with the assassin Harrand Ashaandi last evening, and it was a most
colorful conversation! I think helped clear up a number of
misconceptions he held about our people, and perhaps taught him a
thing or two about the dangers of arrogance. I have no illusions
about him though. He's a viper I'm sure, but an interesting
enough fellow to warrant keeping around for a while yet, which is at
least part of the reason I granted he and his group safe passage.
Well, that and the fact that his offer was actually quite generous,
and it will cut years of time from our own research efforts. Besides
that, I have been to the vast northern wastes, and they're just
that. Cold…well, as cold as it gets on Chiron anyway, and so far,
the only earth plants we've found to thrive there have been
tumbleweeds and some really pathetically scrawny oaks. My guess is
that the place just doesn't get enough moisture to support and
sustain healthy forest growth, and what moisture it does get is taken
up by the massive fungal bed that covers roughly a third of the
region. If you ask me, we got the better end of the deal, and I pity
the crews on the two formers that Ashaandi has with him. It'll take
years to make any significant headway against all that blasted
fungus. So, there's that. The young upstart is on his way
through our territory, slowly winding his way to the north country,
and as soon as I finish this entry in my journal, I'm leading my
men on a practice assault against general Vargass' position in the
bunker north of Blast Rifle Crag. Our objective is simply to clear
the bunker, but I'm cooking up a surprise or two for the old
fellow. I think I'll press him until he's forced to cede the base
as well. It'll be good practice for the men, and what's more, I'm
confident they can do it. After that, I'm leaving most of
the troops in command of Colonel Jacobs and marching my Command
Division to the coast. We'll board the SFS Nantucket and make a
little journey to visit Pravin Lal's Peace Keeping forces to do a
little Peace Keeping of our own. We're on good terms with Lal's
group in general, but he can be persnickety when he gets his dander
up, so the boys and I will be there to make sure everything goes
smooth as silk. Besides, I've got a promise to keep and even though
I doubt there'll be any trouble, I promised I'd be there. Okay,
all this writing is starting to hurt my hands, so I'm going to sign
off for now, and spend some time star gazing and dreaming of home.
The camp is quiet, the ground is warm and firm, and there is great
strength here. It's good to be a Spartan. Honshu
Besides that, I have been to the vast northern wastes, and they're just that. Cold…well, as cold as it gets on Chiron anyway, and so far, the only earth plants we've found to thrive there have been tumbleweeds and some really pathetically scrawny oaks. My guess is that the place just doesn't get enough moisture to support and sustain healthy forest growth, and what moisture it does get is taken up by the massive fungal bed that covers roughly a third of the region. If you ask me, we got the better end of the deal, and I pity the crews on the two formers that Ashaandi has with him. It'll take years to make any significant headway against all that blasted fungus.
So, there's that. The young upstart is on his way through our territory, slowly winding his way to the north country, and as soon as I finish this entry in my journal, I'm leading my men on a practice assault against general Vargass' position in the bunker north of Blast Rifle Crag. Our objective is simply to clear the bunker, but I'm cooking up a surprise or two for the old fellow. I think I'll press him until he's forced to cede the base as well. It'll be good practice for the men, and what's more, I'm confident they can do it.
After that, I'm leaving most of the troops in command of Colonel Jacobs and marching my Command Division to the coast. We'll board the SFS Nantucket and make a little journey to visit Pravin Lal's Peace Keeping forces to do a little Peace Keeping of our own. We're on good terms with Lal's group in general, but he can be persnickety when he gets his dander up, so the boys and I will be there to make sure everything goes smooth as silk. Besides, I've got a promise to keep and even though I doubt there'll be any trouble, I promised I'd be there.
Okay, all this writing is starting to hurt my hands, so I'm going to sign off for now, and spend some time star gazing and dreaming of home. The camp is quiet, the ground is warm and firm, and there is great strength here.
It's good to be a Spartan.
Two Days Later
Explosions seemed to boom from everywhere at once, and Honshu sat in his Command Rover, surveying the results of the attack so far.
Despite a forced march to get to the practice run early, his men were performing with their usual stunning accuracy. Infantry forming up on the right flank, preparing to deal a crushing blow to Vargass' defenders in the field and drive a wedge between the bunker from the base itself while the rover brigades were steadily approaching the bunker itself, artillery hammering away in support, keeping the bunker defenders hunkered low and unable to do anything but wait.
"Jacobs, swing the entire second division around….looks like his line is starting to buckle!"
"Already on it sir!" Came the Colonel's reply.
