The Broken Blades
This story originally appeared on the author’s WordPress blog in January 2016, and is reprinted with permission in the March/April 2016 issue.
February 2, 5652 CE / 340-1133 Imperial
Spinward Marches 0927 Narsil B574A55-A Hi In Cx
Below the domes and arcologies of the city of Nysnoe there is a network of tunnels, service areas, emergency shelters and storage spaces. In one of those shelters, a hardened government command center, a meeting was taking place. The highly shielded conference room was without doubt the safest, most secure place on the entire planet. But for the attendants of the meeting it was equally important that the room, and the meeting were entirely unknown to the public. The room where the meeting was taking place had a table and chairs to seat thirty. The six men seated there were almost lost in the nearly empty room. They had no staff or assistants, not even body guards. Any that saw them would think they looked naked without their usual entourages. Sitting at the head of the table was a man who appeared to be in his early forties; he was actually in his late fifties. Tall, broad shoulders, blond hair greying at the temples, he had the appearance of an aging athlete that was still in shape, or a holovid stereotype of what a corporate CEO should look like. Which was doubly ironic, since in his youth Harek had been a minor sports star and now he was, in effect, the CEO of the corporation-run planet of Narsil. His actual title was hertug, which originally translated as duke, but in the Sword Worlds1 had come to mean planetary ruler, or king.
Three of the others in the room had similar titles and positions. One of the others was the son and presumptive heir of a fifth planetary ruler. The last man was somewhat different. Jon was the Chancellor of the Sword Worlds Confederation, or what was left of it, anyway. He, like, most of the other men in the room, was new to his position. The recent disaster at the hands of the Imperial Regency2 had reduced the Sword Worlds Confederation from twelve worlds to five. That was not counting the worlds they had tried to seize (or liberate, as they had seen it). It was this land grab that had prompted the Imperial action against them. The domestic political backlash of such a disaster had toppled the governments of four of the five surviving worlds and the Confederation. Now the new leadership was meeting together for the first time. And considering the time involved in interstellar travel, probably the only time they would all meet together. Certainly the only time they would meet under such conditions of secrecy. What had prompted this meeting was two recently acquired pieces of information, a report, and an idea.
The two pieces of information had been summarized, printed out and placed in folders in front of the six men. The sensitive nature of the information had prompted the security people of both the confederation and the government of Narsil to try and keep it off of all computer networks, even the most secure ones, at least until the leadership had decided on their response. All but the ruler of Narsil and the chancellor were reading the material. They, of course, had already read it. The four reading were reacting with a mixture of anger and despair.
The first to finish, Peder, from Anduril, looked up at the chancellor, then over to Harek. “So, what’s the rest of it? You didn’t sneak us all here just to read how desperate our position really is. You could have sent couriers to us with this information.”
Harek nodded his head. “True enough. After I assumed power here, one of my nephews came to me and, well, lectured me. About how bad our position truly was. This was before we knew the Zhodani had been warned about the Imperials coming attack, and failed to mention it to us. And way before we found out that the Imperials were going to permanently annex the worlds they had stolen from us.” He paused for a moment. These were of course the pieces of information they had just read. Before the Imperial Regency had attacked the Sword Worlds, they had told the Zhodani consulate3.
Over five centuries earlier the Zhodani had formed the Outworld Coalition, an alliance whose sole purpose was to oppose the Third Imperium. The Sword Worlds had joined and followed their lead. Then a year ago they had all been forced to sign the Spinward States Accord. Only now it turned out that the Zhodani hadn’t been forced. They had made peace with the Imperials. So when the imperials had decided to smash the Sword Worlds, they had told the Zhodani before the attack. They did this to re-assure their new found friends in the Consulate that the attack would not be targeted at them, just at their allies of the last five hundred years. Now, the Zhodani could have done several things at this point. They could have honored their ancient pledges and gone to war or they could have sent a warning to the Sword Worlds by courier. They could have at least objected. Instead, they did nothing but stand back and watch. This had been confirmed by sources inside both the Consulate and Imperium. As a result, the Sword World forces had been spread out and caught by surprise when the Imperial attack had come. It had been a massacre. Now, as a result, the Sword World Confederation would never again trust the Zhodani Consulate. But this also meant that for the first time in over five hundred years, the Sword Worlds stood alone, without the support of any allies. On top of that, the Imperial Regency had announced that they would be moving refugees, all Imperial citizens, from clear on the other side of the Regency. To settle permanently on the occupied Sword Worlds. Tens of billions of them. All to counter and overwhelm the native Sword Worlder populations. “These reports only re-enforced what my nephew said. But, he also told me that all was not lost. We can come back from this.”
The others had been listening to him stone faced, not letting any emotion show. Mostly because they weren’t in full control of their emotions and didn’t want to show weakness in front of the others. But the idea that they could ‘come back from this’ broke through their reserves. Curiosity and a certain amount of doubt showed through. Harek continued.
“It was a nice sentiment. And I certainly needed a pep talk at the time. But I told my nephew to prove it. I gave him a generous budget and whatever resources he needed. He recruited eight others and produced this report.” He reached into a briefcase by his chair and pulled out six more folders. He started sliding folders across the table to the others. “It’s… Interesting. I want to get your opinions.”
The other five men, including the Chancellor, opened the folders before them. Some shook their heads, some grumbled, some sighed, but all read quickly and carefully. Contrary to popular belief in the Imperium, the leadership of the Sword World Confederation was not made up of idiots. They absorbed the report and its proposals. The last to finish, Jorund from Excalibur, was the first to react. “Are you insane? This is impossible. You’re talking about changing everything. You basically want to turn the Confederation into a federation. And you honestly think our people will support this?”
