A Most Unfortunate War
This part originally appeared in the September 2012 issue.
130th of 2025 (321-93): A Meeting on Mikur
Force Commander Charles Diishu waited to see the admiral. His crisply pressed uniform the very epitome of Marine precision, His nails were spotless and every hair was in its assigned place. Precise, meticulous and measured, that was Force Commander Diishu’s way. The young lady lieutenant looked up from her desk and indicated that Darant was free now. He entered the room and noted the classic form of its adornment, Pictures of the admiral’s illustrious ancestors stretching back into the Sylean Federation21, ships both old and new of the fleet. Darant was studying a starchart, symbols and lines indicating forces red and blue. “Ah, Force Commander, thank you for coming. Is it Charles or Charlie?”
“Charles, sir.” Diishu loathed Charlie.
“Well Charles, you come highly recommended.”
“Thank you, sir.” His voice was steady, measured and betrayed absolutely nothing.
“Well, I suppose you know why I requested you?”
“The war is not progressing well, sir? And you are in need of timely intelligence? I took the liberty of studying the latest reports along with details of their culture on the journey here, sir.”
The admiral was impressed, the reports of Diishu’s attention to detail appeared accurate “Yes, yes, you are quite correct, Force Commander.” There was just the trace of irritation in Darant’s voice.
“Sir, if I may be so bold, has no one considered negotiations? My research indicated it might prove fruitful.”
Somewhat more than a trace this time “While they hold Imperial territory? Unthinkable.”
“Of course, sir.” It was not Diishu’s place to question such things.
“So, Charles, to cut to the core of this. We need intelligence, we have a number of prisoners with vital information who have proven… resilient. Can you achieve results?”
“I believe so, sir; my studies of their culture have indicated several approaches that may prove successful. It may however, require the occasional… unorthodox methodology.”
Darant had heard the rumours. “But you will remain within the rules of war?”
Force Commander Diishu remained silent. Admiral Darant pondered, so many lives already, and so many more if we don't end it soon. “Very well, Force Commander.” He signed an order. What he was unaware of was that he had also just signed his death warrant.
195th of 2025 (021-94): Trapped at Kangesa
A cruiser, a hulking great cruiser. I looked around, Willy, Petra and Sarah were already dead, Shadta was covered in so much blood, who knew about the rest. Shadta nodded “Raledenet”. I smiled. “Raledenet bu shish wala.” I brought the Lucknow hard over into a violent spin, put on Tolur’s 10th and pushed the drives past the red. This would be a fun ride.
Captain Ishugashii sat on the bridge of the Skanna. Not a bad haul, three raiders destroyed, one crippled and the fifth to follow. He’d studied the way the Luriani fought, from the Consolidation Wars onward. These raiders tied up so many resources but when you managed to catch them, easy meat. Jamison, on sensors, spoke: “Sir, red two, the cripple sir, it’s being odd.”
“Yes, sir, I think they’re dead, gone into an uncontrolled spin.”
“Good, target everything at red five then.” Something was niggling at him.
Jamison again “Sir, very odd, I can't be sure, but I think red two is still accelerating.”
“Well, be sure, man!”
“Yes, sir, but hard to get a lock with that much spin.” Vital time ticked by “Yes, sir, it’s accelerating.”
“Vector?” Something still niggled, what was it?
“A moment please, sir.” More time.
“No vector sir, it’s uncontrolled, the pilot must be dead, left the drives open.”
Weapons, this time: “Lock on red five, sir.”
Something was wrong. “Hold fire, maintain lock, transfer the plot of red two to my console.” The clock was ticking perilously close to zero. He studied it carefully, it wasn’t possible, nobody could control a ship in that spin. Comms this time: “Sir, I’m getting a transmission from red two.”
“Transmission? A surrender, a distress call?” Captain Ishugashii didn't know it, but the Skanna was out of time now.
“No sir, I think it’s music.”
“Music? Put it on speaker.” Tolur’s 10th, Raledenet bu shish wala. ‘No Fear to Dance Alone’. A classic piece, one of his favourites. The title made no sense—never let a bunch of poets and musicians design a language. It was a metaphor of course, the Luriani never dance alone, a metaphor for… The realisation settled on him as a look of sheer terror. He screamed his next orders: “Shift fire, everything on red two!”
“With respect, sir, it’s no threat, nobody could fire from that spin.” But the captain knew red two had no intention of firing.
