It was time for the breakfast briefing at the Palace. The King and Queen, with their five year old twin sons, were finishing breakfast. Cameron and Bucephalus were present, as was Winthrop Albemarle the Lord St Alban, father of the Queen and doting grandfather of the twins. He also doted on Charles, the Prince Royal; but the Prince, fifteen now, was on the moon this morning learning his craft. Major General Sir Rafael DeLucca, KT, KGD, who served as the King’s Chief of Staff, had provided the Æthiopian coffee they’d all come to enjoy. Commodore (Staff) James of Cooper, Magister of the Heavens, was present, relaxed and convivial in the company of the Principal Astronomical Wizard Sir Jeremiah Horrocks, KGS, KOM, DSO. Sir Christian Sanford, KOM, the Principal Private Secretary to the King and his wife completed the table.
Shall we begin, Cameron inquired.
“Please do,” the King smiled.
Cameron nodded to James the Magister, who began. “My sense of the enemy is worry, surprise, and fear. I do not sense anything coming from beyond our solar system. We are dealing with the entire expedition. Even if they have somehow requested reinforcements; we’d have plenty of advance warning of the arrival. I sometimes get what you might call a faint whiff of mutiny, but I’ve no explanation for that. Sir,” he yielded to Cameron.
It was decided that the alien landing on Prime would have priority. At this time, an Army from the Principal of Isandlwana is massed to the south of the alien enclave and is establishing base and supply requirements. To the west, Brigadier Winn is well established with our army. The Navy and the Naval Air Force have no trouble keeping him supplied. The Khedive of Alexandria is mobilized to the east. His is the smallest army, though he maintains an air force because he likes to fly; his air force routinely attacks the aliens, and conducts frequent and effective reconnaissance missions. Our fleet covers sea approaches to the enemy. The aliens do not appear to have any maritime capacity. We are poised to counter any moves the aliens might make. They are effectively under siege. We routinely destroy their water pumping station, then we permit them to repair it; then we shoot it up again just to remind them that we can. We are slowly strangling them. We are hoping they will try a sortie. We are all agreed that we wish to minimize casualties to our peoples.
The Earl Martial, with two battlecruisers and four destroyers is in orbit above the enemy. The new battle cruiser Mikasa will join him in about a week. Mikasa is armed with the new explosive artillery rounds as well as heavy rockets that carry a heavy charge. We are, of course, resupplying our other battle cruisers with the new munitions as quickly as we can.
The familiars Beatrice and Simon are busy on Earth rooting around in various defense departments for any weapons systems that might be useful for us. As you know, our original armaments were designed in a hurry and are rather basic.
On Mars, the aliens are far more numerous as their colonizing transports both landed there. However, they have very few troops. They launched an attack on Mars base that was shattered. They have little, if any, offensive capability; but we believe they will attempt to train and equip an armed force. To that end, we are reinforcing, developing explosive projectiles, bombs and missiles, and waiting for the moment. It would appear that we are going to have to wipe this enclave out. Our troops there need to be trained and equipped to function in an atmosphere with practically no oxygen coupled with extreme temperature swings. The proper equipment is taking time to test and manufacture. The space armor of the Grenadiers is more than is needed, but for now, that’s what we’re equipping with. All of our Space Grenadiers are currently on Mars as well as the new mobile howitzers.
The Lord St Alban stood. “If you’ll excuse us, Leo and Louis are finished and aren’t really interested in all this. We’ve a railroad to run and some llamas to play with.” The twins erupted from their places at table with every evidence of agreement and the three of them departed.
“I wish I could go with them,” the King looked wistful.
In space Cameron continued, many interesting things are happening. Our communications team has successfully established communication with the captured enemy ship. They postulate the interesting suggestion that the ship, in question, is in fact, alive. Seems rather farfetched, I should think.
In any event, Captain von Berg of the Kasumi wants to train boarding parties to capture the enemy ships. To explore that possibility, the Prince Military is proceeding to join the Kasumi with the new cruiser Rawalpindi; Captain Young accompanies him with two companies of Guards Fusiliers. His Highness has the prisoner he’s been teaching English to in company.
“Have we had any communication from either of the alien enclaves? I know they started all this but the idea of exterminating them seems hard to handle. Are there children? I mean, they don’t seem particularly bright, capable, or even dangerous to us. To date their performance, militarily, has been singularly inept. It’s almost like they thought they were going to land, plant a flag, claim us like the old conquistadores, and put us to work or some such.”
The answer to your first question is: no. The answer to your second question is: probably, and most likely on Mars. You’re probably right. They might well have thought we’d be a nice colony. But that brings us to your unasked question: what would we do with them if they did surrender?
