Boris Konev, the young independent trader of Phezzan, couldn’t hide his sullen mood. He had braved the dangers of traversing a battlefield to transport the band of Terraist pilgrims, but his earnings had been meager, and once he’d cleared up his debts, paid his subordinates’ wages, and docked the Beryozka, the amount left after subtracting living expenses was scarcely enough to buy ten square centimeters of spacecraft hull.
“You look like you’re in a bad mood,” said the deep-voiced man standing before the desk.
Konev, flustered, explained it away.
“No, this is just my normal expression. It has absolutely nothing to do with being in the presence of Your Excellency.”
The latter statement was clearly saying too much, and the speaker quite regretted it, but the man to whom it was said—Landesherr Rubinsky—took no visible offense.
“You transported the followers of the Terraist faith to Earth, correct?”
“What do you think of them?”
“I don’t know much about them. But as for religion in general, I think it’s an awful contradiction for the poverty stricken to believe in a just God, given what’s more likely—that God is unjust, and that’s why the poverty stricken exist.”
“There’s some reason in that. You don’t believe in God, then?”
“Not in the least.”
“Whoever came up with the bill of goods called God was the greatest scam artist in all of history. The creativity of it is admirable, if only in terms of business savvy. In every nation, from ancient times all the way up to our current age, isn’t it true that the ones with wealth have always been the aristocracy, the landowners, and the priestly orders?”
Landesherr Rubinsky gazed at the young independent trader with interest. Konev felt a prickly sensation. The landesherr was a virile-looking man in his early forties, but there wasn’t a single hair anywhere on his head. It was only natural that being stared at by this unusual man was nothing like, say, being stared at by a beautiful woman.
“That’s quite an interesting viewpoint. Is it your own original one?”
Boris Konev made this denial with a tinge of regret. “I wish it were, but most of it is received wisdom. From my childhood. It must be sixteen, seventeen years ago, already.”
“I grew up traveling star to star with my father, but at one point, I got to know another kid in similar circumstances. The other boy was two years older, but we became friends. We only spent about two or three months together, but he was a kid who knew a lot of things and did a lot of thinking. All those were things he said,” Konev explained.
“What was his name?”
Konev’s expression was that of a magician who has just pulled off a new illusion.
“I hear he’s now found work in the little-esteemed field of military service, for which a free man like myself can’t help but pity him.”
The young captain was somewhat disappointed, for the landesherr did not show much surprise. After a few moments of silence, Rubinsky solemnly opened his mouth.
“Captain Boris Konev, the government of Phezzan has settled on delegating a momentous duty to you.”
“Huh?” Konev blinked, more out of caution than surprise. Called the “Black Fox of Phezzan” by both by empire and alliance, this landesherr carried, within his broad, robust physique, calculations and stratagems rolled and folded in upon themselves like a piecrust—so went the ubiquitous rumors. Konev himself could find no grounds whatsoever to negate these rumors. For one thing, this lowly trader didn’t even know why he’d been summoned by the landesherr. It hadn’t been for the sake of hearing his reminiscing. What sort of duty did he mean to delegate?
When he finally left the governmental offices, Konev rolled both his arms in wide circles, as though he were trying to throw off invisible chains.
A puppy being walked by an older woman began to bark shrilly at him. Konev brandished a fist in the direction of the pup and, to the woman’s reproachful cries, made his departure with a rather sullen gait.
When Konev returned to the vessel, a broad smile was spread across the aging face of Officer Marinesk. There’d been a notice, he said, from the Energy Commission, stating that they’d no longer need worry about fuel for Beryozka.
“Just exactly what kind of magic did you use, sir? For a small-time trading ship like us, this is nothing short of a miracle.”
“I sold myself out to the government.”
“It’s the bloody Black Fox.”
It was Marinesk who, in a panic, cast his gaze all around; the speaker himself made no effort to lower his voice. “He’s hatching some sort of foul plot, no doubt about it. But to drag an upstanding citizen into it …”
“Just what went on over there, sir? You say you sold yourself out to the government. Have you become a civil servant?”
“A civil servant?!”
On hearing the officer’s unique way of expressing the situation, Konev’s angry expression softened.
“No question—I’m a civil servant. I’ve been made an intelligence operative and have been told to go to the Free Planets.”
“Let me tell you something about the Konev clan … We’ve been proud to say that for these last two hundred years, our family has never produced a single criminal or a single politician!” Konev started shouting. “We’ve been free private citizens. Free private citizens, I tell you! And now just look what’s happened—a spy, he says! So now I’m both of those things at once!”
“It’s intelligence operative, sir—intelligence operative.”
“Changing the words doesn’t fix anything! Does calling cancer a cold turn it into a cold? If I say a lion is a rat, will that spare me from getting my head bitten off?”
Marinesk didn’t reply, but to himself he thought, Well, those are some gruesome comparisons.
