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Day Eleven, or, Things Fall Apart

16,352 / 50,000

Let's cover numbers early. Because something should happen early today. 16,352/18,333. That's right. I'm 2,000 words behind schedule. The reason for this is profound: I spent much of Tuesday working to get ready for being out of my office entirely on Wednesday, I spent much of Wednesday at a vendor demo, then spent the rest of it, essentially, meeting up with someone local to the area, having a meal, and talking. What did we talk about? Well, a bunch of things, including our shared history in Superguy (I've talked about Superguy before, I think. If not... well, I will someday, I promise), and webcomics, because I talk about webcomics to people over food. It's a curse. Also, I had really good Shephard's Pie, which is perhaps the perfect food for me to eat these days.

And then today, I had to get caught up with all the crap that came up yesterday, and desperately try to catch up with Nanowrimo the rest of the time, because I was very behind. In fact, I wrote 3,000 words today or so... and if I do that again tomorrow and again on Saturday, I'll actually get back on track. After work, I came home and fell asleep for several hours, and would kind of like to go back to sleep, but I have to get some things done....

If you think all this is a half-assed attempt to cover my ass for not snarking anything today... well, you'd be right. But I will put an extra big scene in as an excerpt today, because... well, because. I think you'll like it. Malcolm, my protagonist, finally has a little bit of a breakdown and we begin to find out what's going on... on one level, anyway.

For those of you who've recently sent me requests for the password information for the writing page... I'll see if I can't get through that backlog tomorrow, and get everyone that access. For those of you who're wondering when I'll finally do something about the fucking bowling shirts... Saturday. I swear.

So here's a fast 1,900 words. And I'll try to do more tomorrow. Promise.

            “Through here,” the chief petty officer said, nodding behind himself. Malcolm nodded his thanks and stepped into the office.

            And was instantly plunged into the depths of space, or so it seemed. The office was at the very center of the wheel-like station, at the topmost deck, and the entire roof was a dome of plastiglass. As a result, Malcolm was almost made dizzy by the sudden feeling of infinity, all around him. There were soft lights on the walls, all directed down, but nothing that detracted from the sudden dizzying perspective.

            Malcolm shook his head, suddenly embarrassed. He looked around. There was comfortable furniture – largely wood, which had to have cost a fortune – and a broad desk opposite the door he came in. Commodore Kevin Sortino was standing behind that desk, off slightly to the side. He was smirking.

            Malcolm stepped forward. “Captain Alexander Malcolm, reporting as ordered, sir,” he said, coming to attention. It seemed the best recovery he could make.

            Sortino smiled a bit more broadly. “At ease, and sit down, Alex.” He glanced up. “It’s an impressive sight, isn’t it?”

            Malcolm took a seat. “Yes sir. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.”

            “No, you probably haven’t. Do you know, the slowships had a room like this at the top decks of every ship? Before Hotchkiss and Leopold unlocked the nodal points of gravity and figured out how they were stitched together, shipbuilders always planned a place where captains and their crew could go and be reminded of how vast the galaxy is.”

            “I didn’t know that, no. Sir.”

            Sortino smiled a bit more. “I said ‘at ease,’ Alex. Would you care for a drink? I’ve got a Scotch from Campbell that I break out for old shipmates.”

            “From Campbell, sir?” Malcolm arched an eyebrow. “Concordian whiskey?”

            “I find whiskey doesn’t much care where it’s from,” Sortino said, stepping over to a small wet bar. “Besides, if it makes you feel better, this was part of a supply cache we captured on Migdal during one of the Army’s raids. A friend of a friend grabbed a whole case, and one of the bottles made it to me.”

            “Oh.” Malcolm was slightly surprised to find he did feel better.

            “Here you are,” the Commodore said, offering a glass with a couple of fingers of the amber liquid and two cubes of ice to Malcolm, who accepted it. Nodding slightly, the Commodore sat in a chair opposite Malcolm, with a low table between them.

