The Sword and the Spear No. 7

Varouforos opened his eyes, drawing his laser pistol. He relaxed. Only he and Ippocampos had come through. The reactive translocator clipped to his belt hummed and ticked as it cooled down. It would be of no further use for an hour or two while it refilled its capacitors.

It had dropped them into a vast chamber, full of machinery, as far as Varouforos could see. He could discern neither the source of the dim light, nor the purpose of the mechanisms around them. They pounded a slow rhythm, which nearly covered the strange sounds emanating from Ippocampos’ translation box.

Eventually it found its words. “What did you do?” it asked.

“Saved our lives, I believe,” Varouforos replied. “I suppose I owe Archigos five hundred drachmas.”

“Archigos?”

“One of my cruiser karaviarchoi. I expect he will be putting in an appearance shortly.”

“You had more ships? Why were they not here?”

Varouforos showed half a smile. “To tell the truth, I had hoped by feigning weakness to goad them to make their play.”

Ippocampos’ translation box made an alarmed squawk. “You don’t mean to fight them, do you?”

“I do.” Varouforos held up his hand to forestall any protest. “I was hired to guarantee peace between your Confederation and these yashcheritsy. This is still my objective, but you cannot ignore the facts. They attacked us. Peace is not their aim today. They must be made to change their minds.”

“We do not want another war.”

“Peace cannot be won except by the sword and the spear,” Varouforos replied. “You have shown them by your former war that you will fight, if need be. To me, their actions smell of desperation. We may yet find peace through victory here and now.” Ippocampos bobbed silently in the air currents from the ventilators. Varouforos took that as assent. Waving to encompass the whole space, he asked, “What is this place?”

Ippocampos raised two opposing tentacles in a reasonable facsimile of a shrug. “Machinery deck. Power generators, communications hubs, and environmental controls. Have we gone very far?”

“Some hundreds of paces at the very most,” Varouforos said.

“Then this deck likely controls Spire Park.”

Varouforos smiled. “What good fortune. Find the environmental controls. Turn off the heat, and see that it stays that way until I say so.”

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 7

I doubt you’ve noticed, but the URL scheme has changed very slightly—it doesn’t match the post title as closely as it used to. This is so that I can simply clone my template posts without having to make and changes beyond text and scheduling.

As is usual for me, I didn’t have a title when I finished the story, so I just read over it again looking for a memorable line.

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The Sword and the Spear No. 6

As a believer himself, Varouforos could hardly say this was a bad thing in itself. The particular form of the yashcherit Orthodox tradition, however, caused him no end of trouble. Their incense seemed to Varouforos to be chosen less for its pleasant aroma and more for its intoxicating qualities. Any large enough congregation, given a few years of the Divine Liturgy, would work itself into a fighting lather. Ostensibly under the missionary banner, they would pile into their ships, pillage their neighbors, and retreat to their worlds once more.

Sometimes, though, they stayed, claiming the office of Patriarch on the grounds that their conquests were conversions, and their conversions entitled them to leadership.

That was what had happened here.

 

Across the dais was the false Patriarch and his entourage. All were yashcherit: tall, slender four-limbed creatures with scales, gray in color, and able to walk with equal ease on all fours or their hindlimbs alone. Their heads narrowed to a pointed snout, which Varouforos knew from experience was filled with a double row of pointed teeth. They averaged about two and a half paces in height, a head or two taller than Varouforos. They could move with great speed, climb walls near the vertical with no trouble at all, and see and smell three times as well as any human. One wore a poor imitation of the true Patriarch’s vestments, including a tall white hat, a cross at its peak, with long tails of fabric draped awkwardly over his shoulders. The rest were dressed as church officials.

Varouforos and Ippocampos approached a table in the center of the dais, set at standing height. The yashcherit delegation joined them.

“Who are you, human?” the false Patriarch said, in passable Koine Greek.

“Varouforos. Who are you?”

The yashcherit’s tongue flicked out of its mouth, then vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He and his companions watched Varouforos’ face unblinkingly. “You may call me Basil.”

“Basil,” Varouforos said. “You know why I am here. The time is come for peace.”

Basil and his delegation made a curious rhythmic hissing, which Varouforos took to be laughter. “That is not the reputation which goes before you, Konstantin Varouforos. It is said you are a man of God. Surely, you see I cannot abandon my flock. It is the will of heaven itself that I should stay.”

Unbidden, Varouforos felt himself bristle. He looked to Ippocampos: oftentimes, strong psions and strong emotions made for some leakage. “My employer seems to think it is not so clear-cut.”

