Archive | February, 2013

Tangled Web: The Politics of the Terran Federation

23 Feb

Just background for an idea.  Not very well developed yet, but comments would be welcome.

Tangled Web: The Politics of the Terran Federation

It is impossible to understand the current state of the Federation without understanding its history. Put simply, the original Federation accidentally created a political schism between the Inner Worlds, which were highly-populated and safe, and the Outer Worlds, which were under-populated and exposed to pirates, raiders and alien invaders. Worse, because the Federation Government was based on proportional representation, the Outer Worlds found themselves being politically abused by the Inner Worlds. It is quite likely that civil war would have torn the Federation apart if the Long War hadn’t begun.

The Inner Worlds refused to take the Jakarah seriously when they were first encountered, little realising that the frog-like aliens were the masters of a powerful empire. It was only sheer luck that saved outnumbered and outgunned elements of the Federation Navy from a surprise attack – after twenty years of cold war and ‘incidents’ that were smoothed over – when the Frogs finally came over the border. The Frogs had a vastly larger military; thankfully, human technology was advanced enough to hold the line and allow the Federation Navy to regroup. Seventy years of inconclusive fighting followed before the Federation Navy managed to gain the upper hand.

Unfortunately, the Inner Worlds didn’t really take the war seriously. They’d been safe, while the Outer Worlds had been occupied, bombed or outright depopulated by the Frogs. When the Frogs sued for peace, offering honourable terms, the Inner Worlds accepted and demilitarised with indecent haste, despite the naysayers. As it happened, the naysayers were right; the Frogs took four years to regroup and then launched a stunning attack on Earth itself. The Federation Navy was barely able to stem the tide before it was too late.

In the aftermath, the Federation Navy – led by a group of Admirals who felt betrayed by the politicians – launched what was effectively a coup. For the remaining ten years of the Long War, the Junta effectively ruled the Federation. There were some civilian protests, particularly among the Inner World populations, but they were rapidly dispersed. With a unified effort, the Federation Navy overcame the Frogs and eventually defeated them in a final titanic battle over their homeworld. The remaining Frogs surrendered and their planets were placed under permanent interdict.

This raised the question of just where the Federation would go from here. The Junta had always claimed to be an emergency measure; they’d promised to resign once the war was over. However, the old political model had led the Federation to the brink of civil war – and then total defeat in the Long War. Their solution to this problem was to resurrect the Federation Congress and Senate, but to insist that only those who had served in the military were to be given the vote. Proportionally speaking, the Outer Worlds – which had a high percentage of military veterans – suddenly held the whip had over the Inner Worlds.

Matters were complicated by the early precedents. Those who were elected into political power in Congress were not veterans, so much as they were in the reserves. Many Senators were automatically enrolled in the Senate when they’d reached flag rank. Naturally, while the old political parties no longer existed, new ones formed up around senior flag officers. An Admiral could use his rank on behalf of his clients; his clients, in turn, were expected to support him in the Senate (or Congress, if they were elected there.) And, if an Admiral was in the Senate, he could lobby for command of any future campaigns.

What this meant for the Federation was that its new ruling class had a strong motive to seek wars, which they could use as a chance to boost their own standing. The next hundred years saw upwards of thirteen wars, often launched on flimsy pretexts, against nearby alien powers. Once completed, the alien territories were ruthlessly exploited by interstellar corporations – barred from exploiting humans – which tended to provoke revolts (providing other chances for military glory.)

This is not to say that the Federation was an outright military dictatorship. The voters could and did influence policy, although they tended to be heavily conservative. Quite a few Admirals who had overstepped themselves (in the view of Congress) could be recalled, tried and then exiled – if found guilty. Admirals who were not popular knew that their positions were never truly secure. Their jealous fellows challenged their positions at every moment. 200 years after the end of the Long War, the political system had snarled up.

Admiral Sultana’s case is indicative of just what went wrong. Having won a series of smashing victories, she found herself politically marginalised … and unable to reward her clients appropriately, which risked her position when they deserted her. Frustrated, she turned to two allies to break the logjam and bypass the Senate entirely …

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The Great Game–Prologue

21 Feb

The writer is a condescending asshole.  You might have noticed <wink>.  Suggestions for how it can be made worse (i.e. more condescending) would be very welcome.

Prologue

Published in The Times, London, 1831

Dear Sir

As a retired military officer and sorcerer in the Royal Sorcerers Corps, I am writing to express my grave concern – nay, dismay – over the decision to appoint Lady Gwendolyn Crichton as Royal Sorceress. It is not one, I feel, that is in the best interests of the British Empire.

No one can deny that Lady Gwendolyn has shown the pluck and determination expected of a British woman in a sticky situation. Her heroism towards the end of the Swing played a strong role in ending the rebellion before there was further loss of life. However, the fact remains that she is profoundly unsuited to any position of authority. Among other things, her upbringing has left her naive in the ways of the world; the sheltered upbringing of a lady of her station does not cover the areas that any sorcerer would need to know.

Furthermore, although there are no detailed reports, there are disturbing rumours from her childhood that suggest unpleasant thoughts about her conduct. I shall say no more about those!

Even if she was physically and mentally capable of holding her own, she is only sixteen years old [ED – Lady Gwendolyn is seventeen as of writing.] There is no way that she can command the respect and admiration that Master Thomas commanded from the sorcerers who served under him. It runs against the grain for any man to take orders from a woman, even those women who are born into positions of power. And the sorcerers of the RSC will have no doubt that Lady Gwendolyn is far less knowledgeable – let alone experienced – than themselves. At best, Lady Gwendolyn will be repeatedly embarrassed by her elders; at worst, she will have to dress up as a man and lead the RSC onto the battlefield, no fit place for a woman! I submit to you that forcing an young girl to undergo this humiliation is cruel and unnecessary.

