A Most Unfortunate War
The Luriani War is one of the forgotten wars of the Imperium, barely known outside the Domain of Gateway, it was received scant attention from Imperial authorities even at the time. However amongst the Luriani it is an immense source of pride, where they managed to humble the might of the Imperium. Ralpiamm Garintylil (Armistice Day, 347) marking the end of the war is a holiday on most Luriani worlds and Igo Garintylil (Iguu Day, 267) is their usual day for the remembrance of war dead. The war itself was very fiercely fought and one of the bloodiest of the Pacification Campaigns. The ferocious and fanatic nature of the fighting is a major factor in the delicacy with which the Imperium now treats Luriani sensibilities.
188th of 2024 (014-93): The Battle of Rurur(1)
I sat in my chair, my harness chaffed and I was bored. "So why are we doing this yet again?" Manoeuvres were supposed to have finished days ago. Siish looked peeved. "Because Sherin Adtmral(2) didn't like the way we did it the first three times."
"Siish, the Adtmral never likes the way we do it."
"Lekhtenant, it's Kaptan if you please, though it wouldn't kill you to say sir." I could hear the irritation in his voice, Mmarislusant(3) are always so stuffy.
"Sorry Kaptan, sorry I mean Sir" I mimed choking to death. Jane was sniggering by the main engineering console.
"I'm sorry too Lekhtenant. Now, you are about a baish's leg(4) away from charges. So quit playing the irpel(5) or I'll choke you to death myself!"Siish's patience and tolerance of us never ceased to amaze me. Besides, you can't choke a Luriani(6) to death.
Siish put on his best don't push me any further voice "Now dinkir, if you would be so kind as to set course so we can get this over with and go home!"
"Yes Sir! At once Sir!" I even saluted for good measure, Jane could control herself no longer and burst out laughing.
Siish was not amused, his voice sickly sweet"Lekhtenant, will you kindly see me in my ready room when we are finished." I'd pushed too far, I'd be cleaning out the waste tanks for a week most likely. Siish then looked over at Greg "Number one, Alexon Komant appears to suffering from an excess of exuberance, I do believe a jog round the boat deck later might help her work some of it off. I'll let you decide how far." Jane shot me a look that would kill. Definitely too far.
Shadta was on sensors "Sii... I mean Kaptan, I'm detecting multiple jump exits?"
"What?" Siish had been caught by surprise "Where?"
Probably another of old man Sherin's surprises, he liked to keep us guessing. 'Maintain combat efficiency, prepare for anything, the Imperium could invade any day' Oooo scary, the evil Imperium was coming. He's what the Verasti Dtareen(7) call a hawk.
Shadta got it quickly, always sharp "Between red and blue"
Ora spoke, she sounded frightened. "We have an emergency priority message from flag. Not part of exercise, intruders hostile, set condition red, weapons free, engage at will. Pae Verasryn(8) ravel tan pashi, may Verasryn smile on you."
Siish look stunned, then started barking orders "I want confirmation on that Ora and I want it now!" All pretence at formality was gone, but none of us were playing any more.
"Martinez to flag, request you confirm."
Siish was still barking orders "Bring up screens, drives to maximum, weapon safeties off. I want range and targeting ready, if they confirm we go in. So make me proud ami(9)." There were definitely ships out there, I was already plotting intercepts, I could see Shadta drawing lock on potential targets.
You could hear Ora trembling "Siish, they've confirmed, the code is valid."
It was real, they were coming.
The Toblin's bridge was quiet, the monitors showed the jump field was decaying, they'd be arriving soon. Commander Godaval studied his crew, they were relaxed, calm, it was just another routine cruise to them. But Godaval was concerned. The fleet had been sloppy going into jump, they'd be spread well over an hour coming out. You shouldn't walk into to somebody's living room with a loaded gun lightly, especially when eighty percent of those somebodies are hot-headed maniacs. Of course it was all just a show, a bluff, show them the mailed fist in the velvet glove. And it was all over some words, a family of worlds. The Protectorate was quite willing to join the Imperium, they just wanted a guarantee their family of worlds would be kept intact. Apparently the discussions over exactly what this meant got rather heated and it was agreed to allow a little time for tempers to cool. That's when Archduke Ishargi(10) came up with his plan, a quick tour of the Protectorate while their fleet was dispersing after manoeuvres should soften their position. Duke Sirean had called him a fool, playing with fire, but most agreed if carefully coordinated the risks were minimal. Engineering spoke "Field collapsing, exit imminent sir." Commander Godaval was cautious "Bring up external cameras, I want to see what's out there." A brief view of the sanity tearing ripple of jump space, then clear. The XO was first to speak "My god, they're on fire!"
