War! (Of Equals)

Eric Manwill asks:

I’ve really enjoyed reading (and re-reading) both Vignettes of the Star Empire and The Core War. I did end up wondering about something, though. In most cases, when the Empire and/or its citizen-shareholders faced down an enemy, they did so from a position of obvious technological and offensive superiority. The outcome rarely seemed in doubt. Have they ever had to go appendage-to-appendage with an opponent who was at least as strong or as dangerous as themselves? How would they handle it? What happens if they lose?

(Been noodling with this a few hours trying to find a good order to address the various factors at play here. Not sure I’ve found one. So I apologize if this seems a little disjointed.)

Well, the first part of this is a matter of doctrine. As the Thousand Wise Analects of the Supreme Warlord, Xian Anandonos-ith-Anaxios, put it, with regard to the question of how to go to war with a technologically or otherwise superior enemy:

“Don’t.”

“No, seriously, don’t.”

“Well, if you absolutely can’t avoid it, cheat. Cheat first, cheat second, and if that hasn’t worked yet, consider cheating.”

(I may be somewhat paraphrasing the elegant phrasing of the original 7th-century text, here.)

So, factor one: avoidance. There are powerful elder races and Powers in the galaxy: but even as the polity of the eldest of the younger races, the Empire doesn’t go around picking fights with them, because you don’t prosper by starting an ass-kicking contest with God.

(At least, not until you can reasonably claim to be a minimum of three times more God.)

As a side-note here, this is essentially doctrine for all circumstances, not just this particular.

To paraphrase the words of the Supreme Warlord in modern idiom, again, “There are people who seek out fair fights. Those people are gamesters. As an officer in the Legions, it is your responsibility to ensure that any battle you engage in is as hilariously unfair as possible, preferably to the extent that it’s mathematically impossible for the other side to win.”

Or, to put it another way, the Empire has never had the demographic luxury of playing silly buggers with straight-up fights or the We Have Reserves mentality. Their edition of The Book is the one that relies on seizing and maintaining every technological advantage possible, admixed equally with the gentle art of being sneaking, cunning, devious bastards whenever possible. Preferably, if at all possible, without actually having to engage in war at all – if a discreet assassination, meme campaign, or some militarized accounting will solve the problem for you, well, that’s a much bigger win.

Factor two, on the other hand, is very similar to Earth’s issues with superpower warfare: which is to say, we avoid the hell out of it. Brushfire wars and proxy wars, maybe some privateers and commerce raiding, etc., are one thing, as is trimming back the kinds of rogue states that might disturb the general equilibrium – but no-one wants to see two of the Great Powers actually throw down, because that’s the kind of thing that blasts entire regions of space, with devastated worlds, gigadeaths or worse, and all hell breaking loose. Everyone within the Worlds has a distinct interest in this sort of apocalyptic scenario not happening, and thus far enlightened self-interest has prevented anything major from breaking out between the big boys. It would be a much harder fight, I guarantee, if we saw the Empire facing off against, say, the Photonic Network, or the Consolidated Waserai Echelons, or the League of Meridian, or especially a combination per the doctrine mentioned here. But all of those four powers have a definite interest in not letting it, ever.

(This, incidentally, also applies to the Republic. The Core War is something of the exception that proves the rule: it was fundamentally more of a large deep-penetration raid than a generalized invasion, and was won by, essentially, strategic trickery: but also is an example of the Powers walking carefully around each other to avoid escalation. The Empire hit the enemy fleet in being with a hammer of just the right size to shatter it —

— but that’s because they weren’t looking at the full Republic fleet pouring over the Borderline, because while it’s technologically inferior, there’s a hell of a lot of it. The Republic isn’t larger than the Worlds, but it’s over twenty times the size of the Empire, which buys a lot of metal. They might not win if they invaded en masse, and the loss ratio would be spectacularly not in their favor, but they certainly would kill trillions and depopulate thousands of worlds trying.

No-one’s underestimating the danger of that. This is why people are gravely concerned about the instability of the Republic, because while the Empire et. al. may not like the Republic’s current government, they do credit them with not being actually insane. But if it comes apart, and doesn’t so so cleanly… well, that’s what we have people whose job it is to worry about existential threats for, yes?)

Now, having said all that, it’s not like there aren’t people worried about the possibility of other threats turning up, because the explored space of the Worlds isn’t the whole galaxy, not by a long shot. For which there are all sorts of codeword operations, like –

  • BERSERKER VOID, which concerns itself with why there aren’t more and older elder races (i.e., the hypothetical Great Filter);
  • BLACKWATER BISHOP, which researches Outside Context Problems and theoretical response patterns;
  • DEMIURGE ERRANT, which keeps an eye on elder races and seed AIs that might one day present an ex-threat;
  • EPOCH SHATTER, which investigates epistemological and extrauniversal threats;
  • GHOST WHISPERS, which tracks high-energy civilizations beyond the far horizon;
  • REWARMED MORBID, which makes sure sleeping perversions don’t wake;

and so forth.

And they also have a variety of response cases planned for this contingency, be it something minor or a full SKYSHOCK BLACK (“a full-scale invasion of the Associated Worlds or Imperial Space by an excessionary-level threat from beyond the far horizon”) – which in turn range from the relatively benign SVANEK WHITE (“make nice until we can get hold of their tech, reverse-engineer it, and build an equivalent or preferably better version”), up through medium-range strategic responses, and then high-level ones like destroying gate links, using relativistic kill vehicles, and blowing up suns, up to things like ADHAÏC CALYPSE (“unleash the swarm fleets from the depths of Armory’s well”; where a swarm fleet is what happens when you crossbreed a Rapid Offensive Unit with a von Neumann machine, and something normally kept entirely off the list of options because self-replicating autonomous war mechanicals with fast-burn capability scare the crap out of everyone) and NIGHTFALL ASUNDER (“take the specially-designed lurking-in-deep-space craft carrying a backup of our entire civilization and book it for the other end of the galaxy – or if necessary, another galaxy – exploding everything on the way out”).

So, y’know, there are plans.

Losing, though? That ain’t going to go well for anyone. Hypothetically. I mean, they can lose at daehain (which is basically a wargame used for arbitration), and have, or at teirhain (civilized war, between honorable gentlesophs). No disgrace, there, nor consequences likely to be unendurable.

But zakrehain (“barbarian war”) or seredhain (“blood war”, fought to extinction)? Not going to happen. They take their Live Free Or Die seriously ’round those parts. If it comes to that –?

The Galaxy’s going to burn.

 

Trope-a-Day: Weapon of Mass Destruction

Weapon of Mass Destruction: Per the Ley Accords (i.e., the Laws and Customs of War), in descending order of aargh, you’ve got star-killing weapons (nova bombs, including specifically star-targeted strangelet bombs, twist-pinch bombs, and most hypothetical causal weapons), planet-killing weapons (large/fast kinetic impacters, including asteroid drops, planet-targeted strangelet bombs, and relativistic k-kill weapons, extremely large [strategic-plus] energy-burst weapons, including nucleonic and antimatter warheads, and self-replicating planetary-scale war machines [berserker probes]), and uncontrollable self-replicating infoweapons and memetic weapons (that affect systems beyond their legitimate targets, propagate themselves widely across the extranet, and lie dormant in archives to come out and kill innocent people ten thousand years later), and ecocidal weapons (merely large [strategic-plus] energy-burst weapons or ongoing bombardments with same, general bombardments with small kinetic impactors [smaller asteroid drops, de-orbited satellites/stations, or orbital k-kill systems], uncontrolled self-replicating weapons [autonomous goo, unchained bioweapons, technophages, and clanking replicators], global ecoweapons and phage weapons, or the use of persistent ecoweapons and bioweapons, salting nucleonic weapons [say, cobalt bombs], or chemical weapons likely to permanently damage or accumulate in ecosystems).

Using any of the first three types anywhere, or the fourth on a garden world, will get your entire polity blasted and governance wiped out even if it takes the use of otherwise prohibited technologies to do it; these are technologies that eliminate habitable worlds – and those are really goddamned expensive – or tend to run beyond any reasonable control.  Ergo, they’re the galaxy’s primary do-not-fuck-with list.