The attack was less than two hours underway, and already the smell of victory was in the air. With any luck at all, both sides participating in the training exercise would be having dinner together in Blast Rifle Crag before the sun set, goading General Vargass about how easily he was taken unaware by the attack force arriving almost a full day before they were expected.
Another explosion, this one closer. It seemed that not all of Vargass' artillery had been dealt with yet.
Without missing a beat, he casually thumbed the comm switch that connected him with his own artillery units. "Captain Hanley, your CO just got shot at by some artillery up on Weston's Ridge."
"Sorry sir, we're dealing with it now!"
Honshu chuckled and shook the dirt and a few random fungal stalks off of his combat jumper. Poor Hanley would fret for a solid week about that!
A smile lighting up his eyes as he watched his men moving with almost spooky precision toward their objectives, the rumbling thunder of guns pounding in his ears, Honshu tilted his head skyward and took a moment to revel in the feel of the light from Chiron's twin suns on his face.
It was a good day to be alive, and it was good to be a Spartan.
Vargass was usually a pompous ass of a man, but not tonight. No….tonight he was eating a healthy serving of humble pie, quietly grumbling about not having enough time to prepare for the assault which came very nearly a day before it was expected.
Honshu edged back from the table a few inches, patted his belly (pleasantly full after he had devoured a well-cooked steak) and threw back a shot of whiskey. "Come now General Vargass….we must all strive to expect the unexpected. Do you suppose Chairman Yang would advertise the exact date and time of his attacks against us, then politely wait until we were fully prepared before beginning?"
Vargass muttered an unintelligible reply as he intently focused on his own whiskey, which caused a ripple of laughter from Honshu's war captains.
The evening wore on and found the revelry increasing in its intensity, with the troops on both sides congratulating each other for the multitude of excellent tactical maneuvers, and boasting about past accomplishments, and that was as it should have been. The fact was, Vargass' men were reliable veterans, solid troops by any definition, and despite having been taken by surprise, the defenders had performed admirably, and in a few cases very nearly turned the tide.
So the drinking and bragging continued late into the night, and eventually, as always seemed to happen after Spartan battle drills, the two commanders found themselves on a quiet patio some distance from the rest of the troops, the silence of the night broken only by the occasional clinking of ice against glass, and the murmured comments back and forth as men not accustomed to idle conversation made an honest effort at it.
"Your men really did give us a few close shaves you know?"
Vargass nodded and raised his glass in Honshu's direction. "Aye, and I understand that our artillery gave you a bit of a jolt."
"That it did…that it did. Took me by surprise. I thought when I moved closer to the battlefield that all your guns had been silenced."
Vargass smiled. "You see…I have been paying attention to your publishing career. Your book on the value of artillery reserves was a brilliant piece. An excellent addition to the Spartan Battle Manual."
Honshu blushed at the compliment. "Yes well….it seems I should have remembered that myself before I moved closer."
Both men chuckled, and then silence claimed the night for a lingering moment.
"So…where to next for you, General? What grave and solemn duty next calls the great Lion of Sparta?"
Honshu sighed heavily and shook his head. "I really wish you wouldn't call me that….it's not true, you know. I'm no more a 'Great Lion' than you are."
"Your men see things differently. Surely you see that."
Honshu shook his head. "My men respect me because I don't try and pretend I'm better than they are. When we are on maneuvers, I sleep on the same ground they do. No preferential treatment. We are brothers in arms, they and I."
Another lingering silence.
"Santiago is worried, you know."
Again Honshu shook his head. "She needn't be. All I said was that, in my opinion she now spends far too much of her time dancing the dance of politics with the other members of the global council. It's not bad it's just not Spartan."
"Yes, but your opinions carry vast weight with the People."
"I can't help how I feel. She's changing, Vargass."
"And you fear that the Federation is also changing?"
"I see it. Every day I see it. We're getting fat and happy. Weak. More and more, I hear people in our bases talking about the latest gizmo and gadget to come out of a Morganite or University factory. About vacations and creature comforts."
"Surely you are not against a few creature comforts though."
"Not at all. I like them as much as the next person, but that's just it! We're….too comfortable now. We have forgotten where we came from….that not terribly many years ago it was a constant battle for survival. There was no time for creature comforts, and even if there had been, we lacked the production capacity to make anything but the essentials. Now it's….too comfortable."
"And you think that it is directly attributable to the time our leader spends with the Planetary Council."
"Yes….the more time she spends there, the less time she spends here among her own people. The only way a leader can truly know the hearts and minds of her people is to be among them. We're drifting, and I'll not apologize for my opinion on the matter."
"That our fearless leader has sold out?"