“Fire the damn weapons at it!” But he'd let red two get too close. The Lucknow came out of her spin and set vector.
The bridge exploded in a sheet of flame. The Lucknow was breaking in half, but it didn't matter, I’d got her more than close enough now. I felt my harness give way and I was floating. It was like drifting with the sesherin22, by instinct, almost, I sealed eyes and ears, emptied lungs23. I’d never been religious till then, but I swear it was Sesh Herself’s hand that guided me gently through a storm spray of shards and fire and molten metal. It was almost serene flying from the inferno into the blackness, odd thoughts as I watched my long hair drift, how come my stylist never got my hair to look that good? I watched as the glowing funeral pyre the Lucknow had become tore soundlessly through the heart of the cruiser. I saw the bright blue flash as the Markwies departed. The pulsing strobes of rescue balls, there were survivors. I prayed for them, pae Sesh vuryn shi afer bias shi bu emmes, I thought as I counted the stars. I should be dead, dead many times over. I had danced alone, but death hadn't taken me. I touched the button on my emergency beacon.
Lieutenant-Commander Mann watched as over five thousand metric tonnes of white hot metal and ceramics slammed into the Skanna. They never stood a chance. Her XO looked on in horror, then spoke “Ma’am?”
“About to jump ma’am.”
“Let them go, we’ll never get a lock in time. Survivors?”
“Working on it, ma’am. We have forty nine on sensors.”
“Standard recovery sweep, if you please.”
Mann paused a moment. “Who is acting for the Protectorate during the war?”
“Their diplomatic proxy.”
The XO tapped on his pad. “The Hiryu Feodorate”
“Do they have a diplomatic mission in the system?”
More tapping. “Yes.”
“Get me a secure line, I need to make a recommendation for gallantry24.”
Mann dictated a brief note, attached red two’s transponder code and confirmed send. The XO spoke again, sounding incredulous “Ma’am, we have another survivor. I don't believe it, one from red two. The Skanna’s last salvo must have thrown them clear. Should I pick them up?”
“Yes; this is war, not murder.”
The We-etab’s sick bay was a bustle of activity; it was not designed to deal with this. Lieutenant-Commander Mann crossed herself as she passed the bodies in the corridor. Doctor Alveraz was bending over somebody on the table. “So this is her, Carla?”
The doctor did not look up, busy cutting into the pressure suit, “It would seem so; how she survived is beyond me.”
“How is she?”
“Best I can make out, second degree burns, some very nasty lacerations, probably eight broken ribs, both legs fractured and she’s lost a fair amount of blood. Nothing I can’t fix. I’m worried about radiation; she was out there a long time without a suit. But I’m not sure how she’ll react to standard drugs25.”
Mann looked the woman on the table, the look of gentleness surprised her, “Carla, I would very much appreciate it if she were not to die.” Mann noted the holster, right handed, odd26.
Carla snorted, “I shall do my best.”
Mann added, “Oh, and remove her sidearm and get a Marine guard down here.” Mann had no intention of underestimating this woman.
226th of 2025 (052-94): A Hospital on Mikur
Admiral Darant strode the corridors of the hospital. He had never liked the place, the white walls and smell of antiseptic. He reached the room he was looking for, the plaque on the door said Baron Doctor Samuel Franks, Director; there was a long string of letters beneath. He knocked, paused and entered. “Ah, your Lordship, a very pleasant day is it not?”
The director was busy. “I’m sure you’re not here to talk about the weather, Admiral.”
“No, indeed not. Your patient, the Luriani Lieutenant-Commander, how is she doing?”
His eyes narrowed. “She is much improved, but as I said last week, a full recovery will take some time.” He doubted the Admiral’s interest was motivated by a concern for her health.
“Mmm, yes, but we don’t require a full recovery; is she well enough for some more questioning?”
“I’d imagine so, but I doubt you’ll get any more from her than last time.”
The admiral’s mouth formed a tiny smile. “Yes, I imagine you’re right, she is quite charming but very stubborn.”
“Well, she did fly her ship into a cruiser; that tends to indicate a degree of determination.”
The admiral chuckled, “We could use some of that determination on our side. However, she also has a vast amount of intelligence we need. We need to interrogate her properly.”
The director’s ire was rising. “As I told you, she will not be ready for transfer for at least a month, probably more.”
