The Barbarian Bride (The Decline and Fall of The Galactic Empire III)

23 Nov

And now … the conclusion!

 

Prologue

From: Marius Drake and Roman Garibaldi: Two Lives, Two Loves, One Empire (4502 A.D)

Ah, what is to be said of Marius Drake and Roman Garibaldi that hasn’t been said a thousand times already?

They were the two most famous men of their generation, perhaps the two most famous men since the ‘Band of Brothers’ punched through the Asimov Point and won the final battle of the First Interstellar War. They are the subjects of countless biographies, ranging from works claiming that one was the true hero and the other was the villain to works suggesting they were both deeply corrupt, symptoms of the decline and fall of the Federation. There are works that suggest they were victims, helpless to do anything but play their role, and works that suggest they were playing a game with each other that cost billions upon billions of innocent lives. And last, but far from least, there are works that suggest the two men were actually lovers and the final war between them was a tragedy on the scale of Romeo and Juliet.

Indeed, history has truly hidden both men behind a shroud of nonsense.

That said, certain things can be said with a fair degree of certainty.

The Federation was dying. It’s government – the aristocratic and corrupt Grand Senate – was steadily sucking the lifeblood out of the countless innocent worlds in its thrall, destroying the economy that kept the Federation alive. Worse, the military was becoming deeply divided, with officers building little fiefdoms and patronage networks that were steadily corrupting the once-great Federation Navy. The purges that followed the Blue Star War only made it clear, to the smarter officers, that the only hope of permanent safety was in power. It should not have surprised the Grand Senate when one of them, Admiral Justinian, kicked off a civil war by mounting an attack on Earth.

Admiral Marius Drake rose to prominence during the attack, commanding the defence of Earth. Despite his own shabby treatment by the Grand Senate, Drake remained a noted Federation loyalist, a man who refused to accept the sundering of the Federation or the thought of claiming power for himself. His loyalties were noted; Drake was placed in command, eventually, of the fleet that would seek out and destroy Admiral Justinian’s little empire once and for all.

Less is known of Roman Garibaldi’s early life; it is known he was the sole survivor of an attack on an asteroid settlement, one who joined the Federation Navy and graduated from the Luna Academy with a First, but much else remains a mystery. It is clear, however, that he briefly took command of Enterprise during the ill-fated Operation Retribution and, in the aftermath, was marked down as an officer of rare promise. Indeed, like so many other youngsters, his rise up the ranks was rapid. War was no respecter of deadwood; hundreds of older officers, men who had gained their postings though patronage and connections rather than merit, had been killed in the early stages of the Justinian War. By the time Admiral Drake led his fleet into Justinian’s home system, Roman Garibaldi had assumed command of a starship.

Unknown to either Drake or Garibaldi, the Grand Senate had come to fear Drake as much as they had feared Admiral Justinian and his fellows. Accordingly, as soon as Drake defeated Admiral Justinian once and for all, they ordered an assassin, attached to Drake’s staff, to kill him. The assassin miscarried: Drake’s closest friend died saving his life. In his anger and rage, Admiral Drake led his fleet back to Earth, disposed the Grand Senate and took power for himself. After declaring himself Emperor Marius, he even killed the final members of the Grand Senate personally.

It did not bring peace. Unknown to the Federation, a powerful alliance of humans and aliens was lurking just outside the Federation’s borders. The Outsider Federation had taken advantage of the Justinian War to lay its final plans for an offensive that would shatter the Federation, freeing hundreds of thousands of worlds from its grasp. Now, as Roman Garibaldi assumed command of Fifth Fleet, the Outsiders moved, launching an invasion of Federation space.

Already weakened, the Federation reeled under their blows. The economy, pushed to the limits by the Grand Senate, started to collapse, despite everything an increasingly desperate Emperor Marius could do. Political unrest and strikes mushroomed through the Core Worlds, while thousands of out-worlds joined the Outsiders or declared independence. Indeed, given his example, there were no shortage of military personnel wondering if they could take power for themselves.

