Authors: Michael G. Thomas
“As you wish, my Lady.”
She returned to her throne chair, indicating for Glaucon to being over a chair for him to sit in to face her. Once settled into position, the four returned to their guard positions, and the Medes nobleman faced her at a distance of a few metres.
“This most honourable nobleman is a close family friend of mine. He was one of my teachers many years ago when I was a child. Now he serves in...”
“Ahem,” said the man gently, doing his best to restrict the flow of information.
“Yes. Let us just say that he is a vital source of information for my uncle in the coming struggle.”
He nodded politely. Evidently, he was happier at this vague description of his role. He reached into his cloak and pulled out a small metallic box. It was no bigger than a man’s finger and smooth and simple in its styling compared to most Medes artefacts. He then reached out and placed it on the floor and returned to his seat. It glowed and a lavishly detailed model appeared of the Core World of the Empire.
“My Lady. Information I have received from my...uh...contacts within the Emperor’s circle indicate a number of important decisions have been made. After your victory here at Khorram, at least three Satraps revolted and turned on Imperial garrisons out on the borders.”
“What happened?” she asked.
“The usual for revolt. Within three days, the Emperor despatched war fleets to their territories and firebombed their homeworlds. He ignored their fleets and military bases. The losses on both sides number in the billions, but the Satraps have already reasserted their support for him. News has spread fast. It appears the other Satraps are now more concerned at his vengeance than the warriors your uncle commands.”
“I see.” It was her only response.
Xenophon had his own question and lifted his hand to his shoulder.
“May I?” he asked.
She nodded, curious to hear his thoughts.
“First of all, how accurate and trustworthy is this information?”
Lady Artemas intervened before the offended Medes noble could retort.
“Any information you hear can be considered fact.”
Xenophon wasn’t particularly satisfied by that explanation, but it was evidently clear that there was neither the time nor the stomach for discussing anything over than the details of what this man had to say.
“With this revolt over, do we have any information on Artaxerxes’ intentions?”
The nobleman nodded to Xenophon.
“The Empire is, perhaps, more secure than it has been for years. Satraps from the border worlds to the Ionian Territories, and even the robotic domains, have been quick to send tributes, hostages, and their messages of support to the Emperor. In the last three days, his fleet has grown to triple its size and is growing.”
“Triple?” asked Roxana.
Of all those present, she was the one with the most experience of Naval command, having served in the professional Navy of Attica. The idea of a Medes fleet that had swelled to triple its last size was something that sent shivers through her body.
“At Khorram we crushed their fleet, and even then they were able to escape with about a hundred warships. If what you say is true, then they could be operating with a force of three hundred ships. They will outnumber by at least four to one.”
He motioned with his hand, and the image quickly changed to show colour shapes all heading to one particular area. It was marked up as the Cunaxa Nebula. The model changed shape drastically until it brought up a number of systems in the Nebula. A large number of icons clearly showed a major Imperial fleet. Many more coloured shapes were moving in the same direction as well.
“This is the place where the Emperor is assembling a force of massive proportions. He is also preparing two more similar sized forces under the command of his deputies at two other Imperial capitals. If my sources at the Royal Court are correct, the Emperor intends on creating a combined force of a thousand ships. They are coming from every quarter of the Empire and bringing thousands of warriors as well. When they are ready, he will unleash three columns at your uncle.”
He inhaled slowly before adding one last piece of information.
“He does not intend on just defeating Lord Cyrus. This time he intends on wiping out anybody attached to him. He will not stop until the entire Legion is burned to ashes for their blasphemy.”
Xenophon and his friends looked at each other in disgust. Lady Artemas looked equally troubled at this last piece of information. She turned and stared at the painting of the Battle of Marathon that Xenophon had been so interested in examining.
“The painting, it showed the great battle at Marathon, yet I fear we will see a battle soon that will make Marathon look nothing more than a regional dispute.”
She then looked back to the Median noble.
“Do you have any idea of a timescale?”
He nodded slowly.
“Yes, my Lady. The orders have already been given to the commanders in the field. Based on the commissions of array, it is expected that the three divisions will be ready in nine days. I think you can now see why I sent the communiqué with Lord Cyrus. Time is running out and contrary to expectation, the regime of Artaxerxes is hardening, not breaking apart.”
Lady Artemas lowered her face into her hands as she contemplated the new information. She had little interest in the dynastic struggles of her uncle, but she certainly didn’t want to see him or his people killed. She lifted her head, looking at her new Terran friends. The more she watched them, the more she realised how fond she had become of all four.
“Thank you. I will pass on this critical information to my uncle. How long do you intend on staying at Kashan?”
“I must leave within the hour, my Lady. I will leave the datasphere with you, along with the current fleet dispositions of the Imperial Fleet. I have chartered a place aboard one of the refugee vessels. I will be back at court within six days from here. Take care, my Lady. I wish you and your uncle the best with this campaign.”
He then rotated slightly and faced Xenophon to whom he nodded to, and then he was gone. Making little noise, he was through the door in as little time as it took for Glaucon to start complaining.