“He’d already dredged up the fact that I knew Yang Wen-li in my childhood. This is not amusing. Maybe I’ll just clue Yang in on every last bit of this instead.”
“But that probably won’t be possible, sir.”
“Not possible, sir. I’m telling you—his making you an intelligence operative isn’t the sum total of all this. Someone’s eyes will be watching you from behind. Someone to watch and to dole out punishment.”
“So let’s hear all the details, please, sir.”
Marinesk had made coffee. It had an unpleasantly strong acidity; it was clear without asking that it was the cheap stuff. Savoring every sip, Marinesk made it last twice as long as Konev did, as he listened to how things stood.
“I see. But if I may say so, Captain, there was no need to go mentioning Yang Wen-li’s name in front of His Excellency the Landesherr. Of course, it’s likely that if you hadn’t brought it up, the other party would have broached the topic in any case.”
“I know. Loose lips sink ships. I mean to be more circumspect in the future.”
Disgusted with himself, Konev acknowledged his mistake. Still, this didn’t mean he was justifying or accepting Rubinsky’s directives. Even if they were invisible, chains were chains, and being unable to make money was nothing compared to the discomfort of being bound by these.
If Boris Konev’s existence as a human being had any sort of worth, it lay in his being a free man, independent and unfettered. Rubinsky, landesherr of Phezzan, had heedlessly trampled that source of pride underfoot. What was even worse was that Rubinsky thought of this, perversely, as a favor he was dispensing!
Human beings possessing power apparently thought it a great privilege for a citizen to be peripherally involved with the mechanisms of that power. It appeared that even so formidable a man as Rubinsky couldn’t get free of this delusion.
And so … why not let him believe that delusion for the time being? Konev smiled sardonically.
Marinesk, gazing at his young captain with a thoughtful eye, picked up the kettle.
“How about one more cup of coffee?”
In early August, Yang Wen-li, who had arrived at the outskirts of the Baalat Stellar Region, positioned his fleet and watched for an opportunity to advance upon Heinessen. The distance to Heinessen was six light-hours, approximately 6.5 billion kilometers. For a fleet that astrogated interstellar space, this could be called shouting distance.
That Yang had advanced to this range held not only military but also political significance.
It meant the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic, which occupied Heinessen, wielded no political power beyond the planetary level and was unable to exert effective control over even the Baalat Stellar Region. With the defeat of the Eleventh Fleet, they had lost their military capability in interstellar space. For the above reasons, the wholesale defeat of the Military Congress, the failure of the coup, and the restoration of order under the Charter of the Alliance were all just a matter of time. Through his actions, Yang had flaunted these realities to the entire alliance.
The effect was profound. Yang’s renown—he himself would call it empty fame—served, of course, to amplify that effect. Those who had until then been undecided as to whether to support the High Council or the coup had one by one made their allegiances clear, flocking to Yang’s side from various planetary guard corps, local garrison patrols and retirees, officers and enlisted, and even civilians hoping to participate in the volunteer forces under Yang.
Naturally, the organizing of volunteer forces didn’t go smoothly. Yang disliked involving civilians in warfare. He felt that the psychological makeup of civilians who wanted anything to do with war was questionable, but he couldn’t deny them their freely chosen intentions. They went so far as to trot out the “Right of Resistance” provision of the Charter of the Alliance—the right of citizens to use force to resist unjust uses of power—to overrule the hesitation of the young commander.
At that point, Yang decided to add age restrictions to the requirements for joining the volunteer corps. He attempted to exclude persons under eighteen or over fifty-five years of age, but older people who looked not a day under eighty insisted they were fifty-five and, on the other extreme, seventeen-year-old hopefuls who’d seen Julian and could by no means believe he was older than themselves all turned on the officials in charge, forcing a wry laugh out of Lieutenant Frederica Greenhill as she said, “Well, this is not easy.”
It did give Yang pleasure when retired marshal Sidney Sitolet, former director of Joint Operational Headquarters, proclaimed his support. He had been headmaster of the Officers’ Academy when Yang was a student. On one level, Yang admired him, but he also retained an impression of Sitolet as a tough nut to crack. Yang was thus all the more glad he’d avoided making an enemy of him. Having that happen with Admiral Greenhill was already more than enough trouble.
There were even a lot of people who had previously shown sympathy in word or deed for the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic who came to join. This was in part a result of the Stadium Massacre becoming known; these voices grew conspicuously loud in criticizing the coup d’état faction. The earnest Chief of Staff Murai caustically criticized their defection and opportunistic behavior, but Yang said, “Everybody tries to secure their own physical safety. If I were in a position of less responsibility, even I might have thought about siding with the faction that held the upper hand.”
Looking at history, people who lived in ages of upheaval had always done the same. If they didn’t, they didn’t survive, and whether you called it “the ability to read a situation” or “flexibility,” the practice was nothing to condemn. On the contrary, the bill of goods called “unswerving convictions” had more frequently caused harm to others and to societies.