Hope shone, it seemed, when Admiral Garibaldi won the Battle of Boston, stopping the Outsider advance dead in its tracks. The Outsiders reeled back in shock, contemplating – for the first time – that they might lose the war. Emperor Marius travelled to Boston, where he met Admiral Garibaldi; together, they led an offensive towards Nova Athena, homeworld of one of the Outsider Federation’s known leaders. But there, faced with defiance, Emperor Marius ordered the bombardment of the enemy world, threatening to exterminate uncounted billions of lives. Admiral Garibaldi moved to stop him …

… And the maddened Emperor opened fire on his ships, then retreated.

The stage was set for the final confrontation between the two greatest men of their generation … and a war that would determine, once and for all, the future of the Federation.

Chapter One

In the end, personal loyalty proved to be more important to the Federation Navy than its ideals or the Federation Constitution. But then, perhaps that was not surprising. The only way to rise in the ranks was through joining a senior officer’s patronage network. Being promoted on merit was a thing of the past.

-The Federation Navy In Retrospect, 4199

Nova Athena, 4101

“The Outsider shuttle is approaching, sir,” Lieutenant Sofia Thompson reported. “They’ll land in the shuttlebay in five minutes.”

“Have the passengers scanned thoroughly before allowing them to enter the ship,” Admiral Roman Garibaldi ordered, numbly. The world had turned upside down, once again. “Once they’re cleared, bring them to the briefing compartment under guard.”

“Aye, sir,” Lieutenant Thompson said. She frowned. “Sir … they might not like being scanned and searched.”

Roman laughed, harshly. “And I don’t like running the risk of someone bringing an antimatter bomb onto the ship,” he said. “We’re not going to take chances.”

He looked up at the console, watching grimly as the shuttlecraft approached the superdreadnaught. No matter what he said, he doubted the Outsiders would try anything so stupid – Valiant was hardly the only superdreadnaught in Fifth Fleet – but he wouldn’t have believed that Emperor Marius would attempt to commit genocide either. A great many certainties had toppled since Admiral Justinian had launched his attack on Earth, sparking off a series of increasingly-bitter civil wars. And the Outsiders, his bitter enemies up until an hour ago, had to be almost as confused as himself.

The shuttle vanished from the display as it landed in the shuttlebay. Roman watched through the monitors as armed marines surrounded the craft, then motioned for the occupants to come out with their hands clearly visible. Everyone was jumpy, now that they were caught in the middle of yet another civil war. Roman had made a career out of knowing what to do at the right time, but he honestly wasn’t sure what to do now. He and his fleet were renegades, to all intents and purposes; he wondered, absently, just how many of his crewmen were considering burying a blade in his back. Bringing his head back to Earth would be certain to earn his assassin a rich reward.

Or a date with a firing squad, he thought, mordantly. The Emperor has become increasingly irrational.

He shuddered at the thought. Emperor Marius – Admiral Drake, as he’d been at the time – had seemed a strong leader, the sort of person Roman could follow into the fire without hesitation. Roman had wanted to be like him, even as he’d started to build a legend of his own. And he’d followed Admiral Drake until he’d been promoted and given command of Fifth Fleet. Even then, he’d wanted to make Emperor Marius proud of him. He would have done anything for his mentor …

Except commit genocide, he thought. In hindsight, there had been far too many worrying signs before Professor Kratman came to see him. God alone knew what had happened to the Outsider POWs, but after the Battle of Nova Athena he wouldn’t have bet money on them surviving for long. I couldn’t kill billions of humans on his command.

His intercom buzzed. “Admiral,” Elf said. “We have two guests; Senator Chang Li, the former Representative from Nova Athena and General Charlie Stuart. The remainder of the crew are the shuttle’s pilots.”

“Have the pilots held for the moment,” Roman ordered. “Is the shuttle itself safe?”

“Yes, Admiral,” Elf said. “There’s nothing more dangerous than a pair of fuel cells and a couple of pistols.”

