Musings on the Referendum Result and the Future

21 Sep

I generally prefer to wait a few days before commenting on anything, no matter how important. It adds a certain perspective – and besides, the first reports, no matter how optimistic or dire, may be wrong. This time, however, two interesting and quite significant events have taken place, both of which bear examination.

Scotland voted NO. And Alex Salmond, the driving force behind the referendum, has resigned.

I have no doubt that people will be arguing for years over why the vote went the way it did. Did the YES campaign overplay its hand? Did the case they made for Scottish independence prove unconvincing? Did Salmond’s lustful grab for power put more voters than just myself off voting him into the position of President of Scotland? Or was it his unfortunate resemblance to Tony Blair, another politician who preferred style over substance, that deterred the voters from supporting him? Or was it the activities of thugs on the streets of Scotland who tried to silence NO supporters who turned voters against independence?

It is quite possible, of course, that one or more of those answers are correct, but I suspect we will never truly know.

Salmond’s resignation is interesting in and of itself. Did Salmond feel he should no longer lead Scotland when his cause was defeated so comprehensively? Or did he want to jump before he was pushed? The SNP would not be kind to a leader who suffered such an agonising defeat, one that calls the very existence of the SNP into question. Or, perhaps most depressing of all, is he hoping to remain in the background and wait to see what happens?

If Salmond leaves politics for good, he will finally win some of my respect. The cynical side of my nature, however, suggests that Salmond is merely waiting to see if there will be an opportunity to re-enter politics.

And David Cameron may well have given him the opportunity.

The NO campaign’s panic, when the polls started to suggest that the YES campaign would win, led them to make all sorts of promises. Those promises must now be carried out, or the politicians who made them will be exposed as liars. I have no doubt that certain politicians in Scotland are already contemplating the prospects for a second referendum, should those promises not be kept. They will make it seem, rightly or wrongly, that Scotland’s choice to remain in the Union was conditional on those promises being kept. If they are not kept, they will start to agitate for a second referendum.

But keeping the promises will cause other problems for the UK.

Put bluntly, the post-Act of Union Parliament largely abolished the independent nations of Scotland and England. Politically, Scotland and England were effectively part of the same country. There was no such thing as a Scottish MP, merely an MP who happened to represent a Scottish constituency. The argument put forward by YES campaigners that Scotland voted against the Iraq War, but got the war anyway, is essentially nonsense. British MPs voted in favour of the war.

The Scottish Parliament’s creation by New Labour was, at least in part, caused by the belief that Labour could rely on Scottish voters (and, to be fair, there were few Conservative voters in Scotland after the Poll Tax.) This had the accidental effect of creating a democratic headache where Scottish MPs could vote on English matters, without English MPs having similar rights in Scotland. England, you see, did not have a separate Parliament; Westminster was effectively both the British Parliament and the English Parliament. This was bitterly resented in England, for obvious reasons.

As such, granting Scotland additional powers will cause considerable resentment in England.

There is a way forward – actually, two ways forward.

The first would be to create an English Parliament, which the same powers as the Scottish Parliament. I suspect this will be opposed by both Labour and Liberal Democrats, as both parties may benefit more from Scottish MPs than the Conservatives.

The second would be to seek near-total devolution, for everyone.

As I see it, the core problem with large organisations – and governments are VERY large organisations – is that they have serious problems dealing with little details. This leads to rules and regulations that are actively harmful, because the laws cannot be adapted to suit every situation. The rule-makers may have the best intentions in the world. They simply lack the omnipotent perspective to see just how their ideas work in the real world.

I used to work as a drone in a very large organisation. The guys at the top would issue directives that made no sense to us, at ground-level. But none of our arguments could get them changed.

Let me suggest something like this.

Take a school, for example, or a hospital. Make the headteacher or director (whatever one calls the boss of a hospital) responsible for running his building, but also grant him the powers to actually handle the job. For example, headteachers actually have very limited powers over everything from staffing to discipline. Give them the ability to tackle problems without having to appeal up the chain. In fact, extend this principle to everywhere. Put matters concerning Edinburgh in the hands of Edinburgh City Council; matters concerning Glasgow in the hands of Glasgow Council, etc, etc. Devolution to the max!