Mere tactical-to-strategic nucleonic/antimatter weapons, non-persistent chemical and biological weapons, incendiary weapons, cerebroergetic weapons, and nanoweapons are not covered by this treaty, or considered the equivalent of WMDs.  Not enough mass.  They’re all fair game.

Trope-a-Day: War is Glorious

War is Glorious: The doctrine of one of the Flamic war gods: Kalasané, Laughing Warrior, Sword of Heaven, Lord of the Two Swords, the eikone of battle, courage, valor, victory through strength, and personal combat, who approaches the whole thing with a degree of enthusiasm that would impress the mythological Norseman or the fictional krogan. You are standing on the edge of civilization, facing down barbarism and desolation! How should that be less than glorious?

(The other one, Dúréníän, Noble Warlord, Grand Master of Strategies, Champion of the Just, the Ice Warrior, eikone of righteous war, battle, conquest, strategy and tactics, and patron of the sentinels, prefers to take a distinctly more sober attitude.

That both of these approaches have their strengths and the perfect warrior exists in a state of dynamic tension somewhere between the two is exactly why they have a pair of war gods.)

Trope-a-Day: War for Fun and Profit

War for Fun and Profit: Mostly averted; the major arms manufacturers can make just as much money, what with upgrades, exercises, and replacements, from the peacetime market, especially once ongoing Space Cold Wars and loss-of-inventory-due-to-privateers-and-military-risks premiums have to be factored into the equation.  And the usual run of security companies, mercenaries (who often prefer to be paid not to make war… no, not that way) and privateers are better customers, anyway.  (Unlike most national governments, they tend to be regular, steady customers and pay in full and on time.)

Memorial

The Empire has its monuments to its battles and retreats, to its victories and losses, but more curious perhaps to many are those monuments it has to those who fought against it.

On my way into the system, the liner on which I was travelling passed the moon Hyníne, where a beacon sponsored by the Office of Imperial Veterans marks the defeat of pirates who fought for the Cerenaith Alliance-in-Exile, but the pattern is repeated in many places elsewhere across the Empire. A monument-complex in Indimór honors the Indimóri who fell against the Empire’s legions as much as it does the legions who died there. The ash gardens in Lorai Vallis house the sophs of the 30th, 33rd, and 55th legions scattered among the forces of the Talentar Commonwealth that they battled, the Commonwealth from which the modern governance of the planet is descended. And even those legions descended from forces which once fought, and fought hard, against the Empire still carry and revere their ancient battle-honors from those days: the Winter Wolves of Telírvess, the Swordbreakers of Ancyr, the Swift Searing Flame.

I asked one of my hosts about this tradition: why permit, and exert such efforts, even, to honor old enemies?

“We deprived them of victory,” she said. “We deprived many of them of their lives. Those who fought for the wrong cause, we took that from them, too, but those who fought instead for their country, or duty, or family, they bled and died and lost everything just the same, and left the new day to us.

“Should we now deny the brave dead a patch of ground to sleep in, or the memory of valor, even ill-spent? We are neither so small, nor so righteous.”

– Travels in the Empire, Sev Tel Beran

Trope-a-Day: Rape, Pillage, and Burn

Rape, Pillage and Burn: Happens in various places with various less-disciplined armies, much as it ever does in history (well, probably with less rape, since there are rather more cross-species wars).

The Imperial Military Service, on the other hand, is extremely rigorous about averting this particular trope, to the point of giving any one of their own they catch playing it straight a public field execution right there (see: Kill It With Fire) and being sure to pay the market price for any materials they need to acquire locally.  (The reason being, ethics aside, that even back in the day when the Empire was going out conquering its own world, it knew perfectly well that the asset value of its conquest was very dependent on it being annexed in a not-wrecked state and with a population that at the very least hasn’t been provided with many, many reasons why they shouldn’t consider cooperation and assimilation.)

This is a military tradition now, of course, and one which they’re happy to share with anyone on the other side who forgets that War Has Rules (see: Laws and Customs of War).  Something that’s particularly important to remember if you hire one of those mercenary companies that promises to sell you the Glorious Military Traditions of Eliéra… because those may just include setting fire to commanders who seem a little too fond of atrocities.

Going To War With The Army You Have

Self-quoted from a G+ discussion in which the following Rumsfeldian aphorism came up:

You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want.

It is a truth I think greatly underappreciated (especially by politicians, alas) that unless you have paid the ridiculous-even-by-the-standards-of-US-defense-budgets amount of money necessary to have a genuinely omnicompetent army, then it would behove you to go to war in a manner befitting the capabilities of the army (or space navy) you have. Otherwise bad things will ensue… as we have seen a lot in reality, including thanks to Mr. Rumsfeld drawing exactly the wrong conclusion from his above-quoted aphorism.

(In the Eldraeverse, for example, the Imperial Military Service is a finely optimized instrument for patrolling, raiding in force, special operations, and glassing things from orbit. It is, consequentially, pretty much pessimal for tasks like “occupation”, and/or “nation-building”, and if the Minister President asks for that sort of thing, it’s the job of the First Lord of the Admiralty to look him in the eye and say “no can do, sir, unless you give us the budget and the time to develop doctrine and new units for the job”.

…this does occasionally result in more glassing of things from orbit than might be ideally required, but, y’know, it’s a resource-constrained universe and it’s not like they weren’t quite clear up front as to what the steps of this dance were, belike.

Although it is occasionally convenient that the chaps over at State & Outlands can point at the IMS and say, “Well, obviously we’re not out to conquer anybody; just look at our force mix. We couldn’t if we wanted to1.”

1. Spoiler alert: they could, but it would be expensive, inconvenient, and inelegant, thus unthinkable unless really provoked. Glossing over this sort of subtlety is what they pay the diplomats for.

Trope-a-Day: Pretext for War

Pretext for War: Unfortunately, played straight more often than not in these decadent modern times when one is at least nominally supposed to try to solve ones’ differences via the Conclave of Galactic Polities, or the Galactic Trade Association, or some such.  The Imperial Ministry of State and Outlands, among others, feels a certain nostalgia for the good old days when would-be galactic warlords and interstellar imperialists would just come right out and announce that they were starting a War for Killing Those People and Taking Their Stuff, since at least it was honest and no-one had to pretend to take obvious bullshit seriously in the name of interstellar amity.

(I take this moment to note, relevantly, that bearing in mind the pointlessness of resource wars as mentioned back in No Blood For Phlebotinium and the impractical difficulty of interstellar invasions of anything but less developed colonies, most wars are fundamentally for reasons ideological, reasons prejudicial, or the interpolity equivalent of “Your Mom”.)

Trope-a-Day: No Blood For Phlebotinium

No Blood For Phlebotinium: Generally averted, since by the time a species makes it into space it has generally noticed that the universe is full of giant piles of natural resources, most of which don’t belong to anyone, and most of the really interesting kinds of phlebotinium are synthetic highly exotic materials anyway.

Of course, “generally” is not “universally”, and the odd war has been fought over exotic biologicals, rare gemstones, access to exotic stellar objects, and the like.  Very silly, really, or so the popular zeitgeist would say.

Idealistic Snippet

(I’ve got the allergies today, so am reworking some of my notes and doing light editing. But here, have this wee snippet I ran across in the process:)

“Sure, you could theoretically weaponize a nucleonic device, but what would be the point? Everyone knows they’d have no imaginable practical use in warfare. What possible use is there for a bomb that completely obliterates the economic value of whatever you’re fighting over?”

– Alys Amanyr

(Who was later disappointed, despite being fundamentally correct where planet-based warfare was concerned.)

Epistolary Experiment (30/30): Epilogue

FILISSIN, ÓDELN – The last ship of identified Republic sympathizers left Ódeln this morning on its way to Márch, under the supervision of local consular authorities from a number of polities, and at the same time, as tensions cool, the internment of the local kalatri has been terminated – although they have little to return to but now-destroyed homes and businesses. Many intend to seek transport off-world at the first opportunity.

The Temporary Tyrancy, the provisional governance of this freesoil world, has announced its intention to dissolve in one year, “subject to the resolution of the state of emergency now pertaining”. Many of Ódeln’s residents seem happy with this news, but a strong minority are unhappy with this qualification, expressing deep concern that the Tyrancy may intend to effect a transition into a permanent governance. A movement is growing among this minority to call upon Interstellar Interceders, FK, to oversee and, if necessary, enforce this dissolution.

