At first, Yang had intended to ignore the upheaval in the Shanpool Stellar Region, make straight for Heinessen, and use blitz attacks to pound the main force of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic into the sand. After all, cut the roots, and the branches and leaves will wither.
What had caused Yang to change his mind and decide to hit the enemies in the Shanpool Stellar Region first was his realization that through use of guerrilla tactics they could disrupt communications and supply lines between the Yang Fleet and Iserlohn. If he were the Military Congress’s commander for the Shanpool Stellar Region, he would flee when the suppression force came at him and pursue it when it departed so as to strike at its rear and its supply lines. By repeating this pattern as many times as possible, the enemy regiment would be worn down. He wasn’t about to stand for somebody doing that to him.
“But the enemy’s commander isn’t Yang Wen-li,” said Julian, and asked him if he wasn’t just worrying over nothing.
To which the dark-haired commander grinned and replied, “He might turn out to be the next Yang Wen-li.”
After all, everybody started out as a nobody. Who had ever heard of Yang Wen-li before El Facil? Yang said as much to Julian and added: “If this was peacetime, I’d still be a nobody. A historian still gestating in his eggshell—I wouldn’t have even hatched into a chick yet.”
Yang was speaking of the life that he longed for. In the present day, those who didn’t know his name were on the way to being the minority, yet still Yang couldn’t abandon the wistful desire to be a mere scholar. Praises were being sung about him as a great and undefeated admiral, but to Yang more than anyone, that was just a virtual image projected on a wall by lens and mirror.
It was his interest in historical figures and events that made Yang want to be a historian. The ridiculous thing to him was that now he himself was becoming an object of interest and research. The Galactic Empire, Phezzan, and his present enemy, the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic were all studying Yang’s tactics. Not only that, there were even a number of planets (starting with Heinessen), where books and videos about him were being published, full of irresponsible content and bearing frivolous titles like Studies in Leadership Through the Eyes of Yang Wen-li; Strategic Thought, Tactical Thought: Yang Wen-li’s Four Battles; and Profiles of Modern Genius III: Yang Wen-li.
The shining modern hero.
“That Yang Wen-li fellow sure is a great guy. You’re lagging awfully far behind for somebody with the exact same name.” Yang would remark sarcastically like this to his not-even-remotely-great-looking self in the mirror.
“But you really are a great man,” Julian said fervently.
“How do you figure that?”
“Normally, you would surely have lost control of yourself a long time ago, become overconfident, and lost the ability to make objective decisions.”
Yang had had his head cocked to one side when he’d asked that last question, but now, unexpectedly, he frowned.
“Don’t tell me that to my face. Feels like I’m gonna slip up and believe you. I’ll be like, ‘Oh really? I’m a great man?’ ”
After that, he put on his serious face and preached Julian a sermon: You shouldn’t praise those above you to their faces very often. If they’re too soft, you’ll make them conceited and ruin them in the end; and if they’re too hard, they might end up avoiding you ’cause they think you’re trying to curry favor. You have to be cautious …
“Yes, sir,” said Julian. “I understand.” Yet inwardly, he thought there was something strange about that fretful and uncharacteristically hackneyed lesson.
Yang had just turned thirty and wasn’t even married yet, but here he was lecturing Julian as if he were his father.
It was not an especially interesting battle. Unless a planet had a large population and heavy armaments like Heinessen, the landing—or rather, drop—operations had a fixed pattern that didn’t leave a lot of room for commanders to show off their individual styles. First, space supremacy was established in satellite orbit. Then, after destroying the enemy’s antiair radar and air-defense weaponry using spaceborne attacks, the ground troops were shuttled down to the surface under the protection of escort ships and fighter craft capable of atmospheric maneuvers. Finally, coordinating closely with one another, the space- and land-based forces took control of the targeted points.
Still, it was likely thanks to the outstanding tactical skill of von Schönkopf, commander of the ground battalions, that they were able to conclude the operation in just three days. An ordinary commander might have taken a week or more. Von Schönkopf’s plan had been to secure strategic points using concentrated firepower, then connect them to one another with laterally deployed armored vehicles, forming lines. Then, by advancing those lines, the area under his control would be expanded.
Later, after that tactic had been in use for a full day, the enemy began to adapt and figure out a way to respond. That was when von Schönkopf suddenly switched to a different attack pattern, making a blitzkrieg straight-line advance on the enemy’s stronghold from one of the points already secured.
The rebel units were unable to adapt to this sudden change from the lateral to the frontal. Although the leadership barricaded themselves inside buildings of the Alliance Armed Forces’ district command center where they had made their home base, the outcome of the battle was already decided, since they had already been cut off from more than half of their military forces. After two hours of shooting and hand-to-hand combat, Captain Marron, commander of the rebel unit, put his blaster in his mouth and pulled the trigger, and those who remained raised a white flag.
“Outstanding work,” Yang said, complimenting von Schönkopf upon his return to the flagship Hyperion. He was shocked to see countless lipstick marks all over the face, hands, and uniform of his ground forces commander. He could just picture the wild enthusiasm of the locals after being liberated from more than half a month of living in fear.
“Well, I’ve got to enjoy the perks,” von Schönkopf said with a grin—and that was the state of affairs when Commander Bagdash made his appearance.
Once his identity was confirmed, Bagdash was escorted to the bridge right away. Everyone was starving for information from the capital, but the right to ask the first question resided with Yang, who would later occupy the head of the table in the meeting room.
The question Yang asked as everyone was looking on intently was “Who have they executed?”
Bagdash replied, “People have been arrested, but at least as of now, there have been no purges. I don’t know what they’ll do in the future, though.”
“I see …”
“More importantly, Admiral, I’ve come with some intel. The Eleventh Fleet has thrown in with the coup faction and is headed this way as we speak.”
At this, there was a collective gasp. Yang, saying nothing, motioned for Bagdash to continue.
“The commander, Vice Admiral Legrange, is apparently hoping for a head-on, straight-up, decisive battle. He won’t be using any tricks.”
With no particular note of sarcasm, Yang murmured, “Well, thank goodness there will be no tricks,” and opened the floor to his subordinates to ask their questions.
