The first blow against the Free Planets Alliance was struck on March 30. Not many days had passed since Yang Wen-li had departed the capital of Heinessen.
As such, there had been little time for Admiral Bucock, commander in chief of the space armada, to make much progress in his investigation of a possible coup d’état scheme. There was also the fact that the command of vast fleets had always been where the old admiral’s heart was; he had never enjoyed the sort of work that military police do. Nevertheless, he had by this point already handpicked a team of investigators and had personally taken the first step in turning up the military’s dark underside.
What Yang had unveiled before Bucock had been a work of art in logical thinking, but that didn’t mean it came with clear-cut physical evidence. It was because Yang himself had been very much aware of this that he had taken his concerns to Bucock and no one else.
“I’m the only one that young man trusts to not get involved in that kind of foolishness. Which for me means I’ve got to make sure his confidence is rewarded.”
The old admiral had lost his son in battle during the course of the long war and, having no grandchildren, lived only with his wife. The flavor of the simple food-stall fare he had shared with Yang and Julian was a fond memory for him—not that he would have ever admitted that to anyone.
March was almost over.
It was Admiral Cubresly who met with the unexpected misfortune.
Cubresly, director of the Free Planets Alliance Military Joint Operational Headquarters, had assumed that seat at the end of last year. The position had been held by Marshal Sitolet for the five years prior; however, he had resigned from the post last year in acceptance of blame for the alliance’s historic defeat in the Amritsar Stellar Region.
Sitolet himself had been against that reckless invasion, but as the number one officer in uniform, liability had been inescapable. He was presently away from Heinessen, running an orchard on his homeworld of Cassina.
On the day that it happened, Director Cubresly, having completed an inspection tour of military facilities in the star district nearest Heinessen, had just returned from the military spaceport to Joint Operational Headquarters. He arrived flanked by his top aide and five guards.
When they entered the lobby, a figure rose from a seat in the visitors’ waiting area and approached them with slightly unbalanced steps. The guards stiffened, but then a smile—or really just the shape of one—rose up on the bloodless face of the man, not yet thirty, and he called out to the director.
“Admiral Cubresly, it’s me, sir—Andrew Fork.”
After a moment’s pause, recognition dawned on Cubresly’s face. “Oh, I thought you were still in rehab,” he said.
Commodore Fork, the man directly responsible for the reckless planning of the Battle of Amritsar, had suffered an attack of conversion hysteria just before the battle, had temporarily lost his sight, and after the defeat had been ordered off to reserve duty and mandatory hospitalization. It had been a hard setback for the young elite who had graduated at the top of his class from Officers’ Academy.
“I’ve been released from the hospital already. And I’ve come before Your Excellency today to request my return to active-duty service.”
“Active duty?” Cubresly tilted his head slightly in surprise. Ordinarily, it would have been a breach of decorum to stop the director in the lobby and attempt to speak with him on the spot, but Cubresly did know Fork personally and, not being the sort to take an arrogant attitude toward a subordinate, he decided on the spot to hear Fork out.
“Well, what does your doctor have to say?”
“That I’ve made a full recovery, of course. No objections to my returning to active duty.”
“Is that so? In that case, you need to go through the formal procedure. Get a medical certificate and statement of guarantee from your doctor, and turn those in to the Defense Committee’s HR division along with your Request for Return to Active Duty form. Then, if it’s formally accepted, your request will be granted.”
“That way will take too long, sir. If possible, I’d like to be serving my country on active duty again as soon as tomorrow.”
“Formal procedures take time, Commodore.”
“Which is why I thought that with Your Excellency’s assistance …”
The gleam in Admiral Cubresly’s eyes grew sharper.
“Reserve Commodore Fork, there seems to be something you don’t understand. I am authorized to ensure procedures are followed, not to break the rules. I’ve heard rumors about you on several occasions. They say you’ve got a tendency to give yourself special treatment, and from where I stand, it’s hard to say you’re completely recovered yet.”
Fork’s features went rigid, and his skin—pale to begin with—went practically white as a sheet.
“First, you need to start by following the procedures prescribed. Unless you do that, you won’t be able to get along with the other men even if you do come back. That would be bad for you and bad for those around you. I’m telling you this for your own good. Try again, and make a fresh start.”
Cubresly did not truly comprehend the name of Fork’s illness—conversion hysteria. It meant that the patient sought complete satisfaction of his ego, causing the neurological system to become unbalanced. No matter how much reason and sincerity there was in Cubresly’s warning, it was meaningless to Fork. Like some tyrant of the ancient world, all he was interested in was an unqualified yes.
Cubresly’s aide, Captain Witty, cried out a warning mingled with a scream, just as a white flash of light shone out from Fork’s hand, silently penetrating the right side of the director of Joint Operational Headquarters.
Admiral Cubresly stared back blankly and staggered as his firm, heavyset body lost its balance. Captain Witty caught him and kept him from falling.
Commodore Fork was already pinned beneath the piled bodies of several sturdy security guards. The miniature blaster he had concealed in his sleeve had also been wrested away.
“Call a doctor!” cried Witty. In the heat of his anger, he was even screaming at the guards. “You were slow! Why didn’t you grab him before he fired? You useless—! What do you think you’re here for!”
The guards apologized; the captive Fork they knocked around more than was really necessary.
Fork’s disheveled hair clung to his sweaty brow. Underneath it, he was staring fixedly into his own lost future, with eyes focused on nothing.