The management of Interstellar Interceders were unavailable for comment.

– the Accord Journal


From: Sinith Arání, VP Public Relations
To: All Contractees
Subject: Thanks and Congratulations

Well done, people, well done!

Thanks to your work, the company’s come through this crisis with name unstained and flying colors. I could not be more proud of our achievement, or of all of you.

I’m also delighted to be able to tell you that the Directorate has approved a performance bonus of Es. 1,150,500,000 for our achievement, and in view of the excellent joint performance you’ve all turned in, I’ve elected to divide that equally among the department (i.e., just over a million for each of you receiving this message).

For both myself and Ring Dynamics, congratulations, and thank you again.

Sinith

– from the Ring Dynamics, ICC, internal e-mail archive


VENERI (Osis Deep) – The Iltine Union regrets to report that the former Minister of Pacification, Kadrish har-Lan Sarkdor, his wife, and two of his three children, were killed yesterday when their groundcar was struck by an express maglev when leaving the capital. Investigations continue, but while suspicion must fall, in the current climate of interstellar tension, upon offworlder terrorists and other factions opposed to the Blessed Union, it is believed that this was no more than a tragic accident.

[APPROVED FOR DISSEMINATION – Meer har-Tal Ankór, Office of Desirable Truths and Detestable Falsehoods]


From: Executor Major Garren Melithos, Uulder Shore Constellation Adhoc, Imperial Exploratory Service
To: Cmdr. Leda Estenv, Flight Administrator, CS Iron Dragon
Subject: Checking up

Your Mr. Sarathos is shaping up as well as can be expected here after his transfer. Per his request, we put him to work on the hush-hush clean-up of Ekritat’s atmosphere after his oops, and he’s doing a good job there so far. Chastened, but competent.

My colleagues have some similar projects lined up for him after this. If all goes well, we might just manage to salvage him and his career.

-gm


STATUS REPORT: FORMER PEOPLE’S STATE OF BANTRAL WORLDS: SUMMARY
SECOND DIRECTORATE INTERNAL
(SUITABLE FOR TRANSPARENCY RELEASE)

ALLIAC (CORDAI GAP): Alliac’s governing committee has elected union with the Equality Concord. Concord representatives have already arrived on-planet and have begun mass implantation. Agents withdrawn.

DINC (CORDAI GAP): New socionovist governance has achieved stable control of the planet, and lays claim to all the former territory of the People’s State of Bantral, a claim rejected by the other Bantine worlds. Governance has limited interstellar capability at present, but is attempting to increase its military production capacity.

GORBIS (CORDAI GAP): Gorbis is presently dominated by a coalition of revolutionary groups controlling leftover Republic basing infrastructure and is evolving towards a syndic-managed anarchy; the governing coalition provides free cornucopia access to all who agree to their syndicratic pact. Consensus recommends cautious support and advisory role, and potentially inclusion in the Accords as a freesoil world.

ONCBIS (CORDAI GAP): Oncbis remains unstable, the planet having been hit hard by unlawful vultures and salvagers. Economic productivity has been severely damaged by loss of capital technology. Local militias dominate.

RRENAC (CORDAI GAP): Rrenac has collapsed entirely into warwilds. Economic productivity is zero. Interstellar capability is marginal and dropping. Habitats in the system are dying or dead. General war continues unabated. Consensus recommends placing the system under interdict.

TURBIS (CORDAI GAP): Turbis remains divided between self-governing local militias and a governance leaning towards the Equality Concord. Concord missionaries are presently attempting to convert the militias peacefully but the situation remains in balance. Consensus recommends intervention.


Sarq Iqador, the Voniensa Republic’s last governor of Vontok II, watched from the window of his office as the last of the Empire’s transports pointed its nose skyward and departed his planet.

“Finally! Now we can start putting things back in order.”

“In order?”

“We may no longer be part of the Republic, Tiesh, but we will not abandon its principles. We will start by re-indexing and securing our networks, closing the starport to smugglers, and getting all the technological leftovers of the occupation rounded up and placed under proper –“

“You may not have noticed, Governor, but the agreement we signed guarantees that we will permit the free flow of information and free trade.”

“The Republic signed that when it threw us away. We didn’t. I don’t consider it binding.”

“The Republic had the authority to sign it at the time. And are you seriously suggesting that we break our agreement with the people who just handed our entire polity its ass? Because they probably consider it binding.”

“We must clean up our own house. We are kalatri, and we will maintain –“

“You may also not have noticed, Governor, but there is enough ‘prohibited technology’ out there to keep us cleaning up for years, and at least half, maybe two-thirds, of the people on the planet are using it even if they don’t agree with it. And the ideas behind it are out there, saved in ‘qar only knows how many personal databases, and with that treaty, we can’t keep them out even if we wanted to. Might I also suggest that a much more productive line of thinking, from your perspective, would be your own legitimacy?”

“I am the appointed governor of this planet!”

“Appointed by the Republic, you mean? Which, as you pointed out, no longer owns the sovereignty of this planet. It’s a new age, Governor, and you’ll need to get used to that. Meanwhile, here’s the resignation from your administration I came to give you. I’ll see you in the election.”

“Election! What election!?”


From: Sarine min Gethill, Imperial Starport Authority
To: Phoebe Dracotarthius, Sheriff, Nightside Rock
Cc: Galin Tarquelios, Port Director, Nightside Rock
Subject: Facility Reactivation

Per standard protocol, in light of the addition of twenty-six worlds to the Accord to spinward of your facility, and in anticipation of the consequent increase in passenger and trade volumes to this region, the ISA Volume Advisory Adhoc has concluded that your star station facilities should be reactivated to Class II, pending Class III, status. As such, equipment and staffing to suit these levels (details enclosed) have been dispatched to you to enable this.

Please advise on readiness to receive and any special requirements soonest.

– SmG

(encs.)

VERBAL ANNOTATION BY RECIPIENT:

Oh, starshit, plague, and corruption.


Council of the Republic
Vonis Prime

PRESIDENT: Where is the Propulsion Group representative?

SECRETARY: We haven’t been able to find him, sir.

DEFENSIVE MINISTER: The entire Propulsion Group is missing from their offices. We haven’t been able to contact, or track, any of them. I’m having their stations searched by Fleet Security.

PRESIDENT: Damn it! Put the Exception Management Group on this. I want them tracked down and made to answer for this debacle!

[pause]

Well, we’ll have to handle the situation as best we can. What is the status of the Fleet?

DEFENSIVE MINISTER: We’ve lost approximately half of our trailing forces, including their logistics train, at a very unfavorable exchange ratio. We’ll get some of the crews back in prisoner transfers, but space battles don’t leave many survivors. We are, let me emphasize, very lucky that the Worlds weren’t interested in pursuing the war any further. As it stands, the Fleet can’t defend our trailing border. We need an immediate rebuilding program, and a drastic one.

PRESIDENT: Chancellor?

FINANCE MINISTER: Out of the question. Out of the question. Between the reparations we now have to pay in goods or out of our external currency reserves, and ongoing internal expenses, there’s no room to fit even a modest rebuilding program in the budget – unless we hike the tithes on the Shell Colonies again, if they wouldn’t take advantage of the situation to break away. And that’s assuming that our present economy is sustainable.

DEFENSIVE MINISTER: Without it —

PRESIDENT: What do you mean, ‘assuming our present economy is sustainable’?

FINANCE MINISTER: The Propulsion Group operated all the stargates in the Republic. They seem to have disappeared. No stargates, no interstellar travel, which means no interstellar economy – and no Republic.

TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: He’s right, Mr. President. The stargates are operating for now, but we have no way of knowing how long that will continue without—Well, unless something useful is found when Fleet Security searches their stations, we may lose our stargate plexus at any time.

PRESIDENT: What?

TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: At the foundation of the Republic, we agreed to let the Group handle the necessity of stargate technology at arms-length, for what seemed like good reasons at the time. But that means we don’t have an understanding of it now.

FINANCE MINISTER: So what do you propose to do about it?

TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: I don’t think we have any choice but to accept the Ring Dynamics proposal to take over construction and maintenance of our stargates, effective immediately.

