[TGG] 55 Days in Kalunda.

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Post by Steve » 2007-01-22 10:12am

Written entirely by me

Thentis, Gilead


William was at his grandmother's bedside when Sara's eyes opened for the first time in days. The anesthetics in her system had finally worn off, and her wounds were mostly healed from the advanced technology brought with them on the Fabian.

"William," he heard her say in a low voice as she looked around at the bedroom, the one she had claimed from the former governor of Thentis. "William, what day is it?!"
"It's the 23rd of December," William answered her, using their universe's calendar. "You've been out for the past few days healing."
"The MacCullochs, Stanton, where are they?"
William's eyes fell. "They... they didn't make it."
Sara nodded slowly. She looked away from her grandson for a moment and closed her eyes, breathing a prayer. "I was going to be the godmother of their children, when they had them."
"They loved you, Grandmother. They had no regrets, I'm sure of it."
"If only I could say the same." Sara looked back to him, a few tears coming down her eyes, which would likely have been more if she weren't trying to control her reaction in front of William. "Has the army moved?"
"General Dao Zhi is leading them to the rendezvous with the Magestrix Avrila," William answered. "Mei-Li and her squadron remained behind with Major Winston to escort you to them as soon as you are healthy to move, which should be tomorrow by what Doctor Smithfield has said." William swallowed and took his grandmother's hand. "Grandmother, we have a problem though."
"The Fabian intercepted civilian communications from Quanzhi. The Gilean government has changed hands. Marcus de la Hoya was assassinated on the 13th and the new leader of Gilead is General Covington, the head of military intelligence. He's ordered the Gilean Air Force to bomb Kalunda in support of the Normans."
Sara's eyes widened. "He what?1"
"Yes. His press statements have announced that the attacks on Kalunda are due to the presence of the foreign citizens in the defense of the city who, he claims, were agents sent by the foreign powers intervening in Gilead to provoke a crisis. He's called on every world in the Confederacy to rise up against the intervention powers."

"Damned fool." Sara put a hand over her face, resting her head against it. Everything I've done could be for nothing.... "Do we know when the intervention forces will arrive?"
"Not at the moment, Grandmother."
Sara sighed. After a moment she went to get up. "I have to go to the army..."
"You can, Grandmother, tomorrow," William said, putting a hand on her shoulder as if to force her back on the bed. "But you must get some rest now."
Between the stiffness in her body, having been mostly still for far too long, and the shock of learning of the deaths of two of her oldest cohorts and the situation as a whole, Sara lacked the energy to overcome her grandson, and relented to remaining in the bed.

(co-authored section by Marina and I.)

DAY 46
On the Kalunda River.

For the human history of the Alliance, there was little more glorious than what was being attempted now. Water-born rescue had all the hallmarks of fame, stoked by the legacy of Dunkirk. Danielle Verdes had a greater purpose to this operation than the mere daring that it entailed to bring small boats on the river to the relief of a surrounded garrison while under continuous air assault. Her lover was in the Sackon warehouse, and she was going to go save her live.

Amber found Danielle in the command bridge of Liberty, staying in the cramped space and desperately trying to keep her riverboat fleet in the fight after the losses taken in the air strikes, as she spoke with one of the girls of the communications department. At the moment Amber was in a new uniform, that of the commanding Major of the understrength "Naval Infantry Battalion" of the Crimson Guard that had been formed from the crews of lost ships and ships too damaged to be in service for the moment. Amber knew that Dani would probably end up in the same unit, because eventually the airstrikes would destroy her fleet. She just didn't know if Dani had it in her to fight on the land as something more than fire support; a competent hand-to-hand combatant, Dani wasn't a soldier and unlike Amber had never fought on the land or even trained for it.

The girl nodded and left. Above, she would have the message sent by signal flags to the rest of the fleet, a measure taken to limit electronic transmission and avoid the Gilean aerial mines and bombs from hitting them by following their electronic emissions, and as old as the sea itself as a means of commanding ships in action. Dani turned to Amber, acknowledging her with a casual salute. "How many troops do we have loaded on the boats?"

"I have most of the battalion on board now," Amber replied. "But we're just an understrength battalion, a couple companies, we can't break an encirclement."

"No, but with the firepower of the fleet I can punch you a hole big enough for you to slip through and get them out. Now get the troops we have in the area and have them ready to launch some kind of distraction, anything to buy us time and pin the enemy down. We're leaving in just a few minutes."

Amber left to finish the preperations, and Dani took leave from the command bridge a moment later, venturing to the upper deck. Around her was ruin and rubble. Kalunda, once called the Jewel of the East not just for her devotion to civilization but because of her gorgeous neo-Classical Greco-Roman architecture, was now a city of crushed stone and marble, reduced to this not only by the Normans but by the very government that had once vowed to defend Kalunda. Tears flowed down Dani's eyes as she recalled what it was like to stand on the deck of Amber's yacht, what seemed like ages ago, and look out at the beautiful waterfront of the city. It was an expression of emotion she could not avoid at a time already fraught with the emotion of dealing with Jhayka's injuries.

What kind of madness had gripped the leaders of Gilead? They had been the ones to fail and yet they were punishing the victims, as if reducing Kalunda would somehow magically drive away the intervention forces. So what if they succeeded? She and Jhayka and Illavna and even Julio might die, but this would only guarantee the responsible were marched up a gallows or in front of a firing squad, assuming they survived the kind of war that the outside powers could bring upon them in vengeance for siding with barbarians like the Normans. What kind of madness was that?

Maybe the same kind of madness I'd have if I were the one facing obliteration or servitude. Had she not, after all, vowed to die rather than be enslaved? In a way that was precisely what the Gileans were doing; knowing that the outside powers would certainly dismember their Confederacy in some way or another, they had chosen to fight to the death instead of accepting the inevitable. The Clans that Trajan once belonged to had gone the same route, with similar consequences.

Dani walked over to a particular side of the deck. It had been here that, one long month ago, Jhayka and her had kissed in full sight of the crew, the morning after their first night together. She remembered the vinegar taste of Jhayka's tongue and mouth, the exhilirating yet strange experience of making love with an alien woman who, by Human standards, was not very attractive at all, but to whom Dani felt a strong, undying bond to. She wasn't about to lose that.

One of her subordinates came to her. "Admiral, we're ready, the fleet is moving into position."

"Make sure our automated defenses against the aerial bombs are ready, and signal the fleet; all boats are to make full speed down Canal 2 toward the closest point toward the Sackon Warehouse." Dani walked past the girl toward her command bridge. I'm coming, Jhayka, I'm coming.

The attacks came from everywhere. The allies' remaining artillery, what forces they had along the river bank, and of course the Gilean Air Force's aircraft, almost always overhead at Kalunda.

Dani remained in the command bridge, watching as virtually every remaining ship she had raced toward Canal 2, drawing the attention of every enemy unit in the area. They knew something was up now, and most had probably already suspected that someone important was at the Sackon Warehouse; her fleet's sortie confirmed this for them.

The fire was heavy, virtually as heavy as it'd been over a week before when they had thwarted the oil attack on the river. But Dani knew her crews wouldn't flinch. That wonderful fatalism of the Kalundans, sensuous and hedonistic in peace but calmly resolute in the face of death, worked to her advantage here, and all of her crews worked as one mind to their mission; saving Jhayka.

There were explosions around them, engulfing them and covering them in a hail of fire that obscured the other boats from view. Shells and bombs that managed to hit boats. Some exploded, their crews claimed, others merely began to sink with their crews scrambling to abandon the boats and swim to the shore. She prayed to God - or whatever He was - that they'd get there intact.

Inside the Sackon warehouse Ilavna had conducted more surgery on aliens than she had ever imagined might be possible to do, for any Taloran physician, in all of history, and she was a mere student, though now fully a doctor by the bloody experience of the battle. Yet for each surgery she conducted to save the life of one of the defenders she had to return at once after it and attend to the stricken Jhayka, her liege-lady. It was there, Jhayka quite comfortably unconscious and oblivious to the fight by her, when the terrific cannonade began, and the sound of countless bombs falling, screaming through the air, exploding, warned that the rescue operation was beginning.

“Get the surgical cases ready for transport!” She cried, leaping up from Jhayka for a moment, looking around to the corpsmen of the battalion that she was directing. “Get them prepped and begin hauling them to the rear of the warehouse for the final dash!” At least it didn't begin while I was in the midst of surgery, she thought, praying thanks to the Lord of Justice with her thoughts as she knelt down by Jhayka once more to work on prepping her to be moved, as well.

The run for the squadron was short; the distance to be covered under fire was not far, mercifully, and son enough the warehouse was in clear sight. They pulled up alongside the warehouse under heavy fire, their guns returning the fire on enemy position as Amber and her troops tied the boats up to the quay. The armed women leapt out as others, stripped down to their tight silken underclothes for ease of running, hefted supplies and ran them to the troops in the warehouse. Dani emerged from the Liberty's command bridge and stood near the railing for a brief moment before one of the young girls on the bridge, a cute half-Arab, pulled her swiftly under cover, hissing, "Admiral, you must stay down!"

Explosions erupted from around them. Dani looked toward the bow and saw the Harriet Tubman reduced to flames from a direct hit by an aerial bomb. The surviving crew were leaping off into the water and onto the quay, where they soon came to the Liberty.

From within the warehouse the wounded emerged, as well as the prisoners. They were all herded toward Liberty and Emancipator. As they came on gunfire from the north forced their heads down; the allied troops on the riverbank were heading south, trying to stop the evacuation.

Amber's voice barely carried over the sounds of battle. "Hold your positions! Hold! Kalunda Invictis!" From the boats, small anti-personnel weapons and flamethrowers were used on the advancing primitivists, trying to prevent their evacuation, while Dani imagined the Gilean air controllers trying to direct heavier airstrikes on her position. Hurry, hurry she urged the others.

The advancing allies, Stirlins in this case, did actually manage to get within range of the boats. As their allies fell around them they jumped through the cover used by Amber's troops and it came down to a hand-to-hand fight. The girls of the Naval Infantry fought back ferociously, led by Amber herself. She saw the first one coming at her, a woman with a skin tone like her own but her body far more muscular, and she thrust her bayonet into the woman. Like a crazed beast the Stirlin woman slashed at her with her nails, cutting her bloodlessly thanks to her BDU's material, but still hurting. Amber pulled the trigger and put the woman down.

A girl next to her screamed and Amber turned to find a Stirlin man plunging a bayonet into the girl's upper chest, right at her heart. Amber brought her rifle up and plunged the diamonide bayoent through the back of his head, killing him instantly.

And then the pain came. Multiple sharp pains going through her left side, ripping into her hip, side, and ribs, the feel of shrapnel striking her, not deeply but with pain and intense burning, the metal red hot as it pierced her side. Amber fell, bleeding, and was soon hefted up by another young woman. "Orders from the Admiral to retreat; and we will not leave you here, Duchess!" the girl explained breathlessly as she dragged Amber forward.

Dani's heart quailed when Jhayka was brought on the Liberty, Illavna at her side helping them to bring her up with an attentive cool. Her lover was unconscious and clearly in a bad way, with what seemed like half of her side in bandages, a pathetic crumpled ear, and half of her left leg was missing. So was part of a finger, Dani could see as she looked closer in a morbid mix of shock and curioustiy.

Tears flowing from her eyes once more, and eminently aware of how unprofessional it was but not caring, Dani looked to Illavna for a word, anything, and was only slightly re-assured when she felt the words Well, if you can get us back she will live, Danielle pass through her mind, courtesy of Illavna, and kept very gentle despite the sterness in them. For all the girl was naturally caring, for the sake of her great feudal lady, she would say such a thing sternly to the mind of another. Perhaps moreso to Danielle who could well be made to understand the importance for her personal reasons, and that certainly shocked Danielle back to action, and the effort of preparing the squadron to return to the dubious safety of hte city proper.

As they nearly cast off, a few members of the Naval Infantry returned to the ship with a half-conscious Amber in tow. The shrapnel wounds had ripped through the left side of her body, ironically the same side as Jhayka, but unlike the Princess', none looked very serious. "Let's go!" Dani shouted as the tie lines were cut loose and the signal flags for "Cast off!" were flashed down the line. The river boats broke off from the quay and raced north, carrying a cargo precious both to Danielle Verdes and to the City of Kalunda, and leaving behind the supplies needed to allow the Sackon warehouse to hold for as long as one man was left standing.

Back through the storm of shot and shell the squadron raced, the light howitzers of the Normans along the riverfront now joined by rocket salvoes, and again bombs came down over them. Opening up to full throttle they raced toward the protective maze of the city, and the great bridges spanning the huge length of the river which had been left intact by Norman demand so that success on the south bank might be followed with some celerity by a storming of the north.

Another of the heavy gunboats was lost to the power of a heavy laser guided bomb, stricken and its stern blown off, the water burning as it sank rapidly, and bravely several of the small craft came to a stop around its stricken form to take off the survivors. One of these was sunk in turn by the artillery but its crew was rescued by the rest, and they made their way clear to the tail of the sadly diminished squadron into the warren of the city, the ground fire slacked off and the aircraft with their ordnance expended. All the firing against them having ceased, Danielle had her ships dispersed and instructed them to head for their respective births inside the small canals lining the waterfront, usually just large enough for pleasure craft and not much wider than a mooring birth for the large gunboats.

Sadly depleted, teh fleet was nonetheless successful in all respects of its operation. Only six patients had been lost in the transport aboard the one sunken heavy gunboat; two aboard it had actually been rescued along with the survivors of the crew. The Sackon warehouse was resupplied so that it might hold, and above all, Jhayka was still alive, and now she would be sure to live for as long as Kalunda itself lived. Ilavna, dutiful of her charge, left without a word to desperately worried Danielle, and hastened to have Jhayka on her litter brought to the underground tunnels where an electric transporter vehicle waited to haul her off straight to the hospital facilities where the equipment had been moved deep in the bunkers. There, most of her organs would be shut down in succession and healed with drugs and microsurgery while her body was kept alive on machines: A major process, but one that would restore her to health save her flesh-wounds and lost extremities within a matter of a few days. Her war was not over.
”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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Post by Steve » 2007-01-28 04:41am

Co-written between myself and Marina

DNS Condoleeza Rice, Approaching Gilead

DAY 46

The Alliance contingent of the Intervention Fleet dropped out of warp near the incoming hyperspace jump point within one light second of it's determined arrival point - well within the margin of error desired.
A further spike of radiation appeared within ten light seconds of their arrival, heralding the arrival of the Taloran and Habsburg fleets in their respective arrival points as well.
The three fleets turned and faced what currently amounted for the Gilean System's defenses against hyperspace incursion from indigenious powers. It naturally predated the arrival of "extrauniversals", a "space fortress" base that was effectively designed, though cheaper than those of most other nations and only effective in dealing with enemies arriving in the hyperspace entry points of the system. It was accompanied by elements of the Gilean fleet, what hadn't rallied to New Friesland or another world or been already captured or neutralized by the British.

Said elements withdrew rather than fight, leaving the space fortress to come under the guns of the three major powers' dreadnoughts for only ten minutes before, threatened with destruction, it surrendered and voluntarily ejected it's remaining ammunition and weapons' fuel bunkers into space. Contingents of officers were prepared and sent aboard to take control of the station's key facilities, and they were barely settling in when the hyperspace energy points flared with energy and the British, French, Slavian, Catalinian, and Hispanic contingents arrived.

Together now, with the minesweepers available moving into position within the fleet's protective formation, the international force made it's best common speed for Gilead itself.

It was the Marchioness of Sapai's first operational task as a Chief of Staff, and she loved the ability to execute it, to make at such a young age this crucial step toward promotion as to have experience in combat operations as the chief of staff of a commanding admiral of a battle-fleet, more important than even ship captaincy or a Commodore's rate to the progression of one's career. She had to arrange the coordination of the two fleet elements very precisely so that the ships dependent on the hyperspace energy points didn't jump in while the station was still fighting. Three Taloran dreadnoughts, three Habsburg dreadnoughts, and three Alliance dreadnoughts had completed the reduction of the station with the support of a brace of Alliance battlecruisers (they were actually ADN Nagato-class "escort battleships" but the distinction was lost on the Marchioness) and the carriers were now deploying behind them as well; only the Alliance forces had heavy carriers with the Habsburgs and Talorans instead having a multitude of smaller light and escort carriers. The Marchioness observed as the local powers deployed their fleets in turn.. And then took note of their arrival and turned to report: "We've cleared the whole fleet through from hyperspace, Admiral." A moment later a second report: "Boarding parties have arrived as ordered to secure the station. We're clear here, Sir. The fleet is ready to advance."

As it was not yet midnight GST, the command of the fleet was still under Admiral Cradock. The victor of New Queensville was standing at the center of the STELCOM facilities on the Condoleeza Rice, splendid in his Royal Navy uniform and standing out against the sea of dark ANSN uniforms. Still surveying the arriving formations, Cradock made the order: "Best common speed to the edge of the Gilean minefield. I want fighter squadrons at all points around the fleet as well as interceptors flying in defense of the minesweepers."

"Understood, Admiral," the Marchioness of Sapai kept a calm and businesslike atmosphere in the staff that she was running, which consisted entirely of humans except for her personal assistants. It was certainly interesting to be working so close to them, and she took the diplomatic pressure of her position seriously. The display readouts designed the positions of the fleet, now formed up, as she typed up the orders in the Admiral's name and sent them to the designated forces: First the fighters, deployment orders to assume a regular point-screen, and then for the best fleet speed to the edge of the minefield, the interceptors spreading to position themselves with the minesweepers, now at the rear of the fleet, but of course they'd come up as the fleet positioned itself in high orbit. The main question was the position of the Gilean fleet, and this the Marchioness constantly scanned the data-reports for some indication of.

As the Intervention Fleet made it's way toward the minefield, the Gilean fleet maintained itself in close solar orbit, using the sun's gravity well and low power output to hide themselves from detection as long as possible. The fleet was commanded by Rear Admiral Gregory Krueger, a native Gilean and denizen of Cranstonville who was in favor of Covington's military junta, though not confident at all that the course of resistance was the one to take. Nevertheless, he was a man who obeyed orders, if nothing else, and his orders were to maintain the fleet in hiding until the enemy exposed it's minesweepers, then to attack with a focus upon them to knock out as many as possible. To, in the long run, buy the extra bits of time Covington needed for his desired uprisings to spread across the worlds of the torn Confederacy and, through the need of suppression, tear the fragile coalition of intervention apart.
And that would require waiting.

Cradock had only half an hour of command left when the fleet arrived at the minefield. The forward ships stopped and made room for the minesweepers while the vanguard of fighters took position within the minefield, easily avoiding them while the minesweepers prepared their specialized weapons and electronic measures needed for their mission.
The absence of the Gilean fleet concerned him, because he knew they had to be in system somewhere. The shadows of the gas giants were checked, leaving only hiding places closer to the sun itself. "Deploy reconnassiance squadrons to the inner system," was his next order. "The Gilean fleet has to be somewhere between here and the sun."
From one of the stations, a new report came: "Minesweepers beginning operation, sir." On a screen, the minesweepers crept forward, their particle and EM wide-area fields sweeping out and detonating or disabling mines. It would be a delicate operation, but this is what they had been trained for, and the fleet would remain in position to support them until the field was down.

"We've got them, Admiral," the Marchioness of Sapai interrupted the buzz on the flagbridge as she turned toward Cradock and his second, who would of course shortly become the one who she was reporting to, Admiral MacCallister, with the news which had just been reported from some of the forward Alliance pickets. "They're in a very close solar orbit, probably as close as they can get without engine assistance, and relying on hull armour alone. The transmissions are difficult to determine, but the fleet seems to be of the expected strength-- two or three dreadnoughts, ten battleships, and fourty-four lesser craft. Sixty craft at most, and almost all very small. This means that at least half their operational force, beyond those ships we've seized in drydock or already surrendered, is unaccounted for.. But they were not expected to be in this system, anyway."

"In other words, the fleet of New Friesland, which has always been semi-autonomous in the Gilean fleet," Cradock said in reply to the Marchioness. "They haven't decided whether to throw in with Covington or not, I wager." Cradock looked to MacCallister. "Admiral, my command time remaining is limited, but I would recommend we position blocking forces at the hyperspace entry point should New Friesland, for whatever reason, throw in with Covington."
"I concur, but we should make sure to deal with the Gilean fleet first."
"Ah, that won't take long." Cradock gave a self-assured smile. "Any moment now, they'll be coming to us. In their position, there is little more they can do than to try to eliminate our minesweepers and keep us from getting into orbit. And we are prepared for that."

But they didn't come. The shift in power took place and the fleet remained steady and refused to alter position. The Marchioness paced on the bridge, before at last sitting down again and persuing the reports coming in, handling the small affairs of the fleet and growing tired by the enemy's refusal to come out and face them. It would be up to MacCallister now to do decide if they would try to do anything to force the issue.

MacCallister came to her decision quickly. "Signal the Butler, I want airstrikes to commence on Gilead immediately, focusing on their planetary air force, followed by command and control and supply facilities. I'm not waiting another hour on the Aerospace Force, we'll just re-direct them to new targets."

Hecate Maxwell nearly ran out of the briefing room, where her squadron had been briefed on their target, making her way immediately to her storage locker and fitting on the bulky outer portion of her flight suit as fast as she could. The helmet came last, fitting into the emergency air supply tanks fitted onto her suit, and her next sprint brought her to the hanger and to her F/A-37C Super Corsair, already fitted out for the airstrike mission that had been planned. She nearly jumped up the ladder to the cockpit, Whitworth behind her, and settled into her seat. Her helmet hooked right up to the fighter's main life support system as she went through her pre-flight checks as swiftly and as thoroughly as possible, again with Whitworth's help.
One of the hanger deck technicians closed and air-sealed the cockpit as they finished strapping in. Hecate carefully released the wheels and allowed for the hanger deck vehicles to push her fighter out to it's individual launch bay, electromagnets activated and, upon the green light, pushed her fighter out of the ship and into open space. Hecate fired the main engines and took formation with her squadron as they moved into the minefield.

The minefield was slightly tricky, but nothing impossible, as Hecate's squadron weaved through it, LIDAR and mass-detection systems telling them where the mines were and their navigational computers helping them fly around them. Soon they were out of the minefield and approaching orbital space. Their target was Quanzhi AFB, the base from which Covington's junta was launching it's daily airstrikes in support of the Normans and their allies against Kalunda.

"Feet hot" was the call as the F/A-37Cs plunged into the atmosphere at a steep angle, flying hard over the ocean to strike the airbase from the west. All of Hecate's training came into play as she brought her fighter to level attitude and raced east with her squadron.
Whitworth gave the warning that the Gilean SAM network was activating. Hecate did nothing, as the squadron ahead of them cleared the way with radar-seekers that struck the local radar network and took it out. SAMs still fired, but without the ground-based radar for support the shots were not as effective, and not a single Marine jet was lost to them.

Open land raced under them now and the nav systems in Hecate's HUD confirmed they were coming up on the airbase. She switched to her smart bombs and, upon reception of firing data from her squadron commander, triggered them with a call of "Fox Three!". The bombs were high explosive penetrators and were aimed solely at the runway, blasting massive chunks into a series of them and leaving craters that would make use of the airfield impossible.
Meanwhile, around her, other fighters were letting loose with bunker-busters on the hardened Gilean hangers. Hanger after hanger exploded ferociously, the jets inside destroyed or otherwise rendered unusable.

Hecate came back around and took to shooting at the airfield's control tower. One of her two ASM missiles crashed into the middle of the tower and caused it to collapse. Hecate's arms strained against the strength of the stick, but weight training had honed them to easily control the craft, allowing her to bring the Corsair back around. Her index finger clenched around the finger trigger on her flight stick and the railguns in the Corsair's chin opened up, striking the airfield's sole remaining arms warehouse, which exploded magnificantly as Hecate pulled up.
"Quanzhi AFB neutralized," someone stated over the radio. "All squadrons RTB."
With the return-to-base order given, Hecate returned to formation with her squadron and prepared to make orbital egress over the ocean.
When she returned to the carrier about ten minutes later, she was only allowed five minutes to unsuit and relieve herself in the head before the next sortie would begin.

With a crash of radiation the 19th Long Range Fighter Group arrived in Gilead, accompanied by the 110th Tactical Bomber Group and the 19th Strategic Bomber Group. The Strat bombers fired first, from just outside the minefield, a barrage of shielded boosters carrying dozens of missiles and cluster warheads with inbuilt sensor-seekers that deployed over the pre-programmed areas and began to strike radar and other sensor stations across the planet. As the missile strikes played havoc on the planetary airspace radar grid, the tactical bombers achieved orbit and then orbital entry with their fighter escorts, their targets the airbases across the main continent as well as the control airbase in the Primitive Zone's Central Desert.
MacCallister watched from the Rice's STELCOM center as the strikes ravaged the Gilean Air Force, catching much of it on the ground. Those craft that managed to get in the air fought hard but futilely; their atmospheric craft were of older design and inferior technology and piloted by men and women only newly-experienced in the actual art of war, not up to fighting state-of-the-art Alliance aerospace craft piloted by veterans of over two major interstellar wars.

Another radiation crash heralded the arrival of yet another Expeditionary Wing, this one composed of the 23rd Long Range Fighter Group, the 32nd and 49th Tactical Bomber Groups, and the 8th Strrategic Bomber Squadron. With the exception of one squadron of new F-45 Spitfire IIs, the bombers and fighters spread to other airbases on Gilead, striking what was left of the GAF and also hitting C&C facilities.


The Allies had expended most of their SAMs on the air attack from the previous week, so they had precious little to begin with when the fighters of the 294th Squadron came overhead. As soon as the IFF codes were shown to be non-friendly the Normans and their allies opened up with their remaining anti-air defenses.
The 294th responded by evading, and their F-45s proved far better at it than the Marine F/A-37Cs had a week before. Anti-missile particle streams streaked out whenever a missile locked on, destroying or damaging many, while the fighters themselves armed their smart bombs and radar-seekers and began to bomb the remnant Allied air-defenses ferociously, with a number of bombs instead striking the jammers specifically set up by the Allies to prevent Kalunda from communicating with anything in orbit.

Just as it looked like the fight was about to end, the 294th spotted an incoming flight of Gilean bombers and fighters. From his seat, Squadron Leader Michael Long gave a short laugh and, with his Queen's English accent, gave the order for the squadron to engage. He pulled back on his flight stick and gained altitude to face off against the Gilean atmospheric jets. They were sleek, probably lighter than his craft and capable of tighter maneuvers without having the added mass and size from a built-in warp drive, but he had experience and state-of-the-art technology on his side.

Major Oliver Nuten noticed the contacts on his radar as the AF-19 Thunderstrike fighter he was piloting approached Kalunda. "We've got contacts above Kalunda not registering under our IFF list," he said. "HQ, please advise."
He was answered by static.
"I don't like this. All fighters, prepare for combat. Lock on missiles and fire, we'll buy the bombers time to fulfill their missions." With that, Nuten locked his long-range anti-fighter missiles, called Stingrays, on the aircraft flying toward him and over the ruins of besieged Kalunda. His computers managed two hard locks on two different fighters and he fired without waiting, anticipating his pilots to join them in the attack.

Warning chirps in his helmet's audio system told Long he was being targeted, and when it became a solid noise it confirmed a missile was inbound for him. He fired his afterburners and jinked away, his squadron breaking off to evade and to re-engage in individual flights and even pairs.
The missile after him was well-designed for atmospheric combat, but again the F-45 was equipped to shake off just such missiles. Long fired off some chaff and flares to trick the missile and twisted away, the G-forces tugging at him as he pulled back into line with the Gilean fighters and bombers coming toward Kalunda. He made sure to prioritize the bombers with a single button press on his targeting computer and waited for his AIM-304s to get a solid target lock.
They did, a moment later, just after he confirmed a renewed missile lock. His thumb pressed down on the missile trigger of his flight stick and sent four of his eight AIM-304s flying.
The Gilean tac-bombers saw the missiles coming in and tried to evade, but they were bigger, slower, less maneuverable.... and up against the latest in Alliance technology. Again the equation of experience and technology told against the Gileans when all of the missiles impacted. Two bombers simply disappeared in fireballs, only one of the crew for each managing to eject in time. The other two bombers were slightly luckier, taking "glancing" hits that merely blew off a wing and sent them spiraling out of control.

Long jinked hard, pulling his fighter into a tight curve and then shooting downward, giving his anti-missile systems a clear shot. Particle streams lashed out again and the anti-fighter missile coming after him blew up in mid-air. "All right, that's enough of this, mates. We're No. 3 Squadron! We shot down Jerry's bombers and won the Battle of Britain, I'm not gonna let these flunkies of a two-bit dictator make fools of us!"
Pulling up, Long found a Gilean fighter in his sights and turned to follow. Keeping in mind that the Gilean AF-19 was a bit more nimble than his F-45, Long kept a bit of distance and twisted and pulled at his stick to try and get a lock for his weapons, the range far too close for his few remaining AAM missiles.

Nuten had never realized just how deep Gilead was in it until he saw the missiles simply fail to take down any of the enemy. These weren't standard jets, and he'd have to be awfully damned good to bring any of them down with what he had.
And he, frankly, knew he wasn't up to that level.
All that was left was to survive, and so Nuten tried desperately to use his lighter craft to evade the Alliance fighters. His wingman, Captain Natalie Lawton, was trying to get onto the jet trailing him, buts he was also in trouble, being trailed by an Alliance fighter.
Nuten twisted, hoping maybe to get some shots off at the jet trying to get Lawton so she could clear his six, but just as he began to target Lawton's pursuer two streams of orange-tinted ruby energy struck out from the Alliance jet's front and speared Lawton's AF-19. She screamed, "I'm punching out!" and as the AF-19 blew apart he saw her ejection seat drift downward.
Nevertheless he targeted the jet who had shot Lawton down, determined to get at least one kill.

Long was happy to see Flying Officer Townsend succeed, but also knew that the rusty-haired Liverpooler was in danger as long as the Gilean stayed on him. Long reached for his cannon selector and brought up the twin nuclear-disruptor cannons, with their twenty-degree off-axis firing ability, and continued to maneuver tightly to get the Gilean in his sights. The indicator kept slipping around the Gilean jet, taunting him, taunting him with it's refusal to turn red and lock on...
Townsend twisted hard and plunged toward Kalunda, prompting the Gilean and thus Long to do the same. They were over the ruins of the Kalundan Royal Palace when Townsend straightened up and flew level over it, the Gilean soon mimicing the maneuver. Fortunately, this also kept him unmoving for the moment Long needed. The indicator on his HUD slipped over the Gilean AF-19 and turned red, the buzz in his audio systems telling Long that he had a solid shot. He pulled the index finger trigger and watched two solid beams of nuclear-disruptor energy lash out and cut into the unshielded Gilean fighter. Fire erupted from it's engines. Before the pilot could eject the entire craft exploded from the fatally-good shot that Long had given it. Long shouted, "That's a kill!" into the radio and gained altitude to rejoin the aerial fray above them.

Nuten's death and the early demise of the bombers to the missiles from Long's squadron had completely demoralized the Gilean fighters, and most were just trying to break away as Long and his squadron relentlessly pursued them. It was a most unfair fight; the Gileans were in decades-old atmospheric craft without deflector shields and with old missiles too easily spoofed or destroyed by the anti-missile systems on the Alliance fighters. The F-45s, however, were top of the line aerospace fighters from one of the most technological-advanced societies in the Multiverse, piloted by experienced war veterans, and their peformance and weaponry showed both.
Again, it simply wasn't fair.
But when it came down to it, Long didn't give a damn, and he laughed heartily when a missile from Pilot Officer Tammy Wellington brought the last Gilean AF-19 down for good. Another victory for the squadron over an idiotic enemy, one that had been helping a bunch of rapists and fanatics attack a decent, civilized people. As far as he was concerned, they all got what they deserved.

Long looked back as his squadron made one last turn over the general region of Kalunda to begin atmospheric exit. Smoke rose from the ground, where they'd pounded the primitives but good. With the entire squadron behind him in formation Long purposely flew over the city of Kalunda, while he boosted the gain on his radio and broadcast a general message, strong enough to break through what was left of the local jamming. "Hullo, Kalunda! This is Squadron Leader Michael Long, 294th Fighter Squadron of the Allied Nations Aerospace Force, but we're better known as No. 3 Squadron of Her Majesty's Royal Air Force. Thought you'd like to know that rescue is comin' soon, cheerio! And to any of you cheeky primitivist rapist bastards listenin' in too, you can all kiss my hairy English arse!"

"Did you have to do the 'cheerio' bit, Sir?" a Londoner voice asked over the squadron radio.
"Why not?" was Long's cheerful reply as the F-45 Spitfire IIs roared out over the ocean and up to orbit.


Within the Gilean Planetary Defense Bunker, the reports had left Covington bewildered and enraged. The minefield was being swept away and the Gilean Air Force, the one thing that might have ensured the fall of Kalunda before the invaders arrived, was now out of commission. He had nothing to ensure the damned city of traitors fell before it could be relieved. Nothing to ensure that a victory over Kalunda could be used to rally the peoples of the Confederacy to heroic resistance against the invasion.
His only hope, now, was to buy more time for the fall of Kalunda to be achieved by what the primitivists had left. And that meant using the fleet, even though those damned New Frieslanders had yet to honor their commitments to the Confederacy and send their fleet to his aid.
Most of the planet's communications network was gone, but the air strikes hadn't yet hit underground transmitters that allowed for him to establish a tachyon-based channel to the fleet hiding near the sun. Admiral Krueger appeared on his screen, static and fuzz showing the interference of the Gilean sun. "Admiral, we have no choice. We cannot wait for the fleet under New Frieslander control to arrive and place our enemies between two fires. You must launch now and destroy their minesweepers."

"Gen.... Mister President, we don't have enough firepower...."
"You'll have to make it work anyway. Dammit, we just lost the Air Force and they're turning our planetary defenses and communications into rubble! You must strike now and take out the minesweepers before they can get through and start landing troops!" Covington pointed a trembling finger at the screen. "That's a direct order, and if you can't follow it I'll find someone in your fleet who can!"
Krueger nodded and grimly replied, "We'll give it our all, Mister President. Krueger out."
Covington saw Krueger's image disappear and turned back to his digital display of Gilead, where the damage to the planetary C&C network and airfields was showing everywhere. He had gambled and he had, apparently, failed. But he wouldn't let it end like this, no.... he would become the leader of the Gilean Confederacy, an independent Confederacy, and he'd drive these meddlers out for good.
Either that, or he would die.... and he'd bring with him to the grave as many of the bastards - on their side and on his - as he could.
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Post by Steve » 2007-01-29 10:24am

Written by Marina

DAY 47
Gilead Orbit.

Rear Admiral Halsina, the Marchioness of Sapai, presided over an execution rather than a battle. She knew that this was what her task had to be. Yet at the same time there was a certain nobility in it, and so she did not regret it. After all, the fleet of the old Confederacy had to get off its show of honour before the end of the whole nation. The capitol was being attacked. A last effort was demanded; and as a noblewoman she recognized this reluctant sacrifice on the part of the enemy. It was a battle for the honour of the flag, and the honour of the service to which the men fighting belonged. Glory could be the only gain.

Sixty-one ships stood out from solar orbit and moved to close with the international armada. Two dreadnoughts led the pack; ten small area-defence battleships followed them and behind them in turn were five heavy cruisers, twelve light cruisers, and sixteen each destroyers and patrol corvettes. From the distant orbital platforms a muster of two hundred and seventy elderly aerospace fighters was put together to provide their support, and seventeen armed privateers—pirate ships which had harboured in Gilead, in reality—closed in with the formation to join the desperate struggle knowing that capture in flight would mean execution, but if they fought bravely here the commander of the force might demand they be treated as POWs since they'd fought under his chain of command.

They faced twenty-five dreadnoughts alone, along with sixteen similar escort battleships in all, four battlecruisers, thirty-four heavy cruisers, fourty-one light cruisers, and two hundred and twenty destroyers, frigates and corvettes. Behind that force were the many light carriers, and the Alliance heavy ones, which allowed Halsina to devote at once a reserve of three hundred and eighty-four starfighters to an attack on the enemy fleet per the plan she'd largely orchestrated.

“Admiral MacCallister?” She spoke up politely. “The enemy is moving forward on a standard intercept course. Not toward us but to cut through into the minefield. May I send the starfighter reserve forward to draw off their own fighter escort?”

“Quick on the launch, are we, Halsina?” MacCallister smiled slightly, at the Taloran noble's requesting the first counterstroke at the same moment of the news. “Well, we've got them headed where we want them. Go ahead.”

“Of course, Admiral. The fighters will be sent forward at once...”

“What do you think they're aiming to do?”

Halsina paused for a moment, and framed the answer carefully, but honestly. “They're shaping a course, Admiral, to come inside the minefield. They appear to hope to gain support from its interference, and probably from anti-ship missiles launches from the surface. Clearly they're only planning to engage the fighters and the minesweepers and try and use the cover of the planetary defences to avoid a direct engagement.”

“And then they'll be trapped against the planet, where we can annihilate them in a general fleet action, too...” MacCallister mused aloud. “I'm of a mind to let them through and then close the door behind them. What are your thoughts?”

Halsina knew it was possible. But she also thought there was little honour in such an act; it would be sufficient in this situation to defeat the enemy fleet. And there was a small risk extant, anyway... “We might lose some of the minesweepers and delay the landings if they press an especially fanatical defence, Admiral, or else if they have well-coordinated heavy fire support from the surface. We're not sure of how concentrated the Gilean missile submarines are at the moment.”

“We can easily cross their T if we don't let them through. They can't hope to maneouvre to get the jump on us and keep that from happening, from that far out in the system, and no matter how much velocity they come in with. But if they draw us away from this side of the planet, then the surface missile batteries can engage the minesweepers without our CIWS to protect them...”

“What about bringing just the Dreadnoughts around, Admiral? There'd be plenty of point-defence left to cover the minesweepers, then, but our artillery could repulse the whole force.”

“There'd be some risk of massed torpedo attack by the lights in that case...”

“Use our bombers—we've got a hundred ready to go, Admiral—to attack their destroyers? They have less point-defence, though they're smaller and more manoeuvrable targets to be sure, but if we disperse them under that threat they'll be no harm until after we've dealt with the heavy ships and can turn our guns on the survivors.”

As MacCallister thought about the merits of Halsina's proposals, the fighter force closed rapidly with the enemy. To meet this, Krueger dispatched his own fighters to engage the Alliance ones, allowing for a clear approach of his fleet to the surface, though it essentially doomed the old aerospace fighters.

At last the commanding Admiral made up her mind. “We'll do it, Halsina. But with a small modification.”


“You're surely aware of the fact that they'll probably try and escape rather quickly; their heart isn't in this.”

MacCallister had a bit of a sly look, and Halsina realized that part of her hidden, inner motivation had been found out. She nearly flushed with embarassment and her skin was left tinted a very faint gray-green. “Ah, yes, Admiral.”

“Well, let us not bother with the attack on their light; I think that bringing along the battlecruisers will be sufficient for that and not reduce the point-defence here by all that much. Instead we'll send the bombers around to their rear and when they make to run the challenge of running through a gauntlet will compel most of them to surrender, and we can hit hard the ones that can't. What do you think?”

Well, it gives them a chance, Halsina mused for a moment, and knew what her position was, anyway. There were no genuinely valid objections to be made to the plan. “It'll work fine, Admiral. I can do the positioning for the forces immediately.”

