A Most Unfortunate War
This part originally appeared in the January 2013 issue.
55th of 2029 (246-97): Repatriation from Musni
Siish stood behind Halligan Kaptan as he brought the Martinez slowly towards Musni. She was one of thirty-seven liners in the system. One for each survivor. Command had been felt a demonstration of the weight of the Protectorate’s feelings was called for. Repatriation would be individually, at the same time. It had been years since he’d stood here. He surveyed the bridge, remembering the innocent faces that sat there five years ago. So long ago, so very long ago.
“We’ll be in orbit in fifteen minutes, Vebmral; we’ve just received clearance.”
Siish nodded, lost in thought.
“I’ve had a boat made ready and Estrada Korneet’s team is at your disposal. I’ve assigned Luresh Ensin as your pilot; she’s my best shuttle pilot.”
“Thank you, but if it’s all the same, Kaptan, I’d rather take the boat down myself.”
“Of course, Vebmral.”
They were on final approach, Siish reached to the comms. “Martinez Three to Musni Downport control, requesting final clearance.”
“Musni Downport control. Copy Martinez Three, approach path beta one two, pad naval charlie eight. Priority clearance to land.”
“Martinez Three. beta one two, naval charlie eight, understood, thank you Downport control.” He entered the information, the computer flashed and calculated the course. His hand hesitated for a moment, then hit the auto button. “Feeling lazy Siish?” He hadn’t seen Jane come in.
“No, distracted, and shouldn’t you be back there strapped in with the others?”
“What, you planning on crashing into the planet or something? And this seat’s as good as any. Thought I’d enjoy the view.”
Siish could see Jane was restless “I’m worried about her too, she’s my dinkir, remember, but we’ll be down in a few minutes”
Jane was in a thoughtful mood “Dinkir, humorous fish, never understood that one, is it an insult or an endearment?”
“Can be either, depends how you stress it.”
“So Siish, what did mummy want to let us have this gig?”
“What makes you think that? Friends and family, remember”.
Jane chuckled “Yes, but having Lady Councillor Manish as a mother couldn’t have hurt.”
“No, it didn’t. And dinner, she demanded dinner.”
“Awww, dinner with mom, how quaint”
Siish blushed. “No, not Mother. Sharik Gubashiidi”
“Never gives up, does she?”
“No, no, she doesn’t.”
“Doesn’t she realise it’s pointless now? There’s somebody else?”
“Oh, yes, but that’s never stopped Mother before. Besides, the somebody else has never noticed.” Siish sighed.
Jane gave a slight smile “Yes, she always was a bit thick that way.”
The boat set down lightly; Siish had brought it in himself for the actual touch down. There was a party of Imperial Navy officers waiting. Siish and Jane were last to descend the walkway to meet them. There were salutes and a slightly older Commander Mann spoke. “Vice Admiral, Commander, a pleasure to meet you. I only wish the circumstances were more favourable.”
Siish, in his ever so polite way, corrected her, “Vebmral and Komanda.”
“My apologies, Vebmral, Komanda.” Jane waited for Siish to respond, as did Commander Mann, but he just smiled. As Mmarislusant, technically he didn’t have to apologise in return, but it was usual. Jane couldn’t help but giggle, just a little, as she thought, Siish is very good at this.
“Well Vebmral, if you would care to come this way, we have transport waiting. I’ve arranged a medical team to be ready, if you desire.”
“Thank you, but I’d prefer to use my own dokhtor.” Siish’s voice was polite, but cold. Mann had expected this.
“Of course.” She ushered the group towards the waiting grav carrier. Mann decided to risk some conversation. “I was commanding the We-etab when we picked her up.”
Siish remained non-committal. “Oh?”
“Yes; she must have been the best pilot I had ever seen.”
This managed to crack Siish just one iota “Yes, she is good.” Mann was an excellent tactician and knew when to take an opportunity. “Did they ever give her a commendation?”
“Star for Valour, posthumous.”
“Nobody informed your people she was alive? I passed all the details to headquarters.” Mann was genuinely surprised.
Jane was the one who answered “No, she’s been four years dead for us.”