Nor is there any reason to allow an accident of birth to dictate the holder of the post of Royal Sorcerer. Master Thomas’s true genius lay in his organisation skills; he, more than anyone else, shaped both the Corps and the Royal College. There is no true requirement for a Master Magician to hold the post; the old belief that the holder should be the most powerful and capable magician in service has been discredited. Do we really expect a General to be physically stronger than a Sergeant?

In this era of instability, with the very strong possibility of yet another war with France, the last thing we need is uncertainty in the ranks of the Royal Sorcerers Corps. I therefore call upon the government to reconsider its position and find a more suitable person to serve as Royal Sorcerer.

Yours

Col. Sebastian. (Blazer; 2nd Warwickshire Yeomanry Regiment. Ret. 1830.)

The Outcast–Snippet

20 Feb

Set in The Empire’s Corps universe, introducing a very important character.

Chapter One

“Good work, Sameena.”

Sameena beamed with pride at her father’s words. It was unusual for a girl to receive any formal education on Islamabad, let alone be granted the chance to use it, but her father had recognised her talent from a very early age. The family business would be passed down to her brother Abdul – a girl running a business was unheard of – yet he’d already promised her that she could continue to work behind the scenes. Her brother had no talent for business and knew it.

“Thank you, father,” she said, as she looked down at the figures. Honestly, they weren’t very complicated at all. “I could do the next set right now.”

Her father made a show of stroking his beard in contemplation, then shook his head. “Your mother will want help in the kitchen,” he reminded her dryly. “Or we will have no food tonight.”

Sameena rolled her eyes. “I burn water, father,” she said, hoping that he would change his mind. “You should put Abdul in the kitchen.”

Her father’s eyes twinkled with amusement. The only male cooks on the planet were the ones who cooked in the mosques, feeding the men who travelled from town to town spreading the word of Islam. It was unlikely, to say the least, that Abdul would ever join them. He was simply too fond of games to take up a career in the mosque.

“Cheeky brat,” he said. He reached out and patted her on the head. “Go help your mother while I check the figures. You can do more sums tonight.”

Sameena stood up and bowed, then walked out of her father’s study and down towards the kitchen, where the smell of cooked meat was already starting to waft through the house. Her mother was a wonderful cook, she knew, but Sameena knew that she had no talent for cooking. In her fanciful moments, she wondered if she had inherited the gene for trading from her father, rather than the gene for cooking she should have had. Most of her friends saw nothing wrong with spending most of their time in the kitchen.

She stopped in front of the kitchen door and hesitated, catching sight of her own reflection in the mirror her mother had hung on the door. A dark-skinned face looked back at her, surrounded by long dark hair that fell down over her shoulders. She looked almost mannish, her mother had said, apart from her hair. The doctor they’d taken her to had said that she was simply a late developer. Shaking her head, Sameena pulled her hair into a ponytail and pushed open the door to the kitchen. Her mother was standing in front of the stove, boiling a piece of beef in a large pan.

“There you are,” her mother said, crossly. A strict traditionalist, her mother had little time for the work she did with her father. Only the tradition of female obedience had stopped her from making more of a fuss. “Go wash the pots and pans.”

Sameena sighed. “Yes, mother,” she said, as she walked over to the sink. As always, her mother seemed to have gone out of her way to use as many different pans and utensils as possible. “Why don’t you get Abdul to do it?”

Her mother gave her a sharp look. “Because he is at study,” she said, sharply. It was her latest scheme to make something of her son and she’d nagged her husband until he’d agreed to pay for it. “And because men don’t work in the kitchen.”

It hardly seemed fair to Sameena. She was better at maths than her brother, better at reading … why did she have to get married and spend her life in the kitchen? If her father had wanted to marry her off, he could have done so from the moment she’d become a woman. She’d been lucky. Some of her girlfriends had already been married, or had been practically chained to the kitchen inside their houses, permanently supervised by their mothers. But why was it that way?

She pushed the thought aside and started to work on the pots and pans. Her mother kept adding to the pile, or scooping up items she’d washed and using them again, forcing Sameena to wash them again and again. She just wanted to walk away, but there was no point in leaving. Her mother would be angry and her father would be disappointed in her. Where could she go if she left?

“Take this out to the dining room,” her mother ordered. “And then come straight back.”

Sameena took the dish of curry gratefully and carried it out of the kitchen, down towards the dining room. It was the largest room in the house; her father used it to entertain his business partners or the bureaucrats from Abdullah every few weeks. Sameena had been allowed to listen to some of the discussions – although she hadn’t been allowed to speak – and she’d learned more about how the world worked than she’d learned from her mother, or the tutor her father had hired for her education. They hadn’t bothered to conceal anything from her.

Her father was already sitting on the floor. “Put it down there,” he ordered, tiredly. “And then you …”

There was a crash as someone opened the front door. Sameena looked up to see Abdul as he stepped into the room, grinning from ear to ear. Her brother was handsome, some of her girlfriends had said, but Sameena didn’t see it herself. But then, he’d been two years old when she’d been born and they’d practically grown up together. She’d been very lucky in her bother as well.

“You’re late,” her father said, sternly.

“I had to talk to the teacher,” Abdul said. He was still grinning. “Can you believe that he got something wrong?”

Their father stared at him. “… What?”

