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“...that covers our current analysis of the Terran defense system,” To’Jopeviq said, nodding at the group of Marshals. “In summary, given Terra’s continued expansion of its gate defenses, population size and growth rate, technological level at the time of first contact and philosophical approach to warfighting, our analysis is that absent an assault by a minimum of forty Assault Vectors, any lesser force would face defeat. And an assault by forty Assault Vectors would render the majority non-functional for any future uses.”

Colonel Egilldu To’Jopeviq hadn’t wanted this job when he got handed it by the late Star Marshall Lhi’Kasishaj. The then major had made a name for himself in a now “small” war against the Skree when he was the senior surviving officer of the Assault Vector Star Mauler. He still didn’t like it. If he had his choice he’d still be in the Assault Vector force. But the Star Marshall was right in one thing. When given a task he did it to the best of his ability.

Twice High Command had ignored his team’s recommended force levels for an assault on the Terran system. And in both cases, it had been obvious his team’s analysis had been low. The Terrans were not only using every trick known to the species in the local arm, they had ideas no one had imagined, such as the Troy and its new “Orion” drive.

“Forty AVs seems...high,” Star Marshall Ucuhath said.

The structure of High Command was deliberately opaque to those outside its circle. That permitted the occasional purge to be less of an issue. Star Marshall Ucuhath’s title was “Marshall of Organizational Processes.” To’Jopeviq suspected he was more or less the Operations officer. But the colonel wasn’t sure.

“The Terran Solar Array Pumped Laser is at over one hundred and fifty petawatts,” To’Jopeviq pointed out. “That level of power would cause shield failure in no more than point three seconds. Thus even with rotation, the SAPL alone can render an AV impotent in less than three minutes. The damage would be high enough and fast enough that counter maneuvering by bringing ships in and out of the outer formation would be of limited utility. One could envision it being contra-indicated since ships which were in the outer formation would often lose navigational control before they could rotate out of the line-of-fire thus becoming navigational hazards. And that is simply the SAPL. It discounts continued improvements in onboard laser capacity which has been demonstrated with the Troy and is probably continuing with Thermopylae as well as the enormous number of missiles in the system.”

“Has your team looked at alternate methods of assault?” High Commander Phi’Pojagit asked. The old Rangora was the one member of the High Command whose position was clear. He was also one of the five members of the Junta which ruled the Rangora.

“One proposed method was to create our own orbital infrastructure in the Eridani system, High Commander,” To’Jopeviq replied. “Then produce missile levels similar to those of the Troy, Thermopylae and Station Three. By sending in repeated waves of missiles, it is possible it would soften the defenses of the battle stations. The countering argument is that the missiles would be subject to SAPL and counter-missile fire during their attack. Also that the Troy has shown the ability to move through the gate. Thus any such orbital defenses would have to be resistant to an attack by the Troy. That led to a third plan which was to set up such defenses along with production capacity. Then when the Troy responded, to hit it with a trap sufficient to render it impotent.”

“All interesting plans,” the High Commander said, approvingly.

“All of which we rejected, High Commander,” To’Jopeviq said, unhappily. “Since our team has been upgraded in importance we have been given access to certain...internal data. Eridani has no in-place orbital systems or population support. It is an essentially dead system. Given current combat needs and production rates, it would take five years to assemble the sort of defenses and production we would need in the Eridani system to affect the plan. If we are still at war with Terra in five years, we estimate they will have five battle globes capable of entry into the Eridani system.

“The alternative of placing an AV fleet in the system along with heavy local defenses was also rejected since we could not be sure when the Troy would enter. That would hold down a significant portion of the remaining AV fleet. That, of course, is a policy decision but we found it unlikely given the continued battles in the Zhoqaghev system.”

“I find it hard to believe that one relatively new race has this sort of combat capability,” High Marshall Ucuhath said. “I am not disbelieving you, you understand, Colonel, but...”

“High Marshall, with respect,” To’Jopeviq said. “Every time I look at our models I have moments of disbelief. And then we get empirical proofs that our models tend to be low. Now that the Terrans are not blocking their communications system, we have been able to get real time data. And while normally that could be assumed to be disinformation, like the Glatun the Terrans permit very wide latitude on information gathering and dissemination.

