Office of the Chief Minister
Chair of the Corporate Council
Lowell City, Fenris
Capital of the deWulf Corporate Democracy
It had been almost two years since SPM Rollen had entered this office, and very little had changed. The furniture had been replaced, looking more in keeping with the changes of current fashion. The displays were as they had been, a few subtle changes where artifacts had been changed out. An early Lohengramm dynasty vase had been removed, replaced by handcrafted mirror of silver and brass. Rollen walked over to the new mirror, looking over at it.
And carefully ignoring the owner of the office, quietly glaring at him from the desk that dominated the far side of the room.
“I don’t recognize the piece” opined Rollen. “I’d hazard a guess it’s maybe early Hecht, but the actual design work, well…” he shrugged some “Art never was my strong suit.”
“I’m surprised you even got that far, Rollen” sniped Chief Minister Rheinbach. “I didn’t think they taught anything like that in the armed forces.”
Rollen pulled back a bit from the display, still not looking at Rheinbach. “I had to take an art elective. Back before I signed onto the deWulf Armed Forces. I passed, but I wouldn’t say with any distinction.”
“Well, I suppose I must congratulate you somewhat. The piece is reminiscent of the early Hecht dynasty, but it isn’t deWulf.”
“Oh, expanding your horizons, Rheinbach? I never would have thought you the broadening type.”
Rheinbach chuckled slowly at that snipe. “Really? I’m guessing your precious Naval Intelligence isn’t quite up to snuff anymore.”
“As a rule, we don’t spy on our own head of government. Bad for business.” Rollen turned his head to finally look at the Chief Minister, a thin smile spreading across his face. “I scored quite well in Management, unlike my art classes”
“The piece is Ibizan. From the reign of Alfonso the First.”
“Sign of the times, Rheinbach?”
“Something like that, Rollen. Now, why are you here. No, why did you actually book an appointment with me? Last time you were here, why you just showed up like a cloudburst. And just as destructive.”
Rollen turned, pivoting on his right foot like a slowly swinging door before he stepped to the front of Rheinbach’s desk. “Balancing accounts, Chief Minister. Balancing accounts.” Swinging out from behind the commander-in-chief of the deWulf Navy was a small folio of paper. Carefully bound and professionally printed.
“Last time you came in here with paper, you threatened to wipe out the government.” Rheinbach looked down at the folio like it was dripping poison. Carefully he took it in his hand, flipping the cover sheet to start reading.
“You’re a busy man. Soon to be busier, so I’ll get to the point. It is the estimation of the Navy that we will complete hostile combat operations within the next twenty-four hours. As such, we will be requesting a formal end to the State of Threat from the Corporate Council at its meeting next week. As Chief Minister, you are entitled to know about the formal presentation before it occurs. This-” Rollen gestured “is the executive summary. The full document will be along to your office sometime tomorrow.”
Rheinbach couldn’t help but smile “Oh I have been waiting for this…” Even a fenren given to a cold poker face couldn’t help but smile as he thought of the sheer amount of ammunition he’d been handed.
“I thought you might. The Navy is expecting a rather substantial peace dividend to be coming down the ways, but we also estimate that a hard-stop will probably cause a minor recession just from cancelling ongoing contracts. So, in order to ease the economy back to a more… peaceable footing we’ve outlined a stepdown program; draws down our funding without imploding the market. We’ve outlined the spending suggestions in terms of which corporations would be getting what contracts, as well as graded them in terms of ‘needs, wants and would-be-nice’ categories.”
Rollen took a bit of pleasure as he saw Rheinbach’s jaw loosen, sentence by sentence. “The needs are not really in terms of military needs, but more ones that would provide the best stabilization to the economy. I’m certain you have a long list of payoffs, sorry, ‘strategic investments’ that need funds, so Naval Intelligence thought it best that we structured it that way for you. Oh, and I have their assurances that so long as nothing… excessive, shall we say, happens with costing, then the Navy will of course accept whatever the invoices say. In writing, of course.”
