Her people it seems are naturally exceedingly tall in the female sex, and made more so by their prehensile ears, which extend up not unlike the common if inaccurate depiction of the Irish sidhe. Her presence, so unmistakable and striking in public, is amplified by the show of uniformed splendor and electrifies the levy of Kalunda. In private counsel with her officers I am reliably informed that her direction is subtle but definitive, affording wide latitude for discussion and suggestion without undermining her authority. Her involvement in the siege is evidentaly a point of honor, for it was her actions that brought about the coalition against Kalunda. Her resolve has infected all levels of the forces avaliable to her, and it is her prominance that offers hope of relief by her people.

Of the subordinate commanders, the volunteer Danielle Verdes is the most important, for her presence is in many respects also responsible for the involvement of the Taloran Jhakya. Though the details of their involvement are unfit for the eyes of children and respectable women, to state that it is of the sort of Socrates' Tenth Muse should be sufficient to convey the particulars. An officer of the dubious Alliance of Democratic Nations, her presence in Kalunda can hardly improve the image that her naval force presents of ill-discipline and unprofessionalism along with the other faults inherant to the populist and atheist nature of its government. As commander of the naval forces she has commanded several important campaigns and the continued defense of the city is, it must be admitted, largely responsible to the successes of her flotilla of river boats...

And in concluding, I once again wish my audience the best, and affirm my sacred duty of informing them of the nature and particulars of this event, so distant and yet perhaps portentious for Imperial involvement in this backward universe. I should also express my love and affection for my wife Gisele and my pride in my son Wouter, who I charge to look after his mother should this city fall.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-02 12:00pm

DAY THIRTY-EIGHT



UPDATE FROM GILEAD: KALUNDA STANDS

So blared the headline of the Washington Post. The Times (of London), also bereft of other major news, went with: DEFENCE OF KALUNDA CONTINUES: TALORAN MISSION SUCCEEDS IN CONFIRMING CITY'S SURVIVAL.

Granted, not all of the papers and news services throughout the Alliance put the news as the main headline; a later survey would show that only sixty percent actually had it on the front page at all, as local news and news relating to the beginnings of post-war demobilization dominated. Yes, there were Alliance citizens trapped in Kalunda and within the Gilean Confederacy; there were also billions of Alliance citizens in the Gamma Quadrant trying to rebuild it from the Dominion War, and many millions more on occupation duty in the borders of the former tributary empire of New Plymouth Colony. The latter had more connections to the many communities of the Alliance than the former.

Nevertheless, the Gilean Civil War and the Siege of Kalunda were welcome to a news media realizing that the end of the war would bring an end to the high ratings. Exploiting further the relative popularity of the holovid movies based on Sara Proctor's memoirs, those seeking to promote public awareness of the siege were able to get enough media attention that the matter, by now, had become a public one.

Now the Alliance Council was debating resolutions to try and push President Dale into an immediate assault on Gilead proper, ignoring the need for troops sufficient to pacify the entire planet, and public demonstrations alternatively targeted the Gilean and British diplomats still in the Alliance, seen in public eyes as the primary reasons for the entire mess. A popular editorial cartoonist, Louise Rabelai, prompted chuckles, irritated looks, and outrage across the Multiverse to her depiction of a stout, monocled Englishman insisting "This is our affair, not your's, do not get involved" to the assembled avatars of the Allied Nations and the other pro-intervention powers while, behind his back, a fur-wearing savage with an evil sneer is clasping for a young well-dressed woman, her clothes torn by his grip. In contrast, Kevin Pierson showed a girl tied to a pie labeled "Gilead" with representations of Gilead's neighbors hovering over her, knives drawn and looks of greed on their eyes, as they proclaim, "We're just trying to cut her free!"

The Multiversal Internet was even more abuzz, with web-cartoons, comics, and holovid parodies doing everything from lampooning Dale or Wells or Crayshaw or even the British to proud little "warmongering" - as the detractors put it - like an amateur re-modeling of a World War II-style propaganda poster showing the picture of an Alliance Marine, in powered infantry armor, with the caption, "When you absolutely, positively have to kill every last mother-fucking savage on Gilead, call in the Alliance Marine Corps and accept no substitutes." Even those communities that might have been more sympathetic to Crayshaw and his partisans, or some of the rebellions against de la Hoya, remained pro-government. Wiccan colonies on New Oregon and Fraser, Taoist communities in Chinese territories, naturalists living in the American West of Universe AR-12, all offered their moral support - and charity - to the victims of the war and promoted the suppression of the rebels and the relief of Kalunda.

Naturally, there was another side to the debate, as blogs from hedonist groups (though not communities, in most cases, given the laws of the Alliance's constituent nations) pointed fingers at the Hispanics, the Slavs, the British, even the Alliance, claiming that the entire Gilean Civil War was due to outside "plots" to "oppress innocent people because they do not accept our social mores." Agnes de Bouthier, the President and chief priestess of the Organization of Wiccan Communities Against Oppression, charged that a conspiracy between the Hispanic Empire, the Popes (as a whole), Marcus de la Hoya, and his senior commanders had been hatched, "...with the ultimate aim of forcefully converting all non-Christians on Gilead to Catholicism and imposing the death penalty on those who resist under the cloak of martial rule". Even Pax Party head Johann Tetzel joined in the "conspiracy"-clamoring, claiming that the incoming Dale Administration, in collusion with "militarists" from Mamatmas' Administration, had purposely engineered the Civil War as a means to "maintain crisis and tension in the Multiverse and justify maintaining their military power with the wars against the Dominion and Plymouth complete".

In more "intellectual" circles, this was seen as a crucial first test of the Dale Administration and it's foreign and military policy, producing hours after hours of well-dressed men and women speaking constantly about all of the "ramifications" of intervention, of crossing the British ally, of the territorial ambitions of the Hispanics, of the costs of occupying Gilead as well and it's potential partition, and other sundry things. There were those who considered Dale's leading role in the assembling of the international intervention to be proof of potential for great statecraft, of a well-defined Alliance foreign policy that by bringing in partner powers could guarantee peace and security, and others who angrily insisted that the Alliance should have "gone alone", that Mamatmas - with his superiority over his successor clear by the wording of it all - would have "done it on his own without the albatross of multilateralism around his neck" (as one pundit put it).

As the Internet amateurs and the ivory tower professionals continued their endless but ultimately meaningless war of words, the rest of the Multiverse reacted as well. In Universe ST-3, the whole thing escaped the notice of all save for victims of Orion slavery hearing reports of the few remaining fugitive slavers being found on Gilead and for those Klingons in or affiliated with the House of Lorakh, who upon hearing that one of the House's senior members - Ro'takh son of Kregoh - was trapped in Kalunda, immediately began to gather the funds and private forces to launch their own intervention, or more of a smash and grab, to either remove Ro'takh from the city or to flatten those threatening it (fortunately for the cause of keeping them from causing a diplomatic furor and/or other incidents, a blood feud between Ro'takh's brother and his brother-in-law would delay the project until it was too late to do anything).

The reaction in Universe EM-5 was similarly mute. A handful of Minbari scholars had barely avoided being caught in the trouble, but as they were not, the entire matter remained a show and nothing more.

The biggest reaction was in Universe AGC-1, known for it's alternate timeline where Germany and her allies won Archduke Ferdinand's War (otherwise known as the Great War of 1914, and better known to people of other universes as the First World War), which had the suitable mentality that the tale of civilized people besieged by savages threatening untold horrors upon them resonated with the tales of glory from the days of empire-building. Money was raised by the wealthy of many of the nations of the world, meant for rebuilding Kalunda or for, if necessary, funding a filibuster to lift the siege (a project that died when the intervention was announced on the siege's 30th day). Even then, two days after the announcement, Kaiser Friedrich V still proclaimed that he would award a prize of "ten thousand gold marks per man" for any group or military unit that lifted the siege of Kalunda before the city fell, "thus advancing the causes of Civilization and Christendom against the barbarism on that ill-named world.", and further offered a moderately substantial fraction of the Hohenzollern family's treasury to Princess Jhyaka itl dhin Intuit "for her great efforts on behalf of Civilization and proper religion". Tsar Nikolai VI of Russia went further, maintaining his pre-intervention announcement offer to "Our beloved and esteemed Brother" the Slavic Tsar Vladimir IV for the provision of Russian funds and troops to aid in the "pacification and civilizing of the barbarian worlds of Gilead".

And through it all, the great siege continued.....
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-03 10:16am

Written by Marina (And quite possibly with input from Chris Purnell)

DAY 37
Gilean Confederacy space,
aboard the SMS Kaiser Maximilian I.



Vizeadmiraal Philippe du Guise, Comte de Nancy, of a cadet line of the Dukes of Mayenne, was waiting for the Taloran commander, the Rear Admiral Halsina Ferasio utl Issimi (for such was her full clan name), Machioness itl Sapai. The Lady of the March was in fine form where here she might be judged by her peers, however alien, and she was received in a fashion fitting her own nobility by the punctilious and yet gracious Comte de Nancy, of the Grand Duchy of Lorraine which had been long before incorporated as a fief of the Empire after the destruction of the senior Guise line during the Wars of Religion.

The mission was of a diplomatic nature, and so while the Comte de Nancy's rank was greater than that of the Marchioness itl Sapai, her superiour title derived a certain degree of the informality of equals, though nothing that these two individuals did could possibly be described as genuinely informal. The Comte de Nancy's flag captain was Kapitän zur Raum Erzsebet Deak, who waited with her Admiral--a rarity among the Habsburgs, a female officer of the line--and the flagship to which the Marchioness itl Sapai arrived, by dint of her lesser naval rank a necessary courtesy, was the SMS Kaiser Maximilian I.

A bosun and pipes and an honour guard of Marines awaited her and her two aides, numbered so to be modestly less than her host's and also for her lesser rank, which was besides only a brevet. Nonetheless, the importance of her visit was clear in the fact that with the Admiral and the unusual flag captain were the full of the Admiral's staff.

“Permission to come aboard?”

“Permission is granted, Admiral of Sapai.”

And with that she saluted along with her aides in a flash of sabres. The address was correct in the German form, and graciously accepted. The ceremony was modest by Taloran standards, but spoke more of a lack of ostentation rather than discourtesy. The main fact of note was the fact that Halsina herself and the female member of her staff both considerably towered over the Habsburg Emperor's sailors, who were rather impressed by this fact. The officers, though equally dwarfed, shewed no outward sign of surprise, not even Erzsebet at the contrast between herself, the shortest of the lot, and her Taloran counterparts.

The Talorans, in their resplendent white uniforms with high domed and plumed helmets, looked very much like classic statuary, were it not for the longness and leanness of their features, and they carried themselves with a colourful grace amongst the officers of the house of Habsburg. Pleasantries consumed the first minutes of the encounter, gladly for all involved. They were in no hurry. Water and unleavened bread—the officers of the SMS Kaiser Maximilian I had made a few jokes about how they were reduced to Jewry by that, but it was necessary to avoid the danger that an unknown yeast might pose to the Taloran digestive system—were offered around in lieu of other items or a full dinner which were impractical due to the different physiologies, insomuch as both sides knew (supplements were available but not easily on hand on a military vessel). One thing, however, was quickly established as being safe to add: Wine, Italian, red, and of a truly excellent vintage.

Though a German ship was more likely to have a beer ration than a wine ration as the Spaniards might attest to the necessity of, wine was certainly available for the officers, and the one clear thing about the whole meeting was that neither the Talorans nor the Habsburgs had ever heard of Josephus Daniels. The room was ornate in its furnishings, which were exquisite, probably hand-crafted, and unique—except the ceiling, which had exposed piping and dull gray metallic paint, and served to remind everyone that they were still aboard a warship instead of a fine dining hall. The ship's band was in the room on the bandstand, playing out some airy and relaxing baroque tunes as background music for the affair.

“Admiral du Guise,” Halsina began at last, reaching the point where the meeting would move beyond pleasantries to the serious discussion at hand. Though even then, the frame of it was suitably laid-back. “Surely you have heard the excellent news which has come out of Gilead, that the city of Kalunda has been confirmed to stand the siege—by personal observation from nine days ago, and the sound of the guns to two days beyond that, only six days ago—and with it, information on the state of the defences which insures they still hold, and we have an excellent chance of reaching them in time? It is the most fortuitous occurrence of this intervention yet.”

“Ah, Your Ladyship,” du Guise began, a neutral expression on his face. “Were it only to be so, but I do not suggest your forces become to optimistic. There are serious issues with the advance on the capital, for the securing of security the territory of the Gilean Confederacy, and issues continuing with the government, which may offer vigorous resistance. We are at least two weeks from the relief of the city, by the considerations of my own staff.

“Though, of course, there is a good chance we will still get there in time. And certainly we have an interest in doing so. There are several subjects of His August Majesty who are trapped in the city as well, and the barbarian forces must absolutely be suppressed. Is it not incredible how the British and the Alliance can with straight faces say that this is an internal matter, that some of the hedonists have any particular rights? We are both from civilized peoples who hold a high esteem for culture, and of that, the peoples of Gilead have none. They are at the lowest and most savage rung of human development, and fundamentally artificial in every way.”

“A sad topic for discussion at a finely served table, if I may say, Admiral. But all of this is quite so. We are very aware of the fact that the relief of the city, due to political factors if nothing else, could take quite a lot of time. Even the Alliance is aware of this, with some dubious result...” Halsina's ears indicated a faint amusement at her choice of words there; though of course the humans were not skilled in reading such signs.

“Oh? Just what have they planned?” Admiral du Guise was quite interested now.

“I have it on good authority that their commanding officer of the expeditionary force they have sent intends to land a company or so of Marines onto the barbarian lines in a hot combat drop, and then have them push through the enemy into the city.”

“Why! Such a thing; that is at once audacity and stupidity,” the Admiral du Guise answered, expressing quite considerable surprise, which was genuine. “They want to land their forces directly on the siege lines of an army present in the hundreds of thousands? How many men?”

“At the most, two companies of Marines, albeit in full power-armour.”

“Against any other force, I would call it stupidity...”

“Admiral, Sir,” du Guise's chief of staff interjected: “I can see the success of such a plot.. But the risk is extremely great. And there is another consideration to be made. What is the intent of the Alliance forces in being the first to land troops on the capital planet? That is considerably suspicious to me.”

“Very suspicious indeed. Do you have any thousands, Your Ladyship?”

“It would certainly be a bold propaganda thrust as well, against the ambitions of the Hispanics and Slavians for the partition of Gilead, regardless of the agreements struck with the British. Worse, though, is what happens if the force loses. Why, for part of the intervention forces to be cut off and slaughtered by simple tribalists, on however of an ill-advised mission as it might be, would embolden the whole confederacy to armed resistance. Bloodshed could erupt at every point and our forces might be to thinly spread to reinforce the critical points. One massacre could result in a dozen.

“Which has brought me to an unfortunate conclusion, I fear. We must aide the Alliance forces.” She waited for the surprise to sink in: “We cannot stop them, so let us guide them instead. We will have them simply land in the city for reinforcements and supplies—their's and our's—and in doing such each of the involved multiversal powers will have sent a force of equal size. This will guarantee that the city holds, and if it has fallen, the craft can divert to East Port with the news of that loss, and land there to wait in that city, which is no longer threatened, for relief. Also, we will get command out of the hand of the Alliance and into a sturdier commander. What do you think, Admiral? It will be impartial, including all of the multiversal powers, which have no territorial aims here, and in doing so will preserve all mutual interests, equally, without advancing those of any particular group.”

“I think it is risky in the extreme,” Admiral du Guise answered. “Not because I think it will fail, but because I think it could have repercussions against negotations with the military government of General de la Hoya.”

“Perhaps that is not a bad thing,” Halsina replied politely. “We our only interested in recovering our personnel, so I have no compunction with recommending to you the fact that several of his immediate subordinates are strong partisans of the Catholic cause in the Confederacy. If he is replaced... Even if this splits the government forces and produces a three-sided civil war... It will be a benefit for your cause, and even if this simply turns the government against us, it will be smashed by main force and the Gileans will have no say in their own fate, which is also a gain to you, no matter how it is cut. De la Hoya is an Anglophile and we have no use of him.”

“I'd agree with Her Ladyship's assessment,” du Guise's Chief of Staff offered.

“But there is the issue of landing forces. We do not have the right equipment available for stealth insertion and a hot landing in this task force,” du Guise noted to Halsina.

“We can supply transportation for a company of Habsburg marines in addition to a company of Taloran marines,” she answered. “And I will insist as a term of the operation that the Alliance only uses a single company as well, with their spare transports used for equipment and supplies which will be needed to help keep the city alive until it is relieved, instead, since the goal of the landing will not be a hot-drop but simply the insertion of reinforcements to the garrison of the city.”

“I am inclined to support this plan, but under no circumstances will troops of His August Majesty be integrated into the command structure of a barbarian force, under the directions of a barbarian and heathen tribal chief,” by which du Guise meant King Julio, “Your Ladyship. Such a thing as that would be simply unacceptable to us.”

“Then let the reinforcements be commanded by a Major of your Marines,” Halsina answered. “Certainly, I am sure you have a sufficiently competent or even brilliant star of an officer prepared to risk his life in an endeavour so glorious as this one.”

“Admiral, Major Joachim Ewing, the commander of this ship's Fleet Marine Force battalion,” Kapitän zur Raum Erzsebet Deak spoke up after being silent since the serious talk began, though she'd proved quite the amusing raconteur at table, no doubt a skill developed to keep up with the more bawdy men of the mess in her younger days, “Was promoted directly to Captain from Second Lieutenant for his work in the action on Erasam during the relief of the garrison, so he has experience with this sort of operation, very successful despite long odds against a far harder foe, Sir. He earned the Military Order of Maria Theresa there as well; it was no small feat.”

“So we have a suitable officer.” du Guise looked back to Halsina: “Your Ladyship, you are willing to have a Habsburg officer command your forces?”

“The company, certainly, and we will help you to get the Alliance to agree to that. However, once inside the city, we propose a solution to guarantee their autonomy, while having the proper respect for rank. Let us cut orders to this Major Ewing, directing him to receive instructions for the operation of what will be I suppose an ersatz battalion, only from the Princess of the Lesser Intuit herself. She is now an active-duty Brigadier in our own army, and certainly for a Major of your nation to take orders directly from a Brigadier of our's is a perfectly acceptable arrangement, which shall exclude them entirely from the chain of command of the barbarians.”

“We appear to have reached a deal, if the Alliance can be compelled to agree and accept these terms for their own operation.”

“I am certain that they can be, Admiral. They have trapped themselves in their own willingness to send such a force.”

“Excellent, then.” du Guise turned to his flag captain: “Captain Deak, would you send for Major Ewing, please?”

“Of course, Admiral," she answered, and spoke briefly into a portable comlink unit.

A few minutes later Major Joachim Ewing arrived in the room. He was surprisingly on the dark side—definitely caucasian nonetheless, but rather Mediterranean—for his name. He was also surprisingly short; only 5'4”. But every single of him seemed to be solid corded muscle of immense strength, and his harshly chiseled face had several scars on it, which seemed a fine mix of dueling scars and scars from combat shrapnel. He had a long but thin waxed mustachio and his hair was exceptionally close-cropped, and despite his extremely muscular and incredibly fit form, looked rather dapper in the uniform of a Major of the Marines. All in all, lack of height or not, he was no man to be trifled with, and at once on arriving came to attention stiffly and saluted.

“Sirs!”

“Major Ewing,” Admiral du Guise turned to him. “On the recommendation of the commander of your ship, I have decided to select you for command of a multinational battalion consisting of one company each of our troops, and those of the Taloran Empress and Alliance of Democratic Nations, along with considerable supplies, for the purpose of being sent by stealth insertion into the city of Kalunda to guarantee it is held until major forces can arrive for its relief. You will be sole commander in the operation, and our troops will be carried on Taloran assault boats. Once in the city, however, you will be operating under written orders to place yourself under the command of the Brigadier Jhayka, Princess of the Lesser Intuit, and no other, without exception, and to operate under her command to insure that the city is held at all costs.”

“I understand those orders,” Major Ewing answered with a stiff voice and confident that sound that made it seem like the dangers involved were nothing at all to him, “Admiral, and I fully believe they can be executed successfully, if by God's grace. May I select personally the Marine company of our forces that shall be used, Sir?”

“By all means, Major.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I shall do that at once. When must be ready to depart for this operation?”

“When can you have the company and your staff ready?”

“Tomorrow at 0500 hundred hours,” Major Ewing answered simply, causing a stir that he expected he could be prepared in so little time, a mere fifteen hours as a matter of fact.

But Admiral du Guise and his flag captain had confidence in him, and so they did not dispute the short time he expected to require, even if they were dubious of it. “Very well, Major. We will expect you to be ready then. God's mercy to you on this mission. You are dismissed.”

“Admiral!” to the rest: “Sirs.” He saluted, and then with a surprising bit of cavalier dash, clicked his heels and bowed to the Taloran ladies, before spinning on heel and marching out, as disciplined as he had entered. The expedition was on.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-04 05:33am

The Henley Mountains

DAY 34



The sun was high in the sky as Sara and her entourage trotted along on their mounts, following a mountain path to one of the flat plateaus that existed in the midst of the mountains, where the Thantian clans kept their villages. Andrew and Cera MacCulloch had rifles slung over their shoulders, while Sara was unarmed save for her sword on her hip, a pistol on the other hip, and most importantly, the War Leader's Signet hanging from her neck.

There was a beep in Sara's coat pocket and she took out an instrument. It told her there were life signs in the bushes about ten meters away, two of them. She nodded to Andrew and Cera, who readied their guns but did not aim, as she trotted forward a bit. "Come out, Thantians, I know you are there." When there was no reply, Sara put her hand on the Signet and lifted it up. "I, the War Leader of the clans of the Thantians, order you to come out!"

This time they did slip out, a brown-haired woman of powerful build with a scarred face that marred what would have been a lovely face otherwise, and a younger and thinner man of nearly-white blond hair, both armed with bows that had arrows in them and with hatchets dangling from their hips. They were adorned in furs from the Gilean wolves that lived amongst them in the mountains, though Sara knew that underneath they likely had linen undergarments, as there were plants in the mountains that made soft and more comfortable clothing.

The young man began to string an arrow in his bow, but the woman's blue eyes focused on the Signet and suddenly grabbed the man's arm, forcing him to bow with her. He gave her an irritated look as she said, "War Leader, we have long awaited you return."

Sara nodded. "I intend to hold a Gathering, at the Great Clearing in the shadows of Mount Odin. Run to your clan and tell them this. Then have all the clans told. We meet in four days."


The Great Clearing

DAY 38



It was almost dusk when the last of Clan Rotan arrived at the Great Clearing, a field of hardy mountain grass - almost a meadow - on the flat summit of one of the smaller mountains in the Henley range. The massive, thick summit of Mount Thor and the accompanying higher peak of Mount Odin hung in the background, snowcapped and majestic, as Sara ascended a set of stones to address the clans. She had again shed her customary clothing, wearing the thick furs of the Thantians that warmed her against the bitter chill of the high mountains. Her faced was unpainted, but from her neck still hanged the Signet of the War Leader, and her sword was clasped in her right hand, held as if it were the lightest stick in Sara's arm. There were hushed whispers, as Sara Proctor, the outsider who defeated Sariya the Strong in single combat for the life of Tessa Stuart, looked down upon them. The old looked in awe at her, remembering her from when they were young people or even children, and shocked to see she was as young as she had been in those days long gone by. All bowed, seeing her continued youth and convinced that she was indeed Divine, imbued with the power of the Gods and sent to guide them to victory over their accursed foes.

"Clans of the Thantians, I have returned for a purpose!" Sara bellowed, no longer having a stereo system to help communicate to the hundreds before her, who would pass it on to the estimated thousands of Thantians still in their assembled villages around the Clearing. "The time has come for the defeat of your hated enemies! The Normans are locked in combat against the city of Kalunda, and in doing so have displeased the Gods with their arrogance and enraged the Star Peoples! The Kalundans fight, blessed by the Gods with strength beyond their numbers, and even now they slaughter your enemies and their accursed allies in defense of their land! The Normans, to win against Kalunda, have called every warrior, nearly every man of age, to their siege, and in doing so have left their heartland defenseless! The Gods have ordained the time to strike as now, for with victory we will vanquish the Norman threat forever!"

Sara, as she had done a week before at Artemisia, pulled up her blade and ran it across her hand enough to cut the skin, allowing her blood to drip on the rocks. "I know you fear the Star Peoples, that they will overwhelm and destroy you! I give my sacred oath, with my blood, to the clans and to the Gods that I will protect you from them! I will win your rights here or I will grant you lands of my own, on a world under my command, where you will live as you have right to, and finally free from the fear of the Normans! You will be my vassals, and I your liege, as it is now, and you will serve in my armies when called upon, learning the ways of fighting used by the Star Peoples to protect your new lands! Now, come with me! Fight bravely, and with the favor of the Gods we will reach the gates of Ar!"

A roar left the assembled men and women, the leaders and great figures of the dozen or so Thantian clans and dozens more tribes that they made up, and swords, javelins, and other assorted weapons were raised high. Sara raised her's as well, smiling widely. Now all that remained as to descend from the mountains and rendezvous with the army at Thentis.....


East Bank of the Henley River, Northern Norman Frontier


The small village burned brightly, it's remaining occupants having fled at the onrushing of the Valley armies which had promptly set fire to the place as part of the scorched earth campaign to be waged against the Normans.
Displeased with this was William, standing beside Lisa Spinozi with his weapons ready, as her binoculars scanned the northern horizon. "Why are we burning villages? The fighting men are gone, all down south, there was no need for this."

"We're doing this as part of a greater plan, William," Lisa told him. "All of Norman society is guilty of this war, and now we must show them what it means. It's easy for them to support fighting when it's other peoples' homes getting destroyed, but when it's their's?"
"I know, I know," William huffed. He brought up his own binoculars and looked northward.
After a few moments he saw the Zhai cavalry patrols racing over a hill. They were raising a red flag - the agreed upon signal of the approach of enemy forces. William looked to Lisa, who picked up a microphone that would link her to the camp's stereo system. "All forces stand ready, enemy forces approaching! Everyone to arms!"

The core of the army, being the Zhai, the men with Sara, and the standing militias of the Valley, were the first to respond. The Horse Guard lined up in formation, Mei Li and Dao Zi in their places, while William and Lisa joined the riflemen in formation with the pikeline of the militias as they formed up, pulling their body armor on as they moved.

The scouts returned to their places as the first horses rose to the ridge. The green banner of the al-Farani, complete with the crescent moon symbol of Islam, appeared first, in the hands of one of the horsemen as the army of light cavalry rose over the hill. They were decently numerous, though none appeared to have guns, only swords and bows, wearing mostly metal breastplates with leather or other tough material for protection. A shout of "Allahu Ackbah!" echoed in the air, from a multitude of voices, as the horse-riders rode forth to smite the hated kufr.

William steeled himself and checked the ammunition in his gun before bringing it up and putting his finger on the trigger guard. All of his militia training and further training upon arriving on Illustrious came to mind as he leveled his weapon at the al-Farani. The expeditionary unit's SAWs opened first, laying down a wall of solid steel that ripped through horse and human flesh. The cries and whinnies of the horses and their riders filled the air, but for the moment the al-Farani pressed on, taking losses as they did.

But only for a moment, before they pulled back - partially in surprise to the presence of modern arms in the Valley's Army - to rain arrows on William and his troops. They would not get the chance, however, as a fierce war cry left Mei-Li's throat, sending the Zhai Horse Guard charging forward in their armor, swords and spears raised, the Zhai shouting at their long-time foes. As had happened many times before in the history of the Primitive Zone's Eastern Region, the light cavalry of the Zhai and the al-Farani met in fierce battle. Blood spilled, flesh was ripped, as arrows were exchanged and then range was closed so that sword and spear could rend enemies.

The Zhai, however, were not attacking to decisively win, but as part of a greater plan, which was revealed as soon as they backed off. The al-Farani, disorganized, started to chase the Zhai, thinking they had managed to win despite the parity of numbers, when they rode into a crossfire of the automatic weapons and machine guns set up by the expeditionary forces from Sara's Ducal Guard. Bullets flew from all directions, ripping through flesh, organ, and bone, and some of the al-Farani and their mounts were nearly ripped apart by the barrage of steel.

Some survivors managed to slip free of the crossfire to run, but they ran into another wall of Zhai cavalry and infantry who, with spears raised, met them and stopped them in their tracks, allowing the infantry armed with blades and even household weapons to strike them down. A cheer rose from the assembled as the Army of the Valley won it's first victory, with all of it's casualties being amongst the Zhai who had charged the al-Farani.

William joined in the celebrations, cheering while feeling the adrenaline rush from victory, but his reaction sobered swiftly when he saw Mei-Li's body being carried toward the mobile clinic Sara had brought. "Mei-Li!" he shouted, running up to her and the two Zhai Horse Guards carrying her. They shouted at him in Chinese, pushing him away, while William could see the arrow embedded in her chest in the area of her heart, and a bloody gash from a sword having nearly opened her belly up.



Dark had fallen, and the army was in place with increased patrols should more al-Farani cavalry come in. The decision had been made to not march until first light to give time for people to recover from the battle and for the wounded to be tended to. William had spent the night in strategy sessions with Dao Zi, Lisa Spinozi, and Major Harold Winston, the Ducal Guard officer who had requested "leave" to accompany Sara. Thentis was still days away, and by now Sara was to have brought together the Thantians of the mountains to attack it. They would have to hasten their march to get there on time, as the fall of Thentis would be necessary to advance into the Norman heartland.

After the meeting William tried to rest, but couldn't for concern of Mei-Li. He had only heard he had been returned to her tent, and he wanted to see her now that she had partially healed.
Slipping out of his tent, he made his way to her's, raised just high enough that he could stand inside of it. A wooden table supported her armor and weapons, and golden silk robes were strewn about her. Mei-Li was checking her wound when she heard William enter, turning to face him. A white bandage was over her heart and across her belly, covering the cuts in her flesh. William almost retreated out of habit upon seeing Mei-Li's nakedness, which she did nothing to obstruct. "William? You have never come to me this late before."
"I wanted to see if you were okay," William said, walking forward and allowing their eyes to meet. He brought up a hand, which she took and brought up to her cheek. "I... I was afraid for you today. You were almost killed."
"The arrow missed my heart. I live." Mei-Li smiled at him. "Death is as natural as life, William. You must not fear it."

"I don't fear it, not like that. But I feared losing you before I..." William lowered his eyes. "Before I found the courage to break free of what was keeping me from you."
Mei-Li's hands touched him on the jaw, prompting his eyes to come up again. "Did you come here because you wanted to make love, William?"
"I did."
"Then, come to my mattress, and we will," she replied matter-of-factly, with far less weight to it than William gave, as her people equally believed in sex as being natural to human beings.
She went to undress him, but before she could William took her and kissed her, wanting to feel what it felt like. He enjoyed what he found, and let the night proceed from there.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-05 09:46am

Co-written between Marina and myself.


DAY THIRTY-EIGHT
THE CITY OF KALUNDA



The dawn over the city of Kalunda revealed an unusual horror. Both sides were of course recovering from the intensity of the actions of the night before. The allies were victorious, but on the Kalundan side, the celebration was in the fact that the city had survived at all, rather than being overthrown by the strategem of the Stirlins. It looked to be another day of the methodical horror of the siege beginning. But the allied guns were silent. Soon the Kalundans found out why.

The allies had of course begun to deploy mechanical bomb-throwers in the style of the Kalundan ones for the trench-work, simple catapults, really, which threw heavy explosive bombs on short and high arcs. Now they were put to work for a more sinister purpose. They were flinging heads. Lots of them. For some thirty minutes severed head after severed head was sent flying into the Kalundan lines. Twenty-six hundred in all, a veritable barrage of the grotesque remnants of human beings, faces frozen in looks of resignation or rictus of agony.

The news reached Jhayka at breakfast. She simply nodded when she heard it, and didn't even stop eating, that is, until Ilavna Lashila seemed on the verge of an hysteric fit. “Stop your self-recrimination, girl. If it had not been for you, we would have not saved the eleven hundred that we received safely back here from the allies as part of the cover for their strategem. That the remaining two thousand-and the six hundred or so taken prisoner in the chaos and confusion last night-were executed, particularly in such a grusome way,” for their heads had been sawed off slowly while they still lived, probably at the suggestion of the al-Farani, who favoured such executions, “is something that we cannot stop. The city survived, and a thousand people live because of you who would otherwise be doomed; save that you also saved the whole rest of the city with your mission as well. So it was not a failure at all but a great success.”

Ilavna was silent for a long time, picking through her food. She had lost her appetite where Jhayka no longer could. At last, she spoke: “What will you do to the Norman prisoners now that they have committed this offence against your honour?” For in Taloran terms the slaughter of the soldiers under a noble's command, when they had been prisoners, was a direct offence not against merely the laws of morality, but a calculated insult toward the honour of the noble who had commanded them, saying that she was powerless to protect those to whom she had a duty to defend and uphold the rights thereof. And Ilavna could sense in Jhayka an abiding rage so intense that it had transformed itself from her own frenetic energy into a kind of terrible calm.

“Oh, oh. I will kill them, alright. As soon as I am finished eating. Honestly, it is only the mechanics of it which gives me pause; I must kill twenty-thousand men quickly, and decisively, and yet with some mercy, for the sake of my soul; and yet in full view of them to ensure that they know that we have retaliated.... Ahhh, I have it. An ironic method, also, for a noble lady. But it is the one that we have available.” She smiled coolly. “May the Sword of the Lord of Justice be waiting to crush their souls down into chaos before they even reach the underworld.”

In this, Jhayka referenced the cosmology of the Farzian religion, whereupon Hell itself might be cleansed by the legions of the Just, and thereby the souls of the Damned flung down into the formless void of the pre-creation era, beyond even the reach of Idenicamos, surrounded by shapeless chaos, thinking but never able to focus on a single thing; an exquisite madness for eternity. That was the final fate of the minions of the Deceiver, when he was to be overthrown in the cosmic battle at the end of the universe. But skirmishing, challenge and conflict went on before this, and so Jhayka hoped to see this reinforcements to the Deceiver crushed down by Valera before they even found themselves in the cruel slavery of Idenicamos' legions in the spirit world, forced to toil and to fight for the Master of Lies and the creator of Evil.

“Honour leaves no choice, so they all must die,” she finished softly. “I will let their life's blood mingle with the flow of the river, and run it red with their blood, and show to them how little esteem I hold for the lives of barbarians.”

Ilavna swallowed, trembling. “You'll do it swiftly?”

“Barges, ten of the grain barges we've emptied along the water-front. Two thousand packed onto each. Rig the perimeter with claymores and other anti-personnel mines and the bottoms with heavy scuttling charges. Slay them with the claymores and drown the survivors. Quick as it can be done. We'll float them downstream on timers, and that will prevent them from assaulting upriver again, anyway, with such obstacles on the bottom.”

“The humans may hate you, even if every Taloran will know why you do this.”

“Then let them hate me. I am not going to feed them; neither shall I torture them and then release them. Nor shall I give my enemy strength. So I will put them to death as quickly as can be done, even at the cost of some hundreds of pounds of explosives and a few hundred mines.” Jhayka finished eating and rose, Ilavna following out of habit. “Please stay away, Ilavna. I will need you to remind me that what I did was my duty, later, when I return; and I will need you to make sure Danielle is destracted and does not come down to the river-front. There is no need for you to see this ghastly business, so I command you to do as I say.”

“And I obey, Your Highness,” Ilavna bowed deeply and turned away. Jhayka spoke after her: “The Lord will, I am sure, judge the righteousness of my actions, in the survival of the city and of those I love;” and then she strode off and left Ilavna to do the same.

On the banks of the River Kalunda, the allies reveled in their victory, and in the hideous gift that they had delivered up to the Kalundan lines, with the bodies of the executed now having been raised, headless, like horrible battle-standards along their own siege-lines to further demoralize the Kalundan defenders. Only a single defensive line to the south of the city stood between them and the factories in the suburbs which churned out the ammunition which allowed the city of Kalunda to continue to battle so confidently and to meet each attack with massed firepower without fear of want.

Nobody noticed the movements on the river at first. The allies were concentrating on firing a powerful artillery barrage into the city to drive home the point of the humiliation and the terror of the executions. Then someone noted the barges drifting downstream, unescorted. An artillery commander decided to fire at them out of his own initiative in amusement at the convenient target, or perhaps expecting some kind of trap to emanate from them against the lines. Soon, high-explosive shells were splashing down around the barges and some crashed upon them as well.

At that point, men along the lines, close to the shore, made a horrifying discovery. The barges were packed with men, and the shots which exploded amongst them were spreading gore and shredded body-parts. The men were of course their own, packed onto the barges like sardines and restrained with chains about them. The news spread quickly; the Ubar Park personally and angrily ordered the artillery to cease firing and sacked the commander of the regiment that had started firing along with those commanders who had joined him for their stupidity and lack of foresight. It had been bad enough that the strategem of the night before had failed, though it had actually increased the morale of the troops for they had never known of it, and to them, they had simply taken another defensve line, cheaply.

Then he rushed to the river personally to try and do something. In his arrogance, he could not fathom that it was already to late. He got there just in time to see it demonstrated to him, and with his staff and servants and lackeys of the government standing around him, had rushed down to the beach along the Kalunda when, before them, the mines along the barges exploded. With binoculars the sight was sickening and even for the naked eye the flying body parts in great masses could be seen as the decks of the barges were transformed into a series of charnel houses.

Park watched in disbelief. He had never imagined that the Kalundans, the cowardly hedonists of old who when led by a twisted woman of the Star Peoples had only barely shown any courage, could sanction such a thing. After the prisoner exchange, he had even thought less of the Talorans... And now he knew he had been wrong. The ruse had not been his; it had been their's, a triumphant and devious trick to draw them out into somehow exposing their plan to burn the city with oil on the river-through a method he still knew not, but they had surely discovered it-and now, with the cease-fire having accomplished its purpose, and having saved the city, they had done as a true Norman would have.

What happened next was inevitable, and expected. Thirty seconds after the mines detonated, the scuttling charges followed them. They were now powerful; it was merely sufficient that the barges should tilt and, in a couple of minutes, sink beneath the river in a twisted mass of metal and shattered bodies. The water was already turning red, and the dye of blood was drifting further down, in more and more quantities, now joined by many shredded bodies and sundered body-parts. It was a hideous display, and none could hide it from the soldiers along the lower river, and none could stop the tales of it which spread along the lines.

Before noon, the allies, thinking themselves on the verge of victory, were at once humiliated and demoralized at the deaths of their comrades held prisoner, but also enraged by them. This was now a war to the death for all involved; not even the women of Kalunda would be likely to survive the sack, even as slaves. No mercy would be asked for by either side, and none would be given. But worse for the allies was yet to come on that day, and the Lord would pronounce judgement upon Jhayka's act thusly.


DAY THIRTY-EIGHT
On the Siege Lines
Outside of Kalunda.



“The forces under the command of that damned Proctor have penetrated our territory,” Carlis Park snarled to the Emir and Warleader Erqui. “I have no more reinforcements to bring forward to my armies here at the city—let alone reinforcements to send to General Neguib at East Port! And with government troops entering the fight..” He was flustered by witnessing Jhayka's dispatching of the prisoners earlier that day. Their chances for success seemed to be fading fast.

“We can send our old-age and youth cadres to reinforce the siege lines here,” Warleader Erqui answered without further comment. “This city will be, regardless of what others may say, the point of decision. However, this General Neguib—a tech worlder himself—is absolutely correct in the evaluation that we must send more forces to the defensive lines above East Port to prevent a breakout by the government forces. Are you sure you can spare none?”

The three leaders shared a moment of surly silence. The alliance had not been closer to breaking since the Amazons had split... And that was the point which now came to Carlis Park's mind. The Amazons... “Perhaps only against the damnable Proctor I could scrape together some reinforcements. But there's the fact that a major army, the army of the Amazon defectors, is loose. I can't free up more than two or three thousand men to add to the lines at Kalunda when I'm guarding against them as well as Proctor's tribes!”

Erqui nodded gravely, bowing his head slightly, and then looked to the Emir. “Your own old-age and youth cadres are posted guarding the border with the Sedavanticists. Surely they would have moved against us by now if they were planning on doing so; they are not. Send them to reinforce General Neguib at East Port, along with whatever other troops you can scrape up or compel out of the local tribes between your people and that city, and your other tribute states. In this way you can, I believe, reinforce Neguib sufficiently to give him a chance to repulse the government's assault which is building there.”

“Do you not also remember that troops from Berglund, after the coup there, are headed to East Port as well?” The Emir shot back. “Furthermore, Warleader, if I were to denude the border of defences against the Sedavanticists, then I would be exposing the whole of the Emirate to their armies! All would be lost; they would certainly take advantage of that chance to advance into our territory to put the people of the faith to the sword in the name of their falsehoods.”

“You have advanced to much in your military knowledge,” Erqui answered, transforming a compliment almost into an insult. “Your Excellency, you are forgetting that the Sedavanticists have no modern weapons, and your cities have strong walls yet. Furthermore, do you not recall the basic preparations which all of our peoples make against the prospect of siege? Even with all the supplies being sent to this army, you certainly have enough for several months in your cities as it is. Just as you can last out winter with the fruits of the harvest, so you can last out sieges by the Sedavanticists even if they last until autumn, with the fruits of your own granaries.

"By that point, at any rate, we will be able to return with our main force to relieve your cities, and to break the Sedavanticists, to crush them, and free up your remaining forces to disperse with the rest of us to fight a guerrilla campaign against the tech worlders. The rules of primitive war still remain true for a conflict between your rear-guard—though it is better armed now, fortuitously—and the Sedavanticists. There is a reason they have never had a decisive conflict with you, nor you with them. Wait them out, as your forefathers did in the past, and we will be victorious. If we do not reinforce Neguib, than all shall certainly be lost. We have no choice.”

“Very well,” the Emir sighed. “If you are sending another Brigade here, Ubar, and you, Warleader, are sending all of your reserves as you can, then I can send all of my remaining forces to Neguib and pray to God that he wills it enough for Neguib, who is at least also faithful, for him to hold. If he does not, then God has doomed this war from the start, and that is simply His Will. I will issue the orders at once.”

It was with some relief that the meeting was ended, the Ubar Park heading immediately to issue orders to send a token reinforcement brigade—of the worst troops left in the territory of the Norman Empire, no less—to Kalunda. All the rest were to be concentrated to meet the army of Sara Proctor, save those dedicated to beefing up patrols against the Amazon army of Leeasa Avrila, which had simply disappeared into the vastness of the mountains, a dangerous undertaking even in summer—hopefully half of them were dead, but they had given the Ubar an excuse to conserve his precious troop strength, and to possibly inflict a real defeat upon Proctor, saving the Norman heatland from being ravaged even as the al-Farani heartland would now be ravaged no matter what, even if their cities were safe. The Ubar might have enjoyed that continued opportunity for Norman ascendancy when the fighting was over, but of course there was no time for that. Instead, he had to meet with his staff to begin planning the next stages of the assault on Kalunda, just as the other leaders of their alliance would be doing the moment their own orders from the meeting were cut, as well.



D.N.S. Condoleeza Rice CVS-19, Collinfield, Gilean Confederacy

DAY THIRTY-SEVEN



MacCallister and her staff had met yet again with Admiral itl Sapai, who had brought word of the Hapsburgs' intentions to participate in the operation and their position that instead of a hot-drop on enemy troops the bolstering forces should simply be sent directly into the city, along with their candidate for overall command of the force, Major Johann Ewing. MacCallister had informed them that the plan had already been changed for that, showing them the latest intel from the orbital photography of the Kalunda area by "Naval Intel" and the unanticipated strength of air defense and enemy artillery fire.

"Our plan from Colonel Chamberlain, currently, is to use Marine F/A-37Cs from the Smedley Butler to distract and damage enemy air-defense capabilities while our transports conduct high-acceleration straight-drops into Kalunda proper," MacCallister informed Halsina and Ewing. "This way we minimize the risk of enemy AD still striking our transports and we avoid all the problems with the hot-drop that we originally discussed last week. We are prepared to dispatch two companies of the Marine 24th Recon Battalion to equal the commitment from your forces, Admiral."

