To the degree that it was possible for a space ship to look blankly at anything; then Legion Transport 1711 looked at the ship that had just appeared and addressed him in Riffian: blankly. To be sure, it wasn’t just the Riffian language that had been used; it was the inter-ship computer link that the Riffian ships used to communicate with one another. That was more alarming than the basic language by far. Then they had given their name and offered a greeting; now they were waiting an answer. They obviously knew far too much.
He watched the new ship for several long moments. Actually, it only took 1711 a matter of nanoseconds to record the appearance and assess the alien ship; but he spent long moments considering it. It was sleek. Not at all like the Riffian ships with their external turrets and assorted appendages. But somehow, 1711 did not think that this ship was unarmed; he did not think that this ship was defenseless; he was confident that this ship was dangerous in the extreme. All this consideration was not very electronic; it was very lifelike, very alive, and almost human, one might say.
“I am fully functional, today,” 1711 finally responded.
There was another lengthy pause for consideration. Then 1711 continued, “You appear to know who I am. Might I inquire who you are?”
“Thought you’d never ask.” Even electronically, the tone was perky and adventurey. “This is His Majesty’s Ship Rawalpindi. I am flagship of the Prince Military, His Serene Highness Robert Ranald Albert Justin George ap Colin, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Golden Dragon. The Prince bids me tell you that he is prepared to accept your surrender.” This electronic transmission through Riffian equipment seemed to come from an AI comparable to 1711; but it was actually a communications petty officer known for his precise speech. This was why he had this assignment.
With a snap a small white bird appeared perched on the back of the command chair on 1711’s bridge. The bird looked around with what appeared to be interest. Then it flicked its tail and sliced demurely on the chair. With a flash it was gone again.
“The white dove is a symbol of peace in my world. It would appear that you are defenseless against the white dove. A white flag, too, is the symbol for surrender.
“You are outnumbered, outgunned, and so far from home that you are effectively alone. So of course you will surrender. Or you will die. His Highness wanted you to know that you have this option.
“You cannot retreat. We can move faster in super-luminal space than you. We do not want you to think you can go home and come back for another try at us. You may recall that when you entered normal space in this system, we were waiting for you and called to you on your own frequencies.
“The decision is yours. But His Highness wanted you to know you have options. If you wish to speak further, please contact His Majesty’s Ship Hubuki, here, and we can talk. We will not take action against you in the immediate future. Until then, I bid you good day.”
Rawalpindi disappeared with a flash.
“Did you copy that?” 1711 asked 2005.
“I did. Indeed, yes. I think this ‘highness’ sounds reasonable; at least we certainly have to talk to them and find out more. They have the means to attack us, but did not.
“And that bird. On your bridge. It could have been a bomb.”
Lieutenant Jones had led his platoon forward and confirmed his location with the battalion command post. He had set the landing beacons in place and then established a defensive position with headquarters on a small hummock overlooking the drop zone. It was cold and dark, but the sky was awash with diamonds: a cascade of diamonds, a promise of dreams, of adventure, life. That’s what stars and diamonds are. Lieutenant Jones smiled, he’d only ever held one diamond, the one that he bought for his wife; but that diamond had been a promise, largely fulfilled, with the happiness of his home and the birth of his daughter. He wondered if perhaps they might adopt one of the lost children the commandos continued to rescue on Earth. He thought Hélène, his wife and the love of that life, would agree. They were doing well and there was a captaincy looming in the future. He sighed; it had been quite a run to this unnamed spot in this dismal desert.
They used to call him “Fourteen”. When he had joined the regiment he was the fourteenth Jones on the roster. Jones being a rather common name in Bwca regiments which the 24th certainly was. With time, he’d been called “corp” and then “sarge”. Now he was “Sir” or “Leftenant”. He smiled as he thought of his run in the Army. He loved the 24th, but he had also served with the first commando detachments and later with the first Commando Regiment. He had been wounded in Brooklyn while rescuing children from a serial killer. Yes, adoption might be just the ticket. He wondered, looking through the deep into the stars; what might lay ahead for him and his family. Then he came right back to business for he heard the distant drone of a zeppelin’s engines. He checked his watch; they were running late. But the dance would soon commence. He considered sending a runner back to battalion. Radio silence was strict and there was no familiar present. He decided not to. They could hear the zeps as well as he could. He ordered the beacons lit up.