While being peppered with inquiries from Fischer, Murai, and the rest, Bagdash kept glancing around the room as if he were searching for someone. Finally, he said to Yang in a casual tone:
“Your aide Lieutenant Greenhill seems to be absent …”
“Her position being what it is,” Yang said, “I left her back at Iserlohn.”
Everyone reflexively turned their heads to find that von Schönkopf had spilled coffee all over his chest.
“Oh well,” he said. “There go my kiss marks … Excuse me for a moment.”
Maintaining eye contact with Yang as he spoke, von Schönkopf exited the meeting room.
Julian was standing out in the hallway. Although he lacked the credentials to go inside, he could usually be found somewhere within earshot of Yang.
“You wouldn’t know where Lieutenant Greenhill is, would you?” asked von Schönkopf.
“She went to the infirmary,” Julian replied. “She said something about having a headache since this morning … It’s a shame she couldn’t be here.”
Psychological exhaustion, most likely. With a nod, von Schönkopf headed off toward the infirmary.
When he tried to enter the infirmary, a petite nurse took one look at his dirty field uniform, vividly colored with lipstick and coffee stains, and came forward, skewering him with a look of outrage.
“I believe Lieutenant Greenhill’s here.”
“She is, but you’re not coming in here in that filthy outfit.”
The nurse, who didn’t even come up to von Schönkopf’s shoulders, stood barring his way with a decisive bearing, but then another voice called out and rescued the commodore from his embarrassment.
“I don’t mind. Please, Commodore von Schönkopf, come in.”
The nurse silently let him through, although she didn’t look happy about it.
Still wearing her uniform, Frederica was lying on a couch, but she stood up right away. Von Schönkopf, wishing silently that he could see her in a dress sometime, briefly explained the situation.
“… And as for Admiral Yang, he smells something fishy, too. The arrival of escapees these days is just a little too perfectly timed. When the admiral practically said as much, I deliberately spilled coffee on myself and shouted, so Bagdash shouldn’t have seen everyone’s surprised expressions. But I wonder if you might have some idea who he is.”
“I met Commander Bagdash one time. Five years ago, in my father’s study. He was expressing dissatisfaction with the current political order.”
Frederica’s reputation for extraordinary powers of memory was widely known.
“I see. He must have been worried that you would remember something, Lieutenant Greenhill. Seeing as he’s an operative for the coup faction.”
Apparently, even Admiral Greenhill—the leader of the coup faction—didn’t have all that many people he could count on for a mission like this. The plan was probably to murder Admiral Yang early if Frederica’s memories put Bagdash under suspicion. If such a thing were to happen in the midst of combat with the Eleventh Fleet, the Yang Fleet would be wiped out, and the coup d’état would succeed. Even if Bagdash lost his life, the life of an assassin was a small investment.
Von Schönkopf cared not a whit whether the Free Planets Alliance was saved or destroyed, but if Yang were to perish, the unfolding of history from that point forward would certainly lose some of its charm. Easily and without reservation, von Schönkopf made a decision.
It was just before dinner when Yang asked von Schönkopf, “Is Commander Bagdash coming?”
“He’s sleeping now.”
“Did you do something to him?” Yang’s tone suggested that he foresaw the answer.
Von Schönkopf winked and said, “I used a special sleeping agent. He shouldn’t open his eyes for the next two weeks. With military intelligence types, even if you lock them up, you can never let your guard down as long as they’re awake. It’s best we have him sleep until this next battle is over.”
“Thanks for your hard work.” Yang’s words of gratitude came mingled with a wry smile.
Under these tense circumstances, the calendar turned to May. The Eleventh Fleet was steadily closing a distance of more than three thousand light-years of interstellar space. On this point, the veracity of Bagdash’s intelligence had been confirmed.
Yang brought his fleet forward as far as the Doria system, where it spent its days collecting and analyzing intelligence. On May 10, a destroyer that had gone out to reconnoiter as far as the approaching Elgon system discovered the presence of a large fleet of warships. After sending out an emergency transmission, its communications broke off. Although it was still the eve of the battle, the first sacrifice had been made. Yang’s mind was racing from one thing to another. He felt confident that they could win even in a head-on clash, but he was waiting on a certain report to come in from reconnaissance ships he had concealed at strategic points throughout this vast region of space. If the Yang Fleet didn’t win this fight quickly and thoroughly, it would only become harder to lop off all the tentacles of this conspiracy.
On May 18, Julian brought the twentieth report of the day to Yang, who was walking around in circles in his private rooms. The other nineteen that had arrived so far lay wadded up on the floor. Listlessly, Yang lowered his gaze to the text of the report.
“I knew it!” he said suddenly. “This is it!”
The young, dark-haired commander leapt up and shouted, tossed the report up toward the ceiling, grabbed both hands of a dumbfounded Julian, and started dancing around the room with him. As Julian was being slung this way and that, he had a sudden realization and cried out in a loud voice, “Excellency! We can win this, can’t we? We can win this!”
“You bet we can win it! ‘Yang Wen-li doesn’t fight hopeless battles!’ Isn’t that right?”
That was when he heard the sound of someone clearing his throat. Yang stopped dancing and looked toward where the sound had come from. Three people—von Schönkopf, Frederica Greenhill, and Fischer—were staring at their commander.
Yang let go of Julian’s hands and reached up to straighten his disheveled hair—at some point, his beret had gone flying off as well.
“Good news,” he said. “The plan is decided. It’s looking like we’re gonna be able to win this somehow.”
After receiving the data he had been waiting for, Yang had planned the operation in a shockingly brief amount of time. The operations plan that he shared with his entire force thirty minutes later was as follows, with the first point being the content of the report that he had been waiting for:
1. The enemy has divided its forces into two units. We believe they intend a pincer movement, in which one unit, taking advantage of being eclipsed by the star Doria, will try to attack us on our port flank, while the other will take a detour to our rear and try to hit our aft starboard.
2. To counter this, our forces, acting six hours ahead of the enemy, will take advantage of their divided state to destroy the units individually. First we will strike the unit circling around to our aft, then we will deal with the attack on our port flank.
3. The operation will commence today at 2200 with Admiral Nguyen Van Thieu leading the charge. We will cross the orbit of the seventh planet and take position in that region of space, with the star Doria at our backs.