“Then let's get to it!”

Now the aerospace fighters of the Gileans engaged the international fighter force sent against them. Halsina scarcely paid attention to the short and brutal battle. Of two hundred and seventy Gilean fighters engaged, two hundred and fifty-four were destroyed in a twenty minute clash while the fleets manoeuvred. Only sixteen escaped. The international force lost eleven fighters. It was a short and sharp turkey shoot, mostly conducted by missile fire at ranges where the primitive Gilean craft could scarcely reply at all, let alone effectually.

With the fighters intact and with plenty of fuel available, MacCallister called them in to provide additional screening for the dreadnought/battlecruiser force now being detached from the main fleet. This will guarantee their light doesn't pose a threat, then, and leave the bombers to better work, though I know Halsina thinks it a bit unchivalrous to cut off their line of retreat...

“It's time, Admiral,” Halsina gently interrupted MacCallister's musings, her heart excited with the prospects. Here she was having a critical role in guiding a major fleet action..

“Bring the detached group around the planet, Halsina. Sling-shot trajectory and then hard breaking. Maintain a wall formation with the battlecruisers aft and one-tenth light second port.”

“Understood.” Halsina sent in the input, dispatched the last group of figures, and the fleet swung into action. Twenty-nine ships moved to meet the Gilean force, supported by more than three hundred and sixty fighters.

Admiral Krueger caught the manoeuvre from sensor relays on the planet's surface. “It's our last, best chance to take on the rest of their fleet with the missile forces on the surface. Advise Commodore Regarus to began the attack immediately. We'll try to cut inside their course and engage them to the stern before slipping into the minefield, gentlemen..” In his heart, he knew it wouldn't be enough, but they had to try their hardest anyway.

Accordingly the Gilean fleet shifted course, beginning to close with the Dreadnought Wall of the international forces, and presenting a real chance of sliding behind them and after a brief engagement, suffering fire en passant, succeeding in getting behind the minefield. Unfortunately they could not do much to hide the fact that they were attempting this from the powerful sensors of the massed line ships.

“They're coming in behind us, Halsina,” MacCallister observed tightly. “We need to slow down the evolution. Widen the parabolic.”

“I'll open it up to six-point-four arcseconds with your permission Admiral..?”

MacCallister trusted Halsina at this point, and didn't even need to do the math in her own head. “Do it.”

“Sending fleet signals to widen the parabolic..”

As the force slowed, the firing cones of the missile batteries on the massive dreadnoughts converged on the enemy fleet until the flashing of target control computers alerted the battery directors that they had the range. The reports filtered up to Halsina, and with them, the requests of the divisional commanders...

“We have the range, Admiral. Do the divisions have permission to engage missile fire by division against the enemy?”

“Granted. Fire by division, missiles and guns free; commence as soon as the range is had. The battlecruisers and fighter squadrons are to stand ready to come in when the enemy light closes.”

“I'll confirm it, Admiral.” Everything was working out well... And then the missile batteries began to fire. Salvoes of a hundred or two hundred or more missiles from each of the dreadnoughts tore through space, accelerating toward their targets. Both of the enemy dreadnoughts and six of the ten battleships are engaged; the two dreadnoughts by four each, as one battleship, the rest of the battleships by three or two dreadnoughts depending on the size of the national contingent.

Each group of missiles was somewhat different, and the result was that coordination between the fleet groups was utterly impossible. The spreads of missiles converged on their targets and were quickly engulfed in a mass of defensive fire, incoming anti-missiles and then point-defence trying to take them on. Space was filled with massive white-hot energetic blasts as missiles were hit and sympathetically detonated, entirely obscuring the enemy fleet on sensors for periods of a few miliseconds at a time. More salvoes followed them in.

Against one comparable ship the Dreadnoughts of the Gilean fleet would have held up superbly. Against four, they were on the verge of being overwhelmed right from the start. The four-ship Slavian division firing at one of the battleships had it even better. Their target appeared out of the mass of the blasts and disappeared into them again, already heavily damaged, its shields unable to repel the mass of heavy blasts detonating right against them, energy from the explosions piercing to melt vicious gouges in the hull.

The Gilean fleet was moving at high speed and their velocity was only slowly decreasing as they tried to get in close to the planet before retrothrusting hard. This meant, however, that they were now rapidly approaching energy range even as the vigorous missile fire began to tell.

Their own fire was reasonably concentrated, and the missile defence of the dreadnought force was haphazard thanks to the lack of coordination between the different technology bases of the various ships. Though all of the CON-5 ships could coordinate reasonably well, the Habsburg, Taloran, and Alliance ships could coordinate only at the divisional level and naturally attracted a sustained fire. Each of those divisions was taking, however, equal or even less missile fire than its own potential, and this was well within the ability of such vast ships of the wall to handle for sustained periods of time.

Aboard the Condoleeza Rice the tremors in the hull from direct missile strikes were noticeable, but there was nothing more than shock damage. The enemy battleship that the Alliance division was firing at, however, was evidencing numerous shield breakthroughs and general energy depletion of her shields. Then a vast brilliance of light obscured the whole screen.

“What's lit off?” MacCallister demanded.

“Sensors are blinded... But the Slavian divisional COS is reporting that the event took place at the location of their target. The massed missile fire of four modern dreadnoughts must surely have been sufficient to catastrophically destroy an old planetary defence ship.”

The missiles cut through the hard radiation sleeting through space and reacquired their targets, giving the Gilean force only the slightest of respites for the loss of one of their comrades. A moment later the estimate was proved correct, and the Slavian division shifted fire to one of the unengaged battleships.

A redoubled and desperate intensity from the Gileans carried the unequal contest for a while longer, but then energy range was gained. All of the Gilean heavies which had been taken under fire showed enormous damage already, and the powerful high-energy weapons of the fleet, from the massive grasers of the Habsburg dreadnoughts to the turreted particle bolt cannons of their Taloran counterparts swung into action. With authorization pre-cleared, they simply commenced to firing by division.

The great Taloran particle bolt cannon energized and shot at a speed slightly below light a charged shot of highly energetic particles, the light of their passage blinding to anyone looking at the window of one of the great ships, thirty-six such massive cannon on each of the three ships bringing 108 bolts converging on their target, which was entirely absorbed in a brilliant glow of high energy radiating of its shields which violently collapsed at once, already so heavily battered by the missile fire.

Converging graser beams from the Habsburg ships against their target with such impetuous intensity that even though the shields were not lost they were punched through right forward with enough power to carry the energy deep into the targeted ship, wrecking it as thoroughly as an old sailing ship raked through stern to stem by a broadside of heavy carronades at point-blank, intact but utterly crippled.

The Alliance railgun rounds were slower to reach their targets but just as destructive, their warheads pumping in heavy-missile range energies to mission-kill another battleship with its sensor arrays utterly destroyed. The results were broadly the same for every division. And all of them recycled and fired again within five seconds.

Amazingly most of the sturdy old Gilean ships stood up to this bombardment. They took it for a minute, and then two minutes of sustained fire, huge gaping wounds blasted in the hulls of every single one that was still under power, but more and more being crippled, save for their own two massive dreadnoughts, the only ships which proved resilient enough to be truly fighting back instead of just soaking up damage. These, drifting toward the planet, swung their broadsides to the enemy and fought back hard against the Hispanian and British divisions engaging them respectively, concentrating on a single ship each and doing some real damage.

In doing so, however, Krueger had aceded to the brutal reality of their utter failure and imminent destruction. With the dreadnoughts fighting back hard, he ordered the force's heavy ships to extricate themselves. Only three of the battleships—those which had been unengaged earlier in the fight--as well as the dreadnoughts were able to heed the call, quickly deaccelerating to a halt and then painfully accelerating back up, all the while under fire, the two dreadnoughts following them.

As for the light ships, well, Krueger had seen the obvious forlorn hope there, and sent them charging in to point-blank range with their short range, high acceleration, high power torpedo batteries ready to fire. MacCallister immediately called in the Habsburg battlecruiser division, which laid down a heavy fire on them while the fighters raced in to distract them and engage them with their heavier missiles. Of their number, three had already been destroyed by the crossfire.

Now, the Taloran, Habsburg, and Alliance divisions each took one of the fleeing battleships under fire, while all of the native divisions which could do so concentrated on a single one of the dreadnoughts, Krueger's flagship as it happened. Four massed salvoes from sixteen dreadnoughts tore through her and crippled her utterly, every single one of the engines knocked out and the main reactor SCRAMmed by the surviving third engineer just in time to avoid a catastrophic failure.

Krueger himself in the well-protected flagbridge survived, but the ship's captain and her conn did not, and two-thirds of the crew was killed outright. They still had communications, though, and Krueger knew that now there was only one thing to do, the moral duty to his sailors. Yet a vague hope compelled him to wait and see the outcome of the torpedo strikes.

It didn't take long. The fighters slashing in against the lights diverted them from their main targets and did sensor damage which sent the torpedoes of some of the craft off in wild directions. The big guns and secondaries of the dreadnoughts were now shifted to the light craft generally, leaving the dreadnought and three battleships, all extremely heavily damaged, limping away from the field.

The battlecruisers had already crippled two of the Gilean heavy cruisers, and another was blown up outright the moment the Condoleeza Rice's guns were turned on her. Dozens of losses quickly wracked up, even as the fighters suffered heavily this time, too: Fifty-two of them were destroyed in the attacks.

In recompense a few of the torpedo spreads got off straight and true. One of the Slavian dreadnoughts, one Taloran, and one French took it hard from solid spreads, whereas all but one or two of the others were intercepted and easily absorbed by the shields, even of the damaged Hispanian and British ships. The high-powered torpedoes in mass proved able to temporarily short out the shields of the three vessels they got clear to and black scoring on the hulls attested to armour fried and melted by the overblast of their impacts on the shields, but no guns or power was lost and the casualties were light.

Now the light ships tried to cut through the fleet and get safely into the minefield. Under constant fire the whole while more and more of them were destroyed or crippled. In the end only fourteen lights got into the protective cover of the minefield and headed toward close orbit of the planet, out of the range of the big guns of the international fleet. Another eight broke off and managed to get out in various directions spaceward; the rest, however, were crippled or destroyed.

Krueger thought that the three battleships and the one dreadnought still moving out might at last get clear, but the torpedo bombers now came in even as the long-range missile fire was commenced from the dreadnoughts at their sterns once more. A heavy fire was directed against them, but they had come in fast and at a bad angle and only thirteen were destroyed. The second dreadnought was caught between these fires and badly mauled, engine power temporarily lost, the Captain—a native of Quanzhi--promptly broadcasting a surrender independently, more prudent than Krueger's own desperation as his ship began to drift with the damage. Power might have been restored, but more missile salvoes would have been on the way while it was gone.

The rest of the torpedoes from the bombers and the combined missile salvo from the dreadnoughts were concentrated at a single battleship to break through the combined point-defence of the battered remnants fleeing in unison. It proved bloody overkill; the heavily damaged battleship, like the Slavian one taken under fire earlier, exploded at once and surely all but a few lucky survivors in the large chunks of the hull left, were killed outright.

Now coasting out of missile range of the dreadnoughts and with the torpedo bombers having expended their payloads, the two remaining battleships accelerated clear, vengefully firing heavy missiles on proximity fusing at the torpedo bombers. Of her own cognizance, Halsina ordered them to scatter, but eight were nonetheless destroyed by the proximity fused missiles. The battle was thus finished, and Krueger formalized his surrender.

For the cost of sixty-three fighters and twenty-one bombers destroyed, and very light damage to five dreadnoughts, with eighty-seven personnel in all killed and two hundred and six wounded, the international force had destroyed the Gilean navy entirely: Two battleships destroyed, six battleships captured, two dreadnoughts captured, and of sixty-six lights and privateers engaged, only twenty-two escaping destruction or surrender, with a force of 270 fighters losing all but sixteen of their number, and the deaths probably in the tens of thousands.

While the battle had waged, the anti-ship missiles of the Gilean submarine force had been expended in a series of massive salvoes, which had succeeded in crippling two destroyers of the international force—one Habsburg and one Alliance—the only ships heavily damaged in the international forces in the whole operation. They had protected the minesweepers, however, and the missiles had been fully expended; they would not be a threat to the landings planned in what was now somewhat more than thirty-six hours.

Krueger had a last request, which MacCallister naturally wrote off, and Halsina dutifully implemented. Most of the cripples of his fleet were drifting out of control directly toward the planet at speeds which could make them cause serious damage to Gilead if they struck the surface, and the dreadnoughts spent the next hour towing them out into secure solar orbits far from the battlefield.

All in all from the first firing of the missiles to the conclusion of the towing, the engagement had taken only approximately two hours. MacCallister got up and stretched, walking over to her Chief of Staff with a smile.


“Admiral?” She turned attentively, ears shifting to focus in, and only then becoming self-conscious of the cold sweat which had engulfed her body since the start of the fight. But she realized from the hankerchief twisted tightly between MacCallister's hands that it was very much shared, and she was rather relieved.

“I'd like you to go over to Krueger's flagship and take charge of the distribution of prize crews and repair parties to all of the prizes, and to formally receive his surrender. I understand your people.. Consider such formalities important.” She smiled slightly. “We did not win a small victory here, at all.. Though I admit it was sharp and one-sided, now the way is clear for the relief of Kalunda.”

“Quite so, Admiral.” A pause, for the Taloran was flustered now. “And thank you again for the opportunity. It was a pleasure to fight under your command... And you've giving me a great honour to go over there and receive Admiral Krueger's sword. I won't forget it.”

Back to formalism for them: “Then let's be on with this.” They exchanged salutes, and a relieved MacCallister turned the direction of the fleet over Admiral Yamashita, the commander of CVBG-19, temporarily, so that she could return to her cabin and collapse into an exhausted sleep. For all the battle had simply become a bloody execution, the stress relief on its conclusion was immense.

Halsina, of course, did not have such a pleasure. Surrounded by ADN Marines as guards she went aboard Krueger's flagship, the Parrhesia, and received his surrender. He was a broken man, and as he presented his sword to the alien noblewoman she had immediate pity on him, even with her nose and eyes badly irritated by the corrosive smoke engulfing the ship.

“You did a good work, so badly outnumbered, Admiral Krueger, and do not think you will be punished for an honourable resistance. Your surrender was the only option at that point; your chances were gone and your honour satisfied. Your fleet fought bravely and upheld its duty as far as it could. Please...” She handed back the scabbard. “You may keep your sword.”

With a smile and weary smile, Krueger took it back. “Your Ladyship, will these marines..” He gestured. “Help those of left in the burial of our comrades?”

“I will see to it, Admiral. We will make sure no bodies are disrespected on any of the ships taken, you have my word of honour.”

“Then you have given me more than enough. Please, take my quarters as your own, Your Ladyship.”

With a slight smile at the second such act of human hospitality in a few days, Halsina was at last able to arrange her own repose, flying the flag of a Taloran Rear Admiral of the Green from the shattered hull of a conquered dreadnought. It was a suitable image for the media back home; for her, at the moment, it was just a comfortable bed. The next day would demand much, much more activity from them 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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Post by Steve » 2007-01-31 09:29pm

Post by Marina.

DAY 47

The flag of the Kingdom still flew broadly and proudly from the iron rail flagpost afixed to the battered top of the Sackon Warehouse. It was continuously obscured in smoke however, and several large pieces had been blasted out of the warehouse by bombing runs with the heaviest of bombs available to the Gilean Airforce later in the evening the day before. The battalion holding the warehouse had held through it all, though, and now the premier Ar Division was bogged down by that mere battalion, and actually being pulled off the line, because after thirty-six hours of continuous attacks they had abandoned any realistic hope of taking such a strong position without a massive loss of life, and it was cut off.

The reason for that abandonment of the effort was the lost of air support. They would not be getting anymore of that, it was very clear, and instead throughout the day the allied armies around Kalunda had been under sustained air attack, devastating their supply lines. Fortunately in the built-up city the casualties from the international aerospace fighters attacking them had proved light. It was the only reason they were still in the fight, and the leadership of all the allied nations was relieved at the prospect of Erqui's predictions coming true. Getting in close would indeed preserve them from air attack, and so the shattered rubble of the occupied portions of Kalunda became the home of the besieging army.

The War Council of the allies had at least ended on a positive note, with the commander of the Gilean spotters assuring them that, though there would not be anymore air support, the needs of the international forces to support their landings would divert further air attacks from the allies once the landings had begun. With any luck they would only have to spend thirty-six hours under air attack like this, themselves.

The Gilean Airforce spotters were not sure whether or not they were telling the turth to their nominal allies, but they were following orders, and that was that. They had to make sure that the primitives did their absolute best to reduce the city. All other efforts were being made at the same time to concentrate on this goal, and the Cartagenean Corps would have been ordered forward but for the fact that if it manoeuvred out in the open of the primitive zone rather than in prepared defences around East Port with its missile launchers on continuous alert, it would be to vulnerable against modern aerospace craft and quite possibly destroyed by sustained attack. Stationary, it could at least block the most practical route of advance to the city, and its attached missiles could command a further range around it.

At least there had been sustained progress made toward the reduction of the south bank of the city proper. No less than 80% of the land surface of the south bank walled city was in allied hands now. Only the blocks closest to the river Kalunda were still in the hands of the Kalundan defenders. Their push had been inexorable and their effort grim and determined in the face of the threat overhead. Aided by the aircraft of the Gilean Air Force they had gone from victory to victory, clearing block after block, at a very stiff cost but still victoriously.

Then the air support had been removed, and the air attacks against them by the international forces had begun at once. At the same time the Kalundan defenders had received word of the relief effort, and celebrations had broken out in every quarter of the city, while the defensive effort of the troops was redoubled. The attacks immediately stalled, and remained that way throughout the day. What remained omnipresent, advancing or in stalemate, was the acrid smoke of the countless uncontrolled fires which burned at many points in the rubble, with the suburbs further south which had been previously occupied by the allies with little fighting now also fully engulfed as the houses, used as supply points and resting and medical stations for the allied forces, were set alight by cluster munitions. It was all quite legal; after all, the Normans, Amazonians, Stirlins, al-Farani, et. al., had never signed any conventions of international war, and so the Council of War of the international force came down decisively on the side of general attacks as a salutory lesson against their barbarism, with little dissension, and all aware of the urgency.

As for the remains of the industrial district, the defending Kalundan composite corps still held out on the Industrial Quay, with heavy fighting over the first warehouse on the quay, of which the attacking Stirlin troops had seized only about half. Their position was good, and the news of the impending relief worked equal wonders on their morale.

In the command positions of the city, however, everything remained a crisis. Major Ewing had proved able as Sarina's Chief of Staff, but the woman was clearly struggling with the task of organizing the defence, and Ewing didn't have experience with controlling the scale of the forces involved, yet there was no unwounded foreigner superiour to him. With Jhayka incapacitated, the situation seemed quite dire.

Until, that is, it became apparent that the reestablishment of communications was permanent, and the equipment of the Slavian consulate, salvaged from the damage to the building, was sufficient for military coding purposes. This led to the meeting which was now arranged between King Julio and Sarina and their erstwhile rescuer. It was a strange meeting with a strange person.

And to Julio and Sarina, the Duchess of Medina was certainly an impressive sight, even over a 2-D communications link. With her full height, ears included, of nearly seven and a half feet, and an incredibly thick mane of bright green hair, like the leaves of a fine blossoming tree in summer, bangs at times obscuring her eyes, and her thoroughly unmilitary and yet puritanically severe black clothes, she struck a figure which impressed even Ilavna, who was standing behind them, and sucked in a slight breath, bowing with respect.

“Your Grace.”

“Ahaaha. Jhayka's personal physician, hmm?” She glanced to Julio. “Apologies, Your Royal Highness, but duty commends itself...” She carefully avoided a slight, without elevating Julio to the style of Majesty, which would be improper, considering her own allegiance to the Majesty of the Great Queen of Lelola Colenta, when treating with a grandiose barbarian chieftan. A look back to the clearly quite nervous Ilavna.

“Your Grace, forgive me, but I am but a medical student, as I have not completed a residency..!”

“Ahaa, so I see.” Frayuia smiled quite vaguely, and then asked: “How.. Is she doing?” The voice betrayed, for the first time, something more than a fop in her, and indeed a breadth of concern for the fate of the Princess.

“She is unconscious, Your Grace, and her condition is serious, but stable. We've done all the repairs to her organs that we can and we're slowly restoring her organs to the duty of keeping her body alive, and ending machine support. The hospital facilities here are fully modern, but the equipment is designed for humans.. And within all of those considerations, I don't expect her to regain consciousness for another three days. All of her injuries except those to her ear will be healed, without complications, about three weeks beyond that; her ear will take another two months beyond that in a cast with tissue grafts held in place to guarantee a full return of flexibility. And of course she will need an artificial left leg from somewhat below the knee.”

“Well, go back to taking care of her, Priestess.” Another vague smile. “Old comrades look after each other... No matter what.”

“Of course, Your Grace.” Ilavna bowed deeply and began to leave...

“And how's her girl, anyway, that Danielle?”

Ilavna whirled, a tad surprised, and a tad indignant. “Your Grace! Danielle is an officer and so a lady to be styled, and not any mere courtesean...”

Frayuia frowned but flexed her ears to submit the point. “Ahh, I don't dispute you, Priestess—t'would be quite immoral of me to disagree with your judgements. And regardless of how I made that sound, look out for her, hmm? I shant begrudge old comrades a bit of sin either, if perhaps that is a moral failing..”

“Your morals, Conqueror of Islam, are unimpeachable.” And with another deep bow, Ilavna left.

Julio was deeply interested in the exchange, and the final words surprised him. “Conqueror of Islam, Duchess?”

“Ahaaha, it is a popular style for me, I'll grant. There was this little problem on our Earth, back in the days when I was a Brigadier, with the rabble of Moors in old Araby, where I had this most boring job as the executive officer of the old Division of Jula's Regulars. There were, oh, a few hundred thousand of these enthusiasts who decided to revolt in the name of Allah, and since I figured they ought better be dealt with by a stiff campaign and a bit of desultory punishment, I ended up a bit of a hero. Seems that the sack of the city of Medina was sufficient to render quescient three billion adherents to that faith...

“But don't think to much of it. It was enough to get me my Duchy, I'll grant you, and courtesy titles for my daughters besides; but it was all in a day's work of soldiering, or, ahaah, should I say a week?” The modesty was very clearly feined.

“A week?”

“It didn't take any longer than that to reach Medina, Your Royal Highness.”

Joachim Ewing had a particularly vicious smirk on his face the whole time, and Sarina, certainly, was thinking of the impact herself that such a figure would have upon the al-Farani. But it was Julio's show.

He smiled, and asked her a pointed question: “Then shall I see you within a week, Duchess?”

“Ahaaahah. Who can say, in war...?” She was staring at her own long nails for a moment.. And then her head shot up, ears also, eyes brilliantly intense and serious:

“A week? Yes, yes, I don't think we'll need longer than that. But prepare yourselves for two, just in case. I am not the Sword, to be making absolute predictions of the course of a war, and cause them to be right.”

“Fair enough, Duchess.” Julio hesitated for a moment, not wanting to offend Sarina, but... “Can you in the meantime give us advice for the operation of the defence, since you can observe our positions from orbit, as well as send instructions real-time?”

“Absolutely.” It was just another chore on top of all the others, after all... “Anything else, Your Royal Highness?”

Is she bored? Julio mused for a moment. And rather than pressing in the details of the commander appointed to the relief effort, he gave in, and asked a very personal question.

“How is my bethrothed, the Grand Duchess of Illustrious?”

“Ahaah, the First Grand Duchess of the new regime, Sara Proctor? She led her own relief expedition to the planet.. It's operating in Norman territory. About a company of her Ducal Guard, I'm given to understand, and a bunch of primitive peoples. Something about Zhai and some other such groups. They ran into some trouble, though..”

Julio's heart was still filled with a mixture of anger and happiness that Sara had come when he told her not to. But the last sentence seized him up with fear. “Duchess... What do you mean by a bit of trouble?”

“Ahh, not much. They're still advancing the field, and that will prove useful to my own advance, drawing off the Norman reserves and such. But they were checked, and suffered casualties, even to the Devenshiran forces.... And, I will not shade the truth from you, to Sara herself. But fear not. She is less hurt than our good Jhayka here, and will be up on her feet again and back in operations in a week at most—likely before we've got the enemy cleared from about your city.”

Julio sagged with relief. His anger was, ironically enough, immediately gone, and he simply longed to see his love again, despite and indeed because of all the horrors that had taken place since their last meeting. “Thank you, Duchess, for confirming that she is alive and well. Now, I must ask you, come quickly. My people need the succor you offer.”

“I'll be planetside in thirty hours, Your Royal Highness. Until then, I'll send hourly dispatches on the status of your defence to your headquarters. Best of luck!” And with that the communication abruptly terminated.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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Post by Steve » 2007-02-01 04:24am

Mostly by Marina, save for my small portion at the beginning.

Near the Henley River, Border of Amazon/Norman Territory
DAY 48

The smoke from a burning plantation rose into the air behind the Army of the Valley as it moved on from it's camp for the night. It was the sixth great plantation of the Norman rich that Dao Zhi had taken and burned, and the foodstuffs they had seized from the plantations and from the small villages they had poured through was keeping their march going.

The Norman army that had disintegrated the night outside of Thentis had never reformed; it's components had kept flowing south frantically, leaving a trail of their dying and dead wounded behind them for the Valley Army to march by. Ahead of them was another Norman Army, with a bit more modern weaponry, but also faced against the Amazon bridgehead over the River.

The Gilean sun was still dawning when Captain MacDougal, Major Winston's second, entered the tent where Dao Zhi was preparing with his "staff" to move the headquarters along with the army. He saluted and gave his report: "The scouts have confirmed that we have made it to the river and that the extreme northern flank of the Norman army blocking the Amazon bridgehead is within five miles march."

"That is welcome news indeed," Dao Zhi remarked.

"I have also received a radio message, Your Highness, that the Duchess and her entourage are within half a day's ride."

Dao Zhi was happy to hear that; he had little illusion that he and the Amazons could work well together, and knew that it was Sara that the new Magestrix wanted to deal with. "That is excellent news. Send it down among the men, and make sure the order is given to assume combat formation before we commence march. Then you may consider yourself dismissed from my presence."

MacDougal nodded and left, leaving Dao Zhi to examine one of the detailed maps provided by Sara. Their knowledge of Norman positions was still a little scanty, and he would make sure to leave the left flank strong should a Norman force approach from that direction. But if all went well, his army of riflemen and pike would plow into the right flank of the Normans by the afternoon.

As it turned out, the Normans did not let all go well, but in scarcely an unwelcome fashion. Instead of trying to face the advance of the Zhai-led army, they retired up the rail line through early afternoon, leading to only a few brief skirmishers with the Zhai, and abandoning their blockade of the Amazon force. In short order this Norman defensive position had therefore been abandoned without a fight.

It was a very surprising development, and of course a very welcome one. There was nothing between the combined Zhai-Amazonian Army and the city of Ar, now, except the Heights of Ar themselves, the ridge which flanked the great city on two sides and would, granted, provide a formidable defensive position. Yet at the same time, if it was gained, modern artillery could command the city from the rail-line atop it, as the General Faeria had demonstrated those two months prior.

Dao Zhi realized intuitively that this would be the next, the only, place where the Normans could stand. With their capitol's walls smashed, they could not even defend it against an army like their own in a regular siege. A strong force would have to hold the heights to protect Ar, and this withdraw meant, surely, that the Normans were pulling back all of their remaining troops in their own territory to try and defend their capitol. It was the best news of the whole campaign.

The international forces were coming. Dao Zhi knew this. In absence of further instructions from Sara, it seemed the best course was to maintain an advance toward Ar in conjunction with Leeasa, insomuch as the Magestrix would allow it, and together to pin down the remaining Norman Army on the heights of Ar. Flying columns could then ravage the rest of the Norman Empire essentially at will, and secure their own resupply, while they simply waited for the arrival of the international forces to finish off the great city and lay the Normans low.

Leeasa Avrila herself ordered her armoured train forward to pursue the retreating Normans, and got her Amazons moving at once. They had suffered considerably couped up and besieged in their bridgehead, and now with the chance of freedom of movement she ordered a pursuit and hoped it could be put together fast enough to give them a chance for some blood of their hated enemies.

It was not to be. The Normans were quick about withdrawing, and though the armoured train pursued them fast enough to continuously harry their rearguard, it was unsupported and could not make a significant attack on its own. In the meantime, her efforts of coordination with Sara were unanswered, and Leeasa manoeuvred her army to the far side of the rail line, wary of the Zhai at first.

In the process of these delicate “manoeuvre negotiations” of the two co-belligerents, the Norman Army force was at last able to slip away into the evening. Considering both sides knew that they did not have enough force to gain the Heights of Ar by storm, it was not a great loss, and so the wary exchange of messengers continued until late in the evening Leeasa had confirmed that Sara was arriving soon to handle the negotiations personally—the Zhai army had of course been advancing at the same time Sara was riding, and delayed her arrival accordingly--and ordered her army to camp for the night, having managed, despite mechanization, fifteen kilometres at the very most. The Zhai camped on the opposite side of the rail line from them, and peace reigned for the night.

The next day, Leeasa Avrila would finally meet the hero of the old wars herself.. And probably the greatest advocate she could hope her nation would have in its coming trials, when the international powers would sit in judgement. But before such matters were handled, they must plan their strategy for the despoilment of the Norman Empire, and the checking of the powerful Norman reserve Army which must now be gathering around the city of Ar itself for a last stand, come to it.

DAY 48

Allied progress had been stalled in gaining the south-bank riverfront for the past twenty-four hours. The houses here were old and wooden, or partially stone and partially wood, and burned easily and were entirely ruins now, they were not sufficient to produce an effective barrier against the strong advance of the massed allied forces. Their assaults had only been held back by air support, in combination with the sensible directives of the Duchess of Medina, whose befuddled personal demeanour was laid bare as a falsehood in the clear and firm orders she proved quite capable of issuing.

The allies had hence become more and more demoralized, and at the daily meeting of the primary commanders they had again debated the process of simply dispersing into the woods, which Erqui opposed as usual. He, among them all, was determined to prove his theories right and gain the victory here.. And Tarl Ikmen was easily swayed on account of his desire for vengeance, through the manipulation of the Warleader. The al-Farani Emir, imbued with an incredible sense of Islamic fatalism, raised no protests, and so the council continued the attacks, out of desperation or resignation or bloody madness, or perhaps all of them together.

What could they do, except keep trying to break through, to complete the plan? They were so close that many of their troops on the front line could see the water of the river from their positions. Except for the pockets of the Quay and the Warehouse in the industrial district, the whole of the south bank would be reduced by just one more stern effort. Then they could redeploy to the relative safety of the north bank with all save a small, sacrificial blocking force, and launch their grand assault on the heart of the old city.

Yet all of this seemed to come to naught, despite their continued resolution, at the renewed resistance of the Kalundans. For those twenty-four hours it was like they had not suffered the massive casualties and losses of ground that they had in the past weeks, which had left them demoralized and battered nearly to the breaking point. It seemed that nothing could allow the allies to prevail, now, yet...

And it was then, late in the day, the sun dipping toward the earth and the sky red and sooty with the smoke of the city, when the resistance of the Kalundans began to slack again, and the allies realized it was so with joy in their hearts. The reason was obvious. They were no longer receiving support from the international aerospace fighters. The Gileans were right, then—the fighters had been drawn off quickly enough for other tasks! Their chance given to them, the allies mustered a redoubled effort and soon the battle for the south bank waxed brilliant in intensity once more, and doubts faded away into the hot blood of combat. They had their last chance, and they proceeded to use it well.

Let us consider what had happened up to this point to the nation of Kalunda: Of the some 500,000 trained personnel that Kalunda had begun the fight with, being 1,000 palace guards, 20,000 Army, 20,000 Crimson Guard, and 20,000 militia cadres, with 440,000 mobilized reserves in all three formations, 290,000 had been killed, wounded, or captured (which usually resulted in death or mutilation), or rendered ineffective due to sickness or mental collapse from the stress of the fighting. Many had also been crippled by their own gas.

To counterbalance this, 50,000 fresh troops had been trained and sent forward in the meanwhile; 2,500 foreigners bolstered the ranks and provided direction and command; and 1,000 each additional foreigners, locals with special training, and international Marine reinforcements had ultimately come to provide a powerful reserve for the whole of the city. The strength of the two battalions had gone from 1,000 at the start of the battle for each, to about 1,450 combined; they had lost more than a quarter of their power armour. 500 of the other foreigners fighting in the city had been killed or wounded or taken prisoner. Of the 50,000 fresh troops, 10,000 had been killed or wounded. The 6,000 naval personnel of the city now formed a short regiment of 2,000, with 2,000 casualties and 2,000 still in service.

In all, there were 23,000 effectives on the Quay, 800 in the Sackon Warehouse, and about 212,000 in the city itself. Casualties among the civilians had been equally bad. Some 15,000 workers from the factories who had been ordered to fight to defend their workplaces had been killed, were wounded, or were missing and presumed dead. Another 5,000 civilians—mostly those who had refused to leave their homes, and evaded teams sent to force them--were thought dead in the suburbs, or taken prisoner and suffered horribly as slaves, some many weeks prior when they'd refused to leave their homes and been taken under artillery fire. A final 25,000 or so had died in the recent offensives into the city, the terror bombardment of the city, and from disease and malnutrion. At least 500 stillbirths had been confirmed as a result of health factors in the mothers related to the siege; and so the fatalities, in the Taloran calculation, among the civilians would be 30,500. That meant there were some 420,000 civilians left alive in the city, counting some foreigners who could not fight. Conversely, 318,000 soldiers and sailors had become casualties, of whom approximately 190,000 were still alive and safely in Kalundan territory, with perhaps another 5,000 slaving away inside Norman territory, who had been sent away before the execution orders had been issued, the rest being fatalities.

153,500+ Kalundans were therefore dead in the siege so far, over the course of less than two months. These figures did not take into account the numerous population of the outlands which had not been successfully evacuated to the city, however, and now suffered under Allied occupation. The population which had not been evacuated, and now suffered under that occupation, was about 3.5 millions in all, and of these the Normans had forced 60,000 into work as conscripted labourers, of whom at least 10,000 were dead; another 60,000 women had been taken as slaves back to the allied countries and the untold horrors that awaited them, with five thousand men castrated and sent to the Amazon territories before their civil war; and another perhaps 30,000 had been executed in mass by Allied terror parties to suppress uprisings, or died when their food was confiscated by the Allies for their own soldiers, or from the effects of the weather when their homes had been burned or they had been evicted from them for the quartering of troops, or from the disease which was now gleefully striking down many in the primitive zone with the lack of medical aide from the rest of Gilead, as had once before prevented such maladies. Thus the total fatalities in the nation were nearly 200,000 out of rather more than 4.5 millions.

The simple citation of statistics is insufficient. It must be observed that in ratio to the population, and with such a growing and young population, indeed, with large families, essentially every single family had lost at least one relative in the fighting, of some closeness. Nobody was untouched. Most of the families were sundered, with sons or fathers or husbands off in the city, and many daughters besides for the Crimson Guard, fighting in defence of the place, and their families enduring the indignities of the allied occupation in turn.

In the midst of all of that suffering and death, a priestess gently maintained watch over her stricken liege, and then, from time to time, such as now, checked on the status of her ward, a very rare person now. An allied prisoner in the heart of the city, and not one of the several Gilean military personnel taken, either.

The Stirlin brigadier was a tall woman of distinctly Manchu features and a twisted and grim look on her face, with plenty of corded muscle under her skin, though not in a grotesque way; it was all lean and sharp. Ilavna had insisted on her parole, but in practice she was maintained in a dignified house arrest underground in Jhayka's apartments. Her name was Jalin, and the utter savagery of the Stirlin people was shown in her proud and barbaric countenance.

Yet despite it all she was very intelligent, and Ilavna talked with her, cooly certain of her safety from her own telepathic abilities. Her recognition of Jalin's parole did not extend that far...

They were together, the woman—used to suffering on the bottom as much as being on the top of the pecking order of Stirlin society, for she had to claw up as they all did from the bottom—respectively serving Ilavna dhpou, which had proved a sort of service the Taloran priestess was entirely uncertain about responding to.

They were settling down to talk again, as they had talked before, in Ilavna's genuine curiousity, when there was a sound from above, the intercom crackling, and then:

“This is a live feed from the international fleet in orbit... This is a live feed from the international fleet in orbit..”

A second crackle of static, and then an incredible and booming, grating voice, clearly intended for other ears but so very welcome to the people of Kalundaas well, echoed into the room:


Ilavna looked down, and rather gently offered to the trembling visage on Jalin's face, a simple murmur: “Forgive my liege for her misplaced kindness. Nobody should have to be, as you will now be, a helpless witness to the destruction of their own people.”
”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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Post by Steve » 2007-02-04 06:09am

By Marina and myself

Near Ar, Gilead

DAY 49

It had taken two days of the swiftest riding for Sara and her accompanying forces to catch up with the army. To her delight, they found them along the rail line that linked Kellervil to Ar, within sights of the western Heights of Ar. She looked up at them and a slight grin crossed her face as she remembered the last time she'd been in this place.

Forty years ago, she had been with the Kalundan Army, Julio in it's lead, when it made it's fateful second junction with the al-Farani and Sedevacanticist armies. It had been at the top that Ubar Forsemis had been forced to sign the treaty that left the "Norman Empire", it's armies defeated and it's lands under threat of pillage, shorn of half it's territory and forced to part ways with over half it's treasury. A relatively small portion had wound up in Sara's name, the rest of her fortune coming from the Chinese tong lord who had sold her into slaver in the first place, Lord Quao. Quao had left her a message, extolling her to make her life "interesting" and to do as she wanted with his money. Being no fool, Sara knew he expected her to do good things, anger bad people, and suffer a bad end because of it.

And she had, indeed, done good things and angered bad people, but she'd proven more clever, wiley, and resourceful than they were, and had escaped from their vengeance every time.

After only the briefest of rests, Sara had dressed in the finest uniform she had available and went with her grandson William, General Dao Zi, and Princess Mei-Li to the rail line itself, where the Amazons awaited her. Leeasa and a coterie of her most trusted advisors were waiting on the other side of the rail, on horseback as well, wearing formal Amazonian war dress - about the only formal Amazonian wear that covered their chests, leaving Mei-Li and Dao Zi as the only ones to have left their chests bare, though adorned with the gold neckwear and helmets of their royal status. "Magestrix Avrila," Sara called out. "It heartens me to see you and your army are well."

"We have had a long march to this place," Leeasa answered, and took the lead for her nervous coterie, guiding her horse to walk up gently onto the rails themselves, where she reigned in and gestured to Sara. The tracks were broad, seven feet between the rails, and she jumped down in a lithe motion, and patted the side of her horse. "To think that once our people used these animals to fight, and now we can bring scarcely a thousand with us in the whole army, for scouting only... But come, Sara Proctor, Hammer of the Normans, as my mother called you when she spoke longingly of your noble deeds--let us sit here and we'll speak of the things which have taken place and what we must do." And in a typically stern Amazonian fashion, then, her chosen perch was to settle precariously, knees up, along the warmth of the steel rail itself.