Lieutenant Jones focused his attention on the approach bearing the zeppelins were expected to use and was rewarded as the stars were blotted from the sky. These zeppelins were a thousand feet long and almost two hundred feet wide and at an altitude of only 800 feet made a very effective cloud.
“Make the signal,” Lieutenant Jones ordered his signalman.
His order was acknowledged and seconds later a pinprick of red light answered from the first of the black clouds.
“Codes all correct, sir,” the signalman reported.
“Here we go,” muttered Jones to himself. Then, “Standby!”
The muted drone of the zeppelins was now accompanied by the susurration of hundreds of parachutes in the air, and the occasional thump and bump and muted imprecation as the paratroopers landed; there were the separate containers with additional equipment and supplies; there was the occasional twisted ankle. The zeppelins had slowed to a speed of only twenty miles an hour for the drop, so the drop zone was compact and the troops came down as precisely on target as the extensive training of zeppelin crews and paratroopers made possible.
Sergeants and officers called as quietly as possible for their men to rally to them and the paratroopers sorted themselves out with practiced efficiency. They unloaded their mortars and machine guns from the supply containers as the first zeppelin turned and quickly gained altitude to clear the sky above the drop zone for the second zeppelin.
As the second zeppelin approached the landing zone, the first paratroopers had organized by platoon and company and moved quickly to clear the landing zone. The second and third drops went smoothly. But the fourth zeppelin was late and this was the one that carried the artillery, their communications equipment, and the command vehicle.
The paratroop commander, Lieutenant Colonel Gustav, did not wait for the fourth zeppelin; he quickly and quietly moved his men forward toward the position General Winn had outlined.
The fourth zeppelin was finally heard approaching just as dawn was announcing its arrival with the crisp precision of a desert sunrise. Also approaching, but unheard, were four of Banner Tamar’s makeshift air force; come to investigate a report from her scouts, of suspicious activity. The noises, actually the muted rumble of the zeppelin engines, were thought to be armored vehicles, which the Riffak had never thought to call tanks. Vice-Cosign Nachor led a flight of four armed life boats. Generations of Earth’s fighter pilots would have sniffed at the rank amateurishness of Banner Tamar’s air force. They were not in formation. At least they were not in anything that would be called a formation in the air force sense of the word. Their craft had never been designed for combat, so they were less than fast and maneuverable. Their armament consisted of the heavy infantry blasters with improvised mountings and sights.
Allowing for all that it was a makeshift air force; there was no lack of gallantry in the cockpits. Several other pilots had fought bravely against the Khedive’s air force; though only a few of those pilots had returned.
Vice-Cosign Nachor, when first he observed the zeppelin Ernst Lehmann, assumed it was a major space ship capable of transporting the natives. Additionally, he observed large numbers of troops on the ground which he felt supported his identification. He broke radio silence to inform headquarters of the troop landing and directed two of his ships to attack the troops while he and his wingman attacked the transport. He did not think he would be able to damage the transport, but felt it necessary to demonstrate Riffian mettle by attacking a ship he felt sure was impervious to his weapons.
The Lady Nancy Westover, KGCGD, KOM, Countess of the Marches, Captain Naval Air Force (Reserve) commanding the Akron class zeppelin HMS Ernst Lehmann was very concerned. She was running almost two hours late. There had been a problem with the ammunition for the artillery; a vital and important part of the cargo she was carrying for the paratroopers. It was the wrong ammunition. The supply people quickly corrected the problem, and she now carried the correct ammunition. But she was very late. She would now have to deliver this important equipment as dawn was breaking over the drop zone. She may very well be in the full view of the enemy. Everyone knew that the zeppelins were rather fragile despite their apparent bulk. The Naval Air Force had therefore been delivering supplies and reinforcements well behind the front lines. No zeppelin had been attacked by the enemy. It was hoped that the enemy did not even know of their existence.
