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To’Jopeviq tried not to curse. He hated this assignment more passionately every day. Almost as much as he was starting to hate Terrans. Or possibly, and this caused him just a shiver of fear at simply the thought, the High Command.

“There has to be a way!”

Gate assaults were very simple things. There was a small zone to enter through and if you knew your opponent’s capabilities, and at this point they were becoming aware the Terrans were practically flaunting their abilities, it all came down to math. How much fire you could throw, how much fire your opponent could throw.

There was no way to work around the math. To’Jopeviq was well aware that they were not getting all the information available about fleet units. But by even throwing the entire remaining Rangora fleet at Terra, the math simply did not work out.

“The math is straightforward,” Toer replied. The analyst had clearly gotten some conflicted amount of satisfaction out of the fact that every time High Command ignored his analysis a Rangora fleet got shredded. The “conflicted” was due to the fact that he really cared about the success of the Rangora Empire and being right about that sort of thing too many times eventually was going to get him shredded.

“We’ve looked at the missile assault. The logistics are impossible given the numbers we’ve received on remaining Glatun fabricators and ships. The Glatun took a scorched earth approach after Joshshav. Four remaining ship fabricators. A total of one hundred and twenty other fabbers of various sizes, most of them maxed out on other defensive projects. And the fabbers would either have to be moved to Galkod, keeping them out of production during the move, or the missiles would have to be shipped to Galkod. Shipping is already at a premium. And all of that ignores the developing Glatun resistance campaign.”

“Who would have thought they had the quills for it,” To’Jopeviq said. “Again, there has to be a plan that will work. Something to at least get them to come down in negotiations. They are no longer demanding full withdrawal but they want multiple systems as a buffer zone. Systems that would be turned over to the Glatun and given full autonomy.”

“I have come to the conclusion that my initial analysis of the Terrans is not so much wrong as incomplete,” Dr. Avama said, uneasily.

“Good Tol, he said the R word,” Toer said, sarcastically.

“As I said, incomplete,” Avama repeated. “And importantly incomplete. Rangora are not monolithic,” he continued, glancing furtively at Beor.

“The Kazi are fully aware of that, Doctor,” the Secret Police lieutenant said. “As we’re aware of your ties to the peace movement. That is one of the reasons you are in this group. Because you represent alternate thinking. It is always dangerous but so is a laser emitter. In this place, it is what we and the High Command wish to hear. Alternate thinking.”

“The humans I had dealt with before were diplomats,” Avama said, more firmly. “They were very interested in peace. To the point of seeming, even to me, weak. Infirm of purpose. Peace by any means.”

“Insanity,” To’Jopeviq said, shaking his head. “Every race seeks territory, power, control.”

“The point of diplomacy is to prevent the more aggressive versions of that,” Avama said. “War for example. Thus they were very much against war and in favor of peace. Despite my intellectual knowledge that humans had waged war against each other aggressively, their various...controls and my experience of those diplomats colored my thinking.”

“In what way and does it help?” To’Jopeviq asked.

“Perhaps, perhaps not,” Avama said. “But just as Rangora are not monolithic, nor are humans. And even their warriors make at least pro forma expressions of a desire for peace. But they are clearly very good at war. Yet even that is but part of the puzzle.”

“Is this going anywhere?” Toer asked.

“Let him talk,” To’Jopeviq said. “Can you explain?”

“I’ve been looking at their hypernet,” Avama said. “Trying to understand them. Trying to understand where I was right and where I was wrong. Each of their major tribes, in truth independent polities which are in turn made up of still smaller tribes, has a varying approach to power. Most are, in fact, very close to the Rangora. By numeric of those polities, more than half, whatever their outward expression of governmental type, are governments based upon pure power of individuals and tribes.”

“And that is like the Rangora?” To’Jopeviq asked then thought about it. “Uh...”

“It is a valid analysis,” Beor said. “Continue.”

“However, with a few exceptions, China is one, the most powerful polities are based upon a much greater degree of power sharing,” Avama said. “This is a very difficult thing for Rangora to grasp. Take the United States as an example. It continues to be, despite the fact that both ourselves and the Horvath have given it special attention, the most powerful polity on Terra. Given the current military situation, the United States can be viewed as the second most powerful polity in the entire Western Arm.”

“The Ogut?” To’Jopeviq said. “I would tend to disagree.”

“Based upon our experiences in fighting Terra,” Avama said, “which to this point has been an almost entirely American defense, would you like to revisit that thought?