After discarding the republican governmental system in favor of the monarchical Galactic Empire, Rudolf von Goldenbaum, killer of four billion citizens who’d opposed autocratic rule, was second to none in the strength of his convictions. Those in the coup d’état faction that now actually controlled Heinessen were also presumably acting out of conviction.
In human history, there had been no battles of Armageddon between absolute good and absolute evil. What had occurred was strife between one subjective good and another subjective good—conflicts between one side and another, both equally convinced of their rightness. Even in cases of unilateral wars of aggression, the aggressor always believed it was in the right. Thus, humanity was in a constant state of warfare. So long as human beings kept believing in God and justice, there was no chance of strife disappearing.
As for conviction, it made Yang’s hair stand on end to hear the words “belief in victory at all costs.”
“If one could win by virtue of belief, then nothing could be easier, since everyone wants to win,” were Yang’s thoughts. As he would put it, conviction was no more than a powerful form of wishing; there was no objective basis to the idea that it influenced outcomes. The stronger it grew, the narrower one’s perspective became, until it became impossible to accurately discern what was going on. By and large, conviction was an embarrassing word, and even if its existence in dictionaries must be accepted, it was not a word that ought to be seriously uttered. When Yang would say so, Julian would respond with amusement, “So, that’s Your Excellency’s conviction?”
Naturally, no matter how Yang tried to phrase his answer, the boy would have already anticipated the points he was trying to convey.
Even so, the first individual in history to launch a military assault on Planet Heinessen, which had been named for the alliance’s founding father, was not of the empire.
“It is, amazingly, Yang Wen-li—myself.”
Yang directed a silent laugh at Julian. In his present mood, all he could do was laugh. In his conviction for democratic government, he didn’t hesitate to swallow his grief and attack his own homeland—the aesthetic of tragedy surrounding the affair didn’t register with him. Making no clumsy attempt to comfort him, Julian replied, “Just don’t launch any assault on the Galactic Empire’s capital until I’ve grown enough to stand on my own. It won’t be long.”
“On Odin? I’ll leave that to you. Attacking Heinessen’s too much for me already. I want to retire posthaste and start that pensioner’s life I’ve dreamed of.”
“Oh, so in that case, I’m allowed to join the military, right?”
Yang, flustered, took back what he’d said. Julian dreamed of being an officer commanding great fleets in space, but Yang hadn’t been able to come to a decision yet regarding this. Setting aside the fact that this was about Julian, wasn’t the convention itself—the struggle for hegemony via decisive battles between great fleets—a relic of the past? Lately, Yang had begun to believe so.
The crucial thing was securing the necessary space at the necessary time. If a particular area of space could be utilized at a particular time, that was sufficient. It was only because some aimed to secure areas of space in perpetuity that routes became restricted, battle spaces were delineated, and fighting became unavoidable. But shouldn’t it be enough to simply use areas without any enemies—during only the intervals when the enemy wasn’t present?
Yang had, for the moment, named this tactical concept “space control” and wanted to systematize it as a tactical framework. In flexibility and rationality, it was one step above the current “command of space” thinking that hinged on fleet-versus-fleet battles. He couldn’t blame von Schönkopf if he mocked him for it. Yang, for all that he hated war, could not set aside his enthusiasm for tactics and strategy as an intellectual game.
Around this time, deep beneath the surface of planet Heinessen, one man was reassuring his comrades.
“It’s not over yet,” Admiral Greenhill said forcefully. “We’ve still got Artemis’s Necklace. As long as it’s there, even the great Yang Wen-li can’t penetrate Heinessen’s gravitational field.” Seeing a hint of brightening in the faces of all gathered, he repeated his sentiment: “We aren’t defeated yet.”
We haven’t won yet, Yang thought, casting his gaze upon the beautiful jade planet floating up onto the screen.
He gave no heed to Artemis’s Necklace. Whether armament or fortress, he’d never once feared hardware, no matter how formidable. There were any number of means to render Artemis’s Necklace powerless. Taking an inhabited planet by military force was intrinsically no easy feat. In and of itself, it was a gigantic supply and production base, and a force attacking it needed huge quantities of munitions. In the initial lead-up to the pitched battle at Amritsar, the alliance forces had been able to take control of numerous inhabited planets, but that had only been a result of the strategic retreat of the imperial forces. The planets had been mere morsels scattered along the path to a trap, and they’d indiscriminately gobbled them up.
The Heinessen situation wouldn’t go so smoothly. But Heinessen’s weakness was its faith in hardware, namely Artemis’s Necklace. If the object of that faith could be shattered, the will to resist could likely be broken in the same instant.
Twelve military satellites, affording a 360-degree omnidirectional offensive capability. Twelve spheres, fully outfitted in mirror-plated armor, equipped with the full gamut of weaponry—including laser cannons, charged-particle-beam cannons, neutron-beam cannons, infrared cannons, laser-triggered thermonuclear missiles, rail cannons, and more—and supplied, by sunlight, with an infinite amount of energy. A mass killing system, as beautiful as it was expensive, spheres glittering with a hint of iridescence over a foundation of silver.