326th of 2024 (152-93): End of the 'Luriani Rampage'
Duke Sirean looked over the latest reports. It was an utter disaster. The Protectorate had ripped Ishagri's fleet to shreds at Rurur(11), then fanned out and overrun the frontier. What was left of the Ley Fleet had been destroyed before they even knew there was a war on and Fornast was being wiped out piecemeal. Vital worlds surrendered without a fight, at best token resistance on the rest. The navy those fool admirals had dismissed as a undisciplined rabble before the war was now handing those admirals backsides to them on a plate. The Luriani were running riot over three domains(12) destroying bases and communications wherever they went. And those admirals kept looking for the 'main thrust of the invasion.' And the huge joke was, there was no invasion. The Protectorate's strategy was purely defensive. It was a classic move, disrupt the rear areas and keep your opponent off balance while you form a solid set of defensive lines. It's just Ishagri had let the Protectorate form their lines in Imperial territory. The Luriani would raise hell as long as they could and wait for the counter-attack. They'd have to grind them out of every metre of space they took. The idea was simply to let the body count force negotiations. Of course the Protectorate's mistake was to assume they would negotiate. All Aamku(13) could talk about was avenging his father and the prestige cost of talking while they held Imperial ground would be judged too high(14). This was going to be a nasty war, very nasty.
36th of 2025 (227-93): The Battle of Gaisaaru
They built their ships like a gabalail(15), big and hard to kill, but lumbering and slow. And they put jump drives in them, why the hell did they do that? Why waste that much space in a liner(16)? They seemed to have trouble manoeuvring in more than two planes at the same time. They came at us at Gaisaaru, past the front line and smack into us. It was a beel(17) hunt, we flew rings around them and they died. I'd watched as one those big gabalail's flipped end over end till it hit the atmosphere and burnt up. It made me sick to the stomach, this wasn't war it was murder. Even Siish was crying as we watched it. Siish had scheduled a dance(18), he likes to get at least one in a week, but none of us felt like celebrating. It wasn't only the battle, but Greg and Jane were leaving. Greg had his own ship now. Command might be having to split crews to man the new ships, but they'd never split up a matched couple.
The music was pulsing and people were dancing, I saw Ora with Oloku, they'd be babies there soon I'd bet. Greg and Jane were locked together as usual, I envied her sometimes. "So Greg, who was the irpel that called your boat 'Cleon two' what kind of name is that?"
"Greg Kaptan to you Lekhtenant" He put on his best I'm oh so important voice "And you say it Cleon the Second. It's an ex-Impie ship, one the ones we captured at Rurur. We need every ship we can get in the line, so they're refitting them." The idea of Greg and Jane in one of those flying coffins chilled me to my soul.
Jane could see the look in my eyes "Don't worry deary, Enli's going with us, he's almost as good a pilot as you."
"Cleon the Second is a stupid name too."
"One of their Emperors apparently deary"
"Well they should have changed it."
"Bad luck deary, bad luck. We Verasti Dtareen get to keep our traditions too remember?"
"Jane darling" Greg always called her darling when he wanted something.
"Yes my love?"
"You know there's nobody singing at the moment darling."
"I do believe you're right Greg, there's nobody singing" Jane already knew where this was going, but she'd put up a show first. I chimed in "Yes Jane nobody singing"
"I could make it an order darling."
"Yeah you got a squad of Guards(19) handy my love? Okay I will sing, but" and she turned to me "you deary, have to dance with my darling Greg."
We lost ourselves in the dance and music and forgot awhile the horrors that awaited.
Greg and Jane left next day, along with almost a quarter of the Martinez's ami to form the cadre of the Cleon II's ami. We weren't the only ones, Command was having to raid tami all over the fleet. An ami is a family, you shouldn't break up a family.
93rd of 2025 (284-93): The Darant Strategy
Sector Admiral Phitos Darant was having a bad day, he had reports up to his neck giving him suggestions on what was needed to stabilise the situation. What was actually needed could be summed in two simple words 'more ships' and he had been summoned to 'advise' the fool Archduke he had to answer to now. The aide-de-camp showed him into Aamku's sumptuous office. "Ah Phitos, so how goes the war?"