Halsina was as tired as she could be, having traveled to the two different flagships in a period of hours, and it was very late into the night. Major Ewing wasn't showing it, of course, despite his efforts to organize things before this meeting the ADN had demanded being almost frantic in the haste which had been required. She nodded, her ears lowered pensively to horizontal at the sides. "Admiral, what's the list strength of one of your companies? I'll be honest and say I don't have that data on hand, and it's important to consider for the optimization of the force structure. We're already trying to put together command and support groups--the first Habsburg, the second, Taloran. I'll get to the issue of the airstrike in a moment."

MacCallister looked to Major Ngube. "One of our Recon Battalion companies has one hundred and forty Marines, divided into three platoons of four squads apiece plus company level support."

"That makes perfect sense, then, as I understand it, Major..?" Halsina glanced to the short but crisp Joachim Ewing, who nodded once. "Yes, Your Ladyship. We can integrate four companies in total if the Alliance companies are of that size. Our battalion command structure can handle it easily enough."

"That's agreed to, then," Halsina allowed. "Which I suppose brings us to the support issue. We were thinking ourselves of a quiet insertion--well, at least to the planetary atmosphere, and then high-speed before landing. If we have air support.. That can either be very useful, or simply lose us the element of surprise."

"Our reconassiance has confirmed that the government has no facilities in the central desert of the Primitive Zone continent and that the primitives' air defense units are focused to the south and east, in the direction of East Port and the ocean. Our craft could make atmospheric ingress over the desert and be at attack speed and vector to assault the siege forces from their air defense's blind side just before our transport make insert. The enemy has no way of knowing if the airstrike is a diversion, as it will be, or our attempt to diminish their forces against Kalunda to buy time for our troops, and by the time they realize what's happening the transports will be landing in Kalunda."

"Assuming they cannot reorient the defensive anti-aircraft fire," Halsina answered. "Missiles especially can simply turn in flight to come about and smash up the attack even if the launchers are, in fact, oriented toward the south and east. Don't forget also the dividend of stupidity. These savages will be relying entirely on the computers, and the computers will follow instructions exactly--which means they will most likely engage any attack. I'm not sure if you want that or not but you must be aware that some of your pilots could be lost in numbers at the very least."
"As a worst-case estimate, Admiral," Major Ewing added, "we were expecting to lose 20% of the force before landing. An operation like this without extensive planning is usually very costly. It's a roll of the dice as to if your operational plans would reduce that chance, or do nothing to alter it. Either way, though, I'll support it; I don't see it being worse, from my experience."
Halsina frowned slightly at this and her ears dropped a notch but she didn't contradict the Major.

MacCallister kept a stoic look on her face. "We're aware of the presence of missile launchers, but the further they are from our craft, the more time they have to evade, which was the basis of our consideration. When it comes down to it, a fighter has two people in it, while the transports will each have dozens, as well as critical supplies for the city. Our pilots are good, among the best in the Alliance, and the enemy's going to have a hell of a time bringing them down in some of our most advanced aerospace fighters."
"As for your concern about the element of surprise, we could try to time the operation so that the transports are already coming down when the fighters strike, hoping to throw the enemy into maximum confusion. But as it is, the enemy will not specifically know what our intention is; and may treat the airstrike as their primary target until our forces are already landing and it is too late to engage."

"Very well." Halsina, like many Taloran commanders, didn't seem much inclined to rely on notes during briefings. It was probably a cultural thing, and she seemed able to remember her topics of objection after that, as well: "What of the transports themselves? Will we try to extricate them, or will they be abandoned in the city and their crews join the defensive lines?"

"Extrication will depend on how fast they can get unloaded. We could have a second airstrike en route, timed to arrive when they've reasonably completed unload, to further distract enemy AD. The enemy cannot afford to fire all their anti-air missiles or artillery at our transports to reveal their positions to our fighters after all. Another option is that our troops could always drop out of the craft without the transports landing, cutting the time they need to exit the planet. Supplies could also be packed into droppable container pods and ejected at a safe altitude to prevent enemy fire from striking them."

"A second airstrike might give enough time for the planetary defensive forces to respond against it," Halsina said, appearing for the moment to have done as she had before, simply raise objections. But then she smiled sort of vaguely. "Let's suppress their defensive fire for longer, instead. I recommend using a few low-yield nuclear devices, preferably neutron weapons, as high altitude airbursts over concentrations of opportunity well to the enemy's rear, where, combined with the lack of fallout, they will not pose any threat to the defenders. We can toss another few at very high altitude to produce electromagnetic pulse and generally confuse--and possibly terrify--the enemy. For maximum effect that would recommend the attack arriving in... Another thirty Terran hours from now. Somewhat pre-dawn. We won't likely do much damage to the forces around the city, as they should mostly be concentrated close to the city, but we can certainly suppress them and generally demoralize them with such a display, and perhaps disable their artillery."

It was Yamashita who, after looking to MacCallister, spoke up. "We've received directives from the Ministry of Defense not to engage in heavy bombardment of the besiegers at Kalunda and to not use nuclear weapons. The Foreign Ministry's people say it will destroy our chance to negotiate the cooperation of de la Hoya's forces and could lead to him resisting our intervention."
"My hands are thus tied," MacCallister said, smiling thinly. "Though naturally our Ministry of Defense has no authority over your forces, Admiral." That brought another ill glance from Yamashita. "If you decide to engage in such an bomb attack, I see no problem in taking advantage of it for the purpose of our overall operation."

The Taloran Marchioness and the Habsburg Major exchanged a glance with each other, knowingly, really. Then Halsina looked back to Admiral MacCallister and allowed a very thin smile, was really quite broad in fact, her ears raising. "Admiral, it is not Taloran government policy to place any particular restraints on the weapons used for any particular operation. We would consider that.. Quite odd, to say the least. Indeed, I've not heard of such a procedure. We only have such weapons as are banned outright--which consists exclusively of contagions--as naturally impermissable to conflict. At any rate, that considered.. I suggest that we operate under NBC procedures. The assault ships are armed, after all, and their pilots will be operating under our usual permissive instructions."

"That is quite alright. Usually it's not a problem for us either," MacCallister remarking, noticing what looked like a mix of contempt and humor in the reaction to their restrictions, "but this entire intervention is under intense scrutiny from Washington, and our government is working hard to get de la Hoya on board so that the intervention can be concluded swiftly."
"I suggest that the operation be launched in accordance with Admiral Halsina's time-frame," Admiral Yamashita concurred. "That will give us more time to get any updates to intel and to prepare for the attack."
"I accept the recommendation," MacCallister agreed. "Major Ngere, Major Ewing, do you concur?"

"The more coordination time the better," Joachim Ewing answered simply, and then ceded the floor, as it were, to Major Ngere.
"Major Ewing is right. We'll need time to update mission briefings to the troops," Ngere responded.
"Then we are at D minus thirty hours. Very well, gentlemen, I want everything readied for the reinforcement operation to be commenced in thirty hours. That will be all." MacCallister's nods prompted her staff to begin to disperse. "Admiral," she said to Halsina, "if you might stay a moment?"


"Certainly," Halsina answered politely, looking to MacCallister. She wanted nothing more than to return to her own flagship and sleep, but that simply wasn't an option at the moment, and it would probably only take a few minutes, anyway.


Everyone had filtered out of the room, leaving the two commanders alone. MacCallister kept her hands behind her back, a disciplined gaze on Halsina. "I know you want to get back to your ship to sleep, so I'll be brief. I'm no fool, Admiral. You used my meeting to sound out for any plans I had, and then you shared them with the Hapsburg commander for the intentional purpose of hijacking the operation and imposing a commander on us. I know you don't trust us, and from what material I've been able to read from the Talorans, including some on you, I'm quite sure you have nothing but contempt for my government and the nations that make it up, and are undoubtedly convinced that we pose a future threat to your Empire.

And when it comes down to it, your opinions are your's to keep, and I don't give a damn what you think of me, of my government, or of the Constitution and ideals I've sworn to defend. The only thing I care about is relieving Kalunda, ending this stupid civil war, and saving the lives of innocent people, and that's why I'm letting you and the Hapsburgs hijack my operation, because we'll do that faster and with less bloodshed if we work together instead of trying to one-up one another.

Perhaps the next time you wish to run off and undermine me, you should remember that if I did have ulterior motives in this operation, I would never have told you, I simply would have launched it myself without informing anyone. I told you because I genuinely believed that having the Taloran and Hapsburg forces on board would guarantee success and raise morale for the people in the siege. You went and exploited that to seize control of the ground force from a damned fine commander. The onus of that is on you."

Halsina shook her head slightly, and the faintest trace of a sigh was allowed as she turned away from MacCallister--which was not an intentional snub, to a Taloran, anyway. She might be offended by it... The Marchioness' ears lowered, and she spoke heavily. "I don't doubt your officer is competent. But I only offered the position of command to the Habsburgs to guarantee that they would, in fact, participate in the operation. I was deeply worried that the coalition could collapse if any one of the extrauniversal powers were to launch the attack by themselves, or in combination, to the exclusion of another. Now, the complaints of all--British, Hispanic, Slavian, and so on, can be met by a united front. Admiral du Guise will take his allies to task for protesting, if they do. That was worth it to me. I saw this as a necessary act to balance the alliance, and also to relieve the city." She paused for a moment, there.

"Admiral... I don't think you understand some of the issues at stake here with the Princess Jhayka. My people haven't spoken about them, you understand?" She turned back, then, and stepped back to the table to take the water carafe and pour a glass for herself, it seemed like she needed something to focus on. "Forgive me. I am trying to phrase this delicately. But suffice to say... Around one of your decades ago... There was a serious political incident on our homeworld of Talora Prime. Very serious. It was a plot against the fabric of the Empire, a plot to..." She frowned again. "Well, let me start at the beginning. Are you aware of what a Taloran says when she refers to the Three Sisters?"

MacCallister nodded. "I've read up on your people since we last met. The three sisters are Taradrua, Fileya, and In'ghara, correct? The daughters of Valera, each of them the start of the families that rule your continents, and in the case of In'ghara's descendants, the Taloran Empire as a whole?"


"That's correct. To say the Three Sisters today means the three thrones," Halsina smiled wanly. "That In'ghara's line rules the Empire today, that was, however, never a sure thing. Now, I am a mere March-Countess, far from the halls of Imperial power. But let me assure you that there are some in the lines of Taradrua and Fileya who would rather be the Empress of themselves. It is not a well-known fact here, but the Imperial Starfleet is but a component--the largest by far--of our peoples' military forces. Both of the Great Queens, as they would be called, of Lelola and Midela, possess their own armies and fleets. In this way someone could, at an outer glance, find our nations actually very similar in organization. This leads to a problem, however. All is held in place by personal loyalty and dynastic loyalty. Everything is insured by blood. There is a group which wishes to change this... A group of religious fanatics who adhere to a communitarian interpretation of Farzianism which holds for no distinctions of caste, or wealth, or any other form. They were once very powerful; now they are a small collection of secret societies. And smaller than they were a decade ago.

"Enter the Princess. She had retired from the Army and was settling down to rule the Lesser Intuit, a minor principality in the Intu'itan States region of the homeworld. But she has obscure tastes... I honestly would call her in your tongue a pervert." Halsina seemed somewhat flustered, flushing grayly, as she continued here: "She's attracted to body-forms we'd consider obese--about normal in shape for your species, though. Which is why I imagine she has ended up involved with your former naval officer, the Verdes woman. She's also always been involved with women below her station. We don't call her a pervert for that, really, though it's unnatural to be involved below her station; certainly not with other women but she never found someone suitable among the noble classes. At any rate what I'm building up to is the fact that she was in a relationship with one of these communitarians, who involved her in a plot to assassinate the Empress, and the Great Queen of Midela Colenta as well. The Lelolan branch was to be implicated.. And the Empire would descend into a civil war between the factions, which this sect of levellers believed would bring about their ideal society. Jhayka was used to get close to the Empress because she sat at the Convocate of Nobles. Now, one intelligence officer, a Najhasi Fridalyn, who was the exact same woman who got the news out of the city yesterday--that is not an accident--was tailing the communitarians, and by extension, Jhayka. She waited until the plot was very advanced, however, which led to it being broken up on the floor of the Convocate itself.. By Imperial officers."

"Now, you must understand something about Taloran society. It is absolutely forbidden for the Sword to impunge upon our sacred rights. I am of noble blood; the Empress cannot command me against my rights, nor exceed her own in issuing directives to me. We are absolute in the defence of our liberties, and by extension, in the liberties of all others. I dislike your society because I believe that democracy leads inevitably to totalitarian tyranny; we think ourselves free, with our traditional rights secured. The problem is that breaking up the assassination attempt in the Convocate was a violation of custom, which forbids the Empress from bringing armed retainers into the chamber of the nobility. This caused a political crisis in the Empire..." Halsina was looking very serious there. "It may seem silly, that the issue of some police officers entering a building they're not allowed to enter was such as to cause a major political crisis, but I assure you it did."

"At this point, the Princess Jhayka was in severe trouble--she might have well been executed--but the problem was that the whole case had been technically rendered invalid by the emergency nature of the arrest in a forbidden area. The Archduchess Leluno, a close personal friend of the Empress--nobody knows if they're lovers or not, really--" at that Halsina showed herself, as a noble might, interested in some of the gossip of the court than was really necessary to convey the situation, "intervened at this point, using her position as one of the most powerful nobles in the Convocate, to brook a solution. The communitarians could not be prosecuted legally by the Sword because of their violation of the law in arresting the assassination party in the chambers of the Convocate. However, enough evidence existed in another jurisdiction to secure their executions--the jurisdiction of the Principality of the Lesser Intuit. Therefore an arrangement was brokered in which the Princess Jhayka would prove her loyalty to the throne by overseeing the prosecutions personally. Including that one, and the execution thereof, of her own lover. It was considered a sufficient demonstration, and the throne forgave her entirely. But she's been kept under surveillance ever since. Conversely, however, the nobility has always expected that she would remain free and unhindered in her life, as a symbol of the fact that the Sword had no right to legally proceed against her because of the circumstances of the arrests inside the chamber. So we protect her, and we expect the government to protect her as well. I consider myself in the role of an Officer of the Sword, combined with a member of the nobility, to be acting both in the interests of the Empress and of my own kind in securing, at all, costs, the relief of the Princess. It is a point of the Imperial honour that Her Serene Majesty be shown as willing to invest considerable resources in preserving the Princess Jhayka's life, and it is by dint of that, that I assure you I have no greater interest here than that of securing the relief of the city, myself."


MacCallister had listened to the story of political intrigue and legal technicality carefully. It had, to some extents, subdued the gnawing irritation at how Halsina had acted. But not entirely. "We all have our reasons for acting. I had taken the position that the Alliance's neutrality in this situation, given our ultimatum to our 'allies' the British on allowing intervention, and the Hapsburgs' links to the Hispanics would make only you and us acceptable for the mission, but you might very well be right. Of course, we might simply be ensuring de la Hoya fights us, but I do not think he will order his troops to aid the savages in overrunning Kalunda, and in the long run we will have guaranteed Kalunda's survival with this operation."

"As for us, Lady Halsina, you look like you could use some sleep, and I have no more to say. However..." MacCallister showed a diplomatic smile. "Would you like to join me later this week for a meal? My subordinates say there is an excellent restaurant in the planetary capitol of Smithson, and your liaison officer told me that enzyme injections will allow you to digest human food. If that's unacceptable, perhaps a meal elsewhere then. We could even, if you sincerely wish, invite Admiral de Guise. I think it would look good to our subordinates if we were to be seen as working together and being friendly, and just maybe we can work together to keep the locals from shooting at each other as soon as the shooting against Gilead stops."

"I must be quite exhausted, indeed," Halsina replied automatically, surprised that the human could tell. She hadn't really drank any of the water, but smiled vaguely at the offer. "That will do nicely. There's no reason to invite Admiral du Guise unless you wish to, for something that is informal. I imagine we will be mostly kept busy, anyway; and I would say that my ship is suitable enough for fine dining, but, ah, you have offered to host, and..." There was a faint laugh. "I know you probably don't think of things this way, but I actually feel bad for you at times, Admiral. You are in a delicate situation, and I know that we can be very trying about what we expect as our rights, even in the smallest things."

"I imagine that my people can seem rather insufferable at times too. And I'm quite sure you didn't appreciate our reaction to the whole thing regarding the place of Humanity in your universe. I hope you understand that the Taloran universe is the first one we've encountered where Humanity has been in a... well, is 'subordinate relationship to non-Humans' a good way of putting it? In a way it might have ruined some of our own conceptions of Humanity as being rather special in the Multiverse." MacCallister stepped forward. "Anyway, I'm no politician, and I don't know if you are, but I do know we're both naval officers and we're both used to dealing with people trying to step on our toes, so I hope we can see each other as that from now on. And now, let's go back to your ship so you can go and get some much-needed rest." MacCallister smiled as they approached the door. "And for dinner, uniforms or civilian dress?"

"That you'd offer me the choice!" Halsina exclaimed in response, and clearly, in delight. "Civilian dress, of course; it has been to long. I have been out here for quite some time now, and everything has been a formal military occasion. There is no high-society yet, and probably won't be for quite some time, so, it will give me a chance to see if I still have something left that hasn't been eaten by moths. Thank you, Admiral. And the best of luck to your pilots."



Near Gilead

DAY THIRTY-NINE


In the cockpit of her F/A-37C "Super Corsair", 1st Lieutenant Hecate Maxwell listened as her SIO (Sensor Information Officer) 2nd Lieutenant Roger Whitworth counted down until they left warp. They did so in concert with the 222nd Marine Fighter Squadron (the Triple-Deuce), coming out of warp in dangerously low orbit of Gilead but giving the military on the planet almost no time to detect them before they made atmosphere. "Feet hot" was the call over and over again as the 222nd, and then the other three squadrons following her, made atmospheric entry just west of the Western Coast of the Primitive Zone. They soared over the Western Region, where the local societies were warring and enslaving one another with a strange mix of pike, musket, and modern rifle, making reasonable speed and altitude over the eastern edge of the Central Desert and entering the Eastern Region just south of the Rothman Mountains, where they began to straddle the Kalunda River as it flowed east-southeast toward Kalunda.

They lowered altitude to terrain-mask and evade detection, and as they did Hecate listened to Captain Bilden remind them, "We're dealing with savages here. If you get shot down and survive, make damned sure you land in Kalunda or you have a last bullet for yourself."

"Like any of these savages can shoot us down," remarked another pilot, and Hecate barked at him, "Keep quiet. They've got lots of missiles, and it only takes one or two."
The river and the adjoining forest stretched on and on, punctuated by the dwindling fires of villages in the pre-dawn night of Gilead. In the far distance the sun was starting to come up, but it wouldn't come up completely until they were done.


Finally the word was given. "We're coming up to attack point, prepare to raise altitude to Angel 20 and commence attack run." Whitworth counted down for Hecate, who climbed at the appropriate point, a measure taken to ensure nobody was hit by the artillery fire reported as being constant. As they reached fifteen hundred feet, with an intention to two thousand, Whitworth made the comment that they were being painted by radar.
The battle began when Captain Bilden's fighter fired off an anti-radar missile. In the distance an explosion thundered. "Fox One" came from Hecate as her lips as she fired first one, then in succession another air-to-ground missile at targets that the briefing had indicated were likely anti-air units. Explosions ripped through the pre-dawn sky and ground of the siege lines around Kalunda as the first fighters began to soar over the siege lines themselves.



Amber d'Kellius was enjoying a pre-dawn view of the night stars, unimpeded as it had been in her youth with no lights in the modernized city of Kalunda, when she heard the distant explosions from the allied lines. Curious as to what was going on, she asked command for information before hearing the rumble of jet engines overhead. She looked up in time to see the stars blotted out by small shapes, even as in the distance more explosions thundered and flares lit up to show launching missiles. Flares lit up the light sky, illuminating at times the small pieces of chaff - too small for the Human eye to actually see - as missiles raced from the allied launchers toward the attacking aircraft.
The officers and crews of the Crimson Guard boats at port all raced out to watch the battle, a cheer erupting from them at the sight of what many believed to be their imminent salvation.
The celebrations were shut off by a sharp bark from the nearest emergency speakers, however, a general override, broadcasting in the clear to everyone in earshot. This had been a pre-programmed instruction which Jhayka had given to her command staff to issue the moment there was the eventuality of any kind of aerial attack, because Jhayka expected it to be by her own people, and she knew what that might well mean, the message casting a sinister and serious tint of the moment: "SEEK SHELTER! SEEK SHELTER! BLAST WARNING! BLAST WARNING! DUCK AND COVER IF IN THE OPEN! SEEK TRENCHES AND BUNKERS IF POSSIBLE! COVER! COVER! DON YOUR GAS MASKS. DON YOUR GAS MASKS."


Carlis Park and Tarl Ikmen left their tents at the same time, barking orders and demands to know what was happening as others ran for cover of some kind against attack. "The tech worlders!" was the cry. "We're under air attack!"
"You idiots, stop panicking!" Tarl bellowed. "The Confederacy's air fighters are old, our defenses will blast them out of the sky."
"But sir, they came from the west," was a complaint from one of Park's aides.
Park felt his stomach fall down to his heels. "The offworlders have come. That demoness's people have come to recover her," he sighed, realizing for the first time the likelihood that this was truly the end for him and for Ar, indeed for all Norman society.


Warnings blared from Hecate's computers as missiles criss-crossed the sky, the savages panicking under their first air attack and literally firing everything they had at the attacking aircraft. It was bad enough that she couldn't even think about continuing her attack run, with no less than four missiles locked on to her and trailing her through the sky.
Behind them, the 76th and the 149th Squadrons had come in, the 160th not too far behind, and had used the preoccupation of the enemy's defenses with the 222nd to launch on the enemy's revealed anti-air sites.
The radio comms were filled with chatter as pilots reported evasive maneuvers and hits. Hecate heard pilots announce damage and imminent crash - too many. She swallowed and continued to evade as missile after missile came after her, even as the other ones ran out of fuel and crashed.

All of her piloting skills were not in vain, and as the fire of the missile defenses became diluted to focus on other craft, she was able to break off. She took one bombing pass over the enemy siege lines in the east, hitting a supply depot for the besieging forces, before she turned to the north to prepare for a swing west and up to make orbital egress over the desert. Hecate's heart pumped as she made orbit, saying "Feet cold" over the radio. She looked around, and her beating heart sank.
The twenty fighters of the 222nd had gone in. Nine came out.


Group Captain Frasal was leading the Taloran assault craft in from a command alcove sandwiched behind the cockpit of the lead craft. They were sizeably larger than their Alliance counterparts, each one capable of carrying a platoon, so there were a total of twelve in the whole force for both the Taloran and Habsburg assault groups. They were very heavily armoured and shielded, and simply big. They didn't carry any energy weapons except for point-defence turrets, however. Their punch was entirely in racks of externally stored missiles, and it was these that he had been authorized to expend. The side racks, the biggest, each held just a single missile for this run. He toggled his comm to the flight on: "Landing force, landing force. Supressant fire, pattern six. I repeat, pattern six." Then he leaned forward to the flight crew of the vehicle. "You heard it."

The result was nearly instantaneous. The Alliance pilots had been quietly warned in advance... Six missiles were fired in total, one from each of half of the landers. They accelerated at nearly nine hundred gravities skyward, instantaneously visible and then gone burning columns of light into the sky, and with them, a series of six tremendous spherical suns lit up the sky, each one, for a few microseconds, brighter than the sun of Gilead itself. They were detonating sixty-five kilometers above the ground, close enough to blind those who looked directly at them but otherwise they caused no damage, except that all non-hardened electronics would be fried, and the air would be filled with radiation which would black out radars and all but the most powerful and simple communications for minutes to come. The suns were bright white with a tremendous intensity, and literally turned night into day instantly, guaranteed to ruin the vision of many there even if they didn't look directly at them, though again temporarily.

Six twenty-megatonne nuclear devices had initiated in the upper atmosphere of Gilead, in a burning circle of a cluster of immense power. Had they been directed against the ground, the allied army would have been essentially destroyed--but so would have Kalunda, and so their purpose was only to awe and terrify. The next order came out crisply: "Hit all targets of opportunity--minimum range, ten klicks from the friend lines."

This order brought about the remaining weapons of the assault landers, on the smaller underside racks, each one also carrying two of these much smaller missiles. They were precision-guided air-to-ground missiles, to be precise, and each one was tipped with a 1.5kT nuclear warhead optimized for maximum neutral radiation output. These blasts were set for some one hundred meters off the ground, to guarantee that the fireballs of the devices did not touch the ground and convert vapourized matter into exceptionally radioactive microscopic particles which could poison the defenders. As small as they were, even a mere 100 meters off the ground they did not do nearly as much damage. Four of the missiles were targeted at the artillery park of the allies; some two hundred guns were destroyed, but the rest in fact survived perfectly intact and useable. What didn't survive was the gunners themselves. More than 70% of them had been given lethal doses of radiation in a heart of the intense fireballs bursting onto the stage. The other eight hit unlucky concentrations of support and supply elements, killing several thousand men and animals outright and wrecking a sizeable portion of that day's incoming supplies.

This was all done in a few microseconds, really: the outer effects of the blasts were only apparent after that, though the fireballs themselves ceased to exist within a fifth of a second. The horrendous cacophony of the echoing explosions, the tiny but nonetheless impressive glowing mushroom clouds rising from positions around the city, the shockwaves and the intense rush of air could be felt kilometers away, though harmless. Ionizing radiation, which could at the least cause cancer and impotence if not radiation sickness which could, in those thousands, lead to death in days or weeks, bombarded the allied troops to more than 900 meters from the hypocenters of the blasts, while the guns directly under the detonations were melted or tossed like tenpins for dozens of meters. Flying straight through the intense buffeting caused by the detonations, the landing force angled for the clear areas of the Royal parks inside of the center of Kalunda, and prepared to land.

Behind them angled down the stealth transports of the Alliance Marine Corps. Designed to insert Recon Marines or Star Marines for behind-the-lines operations, the craft were also well-designed for what the pilots were doing now. Unlike the fighters, they plunged directly downward at as high a speed as they could manage, causing the pilots and the Marines of Able and Charlie Coompanies, 24th Recon Battalion, to experience high-G forces until a relatively sudden deceleration as they hit the ground as fast as they dared.
The doors opened and the sergeants in the companies bellowed, "Move! Move! Out out out!" The Marines jumped out in order, as they'd been trained to do, each man in his own powered armor and carrying his kit as well as extra supplies purposely attached this his armor. As soon as the transports were empty they shot skyward, again as fast as they could, almost too fast for the enemy air-defense to engage.

They couldn't anyway, as at that moment the 17th and 87th Squadrons from the Smedley Butler came in at that moment as their comrades had done before, drawing air-defense fire as they targeted what air-defense batteries (mostly Stirlin ones) that had not been spotted until they actively fired, using the telemetry from the withdrawn fighters as a basis. Only four fighters among them went down, all over Kalunda, as the craft made their attack run and climbed to give cover to the transports as they withdrew.
By now the sun was starting to shine on Kalunda, a besieged city that now finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-05 10:13am

DAY THIRTY-NINE
The Amazon Confederacy
Capital City of Kellervil



The scattered bodies of resistence fled in shock and surprise. Their sisters and cousins and lovers were attacking them. They had braced themselves for this, but they had not expected it so soon, they had not, in fact, expected at all! Here, the Amazon forces of Leeasa Avrila had successfully crossed some of the most rugged mountains in the Primitive Zone, which flung themselves to the heights of the Himalayas, mountains which even in summer seemed neigh-impassable, to arrive by a short and daring route into the homeland of their Confederacy. Scarcely more than twenty thousand of them remained, through casualties and losses to hunger and fatigue and bad weather, storms and freezing rain and snow, without the proper equipment, extreme cold without good clothes, and simple defections; but they arrived with total surprise and none of the local defenders could muster in time.

Isolated groups had tried to garrison the walls of the capital, as others were forced to surrender as they arrived to try and aide the defence, or to attempt to form a field army. Of course, as they passed through their own territory, even more of them, catching an abrupt shift in the winds, threw in their lot with Leeasa's rebels, so that those mere twenty thousand soon surged in numbers once more.

The wall garrison tried to hold. Anti-tank missiles showed them what good iron-embossed wooden gates were against modern weaponry, and machine-guns drove them from the walls while assault parties dashed in through the breeches. Leeasa herself only held back by the pleading of her subordinates from leading the assault. Arrows, however powerful and quickly flung forward, could not compete with the suppressing fire of the machine-guns and the mortars which soon joined them, and in short order the Amazonian faction she commanded was strongly positioned inside the walls, rolling up the garrison.

This was of course an internicine battle, and there was no sack. Indeed, the majority of the defenders surrendered and begged for mercy as they realized that their opponents had gotten inside the walls, and it was invariably and gladly given. That was how the government of a place collapsed, with its leadership and its army involved in a far-off siege.

Only 12,000 of the Amazon troops had been detailed to size the capital, however. Leeasa had, when her subordinates plead for her to stay back, nonetheless taken command of another operation, which promised to be even more important. They had arrived out of the countryside with lightning speed, and at the Railroad Company's intermodal facility just outside of Kellervil, several large freight trains were being loaded with supplies by the slave-men of the city, as the railroad workers themselves, under armed guard, were prepared to take the trains toward the siege armies about Kalunda, filled with critically needed food and ammunition.

These, Leeasa rushed with some 10,000 troops, leaving only six thousand behind to secure her rear against any additional columns of reinforcements which might arrive to threaten them as the city was being taken. Among those ten thousand, though, were the most starving and worn down of the great Amazon war party that she had led away from Kalunda and daringly straight across the most rugged of the mountains. They fought with a surprising vigour out of simple desire, and overwhelmed the guards quickly, because they wanted the bountiful supples in those trains, denied to them by their decision to support Leeasa, but now provided by success. Thousands of their sisters had perished on their march without proper clothing and without food, or without medicine for illnesses gotten. None any longer.

Within an hour all resistance from the thousand or so security personnel in the area had ceased and the great marshalling yard near the city was in their hands. Leeasa had secured twenty-three road engines and six yard engines, and more than twenty-five hundred railroad freight cars along with a hundred passenger cars. Her exhausted Amazons were soon allowed to collapse in the large passenger cars into sleep after gorging themselves on food. There was enough room in the spacious cars for a full, luxurious seat, or at least a place to stretch out on pads and blankets, for every Amazon in the force which had seized the yards.

In the meantime, the road engines were being coupled, three apiece, onto four trains consisting of twenty-five passenger cars and a string of usually fifty freight cars full of necessary equipment following that, marshalled neatly by the switch-engines and the gravity hump of the yard to contain the military supplies Leeasa needed, at the effort of the considerably relieved railway company employees.

Back in the city, some light artillery pieces which had been captured were being rolled up to the central citadel, the last place in the city which was by that point holding out, the other guards having all surrendered. Soon the walls of the interior citadel were being blast down in preparation for an assault, which never came. Seeing such a display of firepower they laid down their arms as well, and just in the nick of time, for a force of three thousand or so of the 'loyalists' was found to be approaching by the late afternoon. Leeasa sent a brigade of four thousand back out of the city to reinforce the rearguard, and then immediately sent a message to no less a personage than one she had discovered was here, and back again in the fight against the Normans:

Sara Proctor, this is Leeasa Avrila. I lead the Amazons who remain loyal to the memory of our conflict against the Normans, and our traditions. I am embarking on the railroad trains of the Company toward the Henley at this moment to secure the crossing against a Norman attempt to blast the bridge or otherwise hinder us, with ten thousand troops with modern weapons. We will hold there until the rest of my force can be brought up.. And then it is my intent to advance on Ar, which I understand is your intent also. Let us have a triumphant junction on the heights above the city!


The message was sent by courier, so that her intentions would not be broadcast in the clear, and then the trains were ordered to roll, heading toward the Henley crossing into Norman territory as fast as they could, to secure the vital bridge across that vast and vital river, and in doing so guarantee a path for her army straight to Ar itself, a move inspired by the reckless daring of Jhayka's armoured train operations. And, indeed, left behind, several of the road engines and the freight cars in the marshalling yards were now being heavily modified to create an armoured train of their own, by the skilled hands of the railroad company's workshop employees and using whatever materials could be had. The Norman heartland would be destroyed, by her, or by Sara Proctor, or both; but certainly destroyed either way.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-06 08:53pm

By Marina:

DAY THIRTY-NINE
Inside Kalunda



Fire licked from the hulk of a downed Taloran transport. It was the only one lost in the operation, and it had crashed right next to the LZ. A group of locals in brown uniforms had already clustered around the wreck, dragging the injured crew out with the aid of those who were uninjured. A fire truck soon raced up and began spraying flame-retardent oxygen absorbing foam on the wreck the moment the last of the crew had been taken clear. Supply cases dumped from the landers littered the field where once the horses of the Kalundan army had paraded, and crushed many of the remaining displays in the royal gardens, already pock-marked by occasional shell craters.

A few of the buildings around the palace were intact, seeing as how it had not been directly targeted by the allied artillery. The responding locals were universally clad in gas masks and wearing thick, heavy clothing made out of solid bolts of thick woven cotton, joints taped and covered in plastic sheeting, the best they could do for improvised full-body cover against the effects of a nuclear or chemical attack. Major Joachim Ewing, clad in full power armour, could only nod approvingly at that. Someone had been quick off the mark from the moment of the first airstrikes.

Beyond the immediate area of the palace, however, the buildings were all destroyed. Some fires could be seen in the distance, fitfully burning, while other, closer buildings were charred and burnt out. Many had collapsed under artillery fire, or tottered dangerously or crazily from blast damage. Piles of rubble blocked some of the streets, or had once done so, and were now bulldozed aside to clear them for continued access. But for the moment, that's all there was: The remnants of the city's prior destruction. The enemy artillery was silent, and the dissipating remains of twenty-four mushroom clouds were being carried away by the wind on a strangely quiet morning, broken only by the sounds of his battalion mustering and the distant sirens of other emergency crews apparently responding to shot-down fighters further into the city.

He had about a thousand men under his command, and that made the situation out to be pretty good for the moment, with plenty of supplies brought in. The battalion's XO, Captain Erich Steuben, approached and saluted with the heavy metallic gloved fist of his power armour suit, his voice, of course, coming in over the intercoms. “We've got the companies mustered. All support weapons have been distributed and I've got one platoon from each checking through supplies, categorizing them based on each company's differing equipment, and making sure that everything is intact and we don't have any lost supplies.”

“Even then, it's just enough for a fortnight's hard fighting and the same time keeping the men eating,” Major Ewing commented. He was not counting the foodstuffs sent into the city to aide the population, of course. There were around 96 metric tonnes of food they'd been able to offload for the population in bulk containers from the heavy transports, all of it in grains, plus 60 x 500lb pallets of nutrition bars, one from each of the much lighter Alliance insertion craft. That was all they could contribute to the survival of the populace. It would have to do.

“Any contact with the defensive forces at the high level yet?”

“Not yet, Sir,” Captain Steuben replied. “I'm not sure what's taking so long.”

“They're probably taking precautions against the possibility of contamination from the nukes,” Joachim replied with a mental shrug, since of course the power armour couldn't do anything of the sort. “I'm going to head over toward the palace and check for myself, though. We're not in any kind of threat situation here with the enemy artillery effectively silenced.” The semi-darkness of the dawn was fading fast, and even without visual aides the enemy had not opened up. Clearly their guns had taken a pounding. Off in the distance, there was the sound of desultory motar fire, but that was it.

“Let me detail a guard, in case there's an accident...”

There was a whoosh from above and every ducked reflexively or hit the dirt except Major Ewing himself, who coolly remained standing. A pattern of rockets, clearly from a highly primitive katyusha launcher, slammed down in a disorganized burst further along into the royal park. “We got their tubes, but they've still got rockets to throw at us,” he snapped back to Steuben. “Get some trenches dug right away-that takes priority over the food-for anti-air protection. And get some anti-air drones in place! No more thinking this one is easy-those rockets may not have scratched us yet but we'll pay for it if we treat them like toys.”

“Understood Sir! Where are you going, Sir?”

“To get in touch with someone in this madhouse! We'll only really have our defence set up once we can coordinate with them. Snap to it, Captain.” Joachim headed straight for the palace at a steady jog while the rockets inaccurately crashed down all around them. Someone had gotten desperate enough that they didn't care about the palace anymore, and smart enough that they'd figured out where the reinforcements had landed.

“Yes, Sir!” Steuben called after him, and turned to relying the orders to the company commanders. His suggestion for a guard went gladly forgotten by Major Ewing. The anti-air drones were the most important, with the Taloran company having six and the Habsburg company, eight. They were little robotic defensive emplacements with a single 40mm (for the Taloran) or 35mm (for the Habsburg) auto-massdriver firing smart shells. The shells were loaded with tiny flechettes forged out of DU which detonated in a conic arc when the shell detected an incoming round. Useless against heavy artillery shells, the tiny flechettes would instantly annihilate thin-skinned mortar rounds and rockets. The units were fully self-contained and required only to be periodically resupplied with ammunition.

And then ahead of him, coming out of a subterranean entrance on the side of the palace, he saw the Taloran herself and an attendant. High domed helmets to protect the ears, on both of them; one was taller than the other and he assumed she was the Princess herself. Marching crisply toward them he came to a stop and saluted. “Your Highness.”

Jhayka nodded from her helmet. “This is the Princess of the Lesser Intuit, ahh.. Major?”

“Major Joachim Ewing, Your Highness. I have orders from my superiour-Admiral du Guise of His August Majesty's Navy-to place myself under the absolute command of Her Highness Jhayka, Princess of the Lesser Intuit, holding the rank of Brigadier in Her Serene Majesty's Army, as part of the army formation of the intervention forces of Her Serene Majesty, and with my person the international battalion which I have been ordered to command.”

“Ahh,” Jhayka answered with a knowing sort of sound to her voice. “You have a written copy of the orders?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Explicitly, you are to serve as part of our intervention forces, under my command?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Then if your battalion is secure, let us go to the bunkers below to discuss matters-unless you think they should be immediately evacuated below?”

“I'd like them in the tunnels,” Joachim began, when the harsh stutter of the bursts of the anti-air drones interrupted and another salvo of rockets was, this time, cut to pieces in the air. “But it's not longer urgent.”

“Instruction your executive officer nonetheless, and I shall make arrangements with my staff to find places for them. Then send for your unit's commissary officer and we'll figure out your needs, and what you have brought to aide us, and where you might be of us.”

“At once, Sir.” Joachim liked her already; she hadn't thanked him or commented on the importance of the reinforcements. She had just got to work in finding a place for them. Like himself, he knew that a single salvo of neutron warheads and a thousand men weren't going to end this siege. It was never that easy.


DAY THIRTY-NINE
On the Siege Lines,
Outside of Kalunda.



Carlis Park sat below-ground in his reinforced bunker silently, wearing a gas mask-even his kajira were wearing gas masks now, frightened and terrified of them as they were, and even they knew something gravely was wrong-as he read the reports. Men pulling their hair out in tufts, men turned into living, walking blisters, skin blackened to weird colours, men directly below the blasts reduced to simple shadows on the ground, nothing of their bodies left. He shuddered bodily at that one. Besides all of that, there was more: Men puking neon-green vomit. Men showing, in short, all of the classic things of radiation sickness, a concept which had virtually faded from the whole knowledge of the primitive zone. There had to be at least five thousand of them in all, not counting those killed outright or who had already expired..

None of them knew how severe the effects of nuclear weapons might be, and so everyone in the Norman encampments was continuing to wear gas masks. He was trying to focus on his work, and he couldn't. He knew that even the Emir had cut his luxurious beard in favour of a good seal on his gas mask at this point. There was little more that had to be said about the effects on the morale of the army than that. And, really, in his heart, he knew it was time to go. His people's dead would remain unavenged, and it was time to talk peace. That was why he could not bring himself to do any more work.

It was mid-afternoon already, and word had come in from the Amazons that they had, themselves, received word that their capital was under attack. Leeasa Avrila had apparently done the impossible, and so even additional shipments of supplies would be lost. Sara Proctor's forces had been victorious against an al-Farani detachment the day before... The whole of their war effort was collapsing before his eyes. There was no chance of being victorious in the siege, nor in war against the tech worlders.

Then Tarl Ikmen came in. He was grinning brightly, and not wearing his mask. “We got information, Ubar, from the captured Alliance pilots. The bursts were too high to cause more than immediate radiation effects-they need to touch the ground to become lethal in the long term, and naturally the Tech-worlders did not bother to do this because they didn't want to poison the Kalundans as well.” But then he frowned, suspiciously, at Carlis' expression.

“Ubar, I came for the letters reinstating the officers who were sacked after the artillery fiasco against the barges loaded with our prisoners yesterday. I know you were going to sign them so we could legally-they're already on duty at my initiative-use them to train up new cadres for the intact guns upon which the men have been killed or laid low with sickness. Are they finished?”

“Ah, ah,” Park answered. “I didn't see much use in signing them, but..” He began to do so.

“Not much use!? We must have our artillery back in action as soon as possible to carry on the siege, Ubar.”

“Perhaps we do,” Carlis answered. “But I am not sure if the siege is tenable or not... And we can't use the guns in a guerrilla conflict.”

“We do not need to run to the woods yet, Ubar! We can take the city.”

“That will depend on a council of the allies,” Park answered simply, and then changed the subject: “What are you going to do with these 'Alliance' prisoners? How many do you have?”

“I thought I sent a messenger to tell you earlier. We were able to capture five. There were another ten found dead... Six outright, four by suicide, we think. We're treating them well for the moment, even the women.”

Park hadn't been paying attention earlier, of course. He removed his gas mask, and glanced to his nearest kajira: “Off with the mask, and go tell your sisters the same, girl.”

“Yes, Master,” she bowed and hastened to remove the hated then and then go to tell the other slave-girls.

Park looked back to Tarl Ikmen. “We'll settle these things at the emergency war council tonight, understood? In the meantime, don't harm the prisoners-they may be useful.” But even though he clearly felt it useless, he nonetheless reluctanctly handed over the signed orders once he'd finished speaking.

“Understood,” Tarl answered, and left with the orders in hand. But he didn't go immediately to the dispatching office. Instead, frowning deeply, he stopped by the facilities of the Warleader Erqui, demanding to see him. That brought Erqui's immediate attention.

“I need your advice, Warleader,” Tarl began simply. “I believe that the Ubar is planning to draw us out of the siege. Do you think this is wise?”

“Emphatically, No!,” Erqui answered sharply. “The only reason any of us are still alive is because we were to close to Kalunda for the tech worlders to use atomics against all but our most outlying deployed forces. If we disengage from Kalunda then we will all be completely destroyed by them. It is the worst possible course of action to undertake.”

“But what shall happen when we reduce the city? Won't they simply destroy us with.. Atomics, then?”

“When we reduce the city, we shall have hostages. We must stop thinking in terms of killing Jhayka and her reutine,” Erqui answered, grinning broadly. “Even Julio is useful. Take them all prisoner, or as many of them as we can, and we can hold them as hostages long enough to guarantee the safe dispersal of our forces into the forests and the mountains to fight as guerrillas, after we have enriched ourselves with the weapons of fallen Kalunda. Even more than that, though, the people of the great powers, they have, I think, angered the government by violating the sovereignty of Gilead. We may soon have more allies than we now expect... Even more than the rebels.”

“I am not sure about that,” Tarl frowned, himself. He had no intention, in his heart, of sparing the Princess Jhayka, who's attack on Xueson had led to his son's death. But for the moment, he had to keep the armies of Ar fighting, and to do so would require him to remove the defeatist Park, and that in turn would require support of some kind from their allies. “But the plan with the hostages, at least, seems very sensible. I am willing to ignore my son's need for vengeance to save our societies. Should I also keep the tech worlder pilots as hostages, then?”

“Yes, a categorical yes,” Erqui responded. “They are just as useful as those in the city as hostages. Treat them like royalty, they are worth their weight in gold.” Then he grinned again, musing. “Tell me, if the Ubar Park is truly convinced to withdraw, I must ask how you plan to dissuade him, how to change the mind of a man who has given into despair? This is a very delicate issue.”

Tarl was silent for a moment. He dare not outright say what he planned, but to say it in a way thar Erqui understood what he was going to do. “Warleader, I promise we will not break the alliance.... I promise that on the honour of my homestone, that I will not allow my people to be led away from this siege and this fight, at any cost.”

Erqui gestured opened his arms in a grand gesture of friendship, and embraced Tarl to the other man's surprise. “Then, let us take an oath as brothers and equals to see this war through to its conclusion.”

Clenching their fists upon each other, Tarl nodded, fully understanding the stakes, and bowed his head low. “Upon that which is sacred, as brothers and equals.”

