tagSci-Fi & FantasyPlanetrise and Moonfall Ch. 04-06

Planetrise and Moonfall Ch. 04-06


Planetrise and Moonfall

Chapter 4


Imperial date 7938 E, 23 years ago

Even before that fateful day when the Empire fell, the Rebels were making little waves in some quarters, one of them relatively close to our world. We were taking a little holiday on the extreme edge of our arm of our galaxy. Even the zulons cannot travel to the next galaxy, but the views from the very edge seem like the edge of blackness with just the odd smudge of light here and there in the black above, below and outward from distant, fleeing galaxies, with the bright Milky Way, our galaxy, filling the other quadrant of the sky, a thing of beauty seen in all its glory from the galaxy's very edge.

Our little expedition was well documented, with views screened with much interest all around Como Prime and all the other planets where clan Merciant were regarded with affection as their lords and partners. We set up regular broadcasts that the majority of the population tuned in to watch and marvel at the beauty and extreme majesty of our universe. I had commanded the trip, the Honourable Ivan Merciant, war hero, and heir to the dukedom, accompanied by my lovely and heavily-pregnant wife Lady Velda and our 2-terranyear-old son Ivan II, my mother the Lady Jeneve, and my sister the Honourable Sholona Merciant, whose beautiful hand was being sought by half the noble bachelors in the Empire, yet she was totally devoted to her PhD in biomechanics research. My father the Duke Jolyon could not be spared from his duties to holiday with us from the start, but it was hoped that he would join us at some point before the expedition ended and we all returned home.

One day our expected world-wide broadcast wasn't screened for all to see, but mis-communication through the zulons at the very periphery of the galaxy was not uncommon, so only an apology was sufficient to assuage any concerns of the people, who were rightly proud and fond of their principal family. It was only the next day when no further word was heard that a search of the vast sector was launched, especially as the zulons advised that they couldn't raise my zulon Pynom either.

I was found drifting in the space out on the sprawling end of that arm of the galaxy about two weeks later, safe but alone in a single survival sleep pod. The traumatic termination of my biolink with my zulon Pynom, meant that all our people understood that I was unable to remember anything at all surrounding the incident. Only pure speculation ranked this loss with the rumours of renewed rebel activity around the periphery of the Empire, but without any hard evidence, the official line was that this tragic loss to my family was due simply to a regrettable accident.

I not only lost my wife and son, but Velda was seven months pregnant with our daughter to be, who we were going to name after her grandmother Jeneve II, so I felt my loss was considerably greater than my father's loss, although he lost his wife, daughter, and his only grandchildren.

My aunt, Gillian came to stay with us for the funeral ceremony that we held for her sister and the other lost members of the family. I had always got on well with Aunt Gill, she was much younger than my mother and there were no airs and graces when it came down to playing with Sholona and me. Now her visit was a much more sombre time with these grave losses to bear.

Gill too, had suffered from the civil war. Her first husband, the Duke Desmond of Albany Prime, a garrison general, had been assassinated, as the war intensified in year 7930 E, when I was 16 and their only daughter Lilian was a precocious child of 5. They had lived with us for a couple of years, with Lilian even adopted by my parents, before the requirements of the Imperial social scene demanded that Gillian be remarried, to secure Lilian's safety as her presence on the shorthand list of being 5th in line for the throne when the current old and now childless Emperor, after the Crown Prince and his family had been assassinated during the earlier uprising, finally succumbed to old age.

So Lilian then became the adopted daughter of the Archduke of Burbary, a much older man never married before and a career Galactic Navy Rear Admiral. It was while Gillian and Lilian were on Como Prime comforting Jolyon and I over our loss, and running our household in the manner that my mother would have approved, that the the rebellion war flared up in the Altus Quadrant, to which her husband was despatched with the Fleet of the Red, a quarter of the Imperial Navy, to quash.

I was still on the Imperial Galactic Naval Reserve and I was activated and despatched to join the Red Fleet. I hadn't yet replaced Pynom my zulon, because as merely ducal heir I had no need to do any interstellar flights, but the Navy arranged a war vessel, Viking Class Destroyer with a Navy zulon, Cyclun, as my wormhole-generating partner. She was rough and ready, used to inexperienced lieutenants being bumped up to Lieutenant Commanders beyond their capabilities and making them look good, but soon grudgingly admitted that I wasn't as bad as most officers in her experience. Our task, with my small crew of eight in a fast triple-hull destroyer, was sector patrol, keeping an eye out for unusual rebel activity and investigating anything out of the ordinary that we came across.

