Imperial Navy captain Siegfried Kircheis froze for a moment when he
stepped onto the bridge, standing riveted in place in spite of himself. The
depths of space were before him, scattered with countless points of light-
overwhelmingly massive, seeming to envelop his entire body.
For a moment, he stood there silent, but an instant later, the illusion that
he was floating in an infinity of blackness disappeared. The bridge of the
battleship Briinhild, Kircheis knew, was designed in the form of a gigantic
hemisphere, the upper half of which was a single display screen. Dragging
his senses away from the sky and back down to the ground, Kircheis took
another look around the bridge.
The illumination in the vast chamber was extremely muted, creating a
crepuscular climness. Crew were moving to and fro amid countless screens,
consoles, meters, computers, and communication devices of all sizes. The
movements of their heads and limbs brought to mind schools of migratory
fish swimming in the currents.
Kircheis’s nostrils detected the faint tang of an almost imperceptible
odor. It was one with which soldiers in space were well acquainted,
produced by the blending of recycled oxygen, ozone given off by
machinery, and adrenaline secreted by tense soldiers who would soon be
The young red-haired man turned to face the center of the bridge and
walked toward it with long strides. Although he held the rank of captain,
Kircheis was not yet twenty-one. When he was out of uniform, he was
“nothing but a handsome, redheaded beanpole,” as the female officers in
the rear service whispered. From time to time, it bothered him that his age
and his rank were so out of proportion to one another. He wasn’t able to
accept his circumstances in the cool, calm way that his commanding officer
Count Reinhard von Lohengramm had his command chair tilted
backward and was staring intently into the sea of stars that flooded over the
display screen above. Kircheis felt a soft resistance from the air as he drew
near. A soundproof force screen was up. Conversations taking place within
a five-meter radius of Reinhard would be inaudible to anyone on the
“Stargazing, Excellency?” he asked.
A moment after hearing Kircheis’s voice, Reinhard shifted his line of
sight and returned his chair to an upright position. Although he was still
sitting down, his uniform-functional and black, with silver highlights here
and there-made clear the tight masculinity of his slender, well-balanced
Reinhard was a handsome young man. One might even say that his good
looks were without peer. His white, oval face was adorned on three sides
with slightly curling golden hair, and his lips and the bridge of his nose had
an elegance that brought to mind a sculpture carved by the hands of some
ancient master craftsman.
But what could never be captured in lifeless sculpture were his eyes-
ice-blue eyes that shone with light like the blade of a keenly polished
sword, or the gleam of some frozen star. “Beautiful ambitious eyes,”
gossiped the ladies at court. “Dangerous ambitious eyes,” whispered the
men. Either way, it was certain that those eyes possessed something other
than the inorganic perfection of sculpture.
Looking up at his faithful subordinate, Reinhard answered, “Yes, I love
the stars.” Then he added, “Have you gotten taller again?”
“I’m the same 190 centimeters that l was two months ago, Excellency. I
don’t think I’m going to grow any taller.”
“Seven centimeters taller than me is certainly plenty,” Reinhard replied.
In the sound of his voice was the ring of an overcompetitive schoolboy.
Kircheis smiled faintly. Until about six years ago, there had been virtually
no difference in their heights. But when Kircheis’s growth spurt had begun
to put a distance between himself and Reinhard, the blond-haired lad had
been genuinely frustrated. “Are you going to leave your friend behind and
just grow up by yourself?” he had sometimes complained. That was the
childish side of Reinhard, of which only Kircheis-and one other-knew.
“I see,” Reinhard replied. “So, what business brings you up here?”
“Yes, sir. It’s the battle formation of the rebel military. According to
reports from three of our surveillance craft, they are closing in on our forces
from three directions at uniform velocity. May I use your console’s
The young senior admiral nodded assent, and Kircheis moved his hands
rhythmically over the console. On the display screen occupying the left half
of Reinhard’s command console, four arrows floated into existence, positioned at the top, bottom, left, and right sides of the screen, and all were advancing toward the centre. Only the arrow at the bottom of the screen was coloured red. The other three were green.
“The enemy’s Fourth Fleet lies directly ahead of us, and we estimate that
its force numbers twelve thousand vessels. Its distance from us is 2,200
light-seconds. At our current velocities, we will make contact in about six
Kircheis moved his finger around the screen. On the left side was the
alliance’s Second Fleet, with a force of fifteen thousand vessels,
approaching from a distance of 2,400 light-seconds. On the right side was
the Sixth Fleet, numbering thirteen thousand vessels, advancing from a
distance of 2,050 light-seconds.