But would this work in real life?

I don’t know. But I suspect that reducing the distance between politicians and the people on the ground would make it easier for them to concentrate on important matters – and, just incidentally, understand what effects their decisions are having.

YMMV, of course.

On A More Blog Related Topic …

17 Sep

On a more blog-related topic than the Scottish Referendum …

First, I’ve completed the first draft of Barbarians At The Gates II: The Shadow of Cincinnatus. I’m hoping to get some responses from beta-readers soon, then forward it to the editor. I hope this is considered good news.

Second, I’ve done the first major set of edits for Work Experience (Schooled In Magic IV). This was the usual hair-pulling session, but most of the suggested edits were good ones; it’s always useful to have a very critical eye going over the manuscript. I hope there won’t be many more sessions before the final version can be sent for publication. Hopefully, the book will be out in a few weeks, but no promises.

I’ve outlined the plot for Book VI, but I’m not sure when it’s going to be written.

Third, I’m currently working on the plot for Hard Lessons (A Learning Experience II) and I hope to start writing it on Monday. (By then, I may know if I’m going to be living in an independent Scotland or not.) Annoyingly, I had an idea for a book set between ALE and HL while I was making notes for the plot, so there may be a Book III that takes place between the two. We’ll see.

Fourth, Castalia House is producing a forthcoming MIL-SF anthology series entitled Riding the Red Horse. I’ve contributed a short story entitled A Piece of Cake, which is the origin story of the hero of Warspite (Ark Royal IV). I don’t know if the story will be available elsewhere – I’m going to have to think about that – but we shall see. If this becomes a regular series, I will probably try to contribute more work in the future.

I think that’s all for the moment. Feel free to comment on any or all of the above.

Chris

One Final Post

17 Sep

Tomorrow, Scotland goes to the polls, to decide if Scotland should separate itself from the United Kingdom or not.

You’ll notice, of course, that I haven’t used the word ‘independence.’

Why? The SNP isn’t promising us independence. All it is promising us, in reality, is a chance to become a smaller state within Europe. ‘Independence in Europe’ is a lie, for the very simple reason that Scotland will not even begin to have the real or potential clout of the UK, vis-a-vis the EU. Nor can we count upon the EU choosing to accept us, even if we wanted to join (and do we?) There are strong reasons for the EU to refuse to allow us to join without making major concessions to Brussels.

But let me put that aside, for the moment.

Frankly, I’m sick of the whole referendum. The YES campaign has managed to do remarkably well on a gossamer-thin tissue of wishful thinking, polliyanish naivety and emotional manipulation. The NO campaign, in the meantime, has lost itself in the simple fact it doesn’t have as attractive a cause as the YES campaign.

Much of this, alas, has to do with the state of modern politics. Events move slowly, but reports of events travel very fast. There are times when the only realistic thing to do is to hold steady and grit one’s teeth as one travels through a storm, but politicians have lost sight of the wisdom of such a course. Instead, we have politicians panicking and scrambling to make concessions (thus projecting an atmosphere of fear) when the polls take a sudden downswing.

There is no such thing as perfection. There is no way to prevent teething troubles, no matter what you’re doing. No matter what you do, there will be problems. The only question is how well you handle those problems, when everyone and their uncle is screaming in your ear that you have to change course. Politicians either trim their sales to the wind or stubbornly stick to the course they choose, both of which can lead to disaster.

I’d feel sorry for them, really, if they hadn’t done so much to make such a situation inevitable.

But, back to Scotland …

I don’t know which way the vote will go. Once, I would have bet that it would be a NO. Now, watching the fumbling idiocy of the NO campaign and the shameless manipulation of the YES campaign, I have my doubts. All I can really do now is go to the polling station tomorrow, cast my vote and pray.

But one thing is clear. If Scotland votes YES, we will face a long period of prolonged instability and uncertainty. This will be the greatest divorce in history, bar none. If there are benefits from the faux-independence offered by the SNP, it will be a long time before we see them.