Jon, the newly appointed Chancellor of the Confederation, didn’t know the content of the second set of folders before now. After he finished reading it for the first time, he nodded his head and looked up. “You’re right; it’s interesting. But I have to agree with Jorund. No one will go along with this. It’s too much.”
Two of the others voiced their agreement. One of the reasons the Confederation had lasted as long as it had was because it was a weak central government. It only handled a few clearly defined areas of responsibility that affected the entire region. Local affairs were left up to the individual worlds. It kept any one world from dominating the others. And for the independent minded, not to mention stubborn, Sword Worlders, this had been immensely popular. Now Harek was proposing that they replace the Confederation with a strong central government.
Koll, the son and heir of the dictator of the Enos system snorted. “And I suppose you and Narsil won’t dominate this new federation? We’ll all be equal of course.” Harek folded his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. “And what makes you think we won’t dominate if we keep things the way they are now? Narsil’s population is an order of magnitude greater then the rest of the Confederation combined. Not to mention our industry. I’m proposing to turn over power and authority to the central government.” The room fell silent for a moment. They all knew that in terms of population, industry and military strength Narsil far outstripped them all. Before, Narsil had competed on an almost equal basis with the planets Sacnoth and Gram. Now they were both gone, occupied by the Imperium. That left Narsil as the lone high population world in the Confederation. They were the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.
“Look, the question isn’t whether Narsil will dominate or not. The question is weather the people will go along with this change. And I think they will, at least they will if we act quickly and decisively. Right now the people are still in shock over what happened. They’re in survival mode. If we move to strengthen ourselves, the people will respond.”
Peder shook his head at Harek. “The people will respond alright. If you propose this, I give it a week before there is rioting in the streets on all five worlds. And that doesn’t even address the changes to our technology you want. I’m not even sure we can do it. You want us to improve to basically one level below the Imperials’ maximum Tech. Do you honestly think we can do that? And if we did, what would stop the Imps from attacking us. You can’t believe they wouldn’t see all of this as a threat?”
Harek sighed deeply as the others all looked to him. “I’m not worried about whether we can raise our technology. We already have the theoretical knowledge we need. That information has been available for millennia. It’s just a question of engineering and desire. Our people are good enough engineers to do the work and I think fear and anger will cover the desire part. As for the Imperials reaction? I’m not really worried about it. Do you know why they left the five of us alone? Why they didn’t just plow us under with the rest of our worlds?” He paused for a moment for dramatic effect. And to let them think about why they had been spared. “It certainly wasn’t because of the Imperial Regency’s large heartedness. It was so they would have a dumping ground. If any of our people under their occupation get too uppity, they can dump them here. That’s all we are to them. A garbage dump. That and a joke. You do realize we are a joke to them don’t you? Just a bunch of dumb barbarians howling at the mighty empire. They don’t think there’s anything we can do to threaten them.”
This struck a nerve with all of them. They were a proud people. And yet, they knew how their enemy thought of them. It hurt to hear one of their own saying it. Dumb barbarians. At times they had taken a perverse pride in that label. Now as they sat in the ruins of their civilization, it didn’t seem so amusing.
After a moment of stewing in silence, Jon looked up with a curious expression. “Germund, you’ve been awfully quiet. What do you think of all of this?”
The current Prime Minister of Orcist shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve come to a lot of the same conclusions that Harek has. Though, I must admit I haven’t thought it through as far as he and his nephew have. Look, the sad truth of the matter is, we’ve spent most of our history squabbling among ourselves like a bunch of children on a school yard. We’ve been so concerned with our pride and self images, that we barely even noticed our worlds coming to an end. It’s high time we grew up.” His bluntness surprised then all. Germund, like most Orcrists, had a reputation for being sly. Not brutal honesty.
Jorund was the first to respond. “That may be true, Germund, but how do we get our people to go along with this? And with all due respect to you, Harek, I’m not so confident about the Imperials’ lack of response.”
Germund gave him a smirk. “So, who said we have to tell them? A lot of Harek’s proposals boil down to changes in administration and bureaucracy. Most of which are done behind the scenes, anyway. So, if we make these changes behind the scenes and don’t announce it, who will know? Aside from the tech and industrial stuff, that is. And we can always lie about those. Suppose we improve a world’s technology, but keep producing products at the old standard. How will the Imperials know?” He paused for a moment with a thoughtful expression. “Hmm, if we upgrade our industries, but produce lower technology goods it will increase our profits. Which we can turn around and reinvest. Huh, well, you can all see where I’m going with this. If we do this right, the first the Imperials will know about half of this, will be when we beat them over the head with it.” His smirk widened to the same kind of grin a wolf gets when it bares its teeth at its prey.
As they thought about what he said, the grin started to be mirrored by the others. Jon chuckled “Leave it to an Orcrist to think of that!”
Several hours later, when they finally ended the meeting, they had the broad outline of a plan. And for the first time in months they had something else.
1. The Sword Worlds: A cluster of worlds settled by emigres from Earth, mostly of Scandinavian and Germanic decent. They named the worlds they settled mostly after swords from history, myth and legend.
2.The Imperial Regency: Formerly the Imperial Domain of Deneb. Part of the Third Imperium. After the rest of the Imperium’s destruction, the Domain renamed itself the Regency. And though it is only a fraction of the size of the former Imperium, in this region of space it is one of the largest and most powerful of interstellar governments.
3. The Zhodani Consulate: A large empire, of primarily humans. One of their defining characteristics is the use of psionics (powers of the mind, such as telepathy)