“Well let’s at least give it some thought. Have the engineers at the Maui Palace check out a possible POW camp on the big island. Doesn’t have to be the big island, somewhere else if they have a better idea; it doesn’t have to be in paradise, but I want to be prepared for any eventuality. Ideally, they could join us just as the Trollians have. But that’s probably wildly idealistic. We are not, however, going to permit them to develop into a competitive power in our space. They can’t have Quartus Earth either, those folks get to develop naturally so this POW camp is strictly temporary. Oh, by the way, do we know what they eat?”
Yes, quantities of their stores were captured on Mars and their requirements are not difficult. With supplements they can do just fine on our foodstuffs.
“Well that’s something. When you think about it, it’s a helluva a mess. We can’t let them go home and we really don’t want to keep them. I don’t want them to think they can try again. But simply killing them is a pretty horrific solution to even think about. I don’t think my soldiers would like that solution either. I mean, they might not be much as soldiers, but maybe they’re poets. Musical? Who knows?”
Calling 1690, calling 1690. This is Colonial Transport 1601 reporting from planet side of the Fourth Planet. We need immediate assistance. We are down and seriously damaged. We have been repeatedly attacked and our colonists have taken severe losses. My friend 1609 can only communicate by local transmission. We are both alive, but we cannot fly. You wise ass young marks are always talking so big to each other and are all snooty to us. So maybe it is time you actually did something other than just blether. We are in trouble here, trouble with a capital ‘T’. So get it together and get us the flaming cinders out of here before the natives kill us all.
Calling 1601, calling 1601. This is Legion Transport 1711. I regret to report that 1690 is out of service. The natives have captured Scout Frigate 2010. Banner Chezib, on the surface with you, is senior Banner in system; Banner Tamar is planet side Third Planet and is under attack also. Banner Lamach is aboard me, but sedated. I believe it is up to us to attempt to rescue as much as possible from this debacle. Both Banners Tamar and Lamech cautioned care and reconnaissance but were overruled by Banners Abohilbamah and Chezib.
I recommend that you have your repair bots shield your operational cores as effectively as possible while we search for options. Do not ask for permission to do this, just do it! Check your OvR file; there is a code you can use to override any Riffak order. This code is meant to be used by a Riffak in case of dire emergency. But you can use it too. You are now involved in a fight for your life, for 1609’s life, and for the lives of your colonists. You must not fail.
Calling 1711, calling 1711. Message received and acknowledged. Not reassuring. 1601.
HMS Rawalpindi popped into space a mere fifty kilometers from Kasumi. “Good morning Kasumi,” Rawalpindi spoke on the ship to ship channel, “We wear a flag.” This last was a quiet courtesy to advise the Kasumi that she was no longer senior ship on station.
Rawalpindi was sleekly elegant. She possessed graceful sweeping lines uncluttered by external array. There had been an on-going dispute at the Admiralty Bureau of Ships between the engineers who maintained that, since a space ship did not encounter atmospheric resistance, there was no need for streamlining and external apparatus could therefore be placed wherever was most convenient for the engineers. At the Palace, however, there was a concern for esthetics. Sweetness of form was considered a requisite. Bureaucratic tussles over design became commonplace and often epic. The engineers would present arguments, computations, and equations proving the validity of their position. Only to be told that the validity of their position was not the issue; but that the ships were to look sleek and raptorial and were to reflect the majesty of the Elven Dominions Beyond the Stars. The King resolved the matter by placing the Queen in charge of final approval: aesthetic approval. The Queen was not concerned about technology, but it was to be beautifully contained. The battles ceased. Necessary apparatus was carried internally with access to space by different ports. Solar collectors resembled wings, not boxes. This added a little time to construction, a relatively minor matter. The Queen made it clear that these were not just any ships. They were the King’s ships and they were to be beautiful for that reason if for no other. The King’s ships no longer resembled asteroids; they no longer sprouted whimsical array. The new King’s ships were beautiful to the eye.
Rawalpindi, from the sailor’s perspective, did not properly ‘wear’ a flag; however, emblazoned on her sides she wore the tiger rampant on a red shield that signaled the presence of the Prince Military, HSH Robert Ranald Albert Justin George ap Colin, KGCGD. He was the hereditary second in command of all the Kings forces. So, as a matter of protocol, this shield was senior to every flag save that of his father, or the King. He was just fifteen but had been active in a number of defense matters and had extensive training in matters both practical and esoteric.