            Malcolm shifted to face Sortino. Despite the years that had passed, he found the Commodore looked much the same as he remembered. Lean, with an angular face that had a slight flush to its light skin. Red-blond hair, which in the low light looked like it had no grey at all. He was wearing dress blues, but without the coat. Even on his white tunic shirt, however, the solid four point star and disk of a Commodore gleamed in the room’s low light, and below it he wore a small Admiral’s Star, reflecting he had a fleet command.

            Sortino lifted his glass in toast. “To victory,” he murmured.

            Malcolm lifted his own. “May it come swiftly,” he answered, and sipped the scotch. It was peatier than many Malcolm had tasted, burning as it went down. Malcolm half-closed his eyes to savor that burn.

            “That’s my kind of sentiment,” Sortino said, with a smile. “You don’t know how hard it is to hammer that into the Admiralty. They like containment. I’m not interested in containing the bastards. I want to make it abundantly clear to every two bit power in the galaxy that you don’t get to attack the Empire of Citadel.”

            “You think they’d learn that lesson?” Malcolm asked.

            “I think we can force them to learn that lesson,” Sortino answered, soberly.

            “Yes, sir,” Malcolm said, looking down into the scotch. He suddenly felt very tired.

            “How’s your family, Alex,” the Commodore asked softly. “Have you heard anything recently?”

            “No, sir. I... I don’t know, sir. I hope they’re managing.”

            Sortino nodded. “I wish I could tell you that we’d made an inroad into Campos, but we haven’t. It’s the same old story you’ve heard a hundred times. We push into the system with the Navy, but we never get enough of a foothold to land troops on Campos to start liberating it. We have to be able to reinforce a blockade to give the Army a chance to work. Otherwise, it could end up like Garrity. And the last thing we need is another planet where half the time we have soldiers we can’t reinforce or withdraw if needed.”

            “I know that, sir,” Malcolm said.

            “I know you do. You’re a good spacer. You always have been.”

            “Thank you, sir.” Malcolm took another sip of the whiskey. “Sir... I have to ask—”

            “Let me guess. You have to ask what all this is about. You have to ask why we’ve put thirty billion pounds imperial into a dead end system at the end of the Zabel Spur. You have to ask why you’ve gotten a Captain’s Star out of turn. You have to ask what all this is about.” He smiled slightly. “Did I cover the basics, Captain?”

            “Yes, sir.” Malcolm found himself smiling. Sortino had always been able to do that. He was so smooth, so charming.....

            “Well. The short answer is, we’re preparing to end this war once and for all, with the Empire of Citadel the solid winners. And you’re here to be a part of it. In fact, you’re here to be the lynchpin.”

            “Sir?” Malcolm asked, blinking. “I....”

            “Let me guess,” Sortino said, again. “You don’t think you’re anything special, so the idea that you could have the deciding role in ending a war conservatively estimated to last another sixty years is shocking. Am I right?”

            “Well, yes sir.”

            Sortino’s grin turned wry. “It’s a good thing I’m the one who decides who is and isn’t special instead of you, then, isn’t it.” He drained the rest of his scotch. “Do you know why victory has always been inevitable, Malcolm? Why in the end this was nothing more than an expensive fool’s errand for Concordia?”

            “Sir? I know why civilians think it’s inevitable....”

            “Why’s that?”

            “Because... because there’s an estimated forty-one hundred planets in the Empire of Citadel, counting member worlds and protectorates, and there’s less than two hundred and twenty Concordian planets.”

            “Seems like an obvious win for us, doesn’t it?”

            “Well... I can see why civilians think that, sir.”

            “But you don’t agree?”

            “I don’t think the numbers make victory inevitable, sir. I think victory has to come from our resolve and our strategy.”

            Sortino nodded. “What’s the fallacy of the numerical argument?”

            Malcolm sipped his whiskey. He wasn’t sure if this was a casual discussion or a test. “Concordia’s smaller size means information travels from one end of their empire to the other in a fraction of the time. Concordia’s direct control of her member worlds means they can command far greater individual resources than we can. And the whole of Concordia is involved in the war. While this is the largest war the Empire’s ever been in, it’s a very very small percentage of the Empire that’s affected by it. To people in Anterior Realm, or Coreward, or even Paramount Realm... it’s just an afterthought. And with all the frontier action in the outer realms, the Imperial Navy can’t focus even a tenth of its overall commitment to resolving this action. Especially....”

