A siren wailed.
Outside the repair bay, vehicles whined and anchors thundered.
“What is it?” Dan asked.
Patalla Irtrinin, a Warsister and the best anchor mechanic on the entire base according to every goldhair Dan had asked, tilted her head and cocked an ear, her blue-tipped ponytail swinging as she did.
“Incoming artillery. Level one emergency stations only. They must not expect a breakthrough. We can ignore it.”
“Ignore it?” Rixken asked.
“Emprin is covered with interdiction turrets and we have… very good tracking. We’ll be fine.”
“I’ve never run into tracking that good.” Dan’s back felt tight. He stretched his shoulders, trying to ditch the feeling that he was about to have an artillery shell land on him. It didn’t help. Might as well go on with the planning. “Where were we?”
Great. She was still on this.
“Railrifles? We can’t maintain them.”
Patalla dismissed his concerns with a wave and summoned a schematic of a Warsister anchor-sized railrifle onto the holographic display table.
“The HR-12 twenty-millimeter helical railgun, combined with good aim, has at least thirty-seven percent higher penetration than the Imperial A-62 twenty-four millimeter HyVAC. The A-62 shoots faster, but one penetrating shot to a critical system from the HR-12 will end a fight that fifteen deflected rounds from the A-62 will not. Get the railrifles.”
Dan growled. The woman had been hard to get a word out of earlier, but apparently she was positively chatty when it came to defending her favorite technical systems. It was annoying.
“If my head mechanic were here, I’d let him explain, but since he’s not, I guess I’ll have to do. We, like every other mercenary unit except the Goldwing Elites, use HyVACs because they are powerful, cheap to shoot, and easy to maintain. Railrifles, despite being better on the first, and fair on the second, completely fail at the third of those. The rail-paths need to be replaced after every hundred shots, and only the First Imperial Army and a few other outfits can afford to do that.”
“HR-12 paths last twice as long as the Imperial ones,” Patalla replied. “They are also easier to make. For fifteen of these salvaged anchors, you get an MR-23 maintenance vehicle that can make them for you. You need the vehicle with your extra anchors. Get the railrifles.”
Dan noticed Kris trying to get his attention. She still wasn’t talking to him after last night, and wouldn’t tell him why when they had time to themselves earlier, so he didn’t want to acknowledge her. But he also wasn’t an angry fourteen-year-old anymore, and she was no longer the Tegar’s young daughter making mocking remarks about savage Jedremis and throwing rocks at him when no one was looking, so he had no excuses for doing so.
He met her gaze and she made a bargaining sign with one hand.
Take the deal.
Dan didn’t want to. He wanted full armor upgrades on all the anchors, which he wouldn’t be able to afford if he got the railrifles. Armor upgrades were simple, and until one got broken, were pretty much zero maintenance. If he got the railrifles, he’d be limited to upgrades on primary zones only, leaving weak spots that careful aim could still exploit. He looked at Rixken, who had shown a pretty keen mind on equipment selections, but the Preparer looked more curious than anything else.
“Even if we can make new rail-paths, we still don’t know how to maintain railrifles. They have expert-level systems…”
“You can get a mechanic who knows how and she can come along and train your people.”
He stopped and stared at her. A Warsister mechanic for his company?
No. She couldn’t be serious.
Did this woman know how to be anything but serious?
“Who do you have in mind, how does it work, and what does it cost?”
The skinny bluehair squirmed.
“It would be… me. And it costs… permission. From the Preparer.”
Rixken looked over at her, ears perked.
“My permission? And then you can just leave the Warsisters? Really?”
Patalla glanced at him, then down at the display.
“A bluehair can work for any blooded redhair vehicle commander she wants, with permission from the redhair’s commander and the bluehair caste mother. It is tradition.”
“Do you have permission from your caste mother?”
Permission. For their best anchor mechanic to leave? How had she gotten that?
“I suppose Aysha still counts as a redhair with a vehicle,” Rixken said.
“You don’t seem too happy about the idea, though.”
Patalla gripped the table with one hand and slid the other arm behind her back. She looked very uncomfortable.
“Tell me why,” Rixken said.
“I haven’t told my sisters,” she said. “Only our caste mother. They won’t like it.”
Rixken looked over at Dan.
A top flight mechanic was priceless. Even if she was a little bit crazy and running off with her drew the ire of the entire base, Dan would take her. And just make sure he left in a hurry once word got out.
Rixken returned the gesture and looked to Patalla.
“I grant permission. You can be Aysha’s mechanic. As long as this really is all approved by your commanders.”
Patalla beamed at him.
Someone banged on the repair bay’s people door.