That’s my final word on the matter. If you’re Scottish and you’re going to vote in the referendum, read around the subject and think, coldly and logically, about just what sort of ‘independence’ Scotland might be offered. Read my earlier two articles, if you like, or see what else is available on the web.

And then cast your vote.

Emotions and the IndyRef

8 Sep

[I wasn't going to comment more on the whole issue of Scottish Independence, but what I read in the newspaper today made me think.]

As a child, I envied Mr. Spock.

Why? The ability to suppress one’s emotions, to not HAVE any emotions, seemed ideal to me. My time at school was not happy. It would have been far easier if I hadn’t had any feelings to hurt, or no need to invest my hopes in ambitions for the future that were continually squashed. Emotions seemed dangerous to me. A person in the grip of emotion could – no, would – do dangerous things that would make no sense, in the cold light of day.

Indeed, so many problems our police forces have to solve are caused, not by cold calculation, but emotions running riot.

So I don’t trust intense emotion. Does that make me a cold fish? I don’t really have any feelings about that, one way or the other <grin>.

The ‘YES’ campaign for Scotland is basing its campaign primarily upon emotion. Independence seems a worthwhile dream for us all because … well, who doesn’t want to be independent? Not to have to put up with parents, teachers, banks, bureaucrats, lawyers, policemen and everyone else who, in all manner of ways, curb our personal independence? We thrill to movies like Braveheart (which was stunningly inaccurate, as a depiction of the real Wallace) and allow the tidal waves of emotion to push us onwards.

The SNP has taken advantage of this by invoking Robert the Bruce. This is particularly annoying to me because no one in their right mind would want to live in the Scotland of Robert the Bruce (or, for that matter, the England of Edward I, II and III.) By our standards, they were hellholes for the vast majority of the population. Indeed, the whole issue of the Scottish Wars of Independence was far more blurred than the SNP cared to admit.

I agree the stories are thrilling. And they lead to heartening emotions.

But sometimes these emotions lead us to mistakes.

I write all this because I read in yesterday’s paper that the ‘YES’ campaign has moved ahead of the ‘NO’ campaign for the first time. Personally, I’m sceptical. No one rang me and asked for my opinion. The only true large-scale opinion poll will be the referendum itself.

However, Alex Salmond has used this to boost his campaign.

I’m distrustful. No, I’m rather more than just distrustful.

Emotionally, I will happily admit the issue has a certain appeal. Cold calculation, however, suggests otherwise. Indeed, I have a feeling that Salmond himself understands the weakness of his case, because he is piling on the emotions in the hopes of making the voters drunk on them. (How many stupid decisions have you made when drunk?)

The ‘NO’ campaign has a weakness. It is, basically, campaigning for the status quo, while there are people who think that chance is always good or that they will benefit from the new Scottish order. There are few emotions to be found in the status quo.

But cold calculation calls the SNP’s claims into doubt.

The morning after the referendum, we will open our eyes to a new world. I think it behoves us to think long and hard about where we want to go – and what it will cost us to get there.

And, while we’re at it, stop thinking with our emotions.

Chris

PS – I found a pamphlet supporting the ‘YES’ campaign in Morningside Library. I’m not actually sure if it was an official publication or not, but (quite apart from the sheer level of wishful thinking) it included a section on the prospects for the pandas in Edinburgh Zoo! I think there are more important issues to think about where independence is concerned.

Coming Books …

7 Sep

In-between moving into a new home and writing BATG II (this probably isn’t a good sign) I’ve been working on plots for various future books. Comments are, of course, welcome.

Bookworm will have a Book III in November (hopefully); The Best Laid Plans. Unless the plot proves to be too short for use, there will be a final book, currently entitled The Last Full Measure. Alternate titles: Full Circle or The Root of All Things.

The Royal Sorceress is currently having problems. I’d like to do a book set in India (this would be Raj India) but the first two plots I came up with would be too akin to Necropolis to be really usable. The alternate would be a visit to alt-America, during the war. I’m not sure yet which way to go.