4. Rear Admiral Fischer will command our rear guard unit, which will maintain position until 0400 on the following day. Afterward, he will cross the orbit of the sixth planet and deploy his forces there to respond to enemies planning to attack our port flank. However, care must be taken to avoid detection by enemy reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering vessels, so this unit must not change its position or alert status until 0400 of the following day.
5. The other combat groups will follow Admiral Nguyen Van Thieu and position themselves to the port, starboard, and aft of the designated coordinates.
6. Admiral Attenborough will command the gunship and missile ship regiments, position them in orbit around the seventh planet, and, in addition to securing the communications route between our forces and Iserlohn Fortress, provide early warning of long-range attacks originating from other star systems. Furthermore, they will prevent fleeing enemy forces from escaping to other star systems.
7. Commander Yang will personally lead the central combat group.
When these orders from Commander Yang were transmitted, a thrill of tension and excitement shot through the entire fleet.
“Recently when I traveled to Heinessen,” Yang told his staff in the meeting room later, “I received written orders from His Excellency Admiral Bucock, commander in chief of the space armada, telling me that in the event of a revolt, I was to put it down and restore law and order. In other words, I’ve received legal justification for what we’re about to do. This is no private war.”
Hearing Yang’s words in the meeting room, his staff officers were left speechless at the scope of their commander’s foresight. Of course, Yang himself was in a bit of a sour mood. After all, even if his predictions had been correct, they hadn’t been able to prevent this present state of affairs. That was what Yang and Bucock had been hoping for that night on those park benches in the city back on Heinessen.
After dismissing the staff, Yang retired to his private rooms and called Julian.
“Shortly before the Battle of Amritsar,” Yang told him, “Admiral Bucock tried to get a meeting with Marshal Lobos. He wasn’t able to, however, because the marshal was taking his nap. What do you think about that?”
“I think it’s horrible,” Julian said. “It’s irresponsible, and …”
“Exactly. But, Julian?”
“I am about to take a nap. For just two hours, don’t put anybody through to me. I don’t care if they’re admirals or generals—just send them away.”
On the bridge of Leonidas, the Eleventh Fleet’s flagship …
“Has there been any word from Commander Bagdash?” asked Vice Admiral Legrange, glaring at the staff officer who was his intelligence chief.
As Legrange’s brow furrowed at the answer of “None, sir,” a communications officer looked up at the fleet’s commander.
“We’re ready for fleetwide broadcast, sir. Please begin.”
The vice admiral nodded. Driving thoughts of Bagdash from his mind, he unfolded the draft of his speech.
“Attention, all hands. This is a battle on which hangs two things: the success or failure of this military revolution to rescue our republic, and the prosperity or ruin of our fatherland. Perform your duties with your entire body and soul, and fulfill your devotion to the fatherland. Nothing in this world demands greater respect than devotion and sacrifice, and nothing is more despicable than cowardice and self-centeredness. Patriotism and courage is what I expect of you all and what I long earnestly for you to show me. Give this your all.”
The Eleventh Fleet charged across the void, certain of its coming triumph.
With a light yawn, Yang Wen-li raised the back of his chair. Julian handed him a hot towel and a cup of cold water.
“How long was I asleep?”
“An hour and a half.”
“I wanted to sleep another thirty minutes. Oh well, can’t go back to sleep now … Thanks, you did great.”
After handing his drained cup back to the boy, he gently straightened the scarf at his collar. Soon, he was going to have to make another little speech. That wasn’t something that Yang enjoyed doing, but speechmaking, too, was one of the commanding officer’s duties. He stood up and went to the bridge. Every face in that spacious room turned toward their commander, wearing tense expressions.
“The battle is just about to begin,” Yang said. “It’s a meaningless battle, and for that reason, it would be all the more pointless to fight it and not win. We do have a plan for victory, though, so just relax and do your jobs, and don’t go pushing yourselves too hard. What’s riding on this is at most the life or death of the state. Compared to individual rights and liberty, the state is just not worth all that much. Well then, everyone, shall we begin?”
By the time he had finished speaking into the microphone, a sparkling cloud of lights was beginning to appear on the main screen. They shone with an ominous white.
Displayed there was a side view of the Eleventh Fleet’s main force—a column of seven thousand warships. Beyond, the stars spread out in infinite succession.
“Enemy fleet sighted! All ships, prepare for combat!”
Yang was not the fierce commander type of leader, but he could always be found on the front line when going into battle and in the rear when disengaging—particularly in losing battles, in which he would stay behind to cover his comrades’ retreat.
That, he believed, was his bare-minimum duty as a commander. If it wasn’t, then who in their right mind would entrust their life to a greenhorn who had only just turned thirty?
In front of Yang’s flagship, three thousand vessels under the command of Admiral Nguyen Van Thieu were waiting with bated breath for the order to attack. As were his comrades arrayed port, aft, and starboard.
“Relative distance 6.4 light-seconds …”
The operators’ voices, too, were as low as whispers.
“Enemy is moving from starboard to port perpendicular to our fleet. Velocity 0.012 c. Near maximum velocity for in-system flight …”
In the restrained illumination of the dim bridge, the only other sound besides operators’ voices was that of shallow breathing.
His gaze fixed on the screen, Yang raised his right hand as high as the line of his shoulder. That was the signal that started everything.
The order was relayed to the gunners on every vessel.
In the next instant, white-hot javelins of energy, tens of thousands of them, pierced the darkness of outer space. These had not been fired in parallel from each ship but were focused on a single point in the midst of the enemy fleet.
A striking characteristic of Yang’s beam-cannon tactics was his concentration of fire on a single point, so as to increase geometrically the beams’ destructive power. This was one of the reasons he had so grieved the empire during the Battle of Amritsar last year. When multiple allied ships showered a single enemy vessel with their firepower, the enemy’s energy-neutralization fields were easily overloaded.
“Energy waves approaching rapidly!”
The operators of the Eleventh Fleet cried out warnings that were halfway screams. In that instant, a huge mass of energy struck the first blow, smashing into the fleet’s flank.
There was heat and light like that of a small star. In its midst, several hundred ships were vaporized, and three or four times that number exploded.
