Authors: Michael G. Thomas
“You will return to your ship, and you will fight alongside us. Your disagreement with your countrymen can wait for another day. Clearchus is your Strategos, and any Terran not obeying his orders is a traitor to the Legion and no longer in my pay.”
Meno looked back with cold eyes. He quite clearly hated the Medes, yet he had no legitimate cause for complaint as far as Cyrus could see. The man had volunteered, taken the money and promised to fight his battles. If he chose to renege on this deal, then there would be severe consequences.
“Go now and prepare yourselves!” shouted Cyrus.
The Terrans broke ranks and made directly for the various landing platforms on the great ship to return to their own. None were particular keen to stay aboard a Medes ship, especially the flagship of Lord Cyrus. Even Meno left, with a small group of senior officers helping him with his armour and clothing. Clearchus watched him go and shook his head before looking back to Cyrus. Only their personal guards,
and Lady Artemas with her two guards remained in the drill square.
“My Lord, I must respectfully disagree with this course of action. I have yet to see the full disposition of the enemy forces, but you wish to attack regardless?”
“Yes, I do. This is not the time to hold back, Clearchus. You will return to your ship and consult the data provided by our scouts. Devise a battle plan based on this...”
He spotted Clearchus trying to protest but simply spoke louder.
“Either way, we will be attacking within the hour. I want their defences reduced, and my standard flying over the Imperial Palace before the day is done. Every minute we wait gives them time to improve the position they already have.”
Clearchus could see he was wasting his time. He nodded to Cyrus and then returned to his dekas of
. Dekarchos Artemis helped him with his armour and they prepared to leave. In the moments before the Terran left, Lady Artemas moved to Cyrus.
“Uncle, is this course of action wise?” she asked.
Cyrus smiled; surprised she was using the language of the Terran to speak with him. Clearchus, Xenophon and the others were still around, so he assumed it was nothing but common courtesy.
“Niece, I will not seize my birthright like a thief in the night. My enemy is here and in a week, he could be gone. What will I do then if he scuttles off home to his harem? We will face Artaxerxes and show him for the shallow, weak leader he really is. I have the Black Legion and her Titans. There is no ship, no warrior and no King that can stand before us!”
He then returned to his own language, leaving the small number of Terrans to wonder exactly what it was that he was talking about. Artemas appeared quite angry, and the argument raged for over a minute.
“What’s this all about?” asked Roxana quietly.
“Who knows? Artemas is high spirited, so he’s probably making her do something she doesn’t want.”
“Like stay away from the upcoming battle?”
Xenophon turned back from her, as the argument between the two Medes royals was finishing. Artemas paused, said one last thing before finally bowing and walking away towards one of the exit points of the drill square. Xenophon and Roxana ran after her, struggling to keep up with her surprising burst of speed.
“What is it?” asked Xenophon with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.
She kept moving but spoke quietly in reply.
“Until this battle is over, I am to be kept on board the Rashnu, for my own protection.”
“What?” Roxana replied in surprise.
They were now through the door and walking past large groups of automaton Medes soldiers. Xenophon was fascinated, having seen so few of these so-called warriors. All of the Medes warriors so far had been from bodyguard units. They were the best trained and most loyal of the Medes subjects. But the automatons were completely artificial, bred in factories and programmed for menial jobs. They were used for farming, operating machinery and working in brothels. The pleasure fleets were infamous in the Terran territories and contained ships full of lithe, beautiful and wanton men and women, each available for those with sufficient money. He looked away from a large group of the pale-skinned automatons and back to Artemas.
“We are to stay here, on the Rashnu?”
She stopped for a second.
“Yes, I have been assigned one of the most experienced combat units, the 2nd Cilician. They are two hundred warriors, all picked for their loyalty and skill with firearms. I am to stay with them for the duration of the battle.
“What do you mean, stay with them
Artemas looked at her and thought for a second before understanding the point Roxana was making. She smiled, now realising exactly what she meant.
“Yes, as automatons they are trained and indoctrinated to follow the orders of Medes nobility, even to their deaths. If I order them to kill themselves, they will.”
Xenophon leaned in closer to ensure nobody heard them.
“And what if you were to order them, to say, well, join ground troops into battle?”
Lady Artemas nodded slowly and turned to continue her walk.
Laconian Titan ‘Valediction’, Approaching Cunaxa Nebula
Clearchus stepped into the command deck with a feeling of both dread and pleasure. Being forced to initiate a battle in just twenty more minutes hardly filled him with joy, but at least his crew and warriors were ready. Not that he had even a moment’s doubt. They’d started the jump to Cunaxa hours earlier and were now coming to the final stage of the journey. The entire fleet was arrayed in its prearranged battle formation even as they travelled. Though not critical, it had been a requirement of Clearchus to ensure they arrived at the battle in exactly the way he intended. The last thing he wanted was for them arriving as a loose rabble and easy target for the enemy, and a sure-fire way for him to lose control of the Legion.
looked around him and at the incredible
view of the massive fleet of hundreds of ships. The Virtual Observation System gave him a
view of the fleet, as well as placing him directly into the middle as if he was a general standing in the frontline of some ancient battle. The Titans were easy to spot, each more massive than any other ship in the fleet. Even the Median forces seemed more impressive, but this was more likely to be due to the
additional ships from Khorram
that Cyrus had promised. Clearchus hadn’t expected much, but Cyrus had been as good as his word and managed to
with these ships,
as well as prov
for the ground battle.