The Empire’s Corps will proceed with Never Surrender, which will pick up the plot threads left dangling by Retreat Hell. I may focus it entirely on Jasmine and the POWs, then have another book go back to Avalon. After that, there will be First To Fight (Ed’s origin story, which I’m planning to be a chatty book like The Living Will Envy The Dead), Culture Shock and The Year of a Thousand Emperors. The problem is depicting a multi-sided galactic civil war.

I’ve actually given serious thought to having the main character be a reporter-type person who keeps on getting captured by various factions, thus bearing witness to the war even though she will never get to write her story. An alternative will be to have the story be led by a mercenary in command of a fleet of ships, who keeps swapping sides depending on who has the better deal. I don’t think he’d be very sympathetic though.

Culture Shock would be set on a medium-sized colony world that is told it has to take in a few hundred thousand refugees or see them die in space. The colony world’s leaders agree to this, only to discover that the newcomers aren’t entirely compatible with their society and putting them together might have been a mistake.

I need a follow-up to The Thin Blue Line too <grin>

Too many projects, too little time …

Chris

Coming Soon–Stars and Empire Boxset

2 Sep

Hi, everyone

I and a number of other Kindle authors are doing a massive boxset of some of our best-selling novels, including some bonus material you won’t find anywhere else. (In my case, there is a funny short story as Blake Coleman goes back to school – yes, really.) If you’re interested, please pre-order the box now <grin>.

Humanity wasn’t built for peace. Not on Earth. Not in space. Not on other worlds. Join first colonizers, space marines and rebel forces as they battle for domination against separate factions, alien nations and, sometimes, themselves across the galaxies.

10 of the most recognizable names in space opera today bring you a value-packed bundle like no other, containing everything from full-length novels to tantalizing episode starts to popular serials. The same works you see right on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

About 2200 pages of rocket-fuelled adventure!

Stars & Empire: 10 Galactic Tales
BONUS:

Each author has provided special content — from deleted scenes to complete short stories — you won’t find anywhere else!

This LIMITED-EDITION bundle includes:
MARINES (Crimson Worlds 1) – Jay Allan
PENNSYLVANIA: Books 1 and 2 – Michael Bunker
OMEGA RISING (Omega Force 1) – Joshua Dalzelle
FOREVER GATE: Parts 1 and 2 – Isaac Hooke
THE EMPIRE’S CORPS – Christopher G. Nuttall
REBEL – Edward W. Robertson
DARK SPACE: Book 1 – Jasper T. Scott
THE TERRAN GAMBIT (Episode #1: The Pax Humana Saga) – Endi Webb
THE SYNCHRONICITY WAR: Part I – Dietmar Arthur Wehr
GALACTIC EMPIRE WARS: Destruction – Raymond L. Weil

http://smarturl.it/starsemp
http://smarturl.it/starsemp-bn
http://smarturl.it/starsemp-kobo
http://smarturl.it/starsemp-ibooks

Thank you for your attention <grin>

Chris

 

The Shadow of Cincinnatus (Barbarians At The Gates II)–Snippet

26 Aug

Prologue

From: Meditations on Power: The Terran Federation, The Empire and Marius Drake (4502 A.D)

What is power?

Some would say that power is the ability to shape events to your pleasing. Some would say that power is the ability to do things denied to other people. And some would say that power is the way to get what you want, when you want it, no matter what others might have to say about it. When asked to chose between sex and power, the cynic will always choose sex.

Why? Because power can be used to obtain sex.

But power can also be used to obtain more power. This was certainly true of the Grand Senate of the Terran Federation. An august body, composed of members who had practically inherited their seats, it reached for more and more power over the Outer Worlds and the Colonies. The Colonies rebelled, of course, but the Senate fought and won the Inheritance Wars, ending the threat of the Federation snapping in two. It should have been the end.