The white light of the fusion explosions pulsated, expanding every instant, until it seemed as if that eerie light would bleach out the entire screen.
Julian was sitting next to Yang’s command desk. For the first time in his life, the boy was witnessing combat in outer space directly. Aware of the shiver running down his spine, he tried to tell himself that it wasn’t fear but excitement. Not yet, not yet. It’s only just begun.
“Send a message to Admiral Nguyen Van Thieu,” Yang said. He was not in his seat but was sitting on top of his command desk with one knee raised. This was outrageously ill-mannered, and yet his subordinates felt oddly reassured seeing him like that. “Tell him to advance at full speed and hit the enemy on the flank.”
On receiving the order, Nguyen felt his spirit lift.
Nguyen Van Thieu was the fierce commander type, so when he was supported by the coolheaded leadership of central command, the destructive power he could wield was enormous. Out of Reinhard’s subordinates, he was most similar to Wittenfeld.
Nguyen Van Thieu’s order was clarity itself, and there was no way for his officers to mistake it.
With its commanding officer front and center, Nguyen Van Thieu’s combat group attacked the enemy fleet’s flank at maximum combat velocity. The energy beams and shells released from the mouths of their cannons rained against the enemy, and flashes of light from launches and explosions lit up one small corner of the eternal night.
From the vast hole opened up by the volley of cannon fire, Nguyen’s group succeeded in cutting deep into the enemy’s column.
Staff officers in the Eleventh Fleet turned pale. If they allowed Nguyen to advance any farther, the entire fleet would become divided fore and aft. And although it was theoretically possible to use a divided force like that to catch one’s opponent in a pincer movement, very flexible and refined tactical skill was required to make that work—skill such as that possessed by Yang Wen-li.
Since they didn’t have that much confidence in themselves, they made a more commonsense response. Orders flew: Attack the enemy from all directions! Don’t send a man or a ship back home alive!
Right away, Nguyen’s group was exposed to ferocious attacks converging on them from five directions—fore, up, down, port, and starboard. Fireballs exploded, vibrations shook the frames of the vessels, and viewscreens—in spite of spite having had their photoflux capacities adjusted—were filled with flashes bright enough to sear the retinas.
On the bridge of the flagship Maurya, Admiral Nguyen raised his voice in cheerful laughter.
“This is perfect—nothing but enemies any which way you turn! So many there’s no need to aim! Get them! Keep shooting! Fire at will!”
Some there were impressed by what they saw as their commander’s daring and boldness; others present were certain he must have a screw loose. Either way, one thing was certain—they would have no tomorrow unless they killed the enemies before them. There was no time to consider the meaning of this battle or the reasons for this slaughter.
“Missiles closing at ten o’clock! Returning fire!”
“Turret four, maximum output!”
Shrill voices and suppressed voices permeated the communication channels, and the sounds of impacts and jamming noise blended to repeatedly assault the ears of the crew—even though it was a universe of silence just outside the vessels.
Their vision was similarly under attack. The light of the stars, frozen for all eternity, was rent by crisscrossing missile trails and the harsh glitter of energy beams. And the white lights that wiped away each and every one of those stars monopolized the field of view with their overwhelming volume.
Thirty minutes after the opening shots were fired, even Yang’s flagship Hyperion had its nose pressed up against the Eleventh Fleet’s flank.
Hyperion was enveloped in rainbow fog, proof that its hull was being protected from destructive energy beams by its energy-neutralization field.
“This is more trouble than I expected,” Yang murmured to himself as he kept his eyes glued to the screen. The Eleventh Fleet’s resistance was quite formidable, and it was known to all that Vice Admiral Legrange was no incompetent.
“That useless Bagdash!” shouted Legrange. “What did he even infiltrate the Yang Fleet for?”
While continuing to oversee the battle, Legrange couldn’t help berating the man in his heart. Use mis- and disinformation to throw the enemy into disarray, or if that is impossible, shoot Yang dead. Bagdash was supposed to have infiltrated the enemy camp on this vital do-or-die mission, but at present, Legrange doubted that the man had succeeded. Far from it, actually, since his was the side that had been hit on the flank by what should probably be called an ambush. Instead of catching the enemy in a pincer movement, were his divided forces going to be destroyed separately?
Had they seen through Bagdash, after all? Legrange clenched his teeth tightly. Perhaps he had entrusted the job to someone he shouldn’t have. Unease and regret were pounding on his chest with invisible hands.
The voice of an operator requesting instructions pulled his consciousness back to reality.
“What is it?”
“They’ve broken through the center, sir. Our force has been divided fore and aft, and it looks like the enemy’s trying to envelop the aft section.”
Although Nguyen’s combat group, showered with fierce cannon fire, had taken considerable damage, it had at last succeeded in breaking through the center. Then it had swung to starboard and was now advancing to envelop one half of the divided enemy force.
Legrange fell silent and glared at the screen. He knew what Yang had in mind. I see it now. So that was it! A frustrated tsk sounded from inside his mouth.
“Miracle Yang is a pretty sly fox, confound him.”
In short, Yang had split at the tactical level one half of a force that was already split at the strategic level and was now trying to completely destroy them, starting with one of the severed ends.
This made the firepower ratio between those two about four-to-one. Once the battle reached this stage, fleet commander Yang no longer needed to oscillate between hope and despair with the minute-by-minute state of the battle; he could simply look on as his lower-ranking commanders took out each segment one by one.
From Yang’s perspective, this sort of thing wasn’t any kind of remarkable strategy; it was nothing more that following one of the rudimentary principles of tactical theory: “Fight with greater force strength than your enemy.” He was both surprised and disappointed when he heard it referred to as a magic trick or a miracle.
The main forces of both fleets made contact. The ship density in the region increased, and the mode of fighting gradually shifted from long-range cannon fire to close-quarters combat. This was where the single-seat fighter craft known as spartanians took the stage. Lieutenant Commander Olivier Poplin, captain of Hyperion’s flight squadron, had lined up his team on standby, but the instant that the order came down to sortie, he had all of them board their craft, cut loose from the mother ship, and dance out into space.
“Whiskey, Vodka, Rum, Applejack: command of your companies is left to your company leaders. Sherry and Cognac, follow me. Don’t break formation.”