DEFENSIVE MINISTER: Unacceptable! The security risks alone –

FINANCE MINISTER: Do you have any idea what that would cost –

TRANSPORTATION MINISTER: Compared to not having a polity or its economy, it’s risk-free and cheap.

[pause]

We may also want to consider accepting the Probable Technologies offer to examine the Group’s “relics”, especially if they are what they say they are.

PRESIDENT: No. That is unacceptable. It will be bad enough if we have to use an outside corporation to provide us with interstellar transportation – which decision we will defer until Fleet Security has had a chance to report and the Science Division have examined one of our existing stargates – but I cannot, and will not, go down in history as conceding our one possible advantage to our adversaries.

[pause]

Is the Fleet capable of keeping order in the Shell?


FROM: BORDERLINE DEFENSE MATRIX (107 – CHARACH)
RECEIVED AT: BORDERLINE DEFENSE MATRIX COMMAND

*** ROUTINE
*** FLEET CONFIDENTIAL E256
*** SITREP

SITUATION NOMINAL. NO ANOMALIES DETECTED.

AUTHENTICATION HATRACK RATCATCHER GALLANT FLARE BISCUIT LINELAYER / 0xCEEE8273B231AA04

ENDS.

Epistolary Experiment (28/30)

Republic-Worlds Peace Conference
Synchel ab Kamisir Negotation Center
Eilan (Crimson Expanse)

“You’re stalling.”

This statement from Elyse Phylarius, the senior Imperial representative at the conference, fell flatly across the conference table.

“I’m sure we don’t know what you -”

“Of course you do not, gentlesophs,” she continued. “You would have no reason to stall for time to allow your deep-penetration fleet to reach its objective, naturally. But you also might have no knowledge of the current status of that fleet, given the, ah, difficulties the Silicate Tree has been introducing into your communications recently. Permit me to enlighten you on that point.”

She reached into her briefcase, and tossed an object onto the table with a metallic clank. The kalatri representatives stared at it in silence.

The object had once been a brass plaque, now charred, space-burnt, and warped by intense heat, but despite its battered surface, the bold characters could still be made out:

VNS President Siroshin
RCC-1497

“This arrived earlier today by fast courier from the Core. Your deep-penetration fleet, I regret to say, no longer exists. You’ll want to provenance that, of course, and no doubt consult with your goverment. Shall we reconvene in, let us say, two hours?”


“They’re lying. They’ve got to be lying.”

“Then how did they get Siroshin‘s commissioning plaque? Which is genuine. The embedded codes check out. The trace alloys check out.” Admiral Tarvil glared at the younger kalatri. “Your supposed covert operation has failed just as badly as the rest of this war.”

“They could have faked it! If they could get an agent aboard Social Harmony, they could have stolen the details of the security codes. And even if Siroshin has been destroyed, that doesn’t mean the fleet is lost. We need to give them time to complete their mission and report.”

“No.”

“May I remind you, Admiral –”

“You. May. Not. When we go back into conference, Commander, I will attempt to salvage what I can from this debacle you and the rest of the Propulsion Group have dragged the Republic into. And then, we are going to have an in-depth discussion concerning exactly how many starships were destroyed and how many of my people you got killed on your idiot crusade.”

– Republic discussions at peace conference,
Second Directorate transcript


“These talks are a waste of time. We’ve got them against the wall, now. We should press our advantage! Their forces defending their side of the Borderline are weakened, demoralized! An advance, now, could take three sectors before they respond – or, hells’ favor, we could punch right through and knock out Vonis Prime!”

“The Conclave agrees!” a second voice spoke up. The Qirafian who had been sent to represent the other polities of the Worlds pushed his way to the front of the crowd. “A return to status quo ante is not acceptable to us. We require victory!”

“And there,” Elyse replied wearily, “speaks the voice of innumeracy. The Republic is eight thousand systems. We are hundreds. Even if we could take it, we could never hold it, and the Empire does not pursue wars that it can’t win, however winnable the battles look.”

“And as for the Conclave,” she continued, turning to the Qirafi deshnik, “do you have new promises with you of starships, logistics trains, occupation troops? If the Conclave wishes a full military invasion of the Republic, the Conclave needs to put its military forces where its warmongering mouth is. Our existing allies in this affair have already indicated to us that they aren’t interested in sticking any parts of themselves into that meat-grinder.”

“We could still punch out Vonis Prime!”

“Yes, we probably could do that. If we did, clionomic projections suggest that, as a tightly-controlled centralizing governance, Republic space would collapse into an extended period of anarchy, and I don’t mean ‘like us’, or even ‘like the Rim Free Zone’. I mean 8,000 worlds of chaos and warwilds. The collapse of infrastructure. Entire fleets turning to piracy. A complete bloody catastrophe, in short, and one that going to come boiling out across the Borderline and ruin all our tomorrows.”

“You didn’t object to that when it was the People’s State collapsing!”

“And if the Republic was a handful of worlds and notoriously worse as a governance than a complete absence of one ever could be, we wouldn’t object to it collapsing either. But it isn’t. In any case, gentlesophs, I strongly suggest that you take what you can get – and what we think we can get is a general return to status quo ante bellum, reparations for the damage, and half a constellation, twenty-six systems, chopped out of Vonis 31 – and be satisfied, because the only thing that could possibly be worse for us than losing this war is winning the damned thing.”

– Associated Worlds discussion at peace conference,
legate’s personal transcript


From: Elyse Phylarius
To: Ministry of State and Outlands, Republic Affairs Committee
Subject: Conference status
Security: MOST SECRET (ICE SHADOW)

We got lucky this time: our allies came through for us, and with their help I was able to talk the Conclave representatives out of doing anything stupid and beat down the factions. But it was a close-run thing – we’ve got to find some way to cool things down or accelerate the timetable, or else ICE SHADOW and our hopes for inducing a peaceful fragmentation may not survive another incident.

-ep

Epistolary Experiment (27/30)

“First, know yourself; and know your enemy, second. This is the first principle of victorious war.”

The Thousand Wise Analects of the Supreme Warlord,
Xian Anandonos

“It also doesn’t hurt to know what your enemy knows about yourself.”

Adm. Inesmír Muetry-ith-Muetry, in conversation


Netharn (Idrine Margin) System
CS Unconquerable Self
Coreward Fleet Yards & Logistics Division

“What’s our readiness status, Captain?”

“Excellent, Admiral. These yard dogs know their stuff. Special weapons package SPLITSHANK RIPPER has been loaded to all ships in the task force. I have the tactical departments setting up dedicated weapons queues for it now. Electromagnetic screen generators have been compiled and are installed in the free module spaces of all ships. They’re undergoing final proving tests right now.”

“And the extra radiation cladding?” The Admiral nodded at a nearby projection, displaying a dozen foot-long bulldozers scraping busily at the surface of a nearby asteroid.

“Running about 7% behind. Bagging the regolith is going to schedule, but they had some trouble getting the nets adapted to the hulls of the frigate screen. We should still be aweigh-ready by the foredawn watch.”

“Very good. Keep me informed.”


Eye of Night (Last Darkness) System
CS Eädne’s Helm
Flag Bridge

“The Republic task force has entered the system, Admiral,” the tactical officer reported. “From the Karmál gate, as expected. My best read is… thirty to forty of the plane, same again of screen, in staggered-scramble formation, with the megastructure in the middle.” She leaned over her board and adjusted the focus controls again. “I can’t get a clearer count than that, though. All this rad-hash is ruining the sensor resolution.”

“Very well, Cymnéä. Pass the word to the AKVs at the tarvic generator: scramble and attack on closest approach. Remind them that kills are secondary; their highest priority is to pass us target data.”


signal from flag: we are go at closest approach, target ailék.

all wings report in

weasel weasel weasel

shrike shrike shrike

scorpion scorpion

declamp and puffball. ready thrust packs, ears only.

guidance lock, no growler.

weasel wing, arm and attack screen from system acme; shrike wing, arm and attack screen from system nadir; scorpion wing, punch through and heat up the sweatbox. flank speed, backfire closure.

report scan data to flag soonest via tangle.

count is running.

flash-backup

hold knives to eyeball range; light the fires; stove-top hop; go go go

– from the thought-record of AKV Oriel-2-2-1


Eye of Night (Last Darkness) System
CS Eädne’s Helm
Flag Bridge

“AKVs are running.”