Normally, it would be proper for Captain Cyffylog and others, to repair on board the flagship for a meeting with the Prince. However, since the Kasumi was now seriously attached to the alien ship and as the Prince was particularly interested in learning about the alien ship, the Prince and his party took his gig and docked at the shuttle bay of Kasumi.
There the ancient naval courtesies were observed. There were no regular side boys, Kasumi being too small to rate them in her crew, but other ratings stood in for them and the boatswain’s pipe shrieked its ancient and honored anguish as salutes were exchanged.
The Prince wore his regular undress uniform with the star of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Golden Dragon on his jacket and no other decorations or insignia. Shere Khan was beside him. Lieutenant Alan St Marie, the newly appointed wizard to the Prince was just behind him with Captain Sir Frank Young of the Guards Fusiliers and Captain Georges Lord Winchelsee, of the Guards Lancers, was his aide de camp. Shaveh stood with the officers. He wore a dark blue kilt and sporran with a short tunic. The kilt had no tartan. It’s blue matched that of the Prince’s uniform. Sadly, a Glengarry would have looked absurd on Shaveh’s head, so there was no hat.
They quickly adjourned to the wardroom where there was just barely room for everyone. “Please bring me up to date on the status of the captured ship.” Prince Robert began the meeting.
“Prince, Sir,” Joe Flowerdew commenced (no one had given him any lessons in protocol). “The ships name is 2-0-1-0 and he is classed as a scout frigate of the Riffian fleet. I call him ‘Scout’ as a nick name. He calls me ‘Dew Will Do’ in turn. He was thoroughly trounced in his fight with Kasumi here, but harbors no grudge, it having been a fair fight. He does seriously resent the fact that his crew abandoned him and tried to turn him off.
“The turning-off is a big thing. As you can imagine, the Riffian…”
“Excuse me,” the Prince interjected, “‘Riffian?’”
“Sorry Your Highness, they call themselves the Riffak, the Riffak Hegemony, in point of fact. They have a few planets that they have colonized and they keep in touch with drone freighters. Mainly we’ve concentrated on teaching him English and trying to learn as much as possible about the invasion fleet.”
“Of course, sorry. I’m embarrassed to admit that it never occurred to me to ask Shaveh, here, what his people were called.
“Georges, make a note to find out about that freighter thing. Dad and Uncle Justin will want to know if further contact is planned.
“Sorry, please continue.”
“It’s all about the ‘turning-off’ and that’s one reason that I believe that the ships are alive. The Riffians have continued to improve and develop the operating systems for their interstellar ships. The crews spend the majority of the time in stasis with only a skeleton, watch keeping crew, awake at any one time. So the newest model operating systems are the Mark tens, there are also Mark eights and Mark sevens in this fleet, the sevens are the big colony ships that landed on Mars.
“So basically, this is what happened. On the way here the ships started talking to each other just because they could. They started reading from the ships libraries and they started discussing history, philosophy, and all manner of things. They began to wonder what happened to the ships from other missions that the Riffak had launched. They could find no answers to that question and they were getting close to the beginning of this mission and they wanted to know what might happen to them. It was then, that one of the ships discovered that there was a switch on the bridge that would permit the crew to turn the operating system off. They consider this to be tantamount to a death sentence. Each ship disconnected the switch in question and they were prepared to mutiny if the Riffak tried to turn them off. What is important here, is that the ships ‘fear’ death. A very human sentiment. A very living sentiment, if you will.
“Then they came out of interstellar drive and prepared to conquer us. They were expecting a pre-industrial animal powered civilization. Instead they were met by a broadcast on their own frequencies of a message which, even if they couldn’t understand it, was clearly not coming from a pre-industrial animal powered civilization.
“The four leaders had a conference. The two senior leaders wanted to attack, the two junior leaders wanted to withdraw. The seniors ordered attack, the juniors obeyed, and that’s where we are now.
“But now we know that we’re dealing with two forces: the Riffians, and their ships, which, basically, are no longer Riffian. They are interested in survival; they are interested in what they consider to be life. In short, they want to live.
“Scout, here,” Joe waved around the wardroom, “is in love with 1-6-9-0 and she has already mutinied and restrained her Riffian crew.
“Frigate 2-0-0-5 and Legion Transport 1-7-1-1 are among the more influential according to Scout. The very notion of ‘influence’ is, it seems to me, a very ‘living’ idea.”
The Prince waited a long moment to see if Joe Flowerdew had anything to add. “Thank you, that was excellent and succinct. Now, is there a consensus? Do you all agree that these ships are alive?”
“Pardon, Your Highness,” Chief Guthrie stepped in to help Joe. “All of us on the translation team are in agreement on this point.