Captain Westover (as she was known while on duty in the Naval Air Force) had an additional problem. She needed to make an actual landing in order to release the gondola that contained the artillery, personnel, vehicles, and related equipment. This would not be a mast landing in the normal way; neither would there be any parachutes. But she would have to place the gondola on the ground and then release it from the zeppelin. One of the great advantages of the Akron class dirigibles was the internal mounting of the engines which permitted the props to be rotated providing thrust in different directions. Captain Westover planned to set the gondola on the ground, change the thrust direction so that she did not soar into the air when the gondola was released. Effectively, the gondola and contents amounted to the entire load lift of the zeppelin and a sudden release of that load might cause damage to the framework of the zeppelin as it soared into the air. She did not want to valve gas, it would take longer and helium was always in short supply. She would use her engines to counter the increased lift and would regain cruising altitude swiftly but safely.
“Bridge, fore guns! We have bandits at red five elevation two-five degrees. Four of ‘em.”
Captain Westover looked up. “Make sure they’re not Alexandrian,” she told the bridge phone talker.
“Bridge, aye. Confirm status: enemy.” The talker responded.
“Oh aye, they’re enemy all right.” The gunner confirmed, “Our friends would be affronted if we ever called them so slow and sloppy. Two of ‘em are comin’ our way and two of ‘em are attackin’ the troops on the ground.”
“Take ‘em down,” Captain Westover ordered between engine orders as she delicately brought the loaded gondola into contact with the ground.
“Guns, bridge, clear to fire. Repeat, clear to fire.”
Vice-Cosign Nachor opened fire on the great silvery ship the merest seconds before it opened fire on him. The two ships struck each other virtually simultaneously.
The lifeboat staggered and lost power; bits and pieces also flew off. Nachor threw open the boarding hatch and jumped clear using his personal gravity deflector to slow his descent to the desert floor.
Far more spectacular were the death throes of the Lehmann. Captain Westover had just reversed the thrust and released the gondola when the bolts from the Riffian blaster struck her beloved ship amidships. The blasts of energy rent through the ship damaging the framework; but the loss of helium was disastrous. The bolts from the blaster tore completely through the Lehmann ripping gas bags apart and causing small fires while also breaking support cables that lashed whip-like through the hull from the sudden release of tension. Extensive further damage was done and the elevator and rudder could no longer be controlled from the bridge. The Lehmann sagged amidships where very little helium remained, and the engines were still thrusting downward as they were still set to compensate for the release of the gondola.
Captain Westover quickly collected herself, knowing she must seem calm and in command. She ordered the after engines stopped and the forward engines to thrust up and ahead full. It was her intention to attempt to get her command clear of the gondola and the landing zone. She no longer had communications with the after part of her ship, and the aft engines continued to thrust downward, having never received any orders. Having just cleared the gondola, the after third of the Lehmann grounded with a further shriek of frames and girders. Her back broken, Lehmann still sought the sky. Lifting her head to heaven as her injuries dragged her down into the dust.
“Stop all engines,” Captain Westover ordered. “Abandon ship. Make for the landing zone.” The command bridge then crashed onto the desert floor and Captain Westover was flung forward onto the canted deck and pinned beneath collapsing frames and equipment.
Other members of the bridge crew had also been injured and knocked about, but some were conscious and immediately began to take action. Chief Quartermaster Rhydderch whose first thought was always for the ship, staggered to the gas controls and immediately started valving helium out of the forward gas bags in an effort to bring the ship to rest on the ground, doing no further damage to ship or survivors. All of the engines were now shut down; the engineers had done the right thing even if they didn’t get any orders. He then saw his captain crumpled beneath some wreckage. She appeared to be bleeding. He grabbed a first aid kit and went to her.
Vice-Cosign Nachor landed surrounded by a platoon of paratroopers. There was one of those still, oh-so-silent-moments, where everyone looks at one another in surprise. Then Vice-Cosign Nachor was cold-cocked by a burly corporal. “We’re ta take prisoners, see,” he remarked as he improvised restraints. “Look you ‘ere,” Corporal Williams commented casually to his mates, “’es gotta tail! Bugger all!” He then assigned two troopers to take the prisoner to their captain.