I sat in my little world, like I’d sat for one thousand, one hundred and fifty-three days before. The cell was different now, its walls awash with colour. They’d brought me books, music, new clothes. They sat unused in the corner, but the food was better now. Somebody had said the war was over, that I’d be going home soon, but that was almost a year ago. I guess it must be over. What passed for my clothes here were bright yellow overalls, Jane would’ve had a fit. I didn’t care any more, I hadn’t cared for a long time. Just sit and wait. I didn’t want to go home, I couldn’t feel any more. I was broken, damaged goods. I couldn’t face the pity and the shame. There was a sound at the door, then a gruff marine’s voice: “Please stand by your door.” I got to my feet slowly. There was a metallic click and the door slid open. The gruff marine appeared there. “Come with me, please.” I didn’t speak; I rarely did now. But this was wrong, gruff marines did not say please.
I followed, down the corridor to the guard post. There a smartly dressed Imperial Navy officer, a full Captain no less, was waiting. She gave a snappy salute. I stood there. I thought if I had a watch I could time her. I think it was over a minute before she gave up waiting for me to respond and put her arm down. “Lieutenant-Commander, sit, please sit.”
“Komant” I corrected her. I found I much preferred the short form now.
“Ah yes, Komant, my apologies.” She waited; I remained silent.
“I need you to sign some papers; you’re going home.”
I must have heard wrong. “Home?”
“Yes, Komant, home. I’m afraid there were some… unfortunate… complications that delayed your repatriation. I’m sure you’ll understand.” No, I didn’t, but then again nor did they; how could they? They had no idea what they’d done. “So, Komant, if you could just sign here.”
I almost did; something stopped me. “I want to read it.”
Her smile slipped for just one second. “Certainly, Komant, it’s just a standard release, for the records.”
I read. Yes, standard, but tucked in one corner were the words “…acknowledge I have been treated in accordance with the established customs and rules of war.” It was odd, funny in a way. Five years ago I would have been yelling and screaming and raising hell like any decent Luriani. But I couldn’t yell any more. I simply broke the pen in half and placed it neatly on the table. The captain said nothing, but the smile was gone. Not that it mattered, nothing mattered.
“There are two letters for you as well, Komant.” She passed over two gilt-edged paper envelopes. Who uses paper any more? I looked at them. The maroon one had “On behalf of his Imperial Majesty, Artemsus” printed, neatly by machine. The other, silver, had my full formal name. It was written by hand and bore the seal of the Archduke of Gateway.
The gruff marine lead me down another corridor. I’d not seen this one before. We reached a junction and he paused. He looked both ways, back and forward, then whispered “It was wrong, what they did, it was wrong. I’m sorry.” Gruff marines do not say sorry either. I couldn’t move. I just stood there, unable to move. The gruff marine looked awkward for a moment, then held me, he stroked what was left of my hair. He said “It’s alright, love, you’ll be home soon.” I felt nothing.
We eventually reached a door. The gruff marine turned and saluted. I returned his salute. The door opened, the light was blinding. I saw figures beyond. I heard a roar of outrage and I knew who was there at once “What the hell have they done to you, deary, and what in the name of Basijk are you wearing!?”
I don’t recall much about the next few weeks. I remember Siish and Jane waiting for me. Siish bellowing at a young Imperial lieutenant to “get her a wheelchair this instant or I’ll feed you to a Mmaryn39.” Jane’s hand was badly scarred. A face, a woman, a distant memory, who saluted me as we left. Dokhtors prodding and poking. Jane putting me to bed and telling me it’d all be alright now. How could it ever be alright? She lay with me, like when we were children, holding me. It wasn’t the same; I couldn’t feel her any more.
Jane told me the news; that Enli, Midori and Kamees were all dead, my father Wilhem and Tocar too. She cried over them when she told me. I said nothing, I practised with Kamees almost a year when we were at the academy and I said nothing. A sister and a father40 and still I said nothing. Ora and Oluku were still here, they had two fat children, apparently. She and Siish were actually retired. Siish’s mother had got him a ship, the Raledenet, and the two of them were ‘wandering’. It seemed they’d given me the Star for Valour, posthumous. They’d even named a ship after me, a little one. That would be awkward. They sat with me constantly, in shifts, one of them was always with me, waiting for me to speak. They fed me; I ate, not much. They kept saying I had to eat. I was numb, I just kept wishing I’d died counting the stars.
