[TGG] 55 Days in Kalunda.

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Postby Steve » 2006-04-05 09:28pm

Outskirts of Kelvintowne, Gilead

DAY THIRTEEN



Five days after their thrilling escape from Our Lady of Fatima, Marzi and Fayza were still trapped in the Wiccan community of Kelvintowne. Regular bus service out of the community had been suspended shortly after the coup and their local contacts had warned them not to try to travel on foot, as Berglund's agents could too easily catch them.
Now they were staying in the farmhouse of the Laztens just outside the main town, staying inside at all times and living in the basement. They weren't allowed to make calls or do anything to call attention to the Lazten family - a husband, wife, twenty-five year old son, and nineteen year old daughter. In a couple of days, Loren Lazten would drive them to Durgensburg under what appeared to be a normal run of foodstuffs for him.
In the main living room, very close to the basement entrance, Fayza and Marzi were seated with the teenage Latzen girl, Diana, on the floor with playing cards between them. Diana was in pajamas, Fayza in shorts and halter top and Marzi in a T-shirt and undies. Fayza felt very much to be the "big sister" as she moderated the occasional disagreement over the card game they were playing, a modification of "Go Fish". In truth both girls were young enough to be her daughters, though she looked as young obviously.

"You know, with my friends, we usually play better card games than this," Diana suddenly remarked, running a hand through her shoulder-length black hair to try and smooth it out. "Like strip poker."
Fayza grinned widely at that, though Marzi was a bit puzzled. "Strip poker?" she asked.
"Every hand you lose, you have to remove a piece of clothing." Fayza's cheeks burned a bit red from memories. "Depending on where you are and the rules.... you either stop at your undies or until you've got nothing on at all."
"Sounds fun."
"When you're younger and less mature, it can be." Fayza looked to her hand. "Diana, do you have a four?"
"Go fish," the girl cackled in reply. As Fayza drew a card to add to the three she had left, Diana smiled at Marzi and added, "We have our own way of playing this too. We call it 'Truth or Fish'."
"'Truth or Fish'?" Marzi asked.
"Yes. When you're told to 'go fish', you can either take a card... or share a fun sex secret."
Marzi started giggling as well. Fayza leveled a look at the two girls. "Yes, well, like I said, you tend to outgrow such games."
"Mother says a woman never outgrows her love of games," Diana replied. "Do you have any jacks, Miss Fayza?"
Fayza grimaced and whipped the card out - she had asked Marzi for a jack a couple turns ago when she'd been on the verge of winning. "Here."
Diana accepted the card and asked, "And do you have a three?"
"Go fish."
Taking a card, Diana continued speaking as she did before. "Mother told me that she still likes the games she and Father played when they were not yet married. That older married women, if anything, tend to get even more interested in games to escape normal sex with men they've been with for a long time."
"Yes, well, that may be true for some, but not me. Especially since I'm not married." Fayza looked to Marzi. "Your turn."
Marzi, who had only two cards left and with a clear lead in the pairs she'd accumulated, was thinking for a moment. "Okay then.... Diana, do you have a...."
Suddenly the power died throughout the house. It was night time, and the moonlight was heavily obscured by clouds, so the house was dreadfully dark. Yet without pause Fayza jumped up and reached out for the door to the basement. She found the knob and pulled it open. "C'mon girls," she whispered, waiting for Marzi and Diana to come through before she came through and closed the door behind her. "Under the stairs!" she hissed loudly. The three came to the bottom of the basement and slipped around to hide under the stairs.

Fayza was terrified, and she could tell the younger women were by how they trembled in that small hiding place. After an indeterminable amount of time, just as Fayza had been prepared to go back up, there were noises from above. She could hear the Latzens screaming at someone, sounds of a scuffle, and then silence.... until the door opened! Two uniformed, armed men went down, shining a flashlight everywhere. They got to the floor of the basement and swept their lights everywhere, stopping just before they got to the stairs' underside. Convinced nothing was amiss, they ascended once again.

An eternity passed. "I have to go pee," she could hear Diana whisper, but none dared to move from that spot for fear that whoever was above would still be there.
The sound of gunfire filled the air, making Fayza jump. There were a couple more bursts, and then silence.... until the door opened again. A familiar voice, young and male, called out, "Diana? Marzi? Miss al-Bakar?" It was Frank Latzen, Diana's older brother. "I killed the soldiers who were left here. It's safe!"
Fayza moved slowly. "Stay here," she whispered to the girls. She walked over to the stairs and climbed up them until she got to the step of the door, when she could feel the heat of Frank Latzen's body, not to mention his heavy breathing. "What's going on?"
"Berglund troops. They started filtering in a couple hours ago, cut off the power and are now entering Kelvintowne." Frank's voice was strained. "I saw them take Mom and Dad. I've... I've got to get Diana out of here, Miss al-Bakar. If I don't, they'll take her and make her a..."
"I know," Fayza replied. "We'll get out of here, but we have to stay off the main roads."

"We can't," Frank complained. "We don't have any off-road vehicles."
"Then we do it the old-fashioned way. We'll walk to Durgensburg. Now, get as much non-perishable food as you can. Anything from the fridge we take will have to be for tonight. Do you have any camping equipment?"
"Yes. Mom and Dad's hiking gear from when they were kids. It's in the attic. A pair of sleeping bags, some packs, a couple canteens..."
"Go get it and hurry, since we have to leave quickly before those soldiers are considered missing. It'll have to be enough."
Frank nodded and scampered off, feeling his way to the attic ladder. Fayza looked down. "Come on, girls, we have to hurry."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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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 » 2006-04-10 11:29pm

Most was written by Marina - the last part was co-written by Marina and I.

Day 16
Amazonian military encampment.



Chiliarch Leeasa Avrila stood before the hardened, wiry form of the Magistrice of the Amazonian tribes; she held her ground defiantly, even as the short but tough and white-haired woman, face remarkably youthful by her excellent exercise, ground out that most unpleasant of answers.

“No!” The Magistrice frowned deeply. “In fact, enough of this nonsense. We're progressively reducing their defences, and the Normans have in fact taken many more casaulties, particularly fatalities, than we have. There's simply no reason to believe the alien woman, assuming it can even be called female, let alone for us to stop now when we're clearly ahead.

“Clearly ahead? You're simply ignoring those who are suffering the effects of gas, and will never return to the front, like I would have without their prompt medical care. Magistrice, I beseech thee: Consider the prisoners that the Princess Jhayka returned to you. They are unhurt, not raped as the Normans would immediately do, not beaten, not forced to anything demeaning. Even searched by other women for concealed arms, so that men—save for doctors in the hospital, dealing with life-threatening injuries—never once touched them.

“Do you really think the Kalundans would do such a thing as this? They are the same as all the other male powers here. But they're desperate for survival right now, and they've pinned their hopes on the Princess Jhayka, and she is from a society more like our's, where women do rule and inheiritance is through the female line, and has clearly demanded such considerations from them as a condition of her own service to the King of Kalunda.”

“Service which makes a farce of her femininity if she has any, Chiliarch,” the Magistrice grated, and then sighed. “I can understand why you think these things, but this place is the work of a great deal of complex diplomacy, and an effort to make actual progress toward preserving our freedoms. I am not inclined to trust an alien toward that cause, when it is the fate of our whole civilization, not whatsoever, be she an alien human, from another society, or an alien as this Princess Jhayka is from a distant land.”

“You are ruining the only sure chance we have. You must at least call the assembly before making a decision like this. As a mature woman and veteran of the military I demand it in petition before you, as this is, that you allow the assembly to make the decision, Magistrice. Even the chosen leader of our people can, bluntly, be in error, and that is what we have the oversight of the assembly for, that the community might be governed properly by consensus.”

“We are in a war! And you are insubordinate because of it. Do not trouble me with this matter any more.” The Magistrice smirked. “Tomorrow we a launching a great attack in the morning which shall gain us another line of the Kalundan defences. We're progressively reducing them, now, and with fewer and fewer casualties. You will see, tomorrow, how useless your suggestions are to us, and how fighting will indeed bring us survival, even against this alien.”

“We will see tomorrow, indeed, Magistrice,” Leeasa agreed quietly. There was no point in arguing now. Others would have to be informed, and opinion in the assembly worked quietly—it would take effort, and time, and go behind the Magistrice's back, not accepted normally in Amazonian politics, but it must be done. Leeasa knew better than to count Jhayka out so quickly, especially with the memory of the hideousness of one's own lungs drowning you which came from being gassed.


Day 17
The In'ghara Line




Again the Normans and their allies had methodically prepared for the next attack. They had spared no effort. Every man had some kind of gas mask, though they were not very effective in many cases, and trenches and attacking ramps had been thrown up with extreme vigour and pressed forward in excellent cross-diagonal lines to prevent enfilading fire. The Normans and their allies had, altogether, become rather excellent at siege warfare, learning fast, applying their knowledge of how to take a walled town and adapting it to trench warfare, and showing that barbarians were by no means particularly stupid.

The bombardment of the allied artillery was short and sharp, slamming down to the rear area of the Kalundan trenches for a mere ten minutes against the concentration points and the reserve lines to disorder the bringing up of reinforcements before reaching a crescendo that hammered down on the front line for only five minutes. Constant rolling thunder echoed across Kalunda for a quarter of an hour, as the trench lines shook under it and the defenders of their city hunched down tighter in their earthen defences, feeling as though they were being shaken to pieces, especially by the vast rocket salvoes which splattered down around them with terrific concussive fury. The allies were using the maximum intensity in their firepower for only a very short period now.

In those last five minutes, the artillery hitting the Kalundan front lines was joined in by the massed firing of the trench-mortars and mechnical bomb throwers against the Kalunda lines, while the lead assault platoons mustered at the stepping-off points for the whistle to be blown, kalash's locked and loaded, equipped with hefty numbers of grenades, and the ubiquitous hatchets, cutlasses, and hammers. All along the front the allies could see the Kalundan trenches entirely obscured in fire. They knew better than to think it was really killing all that many Kalundans, but as long as it kept their heads down...

The reserves were massed and ready behind the allied lines to exploit successes from initial attacking parties..

...The bombardment ceased, and the order was given. Normans, al-Farani, Amazonians, and minor allies alike surged out of the trenches and forward across no-man's land. The Kalundan machine-gun positions immediately opened up, and their light mortars rained down masses of shrapnel shells as rifle fire from the parapets also told its deadly effect against the allied attackers.

Yet, despite all that, the attack was perfectly planned. They need only bite, hold, and then exploit with their reserves, and another line would be taken, assuming that Jhayka bothered to contest it to the bitter end, which from previous experience seemed unlikely. The alien female would retreat once more rather than risk combat now that her tricks were used up, and the skill and honour of the Norman warriors and their allies (however weak some were) could show through.

In her command post deep under the Kalundan royal palace, Jhayka watched the attack develop. It was serious, of course, and she had a currently operative plan to simply evacuate the In'ghara line and fall back to the Taliya line as she had done before along the Taradrua Line after savaging the enemy as thoroughly as she could.

There was another chance, though, and she desperately wanted to exercise it if possible. The more territory that was held onto the better, it gave them more room to work with, and more time to preserve the city, now under heavy shelling with extensive damage, particularly in the past four days, in hopes that relief would come before the fighting had really pushed into the actual built-up areas. That was increasingly unlikely, as they received fragmentary and uncertain news of civil war on the outside, and had no direct communications to confirm their own survival, but, even then, the more time that they lasted the better.

Toward that end, Jhayka was prepard to do absolutely anything, for even as little as an hour of time definitely gained, let alone days and days worth of time. Which might just be what she could get here... If, of course, the conditions were right. If they don't simply abandon the siege altogether, Jhayka mused hopefully. There was a small chance of that, but.. If they have stayed this long, I doubt even this will turn them away. But there is at least a chance of it. And that seals the case.

"Give me a weather report, please." She asked softly , deep in the bunker. Everyone knew what it meant, and a sort of respectful silence fell.

"At once, Marshal." One of her young--and female--aides saluted and went to retrieve the specified data, which was handed over quietly.

Jhayka smiled in amusement at the girl, despite the magnitude of what she was considering. No doubt any one of them would have been glad to sleep with her--and there were no regulations against it in Kalunda--but the very fact that they thought such things proved just how out of touch they were with civilized peoples, even now. To Jhayka such a thing was inconceivable, to them, normal. And they're the good people here she mused, though in truth this was all done for Danielle; and she is another matter entirely. She is worth.. Even this.

Windspeed was six kilometers an hour, coming from the north-northwest and blowing toward the south-southeast.

Which means we only can't use gas along the downstream riverbanks, where the river-boats can make up for it with their weaponry, she concluded decisively. It was time.

Jhayka straightened, turned, and gave the order which would play her last surprise card. “Chemical shells, per plan VG-F, B-R,” the Taloran ordered coolly. "Active exclusion zone river-north, only, repeat that is the only exclusion zone." She displayed no trace of emotion at the directive to resort to the most lethal agents available so far.

It was very straightforward. Some of the guns were targeted directly in front of the trenches, with distinctive chemical shells. These were firing nerve agents. The rest of the Kalundan artillery was firing on the allied concentration points for their reserves. These were using HE shells, which appeared as though nothing was different about them.. Except it was. They were permeated with Yperite and Lewisite.

The stocks of nerve agents were very rapidly expended; Kalunda had only been able to acquire and produce very small amounts. They nonetheless had a terrible effect, tearing great gaps in the allied attacks by terror when the first men, despite the protection of their gas masks, nonetheless were stricken with horrific symptoms: Uncontrollable and exceptionally intense convulsions, constant drooling, and ultimately death as the diaphragm muscle wouldn't stop its continuous contractions induced by the endless misfiring of the nerves.

Along the river the squadron, now stronger, was firing into the flanks of the attack, using overpressure to defend themselves from potential stray nerve agents (though they had been excluded from this sector) as they directed fire and artillery down upon the Normans and their allies, denying them an advance close to the banks without the severe difficulty of braving the stern enfilading fire. All along the centre of the two separates lines, separated by the river as they were, the well-planned allied attack was failing as gaps were torn into it by the panic induced via the use of nerve agents. In the north the fighting on the river was particularly hard as the ships closed in and pounded with all their ability to make up for the lack of gas here, where the attacks were going better for the Normans and their allies.

Yet the men of Ar, their Muslim allies, their Amazonian co-belligerents, none of them really understood fully the deadliness of the attack they were being subjected to. They continued to assault the Kalundan trenches in many places, even as in others they collapsed, and here the exposure to nerve agents racked up a hideous toll. Yet, through it, there were inevitably those who escaped exposure or were not sufficiently exposured to keep them from fighting despite it. These pushed on: And many of them were shot down, of course, by conventional weaponry.

Those who had survived being gassed and pressed on through the storm of shot and shell, and the number was surprisingly large, were now confronted by the wire and the abbattis (or smashed remnants thereof) defending the In'ghara line. In many places they were held up and chopped up, formations decimated and men wounded and killed, by the constant firing of the machine-guns and automatic weapons from the lines, and the throwing of defensive grenades when they reached within twenty meters. The Kalundans were clearly not planning on yielding the line with the reinforcement to their defence of gas, and they were showing it.

For the part of the allied attackers, even despite all of these obstacles some of them had, with the indomitable fortitude of soldiers in the most hellish of conditions, fighting for the most hellish of causes, succeeded in reaching the Kalundan entrenchments, and thereby took the battle to their tormentors with hatchet and grenade, shotgun and entrenching-tool. In several places, including one nearly sixty-meters long, the allied assaults managed to bite into the Kalundan lines and hold them.

Quickly the Kalundans, in their turn, organized vigorous counterattacks with their local reserves. Flamethrowers licked out and spat liquid fire, sub-machineguns and shotguns chattered and boomed, and bayonets were ground into living flesh in a close-quarters maze of earthen walls. Heavy tools and hatchets were used to bash through skulls, and the butt of the rifle was called on to do blunt trauma just as much, surely, as the Kalundans had the chance to shoot at their enemies. In this way were the counterattacks conducted.

The Normans and their allies would not be able to hold on for long unless reinforcements could cross no-man's land and pour into the seized points along the trenches. With hand-to-hand fighting raging along the trench sections which they had penetrated the perimeters were rapidly being constricted. Reinforcement had to be provided with the utmost rapidity.

Of course, it had been provided for in the plan, and as soon as the local successes were reported the concentrated reserves were ordered forward in the appropriate sectors where the Kalundan trenches had been seized. These men, which had been under a desultory barrage of HE, were still mostly fit as they advanced to prepare for their own assaults across no-man's land...

But as they mustered at those jumping-off points, it was becoming more and more obviously that they were suffering. Coughing, itching, constant irritation of the flesh, of the nostrils, and in some places the ominous signs of swelling blisters in the skin. The men were uncertain, and terrified as the symptoms started to develop. Soon the grim word reached the headquarters of the allies, and it was only then that the clouds from the HE became obvious. The shells that the Kalundans had been firing had been permeated with Yperite. These men could not be used to exploit the successes of the first attack; rather, they needed immediate medical attention to even survive as the blistering agents did their horrific work.

The attack was, quite simply, called off. There were not enough troops in the right places to support it, and there was no knowledge of how much more of the chemicals which gas masks along could not protect against that the Kalundans had. There was nothing to be done, and in fact, the attacking forces were now in deadly danger of being annihilated by the Kalundan counterattacks.

In the end, the precious Norman armour was used, advancing into no-man's land to provide point-blank fire-support for the evacuation and withdrawal of their still fighting troops right forward on the front. Two tanks were disabled in this operation, both medium tanks, however, and not a great loss. It allowed the extrication of most of the troops, and the tankers themselves were of course protected by overpressure systems. So did the battle of the 17th Day end.


Day 17
Amazonian Military Encampment



The hideousness of the day was most evident for the Amazon nations, with the vicious casualties they had taken, in particular from the gassing. Those nerve-gassed had mostly died quick; the huge numbers of casualties they had from the use of Yperite and Lewisite on their reserves, though, were another matter entirely, and the malformities of bodies blistered almost beyond recognition and yet still alive was such as to drive someone completely mad with horror at the ways in which modern war were waged, at the gamble they had taken in waging a proper war with the government for their autonomy, of the very sorts of things their ancestors had tried to avoid, to abandon, by immigrating to Gilead, all the horrors of war as enacted by the pinnacle of technological patriarchy. For good reason had our ancestors moved to escape this—and now we have voluntarily rejoined it, ran the thoughts of a middle aged woman, reflecting on the day and watching the sun set. They were very bitter thoughts.

Sarila sighed at her thoughts, and turned away from the casualty list she'd been reading so that she might look to the Magistrice once more. The two of them had been lovers for a long time, and knew each other's moods far to well for the exhaustion in this moment, the hideous evidence of the gassed that they had seen from the blister-covered bodies of the dying, the horrible consequences of modern war, not to recognize of what both of them were thinking.

“You must put it before the assembly, love.”

The Magistrice turned away, and spoke very softly. “It may be madness. But then, so it is also to keep attacking when our enemy can turn the very air we breath into a poison against us. Very well. I will summon the assembly to decide upon the Princess Jhayka's offer.”
Kalunda, Gilead

DAY SEVENTEEN



It was funny how she arrived, late in the evening and wearing a cape to conceal her clothes, done out in mufti but still wearing her sword, of course, though no other weapon. The hideous scene of the early day had passed, and Jhayka had a bag tucked under one arm, filled full of something or another, as she climbed down onto the Liberty and was challenged by the sentry, who a moment later let her pass in surprise. Jhayka carried on, belowdecks, toward the tiny and cramped admiral's cabin which was placed right forward, in the bow, essentially a v-shape. It was scarcely the size of an hotel room, except compressed into a V, and it was the biggest cabin on the whole ship; but those were the quarters that Danielle had chosen for herself, and Jhayka vaguely respected it, though it wasn't the way she'd fight a war, given the choice. It was, at least, daring to be toward the front, and the Liberty had been in action earlier in the day, though the need for support had not lasted long. She wrapped on Danielle's door, but didn't speak, out of the intent to give her a bit of a surprise..

The knock at the door made Dani look up from a couple of reports on the table that doubled as her work desk. She reached for the silk robe hanging from the wall and pulled it over her undergarments, tight enough to obscure her visible cleavage, which was bare due to the strapless silk bra she wore. As there were no alarms, she hadn't bothered to reach for her uniform, and she went straight to the door assuming it was a subordinate with a late report or order from Jhayka and the military command.
Opening the door, Dani's mouth hung open in shock at seeing Jhayka there, dressed in mufti with a cape that could obscure it if she allowed it. "Jhayka? Well... come in.... what are you doing here this late?"

"I wanted to celebrate. We have gained a considerable length of time in holding the In'ghara line--perhaps a week. It is a chance for all of us to rest one last time before the siege becomes unbearable... So I thought I would celebrate with you." Jhayka smiled, though there was something there, deeper in her expression, as she added softly. "It might be the last chance we get in a while to just relax together, and so I brought some food. You've probably taken half rations like the rest of the crew, after all.. And of course I just worry about you." A pause, as she stepped inside and glanced around, before setting the bag on the table and glancing wryly up--her ears were brushing against the ceiling of the room.

"Space is at a premium," Dani said apologetically. "And we couldn't make the boats too deep since we might hit one of the sandbars if we get too close to the banks." A smirk crossed her face as she walked over to the table, moving her papers far enough away so that Jhayka could get into her bag. "I guess I'm a better boat builder than I thought I was, since this thing and her sisters have been surviving those monster cannons we installed. There were a couple of times I worried that we might yet capsize when we were firing the 150mm cannon. The recoil can make the ship pitch rather strongly."

"It is pretty impressive that you were able to do that. Though, on the other hand, this thing is considerably larger in tonnage than a hovertank, and those mount 200mm guns, so I don't see why it would truly be impossible," Jhayka mused as she began to remove things from the bag... The first looked like half a loaf of french bread, and then some butter, and then something wrapped in tinfoil--she unwrapped it to reveal a total of four shishkabobs, still hot. The last thing out was a bottle with two plastic cups for which her look was very wry. "It's a blush wine, not my first choice, but suitable enough. I put the meal together out of whatever I could get Ilavna to find... Acceptable, I hope?" She seemed embarassed, a bit, as though such a meal with someone she was romantically inclined toward ought be more extravagant.

"Well, given our circumstances..." Dani grinned gently. "I can forgive you if we're here in nightclothes and mufti on a converted gunboat with shishkabobs and blush wine instead of wearing evening gowns and jewels at a nice Italian restaurant with sixty dollar meals, expensive wine, and violinists." A mischievous glint came to her green eyes. "Next time, however, I'll expect to see you in a nice glittering silver gown with spaghetti straps and that lovely pink hair pulled into a ponytail. Now, if only I had a candle..."

"Thank you. As for the other thing, I must ask, a candle? Because.." Her expression grew a bit brighter: "Oh, it would be like eating by the light of a cooking fire, I see. Yes, that is rather.. Romantic." Jhayka allowed with a look, though her eyes were still rather widened and her expression quizzical as she went on. "On the other hand, it's difficult for me to conceive of myself in such a thing, and I'm not even sure what spaghetti straps are, other than the fact that it would seem that the colour of a tomato-based noodle dish wouldn't compliment silver all that well, to tell the truth.. Is it something in human eyes?"

"No, Jhayka," Dani giggled, amused, "a spaghetti strap dress is one that has the thinnest kind of shoulder straps out there. They're barely a centimeter thick in some cases."

"Oh." That pale skin flushed an intense gray-green, and gray eyes looked to Danielle with a half-hopeless expression. "I was going to make some kind of protest there about it being immodest, when I figured out that I don't know what a pony tail is either, at which point I just got rather more embarassed than before, but for different reasons." She laughed, though, and began to pour their wine. "You're going to have to do some education of me. And, I suspect, I'll need whole separate wardrobes for what time as we spend in human territories.. To better blend in, at least. But first thing's first... A pony tail?"

To demonstrate, Dani used her hands to pull her hair backward and bunch it together to form a pony-tail, which she kept in place with her right hand. "That. I used to go with one when I was just a kid."

"I can see how you think it would look good on me. That's called a, hmm, rhan', I would think. I'll show you the meaning behind the word sometime, but right now I can't, since we don't have the right references, and it's untranslatable otherwise.." An amused look. "Just trust me." She was buttering the bread now, as she left the shishkabobs in the middle of the table for them to share. "But eat with me, dearheart. As for the final word on the dress--promise it wouldn't be unusual? Because if you do... I will wear one for you." Jhayka's mood seemed all things said, light and obliging, though also like she wanted to avoid certain thoughts. Understandably, for she had just been using nerve agents on the allied armies.

"Well, most dresses like that aren't unusual, not for us anyway. I mean, unless they have freakish colors. Then again, Illavna might consider our freakish colors to look good." Dani giggled again, taking a shishkabob before accepting some of the wine. She sipped at it. "Not bad."
After accepting some bread from Jhayka, Dani drew in a sigh. "I... I've never seen people hit by nerve agents before, Jhayka. It was horrible."

Jhayka seemed like she wanted to avoid the subject for a bit. "Honestly, yes, we look pretty, uh, flamboyant, by your standards when dressed formally. Ilavna is actually very typical in how she dresses, Danielle, so on visiting Talora Prime you should expect to a real riot of colours.." A frown. "Anyway, let's not worry about that, okay? I know it's a very nasty business, but it's not really worse than getting burned to death, and dead is dead no matter how you cut it. Our deaths if they caught us would be much slower, and much more painful, and they, unlike us, would take great joy in that."

"Yes, I know, and I'm sorry." Dani sighed and took another drink of wine. "Until now most of my nightmares have been about the irradiated and incinerated corpses I'd find when working on battle-damaged ships with my dock teams. But now..." She drew in a breath. "I had a nightmare last night about the city falling and being captured. I had to walk out onto the deck to reassure myself it was just a dream."

"Well, it was just a dream. We all have such unpleasant things." Jhayka smiled gently, and held out a hand, clearly offering it to the touch of Dani's, as she laughed gently. "Don't worry about that, though. The Normans probably imagine something like that will happen--and it is in the fears of everyone here. But I think Julio at least really understands that the game has entirely changed. If this city 'falls', it won't be some dramatic event, but rather it will fall block by bloody block, until they're sending parties underground to root out the last survivors.. It will end months later, when they flood the last tunnel filled with half-dead children and their three-quarters-starved protectors, who still refuse to surrender, with petrol and set it alight. They will not have their glorious day of rapine, even if we lose. Just day, after day, week after week come to it, of slow, grinding slaughter."

Dani nodded slowly. Finally, after another drink of wine, she said, "I shouldn't have said anything. I'd rather not talk about business." She took the moment to have a bite of bread.

"I really wouldn't either. There's always tomorrow for that." Jhayka seemed to bite her lip faintly. "Well, for business, anyway. Let's not think about the other meaning of that statement, either. Tell me, Dani, what are those things which you.. Which you desire out of a relationship with me?"

Dani thought for a moment before answering. "I want to be with you whenever possible, to have you as my companion to enjoy life with, no matter what we have to face. I want to do those things we talked about the other night, the things we'll do together." It took a few more moments for Dani to think of the words she wanted to use for what came next. "I... well, maybe down the road somewhere, if it's possible, we could see about children. I don't know if our races are remotely compatible, but if not, we could always each carry a child, or adopt - if you're people are allowed." Dani smiled slightly. "It's a bit surprising, since I never thought much about being a mother with someone until now."

Jhayka smiled, though then her smile faded more than a bit. "It would be hard..." she murmured softly and looked seriously to Dani. "I want to thank you for saying such a thing about me. I.. I mean, I'm hesitant about things because my race takes things slowly, or perhaps I just do, or perhaps the nobility, but at the same time it wasn't something I'd thought about yet and it's rather intimidating. The short answer of it Dani is that we're not compatible biologically. I know enough about that--I mean, we do share DNA, humans and Talorans, even in fairly significant amounts. But the last definite common ancestor we share are early single-celled creatures billions of years in the past. ..I know that in one of your universes, at least, and perhaps several, there was an early race which spread around the genetic material of humans, or of another related species, though humans seems most likely, and, well.." A deep breath, as her ears fairly drooped. "The long and short of it is that we couldn't conceive a naturally distinct child, my dearheart. If we want children... Something else must be arranged."

"Then we would arrange it," Dani said. "The important part is.... I want to be with you for the rest of my life, on into the next life, and I want to have a family with you. I want to set down roots with you."

Jhayka took an unsteady breath, looking with her faintly weird gray eyes back toward Danielle. "You realize that will be so hard..? I mean, I don't want to crush every hope absolutely, my dearheart.. But, we cannot be married. It is against custom. Indeed the very fact that you want it is endearing to me; for all my other lovers... Save one... Have known their place would be as mistresses. Yet that wasn't enough for me and I love that it isn't enough for you, either, yet it seems to also be the death of us, for there's no other way.."

Dani nodded solemnly. "I figured as much. I think it's unfair, Jhayka, but I won't force you to betray your principles. I could never do that to you. If what we have has to be so... secret, I'll have to accept that."

"What else could we do?" Jhayka answered quietly. "Though it would be an open secret, in truth. I'm not asking you to stay in the shadows, but... Well, I just don't know how anything else could be arranged. Anything else done. The customs of my people are stern." She ate her food as though not really enjoying it, though her eyes were on Danielle--and the gaze was a sad one, as though she'd failed the human woman. And as far as Jhayka was concerned, she had.

"Don't feel bad about it." Dani looked her eye to eye and extended a hand over. "We'll find a way to be together. I promise."

"Thank you, dear.. I.." she took Danielle's hand and met her eyes. "You're so kind and understanding to me; I was afraid that you just wouldn't understand the nature of my people. I've been afraid of that. There's so many dark paths between us, these differences, and for all that I'm entranced by them I fear that I shall hopelessly let you down."

A sad grin came to Dani's face. "I have the same fear. But I know we can make this work. I know that it's what we both want."

"You could never let me down, love." Jhayka answered simply.

After breathing slightly, Dani moved a bit closer to Jhayka, which wasn't hard given their proximity anyway. She reached her other hand over and settled it in Jhayka's shoulder. "Thank you for having faith in me. Please realize I have the same faith in you." She leaned over and gave Jhayka a small kiss on the lips.

Jhayka kissed Danielle back, holding onto the woman's hand as she leaned in, heads so close even when they weren't kissing.. And then kissed Danielle lightly, again. "You're worth everything I've done here, love. Right up to dying, if it comes to it. I know that I'll regret nothing, as it was done for your sake."

"I'd rather you not have to." Dani grinned at her. "Call me selfish, but I want to have you with me for a bit longer..." At that she kissed Jhayka again, pressing her tongue on Jhayka's lips.

This time, Jhayka opened her lips obligingly for Danielle. If the scent of a Taloran was different from that a human; earthy, like crushed ferns, strong but not unpleasant; so was the taste of her saliva against Danielle's tongue as the two kissed and her own stroked delicately against Danielle's. It was not truly unpleasant, either, though it did have the distinct taste of vinegar to it, an association which probably couldn't be easily denied. Something that Danielle would have to simply get used to, and a surprise hidden by Jhayka's frankly chaste behaviour, which now seemed somewhat lessened in the delicate way she went about stroking her lover's tongue with her own.

Dani held down the surprise at the peculiar taste of the kiss, not wanting to ruin this moment she'd been longing for, she suddenly realized, for much longer than she'd earlier thought. She kept the kiss going, enjoying the chance for physical contact with Jhayka, knowing it wouldn't last and what was to come.
She was seized by indecision. How much further would she dare go? How much would Jhayka let her do? She kept her hand with Jhayka's, the other gently touching Jhayka's neck.
Finally, working up the courage for the next test, Dani tentatively used a free hand to pull loose her robe's sash, letting it fall to the floor. She didn't undress further, waiting to see how Jhayka reacted even as the kiss continued.

Jhayka reacted, alright, hearing the sound with those fine, delicate ears; her lips lingered upon Danielle's, and as they did, she also removed the clasp holding up her cape, letting it flutter down to the floor behind her, as her gray eyes captured Danielle's, and she briefly broke the kiss, to whisper, quite demurely, all things said.. "You want me, don't you, Dani?"

"Yes." Dani brought her hands up to touch Jhayka's cheeks, keeping her face close enough that their lips were almost touching. "I do. A night together before the war starts again." A tear came down her eye, one borne of that horrible knowledge that something, still, could happen - that she could lose Jhayka, that what they had together could be swept away. "What do you want?"

"I'm feeling a thousand things, and am not sure..." Her lips fell against Danielle's with a light brush, a gentle kiss. "It's so appealing. And... Oh, but what is guilt now? We may all be dead in three weeks;" she smiled shakily, and kissed Danielle again, filled with intense emotion that flared up inside. "Yes, let's. Let's give them something to talk about, something to chatter about for the idlers here. We've got nothing to lose."

Dani's heart fluttered joyfully. She returned the kiss eagerly, putting her hands on Jhayka's shoulders. She moved her mouth downward, kissing Jhayka on the neck, before she moved back up to one of Jhayka's ears, licking her there. "I've always wanted to do that," she whispered with a giggle, touching Jhayka's right ear gently.

The reaction, though, was a shudder from Jhayka.. And not one of distaste or revulsion, but of pleasure, as she rasped out in a low voice, groaning softly: "Our ears are very sensitive to touch. Very. A few deep breaths were required, there, before she added, a bit salaciously: "And, I think with that, you removed any doubts I had."

Dani grinned and gave Jhayka's ear another playful lick. She pulled back and met Jhayka eye-to-eye, a grin crossing her face. "So much for me to learn. And for you I guess." Dani took Jhayka's hand with her's and placed it on the loop that, if pulled, would allow her silk bra to fall free. Her other hand reached up and touched Jhayka's left ear. "Teach me, tell me what you want me to do, love..."

"There's a lot of learning for the both of us.." Jhayka answered with a musing, gentle laugh, and then pulled on the loop, freeing Danielle's breasts. "Speaking of which, you're going to tell me before we get too, err, distracted, just what exactly the point of a specific undergarment covering your breasts is..."
”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 » 2006-04-13 03:34am

The Imperial Palace, Novo São Paulo
Mundo de Dom Pedro
, Core Province, Hispanic Empire

DAY NINETEEN



Light years away from where the siege of Kalunda was entering it's 19th day, Emperor Alejandro was sitting in his uncle's study with only Prime Minister Mateo present, a PDA in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Duke Mateo allowed his nephew to read the latest news report from Britain that had come during the night. "So, Grant's government has fallen." Alejandro laughed harshly. "The vote of no-confidence came awfully quick."
"It was to be expected after their Liberal Party withdrew from Grant's coalition government." Duke Mateo smirked. "The British should learn from others how to best maintain a good government. But they are too arrogant so they will never accept that."

"Of course not, dear Uncle." Alejandro set the PDA aside. "I want the Senate to vote on intervention today, if at all possible. We must move quickly before the Tsar can beat us to it."
"I will bring the motion before the Senate myself," Duke Mateo promised.



Kalunda, Gilead

DAY NINETEEN



Jhayka had shown that for all her chastity in courtship she was an extremely skilled and clever lover in bed; of course, her age was considerably greater than Danielle's, and with the rather unrestrained atmosphere of the regimental mess behind her, this was perhaps not surprising at all. The six fingers were especially useful.. And one couldn't help but consider, in that light, the faintly self-satisfied smirk she had as she finished dressing. "Don't worry about me stealing your ship's water, I can shower when I get back to my quarters in the underground," Jhayka said with a smile, before adding. "Though perhaps we can walk a bit before I head back, dear, in the morning air? I should like to enjoy it while it is still fresh and not wholly overtaken with the stench of the siege."

"I don't see why not." Dani walked up behind Jhayka and put her hands around Jhayka's belly, kissing her just below the ear. Unspoken was the fact that the experience of the previous night could not be soon repeated. A mischievous little grin crossed her face. "A nice walk out on the deck, hand-in-hand, that's a nice way to cap everything off. And it should get the rumors going," she giggled.

"Oh." Jhayka flushed faintly, leaning against Dani, and then shrugged. "I suppose that rumours are not worth calling off such a delightful experience..." And for added emphasis, even as with one hand she buckled her cape back up and then fastened her sword to her belt once more, the other hand was reached back to stroke through her hair. "I also suppose that if you actually wanted to kiss my ear you'd have to stand on your tip-toes." There was a hint of a teasing smirk there, after all, for Jhayka was noticeably taller than Danielle--and Jhayka was of average height for a Taloran, only.

"You could bend down a little. Or..." Dani reached a hand up and touched Jhayka's ear softly with her fingers. A moment later she did go ahead raise herself up upon her toes, pressing her lips to Jhayka's ear before giving it a little lick.

"Ohhh.." Jhayka moaned faintly--and then moaned faintly again at the kiss and the lick, her ears straightened attentively, before sighing and twisting around, gray eyes pleasant. "If only we had the whole day... But that shall be after the siege." She leaned at once, without another word, and kissed Danielle very fondly.

Dani was rapidly becoming used to the taste of Jhayka, and she returned the kiss warmly before pulling away. She brought her hands up to Jhayka's face. "An entire day... I'll keep you to that, love." She kissed Jhayka on the lips lightly, just a lip smack, before returning to ensuring her silk bra was tied and at the right tightness for support and comfort. After that she picked up her uniform top to pull it on. "If we could do all that here, in this cramped little cabin, imagine what we can do with a bedroom entirely to ourselves." Dani's grin was meant to be seductive, with a matching glint to her green eyes.

"It'll take several days just to tour the palace, you realize?" Jhayka grinned. "We've only been building it for a couple of thousand years, after all, and there's several layers to it--it's sort of on a mound, you see, from the older layers, and there's almost whole other palaces under the modern ones with all sorts of passageways in them... I used to sneak down there for trysts with the serving girls..." She was flushing, but in a good way, amused by Dani's taking her offer as a promise, and pleased by it also, as she stepped to the door, and opened it rather gallantly for her lover, with a slight bow.

Having finished with the final touches on her uniform, Dani walked up to the door. "Oooh, secret passageways. Do you know how sexy that sounds to me?" She took Jhayka's hand. "And up we go, to the fresh river air, just like when we were swimming all that time ago."

"I recall that. It took me a moment, then, to realize that you were actually wearing any clothes at all.. Now the differences are much more obvious, of course, but then it wasn't like I'd not already seen you nude before.." She was smirking, as she stayed low, ears sometimes brushing on the ceiling, as they ducked upward and out through a metal hatch and onto the deck from the f'o'castle, hand-in-hand.

"Yes, you always had that advantage on me, until..." Dani giggled. "Oh dear."
On the deck were a handful of girls in Crimson Guard uniform. They all looked toward Dani and Jhayka, saluting but saying nothing, as Dani led Jhayka out onto the bow. A flag of Kalunda flew from the ship's flagpole, but on the bow, a small standard fluttered in the wind - an insignia Dani had found bearing the Liberty Bell, an apt standard for a ship named Liberty. "At ease!" she bellowed to the crew before looking out at the beautiful waters of the Kalunda River. As of yet, they had not been as polluted by the war as might have happened. "I almost wish we could go for a swim too."

"We could. I've heard of stranger things than that happening in war, and seen some just as strange," Jhayka answered, returning the salute also--in that faintly lazy way that very senior officers could get about such things--her composure really quite admirable when confronted by a lot of people--she knew, of course, how to suppress her emotions and act proper. "Not like we're really prepared for it, though, but still I'll admit that it's a tempting idea. I imagine there are some people who do go swimming in the river for exercise, still. I just haven't been out here enough to really notice."

"It happens, though I try to stop it. I don't want them out there if the gunboats suddenly have to sortie." Dani looked off toward the city, holding Jhayka's hand in hers. "It will be a tragedy if this city is destroyed. It's so beautiful. But... I think it looked better before this war came. When everyone was happy and were living their lives in peace." Dani's eyes turned off into the distance, though they could not see from this spot the actual enemy lines. "Damn them to Hell. In a way I think it's jealousy. Ar's an ugly, nasty city compared to Kalunda, so they want to destroy it. They want to pretend they are better. What I wouldn't give for a battleship right now, and a battery of coilguns. That's all it would take - just a few minutes of firing and Kalunda would be safe."

Jhayka laughed gently. "Safety is less pressing in wartime. Let them have their fun; you can always toss them a line, haul them aboard while moving, and press-gang them to the gun batteries, after all." She slipped her hand away from Danielle's.. Just to wrap it around her waist. The Kalundans wouldn't mind, after all. "As for the rest, we'll just have to make do with rifle, bayonet, and good old grit." She was smiling, then, fondly, but also sadly. "So far it's done us well enough, with a few tricks. Remember, dear, they've still got four defensive lines to punch through before they've even reached the city walls. And it's been nearly three weeks. We're doing rather well, all things said."