“The teacher, the one who came all the way from Abdullah,” Abdul said. “He was basing his arguments on a discredited hadith, so I had to tell him …”

Sameena looked at her father and saw the blood draining from his face. “What did you tell him …?”

Abdul dropped into classical Arabic and started to explain. Sameena scowled at him – girls were not encouraged to learn classical Arabic and she could barely follow one word in ten – before looking at their father. He’d gone very pale.

“You utter idiot,” he said, when Abdul had finished. “You … you’ve ruined us all!”

“But I was right,” Abdul protested. “I …”

“Fool of a boy,” their father thundered. “Do you really think that matters?”

He started to pace around the room. “He will have complained about you to the Guardians of Public Morality,” he snapped. “You will come to their attention. And anyone who comes to their attention is lost forever.”

Abruptly, he turned and headed towards the door. “Eat your dinner, then stay in your room,” he ordered. “And don’t talk about it with your mother.”

His gaze moved to Sameena. “You too,” he added. “Don’t talk to your mother about anything.”

Sameena watched him leave, unable to suppress the nervous feeling in her chest. She’d seen the Guardians of Public Morality – dark men in dark robes, carrying staffs – from a distance, but she’d never spoken to one. And yet she’d heard the rumours of what they did to people who stepped too far outside the lines drawn for Islamabad’s population. Those who came to their attention always regretted it.

She would have asked Abdul, but their mother bustled just after their father left and started putting the rice and bread down on the mat. Instead, she ate and worried.

***

Two days passed before her father returned to the house. He must have said something to her mother, Sameena had decided, if only because she didn’t seem worried by his absence. But then, he’d often had to make business trips, either to Abdullah or to the spaceport out in the desert. Having to leave at short notice wasn’t uncommon. Even so, she couldn’t help worrying about what was going on. Abdul hadn’t been very talkative and had spent most of his time in his room.

Sameena was sitting in her room, reading a book, when her father opened the door and came inside. As master of the house, he could go anywhere without bothering to ask permission, but he normally respected her private space and knocked before entering her room. It was so out of character for him to barge inside that she almost panicked. Just what was going on?

“I have arranged for you to marry,” her father said, without preamble. The look in his eyes chilled her to the bone. “You will marry Judge Al-Haran and …”

Sameena gaped at him. “Father,” she protested. “He’s married! He has two wives!”

“You will be his third,” her father said. He put a small purse of gold coins on her bedside table. “He has agreed to take you. It is a very great honour.”

Sameena felt her world crashing down around her. She had known that she would be married, sooner or later; it was very rare for a woman to remain unmarried past her late teens. Even those whose morals had been called into question were married off; they just had to become second or third wives. But she

Her father had promised her – promised her – that she wouldn’t be married off unless she approved of the groom. And her brother, who would become her guardian if her father died before she married, had made her the same promise. She’d trusted them – and yet now they were selling her off to the highest bidder. How could she be a third wife? She’d heard the older women chatting, when they thought their children couldn’t hear, and she knew what it would be like. The third wife was a slave, in all but name. She would be bullied by the senior wives as well as her husband.

And she’d met the Judge, once. He hadn’t impressed her.

“Father,” she said, gathering herself as best as she could, “I will not marry the Judge. He’s fifty years old, and smelly, and …”

Her father slapped her.

Sameena fell backwards, more shocked then hurt. Her father never hit her. She’d been slapped by her mother more than once when she’d been disobedient, but her father never hit her – or Abdul. Her cheek hurt … she lifted a hand to it and touched her skin, feeling it throbbing in pain. She’d never been scared of her father before.

But when she met his eyes, she realised that he was scared too.

“Your idiot of a brother has made powerful enemies,” her father said, very quietly. “I have it on good authority that the Guardians of Public Morality have already been alerted and that they’re just waiting for permission to act. No matter what bribes I offer, I cannot save my son, or my wife, or myself. You know how many enemies merchants have on this world.”

Sameena nodded. Merchants kept the world going, yet the local governments often disapproved of them. She’d done the sums and knew how much money her father had to pay out in taxes – or bribes – just to keep going. A charge of disbelief, of unorthodoxy, might be impossible to bury underneath a mass of bribes. Even their friends might back away if they realised that the fallout might land on them as well.

And all it took to unleash the Guardians of Public Morality was a brief dispute in a mosque between a young man and a teacher …

“But I can save you,” her father insisted. “You’ll go to the Judge, you will become his wife and they won’t be able to touch you. We can go to his house and he can perform the ceremony … don’t you understand? There is nothing he can do to you that is worse than what the Guardians of Public Morality will do, if they get their hands on you.”

Sameena remembered the worst of the rumours and went cold. How could their lives have turned upside down so quickly? But there was no point in crying over spilt milk, as her mother had said more than once. If her father was right, she had no other choice. There was no one else who would give her the same protection as the Judge …

A thought struck her. “But father, given what Uncle Muhammad has been doing for the government …”

“They won’t take that into account,” her father assured her, grimly. “He isn’t your real Uncle, after all. If we’re lucky, he won’t be involved at all.”

He tapped the purse of gold. “You won’t be able to take much with you,” he added. “But take that – in a few years, maybe you’ll be able to seek an alternate arrangement. Legally, he has to leave that with you …”

Sameena shook her head in absolute despair. Maybe, just maybe, the Judge would grant her a divorce once the whole affair had died down in a year or two. But if he refused, there was no way that she could find a legal separation. The law wouldn’t be on her side, whatever he did to her. And he could take her gold and no one would be able to stop him.

She looked out of the open window towards the darkening sky and shuddered.

“I can’t do anything else,” her father said. “All I can do is make the best arrangements I can for you. And pray.”