Honshu was quiet for a moment, but eventually nodded.
He met Vargass' inquisitive gaze. "If you are asking, 'am I thinking of breaking with Santiago' the answer is no. I am a loyal Spartan citizen. I am dissatisfied with the way things are running at present, but not so dissatisfied that I feel the need to leave."
Neither man spoke for a very long time after that, and the normally comforting silence of the night suddenly felt thick and heavy indeed.
The SFS Nantucket was a massive ship by any definition. Initially conceived as a mobile mining platform/repair bay for damaged sea formers, political winds changed about halfway through its construction and the ship was left dry-docked three quarters finished.
Political winds, Honshu said darkly to himself. Pah!
During a tour of coastal bases that seemed like ages ago, Honshu saw the massive ship and was so impressed by its size and magnificence that he made a few quiet inquiries, then later lobbied hard for funding to finish it out as a military vessel, capable of hauling vastly more cargo than any of the transports they had in operation at the time.
His peers thought he was insane, but he stuck with it, doggedly determined to win out and one day see the mighty ship prowling the waters of Chiron. Plus, he figured having the world's biggest transport might have a few other advantages besides, not the least of which was the ability to move an entire division of troops and all their gear with lots of room to spare. Interestingly enough, shortly after the ship was launched, every other faction on Planet was suddenly scrambling to build comparable vessels. The Nantucket had long ago lost its title as the largest ship on the planet, but she was still rock solid, and the General felt a certain kinship with her.
Brow furrowed in thought, he stood gazing toward the horizon from the bow as the great beast beneath his feet churned steadily, relentlessly through the waters. The conversation with General Vargass had stayed with him. Gnawing hungrily like some living thing in his mind. Forcing him to confront it. Contemplate it. He was a loyal Spartan citizen, and precisely because of that loyalty, did he not have a sworn duty to do….something?
They would be docking in Amnesty Town sometime just before midnight, and despite the lateness of the hour, the General was fully expecting a crowd of onlookers. Apparently, the allies of the Spartans were as enthralled and intrigued by Spartan insistence of constant combat readiness as the enemies of the Federation were terrified of that same attribute. Those friendly to the Federation were always eager to watch the show the Spartan military put on when they unloaded. The snappy, precise movements of the leading elements as they secured a perimeter for the safe off-loading and setup of their gear. The CommTechs coming out next to get the mobile Command Post set up and resolve any equipment problems on the fly, and then the main body of the force arriving in full battle gear (whether it was needed or not). It was a show they never seemed to tire of, but Honshu wondered at how many of the onlookers actually appreciated all the effort that went into creating and maintaining such a fighting force.
Not many, he decided.
He turned and surveyed the fore deck, where perhaps two hundred of his troops were milling about, anxious to land. Knotted together in smallish groups, Honshu was not at all surprised to see that those groups tended to form up based on specialty, and further sub-divide by platoon. There was some mingling of course, but for the most part, Infantry stuck close to Infantry, Rover Drivers and support teams stuck with each other, and the CommTechs had their own little group as well.
He nodded in approval. As it should be.
Still, watching his men at rest, he suddenly realized how much they had already lost and it made him wince visibly. Three years ago, Santiago issued new combat fatigues to everyone. One piece jumpers like the one he was wearing now. On the surface, that was all well and good, but the jumpers were long sleeved.
Funny how something as innocent as that could have profound implications.
Of course, everyone on the Federation's ruling council would have denied the claim, but Honshu knew better. The new long sleeved jumpers were issued for one purpose and one purpose alone. To hide the tattoos.
He hung his head and stared too intently at the deck.
Tattoos were as much a part of the Spartan Federation as the right of private citizens to bear arms. He remembered a day when the intricate spiral patterns were displayed with an almost ferocious pride. When special optic readers were in place at every base in Federation territory, and access to sensitive areas of the base was controlled not by retinal scan or DNA testing, but by reading the unique spiral patterns on every soldier's arms.
Years ago, the optic scanners were done away with in favor of newer, more modern machines, and words like "impractical" and "non cost-effective" were cast about.
Honshu scowled. Since when did tradition have to be cost-effective? What about holidays and celebrations? No one dared suggest doing away with Christmas on the basis of cost-effectiveness.
His scowl deepening, the General strode to his quarters. So what if the appearance of the tattoos made members of the other factions uncomfortable. Wasn't that at least part of the point? And since when did the Spartan Military have any obligation to any other faction, allied or no? Their first and only binding obligation was to see to the protection of the Federation. To that end, if the sight of several thousand howling Spartan warriors pouring off of a transport ship with weapons and tattoos proudly displayed gave their friends and foes alike a case of the willies, then good! They'd not soon forget the sight, either, and that meant greater security for the Spartans.