The fool knew very well how it went, he got all the same reports Darant did "Poorly I am afraid your grace. Our offensive was broken at Gaisaaru with heavy losses." and by heavy he meant nearly crippling.
"And the rear areas?"
Why did he play this game? "The situation is grave your grace, we have rebellions on a number of worlds, the raiders are still operating and..." he tired of the game "We need more ships! They're running riot, inciting rebellions on at least ten worlds and we're too thinly spread. Next time they hit us they'll roll right over the top of us again."
Aamku seemed shocked by Darant's candour "Darant, there are no more ships. There are issues on fronts as well, a campaign in Massila, revolts in Lishun, Vargr in Corridor and don't get me started on Antares. Even if I went cap in hand to Artemsus, there are no more ships." His eyes fell to the ground "I know I've already asked. Darant, what are we to do?"
Darant sat heavily "We need to secure the rear areas first. There's no chance of concentrating sufficient force to break through until we deal with the raiders and rebellions. Split up several cruiser squadrons into individual units. A single cruiser is more than capable of dealing with a raiding group and they'll cover more ground that way. Most critically we need intelligence to find where the raiders and supply dumps are. After that, pure weight of numbers will win it for us."
Aamku pondered "I think you may be right Darant, do it. And pass the word down the line, get this job done."
125th of 2025 (316-93): Raid on Pirese
It had been close, damn close, but we were safe. They were learning, suppose that was inevitable. Their cruisers weren't patrolling in groups any more, which made the raiders' lives much shorter. Bad thing. So Command has started attaching a liner to a handful of raider groups. The idea apparently is something like cruiser sees raiders and goes 'yummy', then liner goes 'hello guess what' and smack no cruiser. Works for the most part too. Only problem is the liner doesn't have anything to cover it if it goes bottomwards. Run into something bigger than you and you got to dock with your jump shuttle and get clear with nothing but five raiders between you and it. That gets messy, we've already lost two liners that way and it was our turn to play. Had all gone fine till we got to Pirese. We jumped in, cautious like Siish likes, system seemed clear, so we dropped. Went to hit the main world when they appeared. Three armoured cruisers, way too much for us to handle. Siish managed to take out one, but we needed to get clear. I should have known he was up to something.
"I have an idea. Vebant De Maris, if you would be so kind as to relinquish the chair to number one." Siish had made me his number one when Greg left, a Komant now doing a Komanda's job.
De Maris was confused "Kaptan?"
"Fine pilot that you are, no one is as good as my dinkir, so if you please."
I took the chair, what was he up to.
"Now dinkir, that nice gas giant over there, you think you can get us into its atmosphere and out the other side at maximum G?"
I laughed, he was insane, you do not take over six hundred thousand cubic metres of badly damaged ship into an atmosphere at speed. "I can but try Siish." You could see the faces on the bridge turn white.
"I thought you might dinkir" So that was Siish's plan, bet the other guy wasn't as crazy as he was and lose him in the atmosphere, probably a safe bet.
So there we were, a hypersonic mountain hurtling towards imminent disintegration. "Now dinkir, fast and steep but I would appreciate it if we stay in one piece." Don't know how, but I managed it, a glowing fireball straight in one side and out the other.
We made it back to our lines, but the Martinez would need months in dock. They gave Siish the Silver Cross(20), I think they should have given him a smack round the head for being a lunatic. They gave me the Protector's Gallantry Medal as well. Siish came to me after the ceremony. "I have something for you dinkir." He looked sad, I was puzzled. He handed me my next orders. Command of the Lucknow, a raider. "You'll be leaving us dinkir."
I hugged him. I don't know why, but then I kissed him.
There were tears in his eyes "Now dinkir, you are not to get yourself killed and that is an order."
I saluted "Yes sir."
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 Federation(21), 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 has 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 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 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 sesherin(22), by instinct almost I sealed eyes and ears, emptied lungs(23). 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 Sesheryn 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 gallantry(24)."
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's react to standard drugs(25)."
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, odd(26).
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 eye's 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 motivate 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 any more from her than last time."
The admiral's mouth formed a tiny smile "Yes I imagine you're right, she is quiet 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 admirals 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 butchers 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 silver(27), 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 Seventeen
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, "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 impolite(28)." 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 untrustworthy(29)." 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 Seventeen
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 thud. 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 Warrant(30) 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 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. Two metres by three 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.