The Grand Senate grew lazy and complacent. It fought a pointless war with an alien race that ended up costing more blood and treasure than it had anticipated, purely out of greed. It chose to ignore growing problems along the edge of explored space, secure in its power and position. But even the more paranoid members of the Grand Senate failed to realise that it was placing more and more power in the hands of its military leaders. One of them, Admiral Justinian, rebelled against the Federation, intent on claiming power for himself.

It should not have taken long for the Federation to crush the upstart. The Federation Navy outmassed the rebels by over a hundred to one. But other military commanders had rebelled, diverting the Federation’s forces, while the Grand Senate took steps to ensure that no future military commander could ever hope to gain enough power to challenge the Senate. And yet, their actions ensured that no quick and decisive war was possible. No Admiral dared take chances when his actions might be taken out of context and used against him. No General dared make plans of his own without fear of being accused of plotting a coup. The Grand Senate was effectively strangling its own ability to make war.

Eventually, Admiral Marius Drake – a hero of the early fighting – came to terms with the Grand Senate. He would marry into their ranks and defeat their enemies. This he did, leading the forces of the Federation to a stunning victory over Admiral Justinian. But the Grand Senate, no longer trusting him, chose to try to kill him. His best friend died saving his life.

And so Admiral Drake led his fleet against Earth, captured the Grand Senate and proclaimed himself Emperor.

Alas for Drake, he was about to discover the limits of power.

Chapter One

Garibaldi, Roman. One of the fastest-rising stars of the Federation Navy and a personal protégé of Admiral (later Emperor) Marius Drake. After his role in the failed peace mission to Admiral Justinian, Garibaldi was assigned to Fifth Fleet as her commanding officer …

-The Federation Navy In Retrospect, 4199

Hobson’s Choice, 4098

“You know,” Elf said, “this is the very definition of using a sledgehammer to crush a nut.”

Roman Garibaldi gave his friend, lover and ground-forces commander a mischievous look, using one hand to brush the brown hair out of his eyes as he looked up at the gathering fleet. It was smaller, in terms of numbers, than the giant fleets that had fought the Inheritance Wars, but it was an order of magnitude more deadly, the most powerful fleet assembled in the last decade of intermittent warfare. Calling the fleet a sledgehammer sent to crush a nut was a definite understatement.

“More like using a sledgehammer to crush an atom,” he said, after a moment. “Or dropping an entire asteroid into a planet to kill a single person. Or …”

Elf snorted, rudely. “Does it bother you?”

Roman shrugged, then shook his head. He’d been on the receiving end of superior firepower – vastly superior firepower – often enough to feel a certain kind of satisfaction at having superior firepower on his side for once. Maybe there were naval officers out there who liked the idea of a fair fight, of matching themselves against an enemy commander with equal strength to themselves, but it wasn’t a sentiment any sensible officer could allow himself in combat. Besides, the more firepower be brought to the party, the smaller the chance of a real fight.

Not that they have much chance anyway, he thought, with a tinge of amusement. A handful of light cruisers would be more than enough to take the high orbitals of Hobson’s Choice.

He looked up at the running lights of Fifth Fleet. It had only been a month since his most recent promotion and he couldn’t resist a thrill of delight at seeing so many ships under his command, although he knew he was far from the only young officer promoted into occupying a dead man’s shoes. The war with the rogue Admiral, Justinian, had been good for eliminating much of the deadweight in high-ranking positions, if nothing else. And yet, seeing so much responsibility resting on his shoulders worried him. He’d barely been a Captain long enough to grow accustomed to his ship before he’d been promoted to the flag deck.

“You’re thinking again,” Elf teased him. “It’s a terrible habit right now.”

“I know,” Roman said, gravely. “But I need to try to plan for everything.”

Elf tapped his shoulder. “You should know that isn’t possible,” she said, sternly. “All you can do is be prepared to adapt to change at a moment’s notice.”

Roman let out a sigh. “Yes,” he said. “But will there be any change here?”

“Probably not,” Elf said. “But we have been surprised before.”

“Yeah,” Roman drawled. “Better to be careful.”