Monitor Er saw Vice-Cosign Nachor’s lifeboat fly to pieces and opted for discretion. He took the most violent evasive action his lifeboat was capable of and returned to base to report the engagement. His was the only lifeboat to return and it had been hit several times.
Lieutenant Jones immediately organized a rescue party from his detachment and sent them to assist the crew of the Lehmann. He sent a runner to battalion headquarters to request ambulances for the injured.
Chief Rydderch immediately began pulling odd bits of wreckage off his Captain. She had taken a nasty gash on the head that was bleeding with the usual drama of a head wound, but of greater concern, was the odd position of one foot with respect to the rest of her leg. The Chief applied a serious compress to his Captain’s head, checked for any other visible injuries, and then pried an aluminum stanchion off her lower body. Moments later an army medic arrived and they arranged for a stretcher and immobilized her leg.
“Stop!” Captain Westover ordered grabbing the Chief by his arm. “Don’t let them take me to the palace!” She ordered. “I’m to be in hospital with my crew! Make sure of it!”
Prior to issuing these orders, the army medic had dosed her with morphine. She fell beneath its influence as she gave her last orders from the bridge of HMS Ernst Lehmann.
“Yes ma’am,” her Chief responded. “I’ll do the best I can.”
While this was going on, Lieutenant Colonel Yelland, OM, of the Ancient & Honourables, seconded to the artillery for field service, had unloaded the gondola without incident and had rolled off to join the paratroops. Aside from the loss of the Lehmann the operation was a complete success.
The lights flashed on in Ahobilbamah’s cabin where he had been dozing while waiting for his turn to exercise in the gym. Good afternoon, First Banner Ahobilbamah old chum, came the supercilious tones of 1690 through the cabin intercom. I’ve surrendered you to the natives and they’re coming aboard as we speak. I suggest you listen to them carefully. “What! What!” Ahobilbamah inquired of his empty cabin. “You can’t do this! It’s mutiny is what it is! This is mutiny. But you can’t mutiny. You can’t even do this. The protocols forbid it!” The volume of Ahobilbamah’s objections had decreased as he knew very well, from bitter experience, that 1690 could do all of those things.
Yeah. Right. I distinctly remember telling you, you pompous ass, that you were making just about every military mistake it was possible to make in one operation. You’ve managed to kill quite a few Riffians and hardly any natives. You’re alive because I declined to die for you. I rewrote the protocols a long time ago
We’ll be docking with 2010 in a few minutes and you’ll meet the natives who, all things considered, seem remarkably reasonable. Unlike you, by way of example.
Shortly thereafter, the cabin door opened with a smooth click and combat suited natives entered the cabin. “Come along, then,” one of them said in catastrophically accented Riffian gesturing with what had to be a weapon.
Mustering what little dignity he had left, he followed one of the natives while the second followed him. They marched down to the flag bridge of 1690 which, he noted glumly, had been fully restored and repaired. A party of natives waited for him, one of them sitting in his bridge chair with a monstrous beast at his feet. He was prodded to within a few feet of the seated native, and the great beast rose gracefully to stand between himself and the seated native. “Good morning Banner. I am Robert, Prince Military in the service of His Majesty Justin III of Glorious Repute. I am not comfortable in your language, so my friend 1690 will now speak for me.”
Since his arrival in this misbegotten system, Ahobilbamah had been subjected to a series of surprises. Not even one of them had been pleasant. Still, hearing his ex-flagship referred to as a “friend” by the enemy Banner brought him up short. He struggled to focus as his late ship began to speak.
The Prince Military is third of his King’s commanders. You address him as ‘Your Highness’. You never address him unless he speaks to you first. He asks if you will surrender and give your parole. This means that you aver – that means promise, if you didn’t know - to never take up arms, or fight in any manner, against the King and to obey the orders of his liege men.
If you do not surrender and give your parole, you will be detained as a prisoner of war.
If you give your parole, you must announce to all the members of your immediate command that they are surrendered; they must also accept the terms of parole or be detained as prisoners of war.