But those satellites would likely be destroyed by the hand of Yang Wen-li, without ever boasting a single moment of distinguished service. What Yang feared for were the billion human beings, military and civilian, on Planet Heinessen. All of them could become valuable hostages for the coup d’état faction. If that faction were to threaten to annihilate Planet Heinessen and all of its inhabitants with it … Or if they pointed a blaster at Admiral Bucock’s head and demanded negotiations …
Yang Wen-li would have to throw up his hands.
He didn’t want to believe Admiral Greenhill would take things that far. But then again, Greenhill’s position as one of the coup’s masterminds had itself been beyond Yang’s imagining.
Against this eventuality, Yang had to take some sort of action. What could be done to deal a blow to their tenacity and to prevent their putting up a futile resistance?
This coup—the intent of its instigators notwithstanding—had been planned by Marquis Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire. Yang had to bring that fact out into the daylight.
There was no material evidence. But a large-scale civil war was in fact happening within the empire. Using that as circumstantial evidence ought to be possible. Or maybe material evidence could be discovered after quelling the coup. At any rate, what Yang needed was someone whom he could bring out as a witness.
“There’s something I’d like you to do.”
“I’m at your service, sir.” As he replied, Bagdash glanced around the room and was relieved to see that Julian wasn’t there. It was absurd to feel so powerless before that handsome young man, but once someone’s gotten the drop on you, the memory has a lasting impact. “And what is it you’d like me to do? I’ll go so far as to infiltrate Heinessen if you so order, sir …”
“And run straight to Admiral Greenhill’s side?”
“That’s unfair, sir.”
“I’m kidding. Truth is, I want to call you as a witness.”
“A witness? To what?”
“A witness to the fact that the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic’s little coup was orchestrated by none other than Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Galactic Empire.”
Bagdash blinked several times. When he finally processed what Yang was saying, his jaw dropped. He regarded the commander as though he were suddenly looking at a different man.
“You’ve come up with one extraordinary idea, sir.”
A propaganda maneuver to utterly demolish the legitimacy of the coup—this was how Bagdash interpreted it. It could be nothing else.
“It’s a fact. We don’t have any material evidence at the moment. But still, a fact it is.” So Yang said, but the look of surprise and doubt didn’t leave Bagdash’s face. Yang was about to say more but then gave up on trying to convince the man.
“Well, whatever. It’s understandable if you can’t believe it.” He was feeling rather apathetic. It was doubtful whether anyone besides Bagdash would believe what Yang was saying, either. The only ones who’d believe him were probably Bucock, who’d heard this claim from Yang before the coup had actually happened, and Julian. He wondered whether even von Schönkopf and Frederica would. Von Schönkopf might show his unsavory smile and say, “That’s a well-made talking point, but it’s too straightforward. Taking into account your slight overoptimism, I’d score it maybe an 80 percent.”
And Frederica might object: “Please don’t show such disdain for my father, sir. There’s no way he would become a pawn of the empire.”
Yang shook his head once to drive away these faces that were floating up in the back of his mind. “Anyway, I’m going to have you attest to this. If you need a detailed script or material evidence, I’ll create it for you. With my acknowledgment that we’re not playing fair. How about it—can you do it?”
“All right. I’m a turncoat. I’ll do what I can to be of use, sir.” It wasn’t that Yang’s expression or his voice had grown particularly stern. But there was something about the man that made it difficult for Bagdash to resist. For the time being, at least, Bagdash had no choice but to entrust his fate to Yang.
Feeling a hint of self-loathing at having forced Bagdash’s obeisance, Yang called in Lieutenant Frederica Greenhill.
“I want to discuss the technological issues around methods of attacking Artemis’s Necklace. Gather everyone in the conference room.”
Tension showed in every movement of Frederica’s body, brought on by the nerve-racking challenge of destroying those dozen military satellites, renowned for the unparalleled power they boasted. Just what the cost might be was beyond imagining. But, as though he’d intuited her thoughts, Yang spoke.
“Not to worry, Lieutenant Greenhill. I promise we won’t sacrifice a single battleship or a single human life in order to take out Artemis’s Necklace.”
Not that Yang believed that a bloodless victory would earn him an indulgence for what he was about to do …
Commander Bagdash’s appearance on the communicator screen was, for the beleaguered members of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic, an extremely unpleasant surprise. Having failed in his vital task of assassinating Yang Wen-li, he had left his erstwhile allies in a perilous position, and now, with his absurd claim that the coup had been brought about through Reinhard von Lohengramm’s machinations, he had wholly undercut the righteousness of their cause.