“When will they be within the Republic task force’s threat range?”

“Estimate three-two minutes, sir.”

“Set the maneuver clock: in three-two minutes, fleet is to cease acceleration and skew-flip, but is not to start deceleration yet. Let them think we’re satisfied with our closing rate and are going for a zero/zero after the AKVs have chewed on them some more. Pass the word to tactical: as we maneuver, fire SPLITSHANK RIPPER as you bear, per uploaded fire plan.”


Eye of Night (Last Darkness) System
VNS President Siroshin
Bridge

“Target Alpha just cut acceleration. Aspect change on target, looks like the beginning of a skew-turn.”

“Very well, Mr. Kadesh. Helm, maintain course and acceleration. If they want a passing engagement, we’ll oblige –“

“Contacts, contacts! We show multiple inbound missiles, groupings three, estimate over six hundred inbounds, range one-eighty-thousand, heading two-six-five mark three-two.”

“Signal to all ships: shift immediately to defensive globe formation. Stand by point defense. Mr. Kadesh, get me profiles on those missiles –“

(The sensor report of an electromagnetic spike accompanying the aspect change scrolled off the screen, unnoticed.)


Loaders clanked, switches closed, stacked accumulators discharged with an electrical hiss, drive coils spat lightning, and the SPLITSHANK RIPPER slug left the axial mass driver of Eädne’s Helm at a leisurely 1% of light speed; enough for multiple kilotons of impact should it directly hit its target, but nothing that would do exceptional damage to a starship designed for war, such as President Siroshin.

But it was not targeted directly at President Siroshin.

Minutes after being fired, the slug, fired retrograde, dropped into the ergosphere of the Eye of Night, that portion of space-time distorted by the spinning black hole in such a way as to drag all material objects along with it. Shortly thereafter, the SPLITSHANK RIPPER charge built into the slug fulfilled its designers’ intentions, and blew cleanly in two.

The larger part, no longer needed, fell away into the event horizon.

The smaller, a mere grain by comparison, in obedience to conservation of momentum, was hurled out of the ergosphere at high relativistic speed.

As were the smaller fragments of the other 119 slugs fired simultaneously.


Eye of Night (Last Darkness) System
VNS President Siroshin
Bridge

“Incoming! INCOMING! Gamma blueshift—“


Eye of Night (Last Darkness) System
CS Eädne’s Helm
Flag Bridge

“The package has been delivered. Flash is… okay, surviving AKVs are getting their sensors back on line. We have – splash fifty-seven, sixty-nine casualties. Twelve still under command, all screen. The megastructure looks battered, but appears intact and not at immediate risk of sympathetic detonation.”

“Very good. Make signal to senior surviving officer, Republic task force:

“‘This is Grand Admiral Inesmír Muetry, commanding CS Eädne’s Helm and all other Imperial forces in this system. Your forces, in my estimation, are no longer capable of sustaining battle, and therefore, to prevent an unnecessary effusion of blood, I wish to offer you the opportunity for honorable surrender.’

“‘You will immediately shut down all offensive systems. You may proceed, as a group, up to one light-minute from the megastructure you have been transporting for your own safety along with any survivors you may pick up, and will there heave to and prepare to be boarded.’

“‘Otherwise, be advised that my fleet will range upon you in seven-six minutes, and will commence firing for effect at that time. Muetry, clear.’”


“One braced for the wildfire will miss the serpent at their feet; one checking their boots for scorpions cannot run from the flame.”

The Thousand Wise Analects of the Supreme Warlord,
Xian Anandonos

“I knew what they were expecting of us. The cunning-mind stratagem, the feints-within-feints, all the deceptive devices that they believe transsophonts are known for – and which Fleet Admiral Daphnotarthius gave them over and again in the Borderline campaign. One simple act of misdirection? They were bound to misinterpret it entirely.”

– Grand Admiral Inesmír Muetry-ith-Muetry,
ICIN interview after the Battle of Eye-of-Night

Epistolary Experiment (24/30) – Revised First Segment

(This is the corrected version, with fixed astronomy…)

The Eye of Night (Last Darkness) System has the distinction of being the only black hole accessible to the Associated Worlds, and indeed, the primary reason for the existence of the Last Darkness constellation.

The black hole itself, Eye of Night, is designated as the system primary. It boasts a magnificent accretion disk, fueled by the asteroidal remnants of the system, and a stream of infalling matter drawn from the system secondary, the mottled red giant star Bloodshot.

As such, the entire system is designated a high-radiation environment, and entry should only be attempted by starships hardened against the prevailing radiation and thermal conditions. There are, for this reason, three stargates opening into the Eye of Night system, all orbiting coplanar with and in the outer fringes of the accretion disk to make best use of its occlusion umbra. Current occlusion status information and forecasts are available from Ring Dynamics public sources; visitors are advised to consult these and make all appropriate drift calculations before selecting their emergence point; emerging above or below the plane of the accretion disk significantly increases radiation exposure and other associated hazards.

Little civilization exists in the system. The majority of it is found on the Empire’s Edgewalker Research Station, a deeply-buried beehive habitat orbiting further into the fringe of the accretion disk. The habitat is operational the majority of the time, due to its heavy natural shielding, but may close down external services and near-surface facilities at short notice during radiation storms.

Edgewalker Station is run jointly by Dynamic Spatial Geometry Group, a research collective, and by the Order of Endings Manifest, a monastic order of Entélith – indeed, there is much overlap between the two, as the devotees of the Lady of Death and Endings take great interest in such research. It also houses modest facilities for visiting researchers and tourists, and a small funerist, capable of performing appropriate death rituals for many species of the Worlds.

Orbiting much closer to the Eye is the Eft Sédir Containment Facility, a maximum security prison run for a consortium of Accord polities by a division of the White Hands mercenary fleet. Eft Sédir lies within the inner accretion disk, protected against escape attempts and rescue attempts alike by the extremely hostile local environment. It survives in its location by means of extremely heavy coaxial radiation shielding and electromagnetic deflectors similar to those used in coronal habitats.

The Facility is designed as a skyhook extending from its anchor asteroid (home of the prison administration facilities and its spaceport) down towards the hole; prisoners are held in modules attached to the skyhook and resupplied by one-way descender ‘bots. The Facility uses the increasing levels of gravity as the skyhook descends to assist in the containment of their more violent and dangerous prisoners; modules can be placed at levels offering from near-microgravity to a crushing twelve standard gravities. In the event of riot, attempted escape, or other trouble, separation charges can blow any module clear of the skyhook and drop it into the Eye, or the entire skyhook can be separated from its anchor, likewise. Approaching the Facility is not recommended for anyone except for an approved White Hands prisoner transport; the locals are unfriendly, and the station will fire on anyone entering its claimed million-mile security zone.

Points of Interest: The only other structure of interest in the Eye of Night System is the remains of a tarvic project to magnetohydrodynamically tap energy from the infall of stellar plasma originating from Bloodshot. While abandoned partway through construction, and obviously derelict, this miles-long megastructure is still remarkable, the more so that it continues to hold station within the plasma streamer despite centuries of neglect.

– Leyness’s Worlds: Guide to the Ecumene

Epistolary Experiment (26/30)

From: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
To: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
Cc: CINCCORE; Grand Admiral Inesmir Muetry-ith-Muetry
Subject: Unknown object
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY/FERVENT SPAN

The enclosed is an excerpt from sensor logs of the Battle of Viridit. Our analysts are having difficulty identifying the large structure the Republic fleet appears to have under tow in the center of their formation. Is this something in your bailiwick? Please advise on possible threat level and/or collateral danger.

(enc.)


LANDING, SARAGÓS – “The mood on Saragós was celebratory today with the final withdrawal of Iltine forces from the planet. Despite the long task of rebuilding ahead, the Saragónes are both proud of the achievements of their militias in defeating Iltine ground forces, and thankful to the Imperial task force that made it possible by removing their orbital support from the system.

“A joint statement of the local governances expressed thanks specifically to Admiral Gileon Cularius for pressing forward to the Veneri System and obtaining generous reparations for Saragós on their behalf, to be administered in escrow by Gilea & Co. A spokesman for this group later announced that in addition to funding reconstruction efforts, part of these reparations would be expended to hire mercenaries to blockade the inbound routes from Union space, and to construct and cadre a new condominium system defense fleet for the Saragós system.