It was the admiral’s turn to feel his anger. “I don’t think you understand the seriousness of the situation; the war is not going well for us. Our counter-offensive was a costly failure. We’ve got uprisings on half a dozen worlds and another dozen on the brink. Our forces are too thinly spread; when they launch their next offensive, and they will, they’ll rip right through us again. And those damn raiders not only hit our supply lines, but keep the uprisings going. We’ve got the commander of one of those raiders and they don’t know we’ve got her. We’ve already got a huge butcher’s bill for this war. The information in her head will save countless Imperial lives!”
The director was on his feet. “I will not sign any release papers!”
Admiral Darant regained his composure. “Fortunately, that will not be necessary, your Lordship.” He slid a sheaf of papers over the desk. “I think you’ll find them all in order.”
242nd of 2025 (068-94): The Memorial on Iguu
Iguu had become the centre of Protectorate’s first defence line. It was a hive of activity as deep guns were emplaced, minefields were sown, troops were prepared. They knew, sooner or later, the Imperium would want their world back, but they’d make them pay for it. Amongst all this activity, a ceremony was being held. A memorial for another dead ami, one of many now. But the one for the Lucknow was slightly different, a little more silver27, a Star for Valour was still special. They were gone, like so many others. They sang, they cried, they remembered, they talked. But grief would have to wait.
Jane found Siish after the service, weeping alone. She cradled him in her arms. All he could say was, “I should have told her, Jane.”
269th of 2025 (095-94): Interrogation Centre 17
I shivered, everything ached. They had been at me for weeks, months… I’d lost track of time. Night and day didn’t exist here, just the searing light of arc lamps. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d slept or ate. The chair was hard, the room freezing and the bindings cut into my wrists and ankles. Diishu came into the room. He walked around me several times, sat in front of me and began to eat. “Well, Komada-Lekhtenant, here we are again.” With effort, I raised my head. “…would appear so.”
“We could go at it again, but I’m running out of patience, so I’ll give you a choice. I would like a list of communication codes please.”
I tried to think of a quip, but I was so tired, all that came was, “I’d really rather not.”
“I thought so. Well there is another approach I have found effective in the past. I believe it is called sishgukhidtar.” I shuddered, he couldn’t… “Ah, I see you are aware of it.” Aware of it? How could any Luriani not be aware of it? “So, I will ask you again: Will you co-operate?”
He waited. I mumbled, “No, no, you can go to hell.”
Strapped to a surgical table, the smell of disinfectant and alcohol was overpowering. I lay there waiting. It was cold and dark. I felt the door open and three large people walked in. The lights came on, blinding. Captain Ashimakhi came up to the table behind me, I couldn’t see her but I knew she was there. I couldn’t see or hear the others, but I could feel them moving. “Well dinkir, I guess you know I’m here. For now at least.” Dinkir, Siish called me that, but it sounded very different when he said it. “Right handed? Marked, they say. I suppose it’s pointless trying to convince you to co-operate? Is there anything you’d like to say?”
I was terrified. “Pae Sesh vuryn shi afer bias shi bu emmes.”
“The prayer for those lost at sea? I can assure you, dinkir, I know exactly where I am. Or perhaps it was for yourself, dinkir?” I summoned the last of my courage and lied, “No, it was for you.”
She kept walking, pacing, moving. “‘May Sesh find you and lead you to safety’, mmmm. Or is it ‘guide’? I can never remember which it is. But that’s Luriani for you, so annoyingly precise and so frustratingly vague at the same time. So many words saying basically the same thing, each with its own specific meaning, giving great precision. But then, when you actually speak it, you use so much allegory and allusion that nothing means what it’s supposed to mean.” She kept pacing. “And then there’s the fact that you won’t speak it if you can’t be sure everyone understands it, because that would be so, so impolite28.” She stopped for a moment. “Ah, but wait, you didn’t know I spoke Luriani, so you were being rude to me, dinkir, oh, very clever, dinkir.”
Back to moving, moving all the time. “But Luriani are good at that, aren’t they, making one thing be something else. Take for instance the Vilani and the Mmarislusant. Do you know what the difference between them is? Nothing. Nothing at all; they are the same thing. They are the same thing… except Mmarislusant are part of the people and Vilani are evil and untrustworthy29.” So much movement. “They will grind you to dust, dinkir, wipe your precious people from the stars, and plant their flag on Daramm’s smoking carcass. All because you can never say what you actually mean. And I will rejoice when they do it. And how do I know all this, dinkir? Because I am Mmarislusant, and I am going to rip your soul out.”