They bowed to each other and stepped back. “I will see you at the council of war called for tonight, Tarl,” Erqui said affiably, and then added, softly.. “The Ubar Ikmen.”
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-11 09:17am

Allied Camp, outside of Kalunda

DAY THIRTY-NINE



The war council was only hours away, and Carlis Park was drunk.
He had lost all hope. His grand dreams of a restored Norman Empire were lost. They would all die now; their entire society, born of the writings of the 20th Century philosopher John Norman, crushed by the emasculated tech worlders that his people had rejected centuries ago.

At his feet lay his dead kayira Saline. He had killed her out of mercy, a quick twist that had snapped her neck, knowing what would soon happen. For all that she was a mere slave to him, Park had felt a strong love for her, a desire to be a good master and to help her realize the potential of womanhood within. He knew his enemies would not be kind to her, and that if she survived this war, she would be trapped in a world that didn't understand her, didn't understand her need for a master to please, a master to love and control her.

Tarl Ikmen appeared through the folds of his tent opening. Carlis looked up drunkenly. "We are just two hours from our meeting with the other leaders and you are drunk," Ikmen said accusingly.

"It is over," Carlis mumbled. "Don't you get it, Ikmen? Our society will die now."
"No, there is a chance for us. We must take the city and hold the foreigners hostage!"
"It won't work, we can't break...."
"Yes, we can!" Ikmen thumped a fist on the table. "With them as hostages the tech worlders will not dare strike us, because it would mean their deaths. We could then retreat to the mountains and the forests and continue the fight."
"The fight for what?!" Carlis thundered drunkenly. "What will we fight for, Tarl? The ashheaps they will make of our cities? The homestones they will crush or otherwise steal from us? We will be living like barbarian mountain tribes, in a fight we cannot actually win. In either case, the Norman society will be lost!"

"It is a shame you think that way, Carlis."
Carlis watched Ikmen draw his knife. He promptly lifted his head to bare his throat. "Do it," he mumbled. "Don't make me watch you wipe our people out."
Ikmen didn't reply save to thrust the blade into Carlis' throat. It cut apart his vocal cords, making him unable to speak, and cut open the carotid artery, rich red blood beginning to flow into his open windpipe. Ikmen tossed Carlis to the ground and left, leaving him to drown in his own blood.



The leaders of the Eastern Alliance gathered as intended to discuss the horrible events of the previous day. Erqui was in his usual seat, as was the Magistrix, despite all the misgivings the other present leaders had about her people and the open rebellion in their ranks. The Emir entered next-to-last, looking as worn as the others. Though the War Council nominally consisted of only the four major leaders, the princelings and chieftans of the tribes that had been invited to partake in the war were present as well.

To the surprise of all, it was Tarl Ikmen who entered the tent, not Carlis Park, and Tarl bore the insignia of the Ubar of Ar. The others looked toward him questioningly, save for Erqui. "The Ubar Park, in a fit of drunkenness, has taken his own life," Ikmen remarked, "in insane despair for what happened yesterday."

"Coward," the Magestrix remarked. "He brought us together to fight this war and he refuses to see it through to the end?"
Ikmen nodded. "The assembled caste leaders of Ar have agreed to recognize my assertion of the position of Ubar. In my first act as Ubar, I propose the following response to this occasion."
"From this time forward, we will take pains to identify foreigners in the ranks of the Kalundans, though I suppose many will be killed in the fighting anyway. These foreigners will not be mistreated in any way. They will be taken to our rear areas, their wounds cared for, and their needs met. This will be provisioned for every single foreigner in Kalunda, even the Princess Jhayka and her entourage." Ikmen's teeth nearly scraped when he spoke of Jhayka's amnesty. "They will be held as hostages so that the tech worlders will not strike us with their weapons and slaughter us all. With the hostages we will, after the fall of Kalunda, retreat to the mountains and forests to the north to wage the planned war to force the outsiders to accept our right to self-government."
"Is this proposal acceptable?"


There was murmuring and grumbling from the assembled. Many of the smaller tribes had completely lost their appetite for war given the display of the tech worlders' power. The delusion that they could win through their superior hardiness was now gone, leaving only despair and the understanding of an imminent demise.
Erqui, wearing a neutral expression himself and noticing the looks around the council, rose to speak. "I concur with the Ubar Ikmen. Maintaining closeness to the foreigners is the only hope we have to avoid annihilation from the enemy's weapons, which harness the power of the stars. The siege must continue and we must hold hostages, and we must hold them well. If we mistreat them, the enemy will conclude that they are better off dead and kill us anyway. We have no choice in this matter."
The Emir nodded. "We will continue to fight and leave the decision of victory to Allah."
The Magestrix was uncomfortable under their looks. Her capital was gone, a rebellion was swiftly overtaking her homeland, and now her army was even more convinced of the damnable Leeasa's advice. She merely nodded assent, with little power or will to do anything else.
Now the other tribal leaders fell into line, none willing to risk destruction. Erqui and Ikmen exchanged glances, acknowledging their success.
The fight would continue.


This next part was co-written by Marina and myself.


Kalunda. Gilead

DAY THIRTY-NINE



Jhayka was relieved. The enemy's artillery was still essentially silenced. Indeed, not an enemy attack had taken place save for the most sporadic of fire, and even the rockets against the city had ceased after a while when the allies had found them useless against the target they had been mandated to engage. For the first time they seemed to be conserving ammunition, or else there was some other concern on their part. She left the command center early, having handled the placement of Major Ewing's battalion and kept a direct link for him on her personal com. There was nothing else to do but return to quarters and relax for the first night in an eternity. They had stayed the course, and held the city, and now she was fully confident they could hold the remaining two weeks until they were relieved. Saying a few words to Ilavna she then proceeded to the suite she shared with Danielle and opened the door, pulling off her gloves as she stepped inside and tucking them under her left arm.

Dani was waiting for her inside. On the table was some of the last high-quality food they had left, well-cooked meat with salad, a loaf of bread, and a remaining bottle of blush wine, illuminated by the light of the candles set alight on the table, filling the air with a sweet cinnamon scent.
Dani was sitting in one of the chairs, wearing a gorgeous dress that had been acquired, with the rations, at high cost of some of her remaining valuables. Standing up to greet Jhayka, Dani said, "Welcome home," with a gracious, loving smile on her face, as her standing posture made the dress's features more visible. It was made of Kalundan silk, an immodest garment that flowed down to her ankles but, above her waist, used transparent material to show off her abs and navel, with two straps moving upward from her rib cage to cover some of her breasts before meeting in a tie behind her neck. It was flatteringly immodest, showing not just her cleavage but the inside and outside quarters of her breasts, which pushed against the silk firmly enough that the outline of her nipples was visible. She had washed and conditioned her hair with some of the last rations she had, making it smooth and reflective. Her eyelashes had also been treated, and her lips covered in a nice red lipstick.

Jhayka stopped up short and stared for a long moment, lips pursed, and then whispered softly, "so daring..." before unclipping her scabbard from her belt and stepping forward to embrace Danielle, the sword held clasped behind her and the gesture no less the warm for its presence, her gloves in idle forgetfulness allowed to fall to the floor as they embraced. "You really are quite splendid tonight, dearheart, and that you have gone to such lengths for me atop your duties.. Thank you, kindly."

Dani held Jhayka tightly, kissing her on the lower cheek by lifting herself up a bit on her toes. "You're welcome. After all, how could I forget to do something like this on Valentine's Day?"

"Valentine's day?" Jhayka ducked her head down and returned the kiss to the cheek though she didn't kiss Dani's lips for fear of messing up her makeup, before she extricated herself just enough to remove her helmet and set the sword leaned against the wall, before turning back, and kissing Dani again delicately on the ear. "What is Valentine's day?"

"Think of it as a holiday dedicated to love and romance," Dani replied, enjoying the kiss on her ear. "Most people simply send greeting cards with little hearts and cupids on them and sometimes some chocolate. I've always preferred good meals and spending most of the day in the bedroom."

"I have to agree with you.. Correspondence is for young lovers sneaking about their families, or distant and separated. We are close, and should enjoy closeness...." Her ears rested a comfortably raised but not straight level, and she leaned in against Danielle closely, with a slight but very comfortable and happy smile on her face. She had gotten much more relaxed around Danielle. "But let's also enjoy the food before it gets cold, hmm?"

Dani replied with a soft, "Yes", still smiling, before returning to her seat and letting Jhayka take the other. "I have a rule for Valentine's Day," she began, her smile showing mischief. "No work talk, no politics, nothing serious. Only stories, preferably intimate and even naughty ones. Helps to get in the mood for what happens after dinner, you see."

"How hard of a task you set before me," Jhayka answered, and it was somewhat serious, but she smiled affably. "I don't think I'm a good storyteller. That's Ilavna's job. Sadly for you she's both straight and a virgin, and it would be rather odd, I take, to invite her here at any rate."

"Well, alternatively, we could simply talk about each other. Or we could say a few things while finishing this great meal so that we can get to the next part of the evening." Dani smiled widely while taking a sip of wine.

Jhayka sipped her own wine and mused on the subject, eating slowly. "I'd like to hear about your own background, really. I mean... What you've done. The lovers you've had. If you'd care to talk to me about all of that..." She was genuinely curious, and a bit quiet as she posed the question, as she didn't want to offend Danielle.. But they'd ended up so very close, and besides, she was having to catalogue her own rather--by her standards--raccuous path.

Dani blushed deeply. "Ah, well, that's a fun story, and a list a bit longer than I'd prefer. I never kept multiple lovers, you understand. I was always in a couple, though I'd be lying if I said we didn't occasionally get involved in, how should I put it, group activities?" Taking a bite, Dani lowered her head a bit. "I was wild when I was younger. It was always about the moment, never about the long-term. A few times I had men, but it was always out of loneliness and, quite frankly, wanting sex. Women are my interest, always have been." Dani took another bite. "I... I just feel awkward telling you some of this. As fun and enjoyable as it was at the time, the memories of the some of the stuff I've been in are more embarrassing than fond."

"It's alright. I've never had a, ah, menage-a-trois. And it's very strongly discouraged in Taloran society, probably because--though it's very, very rare--polygamy is legal, both polygyny and polyandry--the later being more common, of course--and so we have stricter mores against sex like that... Because, well, it isn't really a group marriage but there's always a centrepiece or else it won't function..." She was flushing gray-green by that point, as she continued: "I've never been terribly faithful, though. That is, I suppose, another aspect of the nobility. Because we rarely marry for pleasure, affairs are an accepted escapism for those who aren't strong enough to stand life with a partner they tend to dislike. Most are very understanding about this and the priesthood quietly ignores it. I will shamelessly acknowledge that their was this night, many decades ago, deployed on Talaro, that I managed to have four partners in the same night during a festival where there was far to much alcohol involved and..." She trailed off and brightened slightly. "Oh. Valentine's Day, why, it's a feast-day, isn't it? I didn't know humans celebrated those anymore."

Dani broke out giggling at Jhayka's story, and in response to her question replied, "Oh no, it's not anymore. Well, not in every universe. It was removed as an official Catholic saint feast day in the mid to late 20th Century, it's just something people celebrate anyway because it was secularized before then. And in a few universes the Church restored it later on."
"So, four in a day, huh?" Dani smirked. "Well, I had a slightly different experience. It was, ironically enough, a Valentine's Day about eighteen years ago. One of the first I celebrated under the AST calendar. I was on leave from the Navy with my lover - Sandra was her name - when she invited me to spend the day with her at a club instead of having a day together." Dani began to blush red. "It was not the kind of place an officer is supposed to go into, but it was far from any naval base and I didn't have to worry about being recognized."
After taking another bite, Dani sought to find the words to use to continue. "Sandra got me just drunk enough on some cheap wine that I agreed to enter a little drawing pool, not realizing what the loser was supposed to do. I lost, and so they had me take my clothes off and they took me to a back room, tied me to a Saint Andrews cross, and promptly, well, paired off with one another. WIth a few trios, too. Sandra didn't even touch me the entire time, but her friends did more than enough...." Dani put a hand to her face, which had turned beet red. "Oh, dear God, this is so fucking embarrassing. Long story short, it wasn't long afterward that I dumped Sandra. That would be the last time I spent Valentine's Day tied up. Well, all of it anyway...."

Jhayka had an amusingly jaded expression, as she answered: "You know, I do have to admit there is one difference between us that cannot necessarily be attributed to class and culture," and her look was rather sly: "I've always been on top, love." It was clearly intended as a joke; Jhayka had never imagined herself in a bondage relationship. On the other hand, no one could doubt that she was quite assertive in any situation. And she seemed amused by it as much as her joke was intended for amusement, as she followed it up with a question: "What about the other time, then?"

"Other times," Dani corrected. "And with me, it's not about being top or bottom. It's, well, complicated. But not all bondage is about one partner dominating the other physically or otherwise. It can also be about trust, or about the feeling you get when you have all that energy built up and you can't move, can't do anything to release it except to cry out." Still blushing deeply, Dani finished off the last of her steak, after which she smiled deviously at Jhayka. "And did I mention that I like to tie my partners up sometimes too?"

"Audacious of you, that," Jhayka clucked mockingly, though how much of it was anything but self-mocking was debateable, and her amusement Danielle might by now well discern on a Taloran face while she ate the last of her own food, pacing with Dani for the sake of the dinner's rhythm. "I am tired of being the dilettante noblewoman, though, and prefer my partners as equals... So, Dani, I will have to demur from this strange custom which seems so popular among all humans." She was laughing at the last, her ears falling back relaxed.

With her cheeks still burning with embarrassment, Dani refilled both of their glasses with the wine. "Don't get me wrong, not everyone is into it. Granted, everyone knows what it is, and ordinary bondage - none of the hardcore BDSM stuff - is perhaps the most vanilla of ways to have kinky sex, well, short of covering yourself in whipped cream or chocolate fudge. I wouldn't recommend it, some of that stuff can get sticky." Taking a drink of wine, Dani put her hands on the table. "I think a good example of what I'm getting at with all this was what Rana and I used to do. We were together for a couple years, on and off given our assignments. We had a custom that whenever we had an argument or fight about something, we would flip a coin."
After drinking on the wine again, Dani continued. "The loser of the coin toss would take her clothes off completely. Sometimes the winner did so as well. The loser would go to our bed and sit on her knees, then raise her arms so that the winner could put her wrists into the leather cuffs we had hanging from the ceiling. Once the loser was restrained, the winner - which seemed to be Rana all the time, given my horrible luck with coin tosses - would begin to tickle the loser. And the tickling would continue until one of us conceded the argument." Dani sipped her wine again, happy to see Jhayka amused. "And you know how ticklish I am."

"But clearly you enjoy it so much that you would continue to play even when you knew you'd usually lose, so perhaps I should tickle you often," Jhayka answered with a vague smirk, before finishing off her wine and pushing up and out of her chair. "Come, though. I am not in the mood to spend all night sitting at a table in this stuffy uniform."

"No fair!" Dani complained teasingly before Jhayka finished her wine. "You have an extra finger, that's even worse!" Upon Jhayka's remark about sitting at the table in a stuffy uniform, Dani stood to her feet and walked over to Jhayka. Her hands found the buttons of the uniform and began to undo it. "So, why don't we get you out of it?"

"I think that's a good idea," Jhayka answered, almost giggling as she worked on a few of the buttons herself, briefly introspective: "I think, when this is all done, I want to spend two months doing nothing but resting, in a fine manor armoured against the cool of winter. But for now. What impels me to fight to defend this place, gives me a certain passion in all other affairs as well, and..." She shut herself up, and kissed Dani, as passionately as her words had promised.
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Postby Steve » 2006-11-14 10:09am

Post by Marina.


DAYS 40/41
On the allied siege lines,
Kalunda



117 heavy tanks, every single one left to the allies at this juncture, were concentrated on the right flank of the southern lines. There was a reason for this position, chosen carefully by the Stirlin Warleader Erqui. To the left of the allied line, connecting the industrial districts to the river, was a series of large barge canals allowing bulk supplies to be brought directly to the new factories of Kalunda. These canals provided a natural fallback position for the Kalundan defenders on the allied left, and rendered a breakthrough, in his mind, impossible.

Tarl Ikmen had essentially ceded strategic planning to the Warleader of the Stirlins following Ubar Park's 'suicide' and replacement. It was not because he was any less vain, but rather because he realized the practical need to allow one man to be setting the grand strategy of the siege. Erqui had already prepared a series of plans should his fire strategy fail, and he implemented the one which had seemed the best for the situation. In addition to all of the heavy tanks, all of the medium and light tanks remaining, seventy-six and sixty respectively, were being concentrated, as well as eighty-eight tracked APCs and utility vehicles, which could cross the Kalundan trenches. Each of them was covered in men.

Behind each of the vehicles, however, was a sturdy hawser attached to a heavy sledge. These were used by the peoples of the primitive zone in the colder climes, to haul goods down the frozen rivers in winter. Ropes ran along these, and more men clung to those ropes, waiting to be dragged into battle, but that was just secondary to the purpose of the sledges. Erqui had summoned these because they were heavy coal and ore sledges capable of hauling a dozen tons or more of either substance. Therefore, he knew that they could support the weight of a Technical. They would be ready-made bridges for the hundreds of allied Technicals which had been waiting useless behind the lines to have their moment of triumph, driving forward cram-packed with thousands of men to drive across the sledge bridges over the trenches and race right into the industrial districts of the city itself, cutting off the Kalundan army here and crippling their manufacturing capacity which allowed them to continue to fight.

No longer was the battle about the territory wrested from the Kalundans, a slow grind toward the city. On the other sections of the line, the allies actually stood on the defensive. There was of course another reason for this: the artillery was essentially out of commission. Most of the guns which seemed intact seemed to be brittle, and the fresh crews had been poisoned and died by trying to work them. The artillery officers that Ubar Park had dismissed were training new crews, but this further hampered the process, and the number of guns which proved useable (and safe from radiation, after they'd managed to use captured railroad employees with monitoring equipment to determine which were and weren't) were very small. Fortunately, ammunition was plentiful, which meant the remaining guns—all concentrated to support the assault—would not run out quickly. To further aide in the breakthrough, all of the katyushas would be concentrated to support it as well, and fired enmasse even if it used up their ammunition.

Erqui did not intend to attack again. After he had cut the city off from its factories he would just keep applying enough pressure at close quarters that the city's inhabitants would simply run out of ammunition and thereby be forced to yield. It was a sound siege strategy, and had frankly relieved the Emir and the Magistrix to no ends, though Tarl was more impatient, but had been convinced readily that there was simply no other way to win now, leaving the Stirlin in effective overall command.

They waited until a few hours after dawn, as the Kalundans had surely got into the habit of expecting dawn attacks and even that change might go marginally toward aiding the success of the effort. The artillery had the range to command the line from a central position, and the vehicles would move swiftly into position to avoid giving away the precise position of the attack. In this fashion, the area to be attacked would only be known when the vehicles were already in motion—finding that dragging the sledges through the mud was harder than it looked, and some flipped and injured seriously or killed the men aboard them, but there were countless more available and only a fourth, if that, were needed to be successfully placed for the attack—and, shortly after their manoeuvre had begun, the rocket salvoes began to crash down by the thousands on the Kalundan left, with the artillery joining in to rain down upon the defenders solidly.

Huge volleys spread trails of smoke through the sky and slammed down in thunderous eruptions of fire as violent as the eruption of a volcano. Truck after truck sent their cargoes of death forward as rapidly as they could. Ammunition here was considered irrelevant. The key was the massed firepower of every rocket-launcher that they could put on the line, supported by everything from the remaining guns to the infantry mortars that could get in range. A fourth of the southern section of the Eibermoni Line was obscured in smoke and the flames of erupting explosions, shrapnel spreading everywhere and the impacts of the heavy rockets collapsing the walls of the trenches in places, the power of the concussions leaving even the otherwise uninjured defenders bleeding from their noses and ears.

With their fire so heavily concentrated, the scale of the barrage was like nothing that had been inflicted on Kalunda before in its intensity, despite the lack of the artillery tubes, and concentration quickly showed its worth to the battle. Nothing else could be so mighty as this slaughter, it seemed, though it really wasn't one. The casualties might be heavy than they had been from many barrages before, but there was still a strong defensive force intact on the line, however battered, as the rocket barrage ceased from its spasmic vigour, leaving the small remaining number of the allied tubes to maintain a harrying fire on the rest of the line with the best rapidity their green crews could manage under the surviving officers. There was no ammunition for another such barrage by the rockets. This attack would have to succeed.

And the Kalundans soon realized the sort of attack that was in the offing. The tanks appeared and with their auto-stabilized guns soon began to add to the suppressing fire, moving rapidly behind their own lines to get into position, shooting on the move, the lighter treaded vehicles following and then, in their turn, the leading elements of the mobile force of the mass of Technicals. Without dust being kicked up, thanks to the wetness of the ground, it soon began apparent that the tanks were towing something. What it was, however, was not immediately apparent...

Barrels depressed to the lowest elevation to fire down into the trenches the tanks approached to point-blank and pumped high explosives into the Kalundan trenchlines to break them up. They were followed by rounds of canister, and then the tanks plunged over the trenches. What a fight and what a battle it was! The Kalundans at this point resisted with the utmost vigour even though they were in the very process of being overrun by the enemy. They even suicidally fired up into the bellies of the tanks passing directly over them in the trenches, killing three, a heavy and two mediums, in this manner. Another four of the heavy tanks, three mediums, and six light ones, were knocked out by other methods as the trenches were overrun.

Many of the sledges were stuck at poor angles as the men aboard them spilled off, slashing the towing hawsers to allow the tanks to continue on. Others were upended by hitting the sides of the trenches. But thirty-one bridges over the trenches had been established outright and another seventeen might be with some effort, under the cover of the men who, riding the sledges, had now dismounted to fight the Kalundans in their trenches. A series of savage battles raged along the improvised bridges.

Behind them the Technicals forged ahead through the muddy terrain of the allies' rear areas, which had been covered with straw during the night to provide enough stability for the passage of the wheeled vehicles. The Kalundan artillery, after knocking around the allied rocket launchers, had caught onto the attack and been centrally redirected. Their shrapnel rounds were powerful enough from the regiment of the big 24cm guns to shred dozens of the Technicals and all the men inside of them. They were countless of the vehicles, though, and soon they were plunging forward onto the iron-bossed wood of the sledges which tenuously covered the obstacles of the Kalundan trenches.

Some of them braked to a halt turned to the side from the bridges and disgorged their loads of men, who leaped down to attack the Kalundans still holding out in most of the trench sections from behind, guaranteeing the annihilation of the defenders unless they retreated immediately, and then only to the flanks. Others tried to cross sledges which weren't securely resting, and they tilted and plunged the men down, often crushed by the vehicles they were riding in. The survivors, if unwounded enough, fell in with random units and continued to fight, highly motivated as most of them had no idea of the severity of the situation their peoples were in thanks to the air attacks, and encouraged by the ease of the operation so far.

The rest of the vehicles charged onward behind the hard-driving tanks, carrying the men who would reinforce the tank-riders in the coming flanking maneouvre. One of the regiments of heavy tanks, that made up of the remaining allied tanks of the various nations, and the light tank regiment, along with a battalion of APCs, swung to the left, flanking the Kalundan lines. The other heavy tank regiment, all Stirlin, the medium tanks, and the remaining APCs, drove onward toward the city itself. They had scarcely more than two kilometers to go to reach the rail embankment, which might be the last place for scratch Kalundan reserves to halt them.. Except the embankment itself curved here already, closer to them, and Erqui had accepted a non-linear path into the city by the mobile forces to be able to cut across it sooner and remove this possibility, which the tanks did. It created a natural split between the two prongs of the advance, however, and this was exploited with surprising suddenness.

The Kalundans had received several heavy tank barrels which they had no vehicles on which to mount. Improvising, naval personnel had been assigned to build vehicles for their use. They consisted of heavy eight-axle flats with a well-armoured electric turret built up massively from welded armour plate, pushed by a yard switcher covered in more of the stuff. Four of these vehicles were positioned to engage the left flank of the Stirlin advance into Kalunda's suburbs.

Sarina d'Kellius was in command of the situation here on the ground, having charge over the rear-area forces on the south bank. She ordered the other four of the 'rail-tanks' forward as well into the marshalling yard to hit the right flank of the allied advance into their rear-areas, and mustered all the reserve forces for the Eibermoni line to form a scratch defensive line between the railroad station and marshalling yard, which were precisely equidistant from the suburbs and the Eibermoni line, and Garbage Dump Hill which formed the centre of the Eibermoni line.

The problem was it tacitly abandoned half the line, and made no attempt to extricate the soldiers on it. And she had done it on her, because it seemed that there was no hope for preserving the whole line. She sucked in her breath and waited for the Marshal, and inevitably, the commnucation from Jhayka came...

“General d'Kellius, this is Marshal itl dhin Intuit. If you please, can you concentrate your reserves along a line—exact position your discretion—from the rail depot to Garbage Dump Hill?”

“Already ordered, Ma'am,” Sarina replied promptly, wiping sweat off of her forehead which was damp and distinctly unpleasant. “What about the troops beyond that position, however, Ma'am?”

“I've already ordered the units which can still retreat along the communications trenches to do so. General orders have been issued to the others to make their way back to our lines in any direction they see fit. The rest—on the extreme left—have been ordered to the riverfront. The naval squadrons will pick them up, and the rest who aren't rescued can, I suppose, try their best to float downstream or swim across the river to the north-bank lines. As for the rest, God be with them.”

Sarina shuddered from inside her command post. Outside, the allied artillery had shifted to support the advance, and they were coming under a desultory bombardment. But there was no time to worry about that. Nor, in reality, about those who couldn't get out. “Marshal, do you have any other instructions, then?”

“They may try to take your left flank by cutting through the marshalling yard, General. Rig the ammo dump in the cargo tunnel to the city to explode.”

“That'll collapse the whole tunnel!” Sarina exclaimed, though in retrospect she realized immediately the obvious purpose of it. “Ah, exactly.”

“Precisely, it will be a perfect anti-tank obstacle. They won't be able to cross through a sunken tangle of shattered rock that wide, and it'll be scarcely passable for infantry. But hold off until you're sure they're trying to punch through that way. Better yet...” The Taloran was quietly assured of the necessity of doing this, taking the situation calmly from inside the city, even as she checked her own equipment to the consternation of her aides..

“Wait until part of their forces have crossed it,” Sarina finished. It pained her to destroy such a quantity of their ammunition, but it could not be evacuated in time, anyway. A serious oversight, but there were only so many safe places underground for the ammo dumps, when they had to fit the whole population of the city into protected positions as well.

“Yes, put together a scratch force to counterattack and clean them up, use cooks if you have to, when that happens. All that considered you have operational authority now over these operations.”

“May I ask what your intention is, Ma'am?” It sounded as though Jhayka intended to leave headquarters...

“Making sure, personally, that you're not cut off. They have another force driving through the eastern suburbs to try and get around the industrial districts and then, I imagine, cut them off—and our whole southern army—along the wall clearings. I'm deploying both the modern battalions there and I shall oversee the operations myself.”

“Best of luck, Marshal.”

“You need it more. God be with you.” And with that the communication ended.

Warleader Erqui received a communication from Colonel Altonas, who had been the Norman who, by extending hospitality to Jhayka, had ended up setting this whole war into motion from this proximate spark. He had not been entrusted with a high command because of it, but now the commander of the heavy tanks of the allied regiment had the ear of someone not biased against him. He reported tersely: “There's open space, undefended, if we can cross the marshalling yard and drive north of the rail depot, Sir.”

“Then go for it, Colonel, though treaded support vehicles only. The technicals and light tanks will continue forward toward to the south of the depot.” Altonas, though, had only seen the gap that Jhayka had ordered closed with explosives and decided to exploit it. He ordered the APC battalion with him forward, and his tanks charged forward and up the slope toward the marshalling yard. There they found themselves abruptly exposed to the concentrated fire of the four remaining rail guns which had been moving forward to support the others at Sarina's order. Six tanks were soon knocked out, and the advance for the moment stalled as the tanks used strings of railroad cars for cover to try and manoeuvre on the armoured gun cars which were being shifted rapidly through the yard and firing back whenever an opening presented itself.

They were fighting their heavily outnumbered covering battle so that the other four guns could continue pounding the Stirlin flank. But of those guns, one had already been decisively knocked out, a smoking ruin while the engine attached to it had got away with the crew. The other three had done good execution, and altogether eighteen tanks—eleven heavy and seven medium--had been knocked out by their disciplined gunnery. Now, however, infantry had advanced on their position from two sides, and only a limited number of exposed machine-gun positions and a single automatic gun protected each of the vehicles. The co-axial flamethrower on the heavy car's turret could keep the infantry away but it required them to shift fire from the tanks, and so the Stirlin force was able to smash into the suburbs without further damage done to it.

With the situation clear that they could no longer help in their exposed position, and were frankly on the verge of being overrun, the three remaining locomotives, flying navy pennants, backed up with the machine-guns and flamethrowers of the heavy armoured cars they shunted firing all the while, and the main guns using canister where appropriate. They returned to the marshalling yard, and were soon hotly engaged by the tanks involved in the fight there, which for the loss of three more of their own had disabled one of the four guns there as well.

Beyond, the Technicals racing forward directly behind Garbage Dump Hill had come under the concentrated fire of the light howitzers on what had been the reserve slope of the Hill, now exposed to the enemy by the flanking attack, but also perfectly positioned for firing over open sights at this attack. They brought a hail of shells down against the allied troops, a good sloshing which chewed the unarmoured vehicles apart, and all the men in them, thanks to the use of beehive rounds spat out with the utmost rapidity of fire, while Sarina ordered the use of phosgene gas and smoke canisters to confuse and hamper the drivers long enough for a defence to be firmly established by her scratch forces, the general reserves, and any units which had got out of the collapsed area of the line even vaguely intact. Fearing that the tanks would keep going that way, the anti-tank defences had been concentrated there, and these were of course utter overkill against the Technicals.

Rockets lanced out from shallowly-dug anti-tank pits providing cover for the crews, as rifle-fire from fox-holes and short lines of trenches at cross-angles chewed through the vehicles, wildly firing back with their machine-guns to try and suppress the enemy fire against them. The salvoes of rockets supported by the artillery, however, took out in short minutes a hundred or more of the unprotected vehicles and stopped the attack cold. Struggling in their gas masks and their protective clothing the troops in the Technicals were forced to dismount and struggle forward through the obscuring smoke into a hail of gunfire to try and clear the enemy in an infantry action.

The light tanks supporting this attack tried to salvage the situation. They couldn't. The anti-tank rockets and missiles were shifted to them and their armour wasn't sufficient enough to keep them out at close range as the tanks ground through the smoke and the mud under fire and buttoned down against gas. Sixteen light tanks were soon knocked out and the second attack on the improvised line, which was in the meanwhile constantly being strengthened, also therefore failed.

In the marshalling yard, Altonas' tank regiment had in the intervening time finally managed to force the guns back in hard fighting, disabling another three of them. The three survivors escaped on the track to the depot, which was now heavily damaged by the artillery fire, but of such massive granite construction that it was still largely intact and presented a formidable obstacle. Beyond this they fell back further along the railhead, and then were ordered down a junction to the industrial sidings in the town, coming to a stop essentially as pillboxes to defend the open ground to the north of the depot which was still undefended.

Above her head, allied infantry had reached the depot, and Sarina's command-post was directly under heavy fighting as the allies tried to get into the structure and found it a murderous and confused location in which to fight. It nonetheless was reason enough for her to be evacuated through some of the support tunnels toward the east, a reason doubled with the added justification of the fact that the blast doors well might not hold when the ammo dump was fired, as now seemed necessary with the allied tanks and APCs swinging over the marshalling yard toward the undefended north side of the station.

In the meanwhile the two fully modern battalions of Majors Ewing and Trajan. Ewing, with much more experience, had overall command and Jhayka was simply there to supervise, making sure that the supporting battalion of all the remaining Kalundan armoured vehicles, including some improvised models built in the city itself, was divided reasonably into the defensive positions, and that militia battalions which had been used to strength the defences fell back to a last-ditch reserve position rather than bear the brunt of the initial attack.

This main and daring thrust, composed entirely of Stirlins, simply had crashed through the eastern suburbs, racing along the abandoned streets of burnt-out and demolished or sometimes weirdly intact wooden simple homes to reach the cleared space in front of the old wall. Ignoring the wall itself, the vehicles began to turn and drive down this wide open space, and it seemed that they might outflank the whole of the southern army just as they'd planned. Then the first volleys of rockets shot out of the factories and disabled several tanks.

The first defenders to fight them were the factory workers themselves! They were part of the militia, of course, and had been working throughout the siege with weapons at their sides while they were going about their jobs. Now they formed the garrisons of the massive fortresses which were the industrial buildings themselves, and from these difficult targets they poured fire onto the advancing Stirlins from every direction save that of the city itself... Soon the advancing Stirlins were in a gauntlet of fire, and forced to send out columns from tankniki and the passengers and riders of the APCs and Technicals behind them to root out the opposition in the factories.

As they began to filter in, they found themselves in an impossible situation. On one undamaged latticework crane high above the city, an eighteen year old girl named Trea was the crane operator. She grabbed an old semi-automatic rifle with iron sights and sitting in a perch 80 meters above the ground killed fifteen Stirlins out of a platoon in the space of two minutes before they could get to secure cover. An armoured APC was sent forward to try and get a team to the bottom of the crane where they could climb up and kill her: She disabled it by throwing sticks of dynamite down on it, and in this fashion she held until nightfall and was able to escape.

Snipers posted along the old wall provided a problem in the opposite direction soon enough. Teams were sent to silence them: They could not get up the walls, however, because the snipers were supported by many unarmed labourers who, nonetheless, contributed to the battle by using crowbars to wrench loose rocks from the crenallations and send them toppling downwards with deadly effect on any man near the wall. Soon shell-damage and partial collapses from the fire of the tanks pock-marked the walls, and the towers were badly damaged as they frequently proved to have machine-gun nests in them.

Infantry penetrating into the factory buildings proper found themselves in an environment from Hell. The factory workers, armed exclusively with little stamped-metal SMGs, shotguns, hand grenades, and improvised explosives, nonetheless fought vigorously, and had the perfect defensive terrain. It was rare for a Stirlin platoon to penetrate more than ten meters into a factory building, and most of them didn't even get that far before being caught in a hail of fire on the floor, in a tangle of machinery and equipment where they could not see their opponents. Casualties multiplied rapidly, far beyond the levels which the small numbers of the mobile force could possibly handle and still continue to advance.

Yet, the way before them was virtually unopposed. Certainly, by forging directly ahead, and ignoring the harrying fire from the sides, they could achieve the encirclement anyway? Erqui was a wise man, and he said no, despite the protests of his commanders. It was a very smart decision, for ahead, Trajan's battalion was along the wall, at the gates and trenches dug at the base, and some, along the tops, while Ewing's battalion was in the factories to the south, ready to spring shut after the enemy force had passed and entrap them. By late evening, it was clear that this was not going to happen, that the allies had figured out the trap... So in support of the desperately fighting factory workers, and with Jhayka's approval, Major Ewing counterattacked.

Suddenly a storm of guided anti-tank missiles traveling at hypersonic velocities were launched at the poor-quality Stirlin tanks. Fifteen heavies and ten mediums were destroyed outright and more would have been lost if it was not the fact that most of the medium tanks were further to the rear. The full power-armoured troops of Ewing's battalion quickly proved themselves with perhaps mediocre coordination between the companies but excellence in every other way. The Stirlin infantry was mopped up, scarcely able to offer any opposition (only three men in Ewing's battalion and seventeen in Trajan's—which lacked much power armour—were killed). More died when they took on the tanks, but these, lacking infantry support, began to die in every greater numbers and soon began to retreat, though they roughed up the battalions while falling back for a while.. Until the remaining Kalundan armour came up as well; they overestimated it, panicked, and thereby began to fall back more rapidly.

As they retreated in their turns, the Stirlin forces already in the factories had to retreat to avoid being cut off, and it was a sheer hell. They stood or crawled away and universally came under fire doing so, pinned down, unable to move forward or back. Many groups were cut off to be annihilated in the grinding warfare of the factories. Others were saved only by the arrival of the allied leg infantry which had marched swiftly on the good roads of the eastern suburbs to arrive in time to counterattack and keep them from getting cut off, or reestablish contact with them at great cost through the maze of the factories in the darkening eve.

Joachim Ewing watched the situation develop and then radioed in: “I'd like to fall back half a klick, Your Highness, and dig in there and wait for them to try and push forward. In this light we'll have a solid advantage if we've just got the time to form secure positions.”

“That will let them reinforce their troops in several of the factories,” Jhayka noted, scarcely a klick back herself.

“Those factories are grinders for them, and the ones this close to the fighting aren't going to be used anymore, anyway, Your Highness.”

“Agreed. Very well, implement the plan for both battalions, Major. The armour can cover your retreat and then retreat itself behind your lines.”

“Understood, Your Highness. We'll implement that at once.”

It was better to be a Brigade commander, Jhayka reflected for a moment, relieved to have her hand in the action. But then her ears swiveled leftward on natural impulse at the leading wave of an intense shock. It muffled the sound for her much better than for the humans around her without ear protection, though her ears would have been ruined if they'd been facing directly toward the place. It was truly tremendous, and a wall of black and fire intermixed leaped up to the south, blanketing out the smoke and the fire which was already omnipresent with its neigh-infinitely greater magnitude. Sarina d'Kellius has blown the ammo dump, she noted reflectively. Now we just have to hold that line until the reinforcements from the north sector are there to man it.

Vicious fighting near Garbage Dump Hill had been going on for the past hours, and the flanking attemps to the north had been fought off in only the closest of actions. The number of dead had spiralled on both sides, and the ragged survivors of units cut off in the initial hammer's-blow had been thrown back into the fighting without a care for what unit they were now pressed into fighting alongside. For the first time, really, survivors of male units fell in with the Crimson Guard and survivors of Guard units with militia or regulars, and nobody cared. They were all soldiers, and there was no chance for any cohesion now. The fight was by the regiment, and in many places, by the company, and those companies were being decimated.

Sarina had waited until the last minute. Then she'd ordered the charges detonated. The basement of the depot, where her headquarters had been located, was completely destroyed, and the depot partially collapsd.. Though many men on both sides in the upper levels survived, and simply continued to fight and fight, grenades and bayonets and hatchets and SMGs at close quarters, stumbling around the massive dislodged blocks of grenade and shattered pillars, clambering over buckled floors and edging around dangerous collapses all for the sake of killing their fellow man in an environment of pitch black filled with blinding, choking dust which threatened to clog their gas mask filters and endanger their lives considering the whole area was permeated with phosgene gas by that point.

Colonel Altonas' regiment had been finally driving past the depot after sustained opposition from a scratch anti-tank force supported by an ersatz regiment of armed cooks and clerks and quartermaster personnel. His command vehicle was naturally toward the rear of the formation, as he had adopted modern tactics readily enough. It saved his life, as a good sixty percent of his intact tanks were disabled or destroyed outright or flung upside-down like tops with their crews killed by the accelerations, barrels snapped off, as the explosion bodily ripped the top off of the large cargo tram tunnel which ran under the area, fling massive chunks of rock and hundreds of tons of dust into the air, some of the boulders crashing down to demolish technicals and APCs in the area or even stamp out some of the Kalundan entrenchments nearby. Others further damaged the depot which had partially collapsed on the blast, and which, of course, did not for one moment result in a slacking in the intensity of the fight which raged on inside of it.

The end result was a deep trench with collapsed walls leading down into a wild tangle of shattered rock many meters deep at the bottom. It was entirely impassable for vehicles without proper bridging equipment, which was not available. So the allies now fell back on the secondary plan of sending infantry across this morass to hit the lines between Garbage Dump Hill and the Depot with a flanking attack from the north, clearing the way for a tank assault there. A shocked and shaken Altonas was stiffly ordered by Tarl Ikmen—who thought he should have died with his men—to support the attack with the guns of his remaining tanks. And he tried to do it; but the three remaining railroad anti-tank guns were soon in a duel with his tanks, and they were getting the worst of it.

In the meanwhile, the arriving allied infantry struggled across the morass, kept under steady heavy artillery fire from the guns inside the city, which were positioned on the north bank and moved regularly to prevent an effective counterbattery, especially now when the vast majority of the allied tubes had been destroyed by the nuke strikes. This guaranteed that even with essentially no infantry opposition whatsoever this effort through the trencherous rock, sometimes with flames leaping up out of it from below where intense chemical fires had been started by the explosion, like the very maw of hell itself, was difficult in the extreme. They had to push ahead, overcome the obstacle, and turn to hit the flank of Sarina's lines, but in the meantime, the Composite Corps of Guard and Regulars from the northern sector, current strength of 23,000 effectives, was marching south to reinforce the whole of Sarina's line. Now that Jhayka knew for sure that the allies had concentrated all of their forces on a genuine breakthrough effort, and with the unreliability of the Amazons there, it was marching south at the double-quick.

The Stirlin forces along the wall had indeed pressed forward again. And they were finding themselves doing so in the dark, with the sun now almost fully set and the massive amounts of smoke from the fires and the massive explosion of the ammo dump guaranteeing that they couldn't see, while the vision equipment of the advanced battalions worked perfectly. They advanced cautiously, to their credit, after overcoming their concern at the desultory defence of the armour before it also retired, but were repulsed stone-cold. They brought up their own armour and attacked again. Again, they were repulsed. This time the Stirlin armour disabled nine Kalundan vehicles at a cost of thirteen of their own, but the infantry suffered more than a thousand casualties, in addition to five hundred in the first attack, trying to get to grips with the Taloran, Alliance, and Habsburg power-armour manning the centre of the line, while Trajan's men poured fire from heavy weapons, many of which were capable of penetrating the allied APCs, on the flanks—all of this with a backdrop of the continued battles in the factories to the south, which waxed bloody and unrelenting.

Starshells and flares were nearly invisible in the massive clouds of smoke over the whole arena of battle. Nobody was sure what was gas and what wasn't, so full protective gear was worn at all times, and even in the dark many men collapsed from heat stroke because of the sheer effort of running around and fighting a highly mobile battle in such restrictive clothing and the suffocatingly hot and dry gas masks, while bullets and mortar shells flew over their heads and, more often than not, struck them as well, or served to gut their comrades at their sides.

The Stirlins brought up all of their reserves and attacked again. Every infantryman they could bring into the area was sent forward at the charge with the tanks cruising steadily right ahead of them. Point-blank anti-tank missile fire knocked out fourteen of them and they were halted. The infantry pressed on anyway. None of them even got to the lines; Ewing and Trajan's men killed more than two thousand Stirlins, greater than their whole numbers of men in total, combined, in that third and final attack of the gathering night.

Far beyond, the last pocket of the Kalundan defenders cut off by the Stirlin assault was collapsing. Danielle's gunboats, at extreme risks to the lives of the crews, and at the lost of one of the gunboats, had managed to extricate thousands of men, usually with their personal arms, which they'd been ordered to retain (along with the crew of the lost gunboat, which had only two fatalities despite being sunk in scarcely twice as many seconds). Thousands more, unarmed, had nonetheless floated down the river on anything they could find which could float. A few hundred of the strongest had elected to swim the great breadth of the river to the northern bank, still held for several kilometers further out by their own forces there, where the Valera Line was still holding.

Now the remainder, faced with death, for the men, and a fate worse than death for the women, would have to imitate the efforts of the best swimmers.. When many were injured and many were not good swimmers at all; some could not swim, period, and tied anything vaguely bouyant to themselves. Most of it proved not to be, the best material already stripped. The rest foundered forward into the river in a great mass, many drowning immediately. The strongest swimmers here, and the most desperate to live, and the most determined, struggled away from those who were drowning, pushing them off and leaving them to die, and forged ahead as fast as they could to get away from the dangerous mass of the helpless, and hopeless, and by doing so, for the most part lived to fight again by reaching the far bank, where many rear-area personnel of the units there plunged recklessly and courageously into the river to drag the exhausted swimmers the last dozen meters to shore.

Danielle brought her gunboats back again to rescue the horrid mass foundering in the river, but now the allies were along the bank, and seeing the gunboats arrive determined not to let those in the water reach them. Upon that writhing mass of the struggling and the drowning they poured machine-gun and rifle fire with such intensity as to quickly turn the water red with the blood of those slaughtered as they struggled in the current to survive.