“Station Three is coming on line as we speak. With Thermopylae now upgrading to onboard laser systems and increasing its missile levels, the still unnamed Station Three will be the primary SAPL base. Troy continues to upgrade. There was a recent popular entertainment program, what they refer to as ‘edutainment’ since it was an educational program, about Troy’s upgrades. They are now armoring Troy and Thermopylae with fullerene patches as well as installing planetary class shield generators. Thermopylae’s Orion drive is complete. Two more asteroids are in the process of being spun up and inflated and four more have been designated as future bases.”

“How many of these globes are they going to build?” the High Commander asked.

“The answer seems to be ‘as many as we can,’ ” To’Jopeviq said. “The realistic answer is that they will continue to make them as long as they consider themselves to be at war and have the funds and personnel. They are...relatively efficient compared to ships. The great problem of building them is mining out the interior to install facilities. Which, with the continued increases in the SAPL, becomes easier and easier as time goes by.”

“Planetary bombardment,” Marshall Ucuhath said.

“Of limited utility,” To’Jopeviq said. “There has always been arguments for and against. But the humans are increasingly digging in and dispersing their remaining planetary industrial facilities. The best targets would probably be refineries—which they still use for motor transport power as well as processing petroleum into refined polymers—and power generation systems. Their power grids, however, have increasing redundancy due to previous attacks and the resulting rebuilding issues. There are, literally, hundreds of refineries and their missile defense, along with all other defenses, are improving day by day. Cities are decreasing in size as the population aggressively disperses in a chaotic manner. Government is already highly dispersed. Furthermore, as shown by their response to the previous attack, political power transfer is remarkably smooth. Analogous to military command structure. And all their orbital manufacture, which is taking an increasing lead in total production, is either located in the battlestations or in the Wolf system which would require entering the Sol system then retransferring. Tactically that would be...difficult.”

“So a heavy AV assault is your team’s recommendation?” the High Commander said.

“Possibly with a very heavy missile assault as preparatory,” To’Jopeviq said. “Produce missiles at multiple facilities, move them into the system in bulk freighters, fire them through the gate then follow up with AVs.”

“Could we use less AVs doing that?” Marshall Ucuhath asked.

“Depending upon the number of missiles, possibly,” To’Jopeviq said. “I would, however, with respect remind this assembly of the central tenet of gate assaults.”

“The more you use, the fewer you lose,” the Marshall Ucuhath said. “Define ‘enough.’ ”

“Terrans gained access to Glatun military technologies before our justified liberation of the Glatun Federation,” To’Jopeviq said, cautiously. “They, therefore, use Glatun missiles which are capable of interception as well as engagement. The Troy is now believed to hold nearly a half a million such missiles. Depending upon when the engagement is planned, it would be necessary to have...approximately a three million to be sure of reducing the battle globes sufficiently. Each year that number will increase by approximately a million.”

“We would like your team to examine options other than the use of brute force,” the High Commander said. “There are...constraints of which even you are not aware. But this has been a very well developed and thought out presentation. Our thanks.”

“I live to serve, High Commander,” To’Jopeviq said. “By your leave.”

The High Commander nodded at him and, trying to hide his relief, To’Jopeviq slid out of the relatively small room.

As the door dilated behind him he could swear he heard an argument break out.

* * *

“We don’t have forty Assault Vectors!” Grand Marshall Zissix snarled. “That idiot Gi’Bucosof threw them away!”

The exact nature of High Command was somewhat opaque even to high command. Each of the commanders had their own spheres of influence but they somewhat overlapped. The Junta preferred to keep everyone guessing.

Thus Ucuhath was not in charge of all operations. He was, in fact, primarily involved in logistics preparations while having certain forces that were loyal to him.

The closest to an overall operational director was Zissix. It was a recent elevation. He had replaced Grand Marshall Qu’Zichovuq precisely over the latter’s support of Gi’Bucosof.

The former “Grand Marshall of Liberation Forces” had incurred the ire of certain elements of High Command in two ways. The first was that his “success” in the recent war against the Glatun had made him quite a hero to the common Rangora. That had been useful at first since the war required sacrifice and Rangora needed heroes to motivate them. At a certain point, though, it created a separate political power structure that interfered with the existing.

Gi’Bucosof had been chosen as the figure-head leader of the war precisely because he was too stupid to survive in upper command. But the power he’d attained had started to give him a feeling of invincibility. There was no such thing in Rangora politics.

