Amidst the ruins of a broken empire
A new warlord rises to power
The worlds in his path call for help
And the United Planets Alliance answers!
The Kenmiri Empire has fallen, broken against the might of the Vesheron rebels and the United Planets Space Force. The alliance between the Vesheron and the UPSF has collapsed in turn, leaving the former empire as worlds without governance or leaders.
Amidst the chaos, the UPSF has launched a valiant effort to reach out to the weak and protect the defenseless. As part of the Peacekeeper Initiative, Colonel Henry Wong leads the battlecruiser Raven deep into once-hostile territory.
There, an old ally has begun to forge a new empire from the old slave worlds. As starvation forces worlds to surrender, Henry prepares a desperate plan to bring food to the hungry—and defeat to those who conquer!
Gunfire was generally considered a bad sign at trade negotiations.
Colonel Henry Wong wasn’t actively part of the negotiations either, which allowed him to turn to focus on the distant sound. Several of the local security officers standing watch by the conference room’s two entrances were doing the same thing, which was not a positive sign.
The tall starship captain was seated on one side of a surprisingly plain table in an almost gaudily decorated room. The table was plain wood, probably local to Tano, the planet they were negotiating with, and barely large enough for the eight people sitting around it. The room itself was painted a deep red color, with gold filigree picking out detailed murals on the wall.
The murals told an ancient story, but the story their presence told was the one Henry Wong cared about. The gold mural told a Kenmiri story, one belonging to the history of the alien empire that had once ruled Tano and had abandoned the world fourteen months earlier.
Six local officials from Tano’s newborn government were seated facing the United Planets Space Force officer and his companion, Sylvia Todorovich, a gaunt and sharp-edged member of the United Planets Alliance’s diplomatic corps.
And the woman in charge of the diplomats assigned to the grandiosely named UPA Peacekeeper Initiative.
At this point, the civilians around the table had finally noticed the gunfire, and Henry returned his attention to them with a thin smile.
“Chemical-powered firearms,” he told them in Kem. None of the locals spoke English or Mandarin, and he didn’t speak any of their native languages—there were three species represented across the table.
But Tano had been a Kenmiri slave world. All of the negotiators spoke Kem, the language of their conquerors and Terra’s enemies. That was the language of negotiation and the language Henry questioned them in now.
“That is a lot of shooting,” Henry continued in the precision required of speaking a language that wasn’t native to anyone in the room. “What is going on?”
The Tano military representative wasn’t from a species Henry knew, but the tall woman with the apparently natural purple hair and the almost dainty tusks was of a type of species common across the galaxy. General Kansa was Ashall, which basically meant she could pass for human in a dark alley.
“We do not know,” she admitted as she rose to her feet. “I am receiving reports from units across the city that we are under attack.” She tapped a black piece of plastic in her ear, indicating that she had an active com set.
“I am requesting reinforcements from the other cities, but I am also receiving reports of sabotage at our airports and transport terminals.”
Commander Thompson. Local forces appear under attack. Can you and Iyotake sort out what’s going on from orbit? Henry had the pure message assembled in his internal network while the local officer was still speaking, firing it off to his GroundDiv commander and his executive officer without even blinking.
The locals didn’t appear to have internal networks. Henry understood that the majority of the population was Ashall, which made those implants something the UPA could trade with them.
“Who is attacking you?” Todorovich demanded. “You did not mention any potential threat.”
“Because we did not know of one here,” the senior Tano official named Inbar, an Ashall that really could pass for human, snapped. “The Kozun have been threatening us, but they have no soldiers on our world!”
“If it was the Kozun, there would be more energy guns,” Kansa snapped. “My apologies, Colonel, Ambassador. I suggest we suspend the negotiations for now. Tano’s government is still fragile, and despite our efforts to represent everyone on the Council, there are elements that feel they were robbed.”
“Fewer mouths to feed,” another Tano official whose name Henry hadn’t caught muttered.
“We swore to serve all of Tano,” Inbar countered.
“Ambassador?” Henry asked, turning to look at Todorovich. She was a practiced ambassador and easily capable of concealing her emotions from almost anyone. Henry, on the other hand, had learned to read microexpressions to be able to follow Ashall emotion.
Unlike most, Todorovich had learned to control those too, but she and Henry had been through worse than this together. He was learning to read her despite everything she could do.
She was amused.
“If the government of Tano does not feel they can guarantee our security, it would, of course, be wiser to suspend the meeting for now,” she told them.
“None of the attacks so far have threatened the Center,” Kansa told them. Tano’s Government Center was the former home of the Kenmiri Governor, now the home base for the planet’s government. It was also the building they were all sitting in.
“We have a number of satellite facilities in the city under attack, and it appears that our ability to bring troops to the city is almost nonexistent until we have completed significant repairs.”
“General Kansa is responsible for our security,” Inbar said. “We must allow her to do her job if nothing else.”