“Oh you’ve got this all planned out, don’t you Rollen.” Rheinbach was trembling. He had planned out his victory, a cold and crushing restructuring of the Corporate Navy, something that would humble Rollen and his ilk and make sure that they wouldn’t forget their place in society. But this… the worst part of this was that it was entirely likely that Rollen was right, and doing even a quarter of what was in the folio would bury quite a few skeletons in Rheinbach’s closet. All it would cost him was his ‘victory’.
“Well, planning is something the Navy does on occasion. Still, I imagine you’ve got other things planned, so I thought the best thing would be for me to get out of your way. Last thing you need is the CNO standing in front of you like someone reading their PA. So, I think I’ll be taking some of my vacation time. I think I have oh… ten years’ worth banked up.”
Vacation? That got the hair on Rheinbach’s neck to bristle, which for him was about as much emotion as he’d ever shown. A vacation, even a short one would put him at least partially out of the Navy, and let him start to flex power in other spheres.
“Relax Rheinbach. I’m not going to be doing anything except sitting on a beach, sipping cold drinks and watching the clouds. Maybe a bit of boating. Fishing. Reading. Probably reading. I’ll be nice and out of the way. I’ve picked up a small house just outside Konstanz, on Puerto Pollo. Just me, and a lounge chair, and a stack of books as tall as this tower. My subordinates can handle the Navy. As for politics…”
Rheinbach watched as Rollen shuddered. It was like he caught a blast of arctic air that cut through every scrap of clothing and pelt on him before he continued “As for politics… I promise anyone who tries to rope me into anything, even a ribbon cutting, will be, well…”
Rollen sighed a bit “Look, I know this doesn’t feel like a victory…”
“Damn right it doesn’t.”
“And you’re right. But when… when we took back Dave’s World and saw what had happened. What started to… well, I decided not to aim for victory. Just survival. And I survived. We survived.”
Rollen looked back up at Rheinbach. His eyes shined a little less, the colour almost flat. “So in a way, that means you won.”
He turned as those words fell from his lips, walking out of the office without affording Rheinbach a chance to respond. Even as the commander of the deWulf Corporate Navy left, Rheinbach chose not to speak. He realized then, that while Rollen was not, and would likely never be an ally, he had never even when he had first stepped into this same office two years ago, been a threat.
Palace of Eternal Flight
“It is not the dawn that we shall see. Or the twinkling of the stars. It is the future.”
The were the words that Czar Scion had spoken as the last defenders of Elysium died, the words that had finally chased Solon from the Czar’s private apartments. The words of a god were prophetic by nature. Even gods with questionable provenances such as he. Unfortunately, such prophecy was cold comfort when it came to pass but a few hours later. Without the defensive weapons mounted on the PDCs, there was nothing that could stop the rain of fire from the Sieg-class dreadnoughts that were in low orbit. The initial volleys had landed at the base of the Menausus peninsula, a sign that they were starting where they had once left off.
The following three weeks had been a continuing litany of suffering. Sometimes Scion could see the falling comets that signaled the death of another metropolis. It was a rare event at first, but slowly they became more and more visible, more and more common. Like a slow crescendo, the sound was felt before it was heard. A basso rumble that shook earth and stone and steel before ears had cause to listen.
Solon had stood before his god; some part of his spine having returned since the revelations of their last meeting some weeks ago. He had busied himself trying to find out just what was behind the bombardment pattern, and now he knew.
“Our power infrastructure. That’s what they’re targeting. It’s haphazard; they clearly don’t have accurate data, but that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Czar Scion had looked up from his desk, now covered in dataslates, half-consumed meals and drinks long gone cold. Even ‘gods’ felt stress.
“How do you know?”
“It took us a while to put it together-“
“You mean your analysts”
“Yes. They’re not going after major power production facilities, but the distribution network. If you will open up the report…”
Scion didn’t look away for a moment, but his holotable sprung to life, first displaying the planet of Attica, then an overlay of the major power links, and then the deWulf bombardment atop it.