“Yet we are here, and still strong enough to lead.”

Varouforos sighed. He had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. “We share a Father, you and I,” he said. “I do not wish to fight my brothers, but we will either sign the treaty, or I will make you sign it.”

Basil listened, then was silent. After a few moments, he said, “When the Confederation chose you as its negotiator, I had hoped by meeting face-to-face we might see eye-to-eye. I see I was mistaken.”

The lizard-man produced a plasma pistol at lightning speed. Varouforos closed his eyes. A thunderclap echoed through the amphitheater.

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 6

This post is slightly longer than I wanted, but the Friday cliffhanger was too good to pass up. At this point, by word count the story is somewhat less than half done, so it looks like we’re closer to a month and a half than a month. Good news for you!

Varouforos as a Christian is a fascinating quirk. This is a short story, and more than that an action-centric short story, but I expect that trait to cause tension in future stories, given his line of work.

By the date this is scheduled to air, I expect to be (or at worst to shortly be) a first-time uncle, which is exciting.

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The Sword and the Spear No. 5

They stepped out into a neatly kept park, all manicured lawns and paths marked by stately lines of trees. The sun had passed behind the limb of Abila, so through the dome overhead, only stars could be seen. Ahead of them was an amphitheater of the finest white marble sunk into the ground, large enough for several thousand humans. Varouforos’ guards led them in that direction.

Several thousand sapients did, in fact, fill the amphitheater—kraken in great number, a large contingent of athat palanquins, more humans than Varouforos had expected, and more yashcheritsy than he would have liked, perhaps two thousand in total.

They came to the stairway down to the dais. Varouforos put his hand on the shoulder of the guard next to him. “You should stay here, Adalric.”

“Sir?” Adalric Ewart was a short, mustachioed man, no longer young but no less fit for it, who led not only Varouforos’ personal guard, but, as Morana‘s strategos, commanded every footman aboard the jump ship.

“I can’t rely on our usual escape mechanism when they take their shot,” Varouforos replied. “The interference is strong here. Ippocampos and I, perhaps. You and your men, most likely not.”

“Sir.”

“Remain here,” Varouforos said. “I trust your men are ready to cross from Morana. You have my leave to use them, if need be.”

“Very good, sir. You’re armed?”

“Of course.”

Ewart smiled. “Godspeed.”

Varouforos nodded, then followed Ippocampos down the stairway.

The kraken observed, “You are ill at ease.”

“You have a keen sense for the obvious.”

Ippocampos’ cloud of flitters shifted toward Varouforos, so the kraken could see him more clearly. “But why?”

Varouforos raised an eyebrow. “Does it not seem odd to you that your erstwhile enemies choose today to make such a show of force?”

The kraken bobbed, silent. Before it could work out its response, they reached the dais.

 

Traditionally, the Empire had taken a soft stance on religion. Even in the early days, under Alexander I and the first few generations of his descendants, the government held citizens to no particular standard. Most followed the Hellenic gods. Over the next fifteen hundred years, as the Empire extended its dominions throughout the entirety of the Homeworld, they came across faiths founded by men named Buddha, Christ, Muhammed, and others; so long as citizens of the Empire paid their taxes, their beliefs were irrelevant.

As ever, some periods in Imperial history ran counter to the trend. Shortly after the invention of the jump drive, one autokrator—an Alexander, if Varouforos’ memory served—deemed that the Orthodox Church was the one true church, and dispatched missionaries to all corners of the galaxy. They reaped a harvest of souls unprecedented in history. Their most stunning success came among the yashcheritsy, the lizard-men of the galactic northeast. Now, nearly every yashcherit professed a belief in Christ under the authority of the Patriarch on Homeworld.

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 5

One way I describe the Empire in the RPJ Sci-Fi rulebook is that it is somewhat xenophobic, but that xeno- has long since ceased to apply to non-Greek humans. Varouforos is chummier with aliens than normal for nominal Imperials.

One of the things which makes the Empire all but unmanageable as a polity is its calendar system, or more correctly its calendar systems. The Orthodox Church prefers the Julian calendar, while the Temples of the Pantheon use a lunisolar version which has little meaning away from Homeworld but nevertheless remains popular.

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The Sword and the Spear No. 4

The next day, Morana pulled into orbit above Abila Lysaniou. At sixty stadia—twenty kilometers, in the newfangled Gallic measure—he dwarfed every other ship there. The gigantic doors over her hangar bays rolled back, and four ships emerged: Perun, a battleship, eight stadia long in his own right, and three of Varouforos’ frigates. Long and narrow, built for speed, toughness, and strength, they took up parade formation around Morana‘s wedge-shaped bulk.