            “Especially?” Sortino asked, intently.

            “Especially with the Concordians contained,” Malcolm said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

            “Oh yes. The containment strategy. Hold them in place, and eventually they’ll run out of resources to pursue the war, in decades or centuries. In the meantime, there’s only eight Citadelian worlds in dispute or seeing violence. Eight worlds, out of thousands. That’s only two tenths of one percent of the Empire directly affected, right?”

            “Yes, sir.”

            “You don’t like that strategy, do you?”
            “No, sir.”

            “Why not? You know it will work, eventually.”

            “No sir, I don’t know that. They’ve broken through to Rosenberg any number of times, sir. If they ever manage to solidly reinforce Rosenberg, and get control of the trailward t-point out of the system, they cut off the Manley Reach. If they manage that, they reinforce heavily on Simpson and Campos and send forces to Melchor to create another buffer there. They pull out of Garrity and Crosby’s Folly and Midgal entirely. They send troops in on Guigar and Kolchalka and Greenlee, one at a time subverting and conquering, and then Jacques and Bleuelsuld and Aeire....” Malcolm felt the words boiling out of him, almost without control, like a floodgate had been opened and there was no way to stop it. “Once they’re solidly locked into the Manley Reach, they have the whole uncolonized region past the Manley Reach open to them. They send in colonists and resource miners and surveyors. They hurl their military to the buffer worlds and strip back everything else to just hold and develop. Generations are born on the conquered worlds and die on them, and life becomes ritualized and expected, and sooner or later some Duke will propose coming to some peace accord with Concordia because it’s costing us money to hammer at them while Concordia is making money on their new worlds and the Concordian empire is expanding with the new colonies....”

            “That’s right. Sooner or later some Peer or some Tribune in Parliament will decide it’ll be easier and make more mathematical sense to consolidate their own power if they eliminate the costly war – costly in terms of lives and resources alike – and make peace.” Sortino practically spat the word. “And you don’t like that?”

            “No sir. No I don’t.”

            “Why not?”


            Sortino’s voice was soft. Coaxing. Insistent. “Why not, Alex.”

            “Because it’s not math to me, sir.” Malcolm barely kept from bursting into tears, buried emotions coming to the surface. “They have my family! They’re in my home town! My home country. My home world! They’re raping my planet and my friends and my birthright! I hate them for that!”

            “You hate your enemies?”

            “Yes! Yes!”

            “So why are you so tired these days?”

            “Because there’s no way out!” Malcolm shouted, tears finally flowing. “We fight them every fucking day! Ships burn and spacers die on both sides, soldiers dig in, take land and lose it the next day! It’s eternal!

            “What if we sent in two more fleets and blew them out of the sky?”

            “It wouldn’t last,” Malcolm said. “They’re committed to a degree we’ll never be, and there’s only one route in and out of Concordian space.”

            “The Thames-to-Aurora transition,” Sortino asked, quietly.

            “Yes! They just have to keep feeding things through Thames, and they can make fleets break against them at the choke point! And when the fleets are broken they just start flooding back out, from Aurora to Simpson and Abramsuld...” Malcolm’s voice dropped. He suddenly felt drained. “There’s no way out, sir. We have to keep grinding and hoping they don’t get lucky, until their economy collapses and they can’t keep building ships to send against us. And that’s not even considering the Orgalin are supplying them too.”

            Sortino nodded, and finished off his whiskey. “Want a refill?” he asked, quietly.

            “What? No... no, I still... no.”

            Sortino nodded, getting up. “That doesn’t answer my question, though. My original question.”

            “What... what was the question, sir?”


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Hm. Boston, Superguy, webcomics. I have a suspicion...

(Trying to find an ungooglable way of asking this.) Author whose nom-du-Superguy was a Monty Python reference, had a website called "Sacred Circle of Confusion Ltd"?

It's probably best not to read too much into it.

And oh, yeah - please sign me up for a shirt - I can get you my PayPal info at your leisure.

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