Authors: Michael G. Thomas
“Don’t worry. I have already spoken with him and the other Satraps. I think you are about to learn your part in the defence of Cunaxa and the end of Cyrus and hit pitiful little band.”
The Dukas looked into the eyes of the Median Lord, but all he could see were the cold, pitiless eyes of a Satrap. He felt a very real chill through his body and the news that very soon he could be facing the most respected Terran commander in living memory, and his old enemy, Strategos Clearchus.
So, my old friend, soon we shall meet, and this time it will be Laconian blood spilt.
* * *
Thessalian Titan ‘Poseidon’, Gates of Media
Dukas Meno, the commander of the Thessalian contingent of the Legion watched from his command deck deep inside the Titan Poseidon. This mighty ship had been built with the combined effort of every shipyard his homeworld had to offer. It had been a monumental effort to build her and therefore even more incredible that Clearchus and Cyrus had been able to procure her services. The warship wasn’t designed just to be able to fight in the line of battle or even to transport legions of soldiers. A Titan was the very soul of a colony with the architectural style, technology and equipment directly reflecting its home colonies and planets.
Dukas Meno was very different to the other Dukas and Komes in the Legion.
Unlike them, he’d spent most of his adult life as a mercenary. He had never served in the military but he had fought for a dozen commanders on a dozen worlds, and knew how to fight on land and in space. He had links to many important figures in the Thessalian Territories, and it was him that had enabled Clearchus to enlist the services of the warship. He looked the part of a mercenary commander with a rugged complexion, muscled body and a badly burned face on the one side. Most assumed it had been from battle, but very few knew the truth about his injuries. He’d led a mercenary contingent on behalf of Attica in the last stages of the war between Attica and Laconia. After a number of minor victories, he’d been sent on a suicide mission on the final day of the war to attack an undefended Laconian starbase. He had refused to fight and it was that decision that had made him something of a celebrity following the war. Most assumed he’d refused because of some kind of humanitarian spirit while others thought it was to save his own warriors from a pointless last mission in a lost war. Only his closest commanders knew the truth, and that there was no profit to be gained in terms of wealth, honour or casualties by attacking in the last day of a war. He might have been rich but that never seemed to improve his mood. It was rumoured that not one Terran had ever seen him smile. Another rumour said that he was one of the richest, if not the richest Terran.
Olympia, a beautiful ship. How did that old fool lose such a prize?
Poseidon was an impressive ship and carried thousand of crew as well as fighting contingents of the Dukas, plus the warriors of Sosis the Syracusan and the survivors of Dukas Xenias’ forces from the Titan Olympia.
There was a small force of native Navy crew, apparently part of the agreement for the use of the ship, but he had already moved most of them to less important tasks. There were few he trusted, and those in the pay of the state were not at the top of his loyalty list. As was customary on a Titan, the commanding Dukas stood in the centre with all other officers in their positions to follow his orders. There were slightly fewer officers in this ship compared to the others. This was mainly due to the technological improvements made to the ship by the Dukas over the course of their trip. Poseidon also had access to the largest contingent of engineers. The increased automation, power system improvements and modified weapons had made her into potentially the most powerful of the three remaining Titans. He looked at the view around the ship and shook his head.
Stood next to him was Lady Artemas, dressed as always in her tight fitting Median corset, long boots and Terran armour.
“Explain this to me again, Lady Artemas. We are supposed to be the vanguard of the Legion with a scout from the Imperial family itself. Why is it then, that this is the third refuelling point we’ve stopped at, to find nothing but abandoned colonies and destruction?”
She looked out into space and gazed upon the beauty and the devastation that had been wrought throughout the system. Like all the modern Terran ships, the Poseidon was equipped with a full Virtual Observation System. A molecular level surface had been installed to the walls, floor and ceiling of the command deck, allowing the central processor to project a photorealistic video feed on every surface. The resulting imagery gave the effect that the command crew were floating in space. An added benefit was that information, graphs and additional data could be overlaid to provide a detailed tactical view of the surrounding system. She took a long breath and answered the irritated Dukas.
“Dukas, I am no truthsayer. The course the Strategos has laid out gives us little room for change. We are only two jumps away from the Cunaxa Nebula. It’s clear that the Emperor already knows we are coming.”
The Dukas sighed, the air whistling gently through his teeth.
“Really, you know this? How?”
Artemas walked to the navigation desk where two senior dekarchos were busy watching for potential problems.
“May I?” she asked politely.
The nearest, a young woman in her twenties looked to the Dukas before nodding. Artemas then approached the display and brought up the starmap that showed the area of space around the Gates of Media. There were dozens of stars but few routes to Cunaxa that wouldn’t double or even triple their journey time. She pointed at the Gates, their present location.
“We’re here, the Gates of Media. This is the ancient entrance to the Median territories. From here onwards, we are not just inside the Empire, we are in the territory of the Medes themselves.”
The Dukas looked confused, but she wondered how much of it was a show, put on to extract as much information from her as possible. On the other hand, he could simply be that stupid. There was also the possible chance that he just wanted to be a nuisance.
“So? We’ve been in Medes territory for weeks. What point are you making?”
Xenophon, who until now had been stood silently, was waiting in the corner with Roxana Devereux at his side. Both wore their Legion uniforms with Arcadian insignia and a small device on their shoulders to pin their cloaks into place. Apparently, it was an emblem of sorts for Artemas and her house. He stepped from the side of the deck and towards the Dukas and Lady Artemas.