In short order, Naval Intelligence discovered that the Rebels were planning a full scale naval battle, something neither side had attempted for 50 terranyears, so we were all flicking our readers through the old text books honing up on the tactics that hadn't been taught for so long. The Rear Admiral looked forward to a classic battle with a chance of making a name for himself and the Fleet lined up in columns, noticing that the Rebels were also lining up using the same old tactics. My role in the destroyer was not to line up with the seven- to eleven-hull battleships and cruisers, we wouldn't last long slogging it out that way. We were to harry the Rebel fleet for any weaknesses or build up of any extra strike force that could threaten our line and report our findings back to the Admiral.

Both battle fleets lined up in a star system called Soiuklus, but instead of each fleet aligning alongside and attempting to board each other and fighting on board hand to hand with sword and dagger, the Rebels suddenly opened up with devastating broadsides of red hot projectiles, destroying many of the capital ships that the Imperial Navy had built up over many years. Then the Rebels launched the crews of their ships to board the damaged Imperial vessels to wipe out the Imperial crew survivors. These were the F2 Hybrids, half-human half-veg, grown with integral space armour, the vegetation half of these mindless drones able to supply oxygen to the humanoid muscles while absorbing the byproduct of carbon dioxide and turning it into oxygen to refuel the human side and use the surplus carbon to repair damaged human and veg cells. They were killing machines that were delivered to the battle in thousands and they took no prisoners, so all the old conventions of battle and treaties governing the care and treatment of prisoners was consigned to the history files.

The Rear Admiral Archduke of Burbary was killed in the Battle of Soiuklus, the flagship HIMS Splendide targeted and utterly destroyed within moments of the battle commencing, causing confusion and all loss of leadership and cohesion in the fleet, so soon the Imperial Navy was in full retreat, each ship for itself.

I was on the edge of the battle and could see what was happening but was powerless to stop it. I knew the Archduke superficially, as husband to my aunt, and understood that he was an old man set in his Navy ways, but he didn't mistreat her as far as I knew. So I had some respect for the old man, but I could do nothing to prevent his death.

What I did manage to do was to ram and board one of the smaller Rebel ships, a little larger than my ship, and attempt to carry off some of the F2 Hybrids for examination. They were prepared to fight to the death, using hand percussion weapons as well as swords and daggers but their moves were predictable and although I was forced to kill most of them, I did manage to wound and disarm two of them and left my crew mates to bind and carry them off. After leaving them with the Fleet HQ, I evoked the Law, regarding Leading my Militia Defence Force for my home system, and was discharged my Imperial duties and immediately went home, prepared to teach new tactics to my Militia and start a programme of building projectile weapons both for firing from vessel to vessel and the smaller ones for use within vessels. I also started a programme of developing space armour for use at all times in battle, so that the devastation of hull breach was reduced and would provide individuals with protection from the hand-held projectile weapons and sword and dagger cuts.

Gillian was a widow again, sparking off a fresh demand for Gill to remarry to secure Lilian's claim to the throne, the odds of which was shortening week by week. Thus Gill's marriage to Jolyon was one of convenience rather than love, but it provided security for Lil. Gill had brought her entourage with her from Albany Prime where they lived, as the Archduke, who served aboard ship all his life had long ago surrendered his own estates and even in marriage had virtually carried on his bachelor lifestyle.

So that was how my father Duke Jolyon married his dead wife's younger sister Gillian, Archduchess of Burbary, Jolyon adopted her daughter Lilian, so she became my half-sister once again.

I threw myself into beefing up our local militia, against the trend of most systems, who had been running them down, tired of war. I tried to get the Central Imperial Council to investigate the possibility of growing our own F2 hybrids, but either they were beyond our capabilities or there was little appetite to succeed. Although over the next couple of years of mostly isolated small scale battles, reports were coming back that indicated that there were indeed a limited numbers of F2 hybrids of Imperial manufacture being deployed, leading to another series of standoffs with neither side scenting victory.