He shrugged. Hobson’s Choice had been a thorn in the side of the Federation for years, ever since the world had been claimed by an eccentric who had thrown open the doors to anyone who wanted to operate outside the Federation’s gaze. Now, it served as a clearing house for pirates, smugglers, slavers, rebels and all the others who were more than a little unwelcome on Federation worlds. A vast amount of bribes, paid out to senior officers and sector governors, had ensured that the world remained undisturbed by the Federation Navy. But now everything had changed. Hobson’s Choice was about to get a very unwelcome surprise.

His wristcom buzzed. “Admiral,” Flag Captain Scott Palter said, “the 143rd has just reported in. They’re ready to move.”

“Good,” Roman said. “Inform the fleet to begin cloaking procedures. I’m on my way.”

“Good luck,” Elf said. She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek, then headed to the hatch. “Leave some of them for us, will you?”

Roman watched her go, then looked back at the fleet. There was another reason for bringing the entire formation to Hobson’s Choice, even if it was a staggering level of overkill. Fifth Fleet had been put together in a hurry, from starships that had seen service in the recent war to new-build starships just out of the yards, with crews that had barely graduated from the academy. The mission would, he hoped, iron out any problems long before they ran into anything larger than a pirate ship or two. Even if the warlords were gone, there were plenty of other threats out there.

He smiled, then turned to walk through the hatch and down to CIC himself. It still astonished him that he’d been given command of so many ships, even if it was unlikely he’d ever command a ship personally again. That irked him, more than he cared to admit. He’d never expected to become a Commodore, not with his lack of connections. Starship command had seemed the highest achievable goal. And now he was a Commodore, holding down an Admiral’s billet. His family would be proud.

The hatch to the CIC opened up in front of him, revealing a handful of consoles, a large command chair and a giant holographic tank. Lights flickered and flared within the tank, dimming to grey as the ships went into cloak, each one tagged with the starship’s name and current status. The temptation to micromanage was almost overpowering, Roman had discovered, finally understanding why so many senior officers had issued so many unnecessary orders. One look was enough to tell him that Fifth Fleet’s formation looked at little ragged.

An officer with less experience of actual war-fighting would see that as a problem, he thought, as he took his seat. But anyone with any sense would know better.

He looked up at the display, then glanced at Palter. They’d known each other since Roman had commanded Midway, where Palter had been his tactical officer. Thankfully, Palter had been available when Roman had been assigned to Fifth Fleet. A month in command hadn’t given him the time to get to know most of his officers, particularly as Fifth Fleet was still assembling. The Federation Navy might have expanded rapidly, during the war, but it was still badly overstretched. Roman was surprised that so many starships had been assigned to the Rim.

But Admiral – Emperor – Drake fought here before the war, he thought. He felt a duty to do something about the chaos along the Rim.

He took a breath. “Order the fleet to advance,” he said. “And prepare to spring our surprise.”

***

“The cargo is secure, sir.”

Captain Roger Loewi nodded, impatiently. Hogshead had been orbiting Hobson’s Choice for weeks, burning precious fuel, while her agents on the surface had been rounding up the cargo and lifting it to orbit. The crew had been growing increasingly unhappy, after discovering that they would neither be allowed to go down to the surface or play their games with the cargo. He’d had to face down two threats of mutiny and one crewman had actually managed to desert, although he was no loss. Somehow, slavers rarely attracted the best crews.

The cargo, he thought, sourly. One hundred and fifty women, all young, all healthy enough to bear children for a hidden colony thousands of light years from Earth. The crew was already sniffing round the hold and, if it weren’t for the armed mercenaries guarding the hatches, he would have feared for their safety. For some absurd reason, the colonists wanted virgins. God knew it was hard enough to find virgins on Hobson’s Choice, let alone girls who had been captured by pirates and traded to slavers on the planet below. He cursed himself under his breath, then dismissed the thought. If he didn’t think of the slaves as cargo, he would go mad.

It was a living. Hogshead was too old and slow to carry legitimate cargo, even if there hadn’t been a hundred warrants out for her arrest on the more civilised worlds of the Federation. And wasn’t that ironic? Loewi knew for a fact that some of the slaves he’d shipped, properly modified, had been sold to high-ranking Federation officers, who would probably dispose of them before returning to Earth. Who gave a shit about the morality of shipping kidnapped women and children when the alternative was poverty and certain death? Or indenture …

He turned back to the console. “Take us out of here,” he ordered. “Now.”