Poplin often boasted, “Wine and women are life’s bread and butter, and war merely its three o’clock snack,” and it was just like him to come up with such names. Of course, there was also a story going around that he had come close to naming his companies after women’s undergarments, but naturally he had refrained in the end and settled for booze.
Poplin’s spartanian charged ahead, tracing out an invisible path through the void. Sherry and Cognac companies followed behind the ace pilot, and the other four dispersed in different directions in search of enemies.
The ships of the Eleventh Fleet were launching single-seat fighters one after another as well. Dogfighting between spartanians began breaking out in all quarters amid the crisscrossing cannon fire. Because the specs of the fighter craft were identical, victory and defeat were decided by the skill of the pilots inside them. Many of the fighter pilots approached their work with the zeal of a craftsman, and for them a trial like this could be called the chance of a lifetime. At this moment, those involved were not thinking about the fact that they were killing one another; rather, they were simply drunk on the blood-boiling excitement of it all.
Not two minutes had elapsed since launch, and Poplin had already scored three kills. Dodging through enemy as well as allied fire, he raced ahead at maximum velocity through rough seas of roiling energies. The raw vitality of a fully self-realized existence was circulating at full speed through Poplin’s entire being. With his reflexes honed to their utmost sharpness, every cell in his body was bursting with energy and life.
The battleship Ulysses was also in the midst of the chaotic fighting. The ship’s outer hull had been cut open by a blade of energy, causing the shock-absorbent material to leak out in a white cloud as it enveloped the ship. Visibility from the rear turrets had been degraded and sensors rendered useless, and after cursing God and devil alike, the soldiers inside had had to give up on doing anything other than shooting back in the direction of incoming fire.
Eight hours were required for the desperate combat to draw to an end.
After breaking through the center of the Eleventh Fleet and destroying its aft column, the Yang Fleet enveloped the forward column headed by Admiral Legrange and smashed its forces ship by ship. Because nearly all of the vessels, carrying on with a resistance that reached the fanatical, refused to surrender, there was no other option.
What for Yang, too, was a depressing battle of utter destruction was brought to an end by the suicide of Admiral Legrange. He had stubbornly continued to resist until his remaining forces had amounted to his own flagship and just a handful of others.
“I count it a great honor for a humble officer such as myself to have fought the illustrious Yang Wen-li in my final battle. Hail to the military revolution!”
These had been Lagrange’s last words, broadcast to all by his flagship’s communications officer.
Staff Officer Patrichev breathed out a huge sigh that emptied his lungs. “Well, then, that’s that. That was one heck of a fight.”
But no matter how intense the combat had been, the winner and loser this time had actually been determined quite early.
Numerically, Admiral Yang had had twice the force strength of his opponent and, furthermore, had succeeded in splitting it with a strike on its flank. That it had taken so long to achieve total victory from such an overwhelmingly advantageous position was proof that the Eleventh Fleet had fought the good fight under Legrange’s fierce direction. Yang would have called it a meaningless good fight, though. If only he would have thrown his hands up early …
“If Legrange had been incompetent, there would’ve been a few less deaths on both sides,” said von Schönkopf.
Yang nodded silently. From the moment that the first stage of combat was finished, he seemed to have been overwhelmed by exhaustion.
So, ultimately, does the Yang Fleet amount to just this one man? thought von Schönkopf. Without their young commander’s clever schemes, the Yang Fleet was certainly not a powerful force. From the start, it had been a ragtag mixture of defeated remnants and raw recruits. Dragged along by their commander’s invincible reputation, they had kept on fighting and kept on winning, and thus achieved the military feats of today. But even if that were true, what von Schönkopf had said about Legrange certainly applied to Yang as well. For if Yang had been an incompetent commander, this fleet would have been wiped out early while the scale of the combat was still small, and in exchange, many enemy soldiers would have lived to go back to their hometowns.
Even if they left the past in the past, there was still a problem looming in the future, for there was another individual in this galaxy who also boasted an invincible reputation.
Marquis Reinhard von Lohengramm. The day would surely come when he and Yang would do battle with all of their forces and all of their abilities. It was not so much the work of fate or destiny as the rapid convergence of history’s footsteps that would bring that about. On that day, could the Yang Fleet defeat Reinhard’s forces? Or, rather, could Yang’s subordinates win out over Reinhard’s?
That’s a difficult question, von Schönkopf mused. From just what he knew, Kircheis was another Reinhard in terms of ability, and Mittermeier’s and von Reuentahl’s operational command abilities were also extremely high. The likes of Nguyen Van Thieu probably couldn’t compete with them.
And still, when he looked at the victorious Yang sitting there unhappily, he could hardly believe it was the same person he’d seen dancing for joy at receiving favorable intelligence. His qualities as an invincible artist of war and his qualities as a serious and conscientious student of history were always in competition inside of him, and when the battle was over, it was the mood of the latter that dominated him.
The voice that made the young black-haired commander turn around belonged to his aide, Lieutenant Frederica Greenhill.
“Half of the enemy is still left. The longer we wait here, the heavier a load Admiral Fischer will have to bear. Instructions, please!”
Her words were right on the mark. Yang blinked his eyes twice and stretched.
“All ships: fall in!” he said. “Reverse course, and head for the orbit of the seventh planet.”
Meanwhile, a heated argument was being waged among the Eleventh Fleet’s secondary force, which had launched a blitz attack on the sector where Yang was supposed to be, only to find nobody there. One side argued that they should reverse course and go fight with Yang, but the other side had the following idea:
Given the present circumstances, shouldn’t they abandon the idea of a short, decisive battle, withdraw from the Doria system for the time being, and wait for Yang to besiege Heinessen so as to attack him then from behind? With Artemis’s Necklace there, it was impossible for even someone like Yang to conquer Heinessen in a short time. If they attacked him then from behind, they might be able to win.
This serious disagreement dragged out between the two sides. The reason that no swift decision could be made was due to a flaw that was clear to see: the highest figure of authority had not yet been clearly determined.
At last it was decided to locate Yang and challenge him in battle, so they brought all their ships about and started moving. During this period, however, the brief time Yang had wasted had been balanced out by the time they spent arguing.