So it was that the devastation came when the Rebels launched the F3 hybrids that had been living with us, infiltrating into almost every household unseen over a number of years.

When the F3 hybrids revolted, most of them appeared to be women, often wives or concubines of the major Families, so that many heads of state were slaughtered in their beds by their spouses, who had been awoken by some bio signal from the Rebel base. Chaos reigned, with most of the upper classes slaughtered without a single shot being fired in defence.

History records that the enemy of the state, Ivan Merciant, exacted revenge for the death of his father, the Duke Jolyon by killing the two F3 hybrids that materialised in his household, Gillian and an unnamed back-up servant, before the ducal palace was utterly destroyed.

Although she was unnamed, that servant was Sylvan, the only maid who came with Velda on her wedding day. Velda hadn't trusted her and the household staff reassigned her, but still kept her within the Palace, where she sat as a ticking time bomb until that fateful signal. And yes, the history files were correct in one detail, I had put her to the sword, but too late. The deed had been done and the Duke was dead.

What is not recorded was that the new rebel warlord who was assigned to take over the Merciant possessions found an empty treasury on Como Prime. Under torture I said that I knew nothing, repeating over and over that my father must have kept secret the imminent bankruptcy of the family. In anger at this loss of the treasury, the new despot incarcerated me in his deepest dungeon for a while before shipping me off as an anonymous political prisoner to cool off while he continued to tear Como Prime apart. This happened a lot in the early years following the fall of Empire, with Politicos being buried deep in the criminal penal system, lost souls, with no proper records, no names, just an identifying number on the forearm. I burned mine off as soon as I could, I didn't want to be found immediately.

As the way goes with the petty warlords, they were often assassinated by their own lieutenants, especially if they are not paid as generously as promised and so, to the New Rebel Governor of Como Prime, I was lost and abandoned, forgotten in the penal system, with no trial, no conviction and no release date.

The now-orphaned Lilian had no wealth of her own and, by necessity in the new world order of the Republic, she was forced to become a courtesan. She was beautiful and sort after by the new warlords, a trophy to be shown off and shared between other Rebel leaders of influence.

She had also become Heir Apparent to Empire. Although that shouldn't have meant anything in the New Order of the Republic, it passed reflected status to whoever owned her among the new Republican warlords and governors. Lilian's father had once been 13th in line for the Imperial throne, so she had been 14th. My dear father was 33rd, but in the ensuing regicide of rebellion now Lilian was prime candidate, followed by two other females and I was the nearest male contender, not that anyone was sure I was still alive. In the event of any bid to restore the monarchy, many imperial supporters may prefer to rally behind the nearest male and therefore it was not in Lilian's interest to let me survive.

Unbeknown to everyone, including Gill herself, Lilian's mother Gillian was an F3 hybrid sleeper assassin, which indicates that her sister Jeneve must have also been one. The history goes that Gill became aware she was a republican and killed Jolyon, and attempted to assassinate his surviving child Ivan, before Gill met with death at the hand of Ivan, and his world collapsed around him as the planet's defences were opened by other Rebel agencies. Ivan was captured and imprisoned in the ruins of the Duke's Palace. Soon this pattern followed others across the galaxy with sleeper wives, husbands, servants, trusted retainers suddenly proving to be expert and merciless killers who killed their nearest and dearest and changed the course of history.

That, dear reader, pretty well brings us up to date.

Planetrise and Moonfall

Chapter 5

The Treasury

Year 20 R (Republic, Imperial date 7961 E)

Mylon took the penultimate wormhole leap into the orbital path of the inner gas giant and the alarms of imminent collision which had been going off solidly for the last twenty hours suddenly stop and we are suddenly silent. According to the radar we have arrived in an area of space almost at the heart of this triple-sun-system with no debris, none at all. Which is eerie.

'What's happening?' Kelvin is the first of the crew to ask, 'Are the instruments down?'

'No,' Lilian answers slowly, hesitatingly, 'Everything's up and running. We just seem to be in an area of calm.'

She glances at me, seeing that I appear to be passive at the revelation.

'Ivan doesn't seem to be at all surprised.'

No, I wasn't, but then I'd been here twice before.