When he heard the report, Admiral Bucock literally jumped up from his chair. He had never imagined that the sneak attack might come in such a form. The old admiral, of course, didn’t believe for a second that this was a single, isolated incident.
“So, how is the director?”
“He’s going to pull through, sir. However, they say he needs three months to make a full recovery and undisturbed bed rest for the time being.”
“Oh well, I guess we should count our blessings,” Bucock murmured.
He felt something akin to a nasty aftertaste. At the time of the Battle of Amritsar, he had been the one who had torn into Fork for his incompetence and irresponsibility, triggering his episode. If Fork’s intention had been to get even, the victim might very well have been Bucock instead of Cubresly.
The news that Reserve Commodore Fork had assaulted and wounded Admiral Cubresly, director of Joint Operational Headquarters, sent a shock wave of horror across all of Planet Heinessen, then rode the FTL networks to every corner of the Free Planets Alliance.
The incident was so embarrassing to the military that some even gave wistful voice to this perilous thought:
“Were this the empire, we could ban coverage of this kind of thing.”
The most pressing matter now was the need for a leader at Joint Operational Headquarters. Either an acting director or a successor for Cubresly had to be appointed.
If the number one position among uniformed officers was director of Joint Operational Headquarters, then number two was commander in chief of the space armada.
When the Defense Committee sounded out Bucock about taking on the duties of temporary acting director as well, he refused on the spot. To give the organization’s number one and number two positions to the same person would be to open up a path toward dictatorial powers. This was sound reasoning on the part of the elderly admiral, but inwardly, he also thought it necessary to keep these two targets for terrorist attacks well apart from one another.
Bucock was not afraid of being targeted by terrorists. However, if he were to be assassinated after both offices had been unified in his person, then two huge organizations—the Alliance Armed Forces Space Armada and Joint Operational Headquarters—would both lose their chief and become paralyzed. If even one of those two were not up and running, the FPA’s entire military might lose its ability to function.
In the end, the one chosen to be acting director was the eldest of the three deputy directors, one Admiral Dawson. When Bucock heard the news, he thought to himself: Maybe I should’ve taken the job after all.
Dawson was not so much a serious man as a timid and nervous one. The positions he had held in his career included MP squad commander and Defense Committee Intelligence Bureau director, but back when he had served as the First Fleet’s Rear Service chief of staff, he had behaved like a petty bureaucrat, warning against the waste of foodstuffs, going around inspecting the dust chutes of every kitchen in every ship in the fleet, and driving the crews to distraction with announcements of things like how many dozen kilos of potatoes had been needlessly thrown away that week. He also had a reputation for holding on to personal grudges. One man who had excelled him at Officers’ Academy in terms of class ranking only had apparently been demoted for some kind of error and ended up under Dawson’s command—the story was he had tormented him endlessly over it.
In any case, however, the appointment was settled.
The next incident took place the following day.
There was an accident at a ground base under the auspices of Capital Defense Command Headquarters. An aging interplanetary missile suddenly exploded as it was being inspected in the maintenance center.
The cause had been inadequate insulation, which had allowed an electrical current from the propulsion system to flow into the fuse in the main body. This clearly implied a weakness in the weapons production system, but the thing that shocked the public was that the fourteen mechanics caught in the blast—all of whom died instantly—had been minors, all of them still in their teens.
Had the human resource pool gone that dry?
A chill ran through the citizenry. They understood the reason. It was because the war had gone on too long. Even within the armed forces, adults were disappearing from everywhere except the front line …
Jessica Edwards, representing the antiwar faction in the National Assembly, expressed condolences to the victims’ families and, after criticizing the military’s lack of management skills, took society as a whole to task for continuing to make war.
“What future can there be for a society that sacrifices on the altar of war the young men who should be shouldering its future? Can a society like that even be called sane? We must awaken from this mad dream and ask ourselves, What is the best, most realistic course for us now? And that question has only one answer. The answer is peace …”
Bucock was watching the broadcast inside his office at Space Armada Command Headquarters. His aide, Lieutenant Commander Pfeifer, tsked his displeasure.
“That woman just says anything she pleases, doesn’t she? She has no idea how hard we work. After all, if the empire were to invade, there’d be no antiwar peace activism and no freedom of speech either. She’s got a lot of nerve.”
“No, what she’s saying is right,” the old admiral said, putting a lid on his aide’s outburst of emotionally skewed logic. “A society where the oldest people are the ones who die first is one I’d say has its act together. It’s one where an old soldier like me lives on while the young boys die that’s screwed up somewhere. And if nobody’s there to point that out, the craziness’ll just keep getting worse and worse. Society needs people like her. Though I don’t think I’d want to marry a woman who was that good a speaker.”
That last comment was the kind of joke Bucock often like to make.
Bucock himself was in a kind of a funk lately that would have been unbearable if he didn’t crack a joke every now and then. Earlier that day, he had gone to pay his respects to the newly appointed acting director of Joint Operational Headquarters. Dawson, fourteen years Bucock’s junior, had blustered so much it was comical, telling Bucock in a voice louder than necessary things altogether unnecessary: “I expect even those with very long service records to respect order within the organization and to obey my commands.”
Bucock had almost gotten cranky with him. If the old admiral had started talking about the possibility of a coup d’état and what measures should be taken to prevent it, the timid acting director might well have started foaming at the mouth.
In the dim room, a conversation was being held in low voices.
“Commodore Fork nearly assassinated Director Cubresly. The director’s going to pull through, however.”