The gunboats quickly returned fire and drove the allies back from the shore... But moving amongst the mass of people they could scarcely rescue enough. The survival rafts were loosed, but immediately turned over and capsized as five times the number of people they were designed for tried to climb in at once. It seemed as if beyond the thousands which had already drowned, thousands more should drown... But then came the other powered boats of Kalunda, those which were still intact, but not able to fight, unarmed wooden pleasure cruisers and the like, and a few tugboats pushing barges with countless lines hanging down, and by the effort of their crews, who exposed themselves to sustained heavy fire from shore without a means to reply, and suffered fifty fatalities and a hundred wounded for it, with six vessels sunk, managed nonetheless to rescue thousands more of those desperate survivors of a shattered army, and retreat back down into the city under the covering guns of the flotilla.

The Stirlins along the wall had retreated to a line they felt they could defend, and the efforts to push forward in the factories had halted entirely in a place where 'victories' began to be measured in terms of an office captured, or a janitor's closet cleared of opposite, or a squad advancing to the cover of another machine tool three meters beyond the last, and the casualties for this 'victories' were in the dozens, and cumulatively, the whole effort was costing thousands of injured and killed. The factory workers, now reinforced in some places with regulars, were content to allow the fighting to reduce itself to a desultory exchange of grenades and gunfire here and there as blood dried on the concrete floors and the wounded often expired only feet from their comrades, but still untouchably far out into the open inside these warrens of death.

Erqui's last chance for a decisive victory was with the men who, now in the pitch dark of the night, were pushing over the great blasted trench of the old cargo tram. They were now bereft of tank support, as the loss of another five heavy tanks (even if two of the remaining three rail guns had been destroyed in return) caused him to order all the heavy tanks pulled back. Outside of those attached to General Neguib's forces at East Port, they now had only twenty-seven operational heavy tanks, and they had utterly no more reserves of the vehicles. Indeed, those twenty-seven weren't even a useful force here any longer; before the battle was even over, Erqui drafted orders to have them and all the disabled ones which could be recovered and repaired to be sent to Neguib. The armour had done its best, though it had fallen short of what he had hoped. Now it was up to the infantry.

And the allied infantry did incredible work as well. They made their way over the pit of Hell itself, and then on the other side reformed and prepared to drive into the flank of the desperate fight raging in the Depot and on Garbage Dump Hill and along the lines between. Thousands of men, nearly a division in strength, were coming, and a brigade of them was over already, the rest still struggling behind. That brigade formed up to attack. The Composite Corps had arrived just in time, though. With their heavy weapons firing in support they attacked en echelon as they arrived, recoiling the brigades of allies still struggling across the trench.

Soon, the Guard division was involved there in a fight with the two allied brigades like the horrible fight around Hawthorn Ridge in the First World War of the Alliance's shared histories. The confused tangle of the crater clamed countless lives to accident, and countless more as the women of the Guard division fired down from above at the men still struggling above, while a series of bayonet charges recoiled the rest. The regular division of the composite corps, in the meanwhile, slammed back the allied brigade which had got across, and ground it up into the Depot hill, their line of retreat cut off.

Their only chance was to fall back into the depot itself, pushed against by the regulars, and this they did for their survival. It was a low and grim effort, though, as countless bodies of men stumbled into the vast and half-collapsed station and the ruined buildings all around it, and came under fire from every direction, including massive amounts of friendly fire from their own men. In this situation the whole brigade disintegrated, with most of them fleeing in any direction which seemed safe, some managing to convince the allied troops fighting there they were friends, despite the direction they'd come in, and falling in with them, and others simply ending up trapped in the chaotic tangle, dug in and able to fight as long as they had ammunition amid the smashed out-buildings, the massive holes leading into the blasted-out and half-collapsed basement levels, and the tottering structure of the massive rail station itself, where, with a horrible groan and a rush of dust to be added to the already massively polluted atmosphere, the dome of the station now collapsed, killing more than a thousand men on both sides outright.

Those in other equally cavernous areas of the station held still for a moment and prayed that the whole building would not go down, and when it did not, they picked themselves up, and began once more to fight as hard as they had before, though now sometimes in a complete three-way chaotic mess of allied troops which had arrived from both directions fighting each other in confusion and the Kalundans fighting both vigorously and rarely realizing the extent of the friendly fire casualties their enemies were inflicting on each other.

It was by now after midnight when the dome of the rail station. Between it and Garbage Dump Hill the fighting continued despite the pitch black. Nobody was going to let night try and stop this battle. Certainly not Erqui, who did not yet realize that his last attempt at a flanking manoeuvre had failed due to the generally difficult communications. The only thing which brought the horrible pitched battle to an end was when the regular division of the Composite Corps launched a strong counterattack at Sarina's behest. The whole of the allied force, exhausted by fifteen hours of continuous manoeuvre and combat, fell back, and the men of the Composite Corps regained ground up to the first lines of hastily dug entrenchments and simple foxholes which had been the earliest point of the defence.

There the men of the counterattacking Kalundan force halted out of their own exhaustion at having had to execute a forced march from their own lines far to the north through the city and promptly engage in two sequential attacks without any chance to rest or eat whatsoever. When news of this reverse reached Warleader Erqui, he realized that his strategy had failed. As typical for him, and the whole of the Stirlin people, who showed no outward emotion, but rather turned to Ikmen:

“We have succeeded in getting such a grip into them that continued air attacks by the tech world will be impossible, Ubar, and we have taken out at least half of their factory capacity. Later attacks along the corridor on both sides of the wall will cut them off entirely. It was, perhaps, only half a victory, but the other half will allow us to strangle the city's guns, and with that, we shall have our conquest. And, I do believe, we inflicted more casualties on their forces than we suffered; that is certainly a first, and bodes well for the future,” a complete lie, as even Erqui felt somewhat nauseous at the casualty reports from the factory fighting, which this failure meant would continue indefinitely, and quickly redress the imbalance and then do worse.

“Thank you, Warleader. And to think, Park would not have even sanctioned this attempt, which has brought us under my direction closer to victory than all of his attacks combined had done,” he answered, loudly, for the effect of making sure his staff heard it. “Call off all offensive actions for the night, Warleader, and let our men rest,” Ikmen concluded, and then turned and left the command centre to return to his quarters and his slavegirls. Despite Erqui's prompt obedience to the order to cease offensive operations, the killing continued throughout the night. Those who died, simply died in place.


And this by me:

Cranstonville, Gilead

DAY FORTY



Marcus de la Hoya was on the verge of nervous breakdown, pulled every which way by the demands of civil war and now by his subordinates' insistance on militarily opposing the foreign intervention even as Ambassadors Franklin and Pepper continued to insist the only hope for his nation's political survival was cooperation.

If it could be called a nation. De la Hoya had always been loyal to the Confederacy in as much as it provided protection for his homeland, but he knew better than some that there was no "nation" here, but several, and that the Confederacy might never be restored. Gilead, Gilead itself, had cursed it's confederate planets with it's insane libertarianism and the fruits of it, the barbarians and hedonists having long destroyed it's credibility.

"The situation demands that we act immediately, Mister President," General Alexander Rothwell, commander of the New San Franciscan Corps, insisted. "The attacking powers have used atomics on Gilean soil, a direct act of aggression."
"They used the atomics to try and aid Kalunda against the savages," General Rosaria retorted from her seat by de la Hoya.

"Those savages are still Gilean citizens, Sir," retorted General Adriaan Ekker in his New Frieslander accent. The commander of the New Friesland Army Group directed his green-eyed glare at Rosaria. "We have an obligation to protect them from foreigners. A foreigner attacked them first, I will remind you all, and by giving her sanctuary Julio Kalundius and his enclave has committed treason against the Gilean Confederacy. The Normans and their associates have a legitimate right to self-defense, and I honestly think we should have long ago offered to aid them in reducing Kalunda."

"You are fools," hissed Admiral Lucy Duvalier. A Collinfielder by birth from a Wiccan family, Duvalier was the commander of what was ostensibly the Gilean Navy, though it in truth had long ago mutinied in favor of individual worlds and enclaves or been forced to surrender when the British squadrons at Nueva Cartagena and New Friesland had turned their guns on the Gilean ships still in port. Duvalier had yet been invested as de facto commander of the Collinfieldier Corps that was currently driving north of Quanzhi. "Do you honestly believe we have any better choice than to accept the intervention forces?"

"I do," Rothwell insisted. "The Confederacy's independence must be maintained lest we be divided up as spoils of war by foreign powers."
De la Hoya finally rejoined the conversation, asking, "And how do you propose we fight the combined Great Powers of the universe, General Rothwell? They can roam the Confederacy at will with our Navy long crushed."
"We bleed them in fighting planetside, President. We make the cost so high that the conquest is not worth the price."
"Or until they simply use atomics and other high-yield weapons on us," Duvalier muttered.
"If they do so, if they start launching attacks that slaughter millions of our people, then it will fracture the intervening powers against each other," Rothwell insisted. "They will lose all pretensions of humanitarianism in their land-grab, and without that, some of them cannot justify the continued invasion. And the others will not risk a general interstellar war over Gilead."
"And why should we help reduce Kalunda?," Duvalier said irritably. "Yes, reports are the Princess Jhayka launched an attack on Ar first, but our own intel sources indicate it was because one of the Normans' agents held a member of her entourage prisoner and tortured her because she'd stumbled upon the weapons. Let's be realistic, the only reason the primitivists have modern weapons in the first place is because they were likely planning, already, on trying to attack us. Kalunda has done us a favor by standing against them."

"If we are serious about asserting the Confederacy's rights to the rest of the universe, we must start by uniformly outlawing these perverse practices of the enclaves," Rosaria added.

"I concur," a voice cut in before any complaints could be made.
All heads turned to the previously-quiet Major General Cecil Covington. The grandson of an English transport magnate who held Gilean citizenship through his mother, Covington ignored the wealth of his British family in favor of his devotion to service in GMID - Gilean Military Intelligence Division, the closest the Gileans had to a secret service branch. "The Primitive Zone must be eliminated," Covington said. "I say that we should all trust General de la Hoya for the moment. Let us see how the outside powers respond, that should reveal their true intentions to us."

The other generals bristled, but all nodded respectfully. De la Hoya was a little taken aback at Covington's support, but he was nor prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth. "I'll have the orders drawn up tonight for the deactivation of our defensive minefield and for airbases and spaceports to be prepared for the intervening powers. You are all dismissed."

They all left, save Rosaria. "Can you trust Covington?" she asked de la Hoya. "He is a spook, a devoted one, and I do not like his ambitions."
"True," de la Hoya agreed, "but he has no support in the military rank and file. He is in our camp, much to my relief, and he must be trusted to an extent." As he went to leave, de la Hoya stopped and said, "Still, better safe than sorry. Be ready, just in case anything happens."
Rosaria nodded and left.


In his office, Covington picked up a phone with a secured comm. "Colonel Richter," he began, looking out at the Cranstonville skyline, "contact your front-men. It has to happen tomorrow before the press conference, before it is too late."
The woman on the other side replied, "Yes, General."


DAY FORTY-ONE



De la Hoya was in his office now, preparing to give his press conference to announce support for the intervention, to be timed with a transmission of the necessary orders. He had not slept all night, the stress making him insomniac, and stimulants had been necessary to ensure he was awake enough to give his personal statement.

Having steeled himself, de la Hoya walked out of his office and gave a nod to his secretary. His escort surrounded him as they walked through the corridors of the capitol, heading to the press room where he would give his announcement of supporting the intervention.

As he walked past a set of civilian-clothed workers, one suddenly moved. His escorts had no time to react before a ceramic knife had been plunged into the side and front of de la Hoya's throat, severing his carotid artery. "For the freedom of Gilead! Death to traitors!" the man screeched before a stream of bullets from de la Hoya's bodyguards ripped through his body, killing him.
De la Hoya dropped to the ground, crimson flowing from his throat and into his windpipe. He couldn't talk, air bubbling out of his ripped-open throat as he tried to communicate to his guards, worried about the orders he had that had to be delivered to the field to prevent his forces from attacking the intervention forces.

As medics were called, one of his guards did in fact take the orders from his pocket. De la Hoya died before he could see the guard slip them into his coat pocket and replace them with another set of papers. Written on them, with de la Hoya's forged signature, were orders to the forces in the field to "give full and unceasing resistance to the invaders of the Confederacy".



Harold Winters was worried. His friend Reggie had been killed murdering the foreign puppet de la Hoya, and he was worried that it would be tracked back to the group.
His girlfriends Bridgette and Nicole - one a brunette, the other a redhead - were laying before him. Nicole shifted on the floor to face him, tears from her bright blue eyes coming down her face. "I'll miss Reggie," she sighed. "It's a shame he had to die to save us."
"I know. I'll... I'll never forget him," Harold wept. "But it was necessary, necessary to save us from the foreigners who want to take away our freedom and make us follow their superstitions."
"I'll never let the Christians seperate me from you two," Bridgette said. "I'll die first, I'm not as passive as some of the others."

At that moment the door opened. The uniformed woman who entered was Colonel Wendy Richter, a muscular woman with sandy blonde hair and cold brown eyes, and she was flanked by some troops. "Well done, everyone," she said to the radicals. "De la Hoya is dead and our troops think we're supposed to fight back."
"I'm glad we could be of service, Colonel," Harold replied, running a hand on Bridgette's brown-haired head. "What's the plan now?"
"We help the primitivists overrun the traitors in Kalunda," Richter replied. "The foreigners' defeat should trigger an uprising on the worlds they already occupy. Once we show them how costly the intervention will be, and that we'll fight an insurgency if necessary, we let their natural differences play against each other and split them up."

"Yes! And then our rights will be saved!" Nicole cried out gleefully.
Richter smirked. "Your country thanks you for your service, Mister Winters. Unfortunately, given the circumstances of General de la Hoya's death and his support among the troops, we must take his assassins into custody."
A horrified look crossed Harold's face. "What do you...."
Richter's men opened fire with their rifles. Bullets ripped through the bodies of Harold and his girls, tearing flesh and organ and causing spurts of blood to go everywhere. After a few seconds firing they stopped and one of the soldiers stepped forward to put a gun in Harold's hand. Richter opened her military cell phone and opened a direct link to Command. "This is Richter. The hedonist radicals tried to shoot me when we came to arrest them. All three are dead......"


"And where is Rosaria?"
Standing in front of General Covington, Richter did not move. "She has, for all intents and purposes, disappeared, Sir."
"Make sure our people are looking for her. She knows that de la Hoya was going to support intervention and could have originals of his orders for intervention support with her. We need the frontline troops to think that de la Hoya was opposed to intervention."
"Of course, Sir." Richter nodded and went to leave. "Sir, do you wish for me to start calling you 'Mister President'?"
Covington grinned. "Won't be official until tomorrow at the earliest, but it is likely. The other generals are all timid or idiots, only Rosaria was a threat to me. So go ahead, call me Mister President."
"Yes, Mister President. Shall I send the messages to Ambassadors Pepper and Franklin then?"
Covington nodded. "As discreetly as we discussed."
Again his subordinate nodded and this time he let her go. Covington turned to look back out at the skyline of Cranstonville. There were some bonfires in the distance where radicals, having laid low in the city, were celebrating de la Hoya's death. They wouldn't be celebrating for long, not when GMID got to them.
Within twenty-four hours, Cecil Covington would be President of the Gilean Confederacy, and if he got his way, it would be a lifetime appointment.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-19 01:29pm

Henley Mountains

DAY FORTY



Sara Proctor stood at the rocky edge of the mountain slopes that led down to the mountainside wall of the Norman city of Thentis, populated by roughly twenty thousand people, complete with a thousand man garrison (Which was once three thousand, but reduced due to the need for troops elsewhere). The mountain fortress-town was the northern gateway to the Norman heartland, controlling the mountain passes and close enough that it's garrison could also block passage along the Henley River.

Rinel, Chief of the White Blade Clan, was standing beside her, along with the MacCullochs. He had the lean muscular figure common aming the Thantians, with brown eyes that sometimes burned with the hatred of the Normans, the Thantians' life long enemy. "Taking the city without your artillery will be impossible, War Leader, not in the time you desire. And we would lose many dead."

Sara nodded slowly. "If we must, I will evade Thentis and continue south, but I dislike leaving their garrison in my rear area. The Normans may even now being marching reserve troops north to confront us."
"Is there any way to enter the city secretly, Rinel?" Andrew MacCulloch asked.
"Highly unlikely," Rinel replied. "The watch towers are many and the walls high. Any attempt to scale them, even in darkness, would be quickly spotted."
With all of that said, Sara led them back toward the camp. It was a hard walk going around the side of the mountain and down, and it would be two hours before they made it back to camp, placed to stay out of sight from the Thentis sentries. Even at night the fires were limited so that the people in Thentis would think it was merely a clan of Thantians resting for the night.

The number of Thantians was climbing every day. Even as they returned to camp Sara could see the detachment from Clan Rotan coming up from the pass.
Andrew went to his wife Cera's side, her side scratched up from where she had fallen in the morning hours. Sara returned to the heart of the camp, the Signet still hanging from her neck on the wolf furs and her sword and sidearm dangling from her hips. She hadn't expected Thentis' defenses to have thickened so greatly, but she should have. Now her entire plan was in a sense of jeopardy; dare she sprint the entire army south under cover of darkness?

"War Leader!" A young boy, covered in sweat and looking like he'd run a great distance, came up to her and bowed. "War Leader, our scouts have found a man higher up the mountain. He is not dressed as a Norman, and they are bringing him here for you to see."
"Very good. Go rest now." Sara returned to her tent to grab a bite to eat. She changed her clothes even though it wouldn't do that much good for her in terms of the horrible smell. After she changed, a Thantian scout came in, escorting a man in tattered black cloth covered barely by a fur jacket. He was slightly tanned in skin complexion, with a scraggly beard, but most conspicuous of all was the white on his collar and the crucifix and rosary hanging from his neck. "You are a priest?" she asked the man.
He bowed politely. "I am Father Fernando de Galinda from the Mission of Saint Magdelena of Nueva Cartagena."
"Father de Galinda, I am Sara Proctor." She gestured to a mat that he could sit upon. She was familiar with the Mission of Saint Magdelena, which explained Father de Galinda's presence. It was named after a Catholic missionary in the Primitive Zone from two centuries prior who, while trying to help runaway slaves, was enslaved herself by the Normans. She had resisted successfully their slave conditioning, clinging to her strong faith, and went about converting other slave girls and even non-slaves into Christians. When this was discovered, she was put to torture by the priestly caste of Ar in an attempt to compel her to stop, and when the torture failed to stop her the Normans viciously and cruelly executed her in the gladiatorial games, unleashing a pack of intentionally-starved wolves to rip her to pieces for the delight of the crowd, which included many of her secret converts who later brought news of her terrible fate to the outside world. She was soon declared a martyr of the Church, and just ten years before Sara's fateful first trip to the Primitive Zone, the Church had officially canonized her as a saint, birthing the Mission that brought together men and women like Father de Galinda, determined to spread Christianity and oppose slavery across the Primitive Zone.
"Yes, the entire city was abuzz with news of your return before I slipped out," the priest said, taking a seat across from her. "I have come to aid you."

"Aid me? In what way, Father de Galinda?"
"Your army undoubtedly lacks the power to break Thentis' defenses, Your Highness," Galinda said. "But I have a way for you and a band of your followers to sneak into the city." He leaned forward. "There is a mountain stream that enters the city from it's northeast quadrant, it provides much of the city's freshwater."
"I know of this stream, Father, but I also know that there are watchmen overlooking where the stream enters the city, and that there is a grate there."
"Yes, there are," Galinda said. "But the grate has been sabotaged by the Underground Railroad to allow for slave escapes, and as for the night watchmen.... they are secret converts, Your Highness. They will allow me to return to the city with you."
Sara nodded slowly. She looked to the scout. "Assemble the leaders of the clans present," she ordered. "We have an operation to plan."


Army of the Valley Campsite, Near Thentis


William was cleaning his gun when the scantily-clad Thantian ran into the camp, having shed his clothes as he came down into the warmer valley and desired to lose the weight. His breath was ragged and his face bore scrapes from low-lying branches in the forest he had traversed to arrive, but the paper he had with him in a secure pouch was what William had been waiting for all week.
Sara had hand-written the note, showing some sloppiness from haste but with the lettering still legible. She informed them of her plan and gave orders for them to march toward the city, prepared to enter it's gates as soon as the agents inside opened them and gave the signal by flare.

Now William was getting his weapons together, preparing to join the force that would storm the gate as soon as the signal was given. Night was beginning to come when Mei-Li entered his tent. Her wounds were still visible on her uncovered torso, and William responded to her presence by standing and giving her a quick kiss. "You are armed," he said, noting the sword dangling from her hip. "You're supposed to be on bed rest."
"I was wounded on my belly and breast, not my legs," Mei-Li replied, an eager glint in her eyes. "Do you think, William, that I would let such minor wounds get in the way of joining this glorious attack?"
William was about to voice complaint when he decided that there was no point. He put his hands on her bare shoulders. "I was about to try and argue with you on it, but there's no use in that, is it?"
"Of course not, William." Mei-Li pressed her lips against his. "The next bed we share will be in the mansion of the leader of Thentis."


With nightfall, both armies began to move. On the one side, Mei-Li and William were joined by Major Winston and a hand-picked unit to move ahead and take the gate while the rest of the army marched into position.
These movements were unseen, for the moment, by the sentries of Thentis, as the camp followers remained behind to keep the campfires burning and to make it seem like the army would remain bivouaced for the night.
On the other side of the nearby Mount Thentis, the Thantians began to move as well, taking positions to, if necessary, storm the eastern wall as a diversion. Ahead of them, moving along quietly on foot, Sara led Father Galinda, the MacCullochs, and another handpicked force of ten Thantians skilled at raiding - six men and four women - toward the stream. It was flanked by forest, and under the cover of the trees they could move very close to the wall before they would risk being spotted, so long as they remained quiet and did not use any light.

The Normans had cleared one hundred and twenty yards of the forest around their walls, and here the band had to get on their bellies and crawl quickly through the mud and grime of the stream bank, keeping their heads down. Sara and Andrew took turns watching the sentries and letting everyone else crawl ahead.

It was well into the night went they finally crept up to the wall and the grate. Each slipped quietly into the stream and were pulled by the current up to the iron grate. Thankfully the current was not so great that they could not swim against it, allowing for an escape and explaining the usage of the stream as an escape route. Galinda showed Sara the weakened bolts that she and Andrew MacCulloch and three of the Thantians were then able to remove, allowing them to open the grate enough for the current to push them inside. Andrew and two of the male Thantians remained behind to replace the grate as Sara and the others swam on.

The stream ended in a series of aqueducts that distributed water to the city's reservoirs and fountains. Sara climbed out of one, feeling her way around in the darkness, and helped Galinde out. "Everyone regroup," she said quietly. "Father, will you?"
Galinda led them through the darkness, up stairs as distant torch light slowly returned them to brightness. The stairs led to a guard chamber protected by great iron-embossed doors. Two guards were always on the inside, two on the outside. Galinda motioned to them to stop. "Those are not mine," he whispered to Sara. "They must be on the other side of the door. Let us wait until the next rotation."
"Father, every moment we delay raises the chance that our armies will be spotted," Sara whispered back. "We must hurry."
"Please, trust me and wait."
"Ten minutes," Sara replied.

Nine agonizing, tense minutes later, the doors opened. Two men appeared through them. Galinda nodded to Sara; they were his people. Sara's muscles began to relax.
There was a crumbling of mortar, a thump, and a curse behind her, from one of the Thantians; he had been gripping the side of the stairway and caused a weak brick to come loose.
The noise was heard by the guards. The two on their side, who were not Galinda's men, ordered the other two to be ready to sound the warning, and they promptly drew swords and came toward the stairs. As the jig was up, Sara pointed toward them in a gesture ordering no gunfire and drew her sword. She came forward, Galinda beside her, and stepped into the light. The two Normans stared bewildered, not knowing who she really was, before charging.

But the two guards behind the attackers saw Galinda. They drew swords as their comrades lunged toward Sara, who parried her foe, while a Thantian tossed Galinda to the ground to get at the other Norman. Sara's opponent was at least a capable sword-fighter, while her skills had only recently been recovering from what training she could manage, and he was clearly getting the better of her. She stepped back just enough so that the tip of his blade barely grazed her right cheek, though still enough to draw blood.
A sword thrust through his neck at that point. As he fell, his compatriot was run through from both ends by one of the converts first and then the Thantian.
The two turned to Father Galinda as he began to stand. They each bowed before him. "Father, we have sinned," they said, almost in unison.
Galinda looked to Sara, who said, "We don't have time, Father."
Looking back at the two men, Galinda extended a hand toward each of them, bidding them to stand. "As I told you before, aiding us in our mission of emancipation of slaves, at risk to yourselves, is an act of penance by decree of His Holiness Alexander XIV. Your souls are safe."
"Listen, can you two continue to stand guard on your side?" Sara said. "That way we needn't worry about an alarm being raised too early."

They nodded. One of them, a younger dark-haired man with a scraggly beard, took Galinda's hand. "Father, a day after you fled, the priests took Matthew, Paula, and Magdelena," he said with sorrow.
Galinda's face fell and he made the sign of the Cross on his forehead and chest. "God be with them," he sighed.
Sara clasped the man's arm with her right hand. "What is your name?"
"I was born Tarl, named after the hero of the Great Epics," the man replied. "But my true name, my Christian name, is James."
"Then, James, I swear to you that before this night is out your friends will be freed. Now, please, watch this door, and let us get to work."
"What are you planning to do?" asked the other convert.
"We're going to open the east gate," Sara replied. "And my army will take this city."


From the trees two hundred yards away from the iron East Gate of Thentis, William looked out of his binoculars before adjusting his dark camo fatigues. Mei-Li was dressed similarly, their faces smeared with dark oil to prevent their light skin from being seen. Each was holding a Devenshiran R-101 assault rifle, though Mei-Li was still uncomfortable with it and preferred swords and crossbows.
William was wearing a headset in his helmet that connected to the small radio net they had. Sara had one as well, though she had maintained radio silence and would until she was ready for the army to move toward the gate.

"Where do you think they are right now?", asked Mei-Li nervously. "I am tired of waiting and hiding in the bushes like some mountain savage."
"I'd be careful saying things like that, if I were you, given that those 'mountain savages' are our allies now," William replied, which caused Mei-Li to snort in reply. William ignored her, still trying to come to grips with what had happened. He had come here to help his grandmother and had now allowed this princess, this living and breathing outsider from a completely different world, to seduce him.

And the truth was, he loved it. He reveled in every moment they had spent together, the sensation of her body and his pressing against each other, the physical sensation of release that came from having sex with her. He could see why the people of Plymouth had their attitudes about sex, given how thrilling it was, it was at odds with their principle of living joyless, harsh lives to prove themselves as being of the Elect, those determined by God to enter the gates of Heaven.
William had been raised to believe that he had no choice in whether he went to Heaven or Hell, that he could only prove himself of the Elect by living a "Godly life, without sin". His father had only some niggling doubts as to how the Elect presented themselves in living, but even he believed that there was an Elect. Sara, on the other hand, had already told William that while she believed in God and in Christ, she had years before concluded that Plymouth was gripped in a nasty heresy that was not supportable biblically.

A sharp blow came to his head. William put a hand to it, reflexively, and muttered, "Ow!"
Mei-Li pulled her hand back. "You're thinking too hard, William. We are about to go into battle. Keep your mind on that, lover."
William nodded once, still rubbing the stinging pain at the back of his head.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-24 10:00am

Thentis, Norman Empire

DAY FORTY


Silently the band moved through Thentis, using alleys to slip from street to street to avoid notice and to use the cover of darkness as a disguise, given they had not had the time to dress in less conspicuous wear. The town's garrison was on alert given the approach of Sara's army, but that had not translated into increased patrols on the streets. Thentis had, after all, never fallen to an enemy attack before - in the last war, the al-Farani and the Henley Valley detachments that had attacked the Normans from the north bypassed the city by virtue of the destruction of the Tribute Army at Artemisia - and the locals were arrogantly aware of this.

It all played well into Sara's hands. Guided by Galinda, she and her entourage made it through the alleys with barely a stop.
The town was regular looking enough. Buildings of brick, stone, and wood, mostly dwellings where the town's normal civilian populace lived, many of them housing a few soldiers as well, preventing them from being focused on the barracks. A grid pattern of roads was laid over the town, with the two main avenues cutting it into squared quarters and linking the four gates. It was along the East Road, leading to the gate, that Sara and her people stopped for a moment, both to catch their breath and to survey the gate's internal defense.
There was naturally a pair of watch rooms, in which the gears to open the gate were located. On top of the defensive wall were two guard-towers where the sentries could look in all directions; stairs led up to them, but given how open they were to view Sara did not want to risk sprinting up them.

Sara nodded to the others, who took out of plastic sealed bags small RPG-pistols. They were of Devenshiran origin as well, a favorite amongst the underground abolitionists in the years before the fall of King Michael. Advanced mini-rockets propelled a grenade a short distance before triggering it's primer; perfect for shooting at close targets that were at a drastically different elevation.
Andrew MacCulloch frowned, and Sara could see for good reason, as his pack and the bag hadn't been properly sealed; water had gotten into the bag and his pistol would need to be dried out before use. But this still left them with four others, and she only needed two. Sara distributed them to the MacCullochs, saying, "Wait until I send the signal and we hear the first explosions." She received two nods in confirmation before taking out her radio headset - this one waterproof even without it's plastic bag - and slipping it on her head. "This is White Queen to Chessmaster. Begin now."


From his tent overlooking the open field leading to the north gate of Thentis, Dao Zi heard Sara's order and gave the word.
Immediately the long-range recoilless rifles, all three they had, opened fire. Insufficient to actually breach the city wall - or even the armor of the guard tower, they nevertheless made a significant racket and would provide covering fire as the vanguard of their army moved forward. Carrying conventional siege ladders and a battering ram, they had modern-armed soldiers sprinkled amongst them who prepared mortars and set up machine guns to fire on the wall.
Within moments the flash of gun barrels appeared along the perimeter of the wall. From their guard houses along the wall's top and some buildings purposely built along it's perimeter, the garrison quickly responded to the anticipated attack by laying down fire with what ammunition reserves they had. Men and women fell before the fire, either being actually hit or obeying the orders of their officers by hitting the ground. They would begin crawling into position, trying to bring up what RPGs and satchels they had to begin hitting the enemy defenses, but for all intents and purposes his attack was stalled.
Fortunately, it had already fulfilled it's purpose.

Cera and Andrew dashed out first, raising the pistols and aiming as they had been trained. There was a whine and then a small streak of ejected flame as the small RPGs raced upward. Cera's hit home, striking inside the guard tower and causing an explosion that threw the sentries within to the ground below. Andrew's was only slightly off-target, partially hitting the tower, but it had the desired effect anyway, throwing one sentry out of the tower and causing masonry shards to rip through the other's throat.
The explosions were hidden by the distant ones sounding from the north, but the guards at the gate heard it and came out to investigate, just in time to enter the firing sights of Sara and her group. Rifles barked aloud, the Thantian entourage adapting well to their use and mowing down the guards. Sara was the first to the watch rooms with the gate-opening gears. With four men joining her, she pulled hard against the wooden wheel. Her body's muscles protested with pain, but to no avail, as she strained with every ounce of will to pull the gate open.
And slowly but surely, the gate opened.


When the code word was given, William made sure to give his gun one final check before nodding to Mei-Li. "All units, advance," he heard Major Winston order, and the hundred well-armed men and women with them charged forward for the gate. They entered the open land between the tree line and the wall of Thentis, William's heart racing as he looked around, anticipating a hail of bullets and even arrows from the wall sentries.

But their attention had been successfully diverted by the attack on the north, where the town's garrison was sending their available troops, and only a few remaining sentries brought up crossbows to open fire. But the two most dangerous wall posts - the towers at the gate - were soon cleansed of enemies, the sentries thrown out or brought down by the explosions that flowered within the structures.
The gate began to slowly creak open, and only one man - one of their Zhai soldiers - took a crossbow bolt in the shoulder before they got to the safety of the gate archway. William was delighted to see Sara standing there with her troops, a rifle now slung over her shoulder. He went up to greet her but was prevented as she immediately took charge. "Flamethrower teams will follow me, we'll sweep out their defenses in the north bit by bit. William, Mei-Li, take fireteams along the wall and shoot out any enemies you find. Andrew, Cera, keep the gate open, the Thantians should be here soon." Sara lifted her rifle up. "Okay people, let's move."

Moving through the streets now was a different proposition from before. A horn blow wailed over the air, summoning soldiers to come out of their quarters and head to their posts to be given orders on defense of the fortress town. This played right into the hands of Sara and her people, as street by street they would occasionally find - and promptly shoot - such troops before slipping back into the alleys. Confusion as to if the enemy had already penetrated the town filled the ranks of the Normans and bewildered their commanders. The enemy was attacking in the north, and they needed more men there to ensure their attacks couldn't scale the walls and breach of the gate, yet the reports continued to trickle in that men were found slain in the city and that the East Gate was taken.
Reinforcement parties who deployed to the East Gate as per standard defense order didn't last long enough to warn their superiors of it's fall, falling to the fire of the troops in the guard houses and the towers. Perfect fire discipline was maintained to preserve ammunition, while in the distance the first hoots of Thantian war horns could be heard, the horde of clansmen descending upon the Norman city in which so many of their kin had been enslaved.

Sara and her flamethrower teams arrived at the northeast quadrant of the wall, just by the door from which they had entered the city, and up the stairs they went to the second level from which one could enter the structures where the perimeter defenders were firing upon the advancing army. Sara remained further back, letting the flamethrower teams go forward after two Thantian scouts acting as pointmen, bathing in flames the occupants of every room they came against. The men set alight thrashed about and screamed in agony as they were burned alive, some desperately trying to put out the flames and being shot as they roiled about, killed by Sara out of mercy for their plight. Galinda did not show any external signs of distress, as he was used to seeing brutality as a missionary in the Norman lands, but he did nevertheless make the Sign of the Cross as he walked through the room.

After each room was another hall, with it's own small armory, that led to the next building's firing room. Here, again, the process repeated; scouts first, then pulling back and drawing the enemy with them so that the flamethrower teams could set them aflame. Within no time the entire hall was filled with the stench of burning flesh. Sara fought down the need to gag from it, forcing her troops by example to continue pressing on. Soon they'd lose the advantage of surprise, and they had to get the north wall's defenses out before that happened.


Dao Zi was about to call a brief halt, concerned about his casualties, when the muzzle flashes from the wall began to disappear. He realized what was happening, that the plan was working, and instead ordered the recoilless guns forward with their troops, intent on storming the wall.
The Valley's troops braved the fire greatly, charging south over the grass and dirt and up toward the wall. What fire remained still shot through them, causing men and women to fall dead or wounded as their compatriots continued on. Two of the siege ladders stopped moving, their teams shot up too much to continue, and the battering ram - the most obvious target - was similarly stopped.
Four ladders came up just as gunfire erupted from the wall's parapets, not at them but along the wall itself.


Heart racing, body sweating, William rammed a fresh clip into his rifle and slipped back out of cover, laying on his belly while Mei-Li kneeled to his side. Their fingers tensed on the triggers and bullets sprayed the next enemy tower, about a hundred and ten yards or so down the wall. "Come on, lover," Mei-Li said to him, standing to her feet and running forward with her Zhai warriors behind her. She screamed a Zhai war cry and they echoed it, firing whenever a Norman poked his head out. William followed them, failing to get Mei-Li's attentions over the sounds of battle.
A Norman trying to fall back from the next tower was moving his arm forward when a Zhai put a spray of bullets into his shoulders and throat. William realized what the object was and scrambled up, snatching the grenade up and in the same movement tossing it off the wall and down into the town, using his momentum from the movie to bring Mei-Li to the ground. She yelped from the impact on her belly and the wound she had there, apparently re-injured from being scraped across the hard surface of the tower.
Then an explosion sounded, and below them Norman men rushing to the nearest set of walls fell as the frag grenade's shrapnel ripped through them. Men lay wounded in the streets, screeching from their wounds, as their dead comrades lay amongst them, the other men not stopping under orders from their commanders, all efforts focused on holding the enemy off from the wall.

William looked down at Mei-Li, who's face was twisted with pain. "Mei-Li, I'm sorry, but that grenade...."
"It is okay, lover," Mei-Li responded in her almost broken English.
"Let me look at it," William said, reaching for Mei-Li's jacket. She frowned but relented, allowing William to pull it up to bare her belly. The bandage over her wound had been torn open enough that blood was starting to leak out of the re-opened wound. It was, thankfully, not severe, but as William went to re-bandage the wound Mei-Li seized his wrist. "No, William," she said. "You must continue the attack!"
"I can't leave you here."
"Guo Zhi will remain with me and insure I am well," was the insistant reply. "Go on with the rest. Now!"
Drawing in a breath to protest, William thought the better of it. She was right; the operation required them to continue along the wall before the Normans realized just how extensive the attack was.
Lifting his rifle, William bellowed an order to continue as the young man named Guo Zhi remained behind to tend to Mei-Li and prepare for them to resume the advance.


The battle to the north still waged, but it was in the east that it was decided. Like a giant wave forced into a bottle, the Thantians surged through the East Gate with a viciousness that nearly led to the trampling of the men of Sara's units who had been holding it. Their clan leaders had already made clear what they could or could not do; there would be no taking of Norman women for rape, there would be no burning. Pillage was to be limited to valuables, all food saved for gatherers to locate and ensure the feeding of the whole army.
As the Thantian flood rushed through the city's eastern section, news traveled by way of those Normans fleeing them to the rest of the army. Marius Reinol, the head of the garrison, ordered his men to stand fast, but many were already fleeing to the west and south, seeking escape from the city before the enemy armies could get to the gates and trap them in the city.

Sara first realized what was happening when she saw men abandoning one of the rooms built into the northern wall, heading into the building adjoining it and very clearly trying to flee. She split her team up, sending one flamethrower squad further down the wall and the other she led into the building personally.
The building was perhaps the most sickening one they could have entered; a tavern, which in Norman lands was essentially a bordello and an actual tavern wrapped into one. A corridor led them to the private rooms in which men could have sex with the slave girls who served them. The girls themselves were screaming in fright, bewildered at where all the men could have run off to until they saw Sara and her troops running through, Galinda in the rear. They began to run to the wall, huddling together with the bravest of them kneeling to Sara, wailing. "We are mere kayira, Amazon, please don't slaughter us," she cried.
"I don't murder innocent women, and I am no Amazon. My name is Sara Proctor."
The woman's eyes widened. "Sara Proctor, the Demoness Slayer of Men?!" She began to fall backwards, filled with terror.
Sara didn't bother replying, there wasn't time to.

Once out into the city, it was clear that the Normans were fleeing south. Sara breathed a prayer of thanks that she had possessed the foresight to ensure all of her army were wearing distinctive armbands that would limit friendly fire losses, as in the flames and lights of Thentis they were at least identifiable. "Father Galinda, where would they be holding the Christians?"
"The Governor's Palace," was the reply. "There are dungeons here, and the town's interrogators."
"Then lead the way." Sara motioned for men to cover Galinda as he led them on point. They encountered Normans along the way, but even the soldiers were just trying to flee. Over her radio Sara briefly listened as Dao Zi reported that his soulders were over the walls, which William's team had successfully cleansed of defenders, and that the north gate was being opened immediately. Winston, who was leading the defense of the east gate, made the suggestion that Dao Zi deploy men to cut off the west gate. Sara turned on her transmitter and added, "Excellent suggestion, Major. Your Highness, please execute this plan."
"Immediately," was Dao Zi's reply.

They went through the bazaar, now filled with Thantians grabbing trinkets and finishing the killing of Norman soldiers unable to escape from them. Galinda and Sara both felt disgusted, and for the first time Sara found herself doubting her decision to get the Thantians on her side. But it was too late to reconsider things, and reforming and improving the Thantians would have to be left to the future.
It was through the bazaar that they entered the torch-lit streets of the town center. They passed the barracks, ignoring the piles of corpses on the ground and trying to avoid stepping in the blood, on their way to the exact center of Thentis. A rip of fire erupted from the side and two of Sara's men fell. She dragged Galinda to cover behind a column in the walkway and her other men scattered. Another burst of fire came, then a second and a third, until a scream came from far away followed by harsh feminine laughter. Sara looked around from cover and saw Thantian women cutting open a Norman man who had been perched from a window in the barracks, and despite the partial darkness she could see from the torch-light silhouettes that they were castrating him.
Sickened, Sara ran over to the two men who had been shot. One had taken a bullet to the head and was clearly dead, but the other had a bullet that had hit him in the side. He was gripping his ribs. Sara kneeled beside him and shouted for the medic. The Shi'ite physician ran forward and produced the bandages with which to cover the wound until they could remove the bullet.

Carrying the living man along, they continued on until they got to good cover, and then Sara took Galinda and four other men - one of her Ducal Guards, two Zhai, and an Asatru Norse pagan - on while leaving the rest of her unit to stay with the physician and the wounded man.

Coming out of the bazaar, they reached the exact center of Thentis, a temple to the east and the Governor's Mansion to the south. But it was what was in the central common of Thentis that drew their attention, and made Sara and the others gasp in horror.

Facing them - and thus to the north - was a wooden cross, and upon it, a brown-haired woman - little more than a girl, probably twenty-one at the oldest - had been nailed by her wrists and feet. The crucified girl had the thigh brand of a kayira, and a newer brand of a cross over her cleavage. A circlet of thorns had been placed upon her head, and on the base of the cross, beneath her feet and easy to read, Norman English script read, "The fate of the Christ and thus of his followers". Her skin was covered in bloody wounds and welts, with burn and scorch marks on her legs, genitals, and breasts, bruises elsewhere, and blood between her legs testifying to other forms of abuse and torture she had suffered - some of them still fresh and recent, given the nearby fire pits till gleaming faintly and filled with metal rods. Galinda and the Ducal Guard private with them crossed themselves, and it was Galinda who breathed the name, "Magdelena".
"Get her down," Sara ordered, full of pain and anger at the sight. "And get the physician!"
One of the Zhai ran back to retrieve him as the others, Sara included, worked to force the cross out of the ground and downward on it's back. Magdelena's chest was heaving slowly, at least confirming she was still alive. She opened her eyes slowly, regaining conscious at the sensation of being lowered. Her blue eyes were hazed by pain, and Sara could - at closer glance - see that Magdelena was a very lovely girl indeed, and had probably been a pleasure slave instead of a house servant. "Father Galinda," she said in a sweet, almost child-like feminine voice, though one barely audible given the weakness in her lungs from the struggle for breath while on the cross. "I prayed.... to the Saint Magdelena..."
"Shh, my child. Conserve your strength," the older priest replied. Sara could see tears in his eyes, but he seemed less perturbed by the sight than the Ducal Guardsman, and Sara realized to her horror that Magdelena was probably not the first convert of his that had been caught and crucified by the Norman authorities.

"I gave up.... none.... I gave.... up... none..." the girl repeated over and over, indicating again that some of her torture had been for the purpose of finding out the names and homes of other Christians in Thentis.
The Zhai man returned with the medic, who kneeled beside Magdelena after breathing a prayer in Persian. "Can we take her off?" asked Sara.
"We must be ready to stop the blood flow from where the nails are, but yes, I believe we can."
"I will stay here, with Magdelena, Your Highness," Galinda said to Sara, after which he leaned over the girl's face. Removing the crown of thorns from her head, he reached into his pouch for oils and began to pray in Latin while Magdelena's eyes closed once more, her chest barely moving to indicate her slow, weak breathing.

Tears flowing down her eyes, Sara motioned to the others to follow her on to the Governor's Mansion. Within sight of the commons where Magdelena now lay being attended to were the wooden doors, really a small gate, for the Governor's Mansion, which was surrounded by a fifteen foot high wall of wood and brick.. They were shuttered from within, so Sara took out the RPG pistol she'd kept and, after getting everyone to a safe distance, fired it into the gate. While the RPG certainly wasn't strong, it was enough to blast open the doors, which weren't very heavy and were more deterrent than actual protection.

The courtyard was nearly abandoned, and the one Norman there was a slave girl who was dutifully checking the plants. She shrieked in terror at seeing Sara and the others and ran toward a nearby shed. Sara ignored her, slipping through the cubed bushes of the estate and past the concrete fountain - a cheap sculpture of a half-nude slave girl pouring out a water pot, which the water for the fountain flowed from - toward the front door. The team went about the house and finally stumbled upon a female in veils. Sara lifted her gun, aware that free Norman women could in fact become violent, and barked, "Where is the dungeon?! Where are the other Christians?!"
Terrified at the sight of the gun, the woman pointed downward, and babbled about a door to the left that would take them downstairs. Sara nodded to a man, which seized the woman under gunpoint and bound and gagged her, after which they all moved onward.