Rear Admiral Fischer, however, who at that moment was observing the movements of the secondary enemy force, had determined that the column of ships he saw fighting the solar wind was in disarray and thus issued the order to open fire.
Fischer’s style of cannon warfare, following Yang’s example, was also characterized by concentrated fire on localized areas. Caught in a completely unexpected downpour of energy beams on its flank, the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic suffered serious damage.
Fischer was an expert at fleet operations, and no matter how long the road to the distant battlefield, there was no fear of vessels losing track of their own positions, or of the fleet losing its shape due to ships dropping out of ranks, as long as he was present. On the other hand, he was rather average as a combat commander. Still, he had a precise grasp of his own abilities and had never gotten overconfident.
While keeping allied casualties to a bare minimum, he planned to buy time until Yang, who had destroyed the Eleventh Fleet’s main force, could rush over to assist. That strategy was rewarded with success. The Eleventh Fleet’s secondary force, unable to ignore the damage it was taking, assayed to do battle with Fischer’s fleet. When they did so, Fischer pulled back. When the secondary force tried to depart, Fischer followed hot on its heels to launch an attack from behind. While he was repeating this pattern, Yang’s main force appeared in search of a new battlefield, and a formation emerged that had the enemy caught in a pincer movement between its fore and aft.
Without even Legrange to guide them, the secondary force had no unified command structure and, after brave but fruitless combat, was annihilated. Yang had avoided close combat and had split the enemy column and destroyed the pieces one-by-one using thoroughly concentrated firepower. Taking almost no damage to his own forces, he thus secured the victory.
“Eleventh Fleet defeated. Admiral Legrange dead of suicide.”
“Yang Fleet poised to advance on and attack Heinessen following resupply and repairs.”
“Security forces and volunteer soldiers from all planets steadily coalescing behind Yang.”
As these reports came in, an oppressive air came over the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic on Heinessen.
“This is what they mean by ‘fears within and fears without,’ ” muttered someone. They had declared martial law in the capital and, through the use of military force, were trying to regulate and administer every aspect of society, including its political, economic, and social spheres. There was no way to prevent confusion, however. Everyday crime and accidents had been reduced by the curfew order, but more importantly, prices had begun to rise, and shortages of consumables had become noticeable. Fearing that the displeasure and anxiety of the citizenry would mount, the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic had embarked on an investigation, asking, among other things, the opinions of a merchant who had come from Phezzan.
“You soldiers just don’t understand economics,” the merchant said sharply. “Heinessen is currently isolated from other stellar regions. Closed off, it’s a self-contained economic unit, but it’s a deformed one, with vastly more consumption going on than production. That being the case, as long as you have a market-based economic system, it’s only natural that prices will rise. First, you should stop regulating the distribution network and ease up on the control of news reporting in order to reassure the people. If you don’t, you’re not going to have a healthy economy or society.”
The one who was listening to these remarks was one Captain Evens, who was entrusted with control of the economy, and to him, this sound argument was altogether worthless. For the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic to rule Heinessen with its small numbers, control over transmissions, transportation, and distribution was essential, and improving the health of the economy was completely irrelevant. When soldiers designed economic policy, the result often ended up being national socialism implemented through rigid control and supervision. The merchant from Phezzan could see that this captain was no exception.
“Economies are living things,” he said. “Try to control them, and they will never go in the direction you expect. In the military, an officer can go so far as to strike subordinates to make them follow orders, but there’s going to be trouble if the economy is treated that way. If, instead, you were to leave things to us Phezzanese …”
“Know your place!” the captain shouted. “We are going to overthrow the tyrants of the Galactic Empire and restore freedom and justice to the whole society of mankind. And when that day dawns, we’ll teach the meaning of justice to you Phezzan mammonites, as well. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that money can uphold society and the hearts of the people.”
“That’s a great line,” said the merchant, ripples of cool ridicule brimming in his eyes. “However, it might be better with one little change. Put ‘violence’ where ‘money’ is. I imagine you can think of so many examples.”
Infuriated, Captain Evens put a hand on his blaster, but naturally he didn’t follow through, instead going only so far as to order his soldiers to throw the merchant out of his office. The fact that prices were high and consumable resources scarce, however, could not be gotten rid of so easily. In the end, what he did was arrest several fraudulent merchants and release resources he had requisitioned, which made no contribution whatsoever toward solving the fundamental problem.
A strange and even troubling rumor was beginning to circulate: the claim that there was an informant inside the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic who was leaking information to the Trünicht government.
First of all, how exactly had Job Trünicht managed to escape? In the aftermath of the coup, that question had been on everyone’s minds. Both the acting director of Joint Operational Headquarters and the commander in chief of the space armada had been arrested, so why had it been possible for the chairman to evade the attack?
Did that mean Trünicht had received intelligence about the coup? All anyone could come up with was that he must have had an informant on the inside who had told him the date and the time that the coup would take place. If not, he could never have disappeared from his office as if it had been planned. Even Admiral Bucock, commander in chief of the space armada, seemed to have somehow gotten vague intel on the matter, not that there had been anything he could have done with it. From that perspective as well, Trünicht must have surely known quite a lot.
Admiral Greenhill ordered a man called Captain Bay to stamp out such discussions, as he believed nothing good would come of it if his small number of compatriots started eyeing one another with suspicion. The voices of the rumormongers, however, were only lowered, and without disappearing altogether, an insidious atmosphere began to circulate among the members of the Military Congress.
A number of days passed amid anxiety and unease, without the situation improving in the slightest.
And then the catastrophe struck. It was what later generations would call the Stadium Massacre.
The day that it happened was June 22.
Citizens were gathering inside that huge stadium, which had the capacity to hold three hundred thousand spectators. The stream of people started in the morning, and by noon the number had reached two hundred thousand.
The declaration of martial law forbade large gatherings of people. The Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic was astonished at this open act of defiance, and its members turned white with rage when they learned the purpose of this assembly. The slogan that read “Citizens’ Assembly to Restore Peace and Freedom, and Oppose Rule by Violence” was shockingly bold and provocative.
Who’s behind this … ?
They looked into the matter, and then growls arose from the table at the result.