The first time it had been a murderous maelstrom in here too, but the last time I came, they'd had two to three years of clean up and most of the big lumps had been removed, but it was the dust that was collected that we surmised would be most productive. Veggie bioships need fertile soil full of nutrient minerals, water and salts to grow in, especially the 11- to 15-multihull Battleships and Carriers for carrying thousands of the triple-hull destroyers which are the workhorses of the Imperial Fleet, and the iron ore and other heavy metals were required for enough projectile weapons to enable the New Army to take back the Empire by force.

'Look at the scanners,' I say, 'point them at the orbit of the gas giant and tell me what you see.'

Nobody had to say anything. As the cameras pan around and focus on the giant, all you can see orbiting the planet is line after line of huge space carriers and battleships, so many that you couldn't see the surface of the planet.

'What is this?' Kelvin snarls, as he draws his projectile weapon from its holster.

My bone dagger hits him in the throat an instant before one of Lil's throwing knives buries itself in his heart.

Skeech jumps up off his seat, trying to scramble for his weapon, but it is under the folds of his rad smock. Another of Lil's knives takes him out of the game for good and he slumps back into his chair.

I hold my empty hands up, 'I'm out Lil, I only had the one blade, and Selene, well, maybe we can leave her out of this carve up?'

'I don't think we can leave Selene out of this, can we Selene?' Lilian asks, her last throwing knife in the palm of her hand, 'where do you keep your badge?'

'In my shoe,' Selene admits, remaining seated, kicking off one of her shoes. 'May I?' She asks.

Lilian nods.

Selene bends down and twists the heel of her shoe, pulling out a metal badge.

'Toss it to Ivan,' Lilian commands.

Selene says 'Sorry, Ivan, for everything,' before tossing me the badge.

I recognise the yellow star in the centre and the engraving underneath, 'Republic Special Agent', and a serial number.

'I wasn't expecting that.' I say.

'And I wasn't expecting this,' she says, a wane smile on her open face as she waves her hand at the screen. 'Nor were my bosses. If I survive this, I guess I am going to be out of a job.'

'The New Empire will need investigators,' Lilian says, 'are you a strongly political person or what?'

'I am a policewoman, I work for the government, whoever the government is, and the rule of law is everything. I don't even follow politics. I investigate crime, smuggling, extortion, tax evasion, that kind of thing; like the sales tax on this lot needs to be paid, right?'

'Oh, the Merciants were always thoroughly law-abiding citizens,' Lilian states, smiling, 'I am sure that all the legalities can soon be got up to date, now that the need for all this secrecy is out of the way.'

'Actually, there is no sales tax liability, Selene, as all these products have been freely financed by and donated to the Merciant Trust, a non-profit organisation that provides work for the citizens of Merciant Territories, of which this system forms a legal but secret part, and there is no export tax to pay as wherever in the galaxy these ships go they will remain registered in their home port, here on Treasury.'


'The name of the moon base which is the HQ of this organisation, headed up by the Dowager Duchess of Como Prime.'

'Your mother?!' Lilian exclaims, 'Aunt Jeneve?'

'I hope so, Lil,' I say, 'but it has been twenty years since I was here last, so she should still be in her late-sixties.'

'But twenty years ago —'

'The fact that I was arrested by the Rebels on Como Prime? Yes I was, actually by the Como Police, conscious that crimes had been committed, and that the Merciant government had fallen, taken out to a man and woman during the invasion. But, as you have pointed out, I had jumped here too and I was a lot less cautious in my desperate approach than Mylon was, but then I had Pynom II, "Pippa" to help me.'

'Your wife's zulon?'

'Yes, she had never had contact with any other zulon, so she was secret to them, but linked to my wife on Treasury,' I announce, 'but Mylon is about to make her final jump to dock with the Fleet Flagship. I think the Fleet may be wanting to launch immediately, if not sooner. Perhaps we should continue this conversation nearer to where the action is likely to be launched from.'

The screen goes blank for a moment and, when it flickers back on, we find we are so close to a battleship that the gleaming white hull completely fills the screen. Then the detail gets even bigger as we close up even nearer, and as our ship turns to allow our side airlock to align with their dock, the screen image shows the side of the battleship and that the orbit of the planet is filled with an uncountable number of spaceships, mostly huge warlike craft.

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