“There are many special interests and functional tribes within the polity. They fight constantly. To the outside observer this appears to be weakness. What makes the situation worse is that almost all of their diplomats come from a single social tribe. So what outsiders see is news stories that indicate continuous in-fighting of a level that would approach civil war among the Rangora...”

“The Kazi has wondered that they haven’t had one, yet,” Beor said. “The Maple Syrup War is the closest you could get to one and it was a minor insurgency.”

“And very poorly understood,” Avama said, excitedly. “That is part of my point. But that is what it looks like to an outsider. But it’s not the reality. To’Jopeviq, you don’t talk much about your family but I suspect it is much like many...”

“Lower class?” To’Jopeviq asked, his crest riffling.

“Sorry,” Avama said. “Yes. I suspect it is much like most lower class families. Large?”

“I have six brothers and four sisters,” To’Jopeviq said.


“Tremendous ones,” he said, hissing. “Especially at the holidays.”

“There!” Avama said. “Your family is the Americans! What happens when another family attacks yours?”

“We band together and break them in half,” To’Jopeviq said, thoughtfully.

“Yes!” Avama said. “What would happen, God forbid, if your father were to die?”

“He is dead,” To’Jopeviq said. “Mining accident. My oldest brother took over the family business. If you’re correct... There is no point to attacking their leadership.”

“Zero,” Avama said. “Every missile spent on taking out American leadership is wasted. Here is the last thought. Say that your family was large enough to sustain fifty percent casualties in one attack from another family and continue fighting. What would the survivors do?”

“Anything it took to destroy the other family,” To’Jopeviq said. “And, in fact... That happened not too long ago. You do not attack the To’Jopeviq clan. That is known on Lhoffid.”

“You’re from Lhoffid?” Toer said, his eyes wide.

“Yes,” To’Jopeviq said, hissing again. “Problem with that, Analyst?”

“No, sir,” Toer replied, slumping in his seat. “How close would you say...”

“The Americans, at this point, have lost mostly their tribe that is not warlike,” Avama said. “Vast portions of their most pacific groups were wiped out by either ourselves or the Horvath. The survivors are a bit like if...are their members of your family who were...less aggressive?”

“Yes,” To’Jopeviq said.

“If your family was attacked and only those were killed?”

“Given my sister Faiz...” To’Jopeviq said then flattened his crest. “No, I know exactly what we would do. There are times... And I feel less Rangora when I say this. There are times when we feel that they are the best of us. Especially when they are the only ones that can stop us from killing each other. I hadn’t thought of my family for a long time, Avama. For obvious reasons,” he added, looking at Toer.

“Sorry, Egilldu,” the analyst said. “I was surprised, that’s all.”

“What we would do is destroy the family that hurt ours,” To’Jopeviq said. “Or be destroyed trying. Especially if the targeting was that precise.”

“There is more...distance involved with the Americans,” Avama said. “But my analysis is that that is exactly how they are reacting. The main tribe that drives their wars is the Jacksonians. There is an excellent essay on that tribe available on our servers. They generally do not concern themselves with foreign affairs. But when they do, they want to proceed with the war and win. Not a negotiated surrender. Not drawn out. Get it over with and then go back to their lives. They believe in crushing their enemies and putting a boot on their neck. And then, and this is where it very much deviates from Rangora, since the Jacksonians lose interest when the enemy is destroyed, the other tribes that are more pacific or mercantile become involves. Thus the Americans then spend vast sums assisting their former enemies. The Jacksonians grumble but don’t really care enough to prevent it.

“Our targeting has tended to destroy the tribes that are more palatable to negotiation. We have, from our perspective, very carefully and specifically taken the impurities from the metal. We haven’t weakened them, we’ve made them stronger. And very very angry. A human philosopher reminds me of Ashoje, another similarity. The Terran, Machiavelli, once said ‘Never do an enemy a small injury.’ We have spent this entire war doing the Americans small injuries.”

“Destroying their cities is not small injuries,” Toer said.

“Think about it,” To’Jopeviq said.

“The Jacksonian tribe is not urban based,” Avama said. “And it is those we need fear. They don’t supply the majority of academics, politicians or media. Those are the people we’ve been paying attention to! Jacksonians supply the majority of only one group: their military. Also, to an extent, their production base. We’ve been ignoring the only tribe that is important in the situation!”

“Not the politicians?” Beor said.

“I take that back,” Avama said. “Not the politicians we tend to notice except in the negative. Their president, for example, is from that background and not only, now, a politician but an academic in the field of politics and interstellar affairs. But she is an unusual case. The majority of the type of politicians and bureaucrats we notice, with which we interact, are from a tribe that, in a war, is very aggressively told to take a back seat.