He gave her a hug, then stood up. “I’ll come back in an hour to take you to the Judge’s house,” he told her. He sounded almost as through her were pleading. “Please don’t do anything stupid.”

Sameena felt hot tears prickling at her eyes as he closed the door, leaving her alone. Her thoughts danced in crazy circles through her head. How could he do that to her? But what choice did he have? Abdul had ruined the whole family and her only hope of escaping the coming dragnet was to surrender to a lecherous old man. No doubt the Judge had struck a hard bargain. Everyone thought that merchants were rich, even when they weren’t.

She picked up the purse and counted the coins silently. Nearly five thousand sultans – and, buried at the bottom of the purse, an Imperial Credit Coin. There were only a handful on the entire planet; whatever Imperial Law happened to say, Islamabad rarely used any currencies apart from its own sultans. She doubted that she could find someone who would accept the coin, at least outside the spaceport. Mere possession of the coin would raise suspicions of spiritual contamination by off-worlders.

There was no formal law against women possessing such sums of money, but it was almost unheard of. Her dowry would go to the Judge; if he knew that she had the rest of the money with her, he would be within his rights to take it for himself. All that was hers would become his. She would have to hide it, somehow. And then …

And then what? She asked herself. Her life was utterly ruined.

She heard a dull crash from downstairs. Worried, she stood up and opened the door very quietly. A harsh male voice echoed upstairs, demanding that everyone in the house present themselves for arrest and formal interrogation. Sameena felt her blood run cold as she realised that her father had been too late, after all. The Guardians of Morality had arrived to take them all into custody.

Her mother started to scream. There was the unmistakable sound of a scuffle and the screaming cut off, abruptly. They’d knocked her mother down, she guessed; how long would it be before they searched the house? She’d heard too many rumours to go gently into their custody, but there was no point in fighting. Even if she’d known how to fight, there were just too many of them.

She turned and scooped up the purse of coins and stuffed them into her pocket. At least she’d worn loose trousers rather than a dress; it would have been far harder to escape in one of her dresses, even if her mother did like seeing her in them. She picked up her headscarf a moment later – she normally didn’t wear them in the house – and then slipped over to the window. Was that footsteps she could hear coming up the stairs? She couldn’t tell, but there was no longer any time to hesitate.

It had been five years since she’d last scrambled out of her window and climbed down to the garden below, but her hands and feet still remembered where to go. She was heavier now, she realised, as one of the footholds almost broke under her weight and she slipped, thankfully only a few inches above the ground. As soon as she touched the ground, she turned and fled into the woods behind her house. There were no guards outside to catch her before she could escape.

She and her brother had used to play in the woods and she knew them like the back of her hand. If the Guardians of Public Morality came after her, they’d have problems … she hoped. They’d played hide-and-seek before, but never with adults … catching her breath, she looked back towards the house. No one seemed to be coming after her.

But they would, she knew. Everyone knew that the Guardians of Public Morality never gave up. Give them a day or two and everyone in the town would know that they wanted Sameena, dead or alive. No one would shelter her, not even the Judge. And going to him would mean swapping one kind of captivity and torture for another.

And yet … where could she go?

A thought occurred to her. It wasn’t something that she would ever have considered before, but what did she have to lose? And besides, the Guardians of Public Morality would never expect it, not of a girl.

And if it worked, she would be far outside their reach.

Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar

18 Feb

[Posted here because it might interest readers of The Empire’s Corps]

-Rob Goodman

There is no shortage of irony, as Goodman notes, in George Washington holding Cato the Younger up as an example of resistance to tyranny. Even if we accept that Caesar was a tyrant (and he had yet to take supreme power at the time Cato committed suicide) we have to note that Cato played a large role in creating the crisis that eventually led to the Civil War and Caesar’s eventually victory (and later assassination.) Cato’s closest analogy during the American Revolution would not be Washington, or Franklin … but Lord North.

Cato the Elder was known for holding a grudge. He was, among other things, the loudest voice demanding the destruction of Cartage; he was very involved in provoking the incidents that eventually led to the Third and Final Punic War. His son was all that and more, eventually seeing his name becoming a byword for honesty, stubborn integrity and a complete refusal to compromise. Cicero’s rather snide comment – “he talks as though he were in Plato’s Republic, rather than Romulus’s Shithole” – sums Cato up perfectly.

That stubbornness developed at a very early age. When he and his teenage playmates were ordered to serve under the child of one of Sulla’s associates, they rebelled and went on strike. This could have ended very badly for the teenagers, but instead Sulla allowed them to choose their own leader. They chose Cato. (Caesar too was a recipient of Sulla’s grumbles, but eventual forgiveness.) Unsurprisingly, Cato became soundly Republican and openly expressed a desire to kill the Dictator. His tutor insisted on searching him before allowing the young man anywhere near Sulla.

Like most Roman politicians, Cato spent time in the military. (The concept of separating the military and political sphere would have been alien to the Romans.) He shared his men’s hardships and became very popular with them, something that would be of aid to him in later life. Upon returning to Rome, he was put in charge of managing the treasury, which he did with considerable skill. However, Cato’s excellent personal example was unable to produce lasting reform – as he discovered upon a return visit. Honesty and integrity were still largely lacking from the department.

Cato’s first major clash with Caesar came about in the aftermath of the Catiline conspiracy. Caesar argued that the suspects should be jailed permanently (a very un-Roman suggestion) while Cato and Cicero argued for their deaths. They won. (This would come back to haunt Cicero, although Cato largely escaped the consequences.) Cato’s personal dislike for Caesar might have stemmed from an incident when he discovered that his half-sister was having an affair with Caesar. However, there was plenty about the young man to dislike.