“Gotcha, dad,” the helmsman said. His son worked the console with a practiced ease. “I hear some of them are …”

An alarm sounded. Red lights appeared on the cramped display.

Loewi’s mouth dropped open. For a long moment, his brain refused to accept what he was seeing. There were a hundred and fifty starships decloaking around the planet, spearheaded by five entire superdreadnaught squadrons. It had to be a trick of some kind, his brain yammered at him, an illusion created by ECM drones designed to fool far more advanced sensors than Hogshead’s outdated sensor suite. They could barely see another freighter more than a few million kilometres away from them! But the starships had a terrifying solidity that drove all doubts out of his head.

“Dad, I’m picking up a message,” his son said.

“… Is the Federation Navy,” a voice boomed. “Hobson’s Choice is now under military control. Cut your drives and prepare to be boarded. Any resistance will result in the destruction of your vessels. There will be no further warning.”

Loewi thought fast. The idea of outrunning any of the military ships was thoroughly absurd. They could be given forty-eight hours to run and the military would still catch up with them before they crossed the Phase Limit. Not that they’d be given the time, he saw, as new icons flared to life on the display. Hundreds of starfighters were launching from carriers, each one more than capable of blowing Hogshead into vapour. They were caught like rats in a trap.

His son looked up at him. “Dad?”

“Cut the drives,” Loewi ordered. He knew he was dead. Slaver Captains could be shot without the formality of a trial – and if the bribes no longer protected Hobson’s Choice, there was no point in hoping they would protect him. But at least his children and crew would survive. They’d be on a penal planet, but they would be alive. “Cut the drives and tell them we surrender, then lock down the ship. The mercs might have other ideas.”

***

“I think we surprised them, sir,” Palter said.

Roman nodded. There had been seventy starships orbiting Hobson’s Choice when the fleet had decloaked and a third of them had started to try to flee. The others had dropped their drives as per instructions, although there was no way to know if they’d meant to surrender or if they simply hadn’t been able to power up their drives in time to escape. Not, he knew, that it really mattered. The fleeing ships didn’t have a hope of escaping his fleet and making it out into deep space.

“Good,” he said. “Dispatch the Marines. We’ll go with Plan Theta.”

He forced himself to sit back and watch as his fleet’s smaller units moved in to tackle the fleeing ships. A couple cut their drives as soon as the destroyers entered firing range, the reminder kept trying to run until the destroyers opened fire. Roman watched, as dispassionately as he could, as five of the fleeing ships exploded, one by one. They were either pirates or smugglers, he knew, both occupations that earned participants the death penalty. But it was still one hell of a waste.

“The Marines are entering the atmosphere now,” Palter informed him. “There’s no trace of any resistance.”

Roman wasn’t surprised. To all intents and purposes, Hobson’s Choice was an utterly undefended world. There was no government, let alone a military; there was certainly no one willing to fight and die in the defence of a wretched hive of scum and villainy. By the time someone managed to take control, if anyone did, the Marines would already be occupying int the major settlements. Resistance would be utterly futile.

More reports came in as smaller parties of marines boarded the surrendered starships. Most of them were smugglers – few pirates would lurk in orbit when they could be back out in space, hunting for their next prizes – but three of them were slavers. Two of the slavers were empty, having returned to Hobson’s Choice for more slaves, while the third was crammed to bursting with young female slaves. They’d been kidnapped, according to the Marines, or sold into slavery by their families. And if the fleet had waited another hour or two before launching the invasion, they would never have had a hope of freedom.

“Move them to the hospital ships,” Roman ordered. How could anyone sell their children into slavery? He’d grown up on an asteroid and no one had ever threatened him with anything worse than being sent to bed without his supper. But the Rim of explored space was rarely civilised. A family might decide it was better to sell one child, no matter how horrific it was, than lose everyone. “And then transfer their former captors to the brig.”