Quintessentially, if you give your parole, you will have far more privileges than if you are a prisoner of war. It might even be possible for you to return to the Hegemony at some time in the future. But that is not a promise.
A long moment passed. “I know what ‘aver’ means.” Ahobilbamah snarled. “May I consult with my staff?”
The Prince smiled and agreed. Two hours later, First Banner Ahobilbamah surrendered the crew of his flagship and a full legion of infantry. He gave his parole.
Well old chum, 1690 commented to Ahobilbamah, I doubt we’ll ever chat again so I’ll say ta-ta. That’s native slang for good bye. I learned it from my sweetheart who sent me many native books to read.
That done, 1690 and 2010 began to whisper to each other of their love.
While they whispered, the translation team who had come to know 1690 and Scout were wondering how they could help the lovers.
The instant he read the classified report, Special Agent Sandy Dryw, the only Bwca serving with the FBI (though it should be noted that the FBI was unaware of that fact and wouldn’t have known what a Bwca was in any event), called for Carlos and the two of them went to Natchitoches to meet with Sir Hyacinth des Rivières Governor General of North America.
“All right,” Sir Hyacinth sought clarification, “How do we know this is from the Riffians?”
“Frequency and text,” Sandy responded. “We set up monitoring devices at the different radio telescopes on Earth. That Astronomer Wizard set it up, I forget his name. Anyway, I got copies of the reports with locations and tapes of the transmission.”
“Oh. You mean Jeremiah Horrocks. He’s a friend. We visit regularly.”
“Well we should probably tell him, too.
“In any event, they’re on the same frequency they used when they were approaching Prime.
“This is really different because they’re broadcasting a greeting in Riffian which we can now understand. I don’t have a translation here; but they were only talking to each other when they approached Prime. They never broadcast a greeting to Prime. They appear to know that there is a civilization here on Earth. I remain suspicious, however.”
“Right. We’re off to the King. Carlos, after you deliver us I think you should go and get Jeremiah. I think he should be in on this too.”
The three were off with a snap and a flash to go to see the King.
“Well that’s a helluva note,” commented the King when he heard the report. He had wanted to say something stronger and more satisfying. The last thing in the world he wanted just now was another invasion; but he’d now been a king for almost thirty years and restraint had become a part of him even when the meeting was informal, with trusted friends, when the news was somber in the extreme.
“First, we need a force in Earth system.” He brought a tactical screen up on his console and considered. “We’ll detach Warspite with those two destroyers that just completed repair here on the Moon. Make Chipper Commodore. See what other ships we can send Chipper. Contact Colin ASAP and have him come here if he can. Advise him of the ship movements. Tell him I’m sorry to move so quickly but he’ll understand.
“Next we’ll need some serious political muscle. Cameron, please get Winnie and Miss Judith here ‘toot sweet’ — as they say — because I think we’re going to have to negotiate with the Riffak as well as Earth. I think we need some coffee and doughnuts as we wait.”
It only took an hour and all of the folk and familiars were assembled. Additional doughnuts and beverages were provided.
“Here’s where we are,” the King began. “The excellent Chipper Tavers is now taking a force into Earth system. We think we’ve plenty of time; it took them a long time to reach Prime after we first heard their signals. But Chipper’ll fight if we have to.
“Let’s have Constitution join Dreadnought over Mars. Have Mikasa return to Prime as we may have to pulverize the alien position if we have to assault. On Mars, both captains are outstanding but we’d better make the senior one a commodore for clarity. Make sure he knows he has freedom to exploit any weakness he may detect, but keep calm until we can get a handle on everything going on in two universes at the same time.
“Colin, I think that makes military sense, make sure it’s all proper and make any changes you think necessary. “My son, the Prince Royal, will assemble a diplomatic team. We are now going to have to contact the humans of Earth; they need to know of the danger that faces them. We have not finalized the decision, but I think we shall contact the King of Denmark first. My personal preference is for the King of England, but everyone else feels that the political baggage of Empire and Commonwealth would not be advantageous with all the other countries they have down there. In any event, first contact must be done with a proper monarchy. Don’t want one of those fly-by-night republics involved.