102nd of 2028 (293-96): Mikur
The old man waited politely outside. The young secretary looked up and again apologised. "I am very sorry your grace, I'm sure he'll be here shortly." The old man smiled kindly, her solid build and bright clashing clothes marked her very clearly as Luriani(31) "No I am sorry, It's quite alright, I do understand." She returned his smile appreciatively. Duke Sirean entered, muttering "Idiots, fools, tirpel..." He saw the old man and froze to the spot. "Your..." The old man interjected "Grace."
Duke Sirean nodded "Of course, your grace. I am honoured"
"No, I am the one honoured Duke Sirean."
"I believed you had retired"
The old man mused for a moment "In my line of work, one never retires. But I take it your latest efforts did not go well?"
Duke Sirean sighed "No, but after three years I should not expect better. Would you care to join me in my office?"
"What a splendid idea. That is why I am here." Sirean smiled to himself, the old man was always allowed a certain latitude. They entered the well appointed office and sat. They chatted politely while the young secretary prepared refreshments. The old man spoke first. "Have you seen the reports from Iguu(32)?"
"No, they keep me away from such things now, I believe I am not fully trusted, something to do with being Verasti Dtareen." The old man handed him a file, Sirean studied it "It was worse than they let on."
"Yes, but we broke through."
"And they fell back to their next line, which is shorter and better prepared. We will have to do it again and again."
"They must know they can't win?"
"They do, they always have, it doesn't matter to them."
"We will be swimming in blood by the time this is over" The old man looked sad.
"We already are."
"There is another matter." The old man handed him another file, much thicker, it started with Agent Vu's report. Duke Sirean read it at length, then looked grave. "This is bad, very bad. How could they allow this to happen? They will never give up if they learn of this."
"I talked with one of the victims, a Komant, she must have been quite beautiful once. She said the way to end it was to 'stop fighting.' Is it that simple?"
"Yes, I've been telling them that for years, but Aamku is as big a fool as his father, can only think of vengeance and victory. The very idea of negotiations while they hold Imperial ground is heresy."
"Yes I do believe you are correct there. Fortunately I have a little influence." He handed Sirean an emboss sheet of vellum "Do you think you can end it Archduke?"
Sirean was stunned "I will try. It will likely require some unpalatable concessions on our part."
"And the other matter?"
"It will be very difficult, depends how we handle it, but it is possible. Oddly enough, for such a passionate people, they are naturally inclined to forgive. Perhaps because of their passion."
"I noticed that when I talked with the Komant."
"We will need an Imperial apology of course."
"That will be a formidable task, but he does owe me a few favours."
"It will take decades"
"If we get peace, we will have the time. And Vu's report?"
"Burn it, twelve died, that they must never know."
"And those that know?"
"Most of them will die, they will hunt them down and kill them when they find out The rest we must trust to keep silent."
198th of 2028 (024-97): A Bar on Daramm
Siish was looking for someone, he found her in a bar, singing, a slow song full of sadness. He waited politely for the song to finish and her to return to her seat. He approached and stood before her "Jane Elizabeth Charles Peterson Alexon Komanda, my deepest sorrow and sympathies on your loss." She look up and sighed, she hated formalities. "I thank you Siishubuu Manish Khaadii Mmarislusant Vebmral for your kindness and concern." She took a drink. "But it's not Komanda any more, Engineer now, I was given a compassionate discharged with the armistice."
Siish nodded "And I'm just Kaptan again, I resigned, I've had my fill of it."
"So you have a ship then?"
"Yes, Mother arranged a surplus courier, the Raledenet, I find I wish to wander."
"And her price?"
"Several evenings in the company of Iniish Markiid"
"Ah a respectable young woman from an impeccable family. She's back on the bulis(33) again, did she even wait for her to be cold in the water?" There was more than a hint of contempt in Jane's voice.
"Mother is many things, but she is neither unfeeling nor cruel." She could hear the hurt in his reply "She waited a most respectable time before resuming her offensive. And she's years gone Jane, longing won't bring her back. Or any of them."
"How many of us are left?"
"Ora and Oloku are still with us, expecting twins apparently too."
Jane chortled "Ora always did want a large ami, trust her to make a good start."
"Jane, you look like crap. You need to get on with your life"
"Oh don't mince words there Siish" she was amused "And? There's an and there, I can hear it."