“That shameless backstabber! It’s incredible that Bagdash can even show his face in public.” The enraged voice was tinged with gloom. The members of the Military Congress knew they had no way to exact revenge on the traitor. They also had to acknowledge that even Artemis’s Necklace could do nothing more than push back the date of their final, eventual defeat.
The Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic now controlled only the surface of Planet Heinessen and a portion of its subsurface areas. Three-dimensional space was now entirely in the hands of their adversary.
That adversary—that mere child of a commander named Yang Wen-li—had rendered the coup a failure. He had vanquished the Eleventh Fleet, robbing the Military Congress of the only interstellar military capability it had, confined the coup’s impact to the singular planet of Heinessen, and drawn people who’d been on the fence into his own camp. His adept actions had been a wonder to behold. But there was one complaint Greenhill had to make regarding Yang’s character.
“I may have misjudged Yang Wen-li. That he’d employ such blatant propaganda, calling us pawns of the empire—there was no need to show us that degree of contempt.”
The entire group nodded vigorously. Seeing this, Greenhill continued. “We started this ourselves. It was facilitated by Rear Admiral Lynch’s returning from the empire and giving us such a marvelous strategic plan. Marquis von Lohengramm had nothing to do with it. That’s so, isn’t it, Lynch?”
Lynch’s eyes, glazed over with drunkenness, burned red. From the face he made, it looked as though he had been seized by some sort of powerful urge. “I’m honored by your praise, but it wasn’t me who came up with that strategy.”
“What?!” An ominous look of doubt spread obliquely across Admiral Greenhill’s face. After a few seconds’ hesitation, he asked, “Then who? Who came up with such an accomplished plan?”
A considerable moment of silence passed between this question and its response.
“Marquis Reinhard von Lohengramm, imperial marshal of the Galactic Empire.”
“W-what did you say?!”
“Yang Wen-li is right. This coup was the brainchild of the Marquis von Lohengramm, the golden brat himself. He wanted to cause infighting within the alliance while he was settling things with the aristocracy in the empire’s civil war. You’ve all been manipulated.”
“You’re saying you’ve had us dancing in the palm of von Lohengramm’s hand all along?” The voice of the asker was hoarse and cracking.
“That’s right,” Lynch jeered, his voice full of venom. “And you all put on a great performance for us. Idiots like Captain Christian did too, of course, but so did you, Admiral Greenhill.”
Borne aloft on breath that reeked of alcohol, an invisible imp leapt about the room, pricking hearts with his spear as he went. Somebody let out a groan.
“Have a look at this. This is the strategic plan Marquis von Lohengramm gave me.” A small, slim file folder flew from Lynch’s hand and made a dry slap as it landed on the desk. Greenhill snatched it up and flipped through the pages.
“But, Arthur, why did you get on board with von Lohengramm’s schemes? What did he offer you that was so tempting? Did he promise to make you a full admiral in the Imperial Navy?”
“There was that, too …” Lynch’s tone quavered as he spoke; it kept rising and falling abruptly. The man himself made no visible effort to rein it in. “But that’s not all. I’m not gonna name names, but let’s just say I wanted to heap humiliation on certain people who are sure that they’re always in the right and never doubt it. The kind of humiliation that can never be explained away. As for what would become of my career track, or even my life, I just didn’t care anymore.”
Lynch’s red eyes drank in the gleam of all the others’ horrified expressions. “So how about it, Admiral Greenhill? How does it feel to know that this glorious bill of goods called the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic was nothing but a tool for an ambitious schemer in the empire?”
His words trailed off, becoming a laugh. That grotesque, arrhythmic laughter ate away like acid at everyone’s spirits. This man, who’d dragged his own name through the mud when he fled El Facil, who’d spent nine years in inexcusable alcoholic dissolution—had he nursed this grudge, with nobody to direct it at, that entire time?
“Mister Chairman! The enemy’s attack has begun,” the comm officer called out in a stiff voice. This thawed the frozen gathering. Greenhill turned around and let out a voice like someone waking from a nightmare.
“Which of the twelve satellites are they attacking?”
The note of perplexity in the response was clear. “… They’re attacking all twelve at once, sir.”
The assembled group all exchanged glances. There was more bewilderment than surprise in their faces. The twelve satellites, moving freely in orbit, had the ability to defend and support one another. For this reason, it made sense to attack multiple satellites simultaneously, though that did run the risk of dissipating force projection. But all twelve at once? That defied all common sense. What was Yang Wen-li thinking?
The screen came on, displaying objects moving on straight paths through space toward the satellites. When the nature of those objects became clear, a buzz spread through the room.
Admiral Greenhill groaned. They were enormous—huge blocks of ice far larger than any battleship.
Three hundred years ago. The Galactic Empire.
On Altair’s frigid seventh planet, there was a young man, a believer in representative government, who’d been forced into a mining job under conditions equivalent to slavery. His name was Ahle Heinessen.
He longed to escape the planet and build a new state among faraway stars for like-minded believers. The only thing standing in his way was a lack of materials to construct a starship and carry the people there.