While descending the stairs to the basement and the dungeon within, Sara again asked for a status report. Things were more confusing now, and Winston angrily reported, "The Thantians are going nuts. I've already had to threaten to shoot six of them to stop them from burning homes. There's so much chaos in the streets that we can't tell if the Normans are hiding somewhere or if they're heading out through the south and west gates."
Immediately afterward, Dao Zi reported, "They can't be leaving through the west gate, we've blocked it completely."
To Sara's relief, William's voice came next. "Lieutenant Heresford here, my team has finished sweeping the western wall and is moving along the southern wall, but there doesn't seem to be any guards here any more. I'm looking along the wall now..." There was the sound of gunfire that made Sara tense up in fear for her grandson. "Don't worry, that's mine. Some of the others are firing on Norman troops outside the wall. They're flooding out of the south gate. It's like a stampede from what I can see."
Sara sighed with relief and acknowledged the report. "I'm looking for the imprisoned Christians in the Governor's Palace. As soon as you can, I want you to get the Thantians under control. And get Doctor Smithfield to the Town Common right away, there are wounded there."

With the orders given, Sara's attention again turned to the job at hand as she stepped away from the stairway and to the brick floor of the basement. They advanced onward, going past open pens and cells that were empty and not hearing a thing, but Sara knew something was up when she saw two men standing guard at a door. They turned and saw her, but Sara and the young private with her opened fire first and both men fell. Sara slipped up to the door and, with her men ready, threw it open.
The inside was, to Sara, recognizable, as it was a Norman torture chamber not too different from the one she had suffered in decades before save that it was not on a train. There was no electricity in Thentis, so the rack in the center of the room's right half was a rope and pulley system, and stretched out on it was a nude man covered in the same marks that Magdelena had. A cry escaped his lungs, two men in hoods pulling the wheels as they had been when Sara had come through the door. To the right of the torturers was a man in the white robes of a Norman priest. He looked up in terror as Sara and her men entered the room, pistols barking and bringing down the two larger, stronger torturers but sparing the priest. Behind him, a naked woman also covered with the burns, bruises, cuts, and welts of prolonged torture was hanging from the ceiling limply by her shackled wrists. Like the man on the rack, she possessed rich golden-blond hair, which was disheveled and and flowed chaotically down to partially obscure her pert breasts - viciously cut by what looked like marks from the smaller razor-tipped floggers that Norman torturers preferred.

Sara motioned to her men, who began freeing the man from the torture rack while one secured the terrified Norman priest, Sara herself snatching a key from the wall to unlatch the shackles holding the woman's arms up. When she freed her, the woman collapsed into Sara's arms, brown eyes looking up at Sara with pain. "Who...."
"I am Sara Proctor, Grand Duchess of Illustrious," Sara replied matter-of-factly, helping the woman to her feet. "You are Paula, I presume?"
"Yes," the woman muttered. Her movement allowed Sara to see that, like Magdelena, she had a cross symbol branded over her cleavage. "He is my brother Matthew," Paula said weakly as Matthew was stood to his full height by her Ducal Guard private and the Norse pagan.

"Where is Magdelena?" asked Matthew, his voice full of concern. "Is she...."
"Alive, barely, from what we last saw," Sara answered. "She was crucified, as I suspect you two would have been soon."
The two made the sign of the Cross, as de Galinda had taught them, and whispered prayers. "Right now I'd be more concerned about you two," Sara said to them. "Medical personnel will attend to your wounds. The physical ones, anyway." Sara looked to the Norman priest, kneeling and now bound by the Zhai man standing over him. She drew her sidearm and approached the older man. "And that leaves you. You've tortured two innocent people because of the faith they possess and you had a third innocent crucified."
The man looked up at her, terrified. "Please, have mercy! I... I am an old man, and I... I'm not like the others! I believe women can overcome their nature and be forceful, free people! Please, spare me!"
"Spare you?"
"Yes. I know your Christ spoke of showing mercy and that you are a Christian, Sara Proctor, having sworn an oath of Christian loyalty to the Queen of the Devenshires! I know that you must show mercy as commanded by your Christian faith and your oath to Queen Minerva!"
Sara smirked. "I see your people are so obsessed with me that they hear everything about me. You might be interested to know how many people over the years have said I was not Christian." She held the gun to his head.

A hand reached over and held her's, trying to lower her gun. Paula's eyes sparkled despite the clear pain in her tortured body. "Please, my lady, do not strike him down. Vengeance belongs to God and God alone, and as Christianis we do indeed must show mercy to our enemies."
"And what about what he's done to you and to the other converts?" Sara asked.
"We have already forgiven him," Matthew answered, accepting a cloth from one of the guards to wrap around his hips.
Sara kept the gun leveled on the priest for a moment. I guess there's truth to the old saying that converts are the most devoted of followers, she quietly mused before lowering the gun. "Fine. As you say, I am a Christian, and bound to rules of chivalry and Christian behavior by my oath of fealty to Queen Minerva." Sara turned away and toward the door. "Come, let's go get you medical attention."
The two Christians were helped to the door by Sara's soldiers, save for the single Zhai man who remained with the Norman priest-inquisitor. When they were gone, and the inquisitor finished breathing a sigh of relief at being spared, the Zhai took his pistol and without warning fired it at the side of the inquisitor's head, sending blood, skull fragments, and brain matter to join the other blood streaks on the torture chamber's hard brick floor.


Once upstairs, Sara allowed newly-arrived medics to take the two suffering converts to be attended to, all the while conversing with the others over the radio. William and Winston reported that the flood out of the southern gate had ended, with the gates now under fire from above by William's troops and under increasing pressure from Dao Zi's, even as the Thantian clan leaders raced about, recovering their people and putting an end to what would quickly have developed into a sack of Thentis that would have been detrimental to Sara's plans for campaign. Although there were likely holdouts hiding in the city, which would be dealt with over the night and into the next day, all resistance against them had ceased. Thentis belonged to Sara Proctor.
With this news in mind, Sara walked outside. There, a gaggle of her troops were waiting, and Sara smiled as she saw them gather. She drew her sword and raised it high, shouting, "Thentis is our's!"
The crowd raised it's arms in reply and shouted in glee, calling out her name and giving her complete and total credit for the victory, even as soldiers from within brought to Sara the Homestone of Thentis, which she raised high to the delight of the soldiers.
Very soon, in the moonlight, the flag of the Norman Empire disappeared from the flag stands at the gates of the city and at the Governor's Mansion. Raised in their place, for all to see, was a simple standard, but quite recognizable as the personal standard of Sara Proctor the Liberator; that of a sword breaking the chain connecting a pair of shackles, with the Latin motto Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere crudely embroidered upon the top of the flags.
For the first time in history, a city of the Norman Empire - and it's precious symbolic Homestone - had been seized by the enemy. And as news of this critical milestone spread across the land, it would be quickly taken as a harbinger of things to come.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-11-26 07:37am

Thentis

DAY FORTY-ONE



Upon wakening, Sara gently rubbed the encrusted scab on her cheek where the tip of the Norman's sword had struck her. She stretched her arms and shifted in the bed momentarily giving in to the impulse to see if she could get a bit more sleep before forcing herself to wake up. She, frankly, blamed the bed. It had belonged to the Governor of Thentis, a soft and comfortable mattress bought from the tech world, covered with sheets of Kalundan silk and well-crafted down pillows. She slid off the sheets, enjoying the sensation of the silk against her bare skin. It was not often she slept in the nude, but upon bathing she had been so tired that she simply had climbed into the bed and went straight to sleep, surprisingly dreamless as she most often had some dreams when sleeping.

Pulling on undergarments, Sara took a moment to look out of her window at the mansion courtyard and the common beyond. In the courtyard, Lisa Spinozi and one of Dao Zi's subordinates were handing out arms retrieved from the Normans for the use of the locals. The replication units were working over-time with the raw material at hand to replicate more ammunition for them.

In the public common, the liberation authorities chosen by Sara were still interviewing the city's slaves. The male ones had already been interviewed, as there were few, but female Norman slaves were more plentiful and had to be more carefully screened. Those who were intact enough, emotionally and psychologically, would be allowed to aid Sara's army in whatever capacity they could. Sadly, a number were so broken that the best thing they could provide was - Sara was loathe to admit it - sexual service for the Thantians to prevent them from raping the free women in Thentis. As it was she made clear to her main army that she wanted no atrocities, no rapings or stealing, but the Thantians were straining against the leash she had on them as War Leader, and she deeply hoped she could keep them under control long enough to win the war and begin softening their society.

Sara was in the middle of clothing herself further when there was a knock on the door. She finished buttoning her blouse and gave the order for whomever it was to enter. The Ducal Guard private who had fought at her side for most of the previous night was there, in uniform. "Your Highness, a courier has arrived and has asked to speak with you. She says she is bearing a message from the Magestrix of the Amazon Confederacy."
That piqued Sara's interest. She knew the Amazons were allied with the Normans, but that a portion of their army had revolted was becoming more and more likely given the news her people had gleaned from travelers and refugees fleeing to the Henley Valley. "Take me to her immediately."
The private nodded and led her toward the stairs leading to the ground floor. As they went down, Sara said, "Private, you fought well last night. I would like to know your name."
"Private Hadrian Stanton, Company A, 2nd Platoon, Your Highness' Illustrian Ducal Guards."
Sara smiled at the young man. "All I required was a name, Private Stanton."
"Ah, sorry, Highness."
Sara immediately replied, "Don't say sorry, it's a sign of weakness."

Stanton remained quiet for the rest of their trip, leaving the mansion through the front door and heading out into the courtyard. Sara noticed the Amazonian woman, standing tall and proud beside her brown-and-white riding mount. She was, like Sara, a brunette, but with thin cheekbones and a narrower face and a body even more athletically toned than Sara's, as well as looking as if it were just now recovering from mal-nourishment. She was in a sleeveless vest with a long riding cloak attached to the leather brooch around her neck. Her small breasts were not bared as they would have been in a more formal meeting; the Amazons took the 'right' of breast-baring very highly. "You are Sara Proctor?" the Amazon inquired, looking Sara straight in the eye.
"I am."
The woman reached into the pouch and pulled out a letter in an envelope sealed with wax, bearing the official seal of the Magestrix. "I am Diane Athenios. Leeasa Avrila, true Magestrix of the Amazons, has sent this to you," she said.

Sara took the letter from her. "I shall go read this immediately. Would you like quarters to rest from your journey?"
Athenios's expression turned to one of disgust. "I would prefer not, given the number of men you have here."
At that, Sara smirked with some amusement. "You do not trust me, Diane Athenios, to ensure you remain inviolate? I, a female ruler?"
Athenios' eyes narrowed. "You have Thantians here, and Muslims of the Eastern Valley."
"Yes, and they are under my command. They will do you no harm. So, shall you accept my hospitality, the hospitality of a matriarch who has killed many Norman men, or will you insult me by insinuating you do not trust me or, even worse, that kI am unable to control the men under my command?"
There was a further pause, and finally Athenios relented - which was a good thing for her, as Sara was certain she needed several hours of comfortable sleep and a good meal or three. Sara immediately detailed former house slaves to attend to Athenios and give her mount a berth in the stable. After she was done, Sara returned to the mansion and took the letter to her private room, where she read it.

Soon afterward, her reply was finished.


I am pleased to hear that the Amazons have not been seduced by the lies of Ar, merely their former leaders. I am also pleased to inform you, Magestrix Leeasa Avrila, that my army has seized from Norman hands the northern city of Thentis, wherein I slept the previous night in the governor's bed after I used the Homestone of Thentis as a grindstone for my combat knife. With this victory I have restored my army's supply stores and am preparing to march south toward Ar within the next two days. I hope to be to Ar by this day next week, if not sooner.

Good luck, Magestrix. May God bless your endeavors with success.

Signed,
H.H. Sara Abigail Proctor d'Illustria



Sara had scarcely finished the letter and gotten wax to seal the envelope with when the door opened. Dao Zi came in, a concerned look on his face. "Your Highness, my scouts just reported that an enemy army is marching toward the city."
Frowning, Sara replied, "Gather the others. We will make our plans before sundown."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-12-19 08:48am

Written by both myself and Marina.

DAY FOURTY-TWO,
Cranstonville Capitol Complex.



General Covington took the call from Tarl Ikmen himself. The communications equipment had heavy snow and static across the image and the sound, the backwash of the allies' own jamming efforts around Kalunda. “Ubar,” he allowed politely, showing no recognition for the man other than that brief note of his title. The affairs of the barbarians in organizing their governments were largely irrelevant to him. The key was making sure that they fought now.

“Your Excellency,” Ikmen answered. I must debase myself before this man, he thought in a heavy anger, but tolerated it. It was after the all the key to their ultimate victory now that they cooperate with the government. The circumstances of the murderous continued fighting in the industrial districts had made that brutally clear. Thousands of men had been lost in just two days of sustained fighting there, for gains in some cases of rooms in factories, or meters of the factory floor! Only the news of the coup the day before had raised their hopes.

“What do you want, Ubar?” Covington knew that a government of national unity would be required for the next stages of the operation, and that the primitive zones would be crucial for guerrilla resistance, but dealing with the neobarb was rather galling for a man who styled himself the President of the whole Confederation, which was now reduced to a few worlds outside of the occupation of the foreign powers, all within a couple lightyears of Gilead itself. “I am, I must say, pleased with your stirling example of continued resistance against the foreign powers, but at the moment my time is very limited. On every stage we are preparing for a defence of Gilead as a world-fortress till the lift of the last patriot of the nation is gone.”

It showed to Tarl that he meant it, from the look on his face to the timbre of his voice. So he offered his request as a Norman would to a friend and ally, straightforward and direct, though scarcely impolite: “Your Excellency, we need air support to finish off the garrison of Kalunda. It's as simple as that. We cannot break through without controlling the skies and without fire to destroy their fortified positions from above. With the lost of our artillery to the atomics of the... Other nations..” And at this he saw he'd struck a chord; Covington was genuinely angered by that act, “We simply need major aid from the regular airforce to win.”

“Hmmm. If you'll hold for a moment,” Covington answered, and switched off the screen immediately to Ikmen's frustration at the seemingly casual dismissal of his importance. But he ground his teeth and waited as Covington turned to Colonel Richter, who had been sitting quietly out of the feed where the Norman could not see her. “What have we got available, Colonel?”

Richter's hands flew over the keyboard at her desk in quick effort of recall for the operational deployments of the forces loyal to the new regime. “Mister President, it looks like there's two two regiments of fighter-bombers and one of ground attack aircraft based south in support of Rosaria's operations around Qingdao which haven't been reassigned to a new operational command yet. They're older QI-49 and AT-2 types, but they have the range for providing combat support over Kalunda.”

“Three air regiments? I hesitate to even give them that much. But Kalunda must fall, and the sooner the better. We can keep them supplied for sustained operations where they're currently stationed?”

“Yes, Mister President.”

“Cut the orders for them, and get some associated forward air controllers—all men—sent out to Kalunda from the Cartagenean Corps, volunteers only,” Covington instructed her.

“I thought we weren't going to provide ground support for the barbarians? Isn't the Cartagenean Corps to just secure East Port?” Richter's question bordered on the contemptuous, and it was understandable. For Covington as well, they were truly disgusting allies, but there was little choice about having them.

“No additional troops, of course, Colonel.”

“Understood.”

'President' Covington brought Tarl Ikmen, whose impatience by that point showed, back up on the connection. “Ubar,” Covington smiled blandly, “I'm pleased to say that we can provide support with a single regiment of attack aircraft and two regiments of fighter-bombers. Equipped with modern munitions they should clear the way for you to finish off Kalunda in a fairly short order. The air support operations will begin by sometime tomorrow, and to aide their effectiveness I'll be sending some forward air controllers from our forces which now control East Port, via your own forces in that region. I expect them, of course, to be treated as honoured guests.”

“Of course, Your Excellency,” Ikmen rumbled in reply. “Though you must understand our cultural sensitivities..”

“They are all male and will all be volunteers.”

“Good. My thanks to you, Your Excellency. The next time we look skyward, it will be with pleasure rather than fear, and on your account, too. Now if only the whole of the enemy meets their graves here, then when all is done my people will honour you among the greatest of our own Ubars. We will speak again then.” Annoyed with the way he had to toady to the President, he immediately cut the connection on his own end.

“Ah, for a short time, anyway,” Covington chuckled to the darkened screen.


Outside of Thentis, Gilead

DAY FORTY-ONE



Sara crawled forward on hands and knees, her pack secure on her back, and looked up through the trees to the distant lights of the Norman camp. Looking back, Sara motioned to the others to continue to follow, each of them clad in dark clothes and their faces smeared with camo paint.
Above them the sunlight was finally dimming, heralding the night and the coming gambit, Sara's bid to drive off the Normans without causing her army unnecessary loss. She could imagine that Winston and Dao Zi were finishing their preparations, wheeling up their meager artillery assets and getting troops in position to attack the Normans the moment Sara needed them to, either out of success or because it was the only way to escape.
This left her and her small band of troops, mostly Thantians, to walk and then crawl their way through the forest in a circutious route that would put them right into the Norman camp, where Sara would either take or destroy the Norman arms supplies. She hoped to save most for herself if the enemy could be forced to retreat in a direction away from the rear of the camp, but at the same time knew it was more likely she would have to destroy it all and simply make due with what her army had left.

In the night, only the night-vision goggles attached to Sara's helmet let her see easily, taking in the nature of Gilead in the ghoulish green light used by the night-vision system. Once and a while she'd deactivate it simply to get her bearings and to remind herself that it was actually dark out.

A quick check of her watch told her that the time was on for the main attack. She need only send the signal to bring their remaining mortars and light artillery fire crashing down on the Normans and send the other troops into motion.
And she would do this as soon as she was close enough. Looking upward again, Sara continued forward, leading her troops inexorably closer.


Major Winston and Dao Zi stood together in the makeshift camp they'd erected on the southern wall of Thentis, giving them a good vantage point for the battle to unfold. The Normans had camped at the very edge of the foothills that led up to Thentis, along the "Thentis Road" that led south to Ar, while the forest curved around behind them; a poor move by the Norman general, who was perhaps too certain in his modern arms and numbers to worry about the Thantians' ability to move quickly and quietly in the woods for potential rear attacks.
"Why did you let her go?" Dao Zi asked Winston. "Are you not sworn to ensure her life as your liege?"
"Since taking on the position as the commander of her lifeguards, I've learned that it's impossible to keep Sara out of danger, not when she feels that her presence in the battle is necessary," Winston replied. "When it comes down to it, her line will continue through her grandchildren, illegitimate as they are, and Her Highness feels no pressure to preserve her life to bear a legitimate heir."
Dao Zi nodded in acceptance of the explaination. In the distance, he saw something and squinted while Winston, also noticing it, pulled his binoculars up to get a closer look at it. "That's the signal!" Winston picked up his radio and began giving the order. "All troops, advance! Attack the enemy camp!"


Having taken up formation after nightfall outside the eastern gate, the army first wheeled around and emerged onto the Thentis Road midway between the South Gate and the Norman camp. Most of it was armed in the old-fashioned way, armored with pike and sword. On the left were the women of the various communities of the Valley who volunteered for this dangerous position from the memory of their mothers' and grandmothers' success on the left 40 years ago. They wore red armor with flowing silk capes in the style of the Kalundan Janissaries - now the Crimson Guard - and carried gladius and shield in Roman fashion, weapons best-suited for their body strength, flexibility, and swiftness.
The center was formed up most peculiarly, in the form of a Spanish tercios of the 16th and 17th Centuries, with riflemen and light support artillery in the front rank but easily placed into the third by two lines of armored sword and pikemen, the Wiccan and Odinist men in this case, who would step forward and absorb the blow if Norman pike and sword should close the distance. Most conspicuous in the center, however, was the proudly-flying standard of the Cross, adorned in the colors of the Holy See, by the one hundred and twenty Christians of Thentis who were deemed healthy enough to fight. They stood in the exact center of the line to support Sara's rifles and artillery, holding sword and shields that had been quickly adorned with crosses and the Chi Rho. Freed from oppression and the need for secrecy to maintain their faith, the Christians of Thentis were now overly eager to proclaim their new faith to their former countrymen as the battle commenced.
It was on the right that the Shi'ites and another contingent of Odinists had again taken up position, this time arrayed again in a more Roman legionary fashion though not with the customary pila that the Romans had utilized.
Finally, there were the reserves; walking wounded from the previous fights, the Zhai cavalry, and the Thantians, who would all be committed as was necessary.


It was only after they were already marching toward the Normans that the Norman army's sentries noticed them and raised the alert. The brigade of Normans, 6,000 strong, had a sight numerical advantage and equaled the technological advantage of Sara's army, but they were in disarray, caught unawares, while Sara's army was not.

The two light howitzers fired first, raining shrapnel shells down upon the Norman camp and killing men here and there as the Normans formed their lines. Sara's army never broke out into a run, as it was not looking to triumph from a mass charge; it maintained a methodical trot as the guns fired into the gathering enemy units.
The elite company of the brigade, meanwhile, went to retrieve their weapons.
What they found instead was an unexpected fight.


Sara listened to the commotion and judged the time right. Motioning to the Thantians, she stood up and brought her rifle up while the Thantians grabbed grenades from their belts. From the treeline they tossed the first set of grenades into the Norman camp before hitting the dirt again, taking cover.
Sara was the first to clamber back to her feet and run into the camp, spraying rifle fire into tents and gesturing for the others to follow her. They did so, enthusiastically, screaming a war cry and moving forward with weapons brandished.

Through her night-vision goggles, Sara could see figures moving up through the tents, and she screamed an order for the Thantians to get down when she saw they had firearms. But they didn't hear, as they were eager to attack any enemy they could find in the dim firelight of the camp.
The massacre was total. The Normans employed their firearms to deadly effect, firing from the dark and mowing through the Thantians, who only belatedly scrambled for cover.

There were boxes available for cover, and Sara's order to take cover brought her non-Thantian forces to her as the remaining Thantians were killed trying to get away from the fire. Looking around, Sara saw that the MacCullochs were present, as was Private Stanton. "Back to the woods!" she said to them. "We have to get back...."
"Grenades!"
All four of them scrambled, remaining low, to get away from the frag grenade the Normans were throwing into their midst. It went off as they left it's lethal zone. Sara felt something sharp rip through her right shoulder, stunning her and sending blood spraying outward. She fell a little, tripping on one knee. She noticed from the corner of her eye that the MacCullochs were on the ground and shouted, "I'll give you cov...."
The bullets seemed to focus on her for a moment. Many missed, the Norman accuracy limited by the dim firelight, but Sara cried out from the bullets that did not. Each shoulder was ripped through by bullets that passed completely through her body, and a couple hit her in the back, barely missing the spine and also passing through her body. One bullet lodged within a pair of ribs after coming within millimeters of striking her lung.

Wracked with pain, Sara collapsed, blood pouring from the bullet wounds. She struggled to movie, her arms barely responding from the pain of the wounds in her shoulders, and slowly she crawled forward.
Then a set of arms picked her up. Private Stanton swept her up and ran back to the cover of the forest. They went many dozens of yards, about one hundred, before Stanton stopped behind a wide tree. He reached into his satchel and Sara's, pulling out bandages and first-aid kits, proceeding to give Sara first-aid. She was nearly unconscious now from blood loss and looked up at the young man. "Save yourself," she said quietly, barely able to speak. "Please."
"I cannot leave without you, Your Highness. Please, do not speak."
Sara, indeed, had no energy to talk back, but as she began to lose consciousness she became aware of blood along her side, where there was no pain. She looked and saw that Stanton himself was not entirely whole, a bullet wound or shrapnel causing bleeding from his torso. No.... was the one thought that went through her head before she lost consciousness.


Andrew MacCulloch felt hot tears in his eyes the moment he saw the piece of shrapnel deeply embedded in Cera's skull. He saw her eyes and knew she was gone, killed in this horrible and primitive place, far away from the soil they had worked when they were slaves on Illustrious, far away from the place where they fell in love, shared the trials of the Fall of Devenshire together, and everything else that they had survived before... survived just to die here, on Gilead, surrounded by primitivist rapist barbarians.
Laying down and aided by the darkness, MacCulloch was able to feign death for the passing Normans, aided by the non-critical shrapnel and bullet wounds in his back. Ignoring the great pain from where a bullet had lodged itself into his ribs, nicking his lung in the process, MacCulloch slowly rose again as the Norman unit passed him. He had briefly seen Stanton, badly injured himself, pick up Sara and run into the forest with her. Godspeed, Private. Keep her safe, she's everything. Even here, with his wife dead and his life about to end, all because of Sara's insistance to join this war, Andrew felt no rancor toward his liege. He knew she was right to do this, and as her bodyguard it had been his duty - and Cera's - to follow her to this end.
The Normans turned and noticed him, but it was too late; MacCulloch had gotten to the crates of ammunition and grenades. His finger hit the trigger to activate the charge as the first bullets tore through his body. His wife, his loving wife, was still in his mind, their wedding playing in his mind's eye and tugging at his heart as he fell and died upon the alien soil of Gilead.
A moment later, his body was incinerated by the explosion he had caused with his final act.


The Norman line, taking losses from the guns in the Valley Army's center, were about to charge on them when the explosion lit up the sky behind them. The commanders swallowed, knowing it was the supplies that just went up, but their men took it even worse. The Norman line disintegrated as men retreated back to the camp, thinking they were under attack from behind as well.
At this point the order was given and the primitive-armed troops of the Valley Army charged. William was in the center with his riflemen when the order came down, and he lifted his weapon and with a shout led them all along with the rest of the army, ready to fire upon modern-armed Normans if they showed up.
The Normans, in confusion still, turned half-heartedly back to meet the Valley Army's charge, their commanders seeking to avoid the threat of being crushed between two forces. But the maneuver was badly-ordered, and not fully enforced by the panicking Norman men, so the Norman line was only partially constituted when the armored infantry of the Valley slammed into them.

What followed was slaughter. The Normans, as usual, were lacking in full metal armor; the battles at Kalunda had long demonstrated their worthlessness in modern battle and the long-standing preference for mobility in battle - as well as being accustomed to fighting lightly-armored, swift Amazons. They were effectively light infantry, and without their modern weapons to kill enemies in older metal armor, they were helpless against the charge. The Norman line crumbled, Normans falling everywhere as pike heads and sword blades ripped through their guts and send them falling to die in the darkness.
The Valley army advanced into the burning Norman camp, killing as it went, and the commanders of the Norman army were completely unable to get their men to rally and regroup. Individual soldiers broke away from the slaughter and ran in all directions, generally running south, seeking to escape the steel of the Valley peoples as they descended upon their hated adversaries.
William led the riflemen into the camp himself, avoiding the flames and looking frantically for his grandmother. As they advanced, they started to come under fire from the Normans with advanced weapons who had not yet learned of their army's general retreat and rout in the dark. He and the other Ducal Guards shouted orders, and their men responded, fanning out and providing each other cover as they moved bit by bit, shooting Norman riflemen where they found them. William felt like he was being baked alive as they moved through the inferno of the Norman camp, sweat coating his fair skin and getting into his eyes.

The last riflemen of the Normans finally seemed to understand that everything had gone horribly wrong, and they too began to run, fleeing mostly to the southwest, as the Valley army continued to pursue the Normans as best as it could. The Normans that had stood their ground fell to their blades, and only the lightly-armored Normans looking like they would get away.
But then the Zhai cavalry hit, followed by the lightly armored Thantians and, behind them, the left-wing of the Valley army, the red armor of the women there lighter and less restrictive than that worn by their male counterparts (and in some cases women had even stripped the armor off, against orders, seeking to keep up with their stronger cohorts who could run with it on). The Zhai cavalry, with Mei-Li at it's lead as usual, plunged through the Norman ranks. She was in the thick of it, her sword slashing constantly and always meeting flesh and bone that cleaved from the strength of her blows. She ignored the growing pain in her right arm and the ear-splitting screams of the Norman men she was cutting and killing, nor did she pay attention to the blood that spurted upon her when her blade cut through arteries, instead concentrating solely on killing as many men as she could while she led the Horse Guard and the accompanying cavalry squadrons through the routed Norman army until they emerged on the other end of it.
The Norman men saw the horses in the fire and moonlight and turned more to the west, seeking to escape... as the Zhai once again plunged through them, killing even more as the Norman men desperately tried to flee.
A contingent of the modern-armed Norman riflemen came to their companions' rescue. Mei-Li called her men back as an entire flank came under fire, the screams of men and horses hit by bullets joining those of Norman men being trampled and cut through. Her shouts in Chinese were being drowned out by the sounds of battle until she screamed so loud her throat hurt, at which time the calvary broke through back to their lines, helping the Valley women and Thantians slaughter the stragglers.
The Norman riflemen might have caused further loss had they moved in and kept firing, but their hearts were not in the fight, and with their surviving countrymen saved they too retired southwest. The battle was over.


William walked toward the forest, following the signal from his grandmother's helmet. As he did he passed by the charred corpse of Andrew MacCulloch, though he didn't recognize who it was, but he did recognize Cera MacCulloch, making his heart ache at the gallant Irishwoman's death.

The fires of the camp would soon spread to the forest, if the fire brigade couldn't stop it anyway, and William knew he had to be quick. Moving as swiftly as he dared through the forest, he advanced for what seemed to be a mile before he saw a foot from behind a tree. He ran up, calling over the radio to say he'd found something. He looked down and saw his grandmother, bloody and unconscious, in the lap of Private Stanton. There were bandages on her body from wounds, but none on Stanton despite the pool of blood around them. William looked to Stanton, who was breathing slowly and only with great effort. His eyes looked weak and tired, and William realized he was probably bleeding to death. "Medic! I have wounded! We need medics stat!"
"She... should be fine....," Stanton wheezed.
"Conserve your strength, Private," William ordered, kneeling down and reaching for his emergency first aid kit while waiting for the medic.
"I... would have liked... to see home.... again..." Stanton looked up at William. "It is an honor.... to die for.... Her Highness...."
"You're not going to die!" William shouted. "Now be silent, conserve your strength, and let me finish."

William was so intent on saving Stanton's life that he didn't hear the crunching of twigs. The arrival of Doctor Smithfield and Father de Galinda came as a complete surprise, and Smithfield nearly tossed him out of the way as he knelt over to check Sara and Stanton. "She's stable", he said after a moment. Two others joined them by now with a stretcher, and Smithfield ordered them to take Sara back to Thentis. He looked to Stanton, checking his vitals quickly and examining the bloody wounds on his body. He looked to De Galinda and shook his head. "I can't save him."
William heard those words and felt crestfallen. "Doctor, isn't there something....."
"He's too far gone, Mister Heresford," Smithfield said, standing up and heading back. "The only hope of saving him is by devoting everything to doing that, and that means many more people up there will die."
With that Smithfield turned and left, and William was left to watch, in stunned silence, as de Galinda gave Stanton the Last Rites and granted him absolution for his sins - which in William's opinion there were probably damned little of.

Feeling dazed and emotionally drained, William walked back to the camp. The hissing of what fire extinguishers they had with them dominated all other sounds around him, the camp fire being contained from getting into the forest so that it could burn itself out. William ignored it all. He walked through the camp to the edge of the hill on which the camp had been placed, allowing him to look up at the incline that led to the South Gate of Thentis.
He sat there, folding his legs up so that he could rest his elbows on his knees. And there, William began to weep to himself.
"Lover?"
He didn't look up to see Mei-Li sit beside him, stripped from the waist up and her skin glistening with sweat and water from where she'd quickly washed off the blood of battle. Her wound from the battle with the al-Farani was bandaged again. She reached a hand over and placed it on his shoulder. "William, lover? What's wrong?"
"How can you people stand this?!" he bellowed. "Look at all... all of this blood! Think of all the people who died tonight! The people who are gone forever! Not just the Normans, but good people too, like Cera MacCulloch, and Private Stanton!"
"That is what happens in war..."
"And I hate it! I HATE IT!" William looked at her with tear-streaked eyes.
Mei-Li nodded at him. A tear came down her right eye as she embraced him. "This is why my people hate it too, William. We believe that it, and death, are natural, but we still hate it so." She took his hand. "Please, lover, come and give your report to Major Winston and my uncle. Then we can retire to our room and rest from this miserable night."
William looked at her for a moment and finally relented, standing and letting her lead him off.


The White House, Washington D.C.
Universe Designate HE-1

DAY FORTY-TWO



"And we're sure this is a legitimate offer?"
Arrayed around President Dale were some of his top advisors, thought it was not a full meeting of the Security Committee. Alliance Security Advisor Sir James Bronson, Intelligence Director Samuel White Eagle, Defense Minister Matthew Darlington, Chief Admiral of the Stellar Navy James O'Connell, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Franklin Richards sat at their places around the table. Dale looked back to the note that had been passed on to the Alliance from the Lisean Embassy through their embassy on Gilead. It was, according to his advisors, written in the pen of General Cecil Covington, who had recently been proclaimed President of the Gilean Confederacy with the assassination of Marcus de la Hoya.
"My people verify it's authenticity."
"He would actually send this?" Dale put the note on the table. On it, Covington proposed to Dale that he would permit landings on Gilead to save Kalunda, but only by the Alliance and the British; all other powers must be forbidden from landing, if necessary by threat of force from the Allied Nations and the British Empire. "He wants me to risk another general interstellar war?"
"Covington's not concerned for the risks to us. He's hoping that this offer will divide us from the other intervention powers and give him room to maneuver. Nor do I think he particularly cares about the Primitivists, but he's willing to help them reduce Kalunda - and we're quite sure he's being serious about that threat - to strike at us." Bronson put his hands together. "Our analysis of Covington is that he's a rather overconfident, ambitious man. He sees GMID as his means to power now, though he doesn't quite understand just how incapable it is against our intelligence services. He's not a real patriot of Gilead, he just sees it as a chance for gaining real power."

"So, is there anyone here who thinks I should risk an interstellar war and destroy the Alliance's relations with the other powers to keep this man in power?" Dale saw no one was answering. "Very well. What kind of support do you think he'll throw against Kalunda?"
"The Cartagenean Corps at East Port may join the fighting, at least in part, but Covington won't want to risk losing too much popular support by giving too much aid to the Normans. Rather I suspect he'll offer air support and air support only, letting them continue to take losses in reducing Kalunda and making them easier to deal with post-war."
"Do we know what he's planning?" Commandant Richards asked Bronson and White Eagle.
"Supportive elements among the occupied worlds indicate that subversive operations are underway and have provided us with clandestine GMID orders to operatives," White Eagle replied. "We believe that Covington intends to provoke uprisings amongst the other worlds to tie down our forces and, ideally, force us to institute harsh counter-insurgency methods that would destroy the public support for the intervention among certain populaces. The fall of Kalunda would be used as a propaganda point, as Covington's propaganda is readying the ground for the city to be declared a hotbed of foreign agents planning the conquest of Gilead, with Kalunda's leadership serving as collaborators. In short, he seeks to simultaneously force a bloody insurgency against the intervening powers and to turn us against each other."
"It's the latter term I'm more concerned with." Dale thumped his fingers on the table. "Director White Eagle, how has recon done in identifying the planet-based Gilean defenses?"
"We believe they still have stealthed missile subs in active deployment and mobile to prevent easy attack," White Eagle noted. "Our analysts have worked with the Navy and the Aerospace Force to determine that even a surprise attack, preferably a missile strike from our SSBs and from the bomber squadron we have moving onto Collinfield now, could not possibly remove every potential anti-orbit weapon. We'll have to put a fleet in orbit and draw them out."
"And that requires clearing the orbital mines they've started throwing up in the past couple of weeks." Dale looked to O'Connell. "How soon, then, for mine-clearing?"
"The other nations are moving assets in position now, we expect completion in a week or so," O'Connell replied.
"And troop landings?"
"We're still scrounging up troops due to our occupation needs in Plymouth...."
"What about the active ready reserve of space-based Marine divisions we have for putting out fires in the occupied systems?" Bronson asked.
"I'd rather not use them if we didn't have to," was Richards' reply.
"I don't think we have a choice, Commandant, if we are to save Kalunda." Dale directed his attention to Darlington. "I want those divisions sent. Now. They are to be ready to participate in a joint allied landing on Gilead as soon as it can be arranged."
"Yes, Mister President."
"And, as for this...." Dale picked up Covington's note. "I want to reassure the others, just in case their intelligence services reported the note's contents and that we received it. I want copies of the note, and my intended rejection of it's terms, sent to the Ambassadors of the intervening powers immediately."
Again, there were nods.
"Okay, let's get everything ready. And see if we can't arrange that missile strike, with nukes or anti-matter warheads, if necessary. If we need to, I want to be able to airdrop supplies into Kalunda and provide air support to blunt any Gilean military air strikes on the Kalundan defenses." Dale stood up. "You gentlemen are dismissed."

DAY FOURTY-TWO
16 Ojhwa, I.Y. 617
T.I.S. Rhun,
Inside the Gilean Confederacy



“Ahaaah. Marchioness, a pleasure.” The woman glanced about as she spoke, her regal bearing somewhat disturbed by the suspicion which her eyes enjoyed. Her skin was deathly pallid even by the standards of a Taloran and discounting her ears she stood a shockingly tall 6'10”; the ears, which were massive, led to a height of some seven and a half feet. She was dressed, unlike a usual Taloran's flamboyancy, in the most severe black imaginable, a black cape draped to the floor engulfing her sharply lean body.

All around the flash of the swords of the various officers of the ship swung in salute, to which the Great Lady seemed mostly to hold a wry amusement, her attention once again fixed on Rear Admiral the Lady Halsina, though even then a hand, clad in a fingerless glove, idly shifted up to brush some of her luxurious bright green hair aside from her face, her long bangs which seemed like they would normally entirely obscure her vision. One thing was certain about Frayuia Risim, the Duchess of Medina: She attracted attention wherever she went.

Halsina frowned slightly at the completely undisciplined response of the Duchess of Medina, but there was nothing to be done for it. “Your Grace, if it pleases you and your family to accompany me for dinner?”

“Oh, certainly.” Frayuia answered, and slipped one hand under the arm of her husband the Prince of Erasouh, who was dwarfed by the height of his wife, though he struck a better and more formal figure in the formal dress uniform of a Colonel of the Artillery. Behind them were the couples' two daughters, the Lieutenant Yasimi Countess of the Qubbat al-Nabi, and the cadet Alamani, Baroness of Rabigh.

The notoriety of her title was the greatest part of that, though, for once she had been a mere Marchioness like the Lady Halsina before her. Then, she had been in the sappers as an officer, and served in the same regiment as the now-infamous Princess Jhayka. But she had been promoted to Brigadier first, and then, when the commander of her division was invalided home, she had assumed charge over the 8082nd Mechanized Infantry Division, Jula's Regulars, which had been assigned a garrison position over the northwest Arabian desert shortly after the occupation of Earth...

There, the general rising prompted by the Declaration of Restoration had been increased by the religious fervour of the Mahommedans, who had long been senescent under the power of the UTHP, but now stood firm against the invaders from the stars, and a great force had mustered to oppose the Talorans. Facing this, rather than fall back to the rugged lands of the Transjordan to hold until additional forces had been brought forward, Frayuia Risim had taken her division forward, outflanking and driving back the vastly larger forces of the Moor in the Eight Days' Battles before the gates of Medina, in a classic of manoeuvre which allowed her to bring her division into the second holiest city of Islam and burn it to the ground. The buildings were utterly demolished, and their copious ruins presented an intractable obstacle to easy counterattack by the outraged enthusiasts of the religion of Mahomet.

The action was considered so important for breaking Mahommedan resistance to Taloran rule and the guidance of the Farzian faith (Many had ended up converting in mass at the sight of the removal of the black rock from Mecca which followed) that the Empress of the time, Her Serene Majesty's grandmother Intalasha III, had raised Frayuia to style of Duchess after the city which she had despoiled with such success, and extended courtesy titles related with its history to her daughters.

Understandably, the Duchess of Medina was thought of by all as an expert on human affairs, particularly military. Her own evaluation of the situation on Gilead was that it was not terribly dissimilar to the one she had herself encountered in the Eight Days' Battles, with a vast army besieging a small and ruined town, which had to be dislodged from its siege lines, and so she had lobbied for a position in the relieving forces, which had been granted and a fast courier-ship provided the moment it was apparent that the Lady Halsina would be much outranked by the officers of the various other national forces.

Now she had arrived, and Halsina to some extent was relieved at handing overall authority for the Taloran operations over to her. The navy glory would still be her's, but the burden of handling the occupation was now handed over to Lieutenant General Frayuia Risim. The reception provided for this ranking officer was sumptious in the ship's Mess, with Frayuia's family drawing up to sit around her at the head of the table, Halsina to her husband's immediate right, and the officers of the two staffs and the ship's Captain rounding out the party at the long table.

The usual pleasantries began, but Frayuia herself grew tired of these things and used her authority to cut through the conversation. “Lady Halsina, I am curious about the arrangements for command during the actual assault on Gilead. What role are we to play?”

The Marchioness allowed a smile which for a Taloran was most eager. “Why, the honour of the relief of Kalunda. I made certain of this, Your Grace, during the debates and discussions with the allies, that the whole of the relief force which shall land to advance on the primitivists' continent against Kalunda would be placed under our command, along with any local allies. In total the force amounts to ten brigades representing all the armies of the nations, and some of the Marine Corps, three of them understrength by a few companies...”

“Those inserted into Kalunda already as reinforcements for the Princess Jhayka's garrison?”

“Quite correct, Your Grace.”

“Very well. Ah, how many troops? All of these brigades will like vary by some numbers, of course.”

Halsina was somewhat surprised—she hadn't really been thinking of that herself—and had to check briefly with her chief of staff before answering: “Fourty-nine thousand, Your Grace.”

“Coalition warfare... That makes this interesting. Worth a single division at most with the awkwardness of coordinating so many forces. Of course, the national honour demands it from all.” She was not bothered by that difficulty, and indeed recalled gladly the fact that the force would essentially fight the same, with some differences, as the old Jula's Regulars did at the Eight Days.

Those thoughts lingered with older ones, of the woman that she was going to rescue. Ironically they were friends, and it was a considerable irony in the fact of the matter. A long time ago when they had been seconded to the same regiment out of the academy, the Duchess of Medina had acquired a reputation as a moralistic stickler for perfection. Though on reaching general-officer rank she had abandoned her tendency for sticking with uniform codes, which were not enforced among those of Brigadier's rank and higher,
she otherwise was a stern disciplinarian and exceptionally devout to the Farzian faith in a surprisingly dour sort of way for someone of that generally colourful religion of ceremony.

Yet to her friends she was loyal, and of friends she could count every one of the officers who had been posted to that regiment, then called Ulafi's Own. Of Jhayka she was gently reproaching, and nothing more, and she had led the charge against the young Empress on the matter of the scandal of the arrest in the Convocate which had precipitated the whole affair. Thus it was a sign of Saverana's thoughts on the matter, to be sure, and a positive one for Jhayka, that Frayuia had been sent to take command, and that was noted by all in attendence.

The Duchess proved, other than this introduction, to be easily distracted in conversation with her husband. It was finally he who had to interrupt things again to remind her of some pressing comments made by the Lady Halsina: “My dear, you heard the good Admiral mention the conference planned for tomorrow?”

“Ah!” She started. “Admiral? My apologies.”

“A fleet conference is scheduled tomorrow onboard the Alliance Flagship, the Khondahleesza Ryese,” which was the phoenetic of the name in High Taloran, “regarding the details of the advance on Gilead. I was invited to attend but since you have arrived, Your Grace..”

“Quite.” She drummed long-nailed fingers on the table for a moment. “Well, of course I am going, and with good reason. These delays have reached a point of being ludicrous, mine-threat or no. We will have landed troops on Gilead and have them firmly established in no more than seven days, and better yet, six. I'll turn over the rest of the 868th Corps to the humans' command, come to it, for operations against the government if it will just get everyone to move. No more delays!


DAY FOURTY-TWO
City of East Port.



Colonel Arshon received the presence of Major General Rulos, the commander of the Cartagenean Corps, with a salute and full honours. But they both knew the courtesies would not long last. The meeting was official in form, but not in name, and for obvious reasons. They were now enemies. There remained only the formal confirmation...

“Colonel, a good day to you.”

“General Rulos. Welcome. Would you like anything to drink?”

“Perchance a cup of wine?”

