Authors: William C. Dietz
Tags: #Science Fiction, #General, #Space Opera, #Fiction, #Space Warfare, #Life on Other Planets, #Military, #War Stories
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Those Who Fell
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William C. Dietz
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Electronic edition: May, 2005
This one is for Richard Curtis, in appreciation for his friendship, sage advice, and considerable patience.
War is commonly supposed to be a matter for Generals and Admirals, in the camp, or at sea. It would be as reasonable to say that a duel is a matter for pistols and swords. Generals with their armies and admirals with their fleets are mere weapons by the hand of the statesman.
âSir John Fortescue
Standard year 1911
The planet blocked the sun, so that Algeron was momentarily backlit as the shuttle started its descent, and plunged into the darkness below. The hull shook like a thing possessed as powerful winds battered the vessel, and snow sleeted through the wing lights. Though already strapped into his seat, President Marcott Nankool grabbed on to the chair's armrests. “My God, General,” the politician exclaimed to the man seated beside him, “is it always like this?”
Legion General William “Bill” Booly III had close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair, steady gray eyes, and a long, lean frame. He shook his head and grinned. “No, sometimes it's worse.”
A sudden gust of wind hit the port side, the pilot made the necessary correction, and Nankool battled to keep his
lunch down as the ship lost fifty feet worth of altitude. Algeron wasn't his first, second, or even third choice as the Confederacy's interim capital. Unfortunately for him, and the thousands of government officials about to take up residence on the planet's surface, it was the
Ever since the ex-battleship that served the sprawling Confederacy as a capital had been destroyed by the Ramanthians, he and his staff had searched for a more developed world on which the reconstituted government could convene, but to no avail. While generally supportive of the war effort, none of the member states were interested in playing host to the Senate, only to have the world in question automatically soar to the top of the enemy's hit list. With the exception of the Hudathans, who lived on a planet so inhospitable that they
would eventually be forced to evacuate it, not a single race had been willing to offer the government sanctuary. Not the Clone Hegemony, the Dwellers, the Arballazanies, or a half dozen others. All of which explained why Algeron had been chosen.
“There,” Booly said, as he pointed toward the viewport to the politician's right. “Can you see the lights? That's Fort Camerone.”
The shuttle banked, snow swirled, and Nankool saw the ghostly glow of what looked like a small city but was actually a fortress. An anachronism really, but the same could be said of the Legion, which had originally been created to serve the colonial needs of a long-defunct nation-state yet continued to live on.
Eventually, when the people of Earth ventured out from their native planet and made homes among the stars, the Legion had gone with them, growing as it took on new responsibilities, until it became the means by which a succession of human governments had been able to impose their will on a network of far-flung colonies. A function similar to the one for which the organization had originally been invented.
Then, in the aftermath of the Hudathan wars, the Legion had repeatedly been used to defend the Confederacy of Sentient Beings, and the peace that the new organization had imposed. But no one wants soldiers hanging around, not during peacetime, which was why a long-dead emperor had ceded Algeron to the Legion and why successor governments allowed the arrangement to continue. That, plus the fact that no one else seemed to want the place. No one except the indigenous Naa, that is, who had a long-running love-hate relationship with the Legion, and were increasingly restive of late.
Fort Camerone had been named after a battle that took place in 1863. A battle in which Captain Jean Danjou and a company of sixty-two legionnaires took on thousands of Mexican regulars and continued to fight until only three of them were left. A battle lost, yet strangely won, and celebrated once each year.
The politician's thoughts were interrupted as the wedge-shaped shuttle passed over the three-cornered fort and settled toward one of the brightly lit landing platforms beyond. There were pads within the walls as well, but those were reserved for the cybernetic fly-forms that remained on standby around the clock. Not to deal with the Ramanthians, although an attack from that quarter was possible, but to respond to the Naa should one of the more radical clans decide to flex its muscles. Booly felt a solid thump as the shuttle touched down, then hit the release on his harness as
the pilot spoke over the intercom. “It's twenty below, windy, and snowing. Welcome to Algeron.”
Longshot Suremake watched the white, green, and red lights circle the fort and grinned in the darkness. The Naa was about fifteen hundred yards away from the landing platforms, a theoretically impossible shot during ideal conditions, never mind at night in the midst of a storm. But Suremake was no
ordinary marksman, the carefully maintained rifle was no ordinary weapon, and the hand-loadedÂ .50 caliber cartridge that was seated in the chamber was no ordinary round.
The shuttle fired its repellors, fried the snow that the internally heated platform hadn't managed to melt yet, and settled into a cloud of steam. But that blew away, just as the Naa knew it would, revealing a rectangle of bright light. A tiny stick figure passed through the shuttle's open hatch and was immediately followed by a second. Together the two targets made their way down a short flight of fold-down stairs and entered the light pooled below. That was where another individual stepped forward, and the threesome paused to speak with each other.
Suremake allowed the crosshairs of his powerful telescopic sight to drift across the potential targets and considered each in turn. Then, the sniper let out a long steady breath, exerted a steady pressure on the trigger, and felt it give. There was a muffled
followed by a kick in the shoulder, and what felt like an eternity as the metallic messenger sped through the intervening snow and darkness.
Commandant Colonel Kitty Kirby smiled and stepped forward to take Nankool's hand. She wore her hair high and tight and had a rapier-thin body that looked larger than it actually was thanks to a heavy olive drab parka. The light hit the president from above and threw his shadow onto the duracrete beneath his feet. The officer noticed that the politician was lightly dressed and made a note to keep her greeting short. She'd seen his face on countless holo vids but never actually met him before. The legionnaire was surprised by how short Nankool was, but liked the way that his eyes met hers and
the strength of his grip. “Colonel Kirby! It's a pleasure to meet you. General Booly speaks very highly of you.”