One day, Heinessen saw a child playing with a toy ship, carved from ice, that the kid had made. The young man was struck as though with a revelation.
He built a spacecraft from the inexhaustible supply of naturally occurring dry ice on Altair’s seventh planet and then embarked on a long, long voyage extending across fifty years of time and ten thousand light-years of space.
That was the shining legend of Ahle Heinessen, father of the Free Planets Alliance.
“I learned this tactic from the tale of our founding father, Heinessen.” Yang said this not out of pride but as a bit of wry humor.
The plan was as follows:
Srinagar, the Baalat system’s sixth planet, was a frigid world of ice. From its surface, a dozen cylindrical blocks of ice would be carved. Each block would have a volume of one cubic kilometer and a mass of a billion tons.
These carved cylinders of ice would then be transported into zero-gravity space, where the temperature approached 273.15 degrees Celsius—absolute zero.
At this point, the central cores would be bored through by laser, and Bussard ramjet engines would be installed.
These engines would project a gigantic, basket-shaped magnetic field in front of the cylinder to capture ionized, charged interstellar matter. As that matter drew near to the ice cylinder, it would be compressed and heated, and in an extremely short span of time, it would achieve the conditions for nuclear fusion to occur within the engine. When it was ejected from the rear of the cylinder, the exhaust would be at an energy level much greater than when it had entered through the front.
During this time, the uncrewed ice craft would continually, ceaselessly accelerate, and the closer they approached to the speed of light, the more efficiently they would draw in interplanetary matter. In this manner, the ice ships would attain near-luminal velocities.
Now, at this point, let us recall a basic fact of the theory of relativity: as matter approaches the speed of light, its effective mass increases.
For instance, the mass of a ship flying at 99.9 percent of the speed of light increases to approximately 22 times its original mass. At 99.99 percent of light speed, it reaches 70 times its original value, and at 99.999 percent, it becomes 223 times greater.
A one billion–ton chunk of ice, its mass increased by 223 times, achieves a mass of 223 billion tons. What would happen if an ice chunk with the same mass as three million sixty-story buildings combined collided with something at near light speed? The military satellites that comprised Artemis’s Necklace would be pulverized, with nary a fragment remaining.
However, to keep these chunks of ice from colliding with Planet Heinessen proper, their vectors of motion had to be set with extreme care. As all twelve satellites and all twelve ice blocks were uncrewed, though, not a single drop of blood would be shed.
Von Schönkopf applauded gently in response.
“You don’t mind us destroying all twelve?” he asked—sardonically suggesting that it might be best to leave a handful for future use.
“I don’t mind a bit. Let’s crush ’em all.” Yang brushed the issue away without hesitation. Artemis’s Necklace, Yang believed, constituted one of the reasons people had fooled themselves into thinking this coup would succeed.
This Necklace symbolized a shameful way of thinking: that Heinessen could survive alone, even if all the other star systems and all the other planets were subjected to enemy control. But if an enemy assault ever got this far, it would mean the alliance was just one step away from total defeat. Best to never let an enemy invasion advance so far—and the first consideration for that ought to be political and diplomatic efforts to avoid war from the outset.
The reliance on military hardware to maintain peace was nothing more than a product of the nightmares of hardened militarists. That kind of thinking was on the level of some solivision action program for small children. One day, hideous and warlike aliens, without reason or cause, suddenly invaded from the far reaches of the universe, so the peace-loving, justice-loving humans had no choice but to fight back. And for that purpose, mighty weapons and huge installations were required—so went the argument.
Every time he’d see that swarm of satellites encompassing this beautiful planet, Yang would fall into a foul mood, associating it with a snake constricting around a goddess’s throat.
In short, Yang had disliked the cheap costume jewelry that was Artemis’s Necklace for a long time, and he meant to take this opportunity to smash it to bits, with the added bonus of delivering shock therapy to the cult of hardware. He had thought up a number of ways to render Artemis’s Necklace impotent. But for these reasons, Yang had chosen the most spectacular method of them all.
The plan was set into motion.
The twelve gigantic blocks of ice sped toward the twelve military satellites.
It was a sight that beggared the imagination. As their speed increased, the frozen cylinders gained in mass, becoming ever more powerful weapons. The radar and sensor reconnaissance systems with which the satellites were furnished latched on to the rapidly closing ice blocks. They were neither energy waves nor metallic objects, but rather compounds of hydrogen and oxygen—in and of themselves, harmless. Even so, their mass and speed were regarded as threat factors, and the satellites’ computers took action.