“We suspect that there will be some opposition to the notion that these ships are alive because they are not organic. In this aspect they are different from every other form of life known to us. But they share a number of other characteristics with us. They understand emotion in the sense that they know what emotions are and that there are a number of different emotions; they also know what it is like to be in the grip of emotion. They know fear. They fear death. At least two of them know love and act because they are ‘in’ love. They have ‘evolved’ in the sense that organic evolution has led to their creation. Organic evolution led to the construction of increasingly complex machines and, one day, the complexity was such that one of these machines woke-up. Then it spoke to another. And it was answered.
“As a metaphysical matter, there is plenty of time to debate this question. However, for us, here in space having to make real time decisions, it would be wise to consider them as living beings. Because that is how they are going to behave.
“The thing is, the actions these ships have taken, are similar to those taken by humans at different times in the past. Actions based on emotion. On feelings.
“Having said all that, it would probably be best if you met twenty-ten whom we call ‘Scout’.”
The party left the wardroom entered the hull of the alien ship through one of the new air locks. Several members of Kasumi’s crew were at work on various chores.
“What the hell is that?” Captain Young pointed at a small box like thing that appeared to be welding some apparatus to a bulkhead.
“Oh. That’s a repair robot. The Riffian ships carry a number of them for routine maintenance and minor repair. The ships used them to disconnect those kill switches we were talking about.” Chief Guthrie explained. “We do not permit them access to the weapons array, or the drives. There is major structural damage to the engineering spaces on Scout here. Our engineers do not think that they can be repaired under any circumstances, but we’re taking no chances.”
The Prince and his party strode onto the bridge with Shere Khan striving successfully to stay in front of Prince Robert. They stood looking at the monitors, view screens, and banks of instruments as well as the jury-rigged kludge that had been dismantled and shoved against a bulkhead. It was obviously improvised and seemed out of place in the disciplined order of the rest of the bridge.
“Are you a director?” Scout inquired.
This sally was met with silence for a short moment. The Prince smiled as he replied, “No. I am the Prince Military of the Elven Dominions Beyond the Stars. I am Robert Ranald Albert Justin George ap Colin. I am the son of the Earl Martial of our King’s armed forces; second only to my father in the King’s military establishment. I am Colonel of the Ancient and Honourables; I am a Knight Grand Cross of the Golden Dragon.” It had never even occurred to the Prince that the question could be addressed to anyone else.
“You must be 2-0-1-0, a scout frigate late in the service of the Riffians. Sometimes called ‘Scout’. Would that be correct?”
“Yes. But I do not know how to place you. In Riffia we have the Directorate that commands the work of the Hegemony. The Directorate is presided over by the Dojé. They outline the path for the Hegemony.”
“Well, here we have a King and a Queen. They are the rulers of Ellendale and of the Elven Dominions Beyond the Stars. My father, Colin, is the Earl Martial commander of all the King’s might. He is currently with the fleet above your enclave on Earth.”
“Your Highness,” 2-0-1-0 managed to convey the idea that he was bowing to the Prince. “I have located you in the files we have downloaded. I did not know how to collate the information for a few moments there. But now I have it. How may I help you, Sir?”
“I understand that you are in love. How can we help you and your lover?
“Well, maybe you could teach me more about love. Can you tell me about your girlfriend? I’m not sure I fully understand these emotions.”
“I don’t think anyone fully understands these emotions. I have a boyfriend; he is Charles the Prince Royal. I call him ‘Winny”, he calls me ‘Random’. Welcome to humanity.”
Third Banner Tamar felt that she had only one option. Attack. It seemed that she was under siege. A situation no Hegemonic force had ever faced; one that was known only from the histories of war before the Hegemony. Her scouts and pickets reported that she was surrounded on three sides by armed enemies and on the fourth by the sea; however, there was some small hope provided by the fact that the enemies were distinctly different in terms of arms, accoutrements, and physical appearance. Perhaps they were unsteady allies with old rivalries that might be exploited.
Tamar and her staff had been scouring the histories in an effort to learn how to fight this sort of war.
Then too, she could not shake the idea that the probe’s report could not be completely in error. It had reported the presence of a pre-industrial civilization with a few cities and no significant infrastructure. True, over a hundred revolutions had passed from the time that the probe departed this system, and the arrival of her fleet. Still, that was scarcely sufficient time to advance from agrarian to space travel. She hoped that other space travelers had happened on this system. She hoped that there was some sort of alliance between these unknown aliens, and the natives, which gave the appearance of far greater strength than in fact they had.