"And I need an engineer."
"No point in saying no, I suppose?"
"None whatsoever Jane."
317th of 2028 (143-97): Final discussions
In a room somewhere in on a neutral world a senior diplomat from the Third Imperium met with a senior diplomat from the Second Luriani Protectorate to finalise the last remaining matters to bring an end to hostilities. They exchanged pleasantries, then got down to business. It was mostly formalities, a few loose ends, the things that always wait to the last. Somewhere near the end, the Imperial diplomat finally raised what they thought might be a somewhat delicate subject. "There is also the matter of final prisoner repatriations."
There was a raised eyebrow "Final? I thought that was dealt with some time ago?
An awkward silence "Yes well there were some unfortunate complications. But there are a small number of Protectorate personnel still awaiting repatriation."
Their counterpart pondered "How many are we talking about?"
"Thirty seven, I have the list here." A file containing thirty seven names was handed over.
"And the nature of the complications?"
"There was a most regrettable incident, an oversight of judgement by a field commander, resulting in an inappropriate interrogation technique being applied, I can assure you it was stopped as soon as we became aware and the officer concerned severely disciplined. And in the circumstances we thought it best to delay their repatriation."
"Inappropriate interrogation technique? Would you care to elaborate?"
"I believe it is known as sishgukhidtar"
"My apologies, I must have misheard, I could have sworn you said sishgukhidtar."
"No I must apologise and regrettably inform you, I did."
And that's when hell broke loose.
347th of 2028 (173-97): Dirir
Archduke Sirean had been summoned to the Protectorate embassy. It was phrased as an extremely polite invitation for informal refreshments, but given the circumstances and the individual concerned, it was a summons. And even in the Imperium there were those who would rather face down a pack of rabid boarwulf(34) than take light refreshments with My Lady Manish. He was met by the Ambassador himself. They exchanged formal introductions and the ambassador escorted him to a waiting room. The ambassador knocked, waited for the door to open and announced "The Archduke is here My Lady." He wished Sirean luck as he entered. She sat, regal and imperious, the grand dame of the Lord Protector's Council "Archduke Sirean, so kind of you to come." Anglic? And informal? It was going to be worse than he had anticipated, he'd spent hours practising the correct Old High Vilani declinations.
"It is a pleasure My Lady Councillor(35)."
"I have taken the liberty of arranging traditional Verasti Dtareen refreshments." A smartly dressed naval aide brought a silver tray and placed it very carefully on the table.
"Please sit your grace, this is after all just a social call." Sirean sat, slightly unnerved "I believe the correct opening to the ritual is, shall I be mother?" She slowly swirled the pot and delicately poured two cups. "Your family, they are well I hope?"
"Quite well My Lady, and yours?"
"Well you know, children." He nodded politely. They exchanged a few more pleasant observations on the weather and the trip. He made a note to ensure whoever had showed 'such commendable efficiency implementing customs regulations' at the starport was properly 'commended.'
"The Lord Protector has asked me to, informally, raise a matter of concern. He believed it was best dealt with by a Mmarislusant." Down to business. "I am of course referring to the unspeakable atrocity inflicted on our prisoners by your forces." Clearly My Lady Manish had no intention of being too diplomatic. "I assured Pookie and the entire Council that Artemsus and the Moot would have had no knowledge and been as horrified by these barbarities as we were.
"Indeed My Lady, the Emperor himself felt the need to apologise personally."
"Mmmm, yes, written by machine, with his signature, once."
"He is... ageing My Lady, the strain of penning so many letters."
She pondered a moment "Of course, age is such... an unfortunate burden to us all."
"I myself however, My Lady, felt the need to individually pen an apology to each victim of these... despicable persons."
"Despicable persons? Personally I would call them jkomovaa."
Sirean choked on his tea, one did not usually hear such language from such a lady.
"To bitter your grace? your tea."
"No My Lady, just a little hot perhaps." He carefully replaced the cup on the table.
"And these... despicable persons. They have naturally all been punished?" She very deliberately stressed the 'all.'
"Yes My Lady, as far as is possible."
"As far as is possible." She rolled each word as if it were a worry ball in her hand. "Yes, possible can be... troublesome on occasion. I feel sure the Council will forgive and forget; as far as is possible."
"That is most gratifying My Lady." Sirean knew the matter was far from forgotten or forgiven, but there would be no renewal of hostilities.
"We will, of course, be repatriating the survivors individually."