Roman let out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding. An antimatter warhead would be shrugged off by the ship’s shields, if it detonated outside the hull, but a bomb that detonated inside the ship would blow them all to atoms. The Outsiders had to know they’d lost the war – or that they had, before Emperor Marius opened fire on their world – and they might have taken advantage of the brief truce to destroy Valiant. What hope did they have, other than the vague prospect of clawing the Federation as they went down?

“Take Chang and the General to the briefing compartment,” he ordered, tiredly. He wanted – needed – a rest, but he knew he wasn’t going to get one. “I’ll join you there in a moment.”

He closed the channel, then looked at the display. Hundreds of icons were scattered around the system; Fifth Fleet, surrounded by a cloud of starfighters, keeping its distance from the remaining Outsider ships and planetary defences. God alone knew what would happen, if some jumpy idiot pushed a firing key at the wrong moment; Roman knew, deep inside, that the only real hope for survival was an alliance. But even that wouldn’t be enough to save them, if Emperor Marius acted quickly. Roman knew, all too well, just how easy it would be for the Emperor to snatch the fleet train, then Boston itself. Losing the fleet base would doom his fleet to eventual irrelevance.

Unless the Outsiders can supply us, he thought. But they can barely supply themselves.

“Inform Captain Palter that he has tactical command of the fleet,” he ordered. “He is to hold position and wait for orders, unless we come under attack. If so, he is to break contact as fast as possible and head for the system limits.”

“Aye, sir,” Lieutenant Thompson said.

Roman sighed, then rose and walked through the hatch, passing the armoured marine who stood outside. The corridor beyond was deserted, the crew at their combat stations … he wondered, suddenly, just what would happen when the red alert finally came to an end and crewmen started to talk. There would be crewmen, he was sure, who would think nothing of genocide, who would care little for Outsider lives if their deaths ended a pitiless war. And some of them would be loyalists, loyal to Emperor Marius. A handful might even have been covertly inserted onto his crew to watch Roman himself.

His hand dropped to the sidearm at his belt as he walked down the empty corridor, even though he was sure he was alone. The crew were armed, all of them; they’d faced enemies intent on actually boarding starships several times in the past. If even a handful thought to mutiny against his authority, either in the Emperor’s name or merely to prevent another round of civil war, there was going to be a bloodbath. He wasn’t even sure he could count on the loyalty of the marines …

Elf will keep them in line, he thought. But where will she stand?

It was a bitter thought. The marines prided themselves on being loyal to the Federation, on standing up for its values even as everyone else abandoned them. He had no reason to doubt Elf’s loyalty to the Federation, but what would she make of it now, after Emperor Marius had tried to commit genocide? It wasn’t as if they’d fired on aliens!

He paused outside the hatch, taking a moment to gather himself, then opened the hatch and stepped into the briefing compartment. Elf stood against the bulkhead, wearing her light combat armour and carrying a plasma rifle in one hand; two other marines, wearing heavier armour, stood against the far wall. Senator Chang Li and General Stuart sat at the table, both looking tired and wary. Roman couldn’t help thinking, as he cast his eyes over Stuart, that the Outsiders preferred far more practical uniforms than the Federation Navy. Stuart’s uniform looked to be almost completely devoid of fancy gold braid.

“Senator, General,” he said. “I am Admiral Garibaldi. Welcome onboard Valiant.”

He studied them both as they rose. Chang Li was shorter than he’d expected, from her file; her long dark hair framed a middle-aged oriental face. She’d been a Senator on Earth, he recalled; she’d been the sole Senator from the out-worlds before Admiral Justinian had launched his attack on Earth. Roman reminded himself not to underestimate her or her people, even though the Federation Navy had won the engagement. The Outsiders had to have been plotting their campaign long before Admiral Justinian started a civil war.

And the Emperor had some inkling there were unfriendly alien races out beyond the Rim, he thought. It couldn’t have made it any easier to deal with the Outsiders when they finally showed themselves.