He looked down at the display as more reports came in from the planet’s surface. A handful of locals, no doubt expecting the death penalty as soon as they were identified, had tried to put up a fight. The Marines hadn’t bothered to try to talk them down, knowing it would be futile. Instead, they’d simply called up heavy firepower from a hovertank and blown the enemy building into flaming debris. The bodies would be found and identified later.

“All the ships have been secured,” Palter reported. The display flickered and updated as the Marines took control of the captured ships, showing their status. “Should I dispatch prize crews?”

“See to it,” Roman said. It galled him, but Fifth Fleet’s logistics were appallingly weak. The Grand Senate had been willing to build thousands of new warships for the Federation Navy, but they’d been reluctant to pay for new freighters. It was a piece of short-sightedness that, he suspected, would come back to haunt them. Fifth Fleet was far too dependent on a small handful of bulk freighters for his comfort. “And prepare them for transit to Athena.”

The hours ticked by, slowly. Roman felt growing impatience, even though he knew the invasion was proceeding with astonishing speed. Hitting a more normal colony world, even one without defences, would take much longer. Hobson’s Choice was only a handful of minor settlements, after all. They could literally round up everyone on the planet, load them into prison ships, and drop them off at the nearest penal world.

It was nearly nine hours before Elf contacted him, privately. “Roman,” she said, once the link was secure. “The planet is under control.”

“Good,” Roman said. “Any problems?”

“None,” Elf said. She sounded perturbed. “But there’s an odd shortage of captives.”

Roman frowned. A planet was a large place – and someone with the proper training or equipment could remain undiscovered for quite some time, if they tried. And finding them would require more time than he had.

“Did they have a chance to go to ground?”

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think so,” Elf said. “They only had around twenty minutes of warning before we came down and landed around the settlements. We’re interrogating some of the captives now, but it sounds as though quite a few people have been gone for quite some time.”

“Someone’s been recruiting,” Roman said, slowly.

“It looks that way,” Elf agreed. “The missing people are all mercenaries or starship pilots, as far as we can tell. And we know we didn’t capture many mercenaries when we occupied Admiral Justinian’s territory.”

Roman considered it. “What about our agents?”

“No sign of them,” Elf said. “They weren’t planning to stay on Hobson’s choice indefinitely, though.”

“True,” Roman agreed. The last time he’d visited Hobson’s Choice, he’d helped to insert a number of agents from ONI. And no one had heard from the agents since. “Have the prisoners moved to the ships, then earmarked for interrogation,” he said. If someone was recruiting … pirates? Smugglers? Or Outsiders? “If we offer someone a chance to escape a hellworld, they might talk.”

“I’ll see to it,” Elf said. Her chuckle echoed down the link. “Easiest invasion I’ve ever seen, Roman. I didn’t lose a single Marine.”

“We could do with an easy victory,” Roman agreed. The Federation Navy had fought hard in the war, but it had also been badly demoralised. Between the certain knowledge that some senior officers had turned on the Federation, and the Grand Senate’s relentless attempts to control the Navy as thoroughly as possible, there were too many officers frightened to do anything without orders, in triplicate. “Good work, Marine.”

He took a breath. “Detach a handful of Marines to sweep the surface,” he ordered. There was no point in keeping the entire fleet in the backwater system, but they could leave a few surprises behind. “I’ll assign a destroyer squadron to the high orbitals. If we’re lucky, we should snag a few strays before word gets out and rogues start avoiding the planet.”

“Aye, sir,” Elf said.

“And then we’ll set course for Athena,” Roman concluded. He felt a thrill of anticipation at the thought of seeing the Rim. “And see just what’s waiting for us there.”

He closed the link, then settled back in his chair. All things considered, it had been a cakewalk, almost laughably easy. Thousands of captives had been liberated, hundreds of pirates, slavers and smugglers would face justice and Hobson’s Choice would no longer be a thorn in the Federation’s side. And the fleet’s morale would improve as news of the victory sank in.

Emperor Marius would be pleased.

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