Sara dismounted as well and sat as Leeasa did, ignoring the pain of the warm steel against her despite her clothing. "The peoples of the Valley, as you have seen, are fully rallied to my cause. My Valley army numbers ten thousand alone, with the two platoons of my Ducal Guards as a core of modern-armed men, and since has been buoyed by an additional four hundred Norman converts to the Christian faith or escaped slaves and by two thousand Thantians. The rest of the Thantian tribes are readied for war, under my direction as their War Leader, and are even now raiding and striking the remaining Norman mines in the mountains and their mountainside communities and villages. And as my note to you stated, the city of Thentis is now in my hand, overseen by a garrison of Zhai and Valley warriors, and has thus opened up the way for us to receive food and material from the East Valley."

"Splendid," Leeasa answered cordially. "I am bringing a total of fourty thousand warriors across the river and forming up along our camps right now, with the aide of the trains we've seized. Another ten thousand remain to garrison the crucial points... All have modern arms, as we took a rich store in regaining our homeland. Together we may advance against the Normans, but they have at least thirty thousand which have fallen back from the river and I am to understand many more of their old men and boys have been mustered to defend the city itself, and the supply lines to Kalunda..." A dangerous gleam: "That said, Sara Proctor, the whole rest of the Norman state is uncovered. They have the troops to keep us out of Ar... But everything unprotected by walls in the whole of the Empire may be put to the torch. They will, I hope, be unable to bear this and come down to offer pitched battle in a place of our choosing where we might overcome them." The rest was somewhat more furtive: "Though all of this, of course, depends on the international forces, to some extent."

"My supply lines and the needs of the peoples of the Valley do not allow me to maintain a large army here, Magestrix, but I may yet gain another couple of thousand by shifting forces away from the al-Farani, who we have heard are now under attack by the forces of the anti-Pope here in the Eastern Region, and even more might be gained by raids south to free those unfortunates who were taken by the Normans before they could escape to the walls of Kalunda." Sara smiled at her. "The Zhai are knowledgable of the ways of horseback raiding, and the Thantians are raiders and plunderers by inclination. Together, our armies will devastate the Norman heartland as it should have been four decades ago. If this bloody war has not yet extinguished the love for conquest and war in the hearts of Ar and it's people, then we shall by bringing war and devastation to their very doorsteps."
"Nor are walls always a great obstacle, and though we may not even have the time to fully assault a walled city, I do have means with explosives and stratagems to gain entry into walled cities, as I did at Thentis. There are Christians spread across the Norman Empire, Magestrix, in every community, every town and city. These Christians will respond to an army flying the Banner of the Cross where none other would prompt them to action, for they have been told that when such a day comes, to die in battle is to gain absolution for sin and to be brought up to Heaven, and they can be the Fifth Column that delivers walled communities to our forces if we so deem."
"As for the International Forces, I expect them to be at Kalunda within the week. The more damage we do here, the faster the Norman armies fold when the International Forces meet them directly." Sara smiled widely. "And while I would love to be waiting for them with the Homestone of Ar in our possession, I am not sure we can provoke the Normans to sally against us before the International Forces arrive. But we will certainly try, and do them as much harm as possible in the meantime."

"Would that not be a great coup?" Leeasa stretched slightly, remaining comfortable from her own rigorous training as a child, and looking over Sara carefully. "You speak of Christians in the many cities. We have our own bad stories of Christendom, of course, and the forces of the Antipope. But one thing I'm worried about is the star forces, the international states coming down to us. They are, I understand, mostly Christian powers and vigorously so. I trust only in the arrival of the Talorans, and that because one of their own gave certain assurances to me--I do not think you know of this--and if she is dead my people are in a poor condition. They are bringing a cleaver down upon us, Sara Proctor.. You fought with us to defend us against the Normans once, and now we shall crush them once and for all and grind their cities down to dust. But what is coming down upon us from the stars will do much more than that besides, and to more than just our enemies."

"You worry that the outside powers will try to forcefully dismantle your society, Magestrix?"

"I know that they will, or the Confederacy itself. The Princess Jhayka told me as much, after she had cured me in the hospital of Kalunda from the effects of her poison gas," Leeasa spoke quietly, thoughtfully, a bit sadly. "She told me that such a storm was coming as would sweep over the whole of these world and leave nothing unchanged. And I don't doubt it. We knew it, after all. We knew that if we didn't fight, we'd die as a society. So she gave me an out. A way I could fight the Normans and preserve my people. She promised to give us our own colony world if we broke the alliance and made war on her enemies. And when the whole of the tribal assembly refused, I knew my only chance was in breaking the lines with my supporters, and making a march over the mountains to our homeland to establish ourselves firmly in it and fight the Normans from it... In hopes that she would think that a good enough upholding of our end of the agreement, that she would uphold her's. I harbor no hope for any people of these lands, Sarah Proctor. You may be an advocate for us but it will not be enough for us. We will lose all of our fine homeland, and have to start anew... But the alternative is worse." And it was truly the opinion of someone who felt there was no other good options possible.

Sara nodded at that. "I understand your concerns. Perhaps greater than you do, for I know of many of these foreign nations and how their leaders think. And in the event that the Princess Jhayka dies, all I can offer you is the same as I offered the peoples already under my command; that if the outside powers elect to end your autonomy, and threaten your people with extinction, I will use my resources to move you to my holdings, and allow you to swear yourself and the line of Magestrices of the Amazons to my service as vassal, with most of your people's ancient rights preserved as part of your oath of fealty, save for your right to keep slaves, to castrate men, and to expose to death male infants - and under modern technology I know this would not be a concern anyway, and if it were, adoption would be a possibility. Indeed, if you wished it, your people could enjoy the benefits of technology fully, without the mad patchwork of laws governing this Primitive Zone."
Unlike the Princess Jhayka, I cannot offer you a world of your own. But I am also a Grand Duchess of the Kingdom of Devenshire, surpassed in rank only by the Queen Herself and the Royal Family. The worlds under my rule number in the dozens, and a number are not so strongly populated that there are not wide areas of land open for your people to settle. Indeed, the uninhabited lands I hold by right of my titles are greater in area and in potential agricultural wealth than the entire Primitive Zone of Gilead. Some of this would be granted to your people if this were to come to pass."

"We will leave this place one way or another," Leeasa agreed, not saying it outright, but it was clear she did.. And rather sadly and reluctantly. "It is settled, there." A pause, and: "Shall we then, Grand Duchess, proceed with our forces in common, your infantry as the right wing, and mine as the left; and we'll attach my thousand horsewomen to your cavalry then and let them loose to raid at once, while we keep the Norman armies fixed in place by our combined strength of infantry?"

"I agree with that plan," Sara replied. "General Dao Zi will be my commander for these raiding efforts."

"I'll acknowledge you as the senior here, then. Your infantry will not like to be under my command, and I dislike the prospect of it anyway; but all the Amazons in my ranks will respect you, you as Sara Proctor, Grand Duchess afar or not, as their commander. We have at least not forgotten our shared past."

"I accept, Magestrix, and thereby also accept you as my second." Sara stood from the rails. "Shall we not get to work, Magestrix? The International Forces are landing and time grows short."

Leeasa also rose, and nodded curtly, though her words had a trace of pride to them: "Let us show them that we can fight, also."
”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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Post by Steve » 2007-02-10 07:01am

First part by me, second by Marina

Kalunda, Gilead

DAY 48

The burning in Amber's left side was gone now, and she laid in the hospital bed that she had noticed on and off while slumbering, dressed in a hospital gown. She opened her eyes and saw the underground hospital room once more. Monitors around her beeped and did their thing, assuring the nurses outside that she was alive.
She looked up and looked into a pair of lovely emerald eyes. Dani looked down at Amber, wearing - most strangely - an easily-removed green silk band around her breasts and a similar skirt around her hips. She smiled at Amber and said, "Awake yet, tiger?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you to wake up, silly. So I could do this." And with that Dani kissed her full on the mouth. Amber couldn't move enough to resist, and deep down she didn't want to. She let Dani's tongue slip into her mouth and touched it with her own, enjoying Dani's taste.

The amazingly beautiful woman slipped onto the bed, barely breaking the kiss, and her hands traveled to Amber's gown, pulling it open and gently touching Amber's breasts. Amber's hands went up to take Dani's face at the cheeks, holding her closer for another kiss. After this Dani's head moved downward, her tongue moving along Amber's neck. "Oh Dani...." Amber moaned.

The voice cut through Amber's dream like a blade. Her eyes opened again and she was in the same room, in the same bed, but instead of Dani's luscious, barely-clothed body it was her very-clothed, uniformed sister Sarina. She looked at Amber with one of her "Just what the hell are you thinking?" looks of curiosity. "Feeling better?"
"I was, until you rudely interrupted me," Amber mumbled.
"Ah, it was that kind of dream. I thought you were picking up your breath a bit." Sarina smiled sarcastically. "Well, the docs said you're okay..."

"What... what happened?"
"You won, mission successful, et cetera. The Marshal's life was saved by surgery, though she still hasn't woken up. Dani's alive and well, but unfortunately for you she's still in love with Jhayka and won't be coming by any time soon..." Sarina's smile was now that of teasing. "I'd ask for the sexy details but some of your sexual fantasies frankly disturb me, Sister."
Amber mock-frowned at Sarina. "Oh, you're asking for it. And I'll make sure the Baroness gives it to you the next time you're in her tender mercies."
"Unlike some female members of this family, sister, I have never been bound by a lover," Sarina responded with a smirk. "Another bit of good news, Sister, is that the International Forces have already made contact with us and will be landing in the next few days, perhaps even tonight."

Amber heard that news and a wide smile crossed her face. After all this time, I had begun to lose hope! "Then maybe we'll survive all of this?"
"Yes," Sarina replied. "I think we all will."
"That's.... good to hear, Sister, good to hear." Amber took her hand. "Now, can you please get me something to eat and drink? I'm famished!"
"Oh, just give it a minute, but then I must be getting back to duty. With the Marshal incapacitated I've been given more duties, as His Majesty has been forced to take direct command for the time being and my services as Chief of Staff are invaluable to him."
"Well, then, Sister, I won't hold you back from duty to His Majesty. Please arrange for the nurses to send me something, and then go back to work. I'll talk to you later."
Sarina nodded at that. "Later then, sister." She promptly left.

DAY 48/49
S. of East Port.

In the dark of the night, countless shapes began descending through the sky, brief points of red flashing as their retro-rockets fired, slowing their rapid descents before the opening of parachutes. As the pods, roasted black from atmospheric entry, slammed down to the ground, they were immediately burst open and power-armoured infantry charged out, rapidly taking up positions near the abandoned farmhouses in the area just to the north of the town of Yhusai and above the Ratim river.

Following them closely were larger pods. These contained 100-ton space-droppable hovertanks, fully manned, which powered out of the collapsing side slates and drove forward under the direction of their commanders on the ground as command and control facilities were quickly set up. To either flank of the Taloran Marine Brigade being landed in this fashion (short one company now fighting in Kalunda) were Slavian and Habsburg Marine brigades landing in the same fashion. Quickly a forward position was established and contact was secured with General Arshon's force which was numbering 55,000 in all and moving up behind the brigades.

Between the two forces, in the darkness of the night, bright flares were lit to guide in the heavy landers which followed the space-droppable forces. These were deploying a Slavian and a Taloran heavy armour brigade, the rest of the southern force, which was to be formed under the command of a Slavian corps commander of Serbian extraction, Major General Goran Lazarevic, the Baron of Ptastela.

The two armoured brigades were independent forces and incredibly powerful onces at that. The Taloran armoured brigade boasted two regiments, each of 64 x 250 ton hovertanks and 32 x 120 ton medium hovertanks, plus six 250 ton command tanks, and had some eight thousand officers and other ranks in all, none of this considering the numerous APCs of the infantry in the two regiments of the brigade. The Slavian armoured brigade had the same number of heavy hovertanks, which were only slightly smaller at 210 tons each, though only 18 light tanks per regiment for scouting; but they made up for it with more infantry numbers so that the two brigades were virtually the same size.

Comparable forces were being landed in the north: An Hispanic heavy armoured brigade, an Hispanic Marine brigade, one Catalinian Marine brigade (understrength), a British Marine brigade, an ADN Marine brigade and an armoured cavalry regiment, a French 'space-mobile' light armour brigade using their 110 ton 'coloniale' tanks, and a Devenshirite force of a tank battalion of the Guard, and a marine regiment. These forces, discounting the Duchess of Medina's command post which would oversee them all, would combine with the 3,000-strong forces under the command of Dame Tessa Stuart to form the second corps of the relief force, under an Alliance Marine General.

In both cases the enemy was not in a position to contest the landings. Soon a force of 500 MB(H)Ts and 550 medium tanks, plus eight armoured trains, and along with 450 APCs and numerous scout vehicles, with 60% of the infantry in power armour, was converging from two directions on East Port with the aide of the 58,000 of Arshon and Tessa's volunteer forces which were now under their command, numbering in all 146,000 troops.

Lieutenant General Frayuia Risim, with her husband given command of joint force artillery coordination, settled down to a staff headquarters which had her family heavily representated. Moving in a very large armoured and shielded hover command vehicle twice the size of a Taloran MBHT, the whole of the zone was now laid out for her with real-time continuous datalinks from the orbiting fleet providing her enemy positions. It was somewhat annoying, what the enemy was doing...

“Ahaah. Come here, my girls.” She gestured toward the holo-projection that was activated by a key in her chair.

Yasimi, the eldest, came over at once. “Yes, General?”

“You see the.. Hmm.. Alamani?”

“General, we've got an interesting communication coming in.. Why, it's from the enemy!”

Frayuia swung her chair in surprise. “Oh? How civilized of them. Is it live?”

“They wish to speak to the commander of the relief force...”

“Then put it up, audio only.”

“Done, General.”

A static-filled line resolved into a voice of an accent, though Frayuia could not tell which: “This is Major General Rulos, commander of the Cartagenean Corps. I wish to speak to the commander of the enemy forces which have landed to the north and south of East Port..”

“You have her! I am Lieutenant General Frayuia Risim, the Duchess of Medina, representing the Taloran Star Empire in the international forces, and I command this operation... You wish to speak to me, General Rulos?”

“I do. I want your assurance on a matter.”

“Well, withdraw from the heights your forces have fortified, with shield and anti-air missile, and we will not attack you. Our mission is very specific, and we can negotiate.”

“Honour, General Risim, does not permit me to do that.” The voice of Rulos was rather heavy with fate as he spoke. “But honour compels me to do something else as well. I want your assurance on one matter, and one matter only, General Risim. I am declaring East Port an Open City and I want to know if your forces will respect this.”

“Ahaahha. I see, General Rulos.” Frayuia glanced at the chrono. It was now after midnight, and they were moving in the predawn darkness toward East Port, advancing with no opposition. It's such a refreshingly civilized sentiment. But a pity he is the only man here we'll face who will show us such a thing. “Yes, of course we will respect the declaration of East Port as an Open City, under the usual terms. That is said, and done, on my Word of Honour.”

“Thank you, General Risim.”

“But you will not yield the heights?” Frayuia pressed, hoping to avoid what promised to be an immensely bloody battle: There were nearly 400,000 troops arranged in a blocking position on the heights well above East Port precisely to prevent her army from driving up from the coastal plain to break through to the interior of the continent where a such advance would carry them right to Kalunda itself, and the salvation of that place. Most of them were very primitive or disorganzed, but the Cartagenean Corps itself boasted 145,000 men and 1,200 MBTs, though the Gilean version was only a 150 ton treaded vehicle much inferior to those possessed by the relief force, and arguably no better than their medium tanks, and the Gilean infantry lacked power armour entirely.

“I will not yield the heights, General Risim. My orders are explicit, and clear, and I presume not to violate them while the integrity of my nation still exists. I will contest your passage to the interior with all the strength at my muster. My own honour gives me no other choice, and you will find yourself with a tough fight for the sake of the honour of the oaths of myself and my officers and the reputation of our Army.”

“You are an honourable man.”

“Thank you.”

“Well, I have done all that I can. It is settled; I will see you tomorrow, General Rulos.”

“And I, it appears, you.” The connection was then cut on the line, and Frayuia wrapped her fingers together and stretched them, popping them.

“Ahhhh. It is good to know there is an honourable man in this festering cess-pool. At least this settles the problematic matter of the potential for urban fighting in East Port...” Both the girls had come up now. “Do you see, my girls, then, what their plan is? With a theatre shield and heavy anti-missiles emplaced on the heights they've dug in there, with the Cartagenean Corps' forces distributed to stiffen the great masses of the militia of the city, and the barbarians, who comprise the bulk of their army, trying to remedy thereby what would otherwise be their utter uselessness.”

“Shall we be manoeuvring,” Alamani dared at last. “The position looks very strong.”

“There are few passes broad enough to reach the interior with a force of our size safely, either, while protecting us against encirclement and ambush... Save that one. And it's the only one with a rail-line through it, which is necessary not just for the armoured trains but for the supply of our force. So we must go through them. A frontal assault which I aim to launch in twenty-seven hours, give or take, to pit our strength against their's. It is risky, but when we smash this army, then there will not be another one between us and Kalunda which can even slow us down, let alone pose a threat to us, nor are there any other anti-air defences existing on the whole continent. Thus, we shall eliminate every threat to the success of this relief force in one decisive battle, and in doing so also remove any chance of the enemy hindering total dominance of the skies here, again.”

“They outnumber us greatly.”

“Perhaps, but our armoured fist is not something that they can withstand. We will see that to be certain soon enough, my girls.” A tight, slight smile. “So back to work.”

The leading elements of the two forces entered East Port nine hours later, and in thirty minutes had met in the city, which was quickly reoccupied. The armoured trains shifted through on the rail lines moving up toward the heights, to approach them close enough so that the next day their guns could provide additional artillery support to the army, whose artillery pieces were arrayed behind them in turn. The bombardment began at once, though most of the shells were shot down by the Cartagenean Corps' defences, but it allowed them to be probed, and enough got through to do real damage so as to justify the bombardment.

That bombardment, killing a dozen here and a dozen there, causing a few hundred casualties in all to the defenders in their extensive earthen and sometimes concrete fortifications, was desultory, but it guaranteed that nobody up there had a good night's sleep with the continuous thunder of the guns, the freight-train sound of shells rumbling overhead, and the bright light flashes of the impacts, the whoosh of the firing of defensive rockets and continuous tracers from gatling cannon informing all of a barrage, and defence, fairly met. All of that cacophony, and the misery for the men of a heavy bombardment against them, would continue for fifteen hours until the battle proper began at Frayuia's signal, while the manoeuvre forces of the international Army were deployed in position, the massive hovertanks waiting with their ground effect fans whining in standby, ready to move forward enmasse the next day.

The population of East Port watched it all, those who loved their autonomy being sullen and afraid, those who desired the end of the old system, jubilant. But all were vaguely uneasy with the definite feeling that things had now changed for good, and that there would be no going back now, forever. The multiverse had finally had enough, and the forces of all the great powers had come to finish the job Sara Proctor had begun so long ago.
”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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Post by Steve » 2007-04-16 12:36am

This begins a long series of updates I forgot to post, culminating in what Marina and I hope to be a big shocker for the readers. :)

Some are by me, some by Marina, and I'm sure our writing styles differ enough for you to tell.

Kalunda, Gilead

DAY 48

The burning in Amber's left side was gone now, and she laid in the hospital bed that she had noticed on and off while slumbering, dressed in a hospital gown. She opened her eyes and saw the underground hospital room once more. Monitors around her beeped and did their thing, assuring the nurses outside that she was alive.
She looked up and looked into a pair of lovely emerald eyes. Dani looked down at Amber, wearing - most strangely - an easily-removed green silk band around her breasts and a similar skirt around her hips. She smiled at Amber and said, "Awake yet, tiger?"
"What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you to wake up, silly. So I could do this." And with that Dani kissed her full on the mouth. Amber couldn't move enough to resist, and deep down she didn't want to. She let Dani's tongue slip into her mouth and touched it with her own, enjoying Dani's taste.

The amazingly beautiful woman slipped onto the bed, barely breaking the kiss, and her hands traveled to Amber's gown, pulling it open and gently touching Amber's breasts. Amber's hands went up to take Dani's face at the cheeks, holding her closer for another kiss. After this Dani's head moved downward, her tongue moving along Amber's neck. "Oh Dani...." Amber moaned.

The voice cut through Amber's dream like a blade. Her eyes opened again and she was in the same room, in the same bed, but instead of Dani's luscious, barely-clothed body it was her very-clothed, uniformed sister Sarina. She looked at Amber with one of her "Just what the hell are you thinking?" looks of curiosity. "Feeling better?"
"I was, until you rudely interrupted me," Amber mumbled.
"Ah, it was that kind of dream. I thought you were picking up your breath a bit." Sarina smiled sarcastically. "Well, the docs said you're okay..."

"What... what happened?"
"You won, mission successful, et cetera. The Marshal's life was saved by surgery, though she still hasn't woken up. Dani's alive and well, but unfortunately for you she's still in love with Jhayka and won't be coming by any time soon..." Sarina's smile was now that of teasing. "I'd ask for the sexy details but some of your sexual fantasies frankly disturb me, Sister."
Amber mock-frowned at Sarina. "Oh, you're asking for it. And I'll make sure the Baroness gives it to you the next time you're in her tender mercies."
"Unlike some female members of this family, sister, I have never been bound by a lover," Sarina responded with a smirk. "Another bit of good news, Sister, is that the International Forces have already made contact with us and will be landing in the next few days, perhaps even tonight."

Amber heard that news and a wide smile crossed her face. After all this time, I had begun to lose hope! "Then maybe we'll survive all of this?"
"Yes," Sarina replied. "I think we all will."
"That's.... good to hear, Sister, good to hear." Amber took her hand. "Now, can you please get me something to eat and drink? I'm famished!"
"Oh, just give it a minute, but then I must be getting back to duty. With the Marshal incapacitated I've been given more duties, as His Majesty has been forced to take direct command for the time being and my services as Chief of Staff are invaluable to him."
"Well, then, Sister, I won't hold you back from duty to His Majesty. Please arrange for the nurses to send me something, and then go back to work. I'll talk to you later."
Sarina nodded at that. "Later then, sister." She promptly left.

DAY 49,

The steady blossoms of detonating nuclear weaponry lit up the sky around the port city as dozens of airbursts lit off. Craters were dug by the powerful energy bolts and railgun shots of the orbiting dreadnoughts, and volleys of missiles dug deep and annihilated the defences around the city. Cruise missiles dived under the defensive shielding, though most of them were shot down. A few got through, however, and their nuclear events proved sufficient to disable many of the disabling weaponry. Even far to the north around the capitol of Cranstonville there were numerous events.

Gilead had never invested in extensive shelters, and the result was that tens of thousands of civilians were already dead or dying from the bombardment. The arrival of aerospace fighters as the defences were attrited only increased the scale of the devastation, and working under the shields where the cruise missiles had disabled many of the defensive batteries they succeeded in knocking down the remaining theatre shields around Quanzhi. The only ones left were those around Cranstonville itself.

In all, the preparations for the landings had only taken six hours and the expenditure of about a hundred nuclear devices per hour over that period of time, along with a few hundred multi-megaton level cannon shots from the orbiting ships. Final civilian fatalities for the attacks would probably level off at one hundred thousand or so, and would mainly be the fault of the Gilean government for deciding to resist when they'd never invested in a major shelter programme. By this time nukes were very smart indeed, and with dial-a-yield and limited fallout, collateral casualties could be kept to a minimum, and the very weak and incomplete theatre shields over Quanzhi and Cranstonville had proved a minimal disruption in the overall operations. Only twenty-three aerospace fighters were lost.

There was no reason to delay the landings any further. They were planned for an area seven hundred kilometers east of Quanzhi, where the open plains of the central interior would, unlike with the coastal mountain ranges, allow for an unimpeded and sweeping crescent manoeuvre to carry the international forces into Cranstonville. Quanzhi itself, its defences destroyed, would not be directly attacked, nor would the forces around it and to the north of it, two corps in all, be assailed, in hopes that they would be lured out to rush to the aide of the capitol where thery could be more easily destroyed. These units amounted to about 300,000 men counting the remnants of the Quanzhi militia which had elected to fight for the new regime.

The force that was directly positioned facing the route of advance for the International forces consisted of eleven corps and some associated units, amounting to 1.5 million men after attrition in the civil war and the arrival of fresh replacements, which until recently had been fighting each other, four of them being rebel formations who had battled de la Hoya. They were suspicious of each other, and the new regime in Cranstonville was unpopular. Coordination was not good and their stocks of reasonably modern equipment had been exhausted in the internicine fighting.

Against them was arrayed two Slavian corps, one mechanized and one armoured, two Hispanic corps, the same, two British corps, one French corps, an Alliance corps, a Taloran corps short one brigade, a Habsburg division, a Catilinian Marine brigade, and a Devenshirite Marine brigade, around 1,350,000 troops in all. These were the forces which were now being landed on the flat farmland. The heavy landing ships burned the ground and set crops on fire as they settled down, and countless hovertanks and APCs, supply vehicles and hover-barges loaded with equipment, were soon being continuously offloaded.

Theatre shields and anti-missile missiles and energy weaponry were immediately established to defend against nuclear missile attacks by the Gilean defensive forces, which were not long in coming. Seventy missiles were fired at the landing site in twenty minutes, but only one of them got through, and the light 700kT warhead detonated several hundred meters from the nearest landing craft group, far enough that though they were crippled, there were only 18 fatalities, all in the British group that had been conducting the landings in that sector.

Around, most of the farmhouses had been abandoned by the families which had lived in them, fleeing, hiding anywhere they could. This was a modern area, and most of them had gone up into the woods in their trucks to take shelter until the storm had passed. In a few cases the officers of the international forces had walked into a country breakfast which was still warm, and enjoyed it where the prior inhabitants had not, bedding down in their homes before they'd have to move on the next day, leaving some money of a dozen nations behind as the payment the laws of war required.

Huge hovertanks were deployed defensively toward the enemy. They were up to 250 tonnes for the largest Taloran models, and the enemy had 150 tonne tracked tanks which, though nominally modern, were much inferior in all respects. The number of tanks between the two forces was also about even, heightening the disparity, and of course the Gilean Air Force had utterly ceased to exist, leaving the international forces to control the skies entirely.

Though the international forces were for the moment supporting the landings, by late the next day a concerted air campaign against the defending Gilean Army was being planned to annihilate it, or drive it out of its defensive positions, while the international forces raised to be into position to launch a vigorous assault the moment they had suffered enough, or otherwise work their way around the enemy's positions by the advantage of their much faster manoeuvring speed, and the fact that the Gilean Army moving from its defensive positions would expose it to a massed air campaign.

Even standing firm, the air campaign would take its toll sooner or later. The sustained assault would entail thousands and thousands of sorties every day while the ships in orbit rained fire down on the theatre shields. It would be possible to commence the moment that the landing forces had been entirely landed, and by evening of the next day the advance on Cranstonville would begin, with nearly three million soldiers clashing to determine the fate of the capitol of the Confederacy over a vast tract of rolling farmland rather larger than Nebraska.

With the Gilean Army so heavily outgunned and the skies dominated by the international forces, the evaluations of its commanders were extremely bleak. It seemed that only Covington and his closest circle retained any real hope of throwing back the international troops, but the President and his junta persisted, and the honour of the Gilean Armed Forces demanded the fight be sustained 'till the last resource had been thoroughly exhausted.

DAY 49,
off East Port.

Initially the Gilean taskforce off of East Port had been ignored. After all, they were not involved in any attacks on the landing force, and they were moving off, away from the city. Then Covington had demanded of Admiral Benington, the overall commander of the Taskforce, to attack the Duchess of Medina's relieving army. A desultory effort with nuclear tipped cruise missiles had proved ineffective, but it had caught the attention of the fleet in orbit. Rather than try to pot at the ships from orbit, however, it was hoped to compel their surrender by a more impressive display of overwhelming force.

The Taloran Heavy Cruiser Jhuris had been selected for the operation, primarily because essentially all Taloran ships were designed to make surface landings on water. Captain the Baroness Frilasuia itl Urasalia thought the whole plan was a bit pointless, but she could understand the humanitarian effort it represented. According, the Jhuris descended into the atmosphere, covered by the guns of the fleet and escorted by J'u'crea type assault boats.

As she did the remaining defensive batteries of the Gilean army in the area which could bear on the ship salvoed off braces of nuclear missiles at her. The weapons of the fleet in orbit and the J'u'crea's engaged the incoming missiles, shooting most of them down in fast-paced intercepts with nuclear events flashing the sky brighter than a dozen suns as a series of them staggered out over the blue of the ocean. Some of the missiles got through, however...

And that's where the nuclear-tipped anti-missile missiles of the Jhuris went into action, throwing up dozens of staggered and even interlocking fusion events which slashed through the incoming interceptors. Their real purpose in sending me down was to act as bait for the Gilean defensive missiles, Frilasuia mused sarcastically to herself, strapped into the command acceleration couch on the bridge of the Jhuris as the battle was fought.

“Interceptor range!”

Frilasuia watched the holo-plot as the last three missiles were chopped to bits by the flechette cannons. They were now only one kilometer off the water surface and dropping fast. “How close are we to entering the enemy's ship-to-ship missile range, Uras?” She queried to the ship's Astrogator.

“Approximately sixty kilometers, Captain.”

“Helm, institute landing protocols!”

“Landing protocols.. Commencing, Aye,” the helmsman responded, the ship now being readied for water touch-down, the ventral gun turrets swinging to present their streamlined rear casings ahead to prevent the development of friction, though they would not initially touch down.

“Bring us down!”

Instead, as the ship slowed to just below mach speed, the fins of the big cruiser, three times as long as an old American Supercarrier, dipped into the water, touched, struck, and stabilized. “Initial landing complete... Hydrofoil surfaces in water contact. Speed is six hundred kilometers an hour and decreasing.”

“Maintain hydrofoil operation regimen,” Frilasuia ordered, before keying the hotlink to central battery director. “Guns, stand by for missile-profile surface engagement.”

“Aye aye, Captain.”

Ten minutes later the Jhuris entered range and the taskforce gave her everything they had left. It wasn't much, considering the nuclear warheads had been largely expended at land and space targets and the conventional missiles bounced harmlessly off the doubled-shields of the hydrofoil-operating big Taloran cruiser as she sped toward the taskforce at 500kmh.

At the same time, Frilasuia began to broadcast a message she'd pre-recorded, again and again in a continuous loop. “Admiral Benington, this is Captain itl Urasalia of the Taloran cruiser Jhuris. We can fight you wherever we are. I will be approaching your task-force soon and when I come into visual range if you aren't flying white flags I'll destroy you. Keep firing at me, but it will just demonstrate the futility of further resistance.”

And the fleet did salvo off their full missile stocks remaining, the nukes of the Jhuris' interceptor batteries dealing with most, and most of the rest falling to the flechette cannon. Finally they were thirty kilometers off and closing fast, and the enemy fire had ceased.

“Bring us down to the surface,” Frilasuia instructed. Speed fell off, and the Jhuris gradually lowered herself down into the water until she was floating with two-thirds of her hull submerged in the seas of Gilead. The process took several kilometers of forward progress to complete and by that point she could see the taskforce ahead, also slowing, having seen the transition from the hydrofoil mode to the surface that the cruiser had accomplished.

“Full magnification on the outer sensors, let's see if they've surrendered and finished this silly business...”

Suddenly the Jhuris was thrown violently to port and her decks swamped through and through while a huge blossoming sphere of water rose out of the ocean and thoroughly drenched the cruiser as the tremendous shockwave produced unimaginable sheer and shock inside. Electronics were shattered and crewers were very lucky, indeed, to be secured in for battle. The Jhuris would have capsized if it was a normal ship; of course the gravitic stabilizers avoided this, but in trying to counteract the huge pressure in the sea they threw the crew right back in the direction they'd just been jostled from.

“Heavy shock damage!” Damage control central reported immediately, and unwantedly. “We've got buckling of armour plates around frames sixteen and two eighty-one.”

“What was that?” Frilasuia snapped, ignoring the damage reports for the moment. But then a series of additional powerful impacts washed over the ship's shielding, rocking her in the water, though far less severely than before.

“A submerged nuclear mine, Captain! And now they're hitting us with nuclear artillery shells: They're only in the range of a few hundred kilotons but they've got a lot of them.”

So much for the idea that we could get them to surrender...

The bow of the Jhuris was thrown out of the water by another huge explosion and several lower sensor blisters on the hull were stove-in by the power of the nuclear detonation which threw up an enormous column all around them. “Full stop!” Frilasuia shouted, only then realizing they must be in the hydrological equivalent of a minefield. “Use gravitic thrusters to make us exactly hold position.” It was a very unpleasant realization...

...But the enemy fleet was still in range. She flicked the hotlink. “Guns, take them apart. And... Start firing the ventral turrets, flak-bursts at one kilometer.”

“Understood, Captain. Commencing main battery fire..” The gunnery officer didn't know the purpose for the second order, but Frilasuia had remembered something else about nautical warfare...

...Fortunately just in time to utterly annihilate the first salvo of nuclear torpedoes fired against the Jhuris. Those might have done some actual serious damage to the ship if they had been allowed direct impacts against the lower submerged hull.

Then the main guns opened up. The result was ghastly. The taskforce had consisted of two amphibious assault ships, thirteen nuclear missile cruisers, eleven destroyers, eight frigates, and twenty-six FACs. The first salvo of charged particle cannon fire from the two forward turrets, four bolts dead on target, simply utterly destroyed one of the amphibious assault ships. A cruiser was destroyed by the salvo of the aft turrets. Within five seconds another salvo finished off the section amphibious assault ship and another cruiser. Then another salvo, and two cruisers were gone. The next salvo smashed a frigate and two destroyers. The hulks were left steaming, burning, reduced to the water-line by the fire tearing through and vapourizing half of what was above, or in the case of the larger ships, simply smashed and cracked clean in two, sinking quickly or rolling off, hulls bent and twisted like jacknives.

Another salvo was got off that blew up a cluster of six FACs and took out another cruiser even as the remaining nuclear torpedoes proved unable to get through the barrier of continuously roiling steam and vapourized sea from the flak bursts of the ventral turrets. In contrast, the kiloton range nuclear shells of the railguns on the enemy force proved completely unable to make a dent on the shields of the Jhuris despite the fact that dozens had hit.

By that point the surviving flag officer, a Commodore named Laura Wellin, was desperately broadcasting an all-frequency surrender message.

“Cease-fire, cease-fire!” Frilasuia shouted, staving off another murderous salvo—and then, a moment later she realized that the order had been general: “Flak-bursts at a half kilometre resume firing!” The order came just in time to resume the destruction of the incoming torpedoes, and the firing was maintained for another fifteen minutes until Commodore Wellin had confirmed that all the expended 'fish' had been destroyed or deactivated.

Three thousand Gilean sailors had been killed in less than a minute. The Jhuris had sixty-seven wounded and none killed. Despite the botched effort to make the Taskforce give in peaceful, the example worked. The remaining Gilean wet-navy ships all surrendered over the course of the next day, now that their commanders had seen that the international force could fight them in a way that they understood—and still come out with a handy victory without a single loss.

It was humiliating, and at this point, fighting out of honour and pride, humiliation proved a far more effective way to obtain their surrenders than any kind of rational calculation of force ever could, proving the silly instructions to the Jhuris to be most far-sighted in fact, once looked at in retrospect. This, however, made Frilasuia no happier for the risk that she felt her ship had been unnecessarily subjected to, but orders were orders, and once the taskforce had deactivated the minefield the Jhuris safely returned to her proper home in space, well clear of the mess on the planet before.

DAY 49,
On the Siege Lines.

Warleader Erqui and the Ubar Ikmen sat in a private room of their command bunker. Only one of Ikmen's prized kajira was with them, laying across his feet to warm them in the chill of the underground position. It was evening, and the two men were planning the final leg of operations on the south bank of the river.

“Do you think we can seize the bridges? If we do, the whole city might fall to us. It's certainly lightly defended on the north bank,” Ikmen opined as he studied a model of the layout of the city.

“I don't think we can, Your Excellency, but we will certainly try,” Erqui answered. “We have three very small enemy pockets left to reduce, and a division concentrated against each, with another one in reserve. All our other forces remaining on the south bank are concentrated against the Quay or the Warehouse. We should have ten divisions to shift over the river just as we've been shifting the other forces that were to the south of the river... The bulk of our troops are already to the north, and the main assault is planned in that direction.

“But three divisions in reserve is still a powerful force, and if we seize the bridges intact they could indeed make considerable gains which might see large swathes of the city come under our control. And the three divisions to seize the bridges should.. Not suffer casualties as to render them incapable of further combat operations. We can also go on the defensive around the Quay and pull all the troops off from the Warehouse and reinforce any gains across the river with another three divisions that way.”

“You're only planning on leaving a single division south of the river if we don't gain the bridges? But they'll be facing a corps,” the Ubar objected. “Which division is it, anyway?”

“The Ar Division, Your Excellency.”

Ikmen visibly winced. “No. Take one of your own off the Quay forces if you must. The Ar Division is my country's last hope.”

“And mine is marching to meet the Cartagenean corps and reinforce General Rulos' stand against a foe with powers that we can scarcely conceive of. You must make the sacrifice; they are the only division in all of our armies which can contain defensively even a weakened Kalundan corps for the period of time required for us to finish reducing the rest of the city. The final assault to the north will be made three days from tomorrow, regardless of the success in seizing the bridges or not.”

“A bitter pill to swallow,” Tarl Ikmen answered with a sigh, rubbing his feet up against the warm body of his kajira, who moaned from it in misplaced effort to improve his mood. He just ignored her, gazing at the asiatic face of the Warleader before him, and trying to discern the man's thoughts.

“Can we take the city? We will have besieged it for fifty-three days by the time of this great attack that you plan.”

“We can. But if we fail that day, we have no choice but to go on the defensive. We will not have the power, nor the time, for another grand assault. For the moment, the enemy's airpower has not returned to bother us. It is busy elsewhere. That means that we have a very good chance of succeeding, if we can launch the attack before their aircraft return. And that means soon. If they are there to provide support.. Well, we must roll the dice, and see if we win or lose it all. There is no chance of retreating now; we will be annihilated from above.”

“I understand. Then launch the attacks tomorrow with the utmost vigour and surprise. Wait until the afternoon, I should think, we tend to attack in the morning to have as much light as possible for the battle to come. But they have gotten used to that, and it may provide more surprise to hold off on the attack until later, when the defenders may have convinced themselves that an attack is not coming, and will let their guard down.”

“A very sensible suggestion, Your Excellency. I will issue the appropriate orders immediately.”

“Go, and do so.”

After the Warleader had left, Tarl pushed his chair back and stood with the help of the table, looking down at the prostrate kajira draped across his feet. She had gone without pleasure for far to long, as these last weeks of the siege had sapped Tarl's desire for sex with his girls. While the men might go wild with pent-up sexual energy, he just the will to do anything as he realized the utter severity of his nation's situation.

“My girl.... You will know pleasure again, but I fear not from my hands.” He walked off, leaving her sobbing in horror at the dread prospect that offered, her life having never had a frame of reference save as a slave, and her teenaged and adult lives, no frame of reference save as his slave. But even the slaves attached to the army, now, were beginning to realize that this might change. For them, it was like the whole world had been turned upside-down, and their place in it was being lost.

For the men, they.. They fought with the desperation of the damned.