When Pompey returned from campaigning in the Middle East, Cato was one of the politicians who worked to block Pompey’s requests for land for his veterans. Cato was so stubbornly opposed to this that he refused the offer of a marriage alliance between himself and Pompey, one of many times when his stubbornness and principles cost him a chance to avert the looming disaster. This was short-sighted, to say the least; eventually, Pompey allied with Crassus and Caesar, allowing them to dominate Rome. Cato showed no lack of personal courage in opposing the three strongmen, but he failed.

As part of his moves against Cicero, Clodius moved to send Cato to Cyprus and annex it to Rome. Cato refused, at first, but was unable to avoid being dispatched to the island, clearing the way for Clodius to move against Cicero. Cato did his task extremely well – unlike many Roman governors, he took nothing for himself – and returned to Rome with perfect account books … both of which were lost in transit. Only his reputation for integrity saved him from suspicion of fraud. (Although, given the nature of most Roman governors of the time, it is hard to think what he could have done that would be worse.)

Cato was back in Rome to witness the political storm that swept over the Republic when Crassus died, unbalancing the relationship between Caesar and Pompey. Stubbornly defending the ancient system, Cato helped to make it impossible for both sides to find a compromise – and therefore ensured that there would be war. Cato fled Rome with most of the Senate as Caesar advanced from the north, then accompanied Pompey into exile. His faith in victory (or stubbornness) kept him going even after Pompey was defeated in the battle of Pharsalus. Eventually, with Caesar’s forces finishing off the Republicans, Cato committed suicide.

Like many modern-day politicians, Cato had great difficulty balancing his private and personal life. He was stubbornly incorruptible – there is no reliable evidence that he ever took anything for himself – but tended to take a milder view of corruption when family were involved. His behaviour with his second wife – he divorced her so that someone else could marry her, then remarried her after her new husband died – was strange even by Roman standards. (What his wife thought of it, if she was consulted at all, is not reported.)

Cato also had problems dealing with his friends, preferring to stand by his principles instead. He was friendly with Cicero, but was responsible for denying him a Triumph (a military parade in his honour) after his return from Cilicia. He also offended a friend who visited him in Cyprus by not laying on the customary banquet, causing a freeze between the two men that lasted for several years. Indeed, his reputation was something of a weakness. Most Roman politicians found him difficult to deal with. (It is suggested that his removal from naval command and transfer him to a port was because Pompey didn’t like him, although – as only ill-luck prevented Bibulus from scoring a decisive victory, it is possible that Pompey made the right choice.)

Sometimes, this became absurd. Cato was unquestionably the best person to assume command of the Republicans after Pompey’s death, but chose to stand aside, first promoting Cicero (a laughable concept) and then Metellus Scipio. His reasoning? They were both higher than him in the chain of command. is

Outside politics, Cato is best known as an advocate of Stoicism. Unlike the Greeks, the Romans managed to incorporate it into their political system, with Cato attracting several admirers for his rectitude. Without him, it is unlikely that it would have continued to gain adherents in Rome, including (eventually) Marcus Aurelius.

There is a certain tendency to idealise Cato as a champion of liberty, a staunch defender of the republic against Caesar. However, Republican Rome had become a powder keg by the time Caesar and his enemies came to blows. Cato’s opposition to the Land Bill (which eventually boiled down to ‘let well enough alone’) might have been in the interest of the Senate, but not that of the poor, starving and dispossessed. His attempts to isolate and marginalise Pompey pushed him into Caesar’s arms; his attempt to cripple, then exile Caesar helped spark off the Civil War. In short, Cato did a great deal to keep the lid on the powder keg, but all he did was eventually make the explosion worse. The Republic Cato so loved had become snarled up; if Caesar had fallen, it is unlikely that it would have somehow automatically become better. By the time the storm passed – and Augustus Caesar became Rome’s first true Emperor – the Republic was well and truly dead.

Cato’s political life might well serve as a warning, rather than something to emulate. Great political storms will sweep over our world; those that try to be too stubborn in defence of the old order will be destroyed. Those that learn to bend and adept will survive.

Overall, this is a very good book on a fascinating character. Well worth a read.

The Empire’s Corps: Marines V. Everyone Else.

18 Feb

One common complaint about the TEC series is that the Marines (as depicted by me) are unreasonably good, both militarily and politically. However, while I concede that the Marines are good, I don’t think that they are unreasonably good. And I certainly think that their competence is justified in-universe.

In recent years, we have seen Special Forces pull off astonishing feats in combat; the raid on Osama Bin Laden, for example. If that had been depicted in a novel, would that have been considered unreasonably good? The SEALS flew roughly 167 miles into Pakistani airspace, carried out a very brief and successful raid and then pulled out again – before any Pakistani military forces could intervene. No SEALS died in the operation, which was a great tactical success. Are the SEALS fictional? <Grin>.

The Terran Marine Corps takes a great many traditions from the USMC – however, it is not an exact copy of the real-life Marine Corps. In some ways, it is actually closer to the Royal Marines. The Marines depicted in the three books are, in our terms, Special Forces; they undergo two-three years of training to become Marines. By our standards, that is surprisingly long; recruits for the USMC take around 6 months to become Marines.

In real life, the quality of military units can vary radically. Both the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the 507th Maintenance Company took part in the Battle of Nasiriyah (aka Ambush Alley). The 507th Maintenance Company, in short, got lost, accidentally entered enemy-held territory and ran into an ambush, a mistake attributed to human error. The Marines had to rescue them. If that had happened in a novel, would it be considered unrealistic?