In a hushed voice, Dani replied, "Those defensive lines aren't as nasty as the first ones, though. Besides, I'm worried about the river. They still haven't sent any kind of boats to challenge us, and this makes me wonder if they've got something bad planned."

"I know. On both counts. But we're doing what we can, and, well, I trust you on the river." She squeezed Dani up against herself, and smiled. "I trust you, and it goes along with my love. I'm confident of that. You'll do fine no matter what they try."

Dani nodded slowly. She didn't quite want to voice her own doubts. She had never actually commanded in a straight-out battle - fire support didn't count - and knew how much would depend upon her when the time came and the enemy challenged her for command of the river. "I won't let you down," she said, meaning the promise with every bit of her heart.

"I know you won't." One last look out over the river in the arms of her lover. "Well, I need to be getting back now." Suddenly, she grinned very wickedly, and turned to wrap her arms around Danielle, whispering fiercely: "Let's give them something to talk about, love," before kissing her very passionately upon the lips, tongue insistent.
”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 » 2006-04-14 11:12pm

The Ambassadors' meeting was co-written by myself, Marina, Chris Purnell aka Cavalier, and Fima Galkine.

402 Queen Elizabeth Street, New London
New Britain, Kingdom of New Britain

DAY TWENTY


Andrew Smythe-Jones, Duke of Talbotshire, was only in his second day as the Prime Minister of the "caretaker" government that was running the Kingdom as preperations were made for the elections that Prime Minister Grant had called for before resigning. The former Admiral and life-long military officer had no individual political loyalties, so he had seemed the perfect choice for King Edward XIV to run the British Government in the interim.
Lord Smythe-Jones had immediately compiled what was essentially a cabinent of his former subordinates and peers. The Minister of War was former Admiral Herbert Tunney; the new Foreign Secretary was a retired Line Captain and former attachè officer, Delilah Weaver, and the First Lord of the Admiralty (the old terrestrial titles had been maintained) - Sir Percival Moore - had once served as Smythe-Jones' chief of staff.

"With elections still a month away, there is no time to wait for the new government before taking action." Smythe-Jones removed the tobacco pipe from his mouth, surveying his subordinates closely. "We must act now, even if we do not have popular support. I will not be remembered as the Prime Minister that lost the British Empire."

"Well, sir, I would first suggest an official response to the proclaimations of Alejandro I and Vladimir IV of their intent to intervene," Secretary Weaver said. "Then, we must send the fleet."
"Can we? We have occupation duties in Plymouth, do we not?"
"Save for the region facing the Outback, our sector is quiet, and we can rely on Scathford's fleet to aid our's in the security of the frontier."
Smythe-Jones nodded. After a few moments he irritably remarked, "The boys in MI6 have left us with a bloody mess. Why did they support this damned coup anyway?"
It was Tunney who replied, "The stupid Gileans hadn't learned their lesson from the Proctor scandal, not well enough. There were indications that their hedonist madness was again leading to involuntary enslavement, and that dumb Socialist Crayshaw ignored every sign, getting himself elected on hedonist enclave votes with, dare I say it, anti-British sentiments. He has made no secret of his contempt for the Empire and it's position in Gilead, even our protection of the Confederacy." Sighing ruefully, Tunney pulled a pack of cigarettes and took one out. "MI6 detected the early plotters and decided it was our best chance of fixing that mess."

"And look where that's brought us," Smythe-Jones muttered. "What plans do we have to intervene?"
"Intervention would violate our treaty with the Gileans," Weaver reminded him. "Lord Gray-Baden even told me he would rather abandon Gilead than do so, since it would hurt the Empire."
"And you agree with that Liberal egghead?" Moore guffawed.
Weaver shrugged non-committally. "He is an expert on Britian's treaty law," the graying brunette replied. "And the Office's Gilead experts believe that any intervention would vastly increase anti-British sentiments there. We could form a pro-British government, but it would have difficulty staying in power by legal means, and our other protectorates and allies may not look kindly on the violation of the Treaty of Cranstonville."
"Well, we certainly have to do something now that the Slavs and that upstart Hispanic Emperor have gotten involved," Moore remarked. "My staff is preparing orders for the Fleet even now."

Tunney nodded in agreement. "We cannot allow a protectorate of the Empire, even one as chaotic as Gilead is now, to be attacked with impunity by it's neighbors. The future of the Empire demands a strong response."
"If it means war with the Hispanic Empire and Slavia?"
There were nervous looks across the room. Britain's recent war had been costly enough, even with it's great victory. There was no desire for another.... especially if it gave the Maoists ideas.
"There may be another possibility," Weaver remarked. "Ambassador Shropshire has been invited to a meeting with President Dale and his opposites from the other involved nations later this week. The President had called the meeting to discuss the announced evacuations, but he will certainly work to smooth this out as well."
"Ah, well then, let us hope that the Ambassador manages to get something arranged. Certainly if we can get the Allied Nations on our side, the others may back down and give us a chance to sort this out. In the meantime, Lord Moore, get the orders finished and sent to the Fleet immediately."


The White House, Washington D.C.
Earth, Alliance of Democratic Nations, Universe Designate HE-1

DAY TWENTY-THREE



The White House Conference Room was a familiar setting for Dale, as he had spent time in it for years now in various positions - the latest being President. He waited while Vice-Minister Wells, just two days away from a confirmation vote for the Foreign Minister position that he was certain to pass, opened the door, allowing in Ambassador Shropshire, and behind him, the ambassadors from the Hispanic Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Taloran Empire, and Slavia.

"Welcome, Ambassadors," Dale spoke after they were all in, with attendants showing them to their seats. He looked to each and every Ambassador. The Hispanic Ambassador was a thin-faced woman, Countess Everhardt y Padilla, new to the capital and with an Anglo grandfather from one of the few Anglo families that still lived in the Hispanic Empire after the secession of New California. She had an aristocratic nose and dark brown eyes, hair rich and brown, looking every bit the beauty save for her thinness. In contrast, Ambassador Shropshire was stocky almost to the point of looking unhealthy, with a balding head of gray and a pair of monocles upon his nose to help his dwindling eyesight.

Her Excellency the Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary of Her Serene Majesty the Empress Saverana II, the Baroness Ishtajhari idhl Ghast, moved to sit in the specified order, eyes of dark purple contrasted to very light, almost neon blue hair which hung down considerably below her waist, though it was neatly braided; she was close to six foot eight inches by human measurement, and immensely lean, her long face pensive; her garb, suitably modest for a meeting with the President, flaring black pantaloons and black blouse with a neutral green sash across it and only a choker with a milky opal set in it for jewelry, wearing boots, though, lined in fur, as was common enough for Talorans regardless of circumstance.

Viscount Nicholas Edward Joseph Taafe, Baron of Ballymote and Ambassador from the Court of Saint Stephen, attended in full court dress; a single breasted, gold-leaf embroidered, royal blue blouse, with twill-cut matching pants, and red cravat around his neck filling in the vee shaped collar. He had brown hair that was starting to thin out, observant grey eyes hooded somewhat underneath his brow, and a lean, thin-looking face, but with a prominent nose marring the aristocratic nature of the features.

His Excellency Tainy Sovietnik Count Bogdan Grigorievich Golytsin, Ambassador Plenipotentiary and Extraordinary of His Imperial Majesty Vladimir IV, Emperor and Autocrat of All Slavs. He was 167 years old, 171 cm tall, weighing about 200 kilograms. He had lost the use of his legs, forcing him to drive around in a life-support chair for mobility. Count Golytsin had been a GRU agent for at least 100 years, then "retired" to diplomatic service about 30 years ago, quickly becoming one of the Foreign Ministry's most brilliant minds, explaining why he had been chosen to represent the Tsar in Washington, the capital of the most powerful extrauniversal government only now equalled by the Talorans and Habsburgs. He was clothed more humbly than any of the other Ambassadors, save for the Foreign Ministry pin he wore and his Order of St. Andrew commendation. His former occupation as a spy had given him an "interesting" reputation in Washington's social and diplomatic circles, making him the subject of rumors about what went on in the Slavian embassy, although of course, nothing had yet been proven.

Dale waited for them to be seated, though the two attendants with Count Golytsin refused seating. When they were done, he nodded to a maid to begin passing out coffee - something he considered they would appreciate given the brisk winter morning outside - before he began to speak. "Ambassadors, I am pleased you could all attend. The situation concerning Gilead is becoming of great concern to my government and those you represent. It is best if we settle it before it gets out of hand." Dale took a sip of coffee before resuming.
"Currently all of our governments have forces moving into Gilead. At first they were evacuation forces, but now, the Hispanic government has declared it's intention to forcefully intervene to end the conflict and it has been backed by the government of the Habsburg Emperor. In turn, correct me if I am wrong Mister Ambassador.." - Dale looked directly to Count Golytsin - "..the Slavic Empire has also declared it's intention to intervene in the Gilean conflict. In turn, the British caretaker government under Lord Smythe-Jones has announced it will not tolerate attempts to seize control of the Gilean junction. Now, here we are ladies and gentlemen, not a quarter of a Human year past one of the greatest interstellar wars in the history of Universe CON-5, and we find ourselves on the verge of another. Another interstellar war, even brief, would do untold harm to trade and economies throughout CON-5 - and perhaps the Multiverse as a whole. We must prevent this from happening, and that is why we are here. Any suggestions for the moment?"

It was Ambassador Padilla who spoke first. With only a hint of a Spanish accent, she said, "Mister President, the Hispanic Empire appreciates the concern of the Allied Nations and we welcome your desire to ensure the continuance of peace. And I can assure you that the Hispanic Empire will treat Alliance citizens with the utmost respect. But we do insist that the British stand aside. You see, Mister President, the British Empire has clearly abrogated it's claimed protectorate over the Gilean Confederacy by refusing to restore order there. It prefers to sit and watch while atrocities and offenses happen. The Hispanic Empire has a legal and moral duty to step in, to punish transgressions against Hispanic citizens, to ensure Hispanic interests are kept, and to restore order in our region of space."

Dale nodded. As expected, it was Shropshire who replied. "Pardon me, Your Ladyship, but I think you forgot to mention that the Hispanic Empire would also love to secure a hold on the Gilean hyperspace junction. With it, you could gain a foothold in the former space of Plymouth's empire and gain an outlet for further expansion, not to mention squeezing off most of the independent routes to the Republics of New California and the Platte, undoubtedly helping to restore those states to your Empire."
Padilla merely smiled serenely. "That is probably true, but the fact, Mister Ambassador, is that we would be doing this junction or not. Hispanic citizens have been harmed and enslaved. There were Hispanic nuns at Our Lady of Fatima who have been taken by a local warlord and used to desecrate the mission they were serving in. There are Hispanic citizens who have been seized while on peaceful business by the barbarians that cover Gilead in darkness. Hispanic citizens have had their businesses and property attacked. We have more than a right to intervene. It is a duty. The same duty your government ignored!"
"The British Government obeys it's treaties, Your Ladyship," Shropshire retorted. "We have done what we can, within the bounds of the law, to prevent this."

Dale held a hand up at this point, seeing Count Golytsin's intend to speak. And he did so. "The Pan-Slavic Empire knows better than most the terrible price of war, and we share Mr. President's desire for peace. However, we also understand the concept of responsibility, and there, we find the behavior of the British Empire lacking. The British government stresses to maintain Gilead's status as a protectorate of the British Star Empire, yet they refuse to maintain any semblance of order. The situation on Gilead has been known for decades, yet the British have allowed it to continue, until it gave rise to the current crisis.That crisis is taking place only because the British have allowed to, and now they are not only refusing to take steps to resolve it, they are actively forbidding other powers from taking any action! It is because the Slavian government loves peace that we are proposing to send an intervention force to Gilead, to save both our citizens besieged in Kalunda, and the people of Gilead from the horrors of war. The reports of the atrocities committed are bloodcurling, and if the British Star Empire still refuses to take any action to protect the people, then it has failed in its duties as protector of Gilead. By insisting on forbidding any foreign action to resolve the crisis, they have allowed common greed to triumph over decency. The Pan-Slavic Empire is appalled by the behavior of what was once a shining example for all interstellar nations to follow. By refusing to intervene, the British Empire in effect, is encouraging more atrocities, and," he turned his head to face the British ambassador, the movement almost lost in the movement of skin in his quadruple chin, "under the circumstances, the Slavian Empire does not believe that the Star Kingdom's claim of protectorate over Gilead is any more worthy of international recognition than the Norman's desire to protect their traditional culture from foreign influence, or Berglund's attempts to enlarge his territory at the expense of his neighbors. So, we agree with the sentiments expressed by the Hispanic ambassador, and we insist that this crisis requires a swift resolution, one that only armed humanitarian intervention can bring."

"The Holy Roman Empire concurs with the Hispanic and Slavian assertions. An assertion of protectorship must be matched with the reality of protection. By allowing Gilead to fall into civil war, and by failing to exercise its protectorate authority to defend the subjects of other nations, the British protectorate is a dead letter. It has no force in international law, and as such cannot be an obstacle to other states who wish to assert their own rights in the territory formerly known as Gilead. The safety of all foreigners in Gilead, and a great deal of the native population, rests entirely on such action."

The Taloran ambassador, hands folded politely on the table, listened to the prior statements impassively before she began, also, to speak with words directed for President Dale. "Your Excellency, Her Serene Majesty's Government maintains the position that we have no specific interests viz. Gilead save the maintenance of free trade throughout the Confederacy. That said, our interests clearly hold to the protection of Her Serene Majesty's subjects; our forces approaching Gilead are under instructions to secure the safety of all Taloran subjects in the Confederacy, via the method of evacuation, and then withdraw immediately. That said, we also intend to secure the lives of those subjects most vigorously--Her Serene Majesty takes her responsibilities to her subjects very seriously, and we are not going to back down from using force in support of the evacuation operations."

Dale nodded solemnly at that. "My government's position is much the same as your's, Madame Ambassador, and I had originally called this meeting for the purpose of ensuring our evacuations did not interfere with one another's." Looking over the assembled ambassadors, who had now all spoken their positions, Dale continued. "Ambassadors, what is of paramount concern now is that we all have military forces in or approaching Gilead's territory, and those powers that have declared intention to intervene have in turn been rebuked by the British government, with an accompanying deployment of the British fleet toward Gilead. We are fast approaching a moment where the slightest spark will ignite another war, and even those nations that have not yet involved themselves in this situation may yet be drawn into it. Ambassador Shropshire..." Dale leveled his gaze at the British Ambassador. "The Allied Nations and the British Empire have been allies in peace and war. We have ignored differences of interest in the name of fostering a policy of peace and free trade throughout CON-5 and into other universes. And I have always been a staunch proponent of the continuing good relations between our governments. But I must admit, His Majesty's Government has made a mess of things here. Gilead was under British responsibility, and you have so far done nothing save for evacuations. As much as their motives may be considered suspect, I'm not sure I can legitimately disagree with the assertions of the Hispanic and Slavian Ambassadors. Can you give us anything about this situation?"

"I am not in a position to know what His Majesty's Government is planning for the situation itself," Shropshire admitted. "But we will not permit external interference in Gilead. It is a British protectorate and we have an obligation to honor our treaties. Otherwise our Government would be no better than a rogue state like that of the late Bishop Leewood."

"The greed of perfidious Albion is legendary already, Lord Shropshire, you need not remind us," Padilla responded angrily. "Your government has failed everyone. It has failed the good peoples of Gilead, it has failed the neighbors of Gilead, it has failed it's allies, and it has even failed it's own people. There does appear to be truth in the sentiment that the Allied Nations won the war against Leewood." An amused smirk came to the woman's face. "If this is the first sampling of what government the British Empire will enjoy in the coming years, then I can only say 'God help the British'."

Now the Baroness idhl Ghast spoke up once more. "Her Serene Majesty's Government notes that the British position does not change the situation on the ground now. We will not hold back and allow Her Serene Majesty's subjects to perish simply because the British government can do no more when we can. We are going to recover all of them that we possibly can, by whatever means are necessary, and then retire from the Confederacy--but not a moment before. Obviously our position entails fully supporting the efforts of all other nations to also recover their foreign nationals, though, again, our interest in the matter does not pertain to the settlement in Gilead beyond the recovery of our nationals, save that we expect the current conditions of free trade to be maintained."

"Your Ladyship, His Majesty's Government has no qualms with Her Serene Majesty's desire to see your citizens safely out of Gilead. We support your actions in that case as we do the Catalinians and the Allied Nations." Shropshire leveled a sharp gaze. "It is the clear, naked aggression of Gilead's neighbors that His Majesty's Government opposes. They seek to use this situation to expand their own empires. Myself, I cannot help but wonder if some of the chaos is being fueled by their own covert agencies to keep the military government of General de la Hoya from restoring order."

Dale spoke up before Padilla or Golytsin could, remarking, "Mister Ambassador, I will not tolerate disruptive accusations by any party, including you." He gave short glares to the other ambassadors in question - particularly Padilla - to emphasize his seriousness.

Golytsin spoke next. "The treaty which the government of Britain has concluded with the Gilean Confederacy specifically calls for protecting the safety of foreign nationals, something that you are refusing to guarantee. In effect, by refusing to take any action to restore order, both you, and the government of Gilead have already violated that treaty which you seem to hold in such high regard." Count Golytsin then rumbled, "The implication that the Slavian Empire is using covert operatives to destabilize Gilead or that it has imperial ambitions towards it is preposterous. Granted, we have a vital interest in ensuring that the Gilead JUnction remains open to our shipping, but that can be assured only when there is peace in and stability in the region. If any government harbors imperial ambitions towards Gilead, it is Britain, which insists on clinging to a treaty which is, as far as the rest of us is concerned, null and void"

"It remains the Imperial position," Viscount Taafe began, "that Britain has no moral or legal right to dictate the manner in which other nations respond to this crisis. Gilead has become a terra nullis, where the safety of all foreign citizens and the lives of the native population are not secure. Considering the nature of the heinous assaults on foreign citizens, no responsible power could stand by idlly while this anarchy continues. His Imperial and Royal Majesty believes that the Hispanic Empire is best placed to accomplish the necessary intervention. And that it is the best placed to insure that a government consistent with moral order and the stability of the region is established afterward. To that end, my government has pledged all necessary support to the Hispanic intervention effort, and will not revoke that pledge now."

"The Slavian Empire agrees with the Habsburg's backing of the Hispanic Empire, and applauds the willingness of both these nations to do what is right. However, armed intervention on an interstellar scale would be a great investment of men and resources and we believe that the Hispanic Empire should not shoulder the burden alone. There, are, for example, no Hispanic diplomatic missions to Kalunda, so we dare not ask the brave men and women of the armed forces of the Hispanic Empire to sacrifice their lives fighting through hundreds of thousands neo-barbarians to relieve our citizens, when our own armed forces are able and willing to do that ourselves we believe that the responsibility for saving the foreign nationals on Gilead should not lie on one nation, but on a joint effort by those nations that are willing to do the right thing. Moreover, while I do not intend to imply that we suspect the Hispanic empire of acting from ulterior motives, a unilateral intervention would shift the balance of power in the region, and since the tensions over this issue are already running high, a multi-national peacekeeping effort would prevent those tensions of escalating further."

Ambassador Padilla showed a non-commital smile. "Well, Lord Golytsin, we are open to further negotiations with the Tsar on the matter of the intervention, but I think you must agree we should not delay for them."

"We are of course open to negotiations between any nations that are willing to take part in this intervention." The Slavian ambassador made something that could be interpreted as a nod. "The stability of Gilead is important to us, and we are pleased that others share our desire to do what should have been done long ago."

There was a slow nod from Dale at that. He looked to Ambassador Shropshire. "Mister Ambassador, do you have anything else to add?"

"Nothing that hasn't already been said, Mister President. I have no authorization to say anything more."

Dale hid a smirk at that, knowing that Shropshire was seeing the corner he was in, and spoke once more. "I see. Well, Mister Ambassador, you need to go to your government and get further authorization. The situation demands it." Dale calmly folded his hands on the table. "As you and your government well know, the Allied Nations has a consulate in the city of Kalunda and citizens trapped in that besieged city. Only by active intervention can the siege effectively be lifted, especially if the primitivist besiegers have anti-air weapons." He glowered, and firmly barked, "I want the British government to either handle this situation by itself or allow others to do it."
Dale turned his attention now to the other ambassadors. "That said, neither will the Allied Nations tolerate an attempt by any external power to forcefully annex the worlds that made up the Gilean Confederacy. I understand and respect that those here have varying interests in the Confederacy's worlds, but I am not in the business of tolerating militant expansionism, and such an act would undoubtedly destablize the entire region - perhaps the entirety of known space in CON-5."
"As such, I want us to reach an agreement upon joint intervention, with the question of what is to be done with Gilead held off until after the Civil War has been dealt with." Dale stood up. "By working together, we would not only avert the threat of war, we would also guarantee that the interests of all governments concerned by respected and honored. I would like for each of you to convey my position to your governments, and for us to meet here again when the responses are in, hopefully by Tuesday or Wednesday of this coming week. Thank you for coming, Ambassadors, please have a pleasant day."
”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 » 2006-05-04 03:57am

Nearing Durgensburg, Gilead

Day FIFTEEN



After crossing the wooded hills north from the Latzen farm, Fayza, Marzi, and the Latzen siblings were coming near Durgensburg. The town was the center of an Amish community of about twenty smaller villages and three subsidary towns, all connected by dirt roads to Highway G-11 that ran from Durgensburg to Kelvintowne and Berglund.
Past the rolling wooded hills were more hills, these covered in the grains and livestock fields of the Amish Durgensburgers. The village of Clement was just at the foot of the hills, a small community center with a church, a village post office/council hall/community center, and a handful of shops that provided some basic manufactured goods to the local farmers. The Amish used their well-known horse-drawn buggies to travel in their community, Frank Latzen had explained to them, and they were active participants in the Underground Railroad. They would certainly help.

Frank was carrying the automatic rifle from his father's attic, and two sidearms in his belt. Fayza had her own sidearms, as did Diana - only Marzi among them didn't know how to shoot, and Fayza was certain that at best she was a slightly better shot than Diana. It seemed that the Kelvintowner Wiccans were, if anything, well-armed and well-trained in using their arms. Carrying the camping equipment with them, they were well loaded down, and Fayza was weary as they neared the village, hoping that they would find a respite.
It was not to be.
From the hills they could see there was a tumult in the village of some kind, a gathering, and there were wheeled vehicles there. Fayza motioned for Diana and Marzi to stay in the woods while she and Frank made their way down the hillline. Fortunately the woods didn't quite break until they were already to the first buildings, so they stayed out of the line of sight until they were already close to the village center.
Slipping under a buggy left at the side of a repair shop, Fayza and Frank had a straight view of what was happening. The villagers, several dozen, had been gathered around a group of soldiers that bore the markings of Berglund's mercenaries. One by one they were seperated, the adult women from the rest. A man barked an order at them that was unintelligible from the distance, but Fay felt her heart pound and stomach twist as she realized what was happening.
At first the women did nothing, but then the lead mercenary pulled out a knife and viciously grabbed the closest girl to him, a brunette who was almost a teenager by the looks of her age. At first Fayza thought he'd stabbed her, but no blood showed when pulled the knife down and cut open her modest black clothing. He cut loose every piece of clothing she had and ordered two of his men to seize her when she tried to cover herself with her arms. She weeped and screamed, a middle-aged woman grabbing at her and being knocked back as she was dragged to the vehicle. Movement from the men came as well, but was stopped by a well-placed smack of a rifle butt.
Forced up into the back of one of the trucks, the girl's arms were raised and her wrists were locked together into cuffs hanging from an upper structure where normally canvas would have been hanged. One man knelt over and presumably locked her ankles into something similar. "Son of a bitch..." Fayza whispered in horror to Frank.
It didn't end here, for now one of the men drew out an electric prod. He viciously poked the brunette in the ribs with it, smacking her on the hips and on the back a few times before stopping, the girl's wailing echoing across the village as he worked her over.
The example of the girl before them, the other women were more compliant and undressed. And here began a vicious culling, as the men looked through and selected the prettiest, most attractive women. Some looked a bit old though they kept an attractive figure, some were younger, and a few looked Diana's age if not a bit younger. The men looked desperate to, to act, and for a moment Fayza thought they would, but the mercenary commander spoke again, this time over a megaphone. "Any resistance will lead in the summary execution of every man of adult age," he declared, "and the enslavement of all women and children, by order of His Majesty King Illian!"
"That son of a bitch has declared himself a King?" Fayza burned to do something, but she knew that they stood no chance against what looked to be at least two platoons of heavily-armed mercenaries. As it was, they were probably lucky the mercs had already searched the village and weren't looking for anyone else.
"His Majesty the King has declared that every year a tribute must be paid by all subject communities of Berglund," the mercenary continued. "The tribute will be levied in currency or precious metals, goods, food, and the best examples of womanhood to be given as gifts to His Majesty and his Court. No religious distinctions are to be made. As such, given your announced population, a proportional levy has been made, and six of your finest women will be taken. We will return in one year. Any attempt at rebellion against His Majesty will be punished with the burning of your village, the execution of your men, and the enslavement of the women and children."
At that point the process continued. Out of the greater group of attractive women, five more were chosen to go with the first girl, who was weeping from wheare she was forced to stand in the back of the truck. In a couple cases children darted out to try and go for a particular woman, who looked to be about thirty with curled auburn hair, but the soldiers threw the children back as others leveled their guns menacingly at the townsfolk. One by one the five other chosen women from Clement were brought onto the truck and locked into place as the girl, wrists suspended above the head in cuffs and ankles latched to the floor of the truck's back. Engines fired up, soldiers jumped into other vehicles - including the slave carrier - and slowly the convoy rumbled out of the village.

As the other women scrambled to reclaim their clothes, loved ones of the six taken cried openly and sought comfort amongst the others. At this point Fayza looked to Frank and said, "Go get the other girls, but don't head into the town yet. See how they treat me before coming in."
"What do you mean?"
"My face is everywhere, remember? They might decide to turn us over to Berglund to try and get the others back." She nudged Frank on the shoulder. "Go."
They slipped out from under the buggies, and while Frank returned to the hills Fayza walked out into open sight. Although some had dispursed to return to their homes, thankful they had not lost anything in the terrible raid, there were still many consoling those who had personally known the six who were taken. Eyes turned toward Fayza - and toward the guns in her belt - and a couple men scrambled for the town constable's officer for rifles. "Who are you!" a male voice called out.
"My name is Fayza al-Bakar," Fayza said. "I am from the Allied Nations and I escaped from Berglund's men after spending several weeks as a slave in his harem."
"She's one of the Saracens," a horrified voice proclaimed.
Smirking, and surprised she remembered that from an Earth History class of decades ago, Fayza replied, "No, actually, I'm not a Muslim and I don't worship Allah."
"No, but I know what you are." A strong man stepped out from the crowd, powerful and tall, with a graying beard and a grizzled face. "You're one of the women Berglund's hunting for. He says you killed one of his men in your escape."
"That was my compatriot who did that, actually. She's already been recaptured."
"So you are to blame for this," the men bellowed. "You have enraged Berglund and caused him to send his thugs everywhere to find you! You have brought this suffering to us!"
"Berglund's done enough of that already," Fayza shot back, immediately conscious that it might have been better to leave the village. There was no turning back now. "He's been kidnapping girls from local communities for years now, torturing and twisting them until they become his perfect slaves doe him ro play with until he gets bored with them and sells them to the highest bidder."
"Murdering heathen!" a shrill female voice cried out. "I say we give her to Berglund to get our daughters back!" There were a few grumbled agreements.

An older man stepped away from a middle-aged woman who finished redressing, getting between Fayza and the large man - and thus everyone else. A few who had been advancing toward her stopped as if they not dare step against the man. "Brother Jacob, calm yourself. This woman is not the guilty one here."
"They took your daughter and beat her Brother Uwe!"
"I know, but violence is not our way!"
"That was once true, but no longer. The Church Fathers have approved of defending ourselves because of the evil around us," Jacob pointed out in an angry tone. "This woman is an outsider and they hunt her. If it is said she was here, they may come back and kill us and take the women and children as they threatened. We must hand her over and try to get our daughters back!"
Fayza stepped forward and moved past Uwe. She stared down the larger man and raised her hands. "If you think for a moment that handing me over to Berglund will actually get those women back, I'll go willingly," she promised. "But don't kid yourself. Berglund has the heavily-armed mercenary army and you don't. He has no reason to give you favors, and as a tyrant he's not smart enough or skilled enough to think about wooing you. And even if he gave them back, he'll just come get them again in a year, and you're right back where you started. Now, all I need is some transportation for me and the people with me, and we'll be on our way."
The crowd seemed to accept Fayza's argument, but Jacob didn't back down. "And if we don't just let you go, but help you, what do you think Berglund will do to our village?"
Fayza shrugged. "Well...." She stepped back toward Uwe. "You're the town pastor, I guess? And that was your daughter that they beat?"
"Yes," the man answered in his Germanic accent.
"My condolences. If I can find a way to get your daughter back for you, I will. Now, I just need one thing from you."
Uwe looked at her, waiting for her to reply.
"Your forgiveness."
In a quick motion Fayza grabbe Uwe around the throat with her left arm and drew a sidearm with her right hand. She pressed it to Uwe's temple. "Okay, I want four packs, three crammed with food and one with flasks or bottles of water." She pulled Uwe back. "C'mon, let's go."


A few hours later, Fayza and the others were back in the hills. They had brought their "hostage" a short way out of town, until he told them it was a safe distance for them to go. After thanking Fayza for safeguarding their town, he left to go back, allowing them to further along.
"The Durgensburg Amish technically allow self-defense, but my Dad says they wouldn't fight anyway. It's not in them," Frank explained.
"So, where to?"
"Well... dammit, I don't know." Frank hung his shoulders in dejection. "These wooded hills go on almost to the ocean, where they've cleared them out for the resort town of Snyderville, but Berglund's probably seized that town too."
"He can't be everywhere at once," Fayza said. "Maybe if we can get there, we can get a ride out of his range. Or, at best, find somewhere to lay low until someone makes something out of this mess."
Frank shook his head. "The way politics are on Gilead, Fay, that could be a long time."


Berglund, Gilead


Miles from his personal estate, Illian was in the town square of the city his family had built, a resort city and now his capital. His people milled around and waited as the trucks pulled up, bearing the finest in women from the Wiccan communities around Berglund. By tonight the first shipments of Amish women would be coming in as well, and hopefully some from the secular "normal" cities south of Berglund along the coast, where there would be plenty of beautiful foreign women for Berglund's harem and those of his citizens.
The structures to which the women were cuffed were opened in a way so that the cuffs could be slid off, and from there they were brought to be auctioned. A specific block was being granted to the community as a gift from Illian. They would be kept drugged with "dehibs" - deinhibiters that made them easily aroused - and work on shifts with the other slaves, placed into restraint racks and tied to poles around the city park for men and other women to make sexual use of at their leisure. This was little different from normal, but now it wouldn't be the same submissives that always signed into the contracts for pleasure or money. This was a new fresh crop of women to please Berglunders.
Two more sets were set aside. One for Berglund's personal harem, as he always loved breaking in new women, and another to be auctioned here to other wealthy Berglunders or representatives from other Gilean communities not yet cut off from Berglund by the civil war.
Seated beside him was Oloparatho, who had been forced to flee to Berglund after the coup in Cranstonville. Oloparatho looked at him. "Why do you display the women on transport? Would it not be better to put them into secure compartments instead of leaving them exposed?"
"Oh, come on Oloparatho, it displays to all the shipments of fine female beauty I'm bringing in to be sold at a fair price for their exclusive use," Berglund laughed. "Women should be shown like that more often. Everyone should be able to see their beauty."
"I know most Humans would disagree very harshly with you. Are you not afraid of the foreign countries that might take offense at this?"
"The British will never allow intervention here," Berglund bragged. "They'll start an interstellar war before letting their precious empire get insulted."

"My people used to say the same about the Romulans. But in the end, the Romulan Senate did not but write resolutions when the Allied Nations came to take our spoils from us," Oloparatho rumbled. "Don't be so complacent to think the same won't happen here."
Berglund nodded at that. "Of course."
"What about that pet of your's? The one who escaped with the women I sold you and killed your man? I heard you recaptured her."
Frowning, Berglund's anger showed in his voice. "I've got her back in my dungeon."
"You should kill her. Publicly, as an example to the others. And kill anyone who helps to free a slave."
Berglund stroked at his chin. "A good idea, but I prefer not to kill if I can't help it. I might sell her to the Normans instead, assuming they don't wipe themselves out trying to take Kalunda."
Oloparatho shook his head. "You are taking this too lightly. You wish to be a King, you must act like one. Crush your foes and make all realize that to cross you is to bring ruin and death to them and their families. You should take that girl and the holy man of that mission and have them disemboweled in your public square. This would be done on Orion. We would give their souls as offerings to Rutvalar, for him to do with as he pleases in the afterlife." A sneer crossed his face. "The woman would be made useful before her death too, as any man present would be granted the right to have vengeance upon her for her crimes against the manhood of the community."
Berglund had learned just enough of Southern Orion ways to know that Oloparatho was talking about having Consuela a.k.a. Aurora publicly gang-raped and executed, but as depraved as he was, he wasn't that bad, and he let the comment pass with a nod, content to see his community enjoy the spoils that were to come as they became masters of the entire region.
”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 » 2006-05-04 08:58pm

Near Snyderville, Gilead

Day EIGHTEEN



The town's lights had been on the horizon since nightfall, which was a welcome sight to Fayza after two days of hiking through the wilderness. There were no rivers or streams in the area, a disappointment but an expected one, and through careful rationing they had made their dwindling water supplies last longer than they would have originally.
Marzi was finally acclimating to the constant walking, enabling them to move faster than they had before, and Diana and Frank both showed they had been raised for this level of exercise, if not for this particular length of it. Frank often outpaced Fayza as well, acting as a scout while never leaving eyesight of the others.
With it being well into the night the four stopped for their rest. Marzi and Diana went right to sleep, as they usually did, leaving Fayza and Frank to themselves.
Sitting upon the hard ground, Fayza stripped off her pants and shirt, revealing the undergarments she'd been wearing for the last five days. The night was a bit cooler than the last few, and it was a welcome change from the heat. Sitting a sidearm to the side, Fayza sat upright while Frank walked around their campsite and took out her personal flask of water and one of the small biscuits they'd gotten from the Amish. Eating and drinking a little to help her stomach and thirst, she put the rest away for now and watched Frank on his patrol. "Come on over here and sit down, we have good hearing anyway," she said to him.
Frank looked back at her. He smiled sheepishly and walked over. "Well, okay." Plopping himself on the ground cross-legged, he sighed. "I'm beat. I can't wait until we can get to some shelter."
"Neither can I." Fayza reached over and took him by the hand. "How are you holding up? About your parents?"
Frank stared at the ground for a moment. "I'm really worried about them," he admitted. "But I know they would want me to keep you and the others safe. Especially Diana."
"Especially," Fayza agreed. "So, what do you think we should do when we get to Snyderville?"
"I'm not sure." Frank sighed and rubbed at the back of his head. "I know some friends there. But there's no telling what Berglund's up to, and... At best I figure we'll be able to find somewhere to lay low until this blows over."
"If it ever does."
"I'm sure it will." Frank clenched his right fist and held it with his left hand. "Illian Berglund is a rich playboy pervert, but he's also an idiot. He's going to screw up."
"No telling how many lives he'll destroy in the process." Fayza curled her legs up. "It'd be great if we could find some way to fight back. If only Aurora hadn't been captured."
"Aurora?"
"The Hispanic woman who helped me and Marzi escape from Berglund's mansion," Fayza explained. "She was, well, she was some kind of agent. Downloaded a lot of files from Berglund's computer system and sent them to some random site."
"Sounds like Underground Railroad. Though they usually don't have any of their number get themselves enslaved."
"I got the feeling she was more than a devotee to the cause. I think she might have been some kind of foreign agent. Just the way she acted, the way she talked..."
"Doesn't matter. What matters is keeping Diana and Marzi safe."

Fayza nodded in agreement. She looked at Frank as he looked back to the two sleeping girls and smiled. "Falling for Marzi?"
"Oh? No." Frank shook his head. "Between you and me, I would prefer an older woman. One who's mature."
"Ah." Fayza chuckled. "Like me?" she asked, batting her eyes comically.
"Yeah, I guess so," Frank laughed. He looked at Fayza closely. "What would you say to that?"
Fayza laughed again, though this one hid a bit of nervousness. "Well, I'd be... flattered," she admitted. "A nice, young handsome man wanting me? It's a sure change from the normal."
"Oh?"
"Yes. It's what happens when your best girlfriend - and I say that platonically, despite what she might've wanted at times - openly admits to being bisexual and is far more attractive than you are," Fayza explained, referring to herself in the third person. "Dani could turn heads quick. She's got everything she needs. She's got confidence, a good body - God I wish I could get buns like that - and she's a bona fide sex maniac. Well, was one. She's claimed that she doesn't play the games she used to get into, but you can never tell sometimes..." Fayza chuckled harshly. "I suppose I got her to come here to Gilead because I wanted to see if she could find the old spark and let me join in on it. I've always been boring, you see. Well, compared to her."

"Let me guess, you got a one night stand at the hotel and your date abducted you?"
"Yup," Fayza said. "I honestly don't know what happened to Dani. I can only hope she got the Hell out of here. God, I wish I'd listened to her when she said we should vacation in New Daytona..."
"Yes, you probably should have," Frank said. "Of course, then we wouldn't have gotten to meet each other, and you wouldn't have been there to keep Berglund from hauling my sister off with my parents."
"Assuming his troops weren't looking for me and Marzi in the first place," Fayza commented ruefully.
"You saw what happened in that village. Diana's a beautiful girl, they would have taken her as tribute anyway." Frank reached a hand out. "I'm sure you've suffered a lot, but Fayza, I'm glad you're here, and I want to thank you for what you've done for us. Thanks to you, I actually have a shot at getting Diana out of this."
Fayza looked into Frank's eyes, saw the honesty of his words, and sighed softly. She moved over by him and smiled at him. "Thank you for being nice to me, Frank," she said softly. She felt a bit of a spark for the young man, one she could see reflected from his eyes, but they both knew it was not enough for anything more than a gentle embrace, the kind between two people caught up in the maelstrom of history and forced to exert everything they had to surviving it intact.
”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 » 2006-05-05 05:56pm

This post was written by Marina.

DAY 23/24
On the East Port-Kalunda RR



“Savages! Thousands of them!”

They rose out of the rolling grasslands from small depressions and from a creek bed running parallel to the track about a kilometer off, suddenly, silently, without warning. But it wasn't just thousands, it was tens of thousands. Before Colonel Arshon could react, the track ahead exploded in a tremendous eruption of flame and fire. Without waiting for permission the engineer of the General Faeria threw on the emergency and dynamic braking alike.

“Main guns to left—fire free!” Arshon snapped, as the tactical plots updated the situation as what seemed to be a dark wave covering the ground rose up to port in crest after crest, there had to be at least fourty thousand of them.. No, fifty thousand, or more!

The General Faeria was leading a considerably delayed relief expedition to Kalunda, which consisted of the armoured train in the head and six normal trains of passenger and freight rolling stock, each one carrying eight hundred troops, plus another five hundred on the General Faeria. A second, hastily improvised armoured train brought up the rear, and the engines of all the trains were equipped with ablative armour, and there were gun cars at the front and end.

“All train artillery, engagement to left, engagement to left... Eastern engagement, enemy forces estimated at.. Sixty-five thousand,” Arshon ordered into the radio line between the trains, which had been punched open for close ranges through the intense Norman jamming. The train was screeching to a final halt, and nearly to late—the lead flatcar derailed on the shattered track ahead. But the swift action of the engineers had prevented the loss of any other cars, and an electronic signal they promptly threw now that they'd felt the derailment automatically disengaged the couplings to the derailed car.

“Range is twelve hundred meters and decreasing rapidly,” the range counter called up from an observation coupla forward into the command centre on the General Faeria.

Arhson waited a moment as she decided on her strategy and decided this was as straightforward it came. She flicked on the transmitter on the general line again, checking the range update before beginning. “Range of the leading edge is eleven hundred fifty meters and closing rapidly. All artillery engage.”