Jessica Edwards. The assemblywoman elected to represent the Terneuzen District, she had been at the forefront of the antiwar movement. She was the woman who had once publicly impeached then Defense Committee Chairman Trünicht and had never stopped criticizing the stupidity of the war and the military. In spite of the declaration of martial law, she had escaped arrest thus far because right now it was all the coup could manage to capture the very highest leaders in the government and military; they simply didn’t have the manpower to be going after leaders of minority parties in the assembly.
“Disperse the crowd and arrest Assemblywoman Edwards.” The man who received that order and rushed over to the stadium leading three thousand armored troops was Captain Christian, and this was a personnel decision that the leaders of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic would come to rue afterward.
From the very beginning, Captain Christian had no intention of gently enlightening the multitude.
Leading his armored troops, he went into the stadium, placed guards at the entrance, and, after intimidating the crowd with his sidearm, ordered his subordinates to find Jessica and bring her before him.
Jessica appeared before the captain voluntarily and, in an uncompromising tone, asked him why armed soldiers were interfering with a peaceful assembly of citizens.
“To restore order.”
“Order? Wasn’t it originally you—you people from the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic—who disrupted public order with your violence? When you talk about order, what in the world is that supposed to mean?”
“Order is what we decide it is,” Captain Christian shot back haughtily. Sheltering in his eyes was the madness of one who believed there were no limits to his power and authority. “Living under a mobocracy has made the alliance’s society lose all restraint, and it must be returned to normalcy.” Turning to his soldiers, he continued: “Now I’m going to find out whether people who spout irresponsible pacifism are willing to do so at the risk of their lives. Bring me exactly ten protesters and line them up here. Any among them will do.”
The soldiers who received that order dragged about ten of the male participants to him. Dissenting voices rose up from among the citizens trapped inside the stadium, but the captain ignored them. After making a show of drawing his blaster, he came to stand in front of those men, who had, understandably, gone pale.
“Citizens of lofty ideals …” Mocking them, he looked around at the crowd. “You think peaceful speech is better than violence. That’s what you all want to say, isn’t it?”
“That’s right.” One of the young men who had been brought forward had answered him in a trembling voice. In that instant, the captain’s wrist flashed, and his blaster’s gunstock broke the young man’s cheekbone.
“And the next man …”
Without sparing a glance for the man who had silently fallen to the ground, the captain next asked a skinny middle-aged man, “Do you still say the same thing too?”
The captain pressed his blaster up against the man’s temple. The man seemed terrified by the blood on its stock. His whole body started to tremble, beads of cold sweat broke out on his pale face, and he begged, “I’m sorry. Please, I’ve got a wife and kid. Please don’t kill me …”
Laughing loudly, Captain Christian raised the blaster up over his head and brought the stock down hard on the man’s face. His upper lip burst, and blood went flying with scattered pieces of front teeth. The man screamed and was about to fall, but the captain grabbed him by the collar and delivered yet another blow. The sound of his nose breaking was audible.
“Listen to you, talking big like that when you’re not even ready to die for it … Come on, try saying this: ‘Peace is only preserved through military force. Peace can’t exist separate from the fleet.’ Say it. Say it!”
Jessica caught the man as he collapsed and, holding up his head, gently laid him down on the ground. Then she rose to her feet. The captain saw flames of anger burning in her eyes.
“You think that if you’re ready to die for it, you can do just any stupid thing? Any terrible thing?”
“Shut up, you—”
“There’s a breed of people who force their own righteousness on others through violence. They come in all sizes, from big ones like the Galactic Empire’s founder, Rudolph von Goldenbaum, to little ones like you, Captain … You are Rudolph’s own son. Understand that. And then get out of this place where you have no right to be!”
In the instant he gasped out that word, the thread of his reason snapped without a sound. A blaster already smeared with the blood of two others was slammed into Jessica’s face. Three times, then four, the captain struck her with all his might, the glint of sanity having vanished from his eyes. Skin split apart. Blood flew through the air, making colorful dots all over the captain’s uniform.
Civilians and soldiers alike were staring dazedly at the captain’s frenzy, but when at last Jessica was lying on the ground covered in fresh blood and the captain still stomped on her face with his uniform boot, a chorus of shouts rose up like an explosion, and one of the civilians slammed his own body into the captain. The captain staggered, and then, cheeks twisted with fury, he brought his weapon down on the man’s back. There was a dull thud, but it was erased completely by countless cries of rage and footfalls of a crowd that was beginning to stampede. Things quickly escalated into a full-blown clash. The captain disappeared beneath the feet of the multitude.
Soldiers used beam rifles to mow down civilians, but when the rifles ran out of energy or were forcibly taken by civilians, there was not a thing they could do before the raging sea of people. They were beaten to the ground and trampled underfoot.
The Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic was uniformly shocked when its members learned of the riot at the stadium. They attempted to calm the people, but when it became clear that several dozen rifles had been stolen by civilians, they decided there was no room for dialogue and pivoted to suppression by force.
Large numbers of infirmity gas shells were fired into the stadium. The gas itself had no power to kill, although not a few deaths resulted from direct hits by the shells. Those who collapsed after breathing the gas were arrested on charges of violating martial law and thrown into prison, yet even so, quite a few of those involved succeeded in getting away. Lack of personnel prevented the military from pursuing and arresting them, and the security police were not merely uncooperative but displayed a tendency toward active sabotage. And even if broadcasts were tightly controlled, muffling the voice of every person was simply impossible. Dealing with the aftermath of this incident was extremely difficult. In terms of deaths alone, the numbers rose to more than 20,000 civilians and 1,500 soldiers.
“What do we do if the whole city—the whole planet—rises up together? There’s no way we could handle that. And we can’t just massacre them all, either …”
The members of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic had realized too late that they were a minority that had never had the support of the people.
Bagdash, who had been sedated with a sleeping agent, at long last opened his eyes. When informed of the situation, he sat there dazed for a while and then—inexplicably—requested a meeting with Yang.