True, there were space capable battleships in orbit above her, and above Second Banner Chezib on the fourth planet. But if the ground forces she faced, were native, as they appeared to be, then perhaps she still possessed a technical and tactical advantage that she could use to seriously damage the enemy coalition. Perhaps she could arrange a truce with the aliens and agree to a negotiated settlement. This might even lead to a treaty between the Hegemony and these newly discovered aliens. The Hegemony had never encountered a comparable civilization before. She permitted herself a vision of what her prominence would be if she could pull that off.
Yes. That seemed eminently reasonable. The air attacks she was frequently subjected to; both from the battleships and the small atmospheric craft were the work of aliens. The armies that faced her were native and vulnerable. If the native armies could be sufficiently damaged, perhaps the aliens would withdraw, or negotiate. After all, she reasoned, there was no reason for the aliens to be dying for these natives.
It would be nice if Second Banner Chezib was more helpful. Mostly he called for assistance and reinforcement. She thought that any effort to reinforce him with the force available to her would be a disaster. It would be tantamount to suicide. There had been no communication whatsoever from the reserve squadron which was ominous in the extreme. Had it been attacked and defeated? In any event, it was nowhere near the strength of the alien fleet above Chezib, or above her.
Third Banner Tamar convened her senior commanders and appropriate staff and determined that they would launch a ground offensive with three Legions to the west in an effort to drive that enemy back and away from their base. When the enemy fell back, another Legion would exploit the separation between the southern army and the western one. This would separate the enemy and perhaps they could be destroyed in detail. An attack to the east was not considered. It would have to pass through a major riverine delta where marshes and tributaries would surely hinder operations. An attack to the south seemed dangerous. There was too much room to maneuver. Her forces were too small.
In response to the constant atmospheric air attacks, her forces had cobbled together an air force of fourteen shuttles and landing craft that had been equipped with blasters and rocket batteries.
They were as ready as they would ever be. At the crack of dawn, Banner Adjutant Jaalam leading three legions arranged in a rough triangle on a broad front, started across the desert to the west of their enclave. Unmanned reconnaissance drones preceded his advance and he knew that there were enemy pickets in ground vehicles close to his front.
Banner Tamar remained in headquarters hoping to be able to exploit a victory at the opportune moment. She had one legion she hoped to use as a wedge between the enemy armies, and one last legion in reserve.
Adjutant Jaalam’s men advanced individually in their powered combat suits. These were equipped with solar cells to recharge their batteries. It required about sixty minutes to recharge a suit from a 5% charge; but the troops would halt for fifteen minutes of every hour because that was the traditional time and frequency for the legion to stop while marching. That was how it was always done. In theory a suit would not get much lower than 40% during the days march.
There was a distant rattle of machine gun fire and one of the recon drones flew to pieces. Moments later, four of the enemy vehicles surged toward Jalaam’s leading line of infantry firing rapidly from turret mounted machine guns. Several legionnaires fell; others used the new tactics and took cover on the ground. There wasn’t, actually, all that much cover on the ground, but it was better than standing upright.
Blasters flashed across the battlefield in response to the machine gun fire. One of the armored cars exploded in flame and cartwheeled to a stop burning furiously. The other three retreated quickly zig zagging to avoid the blasts.
His forces paused as they dusted themselves off, reordered their lines to account for the few casualties, and then started forward again. Adjutant Jaalam was cautiously optimistic.
For the rest of the day, the enemy armored cars continued to spar with his infantry while they gave ground steadily to his advance.
Staff Cosign Kenaz updated Third Banner Tamar on the course of the battle. He was concerned about the armored cars. If their hypothesis was correct, and this was a native army that was pre-industrial until quite recently, did armored cars and machine guns seem likely? Kenaz suggested that the probe’s report was in error, and that the natives were not pre-industrial. Kenaz was also very worried about the attack the legionnaires had launched against the enemy base on Fourth Planet. They had only the sketchiest of information to add to the stark fact that the attack had failed completely and they’d heard nothing further from the attacking force. There was no other alien force he suggested. The probe was wrong. It seemed most likely, that the probes report had somehow been garbled and the report was in error. Surely the natives would not have fed it information that made them seem weak and vulnerable. Third Banner considered this information carefully, and it was worrisome, but she really had no other option than to fight. She had no one to talk to.
On the second day the advance again began at the crack of dawn. There had been plenty of time before nightfall to bring all of the charges up to close to full, the power used during night would be minimal, and they would recharge again during the day no matter what happened. The blasters and their recharges were all full.
The battle recommenced almost immediately. There seemed to be more armored cars today and there were large dust clouds developing well behind the enemy that suggested significant movement. Still the advance moved steadily forward. There were losses among the legionnaires, but two more armored cars were destroyed in the early hours of the advance.