“Yes. As you can see, they hit Jukta, and Kios hard. Those are two of the critical distribution points for all of north Potidaea. They then did a targeted strike on Thorcu, presumably to knock out an older cross-connection. But they’re unaware that this same connection was upgraded three years ago to support PDC Apamei to the west, so they didn’t fully black out the northern half of Potidaea. There are more examples elsewhere, but this is the cleanest example.”
Scion continued to stare impassively “What can be done to stop this?”
“Nothing, as much as it pains me to say it. We could replace power links themselves, certainly, but the targets are the switching and distribution systems. And even a ‘targeted’ strike is the equivalent of a mid-range nuclear weapon. We’ve experienced tactical kinetic bombardment back on their planet-” Solon could no longer bring himself to say the name anymore “but this is several orders of magnitude worse.”
Solon paused a moment, taking another breath. “That’s half of the pattern. If it was simply a matter of crippling our infrastructure and making it easier to mop up-” Scion interrupted, his voice cold and bitter “I think the term you want is ‘cost-effective’, Solon.”
“Yes…. making it more cost-effective to mop up, they could hit elsewhere. They certainly know where our major power generation facilities are located, despite our attempts to conceal them. The other reason is this.”
The holographic map reset, starting with a pristine, unbombed world. Then the strikes began. Spreading here and there, initially looking haphazard. But soon another pattern came into view.
“They’re working their way closer to Highspire. Aside from the strike on Menausus, they started on the far side of the planet, and have been steadily closing in. I estimate they will be hitting the outskirts of Highspire within a week. Two, on the outside.”
Scion sat up from his chair, walking around his desk to the doors that opened onto his private balcony. He stretched his wings, unfolding them for a moment before reefing them back in close. “So they are shattering our ability to respond, and ensuring that I will be able to see every blow they land. We have angered them indeed.”
“Sir?” Solon blinked a little at the comment.
“They are merchants and money counters, Solon. They kneel before the altar of wealth instead of greater powers. If they just wanted us dead, they would have hit Highspire first. Decapitated government and faith in one strike. Then worked their way outwards hitting every power signature they could identify. Instead, they are cutting our tendons one by one. Taking a hammer to our joints, forcing us to lie sprawled on the ground so we have to watch every moment of our destruction.” Scion stretched his wings again, forcing small measure of calm.
“If they only wanted us dead, they would not have done this. They are doing this because they want us to know why we are dying.”
The last words that slipped from Czar Nova Scion’s lips vented the last tastes of frustration from his soul.
“Because they want my citizens to look up, and in their last moments see Highspire standing. And know that there was nothing I could do.”
In the end Solon was off, but only by a few days. Czar Scion stepped out to the balcony overlooking his city and watched the sun rise. The first rays reached out, dust scattering the light as shadows slowly were burnt away. Solon was quiet, seated on a soft couch to the side of the main room, just inside from the balcony. Scion spared him no thought. His silence was the permanent sort, the tool of choice a drink of last resort.
Solon closed his eyes, wind softly whistling as he listened…
… The Peyxos was filled to capacity, the Rook of Nobles sparkling in silver and gold. Voices raised in unity, arms all outstretched in prayer. Grey and molted, brown and ochre, even white feathers all trembled as the voices grew louder still…
… Laughter filled the Clara Soles Domi Hospice as attendants carried baskets of food and toys, books and eager bodies as they played. Funding had grown by leaps and bounds, the rough outside bricks smooth and polished, care and love now ably lavished upon those who deserved nothing less. The soft clatter of wood and plastic, the splash of drinks and soft crunch of food the sounds of a party that refused to end…
… Wind whipped through empty streets, inhabitants having fled, taken what was dear to them and run for the hills, for wilderness that promised some empty kind of safety. Any hope, any possibility was better than none. Had some survived? There was no news. But the absence of answers was all the truth that some needed…
… Scion opened his eyes, looking out over his city. His home. His charge. The sun grew suddenly bright. From merely dazzling to a painful brightness that made a mockery of anything that tried to dull its brilliance. He realized it was not the sun.
It was the future.