“Certainly.” Arshon poured it herself, and another glass for herself. That Rulos asked for alcohol was probably an indication that he didn't intend to fight today. Of course, it might just be a tendency of his Catholicism, too.

He sipped the wine and smiled, his earlier reserved expression gone. “Thank you, Colonel. An excellent vintage. I will make sure to give you enough time to evacuate your cellar, though I should like it for myself.”

“Evacuate?”

“Ah, yes, this unfortunate matter.” Though they both knew it quite necessary, now: “The government has ordered me to seize your forces. Unfortunately, of course, you are quite prepared for this, and the situation is such that I could only arrange for your peaceful evacuation of East Port, on the guarantee that the forces from the Primitive Zone will not be allowed into the city.”

“Quite a pity.” Arshon thought for a moment. “How much time do we have?”

“I will begin firing tomorrow at civil dawn,” Rulos answered punctiliously. “You are a mercenary, I know, and your duty is not to defend this town... Rather to secure the relief of your principle. The Cartagenean Corps, however, has been ordered to hold and defend East Port and the environs. You gain nothing by assuming the defence of this place as a point of honour. I will allow your withdrawal to the south to join the encampment of the Berglundian troops, and with them you may fall back to what defensive positions as you see fit.”

Nearly twenty-four hours: More than enough time to get all the forces out, but.. Arshon thought about the occupation of the city for a moment, and the dangers it might involve. He was certainly of Hispanic background, and unlikely in truth to allow a barbarian force under the command of a Mohammedan general access to the population of East Port, who he would naturally regard himself as being the defender of against the foreign forces of which she was now a part in all but name. The troops of Berglund were certainly reliable, and all seemed to be in order, but she recalled the example of what Jhayka would certainly prefer her to do, and made her own demand:

“General Rulos, though I do plan to withdraw as you request, I must say that the evacuation of our equippage, and with it, such noncombatants as wish to leave with us, quite voluntarily—on that you have my word, considering I serve a lady of honour—must also take place, within the limits of time you have stated. Otherwise I must contest the city most vigorously, such as be within the limits of the forces in my charge and the aide which my allies may provide.”

Rulos chuckled, and finished off his wine abruptly. “Of course you might, Colonel.” His expression, then was deadly serious as his face flushed from the wine: “I know which side is going to win, and I merely wish to see the legalities, and the points of honour, satisfied. That will be bloody enough work; but it must be done. Otherwise, well, I wish you luck, Colonel.”

“If you need it, you'll have a place in an outfit like mine, or leading it, after this war, General.”

“A stateless mercenary? Well, it does look that way, doesn't it. Perhaps I shall; but at least I'll have discharged my duties to the limits of honour. And on that note, a good morn to you, Colonel.”

“Good bless you, General Rulos.” Arshon answered, watching him go for a moment, and then she rose to go and arrange the evacuation. It was another setback, but only a temporary one: Relief was now unquestionably soon to arrive.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-12-28 08:38pm

Written by Marina

DAY 43,
Captain Jack's Crossing
Henley River, of the
NORMAN DOMAINS.



“Technicals, four quadrant!” The bark crackled over the intercom on the armoured train as one of the spotters topside caught a glimpse of a platoon of pickup trucks trying to shelter behind a small copse, armed with heavy machineguns and RPGs, at 0300 hours...

Sarah Pearlman, one of the security guards for the railway company who had alternately been working under threat of rape and impalement for the Normans and then for food on the part of the Amazons, had control of the gun battery on the 5 gun car. It was her car that had received the report..

“Theaphila, fourty's ready and stand by... Five o'clock.” She shifted the periscope and homed in on the sheltered platoon after addressing the battery commander for the two right 40mm beehives on the car. There had to be a company of primitive infantry in support, bedded down for the night and not suspecting an attack. Sarah flipped the intercom to the train's control centre. “Car five, Norman technical platoon sighted. Permission to engage?”

“Permission granted, fire clear.” The train rolled forward at a quiet and steady 5kph, ranging far ahead of the lines of Leeasa Avrila's force at the Henley crossing.

“Fourty's! Report target!”

“Target on!”

“Commence fourty-milimeter!”

Theaphila twisted her face into a smirk of particular pleasure as she pressed the trigger on the remote-linked beehive guns. Twelve barrels to the gun, each stacked with 20 depleted uranium rounds, flushed on each gun in the space of a single second. The Normans didn't even know they were under attack until the cracks erupted, and the high-velocity shells were on them moments later, tearing through the Technials and igniting a series of fireballs as secondaries when the rounds tore with kinetic force and generated heat through gas tanks and ammo.

The guns were automatically reloaded, 40 rounds packed into a disintegrating tube which was brought up from a stacked resevoir and shoved into the barrel in a three second process by a robotic autoloader. They fired again, and in a single second another 480 rounds were flushed from each gun. With a four second cycle time the guns continued to flush and fire, the caseless ammunition leaving nothing more than a sharp stuttering series of cracks and small puffs of smoke outside of the armour of the train, not even visible to Theaphila's position. But her monitors showered her everything she needed to see about the damage being done to the enemy.

A series of some twenty Technicals were burning furiously, spilled gas igniting the trees around them as others toppled over, riddled by the hypervelocity projectiles. Men fully engulfed in flames ran desperately from the scene, human torches, and a few shattered bodies were vaguely visible in the night 'scope. The fire continued and several more of the Technicals were blasted to pieces, some now moving, their occupants foolishly trying to escape that way rather than by foot.

In fourty seconds it was all over. The targets were obscured by the intense smoke and flame of the secondary fires, and no solid objects could be discerned through it now. “Checked fire with target obscured,” Theaphila reported. Eleven cycles, five thousand two hundred and eighty rounds per gun sent downrange toward their targets. A pity we've only got six guns like this, she thought to herself, not realizing as Sarah did that they were, in fact, cumbersome and primitive to the outer world. To the Amazons they might as well be the weapons of the Goddess herself.

“Acknowledged,” Sarah peered through the car's periscope at the raging inferno they'd created. Everything seemed to be going well, and then the train lurched to a stop... And promptly began to reverse direction.

A harsh voice boomed over the intercom: “This is Chiliarch Bilidmarn. The Normans have launched a flanking attack and we're cut off the positions along the crossing. All sections prepare for heavy combat. We're forcing our way back through before they can damage the track.”

“Stand by for action on all quarters,” Sarah sang out. “Support crews, main the rifle loops...” She settled in at her periscope and began to scan for targets, to nervous to even think of a sip of water to comfort her thirst. It nonetheless took a good twenty minutes before the first sight of the enemy, heavy Technicals with anti-tank guns mounted on their beds, was visible... And at the moment she saw them, they were firing at the train, at her, every shot seemed aimed right for her, weird green arcs of heat from the shells turning the battlefield into a surreal exercise.

Ahead the train shuddered from a hit which the armour repulsed, and put paid to her narcissistic fear; at the same moment she mustered herself and called out: “Action at seven o'clock. Alea, silence those technicals!”

The oppposite battery of Fourty's opened up this time, a shriek through the sky even while the train accelerated and other hits were scored. The forward 105mm howitzers were opening up as well, but the fourty's were stabilized, and Alea's guns drew first blood, one of the Technicals simply disintegrating as hundreds of 40mm rounds struck it over the course of mere miliseconds, its crew turned into a spray of liquified remains.

Then a rocket slammed into the opposite side of car five. It dismounted one of the ponderous battery guns through shock damage even as slightly further on it tore open a hole and killed two machine-gunners at the rifle loops outright. A spray of fire lit up even the centre of the car. Theaphila, for her part, responded quickly and well, opening up with her remaining operational gun, putting a hail of heavy shells over the area of the point-blank rocket trap as a few others crashed home and left the train shuddering, but still accelerating.

Sarah dashed forward with a fire extinguisher, covering the area, even as a series of heavy thuds and intense shaking showed they'd just plowed through an improvised barrier trying to derail them, and perhaps some unlucky bodies of wounded men as well, though they scarcely mattered—the hatred of the Amazons was easily contagious here. Tracers arced through the sky and the howitzers and heavy cannon, and the chainguns in the other cars, continued firing throughout.

Now, however, the artillery at Captain Jack's Crossing was laying down a barrage in their support, and accordingly the fire died off. The Norman fighters here were all basically irregular and light-armed only; the moment they were placed under heavy and sustained fire against an enemy that refused to buckle, they melted away like the wind had taken them.

The whole breakthrough back to their own lines had taken but five minutes.

As soon as Leeasa had confirmed that the train had returned safely, she ordered the artillery to cease-fire to preserve ammunition. They were currently pinned down by a strong Norman force right on the Norman side of the Henley, defending the rail-bridge from efforts to blow it up: Their initial advances had been checked and thrown back by the arrival of the 'old men and boys' of the last ditch Norman units in the area, most of which entirely lacked firearms, and further support from several battalions traveling in Technicals. But they had, also, held, and most of the loyalist Amazonian army was accordingly being concentrated here, so that she could launch a decisive breakthrough effort and commence her drive on Ar, she hoped, in as few as three days.

In the meanwhile, knowing nothing of the battle Sara Proctor had just fought and been greviously wounded in, she composed another message for her in response to the Duchess of Illustrious', outlining in general her more detailed plan for the campaign, which had been largely worked out for her by the railroad company employees, with a few of her own Amazonian embellishments.

As a sign that Norman power was frayed and on the verge of collapsing outside of the city of Ar itself, no further reinforcements had arrived, and the Normans, short of their effort to cut off the armoured train, had been very stingy with ammunition: All was being rushed to Kalunda, where their forces gorged themselves on it constantly.

Dawn was coming. She set aside the paper she'd just finished writing, and summoned her maidservant, Theasophia, a fifteen year old girl from the capital whom she'd assigned to handle her paperwork duties on campaign. Just as the girl came to the sound of a struck bell, another sound, so rare as to be instantly recognizable, froze Leeasa in place, and stopped the girl in her tracks.

Sonic booms, far above and distant.

“Someone is sending aircraft over us... Into the exclusion zone.” Leeasa murmured, and her eyes for the moment traced skyward to wonder if they were friend or foe and what their destination might be...
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2006-12-31 02:52am

By Marina:

DAY 43,
Kalunda



It was a Russian radar which saved the Army of Kalunda. Nobody else had one of sufficient power, save the Russian consulate, where it was ironically included as an afterthought in the fixed position, a mere luxury. But all of the other foreign forces were not large enough to have one of this power. The radar gave the people and the army of Kalunda eight minutes' warning before the first air raid arrived.

It was just enough. The troops were hastily brought to cover in their dugouts and trenches and waited, such weapons as might be useful raising skyward. In the industrial suburbs the troops were much less concerned. These vast structures would not be easily shifted by air attack, though in general none of them knew precisely what was happening, or even what was going on.

The strike aircraft were approaching at mach seven, one hundred and fifty feet off the ground. They were three minutes out when Jhayka arrived at the defence headquarters. “Muster Ewing and Trajan's battalions if you please and inform them they're needed in an anti-air role,” she ordered after looking down briefly for the lastest note from the Russian radar set, which had to be communicated by radio, of course, adding a cumbersome delay to the air defence setup of the city, such as it was, namely, almost nil.

“What should their positioning be, Marshal?” The battalions had been given only two days to rest since their last heavy action, serving now as the city's fire brigade against the constant holes in the defences which had to be plugged, but everyone had become confident that they could handle the sustained fighting. Everyone in the city had to, after all; and the marines, too, rose well to the challenge.

“They're to head to the north of the city immediately.” A moment later. “And send a message to the northern corps' commanders to prepare all of their troops for an orderly withdrawal to the city immediately.”

Everyone looked at Jhayka in utter shock. “I think such an order would have to be confirmed with King Julio!” One of the staff officers answered almost immediately. “What sort of preposterous...”

“Not another word or you'll be sacked and arrested for insubordination—and shot for it, I swear—on account of such foolish stubbornness.” Jhayka strode forward angrily to the plot and gestured down. “Look, this is a flat river plain. The only cover for our troops in the trenches are the bunkers themselves—and modern ground-penetrating aerial munitions can destroy those at will, providing ready-made tombs for our whole northern army! They must pull back into the city where they fight in catacombs of rubble and deep tunnels. That is the only way you may stand your ground when the enemy has a preponderence of air support. We need both the modern battalions to use their anti-air weapons to cover this withdrawal, however, or else we shall lose every single one of those units to the north of the city. Now get on it. We are entering a new and dangerous phase of the defence.”

The orders were issued, but the first waves of the air assault could not be countered. Oh, they did their best, but even the artillery firing a few precious plasma dispersion shells only took down two aircraft, and out of the first attack of ten attack aircraft, the other eight had plenty of anti-air munitions, guided missiles and laser-guided bombs which were deployed, the later without even any warhead, just using their weight to crush and shatter the artillery pieces and their carriages as the planes raced dangerously close overhead, the missiles snaking out to slam into other suspected targets, including killing the Russian radar which had provided the precious alert, causing heavy damage to the Russian consulate and in all killing nineteen of the Russians and fourty people sheltering in the heavily defended building despite its protections.

But those were the most powerful and expensive of the munitions, meant to suppress the anti-air defences. As a matter of the fact of the situation, the anti-air defences Jhayka was actually employing had not even been used yet; the two advanced battalions with their modern systems were not remotely in place. There was, in short, no real defences for the first wave to attack, and even if the artillery was lost, it didn't matter: It was nearly out of ammunition with the continuing damage to the factories, and now that they were retreating from the trenches the city would preclude its effective use; here the enemy would close enough to kiss, more often than not.

The green glow of tracer fire up into the gathering light of the pre-dawn was crazy and eerie as the explosions brought an orange glare over the city. The next wave was the pathfinders, guiding in the main strike. Fourteen aircraft in all, they were fitted with highly advanced, self-contained sensor pods which scanned the terrain perfectly and selected targets of import which were automatically transmitted by datalink back to the decapacitating strike and the main strike behind it. They also fired designating rockets, tiny trackers with white phosphorous warheads designed to impact near important target areas and produce intense heat and light to aide the PAVE-packs on the strike aircraft in selecting their targets.

Barthold Doorn had distributed the internal patrols of the city in concentrated clusters in the abandoned and shattered buildings which were unlikely targets, as part of a plan which had been worked out by central command; he just issued the orders and waited at his own headquarters. Now as the aircraft came over they were met by very strong if unguided fire from massed bazookas, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, heavy support weapons, and even plain old rifles inside the city, with the river-boats providing additional heavy anti-aircraft fire. They got a single one of the pathfinders, damaged by all the wild, massed fire from regular infantry weapons coming up toward it, which drifted well past the city on remaining momentum, smoking all the while and slowing clawing for enough altitude so that the pilot could have a chance when bailing out.

In the meanwhile, the Majors commanding the two modern-armed battalions were bringing their troops up through the old hidden sally-ports of the city, out into the open space beyond the walls where their concealed exit points were and to a point to the rear of the trench-lines to support the retreat of the forces on them now preparing for a general evacuation. Vehicles were run freely in the large old tunnels, hauling some sixteen hundred men with the precious modern weapons up and forward to meet the scourge from the air.

They did not get there in time to stop the next wave, fourteen aircraft coming in on a decapacitation strike. These aircraft were each carrying two very powerful ground penetrating bombs which were laser guided to their targets as the aircraft raced forward, skimming the tops of the buildings of Kalunda. This time, prepared for the very heavy fire, they used their decoys to disperse clouds of smoke and foil and altered their angle of attack against the danger of the heavy fire. Several were damaged but they all carried out their missions. The fire pump house, still intact despite earlier shelling, with its tall tower was smashed, annihilated and collapsed outright in the thunder of several explosions and a vast cloud of dust which rose up from the ironically abandoned old observation position.

The remaining bombs were targeted for the balance. Tarl Ikmen ground his teeth as he watched in the distance, but the government forces here would no longer ignore the position as he would be willing to for the sake of the fabulous spoil. Instead, they blasted it flat, their deep-penetration bombings trying to knock out the command centre; even if they killed Jhayka, after all, there were thousands of foreigners for hostages, and it would surely cripple the defence. But killing Jhayka in so sanitary of a way was the last thing Tarl desired for the murderess of his son; yet what could he say when the fate of nations was at stake?

The palace collapsed as the upper levels of the tunnels were annihilated. The lowest and oldest of the warren under the palace, however, which included the defence command centre, had been built with the finest of modern technology, their blueprints long lost and forgotten, and they stood up admirably. The bombs only shook loose the dust in a terrific convulsive tremor and damaged a few sensitive pieces of elections; someone's coffee mug shook off a table and broke. And that was that. Jhayka, though, seemed increasingly more perturbed by the course of the events and took to pacing. Her disposition for the first time was affected. Here, with a small and primitive force, she was now clearly facing the concentrated fire of the planetary government. The worst scenario had developed, and now their relief was a matter of true desperation.

The last wave of the first assault came in. They were thirty-one strong and targeting the northern siege lines, the obvious weak point against air assault, with a mass of delayed-action cluster munitions to allow the aircraft time to get clear when they were coming in at less than two hundred feet and might be caught in the fragments otherwise. As they approached, Major Ewing had just arrived at the end of the sally-tunnel:

“Get that anti-air up here! Get the anti-air forward! We need it now!” He shouted again and again as a security platoon deployed, though their guns were pointed skyward. The automatic railguns could do tremendous damage for the likes of hand weapons to primitive aircraft like the kind the Gilean Air Force flew, and the suits provided some rudimentary targeting against aircraft operating in the transonic range. But most important were the first two anti-air sections, each with two MANPAD launchers. These arrived just in time to set up and begin tracking..

..When the strike was over the trenches deploying their cluster munitions, a rain of tens of thousands in all of the tiny bomblets slamming down, sometimes injuring or killing by direct impact even as they'd kill many more when they went off. They were simple and didn't have any sophisticated anti-tampering mechanisms: These meant that countless courage soldiers in the trenches, by grasping the bomblets from where they'd fallen and hurtling them toward the enemy lines like grenades, saved themselves and dozens each of their comrades.

The planes raced over the positions of the international reinforcement troops, and Trajan's battalion. Six missiles were gotten clear and it was an utter shock when they did, repulsor fields flinging them far enough clear that their rocket motors could ignite and carry them forward at 400g's + of acceleration. By blind luck one missed the fairly primitive Kalundan aircraft. The other five hit and each one destroyed its target. A sixth aircraft was nonetheless heavily damaged by automatic gunfire from the infantry railguns, and losing power over the city was engaged by the massed automatic cannon of the fleet in the river and brought down, the pilot and 'guy in back' of that aircraft, unlike the others, managing to eject to safety over the allied lines.

The bomblets were in the meanwhile exploding, and exploding viciously. More than twelve hundred Kalundan defenders were killed outright as they collapsed bunkers and tore through the trenches and countless others wounded, a cloud of smoke and dust obscuring the lines as dirt was thrown up into the air and came raining down upon everything.

Out of sixty-nine aircraft in the first strike against Kalunda, nine had been shot down. It was not a bad effort; but it was not good enough to hold their ground. The general retreat from the northern lines began at once. The allies, for their part, did not hesitate one moment. As Tarl received word of the beginning of the withdraw, some time after it had begun thanks to the smoke and dust from the bombing runs, he turned to Erqui: “I'm ordering an immediate general attack,” he declared and made sure that the courtiers around him heard it clearly for sake of his own fame, and aura of decision making. “It's time to finish Kalunda.”

“They may stand inside the city, Ubar,” Erqui noted.

“The city isn't those forts of the industrial buildings, built out of modern materials and cavernous and confusing to our men . Once the walls have been breached we'll be able to sack the town,” he added with a dangerous leer, and then turned from Erqui, who simply moved away without acknowledging anything to get the attack underway, toward one of his fawning courtiers: “Get me Captain Ruja. I want it made clear to him that the next wave of the attack should concentrate on the destruction of the city walls, and with them, the shattering of the link between the industrial district and the city—putting enough firepower down there that we can advance through the cleared areas on both sides of the old wall to cut them off from the rest of the city. That will guarantee they fall soon enough without ammunition, anyway.”

Contemptuous of those around him and utterly confident, Tarl waited for the next stroke to begin. Yet his offensive was going to have problems from the very start, for as Jhayka had acknowledged the reports from Major Ewing of the anti-air engagement, she had also give one more order for the retreating troops on the northern lines: They were, wearing their NBC gear, to smash open and release countless cannisters of poison gas in the old ready depots. Thus, as they retreated into open ground, whole corps-sized formations covered against air attack only by the defences of two modern power-infantry battalions, they left behind them as a guardian against infantry attack what appeared to be the continued existance of the wall of smoke and dust from before; it was actually more of a wall of poison gas.

The veterans of the allied forces knew better by now. Those NCOs made sure that their men were in full protective gear, which protected them from everything except for the occasional concentrated pocket of nervous gas. Those units, by the standard of the brutal grinder of Kalunda, suffered very little. The newer units, led by overconfident or inexperienced men, not hearing an order to “Don your gas gear!”, did not do so. They suffered heavy casualties and were held back by the field of gas which the other units were passing through, creating a disordered advance.

Hampered by lack of fresh rockets for the launchers, and with most of their tube artillery gone, the allies could just hope that a fresh round of Gilean bombers arrived in time to turn the Kalundan ground troops into paste. Conversely, the momentary lack of fire provided the perfect moment for the order: “Action rear!” To the light howitzer batteries being hauled back with the corps. The trucks driving the guns slammed to a halt, the crews leaped down and unlimbered the guns, and the ready ammunition was prepared.

The next order to ring down the line: “Rapid fire—until ammunition is exhausted—commence!”

Using up their ready ammunition the light howitzers began to pump out twenty-five rounds a minute in an incredible volley of a mixture of every kind of shell they had left, shrapnel, HE, HE-G (high explosive gas), pumping them into the allied infantry as it reformed after forcing its way through the now-dispersing gas barrier. Whereas earlier they were helpless against the air attacks, now the rear guard of the retreating army provided a splendid show as they tore through the massed ranks of the allied advance, pinning it down under a tremendous barrage.

The gunners, stripped to the waist and sweaty when they had no fear of gas—for it was so much worse to man the guns in protective clothes—watched with satisfaction as they surely inflicted a thousand casualties or twice that number, perhaps, on the advancing allied infantry. Behind them, the retreating troops streamed through the gates of the city, the infantry in some case scaling ladders on the walls to hasten their entrance, in other cases going through sally-ports or the occasional area where part of the wall had collapsed under stray artillery fire in such a way that it could be scaled by hand. The rest of the troops, from several assigned brigades which had left the trenches last, filtered into the old sally-tunnels to get them under cover just as fast as the rest of the army, and avoid congestion on the limited routes into the city.

Now the artillery's ready ammunition was mostly exhausted. A few guns with extra ammunition were still firing. The rest were limbering up and heading back toward the city as fast as they could manage it. The last guns headed for the sally-tunnels instead. Slowly the allied infantry began to reorganize, but they didn't advance again... Instead, they waited.

King Julio had arrived in the defence's command centre from where he had been touring the damage. His face was somewhat pale, presumably from having witnessed the utter destruction of the ancestral manor of his House, but if anything it steadied him with a sort of serene resolve.

Ilavna Lashila was there herself, and greeted the arriving King with a fond smile, sad and tinged in regret at his feelings and filled with sympathy for them, but gentle, and in its own way, powerful. “Sire,” she offered magnaminously, and spoke some astonishing words which brought up short the whole room: “Is it not a wonderful thing that you are now utterly impoverished? Never can the temptation to do wrong, so that you may protect things, strike you now that you have no such things to protect. Your worldly goods are gone; rejoice, for now you possess only duty to your people.”

A face which had shown incredulous anger began to flare instead collapsed, an expression like that of a man punched in the solar plexus, as he looked on at Ilavna for a long moment, into that enigmatic face of the alien priestess. At last, his words were offered in reply, breathlessly: “Again you remind me of my Sarah. Yes. Of course We will see this through.”

He stepped forward to face Jhayka. “Report to me.”

“I withdrew the northern forces from the lines, Sire, as trenches offer no defence whatsoever against aerial attack. As we are now under sustained assault on the part of the government, we must fall back into the city itself. I believe the term used for the strategy we are now following, in the human tongue, is 'Stalingrad'. The next phase of the defensive battle will be waged room-to-room in the apartment blocks and tenements of Kalunda itself.”

“Until we run out of ammunition, or food, or people.” Still pale, but all the more determined after his exchange with Ilavna.

“We're still producing blackpowder in small shops in the city. When we run out of regular ammunition, we'll use mortars and grenades and spears and rocks and roof-tiles until we run out of food; or people, Sire. We will keep fighting them until the last of us is to weak, I suppose, to raise a rock. But don't worry. Even with the ammunition we've just abandoned we have enough left without further production for another twenty-nine days. Certainly we will have been relieved by that point.”

“Another aerial attack coming in!”

The alert halted Julio from making a reply, and both he and his Marshal looked toward the plots and monitors on the wall. Ten aircraft once more. “Lead off of another general attack.. Ewing will know what to do.”

Julio frowned at the mention of the man, not under his authority, and in some way an insult from the stellar powers to him, but didn't speak. Instead he just waited for the coming developments.

“Expedite the retreat.. We've only got minutes to get as many men into the city as we can,” Jhayka snapped off that order.. And then waited, too. There was nothing else she could do.

The first planes that came in were not opposed. They tried to locate air-defence targets for attack and found none. So instead they raced over the city and arced upwards, fast, to gain altitude for a high-alt, high-speed orbiting pattern to support the assault when the air defences inevitably popped up. Major Ewing saw it and knew the order to give to his dispersed forces: “Active tracking radars for short bursts and fire on self-homing settings...”

Trajan repeated this to his own troops under Ewing's loose authority, and they waited, though they did not have to wait long. A raid of fifty-two aircraft was coming in. They were suddenly confronted with a salvo of sixteen high-G anti-air missiles. In a front-on position they had a decent chance at evading, and less than half struck their targets. Six of the aircraft went down to terrific explosions from the impacts as the rest raced in while the MANPADs were being reloaded, so fast that there was no time for any other shots before they were releasing their bomblets over the whole of the field, and targeted ground-penetrating missiles as well to take out the tunnel entrances and prevent further escapes there.

As the strike aircraft clawed skyward the better half of the MANPAD teams and a few lucky ones got together in time to send eleven missiles after them. This time the planes were prepared and had gone to full power, though. The missiles, though incredibly fast, could only accelerate for a half-second or so on rockets, in addition to the momentum given to them by the repulsors. Seven targeted planes managed to get outside of the engagement envelope. One managed by an incredibly tight manoeuvre to shake the missile. Three more were shot down.

On the ground, another three thousand Kalundan troops who had been trapped out in the open, unprotected in any way from the air attack, were dead or dying of their wounds from the cluster munitions the attack aircraft had deployed. “Shift positions to second dispersal, by squad!” Major Ewing ordered the moment that the second salvo of missiles left the tubes. The men immediately began moving, preparing to avoid the inevitable retaliation of the orbiting attack aircraft tasked with anti-air suppression.

Major Ewing himself was already contemplating the avenues of retreat for his two battalions, which would have to fall back to the city walls with the tunnel entrances collapsed. After all, the allied infantry was certainly to commence its drive forward now that its air support had returned and the last of the northern forces had either been shattered or gotten safe into the city. His two battalions with less than two thousand men might soon be pressed against by a hundred thousand enemy. Yet for the moment survival was the most important consideration as the fighters orbiting high above targeted their suppression missiles.

Balanced against them were the portable anti-missile systems of Ewing's battalion. These had remained silent during the initial engagement phase. As the missiles of the ten-plane squadron over the city raised down, two from each, they were met by the fire of these weapons. All ten were intercepted cleanly, though raining firey debris cascaded down, starting a small brush fire; none of this was a threat to the men in their fully contained power suits.

The aircraft tried again, and again the missiles were intercepted and downed, save one which got through and exploded at optimum altitude; the wrong place, however. The radio crackled: “Two casualties, Batcom, two wounded. Company medics responding.”

The Aviation Regiment leader of the next wave coming in heard the reports herself as her fifty-seven plane force was going feet dry over the primitive zone. Enough of this. We'll go high. “All squadrons, this is the regiment commander. Begin climb to thirty-five thousand meters. I repeat, begin climb to thirty-five thousand meters. We're doin' it high like—they've only got MANPADs, but they're tearing through us at low altitude.”

They'd be sitting ducks at high altitude with their low speed capabilities against anyone else, but Kalunda did not exactly have a state of the art defence system. So they were going to maximum altitude, maximum speed for their own run. Reduced accuracy would certainly result on the bombing run, but this, the last air group of the day, was tasked with taking down the wall and conducting an area attack to the south of the main city centre, anyway, neither of which required the same precision as bunker-busting or even more specific anti-personnel work, though the later qualified somewhat.

The burst radar pulses which the tracking units for the battalion's anti-air prompted another ineffectual attack, but they also showed to Major Ewing that the aircraft coming in next were coming in very high. The enemy had wised up, and their original task, to cover the retreat, had been executed as best as they were able. It was time to go; the advancing allied infantry was coming into firing range as it stood. “Retire by sections!” Ewing ordered, and signaled his intent to the more inexperienced Trajan. The two together drew back their battalions, and the enemy pressed ahead. The retreat did not last very long, however.

Despite being in the midst of a retreat, when the enemy aircraft came in, the disciplined troops were still able to set up their anti-missile batteries, and these smashed easily two dozen laser-guided bombs as they arced down from high altitude. The rest, though, smashed with terrific force into the city wall on the north side. Undermined by the blasts it toppled along very large sections in a hail of explosions and shattered rock, though casualties were very light; it had already been evacuated. For the moment though it gave the picture of their being surrounded, enemy troops on one side and a hail of bombs on the other. “Battalion halt! Deploy in dispersed combat formation!” Turning toward his commo section—the whole unit organized like a light infantry battalion—he added: “Copy to Trajan.”

Trajan, of course, had no problem with standing his ground, and the two battalions, men laying prone in open order, waited for the enemy to come against them... “Report our status to General di Intuit and ask her for instructions.”

But of course Jhayka had other concerns. The attacking aircraft still had bombs left, and these were being expended on the south wall, the cluster munitions plastering the clear ground on both sides of it as the remains of the wall here, already much more heavily shelled than the wall to the north, was brought down by the fire in seconds. Here, with the cluster munitions and the collapses, hundreds of defenders were killed and serious gaps opened in the lines which kept communication between the industrial district and the city proper.

They also faced their first threat. The assault transports which had crashed during the throwing in of the reinforcements had been equipped with heavy air-to-air missiles, of course, and a launcher for some of these which were intact had been outfitted. It fired a single missile at the formation of attack aircraft, prompting them to scatter and their Regiment leader to nearly go into shock at the prospect of such opposition from the city. Boring in inexorably on one of the fighters it struck it and brought it down with its awesomely powerful warhead, killing its crew instantly. But there were not enough of these precious salvaged missiles to make further attacks.

The aircraft got clear, having suffered altogether the loss over the course of the day to all the regiments, of nineteen aircraft, with thirty-four dead and four survivors recovered by the allied forces. Warleader Erqui was already moving to exploit the enormous successes which had been achieved thanks to the air raids. He at once ordered an offensive drive to begin to the south of the city to cut off the industrial quarters down the cleared corridors which had once, in medieval warfare, been an asset to Kalunda, and were now a deadly liability.

Ewing and Trajan's battalions stood their ground against the advancing northern siege force. The two ADN Marine companies were posted to the extreme right flank of the spread-out formation, and to Corporal Esther Thomas of B Company, it was a hell of a lot like the Dominion War. The thing that made her gut twist was that it was people coming on like that, dashing forward in great waves with such primitive weapons, not genetically engineered aliens.

Ewing gave the order to commence firing. The ADN troops were in a rivalry with their Habsburg and Taloran comrades, considering that a Habsburg had been made the commander, something they were rather bitter about. Now they were pleased to show themselves in action to their aristocratically led comrades, and their fire was instant and vigorous.

Each of them, using their computer aided targeting, had selected one man out of the great mass moving forward—it included some women in the remaining Amazon contingents—and fired. The hit rate against unarmoured troops was nearly 100%; combined with the support weapons, easily 1,500 of the enemy fell on the first salvo.

They proved their mettle, though, as solid fighting troops. They all dropped prone at once after such shocking casualties to the modern troops, which did not make them flinch or cease their attack. Instead, bringing up mortars and light artillery pieces for support, they drove their war forward, engaging in suppressing fire and accepting continued heavy casualties on the forces.

What it did do, regardless of their determination in pressing ahead, was effectively stall the attack. Ewing heard from a harried Jhayka soon enough, at that. “I see that you've already halted them, Major. Good; they will launch a general assault to try and take the city tomorrow, perhaps.. But by then we will be ready for them, and they will realize that what they have been encountering in the industrial district is no anomaly. Speaking of which, the area behind you is clear and safe for your retreat; we have confirmed that they weren't deploying cluster-mines along the course of the wall. Both your battalions should therefore take this opportunity to withdraw. Trajan's battalion will form part of the defence of the north sector of the city. I want your's to shift to the south immediately. I will meet you in person and give further instructions then.”

“Understood, General. I'll execute a withdrawal as circumstances allow.”

“Make it a quick one: I need you elsewhere. The enemy is launching a major attack in the south as well and there is a danger of losing our lines of communication with the industrial district.”

“I'll have Trajan's battalion cover our retreat, then, General.”

“Very good. You have your orders, good luck.” She terminated the communication, turning in the defence headquarters to look to Ilavna as the last crackle of static faded. “Get my combat armour, please, good child.”

Julio snapped up to look at her. “You're going forward with Major Ewing's battalion, aren't you?”

“Yes. He will only accept orders from me, and they are needed if we are to save our hold on the factory district in the long term and keep any ammunition production alive at all. I must also inspire the troops, who will be facing constant aerial attack in that sector. It is the most critical portion of our losses. The enemy will be easily halted to the north, Sire. I must go.”

“What if I forbid you?”

Jhayka looked nearly plaintive. “You must let me for the sake of your city, Your Majesty. You have retained me to fight to the best of my ability.”

“If you are lost, I fear our whole defence will crumble.”

“Danielle will carry on in my stead. The Russian Consul will command the respect of teh foreign contingents. Ilavna will command Trajan's. Sarina is competent as a commander and should operate in charge of overall strategy in my stead, certainly. You will hold out regardless of what happens to me. And I must fight, no matter what the Lord of Justice has in store for me on the field.” A soft smile. “And I trust your nobility. You will not surrender this place.”

“Then go. You have done so much for us already, and I will trust you in this also.” But Julio turned away, and could not see her leave; could not bring himself to consider that his fine Marshal should die in his service after so much. But if it was to be, it would be.

Ilavna and Jhayka walked together for a moment as Jhayka left. “You will take care of Danielle,” Jhayka began. “If I die... You will explain to her where I have gone, and you will take care of her if I die. My whole fortune is at your disposal; my Will is legally witnessed. You will take care of her like a lover even though I know that will never be the case.”

Ilavna turned her head away bashfully, unable to cry, and then, forcing down the impulse, straightened and stopped. Jhayka turned toward her, ears flexing quizzically...

“Haganh Ersamtim uhil oj itl Erasim Farzbardor. Uloh, uhn savpasi. Savpasi erat ohl, oj waser ghasimind erl'ah tramja Farzbardor.”

Three sentences. Simple and brief for occasions of battle. But it freed Jhayka nonetheless. Unconditional pardon; absolution from all then-unrepentent sins on the occasion of close battle. Jhayka offered a bow of acknowledgement to the girl who had once been her servant, and now stood as a priestess of the faith. And then, as last act of generous servitude, Ilavna helped Jhayka into her armour, and saw her off. Only God would reveal their fate; her fate, Ilavna's fate, and that of the whole world, and He would do it in His time.

Retreating from the field of battle, Trajan proved himself as ferocious as when on the attack. With Ewing's battalion having escaped behind him to redeploy for the salvation of the tenuous situation in the south, it was his job, his job alone, to conduct the retreat, to rescue his own battalion, and prepare for the room-to-room defence of the north of the city.

He had done it in his typical style of bold and stern attacks, personally led. Again and again he had taken platoons forward in mad counterattacks, allowing the rest of the battalion to retreat, establish fire positions, and cover them in an escape. Dozens had fallen in this fashion.. And so had hundreds of the enemy. And his battalion had, at last, as he strode among them a monster in human form, a proud and valorous one, unconcerned with the terrible enemy fire, young and impetous but staunchly brave in his determination to show his command position worthy, as always, to his liege-lady.

They pulled back again, and in the hail of fire a heavy round actually managed to pierce his armour. He was staggered by it, and surprised when the men around him abruptly came up. “Sir! Sir!” They grabbed him and brought him down to safety, shouting inquiries to his health. And in doing so he realized that he had achieved more than just glory. For risking his life with his men, they had come to love him.

He thrust himself upward with sheer determination, shaking off those around him, gently, though. “I am fine!” Trajan growled, and was barking orders in to his commo a moment later. “Fall back. Up the wall. We will receive support now from the positions in the city!”

Grabbing up his heavy support weapon from where it had fallen, he turned it on the enemy, and with his headquarters staff around him and a few brave and enthusiastic volunteers, made a tremendous stand while the rest of the battalion retreated up over the walls, the fire of the defenders inside the shattered buildings of the city raining down from above on the allied troops, beating them back, giving time for the battalion to get clear... And then for Trajan himself to order the men around him back, a few dozen, the last of the battalion, up over the shattered, treacherous rubble of the wall, several times hauling up those who had stumbled, until at last, exhausted, they plunged down the other side, the rubble down protecting rather than hindering them, and the fire of the city's defences pinning down the lead elements of the allied advance, holding them out of the city. In the background, the fire of the sun was beginning to set. It had been a long, brutal day.

On the other side of the river Kalunda, across the bridges, still intact as the enemy had neglected to bomb them, Ewing's battalion, the four companies of reinforcements, formed up for an inspection by the armour-clad figure of the Princess Jhayka. She reviewed them with some pride, particularly the Talorans, as one would naturally expect, and then looked to Ewing himself. “Are you ready, Major? If we're successful, we will not see the end of sustained urban fighting until...” A soft chuckle. “Why, until this city is relieved.”

“We'll show them how real men fight, Your Highness,” Ewing said, unapologetic of his phrasing and yet quite sincere in applying it to them all.

Jhayka allowed herself a very small smile, and slammed the visor of her helmet closed. “The battalion will advance on the wall!”

They formed up and moved out through the rubble-strewn south-bank quarter of the city, toward the low line of rubble which was all that remained of the medieval wall. Much of it was now in the hands of the enemy as Erqui's attack surged forward even as the night overtook the day. The defenders had fallen back into the prepared positions of the stone buildings of the old city, and were holding well there. But if they fell back at every point, then the industrial district would be cut off.

And so Jhayka, in person, led the counterattack of Ewing's battalion, firing mostly for effect on her own, the effect that it had on the men and women of the force around her to see her leading them in person and fighting with them, and on all the Kalundans around who knew that she was in the fight. They slammed into the flank of an allied brigade and smashed it with concentrated fire, Jhayka and Ewing always together, dashing from place to place on the lines and sending the men forward, an alliance formed of mutual stubbornness and determination, such that they reached the line of rubble that was the wall in scarcely fifteen minutes of hard fighting.

Here the affair was at point-blank as the Stirlin forces they faced immediately tried to hold onto this rubble barricade down the middle of the open zone, where the power-armoured infantry met their unprotected foes with point of bayonet. The fighting was sharp and savage, of incomparable intensity, and familiar enough to Ewing's experiences fighting the 'cats'. The difference here was that his side had the advantage in pure physicality, and he made sure that his men had the chance to indulge this luxury to the fullest physical measure possible.

Bayonets were thrust through flesh and men were butted with the rifles or bodily shoved aside as the international troops made their dash to the top of the rubble line. The enemy was recoiled, men stumbled and fell into the rubble, and the constantly probing vibro-bayonets of the power-armoured troops sliced through them like butter, while bursts at point-blank slaughtered even more. The Stirlins were flung back, physically recoiled, and Ewing's battalion gained the top of the rubble line.

Falling down there, men who had not the time to reload, or thing of reloading, seized up heavy rocks with their power-assisted arms and flung them down onto the Stirlins on the other side, while the crew-served weapons were hastily brought up in their turn, set up as fast as could be, and along with a hail of rocks and grenades, directed an intense fire down upon the enemy. It was simply impossible for anyone to stand this. The enemy was broke, and they fled: The Stirlins were driven back off the rubble line in what seemed like scarcely another thirty minutes.

Now Jhayka and Ewing had to get most of the battalion down to the flat on the other side, leaving the Taloran company, numerically the strongest, on the north side of the old wall line to dig in there and keep up a vicious crossfire on the cleared spaces from both the rubble line and the ruined buildings closed to it, with a few 'suicide' squads in the middle to deal with infiltration. The same setup would be repeated on the south side of the collapsed wall..

But first the three reforming companies dealt with a last allied counterattack to preserve their assault. They fought them off prone at the bottom of the wall, recoiling their numbers with vigorous and accurate fire, a tremendous rate of hits for the number of rifle shots fired, especially in the dark, which posed no obstacle to their suit sensors. It was Jhayka, though, who provided the example for the attack proper. She simply stood up and surged forward. The act brought all three companies out together, and at point of bayonet—and here even the Princess' was covered in blood—again the allied troops were thrust back, and when supporting mortar fire began from behind them, where the troops in the industrial district had mounted a stiff counterattack on the occupied buildings near the cleared zone, and brought the mortars up for support, that was enough. The allied forces fell back, the encirclement attempt collaped, and the steel and blood of international forces had proved themselves worthy of the task. Only three of the battalion's troops and other ranks, and one officer, had been killed.

Jhayka, satisfied of Ewing's hold on this ever-so-strategic point, left him in command of its defence and went to take personal charge of the operations in the industrial sector. She staggered away from the lines, getting her bearings for a moment... Long enough for Ewing to see and send a guard detail with her. She didn't wish it; but accepting it for the moment, exhausted by her second experience with intense close combat in two months, she forged on confident nonetheless.

In the dark, the corps headquarters was not easy to find. They stumbled around until Jhayka ran into a girl she thought she recognized...

“Your Highness!” the girl shouted, eyes widening in the dark, recognizing the figure despite the armour. “What are you doing here, such a splendid thing?”

“Do you know the way to corps headquarters, my dear?” She wracked herself for the girl's name... Ah, the one from the factory. “Trea, yes, if you know, show me.”

“Oh yes, I know, Your Highness.. This way!” She started off, determined and all the more proud; being commended in person by the Marshal was one thing. Now she was given a chance ot help her, and it was a feeling of confidence for a girl of Kalunda which was scarcely imaginable, in a city where for all the equal rights and fighting abilities, the culture tended to depreciate the motivations of the fairer sex as being strictly carnal. As a result, Trea at once resolved to convert to the faith of her hero; but she remained silence on the matter out of the intimidating factor of the Marshal's great rank, when she was merely in the second line militia.

Together with the guard detail, they arrived at the corps headquarters. The Crimson Guard general serving as corps commander greeted Jhayka warmly, knowing of the plan. It was Major General Arlisa, who had previously commanded the 7th Division: But that force had suffered such heavy casualties that it had been disbanded and its troops used as reinforcements elsewhere and now Arlisa commanded the overstrength composite corps responsible for holding most of the remaining industrial district, despite her wounded condition.

“Thank you for coming, Marshal. Your reputation is considerable, and it's an honour that you've been willing to come fight among us directly.”

“It is my duty. We have halted the last attack—I can confirm this with my own eyes, having participated in the counterattack myself—but of course tomorrow there will be more air raids, and these will wear away at our forces holding that area. Rather than be exposed directly, save a small number of guards we can easily withdraw, they've just formed fire corridors.. But at any rate, they will nonetheless suffer under that fire. But I trust Ewing to hold. As for the rest, we must make sure they keep bleeding themselves here, and that the factories run until the last minute. I will be here—I will be everywhere—to make sure of that. And do not consider it a poor showing, Arlisa, that I come to your command like this; rather, it is my utmost confidence in you that allows me to make this attempt to hold the industrial districts.”

“A thousand thanks to you, then, Marshal.” A dangerous smile. “We'll gut them upon this carpet of teeth.”


Across the wastes of the old no-man's land, in the allied encampments for their command headquarters, Tarl Ikmen reviewed the sitrep for the day. “Well, we've finished their hold on the siege lines. Tomorrow we will launch our attack on the north of the city.. And I expect it to fall. A pity we haven't insolated the industrial sector yet—those damned reinforcements! We know it was them. But tomorrow, Erqui, with full air support, I want you to advance, cautiously but steadily, with the troops in that area to the same effect. We'll reduce the rest of them into one easily conquered pocket, and then starve the industrial centre out.