The powerguns of the General Faeria roared out their deadly salvoes, superheated energetic matter tearing through the ground and demolishing dozens of men with single shots. The guns were not as effective as they could be, intended for armour-piercing work. The plasma guns fore and aft were also not as effective as they would have been against vehicles, but still the effect was very impressive.

There were sixteen 20cm regular chemical artillery cannon on the trains following, and their presence was quickly felt as they were swung in their shielded mounts toward the enemy and began to fire—with shrapnel shells. The trains were strung out over several kilometers, though the gaps were being slowly closed, yet the sheer scale of the attacking force guaranteed them all excellent targets.

“General range, eleven hundred yards.”

Back into the open comm line: “Commencing firing with all crew-served weapons, commence firing with all crewed served weapons..” Then specific to the General Faeria: “Activate all port machine-guns. Flamethrowers stand by.”

Now hundreds of men were being chopped down. Flatcars on the regular trains, sandbagged, had several machine-guns on them each, and their crews now rose up and manned them, chopping further into the ranks of the vast attack which was taking place, hordes coming on like they had no end in the world. Yet still they came on, braving what were already thousands of casualties..

“One klick!”

“Battalion commanders, man the firing loop-holes!” Arshon ordered tensely, just keeping control of the spiralling situation. “Faeria companies, to the roof-posts.”

In all of the cars, many holes had been knocked in the sides, bored out by drills or simply cut and hammered in the thin aluminium, clearing the way for guns to be fired out of them. That was happening now, men taking up those firing positions; and of course, more men went up to the sandbagged car roofs and assumed positions there, the later also true for the General Faeria.

Colonel Arshon waited until the range had closed to nine hundred meters. Then she gave the order. “Battalion commanders—nine hundred meters, aimed fire!--volley-fire by company!”

Six thousand five hundred rifles barked crisply, the men having used the best available optic sights that they were mounted with to carefully select their targets. “VOLLEY-FIRE!” The guns barked, and then, four seconds later: “FIRE!” Echoed over their helmet receivers.

Fifteen rounds a minute aimed fire.

The surging barbarians were covering one hundred and fifty meters a minute. They were now down to seven hundred and fifty meters and still coming on.. Endless waves, all going straight to the slaughter, and so far they hadn't suffered a casualty. Despite the numbers, this effort at halting their progress might, after all, end up failing.

Now, though, Colonel Arshon had the time to look at the troops which were attacking her. Troops was a false word for them; warriors was better. NONE of them seemed to be armed with any modern weapons at all, old chemical rifles at best, and one out of twenty with assault rifles at the absolute most, those being used with the worst skill of the Norman levies in Ar..

By that time they were within six hundred meters, and the firing was slightly delayed while them men reloaded with fresh clips. The devastating accuracy of the rifle fire of trained professionals aiming at their targets and firing in disciplined volleys had in combination with the artillery and machine-guns felled perhaps ten thousand of the warriors dead or wounded in two minutes.

At once the gunfire resumed, still in disciplined massed volleys, aimed at individual targets, which proved so horrific and accurate in the way they chopped through the ranks of savages. But Captain Arshon was becoming increasingly concerned... Only another minute had gone by, getting close to two, when her fears were realized.

“We've got something swinging around the bend ahead!” One of her crewers reported, focusing in a camera... “It's a train with a gun car ahead.”

“Forward plasma cannon, engage enemy target.”

The train rolling forward down the track slowly was ready to fire, and fired immediately. The shields were weak there but the first shot tore through the flatcars only, uselessly expending itself. The defensive personnel shifted shielding forward, it wasn't needed against the mob assault them, that was now clear, and opened up on full power against the uncoming train across the gap of the blasted track which had blocked their forward progress. The armour for its forward gun was not considerable, and it was punched through and demolished even after it got its second shot off, which was absorbed harmlessly by the shielding.

More shots from the plasma cannon rapidly demolished the enemy train, but by that time perhaps a thousand men, all very heavily armed with modern weapons, had dismounted it and were working their way forward along the rail line to close range, where the minimum number of the defending guns could fire against them.

They were not the only component of the force yet to be used, however. The charging savages, having taken such heavy casualties, were now within three hundred meters of the train, when rising up from concealment to the right were fourteen big main-battle-tanks, the last of the Norman heavy armoured force in full concentration, with fourty lesser armoured vehicles in support, and around them an additional seventy thousand infantry; but of these, nearly all of them were equipped with modern weapons.

“All infantry, automatic fire to the left and prepare to fire shift! All guns, fire with maximum rapidity.” Now an order to central defensive control: “Focus eighty percentage shields to right.”

The new threat was left untouched, save for the machine-guns which automatically opened fire, though at nineteen hundred meters the range was still rather considerable, for these men, in rushing out of their prepared concealments, were taking cover, advancing and covering in turn, and firing a mass of anti-tank rockets and rocket propelled grenades. Ablative armour and welded steel absorbed some, even on the regular trains, and bursting mines of explosive reactive armour had been placed, but some got through and tore into the cars. Casualties by the dozens were quickly reported.

Also, the vastness of the forces involved meant that there were more than enough troops available to outflank and encircle whole of the train convoy, which would place the seven thousand troops altogether, counting gunners, up against impossible odds of nearly twenty to one. The Mashtrovika of the Normans had been excellent, lurring the trains into the absolutely most perfect ambush imaginable, and Colonel Arshon gave them real respect for that accomplishment. This foe was hideous and brutal, but they were also cunning, and skilled enough in the fundaments of war which did not change with technology, one of which was concealment—impossible, of course, for the trains, which were now under severe fire.

Yet the attack on the left flank had reached its high-water mark. The most advanced forward and courageous of the men carried on against the massed rapid-fire of all of the defenders' assault rifles on full-automatic, along with the machine-guns and the artillery and the gatlings, until they were two hundred meters off from their goal. The sustained fire was by that point to intense, the fusillade to monstrous for men charging forward without cover. The attack was broken, with a suddenness that was startling. One moment the enemy was there, and the next, they were all running. But the slaughter of the defeated would be impossible to achieve. The real Norman army was still rather more than eighteen hundred meters off, but tank rounds were punching through the shields of the General Faeria already and impacting with the armour, which for the moment, held. Even as the tribal militias of the surrounding areas fled, leaving perhaps twenty thousand killed and wounded on the field, the main attack was developing with ferocious speed.

Damn this lack of intelligence! We don't even have a single fucking aircraft to prevent ridiculous ambushes like this, let alone satellites! Arshon avoided saying the words out loud, but that was it. The deficiencies of the cobbled together forces here, and of her own fighting experience, could never be more obvious. She had still been behaving like an omniscent eye in the sky was providing support, when it wasn't, and now there was no choice.

“All heavy guns shift fire to the right and engage enemy armour. All heavy guns shift fire to the right and engage enemy armour.” She brought up the intercom to the rear engines of the General Faeria. “You have control now. Prepare for rearguard action.. Disconnect the forward flats, they're all shot up.” Now for the next order... “Shift two out of every three infantry companies to the right and engage with the utmost rapidity at once. I want suppressing fire.”

The immediate situation was therefore dealt with, the diversionary attack having been handily broken but the main attack was coming on hard, and they were taking punishing hits to the trains. Colonel Arshon knew that if they were surrounded and the troop transport trains knocked out it might be impossible to break out; they would, quite simply, have to retreat now.

She keyed up the Corporal Madsen, the second lighter armoured train. “This is Colonel Arshon. Begin immediate movement rearward at ten kilometers per hour, repeat, ten kilometers per hour only. Make sure the track stays clear, whatever the cost.”

A moment later: “All trains, all trains, this is Colonel Arshon. Begin rearward movement at ten kilometers per hour sequentially.”

Commented to her command staff: “We're holding position as a rearguard for a while yet.” And just then, as if to reinforce that the decision might be unsound, the whole car shuttered with a hit from one of the heavy tank guns firing at them which nearly penetrated the armour plate.

As the trains began to roll back, the retreating tribesmen saw it as the enemy fleeing and took heart and began to rally. But for the moment they were still out of the fight, and the fighting was concentrated to the right of the advance, where the guns of the General Faeria and the gun cars were dueling aggressively with the Norman tanks, of which two of the MBTs and six lighter tanks were already knocked out and burning. But there were fires on many of the troop trains as well as they rolled slowly away in what was now a running battle, as the Normans angled east to try and cut off the slow moving trains and the trains cleared out of the field, save the General Faeria, standing her ground and blasting away with every gun which could bear.

“Okay. Let's roll! Twenty kilometers an hour,” Colonel Arshon finally ordered, with another shattered Norman MBT left hulked behind them, even as the first penetrating hit from the closing forces tore through one of the gun cars of the General Faeria, killing fifteen men and disabling one of her mounts. Bleeding smoke the train began to roll slowly backwards, leaving a string of blasted flatcars behind, all of her shields to the right now as they absorbed the punishing fire of virtually all the Norman force.

“Rail convoy, general orders, increase speed to twenty-five kilometers an hour,” she ordered next, giving the General Faeria a head start to twenty kilometers an hour to re-close the gap. The order was quickly increased: “Bring us up to twenty-five kilometers an hour also.”

As they accelerated together now, the General Faeria was clearly going to come the closest to the most advanced Norman forces who were trying to outflank the trains but were definitely going to fail. Colonel Arshon felt a rush of bloodlust at the scene, at all of the impossible and incredible odds under whence they had fought. “Every hand to the right flank! Give them hell, maximum rapidity! Fire everything we've got into the cheeky bastards as we pass!”

The advance Norman units were trying to destroy the General Faeria enpassant, but they didn't have the weight of fire to do more than score a few more penetrating hits, even as the guns of the armoured train swept their formations off the face of the earth, some of them coming close enough for the hideous flamethrowers to engage, burning whole formations alive, their munitions detonating as secondary explosions.

Other than desultory fire as the range was increased, it was all over, leaving the smoking burnt-out remains of four more MBTs in total, fifteen other armoured vehicles, and thirty thousand Norman and allied killed and wounded. The armoured train force had successfully retreated with the loss of less than two hundred and fifty and about as many wounded.

For the day.

It was worse than the road to Kalunda being blocked, it became apparent as Colonel Arshon studied the developing situation on the morning of the 24th day of the siege of Kalunda. Little did she know a vast attack was being executed against the city that morning. She just knew that the troops which had halted the relief effort were now pursuing in countless thousands of technicals and other hobbled together vehicles, and that there was no way they could stand and fight them. They'd have to fall back on the guns of the force in East Port.

Not only had their effort failed, but East Port might itself be besieged in the worst case. It was not good news, all the more so with the promise of relief distant at best. But they would fight on. Try to defeat the Normans in the field, try to counterattack.. And hope that somehow, they could relieve Kalunda from the savage hordes surrounding it, and the strange figure of the Princess Jhayka, who had held her ground for a cause not her own, to the death, it seemed now. Colonel Arshon, mercenary or not, was finding herself drawn byy forces beyond her control into a similar position, and they left her with an admiration unbounded for the woman who had put herself into the heart of the fire of her own volition.
”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 » 2006-05-20 01:02pm

DAY TWENTY-THREE


Jhayka was tired. She was tired of the siege and of the fighting. They had been at it for more than three weeks now, without respite. The artillery thundered down on their heads day and night, not a great barrage but a constant one. More and more of the city was being damaged by the Norman guns. Yet this was siege warfare; she would outlast it. It was what she had been meant to do since she had been sworn into her regiment so long ago. If they cannot overrun us, they will smash the city. But the people will survive, and that is what counts.

If anything she should have been more hopeful. Norman attrition had reached prodiguous levels, and that of their allies was not doing much better. They might simply burn themselves out before they could possibly overrun even part of the city, let alone all of it. Yet that didn't mean they wouldn't try, or that there weren't other potential dangers which would have to be faced as they tried to maintain the survival of Kalunda.

She pushed herself up abruptly from her seat in the command centre, an unpleasant seat, not meant for someone of her great height. “I'm going up topside,” she declared, and nobody tried to protest, not now, anyway. They knew better than to try and stop her, and only Julio's chiding had kept her from continuing to live in the still-untargeted palace districts on the surface.

One of her Crimson Guards, literally guarding her, rose, though. “I shall accompany you, Your Highness,” the girl, her name was Trebina, was short and lithe and dwarfed like a child next to the Taloran, with whom she had a gentle and easy affection despite the Marshal's cold aloofness. She was also one of the girls who had a bit to much of a crush on Jhayka; not even the rumours of her relationship with Danielle largely being confirmed had stopped that, as Jhayka had found out to her embarassed consternation. The Kalundans still thought nothing ill of their polyamorous and bisexual ways.

“Very well.” Jhayka had also learned to not bother trying to dismiss them. And Trebina, marking something in her favour, was an excellent if reckless driver of motorcycles and cars, as Jhayka had found out the hard way, by riding with her down the communications roads.

Now the girl at least held a companionable silence, though she was eyeing the tall and anorexically thin Taloran from time to time. Perhaps they find my hair exotic, or they are, simply, as so many, attracted to power. Jhayka had dealt with those kinds before, even loved more than a few, and found those relationships hollow. Though she was still charmed by commoners. So she had started to look for one not easily besotten simply by her power... And that led to wounds which were still fresh.

And also to Danielle, she mused as she ascended the steps slowly, so as to allow Trebina to keep up with her. The girl thought it was a brisk pace, but she was more than a foot shorter than Jhayka was.

Soon enough they reached the palace precincts, and then pressed upwards through the abandoned palace, fine ornaments left for the conqueror, or the destroyer's artillery, or perhaps to be taken up again when the enemy was beaten back. It scarcely mattered, save some regret at the finer works being in such danger. They reached the roof soon enough, and here the thud of guns firing and the whine of artillery could be heard...

..And in the distance, more artillery, at least to Jhayka's ears, which focused on it at once and excluded the other sounds. “They're fighting a battle with someone else, many kilometers off,” Jhayka observed, to no-one in particular. They didn't have the sensors to confirm it, so she would have to rely on her ears alone and trust that they indeed told her what was correct. Perhaps, just perhaps, we are soon to be relieved.

The enemy lines looked thinner today, if that was possible, as if tens of thousands of troops had been stripped off of them, visible even from this reasonable low point with a handheld binocular set. That might also indicate a breakthrough attempt, in fact, it did, very strongly so.

Perhaps Dani and I shall soon be dealing with more mundane things.. Yet even as she thought this, Jhayka's comm unit trilled. She settled down her binoculars, and activated it.

“This is the Marshal. Go ahead.”

“Your Highness, we're detecting a large force approaching from the south... A very large force, the composition still isn't known.”

Grimly, Jhayka sat the comm aside and brought her binoculars up, stepping to the side, and straining with them on full magnification. A dark mass was just visible, mostly obscured by the hills. A dark mass of innumerable strength, boiling forward.. An army on the advance. A huge one, which could belong to only one state, one state not already in the conflict, the distant and numerically powerful and vast resources of the Stirlins, and with them all the minor tribes of the distant states. They had finally arrived to reinforce the alliance on the siege lines. The force before Kalunda would be increased, considering casualties, by half again. There would be no quick relief.

Numbly, Jhayka let the binoculars fall. Tomorrow, Dani, Love, we shall have a hard fight.


Amazonian Camps


The Magistrice presided over an unhappy bunch of the tribal lawmakers of the Amazonian confederacy. Chiliarch Leeasa Avrila had spoken eloquently to them and had stood her ground at the Magistrice's supporters, reminding them all of the fatal toll of the poison gas attacks and the hideous injuries; she showed the evidence of her own having been gassed, and mentioned how the medicine of the alien woman could save them, and heal those who appeared crippled, just as they had those of Leeasa's party.

Now the Amazons were listening to her, and that was not a good thing at all. Or perhaps it was. The Magistrice's own lover wanted no more part of the hideous slaughter. Nobody seemed to. It was going on and on, for weeks without end, unlike traditional battles which were decisive in a matter of hours or else stalemates which were broken off with sunset. This battle raged day in and day out, night after night, day after day, through all the periods of the Dianic rituals when the Amazons would normally cease to fight unless attacked, straight on out to the end of the month and then beyond. It simply wouldn't stop, the Kalundans simply wouldn't break.

The word for it that the Normans had been banding about was ugly in the extreme, even as their own leadership seemed locked into the concept. Attrition. It was an ugly word, indeed, and seemed to have nothing of victory in it. Why were they wasting their lives to attrite the Kalundans down into nothing? Wouldn't they also be reduced to nothing by such a fight?

Perhaps.

And it was that perhaps which was now swaying the Amazon leadership, the fighting clan leaders, to turn against the policy of the Norman alliance, to repudiate it and break the siege and return to their own cities and prepare there to fight the government, and leave the Normans to whatever they sought. They were tempted, to, by the offer of the Princess Jhayka to resettle them, though nobody trusted it enough to accept it outright without more discussions; they would simply withdraw from the siege, and then conduct those, before agreeing to terms outright. If they were unreasonable in fact, after all, that still left them a guerrilla war to carry on against the government without a chance of being disarmed or otherwise confined. It was sufficiently sensible that even Leeasa had agreed to it, bringing forth the present vote.

“I now ask the Magistrice to take a vote,” Leeasa formally required with a resounding silence over the assembled as a show of hands indicated the seconding of the request, forcing the Magistrice to take it.

“Very well,” she answered with a sigh. “Let a vote be taken on the issue of our withdrawal back to our own territory, or the maintainence of our siege lines with our allies. Ayes in favour of withdraw, Nays, to hold to our treaty.”

The vote came out seventy percent in favour of withdraw. That settled it; no veto, no delay. The Magistrice, committed to her course, silently prayed to Diana for a miracle.

In a cruel twist of fate, she got one.

A Norman herald arrived with a cruel smirk upon his face. He asked to see the Magistrice, and reluctantly, her lover let him in, because she was not so dishonest as even when she thought it wrong for the state to deny her beloved access to the information which might reassure her course of action.

“Magistrice,” he saluted, fist to chest and upward. “I bear good tidings. The Stirlin Army has arrived with their tributaries and the other minor states of the distant lands. With them come all additional available materials that we have been able to requisition for the creation of protective gear for our soldiers against the poison attacks of our alien enemy and her Kalundan masters,” the last part an intentional slight against Jhayka intended, cannily, to remind the Amazonian leader that the woman Marshal obeyed a man.

“We are now ready to crush them decisively, once and for all.”

The Magistrice took the news and returned to the floor, where a shouting match between her die-hard supporters and Leeasa's supporters was ongoing. “Silence! Silence! I bring tidings by which the vote might be reversed!!”

“Hah, but what are these which could change the minds of seven-tenths of our people?” Leeasa countered, now flush with power and being rather disrespectful of the Magistrice, which none of the other chieftanesses appreciated, though her point was valid regardless of that and could not be ignored; yet, at the same time, it made everyone curious as to what in fact the Magistrice intended to reveal.

“The Stirlin Army has arrived, with the full strength of their tributaries and the various states of the distant lands! Our strength is increased half again, while the Kalundans grow weaker with starvation and bloodshed. Now, we may attack in strength and boldness and carry the day.”

“But what are numbers against poison gas?” Leeasa countered. This new development was very worrying, but hardly one which could not be countered. After all, the poison gas of the Kalundans was something that ignored numbers, as she herself well knew. It was not soemthing that she wished to face again, and she thought that the same for every one of the Amazons present.

“Materials are being manufactured and procured as we speak, into the form of clothing which can protect us. We will receive alotments for the troops most at risk. The Kalundans at any rate have little gas left; only the stockpiles they brought in by the efforts of the traitorous railroad company were their's to begin with,” the Magistrice continued, driving home the point. “If we leave, we will only bring the Normans and Stirlins upon our heads. Let us finish this city now, and then on to East Port, victorious with our allies!”

There was a howl of approval.

Leeasa moved to counter it once more. “Let us think sensibly. How much equipment have we received from the Normans? Why do you think we shall get enough of this as is needed to protect us, or that enough exists to protect us, let alone all of those in the whole of the siege lines? And how do we know that in their factories the Kalundans are not producing still more of their poisons!? We are being deceived!”

“And you are being insolent, Chiliarch,” the Magistrice snapped, and the Amazons, reverent of authority, agreed. The noises turned ominous and the Magistrice seized on them. “Their factories are outside the city walls. We shall seize them before they can manufacture a sufficient quantity of their poisons. Let us strike hard and fast to do this. Vote, vote now, I saw, vote to rescind your prior vote and hold to the alliance! Ayes for standing and fighting!”

The Ayes had it, scarcely 60% though. It was just enough to rescind another supermajority, just more than 60%. A fight at once broke out in words, and Leeasa led her supporters away from the meeting in an incredible demonstration of a split in Amazon thought:

“We and our clans shall not fight!” She shouted angrily, shaking her fist as she led out no less than thirty percent of the delegates to the shouts and spittle of the whole of the assembly.

The Norman herald watched smirking. It meant an end to Amazon power, this secession, even if they didn't recognize it yet, after all.

The Magistrice watched coldly as she forced herself to think calmly, to come up with a strategy, and to accept what had happened. She was certain it would be mostly undone by the 'morrow, and if not, well, she would deal with that if it came to that. But she did not think it would; they would not be so foolish, so insolent.

Of course, the Norman herald was being insolent, but that was to be expected. “We will see tomorrow how serious they are,” she said coldly, looking away from him. “I will launch an attack in support of you and the Stirlins, and force them forward,” she turned to the herald. “Make sure your Ubar knows that. I will show him that we are still a power.”

“We will see tomorrow, indeed, Magistrice,” the herald answered with scarcely disguised mirth. “I shall, of course, inform him at once.” He bowed formally and left the scene of the late chaos behind.

The next day another great attack would be launched against the city. That, at least, was certain-and inevitable.



Senxhou, Kingdom of the Zhai

DAY TWENTY-THREE



It had been only a few hours since the Fabian had landed in the open field not far outside of Senxhou, the capital of the Zhai, after a swift entry into the system that managed to evade what was left of Gilead's coherent navy. Sara's crew remained with it, preparing to offload it's cargo when the order came. They had made an overflight of Kalunda and come under fire from Norman anti-air weapons, but the ship's shields had held from what shots hit, and Sara was able to send a tight-beam message to Julio informing him of what she was planning.
Now alone with her grandson and Third Mate Lisa Spinozi, Sara had arrived in Senxhou and made her way to the Palace for an audience with King Xu Cai. As a concession to her hosts, Sara had brought the uniform of Zhai nobility that she was permitted to wear due to the orders of Sen Yu Ling. Poor William had not been ready to see his grandmother in a purple silk dress - not the royal violet purple but a full rich purple - and what amounted to a halter top that supported Sara's breasts but also bared them. Lisa, as a commoner, was dressed a bit more modestly, wearing a sleeveless mid-riff baring silken bodice garment and cotton pants, while William was shirtless and wore purple silken trousers the same color as Sara's clothes.
King Xu Cai was present, along with his uncle Dao Zi whom Sara remembered seeing as a child when she made her first trip to Senxhou, and dressed in the full regalia of the Zhai royalty. Xu Cai wore no shirt, with a golden headdress adorned with Taoist symbols on his head of dark hair and a flowing skirt-like garment of gold silk belted at his waist where he had a jeweled scabbard for his personal dagger. Dao Zi was dressed similarly, save that he wore riding pants and had a ceremonial helmet marking him as the commander of the Royal Horse Guard, the elite light cavalry that had forty years before followed Sen Yu Ling to glory and death at the Battle of East Henley.

Standing beside Xu Cai were his daughters. The older one and his heir was named Xiao Li, and Sara found herself breathless at the young woman's resemblence to her late grandmother Sen Yu Ling. She wore gold like her father and a headdress only slightly less elaborate, with makeup around her eyes, and like Sara she wore a silk skirt and a silken cupless halter top that bared her breasts.
Younger, but equally beautiful, was her sister Mei Li. Mei Li was dressed just like her sister save for having riding pants like her grand uncle Dao Zi and a golden riding helmet, showing her as training to be in the Horse Guard.
Sara saw that William's eyes were fixed on Mei Li, who was about his age, and the young Chinese girl looked back at him intently. While this exchange of looks happened, Sara took a step forward and lowered herself to her knees, making a proper gesture but not too submissive as she, too, was now high nobility. Lisa was made to prostrate fully, much to her consternation, and William bowed much like Sara had. "Your Majesty," Sara said, remembering that Xu Cai had only been a small child when she saw him last. "I am happy to see you have grown well and prospered."
Xu Cai nodded in reply. "My mother, Glorious is her name, thought highly of you, Sara Proctor. I am pleased that I have finally gotten to meet you."
Returning to her full height, Sara stretched her arms out to indicate the others. "Your Majesty, may I present my grandson and heir William Proctor Heresford, and my companion and loyal follower Lisa Spinozi."
"Their presence is noted," Xu Cai said regally. "What brings you to Senxhou?"
"The war, Majesty. Kalunda is besieged by the Normans and their allies, including the treacherous al-Farani. I have come to ask for your aid in assembling an army to descend into the Norman heartland and wreck it as support for Kalunda."

Xu Cai nodded and sighed. Dao Zi tried to hide a frown and failed, and Xiao Li was clearly disturbed. Sara did not like the look of all this.
Shifting in his seat, Xu Cai finally replied. "I do not see how our army can be of use in this war," he said sternly. "Unlike Kalunda, we here in the East Valley did not arm ourselves with modern technology. How can we fight against the Normans and their allies now that they have guns and cannon?"
"Your Majesty, given what we have seen, the majority of their armies are in the field against Kalunda and East Port, and they have assigned these forces almost all of their modern weapons. The weapons we were able to bring should be enough to deal with whatever forces they have in their homelands armed with modern weapons." Sara gestured to William. "My grandson is only one of many who have accompanied me to train your best units to use our weapons. Given a week or two, we can show a small group of your people how to use modern arms. Combined with armies we could raise among the peoples in this valley, it would be enough to ruin much of the Norman countryside and force their army to fall back from Kalunda."
"And fall back upon us," Xu Cai remarked. "And we will be no match for their main force."
"Even as they come toward us, Majesty, we can withdraw into the mountains with the support of the mountain people. And it would lift the siege of Kalunda, freeing up King Julio's troops to counter-attack with the support of government forces in East Port. With your support, Majesty, we can win this war," Sara said firmly.
"Government forces you say." Xu Cai gestured irritably. "The same ones who will strip us of our rights when this war ends? We all know too well that the government victory will see the elimination of our rights. If Kalunda chooses to side with the government they must endure the consequences."
At that Xiao Li gave her father a pained look, and Sara wasn't quite sure why. Rather she sought to continue her argument, now saying, "Your Majesty, the Zhai swore an oath of mutual alliance with Kalunda and King Julio. Are you going to break that now?"

Xu Cai's expression became angry. "Who are you to come in here and speak ill of my honor?!" he demanded to know. "You have already cost my people enough, Sara Proctor! Now you demand that we again place our very existance on the line on the side of those who may yet demand our submission! No, not just that, our extermination as a people! Have we not spilled enough blood for you and your vendetta against the Normans?"
"Your Majesty!" Sara protested.
"Enough!" Xu Cai swung his arm at her. "Get out of here. Go on. I don't want to see you. Get out before I have you delivered to the Ubar of Ar as a gift!"
Sara stared dumbfounded for a moment, unable to believe what Xu Cai had just said. But before she could speak again, Dao Zi swore aloud and glared over at Xu Cai. "You disgraceful welp!" the older man proclaimed. "If only you were not my sister's son, I cannot bare the idea of strikiing my blood, but I will be damned if I see you destroy everything your mother stood for!"
The two princesses stared at their grand uncle, wild-eyed and startled, and Xu Cai turned his glare to his uncle. "You forget your place!"
"And you forget who we are! We are the Zhai! We hold to our oathes no matter what it costs us! We accept death because it is a natural thing that we cannot avoid!" Dao Zi gestured angrily in the direction of the north. "When you were just a child, I watched your Glorious mother acknowledge that she was going to die, and she did it with a happy grin on her face! She cared more for the honor of the Zhai people than for her own life, and she died on that glorious day, winning the victory for all of our peoples and breaking the chain of Norman oppression on our people and the peoples of this land! And she did not die so that you could throw it all away in a fit of anger and cowardice!" Dao Zi looked to Sara. "The King of the Zhai may not remember the oathes, but I do, and so do the Horse Guard and the Zhai people. We remember with honor those of us who fell that day, and we equally remember the untrained women who fought on foot beside you, Your Highness, and held their ground against the strongest Normans. Our people also remember the oath of the Zhai sworn to the Kalundan people, and we will honor that oath!" Looking back at his nephew, Dao Zi's face was filled with contempt. "You have allowed your sorrow for your mother to turn to hatred against the people she died under oath to, against the people who helped her win our freedom from the Norman alliance imposed on us, and it is shameful. If you had a bit of honor, you would fall on your sword for these failures."
With his speech made, Dao Zi turned and angrily stomped out.

Mei Li looked to her older sister and promptly followed her grand uncle, giving a long look to William that Sara noticed and had to suppress a smile over. This left Xiao Li to stand by her father. He looked up to her. "Will you abandon me too, my daughter?" Dao Zi answered gruffly.
"Father... I cannot abandon you," Xiao Li said softly. Tears were appearing on her cheeks. "For all that my heart hurts for my beloved Kevem, you are my Father, and I cannot turn my back on you?"
Dao Zi nodded softly. He looked to Sara. "Please, leave us. You are dismissed."
Sara nodded curtly and led Lisa and William out.

Walking up to her father, Xiao Li fell to her knees in front of him and placed her face against his chest. "Father, please save Kevem," she cried. "Please save my beloved. I cannot bear to see him lost."
"My daughter..."
"Father, please...." Xiao Li looked up to him, tears flowing from her cheeks. "If he dies, Father, I die," she sobbed. "My heart will die with his."
"No. No." Xu Cai embraced his daughter closely. "I cannot lose you, my jewel. Not after your mother and your brother.... I cannot lose you." Xu Cai began to weep, holding his daughter's head close. "I will find you others. There are other handsome men who can win your heart, I promise."
"No, Father. There are none. Kevem has my heart and always will." Xiao Li put her arms around her father's neck. "Father.... please...."
Xu Cai shook his head. "You don't know what you ask of me, my flower."
"I know you hate war, I know.... I hate it too, Father. But please.... I will die without him," Xiao Li sobbed.
"I... I can't..." Xu Cai took his daughter's head and looked straight at her, tear-stroked eye to tear-stroked eye. "I swore an oath of blood, Xiao Li."
Her eyes widened. "No...."
"I swore an oath of blood on my mother's grave... that I would never lead our people to war," Xu Cai said, weeping. "I cannot... I cannot break that... I would dishonor her too."
"Father, no!" Xiao Li began to cry harder, because she knew where her father, her beloved father, was going with this. She knew what he was goinf to do. "Father...."
"I swore it in a moment of youthful pain, but I was an adult, legally in majority, and the oath is binding, no matter how foolish it may have been." Xu Cai touched Xiao Li's cheek lovingly. "You had just seen your first full year. Your brother was but a small child who loved to hold you and play with you, and seeing you two together... I was driven to near madness thinking of your deaths on the battlefield. I could not let you die as my mother did, young and beautiful. So I swore.... to never go to war. To never fight."
"Father, please...."
"Forgive me, Xiao Li. Forgive me, jewel. I have been foolish." Xu Cai held her close. "Please, let me hold you for a moment, and then I will do what must be done."
Xiao Li let her father hold her tightly, and they cried together.


Not long afterward, Sara and the others were standing in the courtyard, waiting to hear of what was coming next. Dao Zi had entered the palace a short time ago, summoned by a messenger sent by Xiao Li, and when he returned he seemed more withdrawn and strangely, eerily calm. "Your Highness," he said to Sara, bowing respectfully.
Sara nodded at him. "Yes, Lord Dao Zi?"
"Her Majesty the Queen of the Zhai wishes to see you."
This made Sara blink, and there was a strong feeling in her gut. She followed Dao Zi into the throne room. There, seated in the throne, was Xiao Li. She had now completely discarded the cupless halter top from before, wearing her father's headdress with only an adornment of jewels and gold worn over her chest that ended just above her naked breasts. Standing beside her was Mei Li, clad as before. As Sara approached she could see that both girls had been crying. She bowed respectfully and looked back up to Xiao Li. "Your Majesty, you asked for me?"
"Sara Proctor, the Kingdom of the Zhai will honor our pact with King Julio and marshal our armies to march to the relief of Kalunda," Xiao Li said, her voice deceptively firm even if her expression was clearly pained. "We ask that you furnish your advisors to train our Horse Guard and the Royal Pike in the use of your guns, as best as you can in the time period we have."
Sara nodded. "Yes, Majesty, we shall begin immediately." Nothing else had to be said. A part of her wondered if Xu Cai had been killed or....
"My father was misled by his sorrow for his mother," Xiao Li said suddenly, as if reading Sara's mind. "He did not want me to die as she did, and his sentiment led to him making an oath against war. An oath that he was honorbound to keep, but which he could not bring himself to keep because of the evil it would bring upon us all. He rests now, with my mother and my grandmother, and our people will remember him for his honesty, his moral rightness, and his devotion to the welfare of the Zhai."
Again, Sara nodded. "I understand, Majesty. You have my condolences."
"My father died so that my beloved, Prince Kevem of Kalunda, might yet live," Xiao Li continued. "To you and to my uncle I entrust his salvation and that of his people. You saved my people once, Sara, and won glory and our eternal gratitude. I ask you to save us again."
There was a soft, reassuring smile on Sara's face, Xiao Li's revelation being all she needed to hear. "For your beloved, and for mine, we will not fail," Sara promised.
”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 » 2006-05-28 06:53am

Snyderville, Gilead

Day NINETEEN



The first sign of civilization had been a branch of the coastal road that headed into the inland interior of Berglund. After crossing the road, Fayza and her compatriots followed it onward. This led to an occasional house that had been abandoned.
At one, Fayza found what she'd been hoping to find. There was a fuel cell-powered sedan, fully charged and ready to go, with a few supplies strewn around. Entering the house, they found that the power was on and there was running water, allowing them to quench their thirst. A check of the pantry yielded several instant meals and snacks, which they packed away. "Whoever lived here was in a hurry," she heard Marzi say softly as they noticed the mess around the house.
"I can imagine why, given what we saw in the Amish territory," Frank replied. For effect he pointed to a stand in the den facing the dining room and kitchen. Among the pictures were two young girls, looking at least teenaged and thus old enough to gain the attention of Berglund's slavers.
"I don't want to sit around here. Let's get going. Frank, can you drive?" When he nodded, Fayza added, "Good. You know the roads. I want to keep that vehicle if we can, but we'll get out and go on foot if necessary. Let's fill all our containers with water, pick up some of the food, and make sure we're ready to go. Marzi, go check upstairs and see if there's any leftover clothes."
"Can't we stop to bathe?" Diana asked.
"No. No stopping until we get to safety."


A few hours later they were entering the outskirts of Snyderville. Road signs informing them that they had left Berglund enclave and entered Snyderville County had recently been painted over, telling them that Berglund's troops had already moved through.
The outskirts was suburbia in miniature, as Synderville was only a town with a population in the low tens of thousands reliant upon tourism. Moving past the block houses and the occasional apartment complex brought them into the center of town, where they noticed for the first time a large gold crown-on-blue field flag with a stylized B that told them whom it belonged to. It was flying from a school, then another school, and finally a city government building.

"We need to find a path out of town," Fayza said. "I suggest we find out if Berglund's army is watching all the roads north."
"I've got a friend who's Dad is the vice chief of police," Frank answered. "Let's go look him up."
The drive continued through the town, which looked slow but not necessarily deserted. There were even young women about, making Fayza wonder if Berglund had decided not to embark on his seizures here yet. "Lots of foreign nationals come here?"
"Yeah. Snyderville is a favored spot for a bunch of travel groups and companies."
"Maybe he's being careful now?"
"Just as likely that his attack on the mission has caused a ruckus and he's trying to avoid more publicity," Fayza replied. "Or his army is too widely spread to actually come in and enforce tribute on the city like he did on the Amish." She looked at Frank. "How well-armed are the people here?"
"Rather well. Like many Gilean cities Snyderville has it's own small militia, and anyone who can own a gun does. Especially women, for obvious reasons."
"Yes, I can imagine," Fayza muttered.

Entering a middle to upper class neighborhood, their car finally pulled up to a house. Frank went up first, with Fayza moving over to the driver's seat in case a quick escape was needed. The door opened, and for a few moments Frank was talking to someone. Finally he turned and came back, even as the garage door opened and revealed a space open for a vehicle. He motioned for Fayza to pull in and she did so. He followed her into the garage, and a figure who appeared at the door pressed a button that closed it.
Getting out of the car, Fayza gave Frank's friend a look. He was about six feet tall and looked young, with sandy blond hair and dark brown eyes. He was a bit on the lanky side, though not unhealthy in his slimness. His short-sleeved blue shirt clashed with the neon green swimming trunks, making Fayza wince for a moment. "Everyone, this is Jason Ruden. Jason's dad is Eli Ruden, who is now the Chief of Police," Frank smiled at Jason. "Jason, you know Diana. The cute girl with the spots is an alien Trill from one of the other universes, her name is Marzi, and this is Fayza al-Bakar, who saved all of our asses."
"Miss al-Bakar, a pleasure," Jason said, shaking hands. He gave Marzi a good look while offering his hand for a handshake. "So, you're the fugitives."
"Ah?" Fayza blinked. "What do you mean by that?"
"Berglund's taken over a few of the local channels and blocked out the rest. Your faces have been shown everywhere. He says you're a murderer."
"Actually, the person who escaped with us is the one who killed one of his security men, and she was recaptured at the Fatima Mission."
"Ah." Jason awkwardly scratched at the back of his neck. "Yeah, that was bad."

"What was?"
"The Fatima Mission."
"What happened there?" Fayza asked, wary at the likely answer.
"Oh, it was over a week ago, Berglund had a 'special' aired. He's had Fatima Mission converted into a brothel where his slave girls service clients." Jason frowned. "They, uh, the girls, including most of the nuns captured, they're kept chained to wooden crosses crucifixtion style but with their legs spread so that men can, y'know...."
Marzi put a hand on her mouth and Fayza felt completely sick. "That son of a bitch," she muttered.
"The dedication was worse. The nuns were stripped naked, one by one, chained to crosses and, well, Berglund's studs were brought in. Berglund watched, though he groped a few of them as they walked by him." Jason scratched again at the back of his neck. "The way they looked, they were doped up on dehibs."
"Dehibs?"
"Deinhibitors," Frank explained to Fayza. "He probably used them on you a couple of times. It makes your body aroused whether you want it or not, and also makes you feel high, though not out of it."
"Local people use it to make sure they stay aroused during RP, especially if they're submitting to a partner's fantasy they don't really like," Jason explained. "Berglund uses it so that people can enjoy his programs and pretend the women aren't actually being raped."

Fayza's stomach didn't stop twisting, and she realized she had felt those effects several times during her captivity. "This fucker has to be stopped," she growled, using harsh language that she rarely did.
Jason nodded. "Well, uh, I can't tell you much, but I may have a way for you to help with that."
"Oh?" Fayza looked at Jason. "I'm more concerned with getting out of here. Marzi and Diana need to get to safety, and I was here with a friend and I want to make sure she's safe."
Jason shook his head. "Berglund's troops are everywhere. They haven't done much here yet because Berglund wants to get to New Amsterdam before the militias can finish mobilizing and the military can get forces in, but if you move norh you'll run into them where they're blocking the roads."
"What about boats?"
"He's got a small speedboat navy, they're blockading our port to prevent escape."
Marzi looked crestfallen to hear that. "Then, it's only a matter of time before we're caught."
"Not necessarily. The Underground is active here too, and it has connections all the way through Berglund's territory," Frank said. "We can hide until someone deals with Berglund."