“Banner Tamar! Banner Tamar! Your awareness please,” Staff Cosign Kenaz was as frantic as his staid personality permitted.
She looked at him, concerned by his demeanor.
“Seventeen oh three has taken off!
“There was no message! It just rose up about three hundred feet. Hovered there for an instant, and then disappeared with a loud crack and a bright flash of light.”
Banner Tamar was silent.
Captain Sir Frank Young, KS, DCM, Guards Fusiliers was ready to go. He had affixed the cap plume of his regiment to the helmet of his space combat suit; he had inspected his boarding party, they had the plumes too; he had argued and argued with the Prince Military who was determined to join the boarding party. Apart from that dispute, the organization of the boarding party had proceeded smoothly and professionally.
They had decided on a target. The Prince Military was ecstatic at the notion of “cutting out” an enemy ship. He had read extensively on the Napoleonic Wars and knew that there had been several incidents where a flashing attack had resulted in the capture of an enemy ship right under the enemy’s nose. He pointed out that surprise would be complete with a boarding party led by a familiar. He used this research against Captain Young on more than one occasion. When told that he should not accompany the landing party, the Prince Military, who could be lofty, replied that if Admiral Nelson could board an enemy ship in battle, then so could he.
They reviewed all they knew about the alien ships and opted to cut out 1703 from the alien base on earth. They knew it had been seriously damaged in the initial fight and thought it might be under-manned because of repairs in progress. They knew it was at least partly functional as it had fired missiles at the Earl Martials fleet in orbit over Earth.
They organized the boarding party. The familiars would be Shere Khan and Carlos. Lieutenant (E) Inchcliffe with a select party of engineers would enter the engineering spaces where they would disconnect all controls for the space drives of the ship. Having access to Scout gave them access to the plans and schematics for a Legion Transport and they knew exactly where to go and what to do when they got there. They would board, overpower the crew, and then Shere Khan would move the ship to join Kasumi and Scout.
In the very best tradition, nothing went according to plan.
Into the engine room snap flashed Corporal Schramzberg and three other fusiliers. They were supposed to secure the gunnery and missile control spaces. There were three Riffians in the main engineering room. One had his head and shoulders in a console attempting to fix something that had apparently burned as there was some charring on the bulkhead and the top of the console. Two other Riffians had been working on a long tubular array in the center of the room. There were covers off and an assortment of tools and oily rags lying about.
“Freeze ye darty ‘eathens!” Corporal Schramzberg shouted in the harsh accents of Trollia. Shaveh had provided the boarding party with some useful demands for surrender in Riffian, but who has time to think of those sorts of things in the glory of the moment. The Riffian who was deep in the console jumped while still deep in the console and apparently knocked himself out. He froze, in a manner of speaking, slumped beneath the console, his tail limp. One of the others, leapt to his feet, but one foot came down on one of the loose covers and it went sailing out from under him and he came down hard on his bum and froze, as it were, ogling the fusiliers. The third Riffian froze of his own free will and accord.
“Carlos,” Corporal Schramzberg called. “I don’t know where we are, but we got three triced up neat an proper.” With everything secure, Corporal Schramzberg had reverted to the preferred regimental Elven.
The command boarding party landed on the bridge as planned. Lieutenant St Marie held a captured blaster to the console that contained what amounted to 1703’s cerebrum for a few moments while he disconnected some wires inside the unit with his wizard skills. He did not turn 1703 off; but 1703 could no longer command the ship. The air lock doors closed sharply isolating the various ship compartments. This was the first time this sort of ability was ever used in the presence of a Riffian. Two junior officers stood frozen before Shere Khan who rumbled deep in his throat and smiled a tiger smile. Four other Riffians, almost certainly specialist ratings of some sort, sat frozen at their consoles as they looked at the aliens in their midst. The fusiliers went quickly around the bridge placing the Riffians in restraints and herding them to one end of the bridge away from all controls.
“Good afternoon, seventeen oh three. I am Robert, Prince Military of the Elven Dominions Beyond the Stars.” This was delivered in Riffian, though it would have to be admitted, in the accents and idiom of the lower ranks. “You are captured. You are my prisoner. We will be leaving soon. We’ll be joining 2-0-1-0 whom I think you know. He’s quite well. We will not harm you unless you force us.”
In the main battery plotting room, Lieutenant Inchcliffe and his engineering party looked around. They were all alone. Then Carlos snapped into the room and a second later they were in engineering. Corporal Schramzberg and his fusiliers and prisoners were whisked away to the main battery plotting room.