She laughed. “And that, dinkir, is the most painful thing that will happen to you here, you will know one of your own precious people did this to you.” Pacing, pacing all the time pacing. “So, dinkir, is there anything you’d like to say?” She was standing over me like some immense colossus, her eyes fixed directly on mine trying to bore into the very centre of my being. Hate and venom had dripped from her every word.
With the slightest grin I replied, “It’s guide, yishin is to lead.”
326th of 2025 (152-94): Interrogation Centre 17
Special Agent Fakri Vu of the Imperial Ministry of Justice sat patiently in Commandant Diishu’s office. He’d been here many times before. His blue suit was neatly pressed and his briefcase sat perfectly positioned on his lap. Commandant Diishu liked to make him wait, it was a way of showing he was in control. But this time Agent Vu didn’t mind waiting, he had almost kissed Baron Franks when he came to him. The commandant eventually entered, walked behind his desk, sat, rocked back and put his feet firmly on the desktop. “Agent Vu, again. How may I help you?”
Vu looked at the solidly built marine. “Force Commander Diishu” he started airily “Under the terms of Imperial Edict 375 I formally request access to this facility to conduct an investigation into the abuse of prisoners detained here.”
“Fakri, Fakri, Fakri; we’ve been through this so many times before. This is a military instillation during time of war, you can only act with my approval. So, declined, good day, see your self out, I’ve got work to do.” He sat up, picked up some papers to shuffle and looked down.
Vu gave a quiet cough. “Not quite finished this time, Force Commander.”
Vu took a communicator from his case and said, “Go.”
Diishu was puzzled. “What are you playing at, Fakri?” There was a distant crash. Vu smiled, he had rehearsed this over and over. He wanted to get it right. He knew all he had to do was show it, but this called for some… dramatics. “That will be the door.” Two agents burst through the door, their carbines painting red dots on Diishu's forehead.
“Charlie, Charlie, Charlie, you should have gone with 375.” Vu opened his case, took out a heavy leather bound volume and tossed it on the desk with what Vu thought was a somewhat disappointing thump. Diishu leaned forward. “Edict 97?”
Vu detected the trace of panic in his voice and confirmed, “Imperial Edict 97.” Vu stood “Force Commander Charles Diishu of Imperial Marine Regiment 1749, under the authority of an Imperial Warrant30 issued in accordance with Imperial Edict 97, I hereby require and demand that you give me full and unfettered access to this facility, its personnel and records, both here and elsewhere, to enable the conduct of such investigations as I see fit.” He paused to draw breath and control the rising feeling of triumph, “Furthermore, you are required to immediately cease all operations and hand control of said facility, personnel, and records to myself,” another breath, his voice was reaching crescendo, “and place yourself in my custody pending the outcome of the aforementioned investigations!” He pulled the warrant from his case and pounded it on the desk with a much more satisfying crash.
Finally he could control himself no longer. With a look of sheer joy he added, “I’ve got you, you torturing bastard!”
347th of 2025 (173-94): A Fateful Decision
Admiral Darant reviewed Special Agent Vu’s report. Most regrettable, tragic really. That charming lady Lieutenant-Commander too. But this was a war and what was done was done. There would have to be an apology of some sort, naturally, possibly compensation as well. But it would have to wait until after the war was won. The casualty count was already far too high; inciting these people to further anger would only make things worse. What were forty-nine more lives compared with those who would die and so many who had died already? He signed the order classify the entire affair and place the victims in isolation.
53rd of 2028 (244-96): Marine Detention Facility on Musni
I sat in my cell, I always sat. One metre by two metres by two point four metres, stark, stainless, and cold. Well, sixteen point two degrees Celsius actually, but it was still cold. There was no life, no love, and no colour in this cell, not that that had mattered for a very long time. I wished I’d died out there in the cold of space, quietly counting stars. There was a voice, “Prisoner, stand by your door.” I stood, the heavy metallic click as the door slid open. “You have a visitor.” A visitor? Someone entered, I heard them but felt nothing. I turned. It was an old man. He spoke gently, “May I sit please?” I looked at the bed. He stood for a moment, then sat. “Is it not the custom of your people to introduce yourself?”