General Stuart was a complete unknown, according to the files; indeed, only a handful of data packets from deep-cover agents had provided any information at all. He’d been the enemy commander at Athena and Boston, putting Roman to flight in his first major engagement; the Outsiders, it seemed, hadn’t adopted the Grand Senate’s policy of shooting defeated admirals out of hand. It would give him a chance to learn from the mistakes that had led to defeat, at Boston, assuming the war didn’t end quickly.

“Admiral,” Chang Li said. “Thank you for receiving us.”

Roman shrugged, not entirely sure what to say. He’d assumed, prior to the battle, that he – or Emperor Marius – would be dictating surrender terms, hopefully ending the Outsider War once and for all. But instead … he was forced into an alliance with his former enemies, now the Emperor had gone mad. Roman couldn’t help feeling torn between two competing loyalties; Marius Drake, the man who had sponsored him, and the ideals of the Federation, the ideals he’d upheld even as others had abandoned them.

And the Emperor did try to kill us, he thought, grimly. If it had been just him, he would have taken a starship and fled beyond the Rim, but he knew he wouldn’t be the only target of the Empire’s wrath. We don’t have any choice but to fight.

“The Emperor has gone mad,” he said, bluntly. He had never been a diplomat. “He was prepared to fire on your homeworld.”

“I know,” Chang Li said. Her voice was oddly accented, something that surprised him. “I thank you for saving my people.”

“At the cost of putting my people into terrible danger,” Roman said. He had no illusions about their chances of success. Even if the Emperor didn’t take and hold Boston, forcing him into a direct offensive though the system’s Asimov Points, they’d have problems battering their way to Earth before the Federation’s superior industry took effect. “The Emperor has to be stopped.”

“We agree,” Chang Li said. She cocked her head, perhaps in recognition of his concerns. “I am prepared to offer your fleet all the support we can provide.”

“That would be useful,” Roman said. “But what can you provide?”

“Relatively little,” General Stuart said. His voice was gruff. “We lost too many ships at Boston, Admiral. I believe that was your work.”

Roman nodded, curtly. He wasn’t about to apologise for winning a battle, even though the consequences had come back to haunt him. He’d baited a trap and the Outsiders had fallen for it, giving him an excellent chance to tear their fleet apart. And he’d weakened them so badly that the counterattack hadn’t met any serious challenge until it had crossed the stardrive limits and attacked Nova Athena itself.

“There’s no point in dragging up the past,” Chang Li said. “We must look to the future.”

“Of course,” Roman said. “What can you offer us?”

“Right now, four battle squadrons and a few hundred smaller ships,” General Stuart told him, shortly. “Our fleet train, thankfully, remains largely intact.”

“Assuming the crews don’t desert when they realise just what they’re facing,” Chang Li added.

“The Federation is unlikely to show any mercy to independent freighters supporting the Outsiders,” Roman pointed out. “Tell them that all will be forgiven if they help us win.”

He sighed, inwardly. In hindsight, the Grand Senate’s policies – their semi-legal monopoly over interstellar shipping within the core worlds – had driven hundreds of thousands of independent shippers out to the Rim. They’d signed up with the Outsiders and started hauling supplies for them, while the Federation Navy was forced to depend on a badly weakened fleet train. The Grand Senate had chosen to concentrate on building warships, rather than the logistics the navy needed to support them. But then, until recently, the Federation Navy had been able to depend on a network of bases throughout explored and settled space.

“And what will happen,” General Stuart asked, “if we do win?”

Roman understood, just for a second, the maddening problem facing Emperor Marius. The Federation’s problems were impossibly vast, far too great for a single man to fix. And yet, tearing the Federation apart would be just as bad. Humanity hadn’t survived a number of alien threats by being disunited.

And, coming to think of it, he thought, what do we do about their alien allies?

He cursed under his breath. Humanity had long since abandoned the curse of racism, at least against their fellow humans, but it was a rare human who would agree that aliens should have equal rights. The memories of the First Interstellar War ran deep, even though it had been almost two thousand years ago. Aliens weren’t welcome on human worlds; hell, they were rarely welcome on their own homeworlds. And the Outsiders had managed to drum up at least two alien races who were willing to fight alongside them against the Federation. It would be easy for Emperor Marius to turn the war against a crusade against aliens and their human dupes …

Of course he can, he thought, grimly. The process was already underway by the time we won the Battle of Boston.