[I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but my point includes that; military units are not created equal.]

When considering promotion within the Terran Marine Corps, it is important to note that promotion is only done from within the Corps – and any Rifleman who wants to be considered for promotion has to have served for at least a year on the ground first. The Grand Senate cannot send an officer from the Imperial Army, no matter how accomplished, to take command of a Marine unit. That’s laid down in the Marine Charter. What this means, in effect, is that the Marines have a certain immunity from political interference – and that any officer who does get promoted knows the basics of his job. (Anyone who has worked in a large organisation will have met plenty of people who are living embodiments of either the Peter Principle or the Dilbert Principle.)

Marine training and deployment patterns are designed to be crucibles. Those who succeed are part of a band of brothers; loyalty, honesty and determination are burned into those who graduate from the Slaughterhouse. They are expected not to let their fellows down – and many of those who might break often do so at the Slaughterhouse, rather than in the field.

This is explicitly NOT true of the Imperial Army or the Civil Guard. Officers are rarely promoted from the ranks; instead, they go to training schools and promotions are often determined more by political connections than actual competence. If this seems far-fetched, it is worth noting that it was partly true of the British Army in the pre-WW2 period. The system produced Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, but it also produced Percival (lost Singapore) and Hamilton (lost the Dardanelles, although how much of that was his fault is debateable.) It also was reluctant to make the best use of commanders from lower social classes or, for that matter, from the Colonies. (What if General Braddock had taken George Washington completely under his wing?)

That said, it is worth noting that the Marines in both TEC and WTBB have to deal with the worst of the Civil Guard. Even so, units of the Avalon Civil Guard performed creditably in the fighting on Avalon. Most of their problems were caused by political interference (or matters related to political interference) and outside their control.

Your mileage may vary, of course.

Chris

New Book – When The Bough Breaks (The Empire’s Corps III)

14 Feb

By popular demand, When The Bough Breaks, Book III of The Empire’s Corps, is now available for download from Amazon. As always with my self-published books, there is no DRM; you can do anything with the electronic version that you can do with a paper book. You can download a free sample from my site and then purchase the full version from Amazon here. Comments and reviews are very welcome.

“When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

“And down will come baby, cradle and all.”

The Galactic Empire is dying. In their high towers, the Grand Senators plot and struggle to grasp a larger share of power while on the streets, the poor struggle to survive just one more day. Chaos and anarchy are running through the megacities of Earth, while giant corporations tighten the screws and colony worlds plan to declare independence and escape the Empire’s increasing demands for resources. Centuries of mismanagement are finally catching up with the human race. The end cannot be long delayed.

Specialist Belinda Lawson, a Marine Pathfinder who survived the fighting on Han, is assigned to serve as a bodyguard to the Childe Roland, the Heir to the Imperial Throne, and attempt to prepare him to be Emperor. But Roland is a puppet and a spoilt brat – and, perhaps, the only hope of saving the Empire, if he can be redeemed in time.

And yet, as shadowy figures prepare to make their final bid for apotheosis – or nemesis – it may be all she can do to keep her young charge alive.

Chris

The Homemade Insurgency–Snippet

13 Feb

Just an idea that popped into my head and refused to leave.

Chapter One

The noise from my handcom startled me out of a sound sleep. Cursing, I rolled over and grabbed the wretched little device from where I had left it, resting on the whore’s bedside table. The message, unsurprisingly, was a recall. All officers serving in the 113th Stellar Guards – even a lowly First Lieutenant such as myself – were to report to base immediately. That meant, I knew, that we would be expected to show up within the hour.

I put the device down and sat upright. The bedroom looked rather less pleasant now that sunlight was streaming in brightly through the overhead window, but last night I’d been too drunk and horny to care. All I’d cared about was getting laid one final time before the Guards commenced their next rotation cycle, a happy event that seemed to have just begun. I swung my legs over the side of the bed, stood up and staggered towards the bathroom. At least there was hot and cold running water. I’d been in dives where you couldn’t wash after sexual congress. But then, this was a soldier’s world. I splashed cold water on my face and glared at myself in the mirror. Two weeks of leave had really taken their toll. The whore had probably thought that she was undercharging me.

Shaking my head, I finished washing and walked back into the bedroom. The whore had shifted position, exposing her naked breasts, but she hadn’t woken up. Instead, she was snoring loudly enough to wake the dead. I couldn’t help wondering if she was actually awake and making noises to hurry me out of her room, then I decided that it didn’t matter. It wasn’t as if I could afford to stay for another round.

I pulled on my basic uniform and then looked back in the mirror. Apart from the small layer of stubble, I looked reasonably presentable; I’d had my head shaved only a month ago and it hadn’t really started to grow back properly. I fiddled in my money pouch, dropped a handful of credit notes on the whore’s table and let myself out of the room. I’d given her enough money to ensure that she didn’t need to take another client today.

The bartender nodded at me as I made my way through the bar and out onto the street. Shithole – the planet was actually called Nova Strasbourg, but no one actually used that name outside of official papers – was largely inhabited by soldiers, rotating in and out of training areas and then out on deployment to trouble spots across the Empire. Unsurprisingly, a small industry had grown up around catering for soldiers on leave, offering everything from fancy food and drink to whores and enough alcohol to float a battleship. Most of the young troopers under my command would be having a spree, if they didn’t have the sense to save some of their pay for later. But then, they all knew that they could buy the farm on their next deployment.