“They call me ‘prisoner’, ‘Lieutenant-Commander’ when they’re trying to be nice.”
“But that is not your name?”
“In this place, it is.” Names, they’d taken them too. “And you are?”
He pondered, “A tired old man. Well then, Komanda-Lekhtenant…”
“Komant.” Komada-Lekhtenant had… unpleasant memories.
“My apologies, Komant.”
He was different from the others, there was a kindness in his eyes, I responded, “No, I’m sorry.”
He smiled, “Well, Komant, they tell me you survived ramming a cruiser; your gods must have been smiling on you that day.”
“That day, yes.”
He thought, “Of course, I am so sorry.”
“No, it’s alright, I’m the one who should apologise.”
“So, Komant, how should we end this war?”
A strange question. “Stop fighting.”
“Yes, but how do we stop the fighting?”
“No, stop fighting.”
He was puzzled, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand?”
I sighed, “No, I am sorry, and you should stop apologising or we’ll be here all day.”
He paused, then gave a small laugh, “Quite so, but I don’t understand.” I sat on the bed next to him.
“Look at us, look at you, can we win?”
“No, you can’t”
“Look at everything, what came before, how it started. So, why are we still fighting, and why so hard?”
He though for awhile, “It can’t be that simple.”
He smiled and took my hand. “Well, Komant, thank you; it has been most illuminating. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No,” there was nothing anyone could do for me any more.
76th of 2028 (267-96): The Battle of Iguu
The drive was out, Jane was working furiously, they had to get clear. The Cleon II was covering the withdrawal and most of the fleet was gone now, but if she didn’t get the jump drive online again they’d be staying behind. She joined wires, conductors, circuits burnt and charred. She heard Greg on the communicator, “Any time now, darling, if you please." There was a heavy crash that shock the entire ship. That had been a bad one, there’d be a lot of damage from that one. Finally done, a huge spark arced and scorched her hand. She swore. The drives were spinning up, the capacitors hummed as they discharged and then the sickening wrench as they entered jump. Jane’s mouth formed a broad grin as she touched the button on her communicator with her off hand “There you are my darling, fixed!” There was no response. “Greg?” Still nothing. “Greg, bridge respond.” Silence. “Greg, damn you, talk to me!” The dead air burnt her ears, she barked, “Damage control schematics to this console now!” She scrolled frantically, good hand and bad. There, there, the bridge deck was red. She whispered “Greg?” and collapsed.
(The notes numbered 1-20 appeared in Part 1)
21. Sylean Federation, precursor to the Third Imperium.
22. Sesherin, a highly intelligent and playful aquatic animal native to Daramm, often kept as pets by Luriani. [Acknowledgement: The sesherin were created by Micheal Brown in his JTAS online article, Seven Best Friends http://jtas.sjgames.com/login/article.cgi?714]
23. The adaptations that allow the Luriani to function in an aquatic environment also allow them to survive a vacuum for a short time. They posses a nictating membrane over the eyes and muscles that seal the ears and nostrils, as well as the ability to collapse their lungs and survive on oxygen drawn from modified fat cells and increased levels of haemoglobin.
24. While uncommon, it was not unheard of for either the Imperium or Protectorate to make recommendations for gallantry regarding the actions of their opponents during the war.
25. Luriani physiology is significantly different from other branches of Humaniti and standard drugs can have unpredictable effects on them.
26. Approximately 96% of all racial Luriani are left handed. A right handed Luriani is unusual, traditionally regarded by the Luriani themselves as a mark of a special destiny.
27. Refers to the silver braid of a flag rank Protectorate officer.
28. This is stated somewhat incorrectly. The actual social more is that it is incredibly impolite to exclude a person from a conversation, which speaking a language they do not understand would do.
29. Refers to the long held Luriani dislike towards Vilani dating from their extremely harsh treatment under the Ziru Sirka. This prejudice has been preserved by art and song for thousands of years. Bilanee, the Standard Luriani word for Vilani, has the additional meaning of “treacherous and untrustworthy.”
30. An Imperial Warrant is a signed instrument of the Emperor. It essentially allows the bearer to act directly in the Emperor’s name, bypassing normal legal and bureaucratic hurdles. Since this gives the holder virtually unlimited power within the Imperium, all but a tiny handful also contain very carefully framed terms of reference that lay out exactly when and where the warrant applies.