“Fork can talk a good game, but talk is all it is. He’s always been that way. Even during the fight at Amritsar …”
In that voice was a complex weave of ridicule and disappointment. Muttered words of agreement rose up from all quarters.
“But by seriously wounding the director, our goal of degrading Joint Operational HQ’s functionality has at least minimally been achieved. In that sense, Fork’s done rather well. Remember, abject failure was also very much a possibility.”
“Still, I trust there’s no danger that he’ll talk about us? Things being the way they are, even the MPs could turn a blind eye toward the illegality of torture or make use of truth serums.”
“They probably will. That’s no cause for alarm, though. He’s been subjected to very thorough deep-level suggestion treatment: Fork planned and executed the whole thing by himself. There were no orders or suggestions from anyone.”
Because this was gratifying to Fork’s own self-righteous image of himself, it had been child’s play to make the man himself believe it, and the roots of that belief had sunk deep. Barring the use of some imaginary device that could plumb the deepest depths of the human consciousness—that could analyze and re-create a representational construct of it—there was no way to unravel the truth behind his actions.
“Fork will live out the rest of his days as a madman in a mental hospital. It’s sad for him, but there are plenty of people worse off. We have a duty to save our homeland, to destroy the empire, and to execute justice throughout the universe. There’s no place here for sentiment.”
The voice resounded solemnly, speaking almost as if its owner were trying to convince himself.
“More important is what happens next. Although Director Cubresly lives, for the next two, three months, he may as well be dead as far as his life as a public official is concerned. As for his acting replacement, Dawson, it’s bizarre that a man like him would even make full admiral, and, clerical skills aside, the men have no confidence in him. For a while at least, Joint Operational Headquarters is going to be plagued with outbreaks of confusion … meaning that there’s no reason to delay execution. Make every preparation for D-day.”
That year, from the end of March through the middle of April, the thirteen billion citizens of the Free Planets Alliance did not lack for material to stir up fear and anxiety.
March 30: Attempted assassination of Joint Operational Headquarters director Cubresly.
April 3: Planet Neptis occupied by partial uprising of military forces stationed there.
April 5: Armed revolt on Planet Kaffar.
April 6: Large-scale civil war erupts in the Galactic Empire.
April 8: Planet Palmerend occupied by rebel forces.
April 10: Planet Shanpool placed under occupation by armed forces.
From a place far removed from the capital of Heinessen, Yang was carefully observing these incidents.
Although his predictions hadn’t encompassed the attempted assassination of Director Cubresly, everything else was unfolding pretty much as he had expected. Was it all right to congratulate himself for reading Marquis von Lohengramm’s hand this time?
And yet from Reinhard’s standpoint, this was ultimately nothing more than a kind of preventive action; even if it failed, there would still be plenty of opportunity for regaining lost ground. To Reinhard, the importance of this scheme was probably down at the level of “no harm in trying.”
And yet the whole Free Planets Alliance had been turned upside down because of it.
Was Marquis von Lohengramm—as some claimed—a “grand master at moving his soldiers around the board”? Yang shrugged. That blond-haired kid had thrown the whole alliance into chaos without mobilizing so much as one soldier, hadn’t he?
To say “I read your hand” after that would just feel hollow. Yang hadn’t been able to stop him, nor could he foresee how things would play out from here, aside from the likelihood of an attempted coup in the capital. Even Reinhard himself, author and director of this little drama, had probably not scripted the scenario any further than that point.
Which meant that what happened from here on out would all depend on the abilities of the primary and supporting cast. In that case, thought Yang, who is it that’s playing the lead? Who’s the ringleader who’s going to pull the trigger on the coup? Guess we’ll know soon enough in any case, but I’m still awfully curious.
On April 13, an FTL arrived from Heinessen bearing orders from Admiral Dawson.
“Admiral Yang: Mobilize the Iserlohn Patrol Fleet, and with all possible haste quell the revolts on Neptis, Kaffar, Palmerend, and Shanpool,” he said.
“In all four places?”
Yang, unsurprisingly, was taken aback by this. He had expected a mobilization order to come down sooner or later but only for one site. He had been sure that the fleet at Heinessen would be mobilized to deal with the other three.
Yang pressed his concern: “That’s going to empty out Iserlohn Fortress for quite some time. Are you all right with that?”
“At present, the empire is in a state of full-scale civil war. The danger of them attacking Iserlohn with a large force is exceedingly small. What I ask of you, Commander Yang, is that you fulfill your duties as a soldier without worry or reservation.”
I see now, Yang thought, impressed. So there really are people in the world who think this way, too—who get the cause and effect, the action and reaction, just magnificently backward. True, they have no idea what’s really going on, but still …
This had gotten unexpectedly humorous. Admiral Dawson, acting director of Joint Operational Headquarters, had a reputation for mediocre tactical planning, and contrary to all expectation, that might mean he was just the sort of man who wouldn’t do exactly what Reinhard wanted.
If a large regiment were left sitting in the capital, that would throw a wrench into the plan and cause problems for the conspirators. Unable to make their move even if they wanted to, their plan might never be put into action. Of course, even if they were thus obstructed, they’d probably try something else, but at least for the time being, they wouldn’t be able to strike with the fleet away and do as they pleased with an undefended capital.
Of course, all of this had only just happened to turn out this way. Dawson’s intention was probably to work Yang and his subordinates to the bone. That much Yang had surmised, but what he couldn’t understand was the reason why Dawson was doing it. Though he had heard Dawson was not one to forget a personal grudge, Yang had never met the man in person; therefore, there was no way he could have possibly slighted him.