Diana and Marzi looked only partially contented by that. But Fayza was thinking to herself. "He raped me, he raped Marzi, he raped Aurora," she said softly but angrily. "He's hurting people all across this region. He's a menace, a playboy and pervert who thinks the only reason women exist is for him to stick his dick into them." She clenched her fists. "If I can't run from him, I want to fight him."
Jason nodded at that. "Well, I can help with that...."
”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 » 2006-06-01 11:40am

Snyderville, Gilead

Day TWENTY



The day after their arrival, Fayza and the others were dressed in casual shirts and shorts and brought by Jason to a beach house not far from the resort district. There were occasional truckloads of troops coming by, but there was still no harrassment of the local populace.
The beach house was owned by the Ridgways, a wealthy family that owned two of the successful beach resorts. Their servants let them in without comment and escorted them into the basement. It was here that they found compartments for the underground railroad that funneled people out of Berglund.
Fayza and the others were not met by the Ridgways, though, but by Eli Ruden and two other figures. Fayza thought his face looked familiar, though she'd never seen the brown-eyed, dark-haired man in her life. He was plainly dressed with a khaki-colored collared T-shirt and blue-and-white-striped shorts that went down past his knees. The other was an older man, gray-haired wearing a coat over his shirt and some slacks. The khahi-wearing man offered his hand to Fayza. "You're Fayza al-Bakar?"
"I am."
"I'm Erik Berglund. This is Isaiah Shameel."
"Commander al-Bakar, you have been very difficult to find," Shameel said. "The Underground Railroad wasn't forthcoming with your location until after the raid on the Latzen home."
"You've been looking for me?" Fayza asked.
"Yes, as a favor to the Embassy." Shameel offered his hand. "Good to see you're safe. At least one of you is."

The worry that Fayza had kept suppressed for weeks returned. "What about Dani? Commander Danielle Verdes."
"She informed the Embassy of your disappearance and disappeared herself shortly thereafter. She later reappeared in Kalunda, reporting that she had been sold into the underground slave market at East Port and had escaped. She was traveling with some traveling Taloran princess, looking for you it's said, and headed to Ar to find you after sending her resignation to the Navy."
Fayza frowned. "Oh God, she went there?"
"Yes. And something happened to piss the locals off. Over three weeks ago, there was a fight, and her Taloran sponsor was forced to fight her way out of the city. They ended up at Kalunda, which the Normans besieged with other factions. That siege was directly responsible for the civil war."
"Oh God, we have to help her!"
"In due time." Shameel stepped back. "Commander, this is Erik Berglund."

Fayza and Marzi stared at the man. "Berglund? He's related to Illian?"
"He's my brother," Erik answered. "We're... not on speaking terms. I left because of him."
"Why?" Marzi asked.
"I tried to do what I could to restrain his excesses, but in the end, well, I shall say that his tolerance is restricted to lesbians only and leave it that that." Erik coughed abruptly. "I have done what I can to oppose him from here, but now with the situation as it is, I'm afraid words and passive deeds aren't enough."
"That's what I was hoping to hear," Fayza said. "Let's take the fight to him."
"Not going to be that easy," Rubin said. "In the past month Berglund has secretly hired lots of mercs, probably when he realized how close the government was to collapse. He's probably got about twenty thousand or more of them now, plus the Berglund militia, which he's twisted the enclave government's arm into mobilizing."
"Then we'll have to get him the cloak and dagger way," Fayza said. "Look, I'm a systems engineer. I can get through his security, I've seen it. And the last thing he'll expect is that I'll come back to Berglund."
"You're talking about killing him," Erik said. "I... I can't condone murder."
"Your brother has to be stopped, Erik, and if that includes killing him, so be it," Fayza barked harshly. She looked to the others. Marzi, Diane, and Frank all had varying amounts of concern on their face. She could tell that they weren't prepared for it.
And the truth was, neither was she.

Sighing, Fayza threw her arms up in despair. "Well, if we can't kill him, what the hell do we do? We have to remove him from power somehow."
"If the people in Berglund rise up, we can," Erik said. "My brother overestimates his popularity. My contacts at home tell me that the people are scared of him and his mercenaries."
"They didn't seem to have any problems gang-raping me in their central park," Fayza retorted angrily.
"You mean the horny teenagers and lonely old men? They do not make up the entirety of the Berglund population," Erik shot back. "And with the dehibs in your system no one would be able to know you weren't willing. Illian is no fool, he never sends his girls to public use unless he believes them broken."
"I know many people living in Berglund, they really aren't happy with Illian," Frank added. "Even those 'horny teenagers', who often lose their girlfriends because either Berglund gets them or the girls' parents restrict them to the house or send them away to protect them. All they need is a catalyst and they will rise up against him."
"My brother has wrapped himself in the belief that he is genuinely popular, and that the people in the Berglund enclave think the same way he does," Erik explained. "If you cause them to revolt, he will be devastated. He won't know what to do."
Fayza looked to Shameel. "You're the spook type, I'm sure. What do you think?"
Shameel laughed. "Yes, well, I wanted to be obvious about that. As for what I think, I was asked to get you to safety. But since I don't officially work for anyone, I don't see why I can't help you deal with this bastard. But don't expect me to take out a sniper rifle and pot him from two miles away."

"I won't." Fayza looked to the others and grinned. "I suggest we start somewhere symbolic, then. Something Berglund can't ignore and which displays that his hold isn't as absolute as people think it is."
"What do you suggest?" asked Eli Rubin.
"Simple. Our Lady of Fatima. There are a lot of innocent women there who need help. I say we go help them."
”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 » 2006-06-04 02:16am

SIEGE OF KALUNDA
DAY 24



The allied armies were attacking once again. Having defeated the relief expedition, there was no other reason for it not having arrived yet, they were now pressing home their advantage and the demoralization of the defenders, which Jhayka had done her best to prevent by trying to minimize knowledge of the fact that an expedition had even been launched, let alone thrown back, as she had determined from the sounds of the day before.

It was very hard, however, with the Stirlins at the gates, for people to hold out much hope. There was now an army even stronger than the one which had first assaulted them, more thoroughly prepared, and just as heavily armed as the Normans had been at the start. The Stirlins, however, were using their tanks more cautiously, as supporting artillery, rather than breakthrough weapons. The combined artillery of the two powers was raining down behind the Kalundan lines, and it was only a matter of minutes before the attack was launched.

Worse, still, there was certainly going to be a naval component to this attack. It was also coming so early in the morning that Jhayka had not even had a chance to say goodbye to Danielle; their conversation of the night before was the only one they would have in their hearts when they were tested in a life or death situation today, much more for Danielle than for herself. Danielle had shown herself so willing to fight, and insistant on her role, though she did not really have the experience for it. Jhayka hoped her courage would see her through, and could do no more. As a commander she should not really be showing favourites, though of course this was not a normal army, nor a normal command.

Having been awoken so early, she took a stimulant pill before settling down into the command center, standing, leaning against a table, really, rather than letting herself sit, nonetheless punctilious enough to be fully dressed in her uniform, sword belted to her side. The barrage had already been going on for an hour, now, and the wind direction was entirely wrong for chemical weapons use along the main southern front where the Stirlins had reinforced the Normans and the al-Farani.

“General orders: All corps commanders are to prepare to execute the evacuation of the In'ghara Line.” Jhayka ordered softly. There was no other way that she could see them surviving at all; they would have to evacuate after having bloodied the assault as thoroughly as possible, and then fall back to the Taliya Line and stand firm there and try to hold it.

“Move all reserves up to the Taliya Line, furthermore. We may not be able to hold against their numbers otherwise.”

All reserves, Marshal,” one of the women in her command center attempted to clarify.

“Except for the special battalion,” Jhayka amended after a moment. The special battalion was a short composite force armed with every genuine modern, space-age weapon they had, rather than cheap old assault rifles and other primitive equipment, including, of course, the remaining short armoured company, which Ilavna still commanded. Trajan was in overall command, and it would be an incredibly powerful intervention force—as long as their ammunition for those weapons, which was very limited, still held out.

“That still leaves us with precious little to hold in case of a collapse of the Taliya line as well,” the brigadier in question pressed home. She had not really seen action before, as had most of the city's mid-range officers before the outbreak of the current conflict in its full and virulent intensity.

“There is no need, as we are going to hold the Taliya Line. I will authorize a withdraw from the In'ghara Line, but we are not to take a single step back from the Taliya Line. Let them get their hopes up that their numbers matter, but they will be attacking a still more concentrated defensive line, then, and our numbers will be bolstered, and their's weakened. We will not run, nor let panic infect the city. Understood?”

“Understood, Marshal.” She saluted and turned away, her objections and concerns scarcely having mattered, for the orders had already gone out. The Granite Marshal, as they had started to call Jhayka, was being her usual self, as unmoveable from her course and resolute in her action as a stone statue, absolute solid in what she did, and absolutely cold.

“Enemy artillery fire-shift!”

“All guns hold fire. Shift our own fire to VT-fused shrapnel shells in defensive pattern ahead of the In'ghara Line, all guns, to commence firing in four minutes.” Jhayka said. She didn't even need to know what the fire-shift was. The pattern of evolution in Norman tactics told her exactly where it was going, and a moment later the monitors confirmed that, as they began to slam a bombardment down directly on the front-line trenches with not only their heavy guns but every single mortar and rocket they could get into place.

All of the allied guns were firing with the maximum rapidity, trying to shock and stun the trenches rather than do extreme damage, really, with their maximum firepower, for a short period of time before the assault companies went over the top. This after about two hours of firing on the rear areas, which had itself been following an initial twenty-minute barrage on the Kalundan lines. Yet even these tactics, as humans would call them, Bruchmueller Tactics, with artillery, were well-known to Jhayka.

The problem was that they were very hard to counter. The barrage did have a shocking effect, but they could also detect the incoming and still manage to sound warnings with their advanced technology to avoid the surprise of the attack from adding to the effect. Otherwise, the troops just had to hunker down and prepare to swing up into position, re-fixing their machine-guns and levelling their rifles and loading their mortars the moment that the order had sounded.

To aide in this, at least, Jhayka was going to start her defensive anti-personnel barrage even before the Norman attack had begun, so that the first waves of it would be stepping off right into the shell-bursts of the first long-range shells fired from the prepared positions of the heavy guns deep inside of Kalunda's Old City, to the north of the river. This was what the countdown was now for, even as the trenches were covered in the explosions along the attack sectors, once again very broad, which were preparing the way for the fresh Stirlin troops to drive home an assault with new elan, amply aided by the siege-veterans of the Norman and al-Farani contingents.

It appeared that the Amazons were going to also launch a major attack, and against this, Jhayka felt a distinct and real frustration. She had tried her best to get them to withdraw, after all, and it seemed she had failed... Her fist hitting the table was such an unusual event that several of her staff actually glanced, then blanched and turned away from her cold gray gaze. “Damn them, Oh ye who is the Lord of Justice, for passing up their own redemption wilfully, and feed the pride of their youth into my guns, that I may humble them in Your name.”

That outburst, even more unusual than the first, elicited no comment after that first, and the bloody cold and ruthless expression on Jhayka's face, which was normally virtually emotionless. But her ears were lowered in a posture that was distinctly aggressive, and she drummed long nails on the table.

Four minutes and twenty seconds into the Norman-Stirlin barrage, the Kalundan guns began to fire again on rapid-fire. A few seconds later, the first shells exploded over no-man's land, showering it with shrapnel. Thirty minutes into the allied barrage, the assault companies pushed out of the assault trenches and up the assault ladders and into no-man's land, their own artillery still firing for another thirty seconds. It was scarcely differentiable, however, in the hail of fire which was already coming down upon them, and chopping through them. The Stirlins, pressing home in columns with great elan but the most rudimentiary preparation for this type of combat, simultaneously suffered the highest casualties proportionally, and also made the most progress toward the Kalundan lines.

Hundreds of the Stirlins were dead in the first seconds, but they charged onward at the fast pace with fixed bayonets, supported in the most part by the covering fire of the al-Farani and Normans who were soon left behind in a more cautious—and survivable—staggered or 'leap-frog' advance. The combination proved devastating in its effectiveness to cross no-man's land, though Jhayka knew it was the only time that they'd see it.

“Evacuate the front-line trenches of the In'ghara Line only. All forward companies should evacuate the front-line trenches of the In'ghara Line immediately. Concentration of forces for a sustained defence until execution of evacuation orders is to be in the second line.”

“Understood, Marshal.”

The Norman-Stirlin artillery ceased to fire. Just in time for their own attack, to, as the charging Stirlins with their fixed bayonets dashed through the shattered abbatis and into close range, navigating over a few strands of barbed wire and beginning to slow, thankfully, as they tried to move through the craters, where they'd be guaranteed not to die on land-mines or concealed traps on the ground. It gave the Kalundans just barely enough time to fall back from the front-line trench with their forward companies, though they were still moving back when the Stirlins arrived, but the bulk of the forces had already been deployed to the rear and the forward companies were virtually just sacrifice squads.

The assault, led by the Stirlins, nonetheless reached the trenches in record time. They spilled over and took the front-line trenches, and their commanders smirked in pride as the Ubar and the Emir looked on in a combination of frustration and pleasure, glad that the Kalundans seemed to be finally cracking under the incredible elan of the Stirlin assault troops and their variation of Bruchmueller tactics, but also highly frustrated that they were losing prestige to the Stirlins.

Those misconceptions did not last long.

In her command center, Jhayka looked at a curious new development to the north. Nearly a third of the Amazonian attack was simply not developing. In fact, their sensors suggested that those troops were withdrawing from the Amazonian trench-lines, which was more than fascinating. It appeared that the Lord of Justice had decided to answer one of her rare prayers in an unusual way: He was refuting its assumptions, at least in part. Or so the fates were, at any rate.

Then came the message itself, a remarkable and defiant transmission in the clear, though it made sense in retrospect; it was, after all, the one time that the allies could not combine against the defectors and smash them, as they were entirely caught up in the attack upon Kalunda:

“Your Highness, the Princess Jhayka di itl Intuit, this is the Chiliarch Leeasa Avrila. I withdrawing with a third of the Amazonian troops at the siege; we have had enough, and we accept your offer. Accordingly, the elders who are with me have elected me the new and lawful Magistrice. Those Amazonians who are continuing the assault are violating the instructions issued lawfully by me in the best interests of my people,” a complete lie, since her election hadn't been approved by at least 60% of the elders, but scarcely more than half that, but this contest was one to be settled by main force, “And I ask you to deal with them most harshly. I don't expect a reply, as I shall be rather busy, now. Leeasa out, Your Highness, and good luck.”

Jhayka grinned savagely. “Countermand instructions for the evacuation of the In'ghara Line—north bank of the river only! Repeat, north forces only. South forces are to still prepare to evacuate. Send the Special Battalion to the north bank at once. As soon as they are there they are to lead the counterattack with the all available reserves to retake the full In'ghara Line.”

“Understood, Marshal, I'm working on the orders now..”

Jhayka turned her attention back to the south part of the line. The Stirlins had rushed on from it, and now they were paying the price for doing so. The fire of the reserves manning the line was savage in its rapidity and intensity at close range, and the Stirlins were overconfident. They were slaughtered enmasse, men chopped to ribbons of meat, bones shattered and blood left to water the ground as the youth of that nation, savage psychopaths both male and female, but unusually disciplined considering their background, now faced a fully modern defensive effort.

It was a hideous sight, and a glorious one. It bought time for the front companies to redeploy to add to the defences, and that was desperately necessary, for now the more experienced Norman and al-Farani troops were joining in the assault. There was nothing more they could do for the moment, however, than try to expedite their own preparations, and that left the Stirlin ranks to suffer through a grusome slaughter.

Attack, attack, and again attack. There was certainly no lack of boldness in those people-who-had-become-monsters. No lack of it at all. But for all their additional modern weapons, and their rudimentary skill, they were discovering that elan, though it posed a real threat by itself, did not pose a killer one without matching experience. The allied army now had both, but uncoordinated, and not in the same troops, and they were paying for it savagely with the bloody killing which piled up windrows of Stirlin corpses along the wire.

Just enough time was gained. Now the Normans and al-Farani again joined in the attack, and the dying began enmasse redoubled, but a fair number of it was in the ranks of the Kalundan defenders rather than the almost exclusive one-sided slaughter of before. When it seemed like Jhayka might have to immediately order the retreat, however, the front-companies with their redeployed heavy weapons opened up and the allied assault was stalled.

For now.

The situation would not hold forever. It could not, and it would not, and the people who were going to win the In'ghara Line here were unquestionably the allies. The only question was how much blood Jhayka could rip from them as a price for their conquest of the line, for the minimum possible cost, and this Jhayka carefully worked on guaranteeing the maximization of.

Something else then distracted her. Something as terrible as could be imagined to her. The fighting on the river had begun, and now it was at its worst—and Danielle's flagship was in the middle of it. She wanted to demand a status report, to direct artillery fire in support of her lover, but she couldn't do any of it. The city might fall if she shifted the artillery selfishly, and simply kill the both of them; her demanding a status report might distract someone at a critical moment and it might distract her at a critical moment.

Jhayka bit her tongue until it bled, and the metallic tang and the pain of it calmed her, as she took a glance at the scars still in her hand from when she had broken the glass that night when she could not restrain her love for Danielle. I will keep them, in memory of our love, if she lives, or if she dies, to rot with my body in the ground as a reminder beyond the grave she resolved, and returned grimly to her duties.

By this time there was no choice. The retreat had to be ordered now, or it could never be ordered at all, and those troops on the In'ghara Line to the south of the city would be lost forever, chewed through the meat-grinder and annihilated, overrun by the vast strength of the renewed allies.

“I want the Southern front units, ONLY, repeat the southern front units ONLY, to begin their retreat to the Taliya Line. They are to commence the fallback operation immediately. All artillery is to be directed in support of their efforts to retire.”

“What about the Northern front counterattack?”

“That's hand to hand fighting, and anything except mortars lacks the finesse needed to support it. They can do without the guns, even if it will let the Amazons resupply across no-man's land. But we can't afford otherwise.”

“Very well, Marshal.” It was a resigned sound, but the Granite Marshal could not be counted upon to do anything but precisely what she had just ordered, and probably for the better of the city; she was here to save it, after all, and not make friends with its populace. Many would die under her command, and many parents would weep at the loss of their children, but no matter what, Kalunda would hold. Kalunda must hold, and every inch of ground must be paid for in blood thick enough to drench it until it was mud.

So Jhayka had resolved, and even with Danielle in mortal danger, so did she force herself to stay firm. Trajan executed the counterattack of the Special Brigade marvelously, leading from the front and appearing as a veritable God of War there himself, charging with the power armour in full, albeit unpowered, armour, and firing a weapon even as he issued orders, at a post well above his paygrade; but an experienced Taloran NCO was there with him to vet his orders, and his courage and fearlessness was an example to the rest of the assault troops he led, throwing the Amazons back, reeling, driving straight into the front-line trenches and seizing nearly a kilometer of them in the opening counterattack.

Jhayka watched as someone ordered the reserve flotilla to reinforce the main scene of action on the river, and watched quietly and carefully for their success even as she issued the occasional order to her ground troops, guiding them, and mostly letting the corps commanders handle them beyond the most general directives now that she had established the course of the battle. There was, quite simply, nothing more that could be done by that point if it had not been done or planned in advance.

The general counterattack on the Northern front drove back the Amazons, and the reinforcements that they and the minor tribals fed into the fight were just ground to pieces. Mass slaughter ensued in close hand to hand fighting, stabbing and hacking and firing and throwing grenades, and flamethrowers saw a great deal of use as well as the Amazons and their tribal supports were forced back with a great slaughter and the northern portion of the In'ghara Line was regained and held.

To the south, the scene was one of devastation, but the allied attacks against the Taliya line were short and quickly cut off. They had proved unavailing against the full strength of the reserves which had been concentrated there, though, there also, the fighting was savage and hand-to-hand and very much in doubt; but recalling that there was nobody beyond them, indeed, that they were absolutely hopeless, the knowledge that they were in a hopeless position and that all was lost if they were broken, filled the Kalundans with the courage of despair, and they gave up their bodies to be shattered and their lives to be taken, fighting and dying like stones in the trenches and carrying out daring counterattacks, having thus been given by their hopelessness the Will to fight on and win.

On the river, also, Jhayka saw victory; yet she still did not know if Danielle had lived. She waited, and waited, until the sun was setting that evening, and heard then that she had been badly wounded. Not knowing if her lover would survive or not, Jhayka stood up, and headed for the elevator. The battle was over, the first attack of the Stirlins had been repulsed. But she might be losing the reason for her own stand. There's more reason than just my love for her, though; you're being selfish. And with that cold reminder she rose to ascend into the palace above ground, and look and watch as the sun set over the city of Kalunda.

Kalunda, which still held.

Kalunda, where the flags still flew over a free city.

Day twenty-five was coming, the siege was unbroken, and Jhayka still defended her command, as she would to the death.

She went up, and she watched, and watched, and when the sun had sunk below the horizon, she at last went to the hospital to confirm or deny her fears, knowing that no matter what she found, she would still have it in her heart to defend this city to the last soldier: To her own life.





Dani had been preparing to deploy her squadrons of riverboats to the river banks for fire support when the first news came that enemy boats were moving upriver from where the Kalunda meets the Henley. Esconded away in the tiny compartment that acted as her command center on the Liberty, Dani began to give the orders for her squadrons to move east to meet the enemy.
She had three squadrons; East, Central, and West. East and West had thirteen ships - the Freedom and Emancipator commanded each respectively, with three four-boat divisions in each, while Central was under Dani's direct command from Liberty with two four-boat divisions - with an even mix of the ship types. Without an accurate count of the enemy's fleet, Dani had to decide whether to leave West Squadron to continue supporting bombardment of enemy troops advancing against the In'ghara Line.

The calls for support made her decision for her, and so Dani detailed West Squadron to remain in support position while she gathered Central and East Squadrons together. This gave her twenty-two boats which, moving along the narrowest bit of the river in the city, had to thin their formations to avoid the sandbanks.
They were actually out past the fallen Taradrua Line when Dani stopped and had the boats take up formation to face the coming enemies. A few of the boats opened fire on enemy concentrations in range, forcing her to send a second, angry order to cease fire and conserve ammunition.

The enemy boats were of various shapes and sizes. Some were converted sailing craft, others large river barges with steam engines and the occasional diesel. They all had guns of various calibers and sizes fixed to them and some metal sheets as a pitiful attempt at armor. They were coming in waves, with very little formation or organization to them beyond the staggered lines that had sometimes been used in the river battles between the Amazons and Normans.
"Stagger fire by range," Dani ordered. She took a breath to calm herself, trying to keep her composure as she entered her first battle as a commander. As a constant reminder of that, she had even worn the belt with her ceremonial pistol and officer's sword. God, or Farzbardor if you prefer, I could really use some help right now. Swallowing, she forced her voice to sound firm and professional as she gave her orders. "Long range guns first, then medium range. Our Douglasses in front, Browns in the middle, with the Tubmans between and the Lincolns in the rear. Make sure to keep formations so that our direct-fire cannons don't cause any blue-on-blue hits."
Her subordinates performed her orders and left her to stand and watch as the massive fleet of enemy boats neared them. The Liberty shuddered under the fire of her monster 150mm gun. The other ships with long-range cannon matched her fire and a rain of shells came down on the enemy fleet. Their accuracy was not good, as the gunners were used to firing on specific spots of enemy troops, not on moving boats, but they still made contact. Dani grinned with pride at seeing a sturdy-looking Amazonian boat suddenly explode, a shower of wooden splinters, bloody body parts, and bodies flying high above the river as the boat's piddly remains slipped under the surface of the river.

Undaunted the enemy boats continued. There were a few puffs of smoke from the handful of guns the enemy had that were in range of her fleet. Splashes of water came down behind her boats, and a few ahead, and Dani smirked at the realization that the inexperienced Norman and Amazonian gunners were purposely firing high, not yet having gotten over the belief that they needed to in order to get their rounds far enough to hit her fleet.
As another round of fire came from Dani's fleet, it was joined by the medium-ranged howitzers and mortars on the other boats. There were a score more of hits now and a number of enemy boats settled on the bottom of the Kalunda River, but the enemy kept coming in. Dani's stomach twisted a bit, making her wonder if she should have brought West Squadron after all. There were at least a hundred enemy boats of all kinds here, leaving her vastly outnumbered even if she outgunned her foes.
"Send a note to Squadron Captain d'Kellius. 'Prepare West Squadron to break off support mission and move to engage enemy boat fleet'."
"Yes Admiral," Commander Dusham replied.
The ship shuddered again as it's cannons went off. Another six enemy boats vanished or were lost, and several nearly capsized from near-misses that knocked their waiting marines off.

Finally the enemy entered the shortest range, and the short-range mortars and flamethrowers on the front-rank boats opened up. Targets were chosen properly, with the flamethrower boats focusing their fury on wooden enemy craft that could catch fire. The crews of those boats began to frantically try to put the fires out, leaving them to being slaughtered by the sidearms and flames of the front rank boats.
Dani watched the enemy fleet continue on nevertheless. She also noticed some of her boats began to turn in an attempt to fall back from the onrushing armada. "Hold formation! Dammit..." Dani yanked up a portable, wireless headset. "I'm going topside."
"Admiral..." Dusham followed her, concerned. They were both nearly knocked off their feet as both guns on the ship thundered once more.
Slipping through the narrow main corridor, Dani stomped up to the deck. Two young girls, one looking no older than fifteen, were manning the front-facing machine guns that would sweep the decks of enemy ships if they came in close. The guns fired again, but Dani didn't lose her footing. The smoke in the air was intense, and if not for her headset's protective quality her eardrums might very well have burst from the thundering of the guns. She brought the microphone piece of her headset up to her mouth. "All ships, this is Admiral Verdes! We cannot allow this enemy armada to get behind the troops! For your city, for your families, stay where you are and continue firing!" Her mind racing, Dani seized upon something she figured Jhayka would do. She reached down and took the hilt of the ceremonial officer's sword and unsheathed the blade to it's full two and a half feet length. She lifted it up with her right hand, it's fine steel glinting in the Gilean sunlight despite the smoke around them, and pointed it skyward and forward. "We will hold or we will die!" she shouted. "For Kalunda! Death to the Men of Ar!"

She could not hear if the other crews were in agreement or not, but she could see that the deck crews of the Emancipator and the Woodrow Wilson where cheering. As the moments passed, the boats in the front formations stopped trying to turn and directed their full firepower on the enemy.
Dani watched with pride. Her boat designs were holding up as well as she could have hoped, and they were destroying or disabling the enemy's cheaper boats quickly. But the enemy kept coming, and soon she could see they were starting to get men aboard her craft despite the murderous fire of the small-arms and machine guns of her crews. Frantic reports came in as the ships along the frontal divisions fought back the boarders. Screams sometimes cut off the sounds of fighting and Dani's stomach twisted painfully as she thought of how all of these lives being lost were her fault. The Franklin Roosevelt stopped firing, and then the Count d'Kellius, and the Lady Lovelace....

Not all of her frontal rank boats were lost, but only due to the heroic efforts of her six Tubman-class boats with their plethora of machine guns and armored hull and the protective nets and surfaces to resist boarding attempts. In some cases their guns literally washed the enemy off the decks of boats, both her's and enemy vessels, and a number of boats avoided them to try and get closer to the next ranks of boats.
Althroughout her boats kept up a murderous fire that was steadily dwindling the enemy, especially as her gunners got used to firing at moving targets. Through it all Dani kept her sword in hand, not knowing quite why she didn't pull her sidearm, but it seemed to be working as the enemy's armada, losing numbers as boat after boat was burned or splintered or broken while all they could rely upon was their marines overtaking the smaller crews of her boats. But they had the numbers to win anyway, and in the end that was the important part.
"Captain d'Kellius, move your squadron to the east immediately," Dani ordered. "Set up a fire kill zone and let nothing pass through it."
After a few moments Amber's voice crackled through. "We'll come in and support you."
"No." Dani's voice was deceptively firm. She had the suspicion, growing now, that she wasn't going to see the end of this day. "The enemy is too numerous. I need you to use the narrowest part of the river to put the enemy remnants through a wringer. They're too many and are breaking through, and we won't be able to fall back."
Amber was smart. She knew better than to argue. "Good luck, Danielle," she said.
The cannons thundered once more. The enemy was punching through, their commanders apparently deciding that it was better to get as many boats through to get marines into the city than to eliminate her squadrons. But Dani wasn't about to let them get past without a fight. Divisions that had been bypassed were ordered to turn around, and through it all she watched as best she could through the smoke of the cannon and the ships aflame, the sounds of battle echoing in her ringing ears despite the protection of her headset.

Finally, through the smoke, an enemy boat started to come alongside, the roaring of it's diesel engine a hum in Dani's ears. The machine gunners on her boat turned their weapons toward the boat, flying the hated flag of Ar, and opened fire. Bullets tore through the men who were assembling on the deck, some falling to their deaths in the river below. There was a crack of fire in return that caused one machine gun, then another, to go silent, the women manning them slouching over. Dusham went to go for one and did not make it, a bullet tearing through the side of his head before he got there.
Dani stood, motionless, sword in hand, and a couple of shots whizzed over her from middle-aged Norman men who still aimed their rifles high. This preserved her life for the moment, as the Liberty's roused crew came topside with pistols and rifles to return fire while the Norman marines, most wielding swords or battle-axes, jumped down from the highest decks of the taller Norman river boat or tried to cross on wooden planks from the lower decks, most of which having failed to make contact with the Liberty at all. As the big boat moved to get away, her helmswoman intelligently trying to cause the planks to drop, a number of men had already rushed across or jumped onto Liberty, those who failed falling into the Kalundan River to splash around in the waters that were going sanguine from the blood of their fallen compatriots.

The first Norman man to come against Dani was almost a teenager, with only a bit of facial hair on him, but the rapine intent and hate in his eyes was enough for Dani to have no qualms about using her sword for more than ceremony. Her right arm lashed in a simple cut that sliced open the boy's throat, her left hand going for the pistol on her belt. She brought it up as another older man lunged at her, axe raised. Dani pulled the trigger and the recoil was almost painful in her left hand and arm, but despite firing one-handed the range was such that she couldn't miss, and the salt-bearded Norman fell with a bullet having entered his brain just above his right eye. Another young Norman came and he too died from a shot with Dani's pistol. Her right arm came down the next moment, cutting the arm off a Norman trying to attack one of the young crewgirls that had rushed to her aid. Around her the shouts of her crew and the boarders mingled together so that she could make no sense of them, so she stuck to screaming "Hold your position!" into her headset.
The Norman marines were almost all boys and old men, and it was showing from the suicidal youthful exhuberence of the former and the fatalism of the latter, and Dani found her sword stabbing through the guts of a boy who looked barely a day over sixteen. A shot from her gun barely missed and allowed Norman veteran to grab at her, having lost his weapon for some reason, forcing her to swing her sword at his head where it became lodged in his skull, her victim falling unconscious in front of her As she tried to force it out of the bone another man came at her and had to be put down with a shot to the head. She kicked at the head her sword was stuck to and nearly forced it out when a horrible pain came from her right hip and side, where a Norman sword had cut a bloody gash into her uniform and flesh, running from just below her right breast to where her hip met her thigh. She crossed her left arm over her right and fired again, killing her attacker and then the one behind him with a second shot.
At that moment she managed to force her sword free, a shot rang out and Dani felt a sharp impact on her head. She fell to the bloody deck of her flagship, her vision fading into darkness.

The fight for the Liberty continued for a few more moments. The boat that attacked her managed to get a few more men on her before falling away, being torn apart a moment later when one of the boat's 150s fired straight into it.
On the deck, a fight soon gathered around Dani's body. The Norman men, recognizing Dani as the leader of the Kalundan fleet if not as one of Jhayka's entourage, tried to force her crew back as a couple of men grabbed her ankles to pull her overboard and back to Norman-held shore. But the women under Dani's command were too fiercely devoted to her to give her up that easy, and they counter-attacked powerfully, screaming at the top of the lungs to "Save the Admiral!" as they thrust knives and bayonets into the bellies and chests of the Norman men who claimed physical and mental superiority over them.
It was a damned near run thing. Just as the two men carting Dani off got to the side of the boat, shots rang out from the nearby Emancipator which had pulled nearly alongside. The men on it's deck fired their rifles carefully, not using machine guns for fear of killing their country's women fighting so desperately on the other boat. Dani's would-be captors were taken down by the first shots, falling into the bloodied water of the river, and the Norman marines quickly seemed to realized they were under fresh attack... as much as they could anyway until they too were claimed. Finally some jumped overboard, hoping to escape by swimming underwater, but only a couple would get to shore through the murderous fire that the Kalundans would put into the river after them.

The enemy armada had suffered murderous losses, half it's number gone, but over thirty boats had managed to get passed the Kalundan squadrons with most of their marine complements intact. The remaining Kalundan ships - they had lost five to boarding and three more had been damaged by what heavy guns the enemy had - were turning to pursue, save for the Tubmans which continued to work to sweep the other ships' decks of Norman and Amazonian marines.
They were coming up on the In'ghara Line and the Taliya Line behind that, where the river began to narrow, and here the battle looked most in doubt, as there were still many marines on the boats that could wreak havoc in the city if only they could get behind the staffed lines and into the Kalundan rear. But the violent splashes and sudden explosions of the boats changed the situation entirely. Amber had succeeded in bringing East Squadron up, and here they could fire on the enemy armada as it was forced to tighten it's formation to get through the narrow river. Panicked by the new attacks from the front, some of the rattled helmsmen and women tried to turn, and confusion caused a number of Amazonian and Norman ships to smack into each other. Others hit sandbanks, their captains unfamiliar with the river, and were grounded and left helpless to attack.
Now the imminent success of the Allied fleet turned to certain defeat, with the East Squadron playing the anvil to the oncoming hammer of the bypassed Central and West Squadrons. As fire came down on the Norman and Amazonian fleet from either side, and a number of boats were destroyed, the rest sought to either flee to the east and through the Kalundans or to get to the banks of the river for refuge with their ground forces. The Allied fleet lost all cohesion here, and under the withering barrage of the Kalundans they did not last more than another ten minutes until the last boat was either beached or dead in the water or half-sunk in the shallowest area of the river.

The Liberty and a handful of other boats of the squadrons with wounded had raced west during the fight, using their firepower to destroy the enemy where possible but more concerned with preserving the lives of those aboard. They moved for the closest docks to the Royal Hospital as the radio messages warned about casualties, including that of the Admiral of the Kalundan river fleet.
Though she did not see it, Dani had won her battle and crushed the enemy fleet. The river would remain Kalundan for the time being.
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Postby Steve » 2006-06-10 09:26am

Outside of Kalunda
DAY 25



Leeasa Avrila led away the sad remnants of Amazon power. They had managed to get clear fully of the efforts of the allies to pursuit, which were half-hearted at best. There was to be a civil war, then, and she had the losing strength of the two, but she might just preserve her people despite it. The anti-Magistrice had a decent fighting force, but the main problem was the lack of supplies.

Their best chance was to seize their own homeland and prepare for guerrilla resistance there after resupplying, arming all that were loyal, and dealing with those prepared to resist to defend the power of the old Magistrice. It would require a Long March back to Amazon territory through that of their nominal allies who were very much hostile, which at first might seem hopeless, but under these circumstances they had a real chance, with so many of the fighting men of Ar and the other nations concentrated at the great siege of Kalunda.

“We shall have to carry our own supplies, without male slaves, since we were unable to take them from the cantonments,” one of her Chiliarchs uttered rather mournfully as they stood around one of the small number of powered vehicles in the force. The rest of the troops would ride horses, or wagons, or walk. Depending on the routes they were forced to take, they might all be walking, and quite a long ways, as well.

“Get used to it. When we're done with this we won't have slaves. The compromise to preserve our society at all is just that, a compromise. We're not in the magic land of have your cake and eat it too.” Leeasa frowned. “We are all toughened. We will march with double packs. This has been done before, on secret attacks in the old days. Those who cannot keep up will die. The rest of us will be hardened for the experience and it will teach us to make a reliable guerrilla army with the modern tactics, and we'll be able to have many experienced personnel to lead the youths when we return to our own lands, of which I have no doubt that we shall.”

Leeasa grinned, then, and added to her improvised staff and the dissenter alike: “It will indeed be a Long March, that I promise you, but we can make it and it will be all the better for the glory of our people.”

“Well, there is no more point in complaints. We cannot stay, we cannot advance toward East Port, which is also besieged, at any rate, and we have a duty to the homes of our ancestors and to our future generations that reside there. We must return home; and that means we embark on the march as I have directed, through the mountains and doubling back, to avoid the enemy concentrations.”

No more time. She took a last look around. “Send the orders, now.”

“As you command, Magistrice.”

A young girl approached her, an apprentice in the staff of a Chiliarch who was now on her own improvised staff, smiling hopefully. Probably she wanted something more than to just be helpful, but Leeasa, filled with purpose, did not find much interest in carnal pursuits, particularly on this march where the young would soon find themselves cold, hungry, tired, sick, and perhaps close to death.

“There's a car prepared for you, ma'am,” she began, but was cut off.

“Go supervising loading it with food and send it along with the others.” Leeasa reached down and picked up a sturdy branch she'd been carving on a bit, earlier, as they ate a hearty breakfast-they couldn't take all of their supplies, so they had at least indulged by that much with those they'd have to leave behind. She struck it against the ground once. “I walk with my warriors, and I will show them the path.”

Leeasa pointed toward the Henleys in the distance, and started forward down the road by herself. Gradually, from the bivuoacs of the troops, tens of thousands of the Amazons in the clans which had stayed loyal to her in the breach fell in at their turns. A great mass of humanity, an army on its feet, one of many in this benighted land.


City of Kalunda


Jhayka watched the reduced lines of the defenders for a while. Her position in the palace was dangerous; there were stray shells falling around it now, and some damage had been caused. The city was looking much the worse for wear, seeing as it had been under constant bombardment the night before now that the attackers' ammunition problems had largely been alleviated by the arrival of the Stirlins. Most of the residential districts were burning.

Kalunda was being destroyed. There was no question about that. And nothing that could really be done for it. Jhayka had promised to stand the siege, not to work the impossible magic of preserving Kalunda intact. Jhayka knew well, considering her own background, sieges through history, starting with the Great Siege of Filidmarn by Moloyr. Now there was nothing more to do, except what she had resolved to do the day before. To stand and fight, and live or die, in this city. It would be a ruin, it was already being transformed into a ruin by the constant barrage.

The tunnels, however, had been extended in the past month of effort a considerable ways, and many critical systems moved underground. The factories had proved exceptionally resilient against bombardment and were still working for as long as the stockpiled raw materials held out. Almost everyone in the city was crammed into the underground, or at least into the shelters and the fortified basements wherever they could be.

There was no more beauty here, just desperate survival. The Stirlins, having learned their lessons, were aggressively applying the knowledge of the Normans and the al-Farani, as could be seen by the fact that their troops had been pulled off the lines the very next day for instruction in new tactics. The allies knew Jhayka didn't have the strength to launch a counterattack against even the weakened al-Farani and Normans and the shattered Amazons; they were still to strong for her, along with their numerous minor and tribal allies and feudatories. The Stirlins, having been slightly humbled, were now still nonetheless determined to prepare themselves properly as a shock force for breaking through the Kalundan lines, and were redistributing some of their arrived forces to beef up the crippled northern sector forces since the defection of the Amazons, which along with the holding of the northern part of the In'ghara Line were the only positive points. That mean the larger old city, mostly on the north bank, would be kept as distant from the enemy as it could be under the circumstances, and that would give them more time.

Not time to prevent the physical smashing of its buildings into rubble, of course. But time to continue the fortification of those buildings and the fortification of the rubble in turn, and time, therefore, to exact a dear price on the allies. The problem is that our food supplies are limited, and our ammunition supplies are variable. Ammunition might be plentiful to the end, and it might not. But one thing was clear; they only had enough food for another fourty days. After that they could subsist on water alone for perhaps three days. Slaughter of every living animal in the city, and the consumption of anything from wood to grass which might have some nutritional value would preserve them still longer. A little longer, at any rate. Probably even the bodies of the dead by that point, a part of her mused nastily.

One thing was certain. In fifty days everyone in Kalunda would be dead or in the hands of the Normans and their allies. That set a limit, then. If they were not relieved by day Seventy of the Siege, there was, save by a miracle, going to be no-one left to relief. Miraculous efforts might yield another few days; but it was obvious that the allies just had to hold their positions, and Kalunda would, sooner or later, die.

But they don't know that, and we'll keep them from knowing that, and we'll make sure that they stay here and keeping throwing bodies at us, especially in the need to reduce us as quickly as possible to carry on the war elsewhere. There was that. If ammunition was still plentiful up to the end, they could fight until their bodies gave out from lack of food.

There was, however, no point in waiting until the end. Jhayka knew what she would do, when there was no hope, no food, and the energy of her troops was dwindling fast. Then it would be time to launch massed assaults with everyone who could bear a weapon, of any type, to try and break through the allied lines in places while the ships on the river, if they still lasted, ran the naval blockade in an equally daring last effort. If it comes to that, I will lead the attack from the front rank; my chance of escape should not be greater than that of the troops in the assault companies who punch open the hole, come to it.