“I imagine we shall have that last bit of the siege finished in a week. Finally. And with so much of our manhood lost...” The prospect of a genuine victory, only with the help of his shameful appeal to the government, no longer generated much pleasure. Especially since Jhayka might well already be dead, and the only loot would be starved and emaciated women. And a long guerrilla war to follow. Truly it was the summer of their discontent..

“I would not be even that cautiously optimistic, Your Excellency. We have still not fought directly in the old city itself.. And I fear it is fortifiecd the same way as the factories. They will not collapse once we are inside, but fight house to house, and we will suffer greatly. Accordingly, I have instructed the northern advance to proceed with only the utmost caution.”

“Well, I disagree. But I will not dispute those instructions, Warleader; if they collapse as I expect, a careful push at first will not matter much.”

Erqui shook his head for a moment, in bemusement, perhaps, at the continued optimistic Norman beliefs, so naive, but it carefully turned into a nod of acknowledgement. “Tomorrow, your excellency. A few hours after dawn we'll have the air support we need, and all troops in position. Then the attacks will be launched.”

“Very good. Let us get some sleep, then. You're dismissed.” The crackle of gunfire was omnipresent to the sleep of the besiegers and the besieged alike, and Tarl wondered if he should ever feel quite normal sleeping without such a background, ever again. Let your kajira distract you from such things...
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Postby Steve » 2007-01-06 01:20pm

By Marina and myself:


DNS Condoleeza Rice, Collinfield, ADN Intervention Zone
Gilead

DAY 44



Again the honor guards had been called, the hanger prepared, and everything in general made ready for the welcome of the new ranking commander of the Taloran intervention force, as well as the Habsburg commander and other national commanders for the meeting to decide when and how to attack Gilead itself. Admiral MacCallister stood again with her staff in dress uniform, the same voices from before mumbling about the protocol that annoyed so many.

This time Halsina was joined by her superior in rank, Frayuia Risim the Duchess of Medina. They were the first to arrive, and the Duchess actually seemed rather friendly. So, too, did Admiral Sir George Cradock, Earl of Summertown, Viscount Queensville, the British admiral who had commanded the Grand Alliance's unified fleet to victory over Plymouth at the Second Battle of Queensville, reopening the supply lines to Scathford and driving back the Plymouthite forces under their equally-brilliant Admiral Henry Martyn in the process. Cradock was a thin man of graying, balding dark hair and mustache, imperious looking if possessing of the particular warmth and courtesy of an English gentleman, and his staff were just as stiff-necked as MacCallister's as the two commanders exchanged pleasantries.

More imperious was the Hispanic commander Field Marshal Don Carlos Ferdinand Sandoval y Dios de Santa Paz, the Duke of New Bolivia; he rather coldly and formally greeted Admiral MacCallister and her staff, while his own staff tried and failed to hide what was clearly greater misery at the stiff-necked protocol than MacCallister's staff had.
The French commander, Vice Admiral Duc d'Multhouse, was very generous in his greeting to MacCallister and the others, while Catalinian Marine Corps General Mulhouse Tibbets was more concerned with eyeing the Alliance Marines assembled to greet him, as if inspecting them; he nevertheless offered his greetings.
Following him were the last two commanders. Vice Admiral Philippe du Guise, Comte de Nancy, was even more imperious in posture than Don Carlos, though he was more respectful in action toward MacCallister when introducing himself.
General Fyodor Tarasov of the Tsar's Army, a thin and athletic commoner who had risen through the ranks on pure skill, presented himself gracefully and warmly, thus ending the entire parade of commanders and allowing MacCallister and her people to escort them to STELCOM and the conference table placed in the second floor above it's great holotank; here was the nerve center from which an admiral could command an entire theater of naval operations with great efficiency.

"Gentlemen and Ladies, to get down to business....." MacCallister took her place near the head of the table, as she was technically the host of the conference. "The situation on Gilead has deterioriated. General Covington's new junta has begun aiding the primitivst armies attacking Kalunda and has attacked any faction that refuses support for it or which is outright interventionist. We received confirmation from intelligence sources this morning that the Gilean military launched a series of air strikes on Kalundan troops yesterday and orbital scans from our stealth craft indicate that the Kalundans have been forced out of their trenches and into urban combat. It is my personal opinion, as well as President Dale's opinion I'm told, that the planned landings on Gilead be delayed no longer, that all of us must cease expanding operations to other worlds in the Confederacy and concentrate on taking Gilead itself with all available forces."

"It is time we act!" Lieutenant General Risim, the Duchess of Medina, responded to MacCallister before anyone else could. "I have come here with the utmost decision, under the absolute understanding of my government that the first goal is to secure the relief of the city of Kalunda. To this end, bearing my particular instructions, I give support to the idea that we bring our combined fleets into solar space near Gilead at the earliest possible moment; within seventy-two hours at the latest and preferably sixty hours from now on the terran measure, with the goal of landing troops on the planet as soon as the minesweeping assets arrive another fourty-eight hours after that. To do this we must, however, at this must immediately appoint a united fleet commander and second, and a commander and second for both the relief expedition and the main strike force to land on the planet. I will acknowledge that we, the Taloran nation, expect command of the relief force. Will we place all our other forces, however, under the command of other nations, to be selected here; and we have no interest in any other sort of demands. Personally I intend to support for the other command positions whomever seems most able to maintain the harmony of the coalition."

"I concur with Her Grace," Cradock said in an imposing tembre. "So far we have been dawdling, snatching up bases here and there, and more for purposes of negotiation than for military purpose I would say. We must take Gilead, and we must take it as soon as possible."

"The problem that remains, Your Grace, Admiral, is that we do have established commanders for the fleet. And, I daresay, the number of nations and their prominence makes it difficult to establish such matters on precedence alone. We all have our spheres of influence, but to control the occupation of the remaining worlds and for operations on Gilead itself we must establish some regular system for joint operations," de Guise continued: "I will make it plain that all groups must receive appropriate representation in command."

Tarasov spoke next. "Slavia concurs. Furthermore, we also would like a senior command figure in the relief of Kalunda, as there are many of the Tsar's subjects trapped in that city, as well as a Consul of Slavia, and it is a matter of honor to Slavia that we have as prominent a role as possible in it's relief."

"I'll remind you, General, that we can claim the same," MacCallister remarked. "However, for the sake of making these decisions as quickly and harmoniously as possible, I am willing to give the Talorans command of the relief of Kalunda and to have a Slavian officer in the vice commander position. If none are opposed, that brings us to deciding the command of the fleet and of the main strike upon Cranstonville, and to deciding what form of command all joint operations should have. I would say that on top of the six commander and vice-commander positions we have already considered, an overall commander and vice-commander, with chiefs of staff, be made for the entire operation and for future joint efforts, and that these commanders should not just represent each power here but also each service, say, an admiral in charge and a general in second, or vice versa."

"I have no objection," Don Carlos Sandoval answered this time. "But the question of the other positions is one that must be solved rather more urgently. They are the more critical, and the vice commanders at best are simply backups."

It was the French representative commander who offered the curious proposal next, which seemed able to break the impasse: "We are, ultimately, acting in pursuit of a careful political intervention, against a rather primitive enemy. For the purpose of harmony, in not having the question of who shall be vice commander of one expedition or another, and who the commander--let us adopt the old Roman formulation when both Consuls were operating together with the Army. The two appointees to each of the remaining three positions shall rotate between the commander and vice-commander positions on a daily basis."

"Much of the Gilean officer corps was trained under British and Catalinian instruction, I'll remind you," stated Cradock. "We mustn't take them too lightly."

"Certainly not," de Guise concurred. "But the whole of the operation may be safely conducted in this fashion; the co-commanders could share a staff, after all, making the regular transitions rather seamless, and both would be constantly kept up to date on the operations of the other, by sharing a headquarters. It appears to be the only workable idea."

"Any objections, then, to Admiral Mulhouse's suggestion?" asked MacCallister.

"No," the Duchess of Medina leaned forward slightly, a finger resting to her chin, ears up. "Let us place as overall co-commanders the ranking Slavian and Hispanic officers, alternating daily as per the proposal. I will nominate yourself, Admiral, and Admiral Cradock, to alternate command of the naval forces. For the main ground forces, let us alternate Habsburg and French officers. The Catalinian ranking army officer may, let us further say, have full command responsibility for the multinational forces which shall occupy all the remaining worlds of the Confederacy save Gilead itself, and under him shall be placed a permanent Hispanic second to compensate for the fact that the Slavians shall provide my permanent second in command."

There were clear signs of discontent among some, mostly junior officers. "If I may interject something further," Cradock said, hearing some of the remarks, "I would also say that we should see about allowing for elements of each intervening nation to be permitted the honor, jointly, of relieving the city of Kalunda. We all have citizens trapped there, after all, and this way none of our nations will be slighted by not being given a place when our troops enter the free sections of Kalunda."

"Can each nation provide a brigade? I do not want a force smaller than a brigade operating independently in my order of battle," the Duchess of Medina answered, adding: "I am given to understand that the Slavians, Habsburgs, and Alliance have already provided for a commitment of two brigades each; I have allowed this also. If each remaining nation of the great powers intervening can provide a single brigade, we shall have a force of more than sufficient capacity to undertake the mission. All of my planning to date had been based around only ten brigades, not twelve."

There were some nods. "It will take some doing for us," General Tibbets said. "I have only two of our four Marine brigades under my command, and my government refuses to dispatch Army forces as they are by law meant only for defense of our systems from Chinese threat. If you absolutely require a brigade, Ma'am, I can send it, but it likely means that I won't be able to give any substantial support to the Cranstonville operation, barely a battalion or two in all likelihood."

The Duchess was lost in thought for a moment. Then, however, her head raised and with it her body until she was fully erect, smiling rather faintly. "General, could you form a brigade of landed naval volunteers? The crews of the ships in your country's force are extensive... And it is quite certain that extensive use of armoured trains in the primitive zone has taken place. At least in the history of my people these were actually typically crewed by naval personnel, as the weapons systems are not terribly different from that with which they are familiar."

Tibbets was deep in thought. "That likely wouldn't work, ma'am, as our services tend to be more specialized. The most you can ask of shipboard complements is fighting off boarders or maybe providing a little muscle at supply depots. As it is, the only naval personnel who consistantly serve on the ground in combat conditions are the medical corpsmen we attach to our Marine units. But I suppose I could twist my captains' arms and get the shipboard Marine contingents, that might give us at least an extra regiment. And if you give me a few days I can get my superiors to sign off on shipping in an extra Marine regiment, together they'd be a brigade, a bit understrength, but at least able to deal with the local militias."

"That will be most acceptable, General. We'll work with what we have available." The Duchess had maintained the point only on account of the maintainence of the various terms of the agreement, including the reciprocity of having forces from all of the nations involved in the relief. Beyond that, well, her forces she accounted sufficient for the work as it stood. A slight smile was offered, and to a student of Taloran body language, her ears showed her eagerness. "When shall we direct the fleet to the Gilead System? My understand is that we will not have the minesweeping assets for a landing for another five days, but certainly airstrikes are possible before this to soften up the enemy and deny them use the of their own airforce, and of course we must clear the enemy fleet in advance of the landings at any rate. How long will it take for the combined fleets to go forward together to contest the system, then? I say we must do this in no later than seventy-two hours, does anyone hold an objection? Or think we can accomplish it sooner?"

"I may be accused of boldness, but I think we can trim that to forty-eight hours, and most of that is simply to insure a coordinated command-and-control," MacCallister remarked. "I have the facilities here on the Rice to command every allied navy in Gilead if need be, and if Admiral Cradock wants to remain here to oversee the operation with our control facilities he's more than welcome."
"While my flagship has all the necessary functions I require, I do not object to transferring my flag to this ship," Cradock said. "It'll certainly ease command and control without having to constantly call between here and the Thunderer, and it'll ease the plan for Admiral MacCallister and I to share a command staff."
"Yes, and if you don't mind, General, I'd like Admiral itl Sapai to be our Chief of Staff, if Admiral Cradock doesn't object." MacCallister looked to Cradock, who nodded his head to indicate assent.

"I'll agree to it. She'll do fine in that role."
Halsina's ears rose at the compliment, and she obediently dipped her head. "It will be quite the honour, Your Grace, Admiral."

"I'll have the necessary staterooms made available immediately,"
"I should think," Frayuia answered with a small smile, and then continued.. "Ahh, Admiral MacCallister, Admiral Cradock, our forces are strong in dreadnoughts. I will refer this to your knowledge of naval affairs: Do you think that with the minesweeping assets we'll have in four days, rather than five, will be sufficient to thin a path so that the dreadnoughts can bull through the rest of the mines and allow us to land troops in a local area, say, above the primitive zone? We'd gain a certain advantage in being able to deploy our troops during which, according to my information, what would then be the planetary night would be taking place."
"I'd hesitate to risk any capitol assets for twelve hours of time," the Duc de Guise rejoined from further down the table. "But I'll leave the final decision there to be made by the joint commanders based on a technical evaluation of the minefield."

Cradock was the first to speak, MacCallister ceding to him as both a matter of seniority and that of experience. "We would take losses, possibly, though the point-defense weaponry on our vessels could if necessary act as anti-mine weapons, and certainly the same for the weapons on Alliance warships, which I am most familiar with. These are, in fact, my primary worry, as the Royal Navy was able to take intact much of the Gilean Navy at the joint base at Nueva Cartagena, and my squadrons have further chased to ground most of their light elements. Only the squadrons guarding New Friesland remain a concern, and the New Frieslanders have made noises through.... unofficial channels that they would be willing to declare for the intervention if we should guarantee their autonomy. Our governments have not yet decided on such things, but at the very least it confirms they will likely respond late, if at all, to any request from Covington for fleet protection."
"Depending on the quality of their mines, our fighters could also use smart cluster missiles to help open a path." MacCallister put her hands on the table. "The key is to ensure the rest of the minefield doesn't rotate or thin itself out in an attempt to cover up the hole we make. If they're among the more sophisticated systems, in which the mines are more like stationary missiles or missile launchers, they could even be under remote control, and the Gilean system defense operators could, say, wait for us to get critical assets into the "hole" and then suddenly snap it shut by adjusting the mines."

"Vaguely similar weapons exist in land combat," the Duchess acknowledged. "I'll provide my precise landing zone for you in secured transmission in the next six hours, Admirals, and leave the timing, of course, to your discretion."

"As the saying goes, Your Grace, 'Fortune favors the bold'," quoted Cradock with an anticipatory grin.
"Then there is only one question remaining," the Duc de Guise observed: "When shall the system of alternating commanders commence, and who shall go first?"

The later question was certainly the trickiest, and an air of uncertainty resulted from its voicing. Until, that is, the Slavian commander, Tarasov, proved himself to have an eccentricity equal to that of many of the Slavian commanders and diplomats in general. He produced a deck of cards from his pocket and proceeded to shuffle it, allowing a trace of an amused grin to touch his grim face, as he presented the shuffled cards to the momentarily confused representative of his country's rivals, Don Carlos. "Cut the deck, Your Grace?"

The Duc de Guise got the Russian's intent before his ally did; he smiled, chuckled softly, and queried: "Whist, General Tarasov?"
"Whist it is."
And so it was that the order of command for the advance on Gilead was decided by a rubber of whist.




It was sometime later that the conference ended and MacCallister returned to her office, her orders to Line Captain Palma for the preparation of state rooms given first. Here she prepared herself a drink and went to work on the paperwork that her job entailed.
"Ahhhh, Admiral... May I come in?" The accent could only be Taloran, and the voice was certainly Halsina's, with that sort of hesitancy which instead of being uncertainty came off as a sort of noble affection, which the Duchess of Medina was much more heavily indulgent of, but the Marchioness of Sapai could occasionally not avoid, either.

Looking up, MacCallister replied by saying, "Come in, Admiral. The door is unlocked."
Halsina stepped inside, helmet tucked under her left arm as typical aboard a human ship, and smiling in that vague Taloran way, no less sincere if one learned their moves, as she stood before the Admiral. "Thank you, Admiral, that you've offered me a chance to handle the staff procedures of a full fleet operation. I am surprised you had such an especial confidence in me as to recommend me, I must confess."

"Your record, as much of it as I've had the time and ability to read at least, recommended you for the role, as did the size of the Taloran naval contribution. We are, along with the British, furnshing the most advanced and capable ships in the intervention fleet, so it makes sense that you have a place in the command." MacCallister stood and smiled. "And, I have to admit, it'll make dinner a great deal easier to arrange. Is there anything I can get you to drink? Replicators don't make great food, but at least the drink is passable, and I have a selection of Taloran beverages installed in the system. Bought them via the tachyon grid from a replicator company that's opened business in your colonial territories here."

"Dhpou? To much to do for me to think of drinking outright at the moment," Halsina answered, asking for the spiced beverage preferred in leisure by Talorans, though drunk hot rather than cold. "I cannot stay for long, of course, as I must arrange the provisions of the command of the squadron while I am absent here dealing with my assigned duties, but I wanted to impress upon you the fact that I'm quite thankful for the opportunity. You've proved yourself not just a reliable ally in these operations, but a genuine friend."

MacCallister smiled at that. "I like hearing that. I was afraid after our first meeting that we'd both gotten off on the wrong foot." She entered the sequence on the replicator unit placed near the wall. A swirl of energy resulted in the creation of a ceramic cup filled with a liquid that was steaming. She picked up the cup by it's handle, the insulation of the replicated material preventing her from being burned. As she went to hand it to Halsina, gesturing at the same time toward a chair for Halsina to sit in, she asked, "Hot, right?"

"Yes. I'm told it's sort of like a variant of something called ginger ale you humans drink, but you drink that cold. We prefer things warm..." She sat, and took the cup gladly, blowing over it lightly before taking the smallest sip off the top. "Which I suppose is natural enough, in some sense. I know enough about human biology to understand that you evolved in much warmer areas than we; and yet we are the ones with much less body fat. The more energy for us, the better. It was ironically the Princess Jhayka who wrote a book on human cuisine which I read before my deployment here, for sake of understanding what I was getting myself into at all the countless formal functions I expect, who honestly described our own food as universally bland and served ridiculously hot, by human standards." A moment of silence. "Your people, I hope, are not angered by our having sent Her Grace the Duchess of Medina here to assume command? I privately feared you might construe it as an insult."

"Some might. I, for one, don't mind having a ground pounder officer in charge of ground pounders. It's hard enough commanding Marines sometimes, and at least in the Alliance we are two seperate services." MacCallister gave a slight shrug. "I'm sure there are those who are irritated, though. This is going to make some history, and the people involved in it are going to get some press, good press they hope. And all of our Army and Marine commanders looking forward to leading the relief of Kalunda are instead stuck under the Duchess' command." MacCallister sighed. "And it's probably a good thing that most of the Muslims in the Alliance service are either from the more liberal states or probably don't know which Medina her title refers to..."

"That's actually the point that I was most worried about. There have always been some among us who thought that the sack of Medina was honestly a sad point which should have been avoided; you must understand that we have a religion which regards it as our duty to protect the other monotheistic faiths. That said, rebellions are rebellions, and her own exemplary religious posture removes what grounds for criticism as may be. She clearly thought the Muslims... Needed a lesson in respect. I freely admit that I find your anger at Her Serene Majesty's holding vassalage over the human nations, to be misplaced and strange.. But I'd fully understand an expression of it regarding the sack of Medina."

"Anger?" MacCallister had a look upon her face, one mostly of bewilderment. She supposed that others hadn't taken the news so well, but... "I, I honestly don't feel angry, not at Humanity's position regarding the Talorans. If you ask me, that it took us a century to find a universe where not only were there non-Human species, but where they were in authority over Humanity, is more of a surprise. Though, maybe we let it get to our heads a bit, you know... every universe there is us, but there seems to be few duplicates, if any, of the other races. The Minbari, the Klingons, the Cardassians, and of course your people, each only exists in one universe we've encountered so far. And yet we're in all of them. Each and every one. I guess it gave us a complex, and then here you come, from a universe where Humanity isn't top dog at all, isn't even in consideration..."

Halsina frowned, and held her hand up for a moment, a curious gesture... "Tell me, these Minbari? They're the ones with the ridge crest on the back of the head?"
"The headbones? Yeah, that's them."

"I remember seeing in a picture-book when I was a young girl, inscriptions on a smashed and shattered world which we had found, in the direction of human space, a decade or so before we contacted your people there. I had not thought of it for many years, but when I first saw a Minbari, as you call them, I was struck by the similarity betwixt the two." She leaned back, drinking heavily of the dphou, now, a hand running through her sensuous length of royal blue hair. "Another connection betwixt our universes, if a much more faint one--as if that one may be anything save the memories of a child recalled badly--is the curious fact, which I reviewed with several officers of the dreadnought squadrons when we were studying the stellar cartography of the Alliance regions, that in comparison with the human development patterns of some of your histories, Taloran space is very far coreward. In particular, it is tens of parsecs further coreward than, ah, what you'd call Clan space. Perhaps there is some trace there of what has become of our distant cousins; and perhaps there is a hint in all of this that it is not that all the other species you know are not the same throughout the various universes, but rather that in most... We have not had the luck of the draw to survive. And what's curious about that in turn is that it seems Talorans are the furthest, genetically, of the humanoid-form species, from humans. All idle speculation for the likes of us, but we have reassured ourselves with the knowledge that it seems a vague Purpose is at work in the ordering of the humanoid peoples."

"I have heard of other theories," MacCallister stated, sipping on some mass market tea (not the kind of "refined" tea that Cradock and his officers preferred), "that beyond the idea of Multiverse is that of 'Megaverse', and that certain universes are clumped together, for lack of a better term, and travel between them is easier than travel to another. Somewhat like galaxies in a single universe, which are vast in of themselves, but which are also part of clusters of other galaxies. The theory goes that these clusters have similarities to one another, explaining why so many of our universes' histories seem to be similar. And then you get into the theory that each decision point in the universe leads to the spawning of another universe, or timeline, where the decision is different." She smiled wanely. "Or so my husband tells me. That kind of theorizing is his hobby."

"Then we would be on the outer edge of a cluster which is capable of achieving contact, I suppose, because the humanoid races are most diffuse in our universe, and not so genetically interrelated as in most of the others." A moment, and she added, almost a bit coy about it, curious in a polite way: "Forgive me, but you're married--I did not know this--what does your husband do?"

"Roger is a lawyer," MacCallister answered with amusement. "He used to be JAG - military law, which is how we met - but he went into private practice. He is, so to speak, the breadwinner of our family. He earns about twice what I do. My eldest is in law school to follow in her father's footsteps, while the boys are like me and joined the service. They're both Lieutenant Commanders now."

"The fourth estate," Halsina remarked softly. "Strange to hear of a daughter going into that, I must confess. Ah.. What you call lawyers have broader functions in our society, mostly in regard to the implementation of Imperial edicts through challenges in the seignorial legal system, and the reading of proclaimations in the fiefdoms. Broadly clumped together with the academics of the universities, their representatives form a specific voting block in the lower house of parliament. It is a respectable way to go through life. I'm unmarried myself, and I'll confess that it's a bit of a scandal, for the Marchland of Sapai must therefore rely on my Grand Sheriff for governance; this is not, however, irregular amongst the inner Marchlands like Sapai which no longer have a frontier border due to our expansion. And, for the moment," there was a trace of wryness, "I am not exactly on a posting apt to find a nobleman suitable for courtship."

MacCallister laughed softly. "The only reason I met Roger was that I was called to testify in a court-martial against a Seaman under my command, and Roger was the defense attorney. It was love at first sight.... after I wormed my way out of his trap on cross-examination, that is." There was a mischievous gleam in her eye. "You know, it occurs to me that while our legal system can be a bit of a tangle, what with local courts, state and province-level courts, national courts, and the Alliance Courts, your legal system is even worse, with all of those autonomous and semi-autonomous parts to your Empire."

"Oh, I believe it. Even in the tightly integrated Imperial territories, the local nobility usually has the right to administer justice, even if they don't have their own legal code like most of the independent fiefdoms. Sapai is, as a Marchland, sufficiently autonomous that the executive branch--which you're essentially speaking to--has sundry involvements in judicial matters. Generally speaking, court trials are straightforward, following a shared pattern, but it's the appeals process where things get very interesting."

"I take it you have a High Court that any of your people can appeal to?"

"Not a court, properly. The various independent nobles--those who are rated as holding seats in the Convocate--have fully independent judiciaries. Appeal as such is not possible beyond them. The Court of Cassation is the appeals court for crimes of lese majestie and grand treason, along with certain other crimes against Imperial structures themselves; those are, however, crimes only tried in the Imperial courts to begin with. However, all can appeal for the Imperial mercy. Essentially a process of hearings which can result in a recommendation of a pardon to Her Serene Majesty, to be issued to the appellant."

"Roger would probably find it interesting to study your law. He likes hard cases." MacCallister shook her head, snickering. "In our cases, the Alliance Court has limited power to hear cases, and they have to involve either a multinational case, a case of treason - and that is an entirely different story, because our constituent nations also keep treason laws on the books! - or a citizen claiming that his constitutional rights have been violated at the national level, in which case the Alliance Courts are his final hope of appeal. And that is the most controversial and most contested part of law in the Alliance today, as various sides argue the Alliance Court can or cannot rule on the Constitutions of constituent nations or can or cannot overrule laws on the books that do not specify violate the Alliance Constitution. The precedent is still being established for much of it, since the Alliance Court is so much different in form and function than historic international courts, like the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunals at The Hague and Geneva."

"We have never had international tribunals as such. A Sovereign rules unrestrained before God in her own right... But we have long traditions which govern these customs, and the traditions of differing fiefs often clash. At this point, it becomes an issue of the importance of the various obligations." She smiled, then, and finished the dhpou. "I would extend to him an invitation to the capitol, sometime, to read the law libraries at Valeria, if you think he would appreciate it."

"He might well enjoy it, and he's been looking to do some academic work some time in his career. Thank you very much." MacCallister took another drink. "General Tarasov approached me after the meeting and asked what my government's position was on dealing with Covington and the other senior officers of the Gilean junta. Apparently he wants to have them all summarily shot upon capture."

Halsina came near to spluttering at that. "Ah, Admiral! Such savagery from that man... I can't help but call the sentiment low-born. They are just defending their country, and fulfilling their duty in doing so to the best of their ability. It is a sad situation, and one I do not think will be made better by executions. I assumed the new government would proscribe them and exile them, but that is a very low thing to do when we have no evidence they've done worse than fight for their honour."

"I told him something similar. His reply was that 'they have sided with the barbarians and are aiding them against civilized folk, so we must treat them as we would barbarians', or something." MacCallister slipped back in her chair. "I'm at a bit of a loss of what to do with them, honestly. On the one hand, they're trying to defend their country from a foreign attack, but on the other they are helping the primitivists against Kalunda, and these are primitivists known for rape and murder whenever they capture a city. And then there's the question about whether they even have an actual country, when you consider just how the Gilean Confederacy is splintered." She smirked. "I bet some could say that about the Alliance, too."

"All questions which I think, Admiral, recommend us to err on the side of caution, in allowing them to make their flight to some place of exile." Halsina did not seem like she'd budge on that opinion, and it at least presented a contrast to the occasionally bloodthirsty reputation of the Talorans. She glanced at her chrono, then, pulled out of her pocket.. "If you'd forgive me, Admiral, I must however draw this meeting short to return to my flagship for the ordering of the command in my absence, and to get my personal effects for several weeks aboard this ship as now seems likely."

"I'll call up to Launch Control and make sure they give you top priority," MacCallister promised. "Maybe now that you're on board, we can keep that dinner date I promised?"

"Most assuredly, Admiral. It will be my pleasure to attend."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2007-01-07 01:42pm

By Marina:

DAY 45,
S. of EAST PORT.



“You know Danielle, and I know the Princess Jhayka well. We are the comrades of the besieged.” So General—formerly Colonel--Arshon introduced herself to Fayza with a heartfelt feeling. She had not thought it once of her curious and eccentric commander who had hired her for this madcap reconaissance and the lunatic war which had followed it, and consumed the past two months of her life, but now she did. Somewhere, far off, in besieged Kalunda, stood an incredible figure who animated them all. Unfortunately, they could not succor her, for they were dug in against the strength of a full modern armoured corps, supported by fifty thousand militia from the city, and nearly two hundred thousand barbarian troops under the command of the Caliphal mercenary, General Neguib, now that the old age and youth levies of the tribal lashkars of the al-Farani Emirate had arrived, though scarcely two-thirds of those had modern firearms, the rest armed with jezails and spears, with a single MBT company and two medium/light tank battalions plus artillery scarcely compensating for that.

Fayza had accompanied Eric Berglund's thirty-four thousand troops, including allies, to the area of East Port, only to be faced to retire under the threat of the Cartagenean Corps. There they had joined Arshon's force of 1,100 Kalundans, 3,080 Amazons, 250 Slavians, 1,200 volunteers from the city of East Port who had elected to fight the new government, and the crews of the General Faeria and five other armoured trains. The concentration, particularly in the heavily shielded General Faeria, had enough anti-air weapons to fight off several desultory airstrikes by the government, and so far the situation was not bad.

They were dug in around the town of Yhusai, which had a pre-war population of 17,700, situated fourty kilometres south of East Port, straddling the small Ratim river. On their arrival, the townsmen had elected in a fractuous vote, influenced by the guns of the trains, to deploy their militia, around four thousand in all, and elected Arshon the commanding General. In all there were somewhat more than fourty-five thousand troops still in the pro-intervention to the south of the city. More filtered in from time to time, and Arshon thought that in another two or three days they might have a force of around fifty thousand again; more were unlikely.

With so much going on it seemed odd from Fayza's perspective that she'd been called to speak with General Arshon. But the Devenshirite mercenary seemed curious about Fayza. Justifiably so, perhaps. The conversation which they now held revealed a pertinent fact, which Arshon had known all along, but which Fayza only now realized, somewhat to her horror: Her own captivity was the start of all the hostilities on Gilead.

“It doesn't surprise me that you escaped on your own. Ironically, someone worth so much to Danielle, someone who could make her convince the Princess to bring all of this down on her head... Someone of that stature virtually demands the ability to escape on her own.” A wry, grim chuckle. “Of course, unlike Danielle, you're still an officer.. Which is part of why I brought you here. Duty.”

“General?” Fayza broke free from her reverie. She had heard of Danielle's resignation... And I hope they'll reinstate her now, the circumstances considered! But the last comment brought a great deal of surprise to her. “What duty do you have for me, other than in Berglund's army?”

“Liason between this force and the international troops. The international forces, Fayza, are nearly upon us. For whatever reason the Cartagenean corps hasn't been trying to heavily jam us, and there's a relay station just to the south of the river which allows us to punch through the regular jamming around the planet. We've received word that the international forces are finally coming. They'll jump into the Gilead system in the next thirty hours.”

“They have finally come?” Fayza was delirious with happiness. More than two months in Hell were coming to an end..

The cool words of the mercenary, though, brought her back to the grim military situation at hand. “They won't be able to land for at least two days after that. Possibly three. The minefields in orbit have to be cleared. But they're sending a strong force to the area of East Port; we're going to see a landing of twelve brigades here to attempt the relief of Kalunda. They've asked you, as the only ranking Alliance naval officer in the area—the irregular Slavian cossacks don't have the experience--to take charge of the coordination between our forces and the landing operations, including the pre-landing airstrikes, which will hopefully regain us control of the air tomorrow.”

“I'll do my best, General.” She straightened, forcing herself to overcome the inner pain, the constant temptations to darkness, which the memories of the past two months left indelibly imprinted into her, right up to and perhaps especially Aurora's death. She wasn't sure of herself, anymore. In her periods of torture, she wonded if she'd lost It, the motivation, the capability, the spirit to be a naval officer. She wasn't sure if the task was one she could achieve again, or not. She could only try, and find her.

“Very good. You're dismissed, Commander.”

Fayza got up, then paused. “General... Arshon. May I ask you something?”

“Certainly.”

“Where did the Taloran agent go? I wanted to speak to her about Danielle's condition.. And about the two of them, together. The Princess and Danielle, I mean...”

Arshon offered a ruthless smile. “She snuck off at the onset of the Cartagenean ultimatum, with her ship. To Sedavanticist territory. We will be hearing of her again soon enough, I imagine.”

“Thank. Ah.. I have another question.”

“Yes?”

“Why did you stay?”

Arshon frowned, a bleak and bitter look. “Everyone questions the loyalty of mercenaries, do they not? I imagine that, even to some extent, the Princess did as well, in sending me off to fight from a more secure location, hoping to get the most use out of me. But let me tell you, Commander, that I am not without honour and sympathy. I simply don't have a home. And it was all of my own device, no less.”

“But you're from Devenshire...”

“Exactly.”

The two pairs of eyes met for a long moment as Fayza realized precisely what that meant. Arshon, and probably a fair number of the mercenary company which Jhayka had recruited and which had fought vigorously alongside Arshon here, and in Kalunda, were in fact wanted criminals in Devenshire. Wanted criminals of the old regime and all its horrors, before Minerva restored the honour of the country.

She shrugged, and smiled tiredly, the demons of the past beaten back, briefly, by thoughts of how marvelously this all came together, and the moment of shining in the human soul that it demonstrated; that someone thought evil might yet atone for their sins.... “It takes all kinds, General. I'll stick with you no matter what.”

“Thank you, Fayza. But we had both better get back to work. Forward, to Kalunda.”
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2007-01-08 08:17am

Written by Marina:

DAY 45,
al-Farani Emirate,
border with Lo Stato Pontificio.



With the scream of metal upon metal, so did Najhasi Fridalyn enter the territory of the al-Farani Emirate. The improvised armoured train upon which she rode flew the banner of the Papal States, as the Sedavanticist territories styled themselves, and it was the most primitive of the lot: A collection of iron plates bolted everywhere, many of them medieval and hammered, wrought iron, and supported by seemingly random and a bit desperate sandbagging. It had several heavy machine-guns and a few primitive mortars, along with a nasty little low-tech edition: Pumps for projecting Greek Fire. Primitive war was not without its own nasty surprises, after all.

Mostly, though, riflemen along the flatcars provided most of the power, and that was sufficient enough. Though the Sedavanticists had originally at the start of the war only had some 8,000 modern rifles, they had obtained another 1,700 over the course of it, desperate to bolster their defences, and Najhasi had used her J'u'crea to smuggle in another 500; they also had 1,200 machineguns, 1,000 RPG launchers, 3,000 sub-machineguns, and 200 automatic pistols. The number of the simple, blackpowder, 60mm drop-fire mortars that had been produced—hand crafted--was around 400, and fourteen old 105mm howitzers had been scrounged. Local production had sufficed for 800 simple imitation bolt-action rifles. The rest of the whole army was armed with simple, fused grenades, swords and pikes, crossbows and longbows, and at best, the simple blackpowder shotguns, more or less heavy muskets, which had begun to proliferate the primitive zone after Sara's first suppression of the slavers when the old anti-technology laws had first been openly flaunted.

This was the equipment for a force of more than eighty-two thousand men—and one armoured train—which now crossed the undefended frontier, past the Sedavanticist March, into Moorish lands. It had the air of a crusade. The banners and pennons of the cavalry following, and then the infantry, were gaudy and bright, and crosses and priests were everywhere. Najhasi and her small band of sixteen Talorans in armour with the most advanced weaponry provided a solid reinforcement to the weapons posted on the armoured train. She had initiated the advance; in all, it consisted of twenty thousand infantry with modern weapons (counting the full crews for crew-served weapons), fifteen thousand heavy knightly cavalry—the full muster of the States, whereas most of the infantry was retained defensively—eighteen thousand men armed with blackpowder muskets/single-shot shotguns, plus sword and target (most did not have a mounting for a bayonet), two thousand identical except with crossbows, twenty-two thousand armed with pikes, bill, and halberd, and five thousand longbow-men.

Najhasi was a farmer's daughter, and she regreted what she had encouraged the Papal commander, Duke Gregory di Montesucci, to engage in. It had the full support of the Sedavanticist religious authorities, of course, but farmers loved the land; and the Papal troops had always sought to conquer the fertile territory of al-Farani for their own sake, to enhance their own plots and improve their status in life in a society built around the farm, and the farming village, thoroughly distributivist in character.

What they were doing, of course, was burning the Moorish villages. Najhasi put it into the context of the acts of the famed Duchess of Medina; she was, now, pursuing but a similar course. The villages were burned and demolished, the fields were burned, stored crops were requisitioned or destroyed, and the cattle herded off or slaughtered if this was impossible. And so in a broad swathe around the rail line, which naturally made the territory the most prosperous, everything was being laid to waste as the army advanced, by her own instigation.

The widows would starve; the children, also, would go sick and hungry. The angry and spiteful women in their full burkhas harangued the invading troops, who filled with confidence and religious fervour at the ease advance, did not harass them but rather observed their horrors at the destruction of their livelihoods with a sort of haughty pride, and carried on with their destructive and holy advance.

Just beyond the border was the first city on the rail line, a garrison city which was more of a fortress surrounding a caravan-souk than a proper city as such. It had a permanent population of ten thousand, though held three times as many on account of the traders, and the refugees which were now crowding into it. The city was named Umm Rashrash, and the pickets outside the walls of the benighted place were driving back by a brief fire from the armoured train, which proceeded to cover the deployment of the lead elements of the Duke di Montesucci's army.

“Mratefha, how do you think the Lord of Justice looks up the destruction of so many fine crops, and the ravaging of these herds? We aren't nobles by any measure, and I don't want to impunge on their duties, but I must wonder at the purpose the Lord Farzbardor has in letting us make war in this fashion, if we really can...” Najhasi, for the cool operator that she was, now was very much subdued. She had set the whole operation in play when the Sedavanticists were already chaffing at the gate to invade the al-Farani domains, and arranging for them to gain fourteen howitzers and sealed the deal, along with a few sly not-quite-promises about the postwar situation.

“Ma'am, OpLeader...” The other Taloran gave a moment's hesitation, and switching to the Ohulj uplander dialect they happened to share, then continued: “Najhasi, you're a friend to, and our discipline is more informal than that of the military, so let me speak to you like one. Neither of us has seen a war before. And I don't want to see one again, even when it's so primitive like this. But for all we're supposed to care for good animals and crops like this—that's simply because they're tools for making a better society for people. Well, these Moors do not have any good in their society; we must open the way for it. Just like the Duchess of Medina did on Earth. Look how much good she did, when it was said, at the time, that the razing of a Holy City was near to sacrilige. Yet she won three and a half million human souls for the faith outright, and ended the vile practices of the Moor which had so long terrorized the human race.”

Najhasi's ears flexed in a sort of wearied assent. Their fire was checked; the arrows falling from the city walls kept mostly short, and couldn't harm anyone aboard the train, anyway. Even the sandbagged flatcars had multiple pavises stacked together suspended over them on bars and wires as a defence against such an attack from the air. War was also proving surprisingly boring, even by the standards of people trained to patiently lay down covered in cold mud for days on end.

“And so you see this campaign as a natural extension of that other one, Mratefha?”

“More or less.”

“I suppose that is reason sufficient to trust in it. I had fancied that we should meet a proper enemy army, and have a proper battle, as we did on our escape from the Delta, a straight-up fight between two forces on open ground; but when it became so quickly clear that this was not the case, I made this decision, I convinced the Duke of Montesucci, and I will hold by it. But there's no easy feeling in the pit of my soul to order such destruction of the livelihoods of thousands.

“Strange. I never respected the Princess of the Lesser Intuit before this. Now, I have learned to respect her.. And I think, a bit more. For all that she's acted so depraved and sinned sometimes, it takes a certain sort of soul to order this thing and carry it through with certitude of one's own right.”

“And fall in love at the same time,” Mratefha observed with a light chuckle. “Though, perhaps that is the stress of the situation. No noble is immortal, even Her Serene Majesty, and I half wonder if that is reason alone for her behaviour which sometimes so contrasts that chivalrous spirit.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps.” Najhasi fell silent after that. The howitzers were being brought into position, now, to demolish the walls of Umm Rashrash—the ugly surprise that the Emir would soon find out about, fourteen guns which might doom a Kingdom—and she didn't feel very good about it at all. They'd soon be summoned down there to aide the gunnery plots for the barrage. And a city packed to the gullets with noncombatants will be taken under bombardment. Just like Kalunda. All for your point of honour, Jhayka: Do you realize how much Lashila would hate you for it? That mental rumination provided a small, soft smile to Najhasi, who appreciated well the heavy irony of it: But that, of course, means you have recovered far better than any of us could have ever dreamed. You are a chivalrous lady through and through; and I suppose in the service of the All-Highest Empress the least I can do is smash a few towns for the sake of your life, now that it offers hope of good, alien mistress or not.

In some way, the siege of Umm Rashrash was Najhasi's own way of atoning, directly, as she had committed to do at Kalunda in Jhayka's presence by her apology, in the Taloran way of thinking, for her bungling the operation against the communitarians, and in doing so, guaranteeing the necessity of Jhayka's execution of her first love, that long-cold Lashila. Really, above all things, that scandal had set in motion the chain of events which brought her here today: So she would end her part of it with the necessary show of gut, in hope that all might at last be brought to satisfactory conclusion.

Yet for that, Jhayka herself would have to also be bold and stubborn; and even as the guns salvoed against Umm Rashrash for the first time, Kalunda stood embattled, under constant air attack, and in imminent danger of the general collapse of its defences. The Princess fought from the front now, and it seemed scarcely possible that she could avoid paying for it.
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Postby Steve » 2007-01-15 09:08pm

Following by Marina:

DAY 45,
Kalunda,
On the Siege Lines.



In the pre-dawn darkness strange shadows were cast by the orange light of the continuous fires burning from inside the city of Kalunda. The airstrikes which had been rolling over the place for the past two days continued throughout the night with intermittent losses, such that a fair number of Gilean flyers were now guests (and very sumptuously maintained ones, at that) of the allied headquarters. Ahead, beyond the old trench-lines and in the shadow of the ruins of the railroad station, the shadows were cast by a very different force.

During the past two months of heavy, modern fighting which Jhayka's escape from Ar had triggered, a certain number of veterans, all residents of Ar who had fought against Jhayka during her escape, and since then had been subjected to continuous improvements in discipline and culling of the undisciplined through the violence of the combat against Kalunda, had ultimately been reduced to the size of a division, and split off to form this elite unit, the “Ar” Division named after the city they all came from.

Recognizing the desperation of their position, Tarl Ikmen had elected to spare no expense in guaranteeing the breakthrough and encirclement of the industrial district. He had ordered the Ar division to provide the force requested by Erqui, and in doing so commit himself to one last great bloodletting to smash through the Kalundan lines and give them the one decisive victory they had so-far lacked in the siege, which would leave the whole south bank of the river vulnerable to an imminent collapse from a big push. Therefore he had ordered the Ar Division forward.

Thirteen thousand five hundred men of Ar were now being prepared to commit to a battle which had already started. For the past twenty minutes the Stirlin troops along the front with the advanced battalions and their Kalundan flank guards had been worming their way forward with the support of heavy mortar fire. Slowly the force of this attack was mounting as more and more troops were brought in. Erqui's goal was to push the enemy as far as possible, so that the sudden and sharp intervention of the Ar Division would be overwhelming even if under other circumstances the enemy might rally and hold against their attack, no gradual stepping up of the intensity of the fighting intended but instead a vast hammer's blow at the very end of the preparations.

A searchlight briefly swept along the lead ranks of the assault companies as the Ar division was mustered. It was quickly silenced, and the enemy had no indication of recognizing the magnitude of what they were going to be hit by. The escalation of the Stirlin attacks was at the moment fully consuming the interests of the commanders, and Major Ewing's main goal at the moment was to hold off the continuing air attacks of the Gilean Air Force so that his men could comfortably tear through the Stirlin ranks.

The little Habsburg Major had made quite the impression on the young Trajan who commanded the second of the advanced battalions, now pulled out of the north to reinforce Ewing after the massive assaults of the day before. His cool professionalism in the heat of the sustained fighting since the arrival of the reinforcements had served to the conscious imitation of Trajan, and under the subtle guidance of Major Ewing his battalion had proved itself able to hold the line with its motley collection of men of a hundred nations as Ewing's disciplined Marines from three.