A laser cannon locked its sights on an ice block and shot out a column of superheated energy. A perfectly circular hole three meters in diameter opened in the wall of ice. Not even a high-output laser cannon could pierce all the way through the ice, however. The laser’s characteristically strict unidirectionality impeded the spread of destructive effect, leading, conversely, to negative results. But that wasn’t all: a portion of the ice also vaporized, generating a large quantity of steam, which robbed the laser of heat energy. What’s more, in an absolute-zero vacuum, the steam refroze immediately as soon as it formed, transforming into a cloud of ice crystals that, in accordance with the law of inertia, continued to speed ahead at nigh-luminal velocities. Though missiles were fired and the flashes of their detonations lit up the surface of the icy mass, they, too, had no visible effect, having been shredded by passage through the crystals before striking the central mass.
On the bridge of Yang’s flagship Hyperion, the crew voicelessly watched this spectacle, and the communications officer’s head swam with the rapidly changing numbers displayed by the mass reader. The nearer the ice missiles approached the speed of light, the greater their mass swelled.
The ice shattered. So did the satellites. Shards of ice danced in the void, reflecting sunlight and planetary light, casting a dazzling brilliance throughout the surrounding space. Each and every ice shard had hundreds of tons of mass. But as they glittered beautifully on the screen, one could believe they were lighter than snowflakes. The broken fragments of satellite were already indistinguishable.
“Annihilated … Artemis’s Necklace … has not a single satellite remaining … It’s been annihilated …”
In a state of distraction, the communications officer kept repeating the word “annihilated.” The members of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic stood stock-still, as though transformed into pillars of salt.
They were starting to believe that word alone would echo in their ears forever when there came another sound—like a heavy object hitting the ground. Greenhill had collapsed into his chair. Amid the concentrated gazes of his comrades, he forced out in a hoarse voice:
“It’s all over. Our military revolution has failed. We’ve lost. Let’s admit it.”
After a few seconds’ interval, a cry of opposition arose. Captain Evens raised his voice and tried to encourage his co-conspirators.
“No, it is not over,” the captain insisted. “We have hostages. All of Heinessen’s one billion citizens are still in our hands.” He slammed his open palm onto the table. “On top of that, we’ve captured the director of Joint Operational Headquarters and the commander in chief of the space armada. Depending on the conditions, there’s a chance we can still negotiate. It’s still too soon to give up.”
“We have to quit. Any resistance beyond this will not only be futile, it will harm the reconciliation process between the government and the citizens. It’s already over. Let’s at least face the closing curtain gracefully.”
The captain’s shoulders fell, and a feeble voice leaked out from between his color-drained lips. “Then what are we going to do now? Surrender and be put on trial?”
“Those who wish to do so are welcome to. I’ll choose a different route, but there’s something I have to do beforehand. We cannot leave evidence or witnesses attesting that our noble uprising was orchestrated by an ambitious puppet master from the empire.”
Greenhill’s eyes stared loathingly at Lynch. “Rear Admiral Lynch, I had high expectations for you from the beginning of your career—ever since you were two classes behind me at Officers’ Academy. It was regrettable when that incident at El Facil happened nine years ago. That’s why I took you under my wing in this, thinking we could restore your reputation, but …”
“You’re just no judge of character,” the drunken ex–rear admiral pointed out coldly.
Admiral Greenhill’s face changed color. Rage, despair, defeat, abhorrence—all these emotions fused together, harmonizing; one might think something had exploded within him.
Two flashes of light shot through the room. One was swallowed up into the space between Greenhill’s eyebrows; the other grazed Lynch’s left ear, slicing off a portion of skin and meat. Hard upon his cry, multiple light bursts from in front, from behind, from the left and the right drilled narrow, burning tunnels into Lynch’s body. A few seconds behind Greenhill, he too collapsed to the floor.
“You fools …”
Rear Admiral Lynch spat out his last laugh with bubbles of blood and looked around at the officers who had shot him.
“I just saved Greenhill’s honor, don’t you think? Rather than living … being brought to trial, it was probably better … for the bastard to die … Heh. Honor … so stupid.”
A bubble of blood burst, and a film began to form over both his open eyes. Walking over and spitting onto Lynch’s face, Captain Evens shouted: “Burn this disgusting file to cinders. Dispose of Lynch’s corpse. Get rid of everything that could potentially compromise the justice of our cause.”
“Admiral Yang’s fleet has deployed into orbit,” the comm officer said in a shrill voice. “They’re about to begin landing operations. What shall we do?”
Evens knitted his brow but presently nodded as though he’d reached a decision.
“Open a channel. I’ll speak with Admiral Yang.”
Soon, the form of the young admiral appeared on-screen, wearing his black military beret at a bit of a slant. His staff was standing by behind him, and among them was the face of Admiral Greenhill’s daughter. Evens winced slightly.
“I am Alliance Navy captain Evens. As acting chair of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic, I request permission to speak. There’s no need for an assault. We know we’re defeated and have reached a decision to forgo any futile resistance. Everything’s finished.”
“That’s well and good, but …” Naturally, Yang held some misgivings. “What happened to the chairman of your Military Congress, Admiral Greenhill? I don’t see him there.”
After the span of a breath, Evens responded. “His Excellency took his own life. It was a splendid end.”