DAY 50,
Near East Port.

The Duchess of Medina was up early in the morning, as she usually was, well in advance of her family on a particularly important day like this, and dining alone to compose her thoughts in advance of the battle to come. It was still in the pre-dawn darkness, and the assault would take place in only a few hours. That she could win, she was certain of. The question was how to minimize casualties...

And the ruminations on that were what distracted her while she ate her meal until one of her aides arrived, and in fact walked right up to her, completely ignored, or unnoticed. He bowed deeply. “Your Grace, forgive me, but the commander of the Devenshirite light brigade is here and wishes to see you in person.”

“Ahh..!?” Frayuia glanced up, ears flexing. “Odd. He's already inside the command vehicle?”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“Then send him in. At once.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

Frayuia downed her dhpou in a solid slug of the drinking to get some warmth in her before facing this, and soon enough the man, in the uniform of a Devenshirite Colonel, now breveted to Brigadier, arrived and came to attention, offering a respectful salute.

“Brigadier Calhoun, I believe?”

“That's correct, Your Grace.”

“Please, have a seat...” She leaned over to grab the intercom handpiece off the wall to order up another breakfast, but he waved her off as he sat.

“Please, Your Grace, I want this to be made swift and succinct. I want you to arrest the commander of the armoured train force, the so-called 'General Arshon'. She's a wanted criminal on Devenshire.”

Frayuia started for a moment, her ears rigidly erect, and stared over at Calhoun. “Praytell, Brigadier, you realize that this, several hours before a major engagement, is an utterly inopportune time to make such a request?”

“Yes, but it is very urgency, Your Grace, lest it be found out by her and give her a chance to escape.”

“Well, she is in the service of a member of the Taloran nobility, and I will bluntly say that as a hired hand of my good friend's, I will not let you do a thing to her unless you provide a careful explanation justifying such measures. Immediately.”

The Brigadier took a breath and wiped some cold sweat from his brow. “Fair enough, Your Grace. I wouldn't expect anything less, I suppose...” And so he began. “General Arshon's real name, Your Grace, is Priscilla Laurentii—sometimes Priscilla Anderson, the name of the family that raised her. She is the illegitimate daughter of the Grand Duke of Pranton, the ethnic Arab Grand Duchy of the old Kingdom of Devenshire. Her father was His Grace the Grand Duke Johnathan Laurentii, the twelfth Grand Duke of Pranton, the Impaler of al-Cowhar.”

“The Impaler of al-Cowhar?”

“Eleven hundred revolting slaves impaled alive at his order,” the Brigadier answered. “Along with numerous other crimes, including gross sexual abuse of slaves and an extreme profilgancy which led to criminal skimming off the provincial budget which nearly got him charged under the old government. He was an exceptionally corrupt and evil man, the old Grand Duke.

“Priscilla was his daughter by one of his slaves, a girl who was only eleven at the time, twelve when she gave birth. Normally such a child would be raised as a slave, never knowing the exalted height of their blood. That was the typical and ruthless way of the Old Nobility in dealing with the results of their 'excesses'. But the old Grand Duke had a sympathetic streak toward her for some reason or another, and gave her as a foundling to the Anders family of steadholders, small-farming yeomanry who managed to ecke out an existence outside of the slave system.

“Now, you might at this point wonder what the fuss is. She should, be rights, be exactly the sort of person who was important in the post-collapse reconstruction, with ties on both sides of the fence,” Calhoun took another deep breath. “But during the uprisings as the Plymouthite forces advanced into Pranton province, she committed an act for which the locals call her, in the fashion of her father, the Butcher of umm-Karshash.”

“What did she do, Brigadier? You've provided the backstory. Just tell me.”

“The Ducal Palace was overwhelmed by the uprising, and the Grand Duke along with a few of his guards and hangers-on fled to the army barracks where he knew Priscilla was stationed. He'd helped her into the military as an officer, and she was a Captain at the time, serving as a Company commander and doubling as the executive officer of the local battalion. Being very popular with the troops in the area, she seized control of the battalion when the battalion Major vascillated on the idea of surrendering, and posted a strong guard.

“When her father came to see her, he came with the documents, and the DNA information, proving their relationship. She had at that point the chance to repudiate the evil of her family... Or join it. And she chose to join it. She embraced him, as the accounts of the slaves who cleaned the barracks go, and immediately organized a breakout attempt. In the breakout that happened, the liberated slaves tried to stop the battalion from reaching a light cruiser which had been down for repairs in the small shipyard in the city of umm-Karshash, which was going to try and take off and make a break for it.

“With such a force blocking her way, Priscilla, sheltering the Grand Duke in her command vehicle, led her APCs and tanks to massacre the escaped slaves. Nearly four thousand were killed and a square mile of the city's shanty-towns set on fire while Priscilla broke through in a hard fight to reach the light cruiser and get aboard with her forces, and her father. They blasted clear and shot their way through the Plymouthite blockade, the cruiser being nearly mortally damaged in the process.

“We never did track them down. Johnathan had enough resources, the old bastard, to always stay one step ahead of the law and every bounty hunter we could send after him. He finally died in the little two-planet Republic of Oranje you've probably never heard of before. Priscilla gave him a burial there and then disappeared. We found his grave, exhumed him, confirmed it was him, and reburied him—hoping she'd come back—but she never did. She took the money he still had stashed in hidden bank accounts and disappeared.

“But here she is, working as a merc commander whom the Princess Jhayka inadvertantly hired. And a General in the International Forces that you command. There's no doubt that it's her. I confirmed her appearence with visual recognition software. She's right in our hands, someone as vile as the Normans themselves. A wanted criminal, and you can deliver her to justice immediately..”

“But I won't.”

Brigadier Calhoun stared at Frayuia in shock. He stuttered for a moment, and cleared his throat. “Your Grace, you've heard all of this—why not?”

“Have you ever heard of the concept of filial piety?”

The brevet Brigadier stopped short, and took a moment to carefully think his way through the answer. “I.. I believe so. You're saying it's a noble act to protect one's father at any cost?”

“Not just that, but how much of this did she really know? Did she know her mother was an extreme minor by human standards? Did she know that her father was a brutal rapist who indulged in torture? Or was his only public crime the execution of those who had revolted against the lawful authority placed over them, as a natural part of his duties? And could an officer possibly be thought immoral for thinking such a thing acceptable, if perhaps distasteful?

“Tell me, Brigadier, how many offiers of the Army, who still serve now, thought that way?”

She was rewarded with silence, and it was telling that she was on the right track in this discussion. “She had just met her birth father for the first time. She was supposed to hand him into an outraged mob to be torn limb from limb, before she had even got his mettle? Brigadier, I won't have her arrested because I would have done the same thing myself. And, just perhaps, that is because I am an alien rather than a human. But I see here simply an impossible circumstance, in which she got her men clear at any price, and her father with them.

“What happened to her foster family?”

“They were killed at the hands of a mob,” Calhoun admitted quietly.

“And her mother?”

“I don't know. It isn't easily available in the fact records of the case that I researched when the sighting was first suspected in the media reports.”

Frayuia nodded. “Well, you have before you, at least, an example of the fact that she lost all she ever knew, due to her single effort to try and reach out to the parent she never knew that she'd had. I don't think that is immoral. Just pitiable. And she is under the Princess Jhayka's protection for the moment.

“What that means is that you may ask the Princess Jhayka. No-one else. I will retain her at her post, and you will speak nothing of this, until the Princess Jhayka has been informed... Preferably, personally by Her Majesty Queen Minerva or someone else of suitable rank to speak with a noblewoman on matters of honour. I will tell none of it to Arshon—to Priscilla Laurentii—so that you may have the chance to make what entreaties as you think are suitable.

“But insomuch as the writ of Taloran law runs here by force of my presence if nothing else, she will remain free, and in command. Is that understood, Brigadier?”

Calhoun nodded grimly. “Very well. But the nation has understandably wanted her for a long time. Pranton is rebellious...”

“And a woman of noble blood is to become a sacrifice to appease their rebelliousness?”

“I wouldn't put it that way, Your Grace. Her father's behaviour scarcely warrants the term nobility...”

“Blood is blood. And those same mobs who I presume clamour for her now, are the ones who killed her foster parents, who had done nothing at all, save the morally commendable act of the raising of a foundling. I will give her asylum in the Imperial Starfleet before I turn her over to such a fate, or even to a jury comprised of such a mob, if nominally lawful. Refer this to your Sovereign, or some other legally constituted authority, and do not trouble me with it again. You may trouble Her Highness the Princess Jhayka with it, when you see her in person in the city of Kalunda. Until then, bear your knowledge with silence. Is that understood?”

“I understand, Your Grace.”

“Then return to your unit at once, Brigadier, and prepare them for action! We have wasted enough time on this matter. You are dismissed.”

DAY 50,
Inside Kalunda.

In addition to the two great foot and vehicle bridges across the Kalunda River, there was the huge iron girder lift bridge of the interior rail line. All three of these bridges were to be assaulted generally by forces greatly in excess of the strength of their defenders. The pockets around each bridge had been reduced to about a regiment apiece over the night, except the one defended by Trajan's advanced battalion, where only that force proved more than sufficient to hold the bridge.

These bridges had connected the city, provided its prosperity. They had homes built onto them, long since evacuated, and they'd survived untouched, especially the old bridge, even the last siege. They were the lifeblood of the city, and now they were being rigged to blow. There was no question of launching a counterattack, and no question of holding out until relief with the remaining garrisons on the far side.

From the tunnels under the south bank of the river they were bringing everyone they could, all those who could still be moved. A few very sick were not evacuated in time, and they were given grenades. They could reach the towers of the bridges and make their way across under sporadic fire. A few of these civilians were killed. But by morning the last of them had been evacuated. Now there were scarcely six thousand Kalundan soldiers holding the perimeters around the bridges. It was time to evacuate them, too, but it would have to be done carefully, and only when the explosives had been properly placed. That would take several additional hours of work.

The exception was with the railroad bridge. It could easily be raised up to prevent the enemy from crossing. There was just the matter of getting all the soldiers across at once, and for that purpose a train consisting of elderly passenger cars was pushed by a switcher engine forward, with several of the cars, the last ones or more precisely those closest to the enemy, being armoured after an improvised fashion, mostly scrap iron wielded onto them. In the dawn's light the train was pushed all the way forward, and quickly attracted the attention of the Stirlin division in the circle around the regimental position.

As the regiment was shifted to board the train, and the men advanced along it from diaphram to diaphram, the cars forming a bridge across the rails to the other side, the opposite end of the train was soon brought under an intensive fire. Nothing more could be done, however, as the orders not to attack yet were strict, and the division commander was left in a desperate effort to get orders from Erqui to launch the attack early. In the meantime, an orderly fighting evacuation proceeded apace.

With the evacuation of the regiment finishing, the Stirlin division finally got permission to attack. It overran most of the area immediately, and the men made a dash for the train, which was already on fire from the sustained weaponry directed against it, the last of the defenders trying to get aboard and work themselves away from the burning cars. With an order, the train lurched into backwards motion, and the platoon or so worth of men who had not escaped, or at least got on board, had to run for it.

Close on their heels were the lead Stirlins. Ironically, the fact that the last cars were burning provided a deterrent for them to gain the cars as a means across the bridge, and the train was moving fairly slow, so that the platoon's worth of men could, by a dashing sprint, leap aboard just ahead of the flames. Yet in this process half of them were shot down, and a few more failed to make it aboard, and made for the bank that they might drift down with the current to one of the other pockets. As they started to roll across the bridge, the men in the last car realized that the best thing they could do now was to unhitch the burning coaches right where they were, and in doing so left a flaming mass of wrecked cars on the bridge, to burn through the ties and create a barrier quite impassable until the train had cleared the track.

On doing so, the drawbridge was brought up at once, and with its raising, one of the three pockets had been more or less successfully evacuated. Yet the city was scarcely out of danger, and more than thirty-five hundred soldiers were still in a situation of severe risk. For the support of the remaining regiment, the last armoured vehicles of Kalunda, five assault guns and two armoured personnel carriers, were sent forward to provide an armoured cover for their retreat. Trajan's power armour battalion would have to arrange their own retreat, and rely on their armour to remain safe in closing the low and old stone bridge. There were no more resources to send.

“Il... Ilavna..?” The voice was trembling and weak. The eyes did not open. But that Jhayka had spoken was very clear. She was awakening.

The girl 'heard' her from several rooms away, attuned to the sense of her Liege's mind, and came dashing. The first thing she did, though, was to check all the readouts, and confirm that it was quite safe and normal for Jhayka to be waking up. “I had expected you'd be unconscious longer,” Ilavna offered with a smile. “But you're very strong.”

“Did you... Take care of.... The Stirlin Brigadier?”

“She's under house arrest in your private apartment, Your Highness. Untouched and never interrogated.”

“Good. She was kind to me when I needed it most. I will make her life a comfortable one... If we live.”

“We will live,” Ilavna answered sharply, and then, stepped closer and smiled down to Jhayka. “Your Highness, a friend of your's is very close by.”

“Who?” Jhayka finally opened her eyes, but they were glazed over and unfocused without the real will to make herself see.

“The Duchess of Medina commands the relief expedition. It has arrived and landed, they took East Port yesterday, I understand. They must have started driving inland to relieve us this very morning.”

“Mmmf. Frayuia Risim. Something ironic in that old puritan coming to my rescue, though I love her dearly...” She couldn't even muster the strength to laugh.

But suddenly her eyes focused with some intensity. “What's the situation of the city?”

“A battalion is holding the Sackon Warehouse, that we rescued you from. Across the barge canal, the big Quay is held by a single corps. The rest of the forces are on the north bank.. There the allies have made no progress. But they've overrun the south bank, Your Highness. The railroad bridge has been lifted and the forces there evacuated.. All the civilians were taken out, the very last, over last night. But Trajan's battalion holds one, and a regiment with some armour the other, of the two road bridges.”

“When are they to be blown?”

“I don't think until a careful retreat has been planned, or perhaps if the enemy presses hard...”

“..Blow them...” Jhayka ordered. “As soon as can be done. The rear-guard can be evacuated by Danielle's ships....” A moment of terror clenched the Taloran through and through. “Danielle is alright, yes?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“Thank the Lord, who is Just. She does not deserve to fall here.”

“He is all justice, Your Highness,” Ilavna agreed readily. “And I am sure the two of you will reconcile your places in all due time, when the siege is over. Do you want me to bring Danielle to you? I am sure it would make feel much better...”

But Jhayka cut her off: “No. Danielle is needed. Blow the bridges. This is the last use of the fleet.... Evacuate the rearguards by boat, after the bridges are gone. Dani must see to that...”

Jhayka lapsed back into unconsciousness, and the worried Ilavna Lashila spent several minutes checking to make sure all the readings were correct and in the normal levels. They were: She had simply exhausted herself already.

Heeding Jhayka's last instructions before unconsciousness, Ilavna dashed off to find the Admiral of the much reduced river flotilla of the nation of Kalunda. Her advice would matter more in the councils of War in the city, now, than her's could hope to. And that would, hopefully, be enough to avert whatever fear gripped Jhayka at the information she'd been told.
Last edited by Steve on 2007-04-16 03:29am, edited 5 times in total.
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Post by Steve » 2007-04-16 01:13am

DAY 50,
East Port Heights.

All along the lines of the international forces, the orders were quietly given. Soldiers slipped into their power armour. Soldiers without it finished strapping on their general body protection armour and pulled on the rest of their NBC gear. Gas masks were set and seals were checked for integrity. The forward scouting lines were already prepared for this eventuality. Railroad cars fitted with heavy missiles from the ships in orbit had been arrayed to serve as their launching platforms in a ground-to-ground role.

The Duchess of Medina's command vehicle was fully staffed now, and the tense Talorans around her were waiting for the orders. There was every reason to be tense: Thanks to the stand of the Cartagenean Corps up there, the battle would certainly involve as many nuclear weapons as a full scale engagement between two modern powers. The question, however, was if the electronics and defences of the Gileans were up to it, especially spread out defensively over so broad an area.

“Don't target their reinforcements, dear,” the Duchess of Medina said offhandedly, addressing her husband. He turned quizzically...

“I believe we can compel the old Cartagenean Armoured Division to surrrender, you see,” she explained at last. “General Rosario was their patron and old commander, and her disappearance has left their morale at rock bottom. They hate Covington. So don't touch them with the nuclear missiles, in none of the targeting plans. That will let us focus more effectively on the enemy's main lines and crack them.”

“Understood, General.”

Her Chief of Staff nodded sharply, and that left the matter of targeting clear, though a moment later, he—Brigadier General Iralan—spoke up again to clarify: “Which one of the advance patterns are we using?”

“The general advance by armour with close nuclear support. We'll reverse the usual order, hold the infantry and their support vehicles back. They can sweep the rabble off the field once we've cracked their cohesion. I want this nuclear assault to look like it was one from the Arlos War...”

A brief moment of silence. The reintegration of the Arlos system with its double-planet had proved a particularly brutal conflict.

“We have copious supply in orbit, my officers. We will face no organized foe at all. Use all our nuclear devices. Overwhelm them. Our defences will prove better than their's, and what follows will be a slaughter.

“We will coordinate the main paths of advance for the northern and southern forces to pass on both sides of the central position held by the Cartagenean Armoured Division. I want to put our very strongest nuclear barrage on the left-centre and right-centre of the enemy...” She brought up the areas of the tactical plot she had been considering. “So that the tanks can move through unimpeded by any sort of resistance. They can surround the Cartagenean Armoured and after we've forced it to surrender turn out and annihilate the flanks of the enemy which will shall be separated from each other and unable to support each other... As for the great bulk of the local levies, our non-nuclear artillery can be well serviced by keeping them under a continuous cloud of nerve gas. They don't have nearly enough chemical warfare equipment, or experience, to handle such an environment.”

It was another thirty minutes while the final preparations for the designated operations were begun. Finally, at 0930 hours that morning, the last of the units reported their readiness to the Duchess of Medina. The tanks rumbled with their fans whirring and shields up, waiting hull-down for the order to go. The infantry tensed in their vehicles, as protected as they could be, and wondered if they would be unlucky... The artillerists dialed in their first targets for their lethal cargoes, and adjusted the yields of the nuclear warheads where applicable. The scouts prepared their positions to withstand the nuclear firestorm that would be rising ahead of them.

The Duchess smiled vaguely, bowed her head, closed her eyes, crossed her arms at the wrists across her chest, and prayed. She was still in the position of obesience to the Lord of Justice when she gave the order, scarcely more than a murmur. “Commence the operation.”

Three hundred tactical nuclear missiles leapt from their launching rails within four seconds of each other and accelerated at an average of around one hundred gravities, covering the distance to the enemy formations some thirty klicks off from the launchers at an average speed over the whole distance of 4,700 meters per second. The missiles took seven seconds on average to traverse the entire distance.

Automatic defensive cannon and anti-missile launchers on the lines of the defending Gileans picked up on them and immediately responded. The incredible power of the defensive arrangements of even a third-rate corps in prepared positions was demonstrated in the fact that 289 of the missiles were shot down before their nuclear warheads could be initiated. The other eleven successfully initiated.

For a moment the whole ridge was obscured in massive balls of fire far greater than the intensity of suns. Thousands of unprepared local levies simply ceased to exist. Tanks were shattered and tumbled around the field of battle with melted gun barrels at the immediate point-blank range as eleven devices with yields ranging from 500kT to 700kT spread incredible heat in the areas defined by their hypocentres. Countless men were given lethal doses of radiation by the minimum fallout, maximum output fusion weapons which hundreds of years of nuclear research had gifted the international forces.

The formation of mushroom clouds was impossible because of the theatre shields over the position, and the hot gasses of the detonations crackled against them and weakened them, revealing the shields in the air as they were contorted into strange shapes by the energetic interactions and pushed back down to obscure vast areas of the Gilean lines in a radioactive fogbank. The result of that was thousands of more unprotected individuals quickly being given lethal doses of radiation. Some twelve thousand were killed or mortally wounded outright in the first salvo, and ninety-two MBTs destroyed along with three hundred lesser armoured vehicles.

The response of the Cartagenean Corps was immediate, however. The full corps artillery sent a salvo of 400 nuclear-tipped missiles flung right back at the international forces. These weapons were weaker, though, their dial-a-yield settings reduced because they were firing toward their own city of East Port and worried about fallout. They were also much older designs, with much older electronics on the missiles, and the defences of the international forces were considerably better. As a result, though a third-again as many missiles were fired, even fewer of them got through: Eight in all. The settings also meant they were only delivering yields of 150kT each.. And the international MBTs had their own integrated shielding, along with most of the heaviest IFVs and all the command vehicles and shield and gunnery platforms.

As a result only seventeen MBTs and thirty-eight other IFVs were lost outright with some 500 in vehicles killed, though casualties in the rear areas were also heavy as the less-protected there were more heavily exposed; 920 international forces soldiers died immediately, in levels shocking for those who hadn't seen extremely heavy nuclear ground combat before, but very typical for this sort of fighting in a general sense, light, even, considering the obsolete nature of the opposition. It was actually a very poor showing for the Gileans, with many of their missiles going wide from ideal targets, and virtually all the international forces' troops in vehicles which could survive anything and still fight, save being directly engulfed in the fireball.

The next salvo from the international batteries was re-calibrated immediately and sent after the Cartagenean Corps' nuclear batteries. Their response to the enemy's defences was improving as they learned methods of getting around the anemic Gilean technology. Nineteen missiles got through this time, and they wiped out half of the Gilean nuclear batteries, though killing rather fewer since they weren't targeted at the infantry, only nine thousand killed or given fatal radiation doses instantaneously. The Gileans bravely responded with their remaining 207 missiles, all other nuclear missile reserves having been expended firing at the landing forces or defensively at aerospace fighters beforehand.

These missiles were targeted at the enemy's nuclear batteries, more daringly toward the rear and East Port—though they were dialed down again to 120kT to compensate with a better safety margin--and several fell around the General Faeria in the same position, which survived unscathed but with her energy shielding collapsed, General Arshon's—Priscilla Laurentii's—command viciously rocked on the steel rails as the competing nuclear blasts buffeted it with near misses. Even the Duchess of Medina's command hover-vehicle was rocked. Six of the enemy's nukes got through and these better-aimed weapons than the first salvo knocked out 60 of the International forces' improvised nuclear launchers and inflicted another 970 outright fatalities.

The last salvo of 240 missiles was readied from the international forces' launchers. These were targeted directly at the anti-missile systems to open up a path for the remaining sixty-three missiles which some of the other races' launchers, with more copious reserves, had. These systems were well-dispersed and collateral casualties were light. Six thousand of the Gilean defenders—as with the other times, predominantly the locals and the militia—were killed or mortally wounded by radiation outright as seven missiles got through. The Gilean anti-missile defences proved much more resilient than was expected, however, and when the final salvo was thrown against them a minute later, they succeeded in downing all but four. This last salvo had been concentrated at the lines, however, and was more than violent enough for only four warheads initiating, killing eight thousand of the defenders or mortally wounding them outright.

All of the heavy nuclear weapons had now been expended on both sides. Only .4 – 6.5kT nuclear recoiless rifle or anti-tank missiles were now available to both sides, and artillery shells of essentially identical yields. Around eight hundred of these had already been fired by each side, and 91% of these much slower and easier to disable or destroy weapons had been shot down by the Gileans and 96% by the international forces. The rest had served to inflict 460 fatalities on the international forces and 4,900 on the much more weakly protected Gileans. Huge gaps had been torn in the Gilean lines, and out of nearly 400,000 defenders, 32,000 of them had been killed in the first five minutes of the engagement and twice that number had been wounded. In comparison 2,350 international forces soldiers had been killed, and a roughly equal number wounded (the shielding of the international vehicles meant that unless utterly destroyed the crews suffered little) and the Gileans had essentially already entirely exhausted their weapons capable of inflicting further casualties on the international forces.

The graphic nature of those technological force disparities was now made brutally clear. Though 24% of the Gilean force had been killed or wounded in the first five minutes of the fighting, at least nominally they had the strength to continue to contest the heights: Only 11,000 of those 96,000 casualties had been from the men of the 145,000-strong Cartagenean Corps. The other 85,000, including by far almost all the fatalities, were among the militia of East Port which had chosen to support Covington, and the primitive zone forces, which were totally unprepared for this form of warfare. Considerably less than 300 of the 1,250 MBTs dug in to fight hull-down along the ridges had been destroyed or disabled. It seemed like they might still fight well and hold the ridge...

But now the batteries of the international forces' artillery were, having gained the advantage through the nuclear missile strikes, reducing the Gilean artillery with N-squared efficiency, annihilating even the highly dispersed and mobile self-propelled launchers with coordinated attacks using 5 - 6.5kT yield shells in sufficient quantities to overwhelm the anti-shell lasers, while the numbers of the rapidly dwindling Gilean artillery were insufficient to punch any of their own shells through the international defences for the rest of the battle, save around a half-dozen flukes of luck and fate. These shells furthermore inflicted considerable additional casualties among the unprotected local defenders.

In the meanwhile, the hovertanks and their scout-fighting vehicle escorts were closing at speeds of up to 200km/h against the Gilean lines from starting points roughly 25km away. The massive Taloran RGH-167 MBHTs, 250 metric tonne monsters capable of 200km/h and equipped with their own energy shields and 240mm powerguns, raced their slightly smaller but equally fast Slavian counterparts into the first contact with the enemy tanks preparing to fight their desperate struggle hull-down.

During those four additional minutes between the end of the nuclear missile exchanges and the arrival of the armoured fist of the international forces, the nuclear artillery support they were being provided had casually caused another 8,000 fatalities—all but a thousand among the poorly protected primitives and local militia—and nearly 20,000 wounded, while essentially suppressing the Gilean artillery. Another 5,000 fatalities, none of those in the Cartagenean corps, had been caused by the massive clouds of highly potent advanced nerve gasses being used by the conventional artillery of the international forces firing with maximum rapidity. More than 47,000 sentients died in the first 10 minutes of the fighting, at a ratio of twenty-three Gileans to one international soldier. The death toll would have been much higher if the Gilean regulars hadn't at least insured every single one of the defenders had a gas mask and was in highly prepared and reinforced entrenchments which were widely dispersed over a very large area of the plateau, instead of the tight defensive lines with which they were familiar.

As the international MBTs approached the enemy positions, the scouting and support IFVs abruptly launched mass salvoes of light nuclear-tipped anti-tank missiles on fire-and-forget mode and equally large numbers of recoiless rifle rounds, before turning and hastily retiring from the field. The defensive lasers on the dug-in Gilean tanks shot almost all of these down, and only another fourty-two Gilean MBTs were lost and about another 1,000 defenders killed instantly, but in doing so they unmasked their positions to the international MBTs...

The experience of Sergeant Trilisia Raujhm's five-soldier crew on the RGH-167:60789 was typical. The whole crew was in full NBC gear ontop of being in a fully sealed and radiation-shielded heavy MBHT with full energy shielding around the hull in turn. Through their suits they were wired into neural interfaces with the hovertank's computer system that allowed them to control all aspects of its operation instantaneously. As the energy of dozens of small nuclear events faded from the immediate vicinity, their visual sensors resolved the scene...

And suddenly a vast array of targets were overlaid as inter-vehicle datalinks conveyed all the information about the detected laser-firing positions, a grid interlinked with the visual scene perfectly, providing all the real-time target data they needed. The commander of their armoured brigade observed it, and immediately coordinated two salvoes of nuclear anti-tank missiles from the rack launchers fitted to the MBHTs themselves, expending their small supply of the weapons, but to good effect as they undercut the preparations of the Gileans to respond to another larger salvo.

Bodies were burning alive as the nukes detonated, flash-fried skeletons visible vaguely through the sensor feeds as the intense light faded and cracked entrenchments were revealed through the murky dust using low-visibility sensors, while craters from these small ground-bursts were navigated around and Gilean tanks were visible, having been ripped out of their positions half-underground and flung like toys by virtually point-blank hits. The tank shuddered with the shockwaves and then shuddered again...

The enemy was scarcely out of the fight. To avoid being destroyed in place they'd revved up and burst out of position and were going in close, firing shield-penetrators from their conventional guns, where the shells released a burst of energy to temporarily short out shields and then send a supra-dense sabot flinging from inside the shield barrier up against the side of the enemy tank, a clever adaptation of a technologically inferior foe.

But it wasn't an adaptation that could penetrate the side-armour of an RGH-167, even at close range. “Ghisimi! Main gun target fifty-nine degrees! Full power!” Trilisia snapped out in short succession. The turret rapidly traversed to fifty-nine degrees relative and the gunner, Corporal Ghisimi Savan, dialed in on the tank that had fired at them while the engineer on the tank, Iluvan Erash, dumped all available energy into the powergun's capacitors. The whole process took just three seconds under neural interface control and then the gun fired. No Gilean tank in existence had even frontal armour capable of repelling a 240mm powergun bolt. The tank exploded into a fireball instantaneously, its turret flung up into the air and a flaming body being violently ejected from it.

“Forward! Fifty kmh!” The forward-motion turbojets on the tank whined as the massive ground-effect fans rotated under the armoured skirt at full power, driving past the smashed out hulk as part of an armoured company movement which had already casually destroyed eighty-one Gilean tanks without a single loss, the driver Arisia guiding the massive vehicle forward through an eerie nuclear wasteland as immensely bright flashes from the action still very distant activated automatic darkening components in the sensors repeatedly.

“APC seventeen degrees!”

The turret swung around..

“MBT three fourty degrees..”

“Take the APC first!” Trilisia snapped, and the powergun immediately fired. The APC simply crumpled, ripped apart without even the sequence of events needed for an impressive secondary. “Second target, engage! Speed 100kmh!” A shot imbedded itself into the right flank armour of the tank's skirt, denting it, but not enough to threaten the operation of the blades. The turret swung and the powergun fired again. Another tank exploded.

“Watch out, 60789! There's an enemy tank platoon at six hundred meters, three hundred degrees relative and still hull down!”

“Full stop! Vilasia, get those bunkers! Reverse 50kmh—action right!”

“Prepared for rapid fire!”

A series of shells struck close around the tank as she swayed and backpedaled, the turret desperately manoeuvring to swing in and suddenly lay down a series of three rapid-fire shots into the position of the hull-down platoon. They missed. In the meantime the 2cm powergun calliope had been counter-mobile, swinging back in the opposite direction to rake a bunker which might not still have life in with enough power to definitely riddle it and open it to the radioactive atmosphere just outside.

Then two shots rocked the tank, and Ghisimi cried in rage even as she fired again with another miss: “They've jammed the turret!”

“Pull us back, Arisi, and see if you can shake it loose..” As the 60789 fell back, however, it attracted the attention of the platoon long enough for the other three tanks in its section to come up, and with viciously accurate shooting, prepared for the encounter unlike the 60789 had been, they rapidly destroyed three of the enemy MBTs with their first three shots and very quickly began to pick apart the rest of the platoon before it could manoeuvre out of its hull-down positions and retire.

The 60789, useless with its turret jammed, retired safely from the field, where NBC-recovery equipment was waiting to blast down the hull in powerful cleansing solvents and radiation dampers, before a special outer ablative microfilm on the whole of the tank's outer surface which served to absorb radiation was treated with a chemical spray which made it turn to a viscuous liquid in moments, a liquid which was easily sprayed off the tank by compressed nitrogen blowers, the ground under the tank then being sealed by a plastic spray to prevent radioactive dust from rising, or ground-water contamination, and a new ablative layer was applied to the whole tank. With the aide of several remote-controlled robots, the NBC clearing vehicle was able to clean, slough off the ablative, and re-apply another coating, in a total of three minutes—and do it to six MBHTs simultaneously They were now again safe enough that their crews could eat off their outer hulls, and the 60789 could immediately report to have its turret safely repaired.

On the heights the battle had of course continued, and it had continued like nothing else imaginable. The primitives had ended up committing the worst and last error of their lives. They had started to flee in mass. In doing so they opened themselves up to sustained attack by conventional weapons in areas that the defensive weaponry of the Cartagenean Corps was unprepared to support them in. Tens of thousands of cluster munition-packed shells were scattered over them and explosive flechette packs tore through the fleeing men, while a few 5kT-range nuke shells and plenty of nerve gas shells added to the utterly lethal mix. This phase of the battle, more really a sort of massacre, was rapidly becoming the most deadly.

Fighting had been ongoing for about 90 minutes, now, and during the last 80 minutes of the engagement another 20,000 primitives had been killed as the battle became largely conventional, but the armour was now doing it's work, and the material question was rapidly becoming the more crucial. All along the heights of the plateau the evidence of the massive superiourity of the international armour was shown in the endless visages of burned out, blasted, and shattered Gilean armoured vehicles. They had tried to stand, and their fire had more or less bounced harmlessly off the massive international MBHTs. Since the fighting had begun, the international forces had lost 31 of the 500 such massive tanks destroyed outright or disabled from all sources. The Gileans had lost 663--more than half. 94 out of 1,000 medium tanks and APCs in the international forces had been destroyed or disabled; the Gileans had lost 51% of their strength in those vehicle types.

Hundreds of nuclear devices of all sizes had initiated over the massive battlefield which was strung, end to end, over perhaps a hundred kilometers in length and fourty-five in depth between the two sides engaged with each other in the sprawling and deadly contest. Clouds of nerve gas and radioactive materials mingled insensibility in a mad chaos. And now the fleeing primitive troops, though they had managed to at least get well to the rear before it happened, were subjected to a bombardment which as noted had killed 30,000 more of them in the course of another 20 minutes.

In the meanwhile, the two prongs of the international armoured advance were swinging to engulf the heretofore unengaged and largely untouched Cartagenean Armoured Division. This mainstay, the reserve of the defences, was under General Rulos' direct command to hold in place even as the other two divisions—which were very much pro-Covington forces, unlike General Rosario's old command—had their armour torn apart in the effort to stop the enemy advance and suffered 20,000 casualties of their own, nearly half those suffered by the Cartagenean Corps so far, and were flung back out of the battlefield, retreating with more than 85% of each division's tanks annihilated in less than two hours of sustained combat, leaving the burning debris of thousands of vehicles, as well as the fried, shot, irradiated, run-over, and ground-up bodies of more than 100,000 dead and dying strewn across the plateau.

General Rulos, realizing that the flanks of the Cartagenean Armoured Division were becoming a vicious trap for the strangely untouched reserves, ordered them forward. Until, that is, intelligence was steadily gathered that showed the main bulk of the APC-bourne and heavy power-armoured infantry of the enemy, along with their MBHT reserves, pushing up directly toward the centre, the Duchess of Medina having seemingly inexplicably ordered a vicious head-to-head confrontation rather than going after the 'easy meat' of the fleeing primitives, or finishing off the East Port militia formations which had stood their ground just to get massacred by the APCs and the troops they'd disgorged, the remnants of those units still fighting despite having taking 10,000 casualties of their own. To go forward now was to tempt Cannae, and even though he might destroy the equivalent of an enemy division in going down...

I'd just condemn another thirty thousand of my boys to death, the General concluded with a heavy, heavy heart. Very unwilling ones, who preferred, as he, to serve a far better leader than Covington ever could have.

“Contact the enemy commander,” he ordered quietly. “Now. While there's still time.”

Soon, the familiar and strange accent of the Taloran General could be heard filling Rulos' mobile command post. “General Rulos, you would not contact me now without good reason, and I assume we both know this reason...”

“Yes,” Rulos rasped in response. “I want a cease-fire to negotiate the surrender of my men.” He was not certain if the Talorans were accept such a request or not...

“Granted.” Frayuia didn't even have to think about it. “We are halting fire immediately and pulling back for safety. Signal all of your units to do the same, General Rulos. At once. I have had enough of this wanton butchery. The honour of your army is upheld; now, you must be a moral man. Secure your units, and then we will arrange a meeting to discuss the terms of surrender.”

Two hours and four minutes after the battle had begun, the guns fell silent all along the ridgelines and the plateau. The theatre shields were deactivated, and the radioactive clouds allowed to escape and be dispersed into the atmosphere where their continued saturation would not utterly devastate the ground. Sunlight began to filter in through the eerie cloud formations and illuminate the field; it seemed like the battle might really be over.

Good desires far apart from grim reality, the fact was that the tough old Caliphal mercenary, General Neguib, had sworn an oath to a fellow Muslim in the al-Farani Emirate to fight to his last strength. And the political cronies commanding the 46th armoured and 37th mechanized divisions were still alive. The remnants of these severely battered divisions and whatever forces that Neguib could muster began to slip away to the rear in a disorderly fashion, with Neguib essentially in overall command.

It didn't take long for satellite intelligence to inform the Duchess of Medina, even as General Rulos' staff were desperately trying to contact the units to compel them to surrender, and being grimly ignored. A few of the theatre-shield units went with them, and could provide a modicum of defence from above...

“General Rulos, are the retreating units under your command?”

“No,” the Hispanic affirmed harshly. “They have disobeyed my orders. I think one of the mercenaries working for the primitives, a fellow by the name of Neguib, is behind this—though Covington had political cronies in command of the other divisions. If you must resume hostilities against them, I will provide all the information I can to distinguish those units from the legitimately surrendered, to avoid repercussions...”

“Do so, General. But I want you at the same time to personally come down here yourself.”

“I understand, Your Grace.”

I should have known better than to trust a force with a Moor as a high commander, Frayuia thought disgustedly. At least 43,000 troops of the Cartagenean corps were getting clean away, along with however many of the primitives could possibly contemplate fighting again after that conflagration from Hell. With the need to secure the surrendered units between her and the retiring forces, they could not immediately pursue. Most of the vehicles needed to be cleaned off from severe radiation exposure, anyway...

Well, they shall, at least, not pose any serious threat to us again. Their nukes are essentially expended—I would not be surprised if the retreating forces only have two or three dozen of the lightest type left—and their numbers are less than a third of those in modern troops they once enjoyed. She concentrated after that on the reports of the final casualty lists from the battle for the international forces, and it was this list that she was reviewing when, an hour and twenty minutes later, General Rulos arrived and his command vehicle was decontaminated to allow him to exit and approach Frayuia's.

As he entered the command centre from which Frayuia had directed the course of the battle—his NBC gear removed in the airlock--she tapped in a command, and the holo-tank shifted to show a view of the casualty lists for her own forces, and the estimates for the enemy:


3,219 KIA confirmed.
488 MIA estimate.
7,070 WIA estimate.

38 MBTs destroyed or disabled, confirmed.
92 IFVs and medium tanks destroyed or disabled, confirmed.
6 IFVs unaccounted for.
102 artillery pieces and missile launchers destroyed.

Cartagenean Corps and Militia:

approx. 45,000 casualties.
approx. 60,000 surrendered.
approx 40,000 escaped.

20,000 casualties.
20,000 surrendered.


approx. 90,000 killed out of 210,000, and at least 80,000 wounded.

“General Rulos, was it worth it?”

The man stared up at the blaring, bright green figures and hovered, mouth open, in quiet shock. It was only now that the magnitude of the slaughter reached him, of the men who had insisted to stay.. And nearly half of them had paid the ultimate price for it because they had no conception of what the fight would be like.

He drew his sword.. And threw it to the floor of the command centre. “I have no honour left, General, for me to offer you. I should not have let this battle reach such a mad point.”

Frayuia smiled gently and stood up, walking slowly around the holoprojector as her daughters watched and wondered about what would happen. She bent down, herself, and picked up the sword, looking it over, and then, with a bow and a flourish, offered it to the utterly broken General who seemed now on the verge of utter emotional and mental collapse.