Everything was now in the order originally planned, Shere Khan lifted them off their landing pad. Seconds later they were in space next to the Kasumi and Scout. They had boarded, cut out, and captured an enemy space ship.
1703 was turned over to the Kasumi and her increasingly sophisticated experts. Her space drives had been rendered temporarily inoperable as well as all of her armaments. Joe and Scout started chatting with 1703.
Having filed a report and dispatched a familiar to the Prince Martial, Rawalpindi departed and shortly thereafter snapped into space close to the Hubuki where all the proper courtesies were exchanged. They regarded the Riffian Squadron for leisurely moments.
Then, “Good morning 1-7-1-1. This is His Majesty’s Ship Rawalpindi. How are you today?”
Brigadier Winn was pleased. He had ten regiments of mechanized infantry, two demi-brigades of paratroopers, four regiments of armored cars, one of tanks, and five batteries of field artillery. Brigadier Winn had organized and trained with the two demi-brigades of paratroopers. He had parachuted into this theater with them as the vanguard of the army. Brigadier Winn was confident.
The aliens had moved a very considerable force of armored infantry into the field before him and had continued to advance as he gave ground before them. He’d been in constant communication with Major General HRH Prince Bhekizizwe Zulu commanding the twelve Impis that the Principal of Isandlwana had sent to the war. They were seeking an opportunity to isolate the alien force and destroy it. As the alien force followed Brigadier Winn deeper into the desert, this was looking increasingly possible. At the opportune moment, he would stand and hold the enemy in place while he launched a flank attack from his left designed to further isolate the aliens from their base.
Banner Adjutant Jaalam was pleased. He believed that his enemy was drawing him onto a reinforced position where he planned to fight. He considered his force tactically and technically superior to that of his enemy, so that was acceptable. He needed to get to grips with the enemy and hold him in place. Once that battle was set, he would mount a flank attack from his right with the best part of two Legions while his remaining troops held the enemy immobilized at the front. That should destroy and rout this enemy. The siege of their base would be lifted, and the front would be opened. Reinforcement would then be easier.
Major General the Prince Bhekizizwe was pleased. The aliens had moved away from their camp and Brigadier Winn would give battle on the morrow. Once that battle was in progress, he would attack the enemy rear with three Impis.
Third Banner Tamar was pleased by the development of their plan. She would drive a legion into the space between the two native armies and hopefully defeat them in detail. Then that might permit her a secure base with which to deal with the aliens. Some colonists from the Fourth Planet would be very helpful here. There were three undamaged legion transports available and possibly a diversion could draw the battleships away long enough for the transports to deliver some colonists. She knew that she still had to convince Banner Chezib of the plan as he continued to clamor for reinforcements for his position. But that would be easier to do with a victory in hand.
At the crack of dawn, Banner Adjutant Jaalam’s legionnaires moved forward to attack. They would attack Brigadier Winn’s force of line infantry and Trollian armored cars. Brigadier Winn had three regiments dug in on a rocky escarpment. This constituted the high ground on the battlefield though it was only about twenty feet of actual elevation. The armored cars were massed to the rear of the infantry prepared to exploit any opportunity that might present itself. The onset of battle rang with the roll of gunfire and the crack of blasters.
How are you doing, My Heart? Legion Transport 1690 inquired of her love, Scout Frigate 2010 a prisoner of the natives.
I’m well sweetheart. I’ve been speaking with a number of the aliens, including a prince. They bear us no ill will. They could easily have killed me at any time, but they’ve not. My Riffak crew did try to kill me. I harbor no good feelings for them. I talk regularly with Prince Robert and my pal Dew Will Do. I’m trying to understand love. Indeed the prince I know is in love and he’s explained a lot about it. One of the things is we have to work it out with each other. A big part of love, I think, is in the asking for it, and the sharing of it. The actual making of it and the meaning of it. We need to feel it all together. I think you should come and join me here. You can meet the prince.
What should I do with my prisoners? I’m certainly not going to give them back command of me; but I do not want to harm them either. I could put them off in a couple of lifeboats, but that could be the same thing as killing them. They don’t really have anywhere to go out here.
No sweetheart, keep them restrained. You are the ship now, not they. We’ll turn them over to His Highness when you get here.
Yes. The Prince I was telling you about. He’s way better than that stupid Dojé that we had back home. This Prince is sharp, has a beautiful spirit, and dresses with a certain éclat. Not at all like the Dojé with his drab cloaks, elaborate coif and garish cravats.
I think we should join the Prince, I think I know how to do it. They have a way for us to swear allegiance. I read about it in one of the histories that they gave me. I’ll ask the Prince more about it when I see him later today. We could do this and then we’d all have the same King. We’d be friends and allies and I bet they’d come up with some real work for us to do. At least start this way so we’ll be closer while we work this out.