“Auletes, get me Pleistoanax!” he barked.
Kleandridas was busy preparing the ground troops on board Valediction while
had transferred to the Terran battleship Damnation. The vessel had been sold for scrap by one of Laconia’s allies, and Clearchus had bought it for no more than scrap. A week of work at the Khorram shipyards and she was in a better state that at any time in the last two decades. Medes automatons had stayed on board to continue their work, and she had been officially renamed to serve as a Laconian close support ship for the upcoming battle. Though they had three Titans, Clearchus was concerned to get his troops into battle as quickly as possible. The heavy warships would have to do the bulk of the fighting while the Titans struck directly at the enemy strongpoint. An image of the Topoteretes appeared on one of the large screen near the Strategos.
, good. How are your preparations going?”
“Strategos,” he replied, “the ship is looking good. Shield generators have been improved, weapons upgraded, and I have two more units of warriors aboard. As you suggested, I’ve had the engineers finish the modifications for prolonged atmospheric entry.”
“Excellent work. So she can enter the atmosphere? Are you certain?”
“Yes, Strategos. She was always designed to be able to make planetary landings, but she hasn’t done it in decades. We might lose a few sections, but they’ve already added extra bulkhead and airlock seals. It’ll work.”
“Good. Damnation is to provide close ground support if we’re forced to initiate a ground battle.”
He looked around the command deck, specifically towards the primary Median fleet at the heart of the formation.
“I take it you’ve been unable to persuade Cyrus to mix our ships with his?”
Clearchus shook his head.
“No, he wants to be at the heart of the battle. We are to provide the muscle, but it must be him and his troops that decide the day. I know, it doesn’t make much sense, but I have my own plan, and we will spring it upon reaching our objective. We have a strong reserve, and once our forces are engaged, I can use it to bolster the centre without directly contradicting the plan.”
“You do not agree?” asked Clearchus.
“The Legion, under your command, has been paid to carry out a task. I do not see why you are being pushed back for this final battle. Cyrus might be a great noble amongst the Medes, but in battle he is just another body that will get in our way. These Medes know nothing of war, real war.”
Clearchus nodded furiously in agreement.
“When the time comes, be ready. This battle will be fought my way.”
nodded, and his image quickly faded.
The Kentarchos turned from his command position and looked to Clearchus. He was a highly decorated and experienced officer and in charge of the Laconian Titan.
“Strategos, we will arrive in the Cunaxa System in just over one minute.”
Clearchus nodded and then looked to the ship’s communication officer,
Auletes Juda Bellee
. She had been present during the battle at Khorram and had proven to be a reliable if slightly headstrong officer.
“Put me on with the Legion.”
The woman nodded, and he noted the active connection in less than two seconds. He’d specifically selected the Legion because they were the only troops really under his command. Any orders to the Median forces would have to go up to Cyrus and then back down to his second-in-command,
he thought of her speed and efficiency
He took a slow, deep breath before starting.
“Men and women of the Black Legion. This has been a long and difficult road full of surprises, setbacks and combat. In less than a minute, this will change though. Never before has a Terran warship travelled this far into Median space. We will leave scorch marks on this System that will be felt for generations. To your stations and follow the plan. I want no heroes, no quests for glory. This will be a textbook operation that will make use of our superior training, skill and tactics. To victory and success!”
There was no noise, not that he expected any. The command deck was a place for calm and discipline. The last thing he wanted or needed was dozens of senior commanders shouting and cheering, instead of concentrating on the task at hand.
“Strategos, ten seconds!” called out
Kybernetes Ditha Artell
, the ship’s executive officer.
Clearchus watched the hundreds of ships around him and the slowly moving stars that were closest to them. Travelling at these speeds always fascinated him, especially the fact that even incredible speeds paled to insignificance, compared to the vast distances some of the stars and galaxies were from their current position. He took a final breath, knowing full that his next would be at the Cunaxa System. With there being no way of turning back and avoiding a fight, he started to relax. His training and experience kicked in and for a brief moment, he felt as though he were back home in the Laconian fleet.
Here is comes.
There was a flash as the colours and shapes of the triple star system of Cunaxa replaced the darkness of space. The rest of the fleet had maintained its position almost perfectly, with the exception of one group in the centre that had stopped almost two hundred kilometres ahead of the rest of the fleet. Clearchus looked at the rest of the fleet and then at the planets and defences in the system.
, the ship’s tactical officer quickly appraised the situation and sent data directly to the ship’s system to be added to the VOB overlay.