Excerpt from Moving The Pieces

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So Armageddon was upon us.

There was no point in contacting the rest of the Advancement teams; they'd all received the same message we had. They'd know what it meant, same as we did: The war we'd all been preparing for was upon us. Imperial Intelligence - the Eyes and Ears that were the reason for Bolthole Base's existence - had discovered that the demons were on the move, and their armies would be pouring through the Seven Gates soon, as well as any other means of access to the Empire they might have.

Asina's hand tightened in mine. Thanks to our rapport, both of us knew the other was scared but determined. A few more years would have made an enormous difference, but we didn't have them. Might as well wish for something we could get, or at least hope for. Any chance of getting action out of the Guard before the demons actually show up? After so long together, most of our communication was telepathic.

I can try, but without evidence to lay before the officers it's not likely to happen. Not to mention that without the other cities helping, all we'd be doing is making them a target.

We don't need them to take the field early. We just need them to be ready to take the field. With modern transport, Calmenan troops can outmaneuver most demonic armies.

But the homefront is easy prey for any demons their nobles Gate around our interdiction.

Suddenly, I had a realization. We're talking here like we can defeat the demons in the field. If they're bringing the massive numbers the Empire has been finding in their rear areas, our strategy is going to have to be survival, not victory. Try to defend the people of Calmena, and make it easier for the demons to find prey elsewhere. Yalskarr was barely an isquare from the Karnel Gate, closest of the seven permanent Gates the demons had built upon Calmena. Humans could walk that far in four days easily. If they had a reason for haste, a day and a half. Demons would move faster.

I think our only chance is defense-in-depth. Start hitting them right away, trying to channel them away from the city while we build defensive lines to make it more difficult to reach the city with large numbers of troops.

So how do we get the Guard to cooperate? There's only a few square of them to defend the city. Their official complement as of right now was six legions of regulars and a dozen of reserves. A legion, true to Calmena's history with the demons, was a sixty-four of sixty-fours - the humans of Calmena used demonic base eight numbers for everything because the demons had kept them as slaves, laborers, and food sources for thousands of years before the first humans had escaped or broken free, permitting them no other way of doing things.

A good question. It costs money for them to take the field, so they don't want to do it if there's any doubt. Similarly, it costs money to build defenses, even temporary ones. Hard to explain extinction was expensive, too, if you didn't have any evidence you could show them that it was coming. But it doesn't cost much money to get ready so the Guard is in the field immediately when the evidence comes. If necessary, we can guarantee them the funds. Calmena was still on a precious metals standard for money. There was paper currency, but it represented real obligations of the government to come up with actual metal. Given that we had Imperial converters, we could produce as much of any element as we wanted.

Asina was right, as usual. Politics of any sort wasn't about good solutions - it was about making those in power happy. The only solution was to keep as much as possible away from government and therefore out of politics. Unfortunately, only government commands the resources for things like massive military. Even in the Empire, none of the House contingents could have challenged the Imperial military as a whole. Then better get to work on it. Do you want me involved?

She shook her head. This isn't your area, and you don't know the people involved. I was the technical side of our partnership; she was administration, which included people. I'll let you know if anything pops up.

Do you have time to see how much ammunition Bustere can send us?

I think that's something you can do. You'd have better results batting your eyes at him than I would. She was teasing; although Bustere and his partner Kilman were gay. In the Empire, that was nobody else's business, but here on Calmena they pretended to be only business partners. It made little practical difference; since they were both operant, they could teleport to each other's homes unobserved. Yeah, it would have been nice if they could just go about their business, but in the face of keeping everyone on the planet from being eaten, sometimes you had to let other battles wait. I'll instruct Taman to shut up and pay the invoices promptly.

Her sandy hair was shot with gray these days if you looked. My dark brown hair was too. Her skin had cosmetic sags and wrinkles to pretend to be aging as time passed. We'd been here in Yalskarr over a hundred twenty of Calmena's short planetary years. Crow's feet bordered her eyes. But the eyes themselves were still the lively green they'd been when we met. The great thing about being operant was we could keep age at bay where it mattered. We were as fit as the day we'd arrived, none of the decay or infirmities of age. Assuming we both lived through the coming war, we could look like young adults again in no time. That was a perk available to everyone in the Empire, but as trained Guardians, we could do for ourselves.

It suddenly hit us: Whatever else happened, this phase of our life was coming to an end. We'd both been barely adult when we'd met - I'd been twenty-two, Earth age, and close as we could figure, she'd been a little younger. Four assignments here on Calmena with a break to raise a family on Earth - just over 150 Earth years since we met - and once the war was over, we'd be done with our mission on Calmena, too. She was the first to say it. Any ideas what you want to do when this is over?

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on August 7, 2023 7:00 AM.

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