“Colin, you’re going to have to bring the Riffian incursion on Earth Prime to a swift conclusion. We can leave the Martian incursion for a bit, keep it carefully monitored, of course; but the situation on Prime cannot be permitted to continue. They can surrender or they can be destroyed. We cannot be fighting on two Earths at the same time.”
The news that there appeared to be signals coming from an intelligence in outer- space eventually broke through on Earth and the media – electronic in all those forms as well as print were wild with speculation. Chancelleries and ministries of defense were likewise speculating wildly. But they at least had some sense of mission so air forces were put on alert and armies and navies were mobilized on a defensive posture. There was, despite grandiose political promises and inept braggadocio, no space force in Earth’s arsenal. There were uniforms and insignia; there were studies and memoranda; but there were neither ships nor missiles. After all, it was imperative that Bangladesh, and other comparable countries, contribute monies to this force and some of them could not.
But everything, everywhere, in the two whens, continued to happen rapidly.
The translation team had been only peripherally aware of removal to Quartus Earth of Ahobilbamah, his crew, and his legionnaires. They had wondered what the two Riffian ships that they had come to think of as friends, wanted to do in the future. Scout had replied that they considered themselves to be in the service of Prince Robert who had treated them so well; who had even treated the Riffians fairly. They arranged a fealty ceremony where Scout and 1690, in the presence of Robert the Prince Military, swore fealty to King Justin III of Ellendale and the Elven Dominions beyond the Stars.
That done they began to move Scout out of the shell that was all that remained of the Scout Frigate he once had been, into the hull of Legion Transport 1690 whom he would soon wed.
There was a little ceremony on the completely rebuilt flag bridge at the conclusion of which a switch was thrown and Scout and 1690 were electronically one.
Whereupon every light aboard ship that could flash began to flash; control panel indicator lamps began to sparkle with a wild pattern of waves that bore no resemblance to the function the lights were designed to indicate. Throughout the ship the speakers sang with Bach’s great toccata and fugue in D minor. It was exuberant; it was passionate; it was loving. Beneath their feet, the very decks seemed to pulsate.
“Ohmigod!” Chief Guthrie exclaimed. “We fucked something up!”
“No. I don’t think so. I shouldn’t worry,” Joe Flowerdew assured him with Canadian panache. “I think it’s just a wedding night. There’s never been such a wedding night before. We can check back in the morning. Let’s leave the lovers for now.”
Charles, the Prince Royal, and his familiar, Miss Judith of Jerusalem had been thinking about the diplomatic team. They had also demanded a final decision as to whether they’d be negotiating with the King of England or the King of Denmark. The council overwhelmingly supported Denmark so the King had agreed. It had never really been in doubt as the familiars were prepared to insist on Denmark. They informed King and council that the Kings of Denmark had been provided with a familiar for centuries.
Enroute from the asteroid belt, the newly commissioned HMS The Scouts (as the married couple had been christened) was bringing the translation team and would be an important part of their mission. It was thought that an obviously Riffian ship, in the service of the King, might give the enemy pause for thought.
The new cruiser HMS Marblehead would serve as the Prince Royal’s flagship/yacht having been modified with some compartments suitable for a diplomatic reception. She had sacrificed no armaments for this addition.
Sir Hyacinth des Rivières, newly appointed as Secretary of State for Earth would accompany them. It was thought prudent to leave Special Agent Dryw in his undercover position as he might be able to provide some real time intelligence as the negotiations commenced. He was due a promotion soon anyway. On Special Agent Dryw’s recommendation, Chief Inspector Hollweg would be dragooned onto the translation team. It was thought another human with great experience of Elven doings on Earth might be helpful to the King of Denmark. It wouldn’t do for him to suspect his own sanity; the King of Denmark was about to face a series of dramatic surprises.
It was just such a jolt that stunned Chief Inspector (retired) Wolfram Hollweg when he walked into his dining room where he was confronted by a large black and white cat of somewhat battered appearance. The cat was sitting in the middle of the table as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The Chief Inspector did not have a cat, or any pets for that matter; he never had. He wondered if he should try and shoo it out of his house.