“Is it me, or did that entire speech sound like a pile of dung?” he said angrily.
“Dung?” laughed Tamara. She had thrown off any pretence of being the good little guard and was now jumping about the apartment to examine the myriad of fine art. She also managed to find the wine rack that was nestled neatly behind a life-size sculpture of a Median warrior locked in some kind of mortal battle with a monster. It was as though the words of Lady Artemas had taken nearly twenty seconds or so to sink in before she looked back at her.
“Wait, you don’t trust him?” she asked. “Why are we here, then?”
The other three stopped, intrigued by her comment.
“Of course I don’t trust him. He is the brother of Menon. You remember him?”
Xenophon and Roxana both nodded at this statement. With their service with the Navy, they were all too familiar with the reputation of Menon.
“Yeah, I’ve heard of him, alright. That piece of filth is a Medes commander, the one we found at the Aronton station. I checked about him after the battle because I was sure I’d heard something about him back at the Academy. Apparently, he took a Terran name after defeating a task force sent against him.”
Xenophon nodded in agreement and slumped down into one of the reclining chairs before continuing.
“A foolish Terran officer, now known as Menon the Fool, was sent to clear out a band of corsairs nearly twenty years ago. His family were rich, and he wanted battle command desperately. This Medes corsair managed to trap him and picked off his ship one at a time until just his ship remained. He boarded the cruiser, took the head of Menon and took his name.”
“I never heard that story before,” replied Glaucon.
Xenophon laughed dryly.
“Of course not, why would you repeat a story of epic and humiliating failure? Much better to focus on our finer moments.”
“Like the little dog beating back Medes warriors at the battle of Marathon?” added Lady Artemas with obvious sarcasm.
She stood up and walked to a barren wall a few metres away. It was clear, save for a small table with what looked like a partially damaged Terran urn sat upon it. The others watched as she moved. Only Xenophon wondered why there appeared to be so much taken from Terran culture for a people that officially despised what they called
Lady Artemas held one hand over the urn and spoke a few quiet words. It glowed and five large displays, each one over two metres wide, appeared on the walls. The urn seemed to be projecting them, but the quality and detail was outstanding. Each one showed parts of the Median Empire, and one was screen dedicated to the Core Worlds of the Empire. Xenophon noted how far into this part of the enemy territ
y they had already advanced. It sent a chill through him as he considered how long it would take to return home, assuming unlimited supplies and no hostile interruptions. It was clear that victory for Cyrus was the only way he or the rest of the Legion had of staying alive in the long run.
“A great deal of space, don’t you think?” asked Artemas as she gazed upon the maps.
“What you need to understand is that this is a game within a game. The nobles of the Empire are always interested in just one simple thing, the safety of their own necks and houses. Menon and his family will fight for Cyrus or Artaxerxes; they really don’t care which one they follow. What they are concerned about is ensuring they do not side with the loser. Survival is the game, and our Satraps are the masters of this game.”
She moved her hands in front of the displays, altering each one to show the areas of space where the fleets were apparently being assembled.
“You can see here the strategic information available to me suggests that at least part of what he said is true. Yes, a massive number of ships are being sent to these three assembly areas. What this data doesn’t tell us is, why they are there and what their plan is?”
Roxana and Xenophon stepped to her side and examined all the displays in detail.
“It can’t just be me that is surprised at the massive amount of information available to you. Where is it coming from?”
“You’ve got a point there,” Xenophon added.
He pointed to the display on the left that showed the worlds near Khorram.
“We could use this information to avoid most of their forces, and either withdraw to safety or strike with speed and precision. So where is this all coming from?”
Lady Artemas smiled and changed them to show a view of the entire Empire.
“Directly from the military high command on Babylon Prime.”
“What?” Glaucon snapped. “Why would they still be sending this kind of data here? Don’t they know we could gain access to it?”
Xenophon nodded, now understanding what was happening.
“All of this information is being given freely as bait, isn’t it? Artaxerxes is that confident that he wants us to know where his forces are. He wants us to tremble and fear his next move. This is how he will win, by making us react to his predetermined plans.”
Lady Artemas nodded slowly.
“Not freely. This information is only available to Imperial command locations, like this one on Kashan. As soon as I accessed this data, it will have been passed on to all other sites. Artaxerxes knows this has been viewed, and my uncle wants him to know this. Artaxerxes attempts to scare us, and my uncle wants to let him and his supporters know that Khorram, the shipyards and the Imperial facilities here are under his control.”
Glaucon, Xenophon and Roxana looked at each other in confusion. They had all now spent considerable time with their Medes guests, and yet not one of them fully understood how their minds worked. The political intrigue and plots they had encountered made the troubles in the Terran territories seem insignificant.
She then turned to the orb and tapped it three times. The centre screen altered to show a hierarchical tree of several Median families. She moved quickly through the faces and selected what appeared to be Cyrus. The image turned black and then flickered before a detailed model of the pretender to the throne appeared.
“Lady Artemas, have you made contact?”
She bowed down politely in front of the image of Cyrus.