Especially in his case because the Grand Marshall had been anything but an operations genius. Repeatedly he had ignored orders to bypass systems and had instead thrown insufficient forces against heavily defended systems. The Rangora plan of the war was to pin down the main Glatun forces on one front while Gi’Bucosof swept around to the rear. By stopping to take every little system, some of which were heavily defended, the late Grand Marshall had exceeded projected losses by nearly three hundred percent.

The Rangora had expended enormous treasure secretly building the largest fleet of assault ships ever assembled in history. It had entailed many necessary cut-backs in good and services as more and more material was poured into the Secret Fleet.

Gi’Bucosof, Qu’Zichovuq’s protégé, had ripped that very expensive fleet to shreds.

The last straw had been the attack on Terra. Qu’Zichovuq had insisted that Gi’Bucosof could take the system with seven AVs. Every one had been lost along with a large fleet of Aggressor battleships. Three hundred billion credits worth of ships, months of production, were now either scrap or prizes to the Terrans. Which was why Qu’Zichovuq had “committed suicide” by shooting himself forty times in the back.

“Nor can we quickly create them,” Ucuhath said, pensively. “Nor three million missiles. Three million! We have the fabbers but there are so many other needs!”

Whereas taking the Glatun Federation should have increased the Rangora’s monetary and material production base, it had been quite the opposite.

The Glatun leadership had intentionally been reducing the functional ability of their people as a way of maintaining power. The vast majority of the populace had a very high standard of living without having to do any work. Teaching them to work again was proving to be a major task.

The Glatun fleet, however, came from a cultural structure so different it might as well have been a different species. The Fleet had become an increasingly family operation with certain families contributing the bulk of the personnel and, especially, the leadership. When they knew they were going to lose, they took a scorched system approach, with or without orders. They didn’t destroy planetary cities or purely civilian orbital structures that could not be evacuated. But they had destroyed everything else. System after system had been systematically stripped and obliterated. Where once Glatun yards had been the pride of the regional arm, only four fully functional ship-fabbers had been recovered.

The Glatun Federation, once the richest polity in the local arm with the largest manufacturing base known, was now an impoverished series of planets that could barely feed themselves. And rebuilding, even with slave labor, was turning out to be difficult at best.

The Rangora common people were becoming restive. They had anticipated that their standard of living would increase enormously with the capture of the Glatun Federation. The Junta wasn’t about to tell them that that was going to be impossible for a generation. Riots had broken out over the continued, brutal, working conditions of the common Rangora reducing productivity even more.

The last problem was that the Federation wasn’t fully conquered. There were four systems holding out. All of them were relatively minor border systems, but they had so far proven impossible to crack. Like the Terran system they had relatively high levels of resources, they were all systems that were mining systems with large asteroid belts, and they had high populaces on which to draw workers and fighters. High Command had previously sat through analyses of those systems and one point made was that those systems were “working” systems where there were high concentrations of Glatun who retained a work ethic and a patriotism that, in the inner Glatun systems, was considered provincial.

A war that had appeared to be a swift and thorough victory was now turning into a slogging match of attrition. And assault always has higher attrition.

“There is more than one way to skin a xaw,” the High Commander said. “I will recommend to the Junta that we make peace with the Terrans. There will be a better day to correct their impression of power.”

“They are demanding that we withdraw from the Glatun Federation, High Commander,” Ucuhath pointed out.

“Which is a negotiating ploy,” the High Commander said. “We will sign a binding pact of non-aggression but retain the Eridani system. In time, we will deal with them.”

“And the Horvath?” Zissix said.

“Let them have the Horvath,” Ucuhath said. “Those squids are of little use.”

“That will be up to the Junta,” the High Commander said.

* * *

“The Terran Alliance reiterates its position that given the Rangora Empire’s actions in this war, including the bombardment of civilian populations and assault without due declaration of intent to engage in hostilities, the minimum Terra will accept in negotiated terms of settlement is withdrawal from the territory of our allies the Glatun Federation, return to positions prior to the agreements made during the recent Multilateral Talks, the acceptance of Terran sovereignty over the Eridani and Horvath systems and a payment of six hundred billion credits in negotiable currency or suitable materials to pay for rebuilding of our damaged cities. In exchange, earth will return all twenty-seven thousand Rangora prisoners as well as repatriation of such remains as have been identified all cost of transport being born by the Rangora.”