After the warships cleared the hangars, merchantmen of every size and shape issued forth. Morana was a jump ship, a void-craft large enough to generate and store the tremendous power required for jump travel between the stars. No vessel of ordinary size could fit such equipment, so when they traveled from system to system, they did so in the hangars of craft like Morana.

Some of the merchants dipped into Abila Lysaniou’s upper atmosphere. The rest followed Morana and her escorts to one of the larger void stations Varouforos had ever seen, a disc three hundred stadia across. Abila Lysaniou was a gas planet, which didn’t bother the kraken, but did present some obstacles to other species. Per the notes in Morana‘s databanks, the void station—Abila Lysaniou Proti, which the locals simply called Proti—housed the largest concentration of terrestrial sapients in the Confederation.

From Morana‘s vast command deck, Varouforos watched the sensor scopes. Arrayed around Proti were about a dozen yashcherit raiders, large, bulbous voidship, only a bit smaller than Perun. They flowed in smooth lines fore to aft, interrupted with blisters holding God only knew what. Though lightly armed for their size, much of their internal space given over to barracks and docking bays for landing barges, they still made a formidable fleet. For an alleged day of peace, it was a disquieting show of force.

Two hours later, some time after the little flotilla hove to near the void station, a shuttle left the hangar, crossing the distance between Morana and Proti in the space of a few minutes. The shuttle skimmed over the surface of the station, sometimes only a few dozen paces above the high towers rising toward the stars.

Soon, the shuttle approached an enormous spire, twenty stadia tall at least, at the center of the station. At its top was a many-faceted armor crystal dome, perhaps six stadia across, scintillating in Abila’s light.

The shuttle pulled into a docking bay in the spire, just below the dome. Varouforos and Ippocampos disembarked together, between a double line of humans wearing Confederation uniforms. Varouforos’ personal guards, ten in total, followed them into an elevator at the far end of the bay. They ascended for half a minute, and the doors opened.

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Commentary, The Sword and the Spear No. 4

To emphasize Varouforos’ Russian-ness, I use that language’s convention for ship pronouns—namely, that there isn’t a special convention, and ships merely use the grammatically-appropriate pronoun for the ship’s name. Morana is feminine, so gets ‘she’; Perun is masculine, and gets ‘he’.

Attentive readers may wonder how the yashcherit raiders mentioned here, which are too small for jump engines of their own, made it here. All in good time!

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The Sword and the Spear No. 3

Morana tore through jump space at tremendous speeds, running for two days, then dropping to normal space for thirty hours while her reactors charged her jump capacitors. Two weeks of this brought him to the edge of the star system known to the Empire as Abila. The fourth world, Abila Lysaniou, was the Confederation’s capital. Morana shuddered as her sublight engines roared to life, and set her course there.

A day before their arrival in orbit, Varouforos summoned his senior cruiser captain. They met in his palace: a sprawling mansion deep within Morana‘s nearly-boundless hull, nestled in the center of a network of canals running through acres upon acres of gardens. An army of bondservants kept them in permanent autumn blaze, removing bare foliage to parks elsewhere in the ship’s cavernous interior and replacing it with flora whose leaves were on the cusp of turning.

Varouforos waited in an office on the third floor, facing the windows behind his desk. The artificial sun turned the canals to rivers of silver amidst the golden trees. A servant opened the door to admit a small Eastern woman.

“Karaviarch Long,” Varouforos said, turning in his chair. “Please, sit.”

Long Limei dipped her head and did so. “Navarch.”

“Is your squadron ready for space?”

Long nodded. “We can sail at your command.”

“I will also leave you with Fury, Audacity, and Opportunity. The other frigates will join Morana and Perun at the negotiations.”

“Do you expect trouble?” Long asked.

Varouforos shrugged expansively. “I don’t know what I expect. Whatever it is, it is better if you have maneuvering room.” He put his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his fist. “Sail soon,” he advised. “Stand off from orbit by a few hours’ burn. If we have need of you, I would prefer our enemies don’t see you in company with us.”

Long arched an eyebrow. “Our notional enemies.”

“Somehow,” Varouforos said, half-smiling, “I doubt our clients expect things to go quite as smoothly as they let on.”

“Secrets, trickery, and perfidy, then?”

“Another day on the job.” Varouforos sat back in his chair. “If we have need of you, I will signal, or Mr. Gray will. If your instincts tell you to join us, of course, heed them.”

“Yes, Navarch,” Long said. She stood, inclined her head, and left him.

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