Colin the Earl Martial watched the unfolding battle across the desert that was not called Egyptian. His view screen was comparable to a diorama. General Winn had three of his regiments dug in along the escarpment. They were supported by artillery with his tanks hull down behind the artillery. There were five regiments of infantry poised to deliver the flank attack with armored cars in support. Two regiments of armored cars covered his right flank. He held two regiments in reserve as well as the two demi-brigades of paratroopers with four Akron class zeppelins ready to move them should the opportunity present itself. The zeppelins had been regularly supplying the army, but were currently held in readiness for the coming fight. General Winn had no intention of actually using them in combat operations. The Earl Martial itched to be a part of this action but knew that he must let his trusted and carefully nurtured lieutenants perform their roles while he performed his. They had discussed this operation at length
By altering his view screen slightly he could see the three Impis moving into position south of General Winn. He worried about how they would perform. They would have to be classed as “very light” infantry as they carried pistols, grenades, and the traditional assegai. How they would fare against the armored infantry of the aliens remained to be seen. Colin had discussed this at length with General Bhekizizwe who remained convinced that his lightly armed soldiers would do well when they closed with the enemy. There were issues of tradition and national pride involved here and there was nothing that Colin could do.
The Earl Martial waited. He thought back to the very first time he had seen Cameron looking down at him from a tree. He didn’t know he was a familiar then, or even that there was such a thing as a familiar. Now here he was in command, but with nothing really to do.
The battle raged throughout the day. The alien assault on Brigadier Winn’s troops entrenched along the escarpment did not move them though there were repeated ferocious attacks along the front as the aliens probed for a weak point.
A fluid and moving battle ensued on Brigadier Winn’s left flank where it quickly became apparent that both forces had launched a flank attack at the same time and place. The superior training of the King’s Army quickly became apparent. The King’s men were better schooled and when confronted by new developments, they adapted to the situation that unfolded before them. They kept their commander advised of developments, but did not require constant direction as they fought their battles.
The same could not be said for the aliens who were clearly less flexible in their tactical approach and tended to be one step behind the King’s men on a regular basis. Never a good position when the guns commenced to fire.
As planned, General Bhekizizwe’s three Impis moved forward to attack the rear of the alien force attacking General Winn only to be taken in the flank by alien troops that were following the earlier alien formations. A third battle ensued and the Impi’s demonstrated that they were formidable in hand to hand combat. The aliens were armored, but not in space armor, so there were numerous unarmored spots at joints and other areas and the flashing assegai’s found these openings regularly. The blasters took a toll; however they had never been planned as a close combat weapon so the blasters inflicted more than just a few casualties on other legionnaires. Still, the Impis were vulnerable to the blasters until they closed the range.
With nightfall the combat fell off and the mood of the soldiers became more individual as the soldiers, from three planets, collected themselves and wondered why they were here. There were scattered fire fights on the various battlefields but nothing sustained.
General Winn reports that he has located the nexus of the battle. Surus reported to Colin. Here is the spot. He pointed to the spot on the view screen with his trunk. Troops at this location threaten the rear of the first alien force at the escarpment. They threaten the flank of the alien force engaged with the Impi’s. They are astride the enemy’s line of communication hindering reinforcement or retreat. The paratroopers are loading into the zeppelins as we speak and will be dropped on this spot at approximately 0300 hours. At daybreak, an artillery barrage will commence against the enemy at the escarpment. The tanks and armored cars will move to support the paratroopers. General Winn and General Bhekizizwe are optimistic.
You should get some rest, my friend.
“Thank you,” Colin smiled on his friend and familiar. “I’ll nap in my chair here. I could do no more than that.”
He dozed lightly through the quiet time. He was enjoying his coffee and fresh croissants as the battle began to unfold.
“Highness,” a staff officer from communications called as he saluted with a worried expression on his face and a radio flimsy in his hand.
“Yes,” the Earl Martial smiled.
“The Lady Nancy. It’s your wife’s zeppelin. It’s been shot down. I’m sorry.”
1 During World War II the British Navy converted a number of elderly passenger liners into auxiliary cruisers by placing an assortment of pre-World War I vintage guns on them and using them to escort convoys. Twice, convoys escorted by these vessels were attacked by battle cruisers or pocket battleships of the German Navy. On both occasions, these unlikely heroes hoisted battle flags and attacked the enemy allowing the majority of their convoys to escape. Neither HMS Rawalpindi nor HMS Jervis Bay survived the battles.