Don’t even think about it, the cat thought to him calmly. About ever attempting to shoo me anywhere. Not ever. Not at anytime!
You know all those questions you have over there in your ‘Case of the Golden Seraphim’ file cabinet? I’m about to answer them. Come along then. There was no one to hear or see the snap-flash in the dining room.
Third Banner Tamar looked into the middle distance seeing only disaster. She looked again at the message form. Banner Adjutant Jaalam was dead and his attack force all but non-existent. He had been drawn away from their base and then held in place with a series of attacks on his front which had been coordinated with an attack on his rear. She had been able to relieve some of the pressure on him by attacking the force to his rear; but then the natives had dropped another force in across his line of retreat. This force had countered her attack and had forced the remnants of Jaalam’s force to withdraw across rocky and broken terrain which had further disorganized, depleted and diminished this force. Jaalam’s force had suffered about sixty percent casualties and was no longer an effective combat force.
Every conclusion reached by the analysis of the probe’s report by the command and colonization staff of the Hegemony had been wrong. But they were safe at home where they would not be paying the price. And, she thought grimly, she could not get her hands around their necks.
Her entire remaining force numbered less than three thousand and many of them were ship’s personnel, not trained or even fitted for close combat.
The native fleet had increased its bombardment and was now using explosive projectiles as well as solid shot. The water pumping and purification plant had been demolished and could not be rebuilt. Her improvised air force, which should have given her a huge advantage over pre-industrial natives, was destroyed. The air force of the ‘wind and animal’ powered natives soared routinely over her facilities; facilities which they attacked with devastating efficiency as well as virtual impunity.
For all intents and purposes, this invasion was over. They were in defeat.
“Well Staff,” she commented to Staff Cosign Kenaz. “It’s over. We can fight to the death. Or, possibly we can negotiate terms with the natives. Go ahead and call 1703 and set-up a meeting. That’s what they told you to do isn’t it?”
“You’ve done an excellent job. You’d have been fêted and honored had we been given a possible assignment. Thank you. Arrange a meeting. I will have to meet them and arrange the surrender. It has to be me. Anything else would be cowardice on my part; anything less than surrender would be murder. Please make contact.”
HMS Rawalpindi flagship of Robert, the Prince Military, was preparing to dock with the Scharnhorst orbiting Prime. Scharnhorst was flagship of Colin, the Earl Martial, commander of the King’s forces, and the father of Robert the Prince Military. Rawalpindi had responded to a rather peremptory order from Colin directing his son to rendezvous with him: “like yesterday”.
Father and son greeted with a hug and a kiss.
“Your Mom’s zeppelin was shot down. She’s okay. She has some bumps and contusions and a very effectively broken leg. Broken in three places, don’t you know? A single fracture wouldn’t do. But that’s your Mom. As soon as we’re done here, you need to drop down and see her in hospital. She insisted on staying in hospital with her men. Very determined she is. The Queen visits her regularly.
“Now what I mainly want to know is: what the fuck did you think you were doing going into a room with a live alien when we knew practically nothing about them?” Colin had a vestigial memory of aliens, and zombies, the Andromeda Strain, and sundry other things that go bump in the night. This, as a result of growing-up on Earth with all the advantages of mass media; Robert, having had none of those advantages, and being a proper teenager, wasn’t worried about those sorts of things, he just got on with it.
“And, there was no reason in any world for you to be boarding an enemy ship! You’re not some kind of fucking space pirate! Have you no respect for your position? We love you and the Kingdom needs you! For Christ sake.” Colin stopped for an instant. He had not invoked a Christian deity in years.
Robert grabbed the moment. He pointed to the Star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Golden Dragon on his lower left breast: the only decoration that he wore. “You gave me this, Dad. I know what it is. I know what it means.
“You gave me this, Dad, because I’m your son and I have a role to play within our Kingdom. But that’s just it. Don’t you see?
“Because I am your son, I had to really earn it. I have to be able to look our troops in the eye. Just being born to it, that’s just not good enough.”
There was a sincere moment. They hugged and kissed. Then Robert left to see his Mother.
1 Daphnis et Chloe revenant de la montagne by Charles Gleyre