“I think we should settle that after the fighting is over,” he said, flatly. He didn’t want to rule, but was there any choice? Sundering the Federation would be disastrous. “The Emperor still has a great many advantages. We may wind up merely prolonging the war.”

“Agreed,” Chang Li said. She shot her comrade an unreadable look. “We can determine how the future will look once we know we will have a future.”

Roman nodded in agreement, then leaned forward. “How quickly can you get your ships here?”

General Stuart looked uncomfortable. It couldn’t be easy, Roman knew, discussing classified information with someone who’d been on the other side until literally two hours ago. Hell, he didn’t find it easy. He just knew there was no choice; his crews would die unless they won the war and saved themselves. It crossed his mind, as he waited for Stuart to answer, that Admiral Drake had faced the same problem, after the Grand Senate had tried to kill him.

And they did kill his closest friend, he thought. Emperor Marius had never been quite the same afterwards. Was it that which pushed him off the deep end?

“We should be able to assemble most of the remaining ships within a month, perhaps less,” Stuart said, carefully. “But that will open up some of the systems we hold to counterattacks.”

“There’s less danger of that than you might think,” Roman assured him. “We massed most of the Federation ships in the sector at Boston for the counteroffensive.”

“Unless the Emperor sends out new orders on the way home,” Stuart pointed out.

Roman shrugged. There were hundreds of stage-one colony worlds along the Rim, dozens of which had changed hands several times since the war began. None of them were useful, save perhaps as a source of untrained manpower; there was little to be gained by wasting time and effort capturing them for the umpteenth time. The Asimov Points, on the other hand, would be useful, but the Emperor didn’t have the mobile forces – yet – to secure them.

He expended too many of the stockpiled fortresses to secure the routes to the core, he thought, darkly. It would be a headache he’d have to deal with, if he lived that long, but for the moment it was a blessing. We were planning to secure the other Asimov Points as we consolidated, after winning at Nova Athena.

“It shouldn’t matter,” he said, out loud. “The key to victory has been what it always has, ever since the First Interstellar War. The capture or destruction of the enemy’s productive capabilities.”

He looked straight at Chang Li. “How much can you produce and how quickly?”

“Our missiles and ships are better, ton for ton, than their Federation counterparts,” Chang Li assured him. Roman nodded, impatiently. He’d been on the receiving end of Outsider technical ingenuity more than once. “However, we simply cannot match the Federation’s sheer weight of production. I’ll give you the complete figures, if you wish, but … well, we can only produce a tenth of the missiles they can produce in the same time period, even though our facilities are more efficient.”

“Assuming that their production nodes don’t suffer from more disruptions,” Stuart offered, ruefully. “There were a lot of strikes over the last two years.”

“Which were broken,” Chang Li reminded him.

“Even so, the workers weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the whole affair,” Stuart said. “I suspect their production has been quietly nose-diving for months.”

“They’ll do whatever it takes to get it back up again,” Roman said, quietly. “We need to move fast.”

He keyed a switch, displaying a starchart. “I’m going to take Fifth Fleet back to Spinner,” he added, after a moment. “If the Emperor has secured Boston, retaking the system will be an incredibly costly battle. I don’t dare give him the time to dig in.”

“Understood,” Stuart said.

“You two can return to the planet, then organise your ships to meet us at Spinner,” Roman said. “Assuming we can retake Boston, we can push onwards to Earth as quickly as possible, before the Emperor has a chance to rally his defences.”

Chang Li blinked. “You intend to take the offensive so quickly?”

“There’s no choice,” Roman said. Stuart nodded in agreement. “If we don’t take the offensive now, he’ll take advantage of his production capabilities and crush us like bugs.”

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2 Responses to “The Barbarian Bride (The Decline and Fall of The Galactic Empire III)”

  1. Douglas lake sr November 23, 2015 at 11:28 pm #

    Ok. how do I buy the book?

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