I noticed a couple of MPs walking down the street and nodded to them, as politely as I could. They were meant to keep order, a difficult task when countless young troopers were getting smashed out of their minds on alcohol and a handful of semi-legal drugs. One of them nodded back to me, clearly recognising my officer’s bearing. Or perhaps they just couldn’t be arsed berating me this early in the morning. The makeshift town was actually pretty quiet for once. Most of the regiment were still sleeping off their handovers after last night’s fun and games.

A taxi came up in front of me and I waved to the driver. He pulled to a stop in a haze of burning hydrocarbons and yammered at me in oddly-accented Imperial Standard. I yammered back until we had come to an agreement, then climbed inside and braced myself for the drive. The drives on Shithole see it as their duty to scare hell out of the troops. I hung on for dear life as we lurched our way to Titmouse Base and stopped just outside the guardpost. As soon as I had paid, the driver flashed away, looking for his next passenger.

I held my left hand over the sensor and waited for it to blink confirmation before stepping through the armed guards, into the base. There were few wreckers or secessionists on Shithole; to my eye, the guards looked remarkably lazy. I guessed that someone with a higher rank than myself had wrangled them permanent duty on Shithole, where the worst danger was drunken troopers. There were places were a moment’s inattention could get you killed. As soon as I was through the check, I strode over to the barracks and into the briefing section. Unsurprisingly, half of the officers – and it wasn’t just men from the 113th, I realised – were late. I rolled my eyes, took a mug of coffee and a sober-up, then sat down and waited for the show to begin. The sooner it started, the sooner it would be over.

It was nearly forty minutes after the scheduled time that the briefing finally began. I sat up and did my best to look as if I was paying attention, but it wasn’t particularly easy. The only important datum in the first hour of talking from the briefing officer was that we were being deployed to Montezuma. Given that people had been talking about it for several weeks, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. They needn’t have bothered giving us orders to keep it from the troops. The troopers already knew.

The briefer droned on and on about the planet – everything from local ecological regulations to medical care – and I felt my eyelids begin to grow heavy. Instead of falling asleep, I retrieved my datapad from my belt and started to flick through the briefing notes for myself. Perhaps they would make more sense on a computer screen, rather than presented by someone who didn’t know how to separate the important information from the unimportant information. It wasn’t long before I had a rough idea of just what the hell was going on.

Montezuma had been settled during the Unification Wars, back when just about every group with a yen for some living space had bought a colony ship and headed out to settle their own world. The early settlers had been Mexican – I had to look up Mexico to discover that it had been a country on Earth, now buried under a giant megacity – and they’d wanted to set up a low-tech world for themselves. It was something to do with finding their souls in nature, I gathered after reading the notes three times to make sure I actually understood. As a farmer’s son, I couldn’t help thinking that they’d been utterly insane. Farming was hard enough with modern colony tech; why would they want to condemn their children to a lifetime of watching the back end of a mule?

As it happened, it hadn’t been more than five hundred years before the title deeds to the planet were sold onwards to another developer. In theory, the colonists should have had first right of refusal, but in practice that sort of shit happened all the time on the Rim. Besides, they hadn’t kept up with their interest payments. The new owners of the planet, a consortium of developers from China – another long-dead country on Earth – had sent a few hundred thousand more settlers. At first, they’d tried to keep their distance from the Mexicans, but it hadn’t lasted long. And then matters had become even more complex when certain vital ores had been discovered in the asteroid belt and other corporations moved in, bringing their own settlers. The net result had been civil war.

Eventually, the Empire had stepped in and ordered all sides to play nicely – or else. The trouble with that was that the various colony drops had been made relatively close to other settlements – and by then, the planet was fully-claimed – and all those groups were just jam-packed together. None of them wanted to quit and go elsewhere; none of them wanted to just live in peace with their neighbours. Why should they when it was their planet? Apart, of course, from the minor detail that everyone else thought that it was their planet too.

“Our mission is to keep the peace,” the briefing officer droned. “If the locals attempt to disrupt the peace, we are authorised to engage them and …”

I rolled my eyes. It was abundantly clear that there was no peace to keep. Indeed, there had been so many atrocities that you could force the locals to forget the origins of the conflict and they’d still have plenty of reason to loathe their neighbours. Maybe the Empire could impose a solution by separating the different groups, but I doubted that it would last for long. But if there wasn’t a solution, the conflict would just keep burning indefinitely, fuelled by endless atrocities.

The briefer went on to talk about local allied and oppositional forces, forcing me to pay attention. Montezuma was governed, at least in theory, by a largely-Chinese government. The Empire had given them that recognition because the Chinese happened to own most of the industry on the planet’s surface, making themselves important to the asteroid miners and cloudscoop workers in the system. The Planetary Government ran the Montezuma Civil Guard, which was almost completely Chinese – and very loyal to their leaders. They had to be; if they didn’t hang together, they would definitely hang separately.

Naturally, the Mexicans – and everyone else – had their own militias. They were thoroughly illegal by Imperial Law, but they didn’t let a little detail like that stop them. And why should they, when the best they could hope for from the Civil Guard was a shot in the head? There were at least seven unofficial Mexican militia groups on the planet, several of them with contacts that brought in weapons from outside the system. They had a shortage of heavy weaponry, according to the briefer, but that didn’t stop them being thoroughly unpleasant to everyone else.

We were told that we could depend on the Civil Guard. I rather suspected that the briefing officer was talking out of his arse. Some Civil Guard units were fairly capable, but most of them were barely good enough for holding ground – if that. On Montezuma, where the Civil Guard was little more than a tool of the government, they’d be liabilities to any military operation. No doubt they would head off to slaughter Mexicans at the slightest opportunity.