It opened and the gorgeous Naralene agent walked in, followed by Rixken’s Warsister and two men, one young and dressed like a doctor and the other old and wearing the robes of a high ranking keva.
The doctor immediately left the others and approached… Patalla. He gave her a questioning look and she responded with a nod and a wide smile. He smiled back. They obviously knew each other very well. Would the doctor be coming too?
The agent, Zemril, came to the head of the holo-table, where Rixken was. Her kerchax flowed off her neck and onto the corner of the table, after which she gave a full bow.
“Who have you brought, Zemril?” Rixken asked.
She waved the keva closer.
“This is OverKeva Elvar NirKosa, head keva for Emprin City. I went to him to see if the kevas of the city might offer you some aid, but he has concerns about the safety of his people.”
Rixken looked the man over.
“Concerns about Orlin’s invasion?”
The overkeva’s ears were flat out to the side and he was red with embarrassment. He bowed deeply to Rixken.
“Yes, your Majesty. Our people have no military weapons, so we are doing all we can to build up our bunkers. But… but this Neralene chastised me…”
Rixken shot a hard look at Zemril.
The overkeva sped up his words.
“And rightly, your Majesty. Very rightly chastised me. Our thinking has been cowardly, and not in keeping with the Teachings or the example of our forefathers. Worse, I knew that you were here, but did not even come to see you, the new Preparer. Please forgive my sin. It is very great.”
The old man went down on his knees.
Rixken stepped around the table, grabbed the old man’s shoulders, and pulled him back up without waiting.
“You are forgiven. Tell me about your people and I’ll see if there’s anything I can do. Tegar KarLagren, this is probably a military matter. Advise me.”
Dan cut around the others and came over to stand near Rixken. He motioned for Kris and she followed.
The overkeva looked between him and Rixken, and settled on Rixken.
“Our people… what should I say?”
Rixken looked at Dan.
Dan pictured the Emprin Isthmus and what he knew of it.
About 160 kilometers long, narrowing to 110 kilometers where it connected to Okend in the West and about the same at the connection to Akati in the East. Most of the Warsister’s defenses would be located at those east and west borders, serviced by multiple central bases. To stop Orlin they would need to concentrate as many of their forces as possible on the Western border, but because of the pirates and raiders in Akati they would have to leave some reserve to the east. Also, they would have to maintain reserve forces at the Northern and Southern coasts to guard against landings. All three of those rear zones would draw highly-trained Warsisters away from where they were needed most.
If the Okendan civilians wanted to do more than just cower…
“What does your militia look like?” he asked.
The overkeva turned to him.
“I don’t know all the specifics, but… let me see… most of the men know how to use a gun, but from what Var Tegar MirRegnus says, we have, ‘two-hundred-thousand who can hit a target, and fifty-thousand who train enough to maybe actually fight without tripping over their own feet.’ I think most of the men who train regularly treat it like a sport. We watch the Warsister training matches all the time, you see.”
He twisted his hands together and looked down.
“They broadcast them for each other, and they let us into the broadcasts shortly after they took over. We started doing the same with militia scrimmages and, well, I think the second most popular sport for watching is high-ball, now, but no one really cares about that other than children.”
A whole province that played wargames like a sport? Velgrin was the only other place that came to mind, but they topped out at squad-level matches. This sounded more serious. At least a few of them had to have skill. Though skill wasn’t discipline or organization, and armies needed both of those.
“Do any of them train with anchors or other vehicles?”
“We have the simulators from the original bases and have made more since, but we have no one who has actually piloted more than a construction anchor. There are leagues… but it’s really just gaming without any actual vehicles to train on.”
“So, fifty-thousand militia, and a subset of that trained in anchor fighting?”
“It’s better than nothing.”
“How many if you count the women?” Rixken asked.
Dan glanced at the Preparer, as did the overkeva. The old man stuttered as he responded.
“We don’t… there aren’t…”
Rixken crossed his arms.
“Women have been approved for homeguard since the Empire was founded. This is homeguard. Now, how many if you count the women? This is an entire province that grows up watching the Warsisters fight. Don’t tell me you don’t have Okendan women training.”
“They have their own leagues.”
“And those leagues are how big?”
“I… don’t know. Tens of thousands, perhaps?”
Rixken looked at Dan.
Right. Maybe sixty or seventy thousand then who could work as part of a team and fire a gun from cover and hit something. Alone against hardened, disciplined troops with combined arms, that wasn’t much. But as a rear force to free up trained units for more critical areas, it would work just fine. He looked at Kris and mouthed workable rear guard. She nodded agreement.