Yang’s question was answered by Julian. No one was tighter-lipped than that boy, so sometimes Yang would let him listen when he was thinking out loud, halfway talking to himself.
When Julian heard Yang wondering aloud about Dawson’s motivation, he chuckled and said it was easy to explain.
“How old is this Dawson fellow?”
“And you’re thirty, Admiral, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, that finally happened.”
“Then that explains it. You’re both full admirals, even though you’re that far apart in age. Unless you’re as old as Admiral Bucock, he’s going to envy you.”
Yang scratched his head.
“Is that it? I see. How careless of me.”
Yang had no equal when it came to guessing the thoughts of an enemy on the battlefield, but Julian had just pointed out his blind spot.
Over the course of the past year, Yang had rocketed to prominence, rising three ranks from commodore to full admiral. To the man himself, this was nothing but headache and hassle, but to others—particularly the type to whom rank and position were everything—he was doubtless an object of envy and jealousy.
Those were the kinds of people who couldn’t recognize the existence of values that differed from their own, so there was no way they were going to believe that Yang’s wish was to retire from active duty as soon as possible, live off his pension, and write a book on history sometime before he died.
If you’re the man they call Miracle Yang, let’s see you put all four insurrections down by yourself. If you succeed, that’s fine and dandy; if you fail, I can deal with you however I like. That was probably what Dawson was thinking.
If I do fail, maybe they’ll let me retire, was Yang’s thought.
It was just as that outrageous thought was occurring to Yang that Julian spoke again.
“Attacking all four of those places one by one is going to take too long and be a major headache, isn’t it?”
“You said it,” Yang agreed with a strong nod. “Above all, it goes against my personal philosophy of winning with as little effort as possible. How would you settle this if it were up to you?”
Julian leaned forward. Lately, Julian’s interest in military tactics had been growing stronger.
“How about this: concentrate the enemies from all four sites in one location, and hit them there.”
Yang took off his black military beret and looked up at the ceiling.
“That’s a good idea, but there are two problems with it. One is the method: how do you get enemies from four different sites to move to the same place? The enemy’s caused multiple simultaneous uprisings for the express purpose of stretching the government’s forces thin, so I don’t see them throwing that advantage away voluntarily. After all, if they concentrate their forces, it only follows that we’ll concentrate ours as well.”
Lightly, he set the beret back on his head.
“And the other thing is that concentrating one’s enemies in one location goes against the fundamentals of strategy, which say you should knock out your opponent’s regiments one by one, without letting them link up.”
“So it’s a bad idea?”
Julian looked disappointed. The boy had thought his brain cells had been running at full speed.
Yang gave him a little smile.
“The idea’s fine. You just have to think about how to apply it. Okay, so for the time being, let’s leave aside the question of how to lure them out.”
He thought about it for a little while, then continued.
“We lure them away from their strongholds—that part’s fine. But nowhere is it written that we have to wait around for them to rendezvous. So instead, we predict the route by which the enemy will try to link up, then take them out individually along the way. If the enemy and allied forces are roughly the same size numerically, our side can split into two groups: the first can hit enemies A and B at staggered intervals, and the other can hit C and D. The likelihood of victory would be very high, since we’d be hitting each enemy formation with double its own force strength.”
Julian nodded with passionate intensity.
“There’s another way to do it, too, where the whole fleet moves together. First we strike enemy formations A and B separately, then head for the enemy’s rendezvous point to face formations C and D. At that point, it would give us a force multiplier if we could trick the enemy into mistaking friend and foe or if we could split the fleet in two to catch them in a pincer movement. With this method, you fight the enemy four-to-one at the outset, then two-to-one later on, so the odds of winning really are quite good.”
The boy sighed with admiration, while at the same time feeling hopelessly pathetic himself. Admiral Yang gushed out cunning plans like a fountain. Julian, on the other hand, would have been no match even for Yang’s prior self at age fifteen. This, in spite of the fact that he wanted to improve—no matter how small the increment—so as to become able to help him.
Julian had no intention of just living complacently as Yang’s ward. While he never dreamed of anything so grandiose as becoming a partner on equal footing with him, he wanted, in some form or fashion, to make himself indispensible to Yang.
“But anyway, I don’t want to use either of those strategies this time out. After all, they’re soldiers of the alliance, same as us. Even if we fought and won, it’d leave nothing but scars.”
“That’s the truth.”
“So, let’s think about how to get them to surrender without a fight. That way, most importantly, is easy.”
“Easy on soldiers, but hard on commanders.”
“Ah, you get it now.” Yang smiled, but his smile didn’t last long. “Still, I figure over half the people alive right now have it as hard as the commanders, who get so many soldiers killed.”
Voices saying that Yang Wen-li had landed his position too easily had reached even the ears of Yang himself. Those voices came from multiple sources, it seemed, and perhaps Dawson had lent a hand in spreading them. In any case, though, had Yang longer borne in mind those irresponsible words, he might have recognized instantly what lurked beneath Dawson’s order …
Yang summoned his staff to the meeting room and relayed the orders from Admiral Dawson.
“So he’s telling us to suppress all four of those uprisings?
Yang’s staff officers—Fischer, Caselnes, von Schönkopf, Murai, and Patrichev—were also stunned by how out of left field it seemed. Von Schönkopf was the first to regain his composure.
“So he’s going to hold the capital’s force strength in reserve while working us to the bone.”