“General Rulos, keep your sword. And keep in mind, also, that the Lord of Justice has mercy in His infinite heart. You did your duty to the country you had sworn a sacred oath to defend. Now it is your's, also to seek forgiveness for what that required, for what that became. What was done out of noble and honourable intentions can certainly be forgiven in time.

“Now, as for the matter of the surrender.”

“I will accept whatever your terms are, Your Grace,” he half-mumbled.

“Then I will moderate them as though we had actually negotiated,” she answered. “I'll grant all your officers, militia and regulars, parole, with swords and sidearms for defence. The regular soldiers will be disarmed and, if belonging to a community which has sided with the international forces, will be released. Otherwise they will be quartered in the houses of the citizens of East Port and not allowed to leave that city until the cessation of hostilities, on penalty of field execution for violating the terms of their surrender. Your officers on parole, yourself included, may go wherever you please as long as you do not take up arms against the international forces. Any officers who refuse parole will be imprisoned in the fleet above until a final determination of their status can be made.”

“You.. You are very merciful, Your Grace..”

“No! Not mercy..” Frayuia sighed. “I have just killed to many people in my life to suffer from the malady of vengeance ever again. Now go, General, and see to the parole of your men.”

Genera Rulos saluted stiffly and turned, leaving with a single security guard as an escort.

Frayuia looked around for a long moment. Her eyes fell on her chief of staff, and avoided her family. “Inform General Lazarevic of the terms of surrender and that he should begin processing the prisoners. He is in temporary charge until tomorrow, when the situation should be ordered enough for us to begin the dash to Kalunda.”

“Of course, General.”

Frayuia nodded at the acknowledgement, and turned away from all, her ears down. She went straight back to the little room reserved for her personal confessor. Nothing else could possibly be suitable at the moment, or possible to think about, than to acknowledge to God that as the collateral damage for cracking the defensive position of the Cartagenean Corps, she had slaughtered perhaps ninety thousand primitives incapable of genuine resistance, who, whatever their crimes, her noble heart could not permit her to think deserving of being subjected to such a one-sided butchery.

But if they are desperate, or hopeless enough, I will have to execute several more before this is done. And for the reason to that, also, I must trust Farzbardor and Him only.

DAY 50
Kalunda Riverfront.

The old stone bridge was near the edge of the equally old city walls. It had been built upstream of all the piers and quays of the old city so that sailing ships could dock downstream of it. Upstream of the bridge the water levels of the river gradually declined to the point that only barge traffic was possible, and Kalunda had never had any desire of allowing sailing ships and other large vessels to go past it, even including, and perhaps especially, the big steel barges which brought goods from the outside world. It made the city profitable, a wall across the river as much as a bridge.

Fourty stone arches carried the bridge across the river, with approaches built on fill on either side. The modern vehicle/pedestrian cantilever bridge had been blasted down fairly easily enough when Jhayka's orders reached King Julio, and he decided to act upon them, trusting the words of his Marshal even when she was just recovered from injuries which had come within the barest thread of taking her life.

By this point, Trajan had got most of his battalion back across the old bridge. Leading a single company he remained behind, refusing the entreaties of the Taloran corporal, Rishiva, who had ended up one of the company commanders in the force, to keep a stronger guard until the bridge had been blown. He had sent her away and resolved to stand with a single company.

The enemy's attacks were falling fast and hard upon their position. The artillery, though, was only firing shrapnel to avoid damaging the bridge, and this made it easy to withstand in their power armour. Elements of a full Stirlin infantry division were involved against them, but fighting out on the highly built-up bridge approaches, there was scarcely any room for a mass of men to approach them.

All around the crossfire was murderous, but as long as limited numbers of men were forced to push down the causeways on the bridge approaches proper, to actually get at his positions, they couldn't overwhelm the defending company. Perhaps even after they'd expended their ammunition they could hold... But they shouldn't be placed in such a position where that was necessary.

Then the explosives on part of the spans of the bridge failed. There were a total of thirty-four arched spans across the bridge, some of varying size, and a simple mistake had placed a charge for one of the main spans on one of the narrower spans. This might seem like overkill, but actually it was the reverse. The main spans, longer, had more structural stresses and weight, and were easier to collapse. The massive medieval construction of the shorter arched spans made them much more resistance, and in the middle of the blown-down sections, a lonely arched section of the bridge was left.

As the dust cleared, the magnitude of the issue was obvious to all of them, including Trajan himself. "They can bridge it now!" He growled outloud, and cursed to himself, having learned enough about this sort of combat to know full-well that the Stirlins could bring up bridging equipment across the gaps.

Admiral Danielle Verdes had a problem of her own with the attrited remnants of her river flotilla. She could try to evacuate both remaining garrisons on the south bank at once, or take one, and then the other. Her fleet was facing murderous fire, and was already very weak, even with all the last civilian craft conscripted-and they could not last long. The orders to evacuate the remnant garrisons had been unwanted at best, and a short battalion remained for her to get off around the remnants of the New Bridge.

To keep her force together for the best protection against the enemy, she had elected to evacuate it first, simultaneously, with every resource available. It seemed obvious that Trajan's men could wait longer in their power armour. Then the failure of the centre span to be destroyed added a major kink in those plans. It would have to be taken out. The city now lacked the heavy artillery to do; men would have to be landed on the section and new charges set.

That would require vessels from her force, vessels would be lethally exposed if sent alone, while slowing the evacuation operation. A grim decision would have to be made; Trajan would have to hold with his company until the first evacuation had finished, and then serve as a distraction while new charges were set by the whole of the massed flotilla, which could then only take them off in the usual stages, one platoon covering the others in the company, and then a few men covering the rest before swimming for it.

Danielle was brutally aware, too, that the river was untenable for her once-proud flotilla now. This would be their last mission; they would take losses on it; and the surviving boats would then be grounded in the well-protected canals, stripped of arms, and their crews sent to the lines. It was a last hurrah, and one that might also kill every single one of them left...

But I know that Jhayka is awake again, and sent these orders. Julio said as much. The relieve force is coming and cannot be long in arriving. We can hope again! We can live again! Hang on, Trajan, we're coming for you. The enemy's artillery got lucky, and one of her last gunboats shuddered bodily and began to list, though it still doggedly plowed forward in the muddy and waste-strewn waters of the Kalundas to cover the civilian craft taking off the battalion. It was a reminder, but also damage that would make their continued operations that much more dangerous, and take that much longer to execute.

Trajan would have a while to wait with his men. And somehow Danielle knew that even when they had been rescued, the brave and powerful Clansman would be the last to leave the position, fighting for the honour of a liege-lady of a foreign species, who three months before he had not even known to exist, and to protect the men over whom she had given him responsibility. But that was his way, and saving him-that would be her's.

DAY 47

Soon combat would begin again, and Trajan relished the opportunity to rest and prepare himself for it. His unit had been in action for very long, much longer than Clan warriors were typically accustomed to.
Perhaps that was why the Clans were destroyed, he thought to himself. Our ways acted to minimize violence with ritual and tradition. To these people it is neither, but total and unyielding. Fighting until one side has been crushed. Maybe that is why....

"Ah, my friend, I thought I would find you here!"
Trajan looked up from the ration he was eating at the sound of the crackly, hoarse voice of Ro'takh. The elder Klingon was in a tattered uniform. "Ro'takh, you are doing well?"
"Yes. I have cheated Death much in these past few days," the old scholar-monk boasted. "It has been glorious."
"It has," Trajan agreed. He placed his ration down.
"They say that the river fleet extracted your liege out from under the enemy," Ro'takh said. "It has been a good day."
"Certainly, but I have heard her survival is still uncertain," Trajan replied sullenly.
"I see. But no fear, for she has a warrior's spirit as well, and I have no doubts that she will survive." Ro'takh looked up. "It was good to see you again, Trajan. I hope to share bloodwine with you after the city is relieved and our victory is secured."

"Before you go, Ro'takh, I would ask a favor of you."
"What is it, Trajan?"
"Juliana." Trajan looked up to him. "Should the Princess and I both fall, should none be left to watch over her.... I ask that you find her a place where she will be happy."
"I swear on my honor that it will be so," Ro'takh promised him. Taking out a blade, he cut his palm and let his blood drip to the soil. "On my blood, your charge will have the life you desire for her."
"Thank you, my friend."

DAY 50

The roar of weapons echoed continuously through the air as Trajan's company held fast. The weapon in his arms roared continuously as he and his soldiers held out for evacuation.
The fate of the city was in his hands. The fate of the Princess Jhayka, of her lover Danielle, of the priestess Illavna, of his friend Ro'takh, all came down to Trajan holding out long enough for Danielle's ships to finish the evacuation and bring the bridge down.

The enemy shrapnel fire was harmless, and the Stirlins came across his position with increasing ferocity, leaving piles of their dead on the approaches to the bridge while his company poured fire into them.
But ammunition was starting to run low. It had, in fact, been running long for a long while, but there had been the promise of resupply from meager reserves until the bridge had been blown. Now they only had what they had. Trajan ordered his troops to conserve fire as much as possible, even if they let the Stirlins get closer, as the purpose here was to stall them until the bridge's central span could be eliminiated.

The thunderous roar of their guns lessened, but did not fully end, bullets cutting down Stirlin soldiers like so much wheat before a scythe. Occasionally the stronger bark of a larger-caliber rifle would bark out from those of his men tasked to eliminating any enemies with anti-tank weapons capable of piercing their battle armor, but there were precious few of those for the moment, and still more enemies to come.

Amidst the shooting and what was left of the enemy artillery raining down around them, Danielle strode up onto the main deck of the Liberty in full uniform. Her sword dangled from one hip, her sidearm from the other, and a concentrated look on her face as the smoke and stench of battle made her lungs ache and her eyes water. Men were clambering off of one of her boats to the surviving bridge span, re-setting the charges while they were under fire. Around them her fleet had gathered, preparing to race in and get Trajan's men out of their positions as soon as the bridge was finished off. As had happened before, her river fleet was deciding the fate of the city.

The enemy's artillery was slowly starting to change focus on her boats, the forward spotters informing their commanders of the opportunity presented by the bridge's partial survival and the clear Kalundan attempts to finish the job. The shrapnel fire adjusted and started focusing itself around the bridge.
The men hurriedly trying to set the detonators were relatively shielded by the bridge structure, but it was slaughter on Dani's fleet, as every man or woman on deck was under risk of being ripped into by shrapnel. Dani watched one of her deck girls collapse, shrapnel having ripped her guts open, and was pulled away from the deck by a subordinate. "I apologize, Admiral, but it is too dangerous out here!" the woman cried as the boats' decks were abandoned.

They came to the armored door leading to the bridge, and Dani stepped to the side to allow a girl with a wounded arm to be brought through first.
In doing so, she saved her life.... and doomed the girl.
A sudden blast came from within the compartment of the Liberty, courtesy of an anti-tank round fired from shore. The round hit her depleted magazine, which is another thing that saved Dani's life as the explosion was not enough to tear the boat apart immediately and kill her but merely throw her and anyone else on the deck into the dirty, bloodied water of the Kalunda River.

Dani thrashed about in the water. Her full uniform was too heavy to swim well, and as soon as she caught herself going under her hands went down to her jacket. Bubbles and thrashing water obscured her vision as she, in a near panic, shed the uniform down to the strapless silk bra beneath and the shorts under the trousers. Loosened enough to swim, she forced herself to the surface. Her eyes were stinging from the water, her lungs gasping in the squalid and smoky air so quickly that it hurt.
The remains of the Liberty were around her, debris blasted loose while the bulk of the boat was settling on the bottom of the river. Dani looked about and saw a number of figures in the water. She went to one tan-skinned girl and lifted her out of the water, just to see that her throat and chest had been ripped open by shrapnel and she was already dead.
There was a gurgling sound that came to Dani's attention and she looked over to see, amongst the dead and debris, a figure struggling to grasp a piece of debris. She swam over and lifted the arm up to bring the person to the surface. She recognize the girl as Luminia Tuvaia, a commoner Kalundan girl who, while only being nineteen, was already the mother of two daughters who had lost a father in the earlier battles of the siege. "Don't you die on me," Dani muttered to the girl. "Think of your girls and hang on." She pulled the girl's arm over her shoulders and began to kick toward the bridge. It'd be nearly impossible to get back aboard a boat in this artillery barrage.

She soon realized that Luminia was weakening, and looked down to see the pool of blood around them. Oh God, she's wounded.... "We're almost there," she grunted, seeing the shore not too far away.
Dani took another few kicks and a sudden pain went through her right hip and buttock. She cried out, holding on for dear life, and used her free hand to, for a moment, reach back. She felt her ripped flesh and something metallic, and the thought I just got shot in the ass went through her mind (even if it was more likely shrapnel and not a bullet from the south bank).
With only one leg able to move, Dani began to flounder in the water. The girl's weight was pulling her down and the shore was still so far away....
I'm not going to drown here, God dammit I'm not going to survive all of this fucking crap to MOTHER FUCKING DROWN IN THE GOD DAMNED RIVER!!! "Wake up God dammit! Wake up!"
But it was to no avail. Luminia was still unconscious, and both of their heads began to drip below the murky, bloodied surface of the river...

The ammunition was running out, and still the Stirlins came. Trajan gave the order for those without ammunition to withdraw to the water; remaining they did no good, and he wanted to preserve as many as possible.
With his personal weapons out of ammo, Trajan had no weapon save for his body, and it would have to be enough as the reduced volume of fire allowed the Stirlins to grow ever closer. He noticed they were slacking their attack off; undoubtedly waiting to marshal enough numbers to overwhelm his position in one strong push.
"Cowards!" he bellowed. "I am Trajan, a son of the House of Osis, born a warrior of the Smoke Jaguar Clan! The blood of Franklin Osis runs through my veins! This bridge is mine, and I challenge any of you cowards to come and take it from me!. Or are you no better than the Normans and only brave when you are facing the helpless, you stravag barbarian filth?!" When there was no immediate response, Trajan sneered. "I see you are as cowardly as the Normans are, Stirlins! You are no warriors, and you are unworthy of death at my hand!"
The taunt caught the blood of some of the younger and hotheaded Stirlins, young boys and girls who were ready to prove themselves and end the daily abuses they suffered from their own people. They charged forth, screaming, and it prompted the enemy to attack before he was ready. Again Trajan's people let loose with what ammunition they had left, mowing the enemy down even as his sheer numbers allowed him to get closer and closer.

The sky behind them lit up. Trajan looked back in time to see the dust rising from where the bridge's central span had been successfully detonated. The enemy would no longer be able to threaten a crossing here. "All warriors, fall back!" He waved them backward, everyone firing and retreating as they went.
The Stirlin attack did not relent, even with their chance lost. They could still eliminate his unit, after all, depriving the Kalundans of an elite force necessary for the defense of the north. Trajan was determined to prevent his.
The company fell back, their numbers thinning as men went into the river and swam for the evacuation boats, or even jumped from the ruined spans of the bridge onto boats waiting below. The unit was virtually out of ammunition at this point, but they had fallen back to the entry onto the bridge, with only about fifteen or so feet of width. "Sir, we must withdraw!" One of the Talorans grabbed his arm.
"Go, now! I shall cover the unit's escape!" Trajan stepped forward, knowing that the infantry weapons the Stirlins had could not harm him. They rushed for him, their blood up, each eager for a chance to rip his guts out. He could smell their rage in the air, could feel his heart race and the blood of his body flow through him with warmth. A smile crossed his face as he raised his left hand in preparation for the leading Stirlin, an officer of some form. The snarling, long-haired brute was shooting at him, bullets bouncing off his armor, all the way until Trajan's left arm shot forward and his armored left hand gripped the Stirlin by his neck. Trajan squeezed and the Stirlin's spine shattered in his grip. His right hand ripped the sword off the Stirlin's belt and he tossed the dead man to the side.

Another gaggle of Stirlins was next, and they fell to one swipe of Trajan's blade, his strength forcing the steel clear through their necks. They all fell headless before him. Roaring with battlelust to meet the Stirlins' own, Trajan swiped the weapon again and removed the heads of another line of enemies. Their own bloodrage subsided enough that they slowed down a bit, their officers (or what passed for them) trying to get control of their men before they got themselves slaughtered.
The Stirlins were going to bring up anti-armor weapons, Trajan knew, so he took it upon himself to buy his men a bit more time, and make himself a slightly harder target, by attacking. He roared again and dove into their ranks, the men behind them using up the last of their ammunition to prevent any attempts to outflank Trajan until they, too, joined the others getting into the water and onto the boats.
The attention of the Stirlins was entirely upon Trajan at that point. In their midst, he took on an otherworldly aura as the sword he had claimed from their dead cleaved through them, men dying even from the strong blows of his free hand crushing their skulls. With that hand he claimed a warhammer from another Stirlin, both arms flying about and Stirlins dying under them while the mass of troops desperately tried to shoot him with rounds that could not get through the armor on his body.
Soon the Stirlins began to actually retreat, as their officers had desired, but more from the terror that struck their ranks as they saw the battle-armored behemoth scything through them. He was no longer Human, but a Demon....

From a boat off the shore, Ro'takh watched while his men secured the battle armor troops. He could scarcely believe his eyes at the sight, as Trajan scythed through the enemy, a man against an army, and forced them to retreat. His poetic heart rejoiced in what seemed to be the perfect outcome to the Klingon epic that Trajan's life had been.
One of the militiamen looked to Ro'takh from the bow of the little fishing ship he had appropriated to help with the evacuation of the southern bank. "Sir, all are aboard! We must go!"
Ro'takh cupped his hands and shouted, "Trajan! Come, friend!"
He knew it wouldn't matter, that Trajan wouldn't hear him, not just over the whistle of artillery or the roar of battle, but in the roar of Trajan's own heart.

The crimes of the Stirlins were manifold. The murdered villages, the raped children, the slaughtered innocent. Trajan knew that they were in some ways even more evil than the Normans were.
He thought of Juliana. Her pleasant, happy smile. Her soft hands.
He thought of what had been done to her that night. Her tears, her screams, as Tarl Ikmen and his entourage had raped her so viciously, following the Gorean customs of the Norman people.
He thought of the horrors the Stirlins would have visited upon her given the chance.
And he revelled in being able to slaughter them like this.

Trajan had finally been granted the chance to fulfill Franklin Osis' purpose for him, made so long ago. He was a warrior of the Smoke Jaguar Clan, of Osis' own blood, charged with protecting the weak from the strong. He had been given the honor of carrying it out, of protecting the innocent people in Kalunda from the raping, slaughtering hordes of Ar and the Stirlin.
There was the slightest sound in his ear, and Trajan turned away from the slaughter in time to see Ro'takh aboard a vessel, calling out to him. His men had escaped, it was time to go.
He turned and saw the Stirlin anti-tank RPG coming up. A weapon that could shatter Ro'takh's vessel with ease.
He knew what he had to do.
Charging forward, Trajan howled in rage and charged the Stirlin woman with the RPG launcher. She snarled at him and lifted it at him. He brought his warhammer down and shattered her skull, splattering her brains.
Her finger tensed.
In death, she pulled the trigger on the launcher.

The RPG slammed into his chest and exploded, blowing apart the woman's body. The armor blew away under the impact, exposing Trajan's chest. The explosion ripped through his body and threw him backward, shards of his armor being pressed through the incinerated flesh. Pain shot through, hot pain like he'd never felt before.
Feet pressed down on him. He felt blades press into the unarmored flesh, cutting him and striking his stomach. He felt the steel cut through his guts and roared in agony. His left fist clenched and his warhammer went up, bashing the brains out of a Stirlin standing over him.
But there were too many.

A roar of gunfire filled the air and men cleared from around Trajan. He forced himself up, ignoring the pain in his belly. He dropped the warhammer and put his left hand over his wounds, keeping his intestines from coming out. Bleeding heavily, he forced himself to the shore and waded into the river, coming up to his neck until he arrived at the fishing boat Ro'takh commanded. Ro'takh's militamen kept up their fire, spraying the shore with bullets and preventing the Stirlins from attacking again.
Straining with every muscle, Trajan roared and used both arms to begin pulling himself onto the boat. One, then two, and finally up to five men helped pull him aboard, his weight initially so much that the boat listed hard and he feared it would capsize.
It's motor roared to life and it pulled away from the shore just as artillery from one of the few remaining gunboats ripped through the Norman formation. Trajan was brought to the main deck, where Ro'takh kneeled over him. "Trajan! Trajan, my friend..."
Every word was pain as Trajan spoke. "I... did my warriors.... get clear?"
"They did, friend." Ro'takh looked down at Trajan's massive chest and all of the blood and gore there, the incineration from the RPG joined by the strong stabs of the Stirlins.
"I..." Trajan coughed and blood came from his mouth. "Juliana...."
"She will be taken care of, Trajan. One way or the other, she will be taken care of." Ro'takh clasped hands with the fallen warrior. "Trajan, you saved our lives and those of your men. The entire city, in fact, has been saved due to you."
"I... have finally... succeeded....in something..." Trajan grinned bitterly, coughing up more blood.. "I... I am going to die.... friend... Please.... go to Lootera... Huntress... my sibkin.... go to Tristan, the warrior who.... trained me.... let them know how I died.... let them know what I have done.... honorable or not.... They deserve that... much..."
"I will do that, dear friend." Ro'takh nodded to him, drawing close so that Trajan could hear him in his final moments. "I will tell all of what you have done. I will tell the Princess itl dhin Intuit that you have fulfilled your oath to her to your last breath, and I will tell all of your story. My friend, Klingons will sing your name for the next thousand years."
Trajan smiled at that, but his reply was lost in a cough of blood.
"Go to Sto'Vo'Kor, Trajan, and join your ancestors. I look forward to seeing you again at it's gates...."
Trajan nodded weakly at that. His head fell back, his chest stilled, and he was dead.

Ro'takh looked down at the stilled body of the warrior he had so recently befriended for several long seconds, even as the roars of battle echoed around them still, the Stirlins shelling the boats as they left the area.
Then his head shot up, and looking up at the smoke-filled sky, a roar came from Ro'takh's lungs, the death howl of tradition to mourn the passing of another.

Dani's body was pulled from the river by a passing boat and forced aboard by the men of the Abigail Adams, one of her newest and few surviving gunboats. She was laid out on the deck, her lips turning blue, her eyes shut. "She's not breathing!" one of the men shouted, leaning over her. Having been trained in CPR, as all river personnel, he began to thrust down on her stomach, while another man ran over and leaned over her head. At the signal he breathed into her mouth.
From the bridge, the ship confirmed they'd found her, and informed King Julio that she wasn't breathing.
"C'mon, get up Admiral...." another man muttered as those without duties watched their crewmates try desperately to revive her. Another round of chest presses and breaths went by and nothing happened. They started another....
Nothing happened.
Last edited by Steve on 2007-04-16 03:34am, edited 3 times in total.
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Post by Steve » 2007-04-16 03:34am

DAY 50/51.

“Ah, I'm not sure how to say this, Ilavna..” Sarina began delicately, and the Taloran woman, staring in rapt attention at the screen with the Stirlin Brigadier in the background making herself scarce, gave a slight shudder.

“Just say it plainly... Something has happened to Danielle, has it not?”

Sarina paused for a moment, to remind herself that she was dealing with a psion, and an excellent reader of emotions, and nodded gently. “She's dead, Ilavna. There's nothing else to be done about it. She drowned in the river rescuing one of the crewers on her flagship, during the evacuation of the Old Bridge force. Ah, the clan retainer of the Marshal's, Trajan, was also killed in action..”

Ilavna quailed at that and flung her head away, eyes watery though as always with Talorans no other sign of crying was possible. “The Lord of Justice has given a punishment to my liege, which will take me many years to understand.” A convulsive shudder ran through her body.

“Well, we fought for your city on account of that woman, and her honour brought her to die here as well, and her love. I am certain that the Lord of Justice will be merciful to her soul; and that of Trajan's, will be received in the finest fashion by the Sword. That this has happened today...”

“I know.” Sarina was utterly morose. “We've received a communication from the fleet above. As it happens, the Duchess of Medina is reporting a tremendous victory. She has completely routed the enemy and compelled the surrender of three divisions. There's no force between her and Kalunda. They'll be here in four days. I can't believe we've lost her on this day... And I know that without her the city would have fallen, Jhayka wouldn't have stayed, when the war finally came. We will try to make her at home for that....”

“There's nothing you can do,” Ilavna responded, despondent. She could only imagine her liege-lady once again the morose, neurotic, fragile creature that had started this journey, thoroughly broken. Or worse—can anyone survive this twice? “Let me go and tell her. And leave us absolutely alone. Under all circumstances.”

“Understood,” Sarina replied. She was busy enough as it was... Now that the evacuations had succeeded combat had for the moment ceased, but they had to shift troops and prepare for the possibility of assaults to come against the north bank city.

The channel was closed, and Ilavna glanced to the Stirlin brigadier. “Mourn for her, also; she is your life.” With that curt comment she left the prisoner alone and went for the room in which the Taloran medical equipment had been set up to aid Jhayka's healing.

The Taloran Princess was sleeping still. Ilavna waited many standard hours for her to awaken from her sleep, until it was certainly quite close to midnight. When she did it was a slow and fitful then, though it was clear now that she had more strength than she had earlier in the day. Under the latest and most expensive portable equipment that money could be buy, as had been available on the General Faeria, she was recovering rapidly.

Those dead-fish eyes looked over curiously at the graveness of Ilavna's expression when she finally mustered words to speak. “Did they take the bridges before my warning, my dear Ilavna?”

“No. The warning was heard. It was obeyed. The bridges were destroyed or swung out of position. The enemy did not get across. Almost all of the troops in the bridgehead positions were rescued.”

“Good. What is amiss, then? Surely the Duchess of Medina has not been repulsed...”

“She has won a signal victory, I am told, over the defenders on the heights above East Port.”


“Yes, Your Highness.”

A fragile arm trembled and pushed aside the covers, pointing to Ilavna. “How badly?”

“She's dead, Your Highness. She perished rescuing the life of one of the sailors from her gunboat when it was sunk beneath her feet as they went to evacuate...”

The explosion was sudden, incredible, and vicious, an explosion of black and bitter rage, years and years in the coming, and dangerously unlike the reaction that Ilavna had expected. “HAS MY SIN DOOMED EVERYONE I LOVE? BUT HOW COULD I LOVE THEM WITHOUT THEM? BY GOD, SURELY I AM DAMNED!”

Ilavna's eyes were watering again, her ears tilted back, embarrassed, ashamed, as the princess shifted to her side and lay shuddering there. “Please, Your Highness, there is life beyond this. There is forgiveness.”

“I killed her. My orders killed her.” She tried to spit, but her throat was too dry, and so she just continued her bitter words. “A fitting tribute to pride and lust. I killed her!

Ilavna inhaled sharply. She had feared her mistress would commit suicide. Now it seemed that, instead, the Lord of Justice was finally and most dramatically touching her toward a grim recognition of her own sin.

“It was my lust who kept her here, and my pride in my own rightness that sent her forth... I am a damned sinner through and through,” Jhayka continued rambling.

“Your Highness, my liege. There is penance... And with it, surety of the Lord Justice's mercy not only for you but for poor Danielle's soul. She, at least, died innocently and courageously in the heat of battle, saving the life of another. That is an accomplishment worthy of any in the hosts of Valera, where you may yet be reunited in due time....”

“Penance, penance.. Yes, yes, penance...” Jhayka trailed off, and for a few long minutes there was total silence.

Then there was a loud rap on the door. Ilavna delicately rose to go to it, trusting that surely Jhayka could not do anything to herself in a short period of time. She opened the door to find someone there whom she had not expected at all; in fact, whom she had expected to be in mourning. Amber d'Kellius.

But before the woman could speak, there was a cut-off wail of agony from the medical table where Jhayka lay and a squeal of warning alarms coming on a split second too late with more being added. The two turned in horror, and Ilavna saw Jhayka having ripped her IV's and blood-cleaning and nanite insertion lines out. And holding them clenched in her strong right fist, striking and plunging with them again and again into her face and eyes, with the incredible pain resistance her long service, and before it, harsh childhood, had brutally gifted to her.

Ilavna rushed to her side, and was met, as the grip on the needles was abandoned, with a disturbingly cool comment from Jhayka:

“There was the temporal penance, confessor. Give me the spiritual.”

The sinner had recognized her own sins; and as thoroughly as the human Oedipus had scourged himself, so had she.
”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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Post by Steve » 2007-04-19 04:47am

Kalunda, Gilead

DAY 51

The image of Jhayka's bloodied eye sockets was still haunting Amber while she laid upon her bed in her underwear, the BDU of a Crimson Guard infantrywoman laid out on a nearby table to put in when it came time to head back up.
Sarina was on the bed beside her, having cried herself to sleep over the course of the night. Her lover, the Baroness Joanna d'Tumia, had died fighting on the northern bank in a skirmish that would now likely fade into obscurity due to Trajan's stand at the bridge and the evacuation from the southern bank. Amber dared not touch her little sister for fear of awaking her, as she figured Sarina needed all the rest she could get.

She thought back to what had happened, when she had been treated to the sight of the Princess Jhayka's reaction to word of Dani's death on the river; she had taken out her IVs and thrust the needles into her eyes like some kind of madwoman, a horrifying sight that Amber would probably take to the grave with her. It struck her as an act of insane grief, a self-mutilation she'd never quite understand.

This was made all the more horrible by the fact that Dani was alive.

The word had come in just after Illavna had left to inform Jhayka. Medics had succeeded in clearing the water from her lungs and saving her before she could die. There was no word on her condition yet, of course, but armed with this news Amber had run off as fast as she could to bring the good news to Illavna and Jhayka, just in time to see Jhayka blind herself in fit of fury. At that point nothing else could be said, not at the moment, and Amber had left the room and only informed Illavna after she emerged, Jhayka asleep again.

There was a gentle knock at the door. Amber pulled a silken robe over herself and tied it at the waist. She went to the door and found Illavna there, looking deceptively serene and full of contemplation. Amber slipped out into the hall and gently closed the door behind her. "I'm sorry I can't invite you in. My sister, she has lost her lover to the skirmishing on the north bank."

"It's not good news, anyway, Amber," Ilavna replied simply. "Please brace yourself for this... But the medics from the fleet who evacuated Danielle before moving her up to the Alliance hospital ship.... Had a very poor take on her condition." Now that the Cartagenean Corps had been smashed, and with the local AD essentially destroyed, it was becoming possible for regular shipments and emergency medical evacuations to reach the city with relative impunity, especially with their enemies concentrating all their assets to defend the evacuation of their forces on the south bank over to the north bank. "Are you prepared to hear..?" Ilavna asked, gently, and offered her arms to Amber to hold the human woman. It was clear that despite her serenity and calmness the news she was going to tell would not be good.

Amber felt a chill at Illavna's words, a growing dread as she could tell the young priestess was trying to soften what would be a very hard blow.

"She's in a vegetative state, Amber," Ilavna explained very gently. "There's essentially no brain functions whatsoever. She's being kept alive entirely by machines. There's some hope that the finest medical treatment in the multiverse... May aide in a recovery. But it's been almost twenty-four hours since she was wounded and the prognosis for it.. Is very bad. They're going to be immediately doing a series of micro-surgeries using programmed nanites, and constructing artificial pathways in the brain, attempting information recovery and transfer from dying cells... Replace half the nervous system. A lot of the basic brain stem functions may be replicated by machines.. But it's an even guess as to if Danielle, the person, ever recovers." Ilavna shuddered, her ears flexed down. "I'm praying for her. But she'll need someone to care for her, for years if she is fortune.. And forever if she is not. Jhayka cannot do it. She's... Their relationship was doomed from the start. Alien and human, noble and commoner. It was her last sin, and she suffered for it the most in her heart. I imagine she feels nothing but remorse for it.. But also for Danielle. Jhayka will provide the money..." Ilavna focused. "But I'm asking you now, to be strong, to survive, and to make sure that she is taken care of until her dying day by a living person, in addition to a trust fund. Promise me this, Amber? Be strong and true to what you've tried to make yourself."

Amber slumped against the wall, her right hand covering her face as she digested the news. "How could this happen? To her of all people?"
And how could it? Amber remembered Dani as being so full of life, humorous and witty, passionate and devoted. That's why she'd fallen so hard for her, why it'd hurt so much when she found out that Dani and Jhayka had fallen in love.
Now that would be gone. Some might yet be salvaged, but the energetic swimmer that had once frolicked with Amber in the warm waters of the Kalunda River was gone, lost to those same waters. The Dani Verdes that Amber wanted would be gone, replaced with some kind of woman-machine. How much of her would still be real? How much would be machinery?
Illavna said that Jhayka and Danielle could not be together. Amber was not so sure. Was the social and racial distinction enough to keep two people apart? As much as Amber might benefit from it, what good would being close to Dani be if Dani spent her time pining for Jhayka?

"She tried to save a life... I almost want to say that she died doing it.." Ilavna offered, quietly. "We may only pray for a miracle. Evil's forces are strong and numerous in the universe, and.. Danielle and Jhayka both had opened themselves up to the influences of the dark powers, even if, in and of themselves, they are the most wonderful and loyal of people. I can't help but feel it... The worst sort of tragedy. But it has come.. And now we must just try to do our best to deal with the aftermath. I have my liege-lady to guide back to the righteous path... And you, you have Danielle to care for, I fear. I beg of you, Amber, to accept that charge... She needs it if she is ever to return in any form to us."

"If none are left to, then yes, I will care for Danielle. But tell me this, Illavna. What 'dark powers' did Jhayka and Danielle open themselves up to? What righteous path is it that you want Jhayka to walk along when she's already been on one, considering I'm not dead or some broken slut-slave to a Norman leader?"

"They shouldn't have had sex," Ilavna answered flatly, her face flushing a sickly gray-green as though she seemed embarrassed to bring the matter up. "I--By the Lord of Justice I do wish they had been of acceptable emanation toward each other. I would have married them in a heartbeat. But Danielle was born a commoner as I was, and she is not eligible to consort with one so rich in the blood of the Heirs of Valera. And as for Jhayka, she made a choice to abandon the hard path of her ancestors, and the Lord Justice chastised her for it.. It is mercy that she is alive, after this, and after the evils that she allowed to take place before. And she has finally realized that. But, Amber, for Danielle to be caught up in this--it was not her fault. It was Jhayka's. And the penance on what she's done is very clear. She'll live with with the most hideous and artificial sensory receptors in place of her eyes as a public shame of mutilating her own body, so that all may know she did it. And I'm quite convinced... That is exactly what she intended. The rational act of a barbaric but decent individual, driven to punish themselves for their own sins... I will show her the proper atonement in the future. But it is a good sign, for now."

Amber felt a rage swelling up within her, and for the sake of herself, for Illavna, and quite possibly for any future relations with the Talorans, she did her honest best to hold back the tide. "A good sign?! She stabbed her own eyes out because I was a few seconds too late to tell you all that Danielle was alive! And what is this nonsense you speak of., that they deserved this? Jhayka and Danielle love each other, their social ranks be damned. The fact that they made love does not mean they deserved for this to happen, not when you rank it against all the good they've done!"

"I seek the redemption of her soul because I look up to her and see her as a second mother," Ilavna answered delicately, emphasizing the "mother" for its importance in Taloran society. "I desire to see her high in the hosts of Farzbardor, supping with Valera before the eternal and last battle. I desire the same for Danielle. And they both may yet have it. Certainly for Danielle there is absolutely no question.." She smiled rather weakly. "For my liege-lady I fear there is time for her to sin again. But I don't think she will. I desire the best for both of them, Amber, I truly do. But I am a faithful daughter of my faith, and follower of the teachings of the Prophet Eibermon. They could not marry." She turned away, trying to hide the tears slipping into her eyes. "And I do feel horrible for that."

Amber thought she could see conflict there, the girl's faith set against the happiness she wanted for Jhayka. "But.... they are both women and even then of seperate races. It is not as if they could have children and dilute the nobility of Jhayka's blood.... To deny them their love over such a matter is... is horrible!"

"It is the principle of the matter, I suppose," Ilavna answered very quietly. "Poor Danielle lacked the traditions and the hardness of someone raised to the nobility, by birth or by heroism... Though I'd see her ennobled now, if anyone had any righteousness, for she has such a soul. But it doesn't really matter now, does it? They're not even sure that she'll survive.." Her voice broke, and she licked her lips and swallowed hard. "We may only see the future unfold."

"I will speak to King Julio on the matter. If your people will not grant her such, our's certainly will. She has saved all of our lives, Illavna, with her gunboat fleet. She designed those ships, built them, crewed them, and led them to victories that saved Kalunda."
Still reeling from the news, Amber choked back a sob and continued, "And what if she ever recovers? What can be done for her and Jhayka then?"

"I don't know," Ilavna answered, hesitatingly... "I really don't know enough about the customs and regulations of the nobility in such matters to even hazard a guess, and..." She took a breath and looked back, grim, to Amber. "Please, don't hurt yourself by thinking she will recover. I couldn't help it. I looked into their minds. All of the medics were thinking they had a 'vegetable' on their hands. I hated them for their cruelty to her. But I fear it is right; and I can't hold it against those who must deal with so much death, anyway."

Amber slumped against the wall, overcome with emotion. The small part of her that had wished for something to happen, for Dani to yet be her's, was distraught at hearing all of this. "If it's true... if she is gone.... then they should simply let her die, it's not fair to leave her stuck as a vegetable." She clenched a fist and unclenched it. "Today has been a bad day for my family. My sister grieves for Joanna and now I am left to grieve for Dani, and to hope that Jhayka's mind is not lost. We're so close to being rescued."

"Don't worry about Jhayka. She'll be fine. I can promise you that. We're.. We're not humans, Amber. We express things in different ways. She hasn't gone insane, I promise you." Ilavna mustered herself for that. "Yes, it has been a very bad day. But the enemy's troops are withdrawing to the north bank, harried across the river with much loss of life, and we're starting to receive supplies again. This was surely their last blow..."

"It was dreadful enough. Kalunda is in ruins, priestess. Our beautiful city has been reduced to rubble by our enemies and the friends who betrayed us." Amber began weeping. "We have always had some wealth, but not enough for this. I have heard it from my sister, seen it in Julio's eyes. Kalunda will be bankrupted long before we can rebuild the shattered buildings and the crushed homes. And help from the outside is not guaranteed. How many people view us as little different from our enemies?" Amber opened her eyes toward Illavna. "There has been so much sacrifice, so many have laid down their lives for Kalunda, but I fear that despite that Kalunda will die from the wounds we have suffered in this war. Strewn into the wind along with the Normans and Stirlin..."

"Jhayka will pay, I'm sure. I couldn't see her not doing it. But don't tell Julio. That's for her to say," Ilavna answered delicately, adding.. "Her Highness.. Has never wanted."

Amber nodded silently at that.
Before she could speak some more, there was a commotion down the hall. A number of officers of the palace came out. One, a pretty young eighteen year old who served as an aide to one of the generals, turned to Amber as she ran passed, so delighted that she was still only in silk bra and dress. "Your Grace, didn't you hear?! It was just announced over the underground comms!"
"What?" Amber looked at the girl increduously as she ran off to join the gaggle. Amber looked to Illavna. "Do you want to see?"

"Let us follow them, certainly," Ilavna was glad for the distraction.