It was thoughts of children that brought me back in the end. In the end I had to ask “Do you have pictures?” I could hear the struggle to remain calm in Jane’s voice. “Pictures, deary?”
“Of the two fat children.”
“Of course, deary, would you like to see them?” The children were beautiful, like their mother. It was like opening a flood gate. I cried, you could have filled all Daramm’s oceans with my tears. Then I talked. I asked about Greg, she said he was a year dead and no more. I asked how her hand got scarred; she changed the subject. I didn't push. I asked if Siish’s mother had found him a ‘nice respectable Mmarislusant girl from a good family’ to marry, yet. Seemingly not; Jane said he had eyes for somebody, though. I asked how come they were the ones to get me. “Siish’s mother. And anyway, the silver hats thought it better if you were picked up by friends and family.” Siish came in sometimes, mostly just to sit, but he talked, too. He wouldn’t let on who he had eyes for. I said she’d have to be good to him or I’d hunt her down and kill her. He assured me if he was ever to be matched I’d be the first to know. He ‘offered’ me a job. “The Raledenet needs a new pilot, I’m getting too old and running her takes too much of my time.” He was lying; Siish could fly rings around most of the pilots in the fleet and running a ship was in his blood, but I said yes. There’s no point in saying no to Siish; he always wears you down in the end and besides, I thought I’d like to wander, just awhile.
113th of 2029 (304-97): Endgames on Dirir
The old man entered the Archduke’s office. “Sirean, it is a pleasure to see you again.”
“The pleasure is mine, Your Grace.”
“I must congratulate you; the peace appears to be holding and the settlement… acceptable.”
“Yes. They didn’t want much, mostly a guarantee to be left alone.”
“You know there have been calls for your replacement. Ceding worlds rarely finds favour at court.41”
“They were reluctant citizens at best; for the moment we're better off without them.”
The old man appeared grave “Do you read the intelligence reports from the Protectorate?”
“I make a point of it.”
“Councillor Jkuaese has switched allegiance, that gives the hard-liners control of the Security Committee.42”
“Yes, but the moderates still retain a majority in the Council itself, and there is little we can do about it.” Sirean looked sad. “So much blood for nothing.”
The old man nodded “Perhaps not quite nothing; it’s not a mistake that will be repeated.” He sat and waited as the young secretary poured tea. “They sent an apology, in response to Artemsus’ for the… regrettable matter, expressing their deepest sorrow and sympathy for our losses. The Emperor was rather shocked.” The old man laughed lightly.
“It is their custom.”
The old man recalled his conversation with the Komant, “Yes, I have been made aware of that. You were right, they found Darant dead. Poisoned in a back alley. They tell me his death would have been completely painless. Funny, I expected their response to be more… expressive.”
The corners of the Archduke’s mouth formed the smallest of smiles “It was. He died alone.”
“Darant was well connected; there will be trouble over his death.”
“There already is. I have launched an investigation. But I think it wise not to push it too far.”
The old man stared at his tea “You know, the greatest tragedy is that we’ve probably lost any chance of them joining us.”
Sirean chuckled “Perhaps not in our lifetime, but I would not totally discount the possibility Your Grace. They are… unpredictable.”
“The Komant I talked with, what happened to her?” The old man showed more than a touch of concern.
“Repatriated, like the rest. She’s with her people now, they will take care of her.”
“Good, good.” He was lost in thought for a moment “It was a most unfortunate war.”
The notes numbered 1 to 20 appeared with Part 1, those numbered 21 to 30 with Part 2, and those numbered 31 to 38 with Part 3.
39. A carrion eater native to Daramm. Takes the role of a mischievous and deceptive trickster in Luriani mythology.
40. Luriani and Verasti Dtareen (though not Mmarislusant) families traditionally consist of a number of adults and associated children. All of the adults are considered to be parents and all the children siblings, regardless of the biological connections. The relationships between the adults are broadly monogamous, though alignments do change over time and some latitude is allowed.
41. In the final settlement, a number of Imperial worlds were granted independence to create a buffer zone between the Imperium and Protectorate.
42. A powerful committee of five members of the Lord Protector’s Council. Responsible for the day to day running of the Protectorate’s military and security services.