Hopefully a gap might be held long enough to allow some thousands of civilians to escape; but that was unlikely. Still, when they were all doomed, it was better to at least make the attempt. Jhayka knew that the actual odds of such an attack, by weakened, starving soldiers, probably in ground in the torn up city by that point, fighting block to block, where their own assault would bog down as easily as those of the enemy, was essentially impossible. But hope sometimes brought victories by itself.


Outside of Kalunda


They had gone a long way by river and by foot to reach here, dodging many of the neo-barbarian forces which were fighting each other and perhaps even looking for them, and of course standing the siege of Kalunda. They had marched a long way for their mission and for their Empress, to recover a truant Princess and avoid an unacceptable outcome politically, with the people so caught up in her eccentric popularity, and the eyes of the multiverse watching tensely to see if the Talorans would stand up for their own or prove themselves unable of protecting their citizens.

So it was a matter of principle, and those can be stiff matters indeed. They had not stinted from any effort required to get here... And then, the day before, it seemed like the city had fallen in a great attack. All through the night burned the fires of Kalunda, and the sound of the artillery continued unabated, as the survivors were reduced. It was certainly hopeless, and a great detachment of troops from the northern bank had even passed near the little Taloran party, detailed off since they were no longer needed, it seemed.

Yet all of that was not true. This morning the gunfire had continued steadily, and the Spy had dared look through her binoculars in a mixture of consternation and hope. What she had seen sent chills through her body. The flag of Kalunda still flew, and right below it was the banner of Her Highness the Princess of the Lesser Intuit. The city held; Jhayka lived; they still had a mission.

Soon the spy who had sent Lashila to her death at the hands of her lover would meet again with Jhayka; and her heart was heavy with the thought, not only of how they would have to navigate the defensive works-probably on the river-but also how that meeting would go. She owed a debt to the princess, one that, nonetheless, she was reluctant to pay. If any of them were to come out of this place alive, they would now have to reach an understanding which had before eluded them. There would be no other way.

Quietly she led her little team back toward the river, and prepared to make her run into Kalunda that evening. Najhasi Fridalyn was off to find her own Doctor Livingstone, and what she had to ask of the Princess Jhayka would demand a bond of trust between them which she feared to be now impossible.



Day Twenty-Four

The Marshal was the picture of composure. She had even stopped in several hospital rooms of common soldiers first. She could not allow herself not to; her grief and worry could not conquer her. She maintained a calm and forthright composure as she went from each room to the next, exchanging a few reassuring words and providing a canned joke, but nonetheless funny enough to the Kalundans. It was the small gestures, during a siege, when one of the most important parts of her duty was to maintain morale at all costs, especially with the poor odds against them. At last she came to the stop where she could go and visit Danielle: and, as a small consolation for the delay, spend as long with her as she pleased. Up to the appropriate room, and the hospital staff didn't stop her as she strode inside, cape licking at her heels as she steeled herself and looked inside. "Dani?"

Dani was laid out on the bed in a simple hospital gown, a bandage wrapped around her temple and on her side, hidden by the gown. She was looking at the ceiling when she heard Jhayka's voice, so she turned to the door. "I'm alive," she sighed. Her eyes were clearly red; she had been crying earlier. "They told me that I won."

"You did. Why the tears? There is nothing bad that has happened, has it? I mean; your wounds are not.. Serious?" She stepped over to the bed, quietly, and looked down with a vaguely sad expression, though then she laughed gently, to break the moment, not daring to assume that there was anything really truly wrong that happened. Her expression was, regardless, gentle, and one of those six fingered hands reached out to clasp the side of the bed as she looked down.

"No, no, just a bruise on my skull, a concussion, and another scar to add to my collection," Dani replied, running a finger over her side where the Norman sword had cut into her. "It's just.... I lost some good people today, Jhayka. Baroness d'Relia, Lady Korti, Jymian, Dusham..." Dani sniffled, holding back the sobs from before Jhayka came. "I'd never known what it was like to get to know people and then send them to die."

"Well, now you know." Jhayka answered, and offered her other hand to Danielle, sighing faintly, and her ears twitching. "It's a brutal business, isn't it? But it was more personal for you. Just like it was for me in my young days, I suppose; those are decades gone. Now, it is almost painfully easy to kill people under your command, when you start to see a sufficient number of X's next to the designations of your units to realize that you're commanding multiple corps-sized formations.." A wry chuckle. "Altogether, we're doing rather well, though. We only lost the southern part of the In'ghara line, and the Amazons are crippled by defections. You kept our flank from being turned; you did, indeed, win. Their sacrifices are not in vain. The fact that you're still here, well, that proves it. We all have the dead to live for now."

"I almost died today," Dani said softly. "The doctor said if the bullet had been a modern one and not one of the cheap ones the Norman blacksmiths are producing, it would've gone through my head instead of bouncing off my skull." She sighed. "I want to thank the crews of the Liberty and Emancipator for saving me. I heard that the Normans tried to drag me off after I went down." A shiver ran up her spine thinking of what would have happened if they's succeeded. "I can only hope they didn't get anyone."

Jhayka licked her lips slowly, an expression among Talorans more inclined to show distaste. "I'm sorry. I didn't know it was that close." She frowned, then. "Though, at any rate, they may indeed have taken prisoners--are the deaths of all the people you named confirmed? We know they have taken prisoners over the fighting, and not small quantities, either, though what exactly they do with them in questionable. As you know, I have tried to treat the prisoners we take as well as possible, though the Stirlins in particular prove highly intractable, as it's turned out.." She squeezed Danielle's hand.

"I don't know... I haven't seen the list yet." Dani brought her other hand up and held it with Jhayka's. "How much longer will this go on? How much longer can this go on? We've been killing so many of them that they have to break sooner or later."

"Well, there is going to be another attempt at relief. Sara Proctor has arrived and is rallying those opposed to the Normans. They shall advance on their homelands to force them to retire from the field of action. I fully expect that another outright relief effort will be attempted from East Port, though that may take time. In the meanwhile, we can hold out for another fifty days at the most. I do not expect them to be broken by our efforts alone, bluntly. Their learning curve is not a steep one; they're quick to adapt and apply things, and the Stirlins won't stay stupid for long at all." Jhayka looked as though she regretted telling these things to Danielle in her current state. "We've just got to hold, and keep fighting. At the moment, ammunition isn't yet a problem. I don't see why we can't hold for another full fifty days. But after that, everyone will be within a day or so of starving to death and to weak to fight. I'll order a breakout attempt before it comes to that."

"If that was all they had left on the river, we could try to evacuate down the Kalunda to the sea," Dani said, her spirits brightening a bit at the hope of escape and survival.

"They could position guns and traps along the river, for it is a long journey through hostile train. The banks are not wide enough to render the ships defensible against artillery. Perhaps some can evacuate through the night in limited numbers on rafts, which would pass unnoticed," Jhayka answered. "It would, of course, help our food situation somewhat. Though not enough to really matter. But perhaps we could save more children in that way. Thank you, Dani, I will look into it."

"They can't have infinite amounts of ammunition. They'll run out eventually, or they'll have to shift their guns to fire on the river. If we have cover of darkness, and some of my gunboats in support, it should be doable," Dani insisted. She suddenly winced and her left hand went over to her left ear. "Ow. My ear ringing just got a bit painful."

"They probably have contacts with the other anti-coup forces supplying them with ammunition." Jhayka changed the subject, though, at the wince: "That can happen. You might even go deaf. Temporarily, anyway, that can be fixed. I've had it happen before.." Jhayka shifted her ears as though remembering a past pain in them. "We can, of course, turn our ears away from loud noises in a split second--which provides a natural protection in comparison with fixed and omnidirectional human ears. But it's often not enough--modern war is loud. Except in space. And this is your first experience with the ground.." A wry smile. "You've done so well. I'm proud of you. And I just wish I could protect you more thoroughly.."

"I know. Hopefully they won't be back up the river. Now we just have to be careful of the enemy finally directing more artillery our way. I've been trying to keep our boats from entering their range until actual operations when their guns are busy with other things because I'd like to keep them from getting used to shooting moving objects as long as I can." With the ring in her ear subsiding, Dani brought her hand back over and touched Jhayka on the cheek with it. "I'll do whatever I must to get us out of here, Jhayka. Deep down, I have the feeling that we didn't find each other just to die, not here and not now."

"I can't abandon my command. Evacuate everyone you can. When the end is near, and unavoidable otherwise, I will lead a breakout effort in the front rank. But otherwise, my love, you will not be getting me out of this city unless it is relieved. I have sworn an oath. I cannot give up the defence." Jhayka took a deep breath, and smiled boldly, leaning down to kiss Danielle's cheek softly. "If we stand our ground we'll be alright.. We can hold for two and a half months altogether.. That is enough time for the city to be relieved. It will be."

"Then I'll be beside you. Until the end," Dani promised, "with this to confirm it." She sat up now, feeling steadier - just feeling better now that Jhayka was with her. It was an odd sense of love there, as Jhayka's Taloran features were hardly attractive at all to the Human eye, but all Dani could see was her eyes and what burned within them, and the soul that she felt unmatched devotion to. She reached her hands forward and put her hands on Jhayka's neck, planting a kiss on her lips. She slipped her tongue into Jhayka's mouth, giggling to herself at the vinegar taste within and how different it was from what she was used to before.

Jhayka sucked lightly on Danielle's tongue for a moment, gray eyes vibrant with delight at the kiss, but she drew back soon enough, murmuring, "You should lay down and try to recover, my love. You are not going to do that overstraining yourself." But she could not resist lightly kissing Danielle upon the cheek, also. "We will hold. The end will not be here; I simply won't let it happen. We'll grind them up, my love, and save this city. I promise it."

With hope and love in her heart, Dani's answer was obvious. "I know you will, love. I know you will."


Senxhou, Kingdom of the Zhai

DAY TWENTY-FIVE



From a balcony looking out at the courtyard of the Royal Palace, Sara looked down at the assembled members of the Horse Guard. She looked rather more humble, wearing a white sports bra and jogging shorts from a morning run she had made with Lisa and Mei Li. The younger Zhai princess seemed to have inherited her grandmother's fire, while Xiao Li had her gentleness.
With the Gilean sun warming her, Sara looked down. She had paid a visit to the dungeon cell where she'd once been held prisoner so many years ago, bringing back the memories of terror and anguish that she had felt before Sen Yu Ling had decided to make the fateful decision to oppose Ar - sparing her extradition to the hideous fate of torture and impalement that would have been her's under Norman law. It made her think of Julio, who had helped turn the young queen's heart after she had been arrested, and it thus served to make her even more impatient to march south and save Kalunda.

Below her, the House Guard of the Zhai were training with rifles. William was among them, among those selected to train the officers - including Mei Li. Sara had noticed Mei Li's curiosity toward her grandson and had to smile at it all. She was attracted to William, Sara was certain, and she was also certain her curious but disciplined grandson was at least interested in Mei Li. It was amusing to think of them together, particularly the culture clash certain to follow.
The door to her quarters opened and a young Zhai maidservant entered Sara's room. She walked up to the entrance of the balcony and prostrated herself on the floor. "Oh Great Lady, I have come to service your rooms. What is it you need?"
"Nothing for the moment, young woman." Sara turned and looked at the girl, holding herself on the floor. She noticed the girl's stomach was starting to bulge. "Are you pregnant?"
"Yes, Great Lady," the girl answered meekly.
"You can rise. Among my people, servants do not kiss the ground when addressing nobility." Sara walked back into the room and reached into a bag, fetching a couple gold coins. She took one and tossed it to the girl, who took it with a surprised expression. "For your baby's sake, I think it best if you didn't have to work for a while. Go rest."
"Thank You, Great Lady! May Fortune bless you as you have blessed me!" The girl scampered out, clutching the precious gold coin close.
Sara sighed and looked at the digital watch on her wrist. Just forty minutes and she would be attending a strategy session with the military leaders of the valley. She would now have to sell to them her battle plan.

She returned to the balcony to watch the training below, but soon enough there was a knock on the door. Sara, not particularly mindful of what she was wearing, walked to the door and answered it.
Two elegantly-clad pikeman entered first, followed by Xiao Li. She was dressed as informally as a Zhai Queen would be, wearing what amounted to a bikini top and knee-long skirt, both made of gold-colored silk. A smaller informal royal crown was on her head, though she still had a number of the necklaces adorned with Taoist symbols that was customary for the monarch to wear. The immodesty of Zhai royal dress was a long-standing tradition, emphasizing the natural beauty and strength of the upper class, and Sara had often wondered how many Zhai would have preferred the more comfortable attire of their commoners.
Sara bowed respectfully. "Your Majesty, this is an honor."
"Please, here I am Xiao Li, and you are Sara," Xiao Li replied gently. "I come to you as a friend, not a monarch."
"Ah, well, I see. Well, come in."
Sara offered Xiao Li a seat and took one herself. "What can I do for you, Xiao Li?"
"Sara, the other leaders of the Valley have arrived. But, I am uncertain. Will they follow me as they followed my grandmother?" Xiao Li looked worried, more than Sara believed was healthy. "Grandmother was a great, brave Queen, and all knew of her skill as a warrior from her battles on behalf of our old alliance with the Normans. But they know nothing of me. What should I do?"
Sara drew in a sigh. After a moment she extended a hand to Xiao Li, who took it and allowed for Sara to bring her other hand up to hold Xiao Li's hand tenderly and sympathetically. "Remember what matters to you," Sara said. "Think of how much you'll do to protect it. Think of what your father did to give you this chance. You'll find the strength to deal with anything they throw at you."
"But that's not all. You must remember that they have things they want to protect to. You must be strong in asserting your purpose, but sympathetic and understanding of their needs too. Prove to them that you can be trusted to see to their needs too."
"And finally, Xiao Li, don't try to be like your grandmother. Queen Yu Ling was her own woman, and you must be too. Be yourself and let the others see your kindness and your desire to end the threat to this valley and save the people of Kalunda."
Xiao Li nodded silently. "You speak wisdom, Sara. I can see why my grandmother respected you so greatly."
Sara smiled. "Yes, well, remember that when I first showed up she had me chained up naked in the palace dungeon. I 'was dangerous', she said, and 'I had to be watched and be unable to hide anything from my jailers'."
"A mark of respect," Xiao Li laughed.
"At the time, I was more concerned about being naked and cold and what the Normans would do to me when they got their hands on me," Sara guffawed, but her smile belied the fact that she had no bitter memories of the occasion. "But your grandmother came through for me, and by doing so she saved us all." Sara's grasp on Xiao Li's hand grew. "And now, you're my last hope to save Julio."
"No. Without you this would not be possible, much as the victory forty years ago." Xiao Li's expression softened. "Thank you, Sara."
"You're welcome."


An hour later, Sara was in a Devenshiran BDU suit and seated near Xiao Li, who had put on a golden silk tunic to appease her allies by not showing her nakedness as was Zhai custom. Mei Li, however, possessing a more fiery and independent spirit than her sister, defiantly bared her breasts while wearing only her riding pants and a small headress that marked her as the new heiress to the throne.
The leader of the Valley Shi'ites - the brave Muslim primitivists who had routed the Norman left at the great battle of East Henley - was Abdullah Jaziri. He was adorned in turban, cape, and rich vest, present due to his position as the most powerful of the Shi'ite town leaders. He had frowned noticably at Mei Li's brazen lack of dress but kept his thoughts to himself, content to listen to the arguments.
Beside him was Allan Dujezen, the leader of the Wiccan Coalition, who remained the most opposed to the conflict; he had argued forcefully that the Wiccans, who had suffered grievously at the center and left of the Allied line at the Battle of East Henley, had no interest in the war, seeing the Normans' enemies as threats to their way of life. Sara knew that he likely didn't speak for all the Wiccan communities - a number had supported her forty years ago despite the Coalition's entreatments to honor their tributary pact with the Norman Empire - but his argument of Kalundan involvement with moralist forces seeking to destroy their autonomy seemed dangerously compelling, if to emotion instead of reason.
Distinct from the Wiccans were the Odinists of Martenval, who had helped them anchor the center with the Shi'ite right at the great battle, and who had contributed the most women - next to the Zhai of course - for the Allied Left that Sara had led that fateful day. They worshipped the Norse gods and were among the most militaristic of the East Henley peoples, save for the Thantians who had moved into the mountains after the Valley submitted to Norman domination two and a half centuries ago (and whom Sara hoped to recruit successfully). Their leader was Thorim, son of Sven, a massive man who fit the stereotype of a viking but was much calmer than said stereotype would allow.

Other assorted towns just outside the Valley had also sent representatives to these meetings, eager to see what would happen. A number had already pledged themselves to Sara's banner no matter what the major communities of the Valley decided, for her very name sparked pride and a contempt for the Normans who had once terrorized this whole region.

The low rumble of argument filled the room. Sara looked apprehensively to Mei Li, who she could see was on the verge of doing something foolish, while Dujezen's ongoing rhetoric about Kalunda's "treason" had nearly brought Xiao Li to tears. It occurred to her that if anyone was to get forceful it should be her - she would command the most respect.
Sara's hand thumped angrily on the table, drawing everyone's attention. "I will not let this pass a moment longer, Dujezen! If your communities wish to disgrace themselves, at least have the dignity to admit your cowardice instead of insulting the people who even now are fighting a desperate, courageous battle against the combined might of the Norman, Amazon, al-Farani, and Stirlin armies!"
"Kalunda is no victim, though many of her people are," Dujezen retorted. "Your precious King Julio brought this upon himself, by siding with the tech worlders, by aiding them in trying to oppress the people of the Eastern Region, by constantly provoking and insulting the Normans long after they were beaten down..."

"Oh yes, Mister Dujezen, the Normans were clearly wrought low, so low they've spent every dollar they've made in the last forty years to buy an arsenal of modern weapons." Sara's voice was full of anger and contempt. "Forty years ago, I heard from your predecessors that the power of the Norman Empire was too great to be beaten when it was overstretched and ready to collapse, now you say they are beaten down when they have besieged Kalunda and East Port with modern weaponry! Tell me, Mister Dujezen, how long you think it will take them to send the tribute army back to this valley if they prevail? Do you honestly think they would have left you alone if successful against the government? No! Because the Norman heart is one that loves power above all else. If they have the means they will use it, period."
The feeling of deja vu, one forty years past, brought a smirk to Sara's face. "But I'm well accustomed to the cowardice of the Wiccan Coalition's leadership in contrast to the Wiccans themselves, who I know to be brave and faithful people. Many of your mothers and older sisters fought at my side at Artemisia. They died so that you could be free to practice your faith and till your fields without having to worry that the Normans would seize all you had gained the next year. And I know from their example that your people are made of sterner stuff than you are."
Sara made sure her gaze swept over every dignitary and emissary in the room. In a solid and angry gesture, Sara swept a hand out over them. "No more talk! As we talk brave men and women are dying to protect their homes and families from the men of Ar, who once enslaved the Eastern Region and will do so again if left unopposed! I say let your people make the choice. Mobilize your armies and your militias, anyone willing to carry a weapon and use it, and in five days meet me at Artemisia upon Queen Yu Ling's Hill. I will address your armies. Those who wish to return home can do so, but those who wish to follow me must be allowed to as well, with their lands and homes left unmolested. I say this is fair, and if you do not accept I will have no choice but to gather what troops I have and to march into your towns to find the brave souls myself. And if Kalunda falls because of this delay, I swear upon my sacred honor that I will kill you for your cowardice." For effect, Sara drew out the ceremonial Zhai dagger that Yu Ling had given her as a gift so long ago and plunged the blade into the wooden table with a loud thunk. "Go, now, or by God I'll have you dragged by horse back to your towns and along the swiftest, roughest paths that can be found!"
They all left.

When they were gone, Xiao Li looked with admiration at Sara. Dao Zi and Mei Li had smiles upon their faces. "In all my time, I have never seen any man or woman treat them in such fashion," Dao Zi said in amusement.
"Sometimes, General, people like that need some motivation, like a swift kick in the ass," Sara giggled. She bowed to Xiao Li. "Your Majesty, with your permission I would like to depart and see about getting the channel open to East Port."
"You may go," Xiao Li said, bowing her 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 » 2006-06-12 11:55pm

The White House, Washington D.C.
Earth, Alliance of Democratic Nations, Universe Designate HE-1


DAY TWENTY-SIX



Dale was waiting in the same room as before for the Ambassadors, with the city outside bustling in the lunch hour rush. Coffee and other drinks were made available, and lunch pastries and sandwhiches had been laid out for the benefit of the ambassadors if they were hungry. Lord Shropshire and Countess Everhart had arrived nearly at the same time, glaring at each other as they took their seats, and were soon joined by the other ambassadors, all taking up seating as they had before.

"Gentlemen and Ladies, thank you for responding so promptly," Dale said. "Please, help yourselves," he said, gesturing to the plates of food with silverware, the dispensers with coffee, tea, and assorted punches, and the glasses beside them.

Golitsyn went for the food without saying a word. Taafe's attention was to the coffee, and as he reached for a mug he politely remarked, "Coffee will be most welcome, Your Excellency."
Shropshire and Everhart went for drinks and Shropshire quickly joined Golitsyn in reaching for pastries, while the Baroness idhl Ghast was the only one to simply take her seat, remarking, "I politely decline, Your Excellency, for I do not have the ability to easily digest human food without supplements."

Dale nodded at that and took a sip from his own cup, filled with tea. As Shropshire chewed on a jelly-filled donut, Dale looked to him and said, "Ambassador Shropshire, has your government given you any further instructions?" The answer was already evident, as Dale had been informed by Minister Wells the previous day that Shropshire had announced new instructions from Smythe-Jones' government, and Alliance Intelligence had confirmed the existance of the cable.

Finishing his pastry, Shropshire nodded while sipping at some fruit punch. "Yes, Mister President. His Majesty's Government, after careful deliberation, has decided to accept the situation and that our desire to follow treaty law was misguided in the face of the facts. We do relent, conditionally, to an intervention for the purpose of ending the war. Our conditions are that Britain is allowed to be part of the intervention and that no foreign party is allowed to attempt annexation of Gilean territory, unilateral dismembering of the former Gilean state's territories, or a unilateral installment of a new Gilean government."
Dale nodded. "I appreciate the British Government's willingness to accept the situation. Now that this is settled, we should discuss the manner of our intervention operations to ensure we don't cause any foul-ups. It is important that we secure the necessary footholds to get troops and supplies into the heart of the Gilean Confederacy immediately. Does anyone have anything from their government to say on the matter?"

Baroness idhl Ghast answered first. "The Taloran Expeditionary Force has been ordered to conduct a measured advance on Gilead proper for the interest of recovering Her Highness the Princess of the Lesser Intuit. We already have agents on the ground on Gilead, which we interpreted as legitimate per the prior discussions here, as a necessary measure in the location of all Her Serene Majesty's subjects for swift rescue from the situation, and their security beforehand."
Dale nodded in acceptance of that. "Understood. Ambassadors Golytsin and Everhart?"

Everhart replied first. "Our Navy is almost ready to begin it's initial pacification campaigns. However, the Hispanic Empire desires guarantees that the future government of Gilead will be a good one. We will not tolerate an attempt to restore the previous government or any that is not devoted to good moral order."
Shropshire had a contemptful expression on his face. Dale ignored it and turned to Golytsin. "Mister Ambassador, what is the Slavic position on the issue of intervention and the next Gilean government?"
"First off, the Slavic government is grateful to see that the British government has decided to do the right thing," Golytsin began, speaking to Shropshire. "Due to the ongoing fighting in Gilead and the reports of atrocities by various factions, we are organizing an armed humanitarian intervention force, which will attempt to restore order to Gilead. The main objective of the force is to break the siege of Kalunda and to preserve the lives of the Slavian citizens therein. Since the Talorans seem to share similar goals, we invite the diplomatic and military delegations of the Taloran Empire to a meeting to work out some sort of coordinated strategy."

"I see. Okay, allow me to lay out my position." Dale folded his hands on the table. "Any future government in Gilead must have the broad support of Gilead's responsible denizens and it should tolerate, legally at least, the legitimate societies and enclaves. Naturally, we all have differing definitions of what constitutes a legitimate society, and some of us having particular interests at stake with the new government. Therefore I think we need to hold off on deciding upon the new government until after we have effectively intervened and ended the civil war. You all need to get your governments on board for a joint intervention so we can arrange for some degree of coordination, including liaisons if necessary."

"Mister President, while I appreciate your need to seem accomodating to social minorities due to the nature of your own Alliance, I am not sure that is the proper path to take," Everhart remarked. "Many of these minority societies are disgusting and artificial. They follow false religions, they are immoral in their personal affairs, and they encourage perverse behaviors that, as we have seen, led them into barbarism. The Hispanic Empire believes that to create a lasting, unified Gilean government will require imposing some kind of social, moral standard upon the rest of the population so that they do not regress to the barbarism their ways have led them to today."

"Oh really, Your Grace, that is too much," Shropshire said angrily. "Though artificial, not all of these societies are so bad as you claim. The Kalundans in particular are a proud and noble people whom, I will remind you, are fighting a desperate struggle against the real barbarians even as we sit here and equivalate them with their foes." Looking across the table to show the change in focus for his words, Shropshire added, "Any new Gilean government must have the respect, if not complete support, of the acceptable societies, even artificial ones like Kalunda. And to get it they must be granted tolerance."

"Certainly there can be no question of tolerating the perverse practices of the likes of the primitive zone, if Gilead is not to fall back into chaos. Stability would certainly be more easily obtained if a common set of social expectations were imposed."

"Well, the Taloran government of course insists on religious freedom as being universally enforced throughout the Confederation, and the free establishment of missions, and the protection of missionaries from sectarian passions, to be something absolutely necessary in any new Gilean constitution, though we have no other particular interest in the organization of the Gilean government save that the current free-trade laws are upheld."

"We have no objection to Farzian missionaries, as we intend to continue our subsidizing of Catholic missions," Everhart replied to Ghast, "but we continue to insist that we must at least agree to impose a moral government on Gilead. I do not see why we must allow debased societies to continue simply because they have said the right things or have not yet fallen to barbarism. I'll remind the Ambassador Shropshire that Kalunda, which he so vigorously defends, used to engage in the universal enslavement and debasement of it's women, whom were addicted to lust and made to practice perversion with each other. Which, I'll add, they still do to this day, as Kalundan women share unnatural relations with each other even after they take husbands!"

Golytsin now spoke. "While 'vile' is an understatement when applied to some of the societies on Gilead," he began, "we recognize all peoples' right to self-determination. Thus, as long as all societies satisfy the basic moral standards, such as the abolition of slavery, equal rights for all members, etc, we do not believe that societies should be deprived of their traditional identities. Not only would this make our job of building a stable Gilead much harder by increasing the local resentment, but this will open a dangerous possibility for conflict between us over which standards to use while re-shaping Gilean society."

"Such hypocrisy!" Everhart cackled. "The Tsar has no problems proclaiming himself an Autocrat and enforcing Orthodoxy upon his populations, following the ways of his ancestors in harrassing Catholics among your populations, but despite the Catholic blood on Romanov hands you dare to preach to us about self-determination? We are not a mob to be soothed with high ideals, and every government in this room has at one time or another suppressed a society's so-called right of self-determination to safeguard itself or others." Everhart smacked a hand on the table. "Gilead is a festering boil, full of all the sins of Mankind. It must be lanced, and it's peoples made to recognize legitimate morality, otherwise they will inevitably slip back into barbarism."

Ghast would respond to that to, with the comment that: "The best solution to immorality is religious revival, which demands an active effort of the monotheistic religions to win souls in Gilead, which leads back simply to universal protections for missionaries."

"That is at best a long-term solution, Baroness, and there is no guarantee that people will not cling to their false religions. We must smash their temples and make them realize the falseness of their pagan and nihilistic beliefs," Everhart decreed. "The Hispanic Empire insists, we must agree to both short-term and long-term solutions to bring permanent unifying morality to Gilead, by force if necessary. We won't have our grandchildren or their grandchildren doing this again in a few centuries."

"While the divine right of the Romanov dynasty is indeed a tenet of the Slavian Orthodox Church, all subjects of His Imperial Majesty are free to worship whatever they god they please, as long as they swear an oath of loyalty acceptable to their faith. That has always been our policy since the founding of our nation. On the other hand, your own treatment of religious minorities is…less than stellar, and your insistence on imposing the Catholic faith upon Gilead is yet more evidence of this." Golytsin glared at the Hispanic ambassador. "Moreover, the desire to avoid precisely this sort of conflict is what lead us to adopt our stance of moderation rather than call for an imposition of a more just society created in our own image. I hope that others will recognize the wisdom of such a stance rather than starting a pointless argument about just which of our societies is more deserving of serving as a model for Gilead. We are, after all, reasonable adults, and not children on an ego trip. As long as the new society adheres to civilized norms and the right to spread the true religion are not restricted, it should be sufficient."

Ghast was the next to speak up, while Shropshire and Dale remained silent to observe the argument. "The establishment of moral government on Gilead, Your Ladyship, is something that founders on the rock of the various confessions. We cannot establish a particular religion, or, bluntly, everyone at this table will be at each others' throats; and we, certainly, have no intention to allow the teaching of Farzianism to be limited where it was previously committed, though in theory should a compromise exist which would preserve the rights of the various confessions and simultaneously uphold Natural Law, we would support it."

"There are certain perversions and crimes that are universally condemned by all civilized peoples," Taafe noted. "This natural law is violated in the most savage manner by portions of the current Gilean populations. Tolerance of such barbarism is not sustainable. We may give our hopes over to some rational compromise provided that it is consistent with morality. But there can be no doubt that religion is the true guarantor of adherence to morality, and only true religion can provide true morality. On that point I concur with the ambassador from the Hispanic Empire. But adherence to civilized norms is a starting point, if only a starting point. Tolerance must not be an excuse to allow the unchecked spread of the same degeneration that created this situation in the first place. Clearly a firm hand would be required to negotiate between the conflicting demands of the various native groups, and the precepts of morality and civilization."

"Naturally, that is a must," Golytsin agreed. "We generally believe that all tolerance should end when the rights of others are violated, and thus hold the existence of slavery and gender-based and racial oppression as the greatest blight on the face of this universe. However," he smiled, "as we have discovered long ago, if someone is really truly determined to go to Hell it is ultimately a futile task to try to stop them."

"Stopping them from taking others with them is another issue..."

Dale looked to Taafe. "Mister Ambassador, if I may ask, how would you handle societies like the... Zhai, I believe, and Kalunda? The Zhai are devoted Taoists, committed strongly to their preservation and honor to the point of being heavily-armed, and the Kalundans are strongly nationalistic, atheistic, and still hedonistic - as you know, their women are very openly bisexual and unwilling to have what we consider proper sexual morality to be imposed on them. And as we can see, they are willing to undergo extraordinary stress to preserve their independence and rights. Ambassador Everhart may answer as well if she desires, but I am curious as to hear your opinion first." Dale calmly folded his hands in front of him, wanting to see how the Hispanics' sponsors would respond on their own.

"Their supposed rights are merely an excuse for license and indulgence," Taafe stated sharply. "The primitive zone is an abomination in itself. How much productive land is left undeveloped for those savages? It is necessary to end such ridiculous and sentimental expressions to insure a stable Gilean government. If they do not wish to accept civilized standards of behavior, if they continue to flout morality, they will be swept aside. Once the subsidies and patronizing of their filthy lifestyles end, and they are exposed to instead of sheltered from the realities of life, their societies will fall like rotten fruit."

"Naturally, I concur with the Ambassador from the Court of Saint Stephan," Everhart said pleasantly.

Shaking his head, Golytsin replied, "You are more than free to try to convince the Kalundans of the error of their ways. In fact, we intend to do just that once the crisis passes. However, if you try to convert them by the sword, I fear that you will simply replace the Normans and their allies as Kalunda's enemies."

Dale nodded, keeping an eye on Shropshire to keep him from saying anything untoward, and looked back to Taafe. "Well, Mister Ambassador, I'm most interested in hearing about how you intend to sweep them aside. Forbid financial and medical aid to those who don't forswear their former ways, dispossess them of their land, forbid them any kind of rights or citizenship? With the use of force present to deal with any attempts to resist these things I suppose."

"If they want to be primitives, then they should be treated as such."

"Last time I checked, Kalunda was not a primitivist state and had become a modern city in most respects," Dale replied harshly. "Furthermore, Mister Ambassador, the Allied Nations will not tolerate the use of armed force to destroy societies that have followed the established rules of civilized conduct, which, to use our current example, the Kalundans have done for the last forty or so years. This is an intervention to end the fighting, safeguard innocent lives, and restore peace and order to the region. It is not an excuse to go crusading to win souls by the barrel of a gun." Dale leaned forward in his chair. "It is clear to me that our governments have divergent ideas as to how Gilead should be settled, but we do agree on the need to intervene immediately. So I suggest you go to your governments and inform them of my recommendation to immediately arrange channels of communication to ensure an orderly and timely intervention. You should also communicate that as agreement on a proper post-war government cannot be reached, we should postpone considerations for the post-war reformation of Gilead until after the intervention has achieved it's goals and the general fighting has stopped. Any questions?"

There were none.
”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 » 2006-06-18 12:24pm

Our Lady of Fatima Mission, Berglund Enclave (Kingdom of Berglund)
DAY TWENTY-THREE



It was nighttime when Fayza, Shameel, and Frank walked slowly toward the mission. Once close they laid flat on the ground and stayed out of the searchlights that swayed around the Mission grounds, a new feature to help prevent slave escapes. Fayza pulled out a small laptop system with a wireless comm unit attached to it and brought up the program she'd finished on the way in. Her hands moved over the keyboard quickly, writing instructions and code that Frank and Shameel would have seen only as a series of words and symbols that made no clear sense.

Suddenly the searchlights snapped off. Fayza slammed close her laptop and scampered to her feet. "Let's go! We've only got a few minutes before their security realizes something's up!"
They briskly jogged, almost ran, the distance to the entrance of the Mission. Lewd images had been scrawled over the walls now, and a graphic depiction of a male figure penetrating a bound woman figure had been hung from the cross above the entrance. The heavy doors swung open as they came up, a pair of young men, obvious clients. They stared down the barrels of the automatic rifles in Shameel's and Frank's hands and backed away, putting their arms up. "Be silent or I will shoot you," Shameel said gruffly, kicking one out of the way as he went toward the second door that led to the chapel of the mission.

The place where Fayza had once quietly watched the nuns and priest of the mission perform the ritual of the Tridentine Mass was now vastly changed. Recording equipment had been erected here and there, and the elegant pews were replaced by soft, luxurious couches. The altar was now used as a table for the display of sex toys, and the crosses that had once adorned the church were now pulled out of their places and behind the altar, six in all, with naked women bound on them and all wearing the black and white headpiece of a Roman Catholic nun. Three were untouched for the moment, recovering breath and looking almost unconscious, while the other three had men with them, touching them and at least two in the act of intercourse.
Most of the men in the room were clients, sitting on the couches and waiting their turn, and some seemed to be touching themselves in anticipation. The handful of security watching were armed, but their weapons weren't in their hands, giving Fayza and the others an advantage.
Fayza howled with rage and drew her gun. She pointed it toward one of the armed men just as attention went to them and shouted, "Don't move or I'll shoot!"
"Throw your guns to the floor, now," Shameel added calmly but firmly. He and Frank held the automatics on the security people as they did so. "Everyone on the floor!"
The people in the room did so, quickly and in a panic, but one of the men who was in intercourse didn't stop. He whined, "I can't! Just let me finish, please!"
Angrily, Fayza stomped up to him and placed her gun against the back of his head. "If you shoot, I shoot," she said in a low, menacing tone.
Swallowing, the man began to cry and whimper, but he obediently moved back. Without even looking at his genitals, Fayza rammed her knee upward and smashed them with it. He screamed and collapsed to the ground, grasping between his legs and puking.

Frank walked up and began to bind the man's hands behind his wrist, as he'd been doing to another man, while Shameel frowned at Fayza. "That was unnecessary."
"It felt damned good though." Fayza looked to the crumpled man and spat on him. "Bastard." She turned her attentions to the girl on the cross. She unlatched the girl's wrists from the manacles holding her on the wooden cross and brought her to the floor.
Shameel brought up a radio. "Team 2, Team 3, go."


From behind the mission, another trio entered through a rear door. Marzi was in the lead because she was familiar with the layout of the mission, and with her was Eli Rubin and Tricia Richardson, a Berglunder friend of Erik Berglund. They were all armed, though Marzi only carried a sidearm for self-defense.
The guards were armed too, and knew something was up, but they were more concerned with the sudden lack of contact with the chapel of the mission and were easily taken out from behind by Tricia, a studied martial artist. The dark-skinned woman, with her hair cut boyishly short, was almost catlike in how she stalked and attacked each guard that posed a threat, until finally one guard raised an alarm.
By then it was too late. There was already a response to Team 1's direct entrance, and Marzi and the others had the benefit of laying an ambush from one of the storage rooms. They allowed the guards to enter, with Marzi as the bait, after which Tricia and Rubin mowed them down with their guns. Marzi got sick at the sight of the blood but didn't have time to get worse as she was quickly pulled from the room.
With their ambush successful, the trio continued on to the personal rooms of the mission, where they expected the other women held there to be.

Erik Berglund and Jason Rubin had been waiting for the signal, and when it came they fired the engines in their vans and pulled off the side road about four miles away from the Mission. It would take them eight minutes at the safe legal speed to get to the mission. Eight minutes of tension as they kept in contact with short-wave and kept a wary eye out for vehicles following them or aircraft flying above.


With all of the men that had been in the chapel on the floor with hands bound behind their back, Fayza and the others had placed the drugged women somewhere safe behind the altar and taken up a firing position.

The attackers came from the sides, seeking to outflank whomever had seized the chapel. They had not reckoned of being caught in a crossfire themselves, as Shameel had stayed at the altar while Frank positioned himself near the front entrance and Fayza right behind the left one. There were only a handful of guards - six at most - and they were mowed down unceremoniously as they broke into the chapel. "Inexperienced idiots," Shameel muttered. "They figured we were some ill-trained abolitionist nuts and didn't bother to take good precautions." He nudged his foot on a fallen body.
Fayza pulled out her laptop and radio. "Team 2, status?"
"We've got eight young women back here. I think that's it."
"We still have five minutes. Make another quick sweep and meet us up here."

In the intervening time, Fayza and Frank took to the task of vandalizing the recording equipment that had transmitted the girls' violation across Gilead and beyond. She planted programs in the network, viruses that would take Berglund's computer people some time to deal with, while smirking and silently thanking the ex-lover who had shown her how to write, and deal with, malware.
"Team 3 here," she heard Erik's voice say, "we're in position. Waiting for you."
From the rear came Marzi and Team 2, with ten girls in tow. "Good thing we checked again, they were in a room locked into some kind of bondage device," Marzi explained to Fayza as they walked out. Behind them, Shameel and Tricia Richardson took to the final acts of sabotage, cutting off the power and physical comm lines to the mission. Leaving the clients and surviving guards in the dark Gilean night, they got into their vans and drove off toward a safehouse.


Berglund Estate


Oloparatho had been granted a set of suites in the spacious Berglund Estate, in which he kept his personal bodyguards and the Klingon-Romulan hybrid slave-girl that he had left from his once-large personal harem.
He was now seated with this young woman, named Saeihr, in one of his rooms, his hand stroking her long dark hair while she remained on her knee, her leash hanging freely from her collar and her wrists and ankles loosely bound by chains that acted as the only covering on her mature, strong body. He had bought her off the markets of the Triangle years ago as a teenager, where she'd been sold by her Romulan prostitute mother's pimps after her mother's death from a voracious venereal disease. It'd taken some time to break her, and most of it had been spent on the run from the Alliance.
Staring into Saeihr's sad dark eyes were Aurora's. Her face was locked on a painful grimace at the stress in her tortured limbs, which were pulled back and downward to lock her into an Orion restraint frame that Oloparatho had kept with him. It was like a couch, with manacles and chains out of the back that the ankles and wrists could be locked into once the limbs were pulled backward and the elbows and knees bent at a certain angle, all enough to cause pain from the great tension. On the seat of the chair was a neural stimulator that could be raised to penetrate the seat's bound occupant. It was turned off currently, but was still a discomfort on top of all the others that Aurora was feeling for the moment.