Senior Deputy Envoy Piotr Polit had at first been surprised by the universality of negotiation. Negotiating with the Rangora was so similar to dealing with the Russians, with just a touch of North Koreans, he could practically do it in his sleep. You presented your side’s position then listened to them present theirs. The wording, absent a change on either side, had to be exactly the same every time. Which turned into constant repetition of the same phrases over and over again with absolutely no change in expression.

It really was like any negotiation on earth. The difference being that it was taking place on a Glod ship with those odd creatures, a wide mobile base like a slug with long eye stalks, hosting the talks. And it was also taking place in the Eridani system since Earth wasn’t about to let the Rangora send one of their ships through the gate.

“The Rangora Empire reiterates its position that the actions of liberation taken by the Empire were done with all due form based upon Terra’s hostile actions against its allies the Horvath,” the Rangora Senior Deputy Envoy stated. “The Empire demands that Earth demobilize its battlestations and fleet, return all prisoners and submit to the will of the Empire. In the event that Earth does not so submit, Imperial Forces will, reluctantly, be forced to destroy your entire race.”

“We have heard this iteration four times,” the Glod Senior Envoy stated. “I would suggest a brief break.”

Negotiations were also timed based on the standard bladder control, or whatever a race used. Occasionally in terrestrial negotiations that was a tactic to force the other side to make a compromise. You learned to drink water sparingly.

The meeting compartment was surprisingly spacious and Piotr suspected it was normally a hold. The Glod were even shorter than humans, much less the Rangora, so their living areas were unlikely to have thirty foot ceilings.

But if it was a hold, it had been nicely outfitted. The walls were lined with anacoustic tiles so the small groups that formed could talk without the words bouncing all over the compartment. Each side had provided its own food, of course, but the Glod provided servants to circulate with drinks and niblets during breaks. It was assumed by the Terran contingent that they were all spies. The Glod had been one of the races that US intelligence suspected was planning to go to war against the Glatun. The Rangora had just beat them to the punch.

“This is going no-where,” Harold “Call me Harry” Danforth said. If the State Department Deputy Assistant Under Secretary was bothered by the Polish Alliance official being the formal “voice” of the Alliance he didn’t let on. But then again, he was a career diplomat. “I question the honesty of the Rangora in desiring peace. Our first analysis had been that their attack was sort of a mistake. The sort of thing you’d expect when two major polities were at war. They now seem very serious in their intention to conquer the Sol System.”

Piotr was also a career diplomat. On the other hand, he was Polish which meant he was buried in the history of countries performing invasions for purely Hobbesian rationales. Poland had been on the losing end five times. So he had managed to keep his opinion of the Deputy Assistant Under Secretary’s incredibly naïve opinions to himself.

“That is certainly their official position,” Piotr said, neutrally.

“What do you think we can do to break the impasse?” Harry asked, taking a sip of water. Alcoholic drinks were for after the session closed. Champagne was only for a successful session.

Invade the Empire and crush them, Piotr thought.

“As long as we are talking, we are not fighting,” Piotr said, stating a tautology of diplomacy. “One simply talks as long as necessary. At some point either their leadership or ours will make a change. In the meantime, we talk. It is what we are paid to do, Harold.”

“We must end this war, Piotr,” Harry said, wringing his hands. “I feel as if Terra is responsible. The Glatun had been at peace with these other races for millennia. We come along and war breaks out. It can’t be a coincidence.”

“Terra’s impact on the galactic scene, prior to this war, was the introduction of maple syrup,” Piotr pointed out. “Given that the Glatun did not start the war, it is unlikely that maple syrup is at fault. And the question of fault is a pointless exercise. We are at war. I agree that ending the war is a requirement. However, doing so without good surety of security is unwise.”

“I’ve recommended that we drop the tribute portion,” Harry said. “That’s just wrong. Tribute has never been a good idea. It always leads to another war.”

“Unless the Rangora make an offer outside their current parameters, dropping any part of our positions would be unwise,” Piotr said.

“They are probably saying the same thing,” Harry pointed out.

* * *

“The Junta wants us to break this impasse.”