He had made the same guess as Yang but had also latched on to the reason with laser-like precision. “It seems someone’s jealous, Admiral,” he said, looking at Yang with a smirk. There was nothing Yang could say to that. Perhaps Julian and von Schönkopf were not so much perceptive as Yang was merely clueless.
“At any rate, it’s an order from Joint Operational HQ, so all we can do is follow it. The nearest one to Iserlohn is Shanpool, so shall we start there?”
Murai was reaching for the 3-D display’s switch when a buzzer sounded, and the image of a comm officer appeared on a screen on the wall.
Yang noticed that the uniform scarf worn around the comm officer’s neck had a huge stain on it. He had probably been surprised while drinking coffee and had accidentally tilted his cup too far.
“Admiral, there’s a disturbance in the capital. We’ve just received some shocking intelligence—”
“What kind of disturbance?” Murai demanded scoldingly.
The comm officer swallowed audibly and managed to squeeze out these words: “It … it’s a coup d’état, sir!”
Everyone excluding Yang drew in their breath. Patrichev was so shocked that his huge body trembled, and he rose to his feet.
The view on the screen changed, and the Capital FTL Center appeared. However, instead of the face of a smiling—or pretending-to-be-smiling—announcer, a soldier in his prime was sitting haughtily in the broadcast seat.
“Repeat: We hereby declare that as of April 13 of the year SE 797, the capital of Heinessen has effectively been placed under the control of the Free Planets Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic. The Charter of the Alliance is hereby suspended, and all laws will be superseded by the decisions and instructions of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic.”
Iserlohn’s high-ranking officers searched each other’s faces. Then in unison, they all turned and stared at their young, dark-haired commander.
Yang stared into the screen silently. He looked remarkably calm to his staff officers.
So ultimately, it looked like Admiral Dawson’s schemes had lacked the strength necessary to make the coup faction change its plans. Or was it better to say the conspirators had taken swift action? Or that Dawson’s responses had been even more sluggish than they had expected? Most likely, it was a combination of these last two.
“The ‘Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic,’ eh …”
Yang’s murmured tone sounded most unsupportive of it. He felt no beauty or sincerity in exaggerated words like “saving the country” and “patriotism” and “concern for the nation’s future.” Why was it that those who threw around those lines most loudly, most brazenly, were the ones leading warm, comfortable lives far away from danger?
At last, the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic announced a series of amendments to the Charter of the Alliance. The changes were as follows:
1. Establishment of a political system to unite the will of the people around the noble objective of bringing down the Galactic Empire.
2. Orderly control of political activities and speech opposed to the nation’s interests.
3. Granting of police judiciary powers to members of the military.
4. Declaration of nationwide martial law for an undetermined period. Accordingly, all demonstrations and labor strikes were forbidden as well.
5. Complete nationalization of all interstellar transportation and transmission facilities. Accordingly, all spaceports would be placed under the military’s management as well.
6. Expulsion from the public sector of all who held antiwar and/or antimilitary beliefs.
7. Suspension of the National Assembly.
8. Criminalization of conscientious objection to military service.
9. Severe punishment for corruption among politicians and public employees.
10. Elimination of harmful entertainments, pursuant to the recovery of unaffected simplicity and virtuous strength in the nation’s manners and customs.
11. Abolition of excessive government aid to the weak, in order to prevent the weakening of society …
“Oh dear, what have we here, now?”
Staring at the screen, Yang was frankly astonished. What this Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic wanted was the very essence of a reactionary militaristic system of government. Furthermore, there was hardly any difference at all between their system and the one Rudolf von Goldenbaum had advocated five centuries ago.
What had these last five hundred years been to the human race? With Rudolf’s example right there in front of them to study, what had humanity learned? This Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic was about to breathe new life into Rudolf’s corpse, and all in the name of overthrowing the empire he had given birth to.
Yang laughed. There was no way he couldn’t. This was a farce beyond compare—a hideous farce unparalleled.
But even though this first act had developed as a farce, that was not how it was to be ended.
“Citizens and soldiers of the alliance, I will now introduce the chairman of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic—”
And when that name was spoken, it felt as if the air in the room had condensed into a heavy liquid.
The middle-aged man shown on the screen was someone Yang knew well. Brown hair flecked with gray, a thin but handsome face. Yang had spoken with that individual countless times, had even dined with him. He had a daughter, and that daughter was …
The sound of a low cry made Yang turn around.
His aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Frederica Greenhill, was standing behind him, her face gone deathly pale.
Her hazel eyes were staring at the screen, opened so wide that they could open no further.
She was gazing at the face of her father, Admiral Dwight Greenhill, displayed on the screen.
The Phezzan Land Dominion.
A commerce and trading state situated within the so-called Phezzan Corridor that lay between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance. Its homeworld and its artificial colonies harbored a population of two billion, and its wealth was such that it rivaled that of the empire and the alliance.
At present, Phezzan’s intelligence-gathering apparatus was running at full power. The information gathered passed through the secretariat, from whence it poured into the hands of the head of state, Landesherr Adrian Rubinsky.
It was by this mechanism that Rubinsky, “the Black Fox of Phezzan,” was able to keep abreast of developments regarding the coup d’état from the comfort of his home.
April 13. The day of the coup.
Admiral Bucock, commander in chief of the Alliance Armed Forces Space Armada, received a message at his office from Admiral Greenhill, head of the Defense Committee’s Bureau of Field Investigations.