"I thought it would take me forever to convince Berglund to let me have time with you," Oloparatho said. "At first I thought you might be an Alliance spy, but then again, the Alliance lacked the fortitude to send it's own people into slavery for the purpose of spying. So it has to be one of the local powers, I would guess. That helps you a bit, woman, because if you were from that damned Alliance I would fill your days with endless torment to avenge my people's destruction at their hands." Oloparatho crossed his arms. "That just leaves your punishment for aiding the escape of the bronze-skinned woman I gave to Berglund with the Trill. You see, she is from the Alliance, as is her friend, whom I was sadly forced to sell to the Normans to cover an unexpected debt."

Knowing as much of the Normans as she did, Aurora finally spoke. "So that they would do to her as you would have?"
Oloparatho roared with laughter. "Oh, I suppose so, but I would have kept her for the satisfaction of having her myself if I'd been allowed. Then I would have added her in my offer to Berglund. I only need my Saeihr to please me." He stroked Saeihr's hair again. "The Gods are keen on the rites of vengeance, and if I were to enslave and use a million Alliance women it would not satisfy my revenge on them for what they have done to my people."
"Your gods are false," Aurora replied.
"And your's is not? If so, why does he not show himself to prove his existance and his power? Why does he not send his minions, his creatures, to free you from your torment, even as you pray for deliverance as you have been?"
"I pray for the deliverance of my soul," Aurora replied. "What happens to the body means nothing."
Oloparatho frowned and jumped out of his seat. He retrieved a leather flogger from his side and began to lash Aurora on the chest with it. She bit her lip and refused to cry out from the stinging pain, the leather coarse and strong enough to bruise and cut her flesh, creating small, thin streaks of red on her tanned skin. "Does that mean nothing?!" he shouted at her when he was finished.

Aurora looked up at him. "It means nothing when my soul is concerned, and your's. I pity you for what you are, a cruel man bound to cruel false gods so tightly that he will not see the truth until his soul is lost."
Oloparatho smacked her on the head, hard enough that it made her skull throb. He picked up a control for the neural stimulator and turned the dial on the negative side. Aurora shrieked and trembled, her limbs too taunt to move. When he turned the dial back to the off position Oloparatho grabbed her by the chin and forced her to look up. "My gods have taught my people the truths of the universe. That the strong rule and that the weak serve on pain of torment or death. What has your Christian God given you, woman? What has he taught you but weakness and humility that makes you a natural slave? Oh yes..." Oloparatho nodded and brought the control device up to Aurora's face. "I know about your Christian God. Some of the Humans in the Alpha Quadrant still worship him. They will honor a diety that took human form and allowed himself to die, entirely unbefitting a real god, and claim us false for worshiping the gods that have made us strong." Smirking, his stinking hot breath covered Aurora's face as he guffawed, "When the time comes and Berglund lets me end you, I will offer your soul as tribute to Irruven, and in your eternal torment in his Palace, you will think of your god with nothing but scorn. I hope you are read...."
Oloparatho was interrupted by a knock on the door. He went to it and was met by one of Berglund's security men, who led him out of the room. After he was gone, Saeihr stood and went to the pantry, where she retrieved a small glass of water. "Here," she said in a thick accent, bringing the cup up to Aurora's mouth.
Aurora opened her parched lips and allowed the water in, savoring it's taste for a moment before swallowing. She watched Saeihr place the cup back, hoarsely replying, "Thank you. But why?"
"I have sit there before," was Saeihr's reply in broken English. "When he buy me, he make me sit there for hours, make me hurt and have...." Saeihr knelt down and gently touched Aurora's cheek. "Why you not afraid? Why you believe in your God?"

"Because I do. Because I have faith in God and his Son, the Christ, who died upon the Cross for the sins of all beings. What we suffer here in mortal life doesn't matter compared to eternity, and I have faith in His mercy and in His justice, which will come to your master sooner or later as it comes to all beings."
Saeihr did not answer at first. Before Aurora could speak further, the door began to open and she scampered back to Oloparatho's plush seat. When he entered, it was with Berglund right behind him, wearing his house robes as usual. He looked to Aurora for only a moment before looking back to Oloparatho. "Don't worry about this so-called 'resistance'. They're just some trouble-makers."
"Do not understimate them," Oloparatho growled. "They have knowledge of your computer security and the routes your guard patrols take. And to hide that many people means they have a safehouse somewhere in your territory."
"Probably stupid Kelvintowners, we'll get them," Berglund said dismissively. "I'm going to call now and have the mission stripped of anything of value. Since they've ruined my operation there, no need to leave that eyesore around in my countryside."
"What do you plan to do?"
"Have it blown up."
Aurora scowled at that, but Oloparatho chuckled. With nothing more to say, Berglund excused himself and left, leaving Oloparatho to turn his attention back to Aurora. "It occurs to me that you might know something of this underground resistance," Oloparatho said rather ominously, "and even if Berglund doesn't care for the threat, I do." He walked over to the stand where he placed the control device and picked it up. "And now you are going to help me eliminate them."
”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 » 2006-07-09 06:50am

Svedlun Commercial Transport Inc., Berglund Enclave (Kingdom of Berglund)
DAY TWENTY-EIGHT



In the distance sirens were audible and a column of smoke rose into the sky. Fayza watched this from the second floor of the Svedlun warehouse, where a group of former offices had been turned into sleeping quarters.
She slipped back down from the window and stretched from where she'd been laying down. She was clad immodestly, wearing a black sports bra and knee-length running shorts provided by one of the other women in the Resistance. An automatic rifle with a clip already loaded was beside her bed in the event of a security force attack. On a nearby nightstand was her "war" diary, which she'd started to keep after they got to Snyderville. Fayza picked up the open book and began reading the pages, which laid out all of the attacks the Resistance had made in the past days. They had mostly targeted the auction houses that during the day sold the women of Berglund's neighbors into sexual slavery, along with tonight's raid on one of the security force armories.

Fayza flipped through the pages and her eyes turned to the edition of the Berglund Gazette that had come out that day. Aurora's picture was on it, with Father Delgado beside her in a "courtroom". Though she looked like she did when Fayza had least seen her, Fayza could see her face and knew she had probably been tortured - it was the same blank look she would have after hours in Berglund's basement dungeon. She unconsciously rotated and rubbed the shoulder that Berglund's torture rack had pulled out of joint during one of their sessions.
She dropped the paper to the ground and wept for a few minutes, thinking of all the horrible things that had happened to her since her simple one night stand in a resort city had led to her enslavement. She stopped when there was a knock on the door and looked up. "Yes?"
The door opened and Shameel entered. "The others are back. Let's go."
Frank had gone with Erik Berglund and the strike group that had raided the armory. When they returned they had come with a van loaded with weapons snatched before they'd blown up the rest of the armory. Fayza followed Shameel down and went to work helping the others unload the truck and stash the weapons in an underground compartment.

When this was done, Shameel called for a strategy session. Eli Ruben, Erik, Frank, and Fayza joined Shameel and another Berglunder, the fair-skinned Yvette Lundsen, a retired sergeant in the Gilean Army who'd joined the Resistance. "Berglund's becoming increasingly agitated trying to bring us down," Shameel remarked. "And given the recent radio intercepts that Miss al-Bakar and Mister Ruben have made, we may have forced him to slow down his conquest campaign to get troops back here to stop us."
"The bad news is that despite Mister Berglund's expectations, we've failed to win any kind of powerful popular support. If anything people are being even more supportive of Illian than before."
"Why is that?" Frank asked. "I know he's not that popular."
"Simple, Mister Latzen. Fear. Illian still controls a powerful merc army. Nobody's going to stand up and challenge him so long as he has that." Shameel shrugged. "I've seen it before. And we've made it worse because we've irritated him, and people aren't going to risk affiliation with us if it means getting their wives and daughters turned into sex slaves."

Fayza nodded sullenly. "Okay, so just resisting isn't enough. What can we do next?"
"We need to do something public to demonstrate that even if Illian has power now, he won't have it for much longer," Erik said. "We need to make them realize that Illian is not going to last."
"The military's not in position to drive him back," Yvette complained. "They're too busy on other fronts. And the militias in this area aren't up to an offensive against trained mercs."
Everyone looked at each other and an air of despair covered the room. Then Shameel suddenly stood up. "The day after tomorrow, Berglund will be having a public ceremony," he said. "In all likelihood, he'll use it to execute Aurora and Father Delgado as a public display of force. I say we turn this against him."
"How?" Frank asked.
"Fayza, your knowledge of the local comm systems means we can set up the jumbotron and monitors in his public square to show any channel we desire. Even better, we can hack his personal channel and make that display what we want too."
"I suppose. What then?"
Shameel grinned. "We show the people of Berglund proof that he won't last. And then when they react, we take him down."


Later that night, Yvette Lundsen was laying in the bedroom of her apartment when she heard a noise in the living room. Gun in hand, she went out there, and saw a tan-skinned bearded man sitting in the couch smoking a synthetic cigarette. He motioned her to sit down at the nearby chair before he handed her a photo. Yvette lost the color in her face at seeing her twenty year old daughter on it, naked and bound to Berglund's electro rack with nipple clips on her breasts and an anguished look on her face. "You promised you wouldn't hurt her," she said.
"We didn't. She had a very intense orgasm I'm told," the man chuckled in reply. "In three days, the Langeist envoy leaves by boat back to Ko-ro-ba. Cooperate and King Illian won't be sending your daughter as a gift with him."
Yvette paled and nodded, slowly. Her precious little girl... she couldn't let her be taken by the Langeists, not them. They were the non-primitivist ideological cousins of the Normans, hewing to the same misogynistic principles and practicing many of the same things. "We'll be attacking the public event the day after next," she said, her voice nearly failing from the guilt of betrayal, "when the King will be pronouncing sentence on the Hispanic spy and the Catholic priest."
"Congratulations, Sergeant Lundsen. You just saved your daughter from the Langeists."
"Wait." Lundsen extended a hand. "I want my daughter to be freed. I want her to be a free woman."
"King Illian rarely emancipates his most beautiful slaves, Sergeant."
"After all I've done for him, can't he make an exception?" Lundsen asked. "He can have me if he wants. I will willingly be his slave if he releases my daughter and announces our deal publicly."
The man seemed to think for a moment. "Fine. See you in two days, Sergeant." He left. Lundsen returned to her room and spent all night crying into her pillow.
”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 » 2006-07-09 02:16pm

Near the Wiccan Village of Artemisia, Gilead

DAY THIRTY



The appointed day had come. Gathered at the edge of the East Henley Valley, over the fields where blood had once flowed in the fight for freedom against the Normans, the Zhai Army had met those towns and communities that had without reservation flocked to the banner of Sara Proctor, represented by the flag of her family seal and motto; though very few of the locals could understand the Latin written upon it, the symbol of a sword and a broken pair of manacles was enough for all to know what it stood for.
The other armies were arrayed to the south of them, awaiting Sara upon Queen Yu Ling's Hill, where forty years before the brave young Queen of the Zhai had charged downhill into the pike of the Norman reserves, and where she took her last breath with her husband, the two dying lovers together with their hands clasped until the end. They saw the armies already present and flying Sara's banner, but they were wondering where she was.
And then she appeared. Sara walked to the crest of the hill, not on horseback but on foot as she had been on the day of the battle. From her storage Sara had taken the red Kalundan Janissary armor she had worn in the battle. It consisted of a medium weight panoply, a chest plate that stopped at the shoulders and neck save for connecting pieces to either side of the neck and an accompanying piece that protected her hips. Arm and leg grooves and heavy leather boots, all red, rounded out the protection, save for the red helmet upon her head and the red cloak of fine Kalundan silk that flowed down her back, connected to a brooch clasped at her neck just above the breastplate. In her hand she carried the sword that she had taken, long ago, from the Norman sent to recapture her after her daring escape from their train, the sword with which she had fought the battle and survived many of her adventures in the Primitive Zone.

A silence fell over the crowd. Only the old knew her by sight. The middle-aged had only faint memories as children of her, and those younger knew her only by legend. She stood before them now, the Bringer of Liberty, the Rebel to surpass all rebels, the Killer of Norman Manhood, the Goddess of War made manifest and sent to break the Norman yoke over the peoples of the Eastern Region. They remained silent from awe, even as some of their leaders fretted that their desires to stay out of the war were to be dashed.
"Many of you know me only by name," Sara began, speaking normally. Hidden in the silk corset showing just above her chestplate was a microphone, and small remote speakers hidden in the ground and the underbrush allowed the multitude to hear her plainly. "I am Sara Proctor. Forty years ago I came to this valley to call your people to arms to oppose the Norman Empire. Your parents and grandparents answered my call, and on this spot they drove back the Norman army they once feared as invincible. Some of them are still here, having sacrificed themselves for the future."

"And now I call upon you to honor that sacrifice, and if need be, to match it." Sara moved her head to take in the crowd, to ensure they had all given their attention. "The Normans have not been idle since their defeat. Brooding in their homelands they have spent forty years of wealth to prepare for the day they would restore their hold on their empire. They sold not just their gold, but their knowledge in the foul craft of molding innocent women into servile slaves, and all in the name of gathering the modern weapons with which they today besiege the city of Kalunda."
"The city of Kalunda, ruled over by King Julio. King Julio, who risked his life to win the hearts of his army back from his treacherous kin, the Norman puppet Luvis, and who marched to save your parents from the Normans on that day, gaining a share of the victory by arriving at the right time and routing the enemy at the critical moment when all were weakened by the fighting. Kalunda, which for forty years has defended the rights of the people of this valley against any who would infringe upon them. Kalunda now stands besieged, desperate but still brave and willing to pay any price to see the defeat of the Norman enemy before he can restore his ancient strength!"

"I understand your fears of the tech world, and why you distrust the Kalundans for embracing it. You fear that they will come and force you to accept their ways, their gods, their manners. I tell you that you need not fear this, not if you prove to them that you stand upon the sight of the righteous, that you stand for freedom! If you remain out of the fight they have no reason to believe you worthy of their tolerance, and the peoples who do fight will see no reason to help those that did not come to their aid when their blood was being spilled. Some of your leaders say that your ways are threatened with destruction. They are right. And if you stay out of this fight and try to remain above the war, then you will be lost. The outside powers, whom will intervene, mark my words, will force you to change your ways at the point of a gun. And there will be no one to plead your cause to the peoples of the Multiverse, because why would one plead the cause of those who have forsaken their promises and their treaties, and who remained out of the fight to decide their destiny?"
Sara noticed the rumbling among them. If they feared the tech world, then she would make that work for her. She would use that fear to convince them to follow her. "But if you do fight, if you proclaim your support for the people of Kalunda, if you proclaim for all to hear that the Kalundan people are not alone in this fight, then who would be so base as to equivilate you to the Normans, or to the al-Farani, or to the peoples who refuse to fight to decide their future? Who would be ungrateful for your efforts to destroy the evil society of Ar and to avenge it's victims once and for all?"
Sara unsheathed her sword and raised it toward them. "With this blade I slew many Norman men to win your freedom. Now, on this hill, on this battlefield, I will shed blood again. My own." Holding the sword with her right hand, she cut her left palm on the blade and let her blood drip onto the ground as the crowd watched, mesmerized. "I give you my guarantee, my blood oath, that if you follow me to war against the Normans, your ways will be preserved one way or the other. I will fight for your rights here. If that is not enough, I, as Grand Duchess of Illustrious, a loyal vassal to Her Majesty the Queen of the Devenshires and Protector of the Faithful, will grant you some of my own lands in Illustrious, lands that are like those here, and that you will have your ancient rights preserved as vassals of the Grand Duchy of Illustrious under the protection of my name and my bloodline. Now, whom among you wishes to follow me to the gates of Ar?"

A tumult came from the crowd. The men and women assembled, some armed with little more than pitchforks or clubs, raised their arms and their fists into the air and began to chant her name. "Then you are with me?!"
"Yes!" was the answer, in a variety of languages.
"For the glory of your parents that were slain here?!"
"YES!"
"On the sanctity of your faiths that were saved here?!"
"YES!"
"On the honor of your families that were protected here?!"
"YES!!!"
Faced with the thunderous cry, a tear came down Sara's cheek, and her eyes filled with the hope that they would yet prevail in the contest to come.



From a short distance away, William watched as his grandmother rallied the people. This was the legend in the flesh, not the long-lost family member he'd heard of but the famed adventuress, the great woman who had humbled an empire and romanced a king. He was awestruck at his grandmother's power, her charisma, and how her words resonated with the people, even if his Christian upbringing railed against the barbarity of the blood oath.
He looked to the side and saw Mei Li standing there, topless as she usually was, and looking at him with a hint of longing. William felt lustful for the beautiful princess, something he was shamed over but could not deny. But her gaze had turned back to the cheering crowd of thousands. "It is not every day that you see this," she said to him in her thick accent. "A legend came alive today. And because of it, we will win a victory."
"I believe so too," William said, aware that their work was not done yet.
"Do you desire me, William?"
The question was blunt, and his answer was confused. "Well, um.... I...."
She giggled. "I know some of you tech-worlders are more modest and careful about these things. But I see the lust in your eyes. It is the same lust I have for you. Would you object if we met in your tent tonight and had sex?"
"Well, yes," William stammered.
That, strangely, drew another giggle. "Yes, I expected that answer," Mei Li admitted. "Hopefully," she added, looking him eye-to-eye, "I can change that soon enough."
”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 » 2006-07-20 08:48am

Written by Marina.

Ambush on all Sides.
Day 26



A stacco series of loud shrieks ripped through the air. Four vehicles in the front of the Norman supply column were ripped to shreds by MANPADs. Seconds later another such attack followed further down the column, toward the rear, trapping the vehicles along the narrow road. A machine-gun opened up, raking the center. Figures in camoflauge in the forest directed rapid fire with their assault rifles down onto the column.

“Amazons!” Ran a familiar cry on the Norman lines, familiar enough with their tactics of subversion and stealth attack. Men, most of them older, hit the dirt and took cover as under the hail of bullets from the machine-guns and assault rifles on automatic. They were dying everywhere; they had been ambushed on all sides.

Ineffectual return fire proved less than useless as it allowed the ambushers to home in on their positions. Snipers were firing now, too, under the cover of the suppressing machine-guns, and the casualties were piling up by the dozen a minute. With the only armed vehicles knocked out, there was little more that could be done now.

A young Norman file-closer knew the only thing that was sure to work under the circumstances. His name was Martas, and he was scarcely old enough for his rank, but with the total mobilization of every home-stone of the Norman people he was needed here, commanding mostly old men. They were surrounded at every point and he could think of only one way out of the situation.

“Up! Up! Don't cower like women before women!” He cried, leaping to his feet and brandishing his kalash with fixed bayonet. “We'll charge them and break through! It's that or are our lives.”

Hurrrah! Forward! He shouted again, and started forward on his own. Eighty-six men followed him in a ragged line, crashing through the underbrush at a run straight into the Amazon emplacements with fixed bayonets. It was a classic Norman solution to an ambush like this, the perfect Amazonian ambush. No matter how serious the problem, they just rose and rushed the enemy, and either broke through to reform beyond, and escape or counterattack, or else died in effort.

In retrospect, they should have been more cautious. But the Amazons were allies, and people had been slow to react to news of their split. Now it would cost them in lives and in blood, as the pools around the shattered bodies of their comrades showed, as they charged on and upwards.

The Amazons, of course, expected such dirt-primitive tactics from their enemies, and they had their own simple solution. They retreated in front of it. There was no Amazon there to challenge the Normas with their momentum. They split like the waters of a river divided by a great rock; and then they repositioned themselves and machine-guned the Normans from both sides.

It was a massacre. Fourty-one of them were killed or crippled. Martas himself charged on until he felt the blinding pain of a burst of rounds into his side, and he fell in horror down into the thick and verdant underbrush. But he had saved slightly more than half of the men who had charged with him; and if he had not charged, then none of them would have survived. The men pressed on, with the goal of only survival in mind, and so got clear.

In another thirty minutes or so the firing had died down. The Amazons approached. They swept through the area where Martas lay wounded first. He saw them coming, and then he heard the screams of the other wounded. Some of them plead. Most of them; they just screamed in terror. He knew what was being done to them, and in fear of suffering it while alive—he would suffer it one way or another, but better dead, by far--he made a last effort with his strength, groaning loudly in pain. The sound attracted a young Amazon who pressed forward toward him, and she came close enough for the wicked and pleased gleam in her eye to be seen, and the long wavy-bladed knife of her adulthood in hand, ready to unman him.

He smiled cruelly. Martas had managed with the last of his strength to get the one item he would ever need again in his now to be very short life. He had got some of his men away, victory enough, and now.... “You'll be my slut for all eternity in Hades,” he growled out, even as he coughed blood, and released the handgrip on the grenade.

But that last pleasure was denied him. A much more experienced Amazon heard the words and spun, diving for the startled girl and knocking her down, dragging and rolling with her away. Martas cried in bloody frustration; but at least he had preserved himself from the worst of fates. Then the five second fuse ran out, and the grenade ripped his stomach open from neck to groin. He was dead in a minute.

“Stupid bitch,” the older warrior slapped the girl on the cheek. “They will not just lay in wait for you, knowing what you bring. Few are those lucky enough to strip the manhood of the enemy when he lives. Now, be a realist about it instead of a glory hound, and claim your prize from his body thus, girl.” She shoved the woman-child toward Martas' body and then began her own advance.

And the girl soon forgot her humiliation in the pride she had at slicing off the penis and testicles of the dead Norman and stringing them through to hang on her belt, as a symbol of a man killed in battle. That was a distinction from those killed after the battle—they were unmanned, and then their genitals were stuffed into their throats to choke them to death.

The convoy was looted, and the slavegirls in it were recruited by the lash to act as porters for the goods, piled down like women in India on the way to the market with a hundred-pound load of cordwood upon their backs; but even that was not sufficient, and the Amazons had to carry much themselves. It was a good haul, and it would help them all to survive during their grueling march through these mountains, which had already taken them many miles in a mere three days.

This was Leeasa Avrila's war, being fought even as she led her army on the long march back home. She was aiding Kalunda by doing what her people did best, raiding through the enemy columns during her circutous retreat, and many such parties of raiders like this, swift of feet on the way out and laden on the way in, served like the grasping tendrils of an octopus to support the column proper.

It was a savage little war reflected a hundred times over through the dying Gilean Confederacy, with Leeasa's Amazons fighting ironically in their barbarism to preserve civilization, and that only by accident, for they were no purveyors of it to be sure. Here, then, was a civilization entirely undone, and preserved only in a few places like Kalunda, where machine-gun and gas shell stood as the murderous bulwarks of civilization against the darker horrors of barbarism.
”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 » 2006-07-20 10:23am

This post was also by Marina.:)

About and within the City of Kalunda.
DAY 27



They had spent the whole of the prior day laying in the filth along the bank of the river, in sealed jumpsuits, to be sure, but still, floating in shallow water among the burnt corpses, rotting and bloated under the Gilean sun, which choked the shallows and marshes along the river's course. Even though the corpses were those of humans, and their stench held no special horror for the Taloran nose, it was still an exceedingly unpleasant position.

They had sunk their raft, intentionally, in the shallow water so that it looked like a piece of flotsam. Then dark had come. Najhasi Fridalyn had done the dangerous work herself. They refloated the raft in the pitch black and pushed off into the river, drifting down with the current. Once out deep enough, toward the middle of the great river—and it took a long while to get that far out, and they lost some progress downstream--Najhasi herself took a long connecting rod from the bottom of the raft, and attached to it by a rope, dove under the filth river, choked with the effluents of the great armies locked in battle, and the deritus of the fighting. In the murky blackness of the night-water, she locked a hook and locked the bar into it. Surfacing, she took the disconnected electric engine of the raft, at full charge; also attached to the raft by a rope, for it was more valuable than her life.

She took another deep breath and dived beneath the horrible, stinking water. Locating the thin metal bar below the raft took forever, and she was desperately in need of air by the time she did, but instead, Najhasi pressed onward, walking her hand down the bar as the other one had the rope with the engine weighing down painfully wrapped about her wrist. She found the bottom, and brought up the engine, executing the difficult task of securing it, first by magnetic, then good solid steel bolts, entirely by hand.

It was a contained water-fan type, which was necessary for the next part. She pushed upward, and looked around the faces of her small party. “Into the water,” she ordered breathlessly, and severely.

“You are alright, ma'am?” Lieutenant Rastim Ulojhi asked of her, even as he handed her the remote control for the engine and slipped silently into the water.

“Fine,” Najhasi gasped, and wrapped a hand onto one of the trailing ropes of the raft, as she pushed the toggle. All secured by the trailing ropes, only Najhasi had her head above water, to navigate: The others, using snorkels, put their bodies as far below the water as they could. And of course the engine was down there, too, making it dangerous, but it had a huge advantage. It reduced their cross-section, for starters, but the thermal signatures of the engine and their own bodies were essentially undectectable to surface-scan equipment.

Of course, if either side has submersible scan infrared.. Well, I guess we can hope they think we're fish. But Najhasi, in her mind, knew better than that. None of the people fighting were that well equipped here; they had picked up that much from their reconaissance of the Norman camps.

Speaking of which, that brought another delicate problem to their mission. The allied army was preparing to attack the next day. Najhasi could not in good conscience had that from Jhayka, and it made a breakout attempt almost impossible until after the attack had passed. So they were being, by circumstance, drawn into the fight themselves. They must give Jhayka firsthand warning. Perhaps a last good show by her will even allow the city to hold for a while longer, Najhasi mused in an humanitarian bent. But her mind was distracted by much greater things, by the painful and delicate effort required to direct the raft past the remnants of the Norman squadron and then through the Kalundan patrol boats beyond, intending to prevent infiltration like this, but by far less skilled opponents.

They were still a real danger of being killed by the Kalundans, and traversing them and then carrying on to the city nearly exhausted the batteries of their electric motor. They came to a stop by a quiet and darkened clubhouse along the river which hadn't yet been damaged in the sporadically heavy shelling. Najhasi accordingly led her party out of the river and filth, and some part of her Taloran mind, stereotypically obsessed with cleanliness, wanted to stop and take a bath right there. It was the early morning of the day, and in the pre-dawn darkness the city seemed at peace, until the silence was broken by the wail of a shell, or a half-dozen in quick succession, and the explosions raged, and the red glow of a fire or two could be seen, and so in this stacco fashion did one realize they were in a city under mortal peril.

She was a professional, so of course they didn't, and soon enough a detachment of the Civil Guard securing order in the city found them. The young girls raised their rifles nervously, but one of them cried: “Why, they are the Marshal's troops! Talorans—let them pass!”

“Thank you,” Najhasi managed.

“The stench is horrible—where have you been?”

“I cannot say,” Najhasi smiled. “But take me to the ranking officer, this I order of you.”

“I will show you to Brigadier Doorn's office at once,” the girl dipped her head, almost embarassed, and forming up her little squad of teenagers, started off toward the headquarters of the Civil Guard.

Brigadier Barthold Doorn, of His Apostolic Majesty's service, had of late been in control of the training brigades of the Kalundan militia, but now these had been committed to combat to counter the arrival of the Stirlins, and therefore he had petitioned on account of his poor physical condition to retire to the post of the command of the Civil Guard, which was a valid use for his skills: It was needed to keep order, detain and execute saboteurs and deserters, and conduct control of operations regarding the cleanup and repair from damage by the shelling, and the clearing of casualties. But since the Kalundans themselves desired to get to grips with their enemy, there was a shortage of volunteers for its command with any experience among the populace of the city, and so Jhayka had assented to his assuming this position, with the priviso that he manage to juggle the training of the Civil Guard to full military standards as a last-ditch reserve, on top of all their other duties. He had managed ably enough in this, or at least chosen subordinates who could manage ably enough, which was all that counted.

The young corporal led her charges in, the filthy collection of Talorans who might as well have been in a sewer for two days. But they maintained some dignity even so, and as the irritated Brigadier Doorn came to the request of an orderly in his bunker, he stopped up short in surprise at them, and then made a sweeping bow. Eight Talorans was a very large number, for their small figures in this city, and he had not recalled seeing them before.

“Brigadier Barthold Doorn, in the service of His Majesty the King of Kalunda,” he introduced himself, portly and graying but absolutely charming in his formal uniform and with his polished manners. “Lately of the service of His Catholic Majesty, the Habsburg Emperor.”

“Brigadier Doorn,” Najhasi fought the need to bow. “I am Najhasi Fridalyn of Her Serene Majesty's Directory of Security. Can you conduct me to Her Highness the Princess of the Lesser Intuit?”

The Brigadier stared for a moment, and then his brain processed what those words meant, and he exclaimed: “Why, you have come through the allied siege lines! Madame Fridalyn, such a feat as this will not be soon forgot. Please, please, let me lend you my own baths for you all to get clean in, and then I shall give you something to eat..”

“Please, Brigadier, that is quite kind, but I simply need to speak to Her Highness immediately.”

“Oh, come now, ah...”

“OpLeader, really, is all that's necessary. But please, we really don't..”

“Ah, but you do,” Doorn shuddered slightly. “It will take time to get the message to Her Highness and for her to recive you at any rate, so take advantage of my facilities in the meanwhile, please...”

Najhasi gave in to her inner desire to take her first bath since getting on the J'u'crea, and her first chance to clean her hair since leaving it and its shower. Even a human water bath was appealing at the moment... “Very well. But send the messages out immediately, please, Brigadier; this is somewhat urgent, I have information Her Highness needs to hear.”

“Of course, Operation Leader. She will be informed at once.” The Brigadier smiled, and turned the Talorans over to an orderly, glad to escape their stench for all that their survival and success was a miracle. And then he headed over to compose the necessary message, musing: Well, it appears you have gotten yourself out of another scrape just in time, for surely if they have come, relief is not far behind! A bit much on excitement for what should have been a peaceful middle age, but one takes what one gets.

Unfortunately, that was scarcely the truth.


Najhasi saw Jhayka for the first time in years as the sun rose over Kalunda, and the wisps of smoke from the barrage of the night drifted in the air over the abandoned palace, stripped of all valuables, taken to the vaults below. She had been led high in the palace, by two quiet Crimson Guards, who had then turned away and left them alone together. Najhasi, at least, felt refreshed beyond measure by the bath and by the excellent food that the Brigadier had served at table; the Lord alone, though, knew what regulations of rationing he was breaking to get it.

She approached Jhayka quietly, Jhayka in her cape, facing out toward the lines, scarcely visible over the city's still-intact thick stone walls. For the moment the Norman artillery had ignored them in favour of terror-bombardments through the city, and equally ineffectual efforts to destroy the notoriously difficult to damage heavy machine of the industrial quarter to the south of the old city.

Jhayka did not turn until Najhasi was very close. Then, she turned abruptly, and with a gloved hand delivered a stinging slap to Najhasi's cheek, dead eyes as emotionless as ever though her face in a rage and ears up while her pink hair flung wildly about her from the swift motion. “Are you here to kill another of my lovers, damn you?!”

“May The Lord of Justice spare me such a fate as to be the bringer of such evil,” Najhasi answered, and added, softly: “Your romances, even as sinful as they are in the eyes of our faith, do not merit death, Your Highness. The All-Highest Empress is not a cruel woman.” She reached into a pocket and pulled out an hermetically sealed pouch, handing it to Jhayka.

Jhayka cut it open, without saying another word, and read the contents in the ornate old pictographic seal script of the palace. Then she read it a second time. “You would bring Danielle out as well..” She said breathlessly, surprised, almost trembling.

“We can make it, down the river,” Najhasi answered. “It will not be easy or pleasant, and the J'u'crea will be packed to the bursting, but it will get us to East Port, and from there further evacuation can be arranged. I am sure of this.”

“I tend to believe you. Danielle herself also believes that we could evacuate down the river; she is overly optimistic, and makes to do it with the lot of us. Of course the reality of it is that only a few can go.” Jhayka took a deep breath. “She wants to leave, I think. She certainly doesn't want to die. And I love her.”

“Then leave with her,” Najhasi smiled gently. “Your honour is satisfied; the All-Highest commands you back to the service, and you must depart for your command at once.”

“My honour is not satisfied! Murderess—Low-born! You know nothing of honour.” Jhayka flung herself away from Najhasi, and faced the siege-lines once again. “My honour is here with the city and the siege.”

“The voice of the Empress is behind this command. The Empress whom you chose to obey over love, over your own heart and over your own lust. You proved yourself with precious little honour then, Your Highness, until you were saved by some inner sense of Justice which preserved your own head from the sword's cut.”

“There is also honour in the preservation of one's love—do you not know the stories of our people?”

“Those stories are the stories of the Dynasty that I serve. That you, ultimately, are pledged to.”

“But my honour is to the people of this city! I have sworn myself to command their defence.” Jhayka flung her arm out toward the siege lines. “Can you deny that?”

“I do not deny it; but your duty has superceded it, Your Highness,” Najhasi answered firmly, stubbornly: “The All-Highest is the font of all honour! You cannot be dishonoured through obedience to Her commands. Let Julio command his own defence; he has had a month to learn from you, and it is his place.”

“A month is not the decades of experience I had in the worst sort of close-quarters warfare, and you know it,” Jhayka replied, now almost despondent. “The Empress asks me to do a bitter thing.”

“A thing which will leave you happy with your lover, this Danielle Verdes, for many a fine century.” Najhasi's voice here almost broke: “Jhayka, I speak to you as someone who stood up for your life, as a blood-friend now, regardless of our class. Do not disobey the Empress when you redeemed yourself before me and the whole nation to stand for what was right against your heart in the past. Come with us. Live; Danielle shall be your mistress... And I shall have repayed my debt to you in allowing things to go so far that Lashila had to be executed.”

“You... Accept.... Guilt?” Jhayka stared, and then began to pace. “You... Accept.... Guilt? After all this time?”

“Yes. My the Lord of Justice show mercy upon my soul and may I redeem my misdeeds.”

Jhayka's face was long. She was silent, and she paced. For five minutes the silence was held, her ears ominously flattened. But they raised, and turned back toward the view of the city to the south, where the crump of shells was now again falling.

Then she began to speak, softly: “For thousands of years it has been a custom of our people that the nobility should serve in the military of the liege to whom they are sworn. Because of this certain customs of swearing oaths have developed. Those who receive land in fief, are bound by these oaths, and no others.

“It is due to this that when officer-candidates of noble birth are brought into the military they are not required to swear an oath, because they have already sworn one, an oath toward their feudal duties, which by entering the military they are merely fulfilling.” Jhayka paused for a moment.

“And in the deep history of this custom, remains buried but legal the fact that the oath of the noble may be undone. She may renounce her fiefs, and so, reverting herself to a commoner, be absolved of all duties.”

Najhasi grew pale in shock, and could not bring herself to speak.

Jhayka reached down, and unclipped the sword from her belt very slowly and deliberately. “Go back to the All-Highest and tell her that I renounce my fiefs and give to her the sword of my family which I may no longer wear because of this.” She turned back to Najhasi, and smiled grimly. “I am sure that King Julio shall give me a principality built on the bones of Ar, and that I shall find a sword upon the bones of my enemies which will serve me in good stead.”

Najhasi was then able to speak, but her voice cracked as she did, and she had to draw in an uncertain, emotional breath. “By the Lord of Justice, a hundred generations of ancestry, and you would throw it all away for this place?”

“For the children who will be raped and impaled on pikes if I feel here.” Brooding, she shifted once again upon her feet. “There is a higher morality in this universe, a greater honour, than the decisions of the All-Highest made a universe and a thousand lightyears away. Let me enter the ranks of the army of Valera in the highest plain of the Lord Justice, proclaiming myself pure of any violation to it.

Do you think that the woman who refused the Crown of the King of Kings, who disdained to have the diadem of the Tyrant placed upon her head, shall herself refuse to acknowledge my noble blood upon high when I come to her, and say I have no titles, for I renounced them in defence of hundreds of thousands of innocents?”

Najhasi could not take the sword. She stared at it blanking, with her mouth slightly open, trembling. Have I always underestimated her this much? Or has something come over her here? For by the Lord, what chivalry she has! At last she took it, when proferred again, and here, Jhayka began to slump with her decision, and the finality of it.

But instead, Najhasi raised the blade out of the scabbard, and leaned forward. She kissed it, a lingering kiss of her lips upon cold steel, before sheathing it fully once more and offering it back to the now-surprised Jhayka. “Your Highness, I had to touch the blade of someone who shows such chivalry as you, at the expense of all earthly reward. You behave here as more than a noblewoman and somewhat of a saint.” A breath: “By the Lord! I would never convey your message to the Empress. I still have hope that you shall come out, but if you are not to do it...”

“Then what? Will your break your own orders?”

“No. But I was not ordered to bring you out by force; simply by any means necessary,” Najhasi replied, and sucked in a breath. “Your Highness, if you will not go with me..”

“I will not.”

“Then I will return hence to East Port, and do what I can there to secure the relief of the city. You have my word.”

There was another long silence, of uncounted minutes. Finally, a wane and slight smile showed itself upon Jhayka's features. “Thank you, Najhasi. ...You are forgiven in my eyes.”

A breath. It was like old ghosts had been buried. There was something clean in the air, even as the stench of cordite from shells could be faintly scented under the rising sun. “Not yet. Let me give you warning.”

“Warning?”

“The Normans and their allies are preparing another attack. Tomorrow, at day, I would suspect, from the rate of their preparations. It seems as if every one of the fresh new units..”

“The Stirlins.”

“The Stirlins, is to be used.” Najhasi concluded. “I cannot leave until afterwards, anyway; it shall be to dangerous.”

“True enough.” Jhayka frowned. “Would you have told me no matter what?”

The eyes of the two women met. “No matter what, I swear,” Najhasi answered: “May the Lord Justice strike me down if I speak falsehood.”

“I believe you.” A stray shell whistled down a half-block from the palace, and even here, to their ears, the sound was most intense. Jhayka shook her head. “Well, perhaps we should go below. There is a lot we have to speak of; even now, and perhaps especially now.”

“Rather so, Your Highness.”

“I will introduce you to Danielle, Najhasi. I want you to meet her, now—because, of course, if you don't, then you might well have your next chance only after you have had your soul measured on the scales of God, for when you leave this city we shall meet only when dead, or else when you arrive at the head of a column of troops, my good spy, in this land wherever everyone must be a soldier.”

Najhasi smiled in grim pride. “It will be my honour to meet her, Your Highness. And if you fall here, well, you shall not soon be forgot.”

“Rather not,” Jhayka answered, and then in a grim and bloody whisper, added: “Few people who have their tombs surrounded by a hundred thousand unmarked graves are.”

Stricken by a silence like the silence of an inner sanctum of a most holy temple, the two went below, and left the sounds of the shelling in their hearts even as it disappeared behind them to their ears. Fate had drawn the course; this time, it was not Jhayka who was brought over by Najhasi to something she had thought unpalatable, but the other way around. The balance had been restored, and with the serene confidence of a saint, uncaring of all but the immortal duty toward good which stood above, Jhayke seemed haloed, and immune to death even as she placed herself in the certain path of it. So did the lives of the charmed run, as though they were demigods—until the charm wore off, the luck ran out, and their deaths inevitably come. But Jhayka cared not, so long as the city held. That was all that mattered now, and again on the 'morrow would she have another chance to show it to the foe.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Postby Steve » 2006-07-21 11:10am

Another post by Marina, she's on a roll.


Outside of Kalunda
DAY 28



“Warleader Erqui, thank you for coming,” the Ubar Park offered politely to the leader of the Stirlin contingent, treated by necessity like an equal though he did not lead his government. The sun show down on the fortified bunker which by this point was the position from which the Ubar and the al-Farani Emir directed their forces on the field of battle.

Warlead Erqui sat without a further word of his own, staring up at the displays. “You have improved your command and control facilities quite a lot.” A pause: “Amin Soqtadr, indulge me a question?”

“Certainly, Warleader,” the Emir turned with a frown.

“Tell me, do you think the Talorans see themselves fit for heaven for dying on the field of battle?”

“They are monotheists, and good foes,” the Emir allowed after a moment. “I would not like to admit this, but it is the truth of the matter, and what sort of man would I be to say that my soldiers had been struck down by worthless cowards so? It is the will of Allah that we face a determined foe. And their leadership is most of the cause for this, for previously the Kalundans were not well known for fighting, and they have only performed well under foreigners.