“Of course,” Todorovich agreed. “We will return to the suite you assigned us and await an update.”
“It’s bad, ser.” Lieutenant Colonel Tatanka Iyotake’s response had taken longer than Henry had hoped, but he presumed his executive officer was using the time productively. Even though he “heard” Iyotake’s voice, that was an illusion created by his network.
“Every airport or spaceport on the planet has been bombed. Probably repairable in short order, but out right now. I’d say you’ve got at least eight active attacks in the city itself, pinning down local forces in their barracks.”
“They’re removing pieces from the board and heading for checkmate,” Commander Alex Thompson added, the GroundDiv officer’s message arriving in a slightly different mental tone. “The Kenmiri Governor’s House or whatever they call it? They’re going to hit it next and they’re going to hit it hard.
“I recommend immediate extraction.”
“General, is the Center secure?” Henry asked as he processed his subordinates’ comments. The dark-skinned and black-haired Chinese-American officer’s concern was getting sharper by the second, and from Todorovich’s glance back at him, the diplomat was picking up on it.
“What’s going on?” she demanded silently via their networks. The sense of sharpness the blonde woman projected was more than merely physical, after all.
“Thompson thinks the attacks are a decoy,” Henry replied, his mental voice equally silent.
Kansa looked at the politicians starting to mill around, then gestured for him to follow her as she stepped out into the hall. Like the conference room itself, it was painted deep red and carried a gold mural in the wall.
What little furniture he could see, though, was plain and made of the local wood. That was definitely not the style of the Artisan-caste Kenmiri who tended to govern the slave worlds, beings who would never accept something plain if something decorative could do the same job.
The locals had left the Kenmiri walls in place but replaced all of the furniture with their own work. The walls would probably follow, but Tano’s leaders had had other priorities so far.
“The Center should be secure,” Kansa told him once they were clear of her politicians. She looked askance at Todorovich following Henry but didn’t argue. “But this is a blatant attempt to decoy forces away from us.
“And I cannot even stop it. Every mobile unit in the streets is rushing to reinforce their home barracks. I have held what troops we have at the Center here, but…the Center is a standardized structure.”
“At least in its bones and hardware, yes,” Henry confirmed. “The Kozun would know their way through a Kenmiri Governor’s House. If there are any here…”
The Kozun had been one of the Vesheron, rebel factions against the Kenmiri Empire allied with humanity. Now they appeared to be the closest example of the warlords the UPA was expecting to rise from the wreckage of the half-abandoned Empire.
“My intelligence was that at least a hundred Kozun special forces were infiltrated onto Tano while they were threatening the Council,” Kansa told them. “They will almost certainly be coming here—and they will be better equipped and better trained than my people. My best people served the Kenmiri as slave soldiers. They are not trusted in the capital yet, and they now lack functional airports.”
“The rest of your people are, what, rebels turned police?” Todorovich asked.
“Yes,” Kansa admitted shortly after a moment of silence. “I have several hundred soldiers in place to guard the Center, but I have less than a dozen energy weapons and limited heavy arms to support them.”
“Why are you telling us this?” the diplomat said. “Should you not be briefing the rest of your Council?”
“They have no armies hidden away that can save us,” Kansa said bluntly. “I have not seen one of your battlecruisers in action, Colonel Wong, Ambassador Todorovich, but I understand that you do carry a ground detachment.
“I hope that the man who ended the Kenmorad can help us.”
Henry wanted to grimace. He was mostly past the PTSD nightmares now, but he still didn’t like to be reminded that it was his old ship that had wiped out the last of the Kenmorad breeding sects, ending the Kenmiri ability to reproduce and damning them to a slow genocide.
“I am strongly discouraged from interfering in local planetary affairs,” he noted. “Ambassador Todorovich?”
They’d walked through the Gathering and the end of the Vesheron rebel alliance together. She knew what he was asking for.
Just as he knew she was going to give it to him.
“The evidence does suggest that this is an attack, not a legitimate local uprising,” the ambassador said calmly. “An external attack very much falls under the purview of our objectives and your orders, Colonel Wong.
“Speaking for the Diplomatic Corps, I formally request that you assist in protecting the local center of government if at all possible.”
Henry smiled, and bowed slightly to Kansa.
“You heard my ambassador,” he told her. “Now, I have one question.”
“What is the chance that the Kozun have launched all of this chaos on the surface and do not have a space component to the attack?” he asked.
“We have some defenses, but the Kenmiri took their ships when they left,” Kansa told him. “After some…other problems, orbital platforms and a small fighter fleet are all I have. If they can position orbital support…”
“Tano falls,” Henry finished for her. “Understood. I need to get to a landing pad, then, General Kansa.”
“I’m afraid I do not understand, Colonel.”
“My GroundDiv troopers will be coming down on shuttles,” Henry explained. “And then I will be returning to Raven aboard one of those shuttles.”