“This is Xaríä Cieng, Telememe News.”


VENERI (OSIS DEEP) – The Central Committee of the Iltine Union condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent unauthorized military adventurism, carried out by certain reactionary elements within the Ministry of Pacification without the knowledge and permission of the People of Ilth, and further condemns their use of illegal and immoral weapons systems developed in secret with the assistance of and at the instigation of corrupt offworld apotheosians. The Union assures all star nations that the Iltine Union desires only to live in peace with its neighbors, and that those responsible shall be punished for their actions with the full stringency of the People’s Law.

The Central Committee offers its hand in friendship and good will to the people of Saragós, also victimized by the treacherous actions of these criminal freebooters, and will lend any aid it can to the cause of rebuilding their world.

[APPROVED FOR DISSEMINATION – Meer har-Tal Ankór, Office of Desirable Truths and Detestable Falsehoods]

– That Bullshit Right There, Independent Worlds Router

Rejoice and know no fear, People of Ilth, for the rumors of invasion and war are no more than dust in the wind. The Imperial starships seen in the Veneri System are making a goodwill visit, escorting negotiators to make application to the Central Committee. The Ministry of Pacification remains ever watchful for outworld treachery.

Fear and rumormongering poison the People’s Will. Defeatists and traitors pollute the People’s Genes. Be vigilant!

– Office of the People’s Wisdom, Iltine Union: INTERNAL DISSEMINATION ONLY


From: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
To: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
Cc: CINCCORE; Grand Admiral Inesmir Muetry-ith-Muetry
Subject: Re: Unknown object
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY/FERVENT SPAN

Possibly. Unfortunately, that’s as far as I can go.

I’ve run it past Operations and Engineering as well as my team. Our consensus is that it might be a weylforge. The toroids resemble frame buffer-dampers; the configuration of the radiators and nearby equipment suggests a facility for producing boson condensate. But that’s all circumstantial; the design is sufficiently alien from our equivalent equipment that there’s not an ideal resemblance, and we can think of at least a dozen other geometry-manipulation possibilities, several with significant offensive connotations. And that’s assuming they either have automation for it or understand how to operate it correctly in manual mode, which latter would be most unlikely.

As it is, we believe potential collateral damage considerations would suggest not being within two light-minutes of it if it’s destroyed. If it is charged – and we strongly believe that that would require both an external power source and a time period measured in, at minimum, cycles – you’d want to be at light-cycles of range.

Epistolary Experiment (25/30)

“Captain har-Rant Sathan.”

“Before you begin what I am told is an entire litany of complaints, let me make the current state of affairs clear to you. We have recovered Hand of Ilth‘s flag bridge log. We know, therefore, that not only was your fleet armed with abomination weapons, but that both your admiral and yourself vocally approved of this, as did the officers of the rest of your ships at the fleet conference.”

“As such, before you complain too vigorously about being treated in strict accordance with Article V of the Ley Accords, do try and remember that we’re legally entitled to throw every single one of you out the airlock as pirates and terrorists.”

“Now, what was it you wanted?”

– from the transparency log of CS Eyrie


EMERGENCY ALERT: EPIDEMIC FIREBREAK
FLASH FLASH DCr6¯I K@ ±« …@B0Q#N FLASH

Communications disruptions are in progress through all wacca9?†‡Á…w˜¸^†‚…’Xæmoeranev‡HH attack. Shut down all affectedm10tut8*&$ghostinthemachine*&#3092YYYYy storage systems at once. Sever all links to unaffected communications nodes. Terminate all .HX’™”(…a¯…J@‘B  œŸ¡D…’˜) R_Cˈ*‡…ÆÕœ<i%yÁ™÷-linked automation. Priority messages must be A%a…cƒ€…HX’™”(…a¯…J@‘B repeats.

EMERGENCY Êæ(ù;\8E›yuŸ¡jflj °  v_]g°A¨V÷zÖvËi FIREBREAK
FLASH FLASH FLASH FLASH FLASH

 ’pì}flì·äì7â . . break, break . JpÆZ’ˆ±´›ˆ?ˆ´¡’¯ˆ progress through all trailing sectors. We are under perversion attack. Shut down all affected communications nodes and connected data storage systems yEn(ƒay*m ©‰[  ñ&  ”Y[«/s\qu/Y˜‰ communications nodes. Terminate all non-essential communications and communications-linked ´§Q:UzY^¶b,ˆ´@V‰ must be sent by courier. Message repeats.

EMERGENCY ALERT: EPIDEMIC ¶Hºa´—t ÒZË/”„/æÎZ sfly FLASH FLASH FLASH

Communications ¨ÒÑ@èvÖ Êæ(ù;\8E›yuŸ¡jflj explosive storage regulations °  v_]g°A¨V÷zÖvËi 46öô] sectors. We are under perversion attack. Shut down all affected communications nodes and connected data storage systems at once. Sever all links to unaffected 3@’”@’@’·@’[ZS computerhacksyou ’pì}flì·äì7⠔VBBB@»¤±»´¨»+^•»[ non-essential communications and communications-linked automation. Priority messages must be sent Õ#^àøuÍÃù4äßØÄ÷ repeats.

– Republic broadcast, received at Tarqil (Crimson Expanse)


From: mor-Lissek Maraz (via SHUFFLE FOURTEEN)
To: Imperial Diplomatic Corps (Military Affairs); CINCCORE
Subject: AAR (Battle of Viridit)
Priority: WILDFIRE
Security: EYES ONLY FERVENT SPAN

Sha! That was bracing! The Republic finally found some admirals with spleen!

Both of their task forces emerged in Viridit jumping together, within four hours of each other, point-defense hot and in staggered-scramble formation – they knew to expect a fight here, and were set up for conventional tactics. They saw what was waiting for them, even shifted to net-sphere in time, but they came on anyway, straight through the minefields for the convergence point and their exit gate. The AKVs tore bloody chunks out of their formation’s outer layers, and they just kept on going. Icy hells, once the forces converged, the crazy bastards even ran fuel transfers in mid-battle.

The League is still running rescue ops and picking up the pieces, but we’ve captured a flotilla of logistics vessels, most of them empty and voluntarily surrendered, and my preliminary assessment is that the AKVs cost them at least two-thirds of their screening elements. Detailed battle reports and sensor logs are enclosed by Adm. Mal Calen’s courtesy, along with my more detailed estimates.

When the battle’s done, please pass along to whoever survives in command on their side the compliments of mor-Lissek Maraz on a magnificent fight, or else I’ll drink with them and their men in the Bloody-Jawed God’s halls.

mor-Lissek Maraz

(encs.)


FROM: CORE COMMAND
TO: HEAVY SIX; FIELD FLEET COREWARD COMMAND (CS UNCONQUERABLE SELF)

*** EXPEDITE
*** EYES ONLY FERVENT SPAN
*** STRATEGIC ACTION MESSAGE

1. THIS MESSAGE CONSTITUTES A WAR ORDER.

2. GENTLESOPHS, WE HAVE THEM.

3. AVAILABLE HEAVY SIX UNITS ACTIVATED UNDER WAR PLAN SARISSA WILL PROCEED IMMEDIATELY TO EYE OF NIGHT (LAST DARKNESS) SYSTEM STATION.

4. CURRENTLY ACTIVE COREWARD FLEET UNITS ENGAGED IN OPERATION FERVENT SPAN WILL ENGAGE REARGUARD AND FLANK ELEMENTS OF THE REPUBLIC TASK FORCE, HARASSING AND HERDING SAID TASK FORCE TOWARDS EYE OF NIGHT (LAST DARKNESS) SYSTEM.

5. ON ARRIVAL OF OPFOR IN EYE OF NIGHT (LAST DARKNESS) SYSTEM, ALL UNITS WILL EXECUTE MANEUVER PLAN TROVIAN BRIDGE

6. WARMAIN FOR THIS OPERATION REMAINS GND ADM, REPEAT, GND ADM INESMIR MUETRY-ITH-MUETRY.

7. SERVICE AND GLORY.

8. AUTHENTICATION: PADLOCK WILLOW WOLF GATEWAY CIRRUS PRAYER / 0xAE9532BB81200A18

ADM/FLT RELEQ CLAVES-ITH-LELAD, FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY

Epistolary Experiment (24/30)

The Eye of Night (Last Darkness) System has the distinction of being the only black hole accessible to the Associated Worlds, and indeed, the primary reason for the existence of the Last Darkness constellation.