“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you,” the briefing officer said, “that Montezuma has actually become surprisingly important as a way-station for starships heading out towards the Rim. The planet has almost no indigenous space-based industry, but that doesn’t stop it from serving as a port of call. It would be convenient if the endless fighting was brought to an end.”

“Glass the planet and start again,” one young officer suggested.

The briefing officer gave him what was probably intended to be a quelling glance. “Genocide is banned by Imperial Law,” he said, rather stiffly. He could guess that most of us had had the same thought. “Instead, we are to teach the locals the error of their ways.”

I stuck up my hand. “Sir,” I asked in my best arse-kissing voice, “how are we meant to do that?”

The briefing officer was either too tired or too dumb to notice the sarcasm. “We will be deploying around three million troops to the planet’s surface,” he said. “That figure alone should cause them to take notice. If not, we intend to slowly expand our arena of control until the planet is completely occupied. The locals will have to fight us and die, or go underground long enough for them to learn the benefits of peace.”

I just had to ask another question.

“Of those three million troops,” I asked, “how many of them will be combat troops?”

The briefing officer scowled at me, then turned back to his maps, refusing to answer. I smiled inwardly, humourlessly. I’d be surprised if one million of those troopers were actually combat troops. Logistics alone ate up hundreds of thousands of men; human resources (uniformed bureaucrats) came a very close second. For all the expenditure the Empire was prepared to waste on Montezuma, they couldn’t hope to put in enough combat troops to keep the peace.

A planet is big. I could hold a small country with a million troopers, but not an entire planet. Montezuma wasn’t anything like as populated as some of the Core Worlds, thankfully, yet it hardly mattered. We were still going to be parcelled out in penny packets or restricted to a handful of safe zones while the rest of the planet went to hell. I watched as the briefing officer outlined the deployment plan and scowled. At least the latter idea would have made a certain kind of sense.

The briefing officer finished up with a rousing speech covering our Duty to the Empire, the Honour and Glory that We Would Win and how the Eyes of the Empire were upon us. Indeed, we would be escorted by a small army of reporters from all of the major media outlets. Someone in the Joint Chiefs had evidently decided that Montezuma was to serve as the poster child for how the Imperial Army could knock heads together and teach the savages living there to play nicely, at least while our guns were pointed at their heads. I don’t know why they bothered to send the reporters along. If they ever said anything that was actually true in their reports, it was only by accident.

Joy, I thought, as we were finally dismissed. The last thing we need are people to babysit.

My stomach growled as I walked outside, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten since last night. I waved to the other Lieutenants and motioned towards the canteen, then spied Sergeant Haywood standing by the side of the building and motioned for him to join us. Unlike some Sergeants I could name – and had to deal with, sadly – he had actually earned his combat stripes. His quiet advice had saved me from quite a few blunders since I left training and joined the regiment.

“Right,” I said, as we found a table and ordered food – and coffee, lots and lots of coffee. “Does anyone have any issues they’d like to raise before we begin?”

“Captain’s not here,” Lieutenant Redwing said. She was a thin woman, so thin that I didn’t know how she managed to pass all of her physicals on time. Mind you, she was a good shot; I’d have sent her to sniper school myself, if I’d been in command. “Or should we just get started?”

I carefully kept my face blank. Captain Harkens was directly related to one of the Grand Senatorial families, which was why he’d been promoted to Captain and put in command of the company. They didn’t like him that much, which was why said company had gone from warzone to warzone without much of a break. At least he was smart enough to stay in his office and let us run the company, even though he was technically in command. I’ve had worse COs.

“We should,” I said. I dropped my terminal on the table and smiled at them, darkly. “You all heard that steaming pile of crap; how many of you would like to place money on it being as easy as that shithead suggested?”

No one bothered to disagree. Like me, they’d moved from combat zone to combat zone; few of them bothered to take official briefings seriously any longer. And none of us had any real hope of victory. All that really mattered was keeping the men alive – and ourselves, of course – and getting through the deployment without becoming too stressed. God knew we had enough stress just from dealing with the paperwork.

“All right,” I said. “Go through your records; see who we have who speaks anything they speak on the planet’s surface. If we have anyone, they’re detached to serve as interpreters. We can put them in the Civil Affairs lot until we know just what’s going on.”

“If we have anyone,” Lieutenant Patel said, glumly. “Isn’t everyone supposed to speak Imperial Standard anyway?”

It was a rhetorical question – sure, everyone was supposed to learn Imperial Standard, but I’d been on worlds where they didn’t – and so I ignored it.

“We have two days to go through the files and make our plans,” I continued. After then, the troopers would be coming back onto base, no doubt as hungover and pissed-off as we’d been this morning. I remembered being a young trooper before being offered a chance to go qualify as an officer and some of my last-night benders had been remarkable, as had the mornings after. “I want to be ready.”

There were no disagreements. We’d seen enough to know the value of pre-planning – proper pre-planning, not what passed under that name in the Department of Defence.

My handcom buzzed. I blinked in surprise and looked down at it. “It’s the Captain,” I said, out loud. Being called by him was a surprise. “He wants to meet with me, at once.”

“Better go,” Lieutenant Redwing advised. She nodded towards the plate of Army-issue baked beans and sausages. “Reckon he saved you from a course of the galloping shits.”

“Very funny,” I said, unable to hold back the sympathetic wince in my chest. Diarrhoea was never fun, particularly on active service. “Don’t forget that you have to attend an ecological impact briefing tomorrow, even if you have to bring your chamber pot with you.”

Or perhaps the wince in my chest was apprehension. The Captain never paid close attention to what we were doing.

So what the hell had gone wrong now?