This took place just as Yang was reluctantly finishing his after-dinner vegetable juice. Unlike dark tea, he couldn’t drip brandy into vegetable juice. Bagdash, who appeared at that moment accompanied by von Schönkopf, admitted plainly that the ultimate goal of his mission had been to assassinate Yang. He further went on to say, “And the reason I participated in the coup was because I thought it had a chance of succeeding. I can’t stand here and say that it was just some terrible misunderstanding. Your clever strategies exceeded all of our predictions, so there’s nothing to be done about you now.”
Saying nothing, Yang stared at the bottom of his paper cup.
“Honestly, if you hadn’t been there, everything would’ve worked perfectly. You really butted in.”
Watching him pour out his heartfelt disappointment and frustration, Yang couldn’t help but let a wry smile slip onto his face.
“So, you requested this meeting so you could register complaints about me … to me?”
“It isn’t that.”
“Well then, what is it?”
“I want to turn. I want to work under you.”
Yang turned the empty paper cup around and around meaninglessly in his hand. “I wonder if you’re really able to toss out ideology and conviction and turn that easily,” he said.
“Ideology? Conviction?” Bagdash said with shameless scorn. “Those are just expedients for getting through life. If they get in the way of my staying alive, then out the door they go.”
It was in this manner that Bagdash came to be treated as one who had voluntarily laid down his arms and surrendered, and was confined to quarters in a cabin on board Hyperion. He had an insolent attitude, however, and complained that there was no wine with his meals. He also demanded that the soldiers who brought him his meals be women—and extraordinarily beautiful ones, to boot. The officer in charge of guarding him got angry and complained to Yang about his attitude, but the young, dark-haired commander did not say the word “Inexcusable!”
“Well, why not?” he said. “I’m not so sure about the women soldiers thing, but I don’t mind if you at least give him wine.”
Graciousness toward shameless and impudent men somehow seemed an odd point of commonality between Reinhard and Yang.
Two or three days passed by, and Bagdash appeared before Yang once again. Yang was in his private room, up to his neck in desk work as he dealt with the battle’s aftermath, planned the next operation, reorganized units, and so on.
“To be honest,” said Bagdash, “I’m tired of puttering around with nothing to do. I’ve started wanting to work. Do you think you could give me some kind of duties?”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll put you to good use soon enough.”
Yang pulled a gun from his desk drawer.
“My gun. I’ll let you borrow it. It does me no good even if I carry it.”
Yang’s reputation as a shoddy marksman was well established.
“I, uh, appreciate it …” Bagdash murmured as he took the gun, checked to see that an energy capsule was loaded, and stared at Yang, whose eyes were turned down on his paperwork. Silently, he turned the barrel toward him.
Yang looked up at the sound of his voice, but although he saw the barrel pointed at himself, his expression didn’t really change, and he just turned his eyes back down to the paperwork once again.
“Don’t tell anybody I let you borrow that gun, Officer. Murai and the others like to nag. If you’ll just understand that up front, we’ll be fine. In any case, once your status is decided, you’ll be issued a gun officially.”
Bagdash gave a little laugh and put the gun into his jacket’s inner breast pocket, positioning it so that it wouldn’t be noticeable. Saluting Yang, he turned back toward the door. And then, his face froze for the first time.
Julian Mintz’s sharp gaze was penetrating Bagdash’s face like an arrow. He had a gun in his hand, and it was pointed with precision right at Bagdash’s heart.
Bagdash cleared his throat loudly and showed Julian both of his hands, waving them. “Whoa, whoa. Don’t look at me like that. I understand if you were watching. It was a joke. There’s no way I would shoot Admiral Yang. I owe him.”
“Can you say you weren’t serious, not even for an instant?”
“If you were to kill Admiral Yang, your name would go down in history—even if it wouldn’t be in a good way. Can you honestly tell me the temptation didn’t run through your mind?”
“Now wait just a minute …” Bagdash said in a low voice.
There was no opening in Julian’s stance, and unable to move so much as a finger, Bagdash just stood there.
“Admiral Yang, please say something,” said Julian, finally asking for help. But before Yang could answer, Julian shouted, “Admiral, I don’t trust this man. Even if he swears loyalty now, there’s no way to know what he’ll do in the future.”
Yang tossed his documents aside, threw both legs up on his desk, and crossed his arms.
“Future danger is no reason to kill somebody in the present, Julian.”
“I know that. But I’ve got a good reason.”
“While still a prisoner, he took a gun belonging to Admiral Yang Wen-li and tried to assassinate the admiral with it. That’s deserving of death.”
As Bagdash stared at Julian’s ruthless expression, beads of sweat broke out on his face. Julian’s argument would convince almost anyone. It struck him then that he had been put in an untenable position that he couldn’t have even imagined.
“It’s all right. Surely you can let a little thing like that go. Bagdash has been scared long enough, too. Don’t you feel sorry for him? Lazy bum’s sweating, isn’t he?”
“But, Admiral …”
“It’s okay, Julian. Commander, that’ll be all. You can go now.”
Julian lowered the gun, but the eyes staring at Bagdash were no less harsh and pointed. The commander took a deep breath.
“Well, well, you’re scarier than you look, kid,” Bagdash said on his way out. “I’ll be sure not to forget that your eyes are on my back.
Julian turned back toward his legal guardian with dissatisfaction. “Admiral, if you had just given the order, I wouldn’t have let that man walk out of here.”
“It’s fine. Bagdash is a man who knows his arithmetic. As long as I keep winning, he’s not going to betray us. For now, that’s enough. And besides …”
Yang lowered his legs, which had been propped up on his desk.
“Insofar as it’s possible, I don’t want to force you to kill people.”
Yang knew that he was being selfish. After all, he was forcing the sons of other households to kill. But still, that was where Yang’s feelings honestly lay.
They were already into July by the time word of the Stadium Massacre on Heinessen slipped through the netting of broadcast controls and made its way to Yang. When Yang learned of Jessica Edwards’s death, he said not a word on the subject. He put on his sunglasses and hid his eyes from view, and not once did he remove them all that day. The following day, his appearance and bearing were no different than usual.
Yang, having secured the environment behind him, now turned his attention toward Heinessen, the fourth planet of the Baalat system. It was the end of July when he began to move the fleet, and it was clear to see that this deployment would settle things one way or the other with regard to the rebellion. No one among the fleet was able to conceal their anxiety but Yang himself.