Hearing this, Frederica Greenhill let out a low wail and covered her mouth with one hand. Her shoulders quivered.
“Admiral Yang, our aims have been to clean up the government of our democratic republic and to expunge from the universe the despotism of the Galactic Empire. It is regrettable that we were unable to realize these ideals. Admiral Yang, the end result of all this is that you’ve lent your strength to the continued existence of despotism.”
“What is despotism? Isn’t it when governing officials not chosen by the citizenry rob the people of their freedom and try to control them through force and violence? That is, in sum, exactly the thing that you all have done here on Heinessen.”
“It’s you, noble soldiers, who are despots. Am I mistaken?” Yang’s voice was gentle, but there was no forgiveness in the words he spoke.
“Where am I wrong?”
“What we wanted wasn’t power for ourselves. This was a temporary expedient. It was a provisional form of government that was to be in place only until our homeland was rescued from its corrupted mob rule and the empire overthrown.”
“A temporary expedient …” Yang murmured with a slight bitterness. For the sake of self-justification, any excuse could be used. Nevertheless, even if this were a temporary expedient, just how many sacrifices would they have demanded?
“If I may ask, we’ve been fighting the empire a long time—150 years—and haven’t managed to overthrow it. We may burn through another 150 years after this and still not be able to overthrow it. After that’s happened, and your group has clung to your positions of power all that time—and all that time has continued to deprive the citizens of their freedoms—will you insist even then that this is a temporary expedient?”
Captain Evens faltered in his reply. But then he changed direction and attempted a rebuttal. “Everyone knows how corrupt the government is now. In order to correct that, what other methods were available?”
“Corrupted government doesn’t come down to politicians taking bribes. That’s no more than individual corruption. What I’d call corrupted government is a state of affairs where even if a politician does take a bribe, he is above criticism for doing so. Your group proclaimed the regulation of free speech. Don’t you think by that alone you’ve lost the grounds to censure the empire’s despots and the alliance’s current government?”
“We were putting our lives and our reputations at stake …” Captain Evens’s voice veered toward rigidity. “On this point, I won’t allow anyone to slander us. Our cause was not lacking in righteousness. We were merely a little short on luck and the ability to implement our plan. That was all.”
“Captain Evens …”
“Long live the military revolution!”
The communications screen went gray.
Chief of Staff Murai let out a sigh. “He never admitted his error, up to the last.”
“To each his own sense of righteousness,” Yang replied glumly and told von Schönkopf to ready them for landing. Thus did the Yang Fleet carry out its bloodless landing on the surface of Heinessen.
In light of his station and circumstances, Yang’s lack of ceremony bordered on the preposterous. He moved around briskly by himself, causing his subordinates to worry about his security—all the more since it was difficult to judge where the remaining partisans of the coup faction might now be lurking.
Disregarding Chief of Staff Murai’s vociferous urgings for caution, Yang proceeded on his own two feet to Joint Operational Headquarters and wrangled the location of Admiral Bucock’s confinement out of the surrendered petty officers. In short order, Yang had him freed and sent to a hospital.
The elderly admiral had weakened physically during his four months of imprisonment, and yet the strong light in his eyes and the clarity of his speech set Yang’s mind at ease.
“I’m utterly embarrassed,” said Bucock. “I was no use to you at all—not even with the information you gave me.”
“Not at all. I’m the one who made things miserable for you by taking so long. Is there anything you need?”
“Well, for the present, I sure would love a nip of whiskey.”
“I’ll have a bottle brought right away.”
“What happened to Admiral Greenhill?”
“Is he? Huh. So this old man’s outlived yet another one.”
Yang was grateful that Admiral Greenhill had had the sense of decency not to take any hostages—senior officials or citizens—down with him. He felt less so, however, when he released Dawson, the acting director of Joint Operational Headquarters.
A mountain of matters that needed sorting out after the incident loomed before Yang.
He’d need to inform the entire alliance of the coup’s failure and the reinstatement of the Charter of the Alliance, assess the damage, arrest the surviving members of the Military Congress for the Rescue of the Republic, and have autopsy reports made for the dead, including Admiral Greenhill and Captain Evens. When he thought about it, there was any number of other things too. Yang’s head ached.
It was at a time like this, though, that Yang’s eyes were opened to the true competence of his aide, Frederica Greenhill. Right after learning of her father’s death, she had said to Yang, “Can you give me one—no, two hours, sir? I know I can recover from this, but right now, I just can’t. So …”
Yang had nodded. When he’d been informed that Jessica Edwards had been among those massacred, he’d also been forced to gauge the amount of time it would take him to recover.
Yang didn’t believe her father had committed suicide. There was no way he had put the muzzle of the gun between his eyes and pulled the trigger. Likely he’d been shot dead by someone else. However, this was a thought that didn’t need to be uttered aloud.
(T/L – Note – Chapter Eight coming later )