“During recent wars, even with the Horvath initially, that was impossible. The US is a true democracy and those other tribes had sufficient power, hard and soft, to constantly involve themselves in something they had neither the background nor the understanding to manage. At this point, they are sufficiently reduced, they were urban based in the main, that they are functionally unimportant. That is the key factor I was missing. I was wrong in my initial analysis of the humans because I ignored the importance, militarily, substantially and politically, of the Jacksonian tribe. In part, because every time members of that tribe who had some power were discussed by humans they were dismissed out of hand as unimportant. It is as if the only people in your family I talked to and paid attention to was your sister.”

“That is the Americans,” Beor said. “What of the other polities?”

“There are similar conditions in many of them,” Avama said. “Harder to piece out in some cases. Many of them are traditional enemies of the Jacksonians. But, for example, the Indian War Party has as its majority members of tribes that are historically war-like. Yet many of its supporters come from tribes that are more mercantile or academically oriented. Traditionally pacific groups. Yet they support the War Party, elect people they normally would not associate themselves with, because the traditional method is ‘in war, let the war mongers run things.’ May I use an historical example?”

“Go,” To’Jopeviq said.

“During a late great war, the one they call World War Two although it should be more correctly called Major Campaign Three of the Seventy-Five Year War, the British elected a Prime Minister who had been something of a joke for years. Mostly because he predicted a great war, wanted to spend money on defense and was constantly insulted for his general war mongering. He is still considered one of their greatest Prime Ministers. But as soon as the war was finished, he was removed from power.”

“When war comes, let the warriors run it,” To’Jopeviq said. “And when peace comes the warriors are cast back out into the darkness? Why don’t the warriors simply seize power?”

“The Americans are more flexible about it,” Avama said. “Many of their great generals have been presidents. The first president of their country was supreme commander of forces during their War of Independence. But he set the tone for voluntary change of power. He could have stayed president until he died but he only served for eight years and then retired. By the same token, during the previous war I discussed their president was a cripple.”

“Impossible,” To’Jopeviq said, subtly trying to hide his prosthetic.

“He had had a childhood disease that crippled his legs,” Avama said. “Historically unquestionable. At the time, he did much to avoid having it noticed in the primitive information systems of the time. But he was a cripple. And all the polities are not the same. Some the non-military personnel hang onto power even though they are not mentally suited to running a war. Others the military uses hard power to seize control or functionally controls the country, during both war and peace. But most of the really important polities follow the same general tenor. And most of them, all that are members of this new Alliance, are democracies. Even France, and don’t even try to follow the issues with that, has elected a former general and a firebrand. Whether they will make any sort of valid contribution is another question.”

“Does this help us in any way?” To’Jopeviq asked.

“The analysis is, I think, most important for the negotiation teams,” Beor said. “Even very important. They probably don’t realize that the people they are dealing with have no functional power. They probably think that they are from powerful families which have some degree of real control. And thus if they can convince them, personally, of our side that this will filter to the families and thus to their power center. If you are saying that they are from...tribes that are essentially out of power as long as there is a threat...”

“Convincing them personally, or paying attention to their preference for peace, is so much vacuum,” To’Jopeviq said. “It still doesn’t cover our primary focus. How do we defeat them?”

“I have also been looking at that,” Avama said. “Prior to this assignment, I tried to pay as little attention to war as possible. I would put myself squarely in the position of the tribe that is out of power among the Americans. However, since I see the absolute need to win this war, or at least get to a point that we can get the Jacksonians willing to accept a ceasefire, I have been studying war. But I have not been studying our forms of warfare except as directly related to system conquest. I have been studying the humans.”

“We have a long history of warfare,” To’Jopeviq said.

“We have also been tinkering with our history so much it is hard to glean reality from falsehood,” Avama said then blanched.

“Alternative means of thinking, Academic,” Beor said. “Go on.”

“And we are fighting the humans and they are, arguably, winning,” Avama said. “At the very least, we are not. So I had to wonder ‘How would a great human general win this?’ ”

“That is alternative,” To’Jopeviq said.

“Most of them, when I translated their concepts to modern realities, came down to ‘Try not to have to fight at all.’ Troy, Thermopylae and now Malta. They are inflating a fourth station. This one, by the way, will decidedly be fixed since it is too large to go through the gate.”

“Joy,” To’Jopeviq said. “I’d noticed, by the way.”

“We all did,” Toer said, balefully. “Yay. We don’t have to worry about a fourth station coming through into Eridani.”

“The point being that most of their generals would simply council ‘try not to get into that fight.’ But if it had to be fought? Subedey: Speed is everything. Surprise is everything. Deception is everything. Utter ruthlessness.”