“Ground combat units will be holding large-scale training exercises throughout the capital today. Plans for these maneuvers were made at the start of the year, so we ask all departments to pay it no mind and do your regular jobs as if nothing were out of the ordinary. This training will be of great significance regarding the situation on the frontier …”
That message went out to almost everyone in the military leadership, and the public as well was notified by ordinary broadcasts.
It followed, then, that even when groups of armed soldiers were sighted in action on city streets, there were few who suspected anything amiss. Even when somebody did become suspicious and call the military police, all doubt was laid to rest with a single phrase: “It’s just a drill.” When a message arrived in the name of the Bureau of Field Investigations’ top executive, the most professional officers were the ones who questioned it least.
Even Bucock hadn’t given it too much thought—granted, he had been incredibly busy with the oversight of the space armada as it geared up for action on the frontier—nor had it ever occurred to him that someone might stage a coup while the main force of the space armada was still in the capital.
At high noon, however, the old admiral was being led away at gunpoint to meet with the coup’s prime conspirators.
These were Admiral Dwight Greenhill, director of the Bureau of Field Investigations, and Vice Admiral Bronze, Director of the Intelligence Bureau. It baffled the old admiral to see such high-ranking officials participating.
“I see,” Bucock snorted. “So I take it the Intelligence Bureau and the Bureau of Field Investigations have been corrupted for quite some time?”
The duties of the Bureau of Field Investigations—domestically—encompassed the management and operation of noncombat activities such as training, rescue operations, and migration of troops and facilities, so if its director was one of the conspirators, it would be a simple matter to move the required units into position.
From somewhere among the several men surrounding him, there drifted a stench of stale alcohol.
“Humph, I remember that smell.” The white-haired commander in chief turned a bitter glare on the source of that odor. “Rear Admiral Lynch, captured by the empire at El Facil some years ago.”
“I’m honored you remember,” Lynch replied with slurred laughter.
“Much as I’d like to forget, that isn’t possible. After all, you abandoned your duty to protect civilians … you abandoned your responsibility to the soldiers under your command … and you tried to escape to safety by yourself … Oh, you’re a celebrity.”
Lynch didn’t look like his feelings were hurt. He accepted those biting words with a faint smirk and then, with a flourish, pulled out a small bottle of whiskey, unscrewed the cap, and took a swallow from it. The officers surrounding him—geniune ascetics—frowned at him with furrowed brows. That Lynch’s compatriots held him in contempt was plain to see, and Bucock was at a loss to explain what a man like him was doing in their ranks to begin with. He turned his eyes back toward Greenhill.
“Your Excellency, I had thought of you as a bastion of reason and conscience even within the military.”
“It looks like I’ve overestimated you, though. All I can think right now is that that reason and conscience of yours must be asleep at the wheel for you to take part in something like this.”
“I’ve thought about this long and hard. Try thinking about it this way, Admiral. Just how corrupt are our politics at present? Just how smothered is our society? We have a mobocracy running rampant as it hides behind a pretty little word like democracy, and nowhere do I see the slightest sliver of hope that it can reform itself. What other way is there to bring discipline and reform?”
“So that’s it. Certainly, the present system is corrupt, and it’s reached a dead end. So what you want to say next is, ‘Therefore, I’m bringing it down with armed force.’ I’m asking just to see what you’ll say, but what happens when you become corrupt, especially given that you have all the weaponry? Who’s going to discipline you, and how?”
Bucock’s tone was sharp, and his opponent clearly hesitated.
“We won’t become corrupt,” another voice said with conviction. “We have ideals. Unlike them, we know the definition of shame. We are incapable of doing as the present political class does. They fatten their own bellies in the name of pretty words like democracy, pandering to the electorate to gain power, making cozy deals with capitalists—neglecting all the while our sacred charge to bring down the Galactic Empire. We’re only doing what our passion for the restoration of our nation demands. We’ve risen up reluctantly, because we had no other choice. Corruption springs from the pursuit of self-interest—we will never be corrupted.”
“I wonder,” said Bucock. “Looks to me like you’re justifying an illegal power grab with pretty words like restoration and sacred charge and passion and so on.”
The old admiral’s poison tongue cut deep into the officers’ sense of pride, stinging them sharply. Voices rose up in anger.
“Admiral Bucock, we want to be as gentlemanly about this as possible, but for my part, I can’t help thinking those last words were crossing the line.”
“Gentlemanly?” Bucock’s laughter rang out in the room, filled with sarcasm. “From the days when human beings were crawling around on all fours right down to this very afternoon, people who break the rules using violence have never been called gentlemen. If that’s what you want to be called, though, you’ve got the power now, so while you still have it, I recommend you get some somebody to write you a new dictionary.”
Fury was rippling up from the officers like a heat mirage. With a glance, Greenhill held its ignition in check.
“We could talk all day, but I don’t think we’re going to find any common ground. We only ask history to be the judge of the decisions we’ve made.”
“History may have nothing to say to you, Admiral Greenhill.”
At that, Dwight Greenhill, chairman of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic, looked away.
“Take him to another room. We mustn’t lack for courtesy.”
Heinessen’s strategic points were under the control of rebel units.
Joint Operational Headquarters, Science and Technology Headquarters, and the Space Defense Command and Control Center, as well as the High Council Building and the Interstellar Communications Center, had fallen into the rebel units’ hands with hardly any bloodshed. Even Admiral Dawson, acting director of Joint Operational Headquarters, had been confined.
However, the ultimate object of the attack—High Council chairman Job Trünicht—was nowhere to be found at his office. He was believed to have escaped by way of a secret passage for use in emergencies and had disappeared underground …
Yang felt like he had a pretty good understanding of how what we call the fates are intrinsically mean-spirited, like old witches.