With the development of the antigravity field system-along with all
manner of radar-permeability devices, ECM waves, and materials that
tendered radar useless in determining the position and strength of enemy
forces centuries ago, the militaries of the galaxy had turned back to reliance
on classical methods such as manned surveillance craft and observation
satellites. After calculating the time differences and factoring in the element
of distance, intelligence gathered in this manner could then be used to learn
the enemy’s position. Add to this the estimated levels of heat emission and
mass, and a usable-if imperfect-calculation of force size could also be
“80 in total forty thousand ships, eh? Twice the size of our fleet.”
“They’re attempting to envelop us by coming in from three directions.”
“And I suppose our senile old generals have all gone pale in their
faces or red, perhaps.” Reinhard allowed a spiteful smile to flash across
his fair-skinned face. Though he had just been told that he was being
surrounded by a force twice the size of his own, not a hint of panic was
visible in Reinhard’s expression.
“Pale, without a doubt,” replied Kircheis. “The five admirals have come
here in haste to request a meeting with Your Excellency.”
“Oh? After they shot off their mouths saying they didn’t even want to see
“Do you decline to meet with them?”
“No, I’ll see them. In order to enlighten them.”
The five men who appeared before Reinhard were Admiral Merkatz, vice
admirals Staden and Fogel, and rear admirals Fahrenheit and Erlach. These
were the “senile old generals” of whom Reinhard had spoken, though
perhaps that term was too harsh. Merkatz-the eldest of them-was not yet
sixty, and the youngest-Fahrenheit-was only thirty-one. It was not that
they were too old, but that Reinhard and Kircheis were too young.
“Our thanks, Your Excellency,” Merkatz said, speaking for all of them,
“for permitting us to offer our opinions.” Merkatz had joined the service long before Reinhard had been born, and was rich in knowledge and experience of both combat and military administration. His medium-height, thick-boned build and sleepy-looking eyes gave him the appearance of an unremarkable middle-aged man, but his record and reputation were far greater than those of the likes of Reinhard.
Taking the initiative, Reinhard politely replied, “I understand what you
wish to say, milords.” In form only, he was following the etiquette that
Merkatz had displayed. “You wish to bring our disadvantaged
circumstances to my attention.”
“We do, Your Excellency,” answered Vice Admiral Staden, advancing a
half step forward. Staden was in his midforties, slender as a knife, and gave
the impression of a man with a very sharp mind. As a soldier, he was the
“staff officer” type who excelled in tactical theory and speech-making.
“The enemy has double the number of ships that we do. Moreover, they
are attempting to envelop us from three directions. This means that in terms
of battle readiness, we are trailing behind the enemy already.”
Reinhard’s ice-blue eyes gleamed coldly as he looked straight at the vice
admiral. “In other words, you are saying that we will lose?”
“1 said nothing of the sort, Excellency. But it is a fact that we are at a
disadvantage in terms of preparedness. If you’ll look at your display screen,
Seven sets of eyes focused on Reinhard’s console display.
The positions of the two opposing forces, as Kircheis had shown to
Reinhard, were indicated there. From outside the sound-deadening field, a
number of soldiers were casting deeply curious glances at the high-ranking
commanders. Then, at a glare from Vice Admiral Staden, they all hurriedly
averted their eyes. After pausing to clear his throat, the vice admiral began
to speak again.
“Many years ago, a fleet that was the pride of the empire was delivered a
most regrettable defeat by the rebels of the so-called Free Planets Alliance.
This is the same formation that they used then.”
“You speak of the Dagon Annihilation, correct?”
“I do. It was a truly regrettable defeat.” A deep, heavy sigh escaped the
vice admiral’s lips. “Victory in that battle rightfully belonged to humanity’s
true ruler-His Highness, the emperor of the Galactic Empire-and to his
faithful servants, the officers and soldiers of our military. But they were
caught off guard by the rebel forces’ cunning trick, and in the end, a million
of our bravest, best, and brightest died meaningless deaths. lf-in the
coming battle-we were to follow in the footsteps of those who came
before us, it would be certain to bring grief to His Highness, so-it was my
foolish thinking, but would it not be wiser to make an honorable withdrawal
now, rather than rushing impetuously forward in pursuit of achievement?”