Together, they proved their ability to hold the line as the night turned into the day, their lines standing steady against the increased intensity of the assault. Jhayka, nonetheless, was somewhat concerned, and had brought reinforcements in the city closer to the north flank of the line to allow for a counterattack if a breach was made. Unfortunately, the sensor equipment that Jhayka had once used to receive a god's eye view of the battlefield was all chewed to pieces, or overrun. It was possible for the Normans to gain much more effective secrecy. Until daylight, anyway. And so in the fading twilight they advanced down the flattened corridor between industrial district and city, preparing to make their last dash to the front through the rear-area support of the units fighting their current probing actions.

Warleader Erqui and the Ubar Ikmen were at their most tense as they waited in headquarters, the scene of the shattered ruins of the Kalundan railroad station highlighted by the first rays of the rising. This attack would make or break the siege. There were tantalizing hints that the Kalundans were finally running low on critical supplies, too. More and more blackpowder grenades enhanced with aluminium powder were being used instead of grenades with modern explosive cores. The same for their mortar shells. The use of napalm had nearly vanished... The dreaded flamethrowers were silent. The artillery fire was occasional and desultory at best. But they had plenty of improvised explosive devices, satchel charges, for the troops in the buildings, and their small arms ammunition seemed unlimited.

The combination of the air attacks and the fighting in the industrial districts was wearing down their ability to fight, it seemed. The main, glaring exception was to the two power-armoured battalions their assault was directed against. These forces had, in ratio to their small size, truly immense stockpiles, and they were using them today. The bodies from the Stirlin units 'building the pressure' were already piling high in front of the line defended by Ewing and Trajan's battalions.

“We're press home the attack harder, now,” Erqui observed, and clucked an order in the strange language of his people to one of his subordinates before turning back to Tarl Ikmen. “I know it will cost my units, but I appreciate the sincerity of your goal, dearly, in being willing to commit the Ar Division. Yet I will give you no promises. They have proved worthy devils so far.”

“You would say such a thing,” Tarl muttered darkly, recalling his murdered son. This wasn't a game of strategems to him as it was for the Warleader. It was personal. And at this point, with the siege in such doubt, he was half-wishing that Jhayka would just die. Torturing her would be a luxury at this point; he wanted his son avenged, his murderer put down for her treachery. Yet they were about to face their greatest trials yet. And all might be lost if they did not succeed here.

“We will put paid to them yet,” Erqui answered. “We have all of the advantages, and they have none left, not now that we command the air, and hourly more and more aerial attacks pound the city into the rubble. Then you may have such revenge as you wish.”

“You had better be right, for all of our sakes.” A moment's pause, and then: “The intensification of the attack should be well underway from your Stirlin units, yes?” Tarl fixed his gaze on Erqui.

“Yes, Your Excellency,” the Warleader replied modestly, his own mind calculating what would now be happening on the field.

“The sun is beginning to rise. I don't want to lose surprise for the Ar Division; they'll suffer far to many casualties to win than I could tolerate if they did. Order them forward now.”

“We probably haven't reached the greatest intensity of attack by our Stirlin units, Ubar...”

“If we wait, we'll lose any advantage gained, and suffer more, on account of the loss of surprise. They are my men. Order them forward.”

“Very well.”

This time, Tarl was sure that he was right.

Along the front the Stirlin units pushed forward and were torn up badly in doing it. They attacked not only the line across the cleared zone, but punched into the factory district on its flank, and into the buildings of the southern bank, built of wood unlike those of the north, and proved less resilient, requiring more troops to hold them. It was a deep salient that the allies were attacking down, somewhat less than two and a half kilometers wide, and they took proportionate casualties in their operations inside of it, even if the Kalundans could not attack them reliably with artillery as they held the buildings on either side and the air superiourity of the Gileans precluded it.

With the fighting in the warehouses and factories precluding the easy shifting of troops in Arlisa's Corps to reinforce the lines, the majority of the Kalundan reserves were concentrated on the right. By luck or Erqui's understanding of the difficulty in moving troops involved in the tight and bloody fighting in the industrial district on complex evolutions, the Ar Division had been ordered to focus its assault on the left flank, toward the south and the industrial district, and directly at Ewing's battalion. Thirteen thousand, five hundred men attacked on an L-shaped frontage of a kilometer and a half.

They came on out of the morning mist which clogged the air of the river-valley in the morning. Appearing, they were quickly taken under mortar fire, and their flank was assaulted by machine-gun posts in the strongly held factories. But the majority of their force, head-on, drove out of the mist as it was burned off by the rising sun, and thrust straight into Ewing's battalion.

The Habsburg commander and the international forces now had their greatest challenge, as the best and most veteran troops of the enemy surrged against his battalion, outnumbering them more than ten to one, when they had already been facing an intense attack by the Stirlins which had fully occupied their attention. Many in the Ar division hoped to sweep aside the international battalion by sheer momentum, and they had plenty of it, charging forward, a brigade and a regiment directly forcing their way forward against a battalion of some eight hundred troops which was already fully involved with an additional two brigades.

Four thousand Stirlin casualties already laid splayed out before Ewing's battalion, and they were piling up all the faster as his troops concentrated on killing as many of them as possible to weaken the support for the oncoming Ar division. Here, the danger was now that they might be swamped by the enemy, and by sheer weight of numbers overrun, trampled, seized, those under his command slaughtered by explosives at close range. The Normans just kept getting closer and closer, their fire against the battalion very heavy, and their determination and force seeming to be irrestible.

Ewing had ordered a bayonet charge against giant alien predatorial cats before. He was not about to ignore the possibilities for one here, most of all in the factor that it would preserve momentum to his side. Yet the dangers of advancing to far and being cut off were obvious. But there was another factor, another possibility which relied on sheer intimidation. Major Ewing ordered his troops to stand up. The company commanders hesitated for a moment, until their thoughts were won over to the granduer of the display, and they obeyed.

Suddenly the onrushing Normans were confronted with an incredible sight. Eight hundred soldiers in power armour in a single thin line of steel tipped with bayonets presented themselves, as the bullets tore out from their guns on full automatic, the tiny railgun projectiles utterly lethal, often to several men at once, and their firing when standing perfectly steady and cool. They didn't flinch under the massive fire against them, and the bullets of the attackers just bounced off their armour.

The soldiers kept firing. Hundreds of Normans were dead and hundreds more wounded from their first magazines before they were expended in a single minute of sustained firing. Fresh magazines were clapped into place, the first shots were carefully aimed with full computer targeting assist and with that terrible volley nearly another six hundred Normans seemed to fall or wounded. Then automatic fire resumed. Hundreds more were falling. The whole front rank of the assault was decimated and the momentum of the Ar division was stopped cold. Even against standing up power armour in broad daylight and the open, they couldn't prevail thanks to the inferiority of their weapons. Scarcely a dozen troops of the battalion had fallen, if that, and it meant they were killing a hundred to one.

The crisp Norman advance came to an utter halt. They couldn't believe the horrific sight of their enemies standing up and mowing them down calmly with utter impunity to the fire of their weapons. They simply refused to go forward, halting in utter disorder.

The troops of the battalion jeered, and jeered, and in the Alliance ranks in particular their blood was up hot:

“Let's show them!”

“Put 'em paid! Let's throw 'em back! Come on, it's our chance to advance!”

The word advance, uttered by someone, anyone, perhaps a private and perhaps an overeager lieutenant, was all that the Marines needed. Suddenly, a section of one of the two alliance companies and then all of both of them surged forward tremendously, coming down from their own defensive positions and rolling forward in a line of steel.

“Damn all your eagerness, alliance boys!” Ewing exclaimed at the sudden movement. “Get them back! Recall them!” He ordered twice to the company commanders, in a desperate effort to keep his battalion position from being utterly disordered. Yet the effect of the alliance troops moving forward in a charge utterly crushed the morale of their attackers. They weren't just halted, now, but retiring in the face of such an intimidating sight, and it took quite some time to get the companies under control when they saw themselves as winning.

Fortunately, it was just in time, for the Stirlin commanders were not idiots, and the forces opposing Trajan had immediately swung and delivered a counterattack on the flank of the Alliance companies in overwhelming force. They had halted just in time that they could organize themselves and successfully beat off the counterattack without any help. And that was crucially important, for as it turned out, the rest of the Ar division was succeeding tremendously.

Though the thin line of steel and bayonets which had stopped the main frontal assault of the Ar division might have held out with casual ease, the Kalundans in the factory districts were faced with an equal force surging in against them, and against this incredible mass even these excellent defensive postions proved untenable. The Kalundan brigade in the area, already near collapse at sustained fighting with a Stirlin division, finally shattered when forces again larger than it was, and this time determined and veteran Normans, punched through them. For the first time in the whole battle the allies had significant movement in the factory district, and they proceeded to press hard immediately inward, deeper into the maze of industrial works, trying to drive the enemy back at a rate fast enough that they couldn't reestablish their positions.

It also opened up an opportunity in dealing with the advanced battalions despite the utter disaster of the frontal assault, which had at least served to distract Ewing from the situation on his right flank. There was now a gap between the Kalundan forces and Ewing's battalion, a gap big enough that the Norman commander was able to send his full reserve, two whole regiments, surging through it and into the rear of Ewing's battalion. In just a few minutes, power armoured defenders or not, they'd place the line in mortal danger of being encircled and overrun.

Arlisa and Jhayka were by now aware of the threat, but even the strong corps posted in the industrial district had only six brigades, and though most of the factory workers were trapped, unable to evacuate, and therefore still fighting with the soldiers of the corps, there simply weren't enough troops to provide for a large reserve. Only a regiment could be dispatched immediately. A full brigade of militia was being drawn out of the factories as an additional reserve, but this would take hours to accomplish and require the evacuation of much ground.

As they stood in corps headquarters, which was in the basement of a large fabrication plant, the discussion was essentially one of trying to establish control over a battle under conditions where control often scarcely existed above the platoon level. Arlisa framed it succinctly: “This is going to gouge deep holes into whole defensive posture in the industrial district, Your Highness. Even if we succeed in forcing the enemy back we're depleting to many areas. The factory defenders will have to be moved back in most cases and our control of easily half of the factory district will be lost.”

“I know.” Jhayka seemed vaguely frowning as she looked at the reader-board display, updating unit positions in real time still, at least. Or supposedly doing so. In this sort of fighting there was considerable inaccuracy which had to be accounted for. “Major General, we'll just have to abandon that half of the factory district. We can allow the armed workers from a lot of the territory close to the city but still beyond the lines to evacuate while there's still time—with the reduced area your forces will be defending they'd just prove a hindrance, and a waste of food.

“And I want you to prepare even further that, for an evacuation to the central quay, come to it.” The central quay was between the two barge canals into the industrial district, a small plot of rectangular land surrounded on three sides by water, containing two factories and seven large warehouses, even the areas not covered by a heavy roofed building laced with railroad tracks, constructing cranes, and stacks of containers. Most of their food and ammunition was already stored there.

“A redoubt, yes—disconnected from the city, though, Your Highness—you're prepared to abandon the effort to keep touch between the industrial district and the city? Do you think both can hold independently?”

“I'd rather not see it happen. But it's a worst-case scenario. For the moment... We keep trying to get a confirmation from Major Ewing about his withdrawal while we concentrate the reserves. A brigade and a regiment might do the trick from this side... I actually think that keeping touch between the two districts is worth a fair loss of territory held. The civilian population is entirely confined on the north bank now, or directly along the riverfront on the south bank.”

“Marshal d'Kelius could pull a division off the eastern side of the south bank to launch a counterattack,” Arlisa observed.

“We'd lose a lot of the south bank, then.”

“But we'll keep touch between all the sectors of the city we can still defend.”

“You're right, General.” Jhayka smiled tightly, and turned to the communications section, stepping over several paces. “I want an order sent to central command, instructing Marshal d'Kelius to pull the 4th division off the east sector and fall back into the city, and prepare for a counterattack to reestablish a solid connection with the industrial district.”

“At once, Marshal!”

“And get me another try on contact with Major Ewing, understood?”

“Yes ma'am.”

The minutes passed in a tedious nervousness as the morning wore on. There was little news of what had happened, and the speculation began to mount in the murmurings of the staff officers that the reinforcement battalion might have been cut off and destroyed. Finally there was a desperate message from Major Ewing that reached them with an electric shock to the nerves:

“We have cut our way through the enemy encirclement and the battalion is falling back into the city with MAJ Trajan's in support. Request further orders.”

“Just like a solid Marine commander ought...” Jhayka was smiling faintly when she spoke again. “Send: 'Stabilize your lines and prepare both battalions for a counterattack.'”

Then she looked to Arlisa. “I'm going forward to take direct command of the counterattack on this side. Don't worry. I won't get in to close—just the usual parameters for a divisional commander. This combat is to intense these days for my theatrics of the earlier siege to work again.”

“Best of luck to you, Marshal.”

Jhayka flexed her ears in a vague way, and didn't say a thing further, thinking the gesture sufficient as she headed out. Arlisa was left to the task of preparing the counterattack, which she was quite capable of doing.

As for the efforts of the enemy, however, the Warleader Erqui was, having cut off the industrial district from the city, now exploiting it to his advantage. He held a strip between 2.5km and 3km wide between the industrial districts and the south bank section of the city of Kalunda proper. This he was now immediately fortifying, and placing strong battalions of mortars in the centre along the rubble of the wall, to prepare for the counterattacks he expected.

For a moment, while the Kalundan forces recovered and troops were shifted to prepare for the counterattack, the field of battle was largely silent as the Warleader rushed his forces in an effort to concentrate enough and fortify enough that they could hold what they had gained. He had become in his own way a thoroughly modern general; while the celebrating was left to Tarl Ikmen and the Emir at the encirclement, he just worked vigorously to exploit the breakthrough and keep the Kalundan defenders on the defensive.

His most important aid in this effort, however, was the fact that the modern battalions had seen the loss of some of their anti-missile/anti-bomb defences in the hasty retirement, which meant that close air suppport for defending against an enemy counterattack would be much easier to accomplish than it had been for the attack itself. Getting the forward air observers into position and preparing his troops for very close aerial operations by the Gileans to support them was just as important to his effort as seeing that his troops were strongly posted.

For Tarl Ikmen, though, it was all a moment of celebration. His Ar division, despite the casualties, had essentially won the battle, perhaps the whole siege, for the allied army and for the Norman Empire in general. In barbaric repose he retired to celebrate the great victory before the battle was even truly won.

It wasn't until the early afternoon that the Kalundans had moved the forces they needed into position for a general counterattack from both directions. The coordination took longer. It was about 1500 hours and they simply couldn't delay any longer. They had to attack, lest the enemy consolidate their gains to such a point they could not be dislodged. Jhayka had an improvised divisional headquarters to coordinate her force, the brigade and regiment to be used for the assault, the reserve battalion of the 14th brigade which had been smashed in the attack of the Ar Division reprising its old role in addition to them, and a few other light units.

At 1510 hours she gave the order for the attack to proceed on both sides of the gap. She immediately sent her own forces forward, operating her headquarters from a concrete building, a machine shop attached to a repair facility for the city's industrial railroad, very close to the fighting but out of direct line of sight with the enemy. Sarina's attack was reasonably well-coordinated, beginning only six minutes later.

Initially, the strong thrusts forced the allied defenders back. They held from building to building, steadily being pushed toward the open ground. For an hour the stiff attack pressed on forward in this manner, getting closer and closer to open ground, until the last line of the buildings was cleared and ahead were the Normans dug in, five hundred meters on either side from the new Kalundan positions, utterly vulnerable. But the allies had their forward air controllers in position, and they were already coolly radioing in positions for the fighter-bombers which had been orbiting well clear of the city.

Even as Ewing and Trajan's battalions went to the fore to spearhead the attack to drive out the allied troops from their positions, they were now closing. They immediately had been given the orders and accelerating and rising to high altitude could not be detected by the primitive air defences of Kalunda, based almost entirely around those two battalions at this point after days of heavy attrition, until much to late to respond to their first attacks. Normally this would not be a problem, but with the air defences of the battalions already reduced, the plunging bombs and cluster munitions of the Gilean fighters quickly turned the cleared ground into a zone of massacre.

A whole division was chewed apart in minutes, though the advanced spearpoint battalions suffered lightly and continued to attack, indeed, all the more vigorously. For the moment the forces under Jhayka's command were untouched, and they forged their way foward. Yet another wave of bombers came in, and dropping their bombs ahead of Ewing and Trajan's battalions laid a pattern of heavy mines with them. The Habsburg Major saw them come in and ordered a halt to his own advance; their power armoured suits were not strong enough to defend against such mines, designed specifically against them, and with most of their artillery lost they had no way to easily clear the field.

Which meant that it would have to be done by bangalore torpedoes, slowly. Joachim Ewing was not easily given to abandoning a mission, and so halting the advance of his companies and issuing orders the same to Trajan, the two battalions began to worm their way forward, deployed support weapons keeping the heads of the allies down as they forced their way toward their lines, blasting paths through the aircraft-deployed minefield with the bangalore torpedoes.

In the meantime, however, the attacking force behind them was under sustained assault from the air, and had essentially halted. Sarina had found that the division had already taken 30% casualties, at least, and the number was rising continuously under the aerial assault. Whole regiments had effectively ceased to exist when the aircraft concentrated on them. But she kept the force in place because the advanced battalions still had a chance of breaking through.

Jhayka's force was moving swiftly forward, but then the Gilean Air Force proved the master of the situation again for that attack. They deployed aerial mines behind the advancing troops, creating a treacherous and tangled ground with little possibility of retreat, before returning to focus on the troops of Sarina's command. Jhayka, standing surrounded by bare and dank concrete walls and with her maps laid out on silent machine-tools, had no choice but to order the forces forward. They now had to conquer or die, and the whole attack was rapidly turning into a disaster.

Erqui had strongly posted not just mortars but also all sorts of heavy support weapons on the rubble line of the wall, and these had the power at the range that the advanced battalions were getting to so that they might occasionally actually penetrate the armour of the unlucky, and more attackers were killed by lucky direct RPG hits on their powered armour. Several more were lost to the air raids, though their casualties so far were still light.

Yet with the difficulty in getting ammunition to Jhayka's soldiers through the minefield, they were hung up and couldn't press their own assault while their supplies of bullets dwindled. By 1800 hours the attack had utterly stalled, though Jhayka's troops had gotten close enough to the Norman lines to throw grenades into their trenches, yet then Erqui unleashed his counterattack. Cold-heartedly sending two regiments out onto each flank of the advanced battalions, toward the north, toward the city, these regiments cleared a path for a second regiment trailing each through the minefield their own forces had laid, taking hundreds of casualties to allow the attack to proceed so swiftly that Ewing and Trajan could not meet it.

They were forced to retreat to avoid encirclement, and with their retreat, the Gilean Air Force could turn its attention to Jhayka's troops. They were, quite simply, massacred out in the open, and she could only watch in bitter horror as the attack collapsed and thousands were lost, unable to escape. Virtually silent, she issued no orders, forcing herself simply to listen to every report of the massacre, until at last the enemy had not only finished off her attack, but were preparing for a counterattack. The Gilean fighter-bombers dropped concussive bombs along their own minefield to clear it handily, and then substantial elements of the Stirlin forces and the whole of the Ar division, still able to fight despite the vicious casualties it had taken earlier in the day, surged into the industrial district with the forces that would have opposed them having been destroyed from the air.

And the fighter-bombers moved on to other targets, systematically starting to take apart the Kalundan defences in the factory district with smart bombs. Quickly the situation spiraled, so that a brigade with only the strength of a regiment was the only force fighting against a strong division's worth of troops pushing against them. “Put the reserve battalion forward,” Jhayka ordered at last. “And instruct Arlisa to fall back into her redoubt. The air force will not be able to do so much damage to us there, and we can get some anti-air back up that can cover such a concentrated area. Instruct her to inform the Marshal D'Kelius that she ought to shift such forces as she can to try and cover the rest of the south bank again...”

The messages were dispatched, and Jhayka looked around, and made up her mind. “I'm going forward with the reserves to conduct the defence.” Before those around her could protest, she peremptorily strode swiftly toward the door, and started outside...

And at that moment a smart bomb cut through the concrete walls of the machine shop and exploded. Everyone was killed or mortally wounded outright inside. Jhayka had gotten several paces beyond the building and turned to the left to head toward the front when the blast took place. As the building blew up she was showered with concrete fragments. One tore through her left ear, not removing it but creating a hole right down the centre, and lower; all of her left side struck by countless fragments which riddled the flash. The second finger of six on her left hand was struck off at the first joint. A heavy fragment tore deep into the buttox leaving a heavy trail behind... And the largest swept low along the ground, and struck off her left leg just below the knee. She fell, wordlessly, crippled and cut through in a sudden moment, and bleeding profusely from the shattered stump, she lay dying on the ground.


DAY 45,
Kalunda.



Jhayka itl dhin Intuit's death or survival was not decided on the field of battle that summer day on Gilead. Her wounds by human standards were arguably lethal. Her whole left side was riddled through with flecks of rock, and though she might have well survived that, with her leg gone she was hemhorraging blood horrifically fast. Damage from her ear to the base of a nonexistant toe had perforated a whole side of her body. Yet for all that, her life or death had been settled a million years before, instead, not by God but by the mere processes of evolution.

Taloran females had not evolved in the same way as human females; their hips had not gotten broader to accomadate their larger brains as they clawed their way toward sentience. They instead were guided toward a twofold approach to successful childbearing. First of all, brain development was pushed back in their children, while early functioning, common in many mammals and mammal-like creatures, was retained. The head still got somewhat larger, however—and Talorans had narrow hips in comparison mammalian females in general, let alone humans.

By evolutionary standards, the solution was a brutal one, blunt, unsophisticated, and inelegant. Millions of years of proto-Talorans had selected toward an obvious and simple way to deal with the problem: Simply endure the suffering of an extended and exquisitely painful childbirth more easily. Taloran females stopped going into shock. Hypoperfusion was essentially almost impossible to induce in them; as a human doctor studying Taloran physiology remarked, “It's possible, but what's the point when they've already been reduced to the size and consistency of a hamburger?”

Where a human would have gone into shock, and therefore expired, either of the state of shock itself or of bloodloss from the open wounds, Jhayka was left with the tremendous and horrible experience of being aware through the entire process. She clawed herself up, surrounded by rubble, and feeling the most intense pain from her buttocks first, tore strips from the light silk of her robe that stretched over her uniform—so preciously easy to tear in a desperate emergency like this—and began to essentially stuff the hole in herself to stem the blood loss.

It wasn't until she tried to get up after that, silent with the pain, unable to bring herself to speak, but very much aware, that she released her left leg was no longer there, by dint of collapsing down onto it as she tried to get up, in a pool of her own blood. The desperation of the wound's severity was obvious. There was plenty of her cape left, however, and in combination with her belt she was able to fashion a tourniquet just below her knee and cover it in silk besides. During that, in turn, she discovered the missing finger, and dealt with it as well.

Stubbornly holding the family sword in hand, she began to painfully, pitifully crawl her way to the rear, her mind functioning in simple terms, desperate with the pain, as she dragged herself. All the while the aerial attacks were continuing around her, and the Norman offensive was pushing hard against the area right behind her. Somehow, through it all, she had managed to get fifty meters to the rear before she collapsed unconscious, even her physiology unable to prevent it at that point.

Captain Askan Carhill had fought throughout the battle, first seeing action on the third day of the siege and then fighting continuously since, the only lulls being the lulls on the whole front. He had gone from a company commander to a battalion commander over the course of the action, and now he was leading his battalion in a desperate retreat from contact with the enemy as all Kalundan forces in the area collapsed under the hammer-blows that they had received and the constant aerial attacks.

His battalion was being devastated from the air and from the heavy pursuit of the Norman 'Ar' Division, but despite all of this suffering he had kept them organized and in retreat, at first toward the redoubt... But then they had come in contact with advancing Stirlin troops. Their line of retreat was cut off. In desperation they headed to the west, sometimes linking up with other units just to have their numbers whittled down even more by the endless air attacks.

Night was falling, and tracers spitting into the air showed them that the quay redoubt was holding out well. Yet there would be no shelter for them at that place. They could not get to it. Trying to avoid much larger enemy units the battalion backtracked slightly, and at 2100 hours was able to strike a surprise blow against the support formations of a Stirlin brigade, capturing the brigade commander in the chaos as they appeared out of the shattered forest of industrial plants and cut through the headquarters of the brigade.

Askan and his second in command, Captain Underwood, rushed forward to personally interrogate the captured Stirlin Brigadier, for hope that the information they could gain from her would prove useful in trying to find a route on which their battalion could retreat. It was on arrival that the two men were shocked. Next to the brigadier in her vicious leather-style riding uniform was a man with red cross patches in the uniform of the Gilean regular army—one of the medics sent along with the forward air controllers. He was bent down over a prostrate form.

And on that, the two officers gazed with shock. It was the Princess Jhayka. The worst sort of rumours had spread about her fate in the hours after the defence had collapsed, and they had proved out to be entirely true, as they saw her wretched condition, clearly alive by the narrowest of margins. Had it not been for the sheerest accident of the enemy's dispositions, and our own blind misfortune, she would have been made a prisoner..

But there was no time to think about that. “Can she be moved?” Askan queried sharply of the medic.

“No. She's much to serious and on the verge of death. If you want her to live she'll have to stay here.” The medic answered rather snappily... And began to choke. To choke from the work of the virtually translucent, pallid hand of Jhayka's which had lanced up to grip into his throat.

“He's lying. They were... Just about to move me.” She rasped out brokenly. “Attack the rear of their brigade at once. It's spread out, and the tempo of air operations is decreasing... Whilst they rearm.”

Both the Gilean medic and the Stirlin officer seemed quite surprised that she had been able to process and remember all that had gone on. Askan Carhill had his information, however. A single order crackled over the radio and his battalion pushed forward into the rear of the unprepared and headless Stirlin brigade.

“What then, Marshal?” Their guns were drawn on the medic and the Stirlin brigadier.

“Southwest as soon as you clear them, until you reach water. Then find the strongest point you can and fortify it with all the men you have. Hold there until you... We... Are relieved.” Her eyes fluttered closed again at the exertion even that had required.

“Well, we have what we need. Get rid of the prisoners, except the Gilean medic. Bind him and take him with us. I don't trust him after he lied about Her Highnesses' condition...”

“The Brigadier, too?”

“No!” Jhayka spoke again, unable to keep her eyes open but still hearing from her good ear; the other one was crumpled and bloody. “She gave me back my sword. Let her live. She'll come with us and you'll protect her no matter what. She had a choice to mistreat me and she chose honour. Show it back to her.”

“Of course, Marshal.” The bound medic and Brigadier were placed on litters just like the wounded Jhayka, while the rest of the staff company of the brigade was, to put it brutally clear, executed on the spot. They proceeded forward, then, following their battalion on a very bloody but successful attack into the rear of the Stirlin brigade, routing it.

And then, the supreme commander of the siege jostling painfully on a litter, they moved to the southwest, and marched, and marched, sometimes under air attack, sometimes clashing with Norman patrols, their numbers steadily whittling down all the time. The men simply dropped away to their deaths, or to try and escape in small pockets when they got lost from the main body, and the force was so severely depleted that even after the troops which had stumbled into it themselves were accounted, there were only 568 effectives in the ranks when they began to stumble through the wreckage of a bombed-out factory and saw before them iron tracks, and a plunge down to the water, lit by the moons and lit also by the flash of tracers and the explosion of bombs over the quay.

They were at the very mouth of the northern of the two service canals, and just across from them was the secure end of the quay, opposite from the heavy fighting around the warehouse at the front, which was now garrisoned by three thousand men who were holding off in that strongly fortified position the better part of a Stirlin division which had finally concentrated against them despite the chaos Askan had caused with his mad charge of only a few hours before.

It was midnight. In front of them there was a warehouse. Built on half an acre of land it was 90ft high, 250ft wide, and 180 feet long, with huge ferrocrete highly reinforced walls a meter thick, the substance must stronger than the concrete used in most of the construction in the city which had already held up well. It also appeared basically abandoned. The company pushed toward it.

Inside they found seventeen Kalundan workers who had tried along with those sent back to escape from the industrial district earlier, but had failed, all women from one of the textile factories. That left them with 585 defenders, two prisoners, and fourty-four wounded. They were quickly able to prepare strong defences around the warehouse, but there was no means to contact the quay in their possession.

Not only that, but the Kalundan medics had made it very clear that Jhayka had lost so much blood that she would die in fairly short order. Carhill resolved to do something about it; yet there seemed nothing that could be done. Only the effort of one of the textile girls saved the situation, and the Marshal.

She approached, flushing brightly, and clearly highly embarassed. “Ah, Captain, Sir...”

“Yes?”

“I have a flag. It was one of the ones we made before we were sent to arms, but which hadn't been distributed yet.. And, well, err, when we went to retreat I wrapped it around myself so I could stay warm, and I know it was wrong to do but it gets so cold down by the river and....”

Askan laughed. “My dear, the fates have given us a great benefit in this. Don't apologize. But give it to me. You have saved the Marshal's life.”

The girl, wide-eyed, took off enough of her clothes to unwrap the flag from her body, which took many strokes, for it was wound tightly, and immediately Askan looked around as she did so. “I need a volunteer to raise the flag on the building!”

“Sir!” A sergeant came forward: “Let me lead my whole section to do it, Sir.”

“Of course. Get to it, Eduard.”

“Sir!” The Sergeant, Eduard Bouras, and his volunteered file set off at once with the flag. There was no flag-pole. They ended up having to tie the very large banner, four meters long in its rectangular form, to a long length of railroad track, which had to be manhandled up the stairs by means of a pulley and then jammed into the already broken elevator mechanism to keep it erect. But they succeeded, and succeeded tremendously.

Arlisa had thought the Marshal was dead; she had reported it to Julio and Sarina, who had called Major Ewing back to serve as her Chief of Staff in a bout of uncertainty. Nobody had told Danielle yet; only Ilavna could do that, Julio thought, and Ilavna was not yet ready to do it.

Though Arlisa's forces had retired to their redoubt successfully, the rest of the industrial district was occupied, and the al-Farani reserves on the south bank had been used to seize not less than one third of the south bank of the city, all of it to the east except for a few blocks near the waterfront where reserve troops from the north bank had crossed the bridges in time to just barely defend the areas which still had civilians in them, with the support of the guns of Danielle's riverboats, which under the sustained air attacks of the past two days had already suffered half their numbers sunk or crippled.

The whole battle seemed like it was surely going to be lost. But then Arlisa saw it, and all of those fighting on the quay saw it. Through the bursting bombs and the green glow of the tracers, backlit by uncontrolled fires in the industrial district, the flag of the city of Kalunda flew proudly on the Sackon Industries Warehouse. Part of the rest of the industrial district was holding out after all.

Lacking any regular means of communication, Arlisa's staff was finally able to use a signal lamp to get the attention of the defenders of the Sackon warehouse. Initially they had no way to respond, but then hit on using a powerful flashlight and a concave mirror which had been found in storage, and in this fashion managed to get a beam back across. the news was electric:

WE HOLD. HAVE 1 STIRLIN BRG PRISONER. PRNCS JHAYKA WITH US WOUNDED. SEND TALORAN BLOOD.

The message reached Julio's headquarters about five minutes later, where Sarina read it with it Ewing, and a sigh of relief swept through the headquarters. Julio seemed to have a great weight relieved from his shoulders, but then he posed the obvious question: “how can we ever get any supplies through the blockade? If we try boats on the river they'll be blasted to pieces from the continuous air attack.”

“I can do it, Your Majesty.”

Everyone turned around and saw Ilavna standing there, incredibly grave. “I know the severity of her condition.” A hand was held up. “Please, do not ask how. Do not ask right now. But I have in my medical kit what I need, and I will go help her myself. I can take only enough to stabilize her for perhaps a day or so; you will need to find some way to rescue her, to bring her to the hospital in the city by then. But if I go now I will be able to reach her in time to give her twenty-four hours more life.”

“How will get through the city, girl? You will have to cross through two sets of enemy lines! It is utter madness...”

“I will walk through them.”

“How!?”

“They will not see me, Your Majesty.”

And she began to walk forward... And began to waver and become indistinct, as though she were skipping along the edges of the mind. A low murmur of shock ran through the war-room. She refocused, and turned to Julio with a tight smile while in the background Ewing hissed: “a psyker, of course,” but Ilavna ignored this.

“In the dark? And I wearing things more able to fit into what the mind naturally expects to see in a place? No. They will not know that I am there.”

“Then go as fast as you can for the sake of your liege,” Julio answered, for the first time in the whole siege feeling genuinely unnerved even as he was also relieved.

“I will.” Ilavna looked to Sarina. “Have your sister tell Danielle everything.” She turned, and without further words, left, stopping first to get one of Jhayka's black capes to drape over herself, and with that, the perfect aid to her psychic disguise when in the dark, she headed out, driving out and across the river's bridges, not yet attacked by the allied desire for a quick victory, that they might be seized. And she drove until she reached their own lines in the city... And then, not even reporting to the personnel there, she did as she promised. She vanished, and she walked forward.

She did her duty for the house that her ancestors served. But it would only lend her liege-lady a day's life at the very best, sixteen or twenty hours at worst, and the Gilean Air Force declared that, all things remaining even, that would not be sufficient to save her. The sky above Ilavna was lit with a devil's mix of fire and tracers, arcing light onto the billowing clouds of the deritus of battle, and highlighting the endless progression of shattered buildings. The city was dying around them, and through it, Ilavna walked on, out into no-man's land.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Postby Steve » 2007-01-17 04:04am

Post written by Marina:

DAY 45/46
Kalunda



Ilavna Lashila was now exercising the powers that she had tested in the city of Ar, for deadly purpose rather than simple practice, or investigation of the crowded caravan souks of that aged city. All she did was telepathically take advantage of a fact of the vision of the eye, that in the brain memory is conserved and so the image received is not updated perfectly. As she walked, in short, she simply made those looking toward her see what they had seen just before she had arrived in their field of vision. She was not actually invisible; and though the same trick worked for certain kinds of computer systems (after all, they equally rely on electronic impulses), simple 'dumb' recording devices could still catch her.

What use were those, however, in this great clash of arms? Men were the focus of these operations, and the pickets for the Norman encampments were the main line they had they against infiltration, along with noisemakers and other such things, which might be harder for Ilavna to avoid. Yet she had more often than not as a young girl been a beater for Jhayka's hunts, before her psychic abilities brought her to the attention of the priesthood, and so the respect of her feudal lady. She knew how to be quiet in a tangle of underbrush, and this was not so very different.

Here and there the allied troops could be seen encamped, fires keeping them warm during the cool and damp nights along the river, even in the summer. In some cases they looked almost moral, just men sitting down for a quick meal and a short sleep in the midst of the war. Indeed, in the ruins of a shattered factory Ilavna was stopped short by the sight of a Norman man playing a fiddle to a dozen men 'round a campfire. For several long and precious minutes she could not bring herself to move, and shuddered convulsively in the Taloran version of sharp weeping, at the sight of the humanity of their enemies.

Why did it come that they have chosen evil, when they are, in the main, so much like those we've stood with? That they're all hell-bound I've no doubt, but why? She knew their certain crimes; there was no real 'why' to it. It was more a question of the whole edifice, how the primitive zone could have grown to be such a festering sore, a boil on an otherwise quaint little confederacy of some noted corruption.

It reminded her of a promise she had made, to a girl in Ar, and it gripped her heart, that she must live to see it through. I cannot see my promise fail; I must return to Ar and save Rodaka from this madness. Yet without Her Highness what shall I do? I do not have the wealth to educate a girl. I must save Her Highness for this reason as well; two futures ride on me now. She pressed on.

Not all of the encampments were given to a facade of decency. Screams attracted her attention up ahead, and here the pacific feelings which the sight of the fiddle had engendered in her were melted away by a hideous sight, of a girl, freshly captured, being passed around and brutally raped. Ilavna remained silent for a moment, unable to formulate a response. I cannot rescue her; I can't shield another like myself! But she had to act anyway, and she did.

She was armed, of course, and the little REQ automatic carbine was snatched up indignant in her hands. Not thinking of the importance of her mission, just of the necessity to do right here, she laid down into the Stirlins around the camp-fire a hail of gunfire. Eight men fell before they could react with thundercracks of death from that railgun assault rifle, but the spell was broken and she was quite visible. Her gun fixed on the one man who had been raping the girl only a moment before.

And he had a knife on the girl's throat, even as many other guns were pointed at Ilavna. It was only then that the fear gripped her that her righteous anger might have destroyed her mission to save her liege, and for a long moment the silence between the two sides was held, while other men from other detachments rushed to the area at the sound of the gunfire.

“Give yourself up, alien, or I'll slit her throat!” The nude man with the knife snapped harshly.

Ilavna swallowed dryly, and thought of the one thing that might save her, and the girl besides. Something she had, necessarily, been unable to practice. But something nonetheless taught to a psychic of her power within her order of the church, a thing forbidden to those who held the power but did not enter the church orders. She dropped her carbine.

The Stirlins surged forward at once to take her prisoner, even as the man released the girl who breathed a desperate sigh. But their unarmed prisoner was anything but. She fell back easily on her feet and thrust arm out, right arm curled back, and shouted. It was a primal shout, weird and resonant, with a terrible fervour to it, of a word unspeakable, unknowable by the real mind.

The Sergeant of the little group tumbled over, dying, blood running from his nose and ears. Ilavna had drawn into the deepest resources of her powers, and commanded his body with a 'killing word', though it didn't truly explain the concept, to suffer a massive stroke within the brain. The Stirlins stopped short of her, raising their guns back up but unwilling to fire, a mortal terror having spread through the group at this display of what to them was the supernatural.

“Take your lives and flee....” Ilavna's voice ghosted on the wind to them, and they did what she told them to do. They fled, and she picked up the carbine and moved forward to see that the girl was able to flee as well.

“You must go.”

“Let me stay with you,” she blubbered, musting herself, sobbing through the pain and indignity and clearly badly hurt from the experience.

“I cannot let you. Run while you still can.” And with that, unable to bear the sight anymore and having done all that she could, Ilavna vanished again into the night which alone offered her succor.

It took another hour to reach the warehouse. The Sackon warehouse was already surrounded by the enemy, the Ar division preparing to attack, and had been struck several times by aerial bombs, though the ferrocrete held up much better to these, and they hadn't collapsed any of the building yet. Its defenders were standing in good stead, the main issues being food and ammunition which would have to be got to them, and the evacuation of the wounded which overwhelmed a battalion aide station.

Well, at least they would have a doctor now, even if it was merely a medical student, and an alien one at that. Yet her first task was Jhayka; and her task for the moment, above all others, was simply to pass through the lines of Ar. None could see her, but the random fire forced her down, crawling painfully forward and often halting, in her effort to reach the safety of the fortificiations inside that the Kalundan troops had carefully, haltingly managed to put together.

When she stumbled over the parapet and allowed herself to be seen, the immediate focus of a dozen guns onto her was replaced by gasps of surprise and impossible shock, the guns hastily shifted away. No-one could believe that the feat had been accomplished, and she was led to the Princess' side in the presence of those awed by her.

But that was a meeting which brought her short, too. The shattered and tattered body—could that really be the strong and brave exemplar of nobility that she had thought so highly of? Tentatively, lightly, she spoke the first words: “Your Highness, I presume...?”

A bark, pained and cut off right away, of laughter. “If only you knew the significance of such a thing to say. Thank you, Ilavna. I will make your mother a Baroness for this.” So it was her, and in the same fine old form at that.

Just physically weak, and kept awake by the brutality of those around her for her own survival, for if she drifted off into unconsciousness now she might well die. Ilavna had time only for a modest, “I think she would refuse,” before moving to set up the needle to the first of her bags of blood collected from the other Talorans in the city. The wounds had all been tenderly bandaged, and of course there was no danger of infection possible, with no bacteria which could have an effect on the Taloran physiology present in the environment, or else the Princess would probably be doomed to die here without intensive treatment from that fact alone.

Yet even with the blood that was now being pumped into Jhayka's body, almost bloodless in terms of her ability to survive, it would not keep her alive forever. Though Talorans were resilient to shock they were actually more vulnerable to hypoxia, a fact which had long restricted Talorans from alpining and other such high-altitude excursions without the benefit of supplementary oxygen. It also meant, however, that in those hours when her inability to go into shock had saved her, the lack of oxygen getting to her flesh had been compounded.

The brain was the last thing to go, but by the time Ilavna had arrived, she had averted that, and with it death, by minutes at most, even though the medical corps had placed a full-oxygen mask on Jhayka's face to try and counteract the lack of blood by increasing the richness of the oxygen which did get thorugh. Though the infusion of blood, and with it, a return to normal blood flow, would be wonderful, the Princess had many wounds which had to be sealed, and more to the point, the hypoxia had left many of her organs simply in danger of failing.

Ilavna could keep her alive for a while, and did so admirably through the night and into the morning while the Ar division began the first of its assaults on the warehouse. Jhayka, stabilized, had been able to slip into unconsciousness at last. The problem at hand was not going to go away. She had a day, at least, perhaps longer. From a distance, Ilavna's sense of the situation had been worse earlier.

But she had to be hooked up to modern medical equipment, to take the strain of keeping her body alive off of her organs long enough for drugs and in some cases microsurgery to repair them enough and aide them in their own healing processes that they could resume the task of keeping her alive. And that meant the bunkers of the city. Nothing else would suffice in the task.

With so many others seriously wounded in the warehouse, and the whole position running low on food and ammunition, the obvious choice was also a grim one. The remainder of the river squadron had to run a mission there to deliver food and ammunition, and take away all the critically wounded to safety in the city. And they would have to do it under sustained air attack, to aide a position surrounded by the better part of a division trying to overrun it, while the whole south bank of the city was steadily being overrun by the enemy and no solid lines of defence as on the north bank could halt their progress toward the river.


DAY 46,
N. of East Port.



Major Tessa Stuart, Royal Marines, was the effective commander of a force of two thousand men that General Arshon had sent north of East Port when the agreement on the withdraw had been struck. Consisting of about a thousand British subjects, all volunteers, two hundred and fifty Slavian marines in power armour under the command of Monseiur Gottrop, and around eight hundred citizens of the northern areas of East Port who supported intervention and opposed Covington, they had dispersed four dozen kilometers north of the city, out of the rank that the Cartagenean Corps bothered to patrol with its commander's ambivalent feelings about the military prospects of the Confederacy.

It was a pleasant morning in this area just inside the primitive zone, which had so far been untouched by war save perhaps for the distant roving of a few patrols. The villagers in the area brought them food; their presence was only a semi-secret one, with the Cartagenean Corps not paying it much heed at the moment.

The sun, rising up into the sky, was casting a growing heat onto the whole of the scene, and it was a good one. It scarcely seemed worse than being in the midst of an exercise, though Tessa knew that this eager but woefully unprepared men would soon have a test that she did not think they would appreciate at all, one of live fire from an enemy's guns directed against them. It made the hearty repaste of a proper country breakfast something to be quickly forgotten for all the good it had done her to enjoy it slowly.

Her field headquarters was a simple camoflauged tent, but inside of it was a powerful receiver which could, albeit with painful slowness, copy over the coded transmissions sent from Arshon's headquarters where she received the information herself on higher-powered reception sets from the international forces. Now, in the days of quiet that had followed since being forced to abandon the city, it was certainly the most tense occasion yet.

It was also the best.

Slowly the message was printed out, displayed line-by-line while the British decoding equipment went through it on the sequence, showing what they needed to know about the upcoming events.

Glorious news was revealed on that simple printout. The fleet was coming, and coming soon. They were expected to be in the Gilean system twelve hours from the transmission of the message—which had been at 1000 hours. They were now receiving it and reading it at 1030 hours after the transmission delays and relay delays from Arshon's headquarters. Eleven and a half hours, and we'll be in regular communication again with all the forces in the primitive zone, and finally able to find out the status of Kalunda—and of Sara.

The rest of the message, though, had finished printing out, and Tessa took the second sheet and read that as well. It contained her orders:

You are to prepare a landing site north of East Port, Stop. Site should be sufficient for seven heavy brigades, Stop. All preparations must be complete in T-57 hours, Stop. You must be able to guide in the transports to the appropriate landing zones, Stop. Landings will commence in T-60 hours, Stop. On Landings, your units will be attached to those of the landing force per the orders of the commander LTGEN RISIM, Stop.

That was that. Now 56 and a half hours, and counting, to prepare the landing sites. 59 and a half hours until the landings themselves. Assuming all goes well. That would be discovered soon enough, in less than half a day when the fleet finally arrived. But no more waiting, at least; now they had work to get busy on, preparing for the landing of around 56,000 troops and thousands of heavy combat vehicles.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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