It was a short trip to the stairs that led to the surface, and with the cessation of bombings and shellings access was much easier. Amber and Illavna found themselves among a group of on-lookers who were looking skyward. At first Amber thought it was due to the jets flying overhead, as she heard the roar of their engines above, but soon she realized it was something else entirely.
The shapes in the sky were growing larger, large chests with a torch of four-colored flame emblazoned upon them and parachutes deploying as they drew near the ground. They landed with strong thunks, people rushing to get out of the way of the objects, while even more could be seen in the orange sky of sunset.
Amber watched one chest opened, and another, and people picking out what looked to be food rations, water gallons, and such. Despite not being in uniform, she took command of the situation. "Hold it there! Everyone take them to the palace grounds, we'll organize them and put them into our storage bunkers from there!"
The crowd responded to the orders and Amber looked to Illavna. "I guess it won't be long now, will it?"

"No. No it won't. Take care of yourself, Amber. You must live, to make sure that Danielle does also, whatever comes to her..." Ilavna offered, gently, and then added: "Do not worry about Her Highness, truly. I will see to her safety and health."

General Faeria, Near East Port

Fay was at her place in Arshon's Headquarters, continuing the cohesion of the combined forces under Arshon and Berglund while Erik Berglund was away at the front with his troops. Here, Arshon directed what was left of their forces in the mopping up operation and securing of East Port, allowing the Duchess of Medina to continue the advance on Kalunda, where Dani waited for rescue.
To think she stayed here for me, she gave up everything for me.... Fay shook her head. She felt guilty that she'd been the one to insist on coming to Gilead and to insist on Palm City. It had seemed like a nice place, after all. But instead, they had both suffered for it.

Fay's attention turned back to the briefing. Her purpose was primarily matters related to her engineering specialty, so her place in strategy and other issues was minor, but still desired at times. She kept paying attention to the conversation, fidgeting once and a while in her seat and the Berglund militia uniform she was wearing.
One of the operators in the room turned in his chair. "General, we have a message from orbit, one of the hospital ships."
"Really? Why?"
"They want to give a message to Miss al-Bakar, Sir."
Fay looked bewildered at that, but responded when Arshon nodded to her as instruction to see what the call was about. She brought the earpiece and mic up to her face and stated her name, waiting for the report.

To observors, it was as if she were suddenly possessed. It took only a few moments for the man on the other end to inform her that Danielle was nearly brain-dead, a comatose vegetable from near-drowning. Fay's voice was weak and dry when she thanked the person on the other end for telling her. All eyes turned toward her, and someone she couldn't even remember the name of at the moment asked her, "Is everything okay?"
"Dani's gone," she muttered. "Gone. Gone gone gone. She's gone."
"What happened?", asked Arshon.
"Brain-dead vegetable. Dani is gone. She's gone." Fay slumped down and sat on the floor of the train. "I killed her. I.... I brought her here, I didn't listen." Seeing their expressions, Fayza suddenly exploded with rage and screamed, "I KILLED HER?! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?! I KILLED HER!"
The others were too taken aback by the sudden outburst and didn't react at first as Fayza forced herself to her feet. "I killed my friend, oh God forgive me, how could I do it?! I'm such a stupid slut!"

Arshon took a step away from everything, giving a curt nod to the Berglundian Brigadier who was serving as her second to take things over, and put a hand on Fay's shoulder. Reassuring, or trying to be, without speaking.

"Don't you understand?! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!?!?! I wanted to be fucked! I wanted to be fucked and fucked and fucked and get laid and be a fucking slut and now Dani's gone and it's ALL MY FUCKING FAULT! I WANT TO DIE! OH GOD I WANT TO DIE!" Fay's crazed outburst ended as she slumped over on the floor, tears of madness and grief streaming down her face. "I want to die oh God please let me die I killed Dani I'm such a slut...."

Arshon--Priscilla Laurentii--grabbed the woman and hefted her up, ignoring her sobbing for the moment. "We're in a protected position. Carry on. It's clear that commander al-Bakar.. Is finally and unfortunately suffering the effects of her captivity." The other mercenary nodded crisply, and Priscilla helped and prodded Fayza back into the next car, where Jhayka's private suite retained a battered sense of elegance after two months without its owner, dirty and disarrayed and bloodstains in a few places, but still plenty fancy. "Do you know what I did, Fayza? You're not alone. I've done far worse things than get a friend brain-damaged..." The Devenshirite woman turned and reached for Jhayka's wine cabinet, eyes intently on Fayza.

"She didn't want to come. She wanted to go to Lisea. She didn't want to come here," Fayza sobbed, ignoring the presence of wine. "I insisted. I wanted to come here because here people are looser and I knew I'd get laid and I.... how could I? If only I'd listened to her..."

Prscilla presented her with a bottle. "Get yourself drunk. We've both got plenty of dead to forget. Or remember. Maybe both." She uncorked the bottle of port and handed it over negligently. Priscilla Laurentii had suffered getting the ability to care burned out of her, with her last decision to try and do so, and its bloody aftermath. Now she was just the image of practicality in calming Fay down and getting back to work.

At first Fay looked at it without saying anything. "It... it looks like the stuff I was given the night I was...." The memory flashed through her head. Dani had gone off with another man, leaving her to be approached by an innocent-looking guy with a bottle of port and time. They had drank their fill, flirted a little, returned to his room for a one night stand...
...and she had woken up with a slave collar and chains.
"Oh God, I brought all this upon both of us." Fay had been trying hard these past couple of months to suppress the horrible memories of what had been done to her in her weeks of captivity. But it flooded back now, the humiliation of being strung up like a piece of meat, the pain of the rapings at the hands of Oloparatho and his Norman clients, the neuro-agonizer punishments whenever she didn't do exactly as desired, the bizarre and perverted sexual tortures she had endured in Illian Berglund's hands...
Fay's mind broke under the stress. She began weeping pitifully, mumbling incoherent thoughts to herself as she relived her ordeal all at once. Her hand went up and knocked the bottle away, spilling it's contents out onto the rug.

There was nothing left to be done, and her duty required Priscilla to resume her command. She left the broken woman in the room, non-chalantly making the call for some medical personnel to come and attend to her, sedate her, anything to get her to rest.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-04-22 01:28am

Day 51,
Qinghai Gap.

“There dwelt a man in Babylon....” The soft hymn soothed Catalina Rosario's nerves as she waited for the gamble to come due or otherwise fail, and likely with it now her life. but this is our one chance to salvage something out of the madness, so it must work. She waited patiently, now, expectantly, for the signal to come, otherwise for security troops to come and make short work of her.

Even if the attack on the army headquarters succeeded, however, there was still the prospect of the soldiers resisting her. Unlikely, at best; she was far more popular than Covington could ever be with the rank and file. The risk was still palatable in the extreme as she hunkered down inside one of the cargo cars of a supply train which had arrived, only to disgorge a company-strength force of a Catholic Integralist paramilitary group—Integralismo Grupo de Acción Católico y Nuevo Partido del Estado—or “IGAC y NPE” which she had fallen back upon as a refuge and means of support since the Covington coup.

Gunshots sounded outside as the attack began, the initial sentries and the men unloading the trains having been overwhelmed outright with virtually no fighting. There was a rapid flurry of small arms fire and then silence. Those still inside the train tensed imperceptibly. In a moment there would either be a report of success, or the arrival of an execution squad. Catalina committed her soul to God and waited.

A figure appeared in the dark. Several off the others waiting in the train aimed submachineguns at him. But then they relaxed. The figure wore the dark blue shirt of the IGAC. It was Colonel Francisco Moscardo, the commander of the IGAC force that was with her. He saluted Catalina. “General Rosario.”

“Go ahead.”

“General, we have executed General Roberts for treason against the people, and have secured his headquarters. Come quickly. You must gain control of the army or this mission will be entirely for naught.”

“I'm quite aware, Colonel,” Catalina answered, rising and crossing herself before following Colonel Moscardo at a quick jog toward the centre of the army command headquarters, smoke wafting up from sections of the portable facilities slowly. “How many casualties did you take?”

“Fifteen, four of them dead, only, General.”

“And the losses amongst the defenders?”

“About fourty.”

“Good. Let's hope we don't need to spill any more blood in this bastard civil war—save that of a few deserving men,” she concluded as she stepped inside. The IGAC personnel had already set up the communications equipment to allow for a broadcast on all channels. One armoured and line corps with the support of two understrength second-rate corps, the Quanzhi militias, consisted of the forces that she was contriving to bring around to her side.

There was no time nor interest in waiting. She grabbed the mic which one of the IGAC techs had prepared for her, pausing only to ask a question: “Are we broadcasting spaceward as well?”

“Yes, General Rosario.”

“Good.” She keyed the mic on, speaking in military english instead of the Spanish she had used with Colonel Moscardo.

“Soldiers of the Gilean Armed Forces and Quanzhi Militia Establishment, this is Catalina Rosario, previously known to you as commander of this army, the South Army: I led you in the war, and I was merciful to you of Quanzhi in the settlements of your earlier surrender. You all know now that the destruction of our country is eminent.

“The apparatchik Covington and his cronies have led us into a disastrous alliance with the perverse forces in our own nation, against the desires of the whole civilized world. He sought my assassination, just as he was the true assassin of President and General Marcus de la Hoya! The old General was a good friend of mine, and I mourn his passing dearly. I also know the truth of his last orders. They were not resistance at all cost.

That is a lie. The last orders of General Marcus de la Hoya to the armed forces and the nation were to work with the international forces to guarantee the security of the whole nation and the destruction of the enclaves of perversion in our society! I will read to you now from General Order No. 1067, which the traitor Covington suppressed out of his madness:
“It is in the paramount interests of the Confederacy's sovereignty to maintain its standing as a civilized country. Therefore all enclaves are immediately disbanded, and central government control is established for the duration of the emergency, with traditional rights of all the peoples nonetheless guaranteed, insomuch as they do not violate natural law.

“In accordance with this directive, all armed forces of the Confederacy are hereby ordered not to engage the designated intervention forces, and to render them all aide, while the interior traitors and rebels must be pursued continuously with the greatest vigor. Only those who throw down their arms or join our cause shall be spared. The future of the nation can only be guaranteed through the most severe of trials and offences against our rights, for the sake of not less than our continued existence as a land and a people.”
Catalina cleared her throat, and continued, striking a bold note, now, in Cantonese she'd hypno-drugged herself into memorizing just for this task:

“Quanzhi militia! Your city gains nothing by your continued resistance. Your rights, however, I will guarantee. Fight with me and you will know of yourselves and your people only glory, and honour, and having done just and moral deeds. Stand against us with Covington and the weight of the whole civilized universe will fall upon you!”

She shifted back to military english:

“As for my status, as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces during the legitimate de la Hoya Presidency, I have turned to those politics parties which have maintained continuous resistance to the ideas of the false and traitorous Covington regime, the Nuevo Partido del Estado and the Catholic Agrarian League. On the universal recommendation of their duly established party leadership, as the sole remaining legitimate representatives of the Gilean people, I have been appoined Caudillo and Generalissimo of the Confederacy, and now possess the supreme dictatorial power in legitimate succession.

“Accordingly, using the authority vested in me by the exigencies of circumstance, and the support of the popular parties, I hereby declare General Covington and his whole regime traitors to the Gilean nation and request the assistance of every citizen in the general effort to overthrow him before his madness brings total destruction to our fair Confederacy.

“Under that understanding, the Army of the South marches on Cranstonville at once! Death to Treason! Long Live Gilead and Praise be to Christ King!” Catalina, flush with emotion, turned off the comm, and muttered to Colonel Moscardo:

“Now let's see if the unit commanders will obey our orders.”
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-04-23 12:10am

DAY 52,
East of Cranstonville

Colonel Wendy Richter was riding in a private compartment on a very high speed, 575kmh regular friction train on 7ft 1/4th inch rails toward the east of the Capitol. Here, where the terrain was broad and flat, incredible speeds could be made, and they'd be needed. It was a fusion powered military train, and it had had to come to a complete stop several times while track repairs were made from constant aerial attacks, and its shields had been tested several times by strafing fighters. Yet it was the only safe way to get to the defending army; the skies were entirely dominated by the international forces, and this courier train was the closest thing to safe which existed. And it wasn't very safe, at that.

She was reviewing the instructions she was delivering personally, given to her from the hands of the President and her former boss in intelligence (she'd been Covington's Chief of Staff before the coup), with which she was to make sure that the Eastern Army did not follow suit and defection as the “Armee de la Sur”, now under the control of General Rosario, had. It was unlikely to begin with, but Covington was worried enough to send his hatchet woman to make sure as his short-lived regime crumbled around him.

Behind her in the capitol, the poor people in the vast slums and shantytowns around Cranstonville were being armed as a People's Militia to meet the Armee de la Sur of the self-proclaimed Caudillo and Generalissimo. The loyal security services and the Republican Guard Corps, ridden with political officers wedded to the old permissive regime (unlike the second-best Capitol Corps, which was thoroughly loyal to the Army, and had gone straight to Catalina's cause without a shot in resistance), could be counted on to try and hold the capitol to the best of their ability against Rosario. If the international forces punched past General Lasaru, however, all efforts would be for naught, and they would all be doomed.

General Lasaru was a Langeist, unusually for them having left their advanced but extremely isolated society (which was much smaller in population than that of the Normans, anyway, only three millions on a tiny peninsula) and joined the military. He was an exceptional enemy of Rosario's in the officer corps, simply out of his deep misogynism, but that made him absolutely reliable to Covington. The problem being, his attitudes and his reputation as a brutal man made him no friend of the rank and file in the Army, either, and that was a critical issue now..

Suddenly the viewscreen in the compartment snappeed on. Wendy looked up in surprise, shocked that it could have activated without her authorization. Then she saw who was on it, and paled. In fact, a cold sweat immediately began. Wendy Richter was very intelligent, and for Rosario to have gone on a live feed with, in the midst of a very busy war, could only have one possible meaning behind it.

“Colonel Richter,” Rosario smiled vaguely, a very dangerous thin on her graying latin features, hardened by so many years of military service. “I want to be polite about this, so I will spare recounting what you already know about yourself.”

Wendy bit her lip, staring at the screen, disbelieving. It's been so long.. “What do you know? Tell me.”

“I know what your real birth name is.”

Wendy Richter collapsed forward, shuddering and taking in a breath. “Alright. Please don't even say it. I don't want to hear it ever again.”

“Fair enough. You poor creature. Especially since what I can release can destroy your biological family... As much as the family that you've fashioned with your husband. Whom I believe is a very notable businessman. Just like your biological father is a rather prominent Protestant minister.. A Calvinist, in fact, now residing in Plymouth, and a political as well as a preacher... Whose reputation would be ruined by this.. Hmm... Failure of morality. Though perhaps you hate him. But does your husband know?”

“No.” She just whispered, and then mustered herself: “Alright. What do you want me to do?”

“General Lasaru has taken exceptional security precautions to prevent his headquarters from being penetrated by officers in support of my policies, Colonel Richter. He cannot force any of those security procedures on yourself, however. My officers will... Make sure that you are given a bomb to place in your package of briefing materials for General Lasaru.”

“I understand. Will it... Be on a timer?”

“You mean am I going to turn you into a suicide bomber?” Rosario countered. “No, Colonel Richter. As I said, you're a poor, pitiful creature. I have no hatred for you. You will leave it there, walk out, and it will go off. Once he is killed we'll let you go. You can find your own way off planet to your husband... I don't care what either of you do after this, really. I'm only after Covington. And the preservation of my nation and the advancement of the Catholic faith.

“But if you try to deviate from your part in this plan, by any sort of warning, by any sort of effort to make the bomb fail... I'll behead you. I'll send assassins to hunt down your husband and kill him. I'll destroy your biological father's reputation and livelihood. And I'll have you buried under the name in your birth register...”

The last one was what did it. With a shudder, the woman nodded rather feebly and rose. “I'll do as your officers instruct me, General Rosario. And.... Thank you for your delicacy on the matter. Covington is doomed and we all know it.”

“The Hand of God works through the most strange and marvelous of creatures,” Catalina answered, and then she cut the connection.

Wendy Richter slumped back down, inconsolate for a while. But she soon enough realized that she had been granted a chance at life itself; and she was not one, who after so much hardship, would abandon that. So she steeled herself to assassinate a man that she hated as much as any other, in probably just a few hours... Even death she could accept, but not the prospect of her memory eternally erased, and replaced only with the memory of the monster she had once been.

With that the price of disobedience, to act as an assassin, and a traitor to her cause and the personal loyalty shown to her commander, were small enough prices to pay. It was better for her to be all those evil things than to be what she had been once before, as a memory of the dead which would last for all time, which was to her far worse than such a title as traitress could ever be.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-04-23 12:53am

DAY 52,
On the Kalundan border.

General Abd'ul-Mejid al-Neguib was loyal to the last out of principles to his oath as a Muslim to the al-Farani Emir, even if he thought the man at this point quite mad. Accordingly he had taken over the desperation operations of the past three days to settle what remained of the defending army in a position to hold off the advancing allied forces. To this, he was today aided materially by the arrival of 180,000 Stirlins of their youth and old age cohorts. His own forces had continued to lose heavily, though his rigid control had seized the situation from Covington's political generals in command of the remaining divisions of the Cartagenean Corps, and the fleeing levies.

His last stand was to be made from ambush, in the best place he could make it. Right before the Kalundan border and well less than a day's advance from the city of Kalunda itself was a region of karst land, the “Karst-Earth March” as translated from the German tongue of the locals. The ground here was riddled with massive cave systems and underground rivers where his army could be hidden, where explosive traps were being laid, where the air power of the fleet overhead could not read him, deep in the rocky ground, and where his men could rise up out of it to spread chaos through the ranks of the advancing columns.

It wouldn't be enough. Heavy bombardment from orbit could easily blast apart the caverns. The armour of the advancing international forces would be almost impossible to crack, and they could stand up to the attacks well. But he could hold out for as long as possible, and therefore buy time for his employers to complete the destruction of Kalunda, if it was still in their power to do so.

He had just that evening communicated in detail his plans with President Covington, and the desperate man had signed off on everything. Apparently he had lost contact with General Lasaru, the commander of the Army of the East, and it was uncertain about that Army's loyalty. Cranstonville was on the verge of a mass panic, and there were reports that the Right-Wing Paramilitaries of IGAC y NPE and the Irish Catholic Assault League (ICAL) had come out of hiding and were machinegunning the families of People's Militia leaders before vanishing back into the industrial districts, where the rightist Catholic-Distributivist Unions were giving them aid and hiding them from the authorities, even as armed street clashes between the members of those unions and the action cadres of the Anarcho-Syndicalist International Workers' World (or “Wobblies”, derisively used even by Neguib, who as a good Caliphal subject hated all such ideologies) were reported.

Now it was Neguib's job to make sure that his employers were still willing to do their part. The faces of the Stirlin Warleader Erqui, the Norman Ubar, and the al-Farani Emir appeared before him, all very grave.

“We've completed the evacuation of all but eleven thousand men of a single division,” Erqui began. “They've been left to keep the Kalundan forces pinned on the south bank from maneouvring against us. General Neguib, what are your own plans?”

“I intend to fight a defensive battle beginning tomorrow, when the enemy arrives, gentlemen, which God Willing will hold the relief force off for many days. We will hold in the Karstbodenmark and attack them from every side as they move through it, and force them to stop to deal with us or else see their supply lines slashed and destroyed.”

“Can you hold against their atomics?” An almost-trembling Tarl Ikmen pressed home the question. He had heard Rosario's message to the world, and he knew that their only chance, Covington's plan, was dangerously near total collapse. “You will send our last strong field army, save this one, to its destruction if you cannot.”

“I believe that raids by Stirlin troops I left behind have already crippled their remaining atomic capacity. We attacked several trains carrying nuclear artillery and succeeded, according to the reports of the attackers, in disabling them. We've been trying to tear up as much of the track as possible, but they will certainly repair it if they defeat us and will be able to continue their advance..”

“What do you recommend with Kalunda?” the al-Farani Emir now asked. “How shall we deal with them, Our fine servant?”

“Oh Servant of God, you must certainly attack them tomorrow. Your full army is now in place, Sirs. Attack the city of Kalunda with everything tomorrow, everything you have. You must overrun them tomorrow or I promise that you will never overrun them. They are already receiving supplies from space; they are strengthening again. Tomorrow is your last chance to get your victory. If you do not succeed I can certainly say that the army must be dispersed for guerrilla warfare immediately or all will be lost.”

“They will attack us with atomics as we flee, General Neguib,” Ikmen objected at once. “We must stand to the north of the river.”

“You will not do that if you are wise, General. You cannot hold against them. I have the better part of two modern divisions still able to fight with me, and I know I will not be able to hold them either, even in the Karstbodenmark, just delay them for a few days. If you do not win tomorrow, you must simply disperse your forces into small squads to live in the forests and the mountains and fight a guerrilla war, as you have always planned.”

“But if we do it now,” the Emir objected, “The Sedavanticists will be able to capture all our women and children, and the damned Proctor will take those of the Normans; none will be able to escape with us into the hills!”

“You only need fighting me for a guerrilla war! If your women are to be ravished, it is the fault of yourselves for failing to take Kalunda whilst you had the best chance. Now you have only a desperate chance, and you must attack and use it to your best ability. But if it fails, make for the forests and the mountains, disperse, even if half your men are killed by atomics in the process. God Willing you will bleed them until they leave.”

“We will make that decision after the success, or failure, of our attack tomorrow,” Ikmen said decisively, unable to commit to a retreat against the decisive power of orbital atomics, and believing the great breadth of the Kalundas River might at least serve as a partial barrier against even the star forces and their advance. “You are our hired commander only! General Neguib, you have your plan, and we have approved it. Say no more to us—just hold the enemy off.”

“Very well, Ubar, Emir, Warleader,” Neguib looked around. “God will decide the day tomorrow. And if He wills it, I will speak to you again. Otherwise...” Saying nothing more, he turned off the connection to them, realizing that convincing them to disperse and flee effectively and rapidly would be a hopeless task, and that he had much more important things to concentrate on. The abrupt disconnecting of the communication line after those words, would serve as message enough...
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-04-23 03:43am

DAY 53,

Most of the forces of the various powers had already been employed in the landing operations. There were precious few ground troops to be had. One force, however, had proved available. It was the 1667th independent marine howitzer brigade of the Royal Army of Devenshire. Originally assigned for the possibility of supporting Sara Proctor, in her current stalemate situation it had been decided against sending it to support her (its only use could be the indiscriminate bombardment of Ar, and this had not been decided upon as a legitimate course of action).

Instead, the brigade was deployed to Kalunda itself. For a moment all other deployments ceased. The airlift was devoted entirely to deploying the brigade, setting up the position, and providing a stockpile of ammunition. By the morning, the full strength of the concentrated batteries of 200mm guns was in place, facing the concentrated allied army around the city.

Into these guns the allied attacks were launched. It was the last gasp of the old Norman order while on the offensive, the last show of Mohammedan courage from the al-Farani, the final desperate lunge of the Amazons, the last exertion of crafty courage from the Stirlins. They pushed their way forward in considerable mass, three times the strength of every prior assault on the previously secondary front to the north bank of the river. Many reinforcements had already pushed into the concrete banlieus on the edges of the inner city, and attacked without having to run the gauntlet of the guns.

The fully modern guns, however, using modern ammunition types, spread lethal flechettes at carefully determined distances from the ground for maximum death and destruction to vehicles. The unprotected troops still moving up were largely annihilated by the strength of a full brigade of artillery, equal to the battery that existed before, and all of them at least three-fourths the power, of the old full brigade of massive 240mm's that were now all lost.

It was a testament to the fact their enemies were all veteran troops that the gunners found them coming on regardless. The supplies were forced through by truck and by runner, the men in the buildings exploded improvised charges to break through and try to push on ahead, the vast spectre of continuous death was braved by the attackers. With Julio and Sarina executing orders generally sent directly from Frayuia Risim's headquarters by this point, Major Ewing was back in command of his own forces, and the remnants of Trajan's, combined together in a very overstrength power armour battalion, whose companies were now parceled out to reinforce weak points in the lines.

Amber d'Kellius was the overall commander of the Marine Brigade, which with plenty of heavy weapons removed from the ships, served with Ewing's men in a reinforcement role. Together they served as the Fire Brigade of the city, along with the few remaining assault guns (now only four), making sure that the weak places of the defences held against determined attacks, deftly channeling the last allied offensive into the immense blockhouse positions of the concrete apartment blocks, where more defending troops waited for the invaders.

By this point, the use of gas was not even questioned by the powers in orbit, most of which saw it as a normal weapon rather than a weapon of mass destruction. The field was covered eeriely in it; all the survivors of Kalunda were sternly pushed back underground, away from the food drops and the hope in the skies back to the dismal tunnels, and the soldiers who fought did so covered in whatever kind of protective gear that they could get. The difference now was that the defenders, and the captives—for Major Ewing, strictly Catholic, had reimposed such mercy upon the army at Jhayka's wounding and recovery—could actually be saved from even the worst effects of nerve-gas by rapid evacuation to the hospital ships and medbays in orbit above.

On this day, the allies found out that they were no longer attacking a besieged city. Instead, Kalunda, through the power of airlift, had been turned into a Firebase. It was a firebase which made itself heard to the allied armies, no less, with casualties as heavy as they had ever been. The meat-grinder of the apartment blocks guaranteed hellacious casualties on both sides, but it also stopped the allied advances cold.

They were fighting with utter desperation, incredible desperation, and the halting of those pushes just meant redoubled attack after attack. They had good reason for it, too: They could hear the incredible sound of countless explosions beyond the horizon, the flights of aircraft could be vaguely discerned, the sound of missiles, and more missiles.

A huge battle was being fought to the south beyond the city. It could only be the efforts of General Neguib to hold off the advance of the relief force for as long as possible. Nobody at either battlefield, thanks to heavy jamming from the forces in orbit, was now aware of the success or failure of the other, and so as long as the sound of the guns could be heard, the attacking allies could fancy General Neguib in a tremendous fight, holding his own against the full strength of the relief force, and with the knowledge that the enemy might be kept from the city, they continued to attack like mad dogs.

Instead of acknowledging the futility off the effort to break through the apartments, this knowledge of their fate being decided elsewhere made them all the more determined. No intensity could be sufficient. Fanatical efforts were made to drive the defending Kalundans out of prepared positions protected by plenty of concrete, and as a result the bodies simply built up in endless windrows of corpses in narrow corridors and around the entrances to rooms and buildings.

Nothing was spared in this assault. Whatever happened after it, the allies were eminently aware this would be the last attack. They pressed it home, and the orders went out to attack until every unit had tried to force its way forward at least seven times. There was no more caution here, no more hope for the future as their blood was let out against the rock of Kalunda. It was all sheer desperation.

Artillery fire prevented ammunition from getting to the attackers, and slowly their supplies being worn down. They could not keep up these murderous assaults forever with their supply lines crumbling and no new soldiers available as replacements whatsoever. Most of the regiments of the still-vast allied force were now at only 50% list strength, and many only 30%, since they simply raised new ones rather than try and restore old formations.

Yet these men were all veterans, and they were facing veterans. They were locked into a dance of murder, bloody and tremendous slaughter of their fellow sentients, though most were to primitive to understand the concept. It should have done them nothing. They should have been defeated, smashed, crushed, not even gained in one area. But instead they somehow found a chink in the Kalundan armour and pushed home hard, overwhelming two apartment blocks with a thousand dead bodies for the effort done in the space of a few hours, and thrusting into the old city of the North, equally vulnerable to that on the south.

The success was followed up very efficiently by the allied army at this point. Reinforcements were focused into the gap, and a great mass of personnel pushed forward. But it was only just to face Major Ewing's reserve company and the converging fire brigades from both sides. Amber d'Kellius saw this fighting personally, in ground very dear to her, for it was quite close to the shattered spires of the old palace, and the fight was very personal, for it was Normans at the front.

Now in the open both sides were killing each other again with equal effectiveness, but the reinforcements of the defenders were able to attack from every side. The bulge created by the allied advance simply allowed, in the end, for a stiff counterattack by the Naval Infantry to cut off a regiment of Norman troops, and orders regardless, very, very few of them survived.

In any of the other battles of the siege such a great reverse in the area of their only success would have caused the allies to call off an attack. Here, though, they seemed to try to continue attack anyway just to see if it might yield anything. But, again, the sound of the guns was strong over the horizon, and they were frantic to gain some kind of victory. The attacks were dutifully continued.

Having been trown into the breach and ground up there, the shattered survivors of each attack were required to go back, to attack again and again. The shocking thing about it was that they always obeyed. They understood, too, that this was the last chance for their nations to survive, however hopeless it might be, and the personal courage of their assaults was truly incredible.

Against firepower and against concrete, and matched by a similar desperate courage on the defence, it came to naught. All it produced was the last and greatest slaughter of the siege, which went on long into the night without ceasing, having become a mad, cannibalistic beast which continued beyond all sanity and into the realm of a futile madness which now struck the minds of the allied commanders.

It was not until 0100 hours on the 54th day of the Siege of Kalunda that the attacks were called off. That the desperate efforts were abandoned, and in fact, orders were issued for all the troops in the city to retreat, to fall back to the old Eibermoni Line of the defenders, and settle down in it, while others were sent along the river banks to garrison them, given little sleep.

The attack petered out and drifted away, the troops were withdrawn, though not without being harried by desultory artillery fire from the brigade in the city, and the rumours came all 'round them. They were all the same: The reason for the withdrawal, the end of the mad attacks which were later calculated to have killed twenty thousand allied troops, and four thousand Kalundans, was that General Neguib had been defeated, and the Duchess of Medina would arrive at the city the next day, that coming morning.

Nobody in the rank and file knew; but everyone knew that they would find out the next day, whether they would live or die. They were all to used to this to be anything but comfortable in the face of death, and accordingly, many of the survivors recalled later tha they had slept very peacefully that night.

The allied offensives against Kalunda were finished for good.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-04-23 11:56pm

DAY 53/54,

Railgun projectiles and particle cannon bolts from orbit slammed into the ground with multi-megaton force. Vast flights of bombers raced overheard between the massed barrages which came every ninety minutes as the fleet overhead maintained a close support low orbit. They dropped thermobaric munitions on the tunnel entrances and detonated them over and over again. Clouds of poison gas carpeted the ground, and the continuous flare of flamethrowers spraying down into tunnel entrances could be seen through the smokey hell of the battlefield.

The remaining Gilean tanks fought in dug-in defensive positions, but none of them lasted long. Air-support was overhead almost constantly, except when called away briefly for another huge bombardment by the fleet on the edge of the battefield, which left even the main advancing column of Frayuia's troops shaking so hard against the ground that it seemed the blasts were right next to them.

Almost 210,000 primitive troops (180,000 Stirlin reinforcements and 30,000 survivors of the East Port Heights) and 47,000 Gilean army troops had tried to make a last stand here against the full, concentrated strength of the relief force. They had 38 low-yield nuclear devices and 15% of their original tank compliments. The ground, unlike what General Neguib had hoped, proved to be no particular deterrent for the international forces now that the full capability of their powers could be brought to bear in an unpopulated region with no fear of collateral damage.

The most amazing thing about the battle in context of the firepower being directed on the area was how long it lasted for. From 0700 hours in the morning to 0100 hours the next day, eighteen hours of hard fighting, Neguib held his position. He did it by virtue of simply refusing to surrender. His highly dispersed forces could be routed in the conventional fashion. They were each in their own pocket, fighting until the end there, or until wiped out from above.

The Stirlin reinforcements had it the worst. They were equipped to the standards of Earth's Second World War at best, and they'd never seen combat before against a modern enemy. Essentially no resistance was offered by this men as they were butchered in job lots from afar by space-air-land power. Nuclear-tipped air to ground missiles finished off the equation, and the defenders had no way to intercept them now. By the time that darkness fell and the eerie green and red flashes of tracers cut through the smoke, there were 100,000 dead bodies permanently entombed in the smashed caves of the karst land, or scattered in countless pieces around it, or simply vapourized.

Still Neguib stubbornly resisted. He had 38 nukes at the start of the battle. Because he had no chance of getting them through in a conventional attack, he used some of them as mines. These low power devices, all in the range of 5kT, could not much damage as ground bursts, and most were detected or destroyed in advance of being found, but they quickly racked up 11 destroyed MBHTs and 23 APCs and IFVs, and inflicted 389 fatalities on the international forces and more than 800 wounded and missing.

Some of the forces acted as they'd intended to. Surviving the massive firepower directed against them, they waited until the enemy armour had passed their positions, and rose up out of their concealment in the karstland, heaving satchel charges or firing MANPADs at point-blank range at the rear of the massive international tanks. The satchel charges just bounced off the shielding. Occasionally the MANPADs succeeded in penetrating it. But precious few also managed to knock out the tanks; only another eleven were lost.

Around them, the international forces mostly stood off. There were a few vicious close-quarters fights, but not many of them, as massive and overwhelming firepower was used instead. Another 83 international troops died in those fights, but far, far more of Neguib's ill-fated army died along with them. Neguib might hold, but how much of his army would be left afterwards?

General Neguib himself realized that. By the time he had, close to half the men he'd commanded at the start of the day were dead. The fleet, systematically attacking, had bombarded his position five times, each time delivering hundreds of multi-megatonne impacts to his outer defences, simply eradicating them, and allowing the very tightly packed column of Frayuia's troops in the centre to slowly and methodically roll over all the opposition that he could put in their way.

He refused to surrender anyway, in an act of stubborn courage and madness worthy of a commander of the old Imperial Japanese Army. His men fought, and largely died without reply, in the caverns of the region, the natural ecosystem being utterly destroyed by the vast firepower directed at it. Neguib did not yield, until Frayuia Risim herself took it into her own hands, this time, to end the mad bloodshed. She cut the jamming, and let him find out that the forces around Kalunda had already been seriously defeated, attacks continuing only futilely.

Then she went ahead and initiated contact: “General Neguib, just give this up. The fleet is fifteen minutes out from another round at you. I'll give you the same terms I gave to General Rulos, despite your having technically violated those terms before. You have defended your faith for as long as you could. To force your men to be destroyed in place now... Is no triumph to the cause of Islam.”

The battered and craggy face of the Muslim mercenary appeared, and stared long and hard at the conqueror of Medina on another world. “I said I would give them every chance that I could, my enemy. Every minute is precious. Why should I yield?”

“Because I am tired of this bloodshed, and if you compel more of me, I will not be pleased. And I will take it out on those deserving of suffering, rather than the innocent veterans of the Cartagenean Corps whose political generals have conned them into this ridiculous postion. Do not be a madman, General Neguib. I will let you live Gilead and find what employ as you might wish. None will think you a traitor; most mercenaries would have long ago fled, and you know it....

“Or would you rather have me raze the homeland of the Emir you were employed to defend?”

“Better that, than his women despoiled and his mansions occupied by the infidel,” Neguib snorted, but his heart really wasn't in it. He was defending a pack of primitive idiots, and he knew it.

“They'll suffer all of that anyway. Make your decision now, General Neguib. Make it now.

Neguib sighed. Straightened. “Call off the Sedavanticists. I understand they're under the direction of one of your agents.”

“You do realize that will cost me, and may give them an advantage in the end, when they demand recompense? Recompense which will be cut out of the carcass of the al-Farani Emirate?”

“The ummah can survive the loss of land; but who can stand the violation of their harams? Better lost land, than lost honour...”

“Very well. I will do so, you have my word of Honour before the One God, General Neguib. Now signal for a cease-fire immediately.”

The old Caliphal mercenary nodded, his head bowed, and the connection cut. Gradually, the guns fell silent, and the already exhausted soldiers now had the task of seeing to the rounding up of the countless pockets of survivors and troops still able to fight, before the last stretch into Kalunda could be covered.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-04-24 12:39am

DAY 54,
Presidential Palace,

President Covington watched as the news feed came up. It was certainly not what he wished to be seeing: Broadcast around the multiverse, the brass band of the 6th Regiment Samogitia Grenadiers played merrily as the formation swung into view, APCs rumbling over the ground with commanders out and saluting, behind them the smoke-paled and still burning ruins of Kalunda. The parade was for the benefit of one of the neo-barb commanders, some General Arlisa, a pallid, haggard, and emaciated woman leaning against a cane, with the hand of the immensely tall Taloran general next to her helping to remain standing for the review.

Just beyond, artillery fire from the allied forces on the far side of the river was proving to be too far out of range to effect the little propaganda display, having been deployed centrally to support both wings of the allied formation, where 900,000 troops were now drawn up, 100,000 blocking Kalunda and 400,000 on either side along the river. They were preparing to fight in the marshes and the swampy ground along the banks of the river, churned to mud by two months of shot and shell, to contest the crossing of the river by the international forces.

But what good will they do? They don't have the weapons or the equipment to hold the international forces off, and even if they did, the bridges along the Kalunda river could be rebuilt into the city itself, and it could be relieved that way[/i]. Covington was filled with bitter rage. Initially he had been murderous toward Colonel Richter, his aide and closest confidant, for her betrayal. Then he had searched through her nominally court-sealed records from her past, and discovered the information which obviously one of Rosario's political goons had uncovered.

I should have been more suspicious years ago. Someone with that much blackmail potential.. Well, blast it all. To late for that. The law was the law then, and it was my own damned fault not to be more aggressive in ignoring it. Who knows what the law will be now. Or what they'll do to Richter. Covington poured himself a glass of port, and drank it quickly, celebrating the prospects for revenge there, and watching the continued deployments of the international forces to the south of Kalunda being so graphically displayed. Apparently from the commentary of his translaters, the Russian news crew was debating whether or not some ten thousand Norman troops had been fully evacuated that night or not. Which didn't matter at all...

A light was flashing on his desk. Only when he'd finished the glass of port and muted the projector did he answer the com, to hear his new Chief of Staff reporting grimly: “It's been confirmed that the Eastern Army has gone entirely over to the rebels, and the Army of the South has reached the defensive positions of the Republican Guard, Your Excellency.”

“Well, we'll see if the Guard can hold,” Covington answered shortly. “Is there anything else that I need to know?”

“Several residential areas on the outskirts of town are burning from the actions of the Catholic paramilitaries, Your Excellency. The mass strike called yesterday by the corporatist unions still has all production crippled; we can't send additional munitions to the Republican Guard even if they do hold... The violence is spreading toward the city-centre.”

“No urban guerrilla war for us, I suppose?”

“It doesn't look possible, now, Your Excellency,” the man replied quietly.

“I suppose we can get some kind of control over the situation if the Republican Guard can hold. We'll wait and see,” Covington concluded, closing the channel.. And proceeding to get quite drunk as he finished off the rest of the bottle of port. And then another. He no longer expected to live long enough to savour either one properly.

The waiting went on. Covington simply ignored all reports except those from the Republican Guard, whose situation got progressively worse. He ignored all the reports of his own loyalists fleeing, in hovercars with their families, all crammed full of latinum coinage and British treasury notes looted from the national treasury, racing for the security of the north, where they could hide in rat holes, avoid retaliation, and maybe escape with their loot.

He ignored the spiral of fighting in the city streets all throughout the day, until the smoke was wafting up against his windows and obscuring his view. Then he got up, and walked out into an office which was in absolute chaos. Most of the staff had left. Some of the equipment had been trashed; more of it had been burned. Most of the equipment of value, though, had simply been taken.

“Carla?” He was surprised to see the young radio operator still there. “Why haven't you gone with all the others?”