Kirby was about to respond, about to say something self-effacing, when she heard a loud metallic
. The report
was so muffled by the combined effects of distance and snow that the civilian failed to recognize the sound for what it was. Nankool looked back toward the shuttle. “What the hell was
“That was a gunshot,” Booly replied lightly, “fired from a hill to the east. Try to think of it as a one-gun salute.”
“My God!” the president replied in alarm. “Shouldn't we take cover?”
“There wouldn't be much point,” Kirby replied. “The warrior who fired the shot is long gone by now.”
“Really?” Nankool inquired uncertainly. “Well, I certainly hope you're right. At least he missed.”
“Oh, he didn't miss,” Booly replied as the two of them followed Kirby down off the platform. “That was just his way of saying hello. Had he wanted to kill one of us, he certainly could have.”
“How do you know that?” the politician demanded. “It seems hard to believe.”
“Because I was born here,” Booly replied matter-of-factly, “and my grandmother was Naa.”
Nankool had been told that, but forgotten it, and tried to think of something pertinent to say. Nothing came, however, so he said, “Oh,” and stepped onto a thick layer of well-packed snow. The president had arrivedâwhich meant that the Confederacy had arrived as well. Suddenly, and without any of the fanfare usually attendant on such occasions, a new capital had been born. If the planet felt honored, there was certainly no sign of it, as the wind howled, and snow attacked the fortress walls.
The sun shone from a clear blue sky, the air was clean and crisp, and the streets were packed with small furry bodies as thousands of Thrakies made their way to work. Whatever
architectural traditions the Thraks possessed before they boarded their giant arks to flee from the robotic Sheen had been lost during hundreds of years in space.
Now, having settled on the planet they chose to call Starfall, the aliens were starting from scratch. And, thanks to the hierarchical nature of Thraki culture, everything Christine Vanderveen saw as she left her apartment building smacked of centralized planning. That included the intentionally narrow streets, the complete absence of vehicular traffic, and the regimented buildings that were reminiscent of the gigantic arks on which the Thrakies had lived for so long before taking up residence within the Confederacy.
Though impressive, Vanderveen knew that the city was a far cry from the multicolored glass metropolis that occupied the same spot back before the Hudathans laid waste to it. That was when the race who called th
emselves the N'awatha committed mass suicide in an attempt to protect their carefully concealed grubs, only to have the brutal off-world troopers break into the birthing chambers and slaughter all that they found there.
But that was ancient history now that the Sheen had been defeated, and the Confederacy had grudgingly ceded the planet to the Thraki people in hopes that they would settle down and become good citizens.
Well, they have settled in,
Vanderveen thought to herself as she allowed the river of pedestrians to carry her around a corner,
but good citizens? That remains to be seen
The blocky five-story building had been constructed according to the complex set of specs that governed construction of all the Confederacy's multitudinous embassies, consulates, and legations. That meant it could survive anything short of a direct hit from a bunker buster but looked very strange crouched among the metal-and-glass-clad structures that surrounded it.
A pair of smartly uniformed legionnaires stood in front
of the building and snapped to attention as Vanderveen approached. The soldiers reminded the diplomat of Lieutenant Antonio Santana, the long, bloody siege on LaNor, and the few precious weeks that followed. A time during which they had grown closer even as they struggled to figure out where their relationship was headed. The problem was that both of them were at the beginning of what promised to be demanding careers, and it was difficult to figure out how they would ever spend much time together, unless one of them qui
t. Something neither was willing to do.
As the diplomat nodded to the legionnaires and mounted the front steps, she wondered where Santana was and hoped that he was safe. A stupid thought, really, given the reality of war, but sincere nevertheless.
Security had been tightened at all of the Confederacy's embassies by then, and even though the legionnaires in the lobby knew Vanderveen by sight, it still required the better part of five minutes to wade through all the various scans and retrieve her briefcase on the other side of the checkpoint. The process was annoying but necessary, since it was the only thing that kept races like the Ramanthians from murdering one of the embassy's staff, putting an agent into a virtually identical electromechanical body, and marching it into the building.
A lift tube carried the diplomat up to the fourth floor. The lifts, restrooms, and all of the utilities were clustered at the building's center, which left the outside walls free for cubes and offices. A gleaming hallway led Vanderveen to her pride and joyâan office that not only included the five additional square feet of
space to which her new rank of FSO-4 entitled her, but a western exposure as well.
Unfortunately other things went with her new responsibilities, not the least of which was the care and feeding of newly appointed Ambassador Kay Wilmot, who, if not the most obnoxious person in the foreign service, had to be
among the top five. That impression was reinforced when the diplomat's desk comp sensed her presence and granted itself permission to speak. “You have three messagesÂ .Â .Â . The first was left at 6:11 by Ambassador WilmotÂ .Â .Â . The second was left at 7:03 by Ambassador WilmotÂ .Â .Â . And the third wasÂ .Â .Â .”
“I get the general idea,” Vanderveen responded, as she draped her coat over one of the guest chairs and glanced at her wrist term. It was 7:46, and the official work day began at 8:00, which meant she was early.
Vanderveen hadn't reported to Wilmot for very long, but it didn't take a genius to figure out that the early-morning messages had been left for the sole purpose of establishing the fact that the Ambassador had already been at work for hours when the FSO-4 arrived. Never mind the fact that nothing ever seemed to be accomplished during that period of time, or that Wilmot took two-hour lunches, and generally disappeared halfway through the afternoon.
The whole thing was part of a thus-far-successful charade that had enabled Wilmot to scale the diplomatic ladder in record time, score what promised to be a rather cushy post, and avoid being transferred to Algeron, which, if the buzz was correct, had been chosen as the next capital. A bleak wasteland by most accountsâalthough Santana talked about how beautiful it was.