Besides, ritual body art had a proud history back on Earth. The Maori of New Zealand, for example, with their amazing facial tattoos. Stunning artwork, and filled up with meaning. It was easy to imagine the sheer terror that the enemies of the Maori warriors of old must have felt watching those impressive tribesmen come swarming over some gentle rise in the land.
We're drifting. His own voice floated back to him in his mind, and it stopped him in his tracks. It was true, and it pained him to realize just how far they had fallen. Pained him more to imagine how much further they might fall if something wasn't done, and soon.
I am a loyal Spartan! My first duty is to obey my superiors in service to the Federation! He shouted inside his head.
But that wasn't quite right, was it.
Your first duty, soldier, is to defend Sparta from her enemies, no matter who they might be. A voice filled with righteous anger said gruffly. It took him a moment for him to recognize that voice as his own. Such anger. Such passion.
And it was right. They were drifting, and Sparta cried out for someone….anyone to come to her defense.
"Not on my watch, we're not." He said with steely determination.
And he knew just what to do, too. A small thing, but it would send a message, and perhaps that message would be heard by others with more political savvy. In any case, it would be a start.
Thirty minutes later, his entire division was assembled on deck, and he found himself before a makeshift podium, microphone before him and a hastily rigged loudspeaker system put together by his CommTech crew.
It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty damned close, and the General was proud.
He looked out into the crowd and saw a sea of faces familiar to him. Friends, colleagues, brothers in arms.
He smiled as he drew in a deep breath and assaulted them with the booming thunder of his voice.
"Men, there has been a slight change in plans."
No one on deck moved, and every eye in the division was riveted on their leader.
"You all know of my 'disagreement' with the Federation's ruling council….my dissatisfaction with a number of recent decisions handed down by the people who govern us."
He bowed his head and paused for a moment. Santiago would be furious, and her temper was well known. If he proceeded, there was no telling what might happen. Still, it was something he had to do. As a loyal Spartan citizen. As a warrior. As a soldier.
It was his duty. His honor.
He drew in another breath and continued.
"They're pulling our teeth, men….civilizing us. Making us more and more like 'everybody else' in order to gain greater acceptance on the world stage. Now, on the surface of it, being more like 'everybody else' isn't a bad thing, because our allies are not bad people, but….our allies are also not Spartans, and the fact is….the truth is that we are different. We should be proud of that. We should celebrate that. And if our differences give our friends and enemies alike a moment's pause, then I say good! I don't know about you, but I'm damned proud of all that Sparta has accomplished. I have personally fought beside many of you in all the old wars with Yang and in the short, unfortunate war with the Peace Keepers many years ago. We have bled together and grown stronger for it! Our Federation is home to the greatest warriors on all of Chiron! What are we men?"
"SPARTANS!" Came the unanimous, roaring reply from his troops.
"What are we?!"
"SPARTANS!!!" The answer thundered back at him again. Louder still this time. Loud enough to crack open the heavens.
"You're damn right we're Spartans!" He shouted back hoarsely at his men as he began ripping at the sleeve of his combat jumper. "And I for one refuse to hide my heritage! I earned each and every one of these tattoos. I paid for these with my life's blood fighting for the nation that I love and she repaid me by granting me the solemn right to wear these markings!" He pointed to them so that everyone could see. "These markings, right here!….This one was for valor, for leading the charge into Cutter's Canyon and rescuing an entire division of Spartan troops that had been cut off by Yang's boys in blue….and this one," he said, pointing to another intricate design. "This one marks my promotion to General. These are my history! My legacy of service to the Federation and I WILL HIDE THEM NO LONGER! If our allies are made uncomfortable by the way in which we honor our servicemen, Then how dare they call themselves allies to the Spartans at all! We are in no way beholden to them and I will not bow to their whims and desires. If that is their wish, then our allies be damned!"
He paused to draw in another ragged breath. "This ship docks soon at Amnesty Town, in the land of the Peace Keepers….our allies! You all know there will be a crowd lined up at the docks to watch us form up, and I say we give them a show they will NEVER forget!"
In his passion, he had forgotten entirely that he was standing before a vast crowd, and looked out at them as though he was seeing them for the first time. What he saw brought tears of pride to his eyes. A legion of loyal Spartan soldiers all ripping and cutting and tearing at the arms of their combat jumpers. Thousands of voices raw from shouting the same proud word over and over again.
It was good to be a Spartan.