"Individually? Surely they all need to be brought home as soon as possible."
"Individually, your grace." There was a tone of absolute finality in her voice that lead Sirean to suspect there was more to this. But it seemed politic to agree, best to let anger run its course "Well I am sure it can be arranged."
She nodded her acknowledgement "I have a personal request your grace."
Sirean saw an opening and seized it "Anything within my power My Lady."
"The survivors, one of them" she pointed out a name "served with my youngest son. He feels a... degree of warmth towards her." Sirean detected the slightest indication she did not entire approve of her son's warm feelings. "I would regard it as a great favour if she were to be treated with the utmost compassion and kindness."
"I will see to it myself, My Lady."
"That is most kind your grace. Now they tell me your daughter is to be matched, you must tell me the details."
"Karen and Tranian have been practising for some time, but wish to start a family(36)." The matter was most definitely now closed.
24th of 2029 (215-97): Lunch With Mother on Daramm
Siish paced anxiously, Mother had called him, immediately on her return from the Imperium. Luncheon with Mother was never to be taken lightly and rarely just lunch. He was ushered in by Blandii, his air as quietly superior as ever. "Ah Siishubuu, you are looking well." She paused "You have no kiss for your mother?" Siish kissed her lightly on the check. "Now Siishubuu, have you called on Gubashiidi Wa(37) again yet?"
"I have not been able to find the time yet Mother" Sharik Gubashiidi was attractive and pleasant company but somewhat pedestrian.
"Well in that case, I am most grateful you found time to lunch with your mother. And you sister, she is... herself again?" Siish recalled his mother's last disastrous attempt at matchmaking.
"She has recovered from her heart ache, if that is what you mean Mother. Though she shows no interest in obtaining a new suitor." He thought it wise to nip any new plans in the bud.
"Most reassuring, hopefully given time." Siish detected something perhaps a little more than his mother's usual concern.
"So Mother, what are you up to? I am sure you didn't ask me here just to enquire as to your children's love lives."
"I am hurt Siishubuu, can't a mother simply wish the pleasure of her son's company?"
"In your case, Mother, generally no. Besides, I still have a few friends in the Navy and you have just returned from the Imperium."
"A brief holiday Siishubuu." his mother feigned a look of innocence.
"Yes Mother, in a jump three naval courier."
She sighed "Siishubuu, you grow more and more like your late father every day." Siish's father had been one of the few people who would regularly stand up to My Lady Manish.
"I will take that as a compliment Mother."
"As you should Siishubuu." She picked up a pad "But you are sadly correct" she handed the pad to him "it contains a list of our prisoners still awaiting repatriation, I believe you may find it of interest."
Siish was confused "prisoners?"
"Yes and you should read the list Siishubuu."
He read and a look joy spread across his face "Mother! This is wonderful, she's alive!"
"Yes, but you need to read further dear one." Again he was confused, not only was her voice grave, she had not called him dear one since he was a boy. As he read, the joyous look turned to anger and then rage. He sat stunned. "What kind of monsters would do such a thing?"
"Not monsters dear one, just men." Her voice kind and soft, that of a mother comforting a hurt child.
"How can we make peace with these animals!" His rage was boiling, blinding to all reason.
"Siishubuu Manish Khaadii you are a Mmarislusant of high birth and you will please control yourself!" Siish drew breath, considering if to reply, but remained silent. "Yes those that did this are barbarians and savages, but they are not the Imperium. And we will make peace with them because the alternative is annihilation."
Siish's voice was almost pleading in reply "But Mother, what they did..."
"Was an unspeakable horror that I assure you will neither be forgotten nor forgiven. But we will not add to that horror or disgrace their suffering by sacrificing the entire Protectorate to it." She took his hand, speaking once again as to a hurt child "More death will not change anything dear one, we can not undo what has been done."
Siish had regained control, though his mother could still see the anger within him.`
"However Siishubuu, I did not ask you here to discuss politics. It has been decided that each survivor will be repatriated individually..."
Siish, rather uncharacteristically, interrupted his mother "Individually?" a note of both confusion and hope in his voice.
"Yes Siishubuu, individually" her irritation obvious "they will need to be reunited with family and friends as soon as is possible. And since you are still, I believe, a suitable reserve naval officer," Madam Manish's displeasure at Siish's retirement was clear "I had considered that you may wish to assist in their repatriation."
Siish was suspicious "And the price Mother?"