“Ahh... Mister President. I thought that I should hang around.. Well, in case the Republic Guard held after all. Somehow should be here to tell you if they do.” She flushed embarrassedly, extremely frightened, and brushed her hair back with a hand idly.

“Thank you. I'll remember that. Let me know, then.” He went back into his office, and waited another four hours, drinking more from the wine cabinet and wondering if Carla had really stayed or not.

Finally, the light went on again. “Yes?”

“Mister President, I'm sorry to say that it's now being reported that the Republican Guards have been pushed aside of the road into the capitol, and generally routed. There's no cohesion left in the force, and the reports coming in are very fragmentary. General Rosario may be here by the day after tomorrow... ...At the latest.”

“Come in here, Carla.”

There was a silence, before the young blonde opened up the big heavy oak doors and walked over to Covington's desk. “Yes, Mister President?”

He handed her an old-fashioned notebook. “I've written down the numbers to a few of my bank accounts in the British Star Empire for you. They're quite private, and I don't expect they've been frozen. Since you seem to be the last competent loyalist I have, secretary or not, they're your's.”

She paled. Realized what that would mean: “You're not going to try to flee, Mister President?”

“No place in the galaxy will be safe for me. I've made my bed and now I'm going to lay in it. Get out, Carla, while the going is good. Now.”

She took one long, last look, a desperate one, and turned and walked from the office. Even among so much human misery, she couldn't hold back tears at the knowledge that the man she's just spoken to, who might have made her truly rich, just for doing her job, was about to blow his brains out...

A sharp crack echoed in the abandoned Presidential palace behind her. She ran faster, down to the garage, while above the guards, who didn't know that their leader had just blown his own brains out, were firing into a mass of attacking Catholic trade unionists. Locating her own hovercar, she powered it up and burst out of the garage, heading north with a few desultory bullet-holes in it from the street fighting all around.

Thirty minutes later, the body of Covington was discovered, and resistance in the centre of the city collapsed, with IGAC paramilitaries raising their flag from the pole out front of the Presidential palace. The killing went on, of course, both in the primitive zone, and in the slums where the Wobblies stubbornly fought it out with IGAC and ICAL, but outside of the lonely army of the Ubar, the Emir, and the Warleader, organized resistance in the Gilean Confederacy had ceased.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-05-17 11:27pm

DAY 54,
S. of Kalunda

“Was the propaganda shoot really necessary?” General Arlisa asked, leaning on her cane as she looked up to the immensely tall form of the Duchess of Medina beside her.

“Ah, my good General, I assure it was,” the Taloran responded a bit lazily, heading back toward her command vehicle, though she paused before reaching it, and took her time, meandering, so the much shorter, and somewhat crippled, Kalundan general could keep up with her. “I wanted to make sure that all of the armed forces and political forces of the Gilean Confederacy knew that their last hope was overcome. The city of Kalunda is saved...”

Arlisa raised her cane in response, jabbing it toward the distant visage on the far bank of the river Kalunda to the west. “Brave comrade of our city's defender, do you neglect the fact that the enemy we've contested with for the past two months stands there, undefeated?”

“No,” Frayuia's ears flexed down, as though she were slightly annoyed by the question, intimidating enough for a Kalundan, now exposed to far more Talorans than before, and powerful ones at that. “But even if we could not dislodge them, we could still restore the bridges over the river and bring supplies directly into the city, which still receives them from the air as well. The siege is effectively broken, even if the enemy has not been dislodged. Yet, certainly, I intend on the 'morrow to attack across the river and defeat them entirely, and hold a triumphal entry to the pleasure of the relieved, on the day after.”

“You make it sound like you've conquered us,” was the almost morose response, which was followed not with words but with Frayuia rather affectionately patting Arlisa on the back.

“Oh, come down, I think the soldiers deserve their chance to celebrate a bit after this campaign. We've taken unpleasant losses in this fight, against a fanatical if ill-disciplined enemy, and some tough professionals before that. I want to give them their parade.”

“Why not in Ar?”

“Unfortunately, General,” the Duchess of Medina frowned. “I'm not authorized to lead this force beyond the relief of Kalunda. An advance on Ar will require further negotiation.”

“What!? Surely there will be a pursuit?”

“Only a local one, to make sure that they are routed and cannot harm the city. I am sure there will be a further pursuit, but first we must receive authorization for it. Don't worry—I need to halt and resupply here, anyway, before we could carry on. I don't think it will be a delay of more than a few days.”

“Very well, Your Grace,” Arlisa answered formally. “I suppose that we all ultimately must obey such authorities as are above us. As for me, however... I must see to the provisioning of my troops, and some measures for their rest.”

“For the most part, General, now that they've pulled back from the vulnerable areas near the river the best thing I can do is arrange for plenty of tarps and tents from our baggage train, and for cars to be hauled up on the railroad to provide them with a number of places to sleep and for your command centre. There's about twenty thousand, including the contingent from the Sackon Warehouse, yes?”

“Yes,” Arlisa replied tiredly. “Though that includes the wounded who are already under your care, or have even been, ah, airlifted to the fleet.”

“Quite. Well, we'll plan for twenty thousands regardless. Beyond that, General, I do need to make preparations for tomorrow. Go, see to the rest of your soldiers, and tomorrow, you may rest also and, ah.. Watch the show which your brave stand has prepared us for.”

“Of course, Your Grace,” Arlisa replied. There was so much to digest, anyway, and little chance to report to His Majesty the King over the international forces. It is a strange sort of relief, and every contingent has their own aims and goals, not just for themselves but, I fear, for us. Yet at least we're alive.

The Duchess of Medina, for her part, leisurely went back inside the mobile command station, picking out the comms officer at once. “Have you been able to get the Kalundan authorities to connect the Princess yet?”

“Yes, Your Grace, she's available at your leisure.”

“Oh, splendid! That will settle tomorrow's attack...” With an intent look, but a hand contrasting it, by playing with her own long green hair, Frayuia Risim stepped forward.. Just to be surprised that the screen remained dark. “Audio only?”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“She's vain,” Frayuia huffed. “Can't stand it for me to see her so injured....”

“That's not it!” A voice replied, obviously that of Jhayka, the Princess of the Lesser Intuit, and, well, her old Mess Comrade. “But it's very good to hear your approach, regardless of what you think of my vanity. What do you want, old friend?”

“I hear you're rather badly hurt?”

“Yes, but I'm.. Well, I deserved what I've got, and I'm grateful to have lived. I'd really rather not talk about it.”

Frayuia didn't know about the self-mutilation incident, and frowning at Jhayka's melodramatic words, just carried on as if they'd not been said. “I want your forces to launch an attack tomorrow to support my own, Brigadier.”

“I have scarcely a battalion and a half of power armour that I can order around, General Risim,” Jhayka rasped back, showing her tiredness, and a bit of snappish anger. “What use are they? The enemy has nearly a million men...”

“Seven hundred thousand at most at this point and declining rapidly,” was the lazily given retort. She was tired, after all, having gotten little sleep herself... “They're suffering from mass desertions after last night's light-show, not like they ever had much discipline or handle on their own numbers or strength to begin with. The satellite data is... Quite certain, and our own observations confirm it.”

“Regardless, a frontal attack into our own old prepared defences, occupied by those troops...?”

“I understand that the forces they have facing the city of Kalunda are their weakest and least reliable, the Amazons. And that you had something to do with that, old friend.”

“I did. I engineered their split... You.. Ahh.. You think the Amazons will surrender if faced with even a weak attack?”

“Yes, just like General Rulos did on the heights above East Port. I took out the fanatics, I crippled the divisions run by the political officers... His best division then surrendered without a fight, because he didn't have the will to sacrifice it, and they didn't have the will to fight for a cause they despised. I imagine the Amazons will do the same, if confronted with any sort of serious advance, and that will split the enemy line in two, seeing as they're spread out on both sides of the city to guard the river against my crossing in force.”

“You'll cross in force at the same time as the attack?”

“Yes, your troops won't be a diversion, I promise.”

“Well, they'll need reinforcements regardess, General Risim. It's not an environment for fourteen hundred power armoured troops to operate in alone. I'd like to have at least two Kalundan corps and the Naval Infantry Brigade involved in the operation as well... That would give us another solid fourty-five thousand troops, at least, and they're all solid fighters.”

Frayuia's ears twitched in surprise. “Are the Kalundans still capable of offensive operations? I'd assumed them entirely exhausted.”

“Oh yes, they're quite capable of it, General Risim... Just give the necessary instructions to Julio, and tell him I'm quite certain that they can execute the attack, that there's no doubt at all in my evaluations.”

“Well, splendid then. We'll cross the river tomorrow morning and show them off,” Frayuia answered, as though they were discussing a hunt, or perhaps even just a picnic. “We'll try to get you to our medical facilities after that as soon as can be done, and get you the necessary prosthetics.”

“Which may be more than you think...”

“Oh well, your head has always been thick enough to be made out of metal.”

“Well.” A long silence. “Thank you, Frayuia. Give your daughters and your husband might regards.”

“My husband, surely, but I'm keeping you away from my girls with a ten foot pole..”

“Don't speak of such things!”

Frayuia was surprised with the ferocity of the declaration from the bon-vivant Princess. Has something happened to her lover? I didn't check. Or perhaps it's just because they're utterly besotten.. “Ah, well, apologies, then. And I'll see you tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, if I have to spend a bit of time arranging the details of finishing them off.”

“God be with you, Frayuia.”

“And you, Jhayka, my old friend.” Frayuia terminated the line, and stepped over to the plot. “Let's finish the planning for tomorrow morning, hmm?”

“What of contacting Julio?” Her husband, who had been listening from the far side of the room, stepped over, frowning.

“Oh, don't worry, dear, I'll take care of that later. I doubt he'll say no to the recommendations of the Marshal who's been fighting the war for him almost the whole while.”

“Ah, quite alright then.”

A sly grin: “Do you have those artillery placements for me, dear? I want to give them a nasty surprise, tomorrow, caught between the fire of the guns and the fact, that they haven't yet seemed to grasp, that we can ford the river at will.... I'll leave these neo-barbs thinking their own gods are fighting them.”

“Just like you did at Medina, hmm?”

“Those were the days.”
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Post by Steve » 2007-05-19 04:31pm

Kalunda, Gilead

DAY 54

Night was falling, and with it, the siege was nearing it's end. Nearly two months of battle and deprivation unparalleled in the centuries-long history of Kalunda was to cease the next day, with Kalunda standing battered but triumphant.
Amber d'Kellius was among those still standing, as was her younger sister, Sarina. The two women, the last living members of one of the Kingdom's oldest noble families, were standing with their sovereign in the command center. On the south bank, the armies of the intervention forces had gathered. On the north banks, the plentiful remaining armies of the Normans, Stirlins, and Amazons were preparing to fight what would likely be their final battle.

Facing them from a different direction was the levy of Kalunda and her nearest allies. An army that had fought one of the fiercest sieges in recent memory for all of the Multiverse, and had suffered greatly for it. Thousands of Kalundans were tired, neurotic wrecks, having given their all for the land of their birth and the sovereign who's just rule they had lived under.
Julio had suffered too. Amber saw that the bright intelligent glint he once had was gone. He carried himself wearily, more like his natural age without the enhancements, and likely didn't dare show his relief that the bloody business was over. His worried fretting over Sara, the never-ending danger to his city and kingdom, and to the blood of his family, had long taken their toll on the King.
Hunched over the map table, his eyes drooping from lack of sleep, Julio listened as a list of which units could make the attack ordered by Jhayka, on behalf of Frayuia, was read to him by a teenage orderly. Even the young boy showed fatigue, but he clearly tried to hide it in the presence of the King.

"Your Majesty, I must protest this," Sarina said from her position. "The Princess is not in her right mind, given the condition that has afflicted Admiral Verdes. I would dare say her judgement is questionable even without that situation. Our forces are exhausted from the weeks of fighting, and now we are being asked to launch an attack? Let the intervention forces do it, they are numerous and have only been fighting for a handful of days, and in far better condition than we have I add."
Julio looked up from the table. "Princess Jhayka believes that an attack by us upon the Amazon screening forces will provoke their surrender and prevent them from a successful retreat, which could lead to the Amazons taking to banditry. They are inclined to that form of fighting, after all..."
"Princess Jhayka stabbed her own eyes out just two days ago, Your Majesty! She has lost her mind and you cannot accept her judgement like this!"
"Do you not think I have thought about it?!" Julio shouted. "She is asking me to send Kalundans to die on the eve of salvation! I know this! But it must be done, and done it shall be!"

Amber put a hand on Sarina's arm to try and calm her down, but her sister was afflicted by her own losses of late and refused to. "Are we to win this siege just to be enslaved by other peoples?!" Sarina shouted at him. "They tell you now to attack, to waste more of our people's lives when they are more than capable of dealing with the foe! What will happen next? Shall they tell us to disarm ourselves? To stop being Kalundans, to change our love habits, to convert to whatever religion they desire? How far shall we subordinate ourselves to them?"
"It is to prevent such things that we will attack," Julio retorted. "We must fight alongside them and show them that we deserve to be considered in their deliberations, that we have earned it!"
"So holding off the foe for fifty-five days has not been long enough?! We were fighting and dying while they couldn't decide what the hell to do, but all the sudden it is we who must convince them that we deserve consideration?!" Sarina's face had long turned red, and her anger was growing worse.. "How long has Kalunda been a refuge for the victims of this planet's slave trade?! How long have we opposed our own government's policies about it?! Must we do more to prove ourselves?! Or can we ever prove ourselves to them? Perhaps we should not bother, and should simply be who we are and leave the decision of acceptance up to them!"

"That is enough!" Amber's voice echoed in the room. Tired at seeing her grieving sister and exhausted sovereign bicker, afraid that Sarina might go too far, she finally stepped in despite her own weakness and the injury she was still recovering from. "Sarina," she looked to her sister, "I understand your feelings for this. I do. But if we are to survive, we must do what is necessary, and if that means launching this attack and participating in our own relief, than so be it." Amber looked to Julio. "Your Majesty, the Naval Brigade requests the honor of leading the assault."
Sarina's jaw opened. "Amber, don't...."
Julio looked from one sister to the other and then back to Sarina, his tired mind still sharp enough to read their expressions; the grim determination on Amber's face and the fear on Sarina's. "Are you sure, Amber?"
"I am. Out of all the units we are the most fresh and can attack with the most vigor. If our aim is to bring the Amazons to surrender, then we must attack energetically. The Naval Brigade will do so."
Julio looked at her a long moment. She was one of his most trusted advisors, and held long standing in the Kalundan court, being Julio's support much as her father supported his father, not to mention being the grandmother of Julio's intended heir to the Kalundan throne. "Amber, I will give your unit the forward position, but you are forbidden from leading the attack personally."
Amber nodded. "If you desire, Majesty."
"And to make sure you're not at the front, I am giving you command of the attack. It is your responsibility to carry it out perfectly, Amber. The dignity of Kalunda, perhaps our very survival, depends upon this attack."
Again, Amber nodded. "For Kalunda, I will not fail."
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-05-20 06:57pm

Day 54,
N. bank of the Kalunda river.

“So we have our last, desperate hope,” Tarl Ikmen sighed. Magistrix, Ubar, Emir, Warleader, the four sat around a wooden table in a bunker which had been established by the Kalundans themselves those two months ago as the siege was being prepared for, well back from the city and from the riverfront, but also clear of the central artillery concentration point.

Around them howled the sounds of bombs falling. The starfighters and air forces of the interventionist powers were hitting them with everything they had. Fortunately it was all conventional; the wind wasn't right for nerve gas, where it might harm the Kalundans who didn't have really effective protective gear against it either. No nukes, either, but the massed conventional explosives were bad enough. They were tearing the allied army apart the night before the battle had even begun..

“They can't get across the river,” the Emir summarized. “Not against our opposition, anyway, and maybe if we hold them here long enough they'll disengage and move up-stream to cross, giving us time to disperse. Allah willing, that will make General Neguib's sacrifice not a vain one.”

“But they certainly have bridging equipment and amphibious vehicles,” the Magistrix objected rather tiredly. She was at the very end of her influence, and she knew it. The end of her life was sure to shortly follow, and her soul would go to the Goddess—but would there be any Amazons left for it to be reincarnated amongst?--and that would be that. I fear death may lack even that comfort, as if I were worthy of it to begin with. “They will try to force bridgeheads with the concentrated strength they have, and our ability to resist these with our forces being hourly attrited by these air raids that we simply can't answer.”

“Enough of that pessimism, you doddering old fool,” the Ubar snapped abruptly. “I've had enough of this, and enough of your treacherous people. You alone have hedged your bets. The rest of us—if we fail, our civilization dies here! All you will suffer is some slow and inventive execution for your stand; your civilization still has a hope of living through base treachery. The rest of us will not even have the comfort of ancestors. What shall become of our homestones in the possession of the enemy? The cowards will run, but those of us.. Those of us who know and remember our traditions. We have only to hold, or to die.”

“I've ordered my officers along the river,” the Emir chimed in contemptuously, “to stand outside of their trenches and expose themselves to the bombing as an example to the men so they'll stand and fight under any circumstances. Every squad is prepared to fight independently. The orders have already been distributed to fight in place, without yielding an inch, no matter what, ignoring any command to the contrary from any source as false. Large quantities of explosives have been distributed to all my soldiers with instructions that each man should try to kill ten of the enemy before dying, or else disable an enemy tank at the cost of his life. Allah willing, martyrdom tactics will save us all along the river.”

“There isn't anything we can really plan on here anymore, is there?” The Magistrix looked around at the grim and certain eyes of the desperate fanatics, even cunning Erqui reduced, in the end, to simply standing here and taking it. “Well, I am returning to the central Army. We will hold if the Kalundans come out, but I think it unlikely.”

“You've been beset by very considerable defections, your strength is only a hundred thousand at most,” the Ubar warned her. “And we cannot support you. But if you yield to those bastards, I'll see that suffer as badly as the rest of us.”

“So noted.” The Magistrix rose and left.

“Kill her if we win, slowly, anyway,” Erqui observed after she'd left. “The Amazons would be a poor example to tolerate if we can execute a successful guerrilla campaign. They won't last long in it, anyway. They're cannon-fodder against the intervention force in a field engagement now, nothing more.”

The roof shook and dust fell down. Even this deep and hidden bunker was subject to near-misses at this rate of incredible fire. The intensity of the bombing was as bad as the greatest artillery barrages of the war, but it was far different, for each of these bombs was aimed. Yet through this sort of hellacious assault, these experienced ears could tell of changes, of an uptick in even this intensity. The expected call came a moment later, and Erqui fielded it. He listened, and nodded once, slightly.

“The artillery of the intervention forces has joined in the attack,” he told the two other men at the table. “Still all conventional. They are indeed cautious about using atomics so close to a population centre. But it's a terrible strain on our men, as most of these shells are as precise as the bombs.”

“Guided shells also? What wealth the star-people have!” Bitterly sighing, the Emir looked upward, as if he could see them and curse them through the depth of the bunker, though his eyes burned with a sort of manic fervor. “But we have guided weapons, also, the bodies of our martyrs. We will see which one Allah favours.”

The Ubar and the Warleader ignored now the half-mad ramblings of the Emir and leaned in toward each other to speak softly. There were a few things left to confirm, and then they, also, would have to face the fire.

“What's the status of the Ar division?” Some of Erqui's heartening coolness of old had returned after a moment's reflection to steady himself, and steel himself for the future.

“I have them positioned as a 'central reserve'--right behind the Amazon Army and its supporting contingents. If they try to run, they're going to get an ugly surprise,” the Ubar chuckled darkly. “We are all here to burn together, not separately, and I've made sure of that.”

“Good. They can probably force the Amazons into a flanking attack, as well, if it becomes clear that there's no need for them to defend against Kalunda. Which I suspect will be correct. They're exhausted and on the verge of collapse, and I truly think, Ubar, that we would have broken through yesterday if they hadn't airlifted in that artillery. They'll all be drinking themselves senseless and celebrating their own survival like the hedonists they are. If anything we'll just get the Taloran and those damned power-armoured troops making a demonstration in that direction, and even a single division of Amazons could surely hold them off. There's scarcely more than a thousand of them left.”

“Well, we'll see. I don't expect to be able to employ the central forces elsewhere, regardless. I'm more worried about making sure that the reserves—two full corps upstream and downstream of the city, each—are positioned to move quickly to contain breakthroughs. The Magistrix was right, they will be able to force a crossing. My hope is to hurt them enough, Warleader, so that their bridgehead comes to naught. But we have nearly fifty kilometers of frontage in all to hold, and only the fact that it arcs so steeply in each direction means that we have any chance of holding... Our reserves are centrally positioned, and if we couldn't have achieved that we wouldn't have a chance, though I'm loathe to admit it.”

“Allah will provide,” the now somewhat more sensible Emir interjected abruptly. “And martyrdom will secure your beaches far more than any reserves. That is why I volunteered my army for the front lines, after all.”

And thank you so very much for doing it, at that, the Ubar thought with a smirk in his mind and heart. When this is done, it will just be the Stirlins and us who have any men left... and if our guerrilla war succeeds then the spoils will be all the greater. It is a small comfort for being left at such long odds.

“Our preparations are excellent on the part of all our armies,” Erqui responded to the Emir, politely, “but the execution of the defence will certainly be hampered by the magnitude of the bombardment we're suffering now. Even the simple transmission of casualty reports is very hampered by the scale of the attack we're under.”

“Allah will decide our victory or defeat.”

Erqui shrugged. “Then, gentlemen, there is nothing more for us to do; the battle will be decided tomorrow, and we ought all sleep while we have the chance to do so.” This sensible suggestion was heeded, and the commanders of the allied army went to sleep with their fears and their desperate hopes, while all around them their army was torn apart, disintegrating under the vast aerial attack and artillery bombardment, before the crossings of the river had even begun.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-05-21 11:57pm

Der Tag,

(Second part by Steve.)

Frayuia had chosen to attack where the river was broader, downstream of Kalunda. Her forces were much more concentrated than they had to be, each brigade formation occupying a frontage of only a kilometer, so that less than half of the allied formation downstream of the city would actually be attacked at once. The river prevented them from counterattacking in a flanking manoeuvre, after all, allowing the Taloran general to concentrate her force to half the density of the far larger allied army.

Across the river, nothing could be seen. General Risim relied on the sensor projections in her command vehicle to direct the battlefield; smoke and dust entirely obscured the enemy positions from the constant artillery fire and airstrikes, which could continue to a large extent even during the advance due to their precision. She'd been awake for an hour, since 0500 hours; the first phase of the land operation would begin in fifteen minutes and everything was set for it, the brigade armoured assets reporting confirmation of their forward positions along the river-bank to begin direct fire against the enemy defences.

Her attack frontage was some distance from the city, avoiding the chopped up ground from the two months of fighting there, but also positioning her forces to swing in and pin the bulk of the allied army against Kalunda, where it could be annihilated. Knowing that she did not have a mandate for a pursuit, Frayuia had planned the operation to the maximum effect, and that meant trapping as much of the allied army as possible so that it could be annihilated. Since the night before, she had also arranged for propaganda to be distributed along the enemy lines, reinforcing her fame as the Destroyer of Medina. She intended to outrage the Mohammedans in the enemy force to such insensibility as that their tactics and their behaviour on the field would be completely undisciplined, and that they would refuse surrender.

She was baiting them into guaranteeing their own slaughter, but with a cool puritanism schooled by her home in the harsh Arabian desert where she had won her last victory, there was nothing wrong in doing so. The primitives here deserved to be chastised very hard indeed. A similar story, claiming that every home-stone in the Norman Empire would be collected and used to build a temple to Farzbardor, skirted even further into the land of direct incitement. All of it to guarantee that she fought an insensible mob which could neither fight in a disciplined fashion, nor surrender.

And then she would scare them into desperation to finish it off, but that was yet to come. It was 0615 hours; the commencement of the operation. The massed direct-fire of the brigades opened with some coordination difficulties between the brigades, but each one managing internal coordination more or less flawlessly. Rapid-fire was directed across the river with high-explosives, the tanks and gun-armed APCs and scouting vehicles with heavy armament receiving a steady resupply from the rear, brought in both from space and up along the railroad to the maximum capacity of their supply routes. For the energy cannon, the affair was even simpler.

The direct-fire went in right against the already savaged Muslim defenders in the reed marshes along the riverbank. The muddy water here was already churned pink with blood, and their numbers had been terribly attrited over the night. Now the guns of the tanks tore into them with perfect violence, lined up on flat trajectories which would carry the often hypersonic projectiles into the midst of the already burning reeds and take out any defensive structures they'd been able to improvise or repair from the earlier fighting.

The direct-fire, however, unmasked the tanks to the allied artillery batteries, which eagerly began to fire at them. For a moment the situation of the tankers under fire from the surviving high-angle howitzers and plenty of rocket artillery might have been a bit uncomfortable, especially with ammunition reloading going on constantly to keep up rapid fire. But with the allied artillery unmasked, and concentrated in a primitive central supporting position no less, it could now be attacked with hideous ease.

Two tanks had been knocked out and four soldiers killed by the time the fire of the artillery was silenced. What happened to those artillery positions was entirely different, uttterly horrific. Even when they were partially protected and the firing units themselves were armoured, none of it could withstand the power of the bombs and shells directed against them with the precision of orbitally linked targeting systems. Armour-piercing weapons and those intended for deep penetration laughed at the defences of the artillery, less than adequate even for a much older sort of conflict.

Within a matter of twenty minutes the last of the guns and rocket launchers had been silenced, and those that survived, but had ceased firing under that murderous hail, were hunted down and destroyed anyway, for the most part, their locations noted by computer, and giving off to much data to the sensors when they tried to move to flee. The majority of the artillery was unarmoured rocket trucks to begin with, and these had long since been thoroughly worked over by the masses of cluster munitions used against their positions.

The allied force was virtually down to small arms and limited, company-level support weapons. There were only some light direct fire cannon of very obsolete design left, scattered about random positions in their limited numbers, simply because that's where the units they were assigned with had been placed. Otherwise, the heaviest thing they had left was anti-tank missiles.. And the suicide bombers of the Muslim fanatics.

But the international troops hadn't even started to try and cross the river yet. Instead they continued pounding the allied riverfront patiently, working over the smashed up regions again and again, as though they knew that people could survive that hell. It seemed gratuitous, as if everyone there must be dead between the bombs and shells and the energy fire. Soldiers knew better; many, many situations where to the outsider observer it seemed everyone was dead, had just proved to hold thousands of a prepared and well dug-in, bitter and fanatical enemy. Nobody wanted to face their equivalent of a Peleliu or Tarawa.

Yet they were also, probably, being cautious, nervous, in their hearts. Their enemy was far more primitive than they, and had had little time to prepare their positions, just enough to dig the most simple of entrenchments. Against the most advanced weapons of many space-fairing civilizations, even limited to conventional arms, they must have suffered terribly, and indeed they had.

Between the massive air assaults and now the commencement of the direct-fire at the beaches, the allied forces had by 0700 hours and fourty-five minutes which had seen the pounding of the beaches and the destruction of the artillery, been under bombing attacks for twelve hours, and artillery fire for eight hours. They had suffered in this concentrated and targeted assault no less than 100,000 casualties, nearly one-sixth of their remaining effective strength as the desertions continued throughout the night from the less fanatical allied tribal units, and the international forces hadn't even started moving forward across the river yet.

A subordinate approached the Duchess of Medina, waiting calmly for her operations to develop. Saluting, he spoke with perhaps a slight twinge of surprise, for the betting pool last night hadn't placed much odds on this: “Your Grace, a report from the city.”


“They've launched the full planned assault. Probably fifty thousand troops in all against the enemy centre, as planned, right at 0700 hours. They came through after all.”

“You didn't expect them to?” The sharp look in her eyes chilled the under-officer to the bone.

“Apologies, Your Grace, but no.”

“Reconsider your morality, then, carefully. I know the poor reputation of the Princess of the Lesser Intuit, and I have disapproval for some of her behaviours myself. But she's an old friend and I know her well—by which I mean that I know she is very honourable, and judicious, and she would not have chosen to defend a people unworthy of it. I expected that attack, and my plans expected it.

“It was not without good reason, and bear that in mind.”

“Yes, Your Grace. My apologies.” He bowed humbly and left quickly.

Ah, but in fact, I am surprised that you came through for me, Jhayka. Good show. I hope they can have you back to me soon, so we can finish this matter off. Frayuia looked back to her chrono, and watched expectantly as the minutes ticked down toward her big surprise which set off the main push, awing the neo-barbs into terror to aide the assault. But she couldn't also avoid thinking about the Kalundans, and how their attack must be developing...

Kalunda, Gilead

Day 55

The mansion of the d'Ruminis in Old Kalunda was the command center that Amber had been provided for the Kalundan attack, with modern command & control equipment placed around the building.
Along with other personnel to help her command the thousands of troops she would be launching at the Amazons, Amber had inherited Dani's staff, and seeing them made her think of the foreign woman who, even know, was sleeping for above them on an orbiting hospital ship, a sleep that could possibly be eternal.
Amber still found herself attracted to Dani, not just because of her beauty but because she was such a kindred spirit in so many ways. Though she never told even Sarina, she had always kept hope that something would happen, something that would make her available again. Unfortunately, that wish had been granted in more horrible a fashion than she could ever have contemplated, and Amber found herself taking it all back. Every bit of it.

The need to concentrate on the job at hand snapped her out of her funk. At the order, she sent the power armor units forward with her Naval Infantry moving up behind them. They were the least exhausted of the Kalundan forces left, though that said little given the fierce actions they had fought on the river over the past two months. A disproportionate number of them were young girls, some as young as sixteen, who had volunteered for the more dangeorus duty to avenge their parents, siblings, and lovers (of both genders) that had already fallen in this vicious siege.
And now she was sending them to possibly die themselves, just as salvation was becoming clear.

In her heart Amber knew her sister had a point, but she also knew Julio was right. This final sacrifice of Kalundan blood would prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that her people were fighters. That the hedonism for which they were renowned was a simple veneer over a surface made of far sterner stuff than anyone could have thought..... perhaps even the Kalundans themselves.
What sacrifices had her people not made? They had fought and died in their places, they had followed orders without question, they had given up personal comforts and everything else to defend their Kingdom and honor the will of their sovereign. Sarina was right to ask what more they had to prove. Unfortunately, Julio was also right in saying that they had to fight, here and now, participating in their own relief to guarantee that they were respected by the rest of the Multiverse.

Amber's thoughts were interrupted by reports from the field. The troops initially reported resistance, but soon that ceased. Unit by unit, the Amazons were surrendering. The fight had been taken out of them, clearly, and a great many probably wondered why they had not joined Avrila in resistance a month ago.

Seeing as there was little danger now, Amber looked to another officer and said, "Keep me appraised of the situation by radio, I'm going to the front." She found a young girl to be her driver and made her way to a jeep, which drove out through the fields of battle. She drove over the blood-drenched soil of the area to the north, where an open area of crater-filled field was filled with surrendering Amazons. Amber stood straight up in her jeep and looked out at them.

From their number, one older woman appeared. She may have even been younger than Amber, but as the Amazons did not use age-delay, she looked her age while Amber still looked to be in her 20s. "You are the Countess Amber Proctor d'Kellius?" the aged woman asked.
"I am."
"I am Ganymede Penkoulos, Priestess of Diana and acting commander of the Amazon huntresses. I thank you for allowing me to give my surrender to another woman."
Amber diplomatically nodded. "You are welcome. I promise you that you will be well...."

The cry brought the attention of everyone to a young woman who ran up from the trenches to the north. "Priestess! The Normans attack!"
"What?" she asked increduously.
"Thousands of them, Priestess, behind our lines! We... we will be slaughtered!"
Amber picked up her radio. "Command, this is Acting General d'Kellius. Be advised that we have a Norman attack developing from the north. I need those two Corps deployed forward immediately."
"Have your Amazons fall back, Priestess, and we'll catch the Normans as they're coming."
The Priestess nodded at her and made a gesture to the messenger to disperse the order.


The sound split the air like a thunderbolt, overcoming the distant rumble of battle from the riverfront. All eyes went toward the sound of the noise.

At the moment the sound passed through her ears, a spurt of blood and brain matter erupted out of the back of Amber's head. She fell over, falling out of the jeep, and the first person to her side could see from prominent bullethole in her forehead and the empty, vacant stare in her eyes that she was dead.


The second crack heralded a second falling body. The Priestess Penkoulos fell onto her back, a bullet hole in her temple and a second from where the supersonic round erupted from the rear section of her skull.

Everyone began to dive for cover while the power armor troops moved toward the source of the shooting. Several shots and a brief moment of fire later, a Norman sniper's body was fished out, and his compatriots fled back toward their lines, their mission to kill Amazon officers partially complete.
And as the snipers retreated, the Ar Division rushed forward.
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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-05-22 01:23am

Day 55,
N. bank of the Kalunda River.

At 0730 hours it had taken place. The Kalundans had been prepared for it as they advanced. They took cover, and certainly what happened aided them as much as it aided Frayuia's charge across the river, being as terrifying to the Amazons as anyone else. The sky turned blindingly white.

A series of thunderous roars followed, while the sky was still utterly obscured, like a sun was burning a few hundred miles off the ground, and the roars came down with enough force to rattle tanks and break glass deep underground in Kalunda, several damaged structures collapsing as the ground shook. Around, the wind whistled and blew and some forlorn trees, shorn of their leaves by near shell-bursts, quivered mightily. Those looking directly up were instantly blinded, their optic nerves burned out by the intensity of the light radiating down on them.

The orbiting fleet had put a broadside of timed-burst charges into the atmosphere high over the city. To far above to threaten anyone with a lethal sleet of ionizing radiation, to far above to do much actual damage, save to the massively unfortunate who had their eyes toward the sky.

This was the simple and primitive signal for the attack. The power, obscuring the intensity of the Kalundan sun by what seemed like thousands of times, terrified the remaining allied troops, including those from the up-river positions who were now caught out in the open, shifting to the down-river defences now that they'd realized there would be no two-pronged attack. But diving out of those explosions, also to far from them to be harmed, were heavy aerospace fighters and bombers. They took advantage of the surprise and the now total lack of opposition to swoop in over the shifting allied formations, spreading time-delayed cluster munitions in huge arcs, before lifting high up and ducking back down to extreme low altitude to pass through over the enemy at 50ft, here where the direct fire against the river-positions was not a threat, while making speeds in excess of Mach 7. With the formations already torn apart by millions of cluster bomblets and terrified to insensibility by the blasts in the sky, the image of bombers—some of them massing up to 100 metric tons—tearing over them at seven times the speed of sound and a height of fifty feet was to much. It was, in fact, sufficient to actually physically injure people on the ground with the shockwave of compressed air from the passing aircraft.

The allied troops began to desert enmasse from the formations with less esprit du corps. The al-Farani at the very rear were the least affected, but otherwise the panic was becoming general. They surged across the battlefield to try and reach the positions they were supposed to reinforce as everyone else more or less began to run, some notable exceptions from those Normans who realized the threat to their homestones and those Stirlins simply to tough, to deranged, perhaps, to be deterred by any such slaughter and display of godlike power. A display which had, certainly, killed thousands and wounded thousands more with the cluster-bombings, nevermind the blinded, their eyes burnt out, who wandered around the battlefield desperately as the primitive medical services of the allies finally collapsed entirely.

The more regular targeted bombings resumed immediately as fresh waves came in, sweeping over the battlefield with a terrible intensity. With no more fighting to be had around Cranstonville to speak of, all international air support on Gilead was available for this single engagement.

But along the lower course of the river, downstream of the city, as the intensity of the brightness in the sky faded, the defenders were confronted with the impossible: The international forces' tanks were powering across the river, hovering over the water, as though it didn't exist, as though they were flying. And following them were the APCs and IFVs to carry the troops to root them out. Nor were they silent: Their guns had been firing the whole while, but the intensity of the bursts in the sky had obscured the fight that they were now moving forward and indeed almost to the far bank already.

There wasn't any time to prepare! One moment they had been firing hull-down from across the river, then the sky had turned into a vision of Hell, and as soon as it had faded, the assault forces of the intervention column were upon them. What weak and pathetic remnants of an army as remained, that is, lacking any coordination, any command and control. The surviving al-Farani acted bravely, and rushed in as suicide bombers to throw themselves under vehicles, only to find that many of them had energy shields powerful enough to resist their bombs, even if they could be collapsed by their power: Yet even in a backpack there were only so many pounds of advanced high explosives which could be carried, and most of the charges were simple blackpowder, and quite inferior even for that task.

Fifty-five days had turned into a few grueling minutes of hell. The shattered formations of the allies were not really destroyed so much as they were simply bowled over, their already limited pool of survivors further attrited by a few minutes of brief and vicious combat in which the steamroller of the massed tanks went up against them. Here they had a few successes, but the tanks were moving to fast, barrels depressed to fire at point-blank with flechette rounds or energy bursts, secondary weapons firing everywhere, tracking and systematically clearing pockets of resistance in every direction before dashing forward once again, massively armoured and hovering fortresses of steel with the same mass as torpedo boats, tearing through unarmoured men trying to fight them with hand weapons.

What is perhaps most amazing is that seven tanks were actually disabled in this fight, but that was a small price to pay for the chaos it reaped in the already shattered formations. Whatever coordination the punch-drunk allies had left was finished as the APCs and IFVs came through next, firing off rigged claymores on their sides at point-blank, every machine-gun in use, flamethrowers blasting out their lethal fountains and grenade launchers clattering. The allies fought back, but the power of the enemy and the swiftness of the asssault rendered their resistance pointless, hopeless, and veritably out of touch with reality. They were simply being killed and killed and inflicting virtually no damage on their opponents whatsoever.

The al-Farani did as they promised, and died in place. The survivors found themselves almost ignored by the onrushing armour, which simply passed them by, and meant that they were no longer holding positions of any relevance, and had no orders to regroup nor any chain of command which could have executed them—as if it mattered, for in many cases the units were at 30% strength and were simply isolated little clumps of men. As they tried to regroup independently or perhaps move to get at the enemy, they were beset by the bombers, which were accurate enough to employ their guided bombs even behind the lines of Frayuia's advance quite safely. This resumed once-over of a bombing when they'd just been in about twenty minutes of incredibly intense combat was to much for many of those still remaining to bear. Only the most determined and lucky of bitter-enders remained where Frayuia's troops had swept over the beach defences.

The al-Farani formations struggling to cross the battlefield and reach the position of the international forces' attack were likewise under constant, continuous air assault from the most advanced conventional weapons available. The casualty rates they were suffering were beyond insane, no matter how dispersed their formations became, they were still out in the open, unarmoured men, against a massed air attack using precision-targeted cluster munitions. For an hour now they'd been pushing forward through this, and the number of casualties in their ranks had reached 50%. Their religious fanaticism pushed some of them onward, even as many of them proved unwilling to sacrifice their lives for Allah and fled.

Then they encountered the impossible. With communications over the whole field having entirely collapsed, they did not know that the international forces had casually crossed the river, and they ran into them, the tanks sitting wherever they could find some cover—always taking precautions even when they were unnecessary—and ready for the enemy to go ahead and attack. But how had they gotten there? It was a thought echoed across the shocked minds of every single man in the ranks, and then the tank guns opened up...