Ghow Ve’Disuc, Imperial Envoy to the Minor Race of Terrans, had cut his teeth on the decade long Multilateral Talks that led to the Rangora gaining all the border systems along the Glatun frontier. He felt, justifiably, that much of the success the Empire enjoyed in the recent war was the doing of himself and other Rangora diplomats.

The Terrans had been a late addition to the MT and even then only as observers. He had not been impressed with them then and he was not impressed with them now. He was forced to admit, though, that their system defenses were impressive.

“Unless the Terrans offer something outside their current positions, dropping any part of our statement would be unwise,” Thunnuvuu Zho’Ghogabel said. The Under Envoy to the Minor Race of Terrans was careful not to ripple his scales. The very thought of simply giving in to these hairy little mammals was repugnant.

“Go talk to the smaller, dark-haired one,” Ve’Disuc said. “His body posture indicates reluctance according to our analysts. He has problems with the Terran position. See what you can find out. We need something out of this negotiation.”

“What are the parameters?” Zho’Ghogabel asked.

“We’ll drop territorial sovereignty over Terra in exchange for an apology, all the prisoners, all our salvaged ships and the same tribute in reverse,” Ve’Disuc said. “No territorial concessions. We retain the Eridani system. We will open trading but of course only with Rangora companies.”

* * *

“I wonder what Harry’s getting from the Rangora.”

James Horst was the Senior Envoy which meant that during negotiations his job was to sit there with a stern look on his face and otherwise keep his mouth shut. That only changed when a final agreement was reached when he was the one who would formally state the agreement and sign the preliminary documents. Since they were so far away from agreement you couldn’t see it with a very big telescope, he was probably not going to be saying anything at the table.

“I am somewhat more worried what he is accepting,” Piotr said, watching the conversation between the State Department official and the Rangora Under Envoy in a reflection. “Or suggesting.”

“Harry’s a pro,” Horst said. “He’s a weenie but he’s a professional weenie. He’s not going to give anything away and whatever he might suggest would be non-binding.”

“With respect, sir,” Piotr said, “I’ve seen more negotiations go awry over those little side conversations than I care to remember. Someone suggests, outside their sphere of responsibility, something with which their side cannot comply. This is taken by the other side as a bad faith negotiation. Or they throw in the final negotiation position and it is taken as a pre-position. I really don’t care for them.”

“It’s how it works, Piotr,” Horst said. “I wish Harry had talked to me before he talked to them, but we’ll see what comes of it.”

* * *

“I think that if we could get a binding agreement of non-aggression, the rest could be worked out,” Danforth said, giving up craning his head upwards and concentrating on a puff pastry. “All we really want is peace. I know you feel the same way, Thunnuvuu.”

“Peace is the best of all possible conditions,” the Rangora said. “And this incident has really been a colossal waste on both our sides. The lives and treasure being spent is just enormous. So you think those are suitable terms?”

“I think they are a good starting point,” Danforth said. “But of course anything I say is non-binding.”

“Of course,” the Rangora said. “But I will convey this and see if we can adjust some of our positions.”

“The Rangora are an essentially honest and thoughtful species,” Danforth said. “I know that in time we can be friends.”

* * *

“You agreed to what?” Horst was just as professional a diplomat as his Senior Deputy envoy and this complete idiot from the State Department. Which meant that the words came out in an entirely neutral tone instead of the strangled gasp he wanted to use.

“The terms are perfectly suitable,” Danforth said, nibbling on an hors d’ouevre. “With the opening of trade we’ll be able to afford the payments assuming it can be spread out over a long enough time period. And it gives us peace.”

“And it is far beyond our minimum position as dictated by policy makers,” Piotr pointed out. “Given that we’ve spent several billion dollars refurbishing those Rangora craft, we’re not just going to give them back. Furthermore, retention of the Epsilon system is a pre-requisite it was not your authority to change.”

“It is not my authority to change,” Horst said. “Damnit,” he added in the mildest possible tone. “Piotr, go talk to their Under Envoy and point out that Danforth did not have authority to offer anything that he offered and that that is not our position.”

“I will need to have something to offer,” Piotr said.

“We’re asking for the entire Federation,” Horst said. “Give up the systems from the Talks and hint at the tribute. Danforth?”

“Yes, sir?” the Deputy Assistant Under Secretary said.

“If you so much as open your mouth to do more than breathe for the rest of these negotiations, I will personally ensure you never can again by putting you into vacuum without a suit.”


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