It was being hammered home to him now, though, that this was just his feeling. Had the fates been furnished with minds and personalities, this was the point where he would have wanted to raise his voice in complaint, saying, “Come on! You’ve never been this mean before!” That, of course, was impossible. Fate was coincidence combined with countless accumulated wills, not some kind of transcendent entity.
But having to do battle with Frederica Greenhill’s father so he could protect the authority of a man like Trünicht!
Yang had lost track of how many dozens of laps he’d walked through his private rooms. When he came to himself, young Julian Mintz was standing by the wall, staring at him intently. Yang could see a worried gleam in those dark-brown eyes. Unable to be of help to Yang, the boy was feeling frustrated and powerless.
But what to do next was a decision only Yang could make, and nowhere in the world was there anyone with whom he could share that. Breathing out a sigh, Yang forced a happy-go-lucky smile.
“Julian, get me a glass of brandy. After that, can you get my executive staff together in the meeting room in about fifteen minutes?”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
“Also, call Lieutenant Greenhill for me right quick.”
The boy left the room at a run.
If it were all right to not make decisions when he didn’t want to, he would be living la vie en rose. Although the ancients had said it adds flavor to life when things don’t turn out the way we’d like, this time around, the spice seemed a little too hot.
Frederica Greenhill appeared two minutes later. She wore a calm expression, but there was no hiding her sickly complexion. Yang had his own way of resigning himself to his role here: Having lost his father at age sixteen, he had enrolled in the Department of Military History at Officers’ Academy after searching for a school where he could study history at no cost. He’d had absolutely no desire to become a soldier, so in a way, he viewed what he had to do now as the tab coming due for his self-serving choice.
But for Frederica, this was like being caught in the sort of thought experiment people used to try to prove the absurdity of gods. She was being put in the position of having to become her own father’s enemy. It was a harsh thing for a young woman of twenty-three.
“Lieutenant Greenhill, reporting.”
“Ah. You’re looking cheerful.”
With that, Yang had really put his foot in his mouth. As for Frederica, she also seemed at a loss as to how to respond.
“What is it you need me for?”
“Right … I’m getting the staff together for yet another meeting, so I’d like you to handle the prep and run the controls.”
Frederica looked taken aback.
“I—I thought I was going to be relieved of my duties as your aide. I came here expecting that …”
“You wanna quit?”
Yang’s tone of voice at that moment was rather curt.
“No, but …”
“If you’re not there for me, I’ll have a rough time of it. I’ve got a terrible memory, and I’m no good with that awful control panel, either. I need a competent aide.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll carry out my duties, Excellency.”
For just an instant, he was able to see through her businesslike expression and catch a glimpse of laughter and tears churning underneath.
“I appreciate it. Go on ahead to the meeting room.”
There were other ways he could have phrased that, but for Yang, it was the best he could manage.
When he left his room, he ran into von Schönkopf in the hallway. The empire’s former citizen saluted and smiled at his superior.
“It seems you haven’t fired Ms. Greenhill.”
“Of course not. Why would I when I can’t find anybody who could do the job better?”
“You’re avoiding the issue,” von Schönkopf replied, although it was rude of him to say so.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing, sir, it’s just that … well, I’ve been wondering about a number of things … such as what she thinks of Your Excellency. From the standpoint of a subordinate.”
“Well, what do you think about me?” Yang said, assaying a clumsy escape.
“Hmm, I don’t rightly know, to be honest. You’re pretty much a mountain of contradictions.” Von Schönkopf looked back at his superior’s disappointed face with a friendly smile. “What makes me say that? First of all, there’s not a man alive who hates the stupidity of war as much as you do. Yet at the same time, there’s no one better at waging war than you, either. Am I wrong?”
“What do you think of Marquis Reinhard von Lohengramm?”
“That it’d be fun to have a go at him.” This outrageous pronouncement came from the empire’s former citizen without the slightest hesitation. “I think that if you were both operating under equivalent conditions you’d probably beat him.”
“Hypotheticals like that are meaningless,” Yang said.
“I know that, sir.”
Tactics was the art of moving troops so as to win on the battlefield. Strategy was the art of preparing conditions that allowed one’s tactics to be used to their utmost potential. Accordingly, von Schönkopf’s supposition was irrelevant to realities on the ground, as it had ignored the element of strategy in war.
“At any rate, let’s move on to the next point. You have an awareness that runs straight down to the bone of just how out of whack the FPA’s current power structure is—in terms of both its capabilities and its morals. Yet in spite of that, you’ll do everything in your power to save it. That is a huge contradiction.”
“Let’s just say that ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good.’ I certainly recognize that the alliance’s present authorities are ‘out of whack.’ But take a look for yourself at the slogans put out by that Rescue of the Republic thingie. Are those guys not worse than what we’ve got now?”
“If I must answer …” said von Schönkopf, eyes brimming with an odd light, “I say we let these Military Congress buffoons purge the current regime. Thoroughly and completely. In any case, they’ll expose their own shortcomings in due time afterward and lose control of the situation. At that point, you ride in, expel the cleaning staff, and take power as the restorer of democracy. That’s what I would call ‘better.’ ”
Dumbfounded, Iserlohn’s young commander stared at his subordinate. Von Schönkopf was no longer smiling.
“How about it? Even if it were only a formality, as dictator you could safeguard the practice of democratic government—”
“ ‘Dictator Yang Wen-li,’ huh? Any way I turn that, it just doesn’t sound like my style.”