Foolish thinking indeed, you worse-than-incompetent blathering fool ,Reinhard thought. But when he opened his mouth, he said, “I acknowledge your eloquence, milord. Your argument, however, I cannot accept. Withdrawal is out of the question.”
“But why? May we hear your reasoning?”
The look that rose up in Vice Admiral Staden’s eyes seemed to append,
you unreachable whelp, but taking no mind of it, Reinhard replied,
“Because we are in a position of overwhelming tactical advantage over the
“What do you mean?” Staden’s eyebrows quivered noticeably. The
admirals all stared at the handsome young commander-Merkatz
dumbfoundedly, and Fogel and Erlach in utter shock.
Only Fahrenheit-the youngest of the five-had a look of interest
brimming in his light-aquamarine eyes. Born into lower-class aristocracy,
Fahrenheit openly professed that he had become a soldier in order to eat. He
had an established reputation as a planner of high-mobility, high-speed
attacks, though it was also said that he was lacking in tenacity when it came
to intercepting attacks.
“It would seem you have an opinion that is difficult for dullards such as
ourselves to understand. We would be grateful if you could explain your
meaning in more detail.”
Vice Admiral Staden’s voice grated on Reinhard’s ears. Thinking to
himself, I ‘ll rip that irritating tongue of yours out the day after tomorrow,
Reinhard granted his request: “I said that we have the advantage for two
reasons. First, the enemy forces are divided along these three vectors, while
our forces are concentrated in one place. While the enemy has the
advantage in terms of overall numbers, we have the advantage over any of
these three divisions.”
The admirals listened, saying nothing.
“Secondly, when it comes to moving from one battlespace to the next,
ottr force-which is located in the center-is able to take a shorter route
than any of them. In order for them to move to another battlespace without
fighting us, they will have to make a wide detour. This makes both time and
distance our allies.”
The silence of the admirals stretched on.
“In other words, we exceed the enemy in both mobility and concentration
of firepower. If these are not the conditions for victory, what would you call
In a sharp, cutting tone of voice, Reinhard finished speaking. Kircheis
thought for a moment that the five admirals had frozen into crystal on the
spot. Reinhard had turned the thinking of the older, more experienced
military men on its head.
Reinhard transfixed the shocked, unmoving Vice Admiral Staden with an
ironic gaze, pressing his advantage.
“We are in no danger of envelopment. We have a fine opportunity to
destroy the enemy on each vector. You tell me not to make the most of this
opportunity and to make a meaningless withdrawal, but to do so would not
be merely passive-it would be criminal. Why? Because our mission is to
do battle with the rebel forces and destroy them. ‘An honorable
withdrawal,’ you said. Bttt where is the honor in failing to complete the
mission with which IIis Imperial Highness has charged us? Does this not
resemble the self-justification of a coward, milord?”
At the mention of “His Imperial Highness,” a ripple of tension ran
through the bodies of four of the admirals, excluding Fahrenheit. Reinhard
thought it all absurd.
“So you say, Commander,” began Staden, attempting to plead with him.
“But although Your Excellency may call this a ‘Iine opportunity,’ you are
the only one here who believes it to be so. Even from the standpoint of
commonsense tactics, it is impossible to accept. For a strategy which has no
proven track record-”
This one ’s not just incompetent, he ‘s an imbecile, Reinhard concluded.
An unprecedented operation can’t have a track record. Its record will begin
with the coming battle, will it not? Speaking aloud, he said, “Then
tomorrow, milord, you will verify its record with your own eyes. Is that not
“Are you certain of success?” asked Staden.
“I am. But only if all of you follow my strategy faithfully.”
“What kind of strategy?” Staden asked, making no attempt to hide his
Reinhard glanced at Kircheis for a moment and then began to explain the
Two minutes later, the interior of the soundproof field was filled with the
sound of Staden’s shouts.
“That sounds fine on paper, but there is no way it will actually work,
Excellency. This kind of-”
“Enough! There’s no need for further debate. His Imperial Majesty
named me as commander for this operation. Your obedience to my
commands must needs be interpreted as proof of your loyalty toward His
Majesty. Is that not the duty of a soldier of the empire? Do not forget: I am
your commanding officer.”
A moment passed in silence.
“All authority over your lives rests in my hands. If you wish of your own
accord to defy the will of His Highness, very well. 1 will simply use the
authority he has vested in me to relieve you of duty and to punish you
severely as insubordinates. Are you prepared to go to those lengths?”
Reinhard glared at the five men standing before him. They did not