The black hole itself, Eye of Night, is designated as the system primary. It boasts a magnificent accretion disk, fueled by the asteroidal remnants of the system, and a stream of infalling matter drawn from the system secondary, the mottled red giant star Bloodshot. The three stargates into the system orbit 45 degrees off the ecliptic to avoid starships emerging directly into the high-radiation zone of the disk itself; visitors are advised to consult an ephemeris and make all appropriate drift calculations before selecting their emergence point.

Little civilization exists in the system. The majority of it is found on the Empire’s Edgewalker Research Station, a deeply-buried beehive habitat orbiting at the fringe of the accretion disk, again in an orbit 45 degrees off the ecliptic. The station is accessible for most of its orbit, with the exception of the two multi-month periods in each orbit in which it passes through the plane of the accretion disk. The station is largely abandoned during this time except for deep-level automation. Again, check your ephemeris for details.

Edgewalker Station is run jointly by Dynamic Spatial Geometry Group, a research collective, and by the Order of Endings Manifest, a monastic order of Entélith – indeed, there is much overlap between the two, as the devotees of the Lady of Death and Endings take great interest in such research. It also houses modest facilities for visiting researchers and tourists, and a small funerist, capable of performing appropriate death rituals for many species of the Worlds.

Orbiting much closer to the Eye is the Eft Sédir Containment Facility, a maximum security prison run for a consortium of Accord polities by a division of the White Hands mercenary fleet. The Facility is designed as a skyhook extending from its anchor asteroid (home of the prison administration facilities and its spaceport) down towards the hole; prisoners are held in modules attached to the skyhook and resupplied by one-way descender ‘bots. The Facility uses the increasing levels of gravity as the skyhook descends to assist in the containment of their more violent and dangerous prisoners; modules can be placed at levels offering from near-microgravity to a crushing twelve standard gravities. In the event of riot, attempted escape, or other trouble, separation charges can blow any module clear of the skyhook and drop it into the Eye, or the entire skyhook can be separated from its anchor, likewise. Approaching the Facility is not recommended for anyone except for an approved White Hands prisoner transport; the locals are unfriendly, and the station will fire on anyone entering its claimed million-mile security zone.

Points of Interest: The only other structure of interest in the Eye of Night System is the remains of a tarvic project to magnetohydrodynamically tap energy from the infall of stellar plasma originating from Bloodshot. While abandoned partway through construction, and obviously derelict, this miles-long megastructure is still remarkable, the more so that it continues to hold station within the plasma streamer despite centuries of neglect.

Leyness’s Worlds: Guide to the Ecumene


FROM: ADM. GILEON CULARIUS (GRUMPY BADGER THEATER COMMAND)
TO: CORE COMMAND

*** EXPEDITE
*** EYES ONLY GRUMPY BADGER

1. I HAVE THE HONOR TO REPORT THAT THE SARAGÓS (OSIS DEEP) SYSTEM HAS BEEN RECLAIMED.
2. ALL IN-SYSTEM ILTINE FORCES, UNDER SENIOR SURVIVING COMMANDER CAPTAIN-OF-CRUISERS MINIK HAR-RANT SATHAN, HAVE SURRENDERED AND ARE UNDER TASK FORCE CONTROL.
3. AFTER AKV ATTACK TO DISABLE MISSILE FACILITIES, CASUALTIES AMONG THE ABOMINATION WEAPONS IN USE BY ILTINE FORCES WERE MINIMAL. TASK FORCE GRUMPY BADGER HAS CAPTURED 14,896 INTACT, 37 PARTIALLY SO, 892 DESTROYED. STATUS OF REMAINING EST. 15 UNKNOWN.
4. TECHNICAL DIVISION HAS BEGUN THE PROCESS OF TRANSFERRING CHANGELING AIS TO INACTIVE TRANSPORT SUBSTRATE. REQUEST FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS ON DISPOSITION.
5. IT IS MY INTENT, PROCEED-UNLESS-CANCELLED, TO ADVANCE UPON VENERI (OSIS DEEP) AND REQUIRE EXPLANATIONS OF THE ILTINE GOVERNANCE.
6. AUTHENTICATION WOLFPACK IRON AMBER WYVERN BASKET ANVIL / 0x1195BAEB33249C65

ADM GILEON CULARIUS


RRENAC (Cordai Gap) – Chaos reigns on the former throneworld of the People’s State of Bantral. While the war has moved out of this region, officially, with the fleets of the Nineworlds, First Interactivity, other local polities, and their mercenary allies destroying the established Republican forces or driving them them back beyond the Borderline, the fighting continues.

A multiple-front war is in progress, here, between the remnants of the old People’s Government – deposed by the Republic’s forces in the early stages of their invasion of the Worlds – several revolutionary organizations claiming to represent new governances – empowered by ideas, technology and other assets seized during the Republic’s retreat – offworld looters, and those who simply wish to be left alone.

The most violent of these, so far, is the war against the old regime. While it retains control, in theory, of the majority of Bantine territory and the remains of the Bantine military forces and other instrumentalities, it is also the most widely despised of the competing factions. Lynch mobs operate freely in rebel territory hunting down former regime officials, and, most dramatically, the opening shot of the revolution came when the House of State was destroyed, an action attributed to the One Plane Faction, by dropping a freighter from orbit as the People’s Government reconvened for the first time after the Republic’s departure.

Thus far, even mutually hostile revolutionaries have been observed to cooperate against them. But as the need for cooperation declines in the face of the dwindling governance, the situation on the ground can only heat up.

– the Accord Journal

Epistolary Experiment (23/30)

“I could almost kiss Kadrish har-Lan Sarkdor this morning.”

“You want to get smoochy with the Iltine Minister of Pacification? The Worlds’ leader in using children as missile components?”

“Well, I’d kill him afterwards.”

“Athenril, you’re perverted. Be sure and record that.”

“But seriously. Between him pushing the Union into attempted expansion, Bantine space collapsing into warwilds, the deshniki retrenching, the Tree’s resurgent militancy, and such, we have plenty of trouble at home. More than enough to counter the Sanguinaries and the Conclave factions demanding we push the advantage on beyond the Borderline.”

“I wouldn’t count on it. The Gradualist faction of the Sanguinaries is coming up reasonable – they’ve indicated they’d be happy if we take home Vontok System and the chunk of Vonis 31 trailing of it back to the Borderline. Rumor has it the Golden Chain’s backing them up, wanting evidence on how a de-meming would work outside the simulations.”

– from the transparency log at the Ministry of State & Outlands


Dir min Solsea, share-captain, CMS Mine, Mine Mine

Cousins,

I’m docked at Kernitrile Station in Galatas for resupply, and just spoke at dockside with a representative from an anonymous initiative, contact nyms attached below. His outfit is offering escrowed slice-contracts to anyone who’s making smuggling runs into the trailing half of Vonis 31, just show proof of cargo and delivery, and they’ll match your revenue. No strings attached, and I had that obligator-checked – all part of the war effort, I suppose.

I’ve always had a liking for being paid twice to do something I’m doing anyway.

– from the Solsea Clan & Affiliates memeweave


From: mor-Lissek Maraz, Military Attache, League of Meridian
To: Imperial Diplomatic Corps (Military Affairs); CINCCORE
Subject: League involvement
Priority: WILDFIRE
Security: EYES ONLY FERVENT SPAN

It seems the League is making its move. I spoke with Admiral Sef Mal Calen, Federated Meridian Navy, this morning – at his request. He informs me that their intelligence agrees with ours inasmuch as the two Republic fleets are expected to converge in the Viridit System, and that the FMN have chosen to respond by deploying minelayers to the Viridit system to interdict both entry stargates with enough dormant AKVs to, in his words, “blot out the stars”.

We have been provided with transponder codes to indicate friendly status to these (enc.; CINCCORE only).

Admiral Sef Mal Calen has extended an invitation to join his command as a military observer, which I have of course accepted. Please expect and direct future messages via tangle channel SHUFFLE FOURTEEN.

mor-Lissek Maraz


From: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
To: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
Subject: Re: UNSEEN KEY; info req.
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY

I have it.