"Price Siishubuu?" she feigned hurt.
"No 'price' Siishubuu, but Gubashiidi Geenal-Lekhtenant has informed me his daughter has no prior engagements this evening. I have taken the liberty of making reservations for two at Gimkaesh's."
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 an 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 My 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 wait 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 dokhtors." 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 was 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 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 Mmaryn(38)." Jane's hand was badly scared. 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 father(39) 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.' 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 scared, 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' for a match 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. 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. 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(40)"
"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(41)."
"Yes, but the moderates still retain a majority in the Council itself and regardless, 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 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."
1. The Protectorate calendar was introduced in -1454 Imperial during the First Luriani Protectorate. It uses the same 365 day year inherited from the Rule of Man as the Imperial calendar and starts dating from the foundation of Luriani Cultural Region by Empress Juliana on 174 -1932 Imperial. Unlike the Imperial calender it does not feature a zero year. Imperial dates are given in brackets.
2. Admiral (later Fleet Admiral) Kamees Sherin, senior commander of the Protectorate forces during the Luriani War. One of the most controversial characters of the war, regarded as a hero by the Luriani at the time and acknowledged to have been one of the finest naval commanders of the Pacification Campaigns era. His reputation was tarnished by his post war political ambitions and extremist positions. Later analysis generally hold him to be equally as responsible for the war as Archduke Ishagri.
3. One of the four branches of Luriani culture descended from Vilani colonists left on Luriani worlds during the Long Night. While somewhat influenced by Luriani culture, they retain much of the traditions and language of the original Ziru Sirka (Vilani Empire). The differences between Mmarislusant and Vilani are very slight and predominantly linguistic. However both the Luriani and Mmarislusant choose to see the two as quite distinct.
4. Baish are a tiny eight legged flying reducer endemic to much of the Ley and Fornast sectors.
5. Standard Luriani word usually translated as fool or clown (plural tirpel).
6. An aquatic minor human race native to Daramm in the Ley sector. Noted for their achievements in arts and music. They have reputation as being emotional and unpredictable. While human, they are not interfertile with other branches of the race. Their adaptations to the aquatic environment include the ability to remain without oxygen for up to an hour and sensitive lines of nerve ending that detect minute changes in pressure. This heightened sense of touch forms a central part of most Luriani social interactions. Their society is built around tight knit family and communal bonds. The Luriani's natural affinity for a three dimensional environment has lead them to be greatly valued as pilots and astrogators.
7. Descendants of Terran soldiers and administrations stranded on the Luriani worlds during the Long Night. They have absorbed much of Luriani culture, but are distinct from it. They, together with the Mmarislusant form the bulk of the Luriani's administrative structure.
8. Verasryn the Guardian, one of the major Luriani deities. The others are Basijk the Smith, Daramm the Mother, Aryn the Minstrel, Mrai the Huntress, Sesh the Traveller and Yasant the Teacher.
9. Standard Luriani word meaning family, it was also used within the Protectorate Navy to refer to a warship crew (plural tami). It, along with yasin (children of), forms the root of virtually all Luriani words relating to groups and nations.
10. Archduke Ishagri of Gateway, killed at the battle of Rurur. At the time seen as an incompetent and sole instigator of the Luriani War. Ishagri appears to actually been a competent, if uninspired commander who was let down by a combination of poor political judgement and simple bad luck.
11. The Battle of Rurur was one of the worst defeats ever suffered by the Imperial Navy. Arrival in the Protectorate required a maximum jump for the fleet and Ishagri was aware of the risk of being caught in potentially hostile territory with empty jump fuel tanks. He had elected therefore to set the arrival point very close to one of Rurur's gas gaints, intending the fleet to refuel immediately. Unfortunately, not only had Admiral Sherin extended manoeuvres, the exercise he was conducting was opposed refuelling over that gas giant. Ishagri's fleet had the bad luck to arrive between the two Protectorate forces. Many Imperial captains, realising the situation was utterly hopeless, choose to surrender their vessels rather than face certain destruction. The full extent of the disaster was not known until several months later when a handful of battered vessels finally managed to escape from Protectorate space.