“Being a soldier wasn’t your style, either, originally. Yet here you are, doing it better than anyone. You’d probably be pretty good at dictatorship, too.”
“Commodore von Schönkopf.”
“What is it, sir?”
“Have you shared your thoughts on this with anyone else?”
“Of course not.”
“Glad to hear it …”
Saying nothing more, Yang turned his back on von Schönkopf.
Following along five or six steps behind him, von Schönkopf smiled just a little. Was Yang even aware that there were no other high-ranking officers in the service who let their subordinates speak their minds as freely as he did? It was a pretty hard job, serving as von Schönkopf’s commanding officer.
There were many civilians living within Iserlohn, and their anxieties had been heightened by news of the coup d’état at home and the civil war that had erupted in the empire. One such individual noticed Julian when he had gone out to a civilian residential district on an errand for Yang and asked him whether there was really any chance of winning.
The young man looked fixedly at the face of the one accosting him and then, chiding him for his panic, answered with confidence and spirit.
“Admiral Yang Wen-li doesn’t fight battles that can’t be won.”
In no time at all, this exchange became renowned throughout Iserlohn. “Admiral Yang doesn’t fight battles that can’t be won.” Indeed, victory was the man’s constant companion. Therefore, he was sure to win this time as well. At least on the surface, civilian anxiety had been calmed.
Yang, who heard about what had happened later, confirmed the facts of the matter with Julian, then spoke to him in a teasing voice.
“I hadn’t expected it, but you’ve even got talent as a PR spokesman.”
“But what I told him wasn’t just a bluff, it’s a fact. Isn’t it, Excellency?”
“Uh, yeah. This time, anyway.”
Julian couldn’t help thinking that his guardian’s brow had furrowed ever so slightly.
“Sure hope it always works out that way …”
When Julian went out to practice piloting one of the single-seat fighter craft called spartanians, Yang called for Commodore von Schönkopf.
Yang had decided to split the fleet under his command into a high-speed mobile unit he would command himself and a rear support unit built around supply and defensive firepower functionality. However, he was still wondering to which unit he would assign von Schönkopf. This he consulted the man himself about, and decided ultimately to place him as a staff officer at his own side.
It was during this conversation that Yang asked him about Julian. This was because von Schönkopf was Julian’s instructor in both shooting and hand-to-hand combat.
“If you mean as a warrior, he pulls his own weight splendidly—in that regard, he’ll be much more useful than you are, Your Excellency.”
Von Schönkopf knew no reserve.
“However, that’s not the kind of thing that Your Excellency is hoping for for Julian, is it?”
Yang’s reply was halfway directed at himself. “There are limits to what people can do, but even so, we can change fate within the ranges of our abilities. I want Julian to change fate within as large a range as possible—even if he doesn’t actually do it, I want him to have that potential.”
“What of your potential?”
“No can do. I’m involved just a little too deeply in the FPA for that kind of thing. Gotta fulfill my obligations to the ones who pay my salary.”
Von Schönkopf looked as though he had not taken that reply entirely as a joke. “I see. Is that why you won’t make Julian a regular soldier? So he won’t have to feel obliged to the Free Planets Alliance the way you do?”
“I hadn’t really thought it through that far …”
Yang shook his head two or three times. It wasn’t like he always acted based on careful thought and long-term planning. That wasn’t what others seem to think, though. Yang couldn’t say for sure whether that was advantageous or not.
The Alliance Military Joint Operational Headquarters on Heinessen had become a stronghold of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic. Its top leaders were gathered in an underground meeting room.
When Admiral Greenhill informed them that “Yang Wen-li has refused to participate in the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic,” a soft stir arose from among the attendees.
“Well, all we can do is fight him, then.”
“Let’s get Miracle Yang to show us what he’s got. See for ourselves if he’s as skilled as they say.”
Perhaps these aggressive voices were raised in order to drive away the unease of the speakers.
Admiral Greenhill didn’t join in with their forced enthusiasm, however.
He did not think of seeking his daughter’s forgiveness. Nor was there any chance of her forgiving him. His actions were rooted in his beliefs. If renewal did not come through the military, his homeland would collapse into the depths of corruption. If Yang didn’t understand that, then nothing but war could remain between the two. The decision was not an easy one, but once it was made, his will would not be shaken.
In response to his call, a middle-aged man with a square jaw and close-cropped, platinum-blond hair rose to his feet.
“Take the Eleventh Fleet, and go to Iserlohn to do battle with Yang.”
“As you command, sir, but … what about your daughter?”
It was no secret that Frederica Greenhill was Yang’s aide-de-camp.
“That’s not an issue,” Greenhill said forcefully. Then, in a more moderated tone, he added: “I gave up on my daughter the moment I conceived this plan. It’s also likely that Yang will have relieved her of duty and placed her under house arrest. There’s no need to take her into account.”
“As you wish, sir. Yang will either be slaughtered or forced to surrender.”
The Eleventh Fleet was a rarity in the Alliance Armed Forces Space Armada: a regiment unscathed by prior combat. It had supported the coup d’état, and now, to bar the path of Yang’s advance, it was mobilizing a vast, powerful, and complete force.
On April 20, Yang appointed Caselnes as temporary acting fortress commander and ordered the mobilization of his entire fleet. When asked the destination, he responded thus:
(TL-Note – Gonna stop on Chapter 7, c
ause I need food the next update will be on Monday)