The ancient data on that system – damn the current stellar alignment – suggests that it’s a red giant-black hole binary, modified for power generation. It’s also very close to where we lost trace of Serril and Athne. That’s got to be where their god-corpse is, feeding off the infall.

But they can’t understand the relic tech they’re mining. It’s physiologically impossible for a meathead. So all they know is that they’ve been mining – or making – their stargates from a system that’s most developed around the hole. They think it’s necessary. They’re going for our presumed stargate-core manufacturing facility, and they’re assuming from what they know that it must be around the only black hole we have access to.

They’re heading for the Last Darkness. Couldn’t be surer of it.

Epistolary Experiment (22/30)

prepare for carrier-guided transit.

vector input; gate hot; skew-frame skew-frame

axis lock and commit, 55-60

drift and ping. close isolate to tangle relay. all wings report in

badger badger badger

steam in the box is thick, foglamps out with salamanders

wyvern, three groups, three count, two count, five count with a basilisk wearing a shiny hat; repeat, three, two, and five with a shiny-hat basilisk

designate three-count wyvern vélv, two-count forl; three flight split and engage these for range; one flight, two flight, on me to smoke the stoner

flash-backup

knives out; light the fires; stove-top hop; go go go

growler growler, grid paint

claws are out and hot, incoming

jink jink

jink jink

bogeys in the haystack, clarify?

prefer no friendly stab

scratch incoming?

hold scratch on itch, only for outbreak

jink jink

jink jink

talons one, break nadir, foam and decoy the claws; talons two, blow through, skim-declutch, and smoke circle on the wyverns; talons three, on me, skin-dancing the basilisk

badger badger badger

flash-backup

talons three, paint motors for salamanders, directed fry on preachers. splash the valets, keep the hotels dry.

splash preachers main, side-slip for backup

shrikes inbound, balefire live in the furball, get down in the chaff and charnel

lead is swept, take flag, talon three-two

inc$$$$

NO CARRIER

– from the thought log of AKV Eyrie-1-3-1


From: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
To: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
Subject: Re: UNSEEN KEY; info req.
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY

They have – had – a Power!?

To: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
From: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
Subject: Re: UNSEEN KEY; info req.
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY

They have an elder-race Power’s corpse, would be my guess. Maybe they inherited an established stargate plexus, maybe they didn’t, but we’ve seen them position new gates in the trans-Borderline, so they’ve been getting them from somewhere, at least until recently. Maybe it made a stockpile of them before it died or went dormant; maybe it left an operable weylforge behind; maybe they’ve even been mining its corpse for relay-parts if they could figure out how to expand them enough. No way to tell.

From: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
To: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
Subject: Re: UNSEEN KEY; info req.
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY

It’s entertaining speculation, but how does it connect with what their fleet is after now?

To: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
From: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
Subject: Re: UNSEEN KEY; info req.
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY

Damned if I know – yet. Send me everything you’ve got on the candidate system.


“It was sabotage. It had to be.

“The explosion began in the interior of the engineering section, near the power reactor. Starships of Social Harmony‘s class keep their antimatter in a series of ejectable cryocels approximately 200 meters for’ard of the maneuvering room, which is close to the center of the detonation as recorded by the reconstructed sensor logs of other ships in her formation, of which the most important for our purposes was VNS ToleranceTolerance was keeping station directly beneath Social Harmony at close formation range. There is no way that a projectile attack capable of penetrating the cryocels could have sneaked past Tolerance and her point defense without being at least detected. And in any case, records from Tolerance clearly demonstrate the explosion to have begun within the antimatter bay and to have blown the ejection port and associated hull segments outward.

“Meanwhile, I have reviewed the design of the cryocel containment system with the VN Bureau of Engineering’s designers and design-reviewers. I conclude, and am assured, that this is not within the failure envelope. The cryocels are retained within the hull by continuously-operating magnetic clamps directly coupled with the antimatter containment system. If one fails, both fail, and the cryocels are automatically ejected by spring force and hypergolic thrusters. For them to fail in this way requires someone to have physically hardwired the clamps to an external power source before triggering a containment failure.

“I don’t know who did it, or why they did it, or how the Impies got to him, but there is no doubt in my mind, Admiral, that Social Harmony was deliberately sabotaged.”

– Republic communications intercept, received at Tarqil (Crimson Expanse)

Epistolary Experiment (18/20)

FROM: TASK FORCE C-117 (CS THANEBLADE)
TO: CINCCORE; FIELD FLEET COREWARD COMMAND (CS UNCONQUERABLE SELF)

*** ROUTINE
*** EYES ONLY FERVENT SPAN
*** SITREP

INFORMATIONAL:

1. ESTABLISHED FAR PICKET AS PER ORDERS IN SPINDLE SYSTEM.

2. SITUATION NOMINAL. NO HOSTILE CONTACTS.

3. AUTHENTICATION WILDCAT PAWN INCARNADINE ASH MAGMA SLIVER / 0x11EA49BD629A1132

VADM. EXPRY VALIN-ITH-VALADINE


<Calis Corith> We’re getting a lot of pressure in the Conclave to divert forces to kick the Republican remnants out of the Bantine systems. Opinions?

<Releq Claves-ith-Lelad> We could do it with a pair of task forces. Easy enough.

<Calis Corith> Do we want to?

<Istry 0x9987DCBD> For goodwill, perhaps?

<Athenril Vianath> From the Bants!?

<Istry 0x9987DCBD> I was thinking more of the rest of the Accord.

<Athenril Vianath> Calis, most of this pressure is coming from the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms and the Socionovists, right?

<Calis Corith> Most. Not all, but most.

<Athenril Vianath> So they’re going to find reasons to oppose whatever we do. I propose we avoid getting stuck in that tar-pit and ask some of our lesser allies with smaller logistic spheres to tackle the job, through back-channels. What’s left of the Bantine authorities won’t throw a fit, it’ll disarm the Socionovists’ main reason for getting in the way, and the job will still get done.

<Istry 0x9987DCDB> And the credit goes elsewhere.

<Athenril Vianath> How much do we care?

<Istry 0x9987DCDB> It’s convenient when people owe us favors. But it does seem the best option on the table right now. Affirm.

<Releq Claves-ith-Lelad> Affirm.

<Calis Corith> Affirm, but get your meme-wranglers figuring out the best way I can sell this.

– from the Ministry of State and Outlands internal policy memeweave


From: Adm. [blank], Imperial Naval Intelligence
To: Imogen Andracanth, VP Research, Ring Dynamics
Subject: UNSEEN KEY; info req.
Security: EYES ONLY UNSEEN KEY

Nothing in current records.

We have some partial matches in found londian historical records that would correspond to a system perhaps eighty-four light-orbits from Vonis Prime, plus or minus twenty for parallax, but they’re pre-nomadic period, from around minus 100,000 – pre-Imperial, pre-Worlds, pre-Republic. It doesn’t seem relevant.


“…we’ve lost most of the outlying towns on Ódeln at this point to guerillas and local militia forces, backed up by the local mercenary cadre. We’re still holding the capital and the starport at this time, but we’re bottled up there by entrenched forces, and our network support is dubious at best. I repeat: I need clearance to use my orbital fire support, and I need reinforcements. Without them, I won’t be able to hold the planet. This is…”

– Republic communications intercept, received (and subsequently jammed)
by Interstellar Interceders forces in Ódeln System


“Admiral, along the rimward routes out of Uinul System, in the last month alone I’ve lost half a dozen fuel tankers, eight other freighters, three personnel transports, and their crews, and that’s just those specifically assigned to your logistics! I am losing ships, I am losing men, and the Fleet isn’t doing a damned thing about it.

Find these commerce-raiding brigands and stop them. My people are being slaughtered trying to keep up your optempo, and we cannot sustain these losses, not for nothing. If we don’t get some Fleet support, I’m taking this to Admiral Sijntar and shutting down these branch routes.”

“Commodore Lath Iqevar, Logistics Command”

– Republic communications intercept, received at Tarqil (Crimson Expanse)


From: Lt. Halet Makeer, VNS Social Harmony
To: Simichie Anant
Subject: Re: Homemade cookies!

The cookies were delicious. I’ll have finished them all soon.