..They had gotten there by speed and terror. After pushing across the river, they had encountered the allied reserve, consisting primarily of Norman troops. This had been considerably less attrited, but it was not in a prepared defensive position, nor filled with suicidal maniacs as the al-Farani formations were. The armour had rushed through with the APCs and IFVs following, and the formations of the Norman reserves had been chopped apart by close-range fire as they were physically bowled over by the blazingly fast armoured tactics of the international forces, pitting hover-vehicles against foot infantry. The most hideous fates had been those who ended up directly under the tanks and were through misfortunately sucked into the high-velocity rotation armour-alloy blades of the GEV hovertanks of the Talorans and a few other powers by the crosscurrents they occasionally generated in addition to the normal powerful downward winds. Their deaths would only be recorded by the tank crews, and only when their tanks began to smell from the rotting of the fine paste coating the interior of the armoured skirts.

Yet there was still enough cohesion and resistance on the part of these troops that the infantry in the APCs had been deployed, and the advance had halted for the moment, facing back toward the south, the terrifying fact very clear: The international forces had already essentially cut off the retreat of the whole allied army. Only a narrow corridor along the upstream bank was not covered by their guns, and the forces outside of the developing noose were being annihilated with frightful rapidity by a combination of airstrikes and infantry work, and were in no position to survive, let alone execute a counterattack.

The forlorn hope was the al-Farani, and they did indeed attack the armour waiting for them. They did while those same armoured battalions and regiments called down massed, rolling airstrikes on the infantry struggling to get in to point-blank with them, and stayed fixed in place giving them the full rapidity of aimed fire that they could muster. But some in the al-Farani ranks managed to push on through a love of Allah, or death, to such an extent that the international forces' Slavian, Catalinian, and French brigade-elements were forced to withdraw five hundred meters to keep the al-Farani off them, while the Habsburg heavy tank company provided to support their power armour pivoted and drilled heavy fire into the flank of the al-Farani forces. A quick call brought in a squadron of aerospace fighters which dumped full bombloads of incendiaries on the position, and then the brigades were ordered to make a limited counterattack through the flames at the disordered enemy, which served to mostly finish off the al-Farani. Some courageous bitter-enders got close enough to take the fight to the enemy as they'd promised, but only three tanks were disabled by the point at which the last of the al-Farani formations in the field anywhere on Gilead were essentially and effectively annihilated.

By this point, Norman resistance to the rear of the lines the tanks were holding had largely been mopped up by the infantry, and most of the formations were being detached back to re-combine with the armour and start a measured advance forward to finish closing the noose and start chopping through the formations caught in it. Though it was not precisely closed, and a corridor of a couple kilometers remained, this space was a continuous cauldron of death from the constant artillery fire directed against it, leaving it a dubious propisition for any unit to flee through it intacted, and this left the rest of the broad front for the brigades to advance down, rolling up the enemy and grinding them underfoot.

The allied army was now doomed, and word traveled fast. The sole bright spot of the day, the developing counterattack by the Ar division against the Kalundans, disintegrated in a hail of cluster-munitions and precision bombs while the rumours of being trapped swept through the ranks, striking terror in the heart of even these, the best of the Norman troops. It was like a word had traveled through the division, that the battle was lost, and its commanders had enough control to execute a phased withdrawal before the Kalundans could properly counterattack, leaving them to advance under one of the corps commanders who had replaced Amber toward the swirling mass of humanity which had once formed the inner defences further up the river.

The Ar division was responding to more than simply terror, however. In the midst of these massed air attacks the Magistrix had been killed alongside her lover—who was now also dead—before the battle had even really begun. Erqui had perished in the air attacks while trying to organize the shifting of the up-stream corps to the downstream side of the defences. The Emir had fallen courageously with his men during the forlorn hope of his army to break the international brigades by raw courage and suicidal tactics. All that was left was the Ubar Tarl Ikmen, and he had control over the second reserve force, which was reasonably intact and now withdrawing. About 40,000 still faintly organized Norman troops, moving through the smokey chaos of this hell-rent field, already having lost 10,000 of their number to desertions and airstrikes, but coming closer to escape. He thought the Ar Division had the slightest of chances to join them, and he ordered them to make the effort. There was nothing more to be done now, and somehow, the Ubar had retained his self-control through it all. He had not panicked, and as a credit to his barbarian courage, he worked now to save as much of his army as he could.

But time was running out. Ammunition was being brought by assault landers to the brigades, ignoring the river and obviating the need to bridge it, and the infantry was mostly back aboard the APCs. The final advance could begin very, very soon, and the chance for escape was vanishing fast. The question that remained was how far Frayuia was prepared to go to finish off her enemy, recalling that she had razed Medina so many years before. But what the soldiers under her command faced now was not an army, but merely a terrified mob, with a few lone standouts among it all the braver for their existance, and all the more mad, as around them not tens but hundreds of thousands lay dead or dying, and the frenzy of continuous air attack by hundreds of aircraft at a time, thousands in all, rotating for an endless supply of munitions, kept the whole plain awash in death, and the artillery left the line of retreat a maze of endless shell-bursts, every one seeming to come directly over the head of a man, every one hideously lethal.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-05-29 12:11am

Day 55,
N. of Kalunda.

Frayuia Risim crossed the river herself several hours later. Her command vehicle was anti-grav equipped and heavily shielded, and some power-armoured troops had been ferried across by assault landers to clear the bitter-enders in the old beach defences. There was no opposition.

She could look out, herself, and see the mangled bodies of the humans who had held the lines, mostly turbaned Muslims, bodies torn through with shot and shell, cast astray at odd angles and sometimes charred to a crisp, or seeing only half the body so charred and the other half bloated and hideous. At one point she paused for a moment in her viewing and glanced back to her youngest daughter. “Alamani?”

“General?” The still rather ungainly girl stepped over to her mother's side.

“Take a look at that cluster of bodies.” She pointed to the monitor.

It took the sharp-witted girl only a few minutes to figure out what happened. “Why, they've all been machine-gunned while kneeling.”

“Yes, quite. The Slavs advanced through here; they are doing more or less what they promised to. I can't blame them, we are dealing with savages, after all, and you know that your mother executed the guardians of the temples of Medina out of cold necessity, for which I will answer to the Lord of Justice when I die. But this opens up a difficult sort of problem that you must learn to recognize. We simply don't have enough soldiers to launch a pursuit of the enemy and guard our prisoners properly at the same time. And if we can't guard them, they're a body of hundreds of thousands to our rear. Unless, of course...”

“We massacre them?” Alamani swallowed and looked with broad eyes toward her mother, ears flexed back in consternation.

“Ahaah. Yes. That would be one solution. General Tarasov essentially said as much, though phrased in civilized terms of necessity, and with an allusion to the act of, ahhh, the English monarch Henry the Fifth at some place called Agincourt.”

“I haven't heard of it. But it wasn't during the crusades, surely, for your keeper-of-arms showed me every crusader battlefield.”

“I regret being away while you were growing up and getting to experience that.”

“We all have our duties. What will you do?”

“Call off the pursuit. That is also a duty.” She turned away gruffly, but her daughter could not be denied:

“I think it is very Just. We have already reaped through them bitterly. They are helpless now and we have inflicted enough hurt on them.”

“Go back to your post,” was the answer, but Frayuia exchanged a slight smile with her husband. It had been a good moral test, and lesson, for the girl... And now it was indeed, however reluctantly, time to call off the pursuit. Once she had finished issuing them she looked around and addressed the issue to her staff:

“By the time we get all the prisoners properly detained, I hope to have obtained authorization to advance on Ar—which is where most of those we've just let go will be retreating to. It's the only path open to them, and it's the home of most of the units, which are Norman. I imagine most of the stragglers will disperse. Finishing Ar will finish all resistance in the primitive zone, save among the Stirlins, but they have lost so much of their manpower, so far from home, that we will have time to deal with suppressing any nascent insurgency there at our leisure.

“Unfortunately, as overall commander, these operations have a very secondary note, now, and with the news that General Rosario has entered Cranstonville today, the coalition must begin a delicate process of negotiation with the government she has formed to prevent further violence. So I will probably be recalled to form part of the diplomatic commission in Cranstonville.

“Which comes to who will replace me. You have all served me well, and I can understand some consternation because of this, considering her condition. But I expect that she will be fully able within a week—even from her sickbed--when we'll be in a situation to finish the suppression of the primitive zone. Accordingly, I intend to have the Princess Jhayka of the Lesser Intuit placed in command in my place. As you all know we were old comrades, and that's no accident. She is as good a commander as I; even if our styles are very different.

“The point I want to make, however, is that you must always recall my injunction to behave humanely to these poor depraved savages. They are still capable of Good, intrinsically, even if they deserve in many cases execution for the evils they have committed as willing thralls of the Deceiver. We will civilize them, just as the Princess Jhayka came here on the conviction that their being forcibly civilized was soon to take place. So I will give her the honour of civilizing them personally, fulfilling what she had predicted to me before she left on this strange journey. Remembering this, show mercy to the captives we will now take, in hope that they can be redeemed, and recall your duties as the finest representations of a civilized race.”

With this victory speech offered, not nearly so bombastic as it might have been, Frayuia turned her attention to the numerical considerations, and accordingly contacted King Julio.

“Your Royal Highness—how beaten to you think the Amazon prisoners are?”

“I don't think they could fight again, General Risim.” Julio seemed somewhat angry. “Why did you have the Princess Jhayka moved to the orbital fleet?”

“The battle was over with our victory, so she consented to my express orders that she receive immediate medical treatment on the hospital ship Ulanjoh including further permanent repairs for her injuries and cybernetic enhancements to replace her lost limb and so on. I expect she will be back to the city in a week.”

“She's mentally unstable, General. I only found out a she was being transported, from her confessor, that you had never been informed of what she had done.”

Frayuia paused for a moment, her heart filled with some genuine fear for an old friend. “What did she do, Your Royal Highness?

“When she found out that her lover, Danielle was dead—before it was revealed that she lived, if barely—she put her own eyes out with the IV needles she'd ripped from her body.” Julio was surprised to hear a bark of laughter, the first time such an explosive expression had been heard from a Taloran, originating from the opposite side of the radio link.

“So utterly melodramatic! How completely appropriate. Oh well; she already had the eyes of a dead fish. They'll just bulge a bit more, and be rather more metallic, as a sign of a stigma.”

“You don't seem concerned about the fact, General, that you were taking military advice from a deranged woman. Military advice which led to an attack by my forces today in which I lost more than a thousand more soldiers including a close advisor and friend, the Duchess d'Kellius.”

“We've lost about a thousand soldiers ourselves, and I have sympathy for the life of Her Grace. But I don't see Her Highness' melodramatic disposition as having interfered with her advice to me. The attack she said your forces were capable of, was in fact successfully carried out, and you have fifty thousand Amazon prisoners in your custody to reflect that success.”

“Perhaps, General, perhaps. But I wish to speak with her myself.”

“She will return in a week, mostly better, and likely to replace me, as I expect to be summoned to Cranstonville, where we have just received word that General Rosario has taken control of the city and the government as the Caudilla.”

Julio was flabbergasted. What was a sign of insanity in a human was being brushed aside by the Talorans, and the word that General Rosario had been allowed to take the capitol was scarcely soothing to him. “You don't mean for her government to last after the evils that the Confederacy perpetuated? For our traditional rights to be trampled on by the Catholic integralist militias?”

“Ahhhaaah... But, I am but one part of a grand coalition, Your Royal Highness, which includes many Catholic nations. That said, of Rosario, I will permit her to do nothing but keep order and arrange the demobilization of the Gilean Army, and oversee the day-to-day operations of the State to prevent chaos, until the allied powers have concluded on and implemented a new and permanent form of government for this Confederacy, whatever that may be. Taloran interests are not compatible with propping up a Catholic Integralist dictatorship, of that, I can give you my word.

“As for the Princess Jhayka, she is a solid officer, and once her body is physically healed, I will put her to good use. You may, of course, sack her if you wish from her position in the Kalundan Army, or conduct whatever inquest you like; she is required to cooperate, of that I will assure you.”

“What of the advance on Ar, then?”

“Ahhhhh... That will take some time to arrange between the processing of prisoners and the stockpiling of supplies, Your Royal Highness.”

“I'm afraid that isn't good enough. What of the Grand Duchess of Illustrious' Army before the walls of Ar? These forces that have escaped, unless you pursue and destroy them, can overwhelm her.”

“She must retire temporarily, of course. There is no worry there; let them back into Ar. The city is a death-trap for them, and that will just tempt them into trying to evacuate their families and their possessions before dispersing for guerrilla warfare, which will give us enough time to make preparations such that none of them escape to bedevil us in the future.”

“I ask you to explain that situation to her personally, General Risim, and see to it that the Devenshirite artillery you sent to reinforce us is transported to her fortwith so she can provide for the defence of her army if necessary.”

“Ah-hmm. Well. Consider it done, Your Royal Highness. I understand why you'd wish the military and political necessity to be explained by me; it is the limitations of my position, after all, not your's.”

“Is there anything else which can speed the preparations?” Julio's voice seemed very old by that point, dealing with the new world that had been created, and the dead who were amongst it.

“Can you parole the Amazons? If they are thoroughly beaten, it should be safe to just send them home. That will make it easier both to supply food here, and to deal with the other prisoners of war. Your troops are exhausted, but I fear that they will be needed for a rather extensive guard duty. The current estimates are that we will have more than two hundred thousand prisoners even without the Amazons.”

“There are many who would not like such kind treatment of them. But at least they have an allied government as an alternative to their treasonous leaders of old; they can be trusted to keep them under control, and that does, I suppose, free up resources. We need all the food that we can get here, General Risim.”

“I'm working on establishing arrangements with the fleet's commander, Admiral MacCallister, for the contents of a bulk cryo-freighter to be shuttled down continuously on the transports which are collecting the wounded and taking them to the fleet in orbit for treatment, your own, my own, and those of the enemy alike. I can promise you that by this time tomorrow, when we've formally celebrated the relief of the city, fresh meat, vegetables, fruits, and other such things, will be in the process of being distributed to the whole of your city, with nutritional supplements as well to make up for the physical toll of the siege.”

“I thank you. But this means that you intend to have a parade through the city?”

“That was my intent.”

Julio could be heard to sigh. “I will permit representative companies of each power, along with the commanders of their forces, only. The rest of your troops should be sharing in guard and security duties with my own, after all.”

“I will select ceremonial companies, then. Don't worry, Your Royal Highness. It is mostly for the benefit of the families back home.”

“Perhaps that is why I am worried. But no matter. How long until railroad service has been restored to the city?”

“By late tomorrow eevening, actually. General Arshon's secondary line troops are working on that, since I didn't want to risk them in this action.”

But you were quite willing to risk mine, identically equipped, King Julio thought with a twinge of bitterness. “Very well, General Risim. We will look forward to the opening of regular commerce again. The rebuilding of the city...”

“I am sure the Princess Jhayka will see to that.”

“If she can.”

The laughter this time was more sly. “She never told you, Your Royal Highness?”

“Apparently not. What am I missing?”

“The Princess Jhayka is one of the richest sentient beings in the multiverse. She inheirited the fortune of her family as the head of the household; and the Lesser Intuit's ruling dynasts rank about the ten richest families in the Taloran Star Empire. She is very modest, of course, which is a good trait for her to have; but certainly I think you have the right to expect her generousity, and I could not imagine her stinting you there. For all her flaws, including those you justly criticize, I know her heart, Your Royal Highness, and that is why I know that she will be able to execute the tasks I will still lay before her, despite her suffering, just as that I know she will do good by your people. Her transgressions have never stopped her from being loyal in the end.”

“Thank you for your reassurance,” Julio answered. “Now, though, I have much to attend to. The parole of the Amazons, preparations for the distribution of food, and so on. And I'd very much like you to turn your attention to explaining the situation to the Grand Duchess of Illustrious. Add that... Should there be delays in your advance, I am prepared to send Arlisa's corps to aide her.”

“Of course. That is a true show of your willingess to cooperate with the Coalition—and so to give your troops a chance at march through Ar themselves, I will make sure that no extravagance is spared in aiding in the recovery of Arlisa's corps, which is indeed now the most fit of your units.”

“Good. We will fight alongside you as equals, General Risim. Of that I am adamant, and I wish for all the multiverse that you plan to parade yourselves before to see and know this, also.”

“I understand. You seek to do good by your people; and from all I have seen, they are worthy of it. Good day, Your Royal Highness. The Lord has blessed you well on it, and give thanksgiving, I beseech to you, as I shall do also, to He who is the God of Battles, and who presides over the trial of combat to separate the wicked from the good.”

“May he also bless the dead, as much as he blessed our cause,” Julio answered with some ironic bite, and cut the line.

Sarina stared at him with bloodshot eyes, crying uncontrollably, still, from where she'd raced on finding out that her sister had died in the attack. Where she had gone to demand Jhayka pay for recommending the attack.

“You'll put another twenty thousand of our soldiers at risk!? You'll force Arlisa to fight again?”

“Her corps won't have seen action for two weeks by the time we encounter any resistance again,” Julio answered quietly. “And we need to do it. Jhayka was right. The attack succeeded. We have won the respect of the international forces... And that was worth a thousand lives. Including your sister's. Sarina, she who was the most reluctant participant in our society's mores and customs, is also the person who died leading the charge to preserve them. In later days you can remember your sister and realize that without her, we might damn well have Catalina Rosario's paramilitary friends patrolling the streets of Kalunda, beating up any woman who touches another woman in public, for good. But now we have some power and prestige in our own right, and she died to make sure that we have it, so that we could put it to the good use of saving our people.”

“It's not fair!! Damn Jhayka, and damn them all...”

“No! No it's not fair. But neither was my dear Sara's life. Neither was this whole damned war! Not a single death here was fair. But Kalunda still stands, and Kalunda is more than just a city: We're a culture, and a society, a people. And that still exists, and it is undiminished, and if we must spill more blood yet to preserve that, then I will spill it. Make no mistake, I will never forget these nights, and I cannot imagine having Arlisa's corps in active combat. But at the same time I will not give the international forces one single chance to stint us and to stint our future. There will still be a Kalunda for the generations that come after. Your sister's sacrifice is not in vain.”
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-05-29 04:17am

The City of Kalunda.
30 Ojhwa, I.Y. 617
3 March 2163 AST

The band was playing a tap-caper as the review wound through the city. In all there were twelve companies of infantry marching crisply in dress uniforms with bayonets fixed to their rifles, one from each of the intervening nations, and each one led by a regimental band from that nation as well, and flag-bearers. But there were more companies as well; two Alliance, one Taloran, one Habsburg, the international battalion sent to relieve the city during the desperate weeks of struggle before. Julio had granted them the honour of joining the review, marching with dressed ranks which revealed their grim losses in combat, which were nearly 10% of their strength now buried in the city they had helped to defend, or desperately crippled on the ships above and now only slowly recovering, if at all.

There were also representative companies of the East Port militia which had volunteered to fight for right with the coalition forces; of the militias of the south of the city of East Port the same, a company of the troops of Berglund which had also participated in the relief, the full remaining strength of the battalion of second-line Kalundan troops sent with the refugees, now hardened veterans. And beyond them in turn, Jhayka's household troops, returning to the city under their commander, General Arshon nee Priscilla Laurentii.

The commanders of each international contingent marched as well; in many cases they had found horses and entered the city like this, though the Catalinian and Alliance commanders marched with their men. At the head of the parade was, of course, Her Grace Lieutenant General Frayuia Risim, the Duchess of Medina, wearing a cavalry uniform lacking the kilt in favour of more practical trousers, so that she could ride a Rostok, one of those eighteen which Jhayka had originally brought with her to the planet. With pennons fluttering, the blairy and somewhat mid-eastern sound of the Tap-Caper, which managed to sound a bit oriental at the same time and had some splendid discordances, jilted those tired and brought everyone else to attention. They paraded through the rubble-strewn streets without missing a beat, through the buildings which had been demolished by the war.

All around were the silent, shell-shocked survivors of the Siege of Kalunda, the innocent civilians who had by and large survived it, 415,00 of the civilians in the city, which claimed 465,000 civilians at the start of the siege, being still alive, and 35,000 of them having perished, discounting 15,000 civilian factory workers who died fighting to defend their factories in the later stages. Of the 557,000 combatants of Kalunda in the city, approximately 140,000 of them were dead. 417,000 survived, and these could now all be guaranteed survival and usually full recovery with the modern medicine of the fleet. Of the 4,500 foreigners who had been in the city, or who had been brought into it as relief forces, 500 had been killed in action, and another 63 who remained civilians perished in the siege. So the total population in the besieged city had been approximately 1,025,500. A thousand brave marines had come to help defend the city; and of those 1,026,500 in all, now only 835,000 were alive, and a hundred thousand of those had already been evacuated for medical attention to the fleet in orbit, cramming it full of the enormous number of casualties, especially the tens of thousands of gassed soldiers who were suffering enormously without proper treatment.

The city, which at its largest and counting the suburbs, had only contained a half a million people before the in-flood of soldiers and refugees with the start of the war, was still terrifically overcrowded, and there was nowhere else for anyone to go. The railroad cars were being used to transport prisoners to the rear, as they were steadily marched in groups of thousands across the pontoon bridges erected over the river and to the railhead, still being advanced on temporary track laid by pioneers to connect with the sidings and industrial railroad and tracks into the city which were still intact. But the people were, for the most part, in a very happy daze. There was a constant stream of landers bringing food down to them, all cryogenically preserved so that it was immensely fresh and rich in taste and selection. Many people ate themselves sick at first, after so long on the strange and malnourishing siege rations.

But above all, as they gathered to watch the relief, they realized that it was over. The Kalundan women whose spirit had not been utterly devastated by the terror of the siege responded in an enthusiastic way, flinging themselves into the arms of the relieving soldiers in the representative parade (save the Talorans, who remained intimidating to the population in a respectful way, and, of course, were aliens), most of whom were quite pleased to have been selected for this duty precisely because of the attention it garnered them.

In all there were 19 companies, about 4,000 troops, plus the 700 survivors of the Kalundan battalion, Arshon's proud little band of 83 mercenaries and Taloran retainers, the Slavian embassy guards, the sundry command staffs and regimental bands, and taking up the rear, the six hundred or so “gentlemen volunteers” of private means, either trapped on Gilead or traveling with the fleet, who had formed an auxiliary to the international forces and whom Julio had allowed to march since they were all volunteers and independent men (and women) rather than of the nations. A military parade of six thousands strong was an impressive sight, even now, though the barrels of the guns were adorned by the end of it more with flowers than bayonets, and the bands had taken up more airy tunes like “yankee doodle”, “the British Grenadiers” and other such immortal light marches, the French being the notable holdouts who were still brassily playing the triumphal Marche d'Austerlitz right to the end of the parade.

In front of the burned out shell of the palace, the formation came to a halt and arranged itself in parade stance where the gardens had once been before fire had put an end to them. On a podium constructed of rubble stood King Julio, and Frayuia nudged her rostok forward to meet him in person for the first time, having viewed his city for herself, and seen the stand. Oh yes, they had all seen it, especially amongst the rubble in the areas of fighting, where unburied and rotting corpses could easily be seen.

She approached, dismounted from her rostok, and briskly climbed up the broken concrete pieces to the regal if haggard figure of King Julio, towering above him as a Taloran always would. Coming to a stop before him, she clicked her heels and bowed low and respectfully, her intense green hair flung apart in wild patterns by the energetic action, and a palm required to brush her long bangs away before she could see again. “Your Royal Highness. We have arrived, as was our mission, and cleared the enemy away from your city, who even now rush each other to flee beyond the frontiers of your land. Here are the finest of the fine and brave soldiers answered the call your gallant stand sent to the whole of the civilised world.

“We are, I may only hope, a small reminder of universal Good, so that when a tiny land, wrongfully attacked and vilely betrayed, stands up for itself and fights to the bitter end, if needs be, from forces barbarian and despicable, that the great powers of the universe will not find it below their notice, and will answer the universal call of civilisation, to defend it where we ought and preserve it where we can. So here are the troops who came, Your Royal Highness; and they are your's to review.”

Frayuia's penultimate sentence seemed to reassure Julio immensely. It was, after all, an acknowledgement of all he had strived to accomplish. It was, at least from Frayuia, a recognition that he had made his land of Kalunda a civilized nation, that he had brought it out of the primitive zone. At terrible price, but it had been done, and with that price came the recognition of the world.

“I thank you, General Risim, and am pleased to meet you in person at last. Thank you for the invitation; let us indeed go and review your troops.” He started forward, and she followed in recognition of his status, however tenuous it might be; a white horse was provided for the King of Kalunda, shifting uneasily alongside the strange and massive war-boar that was a rostok, but the two animals were well-controlled by fine equestrians of their respective species, and together, besieged monarch and relieving General, they went out and reviewed the forces of relief, while all around them, the people of Kalunda gradually dispersed from the event, and returned to the fresh food and clean, pure water which was brought from above, and to them was on this day more precious than gold.

Some of them sobbed, when they dispersed, and some of them made love; some of them played games with their children; some stood silently in the rubble of their homes, and some stoically went on with their established routines, with a sort of inner grace which was itself noble. They had survived, and their city stood free and unconquered, an undeniable testament to a fortitude which, from whatever place it had sprung, had given them the strength to survive when they had been scarcely thought of as better than savages, themselves. They had not just outlasted their old enemies, and treacherous friends, then; their simple perseverence in the face of every terror had been sufficient to make them 'proven in action' to the whole multiverse. Through all the carnage, they could hold their heads up high, and be proud even amongst those who strode the stars.
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In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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Post by The Duchess of Zeon » 2007-06-01 12:22am

The dispatches of Lt. Wilhelm von Sternburg, Imperial Army; attached to the Marine Expeditionary Brigade under Generalmajor Reinhart Fries, and reporting under contract for the Kronen Zeitung wrote: Local time – 30 December 2841

On the day after the battle I had the opportunity to ride with General Fries in his staff car to examine the scene of the battle. Our road began at the khor just ahead of the so-called “Fileya Line” which had constituted the outermost defences of the city. On passing the line, we had the unpleasant visage of the shell-holes and bomb craters from our fire having torn up the bodies of the dead who had been buried in amongst the entrenchments and re-exposed to the air. The stench in this area was unbearable, and we passed hastily by for nobler climes.

It was difficult to believe that the ground sloped here. Even the Princess Jhayka and her siege-engineers had apparently not realized it, and it had materially aided the barbarian tribes in the beginning of the fighting by being used as cover for their attacks on the Fileya line. It was here, also, that the snipers of the Norman “Ar” division had positioned themselves for the assault on the defending Amazons, directly behind their command headquarters. We understand the Magistrix of the Amazons, as the tribal leader of this perverse band was known, and who bore the name of Athena Policrates--her last name in honour of the fact that one of her ancestors had taken a walled Norman town (Such an irony for her to die, then, in a failed siege!)—had fallen here earlier in the day to our air attacks. No grave or body was visible, as the Amazons who have been paroled by necessity, have turned their attention to the disposal of the dead by their barbarous custom of cremation.

Many bodies of men of the Ar division were here, however. This valiant force, made up entirely of the sons of the city of Ar and comprising the best and most disciplined of the Norman troops, with the most experience, had pivoted and attacked through our constant air assaults, bloodying the nose of the Kalundans as they sallied from their city during the general fight, and pummeling the Amazons in punishment for their surrender to our forces.

Three days after the battle the bodies were swollen to almost gigantic proportions. Twice as large as living men, they appeared in every sense monstrous. The more advanced corpses hardly resembled human beings, but rather rather great leather bladders. Frightful gashes scarred the limbs, and great black stains, once crimson, covered their garments. The sight was appalling. The smell redoubled the horror. But here the bodies were only a few, in small clusters, every three yards or so. We were to find these casualties light by the standards of the day.

We rode on. A strong, hot wind blew from the west across the great plain and hurried the foul and tainted air to the river. Here we came now to the area where the forces along the downstream side of the barbarian defences had tried to retreat when the Duchess of Medina flanked them. They had abandoned their defensive positions, and were fully exposed to our air and artillery attacks and then brought under direct fire from our advancing armour. Men had fallen in groups of a dozen or so to each bomb or shell, and we could discern their number only by the shattered limbs strewn 'round the craters. The cluster munitions, which forced us to exercise especial caution, as numerous unexploded devices must remain, had left more of the bodies intact, and around their detonations, little clusters of five corpses or so would remain quite visible.

Pressing on, we reached a point where the direct fire of our infantry and armour had torn into the fleeing mass until it had begun to surrender. Here the bodies lay so thickly as to hide the ground. In a space not exceeding a hundred yards square we were able to count at least five hundred corpses festering, and those were only that which remained intact enough to be discerned.

I have tried to gild war, and solace myself for the loss of dear and gallant friends, with the thought that a soldier's death for a cause that he believes in will count for much, whatever may be beyond this world. When a soldier of our civilized Empire is killed, his limbs are composed and his body borne by friendly arms reverently to the grave. The wail of fifes and the roll of drums, the triumphal promise to rise again in Christ of the Funeral Mass, reassure and envigorate. One is reassured that all of one's friends who have died in service of the Emperor and God will be with him for all eternity in heaven, amongst the other warriors of the faith.

But what fate the heathen dead? No dignity of unconquerable manhood here; all was filthy with corruption. They died unredeemed, with no hope of salvation in Christ and no nation to even remember their sacrifice. Yet for all these men died in flight, and might be castigated for it, we would soon find evidence of those barbarians who were as brave as any men who have ever lived. On we rode.

Now we approached the low copse where our brigades had those three days prior held against the most vigorous counterattack imaginable. It was pressed by the al-Farani, and their true, if fanatical, expressions of Mohammedan faith aroused from all the most admiration, even from the Duchess of Medina herself; the strange and imposing alien commander, whose position amongst her people who have annexed the humans of their universe stands quite similar to that of Radetzsky in our histories, arranged for the burial of their commander, and it was from the direction of the al-Farani attack we approached, and thereby came to the grave of the Emir.

It was here that Captain von Prittwitz of the 2nd battalion had taken the Black Banner of Jihad from the flag-bearer in the cluster of men about the Emir, the first of those infamous black flags bearing the takbir, the declaration of faith in Allah, to be claimed as a prize of war by our forces in several hundred years. The Emir fell here with a solid wall of his ghazis 400 strong around him, who died to a man in a solid wave around him, while his men, in a vague triangular form, fell in great masses all around, not just covering the ground but in some places laying two or three deep, meeting truly the medieval saying of “windrows of corpses”. It should not need be stated that the position of the Emir's body was at the apex of this triangle.

We found his grave being a cairn of stones, arranged respectfully to face in the direction of his capitol, since no permanent orientation toward Mecca is possible this far from Earth. The cairn was marked with the Emir's sword and a rock with ideograms in Taloran seal script reverently hammered into it. On returning to the city I kindly asked about as to if any of the Taloran officers with which we liased were aware of the meaning of the inscription, and a Oberstleutnant Ulysia itl (von, to us) Ersambit obliged me, saying that the inscription declares: “Here, oh God, lies a brave man, who died true to his faith. Do not forget his soul on the Day of Judgement.”

At least one of the barbarians on that field was thus commemorated, and he the most worthy, the Mohammedan Emir who led his men from the front and died pitting flesh against machines. As to the Taloran sentiment, born of their belief not unlike that of the Mohammedans themselves that all monotheists may reach an eternal reward, I cannot justify it under Church doctrine, but I must say that I have wished the same on hearing of the noble deaths of Protestant and Jewish soldiers in service of His Majesty, on more than one occasion.

None of this dulce et decorum existed about the other corpses, however, and one might criticize us for this, but the task of resupplying and of dealing with the huge mass of prisoners taken, estimated at some 207,000 in all, has left us very unable to deal with the matter of the burials of the enemy dead, which are estimated to number almost 300,000. For all that, they surely deserved it, and I regreted the necessary oversight. Many of these men had taken their own lives in acts of suicide martyrdom against tanks around the point where the Emir charged into our own lines before being shot down. They had thrown themselves under the tanks or personnel carriers and detonated bombs strapped around their bodies, utterly committed to die in the name of Allah, and their commitment sparks a frightful horror at the blind fanaticism of the Muhammedan mind as much as it brings forth equally an admiration for their courage. It left in me a conviction that their claim beyond the grave in respect of a valiant death was not less good than that which any of our countrymen could make. The thougth may not be original; it may happily be untrue; it seemed certainly most unwelcome.

The incidents of the battle might be traced by the lines and patches of the slain. Here was where the Catalinian brigade had repulsed the attack of Ahmed Sheikh-ad'din. There was where the Taloran armoured brigade had faced about to meet Ali Abd'ul-Hazim's Division as it attacked our flank in a last effort to support an Emir who was already dead. Both these generals of the Muhammedan cause also perished with their men. The white-clad bodies of the Muhammedans, slaughtered for miles out from our defensive copse and right up into it, made from a distance the image of a great herd of sheep grazing upon the grass, whereas on closer inspection the bodies showed the usual squalor.

At the point of Ali Abd'ul-Hazim's attack we could see only the most splendid and terrible of scenes, the vision of the continuous lines of white-clad bodies, the piles and windrows stacked up, the burnt remains and the craters where the energy fire had struck, the grass burnt and seared, and some of the bodies burned in the fires later; and all of this from the most incredible of actions, from an infantry attack by light-armed men straight at a solid line of armoured vehicles and into the teeth of a storm of projectiles. Every man had rushed forward as fast as he could, and some when they fell shot rolled many lengths in front of the position of death, destroyed but not conquered by our industrial power.

At such sights the triumph of victory faded on the mind, and a mournful feeling of disgust grew stronger. All this was bad to see, but worse remained; after the dead, the wounded. There may have certainly been wounded ghazis amongst the heaps of slain. The atmosphere forbade a safe approach; the ground was littered with unexploded projectiles and the men might be armed, or equipped with suicide belts. Certainly they would seek to take several officers of His Majesty's forces with them, as a barbaric ticket to the paradise of the martyr, to their gardens of milk and honey and 72 dark-eyed houris.

As for those we encountered as we traveled further along, into the high ground and over toward the upstream side of the defences, a little could be done, under the security of heavy guns, where they were not all Muhammedans and those who were had not been part of the suicide squads. A few medics riding with us distributed painkillers until their stocks were exhausted; some bandages were offered. The Brigadier himself dispensed a few drops of water from a large bottle he was carrying to each man, until it was all exhausted, and I repeated the effort. The sun had beaten down on them mercilessly for three days and they were all very thirsty. It would have been a grateful sight to see a large bucket of water placed before each shaking, feverish figure. That, or a nameless man with a pistol and plenty of energy cartridges, would have seemed most merciful.

The scenes were pathetic. Where there was a shady bush four men had crawled to die. Someone had spread a rag on the thorns to increase the shade. Three of the unfortunate creatures had attained their object; the fourth survived, shot through both legs. We gave him a drink, and you could not think such joy could come from a small cup of water. One of the bullets was still in the left knee-cap, and Prince Lichnowsky, the Brigadier's chief of staff, extracted it with his pocket knife. I have seen, and shall see perchance again, a man with a famous name worse employed.

Would the reader be further sickened with the horrors of the field? There was a man that had crawled a mile in three days, but was yet two miles from the river. He had one foot. The other remained behind. I wonder if he ever reached the water he had struggled so hard to attain! There was a man with both legs shattered; he had dragged himself in a sitting posture, making perhaps four hundred yards a day. The extraordinary vitality of these poor wretches only prolonged their torments. So terrible were the sights that the brain failed to realise the suffering and agony they proclaimed. The mind cannot appreciate that an arrangement of line and colour lying on the ground was a human being, partly putrefied but still alive. Perhaps Nature lent a kind delirium to their minds; but most of the men I saw were sane and feeling every pang. And meanwhile they all struggled toward the river. And it was along the river that we saw one man who had reached it and lay exhausted but content on the bank. Another had attained the water and died along it. Let us hope he had his drink first.

All of this was three days after the action. The effort to save all the wounded was, I assure the reader, continuous and ongoing. We reported every single man that we found alive. The simple magnitude of the number of wounded, however, precluded their rapid rescue, when the simple act of feeding the prisoners and the starving denizens of Kalunda itself was also demanded of us, and took so much of our transport capacity to effect.

At these sights I was certainly impatient to get back to camp. The Brigadier, however, decided to pressure on. With reluctance I decided against begging off, and proceeded to continue to accompany the tour of the field. We doubled back toward the downstream side, going through the most horrifying field of corpses imaginable. Here the Warleader Erqui of the Stirlins had led the divisions from the upstream side across the isthmus separating the great bend in the river Kalunda, trying to get his men to grips with our crossing force. His advance had been subjected to one of the greatest massed air attacks possible, and certainly close to a majority of the enemy dead were to be found in this place alone.

And it was here that we found the body of the Warleader, laying alongside the shattered vehicle he had unwisely used for movement, dashing from unit to unit to urge his men forward. His corpse had been thoroughly shattered and torn in two, which reduced the bloating, and hideously left the expression on his face still very visible, which showed his last thoughts more curiously angry than pained: Surely the regret of an honest general who had tried his best, and only regreted that he could not see through the counterattack to be made by his men.

We buried him, as best we were able, in a nearby shell crater, thinking him at least as worthy as the Emir in having an honest rest, and realizing that the hands of noblemen were not unsuited for the purpose of laying to rest a valiant general, however barbaric. No priest was available, and his soul was, regardless, beyond saving, but the civilised mind demands this final act.

Traveling onward again, it was now the late evening, and the setting of the sun gave splendid views of beautiful colours along the downstream bank as we swung back toward the city. Yet within the river itself, here, too, there was no beauty. The men who had died in place defending the riverfront, against our massed barrage of direct-fire weaponry, were for the most part still in place amongst the reeds and the shallow pools along the riverbank. Their bodies, not dislodged by the sluggish current, were more rapidly decayed from the influence of the bacteria in the river, and the water in the disconnected pools bore a hideous pinkish tinge. Many of the bodies were half-buried in the mud, and we could but hope that others were fully and honestly buried upon impact in this fashion; for as much as we could see that the river had been the object of so many of the wounded, we could see that here, too, many of the wounded who had fought in place had fallen down only to drown in the river before they might be saved.

It was enough even for the brigadier. The haze deepened into the gloom of the night, and the uncertain outlines of the distant hills faded altogether from view. We rode back to Kalunda, and left the battlefield to its silent occupants. There they lie, those valiant warriors of a false faiths and fallen denominations; their only history preserved by their conquerors; their only monument, their bones. Three days before I had seen them attack, eager, confident, resolved. The roar of their shouting had swelled like the surf on a rocky shore. They had numbers, vitality, and ferocity. Now only the heaps of corrupted bodies in the plain, and the bitter remnants retreating under the Ubar Ikmen, remain. A half a million of this barbarian host are either in our hands, or dead. The terrible machinery of scientific war has done its work.

Yet in a distant age one cannot help but imagine that they shall be remembered. When Kalunda is a gleaming and vast metropolis, a fully modern city which stands as part of a civilization where schools and theatres have replaced the mud hovels and ruins, one can only but imagine that the farmer, turning up a skull amid the luxuriant crop, will wisely and presciently observe “there was aforetime a battle here”, and thus shall the event be remembered.
The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth. -- Wikipedia's No Original Research policy page.

In 1966 the Soviets find something on the dark side of the Moon. In 2104 they come back. -- Red Banner / White Star, a nBSG continuation story. Updated to Chapter 4.0 -- 14 January 2013.

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