“Alright,” Dan said, “That’s about how many. Now what kind of weapons do you have?”
The overkeva turned back to him.
“Semi-automatic firearms and kring armor only. No high velocity military cannons, railrifles, lasers, missiles, powered armor, or any of that. Well, the police have about a hundred suits of powered armor the Warsisters gave them permission for, and they let the militia do a little training on it, but that’s all.”
“So, you have over sixty-thousand who can fight, but you need weapons that can do something. What are the factories like? Do you have much threeprint capacity?”
“I know we make…”
Dan shook his head.
The bluehair looked away from whispering with the doctor and focused on him.
“If the local factories and civilian technicians were used, how quickly could all the salvaged anchors and powered armors be repaired?”
Patalla’s eyes lost focus. She blinked a few times, then locked onto his face again.
“Railrifles make small holes.”
Again with the railrifles. This woman wouldn’t let up.
“Alright! I’ll take the railrifles. Now, you’re serious about two weeks?”
“It would take an order from the First Mother. The whole province would have to work on it.”
“And what about implants for the anchor pilots?”
“We have them, but they’re hard to make. Neural induction helmets would be quicker. We can do those in the same time as the repairs.”
“They’ve probably been trained on induction setups anyway.”
Dan looked at the overkeva, then Rixken. Rixken had asked him for advisement, so he should try to sound official.
“Your Majesty, it it my opinion as a commander that the Emprin militia could take considerable pressure off the Warsister veterans by taking over the rear zones in the coming conflict. However, someone will have to talk the First Mother into ordering the whole province to fix weapons so they can be given to the civilians that her people stole this province from two-hundred years ago. I’m not sure who can accomplish that last part.”
Rixken nodded and looked around.
“Did anyone see where Aysha went?” he asked.
Dan glanced around, as did the others, but Aysha was gone.
“She left with a bunch of other redhairs,” Zemril said.
Rixken sighed, then shook his head and turned to the overkeva, his hand on the sword at his side. In the next moment he wasn’t the ordinary high-tree man Dan had gotten used to all morning. Instead he was the man standing on top of his anchor holding that sword high, the promise on it blazing in the sun. What had changed? Was he standing straighter? Was he more mature, somehow? Less confused?
Dan couldn’t spot it, but it was there. It reminded him of the Old Man.
“Overkeva Elvar NirKosa,” Rixken said, “from the advice of my commander and the information you have related, I believe it is possible for the Emprin militia to courageously assist in defending those in this province who can’t protect themselves. This is right and good and in keeping with the character of Aihay. If you will encourage the militia commanders in this, and if they will agree to do it, then I will intercede with the First Mother as your Preparer. Will you do so?”
The overkeva’s eyes went wide. He bowed.
“Yes, Preparer. I will speak to them right away.”
“Bring them all here,” Dan said. Rixken’s eyes flashed to him. “If they agree, you’ll need to put together a report. A commander like the First Mother will want numbers.”
“Go gather the militia commanders and the necessary civilian officials and bring them here. I’ll speak to them after you do and they can help me put together a full proposal.” He paused and smiled. “And bring the commanders of the women’s league, too. I want them here right next to the militia. The more trained people in on this, the better.”
The overkeva nodded.
“Yes, your Majesty.”
Rixken looked at Dan again, then scanned everyone else present.
“Zemril, go with the overkeva and help him round up his people. Patalla, start putting together the numbers we’ll need on the weapons. Daneth, Krisga, work with your command team and start assembling a strategic assessment for the militia to work with.”
Dan pulled out his unicomm and opened a line to the command tank while the others in the room vanished on their own assignments. He looked back when he sensed Rixken standing next to him again.
“Daneth, I’ll be in the office if anyone needs me.”
“How interruptible will you be?”
“I’ll just be praying…”
“I’ll keep everyone away, then.”
Rixken raised an eyebrow.
Daneth gave him a grim smile.
“Because you’re going to need a miracle to get that Warmother to go along with this.”
This chapter is part of the in-progress serial web novel The Unbroken Blade, intended to be book one in The Shattered Empire trilogy, and features a mix of sci-fi and thematic elements reminiscent of near-future military fiction such as Gasaraki or Isaac Hooke’s Atlas series and sci-fi combat classics such as Mechwarrior/Battletech and Gundam. The story is rich with battle and conflicts of honor and conscience arising around a civil war on the forested world of Dankar, far from our own, but is primarily focused on how the main characters deal with the challenges they face, not their machines or their world. Follow this blog to receive each chapter as soon as it is released. Like and share to give me a shot of encouragement. Full chapter updates on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.