“Now, I recall that the girl who led them prior was a calvinist, and these are first among the sects of Christianity in being the close to monotheists, and having the sternest outlook, with a hatred for idoltry worthy of Islam, and that perhaps by their good deeds Allah shall relent and allow them into paradise. Now, of the Talorans, I have heard that they worship a God they call the Lord of Justice, and six of the ninety-nine names of Allah speak of the Justice of Allah. I have heard that they have no trinity, or other such innovation, and that their purpose according to their faith is to guide the peoples of the universe in war with evil.

“Now though their religion contains innovations and falsehoods, I have also heard that it antedates the revelation of Muhammad, peace be upon him, and so their innovations and falsehoods may be forgiven them, for they lived in a time of imperfect revelation. But I will say that their religion has in it rightness, and of course rightness always motivates the hearts of those who hold it. I imagine that the Princess over there, though she fights for Pagans and idolators, will hold her ground and trust herself to the judgement of the One God. Does that answer you, Warleader?”

“Very much so, thank you.” Erqui answered politely.

“Why did you want to know?” Park asked with a frown. The Stirlins, bronzed as they were from their riding on their great plains, and ruthless and skilled enemies of all, and feared for their great numbers and power throughout the whole land, were not to be underestimated even when in indulging in seeming trivial inquiry.

“I wish to know how hard I must push her.” Erqui answered. “More's the pity that we could not simply make peace with them now, for I am quite convinced she will resist to the bitter end.”

“Make peace? Not unless Julio sends her out—the sack of her flesh, skinned off her body!” Park exclaimed in rage toward his ally.

“Yes, quite,” the Warleader answered. “Which is precisely why we can't do that. Even rationally, I acknowledge, Ubar—that your city has to much of its honour caught up in this matter. Our whole cause does. We will reduce Kalunda or die.”

“It is good that you see that much,” Park replied darkly. “Particularly on the eve of a great attack as this one.”

“We'll see,” Erqui stood and stepped toward the display of the field. “It will be a test of my men's ability to adapt to shock tactics. We will see if they have done so in time.”

“You doubt their ability?” The Emir asked.

“Perhaps. That is a lot to learn in a short period of time. We will adapt, at any rate.”

The barrage opened up. It was going to be short.


Inside the lines
DAY 28



For fifteen minutes the barrage hit the rear areas of the In'ghara line to the north of the city, and the Taliya line to the south. It was to be a general attack, even though the lines were no longer connected in terms of their concentricity; troops could still easily be shifted by the Kalundans with the interior lines of communication, after all, and their flanks were protected by the river which the Kalundans still dominated. Otherwise there would be disaster, but because of the flotilla, the situation was quite defensible.

Of course, Jhayka did not intend to defend. She intended to bleed. Sieges are the most brutal forms of combat, and their operation was as a science. The front lines had been prepared. Suicide squads manned them lightly only. They were to be effectively sacrificed. She had stripped the front lines down to the utmost for this attack. Most of the troops were well back and in protected bunkers where the hailstorm of the Bruchmueller drumbeat-barrage was far less suffering for them, the hammering of the shells falling by the thousands a minute something they could stand without going mad.

Fire-shift! The artillery shifted toward the front lines of the Kalundan positions, the mortars joined in, massive salvoes of katyusha rockets crashed down on the lines, and with the utmost intensity the barrage continued for five minutes, the guns fired until their barrels were smoking white-hot with the rapidity of fire, the whole length of the Kalundan position entirely obscured in smoke. Within this barrage were many fused HE shells exploding such as to detonating any mines; but the Taliya line was weak in these.

Then the barrage abruptly ceased, and out of the smoke of the mortars was revealed the assault squads of the allied forces, already up and at the enemy, passing through the shattered fields of abbatis and charging forward to get to grips with the Kalundan troops. They reached the front-rank trenches with terrifying swiftness and plunged down into them. Behind them, the general assaults had begun, and behind them in turn, Norman and Stirlin heavy tanks waited hull-down, engines running.

The front-rank trenches were quickly seized in vigorous fighting against the survivors of the suicide squads, so shell-shocked by the barrage that some sizeable numbers were actually captured alive, a rarity in the siege so far. Prisoners streaming back to the allied lines was a great morale boost to the main attacking columns, and they pressed forward through the hellish defensive shellfire of the Kalundan guns with a particular elan as they reached the lines in turn and pushed on toward the rear defensive entrenchments of the In'ghara Line-North, and Taliya Line-South.

Along the north, the wind was right for gas, and here Jhayka used it willingly again, carpeting the area in phosgene and yperite and some remaining stores of nerve gas, breaking up the weaker attacking columns there and allowing her severely outnumbered troops to retire in good order, inflicting heavy casualties on the attacks the whole way. The last of the In'ghara line was therefore abandoned, but the price inflicted was stiff for next to nothing in losses for her own troops. The fighting here lasted less than two hours as the allied troops pushed home through the vicious clouds of gas and the hail of machine-gun bullets to find that their foe had already pulled back and from the next communications trench or some blasted line of shell craters or a small copse in the torn moonscape, another line had been formed which claimed another hundred lives before another withdraw by the Kalundans was mounted progressively.

There was another factor at work in the successes of the attacking allies, both to the north and south. They were well fed. The Kalundans were on reduced rations. They were not at their physical best. And that was one of the reasons why Jhayka felt no choice but to withdraw. It was one of the reasons why, also, even that withdraw was running into problems in the south. It was supposed to be a fighting, staged withdraw like in the north, but they were having difficulty leaving touch of the allied armies. She was being drawn into a battle she did not desire, and there was nothing to be done for it.

Four hours after dawn, she ordered IV and VI Militia Corps and II Army Corps to counterattack along the right of the southern line. Each of the corps should have had 36,000 troops under the organizational tables used for the Kalundan Army, but in fact the largest was IV Militia with 26,000 and the weakest II Army Corps which had been in constant fighting and received insufficient replacements; it mustered 19,000 troops. VI Militia had 22,000. By this point the Taliya line had nearly been lost. Forming up the corps were subjected to a heavy fire, covering in copses along a land which was, due to the change in allied tactics and their improved concentration, fairly untouched. They were supported by the heavy artillery brigade in the city, but had close support from only seventeen assault guns.

About thirteen hundred meters to the rear of the last trench of the Taliya Line was a stone farmhouse. It had been hit by artillery several times and partially demolished, but in a storage cellar under the burned-down barn was established the headquarters of II Army Corps. The corps was commanded by Abner-Louis Harald, a Lt. Colonel of the ADN Marines who had arrived from East Port before the rail line was cut. It was on the left of the counterattack, which due to the difficulty in positioning the units only came together five hours after dawn; it was about 1100 hours.

Several of the units of the corps had already been involved in heavy fighting that day. They were tired and hungry, and Abner doubted the ability of his men to drive home a successful counterattack on this portion of the line, where the defenders of the Taliya Line were already streaming back in ragged clumps and the firing of the guns ahead was dying down, save clustered around the most stubborn and valiant pockets of resistance.

But from the lay of the field Abner realized that at least directly ahead of his 6th Infantry Division a brigade of the Crimson Guard was still holding firm along the line. He modified his orders, typically filled with latitude for the lesser commanders as Jhayka intended, with prodiguous celerity. He sent the 5th Division straight forward to the right of the Guards without support from more than mortars and anti-tank recoilless rifles and sent all six assault guns with the 6th Division on a line deviating extreme to the left, using the continued resistance of the Crimson Guard to cover a flanking maneouvre.

Artillery support, at least, was prodiguous, and the attacks of the three corps were conducted under a rolling barrage as Jhayka fought to preserve her force and authorized the use of much more ammunition than had been used in many more of the battles before this. Everywhere the field was obscured by smoke and shrapnel stung throug the air, as craters appeared where once the ground had been flat, torn and churned by the vicious defending fire.

What was critical was that the Crimson Guard brigade had to hold long enough for the attacks of II Corps to develop. Having given his orders to his divisional commanders, Abner set out personally to make sure that this took place. Sixteen hundred meters, a mile of ground only, separated him from brigade, but traveling it was an effort in death. Under the enemy artillery, pounding the holdouts, his armoured car dashed through the shell-torn terrain. It overturned under the influence of a heavy near miss from a volley of katyushas while navigating rough terrain, three hundred meters from the brigade. With two aides in tow Abner made the dash from shell-crater to shell-crater under constant fire in less than ten minutes. By that time his attacking forces were proceeding forward, passed their stepping off points and commencing their attacks. There was no going back.

As Abner approached the headquarters, he saw a ragged flag flying, and stopped short. This is no brigade—Dear Lord, it is the 7th Division of the Guard! But it looked like a brigade from a distance, and that was on account of the horrendous casualties it had taken plugging a gap in the line. By now it had been in hard fighting since the commencement of the day, and already understrength to begin with, by this time appeared to be a ragged and tattered brigade and not a full division.

He was met by two guards who uncertainly presented their rifles. He responded with the password of the day and pressed on into the bunker, shaken and shelled and partially collapsed. A short woman, perhaps only four foot eleven, sat with a bandaged arm upon a table, calmly issuing orders and ignoring the surgeon working on her: the bandage was exceptionally bloody from a several wound, and it was being replaced. This was General Arlisa of the 7th Division. She turned and looked at him for a moment--

“Lieutenant General Harald?”

“Major General Arlisa,” he said by way of acknowledgement. “You must hold. I am developing an attack around your position. If your division breaks, we shall lose in this position and probably on the whole field. But I can dig them in the flank of their advance and put them to rout.”

“I have no intention of retiring from the Taliya Line,” General Arlisa replied with a melodic and high voice and a smile which seemed to hide in it an inner grimace of pain at her injury.

“Then I trust your word, General. Your division has fought finely since the start of the siege. Do you have anywhere to evacuate your headquarters to?”

“No. And the troops would just be demoralized to see it. We will hold.” She smiled painfully: “Though, if I may ask a request of you..”

“Anything.”

“Show them that you're here. The girls have fought a very long time and they would appreciate the boost in morale.”

“Of course. I'll go right on ahead, now.” But half his answer was obscured by the sound of a close shell impact and dirt and chipped concrete falling from the ceiling. He brushed some off, and started out with his two aides; several guardswomen fell in as he started out along the line ahead. Taking off his helmet—he had no other symbol to rally their attention—he walked along the trenches as the torrent tore down amongst them. “Stand your ground! Stand your ground—we will hold here and not step back and the day is ours!”

The sight of a corps commander right along the front-rank trenches considerably raised their morale, and considering that in many places they were in sustained hand-to-hand command with Stirlin attackers it was a desperately necessary thing indeed. Everywhere the fighting seemed a desperate and confused chaos, rushes against the lines and counterattacks mingling into a blur of constant fighting, and in all of it Abner stood his ground, striding the lines and exhorting the soldiers as his aides and guards were wounded and the bullets and mortar shells crashed down and whistled over his head, the trenches smashed here and there, with the walls collapsed, where one had to crawl to avoid exposing one's self to the lethal fire.

Then the crash of a shell collapsed the line of trench in which Abner stood. A rush of worried troops came about him; they dug him out of the dirt in a moment, before he could suffocate, but the ground was red with his blood. His legs were gone at the knees. A medico came up to the groaning general and managed to attach tourniquets to both severed limbs before he could bleed out to his death. Then she tried to provide him with a shot of pseudomorphine as well.

“Just give me a fucking cigarette,” he grated out. Fortunately for the general, one of the women soldiers was a smoker, and a lit fag was pressed to his lips.

“We must get you to the rear!” The corpswoman exclaimed, getting over the strangely calm response of the general.

“Like hell—you won't abandon a crippled man to the Stirlins, will you?” He looked around at the soldiers in view, and then shouted: “Will you!?”

“NO SIR!”

“Then I'm staying here, and if you don't want me in their tender mercies, hold this damned line!” He took a contemptuous drag from the cigarette and then waved his hand forward. “Back to your posts!”

The 7th Division of the Crimson Guard Held.

Recoilless rifles firing their precious ammunition in support of infantry attacks; the assault guns crashing through, firing as rapidly as they could and working their machine-guns; the artillery barrage rolled right up until the end, and then the infantry was upon the advancing Stirlins and Normans, pursuing the broken units to the left. A pursuit which might have finished off the Kalundan Army was suddenly turned around by the stern attack of that regular division. They appeared without a gap in the line, smoothing, no exploitable counterattack to stop the advance of the 6th.

With the counterattack split in this fashion, one division flanking the advance against the Kalundan left while the other five attacked directly forward and brought the allied troops into a pitched battle, the reinforcements were also accordingly split. The result was useless chaos of painfully slow diversions along the lines as the allied troops marched into position to reinforce the recoiling assault.

It left the Ubar Park uncertain as to if the Kalundans actually intended to retreat from the Taliya Line or not. He thought that the counterattack might be the part of a larger effort to regain it, and in that context he sent the armour forward to salvage the situation at 1500 hours, when more than three hours of bloody fighting on the Kalundan counterattack had already raged. What was actually true was that the Kalundans were digging in on scratch positions at the extreme rear of the Taliya line, the last run of communications trenches at most, and here preparing their anti-tank defences for a regular stand as the counterattack, under the pressure of the allied reinforcements, had ground down into stalemate.

The artillery shifted to anti-tank munitions and the defences of the Kalundan lines were prepared to receive the assault of the Stirlin tanks. In the chaotic and torn ground the tanks were slowed in navigating the massive craters and the trench-lines and deep pits of tank traps raced with iron bars driven deep into the ground. They advanced and cut through the defensive lines just to be hit by anti-tank fire from the sides and behind, while other tanks were destroyed by the artillery before even reaching the positions.

They were supported, however, and the allied forces managed to get together, recognizing the value of the tanks and the chance they offered, to make good their own effort. Pushing from anti-tank position to anti-tank position they began to root out the attacks, and as the numbers of knocked-out tanks numbered into the thirties and then fourties, the Kalundans were being savaged and driven back all the same, and were once again near cracking.

Jhayka watched the battle with an unabiding frustration. She had been planning to neatly avoid this, but the enemy had finally reached the point where that was no longer possible. Enough lessons had been learned—and the addition of the dangerously effective Stirlins—had made a siege which once seemed like it would never reach the walls of the city now something once again in every moment at danger of breaking through them outright. The wheat had been separated from the chaff, and by the brutal arithmetic of war the allies had re-learned in weeks the art of war their ancestors had neglected for personal valour. Nobody would ever call them stupid on account of this.

She committed her last reserve. It was the special intervention battalion under the incredible Trajan that she had concentrated all of the remaining high-end technological weaponry in. Now Jhayka sent it forward, knowing those weapons would prove at their best in taking on the low-grade export tanks being used by both the Stirlins and the Normans. It was her last chane to complete a clean disengage.

By 1720 hours the fighting was fully involved and the Kalundans once again were on the verge of being driven back in general rout. The units which earlier had been driven back, forced to retreat or outright routed, had at least been rallied along the Valera line. But there was no certainty that if the forces still fighting along the Taliya line failed that they could resist a determined combined-arms attack.

Then Trajan led his men into action. They were the best trained, fighting with modern tactics and weapons, and they went after the tanks, Trajan personally taking out two at close quarters with satchel charges, despite being wounded, as the supporting infantry was thrown back in disarray. The number of tanks his battalion knocked out in its highly dispersed squad attacks along the frontage were perhaps nineteen before 1800 hours; the fighting was not over, however.

Now, with the enemy reeling, the corps which had earlier counterattacked, and the valiant 7th Division of the Guard, had to retire back to the Valera line. With the lightning attacks and the heavy losses to the tanks which had just been committed, the infantry was able to get clear. By this point only two of the fourteen assault guns committed with them in their counterattack were still intact; these, however, stood their ground with Trajan's battalion-detachments at the front, firing and retreating to buy more time.

The enemy was reorganizing. Jhayka considered her options; the wind was not good for gas, but it would have to be used anyway. Trajan's men would have to stay at the front, having the full NBC gear, while nerve gas was used for immediate effect. The guns fell silent as their shell stockpiles were switched, and the allied troops surged forward after the retreating Kalundans.

Then that familiar and hideous ally of Jhayka's returned in the form of a gas barrage. This one was more daring than the others by far, and it cost her. A thousand of her own troops were killed by it outright or seriously wounded, as they were equally unprotected against the hideous wash of nerve gas across the field. But four times that number were inflicted on the allies, and another two thousand by later phosgene attacks—many of those, cruelly, the wounded who had not yet been evacuated, but Jhayka could show no mercy--and at last their attack stalled. Trajan's men suffered more than three hundred and fifty casualties holding the line out of a thousand, when asked to stay out amidst the gas and fight nearly unsupported, and only a lone assault gun limped, damaged, back to the Kalundan lines.

It was 1920 hours. The battle, from the first salvo of the allied guns until the bitter end, had lasted thirteen and a half hours; twelve and a half of them were of vigorous and sustained infantry combat. It was some of the most vicious fighting of the whole siege: Some 107,000 troops on both sides had been killed or wounded, an average of 8,500 casualties an hour, or the equivalent of a full-strength infantry company being annihilated each and every minute.

But unlike in the early grand battles, for the 56,000 casualties the allied had suffered, the Kalundans had suffered 51,000. Many of those would fight again, but the point had been bloodily driven home: The 'easy' times of the siege were over. They wouldn't be playing the allies like puppets again. It was a war of attrition, and the slack had been taken out. Inevitably, if Kalunda was not relieved, then the city would die. A dawning horror became to come over the populace, as they waited, and wondered, for the possibility of a relief that might not happen, and the realization that they might not live to find themselves starving to death. The allies might get at them first after all.

Jhayka sent Najhasi back, privately, her last hope to muster a relief expedition from East Port which would this time succeed; and then she authorized the plan to try and evacuate some noncombatants by the river to get them clear. As for the rest, she could only hope that concrete news of relief might come through to them sooner rather than later. Sieges were about as much a contest of morale as anything else, and after the fighting of the 28th that was in short supply.

Of course, in the worst case, they will pass through their despair sooner enough, Jhayka mused to herself, as the final details of the withdraw from the field and back to the Valera line in the south were completed around 2100 hours. She walked forward to a note -board across from the entrance to her command center, and etched out on it a human phrase which she had picked up once, and liked:

Sometimes the knowledge that one has no hope gives one the courage to fight on and win.

She walked to the entrance, turned, and smiled, as they looked at the quote quizzically, and perhaps, in dawning understanding of what it meant. “Goodnight, gentlebeings. Tomorrow we will see another sunrise. That is a good day's work for us all.” And tomorrow, also, she would visit the hospitals once again. That was a task that would continue also until the bitter end; and would get none the more pleasant for it.
”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 » 2006-07-22 02:08pm

Co-written by Marina and myself.


Kalunda, Gilead
DAY TWENTY-NINE



Ilavna Lashila walked into Danielle's hospital room with a wry sort of look, holding wrapped around her left arm a neatly pressed uniform covered in plastic, her flamboyant civilian dress on and her equally gaudy blue hair prominent as she walked in. Danielle had been informed an hour or so earlier that they were finally releasing her. "Good morning, Dani," Ilavna offered, smiling, though still with that rather wry expression. Perhaps she was just to used to seeing Danielle injured...

Dani was sitting upright in her hospital bed, looking up from a small pile of papers that she had sitting on her meal tray. "Good morning Illavna," Dani replied, seeming a little more happy than she'd been for most of the previous week. "I hope you've all been doing well while I was stuck here."

"I am doing well enough. You heard about yesterday's action, I presume?" She asked with a faint grimace as she stepped over to the side of the bed and sat down the uniform across it. "It was a very bloody thing. Her Highness, though, managed to pull us back from the line." She stretched a bit, her ears low and her thoughts somewhat distracted as she mused over the events, hands clasped modestly in front of her but fingers idly intertwining.

"Yes. I could hear it in more ways than one. I couldn't sleep last night from all the activity outside from the medical staff tending the wounded." Dani looked somberly to the door. "They're so tired that I thought my nurse was going to collapse despite the caffeine rush she had going on. These people are really something else."
Turning her head back to Illavna, Dani said, "Illavna, can we speak privately? Is there anyone nearby that will overhear us?"

Ilavna stepped back to the entrance to the room and shut the door, then turned with a slight smile. "Certainly not now. And nobody else is listening in--and I am quite sure of that." Walking closer again, her ears were perked in curiousity: "What do you wish to speak about, Danielle? I am, admittedly, most curious."

Dani laid back and rested her head on the pillow. "You know that I'm in love with Jhayka, don't you?"

"Of course." Ilavna flushed and looked a bit sheepish, biting her lip. "That actually touches on something Jhayka asked me to do, which, granted, is probably on the assumption that she thinks me entirely chaste to the fact that the two of you are sinning together; but, I am not really offended." Her look was very shy at that moment: "I honestly have come to expect such failings of her."

Dani smiled bitterly. "No offense, Illavna, but that sounds like something my mother would say if she had a nicer personality. Before I continue, what is it that Jhayka wanted?"

Ilavna did not seem terribly bothered by the comment: "Scarcely an offense to be compared with someone's mother," she answered before continuing, "Well, it was for you to join her for dinner with Najhasi Fridalyn." A frown: "Have you heard of her arrival? It was kept quiet, and I'm not sure if it was passed on to you or not; I had just thought of that."

Not wanting to tell Illavna just what kind of relationship she had with her strict Catholic mother, Dani instead asked, "I'm not sure I know who this Najhasi is. But I don't mind having dinner with her, not at all. I'll try to get my work wrapped up quickly, then."

"She is an agent of Her Serene Majesty's Government, who came through the lines," Ilavna answered rather carefully as she gazed at Danielle. "That would probably be wise, and I'll leave you alone for changing and suchlike."

Her curiosity was piqued now. Dani shifted a little in her bed, wanting to return to her discussion. "Illavna, the other day, King Julio visited me to see how I was doing and to ask about the possibility of evacuating our non-combatants down the river. While he was here, he asked me to do something. He wanted me to agree to taking Jhayka out of Kalunda if it was on the verge of collapse. I... I wanted to agree... I want to take Jhayka out of this war and to live with her so much... but... I couldn't. It would destroy her, I know it. But, by saying no, I might cause her to die.... Can I be forgiven?"

Ilavna smiled brightly and clasped her hands together. "Well, I know why you are right for her, now. It is such a pity that your marriage would be forbidden; you are suited for each other, that you are so very loyal." A grin: "There's really nothing to forgive. You're not causing her death. She is here of her own free will, and for that matter Najhasi was here to secure your evacuation, and her's; and of course she refused."

"I suppose so." Dani shifted a little in the bed, still favoring her head wound. She didn't like being reminded that she would forever by Jhayka's mistress and never allowed to be recognized as something more. "Do you ever have a crisis of faith, Illavna? The feeling that none of us will leave this city alive?"

Ilavna frowned, then, and shifted her head slightly to the side in a birdlike gesture, and then spoke. "It doesn't matter much to me, Danielle. Jhayka has decided to fight here until the end, so of course I'll stay with her. We'll either get relieved or we won't. I'm not really expecting anything. You just keep doing what you're supposed to--and it all either works out or it doesn't. The Lord of Justice may let us die here; if so, well, so be it. Other, better people have died under far more pointless circumstances than these. I am not concerned. I think that if we just keep fighting, and keep pushing on and resisting in the same way, that we'll show them off. But if we don't, then I'll die at Jhayka's feet."

Dani nodded briskly at that; it wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear, but the truth was seldom what someone wanted to hear. "I'll die with both of you," she promised.

"Well, Danielle... That is your choice." Ilavna's face twisted up in an unusual display of emotion. "If it comes to it, you know, there are ways of avoiding committing suicide." But she did not seem to wish to talk about that, and cut herself off abruptly. "I had better to take care of my other duties, Danielle. I'll see you about."

Dani nodded and watched Illavna leave, pondering her words as she looked at the wall, glad that she couldn't see the beautiful city burning around her.




A few hours later, after working at a break-neck pace, Dani was entering the underground dining room for her first meeting with Najhasi. She had purposely gone for a conservative garb, seeking to make a good first impression, by wearing the full new Crimson Guard uniform she had chosen, with jacket, full-legged silk pants, and a modest blouse that hid her curves. She entered the room quietly, without fanfare, and waited for Jhayka to give the introductions.

"Please, have a seat, dear," Jhayka turned from the table, where Najhasi set across from her, quiet, looking over Danielle with a practiced eye but nothing more. "This is the Operation Leader Fridalyn, who has come through the lines as I am sure Ilavna must have told you. She will be returning to East Port tonight to muster forces for the relief, and I'm seeing her off. Dinner's already waiting.." And it was, a very fine table, though not something one would expect during a siege in its fineness. Jhayka was indulging Najhasi on account of her dangers in the journey that night.

"Operation Leader, nice to meet you,” Dani said pleasantly, taking a seat beside Jhayka. “What you’ve done is rather extraordinary. I hope my people didn’t take any shots at you as you came down the river.”

"No, you didn't detect us. Not your fault; our technology and tactics are rather adept for it, and you don't have the equipment. Rather good, though. We wouldn't have wanted any accidents." She was polite, and composed, as Jhayka poured Danielle a glass of port. The two Talorans seemed rather ill at ease.

Dani sipped at the wine. “Agreed,” she said to Najhasi. She seemed to notice something was wrong, but took a small bite off her plate and finished it before asking, “Do you know what’s going on in the rest of Gilead? Or among the rest of the multiverse?”

"Well, there was a detachment of ships sent to evacuate Her Serene Majesty's subjects from the Confederacy. Intervention has been stonewalled by the British, who do not want anyone interfering in Gilead as their preserve," Najhasi explained with a faint sigh. "At any rate, the best hope for you is for local forces to break through from East Port. But it may take as long as another month to accomplish that. I understand you have food for somewhat longer than that, which is very good, as is the fact that you've yet to actually see fighting in the city, just shelling. East Port is still holding out by last report, very well--the tribal lashkars," the term she used being unfamiliar to Danielle, but Jhayka understood it, "Pushed to the edge of the city but haven't made any real progress there, and it's more of a stalemate than a real siege. The Gilean Coastguard is on our side, more or less by default, and the military government's forces do in fact want to provide aide, but they're simply to far away and distracted."

Dani nodded, disappointment evident. “I guess we have to hope that the British come around or that the local forces in East Port can force their way through.”

"Well, there is an interesting possibility," Jhayka began slowly. "We do hold the interior lines of communication, and the city has a natural defensive position on the river running through it. It might be possible for us, by abandoning the southern third of the city, to rapidly move troops up into the north and launch a strong counterattack along narrow lines with sufficient mass to break through. The biggest problem is that if the allies recover they can fall back into their old trenches further alone and then they can redeploy. I don't think it's right to risk yet, perhaps not until very late in the siege, but it would, even if it failed in a breakout, allow us to have a better chance of one later on by regaining lines further out." She began eating, then, in a delicate fashion as she continued and Najhasi listened rather respectfully--this was the Marshal's field, after all, not her's. "The southern part of the city has always been vulnerable, and has less depth for street fighting. I do not expect it to hold, nor do I necessarily want to place a great effort in trying to make it hold, for it is not vital to the survival of the civilian population. The main problem is that the ammunition factories are further south still, outside of the walls proper; we must hold these for as long as possible, for obvious reasons. But once they are lost there is not much point in holding that region, and if we can withdraw successfully--which will require better coordination than what happened yesterday--we might be able to leverage that into a counterattack."

Dani nodded in agreement, as this was fully Jhayka’s field, not her own. Unfortunately, most of her boatyards were also on the southern bank, meaning that when it was lost she would probably lose much of her fleet to normal combat wear and tear, not to mention ammunition shortage. “We’ll have to do better in withdrawals then, yesterday was just awful.”

"We're not withdrawing again under the same circumstances," Jhayka answered with a grimace. "I've done it to much. That, and the Stirlins are much faster learners, a whole level above the Normans and al-Farani in adapting rapidly. The Valera Line, quite simply, I won't withdraw from. I'll feed reinforcements into it; it's much shorter than the Taliya Line, anyway, which even with our casualties means we have more troops for each meter of it than for the Taliya Line. Once they push us out we'll just fight from position to position back to the Eibermoni Line. That will be difficult, and heavy on casualties, but I wish to trap and attrite them by holding, and also surprising them--they will be expecting another withdrawal and likely come on hard, hoping for a repeat of yesterday, since they can suffer such losses and we cannot. The mere fact that it was not a one-sided massacre, but merely a massacre, will no doubt be very heartening to them. Once we lose the Eibermoni line to the south we'll hold in the suburbs for as long as we can and only retire street-to-street to the wall to preserve our ammunition manufacturing capacity for as long as possible."

"Your strategy, Your Highness," Najhasi answered. "Though the run down the river will be much easier, following the current, for us. I intend to be in East Port in twelve days."

“My squadrons can provide any support you need to get back down the river,” Dani said. “We routed their river forces when they tried to break through upriver and I don’t think they have the boats to do more than slight patrols and to run supplies from the Norman homeland on the Henley.”

"A strong demonstration would be quite nice, thank you, if you can organize it at around 0300 hours this coming morning," Najhasi answered. "And perhaps a tow for our raft, as well." She was silent for a moment, as they ate, and then changed the subject. "How did you two first meet?" It brought embarrassment to Jhayka almost at once.

Dani tried to stop herself from smiling but failed, badly, though she also had a hint of a blush to her cheeks. “Jhayka was doing her work of studying the locals when we, well, bumped into each other.” She looked to Jhayka, seeing how embarrassed she was and not sure how much she should say. “To put it shortly, I wasn’t properly dressed and that there was a really nasty fight I caused that she was a spectator too.”

"You can tell her the whole story," Jhayka said after a minute, flushing her gray-green colour even as she spoke. "Najhasi is after all a spy, and I'm quite certain she has encountered things even seedier than a slave auction."
"Slave auction?" Najhasi straightened up, ears flexing down at the same time, in consternation to a Taloran. "But I thought you were a Captain in the Alliance Navy, surely?"

“Commander rank, actually, and this is my first actual field command. I was a dockmaster at the Luther Naval Base we established during the war,” Dani explained. “As for what happened.... I came to this planet on leave with a friend, a fellow officer named Fay al-Bakar, thinking that the resort we planned to stay in was in the more acceptable parts of the planet. But then Fay disappeared after leaving a bar with a companion, and I started to dig, even found the guy and confonted him. I went to sleep that night and woke up in the morning hanging from the ceiling of a hold on one of the wet hull ships that go between Quanzhi and East Port. From there I was sold to a Norman slave trader and taken to an auction.” Dani looked at Jhayka. “As part of her studies, Jhayka was there to observe.”

"I know about what Her Highness was doing here," Najhasi answered rather politely, looking to Danielle and frowning a bit, while Jhayka retained an embarrassed silence. "You do realize that if you both survive you're going to have--ah, not the best life on Talora Prime? Unless I am gravely mistake you do not have the right under our laws to marry Her Highness, and you would be forbidden from a large number of public functions which she would be expected to attend, among other hindrances to your relationship."

“I know,” Dani said rather frostily, not wanting to be reminded of the rigid Taloran social structure that she considered unfair and cruel. “To get back to the story, I had snatched a piece of masonry and used it to cut the ropes holding my wrists together, the only thing they had binding me. At the auction, I waited for the right moment and then grabbed the stun gun from my guard and fought my way out.”

"Then I found her hiding beneath my armoured train, in one of those odd coincidences of history," Jhayka clarified. "And of course I took her to Ar next, but the reasons for that and the circumstances are a subject I'd rather not discuss with an Officer of the Sword."
Najhasi made a slight smile which was directed toward Danielle. "I believe she'd probably like you to be silent also, as I imagine you will be expected to testify. Extensively." She looked back to Jhayka. "A mind toward your inquest, already?"

"I'm very optimistic at times," Jhayka answered, and then looked to Danielle. "You know that things will be alright on Talora Prime, right? Najhasi is yeomanry herself and she's probably heard a few sad stories in the family, but the truth is that we will face no particular hindrances."

"I just want to make sure that there's no dissatisfaction, that's all. Neither of you deserves to deceive yourselves, nor to face the consequences of doing so," Najhasi defended lightly, and Jhayka did not see any reason to respond.

“I would hope not,” Dani answered honestly to Jhayka. She wasn’t sure she liked this Najhasi. Certainly a brave and dedicated woman, but there was something different about her that made her unlike any of the Talorans Dani had yet to meet.

"I honestly think you are excellent for each other," Najhasi continued, "For, if I understand correctly, Danielle--forgive me if this is wrong--you resigned on account of your effort to try and find your compatriot. That much we received through Alliance channels." She was finishing off her meal--the last hot food she'd have before the long effort to get back, as she spoke. "Jhayka needs someone who is loyal, for once. She deserves it."
"Don't get so familiar with me," Jhayka interrupted rather coldly. "Those were my weakest days."
"Apologies, Your Highness," Najhasi smiled neutrally. "But the thoughts were sincere."

Dani had been eating silently and watcing the interplay. Najhasi’s words and Jhayka’s reaction made her suspicious. She didn’t want to say out loud what she thought - that they were discussing Jhayka’s dead lover Lashila - and instead said, “Thank you for the compliment, Miss Fridalyn.”

"You're quite welcome, and most deserving of it," Najhasi answered.
Jhayka smiled a bit grimly. "My love, the problem with spies such as Najhasi is that they are a bit nosy. But don't worry; she is a good person in truth. We just have a past together which has a legacy to some important events, and I am understandably not the most stable person in her book, for first of all she is a faithful servant of Her Serene Majesty."

Dani grinned, her apprehensions toward Najhasi making a little more sense now. “So she’s a spook. And they sent her to get you out because you two have a past.”

"It works both ways," Najhasi answered rather laconically, and Jhayka didn't seem to object to Danielle's typification.

Dani gave a short nod in acknowledgement before continuing to eat.

The subjects talked about for the remainder of the dinner were distinctly surreal. Jhayka asked about the harvest in the lower Intu'itin states, and inquired after government politics, and if the Fleet Problem and the Army Manoeuvres had been completed (the Fleet Problem was still ongoing) and other things which made it seem like a disturbingly odd conversation, one about things on the edge of existance to those in desperate straights in the besieged city. Finally, as the meal wound down, though, Jhayka glanced from Najhasi to Danielle, and back. "Operation Leader, I know you're already going to take my reports and dispatches and requests out with you; can I burden you with something else?"
"Certainly, Your Highness."
"Danielle," Jhayka looked to her again. "Do you want to compose any short message to your family and friends?”

Dani looked up from the last of her dinner. “Well, I have a message I wrote for my parents while I was laying in the hospital.”

"Then I'll convey that for you," Najhasi offered. "It is the least I can do. And I wish you fully, happiness."
The dinner was done, and Jhayka stood, stretching.
"Your Highness, I thank you for the opportunity I've had to meet your lover. I promise you I'll get through and do my best," Najhasi rose and said, and then switched to Taloran: "Jha Harrindha daiu tal Farzbardoas, Jhayka, indi Filidmarnai ar oer restimivadi. Sav Klia ostun arrund, savempla." And with that she left.
"Ahhh." Jhayka sighed and turned to Danielle. "I've had your stuff in the intervening time brought here to my quarters. With our navy so thoroughly dominating the river there is no need for your regular presence on patrols, only for attacks planned well in advance." There was a hint of a sly smile. "Unfortunately, due to space restrictions, there is only enough room for one bed."

Dani smiled at that. “I don’t have a problem with that at all...”
”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 » 2006-09-15 10:22pm

DAY 30
EAST PORT



Two hundred guns opened up simultaneously from their positions protected by the reverse slope of the low hills beyond the city inland They were heavy, long-range howitzers, 24cm guns firing rapidly. The defenders of East Port were waiting for them. Mobile anti-artillery lasers and the defensive lasers of the ships in the harbour opened up, downing three-fourths of the shells in the initial barrage. Firing fifteen rounds a minute, though, hundreds of shells plastered the defensive lines around the city with devastating power.

Heavy detachments of the Norman army had arrived at East Port, descending from the coastal hill ranges to the outskirts of the city itself. Combined with the many tribes in the area and the small townships which had risen up and the nations to the other side of the city—toward Berglund—which had risen, a force of 200,000 was gathering against East Port; the majority of them, 110,000 or so, coming from areas yet unengaged in the rising. The disparate armies with disparate armaments of two hundred minor polities were forged together by the Norman commanders, and supported by a division of Stirlin artillery brought in by railroad.

They were not going to have their barrage unopposed, however. The rifled mortars of the General Faeria had access here to saboted shells for extra range, and their hideous whistling as they fell amongst the batteries signaled the commencement of the counter-battery. Soon the heavy, vertical barreled-25cm naval rifles, two apiece, on the wet-navy destroyers standing off the harbour joined in, steerable shells overcoming the limited anti-air batteries of the attacking force which had limited anti-artillery use.

The artillery barrage had been intended to be thirty minutes long before the infantry attacked—and 70,000 infantry were going in on the main assault, with more on diversions and the rest holding the lines that had been quietly established around the city with little resistance. The main assault was concentrated along a front of only 7 kilometres and they had worked their way forward to within one and a half kilometres of the city for it.

However, the ferocity of the counterbattery fire, including the 17cm lighter guns of the marine landing forces from the Gilean navy in the city, which had not been calculated, and the sabot-shells of the mortars on the Faeria, had a devastating effect. It was also one that had not been predicted by the Stirlins, unprepared for dealing with an artillery duel as such. The shells quickly began to cause damage amongst their artillery, and it fully occupied their defensive lasers.

Then the Gilean aircraft hit them. There were only fourteen, two attack bombers and twelve light trainers/COIN aircraf (they had been brought in by the Marines, somehow, after the ambush of the relief expedition, where only the interference and auto-detonating equipment on the lead flatcars of the General Faeria had, thanks to the lack of air reconaissance, saved the force from being cut off and destroyed) and three of them were shot down by surface to air missiles before they could attack, and two more during the attack or after it. But they deployed vast swarms of armour-piercing cluster bomblets across the position even with the stiff losses, and executing strafing attacks most bravely after they'd deployed their cluster bombs and on their return passes—their guns loaded with anti-personnel fletchette munitions. These had the incredible effect of disabling or destroying fifty out of 200 guns outright, disabling seven tanks, and causing three thousand casualties in the unprotected infantry.

What was left from these valiant attacks was a scene of absolute horror. The cluster munitions had chopped the bodies of the slain infantry up into shredded meat, disassembled chunks of once living humans scattered with mad rhyme in their trenches and behind what should have been cover, death from above putting paid to that. The wounded were frequently mortally so, and most had lost at least one limb, bleeding out amongst the corpses of their shredded comrades and scarcely lucky for their survival. Three battalions, elements of two brigades, had been instantly and totally annihilated as a fighting force, the roar of the constant little explosions have driven those few miraculously unhurt to deafness, and now they wandered like madmen trapped in the abbatoir of a lunatic butcher while the smoke and fire of the destroyed vehicles and artillery positions wafted over them and stung at their eyes, guaranteeing tears when human emotions were to overwhelmed to provide them otherwise.

Because of the chaos due to the air attacks the commencement of the assault was delayed by ten minutes, during which another composite division of small armies from the south on the right flank with a list strength of 14,000 men was ordered to participate in the attack to broaden the front by another 2 kilometres and increase the mass directed against the enemy position. The artillery continued to fire in this period, suffering counterbattery which disabled another twenty-seven guns, thirteen of those permanently, but ammunition was sufficient for constant firing such that a hail of some two thousand shells a minute continued to fall upon the Gilean defences. The ammunition would only be available for this one attack, and so it was all being used to give it the best chance of succeeding.

Time. At T -10 Minutes the assault finally, and actually, commenced. Eighty thousand men surged forward as the artillery laid down a vast rolling barrage in front of them with the remaining ammunition. They were obscured and protected by the barrage. Or so they should have been. Instead, and immediately, the missile batteries of the ships off the port salvoed reconaissance rockets. They rushed up into the air, throwing down sensor pulses on the advance, unveiling what was going on with the divisions forming up and pushing forward behind the protecting surge of the fresh barrage. Lasting for only a few seconds of reconaissance time and sometimes being shot down much sooner, the ships had plentiful magazines full of them and their data was immediately interlinked to every battery in the defensive lines.

Hell. In the hot sun, beating down and heating the air even with the smoke obscuring it from view, the stench all around, the burst of shells and the constant and overwhelming noise which pulsated into the very depth of the chest, reverberated in the diaphram. This was the focal point of Hell itself. Through this rushed a coalition force of eighty thousand men, speaking countless languages. In the composite divisions orders from the ranking officers to the underofficers commanding the minor units were often completely misunderstood, and hand signals had to suffice. Yet there was very little need for instructions; the great mass surging forward knew that it had only one goal, and all the men followed each other in wave after wave toward the defence lines.