“I like him,” To’Jopeviq said.

“I would, by the way, suggest ignoring that last for some complex reasons. But the other three...?”

“You can’t use deception if you’re doing a gate assault,” To’Jopeviq said.

“Not if you’re assaulting the gate,” Avama said. “They have been destroying us piecemeal in gate assaults.”

“Get them to attack?” To’Jopeviq said. “How?”

“More than that,” Avama said. “Get them to attack through the gate in too low of force.”

“That is an...interesting idea,” To’Jopeviq said. “Worth some very serious thought.”

“So is one other thing,” Beor said. “Being aware that this is not an official Kazi query but part of this group. What has caused your sudden change of heart. You stated ‘since I see the absolute need to win this war, or at least get to a point that we can get the Jacksonians willing to accept a ceasefire.’ You are a pacifist. You now support the war. Why?”

“I am a Rangora,” Avama said. “And that is not a simple rote response, Kazi. You were paying insufficient attention to my statements about the Jacksonians and similar tribes among other polities.”

“How so?” Beor asked.

“The Jacksonians are very difficult to get to negotiate,” Avama said. “They believe in total war and putting a foot on their enemy’s neck. Unconditional surrender is the only thing they understand. You still don’t get it, do you?”

“Apparently not,” To’Jopeviq said.

“I’m not really worried about how to take the Terran system,” Avama said. “I’m wondering how we’re going to hold Rangor.”

* * *

“You get your in-brief from Persing?”

The Chief Engineer for Bravo Troop was Engineer’s Mate First Class Jayson Megdanoff. Tall and dyspeptic looking, he seemed less than happy to meet her.

“Yes, EM,” Dana said.

“You’re going to have to get new rate badges,” Megdanoff said. “You’re an engineer again. You remember any of it?”

The engineering office for the troop was, as always, a clutter of tools and pulled parts. This one was, if anything, more organized than the similar office Dana had had a second home on Troy. Thermal had always known exactly where everything in the office was but the organization method escaped everyone else.

“Yes, EM,” Dana said.

“We’ll see, I suppose,” Megdanoff replied. “Div Two has had a run of bad luck. All the boats are up, currently, but there’s been constant issues. Between the screw-ups on Apollo’s part and the crap we’re getting out of Granadica it’s a nightmare to keep these boats running. It doesn’t help that we lost about a quarter of our trained crews taking Station Two. And in mid-space accidents during that idiotic transfer. Right now there’s only an EA on Twenty-Three so any trained engineer is a benefit.”

“I continued to maintain engineering proficiency while a coxswain, EM,” Dana said. “What I’m not up on is the paperwork especially for running the division.”

“You’ll catch up on the engineering database quick enough,” Megdanoff said. “That’s one thing that’s actually easier than it was before the plants. Right now, I think you need to see your boats. Where’s your suit?”

“In my quarters, EM,” Dana said. “Apparently there’s some issue with putting me in the main unit quarters so I’m at the BNCOQ. It will take me ten minutes to get over there, don suit and get back.”

“That’s going to suck,” Megdanoff said, blinking rapidly and for the first time actually seeming to show some interest in the conversation. “In fact, I’m not sure that’s going to work.”

“My thought as well, EM,” Dana said, controlling her temper. The door opened and a tall, broad Hispanic EM1 entered without knocking. Dana was just getting used to most of the Hispanic contingent being about her size. The EM was a mountain. She’d never seen someone that big from Latin countries except in movies.

“EM2 Parker, this is EM1 Ponce Diaz,” Megdanoff said, gesturing. “The way things are set up right now there’s sort of a dual command and authority structure. Diaz is my counterpart.”

“EM,” Dana said, nodding at him.

“Engineer Parker,” the EM replied.

“Parker’s been designated NCOIC for Division Two,” Megdanoff said.

“Looking forward to it,” Diaz said. “They need a good mechanic down there. I reviewed your record as an engineer and could find no fault. I’m looking forward to working with you.”

“Thank you,” Dana said, feeling slightly confused.

“Ponce, could you run Parker down to her boat?” Megdanoff said. “After she retrieves her suit. Parker, I’ll check on the quartering issue. I know where it’s emanating but it’s something we’re going to have to figure out. You can’t be up in the BNCOQ if you’re going to be part of the unit.”

“Agreed, BM,” Dana said. “EM Diaz, it will take me about ten minutes. My apologies.”

“Completely understood, miss,” the engineer replied. “I’ve got paperwork to catch up on, anyway. I’ll be here.”


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