“My Lord, may I?” he asked.
The Dukas looked at the Dekarchos and the uniform he wore. He was no great fan of the Medes, and the fact that this man wore a mixture of Terran and Medes military attire seemed to annoy him even more.
“Dekarchos, you are the escort of the Lady Artemas. What insight can you possibly have to offer?”
Xenophon did his best to choke back his annoyance. There hadn’t been time for them all to be properly introduced to the Dukas and his command staff. The fact that Xenias and his troops had been ordered aboard the Poseidon, against the wishes of
had done little to help that. The only reason he was on the command deck was down to the insistence of Cyrus that his niece was protected at all times by her trusted group of companions.
“First of all, the Median Empire is the name we gave to this substantial Empire. Technically it is a poor choice. The Medes themselves are the masters, the primary race if you will, and are based in the Median territories.”
“As in the place we have now entered,” added Artemas with a gentle smile.
“Indeed,” said Xenophon, looking back to the Dukas, “the planets and systems outside of the Medes territory are still part of the Empire and ruled by the Satraps on behalf of the Emperor. This is the heart of their Empire, and only those of Medes blood may live on these worlds.”
Dukas Meno pointed to the worlds around the ship.
“I count many worlds here, all of which were inhabited until four to five days ago. Where are these Medes people you refer to?”
“Dukas, that I do not know.”
The commander of the Titan lifted his hand in annoyance.
“Both of you get off my command deck. I will send scouts to investigate these planets before we make the next jump. I suggest you return to your unit and prepare yourselves.”
Xenophon started to reply, but Artemas grabbed his arm. The Dukas saw this and laughed loudly.
“I see, so the Medes woman tells the Terran soldier what to say and to whom.”
He shook his head with disgust.
“Get out, now!”
Roxana had already stepped to the door, and four of Meno’s mercenaries stepped aside so that the three of them could leave. Xenophon looked back through the door as it shut behind them.
“Well, that didn’t go down so well, did it?” asked Roxana sarcastically.
The three followed the corridor past many mercenaries who seemed to be lurking about with nothing useful to do. Xenophon watched them carefully, ever suspicious one of them might attack him or more likely, Artemas. They passed many such groups, as well as a spatharii security patrol that seemed more interested in gawping at Artemas than keeping the ship safe. The elevators to the different parts of the ship were in this section, but the doors were open, and two engineers were busy working away with welding equipment. They both wore traditional Navy uniforms and were presumably part of the Titan’s original crew. One of them spotted the group waiting patiently.
“Sorry, elevators are being upgraded. You’ll have to go the long way through the barrack levels. Sorry,” he said apologetically and returned to his work.
“Is it me, or does this ship seem like a disaster area to you?” asked Artemas.
Xenophon and Roxana ignored her question but increased their pace. For the last few days, they’d spent all their time with the rest of Xenias’ troops. Any contact with the Dukas had been done using the internal communications. This was their first meeting, and Xenophon suspected probably their last one, based on the way they’d been treated. They finally reached the first main junction, stopping to check the route. Lit signage pointed to the command deck, security post and barrack levels. Two soldiers wearing the uniforms of Dukas Sosis t
leaned against the wall. They watched the group of three but said nothing. Roxana stopped and checked the schematic on the wall.
“Yeah, seven levels down. We need to go that way,” she said, pointing to a rectangular doorway on the right. Floor and ceiling lighting showed it was the route that led to a number of barracks levels. They moved on, passing a number of doorways of large barrack rooms for the embarked soldiers. There were flags, banners and posters all over the walls, proclaiming the dominance of their Dukas. It took almost ten minutes to reach the next junction and the corridors leading down to the lower levels. This part of the ship seemed even less salubrious, and the soldiers became more a mix of different colonies as well as mercenaries. Almost exactly as he predicted, two of the mercenaries stepped out and blocked their path no more then thirty metres from the doorway.
“Out of the way, soldiers,” demanded Roxana.
The man, in his early forties and with dirty overalls and cuts to his face, had the hallmarks of a bandit or smuggler. Artemas sniffed and pulled back slightly as he leaned in closer.
“Don’t you wash?” asked Xenophon without thinking.
He ignored the insult and reached out to touch Artemas’ corset. He seemed enthralled by her pale skin and dark clothing. As his fingers made contact, Xenophon brought down his fist in a chopping action that connected directly with the join in his hand. It clicked, and the man howled in pain at the breakage.
“Back off, merc!” demanded Roxana.
“Says who?” called out the second man, this time holding out a short blade, its tip pointing directly at Roxana’s belly. Xenophon watched her. He’d already seen the look on her face; one he’d first seen back home on Attica when she became angry about something important to her.
Oh, great, here we go again.
“Says Dekarchos Roxana Devereux,” she answered in a firm voice.
The man with the broken wrist pulled out a battered looking pistol and pointed it at Artemas.
“You Median bitch, what the hell are you doing...” he started before he saw Xenophon pointing an Arcadian issue pulse-pistol directly at his chest. The other man with the blade jumped forward, the blade still pointing forward. Xenophon didn’t take a chance and pulled the trigger. It was a good shot and caught him in the shoulder. The report was loud and violent in the close confines of the ship. Roxana dodged to the side and grabbed at the man’s firearm. It was close, but she managed to get a lock onto the weapon before jabbing her fist into his throat.