Even for the men waiting for them in the defensive trenches and the pillboxes and the fortified positions in the burnt-out western industrial park were sweating to the bone, and they were engaged in comparatively little physical activity. Citizen volunteers of the city without military training, some as young as twelve, were employed to carry buckets of water along the lines, distributing them to desperate soldiers who were pushed to the limit from the enemy barrage and now faced the grand assault. They dug in their heels along the firing parapets as the order came, bayonets fixed, rifles resting on the raised crenallations worked into line where they were still intact to give them the steadiest shot possible.

For the men attacking them, for the men who fought for their freedom as they saw it, the freedom to do as they pleased and to live as their societies had always been ordered, it was a dozen times worse. Running in their uniforms, many of them simply collapsed of heat exhaustion, wielding heavy rifles and burdened down by dozens of pounds of equipment and ammunition. The rest forged onward, and the attack seemed to carry forward in perfect coordination with the vast barrage, until the carefully targeted artillery of the naval guns and the artillery in the city hit the waves of attackers and shattered the illusion of safety.

With the allied artillery locked into the fixed pattern of a rolling barrage, the General Faeria and the other, lighter armoured trains were able to bring their direct-fire artillery into play against the advancing men as well, bolts dispersing energy wildly in their anti-infantry role. Hundreds were struck down at once; thousands when the other artillery was counted, and then more still. The anti-missile defences of the allies were insufficient to cut through enough of the artillery barrage to make a difference, and the direct-fire energy weapons were uninterceptable.

What makes men charge into such a fire? Soon there were rockets falling as well, ridiculously primitive, manufactured in the damaged workshops of the city and only of comparable quality to the similar weapons manufactured in simple villages of the Normans and the Stirlins and their allies. They were largely useless—save that they attracted, necessarily, much of the anti-missile fire of the rather primitive defensive systems used by the allies. This guaranteed that more and more of the artillery fire kept getting through, and the detonations of the huge shells killed dozens at a time, so that over the course of a minute a whole battalion might be rended to corpses.

They fought for hearth and home, many, for their home-stones or for the simple legacies of their hometowns. They charged into the murderous fire, which before this conflict they had not encountered, with the peculiar elan of men so totally unused to the forces arrayed against them that they were unable to fear them. They were totally outclassed, and possessing only bravery, with glory their only possible reward, they carried through the artillery fire by the thousands and flung themselves straight into the prepared fire lines of the Gilean defenders.

Simple land-mines blew off feet and shattered legs. Ditches hung up men, slowing them enough that the machine-guns could kill them, as did the coils of razor-wire and the lines of barbed wire. Swine feathers and caltrops completed the great lines of the defences, and these were not simple trenches. Instead, sandbagged positions on buildings, and positions built outright of brick and concrete for the purpose of this defence, or for the earlier fighting in the city, bore on them from every direction. Firing positions inside the heavy industrial buildings were everywhere, and the gaps for loading bays and the open spaces of railroad marshalling yards and transfer facilities served to naturally funnel the attackers into prepared kill boxes with overlapping fire.

Thousands died at every point on the assault. Nine kilometres of line were filled with a raging fire, even as the diversionary attacks on other points of the line were handily repulsed in their turns. Driven out of the kill boxes by the sheer volume of fire, the men who had left thousands of their dead behind regrouped despite the murderous fusillade and pressed home attacks with a marvelously brave stupidity against the flung-out strongpoints of the Gilean line, avoiding the kill boxes but at the same time flinging themselves straight at the most difficult positions.

These they gained by their raw courage, but in these built-up industrial districts, they in most cases seized only the first room of the building and were at once thoroughly bogged down, while the Gilean artillery completely dominated their lines of resupply. The men, fighting with scarcely more than their ready ammunition, soon grew low of it. Yet the conflicting reports in a massive army over the successes or failures they had suffered, aided by the confusion of the languages and the different command styles of the vast allied host, led to the reserves of fifteen thousand men being committed in the very centre of the original attack—rather to the left flank with the commitment of an extra division to the initial assault—men who also had to through the heat and the smoke and the acrid stench come up under constant fire and renew by their example the head-on effort straight into the meatgrinder. To their credit, they did it.

Colonel Arshon on the General Faeria could for the first minutes only watch in silent shock as the second wave came in. Nobody really believed, really could believe, that such disaster would be reinforced. But this was the ultimate and worst example of the fog of war, and these men even believed their side was winning. They came on with incredible courage.

It was for naught. By the time they had passed through the artillery their ragged lines were scarcely reinforcement, though they were still maintaining the assault, and since they were better troops, with far more cohesion than the initial force. The moment they hit the industrial buildings, though, cohesion ceased to exist. Each squad fought for survival. Objectives were reduced from kilometres to rooms, and casualty expectations to seize those objectives increased threefold.

Among the Gileans, the day wore on and the heat took its toll, with hundreds of cases of severe sunstroke and thousands more mild all along the line. The diversionary assaults were defeated, and in the big industrial buildings the men carried on a desperate and murderous fight in which the casualties piled on by the minute in a grusome toll.

With the allied assault completely pinned down, the sun began to sink from its peak in the sky, and the late afternoon heat was at its most intense. Both sides had thousands of casualties from sunstroke. The buildings offered relief from that, but nothing else, and everything was at its worst there. Progress in the last four hours of sustained hard fighting was measured in a distance less than half the length of a soccer field.

Then the Gilean counterattack began. Cruise missiles held in reserve were fired from the ships, accelerated by rockets to speeds in excess of mach seven as their ramjets ignited. They scarcely had time to ignite, in fact, before they had reached their targets. But the systems the allies had purchased were idiot-proofed and designed to be used by veritable cavemen, and the Stirlins were more sophisticated than that. A good sixty percent of the missiles were shot down before they could begin deploying their cluster munitions across the battlefield.

It was, however, an attack designed for only five percent of the missiles to get through, at best. Two hundred had been launched and eighty got through. Each one deployed one thousand 10-kilogramme bomblets packed with the most advanced chemical explosives that a space-fairing civilization could produce; each one, even considering the case and fusing mechanism and the shrapnel casing (plastic fletchettes which would be harmless to any protected vehicles, but sharper than obsidian when ripping through unprotected human flesh) into the weight of the tiny bomblet, nonetheless produced the explosive force of 100-kilogrammes of TNT.

The strike had been planned to tear into the flanks of the assault and rip up the rear areas supporting the men fighting in the industrial district. Thousands were killed and wounded in a heartbeat as the long lines of the bomblets spread by each cruise missile exploded in tightly packed sequence, digging furrows through the allied positions. The missiles themselves, unexpended, continued toward targets on the artillery lines and command and control centres of the allied force. Another half of these were shot down. The remaining fourty or so managed to get through to their final targets, and there were 2-tonne explosive charges fixed into the nose of each missile that detonated after the missiles had penetrated deep into the ground, delivering twelve times their mass in equivalent strength of TNT.

The artificial earthquakes could be clearly felt right along the docks in East Port. The whole of the allied artillery was silenced. The commander of the attacking army was killed outright and most of his staff. The ranking corps commander was dead also, and it fell to a tough old Caliphal mercenary of Sudanese extraction the al-Farani had hired to improve their military forces, who had been serving as the Chief of Staff of IV Corps, to handle the rest of the fight. He was named Neguib and held the rank of a Brigadier General, though his previous experience had only been to the rank of Major. He immediately ordered a withdrawal, but the Gilean counterattack was swinging out from the moment of the strike.

They had no armour to speak of, just a few Marine light amphibious tanks which spearheaded the assault but were quickly knocked out. Behind them, however, surging forward, were the lines of the infantry who had stood in the hot sun all day defending East Port. It highlighted the contrast of this battle, with the most modern weaponry available to a blue water naval force being used to deliver the preparatory blow for an advance of infantry in loose order with the bayonet.

Pockets of resistance remained, and it was these that finished off the tanks. But the enemy was falling back fast under the orders of General Neguib, and the only serious resistance to either side of the pincer was from the men trapped by the rapidity of their advance. They surged forward, even as the men in the industrial districts found themselves unable to retreat from the morass of that fighting. Crossing over the mangled bodies of the slaughter, the counterattacks met up and surrounded the whole of the allied assault force, and then kept going.

There was nothing stopping them now. The light trenches the allies had dug for protection, filled with bodies now and worse than useless against modern weapons, were carried without resistance. The retreat of the enemy was precipitous, but it was the only thing that saved them. Somehow, stubborn old Neguib managed to prevent a general rout. All of their positions around the city were nonetheless overrun, and one hundred and five thousand men retreated before the counterattack of a mere thirty thousands.

The retreat ended in the hills inland of the city. There Neguib dug in along much better defensive terrain, having sustained the loss of essentially half of the allied army but nonetheless having kept it from a rout. With almost one hundred thousand men killed, wounded, or captured, the taking of East Port was now impossible, and the remainder of the army would exist in a defensive posture to prevent a relief column from East Port to get to Kalunda before the city had fallen. It could do more.

The Gilean forces for their part had totally expended their ammunition save for small arms and light artillery, and did not have the troops to attempt an assault on the remainder of the allied army, having suffered thousands of casualties from a much smaller force to begin with. But East Port itself had been saved, and would not be threatened again during the war. The challenge, now, was to get to Kalunda before it was to late.
”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 » 2006-09-16 09:22am

Northwest of Artemisia
DAY 32



The sights, sounds, and smells of a pre-industrial army camp brought back old memories to Sara as she stood at the crest of the hill, looking out at the sea of tents that marked the camp of the Army of the Valley as it continued it's westward march to the Henley River and the mountain passes and river bank paths that would take it into the Norman heartland.
To her back were the Henley Mountains, the large mountain range where the Thantians eked out a living from the hard mountain soil, honing their martial skills with skirmishes against the hated Normans and against each other. Long ago, Sara Proctor had defeated their nominal war leader, Sariya, and in doing so had been proclaimed their new war leader, a post she had mostly abandoned, with Sariya ruling as her regent, since bringing the Thantians into the triumphant fight against the Normans.
Lisa Spinozi, General Dao Zi, and William were arrayed around her as Sara lifted herself onto a horse and secured her weapons to her body. She was still wearing a light cotton blouse, sleeveless, with light silken trousers, but in a bundle behind her were cold weather clothes for when she reached the higher altitudes of the mountains and the weather became potentially colder. Similarly dressed were her two attendants, Andrew MacCulloch and his wife Cera, the Irish-descended bodyguards in her Ducal Guard who both bore the scars of the slavery they had once endured in Devenshire, scars born with equal pride to the seal of the Proctor family engraved on the medallions around their necks and it's clear, unapologetic abolitionist symbolism.

"I trust that under you three the army will be in position on time," Sara said to them as each gave her the look that said they were opposed to what she was about to do.
"I wish you'd take a larger escort, Your Highness," Dao Zi said. "I have many fine warriors who would gladly lay down their lives for you."
"They'll have plenty of chances for that in the coming fighting, but the mountains are treacherous and the larger we are, the more trouble that we'll have in maneuvering through the mountains."
"And what of the mountain tribes? They're a vicious, brutal people, and few will know you by sight. They will willfully waylay you."
"That is why we will be bringing sensors along, to spot ambushes. And they're not as bad as the rumors say. They will not attack a small party of travelers, not unless they are dressed as Normans, and we will be avoiding that form of dress entirely. Finally, I still have this." Sara reached into a pouch and pulled out a small, primitive medallion encrusted with red and blue gem fragments. "It is the seal of the Thantian War Leader. I've kept it these past forty years for just such an occasion." She strung it across her neck right in front of them. "I'm ready for them, everyone, so don't worry. Just get the army past the riverside and into the Norman heartland. We'll meet up at Thetis as planned. Now, if you'll all please excuse me, I want a few words with my grandson."

All but William walked or rode away until out of earshot, leaving Sara with William. He rode the horse he was on over to her and the two exchanged hugs. "Take care, Grandmother," William said, a tear in his eye. This would be the first time he was truly seperated from her since their reunion months ago, and he was truly frightened for her and for what would be happening to him; battle loomed, and he was untried for it. "Come back to us."
"I will, William, don't you worry about it." Sara released him from the hug. "William, can I say something?"
"Sure, Grandma."
"Mei Li. Don't turn her away, not if you feel something." Sara put her hand on his. "I know your upbringing, I had it too, but love is a rare thing to find. I've lost people I had strong feelings for before, William, and it's a horrible pain, even if something happened with them before they were lost. Don't suffer the same. Mei Li.... she is a special woman, and I know she will be good for you if you let her."
He nodded at her. "I'll... think on it."
"Good. Now, take care of yourself and I'll see you at Thentis." Sara gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Bye."
"God be with you, Grandma." William sat and watched as Sara rode past the MacCullochs and toward the mountains. Dao Zi and Lisa brought their horses beside his for a moment and Lisa touched William's arm affectionally, beckoning him to return to camp.


Paradise Inn, Berglund Enclave
DAY THIRTY-THREE



It was still dark, though dawn began to show over the mountains to the east, and Fayza was sitting in the darkness of her hotel room's balcony wearing a silken yellow robe over her body. She sat looking across the sea, knowing that across that expanse of blue lay the Primitive Zone, the most visible sign of the cancer that ate away at Gilead's soul until it was the rotting, festering corpse that had now been cut from it's strings.
Fayza had come to Gilead, her friend Dani dragged along with her, to find relaxation and romance. No, not even romance, but pleasure, unbridled sexual pleasure of the kind Dani had joked so often about experiencing. And in the way the universe sometimes did when it punished foolishness, Fayza had been repaid for her mistake in spades. She had been abducted, humiliated, tortured, raped, and had been forced to run for her life and fight a guerrila war.
Tears flowed down her eyes as the sheer level of her foolishness, and the horror of her punishment, came down upon her heart. And worse of all, Dani too had been punished, punished in ways Fayza had not yet learned, and was still being punished as she was the one trapped in the besieged city of Kalunda.
Even in the night Fayza could make out the blinking lights of the large transports that were using Berglund's small commercial dock - initially built for a long-abandoned ocean cruise business and for her small fishing fleet - to load the mercenaries and militia of Berglund and now her neighbors so that they could join the fight in East Port.

Fayza walked into her room, feeling not a bit tired and with the tears still streaming down her eyes. She looked in the closet and saw the uniform she was going to be putting on in the morning, that of a Major in the Berglund militia; she was going to be on Erik's staff and provide her expertise as an engineer. She looked longingly to the bottle of hard whiskey that Shameel had left to her before he departed for places unknown, telling her it was good for getting away from the pain when she needed it. But she needed to be sober and couldn't afford the luxury.
There was a knock at the door that prompted Fay to pull the robe closer over her body before answering it. Standing there, in his new uniform as "General of the Militia", Erik Berglund looked more like a soldier than he should have. "Sleepless?" he asked her.
"Very."
"I am too. I see why you didn't want to stay in the mansion. I can't sleep there either. I keep hearing my brother's victims in my head, thinking of how long I let him... get away with these things. I had to get out, so I left Damien to sleep and came."
"Damien? Who is..... oh." The realization dawned on her. "I didn't know you had..."
"I won't say more than he works in local government, and was my source during our resistance." A little grin crossed Erik's face. "Homosexual men in this area are very good at keeping our identities secret."
"So much for Gilead's tolerance," Fayza remarked. "So.... since we can't sleep, what shall we do?"
"I was hoping that we might sit, and talk, for a while." Erik pulled a bottle out of his uniform, filled with port. "Not as alcoholic as that whiskey over there. We might be able to have a nice drink together, perhaps order an early breakfast?"
Fayza looked at Erik's face and allowed herself to sigh and smile gently. "I'll take you up on that offer."


Several floors down from where Fay and Erik were talking, the only sound in the hotel room were the soft moans of lovemaking that came from Frank Latzen and Marzi as they wrapped themselves up in the bed sheets, their bodies pressed strongly against each other. For weeks they had hid their growing lust for one another until this very night when they had finally succumbed, in no small part because Frank was to join the small battalion of Kelvintowners who were joining the expedition to East Port.
The soft moans gave way to stronger ones as their lovemaking reached it's climax, and when it was over they laid together tangled up in the bedsheets, their bodies feeling sleepy and weak. Frank's hand was gently stroking Marzi's cheek, his fingers following her spot line, and Marzi was nearly in tears from how much she enjoyed the sensation of his love-making as opposed to how Oloparatho and Illian had treated her during her captivity. "Don't leave me," she said softly, pulling her body closer to him.
"It's something I have to do, Marzi. Otherwise we'll never be safe, and it'll just be a matter of when the next group of conquerers come around." Frank's finger brushed away a tear from under her right eye. "I'm sorry I waited so long."
"I'm just happy you came before you left," Marzi answered, speaking softly again, and touched him gently on the shoulder. "Why can't I come with you?"
"I won't put you in danger, not against those kinds of people, Marzi. Here, my parents can keep you safe, and you will eventually be able to return home."
"I don't have a home to return to," Marzi protested. "I want to be with you."
Frank swallowed, having not expected for her to become so desiring of him. "I want you too, Marzi, and if I come back we'll be together. But if something happens...."
"No! No, nothing's going to happen to you." Marzi clasped onto him strongly. "After everything that's happened, I can't lose you. I need you!"
"Shhh...." Frank stroked her head softly as Marzi cried in her embrace, her mind wandering back to the rapings and torturings she had suffered as a slave to Oloparatho. He held her tightly, feeling her heart beat against his chest and hearing her sobbing until finally it was gone, and she was asleep. Holding her tightly, and letting her rest her head upon his chest, Frank fell asleep as well, beginning to doubt the commitment he had made.
”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 » 2006-09-29 11:53am

DAY 31/32
QUANZHI HEIGHTS



The hulks of four hundred wrecked tanks littered the low pass through the Quanzhi Heights. Many more were scattered on the approaches, and another three hundred had been destroyed in the pursuit. On the roads down from the Qinghai Gap thousands of corpses and hundreds of vehicles had been annihilated as the firepower of the air force had pounced on the fleeing rebels. Lines of fire from the brush set alight by the bombing and all of the burning vehicles and spilled fuel brought clouds of dark black smoke several miles into the air.

Hounding them, nipping at their heels relentlessly, the armoured columns of the Cartagenean and Capitol Corps pursued the remnants of the allied forces. They were maintaining a most aggressive pursue for the express purpose of making sure that not a single defensive line around Quanzhi could be established in time, and the city could be seized without a fight. If the remnants of the allied forces escaped into the city they could fight to the death there and destroy its use as a port. But as things stood now they would not make it.

The Capital Defense or Miltia Corps of Cranstonville was following up, a heavy infantry force only. Its commander, however, was the seniormost of the three corps commanders involved in the southern assault force, General Catalina Rosario, Chief of Staff to General de la Hoya. She had been commander of the 2nd Cartagenean Division which formed the backbone of the Cartagenean Corps, now, before the coup and the massive and hasty expansion of the military which had followed.

Surveying the destruction by rotodyne she could see clearly, without need for satellites, most of which had been shot down, that the enemy was entirely finished. Air reconaissance reports merely served to confirm what her own eyes could tell. They were able to range over the enemy themselves in safety, with their anti-air entirely destroyed. Straggling columns of the shattered regiments told that the threat to Cranstonville from the south was gone entirely.

There was nothing behind Quanzhi for them. They would have to flee to the east to have any hope of survival if they could not reach the city in time, and with two armoured divisions racing unopposed toward Quanzhi that was virtually guaranteed. Any units which tried to stand were destroyed. More importantly, the dubious shelter of Berglund had been lost by the change in power there, so that a pro-government regime was in charge, and with thirty thousand men guaranteed that these remnants could not rally there and continue to fight.

Catalina realized that this meant that one of her corps could be swung to the east, attacking and finishing off the stragglers of the rebel southern army, and threatening the flank of the rebels arrayed against the capital to the east, forcing a withdraw on their part and allowing the beginning of mobile warfare to the advantage, and the advance, of the government troops. The Capitol Corps had the place of honour to the left, so as not to show favouritism to her old command, and that made it easily detached. The orders were drafted, and all that remained is for the actual entry of Quanzhi to be effected.

For this purpose she had sent ahead four airborne brigades which by the late afternoon were landing on the outskirts of the city ahead of the fleeing enemy. This was an exceptionally risky operation, and she had refused to clear it with President de la Hoya first. She had her own reasons for taking the risk, and it was a tense night after she had returned to headquarters while the reports from the fighting around the city went on and the stiff resistance of the natives of Quanzhi was chronicled as equally as the abject collapse of the rebel troops.

It had succeeded, guaranteed by the total air supremacy the government troops had come to enjoy. If the enemy had been less defeated, if the Quanzhi home defence battalions had been more organized, it might have been a disaster. But by the next morning the remnants of the rebel army had shifted from fleeing south toward fleeing east, and suffered even more in doing it. They were now strictly a disorganized rabble, and General Rosario ordered the Capitol Corps to shift and pursue. The Militia Corps was sent directly on into Quanzhi to occupy the city as the stiffest resistance was dealt with by the crack troops of the airborne brigades.

General de la Hoya looked to be a harried man as he took General Rosario's communication, gazing tiredly like he hadn't slept all night into the eyes of the steely and harshly faced tall Catalina, with her fine if rather angular features and shoulder-length hair going to silver. “What have you got for me, General?” He answered in a strong voice, but rather a monotone, and that another sign of his extreme distraction.

“Quanzhi. The enemy has been forced to retire to the east and we've cracked the resistance of their local militia before they could form up properly. I've sent the Capitol Armoured Corps straight eastward in full pursuit of a routed enemy, and I'm prepared to detach it to the East Front Commander immediately. Southern Front no longer needs to exist with the defection of Berglund from the enemy; Quanzhi is now a job for the Militia Corps and an occupation government.”

“How did you take the city, General? You could scarcely keep up with an advance if the last reports you sent me were correct, and they were..” de la Hoya frowned deeply. “You used the airborne forces, didn't you?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“That's a considerable risk. Why?”

“Two days ago the Marines at East Port defeated the last major attempt of the western rebel army—the glorified name our enemies have given to that collection of tribal rabble, at last count—to seize that city. They inflicted on the order of 45% casualties on the enemy force and destroyed all potential for offensive operations the rebel forces have anywhere on the western continent. Their only remaining offensive forces are being attrited in the siege of Kalunda.” Catalina sighed, her fingers pulling on each other behind her back before her hands settled to her sides.

“Sir, we've got to relieve Kalunda. I know it's strategically worthless. The point doesn't even need to be discussed. But we're all aware of the fact that intervention forces are moving closer to us and that, on the border, we're already functionally at war with them. If we're going to preserve the nation, Sir, I submit that we must preempt their propaganda piece. We must relieve Kalunda ourselves, to prove that the government of Gilead is capable of protecting foreigners within its territory.

“I know the risks that carries in the civil war, but if we can remove this thorn in our side of the primitive zone, it may be possible for us to carry through and win the conflict even with the foreign intervention, even if it takes years rather than the weeks we might hope it will now.”

“I think there's a way to say that which is rather more to the point,” General de la Hoya answered stiffly, casting a weary gaze which nonetheless succeeded in making Catalina shudder a bit. He was a formidable man, and a good commander, but events had forced him into an unfortunate position. “Precisely, General Rosario, you want to preserve the government as a credible force so that we bargain down the intervention forces and gain support from the Hispanic Emperor specifically, don't you, to stabilize and rebuild the State?”

He held up a hand to forestall a response, and perhaps stifled a yawn. “Don't worry about it, General. I'm well aware of your position on the matter.” A glint of grim amusement: “There are men in my staff who are proposing guerrilla war against the intervention. I cannot do that. We are not going to end up the savages we are fighting—let alone allied with them. But at the same time they have a point, and your view, General, is extreme. If it comes to it I will try to defeat the intervention forces in a sufficiently dramatic fashion, or at least to wound them the same, so as to preserve the government of Gilead as a vehicle of negotiations which should save the state.

“That said, I realize that our chances are very poor.” He chuckled dryly.

“Very poor, Sir,” Catalina answered in earnest seriousness. “The Habsburgs, let alone the Talorans, have such a reputation as to not be easily dissuaded by casualties or defeat. Nor, for that matter, does the Alliance. Arguably they are the toughest of the three here, precisely because their government and the youth of their nation makes them so incongruous for the possession of such military renown as they have accrued since its founding. Trying to force negotiations through conflict against such a combination of enemies is a bitter last hope, and perhaps a suicidal one, Sir.”

“I agree with you. And so your proposal is also a bitter hope, though not the last, but it has some greater chance of succeeding. Therefore, I am agreeing. You may send the Cartagenean Corps to East Port to spearhead the relief of Kalunda. But leave it under the corps commander. I can spare an armoured corps, but I cannot spare you, General Rosario, as my Chief of Staff.”

Catalina straightened, though it scarcely seemed possible for her already rigid military posture. “Sir. The orders for the Cartagenean Corps--to embark for East Port, to deploy there for operations, and for the goal of those operations to be the relief Kalunda in the most timely manner possible, will be sent out immediately, and then I will return to Cranstonville the moment that command of the other corps' have been transferred to the appropriate armies and headquarters.”

“Very good, but one more thing, General.” de la Hoya added almost as an afterthought, though his voice informed Catalina that it was nothing of the sort. “Instruct the men of the Cartagenean Corps that they are to conduct operations in the Primitive Zone in the form of a strafexpedition intended to inflict the maximum possible hardship on the inhabitants of the Zone, with the general destruction of civilian infrastructure and materials of livelihood sanctioned as punishment for their having a particular part in initiating this treason and general national disaster. Furthermore, due to the nature of the Primitive Zone and its lack of organized militaries, all males of fighting age found in zones taken from the enemy shall be considered enemy combatants and treated as such, with continued military activity being by definition the acts of francs-tireurs who should be punished as such under the writ of martial law as currently applied by the last promulgations from the declaration of emergency regarding the Primitive Zone.”

“Understood, Sir. Those instructions will be issued as part of the general Army Instructions, which I will amend immediately.” Catalina answered, thinking, silently and to herself: All formal language intended to make the record sound and legal, but when it comes down to it, it's authorization to demolish the societies of the primitives. And it's about damned time!

“Then you are dismissed. General de la Hoya, out.” He went to bed at once, so exhausted by the difficulties of the situation and the long and irregular hours that it demanded that he did not even dwell on the bloody and grim orders he had issued but minutes before.
”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 » 2006-10-21 03:45am

Post written by Marina, with some contribution from Chris Purnell.

All you warlike seamen
Day 32
Kellior's World



“Come all you warlike seamen that to the seas belong
I'll tell you of a fight my boys onboard the Nottingham
It was of an Irish Captain, his name was Sommerville
With courage bold did he control, he played his part so well!

“'Twas on the eighth of June my boys when at Spithead we lay
Onboard there came an order our anchor for to weigh.
Bound for the coast of Ireland our orders did run so
For us to cruise and not refuse against our daring foe.

“We had not sailed many lengths at sea before our ship we spied
She being a lofty frenchman, come a bearin' down so wide
We hailed to her au francais my boys, she asked from where we came
Our answer was from Liverpool, and 'London' is our name.

“”Oh pray are you some man-o-war or pray what may you be?”
Oh, then replied our captain: “And that you soon shall see.
“Come strike your English colours or else you shall be brought to
“Since you're so stout you shall give out or else we will sink you!”

“The first broadside we gave them which made them for to wonder
Their mainmast and their riggin' came a-rattlin' down like thunder
We drove them from their quarter they could no longer stay
Our guns did roar, we made so sure we showed them British play.

“So now we've took that ship my boys, god speed us fair winds
That we might sail to Plymouth-town if the heavens prove so kind
We'll drink a health unto our Captain and all such warlike souls
To him we'll drink and never flinch out of our flowing bowls.”


The crew of His Majesty's Ship the Nottingham, a Bellinghausen-class heavy cruiser, raised a roaring and racuous cheer as the song ended, ale mugs crashing together all along the long tables at which they sat, enjoying their first shore leave in weeks. It was also on an occupied planet. Kellior's World was part of the Gilean Confederacy, and here it was that the men of the Holy Roman Empire's Starfleet drank and sang their drinking songs, in a planet quickly secured for the international forces, and almost relieved to get along with the business of entertaining and supplying mariners.

The Habsburg fleet wasn't the only one in orbit, however. A brace of Taloran patrol cruisers also waited there, part of the same loosely organized general advance, and actually arguing, at least somewhat, over the fate of this world. For all that the Talorans had been dragged very reluctantly into this relief effort, they were not going to let the expenditure go to waste, and as much of Gilead as possible was to be secured for their forces out of sake of improving their negotiating stance at the end—which was, of course, all about keeping all of Gilead open to free trade.

As it happened, this Beer House was roughly split in numbers of patrons between the crew of the Nottingham and the crew of the Jhuris, one of the Taloran cruisers in orbit. They had been carrying on a friendly debate, as the crews of ships are wont to do, about the relative qualities of their two ships. It had been growing more enthusiastic as the drinking carried on, and the singing of “The Irish Captain” had been the culmination of the bawdy effort by the men of the Nottingham to generally declare their ship the greatest vessel that had ever existed.

Had it stopped there the violence might have been avoided generally, largely because the majority of the Taloran sailors, lacking any English comprehension whatsoever, were unable to tell that they had been insulted. But one of the Taloran sailors, a strapping lad scarcely five and a half feet tall but all muscle, and who had some skill with languages, pushed himself forward to their side of the room and boldly declared in badly broken English: “There ain't a 'warlike seamen' in your whole lot!”

His declaration was met, post haste, by a salvo of empties from the Habsburg ranks. Naturally, considering they were all quite drunk, many of these overflew the impudent seaman and crashed down amongst the Talorans at their tables, who were at once at their feet, yelling and jeering back in their own language at the Habsburgs who answered, mostly in English and a few in Dutch and a general cacophony of insults preceded the beginning of a genuinely rather violent brawl.

Chairs were broken and knives flashed into presence—most seamen in both navies had something on their persons of some sort or another—and glasses and empties were used in aggressive throwing. Generally, everyone else fled the room, and the brawl might have rapidly become a fatal riot... If it weren't for the fact that the commanders of the two ships were already on the surface as part of a coordination meeting.

And so it was that Captain Sir Johnathan Cartwright of His Majesty's Navy collided with Captain the Baroness Frilasuia itl Urasalia of Her Taloran Majesty's Starfleet. Almost literally, as they both came running and arrived in the same corridor after having arrived soon after each other in their aircars, for a tense moment, with a brace of Military Police and armed aides behind either one. But then they relaxed.

“Well, that should set your boys right,” Captain Cartwright observed after a moment. “And I know my own.”

A stiff nod from the taller Taloran with her shockingly bright blue-white hair was offered in reply. “But let's not waste a moment, before this becomes quite stupid.” To the discordant blare of mustering trumpets carried by their respective aides, which clashed neatly with each other, the two led the way in with swords drawn, and quicky had use of them, striking at the nearest of the fighting seamen with the flats of the blades, which in the hand of an experienced wielder could be a quite painful though harmless punishment.

“Belay this, you hooligans!”

The fighting continued, and the MP's joined in, their weapons being abandoned for something much more effective in this fight, which the military police and NCO's of both navies carried—knuckle-dusters. That hit home right quick. They realized what they were up against, especially with men of their own race against them, and the presence of the officers in their formal uniforms with the flats of their swords out proved very conductive to a rapid cessation of hostilities. It had only lasted a few minutes, really.

For the wounded, medical teams followed shortly, and fortunately nobody was killed, and the affair was left as a bloody riot for which enough military police from both sides were brought in to generally detain the drunks and haul them back to their respective ships.

“How will you deal with your truculents, Madame?” Cartwright asked as he sheathed his sword comfortably.

“There will quite a lot of work for the bosun's whip tonight, Sir Johnathan,” the Baroness answered. “And those few who don't deserve it, shall get a caning.”

Cartwright chuckleed and shook his head. “We don't punish them that way, I confess, Madame. It's seen as being to harsh.”

“Many of you humans seem to think so,” the Taloran agreed rather whimsically. “But perhaps a judicious application by the authorities of this Confederacy, of corporal punishment, might have prevented us from being here today.”

The Habsburg Captain barked harshly in response: “To that I'll drink. But what shall we do, right now, about this poor ruined establishment?”

The Taloran's ears perked in a way that seemed quite amused as she turned her smokey yellow eyes toward her counterpart. “I believe we both have a bit of wealth, and since this can all be handled properly by the bosuns rather than a proper courts-martial.. There is no need to report it, hmm? Let us pay off the poor barkeep, half from you, and half from me, and we will call it done and even.”

“Agreed.” He turned to the Petty Officer leading the MP contingent and spoke softly, switching to hochdeutsche: “So what was it about, anyway?”

“Seems they got to arguing about which ship was the better, sar, and then, sar, they commenced to fightin',” the man answered honestly.

“I heard,” the Baroness interjected. “Shall we settle the argument ourselves, then, as we broke up this fight?”

The two men turned, surprised. “Madame?”

“A bottle of liquer, of the finest of either of our homeworlds, on which ship out of our two first reaches Gilead?”

Cartwright was a fighting man and, at heart, a frigateer in the best tradition of such men, a true and rakish commander of a cruising ship. He grinned at the offer, and nodded in the affirmative. “So it will be, Madame. We'll race the Jhuris there, and perhaps teach our men a lesson or two about sportsmanship in the meantime.”

“It will be a pleasure, Captain, and I'll be glad to welcome you to Gilead.” The competition was inevitable, and the reward, delightful. And so, in like fashion, the international forces slowly and delicately pushed their way, with much jostling and negotiating and backpeddling, all intended to secure each other's positions and claims, ever onward into the centre of Gilead. Thus the noose closed, though not fast enough, as on that distant world the 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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Steve
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Postby Steve » 2006-10-21 09:01am

Also written by Marina.

DAY THIRTY-TWO
KALUNDA



The barrage that started the next great allied attack was a short and rapid drumbeat. Their attacks were coordinated on every level around the burning city, and they had low-quality troops and expended units at every point preparing to assault. Three concentrations of the best quality and freshest Stirlin units with good equipment waited to support these general assaults, which the Stirlins believed would absorb the Kalundan reserves and open the way for a series of breakthroughs which would demolish the line.

It was an excellent plan in practice. It may have even worked, though its goals were limited—they just wanted to seize the Valera Line, the Taliya Line to the north of the city where progress had been slower. To chop down the territory still held by the Kalundans still further. Within fifteen minutes of the beginning of the barrage the allies went over the top. They immediately began to run into problems.

So far the weather had been good during most of the siege. Today, however, the men to the south were attacking into a driving rain. It turned the ground below their feet, pounded by such massed artillery over a month and so close to the water table and the river, into a sea of mud. It obscured their vision and hindered their weapons, and provided a moral cover for the suicide squads that Jhayka still had out manning the front line, forces to weak to matter, but enough to give warning and tempt the enemy onward toward the much expanded secondary lines where the true defence was now being prepared in depth.

Those valiant souls on the front line, who were supposed to stay there firing into the enemy until the very last second, now had the advantage despite their small numbers, and poured on the fire into the advancing masses, slowed as they were by the rain. The rain had its effects on the trenches as well, though. Especially toward the river-banks it was almost impossible to keep these drained of water even without the rain; now they rapidly began to fill up and threatened the operations of the defenders in these areas. But these was not immediately apparent to the allies.

What was apparent was that they were taking heavy casualties, and the defending artillery rolled its barrages horizontally down the lines, decimating sections of the forces in waves which led to the attacks coming in with their casualties placed highly uneveningly. This caused the various sectors to face different pressures at different times, and that allowed a more coordinated response to the attacks than if they had hit as a great wave.

Nonetheless, Jhayka watched tensely on the monitors as the situation degenerated rapidly into a confused and muddy tangle on the extreme flanks where the line met the river. The suicide squads retreated as best they could; the casualties in them were over 35%, as they were expected to be, but they had done their task in slowing the enemy and then drawing them on to far while raking them with a devastating fire while they advancd through the mud. Now a series of broken combats on both sides of the river ensued, and where the lines were weakest along the river the gunboats pressed up to provide their fire support against the attacks.

Because of the refusal to seriously contest the front line due to the virtual impossibility of holding it, now, the allies had largely established footholds at every point, though where the Kalundan artillery had done the best execution their weakened forces were still facing spirited resistence. Independently the commanders in the most successful areas pushed forward, just to find themselves confronted by flooding and muddy zig-zagging trenches, the ground between them covered in endless shell craters and fire arcing all around.

For once the mad bravery of the allies which had carried them so far was replaced by caution. They understood the weather as a force which affected battles, from their earliest days they must have heard stories of the great fights of the day conducted in the teeth of driving snow, the epics of Manstilow and Erghai of their own histories, now fading away, of a great conglomerate of many peoples now reduced to “tribal lashkars” in the rather distorted custom of Taloran English.

Because of this their continued approach to the rest of the battle was slowed, and the Stirlins hesitated in having their shock units cross unprepared and muddy ground where they would be slowed and easily and helplessly exposed to the massed fire of the Kalundan guns. Accordingly they held back their massed breakthrough units and instead ordered the attack pressed wherever it could be along the broad front to probe for weaknesses.

So the result of the fighting was simply that the men of the allied units pushed forward, worming their way on the muddy ground, while a storm of shot and shell carried off their companions and bullets wetly struck into the muddy ground around them. The fighting was short and intense in close quarters and more often than not they were able to push their Kalundan opponents back, but they simply couldn't progress fast enough to make any success of it, and the casualties stacked up even in advancing.

Because of Jhayka's refusal to commit her most precious reserves, but simultaneous with her orders to “hold”, it was naturally possible for the most intact, or simply the bravest, of the allied units to claw forward into the teeth of the defences and make gains toward the rear trenches. In this weather, and without support of their own, however, they made little in the way of gains. Even the tenacious “loyalist” Amazons, fighting hard to prove their continued worth to their allies, could break through, but they could not exploit the breaks.

Everywhere the same result was building. The Kalundan lines were fractured in many places, and the front line of the whole collection of positions which collectively was called the Valera Line had been seized by the enemy, and many positions beyond.. But all the positions further on were isolated salients, sometimes no larger than sufficient frontage for a company... And as the afternoon wore on into the evening, a series of local counterattacks were authorized by the corps commanders to their regiments lower down the chain of command, and these in many places drove back the allies toward the first line of trenches of the Valera Line, though they never regained it save temporarily for a few hours, over a few dozen yards.

Nevertheless the result was scarcely dramatic. Gripped together like the teeth of a saw against knotted wood, the two combatants were locked solid in the muddy jumble of the Valera Line, and there was no progress in either direction for the rest of the day. Instead, there was just a lot of digging. The defending Kalundans threw up entrenchments to the rear of those already existing to connect and reinforce their lines and to provide fallback lines; the last of these was especially the most important, for Jhayka's orders stood: There would be no general retreat from the Valera Line. The allies, for their part, threw up zig-zagging trenches to carry the advance forward, to support the bringing up of the concentrated breakthrough columns and their supporting equipment for a big push the moment that the weather and the light favoured it.

Despite the essentially static nature, however, fierce attrition battles were waged at extremely close distances, with the lines often only fifteen meters apart, throughout the night. There was no disengagement. The massed grenade battles of some of the earlier engagements along the lines were repeated here, and the casualties by the thousands were still suffered in total, a reaper's toll on both sides. Prisoners were taken, though in the savagery of the moment, rarely so. The fighting tapered off with the night's fall, and the lines were still held, but this time it was different.

Everyone knew it would resume with the same savagery the next day. It would have to even for one side or the other to break off, and neither side had any intention of doing so. Quietly, anticlimatically, Jhayka was left with her cruel victory. There would be no big mass disengagements, no more quiet times between the fighting as both sides built up for the next big push.

The nature of the fighting had changed, from a grand engagement of trenches into the outskirts of a city, and though the allies didn't realize it yet, into the city itself. Continuous attrition, and in doing so, Jhayka gambled that she could lose more people than the allies could, and still hold the siege lines. It also greatly lessened the chance of a breakthrough as they nearly faced, with the lost of everything, during the last big allied push. There was no way for the complexities of a disengagement and withdrawal to again result in a near-collapse.

It was exactly what she wanted, but as Jhayka turned from the reports to face a sleepless night, there was no particular joy in it. Now, after all, the rest of the siege would be a story of sustained killing, of the worst and most dramatic aspects of the modern city-siege in the age of total war. The one advantage she brought to Kalunda was simply that she knew of its horrors.. And the city's enemies would learn of them soon enough.
”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.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik


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