12. One of the major problems faced by the Imperium throughout the war was that, unlike the Protectorate with its single command structure operating on interior lines, the Imperium never had a unified command. The war was always acknowledged to fall under the purview of the Domain of Gateway, but the battlefield actually spread over three domains (Antares, Gateway and Sylea). No effort was ever made to unify the civilian administrations and it took over nine months before the Archduke of Gateway was given even limited military control over the portions of the Domain of Sylea (roughly a quarter of the Fornast sector) where the war was actually being fought. The shattered Ley Fleet was never reinforced and no attempt was made to advance from Antares. This prevented any threat to the Protectorate's vulnerable flanks and allowed them to concentrate their forces on a narrow frontage facing the weakened Fornast Fleet.
13. Archduke Aamku of Gateway, son of Archduke Ishagri.
14. The regions adjacent to the Protectorate had only been recently integrated into the Imperium and resentment at incorporation was not uncommon. Indeed during much of the war, the Protectorate would exploit this restlessness to incite uprisings and tie down considerable Imperial forces.
15. Large species of whale native to Daramm. They, along with several other Terran marine mammals, were transplanted to Daramm by the Ancients at the same time as the Luriani. It is believed they served as the model for many of the modifications to the Luriani.
16. A Protectorate term for a ship designed to stand in the line of battle. Unlike the Imperial Navy's jump capable battleships, Protectorate liners relied on a jump shuttle to provide strategic mobility. An early form of the battlerider concept.
17. A herd animal common on Luriani worlds, regarded as easy to catch.
18. Music and dance are central to the Luriani psyche, they could not imagine a world without them. Virtually all Luriani music features the human voice and is strong and upbeat. Luriani dance is always as partnered and usually very intimate and sensual.
19. Protector's Guards, served the same role as Imperial Marines.
20. The Silver Cross (SC) was the second rank Protectorate gallantry award, it ranked below the Star for Valour (SV) and above the Protector's Gallantry Medal (PGM).
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 . ?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 nicotating membrane over the eyes, 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 98% of all racial Luriani are left handed. A right handed Luriani is unusual, traditionally regarded as 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.
31. The Luriani's additional fat layers (both to store oxygen and provide insulation against the cold) give them a heavy set look and their fashions feature strong interlocking blocks of discordant colours. Also, a fact often overlooked is that significant Luriani minorities existed on number of worlds within the Imperium itself, some of whom served in the Imperial forces with distinction during the war.
32. The Battle of Iguu, the last major action of the Luriani War. It paradoxically convinced both sides their position was hopeless. The Imperium were successful in securing the world and breaking through the Protectorate's defensive line. However the resulting casualties were immense, crippling the Fornast Fleet and requiring large scale reinforcements from surrounding sectors. The prospect of having to break through several more such lines resulted in changes to the Imperial political leadership and the abandonment of the previous policy of not entering negotiations while the Protectorate occupied Imperial territory. What was unknown to the Imperium at the time was that while the Protectorate had managed to withdraw their fleet in good order, the damage inflicted on the vital jump capable covering forces had been huge, leaving the Protectorate convinced they would be unable to extract their fleet a second time.
33. A beast of burden, analogous to a horse.
34. A large aggressive pack predator native to the Ley sector. Noted for its bad temper.
35. The government structure of the Protectorate evolved from the nobility of the Rule of Man and as such their terms of address were one of the few exceptions to Luriani norms. They were always referred to using Anglic forms and the title prefixed the name. The Protector would be referred to as Lord or Lady Protector, a Council member as Lord or Lady Councillor and an Assembly member as Lord Assemblyman or Lady Assemblywoman. Imperial protocol accorded the Protector the courtesys of an Archduke, a Councillor those of either a Duke (if from one of the seven great houses) or Count, while an assembly member is treated on par with a Marquis or Baron depending on seniority.
36. This refers to a committed romantic relationship short of a full match. It comes from the Luriani phrase vusis fi tyasa, practise for children. It refers to attempting to create an environment suitable for raising children. Such relationships are encouraged amongst young Luriani, but to have a child in one would be regarded as scandalous. The person being referred to is the future Archduchess Karen of Gateway.
37. Wa a general honorific for woman, translated as Ms. Literally means Woman. The male equivalent is Lul, literally Man, translated as Mr. Teenagers under the age of eighteen take the honorific of Daiwa and Dailul respectively, while younger children take Vawa and Valul.
38. A carrion eater native to Daramm. Takes the role of a mischievous and deceptive trickster in Luriani mythology.
39. 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.
40. In the final settlement, a number of Imperial worlds were granted independence to create a buffer zone between the Imperium and Protectorate.